Take it or leave it. Either way, we're free from the bondage of keeping days.....
Some thoughts on the fourth Thursday in November.....
A consistent application of Sola Scriptura demands a non-innovative approach to the worship practices of the Church. There's room for debate in exactly how this is applied, some taking a more Mono-covenantal approach to the issue and thus wishing to incorporate Old Covenant Elements into New Testament worship.
I would at least on this point, stand in a long tradition of those who wish to acknowledge a substantial unity between the Old and New Covenants, but a sharp difference in form.
We would probably all agree that it would not be proper to sacrifice a lamb on an altar during our Sunday morning meetings, but we might not all agree as to the why. But to solve this question we would turn to the pages of Scripture and develop theological arguments which assume the authoritative status of the Scriptures themselves.
But what about holy days (holidays) that fall outside the sphere of Scripture? We must as best as possible judge them according to Scripture, which sounds straightforward and in a sense is, but it can also be quite complex.
We are forced once more to return to some of the basic questions that we often ask. What is the Kingdom, and how is it built? Do we 'transform' the culture around us by capturing and claiming its elements and incorporating them into the Christian polity? We talked about this in regard to Halloween. Do we take something overtly pagan and Christianize it? Are we called to do this? Can it even be done?
How we answer these questions lays something of a foundation that helps us proceed to take into account the correlating issues. With Halloween we find not only a false-kingdom principle at work, but a rather dubious history. But we must strongly object when certain Evangelicals then try and specifically 'Christianize' these innovations and bring them into the Church.
If the Scriptures aren't sufficient for the life of the Church, then we must be prepared to abandon Sola Scriptura. It would be untenable. What are the alternatives? We've discussed this. Either tradition, a charismatically inspired Magisterium, or some kind of combination that interacts with the text of Scripture. These are the majority positions for the whole of Christendom, Evangelicalism included. Many might not acknowledge this reality and may even claim to look to the Scriptures as an exclusive authority. But I argue you will find very few who really understand what they are saying.
What about something like the American holiday of Thanksgiving? How are we to judge this? It's not easy because there are multiple issues at work here. Let's look a few.
First, the Thankfulness argument for the keeping of Thanksgiving. It sounds Biblical, but I could just as easily argue that we're to be thankful every day. In fact, it's a fruit of the Spirit, and I'm not sure how being thankful to an undefined God with all my pagan neighbours helps in this. Okay, so we take one day and are extra thankful on that day? I understand it was supposed to tie-in with the harvest period in an agrarian society. The Pilgrims had survived a rough first year... and so now we have a tradition tied to these events.
So if we're arguing they were Christians being thankful to God, why have we made this into a civil holiday instead of a specifically ecclesiastical one? Many Christians seem to view this as a "Christian" day. If you doubt me, let me assure you the reactions to my non-conformity make it pretty clear. For most Christians in the United States, it's a moral, and thus Christian issue. I would argue Sola Scriptura at this point...against the keeping of it, but few others argue this way even when they wish to keep Thanksgiving as a merely Civil holiday.
If this all seems confusing, I apologize. If anything I'm just trying to generate some thought. In any culture, people tend to do many things and engage in many practices, without ever really thinking them through. Part of the renewing of our minds (Romans 12) includes working out these things. If indeed we are to eat and drink and do all things to the glory of God...then we had better be very conscientious about what we're doing. We don't just proceed blindly and follow the crowd. There may be times when in order to give glory to God, we don't eat. Does this apply to Thanksgiving? I'm not sure, but I want to raise these issues.
What about the Christian heritage argument American Evangelicals are so keen on? I always find this to be ironic, especially as Evangelicals now more than ever are working to undo the Pilgrim heritage...if there is one. The Mayflower Pilgrims arrived in 1620, but their small numbers were overwhelmed by the Massachusetts Bay Puritans who began arriving in 1630. The Pilgrims were Separatists trying to get away from an oppressive Crown and a very oppressive Church and its mandatory attendance and tithes. They were against the idea of an Establishment Church. The Puritans who arrived later, though very similar on many theological points...both groups were Calvinistic, Paedobaptist etc..., were very much in favour of an Establishment Church and had no problem at all with the Church and State working together in harmony to enforce it. I think most readers are familiar enough with some of the Puritan legacy to know this. They legislated Christianity and Civilly punished those who did not conform. This eventually led to the expulsion and flight of Roger Williams and the founding of Rhode Island...a colony specifically rejecting the Sacralism of the Puritans.
So what happened to the Separatist Pilgrims? Well, even they were not entirely clear regarding their vision for their colony. At least I don't think so, others will differ. They did seem to want to create a mini-Christian society in the New World, but at the same time they explicitly rejected some of the Sacralist concepts the Anglican Church and the Puritans had. There are several compelling quotes from Robinson which seem to prove this. Yet, they had no problem with their mini-State declaring a day of Thanksgiving, nor did they have any trouble outlawing Christmas (as did the Puritans.) In the case of the Pilgrims, many who came with them to Plymouth did not share their convictions and the Separatists were distressed to see they brought with them many a custom from Olde England that they would have preferred to have been left behind. Popish Christmas was but one of these. In the end, I would categorize the Pilgrims as inconsistent anti-Constantinians. I must confess I'm rather fond of them and their tale, but I'm afraid their vision completely failed and really didn't even last very long. I was more than a little moved to visit the historical sites associated with them in the north of England. Well worth the visit if you ever get the chance....
Ultimately the Pilgrims were swallowed up by the larger Puritan group and eventually the descendants whose forefathers had secretly met in Scrooby, Austerfield, and Gainsborough were now proclaiming the City on a Hill. A sad story, I think.
Also, the Christian America people seem to forget the Jamestown colony had been founded in 1607, and the Dutch in New Amsterdam preceded Plymouth colony by several years. Yes I know, they will argue these were also Christian ventures. That's funny. The Pilgrims, Puritans, Baptists, and Quakers, were all whipped and driven out of early Virginia which was dominated by Anglican Royalists, many of whom arrived during the 1640's and 50's, escaping the Civil War and Cromwell. They were not about to let Dissenters flourish in their colony. Eventually they acquiesced, but not for some time. While many a Baptist today argues that Jamestown was a Christian endeavour, their spiritual forebears would not have shared their opinion.
If it's purely a Civil Holiday, I am more than a little uncomfortable with the Magistrate calling on me to worship God. That's not the job of the Magistrate. That would be the task of the Church. When the American Magistrate speaks, God is not defined, so apparently its just some kind of nebulous supernatural being that can be equally celebrated by Roman Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Hindus, or whatever. No thanks.
In addition, modern Thanksgiving is really tied in with Lincoln rather than the Pilgrims. He had just given his blasphemous, hypocritical, and dishonest Gettysburg Address in November of 1863 and was calling upon the nation to celebrate the turning of the tide and the impending Union victory.
Lincoln was a master at twisting and abusing Scripture, employing redemptive Christ-based language and applying it to his holy 'union.' It is not my intention to get into a discussion regarding the Civil War. I've written elsewhere, I find the whole conflict disgusting, and most of the subsequent debate misleading and often dishonest. Both sides were wrong in my estimation and Christians should not be championing either side. Both societies had largely adopted Sacral visions and neither had the moral high ground. Like many Americans, I had family on both sides....and I don't view either cause as moral or heroic. I understand people defending their homes, though I have no desire to return to the antebellum South. It too was a rotten and hypocritical society and should not be missed. Whoever was right or wrong, and we must remember in all wars people fight for a host of different reasons...there are no heroes, and what's done is done.
My point simply is....why am I going to celebrate a day of thankfulness to an unknown god, because 150 years ago, some blasphemer suggested it...for probably political reasons as much as anything?
Now that said, I'm no legalist but a staunch defender of liberty of conscience. I define a legalist as someone who either teaches a works salvation or someone who adds to the Word of God and then binds the consciences of other people to conform with their rules. Think for example of the hand washing episode between the Pharisees and Christ. The Pharisees had gone far beyond the dictates of Scripture and created a hand washing ritual which they then insisted was necessary to be a good Jew. What did Christ do? He ignored it of course and greatly offended them. He would not be bound to their man made commandments, their legalism. Nothing is more offensive to a legalist than a challenge to their contrived code and regulations.
Sometimes I find people think if you're trying to take God's Word too seriously or follow it with diligence, then you are somehow a legalist. That's not being a legalist, that's trying to be obedient. If you're doing it to earn points, that can tend toward legalism, but merely trying to apply the Scriptures to your life...that's simply being a Christian. I know of no other kind.
So that I'm not accused of being a legalist, I in no way wish to bind the consciences of other people and say you can't celebrate Thanksgiving. By no means. But at the same time, I'm not sure many of the same people would realize they are engaging in legalism if they turn around and tell me I'm wrong not to celebrate it.
Where's the Scriptural warrant? In fact the New Testament militates not only against man-made commandments and contrived practices of piety, but it specifically mentions the keeping of days and observing of times and seasons. Read Colossians and Galatians. Paul had little time for the Judaizing Galatians, or the Innovations the Colossians were embracing. If you have any doubts concerning the Old Testament practices, read Hebrews. Obviously all the Evangelicals who are running around celebrating Passover have neglected to do so. If they wish to 'keep the feast,' they should read 1 Corinthians and they would learn that we have something much better...the Lord's Supper.
Holy Days in principle were part of the Old Testament order. So if we're no longer supposed to keep the Jewish feasts and holy days, I'm not sure we can find warrant for new days which don't even have a basis in the Word of God.
Some would appeal to Romans 14 at this point. But the regarded days Paul is speaking of, are Jewish Holy Days that some of the early Jewish Christians believed they still needed to conform to. He labours to show them throughout the epistles that they are no longer under obligation to keep them, but at the same time he is patient both with their keeping of days, as well as their adherence to the dietary laws. By AD70 when the Temple was destroyed, the issue should have then been clear to all, but prior to that the New Testament seems to treat that whole period from the Ascension to the Destruction as a time of transition and overlap. There's no basis to find Days of Innovation in Romans 14. Paul's not talking about some Roman Holiday being celebrated by Christians, he's clearly talking about remnants of Judaism. So, if someone believed they ought to keep Passover today....that I could sympathize with far more than someone who was trying to make a MORAL argument for a made up holiday.
The liberty we have in Christ has nothing to do with the American sense of liberty, which more often than not is really just a synonym for license. The verse stamped on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia was but another case of classic misapplication and abuse of Scripture. Read Lincoln's 2nd Inaugural, it's engraved on the walls of his temple in the National Mall. Blasphemous. It's still happening today. George Bush repeatedly misused the Scriptures in the same fashion. American Christians didn't condemn it, they loved it.
We are free from the bondage of sin and free from the ordinances and commandments which though they pre-figured Christ, demonstrated the weight of the law and are thus referred to as a yoke. And, we are free from superstitions, fears, and having the mind of Christ, we are not to be subjected to the spiritual tyranny of others. We are not to be brought into bondage.
I often think of bondage as the holy days come around. I see many people in an anxious frenzy, stressed to the breaking point because they feel like they HAVE to do all these things. Who says you HAVE to do them? Did Christ say it? If the Church is saying it, then your Church was entered the realm of vain worship, teaching for commandments the doctrines of men. Matthew 15.9
Does society say it? Why should I care what society says I ought to do? These are the same people who think it strange that I'm not excited about Dancing With The Stars, American Idol, Tiger Woods, and Twitter. They think it strange that you don't run to the same excess of riot........
Don't be brought into bondage.
But what if it truly is just a Civil Day? Then fine, but as I said with the Fourth of July, you'd best keep it Civil (no pun intended) and make sure it doesn't become Holy...because then you've strayed into an entirely different realm with very different criteria.
Are we not to eat and drink to God's glory every day? So Thanksgiving would then be fine right? As I said, there might be times that in order to glorify God, we shouldn't eat. Let everyone be persuaded in his own mind. Just make sure you're thinking it through.
On a practical level, let's face it, it's really a day of gluttony, football, and nowadays...shopping. If that's all it really is, then sure, I'll eat some turkey. You'll pardon me if I skip the football and the shopping.
So in practice, I can take it or leave it. We don't do anything, I usually go to work, as I will be in a few hours. If there's an opportunity to share some time with family, then fine I'll go eat some turkey. But if someone starts trying to make it into something its not, then I don't want to be there. Am I thankful? I hope I am everyday. I sure don't need Washington DC to tell me when I ought to be.
Am I thankful for America?....which is what I really think most people are getting at.
Sure, but no more than I would be if I lived in Slovenia, Denmark, Italy, or Thailand. I can appreciate the place I live, though there are many places far more beautiful (like Italy or Slovenia!) and I suppose I can tingle over the fact that some of my people have been here almost 4oo years, but if it makes me start to forget I'm a Pilgrim, then I had better check where I'm laying up my treasures....