Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Halloween: What's a Christian to Do?

(The following article was printed previously)

A number of 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. - 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 certainly experiencing a resurgence, at least in certain pockets of our population. Christians do need to be aware of this.  Nevertheless, I think that we who are in Christ ought to join with St. Paul and the saints throughout the ages by faithfully redeeming the time for the glory of God!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Commemoration for James Arminius

Today, being a Sunday, would move the commemoration for Arminius, since the Lord's Day trumps all other celebrations.  Nevertheless, October 19 is the day set aside for him in For All the Saints: A Calendar of Commemorations (Second Edition).  I had the privilege of writing the entry for Arminius (as well as James Varick & Phineas Bresee).  Below is my article as it appears in the book:

Jacob (or James) Arminius, Dutch pastor and theologian, was born the son of Harmon and Elborch Jacobsz in Oudewater, Holland in 1559.  he received his early education at Utrecht.  In 1575, Arminius' mother and siblings were killed during the Spanish massacre of Oudewater.  Through the generosity of friends, Arminius was able to study at the University of Marburg and, from 1576 to 1581, at the University of Leyden.  Through the support of the Merchants' Guild of Amsterdam, Arminius went on to Geneva where he studied under Theodore Beza from 1582 to 1586, including a year at Basel.  Returning to the Netherlands in 1587, he began a fifteen-year pastorate in Amsterdam.  There he was ordained in 1588.  In 1603 he received his doctor's degree from Leyden and became the university's professor of theology.

When the United Netherlands (Dutch Republic) became independent, Calvinism became the official state religion.  However, Arminius could not accept the popular predestination position.  Instead, he attempted to modify Calvinism so that God could not be viewed as the author of sin and so that human choice might be safeguarded.  Arminius, facing much opposition, was reluctant to express anti-Calvinistic views, but, as time went on, he was accused for what he refused to say and write.

Arminius urged the government officials to call a national synod so that he might openly present his positions.  However, in 1609 he became ill and died, nine years before the synod was called.  The year following his death, Arminius' followers presented a Remonstrance over against the five points of Calvinism.  They "held that Christ died for all men [sic], that salvation is by faith alone, that those who believe are saved, that those who reject God's grace are lost, and that God does not elect particular individuals for either outcome.

Arminius taught that Christ is the object of God's decree.  The predestination of individuals is conditional, depending upon teir acceptance or rejection of Christ.  In other words, God, according to divine foreknowledge, has predetermined to save all who place their faith in Christ and continue in that faith.

Although condemned by those of a Calvinist persuasion at the Synod of Dort in 1618, Arminian teaching has, nevertheless, gained permanent standing in john Wesley and the Wesley[an]/Methodist tradition.
The following sources were referenced in the article in the book:
Carl Bangs, Arminius: A Study in the Dutch Reformation.
Williston Walter, et. al.  A History of the Christian Church 4th ed.
Elgin S. Moyer, Who Was Who in Church History.
Kenneth Scott LaTourette, A History of Christianity, vol. 2. "Reformation to the Present."

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Feast of St. Luke

Today, we celebrate the Feast of Saint Luke the Evangelist.  Luke was unique as a New Testament writer.  He was a Gentile and a physician.  He was also a fellow missionary with St. Paul.  St. Luke is the author of both the Gospel bearing his name, as well as the book of Acts.

Of the four Gospel accounts, Luke is the only one that tells us about the annunciation to Mary, her visit with Elizabeth, Jesus in the manger, the angels appearing to the shepherds, and the story of Simeon, the boy Jesus teaching in the Temple, the story of the Good Samaritan, the prodigal son, Lazarus and Dives, Zacchaeus (that wee little man!), and the Emmaus Road account of the resurrection (where Jesus is made known in the breaking of the bread).  There are in Luke's Gospel account six miracles and eighteen parables that are not found in the other three accounts.

In Acts, Luke tells us about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church.  He also tells us about the spread of Christianity "around the world."

A Prayer for the Feast of St. Luke
O Shepherd of us all, who inspired your servant Saint Luke the Physician to set forth in the Gospel the love and healing power of Jesus:  Grant, we ask you, your Spirit to your whole Church that we might be rich toward you in worship and in service to the poor; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.
(Information drawn from Lesser Feasts and Fasts 1997 and from For All the Saints: A Calendar of Commemorations Second Edition.)

Friday, October 17, 2014

I Want a Principle Within

During Morning Prayer, as has been my custom, I sang some hymns.  I have rotated between the Nazarene "Sing to the Lord" hymnal and various collections of Wesley hymns.  Currently, I am once again singing through the "Wesley Hymns" hymnal compiled by Ken Bible and published through Lillenas Publishing Co. (Nazarene).

Today's hymns included the following by Charles Wesley.  -  It is my prayer, and I hope that it will be yours, as well.

1. I want a principle within
Of watchful, godly fear,
A sensibility of sin,
A pain to feel it near.
I want the first approach to feel
Of pride or wrong desire,
To catch the wand'ring of my will,
And quench the kindling fire.
2. That I from Thee no more may part,
No more Thy goodness grieve,
The filial* awe, the fleshly heart,
The tender conscience, give.
Quick* as the apple of an eye*,
O God, my conscience make;
Awake my soul when sin is nigh
And keep it still awake.
3. If to the right or left I stray,
That moment, Lord, reprove;
And let my spirit weep and pray
For having grieved Thy love.
O may the least omission pain
My well-instructed soul!
And drive me to the blood again,
Which makes the wounded whole.
2/3 "filial" - of a son or daughter; here the awe of a child for his/her parent.
2/4 "quick" - alert, perceptive, sensitive.
2/5 "the apple of an eye" - that which is highly prized or dear; see Prov. 7:2

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury

Archbishop Thomas Cranmer

Today we celebrate Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury (1556).  One of my seminary professors once commented, as we look back to John Wesley as our spiritual father, we ought to look to Thomas Cranmer as a spiritual grandfather.

Cranmer was the major force in the English Reformation, and the person to whom thanks is due (in Christ!) for the Book of Common Prayer (in its variety of forms). Cranmer was primarily responsible for the very first Book of Common Prayer in 1549 and its first revision in 1552. In his development of the BCP, Cranmer followed closely the medieval forms of worship, especially the Old Sarum rites.

The 1662 BCP, which is still in use in the Church of England, as well as other Anglican provinces, and which is considered the standard by which all other Prayer Books are gaged, was a revision of Cranmer's previous work.

In the preface to his own edition of the (1662) BCP (viz., The Sunday Service of the Methodists in North America), John Wesley says, "I believe there is no liturgy in the world, either in ancient or modern language, which breathes more of a solid, scriptural, rational piety, than the Common Prayer of the Church of England. And though the main of it was compiled considerably more than two hundred years ago, yet is the language of it, not only pure, but strong and elegant in the highest degree."

Thomas Cranmer was born in Aslockton, Nottinghamshire on July 2, 1489. He earned his B.A., M.A. & a Fellowship from Jesus College, Cambridge, and became a Doctor of Divinity, a lecturer in the same school. Cranmer was highly influenced by the Lutheran reformers. King Henry the Eighth, with confirmation from the Pope, appointed Cranmer to the See of Canterbury, and he was consecrated Archbishop on March 30, 1533.

When Queen Mary the First took the throne, as a staunch Roman Catholic, she had Cranmer arrested due to the protestant reforms he had implemented in the English Church. On March 21, 1556, Thomas Cranmer, along with other church leaders, was burned at the stake.

Thomas Cranmer has and continues to influence countless Christians in their spiritual formation and lives through the Book of Common Prayer, and all who use a version of the Book of Common Prayer or a liturgy that has been influence by one of the Prayer Books owe an immeasurable debt to Thomas Cranmer.

Even non-liturgical Nazarenes owe an immense debt to Cranmer. Our own ritual for the Lord's Supper in our Manual (Book of Discipline) was an abbreviated form of the Methodist Episcopal ritual, which came from Wesley's Sunday Service, which was a version of the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England. Closer to home, Wesley's understanding of holiness was, in many ways, shaped and supported by the liturgy of the Anglican Church, and the Collect of Purity at the beginning of the Communion service has been said to encapsulate our understanding of holiness.

For more information on Thomas Cranmer, I commend to you the Episcopal Church's Lesser Feasts and Fasts - 1997, For All the Saints: A Calendar of Commemorations Second Edition (OSL), and the "Introduction" to James' printing of The First English Prayer Book.

Let us give thanks to God for Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Investiture Service for ACNA Archbishop

Well, I didn't make it!  -  I had strongly considered driving to Atlanta last week to attend the Investiture service of the Most Rev'd. Dr. Foley Beach as the new Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America.  I was planning to register my attendance as president of the Wesleyan-Anglican Society.  (I sent a congratulatory letter on behalf of the WAS upon the Archbishop's election.) 

In fact, I wrote a letter to the Board of General Superintendents of the Church of the Nazarene requesting that the send a congratulatory letter and offering to deliver it to the Archbishop on their behalf.  It was my hope that this would be a step that could eventually lead to some kind of dialogue between our two churches.  -  Unfortunately, I think the NPH scandal (cf. articles below) has kept them preoccupied.  (Though I was told I would hear back from them, I have not.)  Perhaps they did send a letter or will yet send one.

In any case, I did not make the trip to Atlanta.  -  Watching the video of the service, I wish I had.  -  I am thankful that the ACNA has made the video available on their website and have allowed it to be shared.

I would encourage the friends and members of the Wesleyan-Anglican Society, as well as readers of this blog to pray for the new Archbishop and for our sisters and brothers in the Anglican Church in North America.

In addition to generally encouraging the watching of the video, below, I especially encourage those who wonder what "Wesleyan/Anglican" might look like to watch the video.  -  Obviously, it is a very special kind of service, and there could be certain changes that might make a particular "Wesleyan" emphasis.  However, in general, and especially the "spirit" of the service is reflective of the image I have of "Wesleyan/Anglican."

Friday, October 3, 2014

New Logo for Nazarene Theological Seminary

Nazarene Theological Seminary recently revealed their new logo (above).  You can read about it on the NTS website, here.

NTS President Inaugarated

Yesterday saw the inauguration of the Rev'd. Dr. Carla Sunberg as the President of Nazarene Theological Seminary (where I received my  Master's degree).  -  Nazarene Communications Network published the following article.  -  Congratulations Carla!  Expecting a great future for NTS!

Nazarene Theological Seminary celebrated the inauguration of its 10th president, Carla D. Sunberg, this week. The October 2 service took place in the J. B. Chapman Memorial Chapel on the seminary's Kansas City campus. Sunberg was elected president January 3.

The service included greetings and words of congratulation from sister institutions, former presidents, and representatives from the international church, faculty, alumni association, student body, and her family — the latter two delivered by her daughter, Cara Shonamon. In addition to celebrating all that has taken place at NTS since her election in January — including increased summer enrollment, increased giving from donors, and the largest Seminarian Offering in six years — the service included Sunberg's inaugural address, which cast a challenging vision for the seminary.

Following the investiture ceremony during which NTS Board of Trustees Chair Jeren Rowell officially installed Sunberg as president, prayers of consecration were offered by Church of the Nazarene General Superintendent Emerita Nina G. Gunter, General Superintendent David A. Busic, and General Superintendent Emeritus Jerald D. Johnson, Sunberg's father.

Prior to her election, Sunberg was co-district superintendent for East Ohio with her husband, Chuck. They were called to East Ohio while pastoring at Grace Point Church of the Nazarene in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where Carla served as pastor of evangelism and discipleship.

Carla was ordained as an elder in the Church of the Nazarene during the 13 years that she and Chuck served as missionaries in the former Soviet Union, where Carla was director of compassionate ministries, as well as director of theological education.

She holds a Doctor of Philosophy in Historical Theology from the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom, a Master of Arts from Nazarene Theological Seminary, and a Bachelor of Science from MidAmerica Nazarene University. In 2012, Olivet Nazarene University awarded her an honorary Doctor of Divinity.

Carla has served on the denomination's General Board, on the NTS Board of Trustees, as Alumni Association president for NTS, as a member and chairperson of the USA/Canada Region's Nazarene Women Clergy Council, and as a member of the denomination's Pensions & Benefits USA Board. In addition, after serving on its board as the official representative for the Church of the Nazarene, Carla also served as president of Wesleyan-Holiness Women Clergy.

Sunberg closed her inaugural address by saying, "When elected to this position a friend wrote and said, 'I'm not so much worried about what it [the seminary] looks like five years from now as I am about the fact that it still exists as an indispensable partner in ministerial preparation and competency for God-called ministers to a complex and needy world.'

"The winds may blow in ways we have never imagined and the look may never be the same, but may we allow the wind to take us in the direction of God's leading and may this place — this seminary — continue to be that 'indispensable partner' united together with God and with the Church in faithful service to God's mission in the world," she said. "With God, all things are possible!"

Episcopal Statement Issued from the Board of General Superintendents Concerning NPH

Today, Nazarene Communications Network published the following "Pastoral Letter" from the Board of General Superintendents.  This is a follow-up from the previous article posted on this blog.

To the Global Nazarene Family:

We are deeply saddened to inform you of the news that Nazarene Publishing House (NPH) will cease their current operations as of 1 December 2014. This date was announced to comply with the WARN Act (The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act), a Federal law in the United States. This act offers protection to workers, their families, and communities by providing notice 60 days in advance of large layoffs. Steps have been taken at this time to ensure that all NPH employees will retain their positions through 1 December 2014, with a severance package if they remain as employees through that date.

Hundreds of our Nazarene family members have sent letters and emails expressing concern and asking questions about what has happened and what is being done to deal with this crisis. This is evidence of how much you love your church and care about her mission. We wish there was a way to answer every inquiry personally. However, this letter is an attempt to address the church corporately.

There is much that could be said about how we have come to this point – certainly more than any letter can contain. But we feel it is important to try.

NPH has served its mission and our denomination faithfully and well for 102 years. It has provided excellent holiness literature, music, and resources. Hundreds of godly men and women have served the church through NPH. We owe them a debt of gratitude from the entire denomination. Words are not adequate to express our heartfelt thanks for their selfless, Christ-honoring service.

As a business, NPH has experienced many profitable years. A great deal of the income that has been generated through NPH has been poured back into the mission and work of the church, even beyond the walls of the House. Recent years have been more financially difficult. Due to shifting cultural circumstances including changes in the church, NPH has found itself having to adapt to new paradigms in order to maintain financial stability and sustainability. Net profits have decreased dramatically over the last decade to the point that the company was forced to draw heavily on financial reserves to stay afloat. The economic downturn of 2008 only deepened the pending crisis.

In 2012, with the election of a new leader for NPH by the General Board, plans were laid for yet another change in paradigm for NPH, including the acquisition of a new business unit for NPH. This was done with the sincere hope that NPH would be set on new trajectory and ultimately be stronger. Simply put: it did not work. It was a miscalculation on many levels. While it was obvious that the business model for NPH needed to change, we now know that these decisions likely hastened the crisis.

Over the course of the past year, many steps have been taken to try and rescue what we could. We have worked within our denominational structures, including the elected NPH Board of Directors, the Church of the Nazarene General Board Executive Committee, and many other individuals and entities to bring about the best resolutions possible. All of these individuals have worked faithfully and diligently navigating these difficult waters.

We have all done our best to act within the structures of our polity and to act on the information we had at any given moment. But we also acknowledge, that in the process, mistakes have been made, some systems have been inadequate, and even our best attempts for good and godly decisions have fallen short. This includes some actions of the Board of General Superintendents. We fully own and regret the ways we have contributed to the problems at hand.

In the midst of everything that has happened, perhaps our biggest regret is the breach of trust felt by many. We apologize for what has appeared as poor decisions, a failure to act sooner, or even the appearance of wrongdoing. There have been many times when the complexities of legal, financial, business, and polity issues prevented us from speaking widely about the issues at hand. We now realize our communication could have been and should have been much better. We ask your forgiveness for this.

Despite many opinions to the contrary, it is important to say, we do not believe anyone has made intentional decisions to hurt the church. Additionally, no World Evangelism Funds have been used to support the losses of NPH.

This has been a very difficult year for all involved. One member of our Board recently reflected, "This is the most difficult, complex crisis I have faced in all my years as a general superintendent." Hundreds of hours have been spent in conversation and prayer. There have been many times that we found ourselves at such a loss in knowing what to do next that we fell on our faces before God, crying out for His wisdom and discernment. God has been faithful to help.

We believe that God is even now at work to help us forge a new path.

The Board of General Superintendents took action several weeks ago to declare NPH in crisis. Since that time, a new crisis management team of advisors has been formed and is beginning the careful work of closing down the current operations of NPH.

Furthermore, in consultation with the General Board Executive Committee, we are also appointing a task force to help envision how holiness material will be provided for the future. While the current business model of NPH will be closing, this new way will continue to provide the necessary resources to educate and equip our pastors and laypersons around the world. NPH maintains resources that will help give birth to a new, dynamic publishing model.

More information regarding this new model will be forthcoming. In the meantime, several months of Sunday school curriculum is already prepared and will be available to our churches. NPH is in the process of shipping the December-January-February curriculum. They are also accepting orders, and working through the details with the intent to ship the March-April-May curriculum during the month of December.

We covet your continued prayers as we move forward. Most of all, we ask you to support the current NPH employees through prayer and any other way possible. They are our friends and loved ones.

We realize this letter will not answer every question and address every concern. Please receive it with the humility in which it is intended.

May God help us as we forge a new path to provide Wesleyan-Holiness resources that support our mission to make Christlike disciples in the nations.

Grace and peace,

--Board of General Superintendents

The letter, above, was originally published, here.  Let us be in prayer for the employees of NPH, for the future of NPH & for the bgs.