Rev. Steve Schlissel - December 1, 2009
Thursday, November 26th
Beloved family of Messiah,
Thanksgiving greetings in the name above all others. Several of us have been delivered from that lugubrious shadow cast over the Christian life by the so-called Regulative Principle of Worship. It was originally intended to be a help, enabling Christians to live happier lives in their Christ-won liberty by keeping them free from unwarranted claims imposed by some tradition. It eventually showed itself to be little more than an invention of men which had been designed to protect us from inventions of men.
When it behaves itself, the RPW is indeed helpful, especially if the subject under discussion happens to be: What elements may be justly included in Divine worship? But the RPW, like the traditions from which it first sought to save us, was itself imposed as a template to regulate the consciences of those same ever-harassed Christians. We might call it “The Babel Syndrome,” this human propensity to erect bureaucracies which become, in time, dedicated to the eradication of the purpose for which they were brought into being (as one old wag put it). A careful study of the decline of the great American Republic into its current Federal Mass Mess will reveal that parallel errors were at work in each entity. It seems that decentralization itself is the motif of faith (cf. 1 Samuel 8), and faith is hard to sustain. Everyone seems convinced that God needs all the help we can give Him and that such help must come from a centralized source. No one seems willing to believe that such centralization, regardless of the moniker that’s slapped on it, is invariably going to become a competitor with the True God, offering, as He does, salvation in exchange for loyalty, fealty, faith.
Thus, it was barely enough time to breathe from the Magisterial Reformers to the bureaucratizers. Even the Reformed were soon given to idle and speculative studies which tended increasingly to be devoted to the justification of respective Confessions of Faith rather than the exposition and application of the Word of God. The identical scholastic spirit which had taken possession of the self-important Romish elite just before the Reformation, took up residence in the halls of Geneva’s progeny right after it. It led them to become obsessed with such earth-shattering issues as supra- vs. infralapsarianism. The main difference between the groups was that the post Reformers lacked an Erasmus to serve as a mirror for their madness through cutting satire. Consequently, they continued to take themselves much too seriously.
Then-as we noted men are wont to do-they set about to set in stone and then enforce the early policies which were really only suitable for the transition from Roman excess. Thus the RPW, like any self-respecting federal agency, began claiming jurisdiction wherever it could get away with it.
The calendar had been its first haunt of choice. That was quite understandable. Rome’s version of the follies had begun when they discovered how effective and beneficial calendrical modification was in weaning the newly converted barbarian hordes from their stubborn idolatrous ways. “Instead of sacrificing pigs to your totem poles, what say we have a parade in honor of St. Columba?” “Capital idea!,” they all cried out in unison. But the good old Babel Syndrome must have lighted upon monks in a committee meeting one day. “Hey,” a young apprentice-monk said, “if it worked so well with those two holidays of theirs, let’s try applying a Christian significance to every day!” And, because committees work this way, the motion passed and what started out as a clever (even ingenious) solution to a problem soon became a new problem by its own enormous weight. It took a Reformation to point out to people that however many days of sacred assembly you might find in the Old Testament, making every day a saint day or holy day has the same effect as underlining everything-that is, it’s identical in value to underlining nothing.
The RPW struck its early advocates with the same kind of force that struck our young novice member of the Pagan-Day Replacement Program Committee. “What a splendid idea! Here are these Catholics who went overboard by making every day a holiday. Let’s clean up the whole problem with one shot by adopting a principle that will wipe the whole calendar clean.” And since the Regulative Principle of Worship functions on a negative basis, it was just the gimmick to do the job. Understand: The “negative basis” is like the way a Compact Disc Club works. Unless you tell them explicitly that you do not want their CD that month, you will get it. So the RPW said, “Unless God tells us there’s a holiday, there can’t be one.” Except for Lord’s Days, of course, the calendar was left pretty bone-picked clean. (I don’t know how the Europeans endured this back and forth rocking. Perhaps this explains their current mental state?) The neatest trick, though, had to be how the Regulativists dispensed with the entire Old Testament calendar of feasts. It was like, “God forbid that someone might think we have our faith from the Jews.” O, perish the thought! No matter what Romans and Acts and John might teach.
This negative basis thing really helped that RPW. Since it could be invoked anytime a practice might be said to lack express warrant from God, and since the number of things God has not warranted is potentially infinite, the Bureau of Weights, Standards and RPW was very busy. For all its help and all its success, however, it was left to Christmas to become the OK Corral where the RPW would finally meet its match. When you blend Americanity with Keyensian economic policy (which depends entirely on consumer spending, with no debt or deficit high enough to be called “enough”), and throw in the sappy, effeminate yearnings of a population routed and ruled by egalitarianism, you’ve a formidable foe ready for a real showdown with any principle that preached self-denial in any form.
All these factors and forces have brought us to the present day, where the most interesting outcome has to be this picture: the offspring of earnest RPW-ites now finding themselves in the embarrassing (but instructive) position of having to argue in favor of the explicit celebration of Christmas. This has come about because our national change-of-religion has arrived at the punch-list stage. Appointed sweepers roam the cavities of culture searching for anything which might remotely suggest the existence of a God or a particular God’s keen involvement with the founding and growth of this nation. When such a remnant is discovered, someone is appointed to “feel offended” and the courts are on permanent standby to provide the needed therapy for the poor victims who were obviously compelled against their will to hear a salesman say, “Merry Christmas.” That Kwanza greetings are still safe bets seems not to afford comfort to any-not even Regulativists.
All of this was to say, since we found that God is pleased to treat us as mature children of His, allowing us to exercise discretion and measured judgment in selecting which holidays we’ll celebrate and, within abiding parameters, just how we’ll celebrate them-since discovering this, many of us have spoken of Thanksgiving as our very favorite annual holiday. Honestly, even Regulativists had a very hard time convincing other Christians that thanking God with special depths of gratitude one day each year was an evil He could barely abide.
All I wanted to add was this: I know some of us love Thanksgiving for its obvious apologetical potency. All these atheists get absolutely tongue-tied when you ask them just Whom they are thanking! I’m sure one or two have already tested alternate names, like, Acknowledgment Day (no help at all), Eating Day (ma nishtanaw ha yom hazeh mikol hayomim?), Turkey Day (plain stupid), or even Moment of Silent Meditation Day (har har hardy har har).
Delightful as it is to see atheists squirm-especially in the midst of their new campaign, by which they will convince moronic Americans that ethical behavior need not be dependent on belief in a deity (uh-huh)-there is much more to appreciate about this day. For one thing, for many of us who are first generation believers, this is a day when many discover their supposedly unbelieving family is less opposed to a prayer of Thanksgiving at the set table than at other times. All of us who starve for commonality in Jesus with our family members will recognize what I’m talking about. Additionally, Thanksgiving is also unique because it is not a Lord’s Day, yet it seems to cut through so much of our commercial body-armor to create a true feeling of specialness, which is, after all, the essential component of the sacred. To have a sense of sacredness penetrate into this pseudo-secular culture of fraud is a positive triumph of God in Christ. I’m not opposed to the proposition that God has shown an interest of pity in our Thanksgiving celebrations, permitting them to retain a modicum of dignity and sobriety rarely experienced by the vast majority of Americans. Thus, in nearly every home, on Thanksgiving we find a day where openness to truth may be at its annual cultural high-water mark. That is something every Christian can rejoice in.
But I just wanted to add this one thought: it is good to thank the Lord. It is good to enjoy Thanksgiving for no other reason than that we get to nationally, and family by family, give thanks to the God Who created us, Who sustains us, and Who is faithful to save. No other nation has ever been as obligated to thank God as we are. How wonderfully normal this is! What do you think about forming a committee to make every day Thanksgiving Day?
Yours and His,
Pastor Steve & Family
wishing you a most blessed Thanksgiving Day, as well as Advent Season