Monday, October 31, 2011


Voice of the Martyrs ( is a ministry to the persecuted church worldwide.  On the second page of their November newsletter, is an editorial by the director, Tom White, accompanied by a picture of a man being baptized in what appears to be an oil drum.  In the editorial, Mr. White mentions that some readers are troubled by pictures of believers being baptized in bath tubs or other unusual places.  He notes that one reader even said that these were not “proper” baptisms.

Mr. White, of course, defends these practices by telling the story of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26-29, and explaining the difficulties believers have in many closed countries, where they often must be baptized in secret.

I couldn’t help but recall the many baptisms I have performed and the various venues used:  a galvanized horse trough, a river, a lake, a swimming pool; a hot tub and, of course, a “proper” baptistry in a church building.

Then there were all the various styles and locations where I have served or partaken of the Lord’s Supper:  a loaf of French bread and paper cups of grape juice served outdoors, a loaf of home-made matzo and Mogen David (Kosher) wine in a single crystal goblet served in our home and, of course, those little tiny wafers with grape juice in little tiny cups, served in a church building.

And all of this in a free country where I didn’t have to worry about being arrested for my activity.  (Well, I have been cautioned a few times by friends and then there was that time a policeman just dropped in to our Bible study to check us out.)

What is it that troubles these well-meaning folks about unusual worship activity?  What is it that, to them, constitutes proper practice?  I’m not sure, but I have my suspicions.

I believe, first of all, that they have a narrow understanding of what it is to “do church.”  To many, church is a particular physical location, a building.  Or perhaps it is seen as an organization, a properly incorporated group of people, with all the proper officers and papers.  Any churchy looking activity conducted outside of these parameters is suspect.  Now, I’m not faulting organization or buildings, but God’s church is, or should be active everywhere.  We who know Christ are the church.

And I also believe that many believers are not “world Christians.”  They’ve never seen the church in action in other lands; they’ve never gotten to know believers from other lands.  They’ve never really seen how God is working among those “from every nation and tribes and peoples and tongues” (Revelation 7:9).  And He works in very different ways!

I believe we all have a tendency to feel comfortable in our box and to feel that everyone else ought to feel as comfortable as we are, in the same box.  And (even though it seems a bit blasphemous), we feel that God should be quite comfortable there too!  And as Donald McCullough said (­The Trivialization of God, page 32), “…then it’s a very short step to believing that God would not feel at home anywhere else.”

Jesus didn’t talk about a box; but He did speak of wineskins (Luke 5:37, 38 – also Matthew 9:17; Mark 2:22).  “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins.  If he does, the new wine will burst the wineskins and will be spilled out, and the wineskins will be destroyed.  But new wine should be put in new wineskins.”

Jesus, of course, was speaking of the custom of making wine in fresh waterproof leather bags.  As the grape juice fermented and put off gas, the leather would stretch.  An old dried, used skin would have no give and thus would burst.  Apparently this was not an unusual occurrence.  We can perhaps imagine Jesus as a boy, laughing at the explosion.

Jesus, I believe, was telling his hearers that the old Judaism with its practices was defunct, that the New Covenant, with Him as Messiah could not be poured back into an old dried up religion.

I feel that there is also an application for us today.  Following Jesus should always be a fresh experience, but we want to restrict it in our old dried up customs.  We can’t understand “new wine.”  Luke 5:39 adds an interesting comment of Jesus:  “And no one drinking old wine wants new; for he says, ‘the old is good!’”

But sometimes the new is better!

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