Episode number two of the podcast is available today. We cover all the information from UNMASKED (Cogent COVID Thoughts) and a little more. Apostolic Voice is now available on every major podcasting platform. Follow THIS LINK for quick access to most platforms. We’re also available on iTunes and you can find us by using THIS LINK. Please consider not only subscribing, but giving a five star rating and a review.
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I closed this episode of the podcast out with a poem by Edwin J. Milliken. First written in 1890, it was actually Sir Winston Churchhill who popularized the poem in the years leading up to WWII. He cited the poem as a poignent warning to wake up and be alert to the dangers of the world. I find this poem eerily relevent for us today. As promised, I’m including the complete, unabridged poem below and the original illustration as well. Enjoy.
Death and his Brother Sleep
Who is in charge of the clattering train? The axles creak, and the couplings strain. Ten minutes behind at the Junction. Yes! And we’re twenty now to the bad–no less! We must make it up on our flight to town. Clatter and crash! That’s the last train down, Flashing by with a steamy trail. Pile on the fuel! We must not fail. At every mile we a minute must gain! Who is in charge of the clattering train?
Why, flesh and blood, as a matter of course! You may talk of iron, and prate of force; But, after all, and do what you can, The best–and cheapest–machine is Man! Wealth knows it well, and the hucksters feel ‘Tis safer to trust them to sinew than steel. With a bit of brain, and a conscience, behind, Muscle works better than steam or wind. Better, and longer, and harder all round; And cheap, so cheap! Men superabound Men stalwart, vigilant, patient, bold; The stokehole’s heat and the crow’s-nest’s cold, The choking dusk of the noisome mine, The northern blast o’er the beating brine, With dogged valour they coolly brave; So on rattling rail, or on wind-scourged wave, At engine lever, at furnace front, Or steersman’s wheel, they must bear the brunt Of lonely vigil or lengthened strain. Man is in charge of the thundering train!
Man, in the shape of a modest chap In fustian trousers and greasy cap; A trifle stolid, and something gruff, Yet, though unpolished, of sturdy stuff. With grave grey eyes, and a knitted brow, The glare of sun and the gleam of snow Those eyes have stared on this many a year. The crow’s-feet gather in mazes queer About their corners most apt to choke With grime of fuel and fume of smoke. Little to tickle the artist taste– An oil-can, a fist-full of “cotton waste,” The lever’s click and the furnace gleam, And the mingled odour of oil and steam; These are the matters that fill the brain Of the Man in charge of the clattering train.
Only a Man, but away at his back, In a dozen ears, on the steely track, A hundred passengers place their trust In this fellow of fustian, grease, and dust. They cheerily chat, or they calmly sleep, Sure that the driver his watch will keep On the night-dark track, that he will not fail. So the thud, thud, thud of wheel upon rail The hiss of steam-spurts athwart the dark. Lull them to confident drowsiness. Hark!
What is that sound? ‘Tis the stertorous breath Of a slumbering man,–and it smacks of death! Full sixteen hours of continuous toil Midst the fume of sulphur, the reek of oil, Have told their tale on the man’s tired brain, And Death is in charge of the clattering train!
Sleep–Death’s brother, as poets deem, Stealeth soft to his side; a dream Of home and rest on his spirit creeps, That wearied man, as the engine leaps, Throbbing, swaying along the line; Those poppy-fingers his head incline Lower, lower, in slumber’s trance; The shadows fleet, and the gas-gleams dance Faster, faster in mazy flight, As the engine flashes across the night. Mortal muscle and human nerve Cheap to purchase, and stout to serve. Strained too fiercely will faint and swerve. Over-weighted, and underpaid, This human tool of exploiting Trade, Though tougher than leather, tenser than steel. Fails at last, for his senses reel, His nerves collapse, and, with sleep-sealed eyes, Prone and helpless a log he lies! A hundred hearts beat placidly on, Unwitting they that their warder’s gone; A hundred lips are babbling blithe, Some seconds hence they in pain may writhe. For the pace is hot, and the points are near, And Sleep hath deadened the driver’s ear; And signals flash through the night in vain. Death is in charge of the clattering train!
COVID has revealed tons of things, both good and bad, that need to be considered as we move into the future. The following cogent COVID thoughts have been swirling around in my brain for several months. I’m making a conscious effort to only mention things that will be relevant even after the virus itself is gone.
Unmasked: Our Religious Freedoms Are in Jeopardy
2019 seems like the distant past, but somehow, I can vaguely recall certain things that happened way back in the good old pre-COVID days. A particular memory keeps pushing its way to the forefront of my brain; it’s a conversation I overheard between two friends. Friend number one commented about the world’s increasing hostility towards the Church and his concerns about maintaining our freedoms. Friend number two considered this to be the silliest viewpoint a modern Christian could hold. He accused friend number one of nursing a persecution complex. I agreed with friend number one. There was an awkward silence and we all just agreed to disagree.
Today we have churches fighting their state government and the United States government for the right to simply have church. Startling numbers of churches are permanently closing their doors. And, pastors have been fined, harassed, and incarcerated for failing to comply with shutdown mandates. We are seeing the single greatest onslaught against religious freedoms in the history of the United States. COVID unmasked the animosity towards Christianity walking the halls of power at the state and federal levels. The waters are being tested and a stronger wave of discriminatory action towards Christianity is just around the corner.
This unmasking is probably for the best. Maybe it will shake some of us out of our naiveite and call us back to effectual fervent prayer (James 5:16). But one thing is for sure, antichrist spirits are only one pandemic away from stripping us of our freedoms. And for the non-religious folks out there, my freedom to worship won’t be the only freedom taken. They’ll come for something you care about eventually. If you dance with the devil long enough you will get burned.
“…antichrist spirits are only one pandemic away from stripping us of our freedoms.”
I’m not trying to stoke fears or be negative. I believe this is a great opportunity for the Church to reach the world with the Gospel. Jesus said, “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid (Matthew 5:14)”. We usually think of this as a challenge to let our light shine as bright as possible, and that’s fine. We say things like don’t hide your light. However, Jesus compared the Church to a city set on a hill that “cannot” be hidden. That word “cannot” is translated into English from two Greek words, ou and dynatai, which means …does not have the ability. We could accurately translate that verse to say, “You are the light of the world. A city placed by God on a hill that does not have the ability to be hidden”. The Church is purposefully designed and carefully crafted by God to be set apart (that’s what holiness means) and brightly shining into the darkness. The true Church can’t hide, blend in, be comfortable in, or conform itself to, the world. So, as the world gets scarier the light of the Church will draw hungry hearts to itself as never before.
The true Church can’t hide, blend in, be comfortable in, or conform itself to, the world.
My dad (Dr. Talmadge French) made a comment last night during midweek Bible study that is startlingly true: Many people are more influenced by their TV than by their pastor. Taking that thought even further, I’ve noticed throughout this pandemic how quickly we all allowed government officials to have absolute authority over us. Officials told us to wear masks and we all went out and bought masks. They told us to close businesses and stay home and we did. They told us to stay away from people and we did. They told us not to touch people and we did what they told us to do. They told our kids to stay home from school and learn online and they did (my kids still do). They told sports to shut down and they did. It drastically impacted our dress codes, our vacations, our social lives, our finances, and our education.
“Many people are more influenced by their TV than by their pastor.” -Dr. Talmadge French
Why did we fall in line so quickly? We fell in line (almost universally with a few exceptions) even when the “experts” disagreed. We fell in line even though the facts were (and are) difficult to decipher. We made great personal sacrifices. For some people, it will take them years to recover and some will never fully recover. I believe we did it because we perceived those sacrifices as being a greater good than the pain. We sensed the urgency and we pulled together. Perhaps some operated from raw fear, but even that fear wasn’t pure selfishness, it was born out of concern for others as well.
I’ve watched people faithfully wear masks and stay indoors for months who have never allowed their pastor to have any real influence in their lives. COVID unmasked a barren wasteland of hypocrisy in many professing Christians. They make all types of excuses for why they won’t listen to their pastor: He’s too intrusive, too cautious, too demanding, too blah blah blah. The reality is they are more than willing to comply when they think the stakes are high. They just don’t think biblical issues are that important. They don’t really consider sin as important or judgment as immanent. Furthermore, they do believe in authority they just don’t want godly authority.
Unmasked: A Realistic Path to a One-World Government
Prophecy pundits typically point to nuclear warfare or some type of World War III scenario as the catalyst which will bring the world under one global government (Revelation 13:1-18, Revelation 17:13, Daniel 2:44, Daniel 7:24, 1 Thessalonians 2:1-17). While possible, there wouldn’t be much left to govern after massive nuclear strikes around the world. However, this pandemic unmasked how easy it would be for a full-blown epidemic to usher in a one-world government. I can envision several epidemic scenarios where the people of the world would willingly give up their freedoms without a shot being fired or a bomb being dropped.
I can envision several epidemic scenarios where the people of the world would willingly give up their freedoms without a shot being fired or a bomb being dropped.
Think of the panic if people were dropping dead in the streets of an unknown and incurable virally transmitted disease. What if one government magically had the cure and would only give it to people who surrendered unconditionally to their authority? This virus could be manmade or not, it doesn’t matter because the opportunity for dominance could be leveraged either way. Even now it isn’t hard to imagine a world where individuals would not be allowed to buy or sell without having some kind of chip or government-issued ID proving they are virus-free (Revelation 13:17). COVID revealed a realistic path to the End Times that doesn’t sound like nonsensical conspiracy theories.
It isn’t hard to imagine a world where individuals would not be allowed to buy or sell without having some kind of chip or government-issued ID proving they are virus-free (Revelation 13:17).
Unmasked: Disregard for Localized Pastoral Leadership
In many ways, the foundations of biblical Church government and the United States government are similar. And, that isn’t by accident, the founders modeled the Bible in numerous ways when crafting the Constitution. For example, individual states were originally intended to be autonomous yet governed and united by the Constitution. The federal government was limited and designed to have minimal interference in the affairs of local governments. Similarly, the Early Church was designed to be locally governed by pastors who were united by adherence to the Holy Word of God. Christ remained the head of the Church while bishops only intervened in local church matters when the Word was being disregarded. Biblically sound apostolic organizations follow this paradigm. Pastors are given leeway to govern their local flock as long as they remain doctrinally sound and morally pure. Most decisions are best made by local leadership because they are connected to the specific personalized needs of their congregations.
So, COVID hit and local pastors were forced to make tough calls without any precedence to lean on. They were deluged with lots of convoluted “facts” being thrown at them from every direction. Some pastors closed down their gatherings and some remain closed. Some waited a little longer than others to close in-person gatherings. A very small number of pastors never closed at all. Some are fighting to reopen. Some did outdoor services, and zoom, and Facebook meetings, and anything else they could do to keep a sense of connectedness. In other words, local pastors did the best they could do for their flocks. They prayed, agonized, sought wise counsel, researched, and listened to the needs of the saints. The average pastor is working harder this year than in most previous years of ministry. They’ve diligently strived to do the right thing for their local assemblies and to please God.
The average pastor is working harder this year than in most previous years of ministry. They’ve diligently strived to do the right thing for their local assemblies and to please God.
Yet, regardless of what decisions local pastors made they were met with unrelenting condemnation at every turn. Facebook “pastors” went completely nuts commenting and criticizing from the comfort of their sideline seats. Pastors clashed with pastors over “right” pandemic protocols. Saints defended their pastor’s decisions by attacking other pastors’ decisions. Or worse, some saints threw their pastor under the bus and sided with a pastor who doesn’t even know their name. I expected worldly cultural commentators to aim their blistering attacks on church leaders, but I admit the infighting took me off guard.
The lack of civility, respect, charity, grace, and dignity in these public disagreements is deeply disturbing. But setting that aside, the complete disregard and disrespect towards localized church government was the real shocker unmasked by COVID. Doesn’t it make sense that local pastors would take different approaches based on the needs and facts on the ground in their community? Wouldn’t we expect different churches to adopt various approaches based on their surroundings? Why would our way be the only way? Looking back, I think every honest pastor wishes they had done at least one thing differently. Zero people had all the right answers in 2020.
It would be helpful moving forward to reestablish the authority of local church leadership in a global, information-saturated world. Anyone with the slightest understanding of ministry understands real-world decisions are complex and vary from place to place. Rarely do cookie-cutter policies work properly in every church. Regardless, lets at least try to recognize in extremely difficult times that no one wants what is best for a local church more than its local pastor. Let’s give them some grace and trust they are seeking God for the flock He entrusted to them.
No one wants what is best for a local church more than its local pastor.
The irony of the Christmas debate never ceases to amaze me. On the one hand, secular culture tries hard to take Christ out of Christmas. To them, Christmas is just another holiday. On the other hand, a noisy minority of Christians consider Christmas a pagan practice. The rest of us are uncomfortably sandwiched in between these two extremes. Before the rise of social media, these debates seemed a little vaguer and obscure. Everyone pretty much just did their own thing and went on with their lives. But social media gets people from every side of the Christmas issue at one another’s throats. Many people feel the need to state their opinions firmly, and just about everyone else feels the need to be offended by everyone else’s opinion. Yeah, it’s about as crazy as it sounds.
Secular Objections to Christmas
Let me respond to the secular objections to Christmas first. They find offense at the elevation of one religion over others. And, in some cases, the elevation of any religion at all in the public domain. Their solution is to dechristianize the season and replace it with strictly secular terminology and traditions. Santa, elves, and reindeer fit nicely into this agenda because the childish make-believe parts of Christmas have no distinctly Judeo-Christian roots. When you peel back the layers, you’ll find the secular motivation for attacking Christmas is mostly rooted in rabid Christophobia (hatred of Christianity).
When you peel back the layers, you’ll find the secular motivation for attacking Christmas is mostly rooted in rabid Christophobia (hatred of Christianity).
Without getting too far ahead of myself, this alone is a pretty compelling reason to celebrate Christmas louder and louder every year. If “pagans” consider Christmas too Christian for comfort, Christmas is clearly not a pagan holiday. On that note, Jesus said, if you’re ashamed of me, I’ll be ashamed of you (Mark 8:38). Christians should never shy away from any opportunity to talk about Jesus openly. Like it or not, America was founded on Judeo-Christian values. Sadly, I don’t consider us a genuinely Christian nation any longer; however, we Christians have every right biblically and constitutionally to voice our faith loud and long.
If “pagans” consider Christmas too Christian for comfort, Christmas is clearly not a pagan holiday.
I think capitulating to secularism would be a tragic mistake and offensive to the Lord. Of course, we should never be intentionally offensive or ugly, but just celebrating the birth of our risen Savior is well within our reasonable rights. If speaking the name of Jesus or talking about Emmanuel (God with us) publicly is offensive, we must be offensive; if Christians become timid about a story as innocuous as the Messiah’s birth, then we won’t have the courage to talk about His death and resurrection. I have no sympathy for the secular objections to Christmas, and you shouldn’t either.
If talking about Emmanuel (God with us) publicly is offensive, we must be offensive; if Christians become timid about a story as innocuous as the Messiah’s birth, then we won’t have the courage to talk about His death and resurrection.
Ok. Let’s shift gears and address the Christian objections to celebrating Christmas. Their concerns usually center around five different issues. One, we don’t actually know the date of Jesus’ birth. Two, the Bible doesn’t specifically instruct us to celebrate Jesus’ birth. Three, they argue that Christmas itself and the surrounding traditions are rooted in paganism. Four, a Scripture that appears to forbid Christmas trees. And five, the crass commercialism surrounding the Christmas season.
There are good and sincere people who make these objections compellingly. Others make ignorant claims that are more ludicrous and argumentative than necessary. I’ve certainly seen Christians from both sides of the issue display less than Christlike behavior when debating the points mentioned above. It’s mostly ugly, unnecessary, and destroys everyone’s credibility. While I believe that celebrating Christmas is a good thing (probably even a wonderful thing), I am painfully aware of how it feels to have deeply held counter-cultural convictions that others love to belittle. I have genuine sympathy for sincere Christians who simply can’t feel comfortable celebrating Christmas. Regardless, I do believe anti-Christmas beliefs are not founded on concrete facts. Nor do I think anti-Christmas convictions are worthy of imposing on fellow believers.
Indeed, we don’t actually know the exact date of Jesus’ birth. And it’s improbable that Jesus was born on December 25. It’s also true that Christians didn’t start celebrating Christmas until hundreds of years after the resurrection. And my response boils down to a shrug of the shoulders. So, what, I don’t need an exact date to celebrate and reflect on my Savior’s birth. It’s nice to have an agreed-upon date so everyone can celebrate at the same time. It’s also worth remembering that early Christians were understandably busy avoiding martyrdom and being mutilated by lions. Furthermore, arguing that because early Christians didn’t celebrate, Christmas means Christmas is somehow prohibited today is a pretty awkward theological and intellectual leap. Celebrating all things about Jesus seems like something every Christian should be excited about.
Regarding the concern that Christmas is rooted in paganism, the evidence for such a claim is far from clear. The origins of so many modern traditions are unsubstantiated and often misinformed. Sources claiming Christmas’ pagan roots contradict one another and rarely have any reliable verification methods (please don’t send me weird internet links… I’ve seen them all… sigh). While some minor Christmas traditions like holly were probably used in pagan rituals, this doesn’t make Christmas evil by association. Many things were used in pagan rituals that we use daily. For example, oak trees were revered almost universally by pagans, and yet Christians don’t refrain from using oak trees and oak wood in their homes and yards. Even the Nike logo was originally a pagan symbol. But the association has been changed and no longer has pagan connotations. Either way, a Christian concerned about pagan symbolism could still celebrate Christmas and simply refrain from the particular traditions they find worrisome. This concern doesn’t require throwing Christmas out completely.
The Christmas Tree Debate
The Christmas tree debate is probably the most common concern for Christians. It’s an extension of the pagan roots concern, but this concern should be taken a little more seriously because two Bible passages can be distressing at first glance (Jeremiah 10:1-16, Isaiah 44:9-18). The most cited passage comes from Jeremiah chapter ten, verses three and four:
“For the customs of the people are vain; for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the ax. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.”
When looking at the passage in context, it’s clear that Jeremiah is referring to craftsmen who cut down trees to create idols. The decorating referred to here is not the decoration of a tree but the decoration of a carved idol. Even more specifically, Jeremiah is expressly forbidding falling down and worshipping handmade idols. This biblical command applies to everything other than God alone. Worshipping a tree or anything else would indeed be idolatry of the worst kind. I’ve known people who worshipped trees, but they were not Christmas trees. Even so, I could understand someone feeling uncomfortable with a Christmas tree. However, simply avoid the tree and celebrate the Savior if your conscious demands it. If you’re uncomfortable with my quick explanation of Jeremiah 10:3-4, check out John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible on verse three HERE and on verse four HERE.
A Christian Objection to Commercialism
The last objection that many Christians raise is reasonable and should be heeded. Christmas has been hijacked by secularism and crass commercialism. There is a sense in which Christmas can become about receiving and not giving. The pressure to buy irresponsibly can be overwhelming at Christmastime. All the reindeer and elves can crowd out the message of Christmas if we aren’t careful. All the decorating, cooking, buying, and wrapping can become a silly substitute for reverencing the miracle birth of Jesus. Christians should guard against this mindset and strive to keep Jesus at the center of the season.
The benefits of Christmas, in my opinion, far outweigh any of the negatives. The world is almost universally exposed to the story of Jesus’ entrance into the world. That revelation alone leads to more and more questions about who Jesus is and what He did while He was here. This opens tremendous opportunities for Christians to share their faith and talk about Jesus openly. Christmas brings families together and connects thoughts of Jesus with happy family memories. Christmas brings out the selflessness in many people. Charitable giving goes up drastically during the Christmas season. Many hard hearts grow tender towards God as they consider the Christmas story. Churches fill up with people who usually would not make church a priority exposing people to godly environments that can implant a seed of God’s Word into their consciousness.
Christmas brings families together and connects thoughts of Jesus with happy family memories.
For Oneness Pentecostals, Christmas is a fantastic opportunity to expose others to the great revelation that Jesus was the mighty God in Christ. For example, does it really make sense that a separate deity would send a son (who is also a coequal deity) to die on his behalf? What kind of father would send his son to be tortured and killed on his behalf? No. Jesus was the Word incarnate (Colossians 1:15, John 1:1, John 1:14, Philippians 2:6-7, 1 Timothy 3:16). Christmas is an excellent time to emphasize that Emmanuel (Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:22-23) means “God with us.” Jesus was not one of three distinctly separate deities born of a virgin. He was Emmanuel in the flesh. He is referred to as the Son of God because He had no earthly father (Luke 1:35). I don’t usually like the New American Standard Version, but I think it gives the most precise translation and explanation for why Jesus is referred to as the Son of God in Luke 1:35:
“The angel answered and said to her, The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; AND FOR THAT REASON the holy Child shall be called the Son of God (emphasis is mine).”
For Oneness Pentecostals, Christmas is a fantastic opportunity to expose others to the great revelation that Jesus was the mighty God in Christ
Even the disciples seemed slightly confused about what this terminology meant. In John chapter fourteen, Jesus was comforting them because He was leaving (John 14:1-6). He mentioned the mansions in the Father’s house and how no one could get to the Father but by Him, causing Thomas to ask Jesus where He was going and how would they know the way (John 14:5)? In verse six, Jesus’ most famous response is where He says, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life… (John 14:6)”. But, people often overlook John 14:7:
“If ye had known Me, ye should have known My Father also; and from henceforth ye know Him, and have seen Him.”
Jesus clarified that because you have known Me, you know the Father, and you have seen Him! Wow! That’s an epic revelation. But Phillip was still struggling to catch Jesus’ implication, so he asked Him to show them the Father (John 14:8). So, Jesus gave one of the clearest of all answers in Scripture about His deity in John 14:9-10:
“…Have I been so long a time with you, and yet hast thou not known Me, Philip? He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, ‘Show us the Father’? Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me?…”
Jesus made the messianic claim that He was literally God in human flesh. That is the quintessential message of the Christmas story; God came to dwell with us. I can’t see how that is anything other than wonderful to celebrate.
Jesus made the messianic claim that He was literally God in human flesh. That is the quintessential message of the Christmas story; God came to dwell with us.
“For unto us a Child is born, unto us, a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder. And His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).”
Podcast | Should Christians Celebrate Christmas?
This article was recently featured on the Apostolic Voice podcast with a few added bonuses. I hope you enjoy the episode as much as I enjoyed making it.