Category Archives: Theological Thoughts

Elder Jonathan Sutton’s Paper Against James B. Jordan on Halloween

While I do not agree with the conclusion of this article, at the request of Rev. Mickey Schneider and his bride Judy, I wanted to honor the late Jonathan Sutton who wrote this short paper against James Jordan’s position. Elder Sutton served as elder of Trinity Presbyterian and James B. Jordan was a resident scholar and musician who also served Trinity Presbyterian for many years. Both were good friends and Jim Jordan had much respect for Elder Sutton. I had the distinct priviliege of knowing Elder Sutton. He was one of the men who laid hands on me at my ordination.

What Are We To Do with Halloween?

Trinity Presbyterian Church

Pastoral Paper — April 2008

Jonathon Sutton

Halloween has long been a problem for Christians. It appears the most pagan of all celebrations, accompanied by an onslaught of horror films and stories of hauntings. Consequently, many will not let their children go “Trick or Treating,” thinking it better to “come out from among them, and be … separate.” Many, however, do let their children participate, seeing it as a harmless bit of costumed fun, with no more occult significance than the tooth fairy. But incidents (or rumors) of candy tampering, along with a continuing nagging discomfort with the imagery involved, have led more and more Christian parents to seek an alternative celebration for their children. They want their children to have joyful, festive lives, and are not willing to sit at home while the neighborhood children go merrily from door to door. What are we Christians to do with Halloween? If we give some thought to the original intent of this ancient holiday, we might celebrate the saints who have gone before us and purpose to reform our ways to better bring glory to our Lord.

What we know as Halloween is a far remove from the origins of All Saints’ Day. From early in the history of the Church, Christians have celebrated, on the day, the memory of the saints who have died and gone to be with the Lord. Costumes were later added as a dramatic element of the celebration. We still have the costumes, but the main purpose of the day has been all but forgotten, and we are left only with a play with a meaningless script.

Jim Jordan has commented on this old Christian custom of celebrating the victory of Christ over Satan on All Saints’ Eve and All Saints’ Day.[1] As he recounts, All Hallow’s Eve (Hallowe’en) observances once portrayed a triumphal mockery of Satan and his minions in celebration of his defeat at the hand of Jesus. Christians began dressing their children as grinning red Satans, complete with pitchfork, or as ugly old witches with pointed black hats, crooked noses, and flying brooms. By doing this, they were using mockery to proclaim Christ’s victory over Satan, pointedly allying themselves with God in holy derision.

He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision. (Psalm 2:4)

The culture of those days was one of general acceptance of the spiritual realm of angels and demons. In that day, Satan and witches were acknowledged powers to be dealt with. When confronted with these ludicrous images of the principalities, powers, and rulers of the darkness of this world, the people would understood that much spiritual wrestling remained to be done before the enemy was run from the land. To such a people, the message of a Christ who had achieved victory over these wicked powers was a welcome one.

Ridicule may be an appropriate weapon for the Christian in any age. There is a case for ridicule, a time when one must confront spiritual poseurs by, as Charles Spurgeon said — “cheerfully bear(ing) the criticism of my more somber brethren. I am deeply in earnest, however playful my remarks may seem to be. These follies may be best shot at by the light arrows of ridicule, and therefore I employ them, not being of the same mind as those ‘who think all virtue lies in gravity/And smiles are symptoms of depravity.’”[2] When the ridiculous is accepted as received wisdom, this calls for a grand puncturing. But dressing up in Halloween costumes no longer affronts the ridiculous. In our culture, it buttresses it.

The times have changed. Today, many people scorn any mention of spiritual wickedness, thinking it rank superstition. Others entertain thoughts of the demons and dark powers because of the thrill of fear that they bring, without seriously anticipating any danger to themselves. Almost no one would view the appearance of children at the door, dressed as caricatures of Satan and other dark powers, as holy mockery of the defeated foes of Christ. They would instead think a) “Look at the cute little devil!”, b) “This one makes thirty — If this doesn’t stop soon, I’ll miss (name of favorite television program)”, or c) “Aren’t those the Smiths? I thought they were Christians.” A message of holy derision would be utterly lost in our culture.

For a message to be conveyed, it takes more than a speaker; it also takes a hearer. Biblical mockery leaves no doubt who is being mocked. The priests of Baal knew that Elijah was mocking them as he said “Cry aloud…peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked”(1 Kings 18:27). The modern parallel would be to “call the witches out.” But that is not what the Treat-or-Treaters are doing. Few now living would be able to decode this message of triumphant mockery. If there was an evident, Satan-worshipping element in our community that was seeking to present Satan as glorious and praiseworthy, we could target their message with pointed mockery — telling the community that, despite what they have heard, Satan has no power over God’s people. There is no blatant cult of Satan worship in our society. It is all masked as personal freedom.

Indeed, when we dress up our children as ghouls and goblins, the message our neighbors hear is that all this Satan stuff is no big deal; that the demonic realm is nothing but an uncomfortable joke with an exciting frisson of horror. But the swarm of horror movies and haunted house stories that come out every Halloween tells them a different story. This story says “There is a real demonic realm out there. Strange, unexplained things that you had better hope you don’t get mixed up with.” Many are hearing this story, and taking from it a message of fear. What was at one time mockery of Satan has gradually become mere ghoulish silliness and dabbling with fear. How can we show them that God is greater than Satan? By ridicule and mockery? Jesus ridiculed the Pharisees, calling them whited sepulchers, and revealing their efforts at appearing holy to sewing new patches onto old wineskins. Would he have approved of his disciples caricaturing and lampooning the Pharisees? God does not call us to mock Satan. There is a better way to celebrate Jesus’ triumph. How can we best counter the fear-orgy that is Halloween? How are we to confront the dark powers?

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour; whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. 1 Peter 5:8-9

We are called to be sober, vigilant, and steadfast in resistance, not triumphant and exultantly brash. Martin Luther did this on All Saints’ Day in 1517, by nailing his Ninety-five Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. He saw the error that had crept into the Church, and revealed the error before the people, reproving the works of darkness (Eph 5:11). In so doing, he sought the purity of the faith for which so many had died. Luther made his stand in accordance with Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 6:12-20:

“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, For which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.” Ephesians 6:12-20

Do we apply this passage about the Christian’s conflict with Satan to Halloween? Should this read “Wherefore take upon you masks and horns, noses and brooms, and mock the rulers of the darkness of this world”? No. We are to stand in faith and truth, and to pray, and to speak boldly, as Luther did.

One way we can do this is to honor those who have lived godly lives. Our American culture knows little of honor. Historical figures are shown to be flawed, present day leaders are all suspect, and there is little hope for the future. But we Christians live a different life. We can show honor to the past, take joy in the present, and have hope for the future. Our tradition can provide a different and better message for our neighbors — one of reflection and thankfulness for God’s continuing care for His people, instead of fear and cynicism. We can craft local celebrations that give honor to our fathers and mothers in the faith by both remembering what they have done and by giving them honor, in joyful obedience to the fifth commandment.

For Reformation Day to be seen by the community as something other than Christian “me-too-ism” — mimicking the world in a dorky fashion, without its native coolness — it must be characterized by distinctively Christian joy and power. Instead of mockery, there should be honor; instead of fear, faith. If we spend the evening at home and have young trick-or-treaters come to our door, we should treat them with loving compassion, not with cold disdain. If we celebrate the holiday together, we should do so with our might and main, planning costumery, games, music, food and whatever else to the glory of our Lord. A different era of Christendom might be celebrated each year, with children and adults dressed somewhat in the dress of the era, and food and games and music chosen to reflect the time. Activities could highlight the accomplishments of Christ in His Church during that era. All Saint’s Day could become for us a holiday of joyful celebration and of renewing our relation to the Church triumphant.

Halloween has lost its way, and is in need of reformation. Satan has indeed made inroads in our church, our families, ourselves. Rather than just saying that Satan has no power, we must take back ground that we have ceded to him by our neglect, rebellion, and lust. Call upon God to deliver us from the evil one (Matthew 6:13). “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Bring His light into the dark and spooky corners of your heart and the lives of those around you. Instead of being uncomfortable with the traditions of the world, we should forge our own. Let’s use the day to celebrate the work of God’s Holy Spirit in His people in every land, in every age.

[1] James B. Jordan, Open Book Newsletter Concerning Halloween, OPEN BOOK, Views and Reviews, No. 28, Biblical Horizons 1996.

[2] Charles Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students, 1875, pp. 289-290

James B. Jordan on Halloween

Jim Jordan is a true genius. May God grant him a recovery of mind because I would love to watch him write and think again. It would be a miracle, but God works wonders like this all the time. If you have not read his masterpice on Halloween it’s worth 10 minutes. This is what he writes in his Halloween piece:

The concept, as dramatized in Christian custom, is quite simple: On October 31, the demonic realm tries one last time to achieve victory, but is banished by the joy of the Kingdom.

What is the means by which the demonic realm is vanquished? In a word: mockery. Satan’s great sin (and our great sin) is pride. Thus, to drive Satan from us we ridicule him. This is why the custom arose of portraying Satan in a ridiculous red suit with horns and a tail. Nobody thinks the devil really looks like this; the Bible teaches that he is the fallen Arch-Cherub. Rather, the idea is to ridicule him because he has lost the battle with Jesus and he no longer has power over us.

 

The Dealer’s Prayer

Recently I had my first experience in a car dealership. The gentleman, kind enough, took us on a tour through the vast array of used cars. We had a budget in mind and we also had a fine mechanic whom we called if we had any questions (Thanks Eddie Hobbs in Pace) Our budget was conspicuously low in comparison to the 20-50K priced vehicles in the lot. But we were firm. We don’t believe in debt and we weren’t going to compromise our principle. Yet, the dealer was persistent. At one time when he pointed us to a vehicle with low mileage and in fine shape and ideal price. We called our mechanic and put the dealer on the phone with him. I couldn’t hear what the mechanic was saying to the dealer, but I could tell by the dealer’s face that we would run from the offer. And run we did.

The experienced wordsmith kept hinting at a certain car that may or may not have been sold. It was as if he was saying there is a hidden treasure in this cornfield and for the sake of the car gods I will find it just for you. And there it was. It was clean and charming. As the morning began to heat up so did his arguments; he wanted to close the deal. We were pleased with the hidden treasure–though wished he had revealed it an hour earlier. It was a fine car to suit our needs but we were not willing to pay for what he offered.

Still, my wife and I drove the vehicle while the dealer kept up with his well-tested pitches. “This is the vehicle for you. I know it.” “I’d buy this car if I could.” “This will fly out of this dealership in the next hour if you don’t buy it.” We walked into the dealership; happy with the vehicle, but still unhappy with the price and unwilling to compromise. So, the manager joins us. He doesn’t argue for the same vehicle. Maybe he sensed our unwillingness. “Would you all be comfortable with this car?” pointing to another vehicle in his inventory. It was in our price range. The dealer jumped up and acted rather surprised: “I had no idea this car was available.” It’s likely he didn’t–benefit of the doubt and all. We took a look at the offer, but when we sat inside the vehicle there were several immediate faults with the car. The dealer looked at us with evangelistic zeal and said: “All you have to do is say yes and this will be yours.” I’ve heard that line before somewhere. “Are you ready to take this home?” “Give us a few minutes to think,” I said. But at that stage, it didn’t take us long to conclude we were both exhausted from the three-hour altar call. We couldn’t go up and sign the dotted line. We couldn’t say the dealer’s prayer. I needed several hours to recover emotionally from that experience.

Calvin on Psalm 46

Explaining the significance of the psalmists’ first words in Psalm 46, Calvin writes:

…the faithful have no reason to be afraid, since God is always ready to deliver them, nay, is also armed with invincible power. He shows in this that the true and proper proof of our hope consists in this, that, when things are so confused, that the heavens seem as it were to fall with great violence, the earth to remove out of its place, and the mountains to be torn up from their very foundations, we nevertheless continue to preserve and maintain calmness and tranquility of heart.

 

Tyranny of the Unknown

Our tendency to isolate ourselves is grounded in several factors. One reason we usually avoid the company of fellow brothers and sisters stems from a stream of endless hypothetical situations about what might happen should I actively pursue community.

“But what if they see me as I really am?”
“What if they perceive me to not be as strong as they envisioned?”
“What if people’s examples challenge the way I do things?”

You see, fear leads to over-protectiveness/preservation of one’s aloneness, which means living together is crushed by the tyranny of the unknown. But you see, God wants you to jump into the sea of uncertainty when it comes to church life. It is good and right to allow yourself to be known; to taste and experience the mysteries of fellowship.

New Mercies: Communion Meditation

Long ago in a small little village, far away, there was a great fire. The residents frantically ran to fill up buckets of water attempting to minimize the damage to their little village. But the fire was all consuming. It spared nothing. The next day the villagers—exhausted from their labors—wept as they saw what remained from their belongings. “Everything we have is gone.”

The children, however, continued to play like every morning. The Father looked at them and said, “Don’t you know son that all your toys were burned down in last night’s fire?” The son looked at his father and said, “Father, you taught us that the Lord’s mercies are new each morning. Our toys may be gone, but the Lord’s mercies are not.” The father hugged his son and even as he wept he remembered God’s mercies.

The Supper is a new mercy for us each time we partake. It’s God’s gift when life is not what we expected it to be. At this table, mercy is offered. So, let us eat and drink.

Tough Parenting?

It’s not that we are self-consciously crushing our children’s spirit, it’s that we have deceived ourselves into thinking it’s good parenting. We may call it “tough parenting” to make it more justifiable. But it’s wrong on many levels. An example of this takes place in the midst of discipline. Discipline is a crucial moment in the relationship between child/parent. When we think that discipline, for example, is a one-dimensional exercise, we’ve forgotten how our Father in heaven deals with us (Heb. 12:6). All discipline is characterized by dialogue. When we discipline without engaging, we are acting as if we are unapproachable precisely when our children need to approach us the most.
 
(After discipline, hugging the child): “Son, I love you and want the best for you. What you did was wrong, and it’s my responsibility to protect you from loving the wrong. Do you understand what daddy is saying?”
 
Redemption from wrong-doing does not come through a series of one-sided acts but through a series of relational actions that bind parent and child together in the journey of redemption.

The Grass is Greener on the Instagram Side

On social media you have the ability to add color effects to your pictures, thus making each picture fit a particular style of beauty. The grass looks greener on the other side of an Instagram picture. We generally see people and their backgrounds and assume things are well or that they have at least a healthy part of their lives figured out. Like cheap therapists, we determine someone’s life by their pictures on their profile.

We reinvent ourselves daily to make ourselves acceptable to the world. It’s easier to live by sight than by faith. But we should let faith set the scenery of our lives. And we ought not to live vicariously through someone else’s social media life. Further, we shouldn’t be fooled into assuming the other person’s life lacks their own set of problems and pain. This is deception fitting for our tech age.

Jesus’ exhortation to seek his kingdom and pursue righteousness is a needed reminder for our age. So, simply: be content with the house and yard God has given you. It may not have the fancy color effect as your neighbors’, but it’s what you need.

“I do not want to be noticed”

One of the most interesting comments I have heard from visitors over the years came from a young man in his 20’s. After he attended our church for a couple of weeks, he came to me after church and said, “I am going to look for another church.” Sheepishly, I asked why. He said, “I am looking for a church that I can attend without being noticed.” My response, which may have shocked him a bit was: “Well, I hope you never find such a church.” Thankfully, we had the opportunity to talk about this at a later time. But when you think about that rationale, we are to be shocked about what it is communicating. The Church ought to be a place where you are noticed, not only that but where you are edified and challenged.

The Lord’s Supper invites you to be noticed this morning. It invites you to taste and touch the means of renewal in bread and wine. In fact, as you come to this table, be grateful that you are noticed and rejoice that God has set his eyes and affection upon you.

CREC Statement on Sexuality

CREC Statement on Sexuality

July 16, 2018

The CREC affirms the Bible’s teaching on the creation of man and woman and the establishment of the marriage relationship as only between one man and one woman. There are two sexes, male and female. We stand against all attempts to confuse the Bible’s clear teaching in this area.

The CREC believes that Christians who struggle with various sexual temptations should receive ongoing pastoral care, including those who are tempted to engage in sexual perversions. At the same time, we believe that any teaching that combines LGBTQ identity with identity in Christ is completely unbiblical.

 We believe that encouraging Christians who face certain sexual temptations to identify as lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgenders, whether in sexually active relationships or not, is unbiblical, and further, that this teaching will have destructive effects in the long term, both for individuals who follow it and for any Christian bodies that accommodate it.

 We exhort all ecclesiastical bodies to declare the Bible’s full and clear teaching on sexual behavior, whether in desires or actions, and to encourage individuals to repent of sinful desires and sexual behavior as they turn to Christ to resist temptation.

 We encourage patient pastoral care for struggling individuals who repent of their sins and seek to be obedient to Jesus.

We exhort the broader Christian Church, and particularly Reformed Churches, to hold their churches and pastors accountable to faithful biblical doctrine and practice in all areas of sexuality.

Virgil Hurt

Presiding Minister of Council

Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches (CREC)