Adventures in Theology BlogChase A. Thompson: Author, Pastor, Vigilante.
What an interesting discovery! In doing some research for an upcoming Christmas devotional (featuring writings from Charles Spurgeon, C.S. Lewis, Tim Keller, John Piper, and more), I stumbled on quite a fascinating article from Spurgeon in the 1874 Sword and Trowel magazine. The title of that post? “Ghost Stories for Christmas!” In the article, Spurgeon details some of his own ghost-hunting exploits and discusses a ghost that apparently haunted John Wesley…and no, I’m not exaggerating! Did Spurgeon actually believe in ghosts? I’ll try and answer that in a moment…but first, the briefest of commercials about a new book I just released:
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Back to Charles Spurgeon and…ghosts?! Yes, believe it or not, Spurgeon penned a very long column on ghosts in Sword and Trowel, 1874. The article in question begins thus:
WE may be very wrong, but we confess a weakness for a ghost story, and cannot help listening to it, and all the more if it makes the blood curdle and blanches the cheek…We lived at one time among a people many of whom devoutly believed in apparitions, and wizards, and witches, and all that horrible rout, and often have we heard the most thrilling stories—stories, we believe, in more senses than one.
C. H. Spurgeon, The Sword and Trowel: 1874 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1874), 170.
Just those first few sentences instantly hooked me and roused my curiosity! Spurgeon here is apparently using the ‘royal we,’ as the article in question is signed, “C.H.S.” Do those next two sentences give evidence that Spurgeon believed, in some ways, in ghosts? Perhaps so…he states that he believed some of the ghost stories he has heard in more ways than one. Here is some more evidence in that direction:
We had sent us for review some little time ago a book upon apparitions, which claims to be a narrative of facts; and as we read it through we said “Yes, these were facts where they were done,” and we put the book aside, to be looked up somewhat nearer the end of the year, when our Christmas number might excuse our inserting one or more of the aforesaid facts. We are afraid our readers will think us rather a Sadducee, but we are nothing of the kind, nor a Pharisee either; but we do not believe that in nine out of ten ghost stories there is a ghost of truth, and we are not quite sure that we believe the tenth one.
C. H. Spurgeon, The Sword and Trowel: 1874 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1874), 170–171.
Therefore, Spurgeon is a skeptic about paranormal things…but is he a 100 percent skeptic? Perhaps not, as indicated by that last line. Spurgeon appears to be saying that he dismisses 9 out of 10 ghost stories he hears, but maintains some level of credulity about the 10th. Directly after this, he actually gives an example of a ‘ghost story’ that he gives at least a little belief to:
The Wesley family undoubtedly were favoured with a very noisy visitant of some sort, and we have no idea what it was, only there is no accounting for the noises which rats make in old houses any more than for the foul gases in new ones.
C. H. Spurgeon, The Sword and Trowel: 1874 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1874), 171.
Wesley family? Not the John Wesley‘s family?! Yes, one and the same. Apparently, as the old story goes, the house that John Wesley was raised in had a period of being ‘haunted’ by something that made interesting and remarkable noises. You can read John Wesley’s full summation of those events at the bottom of this post, but here is his mother Susanna Wesley’s account, taken from a letter written to her away at-college son Samuel Wesley:
“We all heard it but your father, and I was not willing he should be informed of it, lest he should fancy it was against his own death, which, indeed, we all apprehended. But when it began to be so troublesome, both day and night, that few or none of the family durst be alone, I resolved to tell him of it, being minded he should speak to it. At first he would not believe but somebody did it to alarm us; but the night after, as soon as he was in bed, it knocked loudly nine times, just by his bedside. He rose and went to see if he could find out what it was, but could see nothing. Afterwards he heard it as the rest. One night it made such a noise in the room over our heads, as if several people were walking, then ran up and down stairs, and was so outrageous, that we thought the children would be frightened: so your father and ! rose, and went down in the dark to light a candle. Just as we came to the bottom of the broad stairs, having hold of each other, on my side there seemed as if somebody had emptied a bag of money at my feet; and on his, as if all the bottles under the stairs (which were many) had been dashed in a thousand pieces. We passed through the hall into the kitchen, and got a candle, and went to see the children, whom we found asleep.”
“We had both man and maid new last Martinmas (St. Martin’s Day, AKA Old Halloween, November 11) yet I do not believe either of them occasioned the disturbance, both for the reason above mentioned, and because they were more affrighted than anybody else. Besides, we have often heard the noises when they were in the room by us; and the maid particularly was in such a panic, that she was almost incapable of all business, nor durst even go from one room to another, or stay by herself a minute after it began to be dark. “The man Robert Brown, whom you well know, was most visited by it lying in the garret (small, top-floor attic room), and has often been frightened down barefoot, and almost naked, not daring to stay alone to put on his clothes; nor do I think, if he had power, he would be guilty of such villainy. When the walking was heard in the garret, Robert was in bed in the next room, in a sleep so sound that he never heard your father and me walk up and down, though we walked not softly I am sure. All the family has heard it together, in the same room, at the same time, particularly at family prayers. It always seemed to all present in the same place at the same time, though often before any could say, ‘It is here,’ it would remove to another place. “All the family as well as Robin were asleep when your father and I went down stairs, nor did they wake in the nursery when we held the candle closely to them, only we observed that Hetty trembled exceedingly in her sleep, as she always did before the noise awaked her. It commonly was nearer her than the rest, which she took notice of, and was much frightened, because she thought it had a particular spite at her. I could multiply particular instances, but I forbear.”(The Fortnightly Review, volume 3, page 725 – 1866)
I’m not sure what to make of that Wesley situation, and neither was Spurgeon. There could certainly be some natural causes for it, and indeed, that is what many modern skeptics believe. After his discussion of the Wesley case, Spurgeon then begins to describe several previous ghost-hunting missions that he has been on. One thing is clear from this description: Spurgeon was quite the curious and adventuresome gentleman!
When we meet with a thing which puzzles us we pry into the cause as far as we can, and generally find it out; and if we cannot read the riddle we lay it by to be solved another day, never flying to the old-fashioned resort of dragging in the supernatural. We traced a spirit song after much investigation to a foot-warmer filled with hot water, which was being used by an invalid. We found a band of celestial visitants, who whispered to us all night in a country house, and they turned out to be a nest of birds in a hole in the plaster of the wall at our bed head, which hole nearly came through into the room. Nothing supernatural has ever been seen by our eyes, nor do we think we shall ever be blessed with such visions while in this body, for after seeing Robert Houdin and other wonder-workers we are casehardened against the whole set of tricks and sham spirits, and these are the parents of most of the marvels which set silly people’s hair on end. As a general rule, when we hear of an apparition, or anything of the kind, we do not believe it to be other than an illusion or a falsehood. The most wonderfully well-attested narratives seldom bear investigation, they are built up upon hearsay and tittle-tattle, and will not endure a strict examination; like most rumours, they fall like card-houses as soon as the hand of truth touches them. Perhaps a few of them appear to be so far true that we may safely say that they are not yet accounted for except upon a supernatural hypothesis, but we should hesitate to say more. Some are evidently the result of strong imagination, and are true to the parties concerned, affecting their fears and stamping themselves upon their minds too firmly to allow them to doubt.
C. H. Spurgeon, The Sword and Trowel: 1874 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1874), 171.
So then, our man Spurgeon was an intrepid fellow, and a skeptic for sure…but did he absolutely disbelieve in the possibility of ghosts or other apparitions? Surprisingly, he refused to rule out the possibility! In Spurgeon’s mind, the vast majority of claimants to paranormal experience were worthy of an asylum, but possibly not all. Spurgeon concludes his discourses in Sword and Trowel by retelling two ghost stories – both relayed to him by ministers. The second ghost story is debunked by the participants themselves in a quite humorous way (the ‘ghost’ haunting a group of antebellum New Englanders ended up being an escaped pale horse), but the first ghost story Spurgeon relates does not have a simple explanation, and Spurgeon himself seems to find it unexplainable, and perhaps even authentic. He introduces both stories with this interesting paragraph:
We do not affirm that ghosts have never been seen, for no one has any right to hazard so broad a statement, but all spirits, as such, must be invisible, and the two sorts of human spirits which we know of are both by far too seriously occupied to go roaming about this earth rapping on tables or frightening simpletons into fits. As for angels, though they also as spirits are not cognizable by the senses, no doubt they have been made visible to men, and there is no reason why they should not be made so now if God so willed it; it would certainly be a wonder, but we do not see that any of the laws of nature need to be suspended to produce it. We can readily believe that those messengers who keep watch around the people of God would be rendered visible to us and to others if some grand purpose could be accomplished thereby, and if the safety of the saints required it. Whether in these days angels or departed spirits ever do assume forms in which they can be seen is the question, and we have as yet seen nothing to lead us to believe that they do. Others assert that they have seen such things, but as they generally admit that they would not have believed unless they had seen for themselves, we hope they will allow us to exercise the same abstinence.
C. H. Spurgeon, The Sword and Trowel: 1874 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1874), 172.
Where does that leave us relative to Spurgeon and ghosts? I think he sums it up here quite unmistakably, despite the double negative, “We do not affirm that ghosts have never been seen, for no one has any right to hazard so broad a statement.” In other words, Spurgeon is saying that nobody should say that ghosts have never been seen, because it is such a broad statement that is difficult to prove. What do YOU think? Was Spurgeon right to be (slightly) open-minded, or did he leave things a little too vague for your tastes?
Addendum #1: Some Interesting Charles Spurgeon Quotes on Ghosts and other Oddities:
1. “Guilt raked out of its grave is more frightful than a ghost, or one risen from the dead.” Nor is the terror which sin excites in the awakened conscience at all an idle one. There is in evil a horror greater than can be found in hobgoblin, sprite, or apparition. Great is the mystery of iniquity, and he who comes under its spell will have no joy of his life till the ghost is laid in the Red Sea of Jesus’ precious blood. Blessed be God, our Lord has done this for us; and we are not afraid of being haunted by sins which are buried in his grave.
C. H. Spurgeon, Flowers from a Puritan’s Garden, Distilled and Dispensed (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1883), 49.
2. Lesson from a Ghost: I REMEMBER well, one night, having been preaching the word in a country village, I was walking home alone along a lonely footpath. I do not know what it was that ailed me, but I was prepared to be alarmed, when of a surety I saw something standing in the hedge, ghastly, giantlike, and with outstretched arms. Surely, I thought, for once I have come across the supernatural; here is some restless spirit performing its midnight march beneath the moon, or some demon of the pit. I deliberated with myself a moment, and having no faith in ghosts, I plucked up courage, and resolved to solve the mystery. The monster stood on the other side of a ditch, right in the hedge. I jumped the ditch, and found myself grasping an old tree, which some waggish body had taken pains to colour with a little whitewash, with a view to frighten simpletons. That old tree has served me a good turn full often, for I have learned to leap at difficulties, and find them vanish or turn to triumphs. (Editor’s note: I think this quote ultimately encapsulates Spurgeon’s theology of ‘ghosts.’ He likely didn’t believe in them, but that disbelief didn’t keep him from investigating the odd bump in the night, or apparent apparition on a lonely country road.)
C. H. Spurgeon, Flashes of Thought (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1874), 171–172.
3. The belief in witchcraft would not still linger in our villages if all preachers of the gospel set their faces like a flint against it. We may never feel safe with regard to the inflammable material of superstition which remains in the human breast even in times of scepticism; at any hour it may serve as tinder for a new Mormonism, or some other form of wild fanaticism. There are not lacking portentous signs at this moment. What some have hailed as hopeful we have had reason to dread. Once or twice within the last dozen years the church at large has escaped from a fever of fanaticism by a hair’s breadth, and the peril ought not to be perpetuated by unrebuked ignorance. (Editor’s note: This article, written about ten years after the above ‘ghost article,’ might show evidence that Spurgeon’s attitude towards paranormal things has hardened in his older years, or it might just represent his attitude towards witchcraft.)
C. H. Spurgeon, The Sword and Trowel: 1884 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1884), 320.
4. You will perceive that a soul which can really pray thus has life, true spiritual life still struggling within. An ungodly man does not ask that he may abide in nearness to God; rather would he say, “Whither shall I flee from thy presence?” He does not seek for God’s Spirit; he is quite content that the evil spirit should rule him, and that the spirit of this world should be predominant in him. But here is life, struggling, panting, crushed, painful life, but life for all that; the higher spiritual life which sighs after God. I have seen in the corner of the garden a little fire covered up with many damp autumn leaves; I have watched its feeble smoke, and known thereby that the fire still lived and was fighting with the damp which almost smothered it; so here these desires and sighs and cries are as so much smoke, indicating the divine fire within. “Cast me not away from thy presence,” shows a soul that loves God’s presence; “take not thy Holy Spirit from me,” reveals a heart that desires to be under the dominion of that Spirit yet more completely. Here are signs of life, though they may appear to be as indistinct and doleful as hollow groans far underground, such as have been heard from men buried alive; voices from the sepulchre, choked and ghostly, but telling of life in the charnel house, grappling with death, and crying out, “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me?” (Editor’s note: This is from an 1870 sermon by Spurgeon. Such vivid language! It reminds me very much of Jesus’ challenge to the pharisees that they were ‘white washed tombs.’ I note here that a charnel house is a place where bones are stored, often in, or near a churchyard.)
C. H. Spurgeon, “A Most Needful Prayer Concerning the Holy Spirit,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 16 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1870), 554–555.
Children of God, can you not bear witness to this fact? When convinced of sin, you were almost driven to despair. You went to Moses, and he said, ‘Do good works.’ You tried to obey him, but how you failed! You tried ceremonies, baptism, the so-called Sacrament, church-going; but you were none the better. What could you do? The ghosts of your old sins haunted you every day. By night you dreamed of them, and by day you seemed to feel the hell of which you had dreamed by night. Do you remember the time when the burden was lifted, and all your terrors were quieted? Was it not when you saw Jesus crucified for you,—when you saw Jesus bleeding, dying in your stead? Then you were set free, fully emancipated; then your every fetter was broken, then every bond was snapped; then, by the life and blood-shedding of the Lord Jesus Christ, you were delivered from terror and alarm. So Jesus saves his people from the terror of their sins. (Editor’s note: What is more terrifying than the possibility of real ghosts haunting you? The ghost of past sins haunting you! Nobody can preach the gospel like Spurgeon.)
Unpublished notes from a Spurgeon sermon delivered in Belfast, 1858 C H Spurgeon’s Forgotten Early Sermons: A Companion to the New Park Street Pulpit: Twenty-Eight Sermons Compiled from the Sword and the Trowel, ed. Terence Peter Crosby (Leominster: Day One, 2010), 88–89.
Who can enlighten the blind eye? Who can bring spiritual hearing into the deaf ear? Indeed, who can quicken the dead soul but the eternal, enlightening, quickening Spirit? There it lies before us, a vast valley full of bones. Our mission is to raise them from the dead. Can we do it? No, by no means, of ourselves. Yet we are to say to those dry bones, “Live.” Our mission is absurd; it is worthy of laughter, unless we have prayer and the supply of the Spirit with us. If we have those, the bones shall come to other bones, the skeleton shall be fashioned, the flesh shall clothe the bony fabric, the Holy Ghost shall blow upon the inanimate body, and life shall be there, and an army shall throng the cemetery. Let us but invoke the Spirit and go forth to minister in His might, and we shall do marvels yet, and the nation, and the world itself, shall feel the power of the gospel of Jesus. But we must have the Spirit. (Editor’s note: Skeletons, bones, the gospel!)
Charles Spurgeon, Spurgeon Commentary: Philippians, ed. Elliot Ritzema, Spurgeon Commentary Series (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014), 35.
“Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night.” Such frail creatures are we that both by night and by day we are in danger, and so sinful are we that in either season we may be readily carried away by fear; the promise before us secures the favourite of heaven both from danger and from the fear of it. Night is the congenial hour of horrors, when alarms walk abroad like beasts of prey, or ghouls from among the tombs; our fears turn the sweet season of repose into one of dread, and though angels are abroad and fill our chambers, we dream of demons and dire visitants from hell. Blessed is that communion with God which renders us impervious to midnight frights, and horrors born of darkness. Not to be afraid is in itself an unspeakable blessing, since for every suffering which we endure from real injury we are tormented by a thousand griefs which arise from fear only. The shadow of the Almighty removes all gloom from the shadow of night: once covered by the divine wing, we care not what winged terrors may fly abroad in the earth. “Nor for the arrow that flieth by day.” Cunning foes lie in ambuscade, and aim the deadly shaft at our hearts, but we do not fear them, and have no cause to do so. That arrow is not made which can destroy the righteous, for the Lord hath said, “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper.” In times of great danger those who have made the Lord their refuge, and therefore have refused to use the carnal weapon, have been singularly preserved; the annals of the Quakers bear good evidence to this; yet probably the main thought is, that from the cowardly attacks of crafty malice those who walk by faith shall be protected, from cunning heresies they shall be preserved, and in sudden temptations they shall be secured from harm. (Editor’s note: WOW! What an amazing promise of protection from ghouls, demons and beasts!)
C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David: Psalms 88-110, vol. 4 (London; Edinburgh; New York: Marshall Brothers, n.d.), 90–91.
SOLDIER of Christ, thou wilt have to do hard battle. There is no bed of down for thee; there is no riding to heaven in a chariot: the rough way must be trodden; mountains must be climbed; rivers must be forded; dragons must be fought; giants must be slain; difficulties must be overcome; and great trials must be borne. It is not a smooth road to heaven; those who have gone but a very few paces therein, have found it to be rough and rugged. Yet it is pleasant; it is the most delightful journey in all the world; not because it is easy in itself, it is only pleasant because of the company; because of the sweet promises on which we lean; because of our Beloved who walks with us through all the rough and thorny brakes of this vast wilderness. Christian soldiers, expect conflict: “Think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you.” As truly as thou art a child of God, thy Saviour hath left thee for His legacy—“In the world ye shall have tribulation.” Yet remember that this “tribulation” is the way to “enter the kingdom;” therefore “endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” (Editor’s note: Giants and dragons!)
C. H. Spurgeon, Gleanings Among the Sheaves (New York: Sheldon and Company, 1869), 128–129.
Such is Calvinistic doctrines: if the life be in it, it is a fountain of living waters, a splendid storehouse of vital nourishment, a gathering up of sacred streams from the divine wellhead of truth; but if the inward vitality be gone it is dark and dreary, repulsive to many, and chilling to all who enter it. We have known men who have dwelt in its empty vaults till they have become wretched as ghosts wandering among the tombs, and fierce as mountain wolves. To them the purposes of God were only dark retreats from the responsibilities of life, or prisons for the hopes of their fellow men. Pour in the life-bearing floods, and then you shall see the glory of that marvellous system, which comprises more of divine revelation than any other which the mind of man has ever discovered in the inspired page. Calvinism, or, better still, Pauline doctrine, is a collection of the living waters of the gospel, and so abundant are the stores which it treasures that they are the daily joy and rejoicing of ten thousand saints, We prize the reservoir, not for its masonry but for its contents; and so we value Calvinism; not so much for its massive logic, its stupendous grandeur, its sublime conceptions, and its vast compass, as for the gospel of our salvation which from its depths it has poured forth for the supply of human needs. Let its professors see to it that it becomes to them no dry doctrine, empty and void and waste; but let them receive it in its spiritual fullness and divine energy, and they need never blush to own in all companies that their faith is bound up with it. Our creed is no ephemeral creation;—it is worthy of the loftiest genius, though plain enough to be comprehended by the wayfaring man. It is alike sublime and simple, for it is truth. (Editor’s note: Not the right kind of ‘ghost’ for our article here, but such a lovely and powerful quote that I can’t help but include it!)
C. H. Spurgeon, The Sword and Trowel: 1872 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1872), 208.
Addendum #2: John Wesley on the ‘haunting’ his family experienced in the early 1700s.
The following is John Wesley’s testimony about the strange noises and encounters his family had with an entity that they referred to as ‘Jeffrey.’ Of particular non-supernatural interest here is the fact that John Wesley’s Father Samuel (a preacher), left his mother Susanna for the period of a year, because Susanna DID NOT SAY AMEN to his prayer for the health of the king. By most accounts, he was a fairly ridiculous man, in this way and others. Susanna, the 25th child of a family of 25 children, herself had 19 children along with Samuel, including John and Charles Wesley, the founders of Methodism.
“On December 2, 1716, while Robert Brown, my father’s servant, was sitting with one of the maids, a little before ten at night, in the dining-room which opened into the garden, they both heard one knocking at the door. Robert rose and opened it, but could see nobody. Quickly it knocked again and groaned. ‘It is Mr. Turpin,’ said Robert; he has the stone, and uses to groan so.” He opened the door again twice or thrice, the knocking being twice or thrice repeated; but still seeing nothing, and being a little startled, they rose and went up to bed. When Robert came to the top of the garret stairs he saw a hand-mill, which lay at a little distance, whirled about very swiftly. When he related this he said, ‘Nought vexed me but that it was empty. I thought, if it had been but full of malt, he might have ground his heart out for me.” When he was in bed he heard, as it were, the gobbling of a turkeycock close to the bed-side; and soon after, the sound of one stumbling over his shoes and boots; but there were none there: he had left them below.
The next day he and the maid related these things to the other maid, who laughed heartily, and said, ‘What a couple of fools are you ! I defy anything to fright me.” After churning in the evening, she put the butter in the tray; and had no sooner carried it into the dairy than she heard a knocking on the shelf where several puncheons of milk stood, first above the shelf, then below. She took the candle, and searched both above and below ; but being able to find nothing, threw down butter, tray, and all, and ran away for her life.
The next evening, between five and six o’clock, my sister Molly, being then about twenty years of age, sitting in the dining-room reading, heard as if it were the door that led into the hall open, and a person walking in that seemed to have a silk night-gown rustling and trailing along. It seemed to walk round her, then to the door, then round again, but she could see nothing. She thought, ‘It signifies nothing to run away, for whatever it is, it can run faster than me.’ So she rose, put her book under her arm, and walked slowly away. After supper she was sitting with my sister Suky (about a year older than her) in one of the chambers, and telling her what had happened ; she made quite light of it, telling her, ‘I wonder you are so easily frightened; I would fain see what would frighten me.’ Presently a knocking began under the table. She took the candle and looked, but could find nothing. Then the iron casement began to clatter, and the lid of a warming-pan. Next the latch of the door moved up and down without ceasing. She started up, leaped into the bed without undressing, pulled the bed-clothes over her head, and never ventured to look up till next morning.
A night or two after, my sister Hetty, a year younger than my sister Molly, was waiting, as usual, between nine and ten, to take away my father’s candle, when she heard one coming down the garrot stairs, walking slowly by her, then going down the best stairs, then up the lack stairs, and up the garret stairs; and at every step it seemed the house shook from top to bottom. Just then my father knocked. She went in, took his candle, and got to bed as fast as possible. In the morning she told this to my eldest sister, who told her, ‘You know I believe none of these things. Pray let me take away the candle to-night, and I will find out the trick.”
She accordingly took my sister Hetty’s place, and had no sooner taken away the candle than she heard a noise below. She hastened down stairs to the hall, where the noise was, but it was then in the kitchen. She ran into the kitchen, where it was drumming on the inside of the screen. When she went round, it was drumming on the outside; and so always on the side opposite to her. Then she heard a knocking at the back kitchen door. She ran to it, unlocked it softly, and, when the knocking was repeated, suddenly opened it; but nothing was to be seen. As soon as she had shut it the knocking begun again; she opened it again, but could see nothing. When she went to shut the door, it was violently thrust against her ; she let it fly open, but nothing appeared. She went again to shut it, and it was again thrust against her : but she set her knee and her shoulder to the door, forced it to, and turned the key. Them the knocking began again; but she let it go on, and went up to bed. IIowever, from that time she was thoroughly convinced that there was no imposture in the affair. The next morning, my sister telling my mother what had happened, she said, ‘If I hear anything myself, I shall know how to judge.’ Soon after she begged her to come into the nursery. She did, and heard in the corner of the room, as it were, the violent rocking of a cradle; but no cradle had been there for some years. She was convinced it was preternatural, and earnestly prayed it might not disturb her in her own chamber at the hours of retirement; and it never did.
She now thought it proper to tell my father, but he was extremely angry, and said, ‘Suky, I am ashamed of you. These boys and girls fright one another, but you are a woman of sense, and should know better. Let me hear of it no more.’ At six in the evening he had family prayer as usual. When he began the prayer for the king, a knocking began all round the room, and a thundering knock attended the Amen. The same was heard from this time every morning and evening while the prayer for the king was repeated. As both my father and mother are now at rest, and incapable of being pained thereby, I think it my duty to furnish the serious reader with a key to the circumstance. The year before King William died, my father observed my mother did not say Amen to the prayer for the king. He vowed he never would cohabit with her till she did. He then took his horse and rode away, nor did she hear anything of him for a twelvemonth. He then came back, and lived with her as before. But I fear his vow was not forgotten before God.”
Halloween has long been a source of controversy for Christian families; while some Christians embrace the holiday (more or less) others just turn the porch lights out and seek to warn people away from the ‘devil’s holiday.” In around 25 years of ministry, I have served in churches that have preached against the holiday, churches that have tried to redeem it, and churches that have simply taken a neutral stance. I’m now about 4 months into my tenure as the pastor of a California Baptist church 2300 miles from our original home, and this particular church over the years has taken the ‘redeem the holiday’ sort of approach, seeking to do an outreach focused Trunk or Treat that is designed to reach the community while not full on diving into the more violent/dark/scary parts of Halloween. Predictably, such an approach has caused some discussion among church members – should we be implicitly supporting such a holiday by doing a Halloweenish themed outreach? It’s a great question to grapple with!
Last night at our normal VBC prayer time, I was asked a very direct question: “What do YOU think about Halloween?” I thought it was a great question, and I was happy to answer it verbally, and thought it might be a good idea to write some of it out, so here is my take on Halloween in a large nutshell: About 15 years ago, I was the youth pastor in a church that disdained Halloween and anything to do with it. The overall teaching was essentially that Halloween was a demonic holiday and that Christians shouldn’t have anything to do with it. I have some very dear friends who are deeply committed (and mature) Christians who have similar views, citing verses like Ephesians 5:11 (“Don’t participate in the fruitless works of darkness, but instead expose them.”) as justification for Christians to not associate with Halloween. While I think vs. 12 indicates that Paul was probably talking about something that would only be tangentially related to Halloween, Ephesians 5:11 does contain a powerful truth for Christians. We should NOT participate in the dark things of the world. We are to be IN the world, but not OF the world. I greatly appreciate the viewpoint of people who have nothing to do with Halloween because of conviction or conscience. Personally, our family does not celebrate Halloween. I put the word ‘celebrate’ in italics for a reason. We do have a couple of pumpkins on our front porch. Some of our kids might acquire some candy on or about the 31st day of October. Indeed, some of them will likely dress up – not in costumes that glorify the darkness, but in lighthearted and whimsical outfits. I myself might even dress up for Trunk or Treat – I do have an apropos Brother Chase the Monk outfit for the occasion. In my mind, that doesn’t constitute celebrating Halloween. Perhaps it does to you…and, in Christ, we have the freedom to disagree on that – and both of us could be right!
How can that be? Great question! Romans 14 is a very, very helpful passage in the Word of God that does not get the attention that it deserves. If we would understand and follow the truths of Romans 14, there would be far less quarreling and separation in the church, both of which are clearly forbidden by Scripture. Consider this chunk of Romans 14, discussing different approaches to eating and the celebration (or non-celebration) of various holidays and holy-days:
“Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.“
Did you catch that?! Paul warns us first about passing judgment on other Christians, assuring us that it is the job of the MASTER (Jesus), not fellow servants to pass judgment on each other. Then he presents two sets of hypothetical people. One eats anything and the other only eats vegetables. Which one is right?? According to Paul, the astonishing answer is that BOTH are right, as long as what they are doing is done out of faith. In his second example, one Christian observes multiple religious holidays (probably Jewish sabbaths and festivals) while the other Christian has the view that all days are the same. Again – who is right?? BOTH!! Both opinions are valid as long as they are held in faith and a sincere desire to please the Lord. Let’s read a little bit more of Romans 14:
Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. 14 I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. 15 For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.16 So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. 19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.20 Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. 21 It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. 22 The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. 23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.
Great, great passage, and so relevant and needed for the church today! Two major things I see here in the above paragraphs: #1 Do NOT judge each other and #2 Do NOT cause one another to stumble by your actions. We must be careful on both accounts. Our commands are to not cause anybody to stumble, nor to judge fellow believers, but to PURSUE what leads to peace and mutual upbuilding. Upbuilding is my new favorite word, even though my spell check doesn’t like it at all!
How does all of this apply to Halloween and ‘Trunk or Treat’ style outreaches? First of all, let me say this: Romans 14 is discussing what we might call ‘doubtful matters,’ or things that Scripture doesn’t clearly teach about. We can’t use these passages as a justification for things that Scripture clearly forbids (drunkenness, abusive words, racism, sexual immorality etc.) But in the case of Halloween, some Christians are convinced by their understanding of the Word to NOT have anything to do with it. Those Christians should indeed NOT associate with Halloween! (“Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” Romans 14:5) Other Christians do not share that same conviction and have liberty, as long as they are not a stumbling block and as long as they are doing what they are doing in faith. Neither group should judge the other. That is the Lord’s business, and not mine or yours.
My own view of Trunk or Treat is that we, as a church, are doing a Mars Hill sort of thing (see Paul’s sermon in Acts 17) whereby we are using a cultural holiday as a springboard for sharing the love and gospel of Jesus. I am hopeful that it will be a fruitful outreach, and that such a thing pleases the Lord! If, however, you struggle with the idea, then you should most certainly NOT participate in such a thing if your church does it! (“But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” Romans 14:23) And, as mentioned above, you really shouldn’t judge or condemn those who do participate in it. That’s not your role, and the Bible is much more clear on its teaching to not judge fellow believers than it is clear on whether or not (and to what degree) Christians should participate in secular holidays.
So – if you are a Christian with concerns about Halloween and being a party to darkness, then do NOT participate in Halloween. You would not be able to do so with a clear conscience, or in faith. You should not feel guilty about not participating, and you are not a stick in the mud. I would urge you not to seek to evangelize other believers to that position, as ‘each one should be convinced in their own mind,’ and you have more important things to evangelize people about. Similarly, if you are not convicted about participating in Halloween, or in a Trunk or Treat style outreach, I believe you have the freedom to do so, provided you stay faithful to the Word of God. I would advise you to avoid movies that glorify gore and violence (let’s be honest: very few Halloween themed movies are wholesome in any way), and I would advise you to be careful not to glorify darkness or evil, but other than those things, celebrate with liberty! Just be sure to avoid judging those brothers and sisters who believe they should have nothing to do with Halloween. They don’t have to answer to you, they have to answer to their Master (and yours!)
Here’s the whole of Romans 14 in the HCSB translation for your edification:
1 Accept anyone who is weak in faith, but don’t argue about doubtful issues. 2 One person believes he may eat anything, but one who is weak eats only vegetables. 3 One who eats must not look down on one who does not eat, and one who does not eat must not criticize one who does,because God has accepted him. 4 Who are you to criticize another’s household slave? Before his own Lord he stands or falls. And he will stand. For the Lord is able to make him stand.
5 One person considers one day to be above another day. Someone else considers every day to be the same. Each one must be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 Whoever observes the day, observes it for the honor of the Lord. Whoever eats, eats for the Lord, since he gives thanks to God;and whoever does not eat, it is for the Lord that he does not eat it, yet he thanks God. 7 For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. 8 If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. 9 Christ died and came to life for this: that He might rule over both the dead and the living. 10 But you, why do you criticize your brother? Or you, why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before the tribunal of God. 11 For it is written: As I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow to Me, and every tongue will give praise to God. 12 So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.
13 Therefore, let us no longer criticize one another. Instead decide never to put a stumbling block or pitfall in your brother’s way. 14 (I know and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself. Still, to someone who considers a thing to be unclean, to that one it is unclean.) 15 For if your brother is hurt by what you eat, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy that one Christ died for by what you eat. 16 Therefore, do not let your good be slandered, 17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 Whoever serves Christ in this way is acceptable to God and approved by men.
19 So then, we must pursue what promotes peace and what builds up one another. 20 Do not tear down God’s work because of food. Everything is clean, but it is wrong for a man to cause stumbling by what he eats.21 It is a noble thing not to eat meat, or drink wine, or do anything that makes your brother stumble. 22 Do you have a conviction? Keep it to yourself before God. The man who does not condemn himself by what he approves is blessed. 23 But whoever doubts stands condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from a conviction, and everything that is not from a conviction is sin.
I ask one thing of you since this could be controversial, and I usually avoid political writing. Please read the entire article before you @ me. Thank you! 🙂
Consider the following scenario: You are a judge with a defendant before you that is accused of a heinous crime. There is no physical evidence against the defendant – only the testimony of one person, and that testimony is not corroborated. You have no way of knowing whether the plaintiff or the defendant is lying. You must choose – should you rule in favor of execution, or acquittal? It is a difficult choice which should cause you to ponder: which is the greater evil, to condemn the innocent, or to acquit the guilty? What a conundrum to be faced with! How would you handle such a situation? I would hope with humility, compassion, thoughtfulness and wisdom. I would further hope that you would take on such a task with extreme gravitas and sober-mindedness, knowing how important that rendering justice would be in such a situation, and how tragic it would be to get it wrong. I am honestly not sure how I would navigate such a difficult decision, but I see that many people seem to have no problem easily picking a side in what I consider to be a very similar dilemma- the current Brett Kavanaugh confirmation decision.
Some people seem to have no difficulty in siding with Brett Kavanaugh and slandering Dr. Ford, while others have taken Ford’s allegations as absolutely true, and dismissed Kavanaugh’s denials. My question is this: How should a Christian respond PUBLICLY (on social media and in conversations with others) to this situation? This article is an attempt to answer that question. I don’t necessarily want to tell you how to think and feel, but to help ask some questions and share some principles that should guide Christians as to how they respond to explosive situations such as this. Far too often, I have seen Christians on social media take stands and make comments that go against biblical counsel, are unnecessarily inflammatory, or needlessly hurtful. We would do well to avoid such comments given the volumes of Scripture, such as Colossians 4:6, which demand that Christians be careful, wise, and loving with our words.
Act wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time. 6 Your speech should always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person.
As a refresher, it would probably be helpful to summarize the allegations. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford alleges that in the early 1980s (when she was 15), she was at a party with the 17 year old Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge, and they ‘corralled’ her in a bedroom and Kavanaugh pinned her to the bed, groped her, ground against her, tried to pull off her clothes, and covered her mouth with his hand when she tried to scream. Ford alleges that she was able to extricate herself from the situation when Mark Judge jumped on the bed, disrupting what was going on. At this point, no witnesses have come forward to corroborate Dr. Ford’s version of the events, though several students that attended the same school as Dr. Ford in the 80s have signed a statement that similar situations happened frequently. Mark Judge denies Dr. Ford’s allegations entirely. Dr. Ford has testified that one of her lifelong friends, Leland Keyser, was at the party where the alleged incident happened. Ms. Keyser does not remember being at the party, did not know Kavanaugh, knew nothing of a potential sexual assault, but did say she believes her friend’s story. As you can see, this is a complicated situation – a classic “He said/she said.” The Wikipedia article on the allegations is a helpful, and nonpartisan place to dig a bit deeper.
So- where do we go from here? I mean ‘we’ as the American people, particularly American Christians, discussing and posting about this situation in public. The fact is, I cannot tell whether or not Dr. Ford or Kavanaugh is telling the truth. Both come across as credible in various ways. If you are being honest, you don’t know which one is telling the truth either! You might have an opinion, but you and I have no way whatsoever to know which of these people is being most truthful. I am very interested in the truth here. Let me be crystal clear: If it could be proven that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted Dr. Ford in largely the way that she claims he did, then Kavanaugh should NOT be confirmed, and he should be utterly disgraced and forced to step down from his current court position also. Some might say that I am wrong there – that we should overlook something that happened 3 decades ago, but those people would be dead wrong. Why? Because Kavanaugh has adamantly and passionately denied the allegations under oath, testifying before congress and the American people. If he is, in fact, guilty, then he is guilty of sexual assault in the past AND lying and perjury in the present. Not only would he not be qualified to be on our nation’s highest court, he wouldn’t be qualified to mop a basketball court.
The problem is that we don’t know whether or not the allegations are true. There is a principle in law called ‘innocent until proven guilty.’ which I think applies here to a degree, even though the American public is not a court of law. There is also a biblical principle that applies here – the principle of requiring more than one witness to properly establish an accusation. Consider these two passages:
“One witness cannot establish any wrongdoing or sin against a person, whatever that person has done. A fact must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.
1 Timothy 5:19
Don’t accept an accusation against an elder unless it is supported by two or three witnesses.
The principle is that a mere accusation is not enough to prove the guilt of somebody. One need only consider the fictional case of To Kill a Mockingbird, or the nonfictional case of Emmett Till, to understand and agree with this principle. You might rightly say, “what if I am in a situation where I am robbed, assaulted, raped, or attacked and I am the only witness, is the Bible saying that my claim is not valid?” The answer is no – the Bible, in Deuteronomy 19, calls for a ‘careful investigation’ in situations such as these. Consider the words of this passage, and Denny Burk’s excellent expansion on it.
“If a malicious witness testifies against someone accusing him of a crime, 17 the two people in the dispute must stand in the presence of the Lord before the priests and judges in authority at that time. 18 The judges are to make a careful investigation, and if the witness turns out to be a liar who has falsely accused his brother, 19 you must do to him as he intended to do to his brother. You must purge the evil from you. 20 Then everyone else will hear and be afraid, and they will never again do anything evil like this among you.“
“Read the very next verses. If there are no witnesses, then other evidence will have to come to bear in a judicial proceeding. In those cases, the corroborating “witnesses” are presumably evidentiary in nature. The point of the Deut.19:15 and its numerous citations in the New Testament (Matt. 18:16; John 8:17; 2 Cor 13:1; 1 Tim 5:19; Heb 10:28) are that an accusation alone cannot condemn someone. There needs to be some sort of corroborating witness or evidence. It is notable that the Lord Jesus himself applies this standard in cases of church discipline (Matt. 18:16). Paul invokes it when talking about receiving accusations against elders (1 Tim. 5:19). The New Testament is teaching us that the principle is still relevant even in the church’s own deliberations about sin and guilt.” Boyce College professor Denny Burk.
In situations like the one between Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford, a careful investigation is called for. Breaking news as of this day (September 28) indicates that the Senate has delayed the hearings on Kavanaugh for one week to allow for that sort of careful investigation to happen. This is good news for all who are concerned for the truth to come out. A longer investigation would likely be even more highly motivated by political delaying tactics (rather than an earnest desire for truth to come out) and a shorter investigation would likely be insufficient to actually qualify as the ‘careful investigation’ called for in Deuteronomy 19.
So – what now? And what if the FBI investigation fails to turn up conclusive evidence supporting Dr. Ford or Kavanaugh’s position? How should Christians react? I would say our first posture should be humility. No matter which side you are on, the fact is that you do NOT know the truth of this situation, unless you are one of the primary parties or a witness. How can you know the truth of this, or any major news/political story? I completely agree with C.S. Lewis’ cynicism about the press. The fact is that journalists – whom I genuinely respect – are nevertheless human. Thus, they are biased – some are biased towards conservative ends, some are biased towards liberal ends, and some have entirely different biases – all of which impact their reporting. We should be aware of this dynamic, and take what the news media says with a salt mine. (The liberal media, the conservative media, and the anti-media media who spill much ink writing about how unreliable all other media outlets are!). Consider these words of wisdom from C.S. Lewis:
“The most unliterary reader of all sticks to ‘the news’. He reads daily, with unwearied relish, how, in some place he has never seen, under circumstances which never become quite clear, someone he doesn’t know has married, rescued, robbed, raped, or murdered someone else he doesn’t know.” C.S. Lewis
– From An Experiment in Criticism (1961), “The Reading of the Unliterary”
“I never read the papers. Why does anyone? They’re nearly all lies, and one has to wade thru’ such reams of verbiage and “write up” to find out even what they’re saying.” C.S. Lewis
– From Letters to an American Lady – Letter Dated October 26th, 1955
– Surprised by Joy, page 159 1955 version.
“Even in peacetime I think those are very wrong who say that schoolboys should be encouraged to read the newspapers. Nearly all that a boy reads there in his teens will be seen before he is twenty to have been false in emphasis and interpretation, if not in fact as well, and most of it will have lost all importance. Most of what he remembers he will therefore have to unlearn; and he will probably have acquired an incurable taste for vulgarity and sensationalism and the fatal habit of fluttering from paragraph to paragraph to learn how an actress has been divorced in California, a train derailed in France, and quadruplets born in New Zealand.” A similar quote, when Lewis was asked his opinion on an American military leader, “I don’t feel in a position to have clear opinions about anyone I know only from newspapers.” C.S. Lewis
The fact is that it is difficult for rank and file people like you and me to really know the truth about big major stories like this one. So we should be humble and we should not be bombastic, accusatory nor judgmental. I am not suggesting that we should not have an opinion, but that we should hold our opinion in a way that is Godly, loving, truth-honoring, and not harmful to our ideological opponents, remembering that Jesus commanded us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, not slander them on social media and talk about how stupid they are.
If you support Kavanaugh and his nomination, endeavor to do it in a way that does NOT shame, minimize, silence, or wound victims of sexual assault. I write this as a victim of sexual assault myself – assaulted by an older guy when I was 10 or 11. Realize that you have NO possible way of knowing whether or not Dr. Ford’s allegations are true or not. What if she is telling the truth? Would you knowingly support a lying perpetrator of sexual assault in order to accomplish some greater good? I hope not. I see nothing in the teaching or ethics of Christ that would support such a position. We are not ever to be people who compromise biblical truth and commands for the greater good. There is no such thing. That said, given the lack of evidence, It is possible to be a supporter of Kavanaugh AND a person who is adamantly against sexual assault and any sort of predation on women or children.
If you support Dr. Ford, be careful to acknowledge that you yourself have no way of knowing whether her allegation is true or not. What if she is lying? The risk is that in your good desire to stand with the victims of sexual assault, you might be condemning an innocent person – which is a great evil. Had you the power, would you have a defendant executed for a crime with zero physical or corroborating evidence and only one witness? Our entire justice system is designed to disallow such an outcome! Yes, the risk with such a foundational view of “innocent until proven guilty,” is that sometimes the guilty escape human judgment, but understand that they never escape eternal and effective judgment. It is a dangerous thing to set yourself up in judgment over a case you honestly know very little – if anything – about.
It is not without reason that the Bible sternly warns – multiple times – against judging. If those prohibitions do not apply to this situation, then what could they possibly apply to? Many people are quick to warn others against ‘judging,’ but very rarely – if ever- police themselves. It is being judgmental to assume facts that you do not actually know, and it is being judgmental to assume the motivations or emotions of a person that you are not genuinely acquainted with. Do not judge, or you will also be judged. (I note here that it is also biblically forbidden to judge or assume the motivations of Dr. Ford and ascribe to her ill intent when you honestly have no way of knowing her intent whatsoever. It is a risky thing to call somebody a liar when you do not factually know whether or not that person is indeed a liar. I have seen many confidently accuse Dr. Ford of lying, and none of those accusers actually know the truth, therefore their accusations are baseless and dangerous. I have seen many accuse Kavanaugh of lying also, and their accusations are just as baseless given that they do not actually know the truth.)
“Will not God grant justice to His elect who cry out to Him day and night? Will He delay to help them? 8 I tell you that He will swiftly grant them justice. “Jesus in Luke 18:7-9
Understand this – God knows the truth of this situation, and justice – eternal justice – will be done. Do not fret that somebody is going to get away with evil here. If Kavanaugh has perpetrated this sexual assault and then lied about it, then rest assured, he will not escape the judgment of a holy God. As the Bible says, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31) If Dr. Ford’s story is completely fabricated, then she will not escape judgment. If the senators on this committee – Republican or Democrat – are acting in an evil, underhanded way, God knows this, and it is “His to repay.” God is a God of justice who sees all. We are rarely able to know the truth of situations like this, but God does, and He will deal with it completely, fairly and thoroughly, in His time. It may seem like justice is often delayed, but rest assured that our just God will judge rightly in light of eternity. Consider these powerful instructions of Paul in Romans 12, written right before he teaches Christians how to behave in light of the government in Romans 13.
“Do not repay anyone evil for evil.Try to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes. 18 If possible, on your part, live at peace with everyone. 19 Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for His wrath. For it is written: Vengeance belongs to Me; I will repay, says the Lord. 20 But If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head.”
Let me close with this: The church MUST take sexual assault more seriously, and nothing I have written above goes against that statement. The church MUST also confront the kind of abuse of power that leads to men abusing women and men abusing children. We must never overlook or excuse sexual assault, and we must war against the kind of atmosphere that allows such assault to exist unchallenged. Men are called to “love their wives, as Christ loved the church.” That is, with a love that is sacrificial, gentle and not self-serving. Men are called to treat young women as sisters, and older women as mothers – with all respect and propriety. Sexual predators are like predatory wolves, and the good men of the church (and of society in general) should be on the front lines of opposition against such evildoers. We should be opposed to sexual predation and the abuse of power in all of its forms. We should also be opposed to the bearing of false witness, and we should lovingly and passionately pursue the truth. Followers of Jesus: Be aware that your words have power – use them well, and speak/write them under the governance of the Word of God, not under the governance of your biases, opinions, party allegiances or emotions!
Psalm 37, selected verses.
Do not be agitated by evildoers;
do not envy those who do wrong.
2 For they wither quickly like grass
and wilt like tender green plants….A little while, and the wicked person will be no more;
though you look for him, he will not be there.
11 But the humble will inherit the land
and will enjoy abundant prosperity.
12 The wicked person schemes against the righteous
and gnashes his teeth at him.
13 The Lord laughs at him
because He sees that his day is coming.
14 The wicked have drawn the sword and strung the bow
to bring down the afflicted and needy
and to slaughter those whose way is upright.
15 Their swords will enter their own hearts,
and their bows will be broken.
16 The little that the righteous man has is better
than the abundance of many wicked people.
17 For the arms of the wicked will be broken,
but the Lord supports the righteous.
“It’s y’all, dad, and it makes me mad that you don’t say it!” – My Eldest Daughter, rebuking me for attempting to convert to ‘you guys.’
I am a pastor/writer that has been living in Salinas, California for all of seven weeks after spending over four decades in the heart of the Deep South: Birmingham, Alabama. Because it only takes a few weeks to fully understand a culture (wink, wink), I am endeavoring to write a series of posts that examines the differences between life in the South and life in California. Some of these posts will be quite serious, but be warned that there is much tom-foolery, and tongue in cheekery to follow.
The hardest thing about moving over 2000 miles away from your hometown is leaving behind friends and family. I think the second hardest aspect of moving is packing and unpacking. At this point we have only eight boxes left to unpack (down from over 2.8 million) so that is a triumph of the human spirit. I was led to believe, before moving, that culture shock would be a difficult thing for our family. Since California is obviously completely different from the South, it seems reasonable that our family would have a difficult time adjusting to the pace and differences of life. Thus far, however, we have experienced very little culture shock. In fact, we have really enjoyed the California culture, and find many similarities between the people and practices of this area and those back in SEC country. Though the demographics of people are very different in my new city (78 percent Hispanic background), the behavior of people here is not massively different. People are people, as Depeche Mode once sagely observed.
Though the similarities do outnumber the differences, there are more than a trivial amount of deviations between life in the South and life in California. For instance, we just registered our vehicles here yesterday and paid over $800 for the privilege of getting California license plates! (That same transaction in Alabama would have cost less then $200 for our modest vehicles) Gas is significantly cheaper back home also, though food prices somewhat balance out, because California, like Florida, does not tax groceries. Overall, life is mostly more expensive here in Cali, and there are more people, laws, taxes, fees, earthquakes, fires and skateboarders than you would find in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, etc. I could kick off this series by writing about dozens of different cultural differences, but I will focus on the single most important, most obvious, most glaring, and most divisive difference between Southern life and California life: ‘Y’all’ vs. ‘You guys’. Sharpen your pitchforks, because we’re about to get serious, y’all…er, you guys.
For years, sociologists have understood that the greatest differentiation and separation between English speaking humans has nothing to do with skin color, politics, nor economics, but is rather a function of how a person handles the second person plural of ‘You,’ Some people express this plural of you by the contraction, ‘Y’all,’ while other people use the phrase ‘you guys,’ or ‘you all’ in the exact same way. Some people simply say ‘You,’ for both the second person singular and second person plural. Disturbingly, there are a few people that even use the abomination ‘youse guys,’ (or, worse, ‘you’uns’) but this article won’t cover that treasonous crime against the English language. In the South, people sometimes mix ‘you guys,’ ‘you all,’ and ‘y’all,’ but I would guess that ‘y’all’ is used about 85-90 percent of the time, followed by ‘you guys,’ and then ‘you all,’ Those numbers are flipped and probably more extreme in California, I believe. We have heard a few instances of ‘y’all’ use out here in the wild, but it is indeed quite rare.
According to my own highly accurate, science based surveys, Southerners use ‘y’all,’ approximately 2,700 times a day, so quite a lot. Moving west past the Y’allson-Dixon line forces one to make a choice: Should I continue y’alling everything, or should I seek to adapt to the culture and avoid certain etymological bullying? My choice has been to adapt, or at least try to. I have little problems with the principle of cultural adaption on morally neutral issues of language. My family, however, are non-adapters, and they see me as something of a linguistic Benedict Arnold. Behind closed doors, when I say ‘you guys,’ I receive a high amount of persecution from my family in the form of eye rolls, sighs, and sharp glances. The struggle is real, y’all!
Interestingly, the good people of California have been far more tolerant and accommodating, as you might expect. They have encouraged us to continue in our use of ‘y’all,’ and have even described it as ‘charming.’ Though my daughter has been mistaken for a foreign exchange student at her high school a couple of times (true story!), she has also found that people enjoy her accent, and some students have even resolved to make ‘y’all’ a thing. Our mission of moving to California to spread the good news of ‘y’all’ is coming along quite nicely!
5 Scientific and Completely Serious Reasons that ‘Y’all’ is superior to ‘You Guys.’
- ‘Y’all’ is ONE syllable, as compared to the two syllables of ‘you guys,’ and the seven or eight syllables of ‘youse guys’ and ‘you’uns.’ It is much easier to say, and wastes less energy, therefore it is more environmentally friendly. Climatologists estimate that the entire western seaboard switching to ‘y’all’ would lower global temperatures by at least 3 degrees Kelvin within a decade of adoption, permanently ending the global warming crisis, and ushering in a new era of Grammatical Enlightenment. Yes, I capitalized that phrase, because the Grammatical Enlightenment will be just as important, if not more important, than the regular Enlightenment, which we also capitalize.
- ‘Y’all’ is forward thinking by being gender neutral, whereas ‘you guys’ perpetuates harmful gender stereotypes. Be on the right side of history!
- ‘Y’all’ has less letters, and thus requires less ink to print than ‘you guys.’ The ‘G’ alone in you guys uses up as much ink as TWO ‘i’s!’ THINK OF THE TREES!
- ‘Y’all’ can be said approximately 43 percent faster than ‘you guys.’ Not only does that use less energy (see above) but it also takes LESS TIME! Who has time to spare in this busy season of American life?? ‘You guys’ would be perfect for the early days of American history, like during the American Revolution, or World War 1, when people had the time to just sit around and chew on hay while chatting with friends in the fields. But today, we are so busy, we need to be efficient with our words. Linguists estimate that Californians could save an average of 14 minutes a day by switching to ‘y’all!’ Think about what you could do with that time- that’s four more ‘snoozes’ in the morning, or almost three full episodes per week of that show you are binging on Netflix right now.
- The usage of y’all can satisfy several important grammatical functions, including a collective pronoun, an associative plural, an indefinite pronoun, and an institutional pronoun. I totally didn’t copy that sentence from somewhere else, and I absolutely know what an institutional pronoun is…who doesn’t?!
10 quick facts about “Y’all”
- ‘Y’all’ is a contraction of “you all.” The ‘ou’ has dropped out and been replaced by an apostrophe.
- Though I do see the irony in speaking of proper grammar in the context of ‘y’all,’ the proper spelling and use of the word is y’all, NOT ya’ll. Ya’ll is a contraction of ‘Ya-all,’ which sounds abominable. Y’all appears ten times more often in print than other derivatives. I have a particular set of skills, and if you use ‘ya’ll’ in writing, I will find you.
- ‘Y’all’ first appeared in print in 1824, so it is a modernish invention, similar to combustion engines, microprocessors, rockets ships, photon torpedoes, faster than light travel, warp-speed, etc. This means that it represents an advancement in linguistic technology, sort of like how high speed internet is an advancement over 56k modems, and Corvettes are an advancement over riding on goats.
- ‘Y’all’ developed independently among South African Indian English speakers and those of a Scottish background (likely deriving from the Scottish phrase, ‘ye-aw.’) That it developed independently among two different people groups demonstrates that ‘y’all’ is a logical progression of language.
- Y’all is a partial replacement for ‘Ye,’ which was commonly used in older English. “Hear ye, Hear ye,” would now be translated as, “Hear y’all, hear y’all!” (Notice the inelegance of “Hear you guys, hear you guys.”)
- ‘Y’all’ is translated to ‘You lot’ in British English. (One of the few areas that British English is inferior to American English. ‘You lot’ just sounds silly)
- ‘Y’all’ can be used properly when speaking to a single person, if the phrase is being used of a group of people. For instance, If I was out riding my horse around the cow patties in Alabama, and I ran into my friend Jeb, I would say this to him, “What are y’all doing for dinner tonight?” Even though I was just asking him, I am including other people in that statement.
- ‘All y’all’ is the proper way to refer to large groups, or a collective of several somehow related groups. For instance, in referring to several different (but related) families, “All Y’all Clampett’s make good hoe cakes!” Or, “All Y’all Auburn fans should convert!” (Note: I have never had an actual hoe cake, and am not really sure what it is. Also, Roll Tide.)
- ‘Y’all’ is also utilized in other English speaking countries, such as the Canadian Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Island of Saint Helena, and the Middle Eastern country Bubbastan.
- The first use of ‘Y’all’ in the English printed language is this sentence, from a Texas history book, ““Why, heern as how the regerlators wur guine to cotch y‘ all and swing y‘ up to dry, us thought we’d better heave to.”” Yes, that sounds as foreign to my ears as it does to yours!
Thanks for reading! Coming soon, I plan to write about: Driving in California vs. The South. Fancy Waters in California vs. The South. Southern Beaches vs. California Beaches. Cost of Living + more!
Note: This is a simple chapter on salvation from a biblical perspective, and will seek to avoid such weighty theological terms as soteriology, supra/infralapsarianism and a detailed discussion of the ordo salutis, or order of salvation. Sometimes we over complicate things, and the article below is an attempt to be very simple, and very biblical.
Perhaps the most important question of all is centered on salvation, and how to live eternally in Heaven. This is a BIG question, and it comes in many different flavors: How do I become a Christian? How do I get saved? How can I go to Heaven when I die? How can I inherit eternal life? People in the Bible frequently asked this question in its various forms. Probably the most common answer in the church today, at least in the American church, is an answer that contains an element of praying, and an element of somehow “asking Jesus to come into your heart.” You might be surprised to discover that this formulation is not particularly biblical at all! Think about it: The most common answer that Christians give today when somebody asks them how to spend eternity in Heaven with Jesus is not really based on the Bible at all…that is a problem!
Interestingly, the Bible does not have a standard and uniform answer to the question of how to be saved. (More on that in a moment…) But there are multiple passages where the question is asked. Consider the Rich Young Ruler of Matthew 19. This was a young man who was zealous for God and had apparently lived an extremely holy life, seeking to please God by keeping all of the commandments. One day, that young man encountered Jesus, and asked Him the BIG question:
“Just then someone came up and asked Him, “Teacher, what good must I do to have eternal life?” 17 “Why do you ask Me about what is good?” He said to him. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.”18 “Which ones?” he asked Him. Jesus answered: Do not murder; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not bear false witness; 19 honor your father and your mother; and love your neighbor as yourself. 20 “I have kept all these,” the young man told Him. “What do I still lack? 21 “If you want to be perfect,” Jesus said to him, “go, sell your belongings and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.” 22 When the young man heard that command, he went away grieving, because he had many possessions.” (Matthew 19:16-22)
How did Jesus ultimately answer the man? He told Him two things: #1 – To sell His possessions, and #2 to Follow Jesus. Is this THE definitive answer to the question of how to be saved? Must all who want to inherit eternal life sell all of their possessions and then follow Jesus?
The same question is asked again in Acts 2. Peter has just preached his Pentecost sermon to thousands of people. Many of them are cut to the heart, and they approach him and ask the big question – what should they do? How can they be saved? Note how Peter’s answer is somewhat different from Jesus’ answer:
“When they heard this, they came under deep conviction and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles: “Brothers, what must we do?” 38 “Repent,” Peter said to them, “and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” 40 And with many other words he testified and strongly urged them, saying, “Be saved from this corrupt generation!” 41 So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about 3,000 people were added to them.” (Acts 2:37-41)
When Peter is asked the question, his response is slightly different than Jesus’ response to the Rich Young Ruler. This time, Peter tells those asking the question to #1 Repent and #2 Be baptized in the name of Jesus. Does this represent a contradiction between what Peter said and what Jesus said? Absolutely not, but there is an important reason for the differences. Before we discuss that, however, let’s look at yet another passage. This time involving the apostle Paul:
“Then the jailer called for lights, rushed in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he escorted them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the message of the Lord to him along with everyone in his house. 33 He took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds. Right away he and all his family were baptized. 34 He brought them into his house, set a meal before them, and rejoiced because he had believed God with his entire household.” (Acts 16:29-34)
Yet another different answer! This time, when Paul answers the BIG question, there is no mention of baptism OR selling all of one’s possessions OR repenting, only that belief in Jesus is the necessary thing. Here’s one more Scripture from Paul that clearly states what a person needs in order to be saved:
“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)
In Romans 10:9, confession is a key element, but baptism, repentance, and selling possessions are missing. On the surface, this could be quite confusing – especially if we are looking for the steps to be saved – why doesn’t the Bible have ONE simple formula for us to follow and for Christians to tell the world about? And that question brings us to the crux of the issue: The reason the Bible never gives a consistent series of steps to salvation is because there isn’t a formula to be saved! There aren’t steps that, by carrying them out, we can ensure salvation. There does not exist a certain set of instructions that, when followed properly, will ensure that somebody has eternal life. It doesn’t work that way at all! JESUS is at the center of every answer to every salvation question asked in the Bible. Follow Jesus, believe Jesus, confess Jesus, be baptized into Jesus, etc. It is all about Jesus, and what He has done! Consider Paul’s famous description of salvation in Ephesians:
“In the coming ages He might display the immeasurable riches of His grace through His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— 9 not from works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Salvation is NOT by works. Not by a series of steps. Not by a series of activities. Salvation is found in a PERSON. You aren’t saved because you prayed a prayer or saved because you were baptized, or saved because you did what a pastor asked, and took a few steps down to the altar at a front of the church. NONE of those things are sufficient for salvation. Salvation requires a savior. Rescuing requires a rescuer.
Think about it this way – you are on a boat that sinks in a fierce storm, and you are plunged into 40 degree waters. The waves violently toss you about, and you are at the absolute end of your strength and in desperate need of rescue. Your arms are almost useless, and your lungs are beginning to fill with water. Which is a better scenario: #1 A Coast Guard Cutter pulls up, and an officer shouts down instructions to you as to what YOU must DO to save yourself from the water. OR #2: A Coast Guard Cutter pulls up, and a rescue diver is lowered down to you, and he grabs you and pulls you to safety? Though not all analogies are perfect, the point of this one is that a person drowning in the water does not need instruction on what to do in order to save themselves, they need a rescuer. A person lost in sin doesn’t need a few steps to follow to make themselves acceptable to God and worthy of eternal life – they need a Rescuer, Jesus, to save them completely. The focus is not on the steps to be saved, it is on the Savior!
THAT is why the Bible never gives the same instructions on what must be done for somebody to be saved…because it is NOT about what YOU must do for salvation – it is about Jesus and what HE has already done. Consider the words of Acts 4:12, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people, and we must be saved by it.” Jesus is the ONLY way to salvation. Apart from Jesus, prayer is meaningless, baptism is just water, repentance has no power, and selling all of your goods may be noble, but it won’t save your soul.
“So,” I hear you asking, “What does all of this mean? What should I do??” It is a fair question. The answer is: Look to Jesus, and live! Jesus is the Root of salvation (Revelation 22:16), He is the Way of salvation (John 14:6), He is the Door of salvation (John 10:9) and He is the beginning and end of salvation (Revelation 1:8.) Go to Jesus, and He will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28) Go to Jesus, and He will give you life. (John 14:6) Go to Jesus, and He will give you living water that will spring up into eternal life! (John 4:14)
I will close with this one last simple verse, which is an amazing and precious promise of Jesus. You may bet your life on it, and I hope you do. John 6:40, “For this is the will of My Father: that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” Yes! It is as simple as that, according to the Master Himself. LOOK to Him and BELIEVE. Should you get baptized? Absolutely, it is a command, but it doesn’t save you. Should you repent, and turn away from your sins? YES, you must, but repentance doesn’t save you, Jesus does. Should you follow the commands of God? Yes! in gratitude for salvation, but NOT because you think that obeying God’s law has the power to save you. Look to Jesus, and Believe the gospel – the good news that a perfect and sinless Jesus died the death of a sinner – you and I! – on the cross, to pay the price for our sin, so that we could have eternal life forever in Heaven.
“I remember I concluded preaching at Exeter Hall with these three words, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!” and I think I will conclude my sermon of this morning with the same words, but not till I have spoken to one poor forlorn soul who is standing over there, wondering whether there is mercy for him. He says, “It is well enough, sir, to say, ‘Look to Jesus,’ but suppose you cannot look? If your eye is blind—what then?” Oh I my poor brother, turn your restless eyeballs to the cross, and that light which gives light to them that see, shall give eyesight to them that are blind. Oh! if thou canst not believe this morning, look and consider, and weigh the matter, and in weighing and reflecting thou shalt be helped to believe. He asks nothing of thee; he bids thee now believe that he died for thee. If to-day thou feelest thyself a lost, guilty sinner, all he asks is that thou wouldest believe on him; that is to say, trust him, confide in him. Is it not little he asks? And yet it is more than any of us are prepared to give, except the Spirit hath made us willing. Come, cast yourselves upon him; fall flat on his promise; sink or swim, confide in him, and you cannot guess the joy that you shall feel in that one instant that you believe on him. Were there not some of you impressed last Sabbath day, and you have been anxious all the week? Oh! I hope I have brought a good message to you this morning for your comfort. “Look unto me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth,” saith Christ, “for I am God, and beside me there is none else.” Look ye now, and looking ye shall live. May every blessing rest upon you, and may each go away to think of that one person whom we love, even Jesus—Jesus—Jesus!” Charles Spurgeon sermon, “Looking Unto Jesus” May 23, 1858
“There are, in the end, only two questions to ask as we read the Bible: Is it about me? Or is it about Jesus? In other words, is the Bible basically about what I must do orabout what he has done? Consider the story of David and Goliath. If I read David and Goliath as a story that gives me an example to follow, then the story is really about me. It is an exhortation that I must summon up the faith and courage to fight the giants in my life. But if I accept that the Bible is ultimately about the Lord and his salvation, and if I read the David and Goliath text in that light, it throws a multitude of things into sharp relief! The very point of the Old Testament passage is that the Israelites could not face the giant themselves. Instead, they needed a champion who would fight in their place — a substitute who would face the deadly peril in their stead. And the substitute that God provided is not a strong person but a weak one — a young boy, too small to wear a suit of armor. Yet God used the deliverer’s weakness as the very means to bring about the destruction of the laughing, overconfident Goliath. David triumphs through his weakness and his victory is imputed to his people. And so does Jesus. It is through his suffering, weakness, and death that the sin is defeated. This vivid and engaging story shows us what it means to declare that we have died with Christ (Rom 6:1–4) and are raised up and seated with him (Eph 2:5 – 6). Jesus is the ultimate champion, our true champion, who did not merely risk his life for us, but who gave it. And now his victory is our victory, and all he has accomplished is imputed to us.” (Tim Keller, Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel Centered Ministry in Your City, location 2003, copyright 2012)
Post Script: 5 Things that Salvation is NOT:
- Salvation is NOT simply believing that God exists and that Jesus died on the cross. For years, I have have (off and on) engaged in the practice of street evangelism. Living in the south, almost everybody here believes that they are Christians, so if you ask somebody if they are saved, or if they know where they would go if they died tonight, they will almost invariably indicate that they are sure to go to Heaven. They have a genuine belief in the existence of God, but that is NOT a saving faith as defined by Jesus and the apostles. Consider that ALL of the Pharisees and Sadducees believed in God, and that many of them believed that Jesus died on the cross, because they saw it happen. Consider James 2:19 here also, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” Mere belief is not salvation.
- Salvation is NOT earned by doing good deeds, or keeping God’s commandments. Another common occurrence when talking with people in the south about Jesus is that many people are quick to say that they are trying their best to be a good person and to do good deeds. That is admirable, I suppose, but it is completely inadequate to gain eternal life and salvation. Remember Ephesians 2:8-9, which clearly says that salvation is by grace and NOT by good works. Not even the best among us can possibly earn entrance into Heaven by our good works. Romans 3:20, “For no one will be justified in His sight by the works of the law” AND Galatians 3:10, “For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, because it is written: Everyone who does not continue doing everything written in the book of the law is cursed.” If you are relying on good works to save you and attract the attention of God, then you’d better hope you are absolutely PERFECT, and that you have kept EVERYTHING in the book of the law. Spoiler alert: You can’t be perfect for even a day, let alone a lifetime.
- Doing miracles, prophesying, and generally appearing to be remarkably spiritual does NOT indicate that you are saved. I have been in churches with some remarkably gifted people who seemed to have an unusual ability to walk in the Spirit. I’ve seen what appeared to be signs, miracles and accurate prophecies, and I rejoice at all such works of the Holy Spirit that are genuine! However, just being able to give a prophetic message, or seemingly perform a miraculous deed does NOT indicate that you are saved, at least according to Jesus. (See Matthew 7:21-23, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in Your name, drive out demons in Your name, and do many miracles in Your name?’ 23 Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you! Depart from Me, you lawbreakers!”) What is a far more reliable indicator of salvation than miracles and prophecy? Spiritual fruit! (Matthew 7:17, “In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a bad tree produces bad fruit.” and Matthew 3:8, “Therefore produce fruit consistent with repentance.”
- Salvation is NOT merely a one-time decision to walk the aisles, or pray a prayer. If you are truly saved, you will persevere – continue to follow Jesus. It is possible to believe vainly, or just believe for a moment in time, but in a very superfluous, shallow and ultimately meaningless way. Paul talks about this in 1 Corinthians 15:1-2 (“Now brothers, I want to clarify[a] for you the gospel I proclaimed to you; you received it and have taken your stand on it. 2 You are also saved by it, if you hold to the message I proclaimed to you—unless you believed for no purpose“), and Jesus addresses this in Mark 4:15-19. (”These are the ones along the path where the word is sown: when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word sown in them. 16 And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: when they hear the word, immediately they receive it with joy. 17 But they have no root in themselves; they are short-lived. When pressure or persecution comes because of the word, they immediately stumble. 18 Others are sown among thorns; these are the ones who hear the word, 19 but the worries of this age, the seduction of wealth, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.“)
- Salvation is NOT simply a low-stakes choice you make to follow Jesus in order to avoid Hell. Following Jesus involves dying to your self AND obeying His words. Consider these two challenging passages from Luke 6 and Luke 9:
“Why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and don’t do the things I say? 47 I will show you what someone is like who comes to Me, hears My words, and acts on them: 48 He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. When the flood came, the river crashed against that house and couldn’t shake it, because it was well built. 49 But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The river crashed against it, and immediately it collapsed. And the destruction of that house was great!” (Luke 6:46-49)
“Then He said to them all, “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. 24 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. 25 What is a man benefited if he gains the whole world, yet loses or forfeits himself? 26 For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory and that of the Father and the holy angels.” (Luke 9:23-26)
Obedience to His commands and dying to your own wishes are both integral components of following Jesus, and thus being saved.