Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Why Presbyterians Do Not Believe that Baptism Regenerates Souls or Remits Sins

Ethan and the PreacherFrom time to time I run into Christians who believe that people must be baptized in order to be saved. We call this “baptismal regeneration,” because they believe that the act of baptizing in some way changes the heart. This position is fairly widespread outside of Baptistic and Reformed circles. The Roman Catholic Church believes that when infants are baptized, their original sin is washed away. Among other protestant denominations, the Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ, Christian Church, and Lutherans affirm some form of baptismal regeneration.

Occasionally I run into confused people even in Presbyterian churches. They have often come to Presbyterianism from more baptistic denominations in which it is not unusual to view infant baptism with suspicion, and where they may mistakenly come to believe that we teach some type of baptismal regeneration.

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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Why Presbyterians Only Baptize Once

baptismThis topic comes up in response to questions I have received from church members while studying the Westminster of Confession of Faith together on Wednesday nights. The Confession states, “The sacrament of Baptism is but once to be administered unto any person” (XXVIII:7). The Presbyterian Church in America requires its ordained teaching elders to subscribe to this statement from the Confession. This means that PCA teaching elders cannot rebaptize anyone who has already received a valid baptism during their lifetime. A valid baptism is defined as an ordained minister applying water to someone in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The Church has been baptizing infants since its earliest days. Following the Reformation, a group of Christians began teaching that infant baptism was not biblical and that Christians should only be baptized after they made a profession of faith in Christ. These people were called “Anabaptists” (“ana” means “again” in Greek) because they believed in rebaptizing or “baptizing again” those who had already been baptized as infants. Although these Anabaptists are not the same as today’s Baptists, Baptists do believe something similar: that infant baptism is not valid, and that anyone who has been baptized as an infant must be rebaptized after their conversion and before they can join a Baptist church. Today, most people who rebaptize attend baptistic churches. However, some in Presbyterian churches also believe that rebaptism is appropriate or even necessary. Why is this so?

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Dead Bodies, Gas Pump Hoses, and Gun Control

Recent headlines inform us that over 100 bodies were desecrated in an Illinois cemetery over the last several years. Recent headlines have also informed us of two other facts: The people who did this are facing serious charges, and the Illinois legislature is throwing around legislation that will respond to the crisis by increasing regulations for the cemetery industry in Illinois.

On a recent drive through the hills of my beloved West Virginia, I turned into a secluded gas station. There were only two pumps at this station, but taped prominently to each pump were signs written in magic marker on typing paper that said, "$50 Fine For Driving Off with Pump Hose Still in Tank."

As I paid for my gas, I had to ask, "So, is this a big problem in this area? I have never seen signs like that at other gas stations." The attendant gave me a somewhat self-satisfied look and replied, "It happened once, until I put up those signs." There was something about her tone that communicated how clever she thought she was. I just stared at her, not to be rude, but just not knowing what to say. She continued, "Over in Trenton, at Fred's store, there's this one girl that done it THREE TIMES." Apparently it wasn't thievery, just one person's serial idiocy. Or maybe two. There was apparently at least one other person out there driving around with a gas hose in his or her tank. This over-reaction clearly illustrates silliness that might not be so easy to see in other areas of life, especially in the relationship between politics and the masses.

My point is that, while these recent, headline-hogging desecrations may suggest some need for different regulations, e.g., better record keeping, I hope that the Illinois legislature does not over-react to the mindless melded millions who are up in arms over this obviously heinous, though isolated incident. Charges are already filed against the perpetrators according to existing laws. Clearly what they did is already illegal, probably in many different ways. So there is probably no need to uber-criminalize their activity in any rushed manner. However the legislature responds, let it be well-reasoned, time-tempered, and needful. There is no reason to hurry. Common sense should rule situations like this, not pitchfork and torch-type mania.

So I threw "Gun Control" into the headline above to merely draw attention to another parallel. Killing people with guns is already illegal, as is robbing people with guns, threatening people with guns, hurting people with guns, even "brandishing" is a crime. Convicts may not legally own guns, and supplying guns to them is also illegal.

Gun accidents by both well-meaning people and idiots may occur but do not kill as many people as cars, airplanes, boats, ATV's, and water-sports. Therefore the pursuit of additional gun control because of accidents is as often as not, an over-reaction to isolated incidents. Gun violence is already illegal in a hundred different ways. The pursuit of additional gun control because of gun violence is pointless. Criminals disregard both law and human decency. They have and will continue to disregard gun control measures . The result of increased gun control regulations will be that criminals will continue to use guns illegally, and law abiding citizens will have their gun use restricted even further. That is what makes criminals criminals, and law-abiding citizens law-abiding, unless of course additional gun control measures turn law-abiding citizens into criminals.

Dead bodies, gas pump hoses, and gun control all call for non-reactionary common sense. Take your time, do not allow the emotion of the moment to rush you to ill-conceived and disproportionate conclusions and solutions. Let reason rule. Not the momentary emotional monopoly of the mindless melded millions.

The parallels are endless. Can you recognize the dozens of other emotional over- reactions in politics? Can you see any emotional over-reactions in your own life? The millions can be emotionally mindless, but so can individuals. Take your time. Take a deep breath. Think.

From the Bills Blog at

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Fishing Paint Creek

July 2009 004 - CopyPaint Creek is located south of Charleston off S.R. 61. In the summer and fall, sportsmen can catch trout, redeye or rock bass, bluegill and smallmouth bass. Most of the fish are panfish size, but that just means they fit the frying pan nicely. Trout can average about 12-15 inches. Smallmouths can be 10-12 inches. Redeye grow up to 10 inches but fight fiercely. The best artificial baits at this time of the year are usually small spinners like Joe's Flies, Rooster Tails, Mepps and Panther Martins. Paint Creek can be waded all along the way. Keep an eye out for copperheads on the banks.

July 2009 007 - Copy

Rainbow trout are stocked (March through May), but brown trout are native year around. These were caught July 1 along with a nice mess of redeyes and smallmouths.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Fire Under the WV Hills


On Tuesday, I and some friends from in and around Winifrede WV drove over 30 miles of trails on our four wheelers (I am still having to borrow one, but am hoping to buy my own in the near future). The trails are left over from when the mountain tops were strip-mined in decades past. The fact that they have grown back up into fully-wooded, peaceful, wild-life inhabited hills is a testimony to the fact that coal mining and the beauty of WV ecosystems can coexist. We borrow from them for a time to make a living, but eventually, they return to their former beauty. Regardless, the land is here for us, and not we for it. Lives and a living come first.

We drove through the brush, cutting trees that had fallen across the trail, avoiding some mud holes, plowing through others, climbing in and over fearsome holes and rises in the path. Some of the obstacles looked to my inexperienced eyes to be unpassable. But with the encouragement and example of my friends, I have discovered there is very little that a four-wheeler cannot overcome. A little more experience and my fear of those obstacles will hopefully turn into the pure thrill of conquering a challenge tempered by healthy respect.

After 24 miles of trails, we stopped underneath a remote cliff face. I was amazed to see smoke seeping from gaping crevices in the rocks, welling up from deep underground, miles away from any civilization. My companions explained that under our feet was a coal mine, abandoned long ago, that had been burning for the last 20-30 years. I have never seen such a thing! It was spell-binding to think of the furnace below, burning for decades, miles from nowhere, unextinguishable, alone and unaided, forgotten by the world. It seems like there ought to be a story about it, only there is no ending. I am lucky to have seen something so unique and mysterious. I drove a few hundred feet further and came upon a second set of venting rocks. I stopped and took this picture. Eventually, I would like to go back and learn more about it.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Homeschooling in the Bills Household


Kathi Jo spends several hours every day ensuring that the boys are getting a good education. Their curriculum is a modified classical curriculum based upon a program called Classical Conversations. They memorize a lot of facts in history, science, latin, grammar, and geography. They also do Abeka Grammar and Saxon Math. Later on the kids will take logic and composition courses and dive more deeply into these various subjects.

Taylor decided that he also wanted to take a cooking class that a wonderful lady in our church offers to kids in the youth group. Don't worry. We are working with him on how to use a knife.


Over the Creek and Through the Holler, Deep into the Woods We Go

february-2009-012 On Tuesday, some friends from Winifrede treated me to another 25 mile jaunt through the hills and hollers of our surrounding community. Trails constantly branched off into multiple directions. I wouldn't dare head into the hills alone for fear that I would never make it back. Thankfully, these gentlemen have been doing this for decades and got me back safely.

A recent storm had knocked trees across our route every few miles. We had to find creative ways around or over them. At one point, I got myself "saddlebagged" on a fallen tree (the ATV is balanced on a point like a teeter-totter so that the wheels cannot get purchase). Sid had a winch to pull me the rest of the way over. This predicament was due mainly to my inexperience: I didn't gun it at the right time. The others had no problems crossing over the tree. It is amazing what an experienced driver can do with a four-wheeler.

At one point, we overlooked the church from atop a ridge. It was probably a couple of miles away as the crow flies. As the four-wheeler goes, however, we didn't get back until a couple of hours later.


Thursday, January 22, 2009

WV Trout Fishing Pics


Brother Danny Cooper, a deacon in my church, took me trout fishing today. From what I understand this is a rare privilege. Danny is a fisherman's fisherman and keeps his secrets. Today, he showed me some great places to fish, however, and I was very grateful.

We saw many trout today, but it was just too cold to get them to bite. The stunning beauty of the hills of West Virginia made it all worthwhile regardless.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

WV Pickin' and Grinnin'

january-2009-005-copyOn Wednesdays, folks from the community come together at the town hall to play music for the senior citizens' luncheon. Usually there are two or three times as many people playing instruments like fiddle, base, mandolin, dobro, banjo, harmonica, and, of course, plenty of guitars. However, the snow kept them all away today, making for a smaller crowd that fits a little better into a picture.

My dad taught me how to play when I was young, although I have nowhere near his level of skill. That is mainly because I did not start practicing with any regularity until I was an adult, whereas he has practiced every day for many years. Below is a pic of my dad (center), playing in the group he started called the Four Pole Creek Old Time String Band. Dad plays fiddle, guitar, mandolin, and claw hammer banjo. group-large

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A West Virginian on Obama

Obama InaugurationI have tried to stay neutral in the political race, mainly by keeping my political opinions relatively quiet. I pastor a wonderful church made up of both Democrats and Republicans, fine people who sincerely embrace Christ and his Word. My own political affiliation is independent. In West Virginia, that means that I am registered without a party affiliation. My allegiences are higher than either party for the sake of my congregation.

I am discouraged, however, to see some of my fellow WVians falling for the most elementary political fallacies. Several months ago, West Virginia made national news through "man on the street" interviews that made us look very bad. No doubt, the media picked the interviews that portrayed us in the poorest light. Here is an example of those sorts of interviews.

Today, I ran into one of those folks and heard it with my own ears, and I was amazed. She was not a member of my congregation. The topic of conversation was today's inauguration. Quickly, she asserted that Obama was a Muslim. I could not resist correcting her. "No he is not," I said. "He has publicly stated over and again that he believes himself to be a Christian." We have no valid reason to suspect that he is a Muslim, even if that mattered as a qualification for POTUS. Though I suspect his definition of "Christian" and mine are quite different, I run into supposed "Christians" every day whose definitions are very different from mine.

She continued "But he looks like a Muslim." I responded, "What does that mean? There are millions of blacks all across America. Does being black make one a Muslim?" I stopped short of telling her that such a statement was blatently racist. She finished with the assertion that "he does not salute the flag." Once again, I responded, "One picture has accidently captured Obama before he had a chance to salute during the pledge of allegience. Such an argument cannot be made from a single picture." The fact that she so quickly moved from one desparate reason to reject Obama to the next was revealing.

I think many are looking for excuses to not embrace Obama for reasons that hearken back to a darker time in our nation's history. This is shameful. West Virginia has once again demonstrated that many of us are behind the curve. There may be many legitimate reasons to prefer that someone else be president, but please, oh, please! Fellow West Virginians! Let them be good, accurate, well-reasoned, and unprejudiced!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Spencer Thomas (6) Reads Chapter Books Already! (Pics)


My wife, Kathi, began teaching Spencer Thomas, our home-schooled kindergartener, to read in October of this year. Three months later, he is reading Magic Tree House chapter books all on his own (2nd grade level books). Like his older brothers, he is passionate about reading. Tonight he refused to let me read to him before bedtime because he wanted to read on his own. The passing of an era. *sigh* Below, Spencer reads Dr. Suess while nestled between our living room furniture.


Both Kathi and I are certified to teach the very powerful Academic Associates Reading Program. Find out more at

The Bills Blog at

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Deer Season Can't Come Soon Enough!


So I started the 2008 gun buck season using a Chinese SKS that a good friend of mine had given me. It was a fun gun, but I soon discovered that for deer hunting, it was just not accurate enough. Missed three deer at less than 40 yards. I knew it was the gun and not me when I borrowed a friend's .30-.30 and took two deer at the same distance with no problems. That meant I needed a real deer rifle.

I took the SKS down to the Trading Post in Marmet, WV and traded it for a Stevens (Savage) Model 110 .30-06 plus $50 to boot. I lost the gun my friend gave me, but got an excellent deer rifle for nearly nothing. Took it out this morning and zeroed it in. Took four shots to sight it dead center at 35 yards. Excellent gun. Kicks like a mule. Only eleven more months to go til the next deer season. Maybe by then I will have run out of deer jerky.

The Bills Blog at

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

What Evolutionists Fear Most

evolution2Evolution is an intimidating theory. It predominates among scientists all over the world, who marshal swarms of weighty facts and powerful assertions in its support. It has filtered down into common acceptance by laymen through classroom instruction, books, documentaries, TV shows, and casual conversations. It is ubiquitous and unchallenged by all but those who believe in creation.

However, the massive heft of evolutionary theory depends upon one simple presupposition: the God-option must be excluded from the discussion at all costs. For evolution to be true, the God-option must be shoved off the table.

The God-option is excluded by a deceptively simple tactic—limit the discussion to the exclusive realm of science. Science has defined itself as distinct from religion. The God-option is inherently religious, so its proponents do not have a seat at the science table. Intelligent God-option arguments are irrelevant and will never change the course of the discussion, because the God-option does not belong in the discussion. As experts huddle themselves around the table to decide the origin of all things, they come to a haughty consensus by tightening the huddle. No matter how loudly we object, we will be ignored. The God-option is not, under any circumstances, a legitimate option.

If the God-option is excluded, what can the evolutionists conclude? They must propose that life originated through natural processes. They have no choice. They have limited themselves through the arrogance of their own self-definition. They must therefore marshal their arguments as powerfully as their limitations allow. The full weight of their expertise, education, experience, and intellect is thrust behind the only conclusion they can possibly derive.

As long as Christians fail to recognize this simple fact, evolution will continue to be intimidating and will claim the faith of those who give in to its weight. If God created everything, there is no fact of science that is outside the scope of his domain. If He created everything, no aspect of evolutionary theory is truly intimidating. As Van Til said, “there are not because there cannot be other than God-interpreted facts.” God’s creation cannot undermine itself. God has not proved Himself wrong by means of science. Scientists have instead left God out of the picture, limited themselves to their wild imaginations, and must desperately cling to their conclusions as a result. If they do not, they must fearfully face what they do not dare—the God who made them.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Consolation for the Brevity of Life


Like most people, I sometimes sink into a funk, in spite of the blessings I experience. Most of it comes from a keen awareness of my unworthiness of these blessings. The recent passing of friends my own age makes me also keenly aware of my own mortality. Tomorrow is guaranteed for none of us. I find myself tuning in to every vibration of my heart. Every skipped beat or rushed pattern scares me. My fears are mostly for my family and how they must cope if God were to take me. I know the pain of losing others; I do not want them to experience that on my behalf. Also, the job is not done, and I do not want to leave before it is. I have kids to raise and a church to pastor and a wife to love and the gift of life to enjoy.
113When these fears arise, I search my life for consolations--things that would make it all right if God were to take me. And I find that every consolation I want to grab onto is ultimately insufficient: My reputation, my life insurance, my accomplishments, my education, the good character of my children, the temporariness of the inevitable grief, even the unfoundedness of my mortal fears is itself an unfounded consolation. I am driven in those moments to the only remaining consolation that has any real meaning: Christ alone is my consolation--the fear cannot be entirely assuaged by anything else. Nothing else is worth meditating upon in those moments. Even if God grants me long life, nothing that comes next can compare to the glory of knowing Christ. I am his child, he will do with me what he will, and I will be with him for eternity. His love for me does not fail, in spite of my failings.

The question that remains is how can I glorify God in my present circumstances whatever they may be. It is possible to do so regardless of the circumstances. My reputation can be thrown in the dust. My wife could leave me. My children could forsake the church and never speak to me again. I could lose my ministry and need to work a job that just gets me by and seems to have no larger significance than that. Even then I can glorify God. The questions is, how?

I know it must start with this: whether I live or die, Christ is my consolation. There is glory for God and joy for me if I can settle this deep in my heart.