Monday, April 16, 2007

Who Is My Brother?

Here is an interesting quote from our Baptist brother Billy Graham. It is found on the Way of Life Literature’s Fundamental Baptist Information Service, which is very critical of Graham.

The preface a quote by Graham with these words, “In a 1961 interview with the Lutheran Standard of the liberal American Lutheran Church, Graham testified that all of his children except the youngest were baptized as infants (Graham grew up as a Presbyterian and his wife is still Presbyterian). Graham then made the following amazing statement:”

Here is the quote (according to these folks/I have not read the source yet) about infant baptism from Dr. Graham, “I have some difficulty in accepting the indiscriminate baptism of infants without a careful regard as to whether the parents have any intention of fulfilling the promise they make. But I do believe that something happens at the baptism of an infant, particularly if the parents are Christians and teach their children Christian Truths from childhood. We cannot fully understand the miracles of God, but I believe that a miracle can happen in these children so that they are regenerated, that is, made Christian, through infant baptism. If you want to call that baptismal regeneration, that’s all right with me (Graham, interview with Wilfred Bockelman, associate editor of the Lutheran Standard, American Lutheran Church, Lutheran Standard, October 10, 1961)

I was shocked by the quote, but I wholly agree with what is written there. This is the ancient Reformed position. I don’t know if Billy Graham would affirm this idea today, but it is interesting that this statement (if accurate) was made 23 years after Billy Graham was ordained as Southern Baptist Minister.
Billy Graham has said many things over the years that I disagree with, and have serious trouble with, but I also believe that he has been criticised by many Evangelicals (like the Fundamentalists Baptists quoted above) for not directing all who come forward at his crusades to them.

I have many problems with “Revivalism” and much of its message, but I don’t believe this is valid argument against Dr. Graham. I think it was wise and biblical for him to do as he did on this one point. I seem to remember him telling people to find a Church that believed the Bible. I don’t think more could be expected, unless he was to say “Go find a Baptist church” or something like that. Had he done that few people would have ever heard of him or his preaching.

I believe that there are goodly men and women in every Christian denomination. I believe all “true” Christian denominations are Trinitarian and hold to the Nicene Creed (explicitly or implicitly). This is I believe the bare minimum and to fall outside these boundaries is to be outside the Christian faith. Graham, despite the many point at which he and I disagree, seems (IMHO) to have taken that approach as well. If that is what he was thinking, than I think he was correct on this point.

There are very real and valid differences between honest, godly Christians on many important points of doctrine (and many not so important points as well). Some Baptist would condemn all paedobaptists as non-Christian and believe them to be tainted with “Romanism.” There are others who would condemn all who believe in “free will” (i.e. Arminians) and there are others who would condemn all who hold to God’s predestination of all things (i.e. Calvinists).

There are Roman Catholics who deny that any Protestant or Eastern Christian can be saved because they believe you must be a Roman Catholic in order to be saved – They have Boniface VIII’s Umum Sanctum, the Council of Trent and Vatican I at which they can point to “prove” their point. There are Protestants who believe being a member of the Roman Catholic Church as a guarantee that you will go to hell if you don’t leave that church.

What do I believe? -- I am a Protestant. I am a Calvinist. I hold to Reformed theology. I believe strongly in the correctness and the “biblicalness” of infant baptism. At the same time I also believe that Arminians are true Christians, and I believe that one can be wrong on baptism (and hold to believers baptism only:-) and still be a Christian. I believe there are true believers and followers of Christ among the Protestant Churches, the Eastern Churches and the Roman Catholic Church.

Our doctrinal differences are very real and they should not be made light off or compromised for the sake of unity, and yet I do believe that we need to not just look at the differences. We need to look and see what we actually hold in common.

We all hold to the Nicene Creed, which means that we all believe in the Triune God of Scripture, we believe that the Bible is the Word of God, we believe in the deity of Jesus Christ, we hold to the Virgin Birth, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we believe that without Jesus Christ there is no salvation and we all believe in the Second Coming of Christ at some point in the future.

These are items that we find in the Creed. These are all very clearly fundamental doctrinal aspects of the faith that we must hold to be part of the Christian Church.

I was born and baptised in the Roman Catholic Church, then when I was seven my parents left the Catholic Church and we became Baptist. My parents and siblings are still Baptists to this day. I left the Baptist Church in my mid to late twenties. First I became a Calvinist and.since then I have become Reformed and hold to “Covenant theology” which includes the belief in infant baptism.

Over the years I have known godly people, whom I consider brothers and sisters in Christ many denominations. They are in the RCC, the Baptist Church, the Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church, the Assembly of God, Lutheran and a number of others Trinitarian denominations.

I hate the divisions that exist between Christians, but the things that divide us are real and we cannot sweep them under the rug, nor should we ever even try to do so. Still, I believe we should try to understand what those differences are. We cannot do that by reading the apologists for our own position. We have to let those holding to the “other” position explain it to us. And, just as importantly, we need to try to understand how and why he/she sees it in that way.

If a Baptist brother tries to explain to me why he believes in ”believers only baptism” and the eyes roll back in my head because I “know he is wrong,” then I will never understand why we disagree on that point. I have to acknowledge that his believe on that point is real and that he sincerely believes that those ideas are “clearly taught” in Scripture. I need to respect him enough as a brother to try and understand why he believes differnently than I do if I am ever going to be able to discuss those differences in an intelligent, respectfull and godly way.

It is very easy to believe a "half truth" about what the other guy beliefs. It is also the case that from his paradigm all that he holds to makes perfect sense, and what we think to be perfectly clear and easy to see will be for him, at first, impossible to see or grasp. Therefore, it is important that we adhere to the admonition that St. Paul gave to Timothy. Paul wrote. "I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction."

When dealing other Trinitarian believers we should be able to look at one another and see first what we hold in common and rejoice in those items. Then, perhaps, we can discuss our differences in a civil, intelligent and godly manner.

How are we told that the world will know that we are Christians? Lets look at what Jesus said in John’s Gospel, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

We cannot be one denomination, but we can love our brethren and treat them as brethren, even when we disagree on important points. Heated rhetoric spewing forth from one Christian denomination against another is not going to bring the world to Christ. Even when we disagree on very important points, we need to do so civilly and in a spirit of love and concern for a brother who is in error and on that point I think Billy Graham has done a better job than many of his critics.

Coram Deo,