Belgic Confession 34: The Sacrament of Baptism

4 May

ARTICLE 34 – THE SACRAMENT OF BAPTISM

We believe and confess that Jesus Christ, who is the end of the law (Rom 10:4), has by His shed blood put an end to every other shedding of blood that one could or would make as an expiation or satisfaction for sins. He has abolished circumcision, which involved blood, and has instituted in its place the sacrament of baptism.1 By baptism we are received into the church of God and set apart from all other peoples and false religions, to be entirely committed to Him2 whose mark and emblem we bear. This serves as a testimony to us that He will be our God and gracious Father for ever.

For that reason He has commanded all those who are His to be baptized with plain water, into the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Mat 28:19). By this He signifies to us that as water washes away the dirt of the body when poured on us, and as water is seen on the body of the baptized when sprinkled on him, so the blood of Christ, by the Holy Spirit, does the same thing internally to the soul.3 It washes and cleanses our soul from sin4 and regenerates us from children of wrath into children of God.5 This is not brought about by the water as such6 but by the sprinkling of the precious blood of the Son of God,7 which is our Red Sea,8 through which we must pass to escape the tyranny of Pharaoh, that is, the devil, and enter into the spiritual land of Canaan.

Thus the ministers on their part give us the sacrament and what is visible, but our Lord gives us what is signified by the sacrament, namely, the invisible gifts and grace. He washes, purges, and cleanses our souls of all filth and unrighteousness,9 renews our hearts and fills them with all comfort, gives us true assurance of His fatherly goodness, clothes us with the new nature, and takes away the old nature with all its works.10

We believe, therefore, that anyone who aspires to eternal life ought to be baptized only once.11 Baptism should never be repeated, for we cannot be born twice. Moreover, baptism benefits us not only when the water is on us and when we receive it, but throughout our whole life. For that reason we reject the error of the Anabaptists, who are not content with a single baptism received only once, and who also condemn the baptism of the little children of believers. We believe that these children ought to be baptized and sealed with the sign of the covenant, as infants were circumcised in Israel on the basis of the same promises which are now made to our children.12 Indeed, Christ shed His blood to wash the children of believers just as much as He shed it for adults.13 Therefore they ought to receive the sign and sacrament of what Christ has done for them, as the Lord commanded in the law that a lamb was to be offered shortly after children were born.14 This was a sacrament of the passion and death of Jesus Christ. Because baptism has the same meaning for our children as circumcision had for the people of Israel, Paul calls baptism the circumcision of Christ (Col 2:11).

1. Col 2:11. 2. Exo 12:48; 1 Pet 2:9. 3. Mat 3:11; 1 Cor 12:13. 4. Acts 22:16; Heb 9:14; 1 John 1:7; Rev 1:5b. 5. Titus 3:5. 6. 1 Pet 3:21. 7. Rom 6:3; 1 Pet 1:2; 1 Pet 2:24. 8. 1 Cor 10:1-4. 9. 1 Cor 6:11; Eph 5:26. 10. Rom 6:4; Gal 3:27. 11. Mat 28:19; Eph 4:5. 12. Gen 17:10-12; Mat 19:14; Acts 2:39. 13. 1 Cor 7:14. 14. Lev 12:6.

– See more at: http://www.scripturezealot.com/belgic-confession/#sthash.ue2iD1Je.dpuf

Are men disposable?

4 May

Such a question comes from people who are utterly divorced from reality but totally blinded by ideology.

“It is almost entirely men who keep the lights on, water running, and planes from falling out of the sky.  Our comfortable, mostly smooth operating and safe existence is built and maintained almost entirely by men.  If men walked away from the job for 3 days, we would be 3 years cleaning up the mess.  It takes a particular brand of narcissism to be able to sit in a climate controlled office building or stand on a stage in front of a national audience (or university classroom), and claim that an entire class of people over 90% of whom build and maintain the whole shebang are candidates for the scrapyard… The irony is that those feminists making this claim do so enabled by a level of comfort, convenience, and safety provided almost exclusively by men, making it where most women will go through their entire lives never having to perform even once the types of tasks necessary to keep the food moving from farm to grocery store or even to see that work as its happening.  Most of us are so divorced psychologically from the absolutely necessary labor of mostly men. It’s like we believe that box of cereal just magically appeared on the shelf.  Women are net consumers of the product, the product being our safe comfortable and convenient plentiful society.  Its manufacturers are almost completely men.  Disposable indeed.”

—-Karen Straughan

Three cheers for the electoral college. Make that four

30 Apr

The U.S. Senate and the Electoral College are constitutionally designed instruments to negate the pernicious effects of raw majoritarian politics and the rise of factions (in today’s situation, the capacity for growing urban centers to impose their will upon the rest of the country).

From Derek Muller:

The Electoral College has hardly been a popular, much less well-understood, element of the American political election system. Under sustained attack by critics since at least 1796, it has withstood numerous attempts to abolish it and replace it with a national popular vote for president and vice president. And among its defenders, the stoutest justifications tend toward the view that it is the least evil among competing alternatives, or a Burkean skepticism that any other form of electing the executive would yield an ideal result. (And perhaps I find myself relying upon these half-hearted defenses more often than not.)

But count Tara Ross among its most enthusiastic and knowledgeable defenders, one who views the Electoral College not as a necessary evil, but as a valuable and integral component of our federal republic. Ross published the first edition ofEnlightened Democracy: The Case for the Electoral College in 2004, a time when critiques of the Electoral College sounded more like empty threats, academic musings, or the waning echoes of Democrats still stinging from Al Gore’s loss in 2000.

Things changed in 2007. Those academic musings took the form of an actual legislative proposal. It is unlike previous failed efforts, like the proposed constitutional amendment that nearly garnered the requisite two-thirds majority in Congress in 1970. Instead, it proposes a compact among the States.

The National Popular Vote, as it styles itself, takes advantage of the constitutional grant of authority to the state legislatures to appoint presidential electors. Most states pick electors the same way: the candidate who wins a plurality of the popular vote in the state wins all of that state’s electors.

What if, NPV asked, each state awarded its electors to the winner of not just its own popular vote, but of the national popular vote? Of course, there’s little incentive for a state to unilaterally enact such a law. Why, after all, would Massachusetts commit to award all of its electors to President Bush just because the national popular vote total in 2004 went his way? Or why would Arizona commit its electors to Barack Obama in 2008?

Curing a collective action dilemma, the NPV doesn’t require unilateral disarmament. Instead, it only goes into effect once 270 electoral votes’ worth of states enact it. That’s a majority of the Electoral College. And that means that the winner of the national popular vote would always receive a majority of the presidential electors.

Read the rest

Do conservative Christians only care about unborn children?

30 Apr

Allegedly, conservative Christians only care about children while they are in the womb. Yet, they are more likely to volunteer, more likely to give to charity, and more likely to form and maintain nuclear families, which are extremely beneficial to children. Are they more likely to oppose further expansion of government assistance to the poor? Yes. They apparently are more generous with their own money/time than with that of other people. Shame on them.

You hardly care for children if you hardly care for the nuclear family (CDC evidence)

28 Apr

From the CDC:

A couple new government reports have focused on the well-being of children in the United States. The first one focused on adverse family experiences1 and discovered that those “children living with neither of their parents are 2.7 times as likely as those living with both biological parents, and more than twice as likely as children living with one biological parent, to have had at least one adverse experience such as those shown in the figure below.”

What’s worse is that children “living with one parent are fifteen times as likely to have had four or more adverse experiences as those living with two biological parents, and for children in nonparental care that number rises to thirty.” It is important to point out that “researchers did not control for household income or other demographic factors, and that the reported adverse experiences, apart from financial deprivation, include those that occurred at any time in the child’s life. That means, for instance, that the many adverse experiences of children in foster care may have preceded (and led to) their being placed in foster care, or that the violence or drug use of one biological parent could have led to the child living exclusively with the other biological parent…Nevertheless, the figures are a striking illustration of how children in the care of both biological parents are most likely to escape adverse experiences.”

The second report provides a snapshot of children’s health in the United States and its relation to family structure. Overall, those in nuclear families (i.e. children “living with two parents who are married to one another and are each biological or adoptive parents to all children in the family”) fared better than those in other family structures. Children in nuclear families wereleast likely to be in “good,” “fair,” or “poor” health as opposed to “very good” or “excellent” health.

Percentages of Children in Good, Fair, or Poor Health by Family Structure

Data on chronic conditions and behavioral issues produced similar findings. “Although some confounding factors were controlled for…the researchers emphasize that since they simply measured family structure and child outcomes at a single point in time, their findings still cannot be used to make conclusions about causality. Prior research, they note, suggests that the arrow may go both ways…And obviously, family structure is one among many factors that matter for children’s health. In the CDC data, lower socioeconomic status (conditions of poverty or near-poverty, or parental educational attainment of no more than a high school diploma) was associated with worse health outcomes for children in every type of family, and sometimes it essentially drowned out the association between family structure and health. On the other hand, family structure and stability are associated with children’s health in many parts of the developing world, where access to health care is limited and where single-parent families are actually less likely than nuclear families to be socioeconomically disadvantaged. Teasing out all the determinants of children’s health will take more research than is currently available, but at this stage, family background seems in many cases to be one significant factor.”

What the church should say to Bruce Jenner

27 Apr

From Russell Moore (excerpt):

The hope for Bruce Jenner, and for others like him, is not to alter the body with surgery or to flood their systems with hormones. The answer is to realize that all of us are born alienated from what we were created to be. We don’t need to fix what happened in our first birth; we need a new birth altogether.

For the church, this is going to mean both conviction and wisdom. Our transgender neighbors experience real suffering, and we should suffer with them. The answers the culture and the Sexual Revolution-Industrial Complex offer can’t relieve that suffering. We should stand for God’s good design, including around what Jesus says has been true “from the beginning”—that we are created male and female, not as self-willed designations but as part of God’s creative act (Mk. 10:6).

In so doing, what every previous civilization would have seen as obvious, that maleness and femaleness are part of our biological design, will be seen as out-of-kilter with the culture. So be it. We will stand with conviction, even as we offer mercy. We’ve been called to keep in step with the Spirit, even if we can’t always keep up with the Kardashians.

Full article here

So much “progress” has left so many (children) behind. Putnam’s Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis

27 Apr

Championing Our Kids

April 27, 2015

Robert Putnam’s new book Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis has quickly become the context for America’s national debate on poverty – cited, praised, disputed, criticized – but often at the center of think tank debates and conference discussions. And if the forthcoming presidential election ever rises to a minimal level of sophistication on issues of inequality and social mobility, Putnam’s work will figure prominently.

This is a very good thing for our country. Putnam is playing the essential role of reintroducing America to itself, and the experience is unpleasant. A nation once divided between north and south has become bifurcated by a line of class. A single society has become two different worlds of opportunity.

One is the world of the educated and wealthy, characterized by greater family stability, economic prospects, and community cohesion. The wealthy live in places with better schools, increasingly segregated from the working class. Parents there have a greater ability to invest time – including early childhood interaction, what Putnam calls “Goodnight Moon” time – and resources in their children. When schools aren’t living up to expectations, there are tutors. When children get into trouble, as children of every background manage to do, there are lawyers, psychologists, and addiction treatment counselors. In this world, children are more likely to participate in extracurricular activities and church-related groups where they learn important social skills. They are more likely to be situated in a circle of adults beyond their family that helps with advice, internships, and jobs.

The world of the working class, in contrast, features economic stagnation, family instability, and community breakdown. Large economic trends, particularly globalization and the technological revolution, have pushed the blue-collar economy in many places into a permanent slump. Wages have stagnated or declined, and workforce participation has fallen. At the same time, the connection between childbearing and marriage has been broken. Chronically stressed parents – often single parents – have less time and fewer resources to invest in their children. They often practice a parenting style that is harsher and less nurturing, with serious consequences for early childhood development.  Community institutions, including public schools, are weak, providing children with fewer extracurricular opportunities. When children get into trouble, there is no support structure of addiction treatment and legal help. As Putnam puts it, the “airbags” do not deploy.

In Our Kids, Putnam ably summarizes recent studies on all these topics – on family structure, on religious engagement, on early childhood brain development. His overarching argument is compelling: The best social scientific research demonstrates the need for children to be located in strong social and family networks, but those networks are rapidly declining in the working class. The result is a class divide that is fundamentally at odds with the American ideal.

The power of Our Kids, however, is not found in its exposition. It is found in its storytelling. Putnam highlights case studies, gathered from hundreds of interviews in low and higher income families. This does more than personalize the book; these individual cases add up to a serious analytic point. All of the economic, social, and cultural trends that Putnam describes are experienced by children as one thing: the absence of responsible, loving, consistent adults in their lives. Our Kids reveals a national crisis of child neglect and emotional abandonment, and the evidence is heartbreaking.

Consider the matter of birthdays. Those of us who have children understand the eager desire for personal affirmation that all kids feel on the anniversary of their birth. It is, as far as they are concerned, a national celebration of their personhood. In Our Kids, one interview subject, Kaya, describes her tenth birthday. “I couldn’t have a cake or anything like that because we were struggling so bad,” she remembered.  “My dad said, ‘We don’t really have the money for it. We’re going to do it in May or June.’ I was like ‘Oh, okay.’  I was pretty sad about it, but it was like ‘whatever.’” The resignation in that final statement is really a resignation to a world indifferent to her personhood.

Or take the case of Sophia, who recalls her mother’s response to her birthday, “The day after my ninth birthday, she was arrested down the street from here for prostitution. And she never came to see me. She was so close, but she chose prostitution and drugs over me.” This communicates an almost unimaginable message of worthlessness in the life of a child.

Many of Putnam’s case studies reveal children who are radically disconnected from structures of nurture. Putnam tells the story of David, who isn’t allowed to visit his father in prison because he is on parole himself. “I never really had around-the-family-table dinners at all,” he muses, “so I never got to miss it.” David’s quote is unintentionally ironic. He has missed participation in a cultural institution he suspects is very valuable, a symbol of stability. Some of the children in Our Kids have attempted to cope with abandonment by adopting a pose of cynicism. So Mary Sue posts on Facebook: “Love gets you hurt; trust gets you killed.”

These case studies are not always sad. The children often exhibit remarkable resilience, and parents generally do not intend emotional harm to children. They are often dealing with a toxic level of stress in their own lives that constrains their ability to provide what their children need. But the consequence for children is nonetheless tragic. The lack of serve-and-return interactions early in life can cause deficits in brain development and problems in social adjustment. These kids often start the education process already behind. According to one study Putnam cites, 72 percent of middle class children know the alphabet when entering school, compared to 19 percent of poor children. Children from overwhelmed and dysfunctional families can have problems with impulse control and fail to gain social skills, such as showing up on time and working with others, that future employers value.

The most disturbing aspect of this story is not educational or economic.  It is emotional.  Many of the children Putnam highlights feel a pervasive sense of abandonment.  They have accumulated a heavy burden of suspicion and distrust. It is difficult to become a thriving, responsible adult after feeling abandoned as a child. Not impossible, but difficult.

While the book’s emphasis on stories is effective, Putnam’s voice in the book is particularly praiseworthy. He is morally offended by the findings he conveys. In his view, the findings violate America’s “foundational national pledge that God has created each of us equal.” The normal tone of academic writing is analytic and dispassionate. Putnam, in contrast, is unapologetic about his love for the American ideal and angered by its attenuation. In reaching for words sufficient for his outrage, the author quotes Proverbs: “The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.” Putnam is doing more than presenting a social scientific case. He is urging social solidarity and calling America to a moral ideal of inclusion.

Putnam preaches social justice as he takes on the role of prophet, warning about future social disaster. He compares America’s problem of stalled social mobility to global warming. With global warming, the circumstances we see today reflect practices of decades ago, and our current habits of pollution will determine sea levels and crop growth patterns decades into the future. On social policy, Putnam argues, the lead times are similarly long. Our current level of economic mobility for young adults reflects their economic, social, and family circumstances of two decades ago when they were raised. Those circumstances today are worse, by nearly every measure. According to Putnam, this means that social mobility “seems poised to plunge in the year ahead, shattering the American Dream.”

The author of Our Kids is clearly a man of the left, but an older form of the left.  Putnam’s ideal is the socially mixed, economically fluid, communitarian America of the 1940s and 1950s (minus the sexism and racism).  Some of his critics have accused him of nostalgia, but the charge is unfair. His comparison of the social conditions that prevailed in post-World War II America reveals what has been lost. How these precious things might be regained is a different matter (and the weakest point of the book). Good diagnosis, in the end, is not sufficient. But all treatment and recovery begin with good diagnosis.

Serious political action on these issues will require a shared understanding of the problem.  And this is where Our Kidsshines. Putnam offers a comprehensive picture of our social and economic crisis that both includes and challenges the whole spectrum of American ideology. He challenges the left to take seriously the roles of family and religious participation. There is no escaping the fact that America’s two-tier family structure is a main source of growing class division. The wealthy and educated have often adopted a neo-traditional model – the old family structure with greater gender equality and two incomes. The poor have often adopted a shifting kaleidoscope of family arrangements in which the role of the father has become voluntary. Many children, as a result, fall through the cracks. Putnam cites a shocking figure: Compared to college-educated men, men with a high school education are four times more likely to father children with whom they don’t live, and half as likely to visit those children.

In many of Putnam’s stories, religious institutions are the last refuge of help and social order in decaying, dangerous communities. Kids who are active in their religious communities are more involved in extracurricular activities and less prone to substance abuse and delinquency. Traditionally, religious participation for the affluent and the poor was similar. But poor families are now less religiously involved than the affluent.

There are plenty of uncomfortable findings in Our Kids for conservatives to chew on as well. Many of the social and cultural problems they decry, including family breakdown, are related to the collapse of the blue-collar economy. Putnam highlights his hometown of Port Clinton, Ohio, a struggling rust-belt community. In 1978, 9 percent of children were born out of wedlock – about half the national rate. By 1990, nearly 40 percent of children in Port Clinton were born out of wedlock – twice the national rate. During these twelve years, Port Clinton did not experience moral collapse; it experienced the collapse of the local economy. While cultural factors surely played a role, they could not have been decisive.

Conservatives will need to take seriously that global economic trends have made rewarding work for people with limited education rare in large portions of the country – a trend with destructive radiating social effects. And the problem has been particularly concentrated among men. As Putnam points out, real hourly wages for men with a college degree and a full-time job grew by more than 20 percent from 1980 to 2012.  During the same period, real wages fell by 22 percent for high school dropouts and by 11 percent for high school graduates.

Putnam’s survey of possible policy responses at the end of his book is likely to disappoint both liberals and conservatives. The ideas seem obviously insufficient to the scale of the problem the author has described. But Putnam’s goal is not contained in a five-point plan.  He wants to place the collapse of the American dream for millions of Americans at the center of the political debate, in order to produce a virtuous competition of creative policy ideas from liberals and conservatives.

“I have an old fashioned view,” Putnam recently wrote to me, “that politics is about persuading opponents, not just vilifying them. So I’m trying hard to keep focused on the kids. We need more champions for them and fewer ‘villains’ in our politics.  But my view of politics may be hopelessly outdated.”

Let us hope this is not true. And let us appreciate the important social contribution of Robert Putnam, a champion for our kids.

Questions for Reflection:

1)    How have you observed what the author calls “a national crisis of childhood neglect and emotional abandonment,” and what do you see are the radiating effects of that in various communities?

2)    Given this national crisis, what are the proper roles and responsibilities of government in response to this, alongside those of other institutions such as churches, families, businesses, and nonprofits?

3)    Where do you see your individual role in responding to God’s call to love your neighbor, in this case children, regardless of whether you have children of your own?

– Michael J. Gerson is a Visiting Fellow with the Center for Public Justice and a nationally syndicated columnist who appears twice weekly in The Washington Post. He is the author of Heroic Conservatism (2007) and the co-author of City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era (2010)

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