President Trump, The Apostles’ Creed, and a Promotional Christmas Video from a “Christian” Church

A fellow member of my congregation shared with me the following promotional Christmas video from a local church. Take a look.

A fun piece, I suppose. The production quality is certainly above reproach. They put a lot of work into it, you have to give them that. As a tool for communicating their identity as a church to the unbelieving world around them—that is, who they are and what they hold most dear—by way of the skillful grip of song, the video ponders the deepest of loves at Christmas, which we learn is, first, whether or not Santa loves the individual, and if so, will he deign to allow Rudolph to lead the rest of the reindeer to one’s house with something other than coal; and second, the individual sharing this message has braved Black Friday to fill his Chevy with things that he truly wants with the hope that the approaching Christmas-tide sleigh will be equally full.

I don’t exactly have the verbal dexterity to communicate this beautiful Gospel quite like the performer in the video, so I’ll just share the lyrics here:

“Santa, do you love me? And are you riding on a sleigh full of gifts to my chimney ’cuz I want them…”

That’s the well-crafted and easily discernible point at the center of this song of outreach to the community on behalf of a Christian church.

There was something else in the video that stirred a bit of confusion, though. For one reason or another, and for only a second or two, the video drifted into a more enigmatic arena, saying, “Pastor got loud in the sermon, talkin’ ’bout a dude who had a baby with a virgin.” For the whole two minutes and sixteen seconds of the video, it was the only of its kind, and I guess I’m wondering why it was there. It didn’t really fit. Although, as a Christian myself, I say “Whew! I’m glad they sprinkled that in there.” If they hadn’t, we might’ve missed a subtle truth that helps to portray what pastors do from pulpits—which is being loud and shouting at people, sermonizing and shoving stuff down our throats that none of us wants to hear. At least they were honest about that particular impression. And then that little piece about the non-descript dude impregnating a virgin, well, I’m not really sure what that means. Is that God? Is it Joseph? Maybe it’s just a little bit of moralism tossed in since that’s how the church would prefer that babies come along in this world. Personally, my guess is that the performer just needed to fill some space and the line fit the rhyme scheme.

…Eh-hem… Let me clear the sarcasm from my throat and shifts gears a little.

Did you watch the Bush funeral? I did. Did you see that President Trump didn’t recite the Apostles’ Creed? Did you hear or see anything in the news or on social media about it? I sure did. “Deeds not creeds,” I’ve seen heralded from Christian sources. “The church doesn’t need creeds!”

Puke.

For those in the church getting yanked into the “Deeds not creeds!” riptide that may or may not have resulted from President Trump’s silence at the Bush funeral, I’ll simply say, “Be careful.” Videos like the one shared here are what happen when there are no definable contours to the faith you confess.

Yes, there are those who just go through the motions. I get that point. Some believe that such repetitive staleness is the constricting enemy of free-flowing religion from the heart.

Whatever.

How’d you learn the alphabet? Repetition. How’d you learn how to speak? Repetition and by being repeatedly immersed in language. How’d you learn how to dress yourself? Repetition. How’d you learn anything of value in your life? Well, whatever it was, I’d be willing to bet repetition played a part.

Still, I get the premise. But again I’d urge folks to be honest. Even the churches with no creeds have the people among them who just go through the motions. Every church has those people. Just keep in mind there’s a huge distinction to be made between repetition born of “traditionalism” and repetition in service to “tradition.” Traditionalism is, for the sake of a definition, the dead faith of the living. It represents a somnolent faith. It is to do for the sake of doing and nothing more. And I dare say that it’s the traditionalists, the ones who can’t see the value in tradition, who get bored by substantive things and want to go off the sure path to things unknown, they’re the ones who lead the churches into mushy religiosity. Tradition is different. It is the living faith of the dead. It is a carrying on of the past into the future. It is an unbroken gathering of the one true faith spread across the generations and throughout the world. Time means very little to tradition because it is unbound by it. Tradition stands in place to say that the truths of the faith aren’t ours to change because they don’t belong to just us. Tradition isn’t a bending reed in the winds of culture. It’s a tree with endless rings in its core. Tradition is a binding thing that maintains identity for the whole and belongs to the whole.

“Why do we put an angel on the top of the tree at Christmas time, dad?”

“Well, Susie, because that angel has been in our family for a long time. Putting it on top of the tree is a tradition. I did it. Grandpa’s family did it. His dad’s family did it, and his dad before him did it. When we do this, we’re sort of, well, showing that we’re a family and that we’re in this together.”

There’s a reason the holy Christian church throughout the ages has subscribed to the Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian creeds. Creeds help to set the boundaries for this and stand in stark contrast to bad theologies that are more than capable of wiping out entire populations of faith in a single generation. The creeds bear no “non-descript dudes” that leave questions. Who is the virgin? It’s Mary. What child is she bearing? The Son of God, Jesus Christ, who suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried, and then then He rose again from the dead. For what reason did this happen? To save the world from sin, which includes me! How did Jesus’ conception happen? I know it wasn’t Joseph, so then, was it God the Father? No, Christ was incarnate by the Holy Spirit. He is true God in the flesh, born to win salvation!

Creeds help to prevent confusion in these things, making sure the message remains crystal clear.

And by the way, for the record, “Deeds not creeds” is a creed. It is a confession of what you believe, albeit a little less thought out than most.

On another front of the same discussion, for the Christians in the political sphere doing all they can to say President Trump set a positive example by refusing to speak the Creed, I’d say in tandem that you’re speaking out of both sides of your mouth, especially when you clamor for unity around a party platform. The party platform is the party’s creed. Even further, I’d encourage folks to take a quick stroll through history. It is an observable datum that the beginning of the demise of any society or subset organization and its affirmed morality begins with the destruction of its creeds. When you see the citizens dismantling or simply disregarding the statements of the convictions and the language (the precisely selected words) that communicate those convictions, you’re watching a group lose both its identity and its way forward. They’re heading into treacherous waters. As the lines become blurry, eventually they dissipate and disappear. With that, if you can’t locate the border of what you know to be objectively true and untrue, you may find yourself standing on foreign soil.

To close, you should also know that the church that made this video is the same one in which one of their members told one of mine as he and his family were observing that there weren’t any crosses in the place that the reason they don’t have any crosses is because the cross is a disgustingly off-putting image. Go figure. Paul said “We preach Christ crucified!” When that message is disgustingly off-putting, you may have a problem with the internal, free-flowing religion emerging from your heart. My recommendation: Try one of the three ecumenical creeds. It’ll help.

Just a thought for you to stir into your eggnog and sip.

Trump’s Election Taught Me Something

(A Facebook Post.)

As a Lutheran, namely Christian, pastor, the election of Donald J. Trump has had me pondering a few things here and there.

As someone who takes very seriously the duty Christians have when it comes to choosing candidates who are most closely aligned with the revealed will of God given by His holy Word—whether the candidates be Christian or not—it never would have occurred to me to vote for Donald Trump. At the time of the primaries, nearly everything about him, and yet mostly his past positions on particular issues of great importance to the Christian church, suggested anything but a man who was seeking to serve in the highest office for the benefit of the nation and her citizens. With this, I weighed my vote against the Bible and what God says actually matters and I chose the person I thought would be the better candidate.

A quick thought on this.

During that time, the exchanges amongst supporters got pretty heated. I remember it well. One of the regularly wielded comments used by certain folks in the various camps toward guys like me was that Christians weren’t to be going to the booths to elect a pastor, but a president. I often thought that was a rather unfair determination made against Biblically minded voters. It revealed a certain level of ignorance regarding the Bible and just what it means to Christians seeking to be faithful to it as the sole source for life, faith, and practice in this world. As I said, many Christians were looking for the one candidate who most closely aligned with the Word of God. They were set upon choosing a man for the office who stood in the right places on such issues as Life and Marriage and Religious Liberty. Christian or not, it didn’t matter. The biblically minded voter only wanted to be faithful to God, and by that faithfulness, to choose someone who actually accepted Natural Law for what it is, someone who stood on objective truth and would work to strengthen what was right while laboring to oppose and dismantle what was wrong. While considering whom to choose, they considered the candidates’ histories in these very important issues. I did the same, and in the midst of the primaries, Donald J. Trump just didn’t match up.

Still, the candidate I chose to support didn’t win the nomination. Donald J. Trump did. And ultimately he won the presidency.

I suppose as I ponder this, it is important in two ways. First, it reminds me that even as I have access to the revealed will of God in the Bible, I shouldn’t forget that His hidden will remains in play. And by no means should I let myself get too flustered when the hidden will lands on my expectations. The revealed and hidden wills of God are not disjointed. They both come from a singular will. As far as the hidden will, I’m not called to try to fathom or discern it, but rather to keep with His revealed will. It’s there that He continues to set a steady and certain course for knowing and remembering that His desire is that all would be saved and that in all things—even moments that may not make all that much sense or appear to be counter-intuitive to what His revealed will suggests—He is at work for the good of His people.

Second, I am reminded that the future will ever remain in God’s possession. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of the apathetic clergymen who teach their people to completely ignore the public square and that voting doesn’t matter because in the end, God will do whatever God is going to do. That’s foolishness. And honestly, it’s men like that who ought to listen very carefully when God speaks through the prophet Hosea, declaring: “For with you is my contention, O priest… My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me” (4:4,6). Saying so crassly that these things don’t matter and that God will do whatever He wants is the same as stripping away the believer’s confidence in the midst of prayer—that one’s prayers are of no consequence because God already knows what the petitioner is going to ask before he asks it and already knows in the midst of eternity His response. God desires for Christians to engage, but not necessarily because they think that by doing so they can change the future. That’s not their ultimate goal. In a way, the goal of their effort is really something that happens in the here and now, but it does so as it meets with the more important and eternal future.

They simply want to be faithful to God and His holy will for the glory of Christ and the salvation of others. That’s it.

Such faithfulness comes from another sphere altogether. It is implanted by the Holy Spirit and clings to the Word of God, which is to say that when Christians don’t know what’s going on, the Holy Spirit bids and moves them to go to what they do know: the revealed will of God in the Bible. It is there that Christians are urged to engage in this world. It’s there that Christians can consider the culture, context, and issues and then measure the candidates against one another in order to choose in faithfulness.

In the end, Donald J. Trump was the candidate who emerged from God’s hidden will, and by the hopeful faithfulness that accepts these things, I’m not so bothered. I sought faithfulness to God all the while knowing that God would be faithful to me, no matter what the result might be. From a mortal perspective, I say this with somewhat of a sigh of relief. It was a lot harder to choke down God’s purposes for allowing Obama to be our president. But in the case of Trump, as a president, he really is proving to be only a splinter of what I expected in concern, and he’s doing nearly everything I was hoping of the candidate I supported in the primaries.

As I said, as a pastor, the election of Donald J. Trump has had me pondering a few things. These things are, simply, to seek faithfulness to Christ and His Word when choosing candidates (and encouraging others in that same faithfulness), and then to relax and take a chill pill until the curtain on God’s hidden will in the matter is pulled back, knowing that whatever He allows will not be for the ultimate reign of evil, but for the good of those who love Him.

In my case, of course, the chill pill comes in the form of a nice single malt whisky from Scotland.

The Election

Don’t worry, it’s almost over. November 8 is only days away.

I don’t know about you, but one of my hopes is that once election day comes and goes, once the ballots have been cast and we’re wherever we end up as a nation, I pray that so many of the friendships I’ve seen dissolve in a single season—as though the collections of years full of season after season of loving kindness, togetherness, like-minded service to and for each other, and all of the other things that make for fellowship in Christ didn’t matter at all—my prayer is that those friendships will be restored, that they will be seen for what they are in Jesus and His love for us.

It would seem that we live in a day and age where dialogue is dead and opinions driven by emotions have now risen to a seat of prominence well above the Christian truth that “love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things…” (1 Corinthians 13:7).

It would seem to be this is all we should expect right now. But it isn’t. The Spirit creates the hopeful and enduring love Saint Paul is describing. And the Holy Spirit has been promised to the Church by Christ and is at work to do it. With that, there is always humility—the ability to confess offenses and seek forgiveness. There is always the willingness to pursue reconciliation and the hopeful anticipation that others—if they claim Christ, as well, will seek to be together again, too. It may not happen today. It might not happen tomorrow. But it will happen. It has to. If it doesn’t, then, well, you know why. I don’t need to explain it. But when it does, you also know why. Because the Holy Spirit is at work in believers who have differing opinions—and yet, they are people moved to live as they believe—which means they are people who actually take seriously the words “do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26) and are quick to see that broken relationships are restored. Why? Because by faith they are already mindful of the relationship restored between God and men by the Savior, Jesus Christ—and that brokenness was far more than a difference of opinion. In sin we are at enmity with God. We are enemies who would rather see Him dead than be called His friends. And yet: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Romans 5:8-10).

So, again, don’t worry. All of those folks who unfriended you on Facebook, those folks who deleted you from their mobile phone contacts list, those friends and relatives who’ve said, in anger, that they want nothing else to do with you, well, if you are willing to humbly pursue reconciliation through faith in Christ, and they are too, then all will be well. God promises peace and every blessing in this. If it doesn’t happen right away, don’t worry. Continue to put your trust in the Lord and give a faithful witness to the Gospel. All will be well. Even if it doesn’t find repair, all will be well. God’s will, holy and perfect, will be accomplished. You’ll see.