About this time of year, Christians always face the question of whether they should confess their faith boldly or not. The thing is, the question is never worded quite that way. The question is usually worded something like, "what difference does it make?", or "what does it hurt?", or "does it really matter?". Every season of the year has its question. This time of the year it is a question about Halloween, typically. I once attended a performance of Concordia College students doing something like skit ministry for elementary schools, particularly, on this night, at a Lutheran school. During their skits, they were teaching false theology, about man, about God, and some good-old decision theology. I was grumbling to the people I knew at the table I sat at about the bad theology, when one of the others at the table identified himself as a member of the troop, taking the night off, and wanted to know what my problem was. I pointed out the specific false teachings that I had observed, and the response was, "These are just children who don't know all that doctrine. What difference does it make?"
We had a lively discussion for a while, and the young man left unpersuaded. The question then became, was it worth my effort to argue? Truth or error was not a huge issue for this young man, or the troop of players. They figured that it was generally religious, and very entertaining, and the children would learn the precise doctrinal points at some later time in their lives, so what were they hurting by doing their erring little skits? During this season of the year, we Lutherans, especially, have choice to make between celebrating the civil holiday of Halloween or observing the religious holiday of Reformation Day. Does it really matter which we do? Is the silly celebration of Halloween really harmful? Will observing the Reformation Day mean very much, or will it just make the holiday a little less entertaining?
I honestly cannot answer the questions I have asked above because it will strike different people differently. I cannot say if someone will remember, or if my observance of Reformation Day will "rub off" on them over time or not. I do know that if you ignore Halloween, you will be viewed by many, even Lutherans, as a spoil-sport, and children will often not understand. Sadly, neither will their parents, many times. So, the question becomes, "Should you confess your faith boldly or not?" Christmas, Easter, and other holidays have a way of raising the same question, just dressed in different customs.
My answer to this question is, "Yes. You should always boldly confess." Jesus never asked us to win the battles, or persuade everyone we bumped into of the truth and importance of what we believe. He just instructed us to confess our faith by word and deed. We are called to be faithful, not victorious. He has already won the victory for us, and gives it to us as a gift. If we confess our faith, and live it out, people will see and hear and the Holy Spirit will work in them through the Word we share. If we do not, there will be no witness or evidence for the Spirit to use to work in those around us, except perhaps the evidence that the world has beaten us down and silenced our confession. If we cannot stand firm for what we confess, it must not be all that important - or at least that is the message we communicate to the world.
Look, for example, at the issue of abortion. The longer the courts maintain the right to end the life of a child even before birth, the less passion people feel about the debate. When no one is protesting the grotesquery of murdering babies, people tend to assume it is okay now, and no one objects any more. Then society progresses (as ours has) from early abortion to late term abortion to the recently debated right of a doctor to finish the job by killing the infants who survive abortion procedures or sneak out of the womb a day or two early and make the actual abortion impossible. Do we confess our faith, or do we take the safe and politically acceptable course of keeping our heads down and letting others decide? And this is an issue of the law concerning killing, and of the importance of the life of each individual, not a confession of Christ and the Gospel explicitly.
The point is that silence, that is, not confessing, does not serve the truth or godliness. Our society does not want to hear it from us, no matter how gentle or generic we make it, so there is no real point to being generic or quiet. I am not advocating being obnoxious and contentious, like Muslims who imagine some slight of their religion. I am suggesting just standing firm, celebrating (for example) what our faith would celebrate, and speaking clearly and honestly about faith and holidays and the like. Too many Christians have allowed the secular sensibilities of their unbelieving neighbors to intimidate them and to silence their confession.
What is that old saying? Two things you do not talk about in public are religion and politics. Both are hot-button topics. But they are really the only two things worth talking about, generally. So what if somebody disagrees with your position? It provides an opportunity to confess, teach, discuss. One does not need to become contentious to talk about their faith. When no one wants to talk about it, you still have made the confession by simply making the statement, or by preferring the Christian holiday to the Druid holiday. If you make your statements with a smile, and without anger or fear in your voice, my experience is that people are often curious and willing to talk a little. They will ask a question, like, "Why?", or, "What do you mean?". While I have never witnessed a conversion moment in one of these discussions, I gotta believe I have a planted a seed in some of them.
Speaking out boldly does not come naturally to many people, but when people are discussing their holiday plans - say costumes for the Druid holiday adopted by our society - it is easy and fairly innocuous to say something like, "I don't celebrate that Druid holiday, I celebrate Reformation Day. Luther nailed the 95 theses on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg on October 31st in 1517, so my church celebrates that day as Reformation Day and not as Halloween." You can still eat candy, or hand it out, if you like. Just don't dress up as a ghost or a vampire, and say "Happy Reformation Day" instead of "Happy Halloween". Most people won't even notice the change.
The silence of the church in our society came from Christians thinking that society was with them, I suspect. Most people went to church at one time. The values of our society were closer to our values, morally, than not. The Protestant idea that the goal of Christian life was the reformation of society seemed to be working, and so many Christians tried to keep their faith from disturbing their neighbors. What was actually happening was that society was co-opting the church instead. Most mainline churches today are all about advancing an earthly agenda - usually closely related to the socialist agenda in one way or another. It is all about something they call "justice", but has nothing to do with real justice, just redistribution of earthly mammon and the replacement of Biblical morals with something far more permissive and, frankly, evil.
Words don't even mean the same thing any more. "Equal rights", for example, is not truly about equality, but about granting someone a particular advantage over others. The rights are then privileges, not rights. The equality is a fantasy, not even a goal. It is a public relations maneuver, like an advertizing slogan. The aim is to take something away from one group and give it to someone else. Ultimately it leads to dragging everyone down to the same level, rather than lifting anyone up.
The effect on words of muted confessions works in the church as well. Often, however, the meaning of the words are simply drained away and we are left with words that mean nothing. People who profess that they "believe in Jesus" sound like they are saying something until you ask what they mean by "believe", what it is that they believe "in Jesus", and who Jesus is and what has He done? Many times, there is no meaning in the minds of those who say those words. The words are simply a slogan, and their faith is as deep as a bumper-sticker. You can identify some of those people when they begin to prattle on about how Islam (or some other religion - maybe all religions) are just as valid, just as true, just as important as the Christian faith.
When you see or hear people begin to assert that "it doesn't make any difference" what you believe, or what you do or don't do, or whether you confess your faith by word and deed, or not, you are witnessing the fruit of people who have not clearly confessed the Christian faith. The result is that the confession of culture and society, which is implacably hostile to our Christian faith, has quietly supplanted the Christian confession. Such people are no longer Christians, although they are unaware of the change, usually. In fact, the specific individuals may never have been Christians. The silence of the Christian confession may have belonged to the previous generation, resulting in the confusion of faiths encouraged by the devil and the world around us, and producing people who believe that all religions are equal.
We Americans respect all faiths. That is a political statement. We acknowledge the right of people to hold to and practice their religion without the interference of the government. That does not mean that we respect all religions as true. We know that there is only one God, and we know that He is known by one name. We understand, by faith, that there is no other name under heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved, than Jesus Christ. There is salvation in no one else. We also know and confess that salvation is the gift of God by grace, received through (not because of) faith. We know and believe that our sins are forgiven for Christ's sake, and that we are adopted into the family of God and possess eternal life, and will rise from our graves on the last day. No other religion can honestly make that claim, and I am unaware of any other religion that actually tries to make that claim. The reality is that some groups that call themselves "Christian" are at work trying to change that confession, adding human works to the cause of salvation, or taking away from it the hope of resurrection and everlasting life. Some simply want to deny the reality of sin, and so end up denying the need for salvation, and ignoring the coming resurrection and judgment.
We have a lot to tell the people around us. We have to inform them of the true nature of mankind, and the reality of sin, death, and hell. We have to teach them about the Savior. We have to confess the substance of that salvation and the hope of everlasting life in glory. We simply are not going to be able to do that if we indulge in children's fantasies about spooks and goblins and such. Not every silly superstition is worth a full-out, hearty, full-voiced attack of confession, but when there are clear and obvious choices, such as the choice between Halloween and Reformation Day, it just seems reasonable that we make the choice to confess our faith. It is the same principle that works when we make sure that Christ is the meaning of Christmas, even if we endure the myths about Santa and Rudolph, and that Easter is about the resurrection, not candy and bunnies and colored eggs (although there is nothing wrong with colored eggs, per se).
Instead of approaching the question of confessing instead of just going along with the paganism of our culture with the question of "what harm does it do?", we should ask instead, "What good does it do?". What good do we accomplish by accommodating paganism and unbelief? We don't need to insist that they change what they do, or that they agree with us, we just need to stand firm in our faith, and act in a manner consistent with what we believe. They can have Halloween, Santa, and Easter bunnies. We will have the glorious truths of the Gospel, the Incarnation of our Lord, and wonderful message of Easter of forgiveness, life, and our own coming resurrection to everlasting life in glory with Jesus Christ. If we keep them before our own eyes and on our lips, and live in a manner that reflects the truths we confess, the world around us will see, and will hear the truth, and if they don't hear it clearly, some will ask us to explain it. As Peter said, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.
Happy Hallo . . . Just kidding! Have a blessed Reformation Day - and remember to give thanks to God for the blessings of the truth preserved there!
Yours in the Lord,
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