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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Way of the Heathen: A Brief History of Halloween

by Dr. C. Mathew McMahon

Should Christian celebrate a day that honors things that are cold, dark and dead?

“After one’s own birthday, the two major Satanic holidays are Walpurgisnacht (May 1st) and Halloween.” The Satanic Bible, by Anton Levey, Page 96, Segment on Religious Holidays

    “Learn not the way of the heathen.” Jeremiah 10:2

Halloween-pumpkin-house.kenova.ga_Around October 1st, American grocery stores stock their shelves with candy corn, chocolate bats, and miniature Snickers bars. They lace the isles with cobwebs, hang pictures of witches on top of the shelves, setup small graveyards surrounded by ghoulish figurines and call it fun. Why do they do this? Well, they are readying themselves for the upcoming celebration of Halloween. Halloween purports to offer a time where people can have fun at the expense of all that is righteous and holy. It is a celebration of devils. At this time of the year, the “Christian” is faced with the dilemma, “Should I have anything to do with the celebration of Halloween?” I am going to give the pre-climactic and unwavering answer of “absolutely and biblically not!” There are a variety of reasons why this is so. Really, the question should be “Should I have anything to do with the blatant nature of Satan’s influence on the American mind?” Halloween is blatantly, and immodestly open about its Satanic nature. Without desiring to portray a disposition of sanctimoniousness, I am always amazed that articles and tracts such as this one even need to be written. Are “Christians” that much deceived and in the dark about such issues? Why is there a need to place forward and convince the Christian community that such a “holy day” is utterly evil and abominable to God? As I probe these questions, I am also going to set forth some arguments against the “fall festival replacement theory.” This teaches that instead of celebrating the pagan festival of Halloween, Christians can practice a “Halloween-like festival” dedicated to the Lord of the harvest; this is known as the fall festival celebrated in place of Halloween.

I believe it would be most beneficial to be familiar with, and to understand, what influences and ideas lay behind the concept of Halloween. Halloween is intricately linked to certain ideas and motives. It will give us an answer to the question, “Why would anyone desire to partake in a day which glorifies all that is cold, dark, and dead?” There were a number of Celtic and Druidic holy days (“holiday”) which aid us in understanding the rise of Halloween. Days of “remembrance” concerning the solstices and equinoxes relating to the year’s four seasons were hallmark days of worship for these pagan religions. These eight celebration days (the eve of the day and the day itself four times a year) were the most important times of the year for the ancient Druids, the priestly class among the Celts. Among these 4 solstice days reigned the most significant remembrance of an event known as “Samhain,” a celebration of the end of autumn and the beginning of darkness, of winter and the New Year. Samhain was one of the four key parts of the Celtic seasonal calendar. (However, it was much more than just a celebration of coming winter.) “Imbolg” was the advent of springtime signifying birth. This was the season of the ancient pagan goddess Brigit. The coming of summer was represented by the festival of “Beltane” on the first of May (this is also called May Day today). “Lughnasad” on August 1 was another key day of the Celtic year relating to the Celtic god Lugh. This day was seen as the beginning of the harvest season. In more modern times this pagan celebration transformed into the festival called “Lammas.”

Samhain occurred on November 1st and its eve was October 31st – the time when the celebrating actually commenced. This ancient festival was in honor of their lord of the dead, a Druid deity, who later became known as “the grim reaper.” On this night, the pagan Celts believed that the two worlds, the physical world and the spirit world, drew closest together on this date and that ghosts and apparitions of the dead could roam about the physical plane. For the Celts, Samhain was a “magical” time, a time of the lighting of bonfires, which had a spiritual significance. Pagans customarily would put their fires out, then re-light them to represent the end of the year and the coming of the next. It was a Druidical belief that on the eve of this festival Samhain, lord of death, called together the wicked spirits that within the past 12 months had been condemned to inhabit the bodies of animals. Literal human sacrifices were offered on this night to the spirits of the dead, as they supposedly visited their earthly haunts and their friends.

For several hundred years before the birth of Christ, the Celts inhabited what is now France, Germany, England, Scotland and Ireland. These people were eventually conquered by the Romans. Information about the Celts and Druids comes from Roman historians and Greek writings from about 200 B.C., and very early records found in Ireland. Greek and Roman writings about the Druids dwell heavily on their frequent and barbaric human sacrifices. The ancient Irish texts say little about human sacrifices, but detail the Druids’ use of magic to raise storms, lay curses on places, kill by the use of spells, and create magical obstacles.

The modern custom of going from door to door asking for food and candy goes back to the time of the Druids. They believed that sinful, lost souls were released upon the earth by Samhain for one night on October 31st while they awaited their judgment. Lost souls were thought to throng about the houses of the living and were greeted with banquet-laden tables. People greatly feared these spirits and thought that the spirits would harm and even kill them if the sacrifices they gave did not appease Samhain. They carved demonic faces into large turnips, placing a candle in them to keep the evil spirits away from their homes. They believed it was the best time for divinations concerning the future, including marriage, luck, health, and death. They invoked the help of their false god for these purposes. Believing this was the time to appease the supernatural powers which controlled the processes of nature, these pagan worshipers made offerings of food and drink, performed rituals, and sacrificed animals and humans in huge fires atop “sacred” hilltops in an attempt to ward off these spirits.

To protect themselves from the mean tricks of these spirits (like killing livestock), the Druids offered them good things to eat (sometimes food, sometimes female children). The Druids also disguised themselves in order that the spirits would think the Druids belonged to their own evil company, and therefore, not bring any harm to the Druids. The most horrible practice during this festival were the sacrifices made by the Druids. The sacrifices were both for divination purposes and to ward off disease, defeats in battle, etc. These sacrifices were both animal and human. Those human sacrifices killed could include criminals, captured enemies, volunteers and kidnap victims. They were gruesome sacrifices, and the divination was based on how the person reacted as they died. Caesar wrote, “They believe that human life must be rendered for human life if the divinity of the immortal gods is to be appeased.” Cannibalism was also practiced for medical and cultic purposes.

After the death of the Lord Jesus Christ, Christianity spread throughout Europe and many Celts were converted. Catholic priests tried to replace the Celtic holidays with “Christian” ones. Around 610 A.D., they created a new holiday in May, All Hallows’ Day (now All Saints’ Day) to honor martyred saints. The Roman Catholic church became interested in these people while attempting to “evangelize” them. Irish records tell of the fascination the Catholic monks had with the “powerful” Druids, and Druids soon became important members of their monasteries. Later, around the 5th century, as the Catholic Church developed and moved into the area, instead of adding a new day to celebrate, the Roman Church took over the Samhain celebration. A later custom developed where people would go door-to-door on Nov. 2, requesting small cakes in exchange for the promise of saying prayers for some of the dead relatives of each house. This arose out of the religious belief that the dead were in a state of limbo before they went to heaven or hell and that the prayers of the living could influence the outcome (which is totally fallacious). Pope Gregory the Great decided to incorporate the Druids’ holiday into the church. He made the proclamation, “They are no longer to sacrifice beasts to the devil, but they may kill them for food to the praise of God, and give thanks to the giver of all gifts for His bounty.” In the 9th century “All Hallow’s Day” was moved to November 1st to replace Samhain. After the Roman Catholic Church became the “official” religion of the empire, Pope Gregory III set aside a day in which those who had died for the Christian faith would be remembered. Part of the festivity would include a pageant where people would dress up as one of these departed “saints” and some as the devil. This day had been in May, but by the 9th century it was moved to Nov. 1 and called “All Saints’ Day” to remember the church saints that had died. November 2 was called “All Souls’ Day” and it honored the souls of those who had died the previous year. An alternate name for All Saints Day was “All Hallows Day” and the night prior then would be “All Hallows Eve” which then became shortened to “Halloween.” Pope Gregory IV decreed that the day was to be a universal Roman Catholic church observance. So, the origins of contemporary Halloween are a mixture of old Celtic pagan rituals, superstitions, and varied Roman Catholic traditions.

The English Puritans, and founding fathers of America, refused to permit the holiday to be observed because they knew it was a Satanic holiday which was condemned by the Biblical record. Halloween was not widely celebrated in the U.S. until about 1900. It seems that its vibrancy began in the 1840′s where there was a potato famine in Ireland which sent thousands of Roman Catholic Irish to America. Unfortunately, they brought Halloween with them.

Not only is it important to understand the historical background to the day, but it is also important to understand the various ideas which are purposed for the “worship” of the day. For instance, the huge fires atop the “sacred” hilltops in which the Druids sacrificed animals and humans derived their name from the skeletons of those who died in them. The words “bone” and “fire” formed the word “bonfire.” The orange flames lit up the black night, and here is where we find the commonly accepted colors of Halloween. As these pagan worshipers danced around and jumped through the fire, they wore masks of animal-heads and animal-skin costumes. The head of each household was given live embers to start a new fire on his hearth which would last until the next autumn. It was believed this fire would protect their homes from danger throughout the year.

Jack-o’-lanterns were originally carved from large turnips. The Celts carried these carved lanterns through their villages in an attempt to ward off evil spirits. Later, Irish folklore resulted in a tale explaining the use of “jack-o’-lanterns”: a man named Jack tricked the devil into climbing a tree. Once the devil was in the tree, Jack carved a cross on the trunk, “preventing” the devil from coming down. The devil then made a deal with Jack promising to keep him out of hell after he died if only he would remove the cross from the tree. After Jack died, he could not go to hell, and he was not allowed to enter into heaven. He was forced to wander around the earth with a single candle to light his way. The candle was placed in a turnip to keep it burning longer. When the Irish came to America in the 1800′s (during the potato famine), they adopted the pumpkin instead of the turnip. Along with these traditions, they brought the idea that the black cat was considered by some to be reincarnated spirits who had prophetic abilities.

What about all those “kids” games like bobbing for apples? The Romans honored the dead with a festival called Feralia, conveniently dated in late October. It was a festival to honor Pomona, their goddess of fruit trees, who was often pictured wearing a crown of apples. During this festival, they ran races and played games to honor the “Apple Queen” and used omens such as apple parings thrown over the shoulder or nuts burned in the fire in order to predict the future concerning their marital prospects. When the Romans conquered the Celts, they combined local Samhain customs with their own pagan harvest festival. Bobbing for apples was derived from this blended pagan celebration.

And what of the old saying, “Trick-or-Treat?” The Druids would visit house to house, knocking on doors and requesting a “treat;” food, clothing, etc, for departed spirits (which, no doubt, they kept for themselves. They were clothed in their animal masks and skins, and carried candle-lit, carved turnips, (or sometimes squashes) to ward off evil spirits, as mentioned before. If the party of the house denied their request for “treats” then they would pronounce a curse on the household with their powerful magic, and summon demons, nymphs and devils to torment the property, livestock, and family of the household. These are the “tricks.” Conveniently this was a day when the moon was full, the most “sacred” time of the month for occultist practitioners, and the ominous for the superstitious.

What is the Christian to make of all this? What directive should the Christian think about concerning this holy day in pagan history which now invades itself into our homes through advertising, and in the common market through selling its wares?

Should a Christian partake or relate to the unfruitful works of darkness? Ephesians 5:11-12 says, “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret.” What does it mean to have “fellowship?” The word derives from the Greek “koinonia” which means, literally, “commonness.” Those who follow the Lord should have no commonness with the unfruitful works of darkness. Halloween is filled with darkness. Dark, evil, wicked occultist practices makes Halloween Halloween. The Bible specifically commands us to avoid every kind of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:22). How could we possibly, knowing the Bible condemns the practices and ideas of Halloween as intrinsically anti-Christian, partake in such a day?

The Old Testament is leavened with a multitude of verses which condemn occultism and its practices, and to avoid them completely: Exodus 22:18; Leviticus 3:17; Leviticus 7:26; Leviticus 17:12-14; Leviticus 19:26, 31; Deuteronomy 12:31; 2 Kings 17:16-17; 1 Chronicles 10:13-14; 2 Chronicles 28:3-4; 2 Chronicles 33:1-6; Isaiah 8:19; Jeremiah 10:2; Ezekiel 20:31, and many others. Deuteronomy 18:9-14 is one of the more explicit pericopes covering an overview of the occult practices to disdain, “When you are come into the land which Jehovah your God gives you, you shall not learn to do according to the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found among you he that makes his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, that uses divination, that uses auguries, or an enchanter, or a sorcerer, or a charmer, or one that inquires of a spirit of Python, or a soothsayer, or one that consults the dead. For every one that does these things is an abomination to Jehovah, and because of these abominations Jehovah your God does dispossess them from before you. You shall be perfect with Jehovah your God. For these nations, which you shall dispossess, hearkened unto those that use auguries, and that use divination; but as for you, Jehovah your God has not suffered you to do so.” The strongest word in the Old Testament for wicked actions, besides the word “wicked” itself, is the word “abomination.” These practices are abominable. They are abominable whether they are just for fun, or for real. God desired that his people abhor such practices, and rid the land of those who practice such evils. Exodus 22:18, “You shall not let a witch live.” They were to kill them and liberate the land of the abominable practice of witchcraft and sorcery.

The sign or symbol of a thing is not the thing itself, but a representative of the thing. For instance, the Lord’s Supper is a sign or symbol of the body of Christ – not the body itself. Halloween, in its essence, is representative of wickedness, and a host of abominable practices condemned by God. This means that those who practice Halloween are representing those abominable practices even if they dress their children up in a clown’s outfit instead of a vampire’s cloak. The Druids did not wear costumes which represented Frankenstein, or the Mummy. They wore outfits of animal skins; bears, wolves, and the like. They were not “horrific” perse; much like the Halloween costume of a clown. The outfit does not make Halloween evil, rather, Halloween dictates that the participator wear an outfit. And the outfit, whatsoever that may entail, represents the wickedness of the day, and glorifies the devil – even if it is simply a cowboy outfit. Its not the outfit, but the day which is necessarily wicked. So, what should the Christian do? “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues (Rev 18:4).”

Halloween is a festival based on fear (think about the “fun” of a haunted house). The Druids were power-hungry sinners who desired to gain control over others for their own purposes, quickly. This is at the essence of “witchcraft” which literally means “manipulation.” In complete contrast, however, the Scriptures replace fear with love. 2 Timothy 1:7 says that the Spirit of God has not given us a “spirit of fear.” The fear in this passage is for the Lord, and His ability to judge and dispose of men in hell. Men are afraid of a God who can do this. They have a spirit of fear – they are afraid. Rather, those who are saved and regenerated by the Spirit of God gain a spirit of love. This is obtained from the fruit of the Spirit, and knows no place of fear, or being afraid (reverence – yes, fearfulness – no). Why would the Christian desire to entangle themselves in any variety of fear at all? Does the Christian realize that fear, in its root, is a fear of death? The sting of death has been done away with in Christ. When someone attends a “haunted house” or a “scary movie” they jump in fright because they are housed in mortal bodies that can experience pain and suffering (a foretaste of hell). They are scared to die, but receive a type of exhilaration from their “brush with death.” This is the result of a twisted and perverse fallen soul. Why would they want to glorify fear, dying, and death? Why do they enjoy it? It is part of the curse and fall of man (cf. Genesis 3).

How much ground should the Christian give the devil? Is there any room for compromise? No, there is none. The Christian should have a holy hatred of the devil and everything he represents. “Give no place to the devil, (Eph. 4:2).” Halloween represents all that the devil loves and propagates against the holiness of God’s character. When Christians participate in occult festivals, they are ascribing glory of the lord Samhain, the devil, the god of this world. They may ease their conscience by saying they are worshipping God at their Fall Festival, the true Lord of the harvest, but when has God ever inaugurated this kind of worship? I have no qualms about having a costume party on June17th, or February 12th, insignificant days (provided the costumes are not degrading or evil). Costume parties are not the issue, nor are they sinful in and of themselves. It is the festival of Samhain which is the issue; it is Halloween. Will Christian parents plan a costume party in July instead of October 31st? No they will not. Why? Because they desire to make their children happy and fit in with the neighbors. Christian parents should be teaching their children to hate worldliness, not thriving after it. “You adulterous generation, do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity towards God? Anyone who is a friend of the world is at enmity with God” (James 4:4-5).

If a Christian participates in this unholy festival, they must consider that the world is watching them. For instance, let us imagine Jack is a next-door neighbor to Bob. Both have families with young children. Jack is a witch (warlock). Bob is a Christian. Jack and his family know that Bob claims Christianity as their faith. On Halloween Jack dresses up the children and takes them Trick-or-Treating, (before he brings them into the woods for his Wicca rituals.) Bob dresses his three children up as a beaver, a clown, and a cowboy. Jack dresses his children up as a hobo, a pirate and a ghost. What will Jack think? As much as Bob may explain “it is just for the kids,” Jack is actually at liberty to expound the significance of the influences Bob is exposing his children to. This is the reverse to evangelism since Bob wanted the children to have “fun.” If Jack is a thinking man, he will quickly see the hypocrisy in Bob’s involvement with Halloween as a professing “holy” Christian, one who says he desires to follow Christ.

The previous situation may even escalate to a greater level. Bob may tell Jack that he is going to his church’s Fall Festival held as an alternative to Halloween. Why do Christians need alternatives to pagan festivals? What is this? What do they think they are missing by not worshipping all that is cold, dark and dead? Why are they out to redeem the unredeemable? The Fall Festival is supposed to replace Halloween by taking a day surrounded by demonic influences, and regress nostalgically to the fall festivals of the Druids. The Druids were engaged in many of the same ideas of celebrating fall as the Fall Festival purports. Does this make sense? The only difference in its outward manifestation is that the Druids sacrificed animals and humans while worshipping a pagan idol, and the realm of nature, where Christians are having “fun” (not worship) around a Fall Festival they are trying to reclaim back for God. When was God ever in dire need of reclaiming pagan influences, or demonic worship back to Himself? The Bible speaks vehemently against the practices to do away with them, not reclaim them. There is nothing inherently good in them to reclaim! “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.” (Ephesians 6:10–12) Where is the voice of reclamation here? The Scriptures tell us to fight against the wiles of the devil (and principally that means in every way). Opening ourselves up to the spiritual warfare of the malicious devil by candidly partaking in a day which has its roots in the person and work of the devil cannot be accepted by the Christian who is reading their Bible. God exhorts us vehemently, “Learn not the way of the heathen (Jeremiah 10:2).” Paul exhorts us in another context that “…I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils (1 Cor. 10:20).” Why would we want to? Rather, “Submit yourself to God, Resist the devil, and he will flee from you (James 4:7).” Resist him! Do not make him attractive by decorating the sanctuary of God with leaves and bushels of hay and dressing up the children as clowns or cowboys.

The unregenerate and reprobate are attracted to the macabre. The Christian should never be attracted to such filth. When the book of Philippians exhorts the Christian to think about that which is lovely, noble, etc., the devil exhorts the lost to think on that which is ghastly, gruesome, horrific, grisly, chilling, morbid, and down-right disgusting. Why is the populous at large so enamored with the horror movies of today? The answer is actually quite easy: they are servants of sin, and sons of the devil. God has given them over to a debased mind that they would not do that which is fitting. You would be appalled at me if I documented the sexually deviant, and gruesome details of the worship of the Druids, or of witches, or of Satanists even in our own day. You would be repulsed and sickened. But these people love Halloween, and mark it as a special day. The Christian ought never to do this.

Some may attempt to reclaim the day under the guise of godly means such as, “Why can’t we use the day to win others over – to be all things to all men? I give out candy at Halloween to spark up conversations with those who come to the door and to distribute tracts about Christ.” Ok, then be consistent. Let us go to the brothel, pay for the prostitute, rub shoulders with her, and then witness to her. Then, let us go to the nude beach and witness to them as well. Of course we would have to remove our clothes to get onto the beach, but it is for a good cause – the witness of Christ! We could even do this on some of the public beaches, especially around the muscle bound males or the barely clothed women sun-tanning on the shoreline. They need Christ too! Come now, let us be all things to all men! Why stop at Halloween? Or would we wait until a more opportune time where temptation and sin are not knocking at our door? (This is like the fallacy of missionary dating.) We are to be separate from the darkness of the world. Such things should not attract us. If they do, then there is something dreadfully wrong with our Christianity, or our misguided interpretation of the Bible. Why not witness to those who participate in Halloween before Halloween, or on the day after Halloween? Why not witness in protest of the day by removing your child from the school’s Halloween party? Why not be true light in a dark world, not a confusion to them!

The Bible is explicit in that it commands us to be sons and daughters of light, those opposed to darkness. John 12:46, “I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness.” John 8:12, “Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” John 3:19-21, “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.” Romans 13:12 “The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.” 2 Corinthians 6:14-18, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” 1 Peter 2:9-12, “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light: which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy. Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.” 1 Corinthians 10:18-22, “Behold Israel after the flesh: are not they which eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar? What say I then? That the idol is any thing, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is any thing? But I say, that the things that the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils. Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?”

The Bible calls men wicked and evil who partake and relate to such abominations as Halloween. Manasseh, one of the most wicked kings of Israel, did evil in the sight of the Lord. “…He observed times, and used enchantments, and used witchcraft, and dealt with a familiar spirit, and with wizards (2 Chronicles 33:6).” The word “dealt” in Hebrew is “mar’arab” which means “setting place.” Where one would sit down and discourse with another, or come into relationship with another. It is the point of interaction. What is the point of interaction with those who come into contact with the principles of Halloween? The Ephesians who were converted burned their books of magic – they wholly gave them up. They did not desire a continued relationship with darkness since they knew that had been delivered from the dominion of darkness. You cannot sit in the foyer of the devil’s castle and say you are not visiting his home.

What, then, must the Christian do? I believe Halloween and all its darkness is biblically condemned. The Christian ought never to partake in it. However, there is an alternative. I can hear you now, “Wait! Wait! You said no alternatives two pages ago!” No, this is not what I mean as an alternative. I am speaking in the scope of the entire paper. I do not mean that we should substitute Halloween for something else. No, not that at all. Rather, we must renew our thinking to disregard Halloween all together, and hold steadfastly to a real Protestant watershed event in the history of the church. The Reformation is something we should have known about long before Halloween ever came into the American picture.

The Devil is constantly involved in taking the believer’s eyes off of what his eyes should be on – the truth of Christ’s grace. Halloween is a macabre sort of “fun” to our fallen natures, and we desire to involve ourselves with all that is cold, dark and dead. But what we should be setting our eyes on are those things relating to, and surrounding, the Gospel and the grace of God. “Coincidentally,” (providentially!) the full birth of the Reformation was on October 31st and then flamed on November 1st. After the Roman Catholic church had been influenced by these pagan days and claimed them as “All Saint’s Day,” they had special vigils in church for that special occasion of remembering the long departed saints who had gone before. Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk who was wrestling with the grace of God, placed in order a set of propositions against the tyranny of the Roman Catholic church and their misconceptions about grace. Luther wrote out 95 theses on a large parchment, in Latin, and hung them on the door of Wittenberg’s chapel on October 31, 1517, where he knew the priests and monks would see them the next day during church service. The nailing of his thesis on the door of the chapel sparked a great anger between the Roman Catholic Church and the rising questions of Luther. Ultimately, the Protestant (protesting) church came to light, and the once hidden Gospel under the darkness of a Roman Catholic cloak, was in full glory. This is a watershed point in the history of the church. Any Christian who acknowledges the grace of God should be ashamed of their ignorance of this. They cannot ignore it. Many churches set specific events surrounding this time at church and in the homes of family to commemorate the time when God providentially and sovereignly poured out His grace on men like Wycliffe, Hus, Luther, Calvin, Beza, Bullinger, Latimer, Cranmer, and others. Reading selected passages from history, playing games surrounding the Reformation, and like ideas concerning grace are often inaugurated. At that time grace was seen for what it truly is – sovereign grace. Here is our joy in the Gospel. The Protestant Church ought to be celebrating Reformation Day, not Halloween. Halloween should be detestable, and the reality of Reformation should be sweet to the Christian. The Reformation is a holy convocation of God’s grace realized in the lives of the regenerate. Do not trade Halloween for the Reformation, simply realize that October 31st is the day of the Reformation which is commemorated. It is mutually exclusive to the pagan holy day of All Hallow’s Eve, or Halloween.

Might we be exhorted? “Learn not the way of the heathen.” Jeremiah 10:2



Friday, October 25, 2013

You Asked: Why Is Faith Not a Work?

Editors' note: Send your theological, biblical, and practical ministry questions to along with your full name, city, and state. We'll pass them along to The Gospel Coalition's Council members and other friends for an answer we can share.

Edward B. from England asks,

Why is faith not a work? If we are obligated to have faith before righteousness can be credited to us (Romans 4), how is faith not a work? I recognize that Paul tells us in Ephesians 2 that we are saved by faith not through works, but I don't quite understand how to reconcile faith not being a work if we are required to have it in order to be saved.

We posed this question to Matthew Barrett, assistant professor of Christian studies at California Baptist University, as well as the founder and executive editor of Credo Magazine. His most recent book is Salvation by Grace: The Case for Effectual Calling and Regeneration (P&R, 2013). He is the author of several other forthcoming books, which you can read about at


Let's begin with an analogy. When you walk into a dark room, what comes first, the appearance of light or turning on the light switch? As we perceive things, they seem to happen simultaneously. However, does one cause and logically precede the other? Absolutely. We all know that turning on the light switch brings about brightness in the room, not vice versa. The same is true in initial salvation. In Scripture, faith does not cause or bring about the new birth, but God's effectual call and the Spirit's work of regeneration produces faith and repentance.

To begin, we must remember that the unbeliever is pervasively depraved and therefore totally passive. Paul's description is sobering: "You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked" (Eph. 2:1). Therefore, spiritual resurrection is needed. We are like Lazarus, four days dead, lifeless, and rotting away in the tomb (John 11:17). Only the life-creating words of Christ can awaken our dead soul. Or to switch analogies, we need to be born again, or born from above, as Jesus told Nicodemus (John 3:3-8). Notice, birth is not a cooperative effort; the child is passive. He can take no credit in being born. Likewise, spiritual birth is completely and entirely the work of God.

As I demonstrate in Salvation by Grace, when God calls his elect, he does so effectually (e.g., John 6:37, 44, 65; Rom. 8:28-30; 1 Cor. 1:18-31; Eph. 4:1-6; 1 Pet. 2:9-10). And when the Spirit awakens new life in the spiritually dead sinner, he does so unfailingly and irresistibly, apart from the sinner's cooperation (e.g., Deut. 30:6; Jer. 31:33; 32:39-40; Ezek. 11:19-21; 36:26-37; John 3:3-8; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:3-5; Eph. 2:1-7; Col. 2:11-14; Titus 3:3-7; 2 Cor. 4:3-6; 1 John 5:1). In short, God's sovereign work of effectual calling and regeneration bring about the sinner's trust in Christ, not vice versa. What does this mean for our faith? Its inception does not originate within us.

Faith Is a Sovereign Gift from God

At this point, it might be tempting to think that effectual calling and regeneration are God's work, while faith is our work. Nothing could be further from the truth. Faith itself is a sovereign gift from God, and not merely one that he offers to us, hoping we will accept, but something he actually works within us. To quote my favorite Puritan divine, John Owen, "The Scripture says not that God gives us ability or power to believe only—namely, such a power as we may make use of if we will, or do otherwise; but faith, repentance, and conversion themselves are said to be the work and effect of God." In other words, God produces not only the will to believe, but the act of believing itself. 

For example, in Acts 13 Paul preaches the gospel in Antioch. However, many Jews, filled with jealousy, revile Paul. In response Paul makes an astonishing proclamation: "It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles" (13:46). Suddenly, the Gentiles break out in rejoicing and gladness: "And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed" (13:48). Notice, the text does not say "as many as believed were appointed to eternal life." Rather, Luke explains that God's election or appointment determined who would and would not believe. God, not man, determines who will and will not believe in Christ, and until God regenerates the sinful heart of man, he will not respond in faith and repentance (cf. Acts 2:37; 16:14; 18:10). Yes, we repent and believe, but we do so only because God has previously appointed us to eternal life and has, at the appointed time, caused us to repent and trust in his Son (cf. John 8:47; 10:26).

And consider Ephesians 2:8-10: "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." Or as the NASB translates, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God." As many have observed, "this" and "it" in the Greek do not refer specifically to faith as the gift Paul has in mind, for "faith" is feminine while "that" is a neuter pronoun. If Paul meant to say faith is a gift he would have placed the pronoun in the feminine. Likewise, the same principle applies with the word "grace," which is also feminine in gender.

Nevertheless, we still must ask ourselves, what in Ephesians 2:8 is the antecedent of "that" ("this" in the ESV)? Paul is referring to the gift of salvation in its totality. Therefore, every aspect of salvation is by grace alone. What then should we make of "faith"? Sam Storms answers, "That faith by which we come into experiential possession of what God in grace has provided is as much a gift as any and every other aspect of salvation. One can no more deny that faith is wrapped up in God's gift to us than he can deny it of God's grace."

Likewise, consider Philippians 1:29-30: "For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake." According to Paul, God, in his sovereignty, bestows suffering. But not only is suffering a gift, Paul also says belief (faith) in Christ is a gift as well. The wording is essential, for Paul specifically says "it [belief] has been granted." "Granted" (echaristhē) means to give freely and graciously. As Thomas Schreiner observes, it is the same word from which grace is derived. It does not mean, as our English language assumes so often, reluctance or mere permission on God's part. Rather, God grants belief or faith in Christ to those whom he has chosen.

Last, we cannot forget 2 Peter 1:1: "Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ." Is it by man's will that faith is obtained? At first glance, that might appear to be the case. But in reality, Peter assumes just the opposite. When Peter refers to obtaining faith he is speaking of a gift that we receive from God and by God's choice. "What is of paramount importance here," Sam Storms says, "is the word translated 'have obtained' or 'have received.' It is related to a verb that means 'to obtain by lot' (see Luke 1:9; John 19:24; Acts 1:17). Thus, faith is removed from the realm of human free will and placed in its proper perspective as having originated in the sovereign and altogether gracious will of God."

Divine Work

We do not want to deny that faith is an act of believing on the sinner's part. However, faith is ultimately a divine work, not a human work. As John Calvin states in his Institutes, "Faith is something merely passive, bringing nothing of ours to the recovering of God's favor but receiving from Christ that which we lack" (3.13.5). Herman Bavinck is just as insightful: "He indeed grants us the capacity to believe and the power of faith but also the will to believe and faith itself, not mechanically or magically, but inwardly, spiritually, organically, in connection with the word that he brings to people in various ways."

In summary, while many other texts could be explored, these passages demonstrate that saving faith is sovereignly granted to the sinner and effectually applied within him. Therefore, we dare not call this initial faith in conversion a "work," lest we attribute to ourselves what should truly be credited to God. As we reflect on our conversion to Christ, we do not boast in ourselves, but give God, and him alone, all of the glory, praise, and honor.

Matthew Barrett (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is assistant professor of Christian studies at California Baptist University (OPS), as well as the founder and executive editor of Credo Magazine. He is the author of Salvation by Grace: The Case for Effectual Calling and Regeneration (P&R) and co-editor of Four Views on the Historical Adam (forthcoming, Zondervan). He also edited Whomever He Wills: A Surprising Display of Sovereign Mercy. He is the author of several other forthcoming books, which you can read about at Source:

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Christless Christianity: Getting in Christ's Way

Michael S. Horton

christlesschristianityWhat would things look like if Satan actually took over a city? The first frames in our imaginative slide show probably depict mayhem on a massive scale: Widespread violence, deviant sexualities, pornography in every vending machine, churches closed down and worshipers dragged off to City Hall. Over a half-century ago, Donald Grey Barnhouse, pastor of Philadelphia's Tenth Presbyterian Church, gave his CBS radio audience a different picture of what it would look like if Satan took control of a town in America. He said that all of the bars and pool halls would be closed, pornography banished, pristine streets and sidewalks would be occupied by tidy pedestrians who smiled at each other. There would be no swearing. The kids would answer "Yes, sir," "No, ma'am," and the churches would be full on Sunday ... where Christ is not preached.

Not to be alarmist, but it looks a lot like Satan is in charge right now. The enemy has a subtle way of using even the proper scenery and props to obscure the main character. The church, mission, cultural transformation, even the Spirit can become the focus instead of the means for "fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith" (Heb. 12:2). As provocative as Barnhouse's illustration remains, it is simply an elaboration of a point that is made throughout the story of redemption. The story behind all the headlines of the Bible is the war between the serpent and the offspring of the woman (Gen. 3:15), an enmity that God promised would culminate in the serpent's destruction and the lifting of the curse. This promise was a declaration of war on Satan and his kingdom, and the contest unfolded in the first religious war, between Cain and Abel (Gen. 4 with Matt. 23:35), in the battle between Pharaoh and Yahweh that led to the exodus and the temptation in the wilderness. Even in the land, the serpent seduces Israel to idolatry and intermarriage with unbelievers, even provoking massacres of the royal family. Yet God always preserved that "seed of the woman" who would crush the serpent's head (see 2 Kings 11, for example). The story leads all the way to Herod's slaughter of the firstborn children in fear of the Magi's announcement of the birth of the true King of Israel.

The Gospels unpack this story line and the epistles elaborate its significance. Everything is leading to Golgotha, and when the disciples-even Peter-try to distract Jesus away from that mission, they are being unwitting servants of Satan (Matt. 16:23). "The god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers"-not simply so that they will defy Judeo-Christian values, but "to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus' sake" (2 Cor. 4:4-5).

Satan lost the war on Good Friday and Easter, but has shifted his strategy to a guerilla struggle to keep the world from hearing the gospel that dismantles his kingdom of darkness. Paul speaks of this cosmic battle in Ephesians 6, directing us to the external Word, the gospel, Christ and his righteousness, faith, and salvation as our only armor in the assaults of the enemy. In Revelation 12, the history of redemption is recapitulated in brief compass, with the dragon sweeping a third of the stars (angels) from heaven, laying in wait to devour the woman's child at birth, only to be defeated by the ascension of the promised offspring. Nevertheless, knowing his time is short, he pursues the child's brothers and sisters. Wherever Christ is truly proclaimed, Satan is most actively present. The wars between nations and enmity within families and neighborhoods is but the wake of the serpent's tail as he seeks to devour the church, employing the same tried and tested methods: not only martyrdom from without, but heresy and schism from within. In the rest of this article, I want to suggest a few of the ways we are routinely tempted toward what can only be called, tragically, "Christless Christianity."


Denial: The Sadducees

The modern spirit has been dedicated to shifting authority from the outside (the church or the Bible) to the inside (reason or experience). Kant said the one thing he could always trust was his moral intuition, which led to the irrefutable fact of "the starry heavens above and the moral law within." The Romantics said we should trust our inner experience. In fact, was it not the desire to usurp God's throne that motivated the rebellion of Lucifer as well as Adam and Eve?

Whenever we determine what really matters by looking within ourselves, we always come up with law. Some would object, "Not law, but love." However, in the Bible, the Law simply nails down what it means to love God and our neighbor. Long before Jesus summed up the Law in this way (Matt. 22:39), it was delivered by the hand of Moses (Lev. 19:18, 34), and Paul reiterated the point (Rom. 13:8-10). We were created in the image of God, without fault, entirely capable of carrying out God's moral will of making all of creation subservient to God's law of love. The Fall did not eradicate this sense of moral purpose, but turned us inward, so that instead of truly loving God and our neighbor, we suppressed the truth in unrighteousness. The fall did not even mean that people became atheists, but that they became superstitious: using "God" or "spirituality" and their neighbors for their own ends.

The Enlightenment philosophers were right when they recognized that morality is the common denominator of humanity. Yet they concluded from this that whatever came to us from the outside-the reports of historical miracles and redemption-was the least essential to true religion. "All we need is love" and "All we need is law" make exactly the same point. Duty, love, or moral and religious experience lay at the heart of all the world's religions-their insides-while the historical packaging (stories, miraculous claims, creeds, rituals) are the outer shell that can be tossed away.

Kant distinguished these in terms of pure religion and ecclesiastical faith. The former has to do with our moral duty. The latter consists of doctrines of sin, the incarnation and atonement, justification, supernatural rebirth, the particular historical claims concerning Christ, as well as the official practices of the church (such as baptism and the Supper). The story of the death and resurrection of Christ, for example, could be accepted only to the extent that it represented a universal moral truth (like self-sacrifice for others or for one's principles). Taking it at face value actually undermined pure morality. If you look to someone else's sacrifice to save you, then you won't be as prone to fulfill your own duty yourself. One sect dealt with guilt by throwing children into volcanoes to pacify the gods, while Christianity says that "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son ... " (John 3:16). Yet once religion is refined of such "superstitions," the residue left over is a pure morality that will at last lead us to build a tower reaching to the heavens. Trust your insides; doubt everything external to you. That was the lesson of the Enlightenment.

The problem, of course, is that we have an outside God and an outside redemption. Everything inside of us is the problem. The good news, however, is that the God who is completely other than we are became one of us, yet without succumbing to our selfish pride. He fulfilled the law, bore its judgment, and rose again as our solution to the curse of sin, death, and condemnation. Furthermore, he sent his Spirit to indwell us, making us new from the inside out, until one day our very bodies are raised. In one sense, of course, the Enlightenment was right: the law is in us by nature, since we are created in God's image. The gospel is surprising, good news that has to come to us from the outside. Everyone knows that we should treat others the way we would like to be treated ourselves: the Golden Rule does not by itself provoke martyrdom. It does not need witnesses and heralds. In fact, it did not require the incarnation, much less the atonement and resurrection.

So it's not surprising that the world would think that "all we need is love," and we can do without the doctrine, since the world thinks it can do without Christ. Doctrine is where the religions most obviously part ways. Doctrine is where things get interesting-and dangerous. As the playwright Dorothy Sayers said, doctrine isn't the dull part of Christianity, rather, "The doctrine is the drama." Jesus was not revolutionary because he said we should love God and each other. Moses said that first. So did Buddha, Confucius, and countless other religious leaders we've never heard of. Madonna, Oprah, Dr. Phil, the Dali Lama, and probably a lot of Christian leaders will tell us that the point of religion is to get us to love each other. "God loves you" doesn't stir the world's opposition. However, start talking about God's absolute authority, holiness, wrath, and righteousness, original sin, Christ's substitutionary atonement, justification apart from works, the necessity of new birth, repentance, baptism, Communion, and the future judgment, and the mood in the room changes considerably. If postmodernism is simply a revival of modern romanticism (experience as sovereign), then it's not very postmodern after all.

Historians often point out that for all of their differences, pietism and rationalism converged to create the Enlightenment. The heirs of modernity looked inward, to autonomous reason or experience, rather than outward, in faith and repentance toward a God who judges and saves. With Friedrich Schleiermacher, father of modern Protestant liberalism, the emphasis fell on Jesus as the supreme example of the kind of moral existence that we can all have if we share in his "God-consciousness." So while Christianity may represent the purest and fullest realization of this principle, other religions are in their own ways attempts to put this universal religious and moral experience into words. We just say things differently, but we are experiencing the same reality. Where Kant located the essence of religion in practical reason (moral duty), Schleiermacher located it in religious experience, but either way the self is made the measure of truth and redemption is something that we find within ourselves, even if it is "Christ in my heart." Revivalism, which is the mother of both Protestant liberalism and Evangelicalism, pressed the "deeds over creeds" and "experience over doctrine" thesis to its limits.

This means, of course, that Christ is not the unique God-Man, but the most divinized human being. The gospel is not what Christ did for me, outside of me, in history, but the impression that he makes on me, the nobility that he stirs up within me, to experience the same God-consciousness and love. Sin is not a condition from which I need to be saved, but actions that I can keep from doing with sufficient motivation and instruction. Christ's death is not an atoning sacrifice that satisfies God's just wrath, but an example of God's love that moves us to repentance. Hence, "What would Jesus do?" is the main question, not "What has Jesus done?" The inside takes priority over the outside.

Distraction: The Pharisees

In contrast to the Sadducees, the Pharisees were scrupulous. The outside mattered, but in a legalistic way. They believed in the resurrection, the last judgment, the truthfulness of the miracles reported in the Bible's historical narratives, and were so eager for the messianic age that they wanted everybody to get their house in order. Only when God's people obey the law in all of its details (even the rabbinical rules designed to guard against violating the actual prescriptions of Moses) would the Messiah visit Israel and vindicate his people in the last judgment.

Now what could be wrong with a call to moral renewal and national righteousness? But the Pharisees were distracted from the real point of the kingdom. Expecting a king who would overthrow Roman rule and reestablish the Mosaic theocracy, they missed the real identity of the Messiah and his kingdom under their noses. The disciples themselves were also distracted, routinely changing the subject whenever Jesus spoke of the cross as they neared Jerusalem. They were thinking inauguration day, with the last judgment and the consummation of the kingdom in all of its glory. Jesus knew, however, that the only route to glory down the road was the cross up ahead. For all their emphasis on external righteousness and behavior, they too affirmed salvation from inside: by moral effort.

Jesus contrasts the false piety of the Pharisee with the genuine faith and repentance of the citizen of his kingdom in his famous parable in Luke 18:

    Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.' But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted. (vv. 9-14)

Jesus told the Pharisees, "You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others, but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God" (Luke 16:15). While Jesus basically seems to ignore the Sadducees, since they probably viewed each other as irrelevant, he warns repeatedly of "the yeast of the Pharisees," which is "their hypocrisy" (Luke 12:1).

In the parable that Jesus tells, the Pharisee even prayed, "I thank you that I am not like this tax collector." The only thing worse than his hypocrisy and self-righteousness was that he pretended to give God a little credit for it. We have all witnessed awards ceremonies in which recipients acknowledged the many people without whom such success could not have been possible. This is quite different, however, from being a beneficiary of the estate of someone who, at the very moment of drafting the bequest, was treated as an enemy. Christless Christianity does not mean religion or spirituality devoid of the words "Jesus," "Christ," "Lord," or even "Savior." What it means is that the way the names and titles are employed will be removed from their specific location in an unfolding historical plot of human rebellion and divine rescue and from such practices as baptism and Communion. Jesus as life coach, therapist, buddy, significant other, founder of Western civilization, political messiah, example of radical love, and countless other images can distract us from the stumbling block and foolishness of "Christ and him crucified."

In The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis has the devil (Screwtape) catechizing his minion (Wormwood) to keep the Christians distracted from Christ as redeemer from God's wrath. Rather than clumsily announce his presence by direct attacks, Wormwood should try to get the churches to become interested in "Christianity and...": "Christianity and the War," "Christianity and Poverty," "Christianity and Morality," and so on. Of course, Lewis was not suggesting that Christians should not have an interest in such pressing issues of the day, but he was making the point that when the church's basic message is less about who Christ is and what he has accomplished once and for all for us, and more about who we are and what we have to do in order to justify all of that expense on his part, the religion that is made "relevant" is no longer Christianity. By not thinking that "Christ crucified" is as relevant as "Christ and Family Values" or "Christ and America" or "Christ and World Hunger," we end up assimilating the gospel to law. Again, there is nothing wrong with the law-the moral commands that expose our moral failure and guide us as believers in the way of discipleship. However, assimilating the good news of what someone else has done to a road map for our own action is disastrous. In the words of Theodore Beza, "The confusion of law and gospel is the principal source of all the abuses that corrupt or have ever corrupted the church." When God's Law (and not our own inner sentiment) actually addresses us, our first response should be, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner," not the reply of the rich young ruler, "All this I have done since my youth."

Another way we distort the proclamation of Christ in the "Pharasaic" mode is by what has sometimes been called "the assumed gospel." This is often the first stage of taking our eyes off of Christ. Even where Christ is regarded as the answer to God's just wrath, this emphasis is regarded as a point that can be left behind in the Christian life. The idea is that people "get saved" and then "become disciples." The gospel for sinners is Christ's death and resurrection; the gospel for disciples, however, is, "Get busy!" But this assumes that disciples are not sinners, too. There is not a single biblical verse that calls us to "live the gospel." By definition, the gospel is not something that we can live. It is only something that we can hear and receive. It is good news, not good advice. The good news is that, "But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the Law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe," since sinners "are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, received through faith" (Rom. 3:21-25).

When the gospel-that is, Christ as Savior-is taken for granted, we are no longer being constantly converted from our hypocrisy and self-trust to faith and love. Like the Pharisee in Jesus' parable, we thank God that we are not like others, but we are really trusting in our own "discipleship." The Pharisees were disciples too, and they had their disciples. But only in Christ is discipleship the consequence of Christ's life, death, and resurrection, rather than its own contribution to human redemption.

Jesus himself said, "The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many" (Matt. 20:28). When he was rebuked by his disciples for raining on their parade by talking about the cross, Jesus said, "It is for this reason that I have come to this hour" (John 12:27). When Philip asked Jesus to show them the way to the Father, Jesus said that he is the Way (John 14:8-14). Similarly, Paul told the Corinthians that he was not only single-mindedly determined to preach Christ alone, but "Christ crucified," although it is "a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Greeks," since it is the only good news capable of saving either (1 Cor. 1:18, 22-30; 2:1-2). In other words, Paul knew (the super-apostles were always providing concrete evidence) that preachers could use the name of Jesus, but as something or someone other than the vicarious sacrifice for sinners.

The Greeks love wisdom, so show them a Jesus who is smarter at solving the conundrums of daily living and the church will throng with supporters. Jews love signs and wonders, so tell people that Jesus can help them have their best life now, or bring in the kingdom of glory, or drive out the Romans and prove their integrity before the pagans, and Jesus will be laureled with praise. But proclaim Christ as the Suffering Servant who laid down his life and took it back up again, and everybody wonders who changed the subject.

The church exists in order to change the subject from us and our deeds to God and his deeds of salvation, from our various "missions" to save the world to Christ's mission that has already accomplished redemption. If the message that the church proclaims makes sense without conversion; if it does not offend even lifelong believers from time to time, so that they too need to die more to themselves and live more to Christ, then it is not the gospel. When Christ is talked about, a lot of things can happen, none of which necessarily has anything to do with his doing, dying, rising, reigning, and return. When Christ is proclaimed in his saving office, the church becomes a theater of death and resurrection, leading to genuine lives of witness, love, fellowship, community, and service-yet always requiring forgiveness and therefore always coming back to the good news concerning Christ.

Today, we have abundant examples of both tendencies: denial and distraction. On one hand, there are those who explicitly reject the New Testament teaching concerning Christ's person and work. Jesus was another moral guide-maybe the best ever-but not the divine-human redeemer. However, evangelicals are known for their stand against Protestant liberalism. On the other hand, many who affirm all the right views of Christ and salvation in theory seem to think that what makes Christianity truly relevant, interesting, and revolutionary is something else. Distractions abound. This does not mean that Jesus is not important. His name appears in countless books and sermons, on T-shirts, coffee mugs, and billboards. Yet it has become something like a cliché or trademark instead of "the name that is above every name" by which alone we are saved.

Jesus Christ as the incarnate God in the merciful service of redeeming and reconciling sinners is simply not the main theme in most churches or Christian events these days. And what happens when we stop being reminded of who God is and what he has achieved in human history for a world in bondage to sin and death-in other words, when doctrine is made secondary? We fall back on our natural religion: what happens inside, that which we always know intuitively: law. "Deeds, not creeds" equals "Law, not gospel." For all their theoretical differences, liberals and evangelicals end up sounding a lot like each other. Evangelicals who say that they believe in Christ end up reducing Christ to a moral example just as thoroughly as liberals, not by outright denial but by distraction. The goal of this article is not to brand contemporary Christians "Sadducees" and "Pharisees," but to point out that one doesn't have to deny Christ and the gospel in order to end up with Christless Christianity. In fact, one can appeal to Christ and "make Jesus the center" in a way that drifts back toward "pure religion" (morality) and away from "ecclesiastical faith" (doctrine).

Today, partly in response to the appalling lack of genuine discipleship in a post-Christian era, many Protestants like Stanley Hauerwas and Brian McLaren encourage us to recover the Anabaptist legacy, which, as I mentioned, focused on Jesus as moral example. In A Generous Orthodoxy, Brian McLaren explains, "Anabaptists see the Christian faith primarily as a way of life," interpreting Paul through the lens of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount rather than vice versa. The emphasis falls on discipleship rather than on doctrine, as if following Jesus' example could be set against following his teaching. What happens when the Sermon on the Mount is assimilated to a general ethic of love (i.e., pure morality), and doctrine (ecclesiastical faith) is made secondary? Christ himself becomes a mere example to help people become better non-Christians. In fact, McLaren writes, "I must add, though, that I don't believe making disciples must equal making adherents to the Christian religion. It may be advisable in many (not all!) circumstances to help people become followers of Jesus and remain within their Buddhist, Hindu, or Jewish contexts." "I don't hope all Jews or Hindus will become members of the Christian religion. But I do hope all who feel so called will become Jewish or Hindu followers of Jesus." It is no wonder, then, that McLaren can say concerning liberal Protestants, "I applaud their desire to live out the meaning of the miracle stores even when they don't believe the stories really happened as written." After all, it's deeds, not creeds that matter. McLaren seems to suggest that following Jesus (pure religion) can exist with or without explicit faith in Christ (ecclesiastical faith).

There is nothing especially postmodern about any of this, of course. It is simply the legacy of the Enlightenment and its moralistic antecedents. If following Jesus' example of love (never mind his exclusive claims, divisive rhetoric, and warning of judgment) is the gospel, then, of course there will be many Buddhists and liberals who are better "Christians" than many of us who profess faith in Christ. As Mark Oestriecher, another Emergent church writer, relates, "My Buddhist cousin, except for her unfortunate inability to embrace Jesus, is a better 'Christian' (based on Jesus' description of what a Christian does) than almost every Christian I know. If we were using Matthew 26 as a guide, she'd be a sheep; and almost every Christian I know personally would be a goat." Yet at the end of the day, "radical disciples" will burn out, too, and realize that they, like the rest of us, are hypocrites who fall short of God's glory and need someone outside of them not only to show the way but to be the way of redemption. Although McLaren himself does not deny the Christ confessed in the creeds, he believes that what is most important about Jesus Christ is his call to discipleship, which allows us to participate in his redeeming work, rather than his unique, unrepeatable, completed work for sinners two thousand years ago.

In his book, The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generations, Dan Kimball, pastor of Santa Cruz Bible Church, announces the goal of the emerging church movement: "Going back to a raw form of vintage Christianity, which unapologetically focuses on kingdom living by disciples of Jesus." If we are allowed to pick and choose whatever we like from the New Testament (again, hardly a uniquely postmodern trend-Thomas Jefferson had his own edited version, the moral Jesus of love minus the Christ of "ecclesiastical faith"), we will always gravitate toward ourselves and our own inner experience or morality, away from God: the external authority of his law and redemption announced in his gospel. Emergent Christians recognize the hypocrisy of evangelical consumerism with remarkable insight, and properly recoil at the images of Christians one finds in The Simpsons' character Ned Flanders. However, they forget that before Emergent there was the "Jesus Movement" that turned into the megachurch movement that they recognize as deficient.

For all of their reactions, the "post-evangelical" emerging folks seem to follow the well-worn path of their revivalist forebears in seeing the church primarily as a society of moral transformers who preach themselves rather than Christ. Like many emerging church leaders (in continuity with my evangelical pastors growing up), Kimball invokes Francis of Assisi's famous line: "Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words." "Our lives will preach better than anything we can say." But doesn't this mean to preach ourselves rather than Christ? The gospel that we preach is good news because it is not the story of our discipleship, but of Christ's obedience, death, and resurrection in our place. The good news is not, "Look at my life" or "look at our community"; it is the announcement that in Christ God justifies the wicked. Yes, there is hypocrisy, and because Christians will always be simultaneously saint and sinner, there will always be hypocrisy in every Christian and in every church. The good news is that Christ saves us from hypocrisy, too. But hypocrisy is especially generated when the church points to itself and to our own "changed lives" in its promotional materials. The more we talk about ourselves, the more occasion the world will have to charge us with hypocrisy. The more we confess our sins and receive forgiveness, and pass this good news on to others, the more our lives will be authentically changed in the bargain. With all due respect to St. Francis, the gospel is only something that can be told (i.e., words), a story that can be declared. When our lives are told within that larger story, rather than vice versa, there is genuine salvation for sinners and mission to the world.

Kimball writes that the "ultimate goal of discipleship ... should be measured by what Jesus taught in Matthew 22:37-40: 'Love the Lord with all your heart, mind, and soul.' Are we loving him more? Love others as yourself. Are we loving people more?" This is not a revolutionary, new message; it is the imperative preaching that many of us have always heard growing up in Evangelicalism.

For all of its incisive critiques of the megachurch movement, how different is the Emergent message from Rick Warren's call to "Deeds, Not Creeds"? These voices are right to remind us of what the law requires, and how Jesus in both his teaching and example exhibited the deepest demands that love places upon us. But if this is the good news, then we are all in trouble. As I grow in my holiness-realized in greater love for God and neighbor-I am actually more aware of how far I fall short. Therefore, on good days, I might answer Kimball's question with cautious optimism, on other days it might lead me to despair. But the gospel is the good news that I need on any day, leading me away from myself to Christ "who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20).

Many conservative evangelicals and emerging "post-evangelicals" display their common heritage in an American revivalist tradition that Dietrich Bonhoeffer described as "Protestantism without the Reformation." In a recent issue of TIME on Pope Benedict's critical relationship with Islam, conservative Catholic scholar Michael Novak was quoted as saying concerning the pontiff, "His role is to represent Western civilization." There are a lot of evangelical leaders who seem to think that this is their job, too. The mission of the church is to drive out the Romans (i.e., Democrats) and make the world safe for democracy. The Emergent movement's politics are different: they lean left rather than right. For many reared on the "Christian America" hype of the religious right, this may seem like a major shift, but it's just a change in parties rather than a deeper shift from moralism to evangelical mission. The Emergent sociology is different, too: Starbucks and acoustic guitars in dark rooms with candles rather than Wal-Mart and praise bands in bright-lighted theaters. Yet in either case, moralism continues to push "Christ crucified" to the margins.

We are totally distracted, on the right, left, and in the middle. Children growing up in evangelical churches know as little as unchurched youth about the basics of the Christian faith. They increasingly inhabit a church world that is less and less shaped by the gospel through Christ-centered catechesis, preaching and sacrament (the means that Jesus instituted for making disciples). The songs they sing are mostly emotive, rather than serving to make "the Word of Christ dwell in [them] richly" (Col. 3:16), and their private devotions are less shaped by the practices of corporate prayer and Scripture reading than in past generations. Nothing has to change on paper: they can still be "conservative evangelicals," but it just doesn't matter because doctrine doesn't matter-which means faith doesn't matter. It's works that counts now, so get busy!

So now people are called to be the "good news," to make Christ's mission successful by living "relationally" and "authentically." Where the New Testament announces a gospel that changes lives, now the "gospel" is our changed life. "We preach not ourselves but Christ" (2 Cor. 4:5) has been exchanged for a constant appeal to our personal and collective holiness as the main attraction. Church marketing guru George Barna encourages us to reach out to the unchurched on the basis of our character: "What they are looking for is a better life. Can you lead them to a place or to a group of people that will deliver the building blocks of a better life? Do not propose Christianity as a system of rules but as a relationship with the One who leads by way of example. Then seek proven ways to achieve meaning and success." I am not at all implying that we shouldn't follow Christ's example or that the church shouldn't have models and mentors. What I am suggesting is that discipleship is teaching others, and teaching them so well that even when we falter as role models, the maturity of their own discipleship will not fail because it is grounded in Christ and not in us.

No matter what we say we believe about Christ's person and work, if we aren't constantly bathed in it, the end result will lead to H. Richard Niebuhr's description of Protestant liberalism: "A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through a Christ without a cross." According to University of North Carolina sociologist Christian Smith, the working religion of America's teens-whether evangelical or liberal, churched or unchurched-is "moralistic, therapeutic deism." And the answer to that, according to many megachurches and emerging churches is "do more; be more authentic; live more transparently." This is the good news that will change the world?

Christless Christianity can be promoted in contexts where either the sermon is a lecture on timeless doctrine and ethics or Christ gets lost in all the word studies and applications. Christ gets lost in churches where activity, self-expression, the hype of "worship experiences" and programs replace the ordinary ministry of hearing and receiving Christ as he is given to us in the means of grace. Christ gets lost when he is promoted as the answer to everything but our condemnation, death, and the tyranny of sin, or as the means to the end of more excitement, amusement, better living, or a better world-as if we already knew what these would look like before God addressed us in his law and gospel.

Back to Barnhouse's illustration. Of course, Satan loves war, violence, injustice, poverty, disease, oppression, immorality, and other displays of human sinfulness. And of course he is displeased whenever a cup of cold water is offered to a thirsty man in Christ's name. However, what he spends most of his time plotting is the displacement of Christ from the focal awareness, ministry, and mission of the church. Keeping unbelievers blind and believers distracted is his main strategy. Genuine renewal only comes when we realize that the church is always drawn to distractions and must always be redirected to Christ, always one generation away from becoming something other than the place in the world-the only place, in fact-where the finger points away from us to Christ, "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29).



1. The quotations from Brian McLaren are taken from his work, A Generous Orthodoxy (Zondervan, 2004) pp. 61, 206, 214, 260, 264. The quotation from Mark Oestreicher is found in Dan Kimball's The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for a New Generation (Zondervan, 2003), p. 53. The direct quotation from Kimball is from the same book, p. 26. The quotation from Francis of Assisi is taken from pp. 185 and 194 of Kimball's work. The TIME magazine article on Pope Benedict is from the November 27, 2006, issue, p. 46. George Barna's quotation is from his book Grow Your Church from the Outside In (Ventura: Regal, 2002), p. 161.

Michael Horton is the J. Gresham Machen professor of apologetics and systematic theology at Westminster Seminary California (Escondido, California), host of the White Horse Inn, national radio broadcast, and editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation magazine. He is author of many books, including The Gospel-Driven Life, Christless Christianity, People and Place, Putting Amazing Back Into Grace, The Christian Faith, and For Calvinism.

Issue: "Christless Christianity" May/June 2007 Vol. 16 No. 3 Page number(s): 10-16

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