The Kuyperian Commentary

Politics, Economics, Culture, and Theology with a Biblical Viewpoint

Archive for the category “Holidays/Celebrations”

“Easter” Is Not a Bad Word

It is once again the time of year that folks begin to ramp up for Easter. Easter bunnies, Easter egg hunts, and other various trappings are beginning to be ubiquitous. Now, I will be the first to recognize that the secular (and especially corporate) focus on fluffy bunnies, eggs, and the like is an attempt to sterilize the explicit Christian content of Easter, specifically that of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Yet, I would also argue that Christians who wish to push back against that sterilized (if not secularized) view should not abandon these traditional symbols of Easter, but should fully embrace them and refill them with their Christian meaning.

The same can be said of Christmas. The traditional symbols of Christmas- St. Nick, trees, gifts, feasts- may have been sterilized, secularized, commercialized, and paganized, but that does not change the fact that St. Nick is a real Christian saint, that the Wise Men really offered gifts to the baby Jesus, and that trees and feasts also have their origin in biblical theology. No more should we as Christians abandon these symbols of Christmas than we should abandon the traditional symbols of Easter.

Yet, while I have asserted that the traditional symbols for Easter, including the word “Easter” itself, are Christian in origin, I have not yet substantiated that claim. What is my claim exactly? Well you may have heard that the word “Easter” is of German pagan origin. As a result we Christians sometimes get a little uneasy about using that word. In this post I set out to argue that the word “Easter” is not of pagan origins, and that the word “Easter” itself is actually a Christian metonym for the word “resurrection.”

German Easter Tree Read more…

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Valentine’s Day: Christian Marriage, Cheap Love, and Sex

St. Valentine Day Valentine was a third century pastor who was imprisoned for his faith. He wrote small pastoral notes to members of his congregation on leaves he was able to pluck from a maple tree just outside his cell.  These little “Valentine’s cards” expressed his love for the flock, and his desire that they demonstrate like love toward one another. Gradually the tradition grew up for Christians to exchange notes of love and encouragement to one another every year on his birthday, February 14.

Dr. George Grant, http://grantian.blogspot.com/2013/02/st-valentines-day.html

We’ve seen baseball stadium proposals where a guy’s urgent question is slapped on the Jumbotron for all in attendance to see. Some men even think it’s romantic to shout their devotion in front of thousands of strangers. Several years back, Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson even tried to convince us that women would actually want this type of proposal. In case you might be contemplating this type of proposal, let me tell you that it is about as tasteful as the rest of Sandler’s work.

In many ways, American romance is Jumbotron romance. Valentine’s Day is a good example. We couch our love in the impersonal and to the cheap. When did the standard fall so low that somehow chocolate and flowers become the epitome of devotion. We should understand these are good things. Any man who forgets them will enjoy the spurn of his wife. But this type of impersonal devotion once a year is akin to attending Easter and Christmas services, yet claiming to love Christ.

A culture of cheap grace produces cheap love. 

“Cheap grace is preaching forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession. … Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Cheap love is giving chocolate without cordial affection, flowers without real delight and pleasure, “I Love Yous” without contentment and satisfaction … Cheap love is love without submission, love without crucifying-self, love without Jesus Christ, living and Incarnate. Cheap love teaches, “Sex is such a hassle, talking is even worse.” Christian love teaches, “rejoice in the wife of your youth.”

Our romance should be modeled after Christ’s self-giving devotion to his bride, which is why St. Valentine is such a beautiful saint. This is not to say that the mark of Valentine’s Day is simply reading verses over flowers-rather that marriage is an image of loving tension. The tenderest love on one side, and loving obedience on the other. This means that romance is an adventure, not a commute. We don’t travel through life enduring the “trial of marriage,” but through the exploration of Godly marriage we are transformed by the circumstances of our love story.

Valentine’s Day is a day for us to look at our adventure, where we’ve been, and where we are going.

Valentine’s Day is a time for Christian men who once belonged to the old Adam to become priests of the New Adam. Where the old Adam betrayed the love of his bride, we -as Priests of the new Adam- guard, nurture, and protect our redeemed garden-helper.  And as such have been called to wash our wives in Christ’s love.

Valentine’s Day is a time to celebrate together as we see God transforming our brides into a holy bride without wrinkle, spot, or blemish.

Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted, provided full credit and a link is given.

In the past few months I’ve posted two articles on sexuality and marriage, you can read those here:

Giving Up Me for Lent?

Lent approaches (Wednesday, the 13th for those who aren’t following along) and many–but certainly not all–Christians will be deciding what to give up.

Many will follow the historic practice of the Church and give up animal products (meat, eggs, dairy, etc.) Others will follow the contemporary practice of the Church and give up something they like (chocolate, soda, alcohol, tobacco, etc.) Still others will follow a more recent, yet popular, practice of giving up something that distracts them (television, Facebook, the internet, etc.)

N.T. Wright, in one of his many good books on the Christian life (Simply Christian, maybe) mentions that Lent is a season of death, therefore we give up something. Easter follows as a season of new life and new creation, so we should take up something–something new and good.

It is not my intention to come across as smug, overly pious, or prideful–but I realize that what I am about to say is all of those things and contradicts the very thing I am intending to do–yet I hope to give readers something to consider for their own Lenten practices this year.

A friend recently shared Andrew Murray’s Humility with me. Then, I re-read C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity. Then, my pastor preached on humility and pride. Then, well you get the idea. Each of these books or sermons deals directly with humility and pride. It may just be that God is trying to tell me something. Thus, I’ve decided to give up myself for Lent. I don’t know if this is a legitimate thing to fast from during Lent–historically anyway–but it is my plan. From Ash Wednesday to Easter, I am giving up myself. I will strive to not tell any stories about myself, not to “out-do” anyone else. Just listen. Just ask questions about them. Just be interested in them. Just care about who they are. I’m not going to tell people how great I am, and I’m not going to tell people how despicable I am–both are cases of pride, although we often try to convince ourselves the latter is humility when it is not.

Whatever your view of Lent is, whatever your view of fasting is, I’m sure you agree that pride is a great evil for Christians and humility is a great weakness for many. Pray for me, that the Lord would have mercy. That I might give up myself for Lent.

I’d rather hope that I can ask this question without it turning into a competition to out-holy one another. So, if you are practicing Lent this year, what are you giving up?

The Virgin Birth Proves Personhood at Conception

by Adam McIntosh

In just a few days Christians all over the world will gather with their families, friends and churches to celebrate the incarnation of Jesus Christ our Lord. The eternal Word becoming flesh is a fundamental fact of the Christian faith; we would not be able to receive salvation apart from it (Gal. 4:4-5). One important aspect of Christ’s incarnation is his birth from Mary, a virgin. We re-tell this historic event each year, though I’m sure many of us neglect its significance. Why did Jesus have to be born of a virgin? There are numerous, legitimate answers to that question. As we’ll see, one answer is particularly relevant to the abortion debate.

Jesus had to be born of a virgin because he is not a human person. Kallistos Ware summarizes the traditional doctrine:

…Christ’s birth from a virgin underlines that the Incarnation did not involve the coming into being of a new person. When a child is born from two human parents in the usual fashion, a new person begins to exist. But the person of the incarnate Christ is none other than the second person of the Holy Trinity. At Christ’s birth, therefore, no new person came into existence, but the pre-existent person of the Son of God now began to live according to a human as well as a divine mode of being. So the Virgin Birth reflects Christ’s eternal pre-existence.” – The Orthodox Way, pg. 76-77

Christ’s personhood is divine and eternal. When he assumed human flesh he did not become a human person. Jesus Christ is a divine person who exists in a divine nature and a human nature simultaneously. The natures are never mixed and his divine personhood is never altered. In this context it would be improper to call Jesus a human person, for that would deny his deity. It would also be improper to call Jesus a divine-human person, for that implies a mixture of two persons. There is only one person of Christ, the second person of the Trinity, and it was that divine person who existed in the womb of Mary.

All of this proves that personhood begins at conception. If a fertilized egg merely created human nature void of personality, then there would have been no need for the virgin birth. Mary and Joseph could have had sexual relations and Christ could have assumed the flesh conceived from that union. But this is not how God ordained history. He has precise, logical reasons for his actions. Since Jesus is a divine person from all eternity, a human person could not be created – which is exactly what happens at conception.

Ironically, many Christians who celebrate the virgin birth deny the personhood of the unborn. The Bible doesn’t give us a scientific timeline of human development; there is no verse that says, “A zygote is a human person made in the image of God.” Thus, pro-choice Christians maintain that the unborn is not a person until a specific point in its development and that a woman, therefore, can choose to have an abortion. But if the virgin birth is true, the unborn is a person from conception. To abort it is to kill an innocent human being, which is a sin and a crime according to the Bible.

It’s contradictory to deny the personhood of the unborn and to affirm the virgin birth at the same time. The two beliefs are incompatible at every angle. Christians must choose one or the other. As we celebrate Christmas this year and years to come, how faithful will you be to the story?

Not All Turkey and Touchdowns

By Kuyperian Commentary Special Contributing Scholar, Dr. Thomas Kidd

The Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony weren’t the first Europeans to settle in North America, nor were they the first permanent English colonists. But because of our annual celebration of Thanksgiving, and our hazy images of their 1621 meal with Native Americans, the Pilgrims have become the emblematic colonists in America’s national memory. Although modern Thanksgiving has become largely non-religious—focused more on food, family, and football than explicitly thanking God—the Pilgrims’ experience reveals a compelling religious aspect of our country’s roots.

Although people often refer to the Pilgrims as “Puritans,” they technically were English Separatists, Christians who had decided that the state-sponsored Anglican Church was fatally corrupt, and that they should found their own churches. (The Puritans, who would establish Massachusetts in 1630, believed in reforming the Anglican Church from within.) Establishing independent churches, however, was illegal. Under heavy persecution, some Separatists decided to move to Leiden in the Netherlands around the same time that the Virginia Company founded Jamestown in 1607.

The Netherlands offered the Separatists religious liberty, but the Pilgrims also became concerned about the negative influences of living in such a culturally diverse society. So in 1620, 102 settlers sailed to America on board the Mayflower. Their final Old World port was Plymouth, England, which supplied the name for their new settlement in what became southeastern Massachusetts.

All adult men on board the ship signed the “Mayflower Compact,” which many consider the first written constitution in American history. It is a very brief document, but it powerfully articulated the colonists’ commitment to God and government by common consent. It reads, in part:

Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the first Colony in the northern Parts of Virginia; Do by these Presents, solemnly and mutually, in the Presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation.

Documents such as the Mayflower Compact leave little doubt that the New England colonies were founded primarily for religious purposes.

The Compact noted Plymouth’s legal connection to Virginia (they shared the same charter), but their southern neighbors were less motivated by religion than were the New England colonists. Some today may exaggerate the secular nature of Virginia, however; among the first laws of that colony was a demand that the people honor God, to whom they owed their “highest and supreme duty, our greatest, and all our allegiance to him, from whom all power and authoritie is derived.” The recent news that the foundations of the oldest Protestant church in America have been discovered at the site of the Jamestown fort also reminds us of the southern colonists’ faith.

Although our records for the first Thanksgiving at Plymouth are sparse, we do know that in 1621 the Pilgrims held a three-day celebration with allied Indians, in observation of a good harvest and in gratitude for God’s help in passing through the trials of the first year of settlement (half of the settlers had died in that scourging winter). And yes, they had a “great store of wild turkeys” to eat for the festival.

The American colonies, particularly in New England, continued the tradition of holding thanksgiving days into the Revolutionary era, when the new American nation also picked up the practice. The Continental Congress and American presidents, beginning with George Washington, regularly proclaimed days of thanksgiving. In 1789, the first year of his presidency, Washington declared that the last Thursday of November would be a “day of public thanks-giving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God.”

Thanksgiving became an annual holiday in America during the Civil War, and Congress made the fourth Thursday of November an official national holiday in December 1941, shortly after America’s entry into World War II.

Thanksgiving historically was about “thanks-giving” directed to God. This is an instructive lesson, not only for better understanding our history, but also for curbing the temptation to make Thanksgiving into a holiday of over-consumption. The Pilgrims remind us that Thanksgiving is not all about turkey and touchdowns.

(Article first published at Patheos)

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