Sola Scriptura: A Baptismal Defense

A talk presented to a conference hosted by the Presbyterian Committee on History and The Presbyterian College – as part of ongoing celebrations of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Still in somewhat rough form, but clear enough to follow.


Some days you feel like you’ve drawn the short straw. And let me confess that I feel a bit that way about this line-up of five events over five years, with each year dedicated to one of the famous Solas of the Reformation tradition.

Sola Gratia – Grace Alone

Sola Fide –Faith Alone

Solus Christus – Christ alone

Soli Deo Gloria – For God’s Glory Alone

And our sola for today, of course, is Sola Scriptura – by Scripture Alone.

I’ve got to say that when I thought of this line-up of topics, I said to myself: “Grace alone. That’s such a beautiful and compelling theme of the Reformation – that our lives are gift and grace – that new life in Christ is grace upon grace. Grace Alone is a beautiful and is such an uncontested theme of Christian life and faith. Who wouldn’t want to offer reflections on that topic?” Continue reading


division, baptism, unity — or, who we are

Let me begin this morning by reading again just a few words from 1 Corinthians chapter 1. For me these particular words are more than a little odd – they almost stick out like a sore thumb – and for that reason I want to start with them. Paul writes these words to the church in Corinth: “I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius.” Aren’t these curious words? “I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius.”

These words become astonishing when we realize that Paul is the one who founded the church in Corinth. These words come from the apostle who went to that city and who debated in its marketplace and synagogue, with the result that women and men came to faith and were baptized. These words come from the pen of someone who lived with the Corinthian church for 18 months – leading them and caring for them and teaching about their new life in Christ.

To this church, to this group of people with whom he has had such a significant and personal relationship, Paul writes: “I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius.” Strong and strange words. Continue reading

Beauty and Baptism

IMG_3572The image presented here is of a painting by the internationally known artist Makoto Fujimura – it is entitled “Golden Sea.” (To the right is a poster version we have purchased, and which hangs in the church entranceway.) And for this sermon I would actually like to do something a little bit different. I’d like to explore the question of baptism partly by looking at this painting. And rather than beginning with my own reflections, we are going to begin by viewing a short, 6-minute documentary video. It’s a video that gives a little bit of a sense of who Makoto Fujimura is and of the meaning and significance of his work – specifically of this particular work. One important aspect of his identity that I would point out ahead of time is that Fujimura is a Christian – he came to faith as a young adult and today he is a member of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan.

Our New Testament reading for today is from a letter the Apostle Paul sent to Christians living in the city of Rome. In that letter the apostle offers a foundational statement about who we are – a foundational statement about the identity of those who belong to Christ. Now the truth is that Paul doesn’t spend a lot of time on the question of baptism in this letter – just a few short verses. Yet in his very short discussion of baptism, we discover that baptism captures almost every aspect of Christian faith and life. Here is one key statement that Paul offers on the subject: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death…” Continue reading

Nail Polish and Parenting – muddling through

At the best of times, raising kids is a complicated business. In any given situation, multiple factors are at play: our own personalities, our children’s personalities, wider family dynamics, faith commitments, cultural assumptions, and the list goes on… and on… Very often, all we can do as parents is make our best guess at what we should be doing.

I recently found myself in a situation that gives almost perfect expression to the complexities of parenting – and this need to just muddle along. This particular situation arose when my eleven-year-old daughter decided that she wanted to put on some nail polish. Not that this was the first time that she had worn nail polish. She had done so in the past both for ‘dress up’ or as simply a fun thing to do with cousins or friends.

Yet this time was a little different. Most importantly, this was the first time she was putting on nail polish by herself, as an expression of who she was or wanted to be. It was sparkly turquoise nail polish she had gotten from one of her aunts. (Of course the aunts had to be from my side of the family – so I couldn’t even blame the in-laws for this!!)

greenBut as my daughter was putting on the nail polish, she very quickly discovered that while it is easy to put the nail polish on your left hand (when you are right handed), it’s not so easy putting it on the right hand! When she came down from the bathroom, the nail polish was, as you might expect, uneven. There were turquoise bits on the edges of skin around her fingernails. I responded with a wonderfully helpful, “oh, that doesn’t look very good.”

And in that moment the uncertainty and conflict about what to do arose. Continue reading

Baptism of Jesus – the water of Jordan as blessing – from an Armenian liturgy for Epiphany

From a 1905, Armenian liturgy, for the blessing of water in Epiphany;

“And now we pray thee, Lord who lovest mankind, send thy holy Spirit from above into this water. Bless and hallow it, and endue it with the grace of the Jordan. And make it a fountain of blessing, and a gift of incorruptibility; a loosing of sin, a healing of the sick, dread ruin of demons, health of the afflicted, fearless of the power that confronts, filled full with angelic power.”

Beautiful, rich, and powerful. I’m focusing on “the grace of the Jordan”. As Kilian McDonnell points out, there are two traditions regarding the Jordan – one that says you must go there because its waters are blessed – another that says that the blessing of Jordan (and of Jesus’ baptism there) reaches us wherever we are. This liturgy assumes the latter – as do I.