Sunday, April 20, 2014

"Beware the Easter Bunny"

At the risk of being labeled a grinch, I must say it: The time has come to dispose of the Easter bunny. Even if it means braving the outrage of the chocolate lobby and the egg pickers, we must drive the bunny back into his hole, where he can no longer desecrate the most sacred of Christian celebrations. I didn't always feel this way. My earliest recollections of Easter involved scurrying around the house in search of the colored eggs my parents had dutifully hidden. Then, dressed in their Sunday best, they would haul me off to church, explaining that this was one day I had to go. I didn't know why. Thus, in my pagan youth, I fit perfectly with the pagan roots of Easter. Though we Christians today moan about its "secularization," we've got it backward. Easter's origins can be traced to a host of pre-Christian cultures. Its name is attributed to Eastre (the Teutonic goddess of spring and fertility), Astarte and Ishtar (the Babylonian goddesses), and Oster (the German equivalent). The Eastre festival was celebrated on the day of the spring equinox, with honors given to rabbits, symbols of fertility, and brightly colored eggs representing the sunlight of spring and new life. (The ancient Druids, Hindus, Japanese, Chinese, and Babylonians also celebrated spring with sacred eggs.) In the early centuries of the Christian church, the resurrection celebration (based on the timing of Passover) coincided with Eastre's festival. As pagan peoples were Christianized, their rituals cross-fertilized with the Christian celebration, which in turn took on the pagan name. This merger of sacred celebration with pagan tradition survived through the centuries. But never has it flourished more than in America today, where it feeds on our contemporary view of pluralism. That term has come to mean not respect for diversity, but rather a reduction of differences to the lowest common denominator. The insipid result has even become the law of the land; as the Supreme Court ruled in the Pawtucket creche case, sacred events may be publicly celebrated only if they satisfy a secular purpose. So holy days such as Christ's birth and resurrection survive only if adorned with commercial trinkets. Little wonder that millions of Americans grow up, as I did, associating Easter with egg hunts rather than the fact that split history: God raised his Son from the dead! So, though the Easter bunny may seem a harmless bit of springtime fluff, in truth it diverts our attention from the centrality of the Resurrection. And that's not harmless. Consider the consequences when the gospel is presented without this central truth: Several years ago, a newly appointed Anglican bishop in England, David Jenkins, announced to an amused secular press that the Resurrection was merely a "conjuring trick with bones." Most evangelicals cringed and hoped the coverage would die down soon. It did. But when I was recently in Sri Lanka, half a world away from Jenkins's diocese, I saw the long-term results of his words. As I asked an insightful Anglican rector about the growth of Christianity in his nation, he shook his head. "We are losing badly to the Moslems. It all began with the Jenkins business." He went on to explain that aggressive Moslems are visiting Christians, quoting Jenkins as authority that they no longer need believe in the Resurrection. Since Moslems and Christians now both see Jesus as merely a prophet, they argue, why not worship together in the mosque? "They are killings us with our bishop's own words," he concluded. Tragic. Without the Resurrection, Jesus is just another great moral teacher. People may as well turn to Islam--or anything else. As I reflected on Jenkins's statement, I wondered if we evangelicals are not - - - unconsciously, to be sure - - - guilty of the same heresy. In our eagerness to win the unsaved multitudes, we so often concentrate our message on "what God can do for you." I don't mean just the blatant health and wealth gospel that dominates Christian airwaves, but the more subtle emphasis on personal peace, contentment, and the good life. The message focusing only on "why nice things happen to God's people" concerns not the historic Christ of the Scriptures, but rather a giant Easter bunny in the sky who benevolently dispenses colored eggs for his eager flock to find. And sometimes, again unconsciously, we obscure the central truth of the Resurrection when we make personal testimony our primary form of evangelism. When I was in India last fall I had many opportunities to tell what Christ has done in my life. The thousands of faces in those predominantly Hindu crowds would nod and smile as I shared my experience. Hindus believe all roads lead to God - - - if Jesus was my guru, that's fine. They all had their gurus, too. But when I spoke of the reason for my faith, the resurrection of Christ, the nods would stop. People's expressions changed and they listened intently. The fact of the Resurrection demands a choice, one that reduces all other religions to mere philosophies. So that's my beef with the Easter bunny. He may be cute, entertaining millions of children; but he's deadly. He obscures the historic truth of the Resurrection no less than Bishop Jenkins, and we Christians should stop playing along. Maybe we should leave the springtime ritual to our pagan friends, and boldly proclaim Resurrection Day, We'd no doubt offend a few folk, but the cross is supposed to do that. At least people might hear the truth about the day we call Easter. And while we're at it, we need to be sure they hear it all year long. Without the Resurrection at the center of the Christian message, we all may as well put our hope in the Easter bunny.

- - - Charles Colson 

Copyright © The Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview 2014

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Council of Europe Planning Crackdown on Christians

Now comes the word that the Council of Europe (CEU) is engaged in planning a sweeping new set of standards and proposed laws that would re-define and severely curtail religious freedom throughout Europe.  These new rules, if adopted, would apply to any religious group or denomination not "approved" by the Council, by defining them as "sects" and stripping them of many of their rights.  Although some branches of Islam, and some cults such as Scientology, could conceivably be affected, the real target is evangelical and fundamentalist Protestants.  The proposed changes could have very practical effects, such as forbidding Christians to educate their children at home, a right protected under Article 9 and Protocol 1, Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

For the benefit of Americans and others, be it noted that the Council of Europe is an entirely separate organization from the European Union.  The Council, formed in 1949, contains 47 member states, and cannot make laws; the European Union, the actual political alliance governing Europe, currently has 28 member states, and has the power to legislate and enforce laws.  However, the Council of Europe is regarded as a vibrant and historically important part of European history and culture, and works closely with the EU, especially in areas of education and culture.  In those areas, the recommendations of the Council are taken very seriously by the leaders of the EU.

A Report “on the protection of minors against excesses of sects” and a draft Resolution have been adopted by the Committee of Legal Affairs and Human Rights, and presented to the Parliamentary Assembly this month.  This report contains extreme and draconian definitions of what constitutes an acceptable "religion," as opposed to a "sect."  Although Vatican City is not a member of the Council, Roman Catholicism and mainstream Protestantism will be protected, but such "sects" as evangelical and fundamentalist Christians will not.  If passed by the EU, this legislation would instantly remove, among other things, the right of evangelical parents to educate their children at home; other consequences would undoubtedly follow.  As is happening all over the world, genuine Biblical Christianity is being marginalized and demonized by those who cry out for "human rights."

This is a long and sordid story, and the details can be found here. They should be read by anyone who is concerned with true religious liberty.  A petition against the Council's actions has received over 12,000 signatures, but has now been closed.  Regardless, anyone living in Europe should be aware of the situation, and oppose it with any means possible.

Europe, alas, has a long and scandalous history of religious oppression, from the Roman Empire to the  Russian pogroms to the Third Reich and beyond.  This is merely the latest example, and is a genuine outrage.  If this post sounds alarmist, one would do well to remember the words of T. S. Eliot:
"It is hard for those who have never known persecution,
And who have never known a Christian,
To believe these tales of Christian persecution."

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A Daily Supply

And his allowance was a continual allowance given him of the king, 
a daily rate for every day, all the days of his life. - - - 2 Kings 25:30

Jehoiachin was not sent away from the king's palace with a store to last him for months, but his provision was given him as a daily pension. Herein he well pictures the happy position of all the Lord's people. A daily portion is all that a man really wants. We do not need tomorrow's supplies; that day has not yet dawned, and its wants are as yet unborn. The thirst which we may suffer in the month of August does not need to be quenched in April, for we do not feel it yet; if we have enough for each day as the days arrive we shall never know want. Sufficient for the day is all that we can enjoy. We cannot eat or drink or wear more than the day's supply of food and raiment; the surplus gives us the care of storing it, and the anxiety of watching against a thief. One staff aids a traveller, but a bundle of staves is a heavy burden. Enough is not only as good as a feast, but is all that the veriest glutton can truly enjoy. This is all that we should expect; a craving for more than this is ungrateful. When our Father does not give us more, we should be content with his daily allowance. Jehoiachin's case is ours, we have a sure portion, a portion given us of the king, a gracious portion, and a perpetual portion. Here is surely ground for thankfulness.

Beloved Christian reader, in matters of grace you need a daily supply. You have no store of strength. Day by day must you seek help from above. It is a very sweet assurance that a daily portion is provided for you. In the word, through the ministry, by meditation, in prayer, and waiting upon God you shall receive renewed strength. In Jesus all needful things are laid up for you. Then enjoy your continual allowance. Never go hungry while the daily bread of grace is on the table of mercy. 

- - - Charles Haddon Spurgeon
Morning and Evening