Sunday, January 23, 2011

Word of the Week for January 2011 week 4

Ash Wednesday, watercolor, 78 x 113 cm (detail)Image via Wikipedia
Fałat Julian 
Ash Wednesday, watercolor, 78 x 113 cm (detail)

Who's lying about Christian Holidays? Ash Wednesday and Lent

There are two aspects of Ash Wednesday and Lent that need to be emphasized. First is the historical nature of the forty days of Lent; the second is the use of ash on Ash Wednesday.

To put it plainly: the claim that Ash Wednesday and Lent are based on pagan origins is a relatively new fiction that comes out of several different sources. First is the irresponsible work of Alexander Hilsop and those who followed him; both those who claim to be Christian and those who oppose Christianity. Second is the neo-pagan movement today that falsely imagines that paganism is the most ancient of religions and rejects the Bible totally. But, in fact, Lent and Ash Wednesday have no origins in paganism.

You will find all kinds of websites on the Internet that claim that Ash Wednesday and Lent are not Biblical because Christ never commanded them. In part this is true. And Satan likes to use truth to give credibility to his lies. Christ didn't command any such celebration. Christ did not command His followers to celebrate Ash Wednesday. Nor did he command that we worship on Sunday. Nor did He command that we sing “Rock of Ages.” Nor did he command that we use chairs or pews when we gather. The false logic is this: If Christ didn't specifically command us to do something, then it is a sin to do it. So, think about how little sense that logic makes. Take this example: Christ did not command that I have my children wash dishes. Is it therefor a sin to have them do so? No.

What Christ did command and give to His Church was that the Word of God be preached for the remission of sins; that is, that the Law and the Gospel be taught, so people would be brought to repentance; and that faith in Christ would be given to them. He commanded that sins be forgiven in His name through the absolution to penitent sinners and withheld from the impenitent as long as they do not repent. He commanded that all nations, young and old, regardless of race be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins. He commanded that we celebrate the feast of His Holy Supper where He gives us His Body and Blood together with the bread and wine in the Sacrament for the forgiveness of our sins. He gave us the promise that the Father hears our prayers in Christ's name because He has made us His brothers and sisters through the forgiveness of sins—won for us on the cross and distributed to us through Word and Sacrament. The prayer and celebration of these gifts can be held any day.

The ancient Church recognized that it was free from legalistic obligations, both from the Old Testament Law, and from new invented laws of men. As St. Paul wrote in Colossians 2. They also knew from Scripture that they were not to use this liberty as an excuse for sin. (Romans 6) They knew that they were not to let their consciences be bound by new human regulations as if their salvation depended upon them. (Galatians 1-2) Whatever was beneficial for the teaching of God's word and for the practice of the Christian life-consisting of repentance and forgiveness in the Means of Grace-was encouraged.

And the ancient Church chose to keep a fast during the forty days before Easter to focus on repentance and the gift of the Resurrection at Easter. St. Athanasius, who led at the Council of Nicea to defeat Arianism—a denial of Christ being truly God and man in one person—was a bishop in Alexandria, Egypt. He wrote annual Festival letters to the Church as they prepared to celebrate Easter. In the year 331 he wrote in order to encourage his congregations in Egypt to keep the Lenten fast for 40 days. Athanasius directs the readers to many Scriptural examples and exhortations to moderation, self-control, and fasting for repentance, Athanasius gives several Bible examples of the 40 day fast, especially of Christ's 40 day fast, after which Athanasius wrote:

The beginning of the fast of forty days is on the fifth of the month Phamenoth (we call Ash Wednesday); and when, as I have said, we have first been purified and prepared by those days, we begin the holy week of the great Easter on the tenth of the month Pharmuthi (Palm Sunday), in which, my beloved brethren, we should use more prolonged prayers, and fastings, and watchings, that we may be enabled to anoint our lintels with precious blood, and to escape the destroyer (Exod. xii. 7, 23.). Let us rest then, on the fifteenth of the month Pharmuthi (Easter Sunday Eve), for on the evening of that Saturday we hear the angels’ message, ‘Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is risen (Luke xxiv. 5).’ Immediately afterwards that great Sunday receives us, I mean on the sixteenth of the same month Pharmuthi (Easter Sunday morning), on which our Lord having risen, gave us peace towards our neighbours.

We learn from this that even at the time the Nicene Creed was written, at the time Constantine the Great ruled, the Western and Eastern Churches practiced a voluntary fast for 40 days before Easter.

That this was practiced in Rome and elsewhere is seen in St. Athanasius' letter from the year 340 A.D. when he returns from a meeting of pastors/bishops from all around the world, and he encourages his own congregations to continue in the same practice of the 40 day Lenten fast as does “the rest of the whole world.”

In order to count the 40 days of Lent the Sundays of that season are not counted as part of the fast. Rather the Sundays are each a minor feast day. If you add the six feast Sundays to the 40 fast days you get 46 days. That means that the first day of the Fast of Lent is a Wednesday, just as Athanasius explained.

The 40 day fast does not come from the so-called “weeping of Tammuz” as claimed by the radical anti-Roman Catholic writer Alexander Hilsop in his book The Two Babylons. Hilsop made up myths and connections out of thin air because of his hatred for Roman Catholicism. Hilsop's views were adopted whole cloth by the Jehovah's Witnesses, who continued to republish Hilsop's book until 1987. Hilsop's book was cited in 22 different issues of the Jehova's Witnesses periodical The Watchtower from 1950 to 1978, and several times in the 1980s. From 1989 the Jehova's Witnesses stopped referring to Hilsop's book, but they have kept Hilsop's teaching and use other sources.

The month of Tammuz in Old Testament times is roughly equivalent to our July. To the best evidence, that was when the Babylonian pagans, and the fallen Israelites mentioned in Ezekiel 8:14 would “weep for Tammuz”. Also, this weeping took place on the second day of that month, right after the new moon. Not for forty days.

Two basic facts: 1) The weeping for Tammuz was not a 40 day thing. That is Hislop's fiction. 2) The month of Tammuz is 4 months after Easter. They aren't even in the same time of year.

Many websites claim that the use of ashes on Ash Wednesday comes from pagan sources.

The ironic thing is that these websites cannot get their own stories straight. Some people assert that the ashes and Lent come from Nordic Odin worship, others that they come from pagan Roman cults, others that they come from ancient Hindu religions—and some try to maintain irrational combinations of the above very different imagined sources.

But ashes for Ash Wednesday do not come from any of these sources. The practice of believers using ashes to represent sorrow and repentance is well testified in the Bible. In the ancient world it was the natural formal response of those who are sorry for their sins:

For example:

Tamar's repentance: 2 Samuel 13:19 Then Tamar put ashes on her head, and tore her robe of many colors that was on her, and laid her hand on her head and went away crying bitterly.

Mordecay's repentance and the repentance of the Jews in exile; Esther 4:1,3 When Mordecai learned all that had happened, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city. He cried out with a loud and bitter cry. And in every province where the king’s command and decree arrived, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping, and wailing; and many lay in sackcloth and ashes.

Job's repentance: Job 2:8 And he took for himself a potsherd with which to scrape himself while he sat in the midst of the ashes.

See also Isaiah 58:5; Jeremiah 6:26; Daniel 9:3; Jonah 3:6; and Christ's harsh words to the cities of Chorazin and Bethsaida in Luke 10:13.

But didn't Jesus tell us not to put on a show while fasting? Yes, that's in Matthew chapter 6:

Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.”

He said the same of prayer and of giving charitable gifts. His point is that these things should not be done as a show of righteousness. He did not prohibit praying in public or as a group in worship. He did not prohibit giving something publicly or to a group. And he did not prohibit using outward symbols of repentance like ashes.

What Christ condemned in these passages is thinking that we can show others how good, how sincere, how devout, and what kind of a Christian we are with these outward symbols. The ash on the forehead is a confession that the person is worth only ashes, has no righteousness, is not better than another, and needs God's grace if there is to be any hope for him or her.

Can the symbol be abused? Yes, of course it can. But that does not make it a bad symbol. Every gift of God can be abused by sinful people. We should expect that because of sin. So we should recognize that the ways that Christians choose in their freedom to celebrate God's gifts can also be misused.

So we see, first of all, that neither forty day fast of Lent nor the ashes of Ash Wednesday have anything to do with pagan origins. The use of ashes in the Christian faith as a sign of repentance is as old as Job, and probably older. It certainly is the outward act chosen by believers through out thousands of years, from the earliest times as outward sign to confess unworthiness and sin.

No human can require a Christian to use the fast of Lent as a saving work. A congregation can recommend the practice as a serious self-examination of one's own sin and sinful appetites; of one's own weaknesses. No human can require Christians to use ash on Ash Wednesday or any other day as a way of proving their faith.

And neither can any human forbid the use of the Lenten fast or the use of ashes either. Both are legalism, a replacing of the Gospel for a new law. The whole point of Ash Wednesday and the Lenten Fast is to look on ourselves as worthless and utterly needy: to look only upon Christ, to celebrate His feast in the Lord's Supper, preach His passion and death upon the cross, and proclaim the Resurrection of Christ as the final seal upon our salvation.

We should reject any fictionalizing about pagan origins of Lent or Ash Wednesday with both the truth of Scripture and real history.

Pastor Joseph Abrahamson
  St. Petri Lutheran Church-Grygla
  Oak Park Lutheran Church-Oklee
  Mt. Olive Lutheran Church-Trail
  Nazareth Lutheran Church-Trail
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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Word of the Week for January 2011 week 3

Icon of the PentecostImage via Wikipedia
Word of the Week January week 3

Who’s Lying about Christian Holidays?

So we can see there is an anti-God bias affected the way academics and popular writers from that time to today portray Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, Ash Wednesday, and Hallow E’en (All Saint’s Eve) as having “evolved” somehow from pagan origins.

Christmas has become overwhelmed by non-Christian re-interpretations surrounding St. Nicholas, the tree, and especially family. It’s not hard yet to celebrate Christ’s birth. But Christmas is actually the last of the Christian Holy-Days to be widely celebrated through society. Easter is so close to confirmation and graduation with so many other things taking place in the spring that it is so hard to get the family together to celebrate Christ’s resurrection.Both Christmas and Easter have a lot of distractions. The World perverted the memory St. Nicholas to use against the Christ. The World perverted the Christian symbolism of the egg and the rabbit to use them against the Christ.

But where can you or I buy any Pentecost candy, gifts, or cards?

Pentecost was the first of the three main Christian Holy Days lost to the world. Pentecost, like Easter, are New Testament names for Old Testament festivals. Easter is the fulfilled Passover, commanded by God in Exodus 12-14. Pentecost is the festival of Weeks or Harvesting the Firstfruits recorded in Exodus 23, 34, Leviticus 23, Deuteronomy 16, and Numbers 28. The date was set as the day after seven weeks from Passover were completed. That is fifty days. During Christ’s ministry the Greek speaking Jews called it “Day Fifty” or Pentecost. The count of weeks began at the end of the Passover and Feast of Unleavened bread. From the end of that festival they were to count weeks.

Leviticus 23:15-16 says:
15 ‘And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering: seven Sabbaths shall be completed. 16 Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath; then you shall offer a new grain offering to the LORD.

There were two very famous historians who tried to claim that Pentecost was a development of the Christian church trying to replace the Roman festival of Ludi Florales. The first author was Joseph Martin McCabe (12 November 1867 – 10 January 1955) a man who fell from faith in Christ and spent most of his life writing against Christ, Christianity, and the Church. He was interested in discrediting Christianity so people would lose faith in God. In his 1903 book St. Augustine and His Age McCabe makes the following bold lies:

“As to the processions and manner of worship in general, the Church was very accommodating: The Saturnalia became Christmas and its succeeding festivals. The purification of Isis became the purification of Mary; the Floralia, Pentecost; and so on.Hymns to Cybele were hastily adapted to the mother of Christ; statues of Horus and Isis quickly became Jesus and Mary. Stately processions once more made their way to the temples, now converted into Christian churches. Lanciani says that many pagan alters were in use in Roman churches until a century ago.” (p. 100-101)

The problem? Well, Pentecost started about 1400 B.C. when God gave the command to celebrate this festival to Moses and Aaron. The Romans instituted Floralia in about the year 238 B.C. That means that Pentecost is about 1,150 years older than Floralia.

The second famous historian, Will Durant, in his landmark series The Story of Civilization had a volume published in 1950 titled The Age of Faith. wrote the following:

“Statues of Isis and Horus were renamed Mary and Jesus; the Roman Lupercalia and the feast of the purification of Isis became the Feast of the Nativity; the Saturnalia were replaced by Christmas celebrations, the Floralia by Pentecost, an ancient festival of the dead by All Souls' Day, the resurrection of Attis by the resurrection of Christ. Pagan altars were rededicated to Christian heroes; incense, lights, flowers, processions, vestments, hymns, which had pleased the people in older cults were domesticated and cleansed in the ritual of the Church; and the harsh slaughter of a living victim was sublimated in the spiritual sacrifice of the Mass.” (p. 75)

Notice how close Durant’s wording is to McCabe’s wording? This is interesting because Durant credits Sir. J. G. Frazer with the information. Frazer was another anti-Christian writer, an anthropologist, who sought to show how Christianity “evolved” from paganism and into scientific atheistic Rationalism. They all repeat the same words without any real demonstration from ancient documents. In fact, so few of the later writers actually checked the sources that the citation they give from St. Augustine’s City of God is often mistakenly written as if Augustine’s words were found in book eleven (11) instead of book 2 (Roman numeral II ). And Augustine does not say that celebration of Floralia was replaced with or developed into Pentecost. He merely describes Cicero’s account of the lewd sexual acts and perversions the Romans engaged in publicly to celebrate their false goddess. There was nothing in common between the rituals of Foralia and Pentecost.

But we come back to the basic problem with all of these so-called scholars: Pentecost was instituted by God in about the year 1400 BC. This is more than a millennium before this Roman pagan festival began. Notice how desperate those authors were to try to disprove every aspect of Christianity with some pagan celebration. They try to overwhelm the reader with too many pieces of information all at once, swamping and overwhelming the reader who probably doesn’t have the background to question their scholarly authority. But most of the pagan festivals they mention didn’t really exist in the way that they claim.

But the problem they faced was too big to overcome. Pentecost predated the pagan festival by over a thousand years. And they don’t happen on the same day. They were two different religions celebrating two very different festivals at approximately the same time of year.

What they can’t disprove by lie or slander, they ignore. The world ignores Pentecost and the way God used that Holy Day to give His Holy Spirit to the Apostles. It is hard to find a Pentecost card or gift in any store that is not affiliated with the Christian Church.

Every year the popular media drag up the fiction of pagan origins for Christmas and Easter. The mostly do not cover stories on Pentecost. But I expect that there will be more resurgence of claims that Pentecost was a pagan holiday.

There is another important question raised by these unbelieving authors. Did the Christian Church adopt pagan customs or rituals? The word used to describe the fusion of two different religious practices is syncretism. The Egyptians and the ancient Babylonians adopted each other’s mythologies for political and economical advantage. We have seen the Romans adopt many aspects and false gods of the ancient Greeks. The assumption of the authors I have referred to is that Christianity is a religion evolved out of syncretism of pagan beliefs and practices. They are wrong.

But did the Church adopt pagan customs or rituals? During the mission work of the Church in all ages, Old Testament and New Testament, there have been problems where members would fall away to the culture around them. They would abandon God’s Word and follow after false gods (like King Ahab and the prophets of Baal); follow cultural norms that are contrary to God’s Word (like Lot in the city of Sodom); and even try to bring false gods into the worship of the Church (like the followers of the false god Tammuz in the Temple during Ezekiel’s time). Sometimes they would become inventive and leave God’s Word by making new ways and places of worship that did not adhere to God’s command (like Jeroboam, Saul, Nadab and Abihu).

There were many groups throughout the ages who abandoned God’s Word and followed the teachings of the Gnostics, the Mithraists; some adopted practices like having women serve as priests from pagans; some sought to adopt the new and developing practices and laws of Mishnaic and Talmudic Judaism. Wherever Christianity spread, there you will find Christians who have also departed from God’s Word and adopted customs and rituals contrary to His Word.

But there is another important consideration to make in reading this history. As just one example, when the Church brought missionaries to South America, the local groups often worshipped false gods with particular attributes, one might be the false god of wood working. The local missionary would choose one or more of the saints who had similar attributes, like St. Joseph the Worker, Jesus’ step-father. The missionary would then use the example of this saint who’s attributes they understood, to show them by the saint’s example that the right worship was of the One True God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Thus the example of the saint would be an instructional tool. The similarity of the saint’s life and work to that of their false god would lend to easier instruction by that Saint’s faith and obedience to God’s Word.

This method of instruction also has problems and dangers. No doubt, there would be some who secretly kept the worship of the false god under the guise of the saint, rather than worshipping Christ. But that does not mean that the Christian church in that location was a development from pagan teaching.

Just as with Easter/Passover, the date of Pentecost was set by God through Moses in the Old Testament. The date of Christmas was understood based on these same Old Testament passages.

The question on each of these holidays/Holy Days is how will we as Christians use these days to the honor of God’s name and the advancement of the Gospel. Let us not allow this festival of Pentecost or any other Christian Holy Day fall into disuse or become overwhelmed by the world's twistings and reinterpretations of these days.

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Monday, January 10, 2011

Word of the Week for January 2011 week 2

Who’s Lying about Christian Holidays?

Since the time Darwin’s 1859 book On the Origin of Species, most branches of academic study began to abandon the idea that God was in control of the universe. The study of science and the study of religion--Christianity and Judaism in particular--were subjected to a world-view that excluded God and miracles from any so-called “scientific” discussion. The only data or information that was allowed to be admitted as a so-called “fact” was that which excluded the supernatural and God. The only judge for what was right and true was to be human reason, frail and sinful human reason. These were academic efforts that deliberately prohibited people from walking by faith in order to steer scholarship and society by the frail light of human wisdom apart from God.

This anti-God bias affected the way academics and popular writers from that time to today portray Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, Ash Wednesday, and Hallow E’en (All Saint’s Eve) as having “evolved” somehow from pagan origins.

This week we look at Easter and some of the claims of pagan origins surrounding this celebration. We’ll look at the word “Easter” and how it has been misunderstood and its meaning re-invented by neo-pagans, the origin of Easter eggs, and the tradition of Easter bunnies.

The name of the day: “Easter”

One of the main claims against Christians is that the very name “Easter” is taken from a Germanic pagan goddess who was celebrated in the spring. The first person to conjecture that this might be so was the Christian historian and theologian St. Bede of Northumbria, England in the year 725. There was no mention of this “goddess” in any other surviving literature or traditional folk lore.

And there was no mention of this “goddess” from the time of Bede until Jacob Grimm (editor of Grimm’s Fairy Tales) referred to Bede’s conjecture in the late 1800s. Grimm tried to find evidence for some name in German tradition that might refer to this conjectured “goddess” who’s name was Easter or Eostre. But there was nothing.

Grimm’s research was not able to demonstrate that the Germans or the Anglo-Saxons ever knew of such a goddess by that name. But he conjectured that if she existed, the old Germans would probably have called her Ostara. A name which Jacob Grimm invented as a conjecture about the etymology of a word. The word Ostara does not occur in any ancient German literature or oral folk lore. (Grimm’s Teutonic Mythology, Vol. 1, p. 290)

However, neo-pagan and wiccan authors of the 20th century and later have gladly made-up all kinds of so-called “history” about this goddess that never existed. The literature from these wiccan and neo-pagan sources has been so influential that popular society assumes that this fiction is true. Most accounts of the history of Easter are based on these conjectures and the fictitious creations of the neo-pagans and wiccans.

Unfortunately, several Christian groups following the fake scholarship of Alexander Hislop in his 1858 book The Two Babylons: have bought into this modern fiction and condemned anyone who celebrates “Easter” for celebrating pagan religion. These Christian groups further compound their mistake by taking the same position as the neo-pagans and the wiccans when they assume that the word “Easter” means the same as “Ashtorah” in the Bible and the name of the ancient Babylonian goddess “Ishtar” simply because they sound the same.

The neo-pagans and wiccans have made up all kinds of claims that the Easter holiday had to do with fertility and reproduction. They claim that Ashtorah was a reproductive goddess. There is no evidence in the Bible that the asherah poles and other references to Ashera or Ashtorah had anything to do with fertility. And there is nothing that links the Ashtorah of the Bible with the old Babylonian goddess Ishtar.

Some modern archaeologists who try to show the evolution of religions in the middle-east have conjectured that ancient Ugaritic goddess named Athirat might be linked to the Bible’s Ashtorah even though many Ugaritic documents say otherwise. A few of these scholars also conjectured that this Ugaritic goddess might be the equivalent of Babylon’s Ishtar, but this is only conjecture.

So where are we with real history for “Easter”?

The word Easter comes from the old Anglo-Saxon word meaning “to shine” and was used to describe the months of the year when the sun began to get brighter and higher during the day. In 1525 William Tyndale was the first to translate the Bible into English. He used the Middle-English word “ester” = “Easter” as a translation for Passover and the day of Christ’s Resurrection. The word had already been long used and understood as referring to the day of Christ’s Resurrection when Tyndale made his translation. Despite what modern pagans and wiccans wish the past might have been, there were no known pagan or wiccan celebrations of a pagan-easter in England or northern Europe in the period from the Middle Ages through the Reformation and up to the late 1800s.

So there are two modern myths that we have debunked: first, it is not true that the name of Easter came from the worship of a pagan spring goddess; second, it is not true that the Easter celebration was a celebration of fertility and reproduction.

Where did the Easter Egg come from?

There are several traditions which converge to bring us the Easter egg. And there is some modern nonsense that really has nothing to do with the use of eggs at Easter. First, there is a sculpture on the Perisopolis of ancient Iran of a line of people bearing gifts on the New Year day celebration on the Sping equinox. One of the many different gifts carried by the people in this sculpture appears to be an egg. This was carved by the old pagan Zoroastrians from ancient Persia (modern Iran). From this sculpture modern pagans have conjectured that Christians stole the idea of using eggs at easter from the ancient Zoroastrians. The problem is that none of the writers iin the ancient Christian church mention this tradition where they came into contact with Zoroastrians.

Still, the modern neo-pagans and wiccans assert that the egg is an ancient sign of fertility. That seems as bright a claim as saying that water is wet.

Of the traditions that actually do contribute to Christianity using eggs in the Easter celebration there are three to consider.

First: In the celebration of the Passover meal, which Christ celebrated the night before He was crucified, a roasted whole egg is placed as one of six food items on the Passover plate. The egg, called Beitzah symbolizes the Passover sacrifice that was offered in the Temple in Jerusalem and was then eaten as part of the meal on Seder night. The egg was introduced to the Passover meal after the Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. The egg was the first dish served at Jewish funerals in the time of Christ’s ministry on earth. The egg was also used as a symbol of mourning the loss of the Temple where the Passover Lamb was sacrificed. It is usually eaten dipped in salt water which symbolizes the bitter tears of the people.

Early Christians in the first and second century continued to celebrate the Passover along with the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Primarily the Passover was celebrated because of Christ’s institution of the Lord’s Supper.

Second: the season preceding Easter is called Lent. The season of Lent is a fast. In both the eastern and western Church this meant fasting from meat and fowell--including eggs. Eggs were used to break the Lenten fast on Easter Morning. In preparation for this breaking of the fast the eggs were decorated to commemorate the sacrifice of Jesus Christ as the Paschal Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world. The breaking of the shell became a symbol of Christ’s rending of the tomb.

Indeed, the use of decorated eggs to celebrate Christ’s resurrection on Easter morning is so widespread across the world and so closely tied with the spread of Christianity that one cannot call it anything but a Christian tradition. But that doesn’t keep the neo-pagans and modern commentators from trying to claim that Christian’s “stole” this so-called “pagan” tradition.

So we turn to the third tradition:

Where did Easter bunnies come from?

There is an interesting doubling up of the Easter bunny with the fictional goddess Ostara. The modern ‘histories” of Easter tend to claim 1) that Easter was originally a pagan fertility holiday 2) of devotion to the goddess Ostara (Eastre, however spelled), 3) she used eggs as a symbol of fertility, and 4) she always carried a pet bunny because it was so fertile. Now, all of these 4 claims are fiction.

So where did the bunny really come from?

According to Karl Joseph Simrok’s 1855 book called Handbuch Der Deutschen Mythologie Mit Einschluss Der Nordischen, “The rabbit is a pagan symbol and has always been an emblem of fertility.” (page 551) The old 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia cites this as proof that Christians cannot use the rabbit in celebration of Easter. But I cannot find this sentence in my copy of Simrok’s book. Perhaps mine is a different edition.

What is interesting about the rabbit or hare is that it has been used by all kinds of religions around the world as a symbol. Each religion fitting its own teaching on the symbol of the rabbit. But in most cases the symbol refers to new life. In the ancient eastern Church the rabbit was used on tombstones and as a symbol of Christ. One author points out that some early Christians viewed the rabbit’s hole as a symbol of the tomb of Christ.

Christian art has several examples from the early times through the renaissance of rabbits as a symbol of Christ. To name just a few The three hare window in Paderborn, Germany and also in the monastery Muottatal in Switzerland, where three rabbits are together in a triangle with only one ear each showing, symbolizing the Trinity, Martin Schongauer’s 1470 engraving The Temptation of Jesus has three by three rabbits at the feet of Jesus Christ. His student Albrecht Dürer's woodcut of 1497 The Holy Family with the Three Hares showing two hares next to each other and the other going down toward a hole with a stone rolled next to it; Hans Baldung Grien 1512-1516 painted the altar for the Freiburg Cathedral with the second panel representing Mary’s Visitation to Elizabeth where he painted the rabbits about the feet of Mary and Elizabeth; and Titan’s Madonna and Child with St. Catherine and a Rabbit which was painted in 1530.

I picked these works of art because they are all pre-Reformation. They demonstrate that the rabbit or hare was used a symbol of Christ and the Resurrection before the time of the Reformation.

America owes the use of the Easter Bunny to the Pennsylvania Deutch settlers who came from Alsace, a German and French area on the border between the two countries. Back in 1678 Georg Franck von Frankenau in 1682 wrote against the excessive eating of Easter eggs which parents would leave in the name of the Easter Hare--the Resurrected Christ. The people from this region settled in Pennsylvania and brought with them their symbolism and traditions surrounding the hare representing Christ, the egg representing the tomb, and Christ’s resurrection with the giving and breaking of eggs when the fast of Lent was ended on Easter Sunday.

Yes, Easter, the eggs, the bunny, all of them are still being perverted into something else by our own society. The devil, the world, and our own flesh don’t want to hear about Christ’s resurrection and will attack any symbols used to teach the resurrection.

But now you know enough of the real history of Easter and the symbols used by the Christian Church to celebrate this holiday.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

The True Woman Manifesto: Mixing up Law and Gospel

Woodcut of the Augsburg Confession, Article VI...Image via WikipediaThe True Woman Manifesto is a short document making the circuit in the pop-Christian media. The document comes out of the True Woman conferences and is sponsored by Revive Our Hearts ministries of Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

In order for Confessional Lutherans and others to understand the foundations of the True Woman Manifesto we need to know what these groups teach about the Means of Grace and what worship means to them.

All churches and groups that claim the name Christian also claim to follow the Bible.  But what is it, exactly, that they confess?

Lutherans confess these truths in the Meaning of the Third Article:
the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers...
This is the heart and essence of Confessional Lutheran worship. God the Holy Spirit is the one who gathers us together around His Gifts of Word and Sacrament through which He says He gives us grace, forgiveness, teaches and sanctifies us.

If the teachers behind the True Woman Manifesto deny the power of God to save and forgive through the Means of Grace--the Word and the Sacraments He has given in His Word-- what do they put in their place?

The groups strongly deny the Scripture's teaching on the Sacraments. DeMoss, in a transcription of a radio program, said:
Baptism by water does not save you. It’s merely an outward, external symbol, an expression of an internal reality. It’s an expression of a transformation that has taken place in our hearts. (Emphasis Original)
Have you been baptized? It will not save you, but it’s an expression of obedience, an expression of identifying to the world, to anyone who watches, and a reminder to yourself, of what Christ has done in your heart. (Mark of the Covenant: Series: Lessons from the Life of Joshua (Part 8): Before We Conquer Tuesday, April 28 2009)
In another transcription DeMoss spoke of the Lord's Supper in this way:
As we see this meal unfolding, Jesus is the One who serves. He breaks the bread. And He speaks of how it pictures His body that is going to be given for the salvation of the world. And He distributes the bread to the disciples. He distributes the wine, the juice; and He says, "This is a picture of My blood which is going to be shed for you." And He distributes it to His disciples. (The Coming Wedding: Series: The Heart of Hospitality Tuesday, December 10 2002)

 Another leader associated with this movement is James MacDonald pastor at Harvest Bible Chapel. His church's statement on Baptism and Communion says:
Baptism and communion are the two ordinances required in the church. We believe that Christian baptism by immersion in water is a public identification with Jesus Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection. Although baptism is not required for salvation, it is commanded of all believers and is for believers only (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 2:38, 41; Acts 18:8). Scripture shows that a person was baptized after personally receiving forgiveness of sin through accepting Jesus Christ. The waters of baptism are a symbol of our death, burial, and resurrection to newness of life that happens when we become new creations in Christ (Colossians 2:12; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Romans 6:1-4).

Communion is the commemoration by believers of Christ's death, and a reminder—through the bread and the juice—of the Savior's broken body and shed blood. Communion is to be a time of confession of our sin and should be preceded by careful self-examination according to Acts 4:13; Romans 6:3-6; 1 Corinthians 11:20-29
 For both DeMoss and MacDonald Baptism and the Lord's Supper are outward symbols, reminders. They are comfortable with changing the words spoken by Christ to fit their views. And they are comfortable in changing the elements of the Supper to fit their own views.

In essence the teachers behind the True Woman Manifesto replace the promises of God's Word in Baptism and the Lord's Supper with an emphasis on their own works. They are only outward symbols to be done by Christians to show God and the world that they are sincere. Grace is removed, the focus is on the works of man.

MacDonald's church says the following about worship:
The chief purpose of mankind is to glorify God by loving Him with the entire heart, soul, mind, and might (Deuteronomy 6:5; Isaiah 43:7; Matthew 22:37). All believing men, women, and children are to glorify God and thus fulfill the purpose of their existence. Worship glorifies God through adoration (Psalm 95:6), praise (Psalm 99:5), prayer (Daniel 6:10-11), thanksgiving (Nehemiah 12:46), and a complete yielding to Him (Romans 12:1). Worship declares His worth, pays Him homage, and celebrates Him in a life of devotion. We seek to worship the Lord in spirit and in truth (Exodus 15:1-21; 2 Samuel 6:14-16; Psalm 5:7; John 4:23-24; Revelation 4:11; 5:12). 
 Notice the focus? Who is serving whom? The Divine Service of the Church gathering around the Word and Sacrament to be fed and nourished by God is replaced by the loud, sincere, pretty works, words, and music made by people in an effort to please God.

While we might want to praise the supporters of the True Woman Manifesto for making an effort to increase godliness, in fact, all they are doing is placing more burdens of the Law upon people. And this they do while denying the Means of Grace through which the Holy Spirit enlightens and sanctifies the Church on earth.

Lutherans can not take part with or sign the True Woman Manifesto because of the false teaching of its promoters, and because the document itself claims to be a "personal and corporate declaration of belief" while it promotes legalism and other false doctrine.

The document contains a Title, a preamble, a statement of five main beliefs, a listing of thirteen affirmations, and a list of fifteen intentions for the signers to follow and promote. These parts are interspersed with end note numbers where they have gathered the Bible passages they believe support their confession.

In the third statement of belief is the only one of the five to speak of how the individual is redeemed. In that third statement the act of repentance is placed along side faith in Christ in an ambiguous way that allows work of repenting to be a cause of salvation.

The statement says:
We believe that sin has separated every human being from God and made us incapable of reflecting His image as we were created to do. Our only hope for restoration and salvation is found in repenting of our sin and trusting in Christ who lived a sinless life, died in our place, and was raised from the dead. 
Yes, this could be understood correctly. That is: God calls us through His Law to repent and through His means of Grace He "calls, gathers, and enlightens us" giving us faith, forgiveness, and eternal life. But that is reading this text with Lutheran eyes.

But this document will not be understood this way by most. For most of those denominations under the name Christian want to look at the quality of a person's repentance. They view this quality as just as important as faith--sometimes even more so. Salvation becomes contingent on how really sorry an individual is; how really sincere a person is; how really devoted a person is, and how much a person's love for God motivates his or her repentance. These qualities of repentance become the focus of the struggle for salvation rather than the grace of God in Christ. It is a focus on human works.

The groups sponsoring this movement to renewal deny the very means through which God grants His grace. They focus on a list of things individual Christian women are to do to make themselves conform to their view of what biblical womanhood should be. While denying the Means of Grace they direct women to become better by doing better under both the Law of God and their own traditions.

But a person cannot save himself/herself by God by the Law, nor can a person become a better Christian by simply observing the Law. Salvation is only through faith in Christ's work for us. And that salvation is given to us through the Word and Sacrament and nowhere else.

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