Meet the new Sin, same as the old.

“What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.”
(Ecclesiastes 1:9 (ESV))

In reading George Marsden’s “Jonathon Edwards: A Life,” I came across something that surprised me.  Marsden wrote that when Edwards grandfather, Solomon Stoddard, passed away leaving him as the lead pastor of a church of 1300 members, Edwards faced three major obstacles.  The first was the issue of admittance to the Lord’s Table for Communion.   His grandfather had practiced a rather open table, allowing all who had been baptized to receive the meal regardless of whether their life showed evidence of true conversion.  There was great debate on this matter, one that plagued Edwards’ entire career, but Stoddard’s position was that there was edification and encouragement for conversion in the celebration of the Table.

Another pressing issue facing Edwards in his new church was a growing political divide.  This was the 1720’s, and already there was a growing divide between those who were loyal to the crown, and those who felt independence from the throne would lead to financial and religious prosperity.  It is fascinating the level of contention and divisiveness that political matters such as these had in the church.  Perhaps the reason was that in Edwards day, there was no Cable News to present the political ideas of the day, so the pulpit was the forum in which all ideas were disseminated. 

What struck me as most interesting, however, was what Marsden says occupied the majority of Edwards’ attention: the “indulgences of the young” (pages 130-131).  Marsden writes,

The most notorious result was amazing impurities tolerated among the young in recent years.  Not only was lasciviousness encouraged by nightwalking and similar frivolities, but New England parents allowed practices that are “looked upon as shameful and disgraceful at Canada, New York, and England.”  Everyone knew that he referred to the New England practice of “bundling” in which parents allowed young people to spend the night in bed together partly clothed.  “I believe there is not a country in the Christian world, however debauched and vicious, where parents indulge their children in such liberties… as they do in this country…”

Bundling, which was supposed to be a way of getting acquainted without sexual intercourse, did not always work as advertised.  Pregnancies before marriage were rising dramatically in New England.  Premarital sex was commonplace.  Even when it resulted in pregnancy, so long as the couple married, there was no longer much stigma involved.

Sound familiar?

Edwards noted that the indulgence on the part of the parents was most likely a reaction to their own very strict upbringing, but was increasingly discouraged by the behavior of the youth in his community.  The taverns were full of young men who were wasting their time and energy in worthless pursuits, delaying marriage and work, living with their parents rather than forging out and establishing themselves.  Sounds to me like Edwards could have been writing about 21st century youth as well.

“And there is nothing new under the sun.”  We hear today of the Culture Wars, and young men and women are portrayed in such negative light.  Parents decry “what’s wrong with the children today?”  We see the political divisions of our national leaders, the lack of concern for spiritual growth and maturity, and the erosion of any semblance of moral integrity and we think to ourselves, “Whatever happened to the good old days?”

The truth is, there were no good old days.  Edwards railed against the moral turpitude of the youth of his day; as did Augustine, Chrysostom, Luther, Calvin, and Baxter.  Sin has always and will always attack us where we are most easily tempted.  The youth are tempted with passion and lust; the elders are tempted by power and division, all are tempted to spiritual stupor and sloth.

What Edwards saw as the corrective to the moral decay of his time, the heart of true reformation, was a return to the Word of God.  Revival and reformation would only come through the renewal of the passionate preaching and teaching of the Word of God.  To awaken a people to a zeal for the Lord, to heal divisions within the community, to draw the youth from their immorality and sensuality, they must heed the call of Scripture.

And as we share the same problems as the people of Edwards’ day, we also share the same solution.  We must return to the Word of God.  We will only find revival and reformation in the renewing work of God’s Holy Spirit that comes from the passionate preaching and teaching of God’s Word.  That means that we need to be studying God’s Word for ourselves.  It means that we need to be leading our families in private worship and study of God’s Word. It means that we need to find ourselves in churches that faithfully teach and preach the Word of God.

There is nothing new under the sun.  The sins we face today are the sins that have been with us since the fall. 

There is nothing new under the sun.  Our savior from sin is Jesus Christ: always has been, always will be.

Of Cats and God…

“All who fashion idols are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit.”
(Isaiah 44:9 ESV) 

This Sunday is “All Hallows Eve” otherwise known as Halloween.  I’ve tried to get my kids to dress up this year as the movers and shakers of the reformation (Calvin, Knox, Luther, or Idelette de Bure (Calvin’s wife)) since this Halloween falls on reformation Sunday.  Alas, we will instead have Athena, Jango Fett, Thomas the Train, and Yoda – you can’t win them all.

I am always impressed at how Halloween brings out our long buried superstitions.  We pay more attention to black cats and full moons now than at other times of the year.  Just the other day I was talking with a friend when a black cat crossed our path.  My friend was visibly troubled, and expressed her fear about her ensuing bad luck.  I tried to encourage her, but to no avail.  Just a couple of days later, she informed me that her computer had crashed when she tried to install a new program.  She was sure it was because of the black cat.

There are a lot of superstitions that people still hold onto today:

·         Friday the thirteenth is an unlucky day

·         A rabbit’s foot brings good luck

·         To find a four-leaf clover is to find good luck

·         If you walk under a ladder, you will have bad luck

·         If a black cat crosses your path you will have bad luck

·         To break a mirror will bring you seven years bad luck

·         To open an umbrella in the house is to bring bad luck

But my question to my friend, and to anyone who holds to these or any other superstitions is this: “How do these beliefs relate to your faith in the Almighty and Sovereign Lord?”

We confess every Sunday that we believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.  We affirm the faith of the confessions which teach us that “God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass… for the manifestation of his glory” (Westminster Confession of Faith), and that “Jesus protects us so well that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, that everything must fit his purpose for my salvation” (Heidelberg Catechism).  We believe that the great God of the universe has created all things for his pleasure, and has the “whole world in his hands.”  We confess that God is all-powerful, that His will cannot be thwarted – unless, of course, you happen to break a mirror, or come across a black cat.  Then God’s hands are tied.

It’s like this: God, in his eternal decree, has planned today to do you great good.  Perhaps he has ordained that this is the day for you to be set free from sickness or debt, or to find your heart’s true love.  Suddenly, you drop a mirror which shatters to the ground, and a voice from heaven thunders, “Oops!  That’s too bad, I had such great things planned for you.  See you in seven years.”  When you look at it this way, it makes the common superstitions we hold seem a little absurd.  Who has greater power, an untimely placed black cat, or the God who made you, the cat, and the world you live in?

The problem is, we tend to put too much faith in the foolishness of this world rather than trusting in the wisdom of God.  We see a cat or a broken mirror and start looking for bad things to happen, and eagerly assign the cause and effect.  Or maybe we have success and we attribute our accomplishments to a lucky number or our lucky socks.  We forget about the grace of God that has protected us from greater harm and blessed and prospered us with life, hope, and peace.  We’re always looking downward watching for cracks so we don’t break our mother’s backs, that we forget to look up and see the glory of God reminding us of his strength and love.  Holding to these superstitions is nothing more than idolatry – we are giving more power and honor to these lesser things than to the one true God. 

Christ died to set us free from such false gods, and to secure our faith and trust in the Living God.  Shouldn’t we see the rainbow and remember God’s promise?  Shouldn’t we see the golden fields and know that God has blessed us; giving Him all glory and honor?  Shouldn’t we hear the gospel message and know that “neither death nor life, angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor black-cats nor open umbrellas, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

Happy Reformation Sunday!