What is Holy Saturday?

The Passion Week provides diverse theological emotions for the people of God. Palm Sunday commences with the entrance of a divine King riding on a donkey. He comes in ancient royal transportation. The royal procession illicit shouts of benediction, but concludes only a few days later with shouts of crucifixion as the king is hung on a tree.

The Church also celebrates Maundy Thursday as our Messiah provides a new commandment to love one another just as He loved us. The newness of the commandments is not an indication that love was not revealed prior (Lev. 19), but that love is now incarnate in the person of love, Jesus Christ. We then proceed to sing of the anguish of that Good Friday as our blessed Lord is humiliated by soldiers and scolded by the offensive words of the religious leaders of the day. As he walks to the Mount, his pain testifies to Paul’s words that he suffered even to the point of death (Phil. 2)But hidden in this glaringly distasteful mixture of blood, vinegar, and bruised flesh is the calmness of the day after our Lord’s crucifixion.

After fulfilling the great Davidic promise in Psalm 22, our Lord rests from his labors in the tomb. Whatever may have happened in those days before his resurrection, we know that Christ’s work as the unblemished offering of love was finished.

The Church calls this day Blessed Sabbath or more commonly, Holy Saturday. On this day, our Lord reposed (rested) from his accomplishments. Many throughout history also believe that Holy Saturday is a fulfillment of Moses’ words:

God blessed the seventh day. This is the blessed Sabbath. This is the day of rest, on which the only-begotten Son of God rested from all His works . . .(Gen. 2:2)

The Church links this day with the creation account. On day seven Yahweh rested and enjoyed the fruit of his creation. Jesus Christ also rested in the rest given to him by the Father and enjoyed the fruits of the New Creation he began to establish and would be brought to light on the next day.

As Alexander Schmemann observed:

Now Christ, the Son of God through whom all things were created, has come to restore man to communion with God. He thereby completes creation. All things are again as they should be. His mission is consummated. On the Blessed Sabbath He rests from all His works.

Holy Saturday is a day of rest for God’s people; a foretaste of the true Rest that comes in the Risen Christ. The calmness of Holy Saturday makes room for the explosion of Easter Sunday. On this day, we remember that the darkness of the grave and the resting of the Son were only temporary for when a New Creation bursts into the scene the risen Lord of glory cannot contain his joy, and so he gives it to us.

Lessons Learned from the Death of Westboro Baptist Founder, Fred Phelps

Lessons Learned from the Death of Westboro Baptist Founder, Fred Phelps

The incendiary founder of Westboro Baptist has died.

World reports:

Fred Phelps Sr., the founder of a Kansas sect known for its anti-homosexuality picketing at military funerals, has died. He was 84.

The former figurehead of Westboro Baptist Church was hospice-bound in Topeka, Kan., and had stopped eating and drinking at the time of his death on Wednesday night, his estranged son Nathan told the Associated Press on Sunday. Nathan Phelps said a new board of eight elders excommunicated his father last summer after a power struggle, possibly contributing to the decline in his health. “I’m not sure how I feel about this,” he wrote on Facebook. “Terribly ironic that his devotion to his god ends this way. Destroyed by the monster he made.” Nathan Phelps left the sect 37 years ago and is now a religious skeptic and gay-rights advocate.

Phelps’ Westboro Baptist–an unaffiliated church–will now be left in the hands of other family members who will most likely continue the vision of their leader.  A documentary was produced of the small Kansas congregation.

So, what can we learn from the death of Fred Phelps?

First, we learn that truth can be easily mis-applied. Phelps once noted that  “you preach the Bible without preaching the hatred of God.” Any sober-minded interpreter will attest to the Scriptural God who condemns sin and acts justly against sin. Any sober-minded interpreter will realize that the Marcionite heresy of dividing the Old Testament God from the New is not an orthodox option. The same God who destroyed and killed evil societies also judged his own people. That same God promises everlasting judgment upon those who do not believe in his Son (John 3:36). But this God of vengeance (Psalm 94) is also a God of everlasting love (Psalm 36:7). To overemphasize his wrath and to build one’s entire ministry around the wrath of God is to offer an unbalanced picture of the God of the Bible.

Further, it must be emphasized that the God of the Bible stressed mercy before judgment. Our God is an all consuming grace before He is an all consuming fire. Jesus offered himself to the people of Israel in mercy before he came and destroyed Jerusalem (Mat. 23:37). Phelps emphasized the wrath of God, but that message obscured the mercy and grace of God toward sinners (I Peter 3:15).

Second, we learn that angering the leftists is not always in our best interest. The left hated Phelps and his group. “The Westboro Baptist Church is probably the vilest hate group in the United the State of America,” Heidi Beirich, research director for the Montgomery, Ala.-based Southern Poverty Law Center, told The Associated Press in July 2011. Indeed those who are in darkness will despise the witness of the light, but sometimes we who are light can portray a dim light immersed in unfruitful activities in the name of the Gospel. Yes, they will persecute us, but let us be wise to not pursue unnecessary persecution. The Gospel itself is enough to gain enemies. Let us not then debase its purity by bringing evangelicals and God-haters together against a common cause.

Third, we learn that picketing at homosexual and military funerals is not the way of the Gospel, but it is a way of death itself. Though we may vehemently disagree on matters of foreign policy, military soldiers and their families have the right to grieve. Grieving is a necessary means of emotional and physical relief. Though we oppose homosexuality and the practice of it on biblical grounds, even homosexuals have the right–as image-bearers–to grieve for their loved ones. To not allow them to weep is to de-humanize men and women created in the image of God. Instead of picketing and protesting at funerals, Christians need to establish a vision of marital faithfulness that is compelling to those who have rejected the agenda of God for man and woman. By picketing and protesting, the Phelps clan left a poor example of Christian compassion rooted in the imago dei. We must oppose the homosexual agenda at all costs, but we must proclaim truth winsomely and wholistically, realizing that we are dealing with fellow human beings created in the image of God.

Fourth, we learn that independent groups like Westboro Baptist suffer from a severe lack of accountability. This individualized ecclesiology leaves no room for correction. They are the end all of theological decisions. We need a catholic vision that allows the local church to be held accountable to and connected with other congregations. This does not necessarily require a formal connection–as I would propose–but even an informal one where there would be genuine opportunities to exhort and challenge others to godly practices.

Finally, we learn that the legacy we leave is fundamental to our vision as Christians. How will our children remember us? Will they remember a contentious father who viewed evangelism as a means to de-humanize others–however different their moral agenda was? Or will they view us as lovers of truth who practiced truth in love; rebuking and exhorting; calling evil, evil, but winsomely engaging those outside of the covenant with the message of hope and communicating salvation as a restoration of the whole cosmos? Calling homosexuals to repentance while guiding and shepherding them in the process?

The agenda of Fred Phelps failed to communicate what the Bible intends to communicate about the nature of God. His tactics brought great harm to the cause of Christ. Many–even in his own family who have fled–have been negatively affected by this cult-like groupa. Phelps’ death reminds us that the way you live and present the Gospel matters, and that your zeal for truth can actually work against truth itself.

  1. According to World: ” The couple had 13 adult children, nine of whom remain in the church and four of whom have left the church, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal. Roughly 20 of the couple’s 54 grandchildren also have left the church.”  (back)

The Continual Demise of the Schuller Empire

Three family members of Crystal Cathedral Founder Robert H. Schuller were fired from their leadership positions in the ministry, officials confirmed Tuesday. {Read the rest}

The Old World Returning…

This is how my friend Mark Horne describes the return of child sacrifice in Uganda.

Women Disappearing from Churches, Says Barna

The article on HuffPo on the decrease of women attendance in church is quite a revelation. Whereas in most parts of the world–especially Asia–churches are mostly populated by women, in the US it appears women are fleeing from church. According to Barna, “Since 1991, the percentage of women attending church during a typical week has decreased by 11 percentage points to 44 percent, the Barna Group reported Monday (Aug. 1). They also write  “that the percentage of women who strongly believe the Bible is accurate in all it teaches declined by 7 percentage points to 42 percent. And those who view God as “the all-knowing, all-powerful and perfect Creator of the universe who still rules the world today” dropped from 80 percent to 70 percent.” Barna concludes:

“Women used to put men to shame in terms of their orthodoxy of belief and the breadth and consistency of their religious behavior,” wrote Barna. “No more; the religious gender gap has substantially closed.”

Chile Rejoices

For those who have been keeping up with the rescue of the 33 Chileans miners, the New York Times summarizes quiet well the triumph of the story. My favorite part of the story is a quote from one of the rescued miners:

“I’ve been near God, but I’ve also been near the devil,” Mr. Sepúlveda said through a translator. “God won.”

John Edwards: Two-Faced Man

Maureen Dowd’s op-ed piece on the New York Times is brutal on former senator John Edwards. She details some of the main features of a new book. The man who betrayed his dying wife is the main character of Andrew Young’s revealing memoir entitled “The Politician.” The book deals with the scandal that brought down a man who was near to the presidency or who could have been in Joe Biden’s office at this point. Dowd’s conclusion is a perfect summary of John Edward’s political career:

The man who preached about two Americas will be remembered for doing it with two faces.

Sexual Abuse in the Roman Catholic Church

The more than 12,000 pages of documents relating to lawsuits alleging decades of sexual abuse of children by its priests have now been released. Cardinal Egan, who defended the secrecy of these documents concludes his op-ed in the New York Times  by stating:

It’s marvelous when you think of the hundreds and hundreds of priests and how very few have even been accused, and how very few have even come close to having anyone prove anything.

Responses to Egan’s remarks took various sides, but mainly in opposition to this stunning statement. One responder who was sexually abused writes that “Priests, after all, were next to God.” Priest received an incredible amount of protection. Their superior status and the enormous fear, including the guilt and manipulation suffered by priests, hindered many from ever being known. As one responder observed:

The question, then, for Cardinal Egan is not how many priests actually do not abuse children, but how many abusing priests have gotten away with it.

What’s going on?

We tend to see trends in society on the basis of what books are selling the most. At this point, Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged is flying off the shelves. I heard Andrew Breitbart say recently that there is a growing sense of dissatisfaction with the Republican Party and a growing interest in Libertarian theory.  Viva Ron Paul!

American Aggression Under Obama…

Times Online reports:

Missiles fired from suspected US drones killed at least 15 people inside Pakistan today, the first such strikes since Barack Obama became president and a clear sign that the controversial military policy begun by George W Bush has not changed.

Security officials said the strikes, which saw up to five missiles slam into houses in separate villages, killed seven “foreigners” – a term that usually means al-Qaeda – but locals also said that three children lost their lives.