Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Scary Mary

The 'Director's Cut' they never let you see.

To Treat or Not to Treat

Well, of course I have to go and step in it. Yes, I am going to post a piece on Halloween and whether we should 'celebrate' it as Christians. This has the potential for strong disagreement, but I wanted to chime in with some pastoral thoughts. Let's be gracious and patient with one another on this issue- and let's make decisions with a clear conscience before God. "To his own master the servant stands or falls"- Romans 14:4. You need to know that at Four Oaks there are those who refrain from any observance of Halloween (including some elders) and those who dress up like fools and go to and fro seeking Laffy Taffy and snack sized Snickers bars (including me).

First, Tim Challies has a couple of great posts, with which I am in basic agreement- read them here and here. Also, Mohler has a helpful post on his blog today.

I am going to make this post a defense of our family's practice of allowing our kids to dress up on Halloween and go trick or treating. I'd like to do so in a few basic points. I know that there are good arguments against what I will say- this is not going to be an in depth treatise on trick or treating. Just some points that I wanted to put before you so that you might be assured that as your pastor I try and do all things (especially things that have the potential for division and disagreement like this) with biblical warrant and a clear conscience (as opposed to doing things because the neighbors are doing it, or because this kids like to dress up, or because a night of free candy is hard to pass up- all of these are reasons, just not the BEST reasons).

1. First, the biblical justification. Remember that as believers we are called to be in the world and not of it. This takes great wisdom, biblical faithfulness, and accountability. We must not shirk our duty in either part of this calling. But, I'm afraid that many Christians fall into extremes in either side. There are those who are so concerned with contamination from the world (which is a very serious and real concern) that they separate and distinguish themselves from the world and so are able to make very little impact for the gospel. They are indeed 'aliens and strangers', yet are unable to be a 'friend of sinners' like our Savior. Then there are those who blindly conform to the patterns of sin and worldliness around us with little thought as to the compromises they are making biblically and how it is harming themselves and those around them. Some do so under a 'missional' label, and others with little 'biblical' or 'spiritual' justification at all. The challenge to godly followers of Jesus is to fall into neither of these camps. I believe that it is possible to engage with the world on this day with biblical faithfulness.

In 1 Cor. 10 the Apostle speaks of engaging with pagans around the table set with food sacrificed to idols. We sometimes under emphasize how scandalous this was in that day. Paul instructs us to walk according to our conscience before God for the sake of the unbeliever. If your conscience will not allow you to eat with the unbeliever because the meat was sacrificed to idols, then don't do it. If your conscience allows you to eat with them, then do so (so that you might win the lost). Be careful of their conscience as well. If they say, "Let's enjoy this feast in honor of Aphrodite!". Then don't eat- your conscience and his have been bound. In such a case though, your willingness to walk wisely in these matters will most likely present an opportunity to share with the unbeliever your convictions and concerns as a Christian.

The trick or treat parallel here is fairly obvious. If you can in good conscience have your kids dress up and walk around the neighborhood knocking on doors, meeting neighbors, and getting treats, then do so. If your conscience is burdened, because of your past, or your concern for your kids, or your disgust with the worldliness of the event- then don't do it. Tori and I have decided that the concerns about halloween's origins, and the secularism of the day don't outweigh our desire to have our light on and door open for the neighbors, talk to their kids, walk with them up and down the street, and just having fun with our kids carving pumpkins and dressing up. Now, if we felt that there was an unhealthy bent in our children toward the 'darker' side of this day, or that they were being affected negatively by it, then we would curb our observance.

2. There is a theological issue here as well. We need to remember that there is nothing inherently 'evil' about a pumpkin. I like the story of Graham Jacobs (second son of Pastor John and Christy) who was told by a child in Sunday school that carving pumpkins was wicked and evil. Graham was very concerned by this idea, but kept coming back to the very logical question, "Whassa madder wid a pun'kin?" If I thought that in any way my children's glee in carving a funny, goofy, or even scary face on a big gourd was in worship of Samhain- then there is something wrong. But, just because people used pumpkins with some evil intent, does not make having or carving a pumpkin wrong. We need to be careful of 'sacramentalizing' here. Going door to door for candy need not be inherently wrong because it has what may have been legitimately evil origins in the early celebrations of Halloween. For my kids, and most of our neighbors, it is a time to have fun. This isn't necessarily wrong. Now, again, when I see an emphasis upon the grotesque, morbid, and supernatural- I use these as teaching opportunities with my children. If we are at a neighborhood Halloween block party, and there is an emphasis on the perverse (men dressing provocatively as women, or ghouls, witches, etc.) and gruesome- then my conscience would be bound to abstain and walk away. All of this takes wisdom, boldness, and patience.

3. There is a practical reality here that Christians must be willing to entertain for the sake of the gospel. There are few opportunities in our culture where people will actually walk up to our door and meet us face to face. There are few opportunities where we can actually walk up and down the streets in our neighborhoods with those who do not know Christ- and they will do this with you willingly and won't think it weird at all. Halloween can be a great opportunity to get to know poeple. Hear me on this- I don't believe the best witness is to put chick tracts in kid's buckets (it mostly annoying). I believe you have the opportunity to meet and enjoy some fellowship with the unbelievers God has put around you- and in a setting that THEY initiate. The 'dangers' of Halloween, for our family, do not outweigh these opportunities. Now, of course, being 'separate' on these days can be opportunities as well. It might be important to communicate your convictions by turning off the light and not answering the door. God can and does use this. But, Tori and I have decided that we would rather be overtly engaging with those around us on this night with care and wisdom rather than abstain altogether.

4. And finally a gentle admonition. Regardless of what you do according to your conscience on this day, be intentional with your kids about these things. Take time to talk with them about the real dangers of the worldliness and wickedness that is all around us. Take time to talk with them about being wise with our opportunities to meet neighbors and making friends with those who don't know Jesus. If you see a morbid fixation in your kids with ghosts, goblins, and the like- then talk with them about it. Help them look to God and His Word in these things. If you are one who is an 'abstainer'- think through again the possible opportunities this day could present. If you let your kids trick or treat- think through the dangers of worldliness and perhaps outright demonic activity and its reality in the world. Examine what sort of an impact your practice is having on your kids, and those around you.

"So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." 1 Corinthians 10:31


Tuesday, October 09, 2007

A Leavened Lord's Supper?

It is interesting that I have been asked the question twice now in the scope of a couple of months regarding our use of leavened (with yeast) bread at the Lord's table. It is interesting because I have never had a question regarding our practice in the seven years of my ministry here before a couple of months ago. So, in case you are wondering, here is why.

Let me tell you why it is even a question. The bread used in the passover meal was unleavened bread. So, this was the 'bread' used in the last supper. There is a case to be made, presumably, upon this evidence that the use of such unleavened bread is to be normative for Christian observance of the Lord's supper.

We need to remember that the use of this bread in the passover observance referred to the haste of the Isrealite exodus from Egypt. In the feast of unleavened bread, the yeast, or at least the old yeast, was symbolic of sin and corruption that needed to be cleansed from God's people. So, let's be clear- leaven itself was not evil and was normally used in baking bread. It was the 'old leaven' that truly symbolized sin.

There is no specific instruction in the gospels or epistles as to the use of leavened or unleavened bread. In fact, the word for bread in the gospels at the Lord's Supper is 'bread' and not 'unleavened bread' ('artos' and not 'azumos'). The main reference in the New Testament used to support the use of unleavened bread is in 1 Corinthians 5:8, "Let us celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." The context of this passage is pointing us to purity as a spiritual people through proper discipline of errant members. Paul is calling us to gather in purity, 'cleansing out the old leaven', and is not making a case for what sort of bread is used in the eucharist meal.

The reason we use leaven bread is because of the primary imagery of the Lord's Supper: the breaking of his body for as a substitutionary sacrifice for our sins; our fellowship with him in his death, burial and resurrection by faith; our fellowship together as one body symbolized in our partaking of the bread; the proclamation of the new covenant inaugurated in his broken body and shed blood. The imagery of 'purity' through the use of unleavened bread is simply not primary in the New Testament. Nor is it of great import in the New Covenant eucharist celebration. It had great meaning in an ancient near eastern context where people baked their own bread and used the leaven to do so (and so needed to 'purge' or clean out the old leaven for health and purity reasons). This is completely lost on us today, and the New Testament gives no cause for us to push such imagery in the Lord's Supper. We use leavened bread because that is what 'bread' is to us.

Lastly, let's remember that this is a matter of 'adiaphora' (things indifferent) and should not cause division. God gives us a charter of liberty in His Word in such matters. He looks primarily at our hearts in such practice and liturgy. Let's beware of sacramentalism that places undo emphasis upon outward ritual and the physical elements, when Christ in his Word calls us (especially at the Lord's table) to examine our hearts before him and let our practice be a reflection of inward transformation and obedience.

Another pastor has written a nice defense and develops the argument a bit here.

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The Same God?

Hating to burst our happy ecumenical bubble, but I'd like to direct you to a helpful piece at the evangelical outpost on President Bush's woeful (and oft repeated) theological assesment of true religion.

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Building Kingdoms

Whether you are President Bush compromising clear Christian commands for the sake of diplomacy or a Senator pounding the pulpit while stumping for the presidency- every one is building a kingdom. Be assured, though, whichever side of the red and blue fence you are one- neither of these resembles the Kingdom of God.

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Friday, October 05, 2007

My Favorite Day of the Week

It is 1:58 a.m. on Friday morning and I have just finished (if finished is the right word) my sermon for Sunday morning. After tonight's church family meeting regarding the purchase of a permanent church home and a few hours in preparation for our time at the table on Sunday I am reminded that there is no greater joy in heaven and on earth than to be a part of the bride of Christ and a child in the family of the God of the universe. To have the privilege of preaching and teaching the very Word of God to this bride and this family is a blessing beyond description.

Sunday we break bread and proclaim the death of Christ for the sin of the world.

Sunday we share wine and drink deep of the joy of salvation by the shed blood of Christ.

Sunday we open the Word of God, which is his breath and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.

Sunday we sing and make melody in our hearts because God has put a new song upon our lips- a song of redemption, forgiveness, and power.

So, of course, Sunday is my favorite day of the week.


Amnesty International Abandons The Least of These

Amnesty Int'l has moved from a 'neutral' stand on abortion (as if we didn't see this one coming) to both feet firmly planted "in the way of sinners". Here is a little piece on the new policy in Christianity Today. The organization says this regarding the shift, "women and men must exercise their sexual and reproductive rights free from coercion, discrimination, and violence."

Just to remind you in the midst of such flawed logic, sickening rhetoric, and patent propoganda: we are talking about the murder by dismemberment of little babies at the hands of their own mothers, fathers, and doctors. This is the exercise of sexual rights at the cost of our little babies. This is not noble and has nothing to do with freedom. It is pure wickedness on a global scale.

Shame on you, Amnesty International, and all who fund you.

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Thursday, October 04, 2007

Don't Waste Your Pulpit

Dan Phillips rants against the tragic state of preaching in evangelical America. I sadly must concur. When I was on sabbatical rest a couple years back we visited some eight or nine churches. Most of them were full of great folks ready to hear the Word. Yet the Word was painfully missing! We grew to dread Sunday morning and longed to be back at Four Oaks. Here's the deal. I am not saying that we didn't like the style of the worship music, or had any major issues doctrinally with these churches that left me jaded. It wasn't that the pastors weren't capable and gifted communicators, because they most certainly were. The pews seemed to be full of people who loved Jesus and one another. The frightening reality was that the sermons were woefully lacking in biblical content (many times I had difficulty knowing exactly which passage was under consideration), courage, and any sort of prophetic voice.

Pray for the pastors in your church, in your community, and in our country. Pastoral ministry can be pretty rough, emotional draining, filled with tyrannically urgent nonsense, and sometimes the sermon simply gets lost in the shuffle.

Paul's charge to all of us Timothy's remains as urgent today as it did two thousand years ago: "Preach the Word!"


Moore on Mars Hill

No, not Beth Moore. Russel Moore, Dean of the School of Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has written a great piece on the constant reinvention of the church via misinterpretations of Acts 17. Excellent article.

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