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Friday, November 25, 2011

A Pause for Thanksgiving



ἐν παντὶ εὐχαριστεῖτε: τοῦτο γὰρ θέλημα θεοῦ ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ εἰς ὑμᾶς.
1 Thessalonians 5:18
εὐχαριστοῦντες πάντοτε ὑπὲρ πάντων ἐν ὀνόματι τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ τῷ θεῷ καὶ πατρί: ὑποτασσόμενοι ἀλλήλοις ἐν φόβῳ Θεοῦ.
Ephesians 5:20-21



NOTE: The following post is a commentary on American Thanksgiving and doesn't deal directly with the unsound doctrine to be found in the local Fairbanks churches. However, there is a great deal of overlap between the underlying carnality of the two activities. It is the same uncritical and unscriptural adherence to culturally-approved rituals that perpetuates them both.


I am not a fan of holiday rituals. I don't look forward to gathering with (mostly) unbelievers and gorging en masse, so I'm particularly averse to the Thanksgiving ritual. I don't really care that people do these things, mind you, I just don't want to be part of their celebrations. Besides, I can never quite figure out what exactly it is they're celebrating. I'm also convinced that the Lord expressly forbids His children from partaking in the pagan revelries of unbelievers.

Of course, there are those who say that Thanksgiving is a day for giving thanks to God, in the generic sense, for all the blessings He bestows upon us. Still others will say it is a Christian day of thanksgiving to Jesus for all our blessings--the idea being that, since it is based on the thanksgiving of the Christian Pilgrims, Thanksgiving is itself Christian.

Well, first of all, the only one who can institute a "holy-day" in which to give thanks to the God of the Bible is the God of the Bible; and He didn't institute Thanksgiving. So, it must be some other god all those American agnostics, atheists, Muslims, Buddhists, Mormons, B'hais, Satanists, New Agers, et al, are giving thanks to.

Secondly, with regards to the Christian basis for it, Thanksgiving is no more a Christian day than America is a Christian country. If all it takes for something to be Christian is for it to be based on the activities of a group of (self-identified) Christians, then torching Synagogues full of Jews, killing English translators of the Bible, and hanging witches are all equally Christian.

"But it's a day for FAMILIES," I hear some of you scream, "And Jesus LOVES families!"

Oh, does He? I know He loves His family, but I'm pretty sure He doesn't love our earthly families; not if Matthew 10:33-37 is any indication:

33 But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven. 34 Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. 35 For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. 36 And a man's foes [shall be] they of his own household. 37 He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

And, in case you think the relative term "more than me" (instead of the more correct translation "above me" or "over me") offers some hope, the exacting Greek of Luke 14:26 puts a finer point on the Lord's meaning:
If any [man] come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.
The Greek word translated "hate" in these verses is μισέω [miseo], meaning "to hate, pursue with hatred, detest". It doesn't mean "to like less" or "to love less". If Luke, whose Greek diction is much richer than the other Gospel writers, wanted to say "like or love less", he would've said precisely that.

These are probably some of the "hardest sayings" of our Lord for most Christians to come to terms with. They know they're true--they just have to be--but most Christians will go into a mental panic (sometimes visibly) and will do theological Parkour to avoid engaging honestly with the clear and obvious meaning of His words (see how Jews for Jesus do this here). Go ahead, try this at home. Go to the nearest Christian with these verses and ask, "Are we supposed to hate our fathers and mothers?" and listen to the stuttering stream of spin, prevarication and piffle. Wear a salad guard, though, it will be messy.

Even the translators applied hermeneutical sleight of hand to lessen the impact of these words. Along with the weaselly "more than me" phrase, note the bracketed shall be in the Matthew quote above. They're in brackets (and italics in the actual books) because they aren't in the original text. There is no form of the verb to be in the Greek of Matthew 10:36:
καὶ ἐχθροὶ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου οἱ οἰκιακοὶ αὐτοῦ.
This is literally, word for word, "and enemies of-the of-human the household-ones of-him" (the hyphens indicate a single Grk word expressed in two Eng words). In Greek, when you have two nominative (subject) nouns without a verb between them, the verb "to be" is implied. "Shall be" is a form of the verb "to be", certainly, but it's a future tense form and the grammatical convention is that a present indicative tense should be used. The present indicative form of "to be" when dealing with plural nominatives is "are being". The sentence should read:
And a man's foes are being they of his household.
Of course, the "are being" construction is clunky in English, even though it is correct and the tense and sense of the Greek verb is best served by it (I remember when I worked at Toronto Airport, a few Sikhs, with otherwise impeccable English, would occasionally form a sentence that way. It is being incorrect or some such; they were clearly translating the Indian verb form they had in their heads into the correct English equivalent. I could almost see the long list of Punjabi-English conjugation tables they memorized in school.). You can't blame the translators for avoiding "is being", but why didn't they opt for the next best thing?
And a man's foes are they of his household.
As a matter of fact, nine of ten Bible versions at Blue Letter Bible use the future tense forms "shall be" or "will be". Only Young's Literal Translation uses "are". Why?

Well, I think the answer is plain, the translators wanted to leave a kind of loophole for people. Saying this horrible state of affairs between a Christian and his earthly family will occur in the future rather than being a present, continuing, unchanging reality, gives the impression that it doesn't necessarily have to happen; that somehow it might not come true.

But it is true; right now. It was true the second the Lord came for us. Those who believe in Jesus are the enemies of those members of their families who don't; and they are to hate them for their unbelief. And, furthermore, if the unbelievers in a Christian's family don't hate them for their belief in Jesus, then the Christian isn't keeping the commandments of Christ. They are doing something wrong, because Jesus said they should "be hated of all men for [His] name's sake" (see Matthew 10:22; Mark 13:13; Luke 21:17). That's "all men"; there are no exceptions for relatives.

Finally, with regards to Thanksgiving being in some way spiritual, as the two verses at the top of this post show, we Christians aren't supposed to set aside a single day to thank Christ, but should be doing so EVERY day. And we aren't supposed to give thanks just for the good things we get, either. We are to thank Him for everything, the good and the bad. Does that sound the same as muttering a quick "thanks for the paid day off work, Gawd" right before you stuff your face full of food and/or drink yourself into oblivion on some random day in November?

I didn't think so.

However, all that being said, there is one good thing about Thanksgiving; at least it doesn't have a name that associates it directly with the Lord, thereby fooling the ignorant into thinking all that greed and gluttony is somehow approved by Him.

Yeah, at least it's not Christmas!



Friday, November 11, 2011

The Separation of Church and State

Veteran's Day Edition


ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Ἀπόδοτε τοίνυν τὰ Καίσαρος Καίσαρι καὶ τὰ τοῦ θεοῦ τῷ θεῷ.
Luke 20:25

Last post I mentioned how my wife and I had been disappointed in our search for a place to fellowship amongst the Baptist churches of Fairbanks. I wrote that I had intended to devote the next couple of posts to “describ[ing] the disappointing services we found and unpack my reasons for believing they [were] the result of the faulty, unscriptural notions produced by poorly founded doctrines”. I had in mind a chronological journal entry-style report & commentary on each service we attended, but have now decided to write a series of short essays on the problems I see with how church is “done” here.

In fairness, before I begin, it should be noted that I am probably one of the least “churched” Christians you’re liable to come across. By nature, I am repelled rather than attracted to groups, clubs, teams, organizations and, yes, even small get-togethers or parties, so I’ve never had, nor have now, any real desire to attend church. I only ever went because I thought I would learn how to live righteously there; I only go now because my wife needs to go and I accept the admonition of Paul regarding “forsaking the assembling of ourselves” (Hebrews 10:25). This personality trait could be seen as good or bad with regards to the objectivity of my insights in the following series. Bad in that every church is in my bad books before I even go there; and good in that my vision is unclouded by any feelings of wistful nostalgia or cravings for acceptance and community.



One of the first hints you get that the church you just walked into might have a serious problem with regards to their understanding of basic Christian doctrine is the degree of prominence the membership have given to that ubiquitous icon of American secular authority, the U.S. flag. The more prominent the flag, the more likely the service will include the national anthem or some paean for U.S. military personnel.

Now, in light of the cultural propensity for Americans in general to overindulge their nationalist sentiments (which they will always label “patriotism”, supposing this characteristic to be more admirable), it’s not surprising that American Christians will wave the flag a good deal more than those of other nations, but surely even they can see the idolatry inherent in having a church gazing adoringly at a piece of colored cloth while reciting a jingoistic ditty that celebrates a non-Biblical military campaign.

Displaying the Stars and Stripes is one thing, but one church we visited had every national flag you could name hanging from the top of the side and back walls of the sanctuary. Talk about idol overload! And yes, they even had the new flag of Iraq, which has “Allahu Akbar” (Allah is greater) written across its center bar:



And, worse still, the Saudi Arabian flag was there, too. You know, the one with the Shahada on it, the Arabic declaration of faith:

"There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah"

Now, just what are we supposed to make of that?

Of course, Fairbanks is an Army Town. As I noted on my last post, it is home to Fort Wainwright, so you'd expect to find a higher than average number of military families in church. But 1st Century Jerusalem and Rome were also Army Towns, yet you don't read in the NT about any of the Apostles blessing the local garrison or thanking God for the Sacrifice of Fallen Centurions.

During one service we attended, they spent about 10 minutes running through a slideshow of the week’s fallen heroes and asked the congregation to pray and thank God for their “sacrifice”. I thought it was a memorial for the members of the church who had been killed in Iraq, but Sandy informed me later that they were all the U.S. military casualties of the past week. I was shocked. Praying for dead Christians is bad enough, but memorializing people who could’ve been anything—atheist, Muslim, Satanists, whatever—just because they were killed while wearing an American uniform is outrageous!

This overt pandering to militarist sensibilities occurred in every church we went to, even the most liberal seeming. It is clear that the culture’s hyper-nationalism has crippled the church’s pacifist, anti-establishment stance.

Pagan enculturation of the church is certainly not new, nor is it peculiar to America. Like many of the other unhealthy elements of Protestant church worship, it’s a vestigial limb of the Roman Catholic Church, a modern outworking of the blasphemous idea that men could realize Christ’s Kingdom on Earth, complete with a human monarch or pope, that was first brought into being through Galerius’ Edict of Toleration, Constantine the Great and the Holy Roman Empire.

In most English-speaking countries today a strong tendency has developed for Protestants to see the worldly success of the Anglo-American socio-political systems as incontrovertible proof that their nations have been blessed by God, that, contrary to Scripture, the material wealth and military victories of their self-styled “Christian countries” means that now, along with bearing witness to the Kingdom within, they are to work to preserve the Kingdoms without.

So, while it might not be unique to America, because its maintenance is contingent upon the high value the Christian citizenry place on the perceived “goodness” of their nation (which itself is simply carnal pride in its preeminence in the world), this unholy convergence of Church and State reaches its apogee here.