Thursday, April 8, 2010

God So Loved the World: Debating Baptismal Regeneration--Put On Hold

Last time I posted what seemed like the beginning of an email debate over the necessity of baptism when it comes to salvation. After the response I posted, my friend suggested we meet in person with his pastor to discuss the matter. Initially I agreed; however, after a couple of probing questions I have decided I cannot in good conscience discuss baptism or any other doctrinal matters face-to-face until we come to an agreement on what I think is a more fundamental matter. Here is how I came to that conclusion.

After a couple of emails back and forth, my friend wrote,

[Jim] I understand that what God wants for us is to be saved and join him in Heaven...How we are to get to be with God in Heaven is written down in a manner for us to understand. I seek the truth that leads to Heaven...I want to be sure that I am teaching myself and my family that they have a way to get to Heaven.

This emphasis on "heaven" at first didn't strike me as all that serious. Many Christians refer to the resurrection as "heaven," or don't readily think of the resurrection, but at least acknowledge it. I responded,

[Theopologetics] Also, I'm assuming you mean that you "want to be sure that [you are] teaching [yourself] and [your] family that they have a way to [be resurrected]." I just want to make sure that your hope is in the resurrection, ultimately, not "heaven." If not, that's another important discussion we need to have.

You see, at this point I just figured "going to heaven" was a euphamism for the resurrection. My friend responded,

[Jim] You use the word resurrection, which I understand to mean return to physical life from physical death. I don't use this term in talking of "life in Heaven" for this would be a spiritual life and in order to get there we (people) must die physically.

Now for some reason, at this point I still didn't suspect anything. I don't know if I initially misread his words or what, but I still thought we were just disagreeing on terminology. I responded,

[Theopologetics] Scripture teaches that our hope is in the final, bodily resurrection from the dead, which for many Christians is merely an afterthought. When you said you want to teach your family what they need to "have a way to get to Heaven," I just wanted to make sure that you recognize that "heaven" is a temporary, less-than-ideal state, and that your ultimate hope is in the resurrection.

I've left some things out, as I don't want to get off topic in this mini-series. But suffice it to say that we were discussing another issue or two as well, and at this point my friend decided we should table any further discussion on those other topics until we met in person. I was fine with this, except I noticed that he didn't address what I had said about the resurrection. This is where alarm bells started to go off, and I wrote this:

[Theopologetics] I still need to know that you acknowledge that all the dead will one day in the future be bodily resurrected from the dead--after our time in heaven. If you do, great, we can meet and discuss baptism. If you do not, I'm not comfortable meeting to discuss baptism until we discuss the resurrection, and I'll explain why if you'd like.

I honestly wrote this with nearly 100% certainty that he would respond in agreement. To my surprise, this is how he responded:

[Jim] I don't agree with that, but that can be added to the list of things to study the scriptures to understand.

To anybody familiar with the debate between preterists and hyperpreterists, you'll know, now, why I am not comfortable discussing any other doctrinal matters until we can agree on the resurrection. Here is how I responded to him:

[Theopologetics] I appreciate your honesty. Honestly =). Yes, we can discuss that too, then.

However, when we get together face-to-face, I do not think I can in good conscience discuss baptism until we've discussed the resurrection. The centrality of the future, bodily resurrection is made clear in 1 Corinthians 15, particularly verses 12 to 19. And in 2 Timothy 2:17-18, the teaching of those who deny the future resurrection is likened unto gangrene, and that their heresies were destroying the faith of some. I hope you'll understand--even if you don't agree--that I cannot subject myself to the risk of having my faith destroyed by discussing baptism or any other topic with someone who denies the resurrection. Not until we agree on the future bodily resurrection can I in good faith discuss any other doctrine with you and your pastor in person.

So yes, we can plan on meeting with the plan to discuss a) the resurrection, and b) baptism, among anything else you would like. But I'm sorry that I will not be comfortable moving onto baptism, etc., until we've agreed on the resurrection. Are you comfortable, then, with the possibility that we might not ever get to the topic you primarily desire to discuss?

It wasn't until after I sent this a couple of hours ago that it dawned on me that my friend might be a hyperpreterist. I assumed that he just didn't believe in the resurrection, which of course is serious enough. However, I got to wondering, are there professing Christians who deny the resurrection but who aren't hyperpreterists?

Please keep my friend and me in your prayers. I'm not sure if he will be willing to meet to discuss the resurrection if there's the possibility we may not get to baptism. I hope he understands--and indeed I hope you, my readers, understand--why I cannot comfortably discuss other doctrinal matters in person with him until we agree on this essential of the historic Christian faith. Stay tuned for updates.

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