Happy Halloween!

Here is a great post on the history of Halloween over at Mablog. Many Christian holidays have pagan names like Easter. You know, that Anglo-Saxon goddess of the dawn, Eostre, who was worshipped in the month of April by my ancestors. We kept the name but changed the feast to worship the creator instead of the creation. Worked out really well. No one today, except a tiny band neopagans playing dress-up, thinks they are worshipping Eostre on Easter. No one thinks the bunnies and eggs have any spiritual significance other than giving kids a good time doing stuff as they celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. So Easter is a Christian holiday with a pagan name, although the name has been effectively co-opted and presents no problem. Speaking of her is like mentioning Epaphroditus in the Bible–the guy whose name indicates he used to worship the goddess Aphrodite via prostitute at the temple in Corinth. His name is a sign of gospel conquest, and surely Eostre is free to worship Jesus as well.

Other holidays like Halloween actually have Christian names but have come to be thought of as pagan festivals. As the article cited mentions, All Saints’ Day is November 1st, the day when the church remembers all those who gave their lives in service of the gospel. In Britain this day is called All Hallows’. All Hallows’ Eve, from which we get Halloween, has become for some the equivalent of Mardis Gras before Lent, a day of dissipation in preparation for self control, however much sense that makes. For Halloween, the idea is to let the devils run wild before the saints arrive. The corruptions of Mardis Gras and Halloween are similar in this respect. Maybe I wasn’t paying attention, but when I was a kid I don’t remember Halloween costume shops displaying kinky underwear in the front window.

But however that is the case now, we shouldn’t let the abuse of the thing take away its good use anymore than frat boys drowned in Pabst Blue Ribbon should discourage tossing a good pint. Clearly it’s a good idea to avoid the macabre and perverse on Halloween. My wife pointed out to me a fake corpse hanging by a rope from the side of a house in our neighborhood. Why do people otherwise not nastily morbid do this stuff for “fun” once a year? Yay death! Obviously we want no part of that, but we do want to celebrate what we believe, namely, that God has poured out his Spirit on billions of Christians, past and present, who are given the righteousness of Christ and therefore made saints. The defiled woman has become the purified bride of Christ, and leave it to the kids to really get into it.

October 31st is also Reformation Day, the day Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the church door at Wittenburg. The Reformation was as much a reformation of church culture as it was of church doctrine, so it’s fitting that we make this day a celebration that spills out to our neighbors and friends. Marriage (and its bed), food, drink and fellowship fell out of the Reformation. I would argue for fun costumes, loud and interesting, and better candy at your house than your neighbor’s. I love greeting people at the door, taking the kids around, and celebrating. It’s like saying Merry Christmas to people. some who don’t know what they’re celebrating or intentionally aren’t. I still want them to have a merry one whether they do or not. Same here. Happy All Hallow’s Eve, Merry Reformation Day, and Happy Halloween!

 

 

Numbers in Acts

The church growth strategy in the New Testament church is simple: preach the Word, shepherd the flock. Some would call this no strategy, but that would be mistaken. The numbers are obviously important to Luke who writes for Theophilus and the church community in the book of Acts.

The church in Jerusalem began with 120 people, but after Peter’s sermon on Pentecost, we’re told 3000 were added (Acts 1:13; 2:41). Then, an additional 5000 men, not including women and children came in (4:4). Even after the sobering deaths of Ananias and Sapphira, “more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitutudes of both men and women” (5:14). Again, the church “disciples were increasing in number” (6:1), so they appointed deacons. And it “multiplied” some more (6:7).

Lest we think this was confined to Jerusalem, the church in Judea, Galilee and Samaria “grew in numbers” (9:31). All the residents of Lydda and Sharon who saw Peter “turned to the Lord” (9:35). When people in Joppa heard, “many people believed in the Lord” (9:42). Increase of “great numbers” are mentioned three times about the church in Antioch (11:21, 24, 26). “A great number of Jews and gentiles believed” at Iconium when Paul first visited there (14:1). At Derbe it was “a large number of disciples” (14:21), and in sum “the churches…grew daily in numbers” (16:5). The second journey produced similar results with “a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few promienent women” being added ot teh church (17:4). Berea was no different (17:12). Demetrius complains about the “large numbers of peole here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia” Paul had convinced (19:26), apparently enough to put pagan religious craftsmen out of work!

To say the growth strategy was simple is not to say it was easy; it also resulted in jail time and many stripes. But the apostles preached to the unconverted and they were heard. Luke consulted with those who knew how many heard, and it’s a regular part of his narrative. This tells us that numbers matter and we ought to strive for God’s blessings in God’s ways.

Ben Franklin, the non deist

It is often thought that many of the founding fathers were deists. While there were a few like Jefferson, there weren’t many. Benjamin Franklin spoke thus at the Constitutional Convention:

In the beginning of the contest with G. Britain, when we were sensible of danger we had daily prayer in this room for the Divine Protection. — Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a Superintending providence in our favor. To that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? or do we imagine that we no longer need His assistance. I have lived, Sir, a long time and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth—that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings that “except the Lord build they labor in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel.

Annuit Coeptis, found on the Great Seal of the United States, is translated “He [God] has favored our undertakings.” Only those who believe God was personally involved in governing the world could say such a thing.

Live in that Book

“The Acts is also important, however, for the contemporary inspiration which it brings us. Calvin called it ‘a kind of vast treasure.’ Martyn Lloyd-Jones referred to it as ‘that most lyrical of books’, and added: ‘Live in that book, I exhort you: it is a tonic, the greatest tonic I know of in the realm of the Spirit.’ It has, in fact, been a salutary exercise of the Christian church of every century to compare itself the church of the first, and to seek to recapture something of its confidence, enthusiasm, vision and power. At the same time, we must be realistic. There is a danger lest we romanticize the early church, speaking of it with bated breath as if it had no blemishes. For then we shall miss the rivalries, hypocrisies, immoralities and heresies which troubled the church then as now. Nevertheless, one thing is certain. Christ’s church had been overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit, who thrust it out to witness.”

–John Stott, The Message of Acts, pp. 5-6

Why Communion

It’s out now that at this year’s triennial Council, the seven presbyteries of the CREC voted to become the Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches, leaving behind the word Confederation in the denomination title. Although many were not, and are not, entirely satisfied with the Communion, it was by far the lesser of two evil. “Confederation” is a good word, stemming from “con” (with) and “federation” which comes from the Latin word foedus, which means covenant. In this respect, our group of churches remains very much covenanted. But for churches in the American south, “Confederation” connoted neo-confederate, something we want nothing to do with.

For those very much not satisfied with Communion, consider it comes from the Greek koinonia, the word often translated fellowship in English, said of the early Christians who devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship (Acts 2:42). It’s also not a word without ecclesiastical precedence. We speak of the Anglican Communion. Among the options on the table, this was my preference. Options regarding a new name entirely (not conforming to the CREC acronym) were not on the table. If you ideas for that, well, speak up!