The first baptismal pool

This baptistry of the Lateran was built in the 4th century in Rome. It was one of the first public baptistries built by Emperor Constantine after his conversion to Christianity. Historically, Christian converts were baptized once a year on the eve of Easter. People in droves were baptized by immersion in this octagonal shaped pool. When you look up at the dome inside (which itself is supported by 8 columns), you’ll see an image of the dove of the Spirit in the center. Some baptistries built after this were very large and could hold many baptisms. Before Constantine, baptistries such as this one did not exist. In fact, Christians lived could only live out their faith in secret and were regularly fed to the lions as a game-sport or were burned alive. (Thank God for the working of the Spirit upon political leaders). Before Constantine Christians were likely baptized in secret. It might also be possible that the practice of water baptism was not ritualized like it is today. One thing for sure is that the method of baptism, as a ritual in the post-Constantine period, was done by immersion. It was only in the 6th century that baptism by sprinkling was used with the baptismal font. After the 9th century, infant baptism slowly became popular and fewer baptistries were built.

Sin is a virus, but Christ is the remedy

Human sin seems to rear its ugly head day-in and day-out—everyday! Somebody help rescue us from this virus that we can’t shake off! It’s in front of us, behind us, to our left and to our right. We can’t get away from it. It’s like a viral infection we can’t sem to shake off. It’s everywhere, and it seems to follow us wherever we go. We human beings also seem to attract all kinds of sins like a magnet, e.g., gossip, quarreling, jealousy, anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance, disorder, unforgiveness, sexual sins are just a few (2 Cor.12:20-21). We all contract this sin in the same way that Adam and Eve first contracted sin, and it leads to many other sins, and it spreads like a virus. We were born in sin no differently than the first man and woman were. We are born in sin and are naturally curved in on oneself.

The reformer, Philip Melanchthon (Luther’s sidekick), says in the Augsburg Confession that “all human beings who are born in the natural way are conceived and born in sin. This means that from birth they are full of evil lust and inclination and cannot by nature possess true fear of God and true faith in God.” As a result, our natural human inclinations, without the grace of God in our lives, are that: we do not love God, are ignorant of God, despise God, lack fear and trust in God, hate and want to avoid the judgment of God, are angry at God, and despair the grace of God. The only remedy is that God grants all of us grace and forgiveness so that we can be free from the consequences of our sin. Jesus Christ is this remedy.

Today’s Evangelicals: still "sold out" for Christ

I was surprised to hear the term “fundamentalist” used by some people to describe evangelicals. Most evangelicals do not even know what a fundamentalist is. It is actually a pejorative term that should not be used to describe evangelicals. Today’s evangelical churches have no resemblance in form and style with the evangelical churches of the 1960s or 1970s. Today’s Evangelicals have become “mainline” Christianity. The old mainline churches have lost their place of primacy to the evangelicals as the shapers of mainstream society.

In my experience of being a blend of pentecostal-evangelical-Lutheran, I kind of have my foot in both worlds and am familiar with both worlds. Post-modern evangelicals have a very acute understanding of what the post-modern world is about. They feel they are called to engage the world, e.g., social, political, financial. The New Evangelicals would repudiate separatism and anti-academia. The New Evangelicals do not want to return to the good ol’ days of Little House on the Prairie and Leave it to Beaver. In fact, they have no idea what it is. The new generation of evangelicals see themselves as post-modern, missional, prophetic, theologically-minded, and desire to make the practice of their faith and theology relevant to today’s post-modern age.

In today’s post-modern evangelical churches (or meeting places as some call it), their worship music, language, culture, and ways of speaking are so post-modern that one might even have to look twice to differentiate it from post-modern culture. I am not saying that the post-modern evangelicals condone a lax moral lifestyle. They definitely do not condone sinful lifestyles. Style must be differentiated from substance. Today’s evangelicals want to live out their lives “sold out” for Christ but they have the style of the post-modern culture. I think this is very Pauline, i.e., “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Cor.9:22, TNIV). As missional Christians, aren’t we all called to carry out the Great Commission?

Salt and light in the world

After my wife came back from BreakForth in Edmonton, AB, I noticed in her a renewed passion for God and spiritual things of the Lord. It made me reflect and ask: “How much of what we learn in the classroom is really useful in the real world?” What I am learning in seminary does seem far away from the average layperson in the church. Sure, academic learning is useful for the mind; it does builds understanding. But in the real world of congregational ministry, is the theory/theology I learn going to really impact the average layperson? Perhaps to a certain extent pure knowledge may help them but to genuinely influence a person, one ought to have some spiritual depth within. An empty vessel is just an empty vessel. An empty vessel has nothing to offer others. It is only out that which comes from the abundance of one’s spiritual depth that will impact a person. People don’t care about how much we know. They care about how much we love and care about them.

As we ask God to fill us with more of the Holy Spirit and become more like Christ, and shape us more into his image, we will be more useful in the service of God. The Spirit calls each of us to be in a closer relationship with the Lord. As we connect with others, others will sense a spiritual depth within us and will cause them to become more hungry and thirsty for the presence of God. When our own spiritual “cup” is full, God’s presence will overflow out of its abundance. In this way, we may be the salt and light in this world. God calls the church to be in mission for others. The purpose and mission of the church can be empowered as each of us become like salt and light.

Impossible bible translation

The linguistic challenge is only one aspect of the difficulties inherent in bible translation. There are other aspects that would make anyone dizzy trying to understand why bible translation is not so simple, or black and white. All we can hope for, in any translation, is something that comes closest to the originally intended meaning. The fact is, there is not one language that can be perfectly translated into another language because each language is limited by its own vocabulary, grammar, and cultural-linguistic uniqueness (…and thank God for the richness in our diversity!) For example, if one were to translate English into Swahili, the Swahili language may not even have an equivalent word in existence to fully and perfectly express the particular idea that one wants expressed in English. Each language has its own unique and particular nuance that cannot be fully expressed in another language. For instance, Greek has 4 different words to express the 4 types of “love”, whereas, English only uses the one word: “love” to express all the various types of love. To get around this difficulty, translators must apply dynamic equivalence, but we would lose out on some of its formal equivalence. Furthermore, words in the original language may be completely out-of-date and can no longer be understood by today’s translators. The meaning in words are in constant and dynamic change; therefore, all translations should stay current in their use of various terminologies and phraseologies.

Most translations are excellent and reliable for use in the pulpit, in bible study, personal study, and public reading. It’s really just a matter of personal preference. The various translations available range from formal equivalence (word-for-word translation from the Greek & Hebrew) to dynamic equivalence (idea-for-idea translation). Each translation philosophy is valid in its approach to achieve the originally intended meaning of the biblical writers. Some people may claim that formal equivalence (word-for-word translation from the Greek & Hebrew) is the most accurate but these claims are invalid. And some people also claim that dynamic equivalence (idea-for-idea translation) is the most accurate, but these claims are also invalid. If we go for formal equivalence, we may lose some accuracy in the writers’ intended ideas. Vice versa, if we go for dynamic equivalence, we may lose some precision in the writers’ intended “technical definition”. There are pros and cons that go with each translation philosophy so we must allow for some “give-and-take” if we choose to go with one particular translation that is predominantly governed by one philosophy. Words and/or ideas expressed in the original language can never be 100% perfectly expressed in another language because that second language may not even have an equivalent word available. This is true for all modern languages in the world today. Even if we were to learn the original biblical languages of Greek and Hebrew, we would still not know for certain their originally intended meaning. Those who know how to speak 2 or 3 languages fluently will know what I am talking about. If you only know English, try asking someone who knows several languages and you may be enlightened and surprised. The more I learned about the difficulties involved in bible translation, the less I became certain that 100% accuracy was possible.

We have to commend bible translators for trying their best to give us good reliable translations in the English language. Imagine the difficulties for bible translators who are translating the bible into the hundreds of languages in the world today. There are thousands of other languages still left untouched. These translators are doing God’s work to further the kingdom of God on earth today. They work quietly in the background and need our prayers and support. Often, we forget about the people working in the world of bible translation and we often take for granted our English bibles that are so easily accessible to us in this part of the world. We don’t know the difficulties and challenges inherent in this sort of work. We may make claims regarding our exclusive and personal preferences about why we prefer one translation over another. However, we should not criticize the various translations or make over-confident claims that one translation is “the one, and only, true word of God”. I hope I have not caused anyone to doubt the reliability or the authority of God’s holy and inspired word. I just hope that the average person become informed about these real-life difficulties that are inherent in bible translation. We can hold sure that God’s written word, together with the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, will faithfully guide all peoples into the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ–today and tomorrow. (Note: Wycliffe Translators is just one of many organizations around the world doing bible translation).

Can the Orthodox doctrine of sin be post-modern?

I have come across an alternative view of original sin which I find very compelling. The Eastern Orthodox view of sin is a little different from how Luther and Calvin saw original sin. The Reformers saw our human nature and essence as so thoroughly corrupted and damaged (total depravity) that it cannot be recognized by our human technical reason but only from logos Word and through ontological reason. This Evangelical view has been my view for a long time. But the reason I find the Orthodox view of sin compelling is in its starting point. Orthodox theology seems to view sin more in terms of a relationship than judicially (i.e., right and wrong). Holiness is still a virtue. Original sin is seen from the viewpoint that humanity has stopped being hungry for God and for God alone. It considers humanity’s failure to be hungry for fellowship with God’s Spirit. In other words, we humans have stopped seeing our whole life as a fellowship with God. It is not that sin has less to do with disobedience and unrighteousness; it does not condone sin in any way way shape or form. It emphasizes our relationship with God while not making light of sin–which is what evangelicals would agree with too. Guilt is not seen as being inherited, rather, human beings are born into an environment where doing evil is easy and doing good is more difficult. This view seems to make a lot of sense for those who do not see how human beings have inherited sin from our ancestors Adam and Eve. This doctrine of sin could potentially be repackaged as a post-modern view because it’s a way to view sin that is more understandable (perhaps you could say it is contextual to our post-modern generation). Perhaps our evangelical view could also incorporate our traditional view of sin with this Eastern Orthodox view of sin. It might also help contribute to a stronger sense of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Total depravity is not the only way to help us rely on God, but also, knowing Christ relationally can also help us to not trust in our own power, will, intellect, etc.

What is original sin?

Today, as I was teaching my Sunday School class on today’s lesson from Luke 3:14-17 and 21-22 on Jesus’ baptism, which led to our own baptism, and eventually onto the elusive topic of original sin. Many Christians do not seem to really understand what original sin really is and have never really moved beyond our Sunday School understanding of “Sin”. Many have a rather naive understanding of original sin, i.e., Adam and Eve ate the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil and became corrupted by their sinful fleshly desire to be like God. However, it goes much deeper than this contemporary view that has been made popular by the cartoon image of Adam eating the apple. Our view on sin ought to be deepened and expanded. I was a little surprised the kids in the class were able to grasp the concept of concupiscence or original sin. But I really shouldn’t be so surprised because kids have much intellectual capacity than we generally give them credit for. In the Sunday school classes of our churches, we ought to draw deeper from the wealth of the Reformers like Luther and Calvin, and also Augustine. That is why I appreciate seminary education and the opportunity to put it to use in my congregation. Perhaps I will talk a little about original sin here on this blog.

The Reformers, Luther and Calvin, saw one’s guilt of original sin being washed away after baptism; however the immaterial element and essence of sin still remains. This immaterial element may be seen as concupiscence. Simply put, concupiscence is the “leftover” base human desires that cannot be erased, which can be witnessed in our natural inclinations of the flesh. It remains indelibly marked as part of our human nature. After baptism and spiritual regeneration, this inner inclination toward evil is still seen as sin; it never disappears (until the day of full redemption). Sin will pop up sooner or later…no matter how hard we may try to hide it. (Unfortunately, many of us try to hide it and work hard at hiding it too). Luther agreed with Augustine that in baptism, our “Sin” (in the singular) and “sins” (in the plural) are forgiven but this immaterial element of sin still remains within us, which explains why we still continue to commit sin. Luther described the person in sin as being “curved in on oneself.” An existential theologian, Paul Tillich, described concupiscence in a creative way. Tillich says that humans have removed one’s center from the divine center, and has made oneself the center of oneself and the world. This creates a void, which makes one seek for abundance, and the temptation is to seek for unlimited abundance. This desire is called concupiscence.