Electrocution in the baptistry: Why risk it?

Monday, October 31, 2005
During the morning service on Sunday, October 30, 2005, 33-year-old Kyle Lake, pastor of the University Baptist Church (Waco, Texas), was accidentally electrocuted when he touched a microphone while standing chest-deep in the water of the church's baptistry. The person he was about to immerse escaped unharmed. Despite 40 minutes of CPR, Kyle was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital at 11:30 a.m. Here is more information about the victim of this tragedy, as well as an interview with Kyle in happier times.

Some might react to news of this tragedy by asking why someone would be in the baptistry in the first place. Why baptize anyone these days? And if you have to baptize, why not resort to sprinkling? Baptism by immersion is too messy and time-consuming. Why bother, when a few drops on the forehead will do the trick just as well? One wipe with a towel and voilĂ ! The deed is done, and no cleanup necessary.

Immersion the original mode
Almost no one denies that immersion--not sprinkling or pouring--was the original mode of baptism. The Bible makes this clear in two passages: John 3:23 and Acts 8:38-39. Aenon was a good spot for baptizing because there was plenty of water there. Philip and the Ethiopian official both "went down into the water" and "came up out of the water." (See also Mark 1:10 and parallels.)

Original symbolism confirms immersion
This biblical mode fits the spiritual significane of the act. When you are immersed, it is obvious to everyone that you are taking a bath. You don't bother to take a full bath unless you are really, really dirty. Again and again the Bible speaks of sin as pollution (Numbers 35:33; Ezra 9:11; Acts 15:20; James 1:27; Jude 8). It is moral filth (Proverbs 30:12; Isaiah 4:4; 64:6; Zechariah 3:3-4; Col. 3:8; James 1:21; Rev. 17:4). It contaminates both body and spirit (2 Corinthians 7:1). It is a stain that must be washed away (Jeremiah 2:22; Jude 23). It affects the total person, and only a cleansing involving the total person will do.

Beyond this image of a bath, baptism also pictures a burial. It is a re-enactment of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Savior (Romans 6:3-4; Colossians 2:12-13). When someone dies, how do you bury them? Do you sprinkle a little dirt on their forehead, or do you cover them up completely?

Symbolic "before" and "after"
This symbolism carries with it "before" and "after" connotations. Just as people have forgotten the original symbolism of the mode of baptism, so they have also lost sight of the place of baptism as the transition point between moral filth and purity, and between spiritual death and life. Before, I am polluted; after, I am washed clean by the blood of Christ.

This is confirmed by Paul's own experience of having his sins washed away in baptism, having called on the name of the Lord (Acts 22:16). He calls it "the washing with water through the word" (Ephesians 5:26) and "the washing of rebirth" (Titus 3:5). (Note that both the first and second of these three passages feature the believer's confession of Christ, the Savior empowering the symbol.)

Before, I am dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1; Colossians 2:13); after, I am made alive in Christ (Colossians 2:12). Of course, there's nothing magical in the water. It's power is faith in the cross of Christ and in His resurrection (Romans 6:4-7). As Colossians 2:12 says, "...having been buried with Him in baptism and raise with Him through your faith in the power of God, who raised Him from the dead." My eyes are on Him, not on me. My faith is in the cross, not in the ritual.

Affirming baptism's purpose as well as its mode
Everyone committed to the ongoing validity of the Scriptures will also be committed to immersion as the only proper mode of baptism. They will also reaffirm the biblical teaching, not only about its mode, but about its purpose. We should teach and practice the immersing of penitent believers in water for the forgiveness of their sins (Acts 2:39) because of Christ's death and resurrection.

We can reduce the risk of electrocution by using cordless microphones, but we must neither reduce nor distort the biblical significance of this God-ordained rite. If you want to "go deeper" in your study of this subject, see my article in the series, "It's all Greek to me," entitled, "Together with Christ." Pray for Kyle's family--his wife Jennifer, his five-year-old daughter, and two three-year-old sons--and for all who knew him and are devastated by this loss.

Steve Singleton, DeeperStudy.com
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Read and remember

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Q. Would you please share with me your thoughts about how to study the Bible?

A. The most important thing you can do is to read the Bible. I do not mean reading a verse or two, but reading a book of the Bible all the way through. Many people who want to study the Bible do not do this simple thing. Once you have read a Bible book several times through, you start to get an idea of what it is all about. Here are some verses on this point: 2 Chronicles 34:14-28; Nehemiah 8:l-18; Psalm 19:7-10; all of Psalm 119, but see for instance, verses 9-16; 1 Timothy 4:13; Revelation 1:l-3. These all show the importance of reading, meditating on, and remembering the Word of God.

The next step is to outline the book of the Bible you have read over and over again. Find the natural places where the author moves on to a new topic. In the historical books this is often indicated by a change of place or by the passage of time. In the prophetic books and the epistles, there will be indicators in the text, such as "This is what the Lord says," or "Now I want you to know, brothers" or "Finally." When you come across these "context markers," they will help you to break the text up into smaller pieces. Then, read each piece over and over until you can summarize in your ow words what that portion is about. Your summary might sound like this: "Jesus heals a lame man at a pool" or "Paul discusses the importance of living a pure life." Summarize each of the pieces of the book in a similar way.

Then divide each piece into its paragraphs. Your Bible should be able to help you here, for many Bibles divide the text into paragraphs, indenting the first line of each paragraph. You should be able to summarize each paragraph like you did the larger pieces. Try to figure out how the thoughts flow from one paragraph to the next.

Once you have done this for the entire book, you have a good idea.of what the book is all about, and how the ideas flow from beginning to end. Then you can use that overview to help you understand what any one or two verses mean. You can also look at other passages where the same concept occurs and let those verse inform your thinking about this passage. You are looking to understand how the verses harmonize and fill in meaning for one another. If you think they are in conflict with each other, chances are good that you have misunderstood one or both of them.

Then, you can compare your results with what the writers of commentaries have said about a passage. But it is much better to do you own work first before you consult the commentaries. Then you will be able to debate the writers and not just swallow everything they try to feed you. If you look at commentaries, it will not take you long to discover that some are better than others, and that some are written for expert scholars, while others are on a very simple level. Find the level that you need given where you are in your Bible study. Try to discern the strengths and weaknesses of the commentary writer. Do not just accept what they say because you suppose they are better informed than you are. Listen to their reasons, and see if they make sense to you. (Sometimes they will persuade you, and sometimes you will only become convinced never to use that commentary again.)

Finally, you should be able to summarize what you have learned about a passage by explaining it to someone in a way that they can understand. Give your reasons for the interpretations you have made and the conclusions you have reached. Also, let it be known that you are willing to study the passage some more and would be open to hearing another point of view.

Steve Singleton, DeeperStudy.com
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Pretending Doesn’t Make It So

Monday, October 17, 2005

It was the fourth quarter in the Friday night football game between rival Texas high schools Keller and Richland (October 14, 2005), with Keller in possession on its own one-yard line. The Keller quarterback handed off to running back Lyndon LaPlante. LaPlante swept to the left and ran 99 yards to the goal line amid cheers from his teammates, his coaches, and his classmates in the stands. Here's a video of his run.

But LaPlante's run didn't count. Was there a penalty on the play? Had he stepped out of bounds? No. The whole thing was a set-up, probably inspired by "Radio," the 2003 film starring Cuba Gooding Jr., Ed Harris, and Debra Winger. Kevin Atkinson, the Keller coach, had long been planning to give Lyndon, who has Down Syndrome, this moment of glory. He cleared it with Richland coach Gene Wier and with the game's officials prior to the opening kickoff that it would happen on Keller's first offensive play of the fourth quarter. Even the fans were in on the gesture, as they rose to their feet and cheered.

"Man, it was awesome," LaPlante said. He was still holding the game ball when his mother woke him up on Saturday morning. "Everybody said, 'Lyndon! Lyndon! Lyndon!' I was crying with chills."

We applaud this act of kindness; it was a wonderful expression of love and appreciation that Lyndon and his family will always remember fondly. Nevertheless, Lyndon's touchdown didn't change the score; on the next play, Keller was right back at its own one-yard line.

My postmodern friends tell me, "Perception forms reality." But is it really true? Is reality totally subjective, or does reality exist objectively, whether or not we perceive it correctly? Teams, coaches, officials, and fans all agreed that despite Lyndon's perception, an objective reality existed that said: "No score."

We can apply this same principle again and again in our world. Children's test scores should be meaningful measures of their knowledge and skills. They shouldn't move on to the next grade unless they pass. Adults who are incompetent should not stay in jobs to fill a racial, ethnic, or disability quota. We should measure governmental programs or policies with objective standards. Those that aren't working we should fix or end. Why? Because if we ignore objective reality, it will come back to bite us in painfully objective ways, like collapsing bridges or incompetent bureaucrats.

The same principle holds true in the moral universe. Someone argues, "A universal moral code doesn't exist--everyone knows that. We can all agree that anyone who claims it does exist is a big liar." Do you perceive the contradiction? Making such a claim doesn't make it so.

Likewise you can look at your own life and say, "I am perfect in every way." But even if you convince yourself, that doesn't make you flawless. According to the Apostle John, if we should make such a claim, "We deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us" (1 John 1:8). What could be worse? Only someone who claims not only to be perfect now, but also blameless in the past. John says "If we claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar, and His word has no place in our lives" (verse 10). That is one function the Bible fulfills for us: it calls us back to objective reality. We are sinners in need of a Savior--and not just One Who can make us feel saved, but One who saves us in reality.

Abraham Lincoln once asked a stubborn disputant, "How many legs does a cow have?" "Why, four, of course!" was the reply. Lincoln leaned forward and looked the man in the eye, "Well then, how many would it have if we called its tail a leg?" With a sneer, the man answered, "Five!" "Nope!" said Lincoln. "It would still have four, because calling a tail a leg doesn't make it so."

Steve Singleton, DeeperStudy.com
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Supreme Court justices: Their business is our business

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Perhaps you are confused about all of the media attention lately regarding the confirmation of John Roberts to replace the late William Rehnquist as chief justice of the Supreme Court and the nomination of Harriet Miers to replace Sandra Day O'Connor as an associate justice. It's a big deal because President Bush has the opportunity to appoint people who likely will stay at their posts long after he is no longer president--perhaps for 20 years or more. Supreme Court justices tend to be a president's longest-lasting legacy.

You may also have heard the phrase "strict constructionist" as opposed to someone who "legislates from the bench." Conservatives want the former, and liberals, though they are embarrassed to 'fess up, usually seek the latter. "Legislating from the bench" means that a justice believes the Constitution should be interpreted in the light of changes in contemporary society. This may result in the creation of new laws that have little or no connection to the original Constitution, its duly ratified amendments, or the string of later decisions based on them (what is called "precedent").

By contrast, a "strict constructionist" seeks to interpret the Constitution according to the way its original framers intended it to be understood. "Strict constructionists" believe that any updating of the Constitution to align it more closely to the "changes in contemporary society" must be done through the amendment process as spelled out in the Constitution itself. They would interpret the amendments in the same way--according to "original intent"--and as much as possible would maintain a continuity with the reasoning that threads through the 200-plus years of cases associated with each issue that confronts them. But how do the justices determine "original intent"?

The first step is a careful study of the Constitution itself. Each line of the original document must be analyzed in its internal context, that is, according to how it relates to all of the words and phrases that come before and after it within the document (hence, 'internal'). The immediate context is most important, but the wider context also plays a role. What words are used in a particular clause, and how are they related grammatically and conceptually to the others words around them? Do these same words occur elsewhere in the document? How are they used there?

A second step would be to research other documents written by or accessible to the framers of the Constitution. Here is where The Federalist Papers become important, for this series of essays were written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay to explain the Constitution and persuade the citizens to support its ratification. Other writings are studied as well, including the works of John Locke and Edmund Burke, among others. These form the external context for understanding the Constitution. If a clause of the Constitution or its amendment is subject to two or more interpretations, the justices of the Supreme Court have the duty to determine what it actually means. Their written opinions often describe in detail their reasoning leading to the conclusions they reached.

If you are a student of the Bible, you can readily see the parallels between the work these justices perform and the work all of us have to do to interpret the Scriptures. We are faced with similar choices. Will we be "strict constructionists," seeking to understand the "original intent" of the biblical writers, who speak for the divine Author? Or will we "legislate," rewriting the text to suit our whims? Determining "original intent" of a Bible passage involves a great deal of the same kind of work. We look at the internal context, attempting a grammatical and conceptual analysis. We look at how the word or phrase is used wherever it occurs in Holy Scripture. Then we turn to the "external context" of ancient extra-biblical literature, history, and culture.

The result of all of this work is an increased level of confidence in our understanding. The more we study, listen, and learn, the more confident we can be that we are understanding a passage correctly. Of course, you may be confident without such study, but is your confidence worth anything?

It should go without saying that gaining such understanding and such confidence is not the goal, for we are not Gnostics. Our purpose is relationship--with the Lord and with each other--resulting in life-transformation. We learn so that we may submit. We submit so that God may change us and then use us for His mission in this world. Such transformation cannot happen if we "legislate." The power of the Bible comes from its Source, and anyone perverting its message thereby cuts off that power.

Steve Singleton, DeeperStudy.com
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Puritan heritage repudiated by Hugh Hefner

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Playboy founder Hugh Hefner reportedly told Time magazine recently that reinventing himself necessarily involved abandoning his heritage, which includes William Bradford, who arrived on the Mayflower and was elected Plymouth Colony's first governor. "Instead of the Puritan world that my folks accepted and, from my perspective, paid the price for, I created a world for myself."

Reading this factoid in today's newspaper aroused my curiosity about Hefner's forefather. I learned that he is the author of a manuscript entitled, Of Plymouth Plantation, which recounts the events leading up to the 1620 voyage to the New World and the founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Some of Bradford's statements in the opening chapter find resonance in my heart, for much of what I've stood for seem merely echoes of his convictions. Here are a few excerpts, with updated English where needed.

"[Satan] sometimes by bloody death and cruel torments; other whiles imprisonments, banishments and other hard usages; as being loath his kingdom should go down, the truth prevail and the churches of God revert to their ancient purity and recover their primitive order, liberty, and beauty.... [Bradford then briefly recounts Satan's tactics of both persecution and of schisms and heresy during the reigns of Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. Yet, he says, the faithful] laboured to have the right worship of God and discipline of Christ established in the church, according to the simplicity of the gospel, without the mixture of men's inventions; and to have and to be ruled by the laws of God's Word, dispensed in those offices, and by those officers of Pastors, Teachers and Elders, etc. according to the Scriptures.

"Ancient purity... primitive order, liberty, and beauty... simplicity of the gospel, without the mixture of men's inventions"--these express well what the plea for the restoration of New Testament Christianity is all about. Later on, Bradford refers to the authority for things religious needing a "warrant in the Word of God." A humble servant of Jesus Christ, Bradford bowed to the Lord's authority as expressed in His New Covenant with humanity. (Want to go deeper? Read his entire first chapter.)

How different from Hefner's approach. Rather than humbly submitting to Scripture, Hefner says, "I created a world for myself." Does this not reflect in a subtle, Freudian way, the desire for Hefner to be his own god? In 1962 Hefner began releasing a series of 25 essays he called, "The Playboy Philosophy." It epitomized his hedonism and contained repeated attacks against "religious Puritanism," offering in its place total sexual freedom. The longest-lasting 50-year effect of his labor is rendering women compliantly two-dimensional, with two staples somewhere near their navels.

By "total sexual freedom," Hefner apparently includes not only the pornography that made him rich and famous, but bestiality and pedophilia. Rejecting any external standard of authority in sexual matters, where does one draw the line?

A study by Dr. Judith Reisman analyzing 30 years of Playboy cartoons reveals that the magazine began featuring cartoons about incest during its first full year of production in 1954. Then, from 1954 to 1984, Playboy averaged eight images of children (cartoons and illustrations) per issue, most sexual in tone. In 1971, its high year for child-related sexual "humor," it averaged 16 such images per issue. (For more, see my source for these statistics, traditionalvalues.org, which pointed me to the research of Dr. Judith Reisman, "The Psychopharmacology of Pictorial Pornography Restructuring Brain, Mind & Memory & Subverting Freedom of Speech" [CAUTION: Dr. Reisman's research is a 38-page report in PDF format containing sample cartoons from Playboy, Penthouse, and Hustler. Dr. Reisman's report is restricted to viewers over age 18.])

Bradford counted himself among those "whose hearts the Lord had touched with heavenly zeal for His truth, ...and as the Lord's free people joined themselves (by a covenant of the Lord) into a church estate, in the fellowship of the gospel, to walk in all His ways made known, or to be made known unto them, according to their best endeavors, whatsoever it should cost them, the Lord assisting them." No wonder Hefner decided he must leave this heritage behind. Bradford and Hefner are about as opposite as is conceivable. Had Hefner embraced the Puritan heritage of Bradford, how differently he would have treated women and children! How improved today's society might be!

Steve Singleton, DeeperStudy.org
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