When Gunmen Enter Churches

Chills. Shock. Terror. Anger.

These feelings partnered with a hosts of others coursed through my body this past week. I sat before my laptop aghast at the barbarism and treachery so evidently displayed in the mass shooting at a church in Texas. I could barely stomach the reports. Twenty-six dead, among them an 18-month old child. I could only clutch my family ever more tightly and plead with the God of all comfort.

Within an hour texts and emails began to stream across my phone. Friends were rightfully outraged. Parents were understandably shaken. Questions flooded my mind and were echoed by our churchgoers. Why does this continue to occur in our country? Where is God during these attacks? Is it safe to come to church anymore? What steps should we take now…?

The famed Prince of Preachers once declared, “Half our fears arise from neglect of the Word.” He was not stating that every terror is produced from failing to live in Scripture, but rather that proper doctrinal instruction and the testimony of the Holy Spirit calms our souls during seasons of grief and moments of tragedy. Paul declares to Timothy that God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind (2 Tim. 1:7). In the face of extreme loss and horrific violence the apostle is ensuring us that the Spirit of God does not lead us to play into trepidation, but rather to face fear in the strength Christ has provided, with loving action and godly wisdom. Of course, the prospect of something like what happened in Sutherland Springs happening in our own church is beyond frightening, but godly concern should never give way to non-sensical, God-doubting terror. As feeble servants of a steadfast Sovereign, we should remind ourselves of the Spirit-inspired words of Paul and seek to walk in what the Spirit provides.

Power

As Christ followers clinging to the truth of Scripture, the sovereignty of God, and the reality of His sweet providential working through suffering, we have a very unique position and perspective in this world. We understand these truths, can rest in them, and can encourage others to do the same because of the power of the Holy Spirit residing within. During moments of devastating loss and crippling fear, we should, armed with the Word and filled with the Spirit, speak the truth to troubled hearts (including our own).

Love

This is not the time to press forward our political position concerning firearms on social media. Twenty-six individuals were murdered. Twenty others lie in hospital beds. Families are mourning. A town is reeling. What these victims, these families, and this community needs is love. We exercise Gospel-affection for them through prayer. Don’t simply nod your head and agree with this sentiment. Instead, stop right now and pray. We don’t need more Christians who “believe” in the power of prayer; rather we need Christians who pray.

Self-discipline

This is not the time to freak out. However, neither should we just ignore the alarming events and senseless violence that continues to plague our world. We live in a fractured, sin-riddled, self-serving society and until Jesus returns we will continue to see rampant wickedness – at times in the form of violent outbursts. Therefore, we as believers can ill-afford to bury our heads in the warm suburban sand while the world around burns. Instead, we should, with the Spirit gifted self-discipline we possess, prepare. Prepare in the Word for the legitimate questions that will undoubtedly come from believers, unbelievers, and even our own fledging hearts when pain assaults. Prepare to protect our families and our churches from senseless acts of violence. Prepare to serve those who will suffer under the injustice of a sin-filled world. Self-discipline means that we will not be reactive to atrocities and loss, but proactive in speaking out against injustice and intentionally pursuing Gospel peace.

As the blood-bought bride of the resurrected and sovereign King, eternally loved by His Father, and infused by His Spirit with power, love, and self-discipline, let’s resolve, in the face of darkness, to live as people of hope.

Semper Reformanda.

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Why No Altar Call

Halloween is nearly upon us and candy is flying off store shelves as kids and adults alike search for the perfect costume. Some costumes will be humorous, others whimsical, while others will be down right disturbing. If I can be straight up, I’ll admit that a nightmarish H-day costume for me would be of a King Jimmy toting, three piece suit wearing tent-revival preacher who, with cherry-red face and sweat-soaked brow implores the listeners to “come to the altar” as the calypso eerily plays just one more stanza of “Just As I Am.” Ok, so that would be more frightening scene than holiday outfit, but either way, that haunting nostalgia would freak me out.

For those who did not grow up in the church – particularly the white-knuckling, Bible-thumping, altar-calling church of the southeast United States – the above setting would bore but not bother you. However, for those, like myself, who were subjected to this environment (not at the hands of my parents, thank God, but in some churches/camps of my youth) you know the emotionalism, coercion, and manipulation that at times cascaded from oversized pulpits. Fear-mongering and even bullying was common place during “invitations.” To this day, if I am at a concert, a youth camp, or a worship gathering and someone wraps down their talk with “now, bow your heads and close yours eyes…no one looking around…raise your hand…walk this aisle…” I instinctively cringe. So, to say I have a tainted history surrounding what some would label an “altar call” would perhaps be an understatement.

 

For those who are unfamiliar with what I am addressing, you are likely bored by this point, but if you are still reading allow me to summarize. An “altar call” is a tradition in some denominations or churches within evangelicalism in which those who wish to make a new spiritual commitment to Jesus are invited to come forward publicly, gather at the “altar,” and pray. Though some churches would hold this tradition to be a sacred necessity of genuine Christianity, it is in actuality a recent historic practice. In the late 18th century God began to stir once again throughout the newly formed United States. This movement of theological accuracy and mass soul transformation came to be known as The Second Great Awakening. In an effort to corral believers and report conversions, preachers came up with a system that required devotees to make public professions in crusades or church services. Other early names for the “altar call” were the “the anxious seat” or the “mourner’s box.” The most famous (or I would say “infamous”) revivalist of the 19th century was a former lawyer by the name of Charles Grandison Finney. Finny is championed by some current evangelicals, but in actuality promulgated much false doctrine including a denial of substitutionary atonement, original sin, and imputed righteousness. He preached moral rectitude and meritorious righteousness, as evidenced by his systematic theology. He believed in sinless perfection for the believer, and therefore each time a Christian transgressed he or she fell from grace and was in need of salvation once more. It was Finney who popularized the altar call as a means of roping people back into “believing again.” The tradition gained steam in the late 19th century with the preaching of D.L. Moody and Billy Sunday and accelerated under the ministry of Billy Graham in the 20th century.

Over the course of the past 5 years I have received at least a dozen inquiries into why we at BLDG 28 do not employ an altar call, with the most recent coming just last week. It is not because we believe that altar calls are from the pit of Hades or woefully outdated. Rather, there are legitimate concerns that give us considerable reason to shelf this tradition:

We do not want folks to be confused over “the means” of the Gospel. 

It is faith that unites us to Christ, not strolling down an aisle or gathering at an altar (Romans 3:24).

We do not want folks to place their faith in a decision, a movement, or a prayer, but rather in Christ Jesus.

I am not a Christian because I repeated a trite prayer or raised my hand in church. I am a Christian because King Jesus lived, died, and lives again to gift me saving faith and reconcile me to Himself. When asked how we know we are truly Christian, our response should be that we are trusting Him (Acts 16:30).

We want to avoid any hint of manipulation. 

I don’t want someone begrudgingly “taking” Jesus just because I was overly coercive or wouldn’t shut up. I want them to trust Jesus because the Spirit of God, through the Word of God, by sound preaching has opened up their hearts to actually love God.

We do not want to grant false assurance. 

There are countless people, particularly in the Bible-belt southeast that would ardently claim that they have Jesus because they have done one or all of the action items I’ve spelled out above. Their assurance is tethered to something they did for God rather than something God has done for them. We can have assurance of salvation and it is a beautiful thing. But that assurance is found in the sovereignty of God, the conviction of the Spirit, the denial of self, the submission to the Scriptures, and the merits of Jesus – not in my religious practice.

While I would never condemn a church or preacher for utilizing an altar call, I would advise such a church/minister to do so cautiously and without manipulation. As for us at BLDG 28, we have been privileged – through the unadulterated Gospel – to see legitimate conversions take place regularly over the past five years, and will continue to rest in the Spirit, to take His Word, regenerate hearts, and use our impassioned pleadings surrounding Jesus to bring rebels home.

Semper Reformanda

How Dare You Celebrate Halloween?

It’s that time of year. Leaves falling, temperatures dropping (ok, perhaps in some places – still feels like June here in the sunshine state), football in full swing, and everything scented or flavored pumpkin. Tagging along with the fall is that dreadful and diabolical holiday known as “Halloween.” It’s the day that causes costume-clad children to rejoice and Bible-belt zealots to bristle. Sugar laced candy and self-righteous censure seamlessly flow together. After a few folks asked for my opinion on the day, and one surly religious zealot derided me for celebrating the day, I decided that it might be helpful to meander down the Halloween lane, and amidst the ghosts, goblins, spooky flicks, cotton candy, scream masks, superman suits, and hayrides, ask the all important question.

Can Christians celebrate Halloween?

The darker origins of this holiday are primarily rooted in a Celtic festival, called Samhain, celebrated at the conclusion of each harvest season. Samhain – literally meaning “Summer’s End” – was a time to reflect on the prosperities of summer and prepare for the dark, colder months ahead. During this time livestock would be slaughtered for the winter, and the carcasses of the dead animals would be set a blaze in large bonfires across the Irish countryside. Though not originally the intent, Samhain became known as the time at which the door to the “otherworld” was opened, and communication with the dead could occur. Souls of loved ones were beckoned to enter this world, which obviously gave rise to occultic activity. With this insurgence of demonic movement, many people in Ireland chose to disguise themselves during Samhain to “trick” the evil spirits. This custom was passed down through the centuries and became the festive tradition that it is today rather than the seemingly necessary ritual of the dark ages. Unfortunately when most Christians today hear the word “Halloween” they are inclined to equate it to Samhain. However, while some would use this holiday to solicit the dead and perform works of darkness (as they would with any holiday), the majority of Americans, and more specifically Christians, would not.

 

While congregations across our land (specifically meaning the southeast) host fall festivals and trunk or treats, imploring children to masquerade as cowboys, princesses, ninjas, and superheroes, they tip-toe around the “H” word simply calling a spade a heart. What many fail to realize is that the “H” word is far from a dirty word in origin. The name “Halloween” is actually a Christian term coming from the 16th century and meaning “All Hallows Eve” – the day before “All Saints Day.” All Saints Day was a time set aside each year on November 1 to honor and remember those who have served, lived for, and even been martyred for Christ. Though some of varying religions have corrupted this day, turning it to adoration of the saints, the original design for this day was to remember Christians gone before and learn from their example (as we are called to do in Hebrews 12:1).

All Hallows Eve also holds a special place in the hearts of those who celebrate the light that broke through in the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther, a monk we would now remember fondly on All Saints Day, nailed the 95 Thesis on the door of Castle Church in Wittenburg, Germany, on October 31, 1517. This was a major spark to ignite the revival that swept across Europe, bringing about theological and clerical purity throughout the church.

It is strangely ironic to me that both Christmas and Easter actually have far more pagan roots than does Halloween. Yet most Christians celebrate both of the former while boycotting the latter. Can we just be legit and admit that all three holidays in their most tragic and oft celebrated form pull folks in droves away from Jesus. And that if we can use Christmas and Easter to point our kidos and a watching world to Christ, then we can certainly do this through All Hallows Eve as well.

All of this being said, we can, as Christians, undoubtedly and with a clear conscience celebrate a day like Halloween – though the world has corrupted it as the world has corrupted Easter and Christmas – because on it we remember the Reformation and the saints that have gone on before us, and we enjoy the holiday for what it should be, not for what Sanheim and parts of the world have twisted it to be. This certainly does not mean that you have to celebrate this holiday, and I am by no means asking for you to betray your conscience or commanding you to dress up and pound candy; but should you choose to celebrate let’s have some fun and use this holiday for kingdom advancement with our eternal objective in mind – to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

Semper Reformanda