Showing posts with label tradition. Show all posts
Showing posts with label tradition. Show all posts

13 June 2016

The City on the Hill

The old city on the hill - Approaching the end of his three and a half years of teaching and healing, Jesus told his disciples, 'Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing'. (Matthew 23:37-39)

A city on a hill - Ostuni, Italy
Jesus means us to take these verses very seriously indeed. In Matthew's account they're sandwiched between some of the most severe criticism of the religion of the day and a terrifying promise of the destruction to come. The city of Jerusalem and the temple at its heart were pulled down in 70 AD and replaced by a Roman city. The people died in the assault or were thrown out; this is what Jesus predicts and describes.

Jesus is well aware that we, too, are hemmed in by religious traditions and habits on the one hand, and inflexible structures on the other. And in the same way, he wants to gather us together under his wings. But are we willing? If we are not, he will criticise our religious tradition and allow our structures to be destroyed in order to save us from our own error and foolishness. Let’s not mislead ourselves, religion and structure are central to much that we think and do.

The new city on the hill - This is the New Jerusalem, the bride of the Lamb, the church! In Revelation 21:2-3 we read, 'I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling-place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.’ Revelation 21:9-11 tells us, 'I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb. And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.'

This new Jerusalem has no traditions and is not built of stone. We are the living stones it's constructed from! Jesus said, 'You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven'.

Sometimes we think in terms of our own, individual lights, and how they should not be hidden. It's not wrong to read the passage in that way, but surely what Jesus really has in mind is his people collectively, the church, his bride, the new city built on a hill - the city that 'cannot be hidden'. And this new city is not built on a foundation of traditions and human teaching and Sunday services. It's built on the foundation of Christ alone and it's driven by every breath he breathes, the wind of the Spirit of Christ.

The how – life in the city - So what do we get in place of tradition and structure? Church life is based on something far more flexible and adaptable, something much more organic.

Ephesians 4:11-16 reveals church life as Jesus intended it. 'Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.'

And here's the practical detail. 'To each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.'  (1 Corinthians 12:7-11)

And yet more detail from 1 Corinthians 14:26. 'When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.'

This is the new city on the hill that shines its light all around (not hidden under a jar). This is the church, the new Jerusalem, light in a dark world, individuals all bringing a contribution, building and equipping one another. This is who we are, it’s what we need to be doing.

See also

24 October 2012


Halloween is upon us again. But what is behind it? What are it's origins? We take a look at this autumn festival and see that under the surface it's a curious mix of pagan and early church thinking and tradition.

A traditional Irish celebration of Halloween
It's that time of year again. Small children will be 'trick or treating' - knocking on doors or ringing doorbells and demanding treats. If adults did the same it would be called 'making a demand with menaces'!

I don't wish to spoil anyone's fun, but where does this strange custom come from? Few people today will really know what Halloween is all about.

A little story - Earlier today I was passing some houses in the town when I heard someone calling. When I looked I saw a mum with two girls, they had a table set out, laden with various kinds of cakes decorated with worms and other seasonal designs. They explained that they were selling these Halloween cakes to raise money for a cancer charity - a really worthy cause.

I bought a square of chocolate cake with a 'bloodworm' on top (a length of strawberry lace) and on my way to the Co-op I thought about the combination of Halloween and a charity collection.

Church and pagan festivals - Halloween used to be written Hallowe'en which is a shortened form of 'All Hallows Evening' or, in modern speak, 'Holy evening'. It's the evening before 'All Saints Day' so it was also known as All Saints Eve'. It's probably a combination of an ancient harvest feast with a festival of the dead, rooted in the pagan British and Gaulish festival of Samhain. We don't know for sure, but the ghoulish aspects of Halloween probably spring from these roots.

The early church adopted the date and many of the traditions but gave the annual event a new name and purpose as part of the church calendar. This is how they handled other inconvenient pagan festivals too. The celebrations of the shortest day and new year became Christmas, the fertility festival with it's egg traditions became Pasch or Easter, a time of renewed life.

Recently the Halloween festival has been imported to England from the USA, but they in turn had it from the Irish and Scots in the nineteenth century.

Problems - Reusing pagan festivals and traditions may have been convenient, but it has brought a great deal of confusing baggage into church life. Personally, I feel it was a major mistake. Part of this confusion is the modern Halloween, now a thoroughly secular  annual event.

The trouble with that is that the spooks and witches and monsters are based on dark, spiritual powers that are best avoided altogether, even in play. The world may pooh-pooh such a view and regard me as foolish and a superstitious spoil-sport. So be it.

I prefer to have as little as possible to do with all false traditions and pagan origins. I know that Jesus was born, died and rose again. I know there are spiritual forces of both light and darkness and I know that light always banishes darkness, not the other way around. For me, these truths are enough, I don't want the pagan and worldly add-ons.

How to deal with it - To the extent that these events have become secular I cannot avoid them. And although I don't want to spoil anyone's fun, especially for children, I hold them lightly and as much at arm's length as is possible. I'm happy to give presents to my grandchildren, but they're from me - not from Father Christmas. And sometimes I send cards, but only to offer people peace and wholeness in the coming year.

Halloween may be fun, but I don't like the platform it stands on or the traditions it involves. But making and selling cakes to support a charity is a good effort and I will always do what I can to support and encourage things like that. Well done!

What are your thoughts and feelings about Halloween? Do you like it, hate it, tolerate it, or feel indifferent? Why?

See also: 3 reasons Christians must celebrate Halloween


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