Wednesday, October 31, 2007

What's the Big Deal?

Here's an article I read worthy of consideration:

By Russ Young Posted: 10/30/2007
Tract or Treat: A Christian Response to Halloween

With Halloween just around the corner, I thought it would take the opportunity to talk about a presentation I give entitled “Tract or Treat: A Christian Response to Halloween.” In the presentation I begin with an allegory about Johnny Christian, which goes something like this: Johnny C’s mom wanted her son to stay clean before they left for a wedding. Johnny, however, being impatient, impertinent and a whiner, complained the wait was too long without being able to play. Reluctantly his mother lets him go out to play with the stern warning to stay out of the mud. Donning boots and gloves to keep himself clean he goes out to play. Not surprisingly he returns home late, and with his clothes smeared in dirt. In closing the question is posed, playing off the wedding feast parable in Matthew 22:1-14, “What will you be wearing when it is time for the wedding?”

The question, of course, is meant to provoke thought about what are we doing to prepare ourselves for the pending return of our Lord. The follow-up question asks everyone to examine what we think about Halloween, and why so many Christian families think they can participate in Halloween activities without any concern for getting dirty.

What is it about Halloween that makes it so difficult for Christian parents to say no to their children? Hopefully we have no difficulty telling them “No” about other activities they “really” want to do, but we know are not good for them. More often, however, parents recall their own more “innocent” Halloween days and do not discern any problems with Halloween today. After all, they say “All I want to do is let my children have fun, besides they love to get dressed up. What could be wrong with going out in a costume and collecting candy?” Or, they say things like, “When my child goes trick or treating she doesn’t have a clue about its history, and we are not trying to accomplish anything the pagans may do. What could be the harm in that?”

Please allow me to answer these kinds of objections by first summing up a Biblical response to be followed with scriptural support.

First and foremost, it should be evident that virtually everything about Halloween is antithetical to the message of Christ. The message of Halloween can plainly be seen in its focus on witches, ghouls, ghosts, graveyards, the demonic, the macabre, and all the ugly aspects that go along with such things. In short, it is fear based and death-centered.

Such things are an offense to the Lord, and grieve the Holy Spirit.

Scripture tells us to think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise, defined by “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable” (Phil. 4:8). We should be asking, “What godly purpose could there be in trying to frighten anyone through the grotesque?” By participating in Halloween we are de facto stating “what God says is not important.”

Just as bad, we open the door to the very enemy of our souls who only wants to steal and destroy. In so doing, we become subject to believing the lies surrounding Halloween which can easily distort a correct understanding concerning the Biblical doctrines of Hell and Satan.
Ultimately, Halloween celebrates pagan worship, the demonic, and death itself. Therefore, it is inherently opposed to Christ, the one who is the way the truth and the life.

What does the Bible say?

There are at least three main truths that outline how Christians should respond to Halloween. The first of these is 1 Cor. 5:6 where Paul asks, “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough?” The leaven to which Paul refers is a boastful claim by the Corinthian church that they are so spiritual that other people’s sins do not affect them. Paul rebukes them by telling them not only does one member’s sin affect all of them, but their foolish attitude towards sinful activity will lead to even greater sin.
As Christians we cannot hope to participate in something done, primarily, as a celebration of that which is opposed to God, and not expect bad consequences.

The second controlling passage is Eph. 4:25-32. Not only are we instructed here to not grieve the Holy Spirit, we are also told to “not give the devil even a foothold… (rather, we are to) be imitators of God.” This begs the question how we can think that a day which is explicitly recognized as one of the two most important “unholy holidays,” by witches and Satanists, could become a wholesome activity for Christians. [i]

Furthermore Scripture passages such as Dt. 7:26, “And you shall not bring an abominable thing into your house and become devoted to destruction like it. You shall utterly detest and abhor it, for it is devoted to destruction.”; Lev. 19:31, “Give no regards to mediums and familiar spirits; do not seek after them, to be defiled by them: I am the Lord your God.”; Prv. 4:14, “Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of the evil.,” clearly demonstrate that the things of Halloween should be hands off for Christians.

Eph 5:11-12 states “And do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead expose them; for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret.” If it is disgraceful to even speak of such things, how do we suppose God feels when we openly participate in them?
For those who want to pooh pooh the supernatural reality of Halloween, we have been given 1 Timothy 4:7 which states “Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness.” Therefore, whether we think we can play in the mud and not get dirty, or if we believe the mud is fantasy, we are still called to avoid Halloween.

A third controlling principle is given in Leviticus 18:30. “So keep my charge never to practice any of these abominable customs that were practiced before you, and never to make yourselves unclean by them: I am the Lord your God.”

It will be instructive here to briefly examine the roots of traditional Halloween activities to understand how such things as seemingly innocuous as bobbing for apples, were actually “practiced before” us in manners abhorrent to God.

Halloween Traditions – Ancient, folkloric, Roman Catholic, other

As it is practiced today, Halloween is an amalgamation of ancient pagan religious rites, combined with several centuries of folklore from multiple cultures, plus Christian and other influences. While there is some debate concerning the particulars, the following are attested to by several sources.

The most ancient root stems from the pagan religious celebrations of the Celtic (kĕl'tĭk) priests known as Druids. One of their most important festivals Samhain, pronounced “sowen,” was celebrated November 1, according to modern calendars. [ii]
Ghost Stories - On Samhain it was believed ghosts, and other spirits, could cross the barrier between the natural and supernatural realms, allowing the dead to make contact with the living.
Tricking and Vandalism - It was also believed that the gods played many tricks on humans at this time. Human sacrifices and cannibalism would lead us to believe that the Celtic religion was very oppressive.
Scary Costumes descend from the practice of the Celts who would don masks or other gruesome disguises because they thought the ghosts would mistake them for fellow ghosts and leave them alone. [iv]
Bonfires, which is a shortened form of “Bonefires,” were lit to scare spirits away. These fires get their name from their sacrificial nature where the remains of slaughtered animals were burned as offerings. Each family, in a form of Celtic communion, would return home with a burning brand to relight hearth fires which had been extinguished. [v]
Bobbing for apples was originally a form of divination, or trying to know the future against the will of God. [vi]
“Jack-o’-lanterns” One tradition traces the practice back to a folktale in which a scoundrel peasant, named Jack, tricks Satan from taking his soul to hell. Not able to go to heaven, he is sentenced to an eternity of wondering the earth, looking for a place to rest. In his search he carries a lantern lit from the fires of hell. [vii]Others make a connection with ancient practices of trying to scare off evil spirits. [viii]
The modern name for Halloween stems from the Roman Catholic observance of “All Saints Day,” and “All Hallows Eve,” parts of which were known for many centuries and formally instituted in the 7th century. [ix]
“All Souls Day” was another RC observance to be celebrated on Nov. 2. “The theological basis for the feast is the doctrine that the souls which, on departing from the body, are not perfectly cleansed from venial sins, or have not fully atoned for past transgressions.” The idea was for the living to pray for these souls further sanctification, but also included “a time-honoured ceremony of praying to the dead.”[x]
After Columbus, New World traditions quickly appeared along side Catholic observances, in Spanish controlled areas, especially from the pre-Columbian celebration of “The Day of the Dead,” which fell on November 1.
The Mayans also believed Oct. 31 to be a significant calendar date having control over darkness. The date was marked by cutting open a young boy’s chest and removing his heart while still beating.
In America, communities began recognizing the destructive side of Halloween soon after it was re-established. Articles concerning vandalism became commonplace around the turn of the 20th century. Civic efforts by towns, and organizations like the Boy Scouts to curb such excesses were begun. [xii]
Trick or Treating for candy was first suggested by civic groups as a way to make Halloween friendlier and less destructive. While American in origin it “resembles the All Soul's Day practice called ‘going a-souling’ in which poor people would beg door-to-door. In exchange for a gift of soulcakes, the soulers would promise to say a prayer for the dead.” [xiii]
Bats and cats probably were not part of the Celtic tradition, but it is easy to see how such nocturnal creatures were easily added along with hags, witches, skeletons, and other garish symbols of death. The Celts did believe that owls could communicate with the dead.

Halloween Today
What is of great significance today is that Halloween is a major holiday for those who practice witchcraft, Satan worship, earth worship (paganism) and other occult religions. It is one of the two most important “unholy days” for witches and Satanists. While so called “White Witches,” or Wiccans, deny any satanic connection between their beliefs and Satan worship, Satanic Witches maintain that they are only fooling themselves, and rightly contend that any real Wiccan power is Satanic in origin, even if not acknowledged.

As such, it is important for parents to recognize this reality. Responsible parents do not allow children to walk into dangerous situations simply because of a child’s ignorance. While our intentions may be innocent, others participating in the same event may not be so. The Bible calls us to count all the costs. Can we do that when so much about Halloween is not in our control?

Lastly, 1 Cor. 10:20-22 exhorts us, “I do not want you to become sharers in demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? We are not stronger than He, are we?”

In light of these Biblical teachings it would seem a very far stretch to conclude that Christians should participate in any part of Halloween. Christ’s call on our lives is truly radical. Can we say that giving up a pagan holiday is too much to ask? God says he cannot be mocked; we will reap what we sow.

Tract or Treat:
Therefore, let us sow the gospel. Take the opportunity to use Halloween for evangelism; nothing could be easier. When else do we have total strangers coming to our homes looking for a handout? While I do recommend that candy be given as an appetizer, use the time to give any visitors a tract along with the candy. Also, take the opportunity to pray for the children as they come, you may even get a chance to share, or pray, in person.

We have most often used tracts from Living Waters and AIG, but any good gospel tract will do. A good strategy we have employed is to put kid friendly and adult oriented tracts in the same plastic zip-type bag with a few pieces of candy. We have also determined to spend at least as much on the tracts as the candy, as good tracts may not necessarily be the cheapest ones.

[i] While so called witches, i.e Wiccans, disclaim their involvement in Satanic worship, it is still instructive that they both claim Oct. 31 as one of the most important days for the practice of what they do worship (the other is May 1).
[ii] Encyclopedia Britannica On-Line. There are Roman references to Samhain from the 1st century AD. We can safely assume, however, that much of the practice is as old as the Celtic Religion itself, thus dating back at least another 1000 years preceding the birth of Christ. It is thought that the priests ruled due to their knowledge of astronomy and their ability to predict the seasons. But another major component was the use of fear which was fostered by their religious practices.
[iii] The Religion of the Ancient Celts By J. A. MacCulloch, 1911. At Samhain, it was believed that the gods played many tricks on humans. Some of the darker sides of Celtic practices include the famous 'Burning Man' human sacrifices, cannibalism, and incest.
Human sacrifices were made through the burning of “wickermen,” large wicker cages with bound human sacrifices imprisoned within, during the other most important festival, Beltane. Whether or not human sacrifices were part of Samhain is not clear in the resources I examined. Since, however, we know that they delighted in burning their fellow Celts at other times, it may be the case during Samhain as well.
[iv] Encyclopedia Britannica On-Line.
[v] Samhain: Season of Death and Renewal by Alexei Kondratiev. The end of the harvest was a time when cattle and other animals that were not going to be kept through the winter were slaughtered. This does not mean that there were not special rites or qualifications for which animals to sacrifice.
[vi] Many popular sources of information, like Wikipedia and minimize this aspect, by focusing on how bobbing later became a party game to for youth to determine who or if anyone would marry them. More scholarly works, like the aforementioned paper from Alexei Kondratiev, however, note that bobbing for apples had “specific links with the mythology of death and the afterlife.”
As an aside, it seems that the popular sources have a clear bias to “demythologize” all supernatural aspects of Halloween. This is no doubt due to their materialistic bias and misunderstanding of the real nature of the supernatural.
[vii] There are several variants to how this tradition began. Turnips were originally used in Europe; pumpkins were substituted when traditions crossed to America. Encyclopedia of Britannica., and Wikipedia all reference the folktale.
[viii] Wendell Amstutz, a recognized occult authority, claims jack o’-lanterns were used by Celts to scare off the demonic, but cites no source material.
[ix] Encyclopedia Britannica In the 7th century AD, Pope Boniface IV established All Saints' Day, originally on May 13, and in the following century, perhaps in an effort to supplant the pagan holiday with a Christian observance, it was moved to November 1. The evening before All Saints' Day became a holy, or hallowed, eve and thus Halloween.
[x] The Catholic Encyclopedia (on-line) All Souls Day “The Office of the Dead must be recited by the clergy and all the Masses are to be of Requiem, except one of the current feast, where this is of obligation… The theological basis for the feast is the doctrine that the souls which, on departing from the body, are not perfectly cleansed from venial sins, or have not fully atoned for past transgressions, are debarred from the Beatific Vision, and that the faithful on earth can help them by prayers, almsdeeds and especially by the sacrifice of the Mass… In Germany there existed a time-honoured ceremony (emphasis mine) of praying to the dead.”It should be noted that Protestants rejected the observance of All Hallows Eve and All Souls Day at the start of the Reformation. In Christian Europe pagan and folkloric practices became intermingled with the Church observances right from the beginning, causing a blending of traditions. The first American colonists did not practice Halloween, but it was reintroduced in America with the arrival of Irish immigrants in the mid to late 19th century.
Also of import is to note: the Roman Catholic teaching on saints and praying to, or for, the dead are unbiblical. Therefore, while it is entirely legitimate for Christians to attempt the reclamation of cultural expressions for the Church, it is also to be anticipated that trying to replace one sinful expression with another is a doomed prospect.
[xi] Encyclopedia Britannica
Given the interesting fact of two such holidays falling on the same date, practiced by cultures that had been separated from one another’s influence, there is reason to believe in some cosmic reality that the forces of darkness have some special ability on this day, or have at least co-opted it for their own purposes.. And whatever power they do have is certainly increased by those who participate in any Halloween celebration. One of the basic principles of the occult is that power is gained through controlling others. We would do well not to volunteer our services, even if in a naïve fashion.
Make no mistake about it. Halloween is a deadly serious practice for many in the occult. It is a virtual guarantee that there will be ritualistic murders committed on Halloween night by practicing Satanists. We need to be aware of the supernatural reality of these unholy forces; not to be afraid of them, but to be aware in order to stand firm against them.
[xii] Ibd.
[xiv] The Satanic Witch, Anton LaVey, also author of the Satanic Bible.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

"Is Hell Unfair?"

Here is an excellent little article from the late Walter Martin--just click on the link below:

Christian Worldview Network

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

This is Part 18 of a continuing series of articles examining the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. This statement of faith was adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting on June 14, 2000 “to set forth certain teachings which we believe.”

The Christian and the Social Order

All Christians are under obligation to seek to make the will of Christ supreme in our own lives and in human society. Means and methods used for the improvement of society and the establishment of righteousness among men can be truly and permanently helpful only when they are rooted in the regeneration of the individual by the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ. In the spirit of Christ, Christians should oppose racism, every form of greed, selfishness, and vice, and all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography. We should work to provide for the orphaned, the needy, the abused, the aged, the helpless, and the sick. We should speak on behalf of the unborn and contend for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death. Every Christian should seek to bring industry, government, and society as a whole under the sway of the principles of righteousness, truth, and brotherly love. In order to promote these ends Christians should be ready to work with all men of good will in any good cause, always being careful to act in the spirit of love without compromising their loyalty to Christ and His truth.*

Christians are called to be salt and light. Salt is intended to arrest the spread of corruption and light is meant to dispel the darkness. Society left alone will increasingly become morally rotten and spiritually dark. Salt confined to the shaker and light hidden under a basket will have no ability to affect the culture—there must be contact in order to have impact. Yet, many churches ignore their God-ordained responsibility to season and shine—huddling behind the four walls of the sanctuary while the world outside descends into a cesspool of sin!

Kingdom living is not just for the church house, but the courthouse, the state house, and the White House! We are called of God to bring a prophetic voice to a world that will only hear the propaganda of hell, unless the people of God stand up and speak up. “Nature abhors a vacuum,” it has been stated; and that values vacuum between people’s ears has been filled with movies, magazines, music—all sorts of media proclaimed by hell’s missionaries. To rail against Hollywood and the liberal press is all well and good, but what are Christians doing to counter such demonic doctrine?

The most important message we can share is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Political parties cannot bring in the Kingdom of God. It isn’t by legislation or Presidential election that lives are changed—and unless hearts and minds are regenerated, moral freefall is inevitable. True transformation in a nation happens one heart at a time.

Yet, there is a vital role for believers to call upon the government to perform its God-given mandate to promote justice and punish evil. Scripture tells us that government is the minister of God to carry out that very function. But human government will fall prey to the same vices of society unless it is confronted with a prophetic word from the church. Yet, someone has well said that the church today is a “Non-prophet organization!”

Let us repent, and with a word of truth spoken in love become the potent force for goodness that God has appointed us to be! Enough with the hand-wringing that leads us to whine in despair instead of actively working for righteousness! Away with the attitude of monasticism that leads us to withdraw from a world we are called to engage with truth! Let us repent by viewing all our activities—in the home, the community, the marketplace, and the culture—through the lens of Scripture, and model Kingdom principles in our daily acts and proclaim Kingdom principles loud and clear, without being obnoxious prigs.

* Exodus 20:3-17; Leviticus 6:2-5; Deuteronomy 10:12; 27:17; Psalm 101:5; Micah 6:8;
Zechariah 8:16; Matthew 5:13-16,43-48; 22:36-40; 25:35; Mark 1:29-34; 2:3ff.; 10:21;Luke 4:18-21; 10:27-37; 20:25; John 15:12; 17:15; Romans 12–14; 1Corinthians 5:9-10; 6:1-7; 7:20-24; 10:23-11:1; Galatians 3:26-28; Ephesians 6:5-9; Colossians 3:12-17; 1 Thessalonians 3:12; Philemon; James 1:27; 2:8. (Baptist Faith and Message, 2000)