Why this Pastor Loves Atheists

Yes, I do in fact legitimately love atheists.

In a culture that has produced and promoted many lies in the name or for the sake of love, perhaps the most glaring is that to love someone is to accept all that he or she is, including beliefs and practices. This is the height of absurdity. I love my 2 year old, but I don’t let her walk into the pool, however ardently she may desire to do so, because I know it would most likely produce catastrophic results. We don’t allow an addict to continue in their damaging behavior because we are fully aware that what they crave is harmful not only to themselves but to those who love them.

In fact, genuine love both philosophically and Biblically always seeks what is ultimately best for the one loved, even if that contradicts methods practiced or positions espoused. The love that I have for the unbelieving in no way condones or excuses poor behavior or erroneous beliefs. At the same time, my declaration of love for atheists (as well as agnostics, skeptics and cynics) is in no way an exaggeration or falsehood. While acknowledging our rank differences, here are 5 reasons why I truly love the anti-theistic crowd:

  1. They are thinkers.

I hate generalizations. Herding massive amounts of individuals into a one-size-fits-all-of-this-type categorization is nauseating. I understand that there are rude atheists and polite atheists, just as there are rude believers and polite believers. I also understand that not all atheists think deeply and not all Christians are emotionally charged, weak-minded flakes (though the list of best selling Christian resources on Amazon might beg to differ). Admittedly, I do not have a natural fondness for those who base their conjectures primarily (or even solely) on feelings, and this would include both the religious and the non-religious crowds. So one of the things I have loved about many agnostic/atheistic writers/debaters/friends is that they are truly attempting to explore and understand the most haunting questions of our existence. They do not fear to wade into deep philosophical waters. They are legitimately on the hunt for truth – if such a winged beast or demi-god even exists – and in this pursuit they have my admiration and my camaraderie.

  1. They care for those suffering in this world.

The primary gripe of atheists with the God they deny but simultaneously love to hate, is that he is capricious. He is a detached Dictator. The perpetual pain and prolific suffering in the world testify to this reality. While the logical progression behind this argument is, I believe, flawed – which I’ll explore in week three of our upcoming sermon series – it reveals to me that there are many non-believers who are full of compassion for those hurting across our planet. While our motives for caring (myself and the non-believer) are drastically different, I can see and am moved by the expression of their concern nonetheless.

  1. They have caused me to examine deeply my own beliefs.

Some of the most meaningful conversations of my life have taken place across from a fellow who has postulated positions antithetical to my own. Some of the most mind-jarring, soul-searching books or blogs I have ever read were penned by a devout Divine antagonist. I find myself drawn to the works of Hitch, and feel as though he and I – had we ever met – could have been good friends and I would have seen my faith in Christ deepen through his faithlessness. Though I wouldn’t encourage most Christians to read the works of Hitchens, Dawkins, Singer, or Harris, I have been challenged by their writing and led by the Truth (as arrogant as they would say that sounds) into a deeper and more robust understanding of God’s glory and grace.

  1. They are unashamed of the doctrine they embrace. 

If only this could be truly stated of American evangelicals: “they are unashamed of the doctrine (the Gospel of Jesus) that they embrace.” As I study anti-theism I am baffled by the devotion of its adherents to a hopeless fatalism almost as much as I am baffled by the dearth of devotion within Christianity to a hope-delivering Savior. How can folks who are so wrong in their admittedly dark and maddening worldview be so staunch is declaring and defending it? Theologically and even anthropologically there exist answers to this question; but whatever those answers may be, the depth of their resolve is both admirable and convicting.

  1. They are image bearers of the Divine.

While denying the very One who gave them the breath and the voice to deny Him, the anti-theists, atheists, agnostics, and cynics are in no way any less bearers of the Divine Image. They were made – mind, soul, and body – in the very likeness of the God they choose to suppress. My worldview, my doctrine, and the work of the Holy Spirit in my soul have convinced me that all of life – even the life of one who would defame or deny the existence of the King – is a precious, irreplaceable gift. As a unique expression of the Creator’s design, who the Lord of life died to save, I truly do love unbelievers and from that love will battle and dialogue to see truth triumph in these beautiful lives.

This Sunday I’ll begin a new sermon series at BLDG 28 entitled “Your God is Too…” I will offer a defense, in kindness and genuine love, of the Hope that lives within me. I look forward to the conversations this series will spawn between believing and non-believing friends and hope that through those conversations, the questions that will be raised, and the answers that will be given, genuine Love will prevail, pushing back darkness and ushering in light.

Semper Reformanda. 

Advertisements

When Love is Gone

“What do I do when love isn’t there?”

The inquiry came from a young man who approached me after I had pulled the pin and chucked the grenade of the “love chapter” during my Sunday sermon. The thought-provoking, soul-convicting body of 1 Corinthians 13 had apparently thumped a nerve with this gent prompting him to posit a question that I receive on multiple occasions – primarily from married folk: I know the Bible commands us to love according to the example and standard of Jesus…but what do I do when it just isn’t there? How do I love when I don’t feel it? Do I simply fake it ’til I make it? It would be easy to answer this query in triteness, but the reality is that the lack of genuine, God-glorifying, truth-clutching, soul-changing love has become a massive epidemic in evangelicalism and therefore must be addressed in candid prudence.

As I have surveyed the pages of Scripture, chatted this subject up with wise men and women, and consorted with those who excel in and fail to love, I have established four principles that must be followed if we are to love (our spouses, our children, our friends, and our Christian brothers and sisters) in the way that God commands.

1 :: Ask
It cannot be overstated – prayer is essential to loving as Christ has called us to love. The sacrificial devotion of 1 Corinthians 13 is so counter-cultural and self-denying that we must be unabashedly Spirit-dependent in order to “walk in brotherly affection.” Jesus calls His followers not to love moderately well but to love in Divine perfection – as He Himself loved (John 13:34). In a culture that prizes emotionalism, eroticism, and self-gratification this can sound practically impossible. Yet Jesus promised that His Father will give the Spirit to whoever petitions (Luke 11:13) and in the power of the Spirit we can do all things (Philippians 4:13). Therefore, let’s beg the Father to fill us with His Spirit and drive deep within us a Divine-like devotion that burns ever brighter.

2 :: Accept
When love seems to have escaped our lives it is imperative that we seek and accept godly counsel. Practical steps will assist us in walking in faithful devotion, so listen to sound advice and implement pragmatic guidelines from folks who consistently demonstrate and live in Christian love.

3 :: Act
In his brilliant work Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis writes: “Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.” I agree with the British novelist. Expressions of love (actions) are not in themselves love but they can help in developing and maturing love. I am not calling for inauthenticity or fraudulent behavior. Rather I am calling for lives that choose to demonstrate devotion in the earnest hope of finding devotion. Purpose to act in love and there is little doubt that love for others will develop.

4 :: Adore
Never yet have I encountered a follower of Jesus who was enraptured with their Savior while living in apathy or even hostility toward brothers and sisters in the faith. Of course, the primary reason that we strive to see and savor Christ is that He is absolutely worth that adoration; but a bi-product of adoration for Christ is deep-seeded affection for His people. In fact, it is quite clear historically and Biblically that a lack of devotion to others is directly linked to a lack of devotion to Jesus Himself (John 13:35). Loving Christ flows forth in love for others. Therefore, seek to know and adore the Lover of our souls.

Semper Reformanda.

Seven Ways to Father Well

For the first couple years of being a dad my running mantra to other fathers was: “Here’s what I think…but then again I’ve been a father for about 5 minutes.” My advice, however solid, foolish, or naive, always came with it a disclaimer. I had forever chuckled at parental advice from those without children, and had therefore been reticent, before my own kiddos arrived, to hand out child-training tips. Even with the arrival of Spurgeon (my first born) I was reluctant to advise for a couple of years. However, having consumed a half-dozen books on the topic, perused countless blogs, seen the good and bad of fatherhood from friends and acquaintances, and recently enjoyed my fourth Father’s Day as a pop, I figured I would jot down lessons I am learning in my pursuit of being a strong, godly father. Most of these principles have substantial Biblical backing and in none of these principles have I achieved perfection. I am learning, struggling, and pressing through but I already see a ton of fruit in the lives of my kids through the faithful implementation of these principles.

1 :: Husband Faithfully 

The statistics are alarming. Many men who end up addicted to pornography and with a skewed sense of love are products of affection-less parents. Kids need to see their father spend time with, date, hug, affirm, and prize their mother. This is the best example for them of how men are to treat women, and women men. I will admit, I am far more cerebral than emotional so open affection and flowery romance does not come naturally for me – and I know it doesn’t for many men. But if we desire to father well it all begins with how we love our bride.

2 :: Work Diligently

Laziness seems to be an increasing epidemic in this generation. The pithy mottos of “everyone is a winner” and “you can have anything you want just ‘cause you want it” have come back to bite. Fathers should be teaching their sons – particularly through example – how to work hard. Diligence is almost always rewarded and our kids should see us, particularly at home, laboring feverishly to meet the needs of family and the demands of the home.

3 :: Laugh Frequently

Life is cumbersome with many deadlines, dilemmas, and disappointments. In spite of these things, God gives us ample opportunity to enjoy life and laugh often and we should – with our children – take full advantage. Don’t confuse why you work: work to live, not the other way around. Punch out after putting in a solid day of diligent labor. Come home to actually be with and enjoy your family. Put the phone away, the remote down, and relish the Divine gifts of laughter and amusement. For the past three years Dink and I have encountered heartache and loss, yet we are endeavoring to press through those trials and savor the fleeting moments with our kiddos.

4 :: Discipline Consistently

This is tough. Many parents either allow their kids to run roughshod with little correction (to the bewilderment of those in their church, school, or community) or incarcerate their children in a tiny prison of perfection and robotic behavior. Neither is healthy or right. Consistent discipline, not punishment, is what is best and what is Biblical. Punishment is paying back my kid for bad behavior; discipline is instructing my child toward right behavior. Whatever your form of discipline may be, I would strongly encourage you to be consistent, be calm (don’t get angry or hostile), be informative (let them know why they are being corrected), and be loving.

5 :: Hug Routinely

More than any other, this principle should go without saying, but in the hustle and bustle of life we often forget to actually exhibit the love that we have for our children. Kids need tangible expressions of affection. Hand-holding, hugging, cuddling, and kissing your kiddos is proven to increase their health (mentally and physically) and happiness.

6 :: Teach Regularly

The world around us will not cease in attempting to catechize our children. Allow this vicious instructor to stand at the head of the classroom and your children will learn idolatry, discontent, and disrespect. Instead, silence the voice of a godless culture, and rise up to regularly educate your kids. God has gifted us unending instructional opportunities and as fathers we should snatch up these opportunities. Through Scripture, literature, history, narrative, and experience, teach your children life skills, respectful behavior, sports, crafts, art, truth, and the list rolls onward. Disciple them to know, love, and serve God. Don’t allow a day to pass without some type or form of direction taking place. It’s what their little minds and souls need.

7 :: Live Authentically 

Hypocrisy has driven more children from their parents and the church than any other vice. To be clear, hypocrisy is not failing to live up to your established values, but rather is putting on a mask and projecting yourself as something that you are not. While fathers can fool the crowds, they cannot fool their kiddos. Children will see the mask for what it is and grow increasingly repulsed by it. Living authentically means that I am striving to live according to what I know and declare to be right, acknowledging and apologizing when I fail, and reminding myself and my kids of the enormity and undeservedness of God’s remarkable grace.

I truly hope to see men take seriously the gift that is fatherhood and strive forward to lead and love their children well.

Semper Reformanda

Condemnation and Affection?

How could a loving God condemn…?”

The email inquiry came from a concerned mother. It was not at all a new question but the subject matter stilll caused me to bite my lower lip as the angst of that mother is shared deeply by this father. In a culture that adores, preaches, and rationalizes from “love,” the concept of a God who would judge, indict, and damn seems alarmingly and tragically far from loving.

I do want to answer this question – not only for this mother’s sake but also, again, for my own – but first a simple reality has to be plainly stated. Truth is: love as we know and embrace it has been more so defined by culture, society, and our own emotions than it has by Scripture. Here we sit, in close proximity to Valentine’s Day where men desperately scramble for flowers, chocolate, and reservations. Not that I’m capping on V-Day, but if we are honest the 14th of February has been designated as a consumeristic holiday of getting if you’re loved and being discouraged – cause you didn’t get – if you’re (seemingly) not. In essence, the day of roses and hearts is clearly indicative of how our culture views “love.”

However, Scripture paints a differing definition. When the Bible speaks of love – particularly the love of God – is uses the Greek word agape. This is an intense term carrying with it the idea of volition far more than emotion. Agape is a choice to love and as depicted in Christ is carried out in devotion, steadfastness, and sacrifice. It is not dictated by feeling but by appointed favor. In other words, God’s commitment to His children is not in flux but rather is fixed. He does not love me less when I screw up and He does not (can not) love me more when I read my Bible, spend an hour in prayer, share the Gospel, or choose Fireproof for my family movie night. His love is not conditional or consumeristic. He continues – in the face of our faithfulness and flailing – to give us what we desperately need: Himself. All the good gifts of this life – including breath in our lungs, children to hold, relationships to foster, accidents avoided, and – on a deeper level – reconciliation to God, peace for eternity, rescue from sin (the list keeps rolling) – all flow to us as testaments of Divine presence. In commonality, humanity receives temporal “gifts” as a product of God’s benevolent presence. Specifically, Christians receive not only “common grace” but the very presence of God’s favor upon us.

The love a parent has for a child typically depicts Divine, salvific love more closely than anything else in this life. Which brings us to a statement raised in the email from the young mother… I have children…I would never condemn them for not choosing me… To which I reply, neither would God. Not one child of God has ever been condemned. In fact, Scripture and the Reformed tradition teach us that God loved his family so much that He actually, actively persuades – by His Spirit – His kids to love and follow Him. Having been convinced of the worth of God Himself, by God Himself, all the “brothers and sisters of Christ Jesus” do freely and willingly, by faith, choose the presence of God and the pleasures found in His good, Redeeming grace.

However, obviously (though unpopularity stated) not everyone is a member in God’s family. All humanity enjoys, to some degree, the temporal blessings of God’s common presence. However, death will eventually bring an end to temporal blessing and then the haunting question will be: did you take (by faith) God – not just His gifts but His Person – while you enjoyed His temporal blessings, or did you reject Him. If an individual brushed off Christ in this life now in an effort to worship His gifts to them, in essence declaring, “I don’t want God,” then when this life is over they will actually receive what they wished for: the removal of God’s gracious presence and good gifts. That – while in no way being trite – is the condemnation justly deserved for all those who say “no” to the Divine’s invitation to join His family and experience intimacy with Him.

God does have a general affection for each individual, but His unrelenting, continually pursuing, constantly giving agape is reserved only for His sons and His daughters; and for those whom He has brought into His home there is no condemnation.

Semper Reformanda

The Year We Hope For…

…versus the year we may get.

The fireworks have streamed through the midnight sky, “Auld Lang Syne” has been sung, and 2018 has dawned fresh with possibility and, for many, a renewed sense of hope. Glasses raised we toast our friends and petition our God for a stress-free, healthy, and happy year. And while we can certainly wish, hope, and work toward this goal, reality is simple and stark: the year we hope for will very likely not be the year we receive.

Some might say that I am too down-trodden by the events of the past year to pen a post on hope for the new; but I’ve found that when we are at our low points (and often most honest points) God works and ministry rolls out. I’m tired of all the regurgitated, trite Christian idioms that we toss about to sooth our beleaguered souls but in actuality do more harm that good. I’m all for authenticity – straight up, brutal truth. So, while in one breath I wish you a happy new year, in the next breath I’ll direct your hope – if you’ll allow – beyond the flip calendar full of empty promises and misapplied Scripture, to the bigger (and deeper) picture about which God truly cares.

Each Sunday I pace back and forth before a few hundred people attempting to understand and unpack in coherence the difficult claims of Scripture. For many, if not most of them, I think they believe it comes easy for me. In reality, each week – and at times – each hour, I have to look at a burning world, a wrecked society, abandoned children, unspeakable tragedy and choose in the face of the fire to believe. In reality…faith – the clinging to hope and choosing to trust – comes harder for me than for most I am called to shepherd. For some that may sound alarms, and if they are looking for a pastor who will tug on a mask and pump them with fluff and send them into a world that in the spiritual realm eerily resembles The Walking Dead then I wish them well. My job isn’t to tell anyone that 2018 will be easy, that money will fall from the skies if you live like a worship warrior, or that if you “let go and let God” He’ll give you the best. Even the intellectual non-believing community agrees that is garbage; yet some Christians ferociously cling to this pollution that tickles their ears while hollowing out their souls.

Job got it right when he – far more wrecked than I – declared that man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward. Lazarus was faithful and begged for crumbs. Jesus’ cousin chowed on bugs and wailed truth from a wilderness only to land in prison with his head severed for the amusement of a teen. Even Jesus – the best by a long shot – was emotionally, physically, psychologically, and spiritually abused by those He came to rescue from the ruin. Simply (and Biblically stated) with every year that passes the chances of trouble, pain, heartbreak and loss rise.

A couple weeks ago, in an installment of our Advent series, I laid out, from the stage,  some of the challenges that have assaulted my life and the lives of those within BLDG 28 in 2017. Upon stating the brokenness and remarking that 2018 would likely be no better, I then sarcastically quipped, “So…merry Christmas.” A few chuckled at my snarky assertion; but as this year has rolled on I realize increasingly more that the declaration I made in jest is in actuality what my soul and yours needs as we enter 2018: to be merry.

To be absolutely clear, I am not speaking of mind-numbing, reality-denying glee. Rather  I am referencing the term in the way it was originally intended. You see, in the mid-centuries the term merry carried with it the ideas of strength, power, or might. This makes the meaning of Robin Hood’s “merry” men more serious and the lyrics of the carol “God Rest (make) Ye Merry Gentlemen” more substantive. To resound “Merry Christmas” was far more than a bypassing wish; it was a bold declaration that the Mighty One has come.

And He didn’t come to answer all our most earnest temporal petitions (as truly difficult as that is for me to swallow). He came to suffer and be murdered under the direction of God (why it had to be this way is for a much longer, much deeper, perhaps much darker conversation) to in finality crush evil and restore souls. I get it – it’s a bit less fun that smiling out our typical “Merry Christmas” and glibly believing that all will be well in 2018; but we don’t need the trite and light to amuse us this new year. Instead, we need the truth to empower and move us.

As much as we may want to pray for health, for a major hurricane to dramatically jog north leaving not a trace of devastation, or for our baby’s heart rate to recover, there is no Biblical or historical guarantee that God will answer any of these heart-wrenching entreaties. Rather, as we read Scripture and parse through history (including our own) it becomes brazenly evident that God is utterly concerned with saving and strengthening souls to bring increased fame to Himself. So we pray, hope, and strive to that end – to the end that truly, after this year is gone and we look back on 2018 with regrets, fondness, or pain, will really matter. The pain will most likely arrive at some point between now and next Christmas. Will we have the soul strength to face it?

As the new year dawns, the hope for this busted up soul is simple: no significant emotional duress, zero surgeries, and an over-abundance of personal stability, peace, and happiness throughout ’18 (and I would assume – unless you’re a masochist – that you are hoping for much the same). But my foremost prayer – or at least the one I am shooting to be foremost – is not for any of these temporal “blessings” (cause there’s absolutely no guarantee that God will gift us these). Rather, it is that in the face of triumph or tragedy, happiness or harm we will be strengthened in our souls and steadfast in our faith. This is what we need and is the prayer God is most concerned with answering.

Semper Reformanda

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.

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