Valentine’s Day, Statism and Christian Obedience

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At first glance the title of this article seems to be a list of three mutually exclusive topics but as we will see they are all in alignment today as they were some 1,700 years ago. The story of Valentine ’s Day does not begin with Cupid or with other Pagan practices of debauchery. Like most other holidays, Christmas and Easter being two examples, the pagans certainly were not the inventors of what and why Christians now celebrate. Sure, I know Pagans had celebrations on all of these days and many times pop culture mixes and blends a litany of Christian, Pagan and modern customs to form some hybrid of the original celebration. I guess if we looked at enough Pagan cultures throughout history and other religious traditions, we could probably list some celebration on virtually every day of the year. A quick glance on Wikipedia of major religious holidays around the globe revealed over 100 major holidays and celebrations. Literally, every month has something and most ancient religions and societies’ holidays are simply gone and forgotten.

I don’t think it is the Christian’s duty to research exhaustively every day of the Julian calendar to make sure we aren’t celebrating on some silly former pagan festival. I guess to those Christians who feel the need to boycott every major holiday because of its supposed pagan origin should go all the way in their logic and refuse to follow the Julian calendar since it was created by the Pagan Julius Cesar and is based off  the sun (Romans worshiped the sun God “Sol Invictus”). Maybe we should go back to the lunar calendar of the Jews to be more biblical? But unfortunately, even the Jewish calendar was later influenced by the Babylonians and thus all hope of a truly Christian day, let alone celebration, is going to be difficult by those who think some pagan similarity is reason to throw the “baby out with the bathwater.”

For the rest of us who don’t feel going out to dinner with our spouse is somehow a pagan practice, there is still much for us to learn and realize. Our modern celebration of Valentine’s Day doesn’t come from the pagans but rather from Christians. In 269 A.D. Bishop Valentine broke rank with the “laws of the land” and disobeyed Emperor Claudias edict not to perform marriage ceremonies. Statism for those unfamiliar with the term is a Totalitarian rule by the state or government over every area of life. The Emperor believed that unmarried men were better fighters than married men who would be afraid to fight and die knowing they have a wife and perhaps children back home. Thus, the Emperor’s edict against marriage stood in contrast to the Christian teaching to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:28). Also, coupled with the Christian teaching that sexually intimacy was to be had between one man and one woman, and that all other sexual activity was sinful, the issue of Christians not being able marry caused a real problem for the Christians, that it would not have with their immoral pagan neighbors. For the pagans their sexual mores were not much different from today (in fact they were believe it or not probably much worse and degrading). Nonetheless an unmarried man would not have the dilemma of marriage or celibacy that the Christian would have, but rather they could and would have many sexual partners and perhaps even children out of wedlock. Thus, to them marriage was just a piece of paper and probably something that most young men would have seen as unnecessary anyway. Polygamy and even homosexuality would have been common place, so it’s not as though this edict would have caused a societal protest by most.  I know it is hard for us to imagine such a society, in which such values and mores were common place, but it’s easy if you try.

That brings us to Bishop Valentine. Valentine was what society would consider a renegade, but what Christ would call an obedient disciple. He knew his calling to God and the church outweighed his allegiance to the Roman state. Hence, he secretly performed marriage ceremonies, marrying young Christian couples. However, then like now the state doesn’t like a challenge to its authority. Valentine was arrested and sent before the Roman prefect where he was sentenced to be beaten, stoned, and then beheaded. The enemies of the gospel have always sought to use fear as a demotivator for Christians. Certainly, they hoped their harsh treatment of Valentine would not only discourage people from following the biblical pattern for marriage but that it would discourage people from being Christian. Of course, Valentine was first given the chance to renounce Christ and bow to the pagan state. An offer in which he quickly refused and rather used as a witnessing opportunity. Rome and its Emperor sought to show its power was greater than the power of Christ. But the Roman Empire with all its power and strength came crumbling down in the end, not the church. One account of Valentine’s imprisonment, the one from which we get our modern Valentine’s Day tradition, is that while in prison he prayed for the jailers daughter who was blind. Apparently, the girl was healed, and the jailer and his daughter become Christian. The day of his execution he left a letter to the girl in which the final line was signed “From your Valentine.”

The exact day of Valentine’s execution is uncertain but in the 5th Century the church would declare Feb. 14th St. Valentine’s Day to honor the actions of this devoted follower and to show and celebrate true Christian love over many of the pagan festivities that would take place on this day. Thus, like Christmas and Easter, Valentine’s Day embodies victory over Paganism, not succumbing to it. Though Paganism may be virtually dead and gone for all intents and purposes in the modern function of the world, we must remember that Paganism was not only a false ideology and religion but that it was powered and supported by the state. The state may no longer bow to Sol Invictus or demand Emperor worship. But the power and mind set of paganism remains in the state seeking to crush the worldview of all who oppose it, especially the Christian worldview.

Since Christianity is now and has historically been the biggest threat to immoral governments and immoral laws. I am thankful we live in a society in which we are no longer killed for our Christian faith (many countries don’t have this luxury). However, often for very less than our lives we will compromise our faith for expediency, money, or simply out of peer pressure of what pop culture says is right. At a time in history where governments all over the world seek to redefine marriage, many of which have legal consequences for detractors, we must remember our call to the gospel of Christ is one of obedience, no matter what the cost. We must seek to be obedient in all areas of life and we must put the gospel message and the law of God above the opinions and fashions of man. Whether it is Rome with its marriage ban, Communist China with its one child per family law, the US with its Eugenics sterilization campaign in the 1930’s or Planned Parenthood today we must reject that which is not of God. As you celebrate this evening with long waits in restaurant lobbies, ponder these things with the one you love. The issue isn’t whether or not you celebrate or don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day. The bigger issue is to realize love is a gift from God, but that came at a price. Often our love will be tested and undergo trials and tribulations, but like St. Valentine, I pray you to stay faithful.

Cop Killer, Ethics and the Law of God

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Four years ago today a manhunt was underway for a now infamous cop turned cop killer. His name — Christopher Dorner. As most will remember, he left a rampage of terror throughout police departments in Southern California, which ultimately resulted in his death by way of a fiery shootout at the hands of law enforcement. The following blog article is from a post I had made four years ago when the search for Dorner was still underway. While the story of Dorner himself has now faded from memory, the relevance of the topics addressed in the following article are as apt as ever:

 

What strikes me most about Dorner’s Manifesto was his appeal to ethics, morality, and justice. For example, Dorner writes:

“A name is more than just a noun, verb, or adjective. It’s your life, your legacy, your journey, sacrifices, and everything you’ve worked hard for every day of your life as an adolescent, young adult and adult. Don’t let anybody tarnish it when you know you’ve lived up to your own set of ethics and personal ethos.” At first glance who could disagree with that? I mean if you didn’t know who said this and I posted this quote on Facebook, it would probably get a lot of people clicking the “Like” button. Dorner goes on to speak of his own personal morality and code of ethics stating: “I’m not an aspiring rapper, I’m not a gang member, I’m not a dope dealer, I don’t have multiple babies momma’s. I am an American by choice, I am a son, I am a brother, I am a military service member, I am a man who has lost complete faith in the system, when the system betrayed, slandered, and libeled me. I lived a good life and though not a religious man I always stuck to my own personal code of ethics, ethos and always stuck to my shoreline and true North. I didn’t need the US Navy to instill Honor, Courage, and Commitment in me but I thank them for re-enforcing it. It’s in my DNA.”“To those children of the officers who are eradicated, your parent was not the individual you thought they were. As you get older, you will see the evidence that your parent was a tyrant who lost their ethos and instead followed the path of moral corruptness.” “He (the Principle) stated as good Christians we are to turn the other cheek as Jesus did. Problem is, I’m not a f*****g Christian and that old book, made of fiction and limited non-fiction, called the bible, never once stated Jesus was called a n*****. How dare you swat me for standing up for my rights for demanding that I be treated as an equal human being. That day I made a life decision that I will not tolerate racial derogatory terms spoken to me.”

Again Dorner here gives a quote that many would agree with. Many believe they are good moral people for following their heart and their own sense of right and wrong. He even appeals to a sense of ethics in his DNA, as if he was born as a just, moral and courageous individual. Many today also believe they are born basically good and that if they follow their own conscience, they are indeed a good moral person. Thus many in our culture reject the biblical notion that we are all “born into sin.” The Christian doctrine of “Total Depravity” is abhorrent to those who see themselves as basically good. They see their children as pure and innocent, and if raised correctly will go on to be good moral people. Now while there is much to be said of raising a child correctly, proper instruction cannot undo his or her sinful nature or depravity.

 

When the scripture speaks of “total depravity” it doesn’t mean as is often misrepresented, that every human is totally evil to the fullest degree. Rather it means that the depravity or sin that we are born into effects every part of our being. Not only are our desires corrupted, but even our ability to reason and act against them are tarnished by sin. In other words not only are our bodies subjected to sin, but also the mind, heart and soul. Thus we see this evidenced by Dorner who seems to not only have an emotional reason but also a logical, moral reason for what he is doing. Dorner then defines those he is seeking out as the evil ones, while himself as righteous:

 

“Your lack of ethics and conspiring to wrong a just individual are over.” Again later in the Manifesto he states: “To those children of the officers who are eradicated, your parent was not the individual you thought they were. As you get older, you will see the evidence that your parent was a tyrant who lost their ethos and instead followed the path of moral corruptness.”

The problem, however, is that his own personal morality and code of ethics is leading him to murder people. How can an ethical man, who seeks justice, commit murder? Maybe he is lying, but I truly believe he believes what he is saying. I truly believe that he sees his actions as a call to justice, as a way to purge the evil from the world. You may think this is sick and twisted and he is just a crazy man ranting. But he is not alone in his feelings. Dozens across Facebook and Twitter are voicing their support for the vigilante who is bringing justice against a corrupt establishment. And let’s not be naïve, there is probably much truth to his claims of corruption in the LAPD. In fact there is probably corruption in every police department, government agency, school district and even religious organizations. Because mankind is sinful and men lead these organizations, we shouldn’t be shocked at corruption. However, that doesn’t mean we should tolerate it either. The question is how should it be fought? How shall we act? Or in the words of the late great apologist and philosopher Francis Schaeffer, “How Should We Then Live?”

 

We all wish we had a more moral society, a more caring and compassionate society, one in which ethics and justice were commonplace, and yet we don’t see anywhere in the world where it exists perfectly or even close to perfect. Dorner brings up perhaps the most important question a society can ask, and that question is “what is right?” Who defines morality? How can we know if we are ethical or evil? What is our standard? You’ll hear many say “we don’t need God to tell us what right and wrong is, we can discover that through reason.” Or some may say “just follow your conscience.” But what if your conscience and reason lead you to place of murder? Society has told you this is how you can know right from wrong. How did Dorner get to this point where his own morality is seen as evil by most?

 

Dorner quotes from his days in elementary where he punched a kid for calling him a “n*****.” He says the [Principal] swatted the kid who called him a n*****, but then also swatted Dorner for punching the kid. This made Dorner angry as he says below:

“He (the Principle) stated as good Christians we are to turn the other cheek as Jesus did. Problem is, I’m not a f*****g Christian and that old book, made of fiction and limited non-fiction, called the bible, never once stated Jesus was called a n*****. How dare you swat me for standing up for my rights for demanding that I be treated as an equal human being. That day I made a life decision that I will not tolerate racial derogatory terms spoken to me.”

From a very young age Dorner made the decision that he would define his own morality, his own sense of right and wrong. He didn’t need God or the bible to do that. Many would agree with Dorner on this issue, believing that we can have some sense of morality, law, and ethics apart from God revealing it. But hence we are left with the slippery slope of who determines right and wrong? By what standard do we appeal? We can appeal to the legal system, but we all know there have been laws that were immoral (i.e. Jim Crow Laws, Eugenics, etc). New laws are made and overturned all the time so our law is far from infallible. Dorner presents us with a reality that Theologians and Philosophers have realized long ago. That truth is either God has revealed right and wrong to mankind or there can be no absolute right and wrong. While many atheists realize this and people like Ted Bundy have argued that we are no different from the animal kingdom where the strong kill the weak, most atheists and non-Christians would abhor that idea and still believe in morality. The problem for them is they cannot determine what it is outside of their own subjective feelings. Hitler felt a moral obligation to rid the earth of Jews. He felt he was acting on the part of reason and mankind. Just as Christopher Dorner believes he is acting out as an ethical man, true to his “ethos.” Thus we see the truth of the philosopher Cornelius Van Til when he said “there is no alternative but that of theonomy or autonomy.” Apologist Greg Bahnsen further illustrates Van Til’s rationale when he says “Every ethical decision assumes some final authority or standard, and that will either be self-law (“autonomy”) or God’s law (“theonomy”). While unbelievers consider themselves the ultimate authority in determining moral right or wrong, believers acknowledge that God alone has that position and prerogative.”

 

Thus we are all faced with the reality that we either have a system of law that as our founders saw must be based off of the divine revelation. Or we will have a system of law that is arbitrary and swayed by the customs and feelings of popular opinion. I hope and pray we as Americans will see we are only as great as the one we are willing to submit ourselves to. We don’t have all the answers, but God does. We will either look to the principles of God’s law for our own law, or we will follow the “might makes right” mentality that so many nations follow. This is not to say that interpreting God’s law in the 21st century isn’t without its challenges. We must diligently seek to properly interpret and exegete the law of God for our own modern culture. But if we give up all hope that there is a divine law given as a standard, then I’m afraid our countries laws are doomed to move forward without hope of true morality, but rather will be dictated by those who scream the loudest. I hope and pray that reason, logic and revelation will win out over popular opinion and personal expediency.

 

Thus we are all faced with the reality that we either have a system of law that as our founders saw must be based off of the divine revelation. Or we will have a system of law that is arbitrary and swayed by the customs and feelings of popular opinion. I hope and pray we as Americans will see we are only as great as the one we are willing to submit ourselves to. We don’t have all the answers, but God does. We will either look to principles of God’s law for our own law, or we will follow the “might makes right” mentality that so many nations follow. This is not to say that interpreting God’s law in the 21st century isn’t without its challenges. We must diligently seek to properly interpret and exegete the law of God for our own modern culture. But if we give up all hope that there is a divine law given as a standard, then I’m afraid our countries laws are doomed to move forward without hope of true morality, but rather will be dictated by those who scream the loudest. I hope and pray that reason, logic and revelation will win out over popular opinion and personal expediency.