Should Christians celebrate Halloween? (part 1)

800px-friendly_pumpkin‘Tis the season for these kinds of questions. And there are sincere Christians who would give us very different answers. Unfortunately, much of the discussion seems based more on personal preference and opinion than on solid biblical principles. So I’ll present (in the next post) some principles I think directly relate to Halloween and similar topics. But first, some historical context:

A brief history of Halloween

Many people have a vague idea that Halloween was an attempt to “convert” a pagan holiday, similar to the “conversion” of December 25 into the Christian Christmas. The reality is a little more complicated. As the early church developed more of a focus on ritual and tradition, they began to hold an annual feast in remembrance of the martyrs who had died for the faith. This slowly evolved into a day commemorating all the saints, known as “All Saints’ Day,” “All Hallows’ Day” or Hallowmas. As with many other feast days, this was preceded the evening before by a vigil, known as “All Saints’ Eve,” “All Hallows’ Evening” or (in Old Scottish) Hallowe’en.

The people in different areas celebrated this feast on different days. Eventually, November 1 was designated as the official day to celebrate All Hallows’ Day (making October 31 All Hallows’ Eve). This day was intentionally chosen in order to convert or co-opt pagan folk festivals that celebrated the end of harvest season and the impending “death” of winter. Now, one might guess from all this that the holiday name may have come from Christian tradition but everything else came from pagans—but that wouldn’t be quite right.

Christians historically shared a fascination with death and the deceased that many today would find morbid. You can still see in many medieval churches artwork depicting the Danse Macbre, with people from every station of life (often including children) dancing with skeletons. This reminded the people that death is inevitable for everyone, even emperors and popes.


Bernt Notke, 15th century, St. Nicholas’ Church, Talinn, Estonia.

The Danse Macabre became a common pageant performed in towns and villages. They naturally held these pageants during All Hallows’ Eve, their time to remember those who had died. The intense images were intended to scare the people into renewed faithfulness, but it seems the people began to enjoy the holiday and the fun of dressing up and scaring one another.

Pagans believed that during the transition from harvest to winter (life to death), the spirits or fairies could cross over to this world. The people would build massive bonfires and carry torches outside to protect themselves from the spirits, and they would hold grand parties inside and play games. Pagans and Christians held similar superstitions regarding the souls of the dead wandering the earth until this particular day of the year.

Some Christian feasts involved groups of people slowly going from house to house. The owners of the houses would invite them in for refreshments or sometimes entire meals. Some Latino countries still observe these kinds of practices during the Christmas holiday season. The tradition of Christmas caroling—and the reward of hot chocolate, cider or desserts—comes from these earlier customs. On All Hallows’ Eve, many Christian children would go out souling. The women would bake special “soul cakes,” and then give them to the children as they stopped by the different houses. In exchange for the soul cakes, the children would pray for the departed family members of the homes they had visited.

Over the years, many of these traditions were blended together into a holiday that gradually lost its religious significance and became more of a common, festive event. With the increasing involvement of American corporate marketing, the holiday has become incredibly commercialized and sensationalized (and loved by children).

So, how should Christians respond to this cultural phenomenon? We’ll discuss this next.

2016: Destroying our witness


For an introduction to these articles on the election, see here.

For a description of why both major party candidates are dishonorable choices, see here.

So, why should evangelical Christians support Donald Trump? Here are the reasons I’ve heard:

“He’s not Hillary Clinton.”
Some people despise Hillary Clinton so much, they’re willing to do just about anything to prevent her from becoming president. But just because a candidate is throughly corrupt and deceitful, this isn’t a good reason to support another corrupt, deceitful, morally bankrupt candidate. This is similar to another defense we’re hearing more and more:

“Bill Clinton was worse.”
Maybe this is true. But it’s entirely beside the point. Even if Bill Clinton is Satan himself, that doesn’t magically turn Donald Trump into a good person or an acceptable candidate for president.

It’s ironic that in the days before this most recent scandal became public, the Trump campaign was focusing on the women from Bill Clinton’s past to try to discredit Hillary. They insisted that these stories were still relevant even though they’re decades old, and that victims should always be believed (despite Trump himself insulting and demeaning these victims of Bill Clinton back in the 90s). Now Trump and his people have completely flip-flopped. They now insist that the accusations about Trump are too old to be relevant, the women (more are going public all the time) are all liars who can’t be believed, and this is part of some vast, global conspiracy.

“If you don’t vote for Trump you’re voting for Hillary.”
What’s amusing is the other side says the same thing, that if you don’t vote for Hillary you’re voting for Trump. So, apparently by voting for neither, we’re voting for both! The fact is, voting for Trump is not just voting against Hillary Clinton. If you vote for someone, you share responsibility for what they will do as president—especially if we have clear warning now of what kind of person he is and what he will do with real power.

“We’re not electing a pastor/Sunday school teacher/pope.”
Everyone knows this. No one is suggesting that presidential candidates should be held to the same standards as pastors. But does this mean that character somehow doesn’t matter? Don’t we still have the responsibility to support a candidate who is trustworthy and has good character? And if character isn’t an issue, why is Hillary Clinton so despised? Does character only matter for her but not for Trump?

“But Trump apologized.”
Did he really? Trump said he was embarrassed. He apologized to those who were offended by what he said, and then immediately and repeatedly dismissed his words as merely “locker room talk.” (In other words, ‘I’m sorry if that offended you, but it’s really not a big deal.’) And he kept pointing to Bill Clinton during these “apologies,” saying that Bill Clinton was worse than him.

So let me ask you parents, would you accept this kind of “apology” from your child? Would you allow them to get credit for apologizing while they continue dismissing the seriousness of what they did, and point their finger at someone else who is supposedly worse? And what about apologizing for all the other horrible things he’s said and done to people? We haven’t heard any apologies for the rest of Trump’s reprehensible behavior. Do we really want to give him kudos for this kind of childish nonsense?

“What about grace?”
It’s certainly true that we are all sinners forgiven by the unmerited grace of God. And we should be ready to forgive anyone. But Donald Trump hasn’t shown any real remorse for what he’s done or any real desire for forgiveness. And just because we sincerely forgive someone, doesn’t mean they’re suddenly qualified for any job. If you forgive someone who’s mean to your kids—but you don’t hire them as a babysitter—does that mean you’re unforgiving? Is that a lack of grace? Just because we should forgive Trump (if he ever actually asks for forgiveness), doesn’t mean he’s suddenly a good choice for president. There’s grace, and then there’s gullibility.

“Trump is the only one strong enough to do what’s necessary for the country.”
If anyone seriously mistakes the bluster, boasting and bullying of Trump for real strength, then nothing I say will change your mind. Apparently, you must think Jesus was a real wimp. The idea that, “Sure he’s a total jerk, but he’s our jerk” just doesn’t work for followers of Jesus Christ.

“It’s all about the Supreme Court justices.”
This is the only argument that has any merit to me. Hillary Clinton will almost certainly appoint justices who will continue to protect abortion rights and erode religious freedom. Donald Trump has said he will appoint pro-life justices to the Supreme Court. Isn’t this a good enough reason to hold our noses and vote for him? Here are some reasons why I don’t think this argument works:

We have no reason to believe that Donald Trump is sincerely pro-life.

As many have pointed out, Donald Trump is not really a Republican or a conservative. He hasn’t given any reason why he suddenly switched from being pro-choice to being pro-life (except his decision to run as a Republican). He hardly ever mentions abortion. The one time he said much about it, he seriously botched it and caused all kinds of problems for pro-life groups. He’s made it pretty clear that he doesn’t even understand the pro-life position. He defends Planned Pregnancy and makes the same exceptions for the health of the mother that Democrats routinely make. He also seems to lack any real awareness of the issues regarding the preservation of religious freedom.

Donald Trump is no “constitutionalist.”

Trump has an extremely poor grasp of the US Constitution, as he’s displayed many times. And he’s shown again and again that he intends to subvert the constitutional separation of powers, and meddle with the legislature and judiciary. Should we expect someone who’s expressed an intention to abuse constitutional power to appoint real constitutional conservatives to the Court?

We have absolutely no reason to trust Donald Trump.

Donald Trump is a flagrant, unrepentant liar. He lies about his past positions on issues. He lies about his business history. He lies about the amount of money he donates. He lies about his lies. He flip-flops on issues when it’s convenient for him. He bails on his businesses, protecting his own interests, and leaving others to hold the bag. He even said he might appoint someone not on his touted list as a Supreme Court justice—and he said this almost immediately after releasing the list! He has demonstrated over and over again that he is completely untrustworthy. So I ask those who will vote for him: Why should we trust him?

And let’s consider how this would realistically unfold. Even if they manage to retain a majority, the Republicans will certainly be weakened in the Senate. So let’s say Trump surprisingly honors this commitment, and appoints a real conservative, say another Robert Bork. And let’s say, as is very possible, that his first choice is shot down in the Senate. At this point, all bets will be off. I tried to appoint a conservative; it didn’t work. He would then be free to appoint anyone he wanted. We would have sold our political souls for . . . nothing. Of course, this is if he actually tries to fulfill this commitment, which, again, I see no reason to believe.

This is ‘the end justifies the means’ thinking.

Are we really supposed to support an immoral, reprehensible, dangerous candidate for president of the United States, just because he mouths support of a position that he doesn’t even understand?!

How gullible are we?

And how low will we sink?

Will we support anyone if they pay lip service to our cause?

How bad does someone have to be before we finally say:
“No, I can’t be part of this”?

Does God need Donald Trump?

Would we vote for a Hitler or a Stalin if they promised to end abortion? If Bill Clinton had been pro-life, would we have defended him in the 90s? A huge number of evangelicals were outspoken in their opposition to Clinton, proclaiming loudly that his poor character had disqualified him from serving as the nation’s president. Now some of these same evangelicals are defending Donald Trump, using the same excuses Clinton’s defenders used, excuses these evangelical leaders ridiculed 20 years ago! How is this not hypocrisy? Do we have any convictions that aren’t for sale?

We’ve seen the hypocrisy of Republican leaders. Many finally spoke out against Trump after this vile tape was made public. But then—after his stronger showing in the second debate—they reversed their reversals. Apparently, it’s okay for the party’s standard bearer to be someone who sickeningly boasts about sexually assaulting women . . . as long as he looks like a winner!

When Trump supporters tell the rest of us to put on our “big boy pants” and support Trump too, what they’re saying is that we need to grow up and play the game like the rest of the world. When in Rome, we need to be like the Romans. (I seem to recall someone trying to persuade Jesus to put on his big boy pants and play the game like everyone else.) No, we follow Christ. And he instructed us to be in the world, but not of it. We do need to grow up, put on our big boy pants and take the harder path of resisting the pressure to be like the world.

Should evangelicals be guilty of the same hypocrisy we see in the Republican leadership? Shouldn’t we stand up for what we say we believe in? Students and faculty of Liberty University have finally had enough. Their president, Jerry Falwell Jr, was one of Trump’s earliest evangelical supporters, and defends him still. He recently said on television that even if he knew these accusations to be true, he would continue to support Trump’s candidacy. So these students and faculty-members had to speak out. Sickened at the thought of the reputation of their school, and their witness to the world, being ruined by association with this evil, they put out a public statement strongly repudiating both Trump and the inappropriate stance of their president.

Paul admonished the Corinthian church for approving behavior that even unbelievers condemned. Now, we see an almost universal abhorrence of Donald Trump’s vile abuse of women, and it’s evangelical leaders who are defending him on national television! Fortunately, most evangelical pastors and leaders are opposed to Trump’s candidacy. But a surprising number of evangelical Christians are supporting him. If, through our support, we associate the evangelical faith with this morally bankrupt candidate—who the world recognizes as reprehensible—we will destroy our witness for years to come. In the eyes of our society, we’ll be tied to Trump’s moral filth, and we will have no credibility.

So what do we do?

Donald Trump uses women and then discards them. He’s done the same thing in his businesses. He does the same thing to those who help him politically—he uses them and then discards them. He loves them when he needs them. They become ‘his African Americans’ or ‘his evangelicals.’ But we do not belong to Donald Trump or any other politician. We need to send a strong message that, as followers of Jesus Christ, our votes are not for sale. We can’t be seduced by lame lip service or a few insincere statements.

Imagine if a huge number of Americans vote in this election, but they don’t vote for either of the major party candidates. Imagine if the experts in the press discover that it was the evangelical Christians who refused to support these unthinkable candidates. We would be sending a very loud message to the political parties that we cannot be taken for granted. We’d make it very clear that believers in Christ will not vote for shameful, dishonorable candidates no matter which party supports them. Then they would know—and we would know—that we will not sell our birthright for a bowl of lies and corruption, even with appealing but fake promises sprinkled on top.

If we vote for this man, we share responsibility for him. And evangelical Christians must not be even partially responsible for Donald Trump. Our mission is too important and our witness too valuable to waste on a madman.



Once again:

Any vulgar, hostile or demeaning comments will be deleted. We are not seeking to merely win arguments or vent anger, but to challenge and encourage each other in edifying ways. If you can’t comment with a loving attitude, do not comment here.

2016: Shaming our nation

Clinton, Trump pick up big wins

For an introduction to these articles on the election, see here.

By now you’ve heard all kinds of views on the election. Many pastors and leaders are claiming neither candidate is an honorable choice for evangelical Christians. So what’s wrong with these candidates? Let’s take a look. (Note: I’ll only be using well-known observations about both candidates, and briefly at that. If you need documentation or more details, you can find plenty online.)

Things they have in common
Both candidates are plagued with scandals that would ordinarily sink any campaign. Both are obsessively secretive about things the public has a right to know. And both blatantly and repeatedly lie about practically everything. They lie about their past positions. They lie about what they said; they lie about what they didn’t say (even when we have recordings of their statements).

Some might cynically reply that all politicians lie. But this kind of deceit goes far beyond anything we’ve seen from others. Hillary Clinton has been described for years as a habitual liar (even by some of her associates). Fact checkers have awarded her an unprecedented number of “Pinocchios” over the years, showing her difficulty with the truth. Unprecedented, that is, until Donald Trump came along, who is decidedly now “winning” in this particular competition.

Even by itself, such obsessive secretiveness and blatant deceit should be sufficient cause to reject a candidate. It definitely means no Clinton or Trump supporters should be pointing their fingers at the other candidate and calling her or him a liar or questioning their integrity. To do so is hypocritical. Both are lacking the basic integrity we look for in a political candidate.



What else is troubling about Hillary Clinton? Other than the huge integrity issues noted above, there are four issues that raise grave concerns. She was at the center of the Benghazi fiasco, and then lied to the American people and to the families of the victims about the nature of the attack. She knowingly and secretively violated US law regulating the handling of classified information while she was serving as Secretary of State, recklessly putting national security and human lives at great risk. The financial dealings of the Clinton Foundation are highly suspicious, showing a likelihood of political favors being given to donors, even from potentially unfriendly nations. Any of these scandals should have effectively ended any chance of Clinton being elected. Of equal or greater concern to most evangelical Christians is Hillary Clinton’s outspoken support of abortion rights.

Donald Trump Addresses GOP Lincoln Day Event In Michigan


Because more evangelicals seem to be struggling with whether to vote for Donald Trump, I’m going to spend more time describing what is unsuitable about Trump as a candidate for president. Because Trump is running as a Republican, I’ll weigh his positions from a Republican perspective. And, again, this is in addition to the lack of integrity I noted above.

Business history
This may seem like a strange thing to start with, but the more I’ve read about Trump’s so-called business acumen, the more I’m appalled at the idea of him as president. Trump is a master at self-promotion, blustering his way into getting a lot of press, but he has a very checkered past when it comes to any true success at running healthy businesses. If you think he’s a good businessman, you need to do your “due diligence” and check him out a little more thoroughly. His business practices have been unethical and hurtful to a great many people.

National security
This is a key responsibility of the president, and Donald Trump is already making us less secure just as a candidate. His extreme anti-Muslim rhetoric is inflaming Islamic radicals and alienating friendly Islamic nations. His irresponsible statements concerning NATO, Ukraine, Japan, South Korea, etc. are deeply concerning to our allies and threaten US leadership in world affairs. His admiration for Putin is alarming, and he seems to have taken on a role as Putin-apologist. He disagrees with his own running mate about the right approach in Syria (and virtually every Republican leader agrees with Pence about this). There’s a reason why an overwhelming number of Republican foreign policy experts have warned us in the strongest terms of the dangers of a Trump presidency.

Economic policies
Donald Trump is going to magically lower taxes, increase spending, and lower the debt, all while threatening devastating trade wars with our trading partners and refusing to address entitlement spending. His economic policies bear little resemblance to those of the Republicans who are supporting him.

Lack of political principles
As many have observed, Donald Trump could just as easily have run as a Democrat. His candidacy has never been about policy. He ran from the beginning as a populist, a George Wallace-style demagogue who coined catchy phrases that got the people to cheer, but who couldn’t be bothered with discussing policy details. He’s not interested in being enlightened by those who are knowledgeable on the issues, but arrogantly insists he knows more than the experts, while often displaying an appalling lack of awareness of these issues.

Instead of policy content, Donald Trump seems to rely on . . . conspiracy theories. Remember, this is the man who gave us the birther movement. He’s also floated conspiracy theories about Obama being a Muslim, Scalia being murdered, Fox News being in cahoots with the Saudis, and, of course, that Ted Cruz’s father was part of the Kennedy assassination (not to mention scores of other conspiracy theories).

Lack of personal character and judgment
Pat of the problem is that we’ve become so familiar with Donald Trump we forget how shocked we should be at his behavior. The recent outcry over his lewd and abusive tape is understandable, but some of it is a little disingenuous. Is anyone really surprised? This is just Donald Trump being Donald Trump. This is the man who’s been married three times, who boasts about how many adulterous affairs he’s had with married women, and who divorced his first wife because her breast enhancements “didn’t feel right.”

To the people who are now suddenly outraged, why were you not outraged when he cruelly and childishly mocked a handicapped reporter? This would have ended anyone else’s campaign, but Trump’s supporters just cheered him on. Why were you not outraged when he crassly and demeaningly insulted other women (calling them “fat pigs” and worse), or insulted Hispanics, Blacks, his political opponents, his opponents’ families, journalists, judges, etc., etc.? Trump displays the behavior of a weak, insecure playground bully. His pettiness and immaturity would be unacceptable in an elementary school. You wouldn’t allow your children to act this way. But Trump casually insults people in the most cruel and immature ways . . . and we laugh? . . . admire him for ‘not caring what people think’?

Trump’s approach is not to win with sound ideas and logic, but through intimidation, outshouting anyone who opposes him, and even encouraging violence. This is someone who can’t seem to resist a feud, no matter how petty. Remember, this is the man who got in a very public war of insults with Rosie O’Donnell. Do we really want a cruel, childish, bullying, reality TV drama king as president of the United States? Coupled with his expressed interest in actually using nuclear weapons(!), the possibility of this man becoming president is frightening.

Trump’s campaign has fanned into flames a resurgent racism that is evil and ugly. And, as many of us warned during the primaries, this is affecting our children. Educators are now talking about the “Trump Effect” that is becoming more and more widespread in our schools. A high school from a predominantly Latino community sent their basketball team to play a mostly white school in Indiana. They were greeted by Trump signs and belligerent chants of “Build the wall!” In Virginia, two third-graders were singled out by classmates as “immigrants” because of the color of their skin, and told that when Trump becomes president they would be sent back home. These are not isolated incidents, but are becoming epidemic.

The anti-Semitic tone has also become rampant. Many Jewish people who dare to oppose Trump are being bombarded with phone calls and online messages threatening to “throw them in the ovens” or to send them to “Camp Trump,” with photos of Auschwitz attached. Conservative Republican Jews who refuse to support Trump are being ridiculed as “Kikeservatives.” This anti-Semitism is being fueled by Breitbart, an anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic, pro-white “news network” controlled by Stephen Bannon—whom Trump chose as his Campaign CEO.

Divisive and destructive
In 1996, when it became clear Bob Dole couldn’t win the election, the Republican Party began focusing on the Senate and House of Representative races. Dole understood and supported this decision. Now some have suggested the GOP should focus on keeping both houses of Congress and not allow their leads to be lost. Donald Trump has responded by petulantly declaring war on the Republican leadership. He has destroyed company after company (and many lives along the way), he is in the midst of destroying the Republican party, and he wants us to entrust the leadership of the nation to him? With his repeated claims the election will be rigged, he is already recklessly endangering the nation.

Obsessed with power
Donald Trump frequently sings the praises of thugs and dictators. He admires the way the Chinese government brutally crushed the protests in Tiananmen Square (what most call a massacre), he tweets quotes from Mussolini, criticizes Mikhail Gorbachev for not being firm enough, compliments Saddam Hussein, and repeatedly praises Vladimir Putin, even defending Putin’s killing of political opponents and journalists. Which leads to the next point:

Abuse of power
Many people are so offended by the lewdness of the recently released Trump tape, they miss another disturbing aspect of this recording. Trump shows a cruel enjoyment of abusing his power as a celebrity—kissing women without their consent, grabbing them in grotesquely inappropriate ways. This isn’t just about juvenile, frat-boy over-sexed, filthy language; it’s about his delight in abusing power, about doing to women whatever he wants to whether they want it or not. Is this an anomaly, a phase he went through as an immature, 59-year old man?

Trump has openly expressed his intention to abuse power. If soldiers won’t commit the war crimes he demands, he’ll make them. He says that as soon as he has the power, he’ll exact vengeance on those who’ve crossed him: political opponents (most recently Paul Ryan), the judge who wouldn’t dismiss a case against him, journalists who wrote articles he didn’t like, etc. He hasn’t hidden any of this,  openly planning to corrupt his role as Commander in Chief and violate the constitutional separation of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, as well as the constitutionally protected freedom of the press.

Regardless of our political views, we must be very clear about this:

Legitimate leaders of democratic nations do not threaten the freedom of the press.
Leaders of free nations do not threaten to imprison their opponents.

(This actually sounds strangely like Putin, who Trump admires so much.) If Trump is somehow elected president, no one should be shocked when he does exactly what he’s always said he will do.

Extreme egotism
This is another case of us becoming so familiar with Trump we might shrug off statements that should serve as huge red flags to us. Over and over again, he’s told us that he is the only one who can save America, he is the only one who can make us great again, he is the only one smart enough and strong enough to get the job done. He keeps telling us we need to believe him, to trust him, that he knows. And this is exactly what Ronald Reagan warned us about when he accepted the nomination as Republican presidential candidate:

“Trust me” government asks that we concentrate our hopes and dreams on one man; that we trust him to do what’s best for us.  My view of government places trust not in one person or one party, but in those values that transcend persons and parties.

Ronald Reagan (July 17, 1980)

Donald Trump is not about transcendent values. Even his own team-members debate what he actually believes in. Donald Trump is about one thing—Donald Trump. When you put together the bullying, the obsession with power, the cruel delight in abusing power and the extreme egotism, what you come up with is not a great leader. It’s a perfect recipe for either a cult leader or a dictator.

At this period in history, the Republican party needed leaders with the conviction and resoluteness of Winston Churchill. What they have instead (with a few notable exceptions) is a party of Neville Chamberlains. So they are reaping what they have sown and their party is being ripped apart.

The future doesn’t look much brighter for Republicans. They’re beginning to hear of conservative young people who ordinarily would become Republicans, but are instead looking to the Democrats or considering themselves independents. They say it’s because they won’t be associated with Donald Trump or leaders who put party interests above the good of the country, weakly acquiescing to a destructive madman rather than having the courage to take a stand even if it costs them an election. It’s been sad, but educational, to see Republican leaders attempt all kinds of logical contortions to suddenly support positions they always vehemently opposed. And this just confirms that if the Republican party won’t stand up to Donald Trump now, there will be no one to stand up to him if he’s elected president.

So why do some evangelical Christians still say we should support Donald Trump? We’ll look at some of their reasons next.



Again, I’ll note this even though I shouldn’t have to:

Any vulgar, hostile or demeaning comments will be deleted. We are not seeking to merely win arguments or vent anger, but to challenge and encourage each other in edifying ways. If you can’t comment with a loving attitude, do not comment here.

2016: Who do we vote for?!

confusionLast year, my wife and I returned to California after almost 14 years in Puerto Rico. As residents of Puerto Rico, we didn’t pay federal income tax, but we also weren’t represented in Congress and we couldn’t vote in presidential elections. Before moving to PR I hadn’t missed a single election, so I was excited to be part of the process once again. Soon after we moved back, someone asked me what I would do if the choice was between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. I laughed and said I’d see that as a definite sign of an impending apocalypse!

And now here we are. Americans are faced with an abysmal choice, two candidates distrusted and despised by most US voters. The Republicans have nominated possibly the only candidate who could lose to an incredibly vulnerable Hillary Clinton. And the Democrats have nominated possibly the only candidate who could lose to Donald Trump. It’s as if the World Series featured the worst two teams in baseball. It might be darkly entertaining if the consequences weren’t so terribly serious. Many Christians are dismayed to find themselves in this kind of dilemma. What in the world are we going to do come November? How should we vote?

As a pastor, I’m careful not to publicly promote any political party or ideology. Until this election cycle, I had never publicly commented on specific details or candidates during an election. But earlier this year, during the primaries, I—along with other evangelical leaders—appealed to and challenged evangelical supporters of Donald Trump. We were so concerned, we felt it would be irresponsible for pastors and leaders to not speak out. (I also expressed these concerns from the pulpit.)

In the months following the parties’ conventions, people have asked me if I still feel the same. I’ve been intending to write on this for some time, but my time has been consumed with the revitalization process of the church we serve (The Orchard). But even after the recent vile revelations concerning Donald Trump, there are still evangelicals defending Trump and urging the rest of us to support him. So . . . I’m writing. I’ll address this issue, as best I can, in two separate posts:


I shouldn’t have to write this, but I will:

Any vulgar, hostile or demeaning comments will be deleted. We are not seeking to merely win arguments or vent anger, but to challenge and encourage each other in edifying ways. If you can’t comment with a loving attitude, do not comment here.

The Orchard: Emerging from our chrysalis

030616As some of you know, earlier this year Kelley and I moved to the Sacramento area to help a church here begin a process of replanting and revitalization. We’ve been calling this our “chrysalis” phase. Sunday, September 28, we officially “emerged” from our cocoon! This is what—in church planting parlance—is known as a soft launch. We haven’t yet held any large events, but we have signs posted, we now have a public presence and we’re seeking to make ourselves known in the community. (You can check out our new website here.)

I hope to get back to blogging here in the not-too-distant future. But please be patient! At times, I’ll be teaching as much as 7 times a week. We’d deeply appreciate your prayers for needed team members, teachers and leaders. And especially pray that we’ll be faithful to reach out as missionaries to our community and effectively share the truth and love of Christ. Thanks!

Core commitment 4: Focused on making disciples

UnknownWe will remain focused on our mission of helping people become and continually grow as disciples of Jesus Christ:

  • We must live as missionaries in our communities, workplaces, schools, etc. We must be real, seeking to live authentic, Christ-like lives that will be witnesses of God’s love and truth. We must strive to truly understand the culture around us, so that we can more effectively communicate and live out the gospel in the context where God has placed us.
  • While we want everything we do to be well-organized and done with excellence, our priority must be what is most edifying spiritually, rather than what is entertaining or impressive.
  • We must follow and apply the consistent New Testament emphasis on teaching in the church. Our criteria for all ministries must be what best facilitates real worship and real learning and spiritual growth, rather than what is entertaining or impressive.
  • We must provide opportunities for genuine learning and spiritual growth for every age and level of spiritual maturity—from young children or non-Christian seekers to experienced believers who are biblically knowledgeable, and everything in between. Everyone in the church should be part of a process of growing as a disciple of Christ.
  • Every believer is spiritually gifted and has an important part to play in this transforming, multiplying life of the church. We must help the people understand their gifting, provide training in how to develop their gifting and opportunities to use their gifts to love and edify others.
  • The whole body does the work of ministry, not just the leaders. We must maintain a joyous expectation that every Christian be part of ministry. We must ensure they are not merely filling a needed ministry slot, but serving according to their gifting and passion. This is an integral part of the discipleship process.
  • We must be faithful to provide substantive, effective, ongoing training and equipping for leaders and teachers in the church. This too is an integral part of the church’s discipleship process.
  • We must intentionally foster a culture of discipleship (including evangelism) in the church. This should be a natural, organic part of everything we do, whether through structured classes or more relationally through informal fellowship.
  • We must design our church gatherings and ministries in ways that most effectively produce real learning, real spiritual growth and real disciples of Christ. We must be willing to reevaluate and change anything we do to make us more effective at fulfilling this vital, biblical purpose.

Core commitment 3: Team-led and team taught

imagesWe must have a plurality of pastoral leaders and teachers:

  • The New Testament model of church leadership is one of local churches being led by teams of pastoral elders (with no mention of a senior or lead pastor). These elders serve in differing capacities depending on their gifting and available time, but they all share in the shepherding of the church.
  • While accepting that some elders/pastors may seem more prominent because of their gifting, we must guard against the unhealthy perception that any particular elder is the pastor of the church.
  • We will only appoint as elders/pastors men who are ministering pastorally by leading, teaching or tending. The elders must be the pastors of the church, not just in name but in actual ministry.
  • The New Testament doesn’t show the church to be a dictatorship of the elders or a democracy of the people. The elders must truly lead—gently, humbly and in a Christ-like way—but at times they must lead the people in reaching true, biblically-informed, spiritually-mature consensus on major issues.
  • We must strive to apply this New Testament principle of plural leadership consistently throughout the church. The plurality of the elders in pastoring the whole church should be an example to the teams of leaders overseeing all other ministries within the church.

Core commitment 2: Priority of biblical church principles

068695-black-ink-grunge-stamp-textures-icon-alphanumeric-number-2We will intentionally emphasize, as a key priority, New Testament principles of what we are as the church, what we do as the church, and how:

  • We must first study the Scriptures, striving to understand the biblical principles of what the church is and does. Then we will prayerfully seek to wisely and faithfully apply these biblical principles in our cultural context.
  • We must guard against sacred cows. We must not blindly follow church traditions—no matter how familiar or comfortable, and we must not uncritically adopt new trends or innovations—no matter how cool or appealing.
  • We must guard against both complacency and the perception of success. We should passionately seek to be and do everything God has for us to be and do, but we must not sacrifice real and ongoing witness, growth and maturity for what seems impressive now.
  • We should not seek change for the sake of change, but we must be willing to reevaluate and change any ministry practice or method in order to be more biblical and, thus, more genuinely effective.

Core commitment 1: Graciously and uncompromisingly evangelical

tax-refund-advanceWe will remain graciously and uncompromisingly evangelical:

  • Everything we are and everything we do must be rooted in, centered on and permeated by the evangel, the gospel of Jesus Christ.
  • Before anything else, we are worshipers of God, disciples of Jesus Christ, and are to love him with all of our hearts, souls, strength and minds.
  • The Scriptures must remain the continual, ultimate authority and standard for our faith and lives as individual believers and as a church.
  • We must not allow ourselves to be co-opted by any other identity. While remaining absolutely committed to the biblical Christian faith, we will seek to be intentionally diverse racially, culturally, politically, generationally and socioeconomically.
  • We must speak the truth in love. We should strive to be loving and gracious in interacting with our community; we don’t expect a non-Christian world to live like Christ. But we also must not compromise or lay aside biblical truth to seek to be more acceptable to the world around us. Real love and truth are inseparable. To over-emphasize either love or truth at the expense of the other is to risk losing both.
  • We will strive for complete unity regarding the essential truths of the gospel, and provide as much freedom as possible concerning secondary issues. We’ll only take a definitive position on debated, secondary issues when it’s necessary for mutual fellowship and ministry as a church.

Church replanting: Core commitments

Our church has been going through a “chrysalis” process of replanting and revitalization. As part of this process, we just finished an intensive 12-week study of biblical principles concerning the church: what the church is, what the church is to do, and how we’re to do it. I’ve condensed these principles into four core commitments. I’ll post an updated version of each commitment with fuller descriptions, but here are the basic principles to which we commit ourselves as a church:

  • We will remain graciously and uncompromisingly evangelical.
  • We will intentionally emphasize, as a key priority, New Testament principles of what we are as the church, what we do as the church, and how.
  • We will have a plurality of pastoral leaders and teachers.
  • We will remain focused on our mission of helping people become and continually grow as disciples of Jesus Christ.