Thursday, March 05, 2015

A Missional Reading of the Letter to Laodicea

The last of the seven, the letter addressed to the church at Laodicea records the harshest words from Jesus to any of the churches in Asia Minor. The words or rebuke for the Laodicean church are not balanced by any words of commendation, making the church at Laodicea unique in its total lack of health – as a whole they are “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked”. This assessment comes from the “the Amen, the faithful and true witness.”

His diagnosis would have seemed incongruous with the perceived situation of Laodicea, but his diagnosis is true. The city was wealthy; in fact, so wealthy it rebuilt itself, without Roman aide, after devastating earthquake in 60AD. Their ability to recover without aide was a source of great civic pride. The cities wealth came from various sources, including banking, trade, and textiles. Laodicea lay at the crossroads of major trade routes, serving as a gateway into Asia. In addition, Laodicea had a large textile industry and grew famous for the soft black wool they were able to produce.

Religiously, Laodicea was a diverse blend with a remarkably large pantheon of gods/goddesses. Many of the old Asian deities continued to be venerated even under Roman rule, though some were collapsed into the Greek/Roman system becoming associated with their gods. Worship of the traditional Phrygian god Men Karou and the temple of Men (also a healing center) were important to the city and it is likely that Men became associated with the Greek god Asklepios as both were healing gods. In addition, the god Zeus played a very prominent role in the religious life in Laodicea. The Laodicean version of Zeus was unique, however, being influenced by the traditional worship of Men and other Phrygian and possibly Syrian elements; thus, the chief god of the region was often referred to as Zeus Laodicenus.

The rise of the imperial cult was fairly natural and maybe even inevitable given the way the empire (and the emperor) was received by Asia. Augustus was received as the “Savior of the race of men”. In addition, Asian peoples worshipped Augustus as god incarnate and “hailed the birthday of Augustus as the beginning of a new year, and worshipped the incarnate god in public and in private.” In the early part of the first century, the city of Laodicea was in competition with other cities for a temple to Caesar. Toward the end of the 2nd century, Laodicea was so honored and given the title neokoros and the right to build a temple for the worship of Emperor Commodus.

When considering the religious life of Laodicea, we must not neglect to consider the Jews and the worship of YHWH. Under Antiochius III a good number of Diaspora Jews were relocated to the region, including the city of Laodicea, to provide stability to the region. These Jews were already more Hellenized than their Palestinian counterparts and received material benefits for relocation as well as ongoing religious freedoms. This population grew by to be quite large by the first century. Cicero records that a large sum of gold, 20 Roman pounds, was seized from Jews in Laodicea en route to the temple in Jerusalem in 62BC. Ramsay, citing Reinach, contends that this amount would be equivalent to 15,000 drachmas. Since the annual temple tax was two drachmas for every free adult, Ramsay concludes there was approximately 7500 Jewish freedman living in Laodicea.

No material witness to the existence of a large Jewish presence has yet been found in Laodicea. Based on this silence, some have concluded that the Jews of Laodicea must have been very Hellenized (making the identification of Jewish names on graves, etc., impossible). Ramsay, relying on material evidence from Hierapolis, notes many of the Jews in Laodicea must have been citizens and were quite possibly organized into trade guilds. Moreover, it is probable that the gospel was first carried to this group of Jews within Laodicea, as was Paul’s common practice.

The biblical witness seems to indicate that it was Epaphras who took the gospel to the people of Hierapolis and Laodicea instead of Paul directly (Colossians 4:12-13). The early converts to Christianity were, then, likely Hellenized Jews used to, in essence, blending in to the surrounding culture. This seems to have been a problem for the church whose mission demanded it stand out as a contrast society rather than blend in.

Jesus rebukes the church for being neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm. As such, Jesus threatens to spit them out of his mouth. Hemer in his Letters, argues that Jesus’ condemnation of the Laodicean lukewarmness should be understood in light of the tepid water supply on which the city depended. The city was supplied with water via an aqueduct system from springs six miles to the south. Though potable, the water was very hard being filled with mineral deposits. When the water reached the city it was not hot and so had no therapeutic value (as the hot springs in Hierapolis did). Neither was the water cold and refreshing (as the water supply in Colossae was). Thus, on this interpretation, the water was useless and by implications, the church is useless to Christ. The church was not fulfilling its missional purpose and had become a dead weight, a nonfunctioning member of the body.

This interpretation stands in contrast to the more traditional interpretation that has taken “lukewarmness to denote a compromise between the fervent ‘heat’ of a believer, and the indifferent ‘cold’ of an unbeliever.” Against the traditional understanding, Rudwick and Green have convincingly argued that both “cold” and “hot” are presented as “equally commendable alternatives”, which certainly would not have been the case if “cold”’ was intended to convey “indifferent.”

Koester offers a better alternative to Hemer and to the traditional interpretation. Koester agrees with Hemer that cold and hot both have positive connotations in the text. However, he points out that Laodicea was not the only city that had its water piped in via aqueduct. If this would make the water lukewarm and undrinkable then the water of other cities (including Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum and Sardis) would be equally objectionable. In fact, as Koester notes, the water of Laodicea seems to be of a better quality than the water Hierapolis.

A further problem with the approach taken by Hemer is the connection of the “hot” in v. 15-16 with the therapeutic hot springs of Hierapolis. There is no indication that the hot water of Hierapolis was desirable for drinking. Yet, the words of Jesus seem to imply that both the hot and cold waters (actually, nothing is said about water at all) are taken into the mouth. If the church was hot or cold they would avoid being spewed out, leading to the conclusion that both were desirable for drinking.

Koester suggests, quoting Plato, “[when] thirst is accompanied by heat, then the desire is for a cold drink; or, if the thirst is accompanied by cold, then the desire is for a hot drink. ” Koester builds a compelling case for this alternative, drawing upon ancient written sources which speak of the practice of warming wine to be drunk on cold days or cooling it on warm ones.

If one believes the imagery is a reference to drinking habits rather than the Laodicean water supply, then Jesus is condemning the Laodicean church for not being sufficiently distinguished from its surrounding. Hot water or wine is desirable when the weather is cold (and cold water or wine when it is hot) because it stands in stark contrast to the environment. Lukewarm is undesirable because it does not stand in bold relief and consequently has no ability to refresh. The churches lukewarmness means they have become no different from their surrounding culture, but have acclimated themselves to it to such a degree they are no longer the contrast community they have been called to be. Jesus’ response to this lukewarm church is graphic – he threatens to spit them out from his mouth.

It seems very possible that the believer’s material richness is what led them to compromise in ways that blunted their witness. Beale suggests that the Laodicean church may have even looked to their economic prosperity as sign of their spiritual health, even citing the connection between OT Israel’s prosperity and spiritual health as a precedent to support her case. But, if the church at Smyrna was poor because she had maintained her witness and been ostracized by her pagan city, then Laodicea is rich because she has accommodated her pagan culture and set aside her calling to be a witness in favor of comfort, ease and wealth.

Jesus counsels the church to look past the luster of her worldly wealth and buy true treasure from him – the same true treasure that made Smyrnan believers wealthy despite their material poverty. Also, Jesus offers the white garments of holiness (and triumph) to cover the churches nakedness. The shame of nakedness is a prophet symbol for judgment, but to receive fine new clothing was an honor. This reality was hidden from the eyes of the Laodicean church, showing that, despite being in a city famed for their medicinal eye salve, they were blinded and needed the healing balm of Jesus applied to their spiritual eyes so they could see their pitiful spiritual condition.

Remarkably, even in the midst of this most harsh letter, Jesus affirms his ongoing love for his church. The harsh words of rebuke are born out of his love and hope that the church will repent. Jesus invites them to open the door for him, so he can come in and eat with them. This is a wonderful invitation to a wayward church and her individual members to renew fellowship with their Lord, and fellowship in the most intimate manner.

This church was not a conquering church, but an assimilated one. However, to those who repent and press on in the calling of being witnesses, in being the salt and light Jesus demanded they be, Jesus offers the extraordinary promise of sharing his throne with them. While much regarding the exact timing and nature of the rule Christ offers his overcoming followers remains ambiguous, the honor is surely great. This honor, like all the rewards that have been promised in the preceding letters, presumes the accomplishment of God’s redemptive mission through Christ, the establishment of the eternal kingdom, and the church’s faithful participation in it (only then will she be granted this honor).

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Does God Change His Mind?

Earlier this week a friend sent me a couple of really good questions, and with his permission, I'm posting questions and my responses here. The first question has to do with God changing his mind in Numbers 14:11-21 where Moses pleads with God to spare the Israelites. Some have suggested this text and the others like it support the notion of open theism - that God doesn't know the future acts of free persons (they are unknowable) but is a God who responds to these real choices. I'm not inclined (like, at all) to go this direction, so how do I deal with these passages as a Calvinist? Do these passages challenge my assumptions about sovereignty, God's foreknowledge, etc.

You run into a number of these kind of passages where God appears to change his mind. Abraham ‘negotiating’ with God; God relents from destroying Nineveh after they repent, etc. A few things have helped me understand these passages. First, the language of God changing his mind is, I believe, anthropomorphic – like God sitting or walking, etc. It puts the workings of God in language we relate to. Calvin wrote of God speaking to his children in lisps and whispers, like parents talk to infants. I think this is an example of this gracious condescension.

Second, it's helpful to understand that just as God ordains the final outcome also ordains the means he will use to achieve his desired outcome. Sometimes the ordained outcomes are different than God’s stated intentions, so when God pursues his ordained outcome it may appear as though God has changed his mind or ‘repented’.  The story of Jonah and Nineveh is a prime example of this. Jonah 3:10 says, “When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.  Of course God’s intention was that they’d repent all along – that’s why he sent Jonah (and Jonah knew it, much to his chagrin - see Jonah 4:1-3).

The same principle appears to be at work in Numbers 14. God’s intentions were to put the people in the land. To wipe them out at this point would be to renege on promises he had made – something God will not do. So God ordains that Moses will act as an intercessor and that He will relent from judgment in response to Moses intercession (to prefigure Christ’s intercession).  This is, in essence, how prayer works too. God’s will is going to be accomplished, but he uses means – a prayer warrior, and evangelist, etc., to accomplish his will.

I don’t think these passages challenge (at least they don’t destroy) a strong view of God’s complete sovereignty. God was sovereign even over the kind of prayer Moses offered on behalf of the people and sovereignly determined he would relent in wrathful judgment in response to this prayer.

It is more troubling to consider what God truly changing his mind would mean. How can God be all wise if he changes his mind regarding his ultimate intentions? Was his initial intention wise? Was it right? If so, then how can changing your mind be wise? Right?  Open theism opens a scary can of worms unnecessarily and contrary to the overarching teaching of Scripture.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

A Missional Reading of the Letter to Philadelphia

The city of Philadelphia sat just east of Sardis on a route that would take one on to Laodicea and then further east into Asia; hence the nickname “the gateway to the east.” Of the seven cities, Philadelphia was the most recently founded and had, from the outset, something of a missionary purpose. Ramsay writes, “The intention of its founding was to make it a centre of the Græco-Asiatic civilization and a means of spreading the Greek language and manners in the eastern parts of Lydia and in Phrygia. It was a missionary city from the beginning, founded to promote a certain unity of spirit, customs, and loyalty within the realm, the apostle of Hellenism in an Oriental land.”

Philadelphia was also a city that was plagued by frequent and sometimes violent earthquakes. The city was destroyed in AD17 by the earthquake that damaged many cities in the region. So devastating was this earthquake that the emperor remitted all taxes for five years and offered aid in rebuilding. And so frequent were the earthquakes that much of the population lived outside the city, away from structures that would become dangerous in the quakes.

The volcanic activity that made the region so unstable also made the ground highly suitable for vine growing, though less so for other crops such as grain. That the soil was unsuitable for other staple crops led to difficult times at the end of the first century. Hemer discusses the impact Domitian’s requirement (92AD) that farmers cut down half of their vines not to be replanted. The impetus behind this edict seems to have been twofold. First, it certainly would have helped the vine growers in Italy who faced competition from the Asian vine growers. Secondly, it aimed to reduce the impact of a famine that was afflicting Asia Minor hard during this time, forcing farmers to crow corn or grain instead of grapes.

Regardless the reason, the act was incredibly unpopular and was a source of tension in what was an otherwise very positive relationship between the city of Philadelphia and Rome. Domitian’s edict, when added to the stresses of constant earthquakes and the impact of the famine, made for a difficult economic situation in the city.

From the text of Revelation it is evident that there was an influential community of Jews present in the city. That there is no external evidence of Jewish community in Philadelphia during the first century leads one to surmise that the size of this community was likely smaller than in some of the other Asian cities. However, a letter from Ignatius of Antioch to the church at Philadelphia suggests that there was a Judaizing influence that was being felt in the church.

Jesus identifies himself as “the holy one, the true one”. In this letter the pattern of repeating an element of John’s vision from chapter one verbatim is set aside. This title, Beale asserts, is an expansion of the theme of Jesus being the “faithful witness”, here more strongly asserting Jesus’ deity. Again, where Jesus is said to hold the keys to Death and Hades in chapter one, here he holds the keys of David. John has combined elements of the vision from Revelation 1 with an allusion to Isaiah 22:22. Osborne explains, “In this context this describes Jesus as the Davidic Messiah who controls the entrance to God’s kingdom, the ‘New Jerusalem.’” Osborne suggests that the Christians had likely been excommunicated from the synagogue as was common (thus cutting them off from the support of this community in a time of dire economics), but Jesus reminds them he is the one who has the authority to open and shut, to admit them or cut them off from the kingdom. As in all the letters, Jesus affirms his direct and intimate knowledge of the church.

Two main options present themselves regarding the meaning of the “open door” Jesus sets before them. Many commentators take this as a reference to the missionary opportunity the church has, sitting as they do at the gateway to the east. Other commentators see this as a reference to the open door of the kingdom – Jesus is the one who has opened the kingdom to them, and though those who call themselves Jews have closed the door to the synagogue to the believer, they cannot bar entrance to Christ’s kingdom.

Here, as in the letter to the church at Smyrna, there is no rebuke. The church had remained faithful, though they have little power and face Satanic opposition. The church’s “little power” probably stems from her small numbers. Despite this, they have maintained their faithful witness, not denying the name of Jesus. They have understood and taken to heart their mission in the world. The parallel between the Smyrna church and the one in Philadelphia is close, and the description of the Jewish community in both furthers this connection. In both, those claiming to be Jews are actually said to be of the synagogue of Satan, an accusation proven by their rejection of Jesus the Messiah and their persecution of his body.

That the church will be vindicated in the sight of the Jewish community is clear; the nature of this vindication, however, is not. Some interpreters, including Beale, take Jesus promise to “make them come and bow down before your feet” as indicating the conversion of Jews. Because of the faithfulness of the church’s witness, the Jews will be converted. Beale argues, “Isaiah’s prophecies that the end-time salvation of Israel would spark off the salvation of the Gentiles has been fulfilled in an ironic manner.” While Osborne sees the attractiveness of this interpretation, he disagrees. Osborne contends, rightly, “The OT taught that the Gentiles would be forced to pay homage to the Jews at the eschaton, and now this promise is turned on its head: Jewish oppressors would be force to pay homage to Gentile believers…This is submission, not worship, and parallels 2:26-27, where the faithful saints are promised that they will participate in the judgment of their (and God’s) enemies.”

The faithfulness of the Philadelphian church will be rewarded with divine protection in the trials that are to befall the whole world. This trial is beyond what the local church is experiencing in the present, and points to a global trial preceding the parousia of Christ (as opposed to the local manifestation of persecution the church at Smyrna will face “for ten days”). The promise, rightly understood, is not to remove them from the trial but to protect them in the midst of it. It is not a promise that the church will be immune from persecution or martyrdom, but that they will not suffer the wrath of God that is soon coming upon the whole earth. Mounce summarizes, “The hour of trial is directed toward the entire non-Christian world, but the believer will be kept from it, not by some previous appearance of Christ to remove the church bodily from the world, but by the spiritual protection he provides against the forces of evil.” Christ does not promise physical protection from those who persecute the church, but divine exemption from wrath that will soon be poured out.

In the context of some of the other letters, Jesus’ words that he was “coming soon” would have been taken as a threat; here it is a wonderful consolation. In the meantime, the believers were to hold tightly to their faith so that no one might steal their crown. Alan Johnson writes, “Either Satan or men could rob them of their crown by diverting them from exclusive loyalty to Jesus.”

Thus far, the Philadelphian Christians had withstood the temptation to compromise with their ungodly culture and the pressure exerted upon them to reject Christ from the Jews. Their testimony was unstained; they were serving as faithful witnesses. Persevering as faithful witnesses would make them conquerors, and to the conqueror Jesus promises he will “make them a pillar in the temple of God.” These words would have been especially encouraging to the inhabitants of Philadelphia, for in a city that had so frequently been racked by earthquake pillars were a symbol of permanence and durability. When houses crumbled and walls cracked, the pillars stood. As Beale has pointed out, the whole of the new redeemed earth is a temple unto God. Hence, the promise is to give the overcomer a place of permanence in the new earth. In this new-earth-city-temple, they will never have to go out, fleeing from falling buildings or fires caused by quakes.

On this pillar Jesus will inscribe three names: the name of “my God,” the name of “the city of my God” (identified as the New Jerusalem), and “my own new name.” The inscribing of God’s name on his people speaks of possession and would also connote security: they bear his name, are his, and hence under his protection (see also Rev 7:3, 14:1 & 22:4). Bearing the name of city speaks of their citizenship in it. Finally, bearing Christ’s name conveys the same idea as the name of “my God”.

What Christ’s new name is here is unexplained, but has parallel in the later chapters of the Apocalypse (Rev 19:12. Additionally, bearing Christ’s name (or God’s name) is a way of speaking of his presence. In Deuteronomy 12:11 the Israelites are told that they will worship where God will “make his name dwell” in the land, referring to the future temple. Certainly this means more than just God’s name being on the doorposts to the temple, but is a synecdoche for God’s presence. Jesus promises to mark them as his people, under his protection, citizens in his kingdom and bless them with his abiding presence.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Missional Reading of the Letter to Sardis

Sardis was a city with a long history, dating back at least to the eighth century BC, and serving as the capital of the Lydian empire till it fell to Cyrus in 546BC. Later, after passing into Roman hands, it became the capital of the Lydian region.

Situated in the Hermus River Valley, Sardis at one time drew and refined large amounts of gold from the nearby stream beds, growing very wealthy as a result. Sardis, as all Roman cities, honored Caesar; however, the imperial cult does not seem to have been as influential in this Asian city as in others. The largest and most important temple was the temple of Artemis, though there is attestation to other existing temples as well.

Regarding the letter to Sardis, Keener observes, “That no mention of persecution against Christians is mentioned in such a city is significant; it probably reflects the secure position that the Jewish community, which rejected pagan worship, had attained, and suggests that the Christians shared this benefit of toleration.” Evidence points to a large and influential Jewish community at Sardis. More than eighty Jewish inscriptions have been unearthed in Sardis and Josephus mentions two documents detailing the privileges the Jews were given in the city. Supporting this is the discovery in Sardis of largest synagogue to ever be uncovered.

Jesus identifies himself in words similar to those used in the letter to the Ephesian church (Rev. 2:1). Jesus is the one “who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.” If the seven stars are identified with the church’s representative angel, as 1:20 indicates, then Beale’s suggestion makes sense: the seven stars correspond to angels and represent the provision of heavenly aid that is at the churches disposal. The seven spirits are a representation of the Spirit of God (see Zech. 4:2,10) which burns on the lampstands (churches) empowering them in their light bearing, witnessing mission.

As with all the church, Jesus knows this church and her works. Sardis had a good reputation and may have even been respected, but was not well. She was spiritually dead. Beale contends that the issue in the Sardis was a lack of fervent witness in the midst of their pagan culture, just as it was in Ephesus. Several details support this conclusion. First, as noted above, the “works” that Jesus regards as incomplete are more than good works, but denote the overall manner of the church’s life. Unarguably, the life of the church – its care for its members, its purity of conduct and doctrine, its worship, etc. – is inextricably linked to her witness in the world. As this life has been found lacking by her Lord, her witness has certainly suffered.

In addition, the implied accusation that most of the church had “soiled their garments” (only a few had not) points to the church’s compromise with the unbelieving culture through participation in idol worship, eating meat sacrificed to idols, and/or immorality. Osborne, citing Moffat, notes similar references in ancient inscriptions detailing how “soiled clothes disqualified the worshipper and dishonored the god.” The church at Sardis, through compromise and sinful accommodation had dishonored Christ and tainted her witness. Only those who continue to continue in faithfulness will be found worthy of walking with Christ, clothed in white.

It is almost certain that faithfulness would prove costly to the remnant that refused to dull their witness and blend in to the surrounding culture, and there may be indications in this letter that some of the faithful would be martyred. In Revelation 7 the ones who are dressed in white are those “coming out of the great tribulation,” certainly suffering on account of their faith. Moreover, in Revelation 5 the Lamb is deemed worthy (ά̔ξιος, the same word used in 3:4) to open the scroll “for you were slain”. If the “walking in white” is meant to speak of a victory march or triumphal procession, it is again an ironic victory – being conquered by the world and put to death is the path to victory!

“Wake up” then is a call to take their missional calling to heart and recommit to the witnessing task of the church. This waking up would include a recommitment to holiness over against immorality and fidelity over against idolatrous compromise. This call to be alert would undoubtedly have hit home in Sardis, a city sacked twice because watchmen failed to watch diligently, allowing assailants to scale the “unclimbable” cliffs and gain easy access to a city caught unaware.

Those who conquer, likewise, receive white garments. That both those “who have not soiled their garments” and “the one who conquers” are clothed in white garments shows that the conquerors are those who remain unstained. In addition to their white garments, symbolic of holiness, they are enrolled eternally and irrevocably in the kingdoms roster of citizens. Jesus promises, “I will never blot his name out of the book of life.”

Lastly, Jesus promises “I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.” This confirms that the issue in the church was a lack of faithful, fervent witness. Those who compromised with the culture showed they were ashamed of Christ, and hence Christ would be ashamed of them in the coming judgment (see Mark 8:38, Luke 9:26).

Positively, those who remained unspoiled/uncompromised had acknowledged Christ before the world, even at great cost; consequently, Christ would acknowledge them before his Father and the angels in heaven (see Matt. 10:32, Luke 12:8).

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Baptism as an Effectual Means of Salvation

I know those words will create a visceral reaction in some. I'm sorry (not really).

Those words aren't my own...and I'm not pulling them from a Catholic Catechism. In fact, they show up in a Baptist Catechism (from 1677)!

Q. 98. How do Baptism and the Lord’s Supper become effectual means of salvation?
A. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper become effectual means of salvation, not from any virtue in them or in him that administers them, but only by the blessing of Christ and the working of His Spirit in them that by faith receive them.

This question/answer is pretty much the same as Q.91 in the Westminster Shorter Catechism (1647) and Q.161 of the Larger Catechism:
Q. 91. How do the sacraments become effectual means of salvation?
A. The sacraments become effectual means of salvation, not from any virtue in them, or in him that doth administer them; but only by the blessing of Christ, and the working of his Spirit in them that by faith receive them.

Let me expand on these statements and offer some explanation. I sincerely believe that   baptism   is an effectual means of salvation in the the elect because God uses it to beckon faith in the baptized person.

Let me try a thought experiment - replace the underlined word in the above sentence with   the preaching of the gospel  .  Does that work better for you?  Of course, we'd want to emphasize that hearing the preaching of the gospel doesn't save someone by itself. The person hearing must respond in faith to the message they have heard. So preaching of the gospel doesn't work in a mechanical ex opere operato kind of way. But, the preaching of the gospel is a means of salvation in that God uses it to elicit faith in his elect (Romans 10:14-15). 

All that I said above applies, I believe, to baptism as well. Baptism is a visible gospel sermon. It is an instrument in the hands of God to beckon faith in the baptized person.  It isn't that the water saves or the rite of baptism saves, but that God uses it just as he uses preaching to call forth faith in the elect.

For a parent who baptizes their infant, their prayer is that God will use the child's baptism as a reminder of the great promises that are theirs if they believe. They bear the visible mark of the covenant in which God promises salvation to those who have faith.

But even in those who confess faith in Christ first and are then baptized, baptism is an effectual means of salvation because God continues to use it to beckon faith. We aren't required to believe and trust in Christ just once - way back when we said a prayer and 'came to faith'.  We are called to live by faith, to persevere in faith - without this no one will be saved. And God uses our baptism, again, to remind us of this - to remind us of the covenant and to seal all of God's promises to those who believe.

Baptism has no saving effect in the non-elect; in fact, it has a condemning effect in that they have been baptized into the covenant and covenant community wherein faith is a requirement. Since they don't have faith, they are subject to the cures of the covenant, which are severe indeed.

I'm harping on baptism a lot recently.  Why? I'm not entirely sure. Is it because I like being controversial? Maybe.  I know in part it's because it's been a front burner issue in two classes I taught this past month - union with Christ and eternal security. But, it's more than that - I have sensed in the evangelical church (broadly speaking) a minimization of the importance of baptism. Its as if we don't consider it very important - and many don't. It's an add on, and optional at that. God doesn't 'do anything' in baptism, we do - we profess, give testimony, etc.  This is a tragic trend and I pray it's one that gets reversed in the coming generations of believers.