Monday, November 21, 2011

A Widespread Scriptural Departure

Gal.3:1-3 - O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?
2 This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?
3 Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?
hat a wonderful book is Paul’s letter to the church at Galatia! Combined with Romans and Hebrews, it lays out the case that we are no longer under the law, and that the New Covenant is one of the Spirit rather than one of the law. It is quite understandable how the early church might have become confused as to the complete and liberating nature of the New Covenant, but it is perplexing how those of us who have the written New Testament can continue to believe and practice things that speak of the law and fulfill the lusts of the religious flesh.
How many believers believe on the Lord Jesus Christ by faith, are born again, and then begin a journey that is filled with legalism and ecclesiastical observances that are antithetical to the Spirit and are in fact an attempt to meld the Mosaic Law with the covenant of grace? And some of these things are very obvious while others are very subtle. But the evangelical church has unwittingly embraced things which are contrary to the teachings of the New Testament and to the direction of God’s Spirit.
After the Reformation, Protestant denominations began to form. And some denominations, although rejecting the basic theology and structure of the Roman Catholic Church, still retained some of its practices that speak of Moses rather than of Jesus. The pastor wears a robe like the Old Testament priest, candles are lit as in the Tabernacle, there is an altar like in the Tabernacle, and many of the services are liturgical rather than led by God’s Spirit. All these things are shadows of the law and hinder true worship in the Spirit.
Of course some churches have gone way overboard with this freedom and have constructed services that are more entertainment than they are worship. We are not to use our freedom in the Spirit for an opportunity for the flesh, and that is what many churches do today. But the Spirit calls us to worship the Risen Christ from the heart without the manipulation of outward extremes that are either practices of the law or wild and carnal theatrics. But Paul goes further.
Gal.4:1-10 - Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all;
2 But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father.
3 Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world:
4 But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,
5 To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.
6 And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.
7 Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.
8 Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods.
9 But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?
10 Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years.

The Old Covenant was filled with all kinds of observances of days and years and feasts and circumcisions. The worship structure was in accordance with the Mosaic Law, and it contained many outward structures and elements upon which people set their hearts. Because they were not inhabited by God’s Spirit, God provided an outward structure that helped them in their worship, as well as prefigured Christ and the New Covenant which was to come. But when Christ died and resurrected, and when the Spirit descended and entered believers, the Old Covenant was to be done away with forever and only used to illuminate Christ through the teachings if its many facets and observances.
Can you remember after you were saved how the Spirit allowed you to see Christ in the Old Testament through things that unbelievers can never understand? All the feasts, the Day of Atonement, the scape goat, the Passover, the sacrificial lamb, the golden candlestick, the shew bread, and on and on and on it goes! All of which, although no longer observed, shine an unmistakable light upon the Redeemer and reveal their original divine purpose. All things, I SAID ALL THINGS, point to the Lord Jesus!
But Paul admonishes the believers at Galatia who had fallen under the spell of Jewish men who desired to mesh Christ with the law. And they had begun once again to observe the days and years and ceremonies associated with the Old Testament law. Were they saved? Yes, I believe they were. However they now were not worshiping God in the Spirit but in the flesh through the law which was now, by Paul’s own teachings, done away with.
II Cor.3:6-7 - Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.
7 But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away:
Rom.10:4 - For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.
e are no longer under the dictates or practices of the law, but of the Spirit. That means that we do not commit adultery, not because the Mosaic Law says we should not, but because the New Testament says we should not and the inward conviction of the Spirit forbids us as well. As Paul said, we should not use our freedom from the law for uncleanness, but that does not diminish the fact that we have liberty in Jesus Christ. The law has done what it was meant to do - lead us to Christ. But when we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ the grave clothes of the law fall from us and we should not put them on again.
In Romans Paul understands how this freedom could be misunderstood. He even asks rhetorically if we should continue to sin because we stand in grace. But instead of referring back to the law, he states that we are now dead to sin through faith in Christ. Reckon, Paul says, yourselves dead unto sin and alive unto Christ. Do you see? We don’t look to the Mosaic Law for direction, we look to Christ! Praise His matchless Name!
But now I want to address a subject that many cannot even consider. We as believers must walk in the Spirit and not in the flesh.
Rom.8:2 - For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.
If you remove from the law its divine purpose of being a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, you are left with nothing but death. It is the ministration of condemnation and it must not be given a seat at the table of grace. That is why insisting on posting the Ten Commandments is nothing but posting death. We are not called to post the Ten Commandments; we are called to preach Christ and Him crucified! The moral self righteousness and the desire to change society through the law has blinded the eyes of much of the church.
But now the pilot has turned on the “turbulence ahead” sign and you may want to buckle your seat belt. There is an observance and a practice within the church that is decidedly unchristian, but is so entrenched and so filled with sentimentality that most believers will not give it any scrutiny. It is observed and practiced by believer and atheist, Jew and Gentile, and is a main staple of this fallen culture. In fact, this observance serves to support much of the economic fabric of the culture and is a main source of personal debt. The world has called it “Christmas” and the church has followed suit.
There can be no more hollow and hedonistic practice than Christmas. It is the only so called birthday celebration where the party goers give each other birthday presents. And it does not matter that Christ was born in the fall, it still serves to scratch our religious as well as our material itch. And it does not matter that we are not supposed to observe things like that. People sit in pews and follow the dictates of their church with little or no scrutiny, and if they become enlightened to the unscriptural nature of such things, they often don a robe of judgment, condemnation, and self righteousness.
I do not want to wear that robe. However, even if Christmas was allowed and taught in the New Testament, do you think that in its present form God would approve? But in fact the observance of such days is another throwback to the law, and Paul’s letter to the church of Galatia is exactly what we need to hear today, just as if Paul was writing directly to us! It is unseemly how the church has embraced the fallen cultural observances. We consider ourselves so spiritual when we reject Halloween, when in fact, Christmas is much more grievous in its scope and practice.
Let us just take the monetary implications. Let us say that there were 20 million adult professing believers in 1960 (I am being conservative I think.). And let us say each believer spent $100 on Christmas through gifts, food, and travel (I am being conservative I think.). That means that we spent 2 billion dollars upon ourselves each year, and without adding inflation and more believers and what the local churches spend, that means that in the last fifty years we have spent over 100 billion dollars on ourselves observing a practice we say belongs to Christ. To be fair, the number is probably closer to 1 trillion dollars.
Now I ask you, without even referring to the teachings of Scripture, is that something the church can defend? With billions of people without adequate food and water, and with billions of people in need of full time missionary outreaches, how can we continue such a thing? And does it not make you ponder when the world is so comfortable observing the same event? What does that tell us about the spiritual essence of Christmas? It is not a witness or even a stumbling block to the lost - it is religious cotton candy!
I am not a legalist. There are many believers who love and serve the Lord Jesus who observe Christmas. I understand that. But that does not make it right in the eyes of God. And I know it is so entrenched in our culture, both secular and religious, that it is most difficult to even examine. And when we think of our children going without Christmas, well then we cave in quickly. I realize that. And as I said, it is very easy to become pompous as self righteous when you have left that kind of observance.
But I cannot stay silent, and I simply desire to present what I believe the Spirit would have of me. I suggest no private revelation or any loftier communication with God not available to all believers. But I truly believe, when examined in a cultural vacuum and without the pressures and influences of this fallen world, that observing Christmas cannot be defended and is an open affront to the teachings of the New Testament and the Spirit of Christ.
And if you see some of what I am saying but you cannot as yet fully abstain from Christmas, can I suggest a first step? Instead of saying “Merry Christmas” or even “Have a Blessed Christmas”, say “The Savior of the world has come!” At least that accurately represents the glory of what Bethlehem was all about!


Anonymous said...

I agree with you wholeheartedly on this, Rick. My husband doesn't want to stop celebrating it, though, so - there it is.

However, I've gently explained to our daughter that Jesus was most likely born in the fall and that the origins of Christmas are pagan/catholic. She came up to me one day and suggested we call it something else - because even though she was only nine at the time - she could see that continuing to celebrate Jesus' birthday was hypocritical. She suggested "winter celebration". It's not Christian, not entirely pagan - and she gets to continue receiving presents and making cookies (in the shapes of mittens, snowflakes and snowmen). And it's just what it is - a winter celebration - a time to enjoy getting together with people and having fun with them. In a way, I think, it's a good compromise. She's fully aware that the day isn't meaningful to Jesus - but it is an excuse to have fun with friends and family when the skies are gray and it's cold and snowy.

As far as spending money...most of what people get from me is homemade jam and bread. And what I say to people is "Happy Holidays" because that includes all the days that people consider special to themselves. I don't believe in - or even care for - Christmas. But...others do. Even though I don't believe in it - it doesn't mean I need to go around all bristly...lecturing people on it. I prefer to just sort of ignore it and spread Jesus' love wherever I go.


Rick Frueh said...

Something to read, Lisa.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Rick...
I read that before and read it again today and I agree with it.
I don't celebrate Christ's Mass and I don't celebrate the winter solstice or Hannukah or Kwanza or whatever else people celebrate. I just sort of ignore it all.

In the past I have made my point to people as to why I don't recognize Christmas - and they look at me like they really can't begin to understand. I was told by my grandmother that I needed to get the Christmas Spirit! And she's supposed to be a Christian.
I told her that I didn't need the Christmas Spirit as I had the Holy Spirit and that is the only Spirit I need or want. Again I get the puzzled look and nervous smile. Whatever makes you happy, she said. I said, no, whatever makes the Lord happy. She still didn't get it.

So, now I just wish everyone a happy holiday and sort of try to ignore the whole thing. My daughter and I enjoy making mitten and snowflake cookies and decorating with snowmen. It gets to be a long, dark winter and that sort of lightens it up a bit. It's just a fun thing, you know.

I'll be glad when the scrooge and santa shows are over, though they give an opportunity to discuss what Christian giving really is and what following Jesus really means.

One can come down on the false traditions and speak out against them - or one can let one's light shine with truth and joy, spreading the love of Jesus every day of the year. Which one might be more effective?


Lisa G. said...

Thanks Rick for you thoughts in this post, and allowing us to add our own.
Lisa, my husband does not wish to stop celebrating it either- and as wives, that leaves us to pray and wait for the Lord to change their hearts- a really tough thing for me to do, admittedly. I did however begin a few years ago to share with my sons (and extended family who profess faith in Jesus) why I believe that the practice is unbiblical. I am so blessed that my teenagers love the Lord and are very teachable, because like you, I have encountered some tough opposition with the extended family to the notion that there is anything wrong with the practice. Mostly, I am dismissed as being just too serious, and reminded that I am not in a leadership position to have any opinion that has much weight, never mind it's roots, or what Galatians teaches. First I defected on Halloween/Hallelujah parties and patriotic holidays, and that was bad enough, but to touch the sacred cows of Easter and Christmas seem to be one step too far. I wonder if those who are elder take it as a rebuke, because after all they were instrumental in passing the tradition to our generation, or if it is because they really believe that if it was such a big deal the 'leaders' in the Church would be the ones to address it. I have decided that if I have to be the one to take a relational hit as I examine and prove all things and hold fast to that which is good, then so be it. I know I am only responsible first, to Him for this Truth He has given me, and secondly for what I teach my children in this regard. If I can only live up to what He has called me to, then I know I have served him well. It's not comfortable at all, I (that is my flesh) would much rather just blend in and go with the flow... but Lisa, I pray that God receive all the glory in our lives, and perhaps our children's choices will effect a change in the Church that we would have never imagined- Although I do wonder if He will tarry long enough for that to ever be.....Lisa G.

Anonymous said...

thank you for this post. as i get to know the Lord more, the less i want my family to participate in "holidays" that depart from Who Jesus is and what He has done. i really appreciate the suggested greeting/farewell at the end. i didn't want to say either of the usuals, so this alternative is perfect.

Anonymous said...

Hi Lisa G.,
You're right in that as wives, we must wait for the Lord to change their hearts. And we're to influence them not so much with words but by our actions...our holy conduct.
When my husband was a kid, his mother was very against pretty much everything that seemed fun or worldly. She was a sour-faced woman who hated everything and went around telling people they were going to hell for (wearing pants, trick or treating, smoking, listening to music with drums or any music that wasn't hymns from after 1943, or...any number of other things). That will turn people away from Christ real quick and almost guarantee rebellion. That's the way she was. No way can I even begin to have that attitude - nor would I want to - but especially not with him.
So, in our house I have to be very careful how I approach these things. I must be gentle and prayerful, but then - even without his having that background - that's how I should be anyway.

Thank you for understanding, sister!