Saturday 9 December 2023

Without Injustice

I was born in 1947, just as the western world was putting itself back together after the horrors of World War 2.  Although I was of course completely unaware at the time, it was a most significant period.  Many changes came about.  Some of these may have seemed to be completely new but probably most of them were the results of processes that had been brewing for many years, even generations.

Two events in particular stand out for me.  The independence and partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 and the establishment of the modern-day State of Israel in 1948.

I went to India in 1967, expecting to stay for two years as I took part in training in Christian life and evangelism alongside other young people, who were mostly Indians from many different parts of that gloriously diverse country, with a sprinkling of foreigners like myself.  I stayed until 1972, by which time India felt like my home and I was reluctant to return to the West.  Val and I had met each other in India and were married in the UK in July 1972.  We both felt a strong desire to return to the land that had become so much part of our lives.  Despite several visits with a view to moving back there at least semi-permanently, we found ourselves unable to do so.  But that, as they say, is another story . . .

One of the joys of India at that time was the near-total freedom of expression.  The Constitution of India as a secular state guaranteed the freedom to practise, preach and propagate any faith.  As teams of young and zealous followers of Jesus, we were free to drive around the towns and villages in vans and lorries which were filled to the brim with Christian books in many Indian languages.  The ‘girls teams’ adopted a suitably quiet approach of house-to house visiting.  In the ‘boys teams’, we would stop in the market places and other busy spots, stand on the tailgate of the truck, sing some Christian songs through our megaphone and then give a very brief talk in the local language about Jesus and why he had come into the world.  

Then most of us would disperse into the crowd which had gathered and offer them books to buy in their own language, as well as some free leaflets.  The response was often surprisingly positive and only the Lord knows what the results may be of all those books going out into the general population of India all those years ago!  Many times, illiterate men would ask me what language the books were in, to make sure that their children would be able to read them, and of course there were many discussions with those who might be interested – and those who were antagonistic!

On very rare occasions, that antagonism would turn nasty and potentially violent.  I remember one situation when we suddenly realised that we might be in some physical danger and so bundled ourselves into the truck and drove off swiftly, shutting the rear door as the last team member jumped in.  Just seconds later as we were still picking up speed, we heard a loud thump on that rear door and looked out very cautiously, only to see a massive boulder which someone had managed to throw.  A few moments earlier, that would have caused severe bodily injury instead of just another big dent in the truck door!

We gradually came to know that on most of the occasions when we encountered strong opposition, it had been fomented by local adherents of extreme right-wing Hindu nationalist groups, who apparently saw Christianity as totally undesirable and a threat to their dream of India as ‘Hindu-Stan’ – the country of Hindus.

In our travels, we met groups of local Christian believers, often in tiny fellowships.  We were made welcome and offered warm and simple hospitality as we joined with them in their worship and witness.  They had total freedom: no restraints on their gatherings or their local evangelism.

As more than 50 years have passed, we have retained our close interest in India and have noted with concern that the liberty which we all enjoyed in those early days has been not just eroded but has been almost totally removed.  

Back in about 1970, it was perfectly OK for me – as a fair-skinned foreigner – to join with my Indian brothers and speak publicly about Jesus in my broken Hindi to those crowds in the market places.  Just the need to keep our eyes open for the potential trouble-makers who might object to my presence linked with what they saw as ‘foreign religion’.

These days, the situation is different.  It is now almost impossible for even established local believers to make any sort of public witness for the Lord Jesus without encountering immediate and strong opposition.  The secular constitution of India remains unchanged (as far as I know) but the application of that wonderful freedom has been obscured by the rise to power of those same right-wing Hindu nationalist groups, with the result that all non-Hindu minority religious groups now face an increasingly militant and violent reaction.  Increasingly often, it seems to go further and they find that their businesses, homes and lives are under very real threat.

For Christian believers, as well as for all the other ‘religious minorities’ in India, the 1947 dream of freedom is rapidly turning into a nightmare.  The harmony between communities for which Gandhi struggled and which Nehru legislated into existence has been despised and overturned.  Their vision is, even at this moment, being viciously eroded by the arrogance of those who seem to think that the land is for them and their community only.  The current climate feels like an apartheid regime, perhaps even moving towards the horror of another ‘final solution’, where India is for the Hindus and only for the Hindus.

The promise has been undermined by injustice.

In 1948, like Indians in the previous year, Jews seeking to establish the modern State of Israel also had a dream.  In the words of Daniel Barenboim, “The Jewish people cherished a dream: a land of their own, a homeland for all Jews. But from this dream followed a deeply problematic – because it was fundamentally false – assumption: a land without a people for a people without a land. In reality, the Jewish population of Palestine was only 8% by the end of the first world war. Therefore, 92% of the population was not Jewish, but Palestinian – a population grown over centuries. The country could hardly be called a “land without a people”, and the Palestinian population saw no reason to give up their land. The conflict was thus inevitable, and the fronts have only hardened further over generations. I am convinced Israelis will have security when Palestinians can feel hope – that is, justice. Both sides must recognise their enemies as human beings and try to empathise with their point of view, their pain and their hardship. Israelis must also accept that the occupation of Palestine is incompatible with this.”

(  Daniel Barenboim is a famous Jewish pianist and conductor who collaborated with Edward Said, a Palestinian colleague, to form the ‘West-Eastern Divan Orchestra’, composed of young musicians from Israel, Palestine and other Middle Eastern countries.)

For more years than I can remember, I have passively gone along with the view that is commonly held among western Christians, that the immigration of large numbers of Jewish people to the newly-formed (and avowedly secular) modern State of Israel is a fulfilment of Biblical prophecy that the people of God would return to the Promised Land.  For various reasons, I now question that assumption.

It seems that, although there is at least a large minority of religious Jews in modern Israel, about 45% self-identify as ‘secular’, not practising any form of Judaism, and certainly not the faith as delivered through Moses.  They are actually unable to do so anyway, as the system of sacrifices, as set out in the Torah (the Law as given to Moses) requires a sanctuary – originally the Tabernacle or ‘Tent of Meeting’ which was later replaced by Solomon’s Temple and then the re-built version of it.  Its site in Jerusalem is currently occupied by the Al-Aqsa Mosque, ‘The Dome of the Rock’ and, as far as I know, there has been no Jewish attempt to erect a tented tabernacle or build a temple in any other location.  There have been many rumours of Jewish plans to demolish the mosque and re-build the Temple on its original site!

Without a Tabernacle or Temple, and without a Levitical priesthood to offer sacrifices for sins in that sanctuary, present-day Rabbinical Judaism has to find other ways to seek forgiveness.  It can’t find them in the Old Testament, so it turns to traditions, especially as embodied in the Talmud.  I have now started to see that there is a world of difference between Old Testament Israel, based on the Law and the Prophets, and modern Rabbinical Judaism, based on the Talmud and other traditions.  As I suspect many other Christians have done, I had assumed for years that the two were a lot closer than they actually are.

Alongside dominant secularity and tradition-based modern Judaism, somehow there seems to be a belief that the Jewish people (and therefore, it is assumed, the modern State of Israel) are entitled to occupy the land in its entirety, as promised to Abraham.  A blatant inconsistency seems to have been deliberately ignored – claiming the promises made to a historic people by a God whom they no longer trust!

There are clear Biblical promises of a return to ‘The Land’ for the People of God.  Many of these are found in the book of Ezekiel, written when the Jews had been exiled to Babylon because of their persistent unbelief and refusal to follow the LORD (YHWH), the God of their fathers.  

This is probably not the place to try to delve deep into the details and different opinions regarding these prophecies.  Enough to say that I am becoming increasingly unconvinced that they form any honest basis to support the cause of Zionism.  I understand that there is a significant minority of religious Jews who also believe that the founding of the modern State of Israel in 1948 was not in accordance with the promises of Scripture.  It is probably not a coincidence that apparently this minority is drawn from those who pay less attention to the Talmud and more to the Torah !

Some of the more obvious flaws in the argument for a modern-day return to the land are found in Ezekiel 37, the famous ‘dry bones’ chapter, in the closing verses: 

Say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I will take the sons of Israel from among the nations where they have gone, and I will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land; and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king will be king for all of them; and they will no longer be two nations and no longer be divided into two kingdoms. They will no longer defile themselves with their idols, or with their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions; but I will deliver them from all their dwelling places in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them. And they will be My people, and I will be their God. My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd; and they will walk in My ordinances and keep My statutes and observe them. They will live on the land that I gave to Jacob My servant, in which your fathers lived; and they will live on it, they, and their sons and their sons’ sons, forever; and David My servant will be their prince forever. I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will place them and multiply them, and will set My sanctuary in their midst forever.  My dwelling place also will be with them; and I will be their God, and they will be My people. And the nations will know that I am the LORD who sanctifies Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forever.”’

At least three discrepancies here, and they are all significant:– 1)  The LORD says that the people will return to faith in him, follow his principles and laws and will be holy before him.  That has not happened. 2)  He says that his ‘servant David’ will be prince and king over them.  This is a clear reference to the Messiah, and I understand that this may be part of the reason for those Jews who do not agree with the 1948 ‘return’ – the Messiah was not involved! 3)  He says that his sanctuary will be ‘in their midst forever.’  It’s not there!  For Jews receiving Ezekiel’s words, any reference to the ‘sanctuary’ will have meant one thing only – the temple – together with the awesome presence of God, as witnessed when Solomon first completed the building.  See 1 Kings 8:10-11 for the LORD’s awesome presence, 1 Kings 9:1-9 and 2 Chronicles 7:12-22 for his promise – and warning – in response to Solomon’s prayer of dedication.  Please look up these verses I refer to!

Just as he had warned them, the Israelites DID fall away from serving the LORD and he DID remove them from the land, the temple DID become a heap of ruins and the people DID become a proverb and a byword among all peoples.  In his amazing mercy and grace, and through the intercession of Daniel claiming the prophecy of Jeremiah, the LORD restored them and the governor Zerubbabel was able to start repairing the devastated temple in about 535 BC – after the 70 years of Babylonian exile!  This was later refurbished and extended by Herod the Great and was the temple at the time of Jesus’ life and ministry in Judea.

So, was the return by Zerubbabel and others the return that Ezekiel had prophesied?  Let’s run those 3 tests again:– 1)  Did the people return to following the LORD again?  Yes, at least to some extent, as recorded in the book of the prophet Haggai. 2)  Was the Messiah prince and king over them?  No, they only had governors who were still under the authority of foreign powers.  3)  Was the temple there as the LORD’s sanctuary ‘in their midst for ever’ ?  Well, the temple was there, rather a shadow of its former glory (see Haggai 2:1-9), albeit later enhanced by Herod, but destroyed by the Romans in AD 70 and absent ever since; the site has been covered by the Al-Aqsa complex from about AD 637.

So, it looks like neither 535 BC nor AD 1948 marked the return as prophesied by Ezekiel. 

*    *    *    *    *

But, just for the moment, let’s look at the establishment of the modern State of Israel in 1948 as if perhaps it might have been a proper and legitimate return as prophesied by Ezekiel . . .

In that case, despite the fact that it was engineered by the League of Nations and accomplished by a seizure of power backed by terrorist actions with no particularly religious motives, it could possibly be regarded as a demonstration of the extreme faithfulness of the LORD to a people who had very largely rejected him.  That characteristic of his faithfulness shines out through the whole of the Bible narrative, especially perhaps in his dealings with the wayward wanderings of his Chosen People!

At the end of their 40 years in the desert, just as they are about to enter the Promised Land without him, Moses (age 120!) gives the people a song which he directs them to sing and teach to their offspring “Now therefore, write this song for yourselves, and teach it to the sons of Israel; put it on their lips, so that this song may be a witness for Me against the sons of Israel . . . Ascribe greatness to our God!  The Rock! His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He.” (Deuteronomy 31:19, 32:3-4)

‘Faithfulness’ ? – definitely, Yes!  ‘Without injustice’ ? – just as definitely, Yes again!

So, IF (and it is a big ‘if’) it had been the LORD’s doing that brought modern Israel into existence, then his work would have been marked not only by his faithfulness in keeping his promises but also by his justice.  Just a brief glance at the attitude and actions of that State towards those whose lands and property they took for themselves will give us the answer.  The people who actually DID inhabit the so-called ‘land without a people’ – the Palestinians – have suffered 75 years of persistent injustice which continues in the most extreme form even as I write in December 2023.  This feels like another ‘final solution’ to establish one exclusive ‘master race’.  I use these terms deliberately because it seems unbelievable that a people who suffered terribly under this kind of regime about 80 years earlier could even contemplate employing the same approach.  There are some fine-sounding words, but the actions look very like another system of apartheid and perhaps even the attempted extermination of an unwelcome race.  Can this really be the work of the ‘God of faithfulness and without injustice’?

*    *    *    *    *

This still leaves the question of the promised return: a holy and worshipping people with the Messiah as King and his sanctuary in their midst.  Does that sound just a little familiar?  

“And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband . . .  I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple . . . they will bring the glory and the honour of the nations into it; and nothing unclean, and no one who practises abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life . . . There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads.    And there will no longer be night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 21 & 22)

No, this is not (as is often said) a vision of ‘heaven’ but of the kingdom of God on earth, a kingdom which is in the future but which is already being prepared, with members from every nation of the earth.  Some of these are from the LORD’s original Chosen People, who were already part of the original ‘olive tree’ and who have NOT been broken off because of unbelief.  And then there are some (myself included) who have been joined into that same tree, who were formerly branches of a ‘wild olive tree’ but who have been grafted in through the grace of God and ‘the obedience of faith’.  See Paul’s description of this in Romans 11.  

There is only one ‘olive tree’.  All the ‘branches’ who are in living contact with the life of the tree are heirs of the promises of God, whether they were ‘naturally’ part of it or ‘grafted in.’  Tragically, the majority of those original ‘branches’ have been broken off because of their unbelief, and so they forfeit their part in the inheritance – but the opportunity remains for them to be grafted back in!  There is no alternative ‘Plan B’ for them – or for anyone else.

Dave Taylor    December 2023

Further copies can be downloaded from

Monday 8 April 2019

The Dictatorship of Freedom

Just about a generation ago, or perhaps nearly two, there was a strong upsurge of protest at the imposition of ‘old-fashioned values’ on the modern population.  The new ‘post-Christian’ majority of Western society resented the enforcement of outmoded moral standards on newly-liberated secular society.
There was no such thing as ‘right and wrong’, we were told.  There were no absolutes of good and evil any more; they belonged to a bygone age of religious paternalism.  God, if he had ever existed, was now declared dead.  This ‘new morality’ looked suspiciously like the old immorality, snatched from the seamy shadow-world of unspoken depravity and illicit sexual affairs and brought into the supposed ‘daylight’ of open acceptance.  If it seemed OK to you, then it was OK.  No-one had any right to pass judgment on anyone else’s apparent morality or lack of it.
There were some exceptions, of course.  Western society could hardly endorse the complete abandonment of values, could it?  Murder was still wrong, treating other people badly (in various ways) could not be accepted, or else society itself would have fallen apart very rapidly.
Despite their philosophical commitment to ‘no absolute values’, somehow those in authority needed to make sure that there was still some framework of values that defined what was acceptable or not in the modern world.  Having discarded any external reference to a righteous God with clearly stated codes of right and wrong, nonetheless they needed to establish their own laws to avoid complete social disintegration.  Did nobody see that they were living inconsistently and also imposing inconsistent controls on the population?
Theoretically, if there really were no such thing as absolute right and wrong, then these laws had no right to exist.  But, if we did not have such laws and society fell apart as a result, then we needed to invent them.  We couldn’t call them absolute values (because we no longer believed in those), so we called them relative values.  And then imposed them as absolutes!  If anyone called out the inconsistency at the time, they were ignored.
Christians (and some others) who took a stand on fixed moral values were held up to public ridicule and abuse, especially if they were suspected of wanting to enforce their standards on other people or on society as a whole.  
Much of that criticism was completely valid.  The moral values of the Old Testament were delivered to the Jewish people and the history of the time shows that other surrounding nations did not necessarily follow the same lines.  The instructions to Christians in the New Testament were precisely that – instructions to Christian believers, not to the world around them.  Proclaiming the good news of Jesus and the kingdom of God was not an attempt to impose their values on those who heard, but an appeal to them to respond to the grace of God and allow him to change their lives from the inside.  The institutionalisation of Christianity into so-called ‘Christian countries’ was exactly the opposite, codifying ‘Christian values’ into laws for all the population to follow, irrespective of their faith or lack of it.  Sadly these two opposite approaches have often been seen as one and the same!
The years have passed.  Many – and not only the older generations – bemoan the evident decline of society, with symptoms greeting us every day in the local, national and international news.  Yes, the rise of westernisation in so-called ‘developing countries’ has brought with it a clamour for the embracing of ‘western values’, which often means throwing off many or all of the restraints of local traditions and values and the adoption of more ‘liberal values’, much to the dismay of the upholders of traditional national values in many different cultures.  
Some on the ‘Christian right’ in Western countries have taken a stand against this apparent moral degeneration and have called for a return to ‘Christian values’ in the societies in which they live.
The reaction which they might experience if that were ever to happen might be similar to the reaction to developments in Brunei in April 2019.  The decision by the ageing Sultan to impose Islamic Sharia law, punishing adultery and homosexual practice by stoning to death attracted what seemed like unanimous international condemnation.  If there were any who approved, they kept a very low profile.
The strength of reaction is ironic.  Those with the strongest reaction are people who uphold the ‘rights’ of sexual freedom, who condemn neither adultery nor homosexual intercourse.  Two generations ago, they would have been at the forefront of those who clamoured for the removal of ‘old-fashioned values’, but what do they do now?
They call for the international condemnation and boycotting of those who wish to impose sanctions on the freedoms they hold dear.  Worldwide public opinion is mustered against what they see as wrong, the curtailment of sexual freedom.  Those who once agitated against the imposition of standards on them and their own ‘freedoms’ are now imposing their own sense of ‘right and wrong’ on a regime that does not recognise the same standards as they do.  
They have become absolutists.  They are right and anyone who disagrees with them is wrong, fit only for international condemnation.  Can they not see the inconsistency of their own position?
I am not arguing for the imposition of Sharia law.  Far from it!  I do not believe that death by stoning is appropriate for adultery or homosexual intercourse.  In fact, I don’t think that the state needs to be involved in such matters at all.  But I do believe that both practices are wrong.
It is also wrong to seek to impose standards on those who do not share them.  It is wrong when institutional ‘Christianity’ tries to impose ‘Christian values’ on an otherwise secular society.  It is wrong whenever any religious legalism is imposed on the population, just as it was when the Pharisees did it (to Jews!) in first-century Judea.  It is also wrong when a supposedly ‘liberal’ society seeks to impose its liberality on those who do not agree.
As a Christian believer, I am convinced that adultery is wrong.  That does not make me ‘adulterophobic’ or a hater of adulterers.  I am convinced that homosexual intercourse is wrong, but that does not make me homophobic.  I am convinced that Islam is wrong, but that does not make me hate all Muslims.  The vocabulary is wrong and the words are inappropriate.  ‘Phobic’ means ‘having a fear of’, and I am not afraid of adultery, homosexuality or Islam.  I simply believe that they are all wrong.  But that still does not make me antagonistic to those who practise them.
No doubt there will be those that believe that I am wrong.  Perhaps they would wish to write me off as legalistic.  Why?  Because I do not conform to the supposedly liberal standards which they believe are the new absolutes?  I do not condemn them for their different values, even though I profoundly disagree with them.  They may disagree just as profoundly with my values, but disagreement is no reason for condemnation in either direction.
‘Christian’ legalism has a lot to answer for.  ‘Hate the sin but love the sinner’ is often quoted but usually ignored.  There has been too long a history of hating the perpetrator and now those who once suffered that hatred are meting it out to those they disagree with.  Just a brief glance at the life of Jesus shows a polar opposite.  The legalists, trying to entrap him, brought a woman to him who had been caught in the act of adultery and quoted the Old Testament law which (like the present-day Sharia) designated stoning to death as the appropriate punishment.  
Pointedly, Jesus tells the woman that he does not condemn her but also tells her not to sin again.  He does not even utter a word to condemn the accusers but simply suggests that the first stone should be thrown by anyone there who is sinless.  The fact that they all skulk away reveals that they found themselves condemned and so could not carry out the sentence.
Where does that leave the modern-day proponents of ‘liberal’ legalism?  Still attempting to exercise their dictatorship of ‘freedom’ ?
Dave Taylor       April 2019

Tuesday 10 October 2017

No Mere Remembrance

'No Mere Remembrance' is the title of a small book that I have just completed.
It is too big to publish on a blogger site, but you can find it via my 'Just One Candle' website or direct to the book itself, which is published as a PDF file, for free download.

For many Christians, 'The Breaking of Bread', 'The Lord's Supper' or 'Communion' is a routine that we follow without perhaps really understanding very much of the meaning and significance of it.  In this short study book, I have tried to draw together some of the underlying truths which we often miss and present them in a way that is relevant to effective Christian living in the 21st Century.

It is not too academic, but it is not light reading either, and there are lots of scripture references to follow if you want to explore more for yourself.

Please contact me via the address on the website if you have any feedback or other comments on this book or any of the other items on the website.

Monday 19 December 2016

The NEW Just One Candle Website

This blog site started in 2008, when I had a few things that were 'burning' with me and felt that I just needed to say them – whether or not anyone was listening!
Since then, occasionally there have been more 'burning issues' which I have felt the need to express.  It IS far better to try to light one little candle than to merely scream at the darkness, and I hope that some of the things which I have shared from my heart have been some help and encouragement to some others who face similar frustrations.
Now all these texts have been gathered on a new website – with a familiar name!  It is and you will find MANY more files there, with more being added all the time until I have uploaded all (or at least most!) of the various notes from all the talks and studies that Val and I have given or led over the last 30 years or so.
Some of the older files will take a little retrieving and some may be lost completely – especially those which were written on a typewriter before we had a computer or which are in obsolete file formats – but I will try to unearth as many as I can.
They are all available as PDF files for free download.  I may also put some of the larger ones into e-book formats.
This blog is not closing!  I expect there will continue to be times when I feel the need to 'sound off' about burning issues, so I shall return here in the hope that the burning can be put to use in lighting another little candle . . .

Friday 25 December 2015

The Turning of the Year

For millennia, mankind has observed the decline of the days and the onset of winter.  For those in the temperate northern hemisphere, we are right at that point now.  For those in the temperate southern half of the world, you are at exactly the opposite end of the cycle - your turn will come in 6 months' time!

For those at the poles, it is even more extreme and those in the tropics see very little difference in day length.  'Winter' and 'Summer' are meaningless words in a tropical vocabulary and in the extreme polar regions they are almost synonymous with 'Night' and 'Day'.

Western culture was born in the temperate northern climes and has somehow claimed the right to dictate its norms to other parts of the world.  Back in those early years, the shortening of the days was often attributed to the anger of the gods, as if daylight was gradually being withdrawn as a punishment for the misdeeds of the people.

As humans began to appreciate that the days always started to lengthen again, they calculated the cycle of day length and the annual calendar was born.  The seasons fitted together in exactly the same sequence, year after year.  No-one knew about the inclination of the earth at about 23 degrees, the simple fact that determines seasonal variation as we travel round the sun.

Confusion arose, of course, when it was discovered that the moon's travels around the earth do not fit exactly into one solar year.  The lunar calendar, estimated at 28 days, fits 13 months into one earth year - with one day left over!  The actual orbit of the moon around the earth takes just over 27 days, so the close approximation of 13 lunar months in 364 days is flawed, too.

Even the earth's solar year is not a whole number of earth days, so adding an extra day at the end of February every 4 years doesn't quite get the earth's solar orbit right and sometimes we don't have a leap year when we might expect one.

But the turning of the year remains.  Every year, sometime between 20th and 22nd December in the north and 20th and 22nd June in the south, the days start to lengthen again, as they always have done.  The ancient Sumerian civilisation, more than 4000 years ago, celebrated the 12 days of Zagmuk, when their chief deity Marduk was supposed to have overcome the evil domain of Chaos, whose resurgence had been exemplified by the diminishing daylight hours.

The ancient Egyptian civilisation had similar traditions, as did the Romans, who honoured Saturn (the Roman god of agriculture) and the birth of Mithras (the Persian god of light) over the period 17th December to 1st January.  By before AD 300, these had been amalgamated into the Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, the 'Birthday of the Unconquered Sun'.  Connections to the new agricultural year and re-awakened daylight are obvious.

It took a Roman emperor, Constantine, to 'Christianise' these festivals as part of his 'organised religion' approach to Christian faith, in about AD 335.  Just a few years later, the Pope Julius 1 decreed that the birth of Jesus would now be celebrated on December 25th.  The genuineness of Constantine's own faith is open to question, but he made Christianity the official religion of his empire - and institutionalised Christianity was born!

What had previously been a vital faith, spreading vigorously in the face of earlier official persecution, had now 'arrived' as part of the establishment, and the insidious practice of syncretism was given official endorsement.

The approach of syncretism is to try to make a new faith system more acceptable by tagging it on to the traditions of older beliefs.  There are many examples of this in buildings as well as in traditions, especially where Christian church buildings were erected on the site of ancient burial mounds or 'holy places'.  Sadly, the history of some so-called 'missionary work' among animist tribes in South America is a glaring example of such dishonesty, re-labelling people as 'Christian' while leaving them snared in their old animist practices.

Syncretism has no integrity.  Instead of the message of the apostles in the book of Acts, to turn from false gods and old practices and receive the grace of God which is only available through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, it somehow tries to merge the two together into a 'comfortable' mixture, which in reality offers no comfort whatsoever.

So what has all this to do with the turning of the year?  Just that this is the time of year when many Christians follow the practices of old non-Christian traditions and claim that they are 'celebrating' the birth of Jesus.  Of course the birth of Jesus is recorded in the New Testament but there is not the slightest hint of any suggestion that it should be celebrated on a special day and, in fact, believers seem to have got on very well without such celebrations for the first few centuries.

Although it seems that the apostle Paul may have celebrated the Passover - hardly surprising with his Jewish roots and the enormous significance of the Lord Jesus representing the Passover sacrifice - he expresses his frustration with the Galatian believers over their 'religious observances' of special days and years: "But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again?  You observe days and months and seasons and years.  I fear for you, that perhaps I have laboured over you in vain." (Galatians 4:9-11)

Paul also says that some people will want to observe days and others won't, and that is completely OK.  "One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind.  He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God." (Romans 14:5-6)

But with so-called 'Christmas', can you honestly 'observe it for the Lord'?  With all its pagan baggage and religious overtones?  Can you really tell your non-Christian friends about the 'real meaning of Christmas' when you know that is simply an ancient pagan festival that has been hijacked by institutionalised Christianity?  (Did you really want to be part of that?)

So, am I celebrating?  Yes and no.  You will have realised that I am definitely not interested in 'celebrating Christmas', but yes, I can quietly celebrate the turning of the year, as I see the days beginning to lengthen again.  Spring may lie beyond weeks of frosts and apparent barrenness, but it is coming . . . the year has turned!

Sunday 2 May 2010

Twisted Unity

Apparently, Samuel Johnson made the famous pronouncement that 'patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel' on the evening of April 7, 1775. Reporting this, Boswell doesn't provide any context for how the remark arose, so we don't really know for sure what was on Johnson's mind at the time. However, he assures us that Johnson was not condemning patriotism in general, only false patriotism.
I had no idea that this comment would have any parallel in the life of the Church, but an incident of 'dejà vu' made it suddenly click into place. Let me take you back just over a year . . .
At that time, a decision was due to be made in a certain church fellowship about the appointment of someone to a post of significant responsibility for an initial one-year period. Some were keen on the appointment, others were more doubtful, and a special meeting was to be held to take a vote on the matter.
On the Sunday two days before the meeting, the speaker in the morning made much of the subject of unity, how it was important that Christians were united despite their differences.
On the night of the special meeting, 'Breaking of Bread' was included in the course of the evening, again with a strong emphasis on unity.
After fairly prolonged discussion, the vote was duly taken and the result was close. Some who had said earlier that they were not in favour seemed to have been persuaded and voted for the appointment. It was, after all, only for a year and could be brought to an end after that time – "Let's see how we go."
The temporary appointment was made. It seems that the appeal to 'unity' may have had its effect . . .
Fast forward 14 months.  Sunday, again two days before a special meeting, this time to confirm the continuation of the same appointment. The speaker in the morning meeting again emphasised 'Unity', though of course (as before) no direct link was made to the upcoming meeting!
Dejà Vu? Certainly felt like it to me!
In our present cynical age, patriotism is not held in such automatic high regard as it was in Johnson's day. His comment would have been shocking in the extreme, simply because to question patriotism was unthinkable. To Johnson and his world around him, patriotism was an unquestionably good thing. He was not criticising patriotism, just the misuse of an appeal to it.
In Christian circles, 'Christian Unity' still holds much of the same degree of unquestionable correctness. Despite our often inconsistent actions, we all believe in Christian unity – 'of course we do!' It would be hard to find anyone at all who is active in almost any branch of Christian activity who would not emphatically agree with the need for Christian unity in as many ways as possible . . .
. . . just as it would have been near impossible to find a non-patriot in Johnson's time!
Right here lies the emotional blackmail employed by the scoundrel, whether in Johnson's time or ours.
Because 'Unity' (or 'Patriotism') is such an incontrovertibly good thing, if I present my case and wrap it in the 'flag' of Christian unity, it makes it very hard for anyone to disagree with my viewpoint without laying themselves open to a charge of disunity, especially if I hold a position of responsibility in the Church. Anyone thinking of disagreeing is intimidated by the thought that they might be endangering the unity of the fellowship, and will therefore be manipulated into going along with my view, even if they do not agree with it.
This is not real unity. We know that really, don't we? Even those of us who may have used such trickery in the past have to admit before the Lord that that is what it is – trickery, a very man-made device to get our own ends.
God doesn't work that way and, if we insist on using such methods in 'God's work', we will find sooner or later that he has disowned it and it will amount to nothing or even less than nothing, a negative effect on the Kingdom of God rather than the positive one which had been our original motivation. Gold, silver, precious stones – or wood, hay and stubble? (1 Corinthians 3:11-15)
It has been wisely said that 'manipulation is witchcraft'. We would run a mile to avoid any semblance of 'the dark arts' in our Christian life and witness, but how easily do we allow this sort of thing in our dealings with others, exercising subtle but ungodly pressure to promote our own agenda?
Paul wrote: ". . . my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God." (1 Corinthians 2:4,5)

Strange Unity

Our usual approach to 'Christian Unity' would be laughable if it were not so tragic. I was faced with a classic example of it just over a year ago. We had been invited to a Christian function, at which bread and wine were to be shared. In what could only be construed as a genuine and sincere attempt to include all believing Christians, the notes said: "Communicant members of all Christian Churches are welcome to receive Communion."
I was presented with an invitation to take part, provided that I was a 'communicant member' of a 'Christian Church'. So what is a 'communicant member'? Presumably someone who 'takes communion' in whatever Christian fellowship they find themselves. The language was already rather alienating, though the use of the word 'communion' seems to be spreading, even into nonconformist circles where it has been steadfastly resisted for generations.
In this context, my dictionary defines 'Communion' as follows:– "a. The Eucharist. b. The consecrated elements of the Eucharist. [from Latin communio, mutual participation]" So, sadly, we had already slipped away from the simple sharing of bread and wine into something where 'consecration' was thought to be needed.
In the setting in which we were, that 'consecration' could only be performed by specialised people who had been given supposed priestly authority to do something special with the bread and wine – none of which would have been recognised, thought necessary or even relevant by anyone outside that setting. Sadly also, the word 'communion' seems long ago to have slipped its mooring from 'mutual participation' and been set adrift into a dangerous sea of the same false priestliness. Far from being able to participate mutually, those who 'took communion' at this function were limited to receiving the 'elements' of the 'Eucharist' which had been 'consecrated' by the 'priests'. What a mess!
Before leaving this line of thought, it is perhaps worth asking ourselves whether there may be some significance in the increasing adoption of the term 'communion' to mean the sharing of bread and wine in remembrance of the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. Has the virus of false priestliness spread out, reducing the mutual participation to a routine in which believers have become almost passive recipients, instead of being themselves 'a royal priesthood'?
But that was not my prime concern. For all the messy confusion and wrong messages, it seemed that I was probably being invited to take part if I was someone who shared bread and wine as a member of a Christian church.
I have no problem with sharing bread and wine with fellow believers, as we remember together the death (and burial, resurrection and ascension) of the Lord Jesus. It is something I love to do and it is often very meaningful and precious.
But here's the real question:– Am I a member of a Christian church? Some of the fellowships where we have lived may have membership records, but you will not find my name there. Why? Because it is not necessary or relevant. Even the denomination in which I was brought up, though it keeps records of events such as baptisms and confirmations, apparently has no record of membership as such, so I am not there either!
Ask a slightly different question and I can answer very positively: Am I a member of the Christian Church? Yes, by the grace of God to me in the Lord Jesus Christ, I most certainly am. How did I become a member? By becoming a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, being joined to his life and becoming a sharer in all that he has done. I am a member of his 'body'.
But don't I need to become a member of a local church? I protest! By being part of the body of Christ, I am already a member of that body in the locality where I find myself. What else do I need to join if I am already joined to him, as are all those who are his?
The clamour for 'joining a church' has more sinister roots. Many would agree in theory that all believers are already members of the body of Christ, but would still say that it is necessary (or at the very least, advisable) to become a member of a local church. By 'local church', they actually mean a named local group that calls itself a church or fellowship, which may or may not be linked to a wider grouping or denomination. Almost by definition, such a group is distinct from other groups and would not claim to be the local expression of the body of Christ.
Ask what they mean by becoming a member, and many local 'churches' would agree that all those who are in Christ are free to take part in the bread and wine and in most of their other activities. The one 'privilege' which membership seems to bring is the right to vote in their business meetings, and therefore help to decide the policy and direction of that particular group. But this is not membership of the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, but of a local club which calls itself a 'church'!
This, you may say, is mere wordplay. On the contrary, I contend that the careless way in which we have used and (mis)understood the word 'Church' has contributed greatly to our lack of understanding of the reality of the Church itself. I agree that there is a mixture of cause and effect here – our misunderstanding of Church has also greatly affected our misuse of the word.
It is time (and well overdue) for all believers to seek out the reality of fellowship on the basis of belonging to the Body of Christ, not the basis of loyalty to a particular named (or un-named!) group.
Nor on the basis of an amalgamation of such groups! Much so-called 'Christian Unity' is an organisational attempt to remove barriers and work together and, as a first step, it is not too bad for those with loyalties to different groups to bury the differences and seek to follow common aims.
Such initiatives, however, will only progress a little way along the road to real unity.
It will not be long before the separate loyalties will put the brakes on. At that point, some supposedly wise comments will be made about 'how good it is that we can celebrate our differences' and 'we are all different, so we need to worship God in our different ways'. Instead of seeing that diversity enriches most when it is within the single fellowship of the Body, the old barriers stay up and the Body as a whole misses out on the growth that could result from 'the proper working of each individual part' (Ephesians 4:16).
Another missed opportunity. Another generation goes by and the world still can't see the hidden glory of the Church!