Friday, October 28, 2011

My Take on Halloween

The following is an article for our most recent church newsletter, but, given a recent video post I came across on facebook, I thought I would share it in this setting (with only a couple of slight modifications):


A few years ago, during a time of family devotions, we were talking about the “PACT” form of prayer: Praise, Ask, Confess, and Thank. In the devotion we were reading, we were also asked to read the Lord’s Prayer, and then the lesson asked which part of the Lord’s Prayer fit each letter of PACT.

The very first one, of course was Praise, and my wife asked what part of the Lord’s Prayer was praise. Well, I immediately raised my hand and said, “I know, I know.” And so, my wife called on me. Do you know which part of the Lord’s Prayer is considered praise? - “Our Father, who art in heaven; Hallowed be thy Name.” You see, in that prayer we are saying, “May your Name be hallowed.”

Now, when I said that, one of our kids immediately asked, “What does hallowed mean? Is it like Halloween?” - What do you think? When we pray, “Hallowed be thy Name,” is it like Halloween?

I think that question goes to the question that is often asked in Christian circles, “What do we do with Halloween?” - You know, when I was a kid, our church used to have Halloween parties every year. We used to hold it out in the woods at the Optimist Club building. It was a great time. I remember going, and our family arrived early one year. It was the year that I was dressed up like the Incredible Hulk. I had a rubber Hulk mask and inflatable muscles. Anyway, because we arrived early, we split up and hid. I think I hid behind a tree in the surrounding woods. Then we would each one “arrive” at different times, so as to help disguise who we really were. One year I was Scooby Doo. (That was before I could do the Scooby Doo voice.) We had a really great time.

However, as time went by, I encountered Christians at other churches (even within the same denomination) who would never do such a thing. From their perspective, Halloween was an evil, even Satanic celebration. It was to be avoided completely.

Some suggested Christian alternatives, sometimes called Hallelujah Parties, instead of Halloween Parties. These ranged from events where you could dress up, so long as there were no monsters, or evil costumes, to events where you could only dress as Bible characters, to no costumes allowed whatsoever. - And I learned never to assume anything about people’s position with regard to Halloween.

So it leaves us with the question, since there are a range of opinions, what ought we, as Christians, do about Halloween?

Well, when the question was asked, “What does hallowed mean? Is it like Halloween?” I said, “Actually, it is like Halloween.” - You see, to hallow is to make or to declare something or someone to be holy. We are saying to God, “Your name is holy.” - And Halloween is a form of All Hallow’s Evening, or All Hallow’s Eve; Hallowe-‘en. In other words it is the evening before All Hallow’s Day, or All Holy One’s Day, which we know as . . . All Saints’ Day. All Saints’ Day is celebrated on November 1st or the first Sunday, thereafter. Centenary will be observing All Saints’ Day this first Sunday of November (and Ann Thomas will be preaching! You won’t want to miss that service!) - All Saints, by the way, was one of John Wesley’s favorite days.

Now, since that is the case, it should at least make Christians stop and consider a bit before we simply declare Halloween to be evil and Satanic. - But, of course there is more to the story. - So, how did Halloween come about with all of our costumes and customs?

Well, in Ireland, the ancient Druids, prior to the arrival of Christianity, marked the coming of the new year on November 1st. Like so many groups, their calendars were governed by the seasons of the year, especially the times of harvest. Around November the season would changed from the time of harvest to winter; that is, to the time when things died.

October 31st was called Samhain (often pronounced SOW-in), the Celtic word for the end of Summer. In their Pagan superstitions they believed that on October 31st, the end of the year and the beginning of the time of death, the curtain between the living and the dead became blurred. On this night, it was believed that the ghosts of the dead would return to this world.

This was their reasoning: When the dead are buried, they are buried under the ground. During the Summer months, the grass is green and alive, the flowers bloom, the trees are full of life, and they are, therefore, able to keep the dead buried. But when the trees and flowers all die, and the grass turns brown, what is there to keep the dead buried? They are, therefore, able to escape . . . at least for that one night.

Well, in addition to damaging crops, it was believed that these spirits made it easier for the Druid priests to see into the future so that they could determine whether the crops would survive the winter, etc. Therefore, they would have a ritual of sorts involving a large bonfire, burning crops and animal sacrifices while wearing disguises (like animal costumes), which would confuse and ward off any evil spirits.

Now, by the ninth-Century, as the Church spread throughout the land, the Church did what the Church has always done. It sought to appropriate and redeem, or transform and sanctify the secular or the Pagan. It sought to “redeem the time” or the day, as St. Paul says, and claim it for Christ. And here is how the Church went about it:

Early on, it was the custom of the Church to remember the Martyrs. - As early as the 4th century the Church in the East held a feast to honor all of the martyred saints, together. On May 13, 610, relics of martyrs were moved from some catacombs to the Pantheon, and the bishop of Rome, Pope Boniface IV consecrated the building with the title of the feast of All Martyrs and All Saints and Our Lady.

Now, fast forward to the ninth-Century, again, when the Church had spread throughout the Celtic land. It was in 835 that the new bishop of Rome, Pope Gregory III, designated November 1st as All Saints Day, many believe in an attempt to Christianize the Celtic holiday. Thus, Samhain became All Hallow’s Eve, or Halloween. - By the way, we also know that by A.D. 1000, there were parades and bonfires and people dressed in costumes of saints and angels, etc. in order to honor and celebrate those saints who had died in the faith.

Now, in America, the Puritan settlers didn’t want anything to do with those Pagan, and more importantly foreign customs. But, when Irish immigrants came over, in such a new setting, their customs began to take on new forms. So, any remaining Pagan elements of their customs quickly vanished. Bonfires were often replaced with candles in pumpkins. (I’ll not take time to go into the history of the Jack-O-lantern.) Animal disguises to ward off evil spirits became children’s costumes. And an American holiday was born.

So, those customs that the Church failed to transform the good ole’ American marketplace succeeded in secularizing. - Unfortunately, it has also had great success in secularizing such holy days as Christmas and Easter, as well. So much so that many Christians fail to observe the important season of Advent in preparation for Christmas, and then once Christmas Day arrives, they are ready to pack everything away; thus, failing to celebrate the twelve days of the Christmas season. Oh, how we have allowed the secular marketplace to de-Christianize us! But that’s another story for another time!

So with all of this in mind, what ought we to do with Halloween? First, respect the convictions of those around us. But, having said that, my opinion is, let the kids (and adults) have fun. And as a Church, use the opportunity to teach our children (and adults) about those who have gone before us in the faith.

Now, in our post-modern, post-Christian age, with the resurgence of various spiritualities such as Wicca and Paganism, the Pagan versions of Samhain is experiencing a resurgence, at least in certain pockets of our population. But let we who are in Christ, join with St. Paul and the Church throughout the ages, and let us redeem the time for the glory of God!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Innerancy, Wesleyanism, and the Creedal Order

It seems like it has been forever since I last posted!  And it has been over a month.  It is a shame, too, because there are a couple of articles I really would like to get posted.  I suppose, though, I have been quite busy, but I will try to get back in gear!

I thought I would share a little about some of my recent reading.  Yesterday, I received the most recent volume of the Wesleyan Theological Journal (the scholarly journal published by the Wesleyan Theological Society ).  The Journal contained articles (based on the papers) read at the 2011 meeting of the Society.  As I looked through the listed articles, W. Stephen Gunter's article caught my eye.  Gunter teaches at Duke Divinity School, and his article is titled "Beyond the Bible Wars: Why Innerancy is Not the Issue for Evangelical Wesleyans."

As many may know, the issue of fundamentalism's relationship to conservative, evangelical Wesleyans is not a new issue.  Likewise, the basic idea in the article that Wesleyans approach Scripture differently than the way fundamentalists approach Scripture was not new, either.  Wesleyans look through soteriological eyes when going to Scripture, while fundamentalists, with their foundation in Reformed theology, begin by looking for propositional truths.  -  Quoting Wesley's famous "homo unius libri" paragraph*, Gunter says, "This soteriological use of the Bible as the source book for understanding the way to heaven and the life of holiness is different from the epistemological use of Scripture to verify factuality of rational propositions."

Well, as I said, the basic concept is not new, though much of the particular information was new to me.  However, the thing that really caught my eye had to do with how this understanding of faith and the Bible is demonstrated in the very ordering of Anglican and Methodist Articles of Religion/Faith when compared to the Reformed Confessions.  Gunter says:
     Unlike most other Protestant creeds (especially the Westminster Confession
     in the English context, which places Book One with its ten affirmations on
     the Bible first), the Anglican Articles affirm first the faith in the Trinity.  After
     this comes affirmation of the nature of Christ, the descent into Hell, Christ's
     resurrection, and the Holy Spirit, all prior to the first mention of the Bible. 
     And when we do get to the article on Scripture, it is not about rational
     authority per se, for it reads, "On the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for
     Salvation." . . . This is a different emphasis and nuance than can be found in
     nearly any confession or creed of early Protestantism, especially those of the
     Reformed tradition that are foundational for Fundamentalism, especially as
     they have been interpreted by many Neo-Reformed Evangelicals for the  last
     hundred years.  As Paul Bassett [yay, Dr. Bassett!] has rightly pointed out,
     "By contrast, in most of the continental confessions, especially those of the
     Reformed tradition, the article on Scripture stands first, or, even prior to that,
     a preamble asserts the priority of the authority of the Bible."  As we have
     seen, this is very much the case for many Calvinian evangelicals . . .

As this is true for the Anglican Articles, it is true also for the Methodist Articles, as well as those who, even though they have re-written their own Articles, have remained true to their Wesleyan/Methodist tradition.  For example, the Free Methodists, Wesleyans and Nazarenes have all re-written the original Methodist Articles, but all of them maintain the order of Trinity, Christ, the Holy Spirit, and then Scripture.  Further, even though The Wesleyan Church did fall into the fundamentalist position of confessing the Bible as "fully inerrant in their original manuscripts, the title of the Article does still speak of "sufficiency" and the Article, itself, does seem to still focus on essential doctrine and salvific concerns.

Interestingly, both the Free Methodists and Nazarenes avoid this fundamentalist position, while utilizing language that is familiar to fundamentalism.  The Free Methodists say (at least in their 1995 Discipline - I don't have a newer version!), "[The Bible] bears unerring witness to Jesus Christ, the living Word . . ." (emphasis mine).  Nazarenes say, "[The Holy Scriptures] . . . inerrantly revealing the will of God concerning us in all things necessary to our salvation . . ." (emphasis mine).   The language is familiar to fundamentalists, as I indicated, but the context is thoroughly Wesleyan.  The Bible bears unerring witness to Jesus Christ, and the Scriptures inerrantly reveal the will of God concerning us in all things necessary to our salvation.

Again, though, the thing that I found fascinating is that the soteriological emphasis is demonstrated for Anglicans and Wesleyans in the very ordering of our creedal statements, and that is seen clearly when compared to the ordering of the Reformed creedal statements.  As Gunter says, "For Anglicans and Wesleyans . . . the authority of Scripture has a soteric rather than rationalistically defined epistemic center.  On this point, Wesleyans are more Anglo-Catholic (and early church and Eastern and Orthodox) than Puritan-Reformed!"

By the way, Gunter does consistently link Anglo-Catholics and Wesleyans throughout his article. 

Another statement made by Gunter in this article that readers of this blog may find interesting is as follows:  "In recent years, many Methodists have become enamored with Mr. Wesley's Anglican roots, especially his high-church liturgical expression, and have wanted to return to the liturgy, unfortunately quite often without taking Wesley's soteriological appropriation of Anglican theological method along with them.  In so doing, we have often left Wesley and Wesleyan Methodism behind."

I wish that Gunter had fleshed that out a bit.  I am not sure what, exactly he is talking about in the latter part of the quote.  Perhaps, though, his quote is reflective of the my own observations concerning a number of my sisters and brothers in the Order of St. Luke.  In the Order, I have observed (and I think I have mentioned it on the Wesleyan/Anglican facebook page) that many who are conservative toward Wesleyan when it comes to liturgy are, on the other hand, not very concerned about Wesleyan theology (or soteriology).  Conversely, many who seem to be concerned to be conservative toward Wesley theologically (and soteriologically) seem to be completely uninterested in Wesley's liturgical commitments.  -  Perhaps Gunter is referring to those who are concerned about Wesley's liturgical commitments but who are less interested in his theology (and soteriology).

All in all, I really enjoyed Gunter's article, and I look forward to reading more of the articles in the WTJ.
*The full quote is: "God himself has condescended to teach the way [to heaven]: for this very end he came from heaven.  He hath written it down in a book.  O give me that book!  At any price give me the book of God!  I have it.  Here is knowledge enough for me.  Let me be homo unius libri [a man of one book]"