Mike Huckabee again.
Sin is senseless. Petty sin is senseless, and high wickedness is senseless. If it made sense, if it lined up with how God made the world, then it wouldn’t be sin.
Christians sometimes make the mistake of trying make sense out of sin—whether their own, or the sins of others.
This is true all the time, but there are times when the word senseless crowds to the front of our minds, and insists on being used. The shooting in Connecticut is an instance of this. After all the investigations, after everything is examined, after all the funerals are held, we will still come down to this—we are a broken race, lost and without God in the world.
The only thing worse than this kind of grief is grief without reason, grief without explanation, grief without answers. And this is where believers need to embrace the fact that the gospel is the answer, Jesus is the answer, and the senselessness of our sin is the presenting problem.
Sharing the gospel is not a matter of trying to teach nonbelievers the password that will get them into Heaven. Sharing the gospel is an explanation of the world, and it explains all the relevant issues, including our stubborn resistance to any true explanation of the world.
At Christmas, we celebrate the entry of Jesus into this world. As our sorry condition demonstrates, we desperately need Him.
I’ve said some controversial things from time to time, but none which prompted such a backlash as when I stated that the horrific shooting in CT of school children and teachers couldn’t be blamed on God because we’ve systematically marginalized God out of our culture by removing Him from all aspects of the public square. The vicious attacks that have resulted, most of all of which are based on total ignorance of what I actually said have actually validated my point, but I’m quite certain that was not the intent of both the professional and amateur critics who have demanded everything from my being banned from ever speaking in public again, or wished me a slow and painful death. On that alone, I wish to acknowledge that the left has again shown that it defines tolerance and diversity as being tolerant only of that with which it agrees, and diverse only to include slight shades of the orthodoxy of liberalism to which they adhere. They abhor censorship of their own profanity, obscenities, or graphic violence, but are the first to demand that a voice that invokes the name of God to be silenced. A specific act of violence is rarely the result of a specific single act of a culture that prompts it. In other words, I would never say that simply taking prayer and Bible reading from our institutions or silencing Christmas carols is the direct cause of a mass murder. That would be ludicrous and simplistic. But the cause and effect we see in the dramatic changes of what our children are capable of is a part of a cultural shift from a God-centered culture to a self-centered culture. We have glorified uninhibited self-expression and individualism and are shocked that we have a generation of loners. We have insisted on a society where everyone gets a trophy and no one loses and act surprised that so many kids lack self-esteem and feel like losers. We dismiss the notion of natural law and the notion that there are moral absolutes and seemed amazed when some kids make it their own morality to kill innocent children. We diminish and even hold in contempt the natural family of a father and mother creating and then responsibly raising the next generation and then express dismay that kids feel no real connection to their families or even the concept of a family. We scoff at the need for mothers and fathers to make it their priority to train their children to be strong in spirit and soul and responsible for right and wrong and exalt instead the virtue of having things and providing expensive toys, games, and electronics that substitute for parenting and then don’t understand why our kids would rather have ear buds dangling from their ears, fingers attaching to a smart phone, and face attached to a computer screen than to have an extended conversation with their family at dinner. And we don’t teach them there is a Creator God who sets immutable rules, a God who is knowable, and to whom we are ultimately responsible. Instead we teach that God was not involved in our origins, that our very lives are biological happenstances and in fact are disposable should they be inconvenient to us, and that any outrageous behaviors are not sin, but disorders for which we should be excused and accommodated. I realize my viewpoint sounds out-dated and archaic, but when that world view was the foundation of our nation’s social contract, we got in trouble at school for talking in class, chewing gum, pulling a girl’s pigtails, or slouching in our school desks. We took guns to school, to be sure, but they were in the gun racks of our trucks and we used them to hunt before and after school. It never occurred to us to use them to murder our teachers and fellow students. So yes, I can stand the contempt and criticism of the left. I’ll gladly accept their scorn as they substitute creative language with a steady stream of profanity-laced tirades that I’m an idiot, a throwback to the past, and a person who should be forever silenced. But when we as a nation feared God, we didn’t fear that a 20 year old with a high powered rifle would gun down our children in their schoolrooms.
It has become routine in October for some Christian schools to send out letters warning parents about the evils of Halloween, and it has become equally routine for me to be asked questions about this matter.
“Halloween” is simply a contraction for All Hallows’ Eve. The word “hallow” means “saint,” in that “hallow” is just an alternative form of the word “holy” (“hallowed be Thy name”). All Saints’ Day is November 1. It is the celebration of the victory of the saints in union with Christ. The observance of various celebrations of All Saints arose in the late 300s, and these were united and fixed on November 1 in the late 700s. The origin of All Saints Day and of All Saints Eve in Mediterranean Christianity had nothing to do with Celtic Druidism or the Church’s fight against Druidism (assuming there ever even was any such thing as Druidism, which is actually a myth concocted in the 19th century by neo-pagans.)
In the First Covenant, the war between God’s people and God’s enemies was fought on the human level against Egyptians, Assyrians, etc. With the coming of the New Covenant, however, we are told that our primary battle is against principalities and powers, against fallen angels who bind the hearts and minds of men in ignorance and fear. We are assured that through faith, prayer, and obedience, the saints will be victorious in our battle against these demonic forces. The Spirit assures us: “The God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly” (Romans 16:20).
The Festival of All Saints reminds us that though Jesus has finished His work, we have not finished ours. He has struck the decisive blow, but we have the privilege of working in the mopping up operation. Thus, century by century the Christian faith has rolled back the demonic realm of ignorance, fear, and superstition. Though things look bad in the Western world today, this work continues to make progress in Asia and Africa and Latin America.
The Biblical day begins in the preceding evening, and thus in the Church calendar, the eve of a day is the actual beginning of the festive day. Christmas Eve is most familiar to us, but there is also the Vigil of Holy Saturday that precedes Easter Morn. Similarly, All Saints’ Eve precedes All Saints’ Day.
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 tradition of mocking Satan and defeating him through joy and laughter plays a large role in Ray Bradbury’s classic novel, Something Wicked This Way Comes, which is a Halloween novel.)
The gargoyles that were placed on the churches of old had the same meaning. They symbolized the Church ridiculing the enemy. They stick out their tongues and make faces at those who would assault the Church. Gargoyles are not demonic; they are believers ridiculing the defeated demonic army.
Thus, the defeat of evil and of demonic powers is associated with Halloween. For this reason, Martin Luther posted his 95 challenges to the wicked practices of the Church to the bulletin board on the door of the Wittenberg chapel on Halloween. He picked his day with care, and ever since Halloween has also been Reformation Day.
Similarly, on All Hallows’ Eve (Hallow-Even – Hallow-E’en – Halloween), the custom arose of mocking the demonic realm by dressing children in costumes. Because the power of Satan has been broken once and for all, our children can mock him by dressing up like ghosts, goblins, and witches. The fact that we can dress our children this way shows our supreme confidence in the utter defeat of Satan by Jesus Christ – we have NO FEAR!
I don’t have the resources to check the historical origins of all Halloween customs, and doubtless they have varied from time to time and from Christian land to Christian land. “Trick or treat” doubtless originated simply enough: something fun for kids to do. Like anything else, this custom can be perverted, and there have been times when “tricking” involved really mean actions by teenagers and was banned from some localities.
We can hardly object, however, to children collecting candy from friends and neighbors. This might not mean much to us today, because we are so prosperous that we have candy whenever we want, but in earlier generations people were not so well o_, and obtaining some candy or other treats was something special. There is no reason to pour cold water on an innocent custom like this.
Similarly, the jack-o’-lantern’s origins are unknown. Hollowing out a gourd or some other vegetable, carving a face, and putting a lamp inside of it is something that no doubt has occurred quite independently to tens of thousands of ordinary people in hundreds of cultures worldwide over the centuries. Since people lit their homes with candles, decorating the candles and the candle-holders was a routine part of life designed to make the home pretty or interesting. Potatoes, turnips, beets, and any number of other items were used.
Wynn Parks writes of an incident he observed: “An English friend had managed to remove the skin of a tangerine in two intact halves. After carving eyes and nose in one hemisphere and a mouth in the other, he poured cooking oil over the pith sticking up in the lower half and lit the readymade wick. With its upper half on, the tangerine skin formed a miniature jack-o’-lantern. But my friend seemed puzzled that I should call it by that name. `What would I call it? Why a “tangerine head,” I suppose.’” (Parks, “The Head of the Dead,” The World & I, November 1994, p. 270.)
In the New World, people soon learned that pumpkins were admirably suited for this purpose. The jack-o’-lantern is nothing but a decoration; and the leftover pumpkin can be scraped again, roasted, and turned into pies and muffins.
In some cultures, what we call a jack-o’-lantern represented the face of a dead person, whose soul continued to have a presence in the fruit or vegetable used. But this has no particular relevance to Halloween customs. Did your mother tell you, while she carved the pumpkin, that this represented the head of a dead person and with his soul trapped inside? Of course not. Symbols and decorations, like words, mean different things in different cultures, in different languages, and in different periods of history. The only relevant question is what does it mean now, and nowadays it is only a decoration.
And even if some earlier generations did associate the jack-o’-lantern with a soul in a head, so what? They did not take it seriously. It was just part of the joking mockery of heathendom by Christian people.
This is a good place to note that many articles in books, magazines, and encyclopedias are written by secular humanists or even the pop-pagans of the so-called “New Age” movement. (An example is the article by Wynn Parks cited above.) These people actively suppress the Christian associations of historic customs, and try to magnify the pagan associations. They do this to try and make paganism acceptable and to downplay Christianity. Thus, Halloween, Christmas, Easter, etc., are said to have pagan origins. Not true.
Oddly, some fundamentalists have been influenced by these slanted views of history. These fundamentalists do not accept the humanist and pagan rewriting of Western history, American history, and science, but sometimes they do accept the humanist and pagan rewriting of the origins of Halloween and Christmas, the Christmas tree, etc. We can hope that in time these brethren will reexamine these matters as well. We ought not to let the pagans do our thinking for us.
Nowadays, children often dress up as superheroes, and the original Christian meaning of Halloween has been absorbed into popular culture. Also, with the present fad of “designer paganism” in the so-called New Age movement, some Christians are uneasy with dressing their children as spooks. So be it. But we should not forget that originally Halloween was a Christian custom, and there is no solid reason why Christians cannot enjoy it as such even today.
“He who sits in the heavens laughs; Yahweh ridicules them” says Psalm 2. Let us join in His holy laughter, and mock the enemies of Christ on October 31.”
Russia and China today both enjoy the same grand-strategic advantage against the United States that the United States enjoyed through the 44 years of the Cold War.
The Soviet Union was then the superpower of the left, as the left had been globally understood since the French Revolution. It was the state committed to the promotion of revolutionary change across the world.
The United States, by contrast, was the superpower of the right. It was committed to the maintenance of stability and continuity in government systems around the world.
The United States won the Cold War. The craving for stability, peace, and continuity among governments and populations alike proved infinitely stronger than the fleeting flashes of revolutionary fervor. The Soviet Union eventually became physically exhausted and globally isolated by its ideological commitment to revolutionary change.
Today, however, the roles of the two great powers have been reversed. Since the advent of Madeleine Albright as secretary of state in 1997, the United States has become increasingly ideologically committed to the spreading of “instant powdered democracy” in every nation of the world, as defined and approved by the United States. Russia and China have become the main “conservative” or “right-wing” powers committed to preserving the status quo.
Ironically, the U.S. commitment to continual revolution around the world is a revival of the discredited concepts of Leon Trotsky. Josef Stalin abandoned Trotsky’s ideas in the 1920s when he took power in the Soviet Union. This gave him the ideological flexibility to create the Grand Alliance with the United States and the British Empire that won World War II—the Great Patriotic War.
But Nikita Khrushchev revived Trotsky’s disastrous concept: he and his successor, Leonid Brezhnev, drained their superpower dry by pouring resources into promoting revolution throughout the developing world, from 1954 in Egypt to Afghanistan in 1979-87. This led to the collapse of the Soviet system. It also prompted governments around the world to seek protection from efforts to fan the flames of revolution within them by turning to the United States for security on U.S. terms.
Today, it is the United States under presidents of both parties that has embraced the Trotskyite delusion. The bipartisan policy of the United States has become Permanent Revolution until Total and Perfect Democracy is finally achieved. This can only end the way it ended for Maximilien Robespierre in the French Revolution and for Trotsky in the Bolshevik one.
It is fitting that so many of the older generation of American neoconservatives started life as communist enthusiasts in the 1930s and ’40s. For today’s neocons are really neo-Trotskyites promoting the old, doomed enthusiasms under a new label.
By contrast, Russia and China are led by pragmatic governments guided by the concepts of profit and self-interest. They support and want to do business with existing governments and governing systems around the world. This has made them the 21st century’s major global powers of the right.
This is the strategic and psychological force behind China’s immense success in displacing the United States and the European Union in Africa. Chinese investment and aid comes free from the destabilizing, potentially revolutionary ideological strings that undermine existing systems of government throughout the region.
The governments of China and Russia hate and fear revolution and see the endless ideological promotion of democracy American-style in small countries around them and in their own homelands as planting the seeds of chaos and disintegration.
Democracy works admirably in societies where it is allowed to develop organically. But when other governments try to accelerate its growth artificially or hasten its triumph from outside, especially when they resort to military force to do so, the result is almost always a fierce reaction against the forces of democracy. This reaction often generates extreme fascist, repressive, and intolerant forces. And these forces usually win and take power. Then they impose themselves on the societies in question, delaying any real democratic development for decades or generations.
The efforts of the French Revolutionaries and Napoleon to export liberty, equality, and brotherhood across Europe by fire and sword instead ensured the survival of the old traditional empires for another 120 years. The efforts of Lenin and Trotsky to export socialism and communism by similar means were even more catastrophic. The backlash against them in Germany propelled Adolf Hitler to power.
It is not in America’s interests to follow in those footsteps—to put it mildly.”
God Almighty owns everything. This is the biblical view: “The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it” (Ps. 24:1); God says, “[E]very beast of the forest is Mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird of the mountains, and everything that moves in the field is Mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell you; for the world is Mine, and all it contains (Psa. 50:9-12).
God created mankind in His own image. Man reflects God’s character and order. Just as God owns everything, God delegated the stewardship and dominion of property to His image, mankind (Gen. 1:26-28), and thus humans have the capacity and calling to act as private owners. God planted a special garden—the Garden of Eden—and placed man in it to till it, and to guard its boundaries (Gen. 2:8, 15). When Adam and Eve rebelled against God’s law-order, God kicked them outside of those boundaries, and placed a “no-trespassing” sign in the form of an angelic guardian at their gates (Gen. 3:23-24). Adam and Eve very quickly learned the ins and outs of private property.
This doctrine continued as God’s way of ordering and prospering society, and we see this in the fact that God’s fundamental laws for living—the Ten Commandments—include the prohibition of theft (Ex. 20:15). No man or group of men can take another man’s property—by individual act, legislation, petition, conspiracy, or appeal to the “common good”—in disregard for God’s law. The Old Testament frequently refers to the moving of a neighbor’s landmark (a property corner) in order to increase one’s own property (Deut. 19:14; 27:17; Job 24:2; Prov. 22:28; 23:10; Hos. 5:10). The references forbid or condemn the act as an attack on inheritance and possession (Deut. 19:14).
The same doctrine holds in the New Testament. In the early Church in Acts 5, as many Christians voluntarily sold their goods and gave to the poor among them, one couple sold some land and laid only a portion at the apostles’ feet pretending they had given all. Nevertheless, even for these corrupt-hearted individuals, Peter up-held the doctrine of private property: “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control?” (Acts 5:4). God punished them, not for not giving all, but for lying about what they gave.
Other apostles upheld the doctrine as well: Paul preached against theft (Eph. 4:28), as did Peter (1 Pet. 4:15) and James (Jam. 5:4). Not to mention that Jesus saw the command as quite relevant as well (Matt. 19:18).
The biblical witness is clear: God believes in private property, and He not only desires us but commands us to live by that rule as well. Under this system, our rights and freedoms come from God. No man can take them away. He who tries must answer to the law, and ultimately to God.
Socialism is the belief that individual private property is a bad idea. It is thus an anti-Christian and anti-biblical belief. Socialists believe that governments should own most or all property and distribute it out as government experts, scientists, politicians, or occasionally voters see fit. Under socialism, the State puts itself in the place of God and says, “The earth is the State’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it.” Under this view, the individual has no protection from his neighbor if his neighbor is in the majority, or if the State somehow deems his neighbor as needful in some way; the State simply uses force to take that individual’s property and give it to someone else. In this sense, the State moves landmarks every day. In this view, the State determines our rights, and gives us our freedoms; here there is no appeal beyond the State.
Socialism is the belief, therefore, that stealing is acceptable as long as another man or group of men says so. Socialism believes in theft by majority vote, or theft by a majority of representatives’ votes in Congress. Socialism is the belief that armed robbery is OK as long as you do it through proxy of the government’s gun. Socialism places man, and ultimately the State, in the place of God. Man becomes owned by other men, instead of by his Maker. Socialism is an entirely humanistic, God-denying, God-usurping belief.
Between these two beliefs—private property and socialism— there exists fundamental conflict. They represent contradictory views of sovereignty, man, law, society, and inheritance. They are fundamentally rival religious systems. Choosing one, you reject the other; service and honor to God, or servitude to fellow men. Either God commands and judges man, or man commands and judges man.”
The clash between Peter and Paul at Antioch is one of those back-water biblical incidents that changed the world. It’s ancient history, but it’s as relevant today as it was in the first century, if not more so. Paul recounts the incident in the second chapter of his letter to the Galatians, his main epistle against the “Judaizers.” According to some Jewish converts in the early church, Gentiles could not become full disciples of Jesus without first becoming Jews. They had to be circumcised, observe Jewish purity laws and dietary restrictions, and follow Jewish rules about table fellowship if they were going to be full members of the Christian community.
The battle between Paul and the Judaizers focused on table fellowship. Initially, Peter didn’t require Gentiles to “judaize” but ate openly with uncircumcised Gentiles. Pressured by believers from the Jerusalem church, though, he withdrew and refused to share meals with Gentiles anymore. Whether these were common or sacred meals, the same logic would apply to both: If Peter wouldn’t eat common meals with unclean Gentiles, he certainly would have avoided the contagion of Gentiles at sacred meals. For Paul, this wasn’t a small or marginal issue. In Paul’s judgment, Peter was “not straightforward about the gospel” and his actions undermined justification by faith. Unless Jews and Gentiles share a common table, Paul insisted, the Gospel is compromised.
At the center of Paul’s message was the announcement that Israel’s hopes had been fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Because of those events, Torah no longer provided access to God. Torah belonged to the age of the flesh, and now the age of the Spirit had come. Thus, the badges and boundary markers that once marked Israel as the people of God no longer did so. Jews were free to keep Torah in respect for their ancestors, but Gentiles were grafted in as full members of Christ’s body without observing Torah. Faith in Jesus was now the sole badge of membership, faith ritualized by baptism. When Peter implicitly demanded that believing Gentiles observe Jewish ceremonies, he turned back to the age of Torah. Peter obscured the gospel because he acted as if Jesus had never come.
For Paul, Christians should share meals with any and all who confess faith in Jesus, whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, and this unity should be especially evident in the Eucharistic meal that is the high point of Christian liturgy. One Lord must have one people sitting at one table. Any additional requirement beyond faith in Jesus betrays the Gospel.
Of course, it’s not quite that simple. Some profess Jesus but betray him with their lives. Jesus and Paul both teach that impenitent sinners and heretics should be excluded from the Church and from the table of communion. As Reformed Protestants say, the table must be fenced.
Even with that crucial qualification, Paul’s assault on Peter poses a bracing challenge to today’s church. It is common in every branch of the church for some believers to exclude other believers from the Lord’s table. Some Lutherans will commune only with Christians who hold to a Lutheran view of the real presence. Some Reformed churches require communicants to adhere to their Confessional standards. The Catholic Mass and the Orthodox Eucharist are reserved, with a few exceptions, for Catholics and Orthodox.
I cannot see how these exclusions pass the Pauline test. Catholics will say that they don’t add anything to Paul’s requirements. They exclude Protestants from the Mass because Protestantism is (at best) an inadequate expression of the apostolic faith; for Catholics, a credible confession of Jesus must include a confession of certain truths about the Church. Lutherans and some Reformed Christians will point to Paul’s warnings about “discerning the body” and ask Amos’s question: “Do men walk together unless they are in agreement?” All this avoids the central question: Do Catholics and Orthodox consider their Protestant friends Christians? Do Lutherans consider Reformed believers to be disciples of Jesus? If so, why aren’t they eating at the same table? Shouldn’t the one Lord have one people at one table?
I have shared meals in diners, French restaurants, and at Indian buffets with Rusty Reno, David Mills, David Bentley Hart, Francesca Murphy, Matt Levering, Robert Louis Wilken, Vigen Guroian, George Weigel, and Robert George. At those tables, we were family, and I am exceedingly grateful for that warm expression of communion in Christ and in one another. Such friendships are a heartening sign of ecumenical progress.
But when we assemble as Church, in the place where our brotherhood should be most evident, some of us eat while others watch. If Jesus showed up as host, wouldn’t he invite Timothy George, Alan Jacobs, Robert Jenson, and Gilbert Meilander to share his table along with Reno, Hart, Mills, and all the rest? If Jesus showed up, wouldn’t he want all of us to join him at his table? And, doesn’t Jesus show up?