Nov 1, 2007

Liberty Through Redemption – with reference to Sex, Alcohol and, of course, Halloween

The following essay is a response to Halloween uNMaSkEd

http://blog.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.view&friendID=80334300&blogID=322495686

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Liberty Through Redemption – with reference to
Sex, Alcohol and, of course, that other
useless cultural itineration; Halloween
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Thesis: Emphasizing that something has a vile and destructive background does not necessarily invalidate participation thereof and therein on the part of the Christian believer.

Does this sound shocking? Patently absurd – or perhaps worse, blatantly heretical? In a different time and place would you, at this point in time, start gathering wood for a good heretic burning?

Consider that the very hope of Christianity is centrally expressed in the Cross; a horrific and grotesque artifact used upon not just criminals but anybody anybody else did not necessarily like. This is a fact that is largely overlooked by those who would see what something has been, and then state that that history must subsequently therefore necessarily predicate it’s future. If this logic is true – then all of us who were ever lost in our sin will forever more still be, and only those who grew up as goody two shoes ever have any hope to face a godly future. The past does not predicate the future, for us as individuals, neither does it for cultural manifestations around us either. An emphasis must be affirmed, not just on the Sovereignty of Christ, but also His Atonement; and to say that the Atonement and subsequent redemption soteriologically applies only to the spiritual dimension of our existence – is to embrace the dangerous and heretical monstrosity of Gnostic Dualism. The redemption of Christ is sovereign and affluent wherever the name of Christ is spoken and His blood applied; to say that this cannot be done, is to malign, demean and trivialize the full work of Christ upon the Cross. In terms of it’s affront to God, the disgusting and disturbing origins of Halloween are no less an affront to God then the icky, prideful shame of your own personal Total Depravity. If anything – Halloween is merely the logical cultural outworkings of depraved individuals; but to place an emphasis on what not just they but also ourselves were/are capable of, is to miss the point: the question of the evil is not in a cultural celebration – but the Total Depravity of the Human Heart. If we are to then understand the full work of Christ upon the heart of man – it is no false connection to also see that the Atonement/Redemption of the work, if Christ is to also be seen though the lenses of culture and it’s various and diverse itinerations be these Culinary or Cultural. Christ made it a point to show that the domain of Lucifer may forever and all time be present; but that the Christian has every right to contest and fight and redeem every aspect of what Lucifer would claim as his own; either in an origination or perversion of an assumed prior state. It is easy to see the potentially vile depravity of sex in our culture – but not since the medieval ages have we openly said that sex both in and outside marriage is always a sin. We may see the destructive affects of alcohol in our society; but contra the contestations of the Manichean-leaning Gnostic Dualist influenced notions of False Holiness that swept into the church in the 1920-30 against alcohol (largely by the hands of militant feminists) we have a Christ who made wine at a wedding. Theological assertions that seek to say otherwise are – when seen under the full weight of Scripture and 1,900 years of church history (John Calvin was paid for his preaching in wine casks; Martin Luther’s letters to his wife are filled with references to how good her beer is and how terrible the beer was that he was drinking abroad [she was a certified brewmaster]; the Moravians [precursors to the Puritans] brewed and sold beer to raise money for their missionaries {see drinking with Calvin & Luther by Jim West}) – are revealed to be completely and utterly devoid of any integrity in any way – and are as J. Gresham Machen argued, ‘completely and utterly unbiblical.’

But in the early church (see Augustine) we see sex regarded as also evil (this is the theological inheritance of Priest being celibate) and today we still struggle with the idea that Alcohol is somehow also the and spawn of evil; ‘the devil’s own brew’ – only one of the many colorful monikers applied to all things fermented. Today we go to great lengths to demonstrate how this or that Cultural celebration is also evil. I have news for you – your very existence is evil, vile, and a complete affront to a holy and a righteous God. Not participating in this or that, or actually participating in an abundance of other perhaps alternatively seen as wholesome and clean cultural feasts/celebrations or rituals does absolutely nothing to make you any better. This was the lesson to be learned from the “Salvation through the Law” paradigm expressed in the Old Testament – before we were given a ‘more excellent way;’ that way being nothing less nor nothing more then the shed blood of Christ. Unfortunately – we slip back into the sense of having a suspicion that we can make ourselves better by subjecting ourselves to “touch not; taste not; handle not” religious legalisms that are merely – in the words of J. Gresham Machen – “overblown piety” and ultimately an affront to Christ and His work on the Cross

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And this I say, lest any man should beguile you with enticing words. For though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, joying and beholding your order, and the stedfastness of your faith in Christ. As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, [so] walk ye in him: Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving. Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power: In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with [him] through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; [And] having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it. Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath [days]: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body [is] of Christ. Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God. Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (Touch not; taste not; handle not; Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men? Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh. (Collossians 2:4-23)
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Some people will eternally be offended by Alcohol; other eternally by the idea of putting on a costume and being silly for a day – to those who are; I am compelled by scripture to protect you from the sin and ignorance that you damn yourself with when you see a fellow brother in Christ openly practicing the liberty that is not just found in but that is Christ Jesus. When it comes to what I do personally and relationally; I must be wise and work to not offend; but when it comes the offense that you feel towards what The Word speaks The World; I will not tolerate the subjugation, malignment of it, nor the translation of it into cultural, culinary or personal fears – I will not countenance these things for even an hour.

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And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain. But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised: And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage: To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you. (Galatians 2:2-5)
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The fear mongering that goes on in the Christianity has nothing to do with scripture and everything with a misplaced faith in works and not the work of and the redemption of Christ. Indeed the scriptures counsel us to not walk in fear but to place an emphasis in our understanding of our relationship with Christ. This is the problem with Gnostic Dualism; it puts the emphasis on “a thing” and says that the solution is “separation” rather then understanding that everything comes back to the point of our relationship and the impartation of any righteousness that we might have as coming through our relationship and of no consequence to anything we can do or might avoid doing.

Being separate from the world – means not placing a trust in our relationship with the world and/or not seeing the solution to something as necessary removal from it alone. A careful examination of just about every false religion that seeks to supplant a trust in a Crucified and Risen savior – will invariably point the blame to something else besides an inherent brokenness in your own spirit that transcends and makes you both spiritually and physically fallen. There is no word for “body” in the Hebrew – they have words for skin, bone and hair – but not ‘body’ because in the Hebraic understanding, the body as we see it and the spirit that we speak of – they are not all the far separated. The redemptive work of Christ inheres in the Spirit but is fully actualized in both our Spiritual and Physical dimensions of our being. Just as we are physical creatures created by a spiritual God – we are fallen both physically and spiritually – and the only hope for both is that which created both – the spirit of God.

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For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. (Ron 8:15)
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It is a theologically fallacious endeavor to advance the cause for Christ by preaching fear of anything; the only thing we are called to truly fear is God himself – not some itineration of creation that He created (Alcohol/Sex) nor anything that we ourselves can attribute as our own machinations (Halloween/Music/Dancing/Theaters/etc). What should be preached is our adoption – the impartation of righteousness that comes from our relationship; not the avoidance of something. Holiness; not getting drunk, not fornicating, or sacrificing a black cat on Halloween – are changes that take place when we are transformed through that relationship. Trying to change the behaviors of a person and not their spirit is putting the cart before the horse, soteriologically speaking. It is backwards.

The question that should be continually asked is what does this look like through the Cross and in light of the Resurrection? Mortifying the deeds of the body means far more then just not doing something; it can also mean not thinking something. The truth is that you may see an act/behavior/celebration as good or you may see them as evil – what really matters is where does the Cross and it’s redemption factor in. Vain religious rituals that are disconnected from Christ are just as dangerous if not more so then any pagan ritual ever conceived; because Halloween – as is celebrated by all Christians who do participate in it – is a form of Sarcasm and Spoofery; whereas that which goes on in church, yet never speaks of Christ’s blood and his Atonement – is yet a lie yet also taken with all sincerity, and therefore is arguably far more insidiously dangerous.

Leaning on your own expectations of what can and cannot be redeemed ultimately inheres in your own flesh; because ultimately they are outworkings of your own mind -and they will speak death to you just as fast if not more insidiously then anything else.

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For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. (Rom 8:13)
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Liberty for the Christian – be that drinking alcohol in moderation, making passionate love to your wife/husband or celebrating a redeemed Halloween will always come back to a relationship and a position within Christ. Even in the Old Testament doing things that you potentially enjoy – are referenced as being done in connection with God.

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“But if the journey is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, or if the place where the LORD your God chooses to put His name is too far from you, when the LORD your God has blessed you, “then you shall exchange it for money, take the money in your hand, and go to the place which the LORD your God chooses. “And you shall spend that money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen or sheep, for wine or similar drink, for whatever your heart desires; you shall eat there before the LORD your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household. (Deut 14:24-26)
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Here we see the idea of coming back to God’s house and enjoying a potentially dangerous liberty – through relationship; which entails Redemption. Even in this verse; we see that Relationship/Adoption and then Liberty through Redemption functions as a model for the Christian, one which – if we are to live a ‘biblical life’ – should be appropriated within both the spiritual and physical dimensions and aspects of his/her life.

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For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God; Who hath saved us, and called [us] with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel: (2tim 1:7-10)
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Everything begins and ends with Jesus Christ – He created everything and He redeemes everything; and it is the redemption of the weak and foolish – can we not also say “stupid?” – things; that the power of his awesome, sovereign majesty is not just accomplished but more fully demonstrated not just in scope – but also in it’s ability. Religious legalists and self-professed ‘wise men’ who try to make rational judgments the norm of the pursuit of a Holy Life will often run awry of a God who will show all their human attempts to make this and not that holy and this and not that Redeemable – absolute fools.

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But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, [yea], and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. (1st Corinthians 1:27-31)
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Lastly – when we understand that our Liberty to make love to our spouse, drink a glass of wine or dress up and/or pass out candy for Halloween comes exclusively through Christ; we acknowledge the full power of the Resurrection and Redemption is made manifest through our physical and Spiritual existence and also the Culture that stands at the crossroads of these any many other intersections of life. Our cultural redemption will follow when we walk in a redemptive authenticity in Our spirit and our bodies.

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For Meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed [are] pure; but [it is] evil for that man who eateth with offence. [It is] good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor [any thing] whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak. Hast thou faith? have [it] to thyself before God. Happy [is] he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth. And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because [he eateth] not of faith: for whatsoever [is] not of faith is sin.(Romans 14:20-23)

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When we are radical in our understanding of our Faith in Christ and His Cross – then the implications are themselves radical – and just as such an affirmation is – in a world of Cultural Christianity; radical –it is this itself; radical, uncompromising, and unrelenting.

And this – I would affirm is the only way that, as the church, we have any hope of really impacting the world. Anything and everything else is – ultimately a distraction.

P.S.

The Halloween skeleton “getup” that I have on in the picture I sent out – I was originally going to say something like “official spokesperson for Adkins Diet” but since I was standing next to my Deville; I thought the “just because you’re a ghoul this Halloween, does not mean your ride has to be…” tagline was a bit funnier. I tried not to send it or the zombie Monopoly ‘chance card;’ “build hotel on cemetery. Problems Arise. Pay $250.” To those who would probably be offended by it. To be honest – it was added to make my link to the essay I wrote “A Theology of Despair” on my blog – a bit less like a blatant spam and more like a genuine Halloween Greeting to my myspace friends – which it was. The link to the essay is the entire reason I spent the couple of hours on the whole affair anyway. I have felt a strong conviction that God wants to use all my “scribbling” – and this combined with my understanding that theological education outside of applied ministry is dangerous is seemingly compelling me to look at this as a ministry opportunity more and more. I know that God has called me to study –in what ways then has he called me to minister? Through my writing? I pushed the Despair essay link, which I wrote a year ago, across the comments of quite a few “Goth” sites – and I remain deeply fascinated by the prospect of how such an essay may be received amongst such a demographic. But I know that I’ve just been faithful to do something – and what God does or does not do with it – that is something to be looked forward to as well.

In His Grace,

-Matthew Lipscomb