Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Traditions

     It is healthy and beneficial for families to develop, maintain, and strengthen annual Christmas family traditions. Such traditions enhance feelings of well-being and security. Nevertheless, it is a mistake when families devote energy and imagination to such traditions without intentionally intertwining those family Christian traditions with their local church. After all, what godly mom or dad wants his child or grandchild to grow up with warm and fuzzy thoughts about Christmas and family without those thoughts being inextricably intertwined with church, worship of God, exaltation of Christ, and Christian ministry? The former without the latter is hollow.
     Last night I was meditating on the rapidly approaching Christmas weekend and my annual Christmas Eve pastor's Christmas story time that parents bring their little ones to every year. It dawned on me that my own daughter has never had a Christmas celebration that was not also intertwined with the church she has grown up in, and I would not have it any other way. Family Christmas traditions are wonderful, but are of no eternal usefulness if they are not intentionally intertwined with church Christmas celebrations. After all, who would want his child to not think of church when he thinks of Christmas? It is far too easy to excise Christ from Christmas if there is no church in Christmas, since the church is the pillar and ground of the truth.
     Allow me to suggest four benefits of intertwining family Christmas tradition with church Christmas tradition, beginning this year: First, it helps to maintain a proper balance between family and church. Imbalance is a real and frequent danger with my generation and those that are younger. The argument that families are more important than church is a specious argument in light of family being temporal and Christ being eternally glorified in the church. In fact, the two institutions are complimentary and cannot properly exist without the other. Second, intertwining of church and family Christmas traditions helps to focus each generation's attention to the birth of Christ instead of focusing on distractions. When families gather for the church part of the Christmas tradition, the children are reinforced against what they see and hear from the world around them about Christmas as a secular exercise. Christian families need such church support for their children and are remiss when they discount and ignore opportunities to receive such reinforcement. Third, intertwining church and family Christmas traditions helps to show the proper context in which family should properly exist. It is insane to think one can have a happy and successful family apart from full integration into a gospel preaching church, and raising your children in such a context will go a long way toward ensuring they do not erroneously think their future family can be healthy and sound without committed involvement in that means of God's grace which is the church. Finally, the intertwining of church and family Christmas traditions is a steady and reliable means of bringing the gospel to the attention of unsaved friends and family members each and every year. Who knows? Maybe God will have so worked in your lost loved one's life that this year he will pay attention to the old, old story.
     How does one intertwine family Christmas traditions with church Christmas traditions? By consciously participating in every church Christmas activity and service each year. In the beginning, a teen may object to such an intermingling of family and church, especially if it is not something he grew up doing. However, forward thinking parents recognize that next year there will be less opposition and more anticipation, until eventually, hopefully, your children will come to accept the two traditions together. The goal, of course, is for your children to see the two traditions as mutually complimentary and then as a single tradition.
     God blesses moms and dads who are committed to something more than managing the chaos of raising children and serving as providers. Real parenting involves not only personality development, but also imparting deep seated and important values. Christmas without the centrality of Christ's birth is sacrilege. Christmas without serious commitment to the role of church in recognizing, appreciating, proclaiming, and exalting Jesus Christ's birth, life, sacrifice, resurrection, ascension, and second coming is selling the entire Christmas event short as just another marketing opportunity.
     May your Christmas, this year and every year, be Christ-centered and local church oriented.  God bless you.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


     Several years ago a cultural anthropologist went to American Samoa to revisit old women the "great" Margaret Mead interviewed when they were teens which led to her famous work Coming Of Age In Samoa, in which she provided "support" for her goal of broadening sexual mores. Much to his surprise (since he was a Mead admirer) the aged Samoan women admitted that when they were girls they lied and invented fantasy stories for Mead because they (correctly in my opinion) discerned that she wanted to hear lurid details of their sexual exploits. Thus, cultural anthropology for the later half of the 20th century was built on adolescent fantasies.
     Java Man (Homo erectus erectus) is the name given to fossils discovered in 1891 on the island of Java. Years passed before the "discoverer" admitted that the skullcap, femur, and a few teeth he unearthed were obtained at different locations and different depths of a large dig site and could not have been from the same individual or the same species. Thus, paleontology for more than half a century was (and I believe still is) built on error.
     The same kind of professional coverup has occurred within the ranks of the gospel ministry. About two centuries ago,  pastors routinely interviewed inquirers and hopeful converts in an attempt to discern their spiritual condition and the accuracy of their understanding of important spiritual truths vital to their eternal well-being. Though the term is trivialized from overuse, a paradigm shift really did occur when Charles G. Finney succeeded in discouraging many ministers from proceeding cautiously and carefully with inquirers and hopeful converts, and insisted on immediately pronouncing to be saved anyone who claimed to have trusted Jesus. This despite the warning from Jesus in the parable of the soils (Mt 13.20-21) that even those not truly converted will initially seem to joyfully respond to the gospel. Since the first half of the 19th century most ministers have abandoned the practice of personally interviewing individuals carefully to discern their grasp of the truth (London pastor Charles Spurgeon being a notable exception to the trend).
     The nasty truth? Few men who seem successful as indicated by the numerical growth of their churches have any interest in pursuing a line of inquiry that might reveal the true condition of a tithing regular attender who presently causes no trouble for the pastor. That would rock the boat. Yet the principle is well established in the Bible that important matters are to be subjected to two or three witnesses to establish certainty (Deut.7.17; 19.15; Matt. 18.16, 19). Even the Lord Jesus Christ and God the Father hold themselves to that standard (Luke 7.19-22; First John 5.7-8).
     Preachers of the gospel need to return to the Biblical principle of feedback, interviewing their auditors much in the same way doctors obtain case histories and investigators interview witnesses. How else will preachers discover what their audience thought they declared? How else will they learn what their hearers seem to grasp of the truth which is declared? How else are Baptist preachers to learn who among those who desire to be baptized are actually qualified for believer baptism?
     Understand that I make no claim that any pastor decides who is and is not saved, or which sinner is or is not serious about his spiritual condition. I only urge men of God to seek to discover the condition of those they have been given watch care over, rather than presuming that everyone who claims to be a Christian actually is a Christian. Are such attempts at discernment warranted? Of course they are. Are not marriages supposed to be among Christians? Are not partnerships supposed to be limited to believers? Such is commanded in God's Word. Is not baptism restricted to believers? Therefore, the insistence that such things cannot be ascertained is not valid, even though we recognize that 100% accuracy in such matters is unobtainable.
     Feedback is a principle that exists in nature, is sought in business, in engineering, in law, in medicine, by the military, and is required according to scripture when dealing with important matters of fact. I submit that ministers of the gospel are compelled to seek feedback from those they minister to by both scriptural principle and the necessities of common sense.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

American Christianity

     Having recently returned from a two week adventure in Bible teaching and gospel preaching in the African country of Mali, I now have some emotional distance from which to reflect on the experience. The country is 98% Muslim, so the advance of the gospel in the region I visited has not been rapid, but it has been steady.
     The pastor was converted at the age of nineteen as he read through the gospel according to Matthew for the first time, responding to Christ's directive in Matthew 11.28 to "Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden." He strikes me as a wonderfully consecrated and real live Christian man who embraces God's sovereignty without apology. How could he do otherwise, considering the circumstances of his conversion? Born and raised in the desert, kidnapped by soldiers and forced into a boarding school where he learned English and French, he had ripped apart or burned every gospel tract or New Testament he had ever previously seen. The day he actually opened and read God's Word its power as the means useful to God to save him was then experienced.
     His conversion was some years ago, and now I reflect on my exposure to the ministry God has given him, and the harm that has been done to his ministry in Africa by American Christians! Life in Africa along the southern edge of the Sahara is very hard. Poverty is mind-numbing and grinding. Everything is hard there, so obstacles and difficulties that impede gathering to worship are simply and matter of factly dealt with . . . or were until the American Christian taught the former Muslims in Africa how things are done in the US of A.
     She skipped church because she had a headache. She actually passed on the opportunity to worship God with the people of God because she had a headache. She preferred the sin of lounging in her quarters in isolation than the affliction of worshiping with God's people with a headache!
     The African Christians had never thought of staying home for a headache before. Since life for them has always been so very hard, they just imagined that once one is a Christian one just continues to do the difficult things, endures the aggravations, and proceeds with life. Not so with the American Christian, who has now taught the African believers to stay home with a headache. Of all the things she might have taught the believers in that remote town in Africa, that was not the lesson she should have chosen. Sad.
     Another white couple tired of being asked to drive people to doctors when medical emergencies arose, so they sold their car and now ride everywhere on bicycles. Imagine an entire population of Muslims (with a sprinkling of Christians) knowing that this white couple living in town to translate the New Testament into one of the local tribal languages sold their car so their "work" would not be troubled by medical emergencies. Now the people have been taught that western Christians do not believe in sharing. I wonder how the couple will translate the parable of the good Samaritan?