The Salem Witches Belong To All Of Us

Dana Tuttle with someone who is not a Salem witch

Dana Tuttle with someone who is not a Salem witch

[Dana Tuttle has a habit of writing about historical women who've been killed for their faith. Get beheaded and Dana might write about you too. Here she's deviated slightly from her usual fare by adding the fates of some men to her reflection on the Salem Witch Trials.]

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Thank you, Tim for scooting over and offering me a seat on your train! The last time I was here, I wrote about zombies. Today, I’m going to introduce you to some witches … or are they?

I have had the victims of the Salem witch trials heavy on my heart for a while. The 1996 movie, The Crucible, was my first exposure to the trials. It was a jaw dropping movie for me.  I wanted to research and find out what was real and what was Hollywood.

My interest got sparked again when I reviewed the novel, “My American Eden-Mary Dyer, Martyr for Freedom”, by Elizabeth S. Brinton. This historical novel is about the first woman to be executed on American soil on June 1st, 1660. As soon as I learned about Mary Dyer, I was compelled to begin my research on the Salem Witch Trials.

Honoring Witches

What better time than the Halloween season to begin my investigation of the victims of the Salem witch trials of 1692. I think we all have a stereotypical view of them and we rely on culture to teach us about them. Many movies and T.V. shows have depicted them by name or as a group in the entertainment industry. The entire town of Salem is now a hub of witch merchandise. Museums, bookstores, gift shops, and places of worship crowd the town of Salem. It is also headquarters to some of the main witch organizations. I appreciate the right of religious freedom, but the question I had to ask myself was, “Would the women and men who were murdered for witchcraft, be pleased with the cultural outcome of their deaths?” I had to find out who they were!!!

When l started my research, I was shocked at the number of victims! 19 women and men were hanged. One was pressed to death under heavy stone and several died in the horrible conditions of the jails. The amount of written testimony is outstanding and the information available on the internet is exhausting! It is very hard to narrow the information down into a small article. This is why I don’t blog. I don’t want to leave anything out!

Normally, the young afflicted girls get all the attention, but I want to focus on the victims who were accused of witchcraft. The stories are heartbreaking and the accused could not defend themselves against the spectral evidence that was allowed against them. Anyone could say that the accused visited them in the spirit form and hurt them. The afflicted girls would throw themselves into fits when the accused would enter the courtroom. They would continue their behavior by mocking every move they made. If the women tilted their heads, so would they. If they threw their arms open they would scream in pain. They were completely defenseless. And don’t get me started about the judges and ministers that should have been protecting their townspeople!

A writhing witness at a witch trial (Wikimedia)

A writhing witness at a witch trial
(Wikimedia)

I want to honor the victims that were executed during the hysteria of the Salem witch trials. I hope to cause you to be interested in these remarkable people. Don’t let culture teach you about history, instead, examine it for yourself. Let me introduce them to you…

The Real Victims

Bridget Bishop was the first to be executed. She was hanged alone on June 10, 1692. We don’t have a lot of information about her. It is uncertain, but history records her to have been the owner of the town tavern.

Sarah Good holds the most tragic of the victims. Good and her husband were homeless and she spent the day begging. She had a 4 year old daughter, Dorcas (who was also arrested and accused of witchcraft) and she was pregnant with her second child. Sarah gave birth to her infant in  jail, but the baby did not survive.

Before her execution on July 19th, Good prophesied that the reverend, Nicholas Noyes, would drink blood. Ironically, 25 years later, Noyes suffered an internal hemorrhage and died choking on his own blood!

Rebecca Nurse was a respected member of her community and church. She was a 70 year old wife of a wood artisan. When she was accused, 39 of the most prominent members of the community signed a petition on her behalf. When she received a not guilty verdict, the afflicted girls went wild until the jury changed their verdict to guilty. She was hanged on July 19th, as well.

Susannah Martin couldn’t help but laugh out loud at the ridiculous charges against her! A memorial in her honor reads, “Here stood the house of Susannah Martin. An honest, hardworking Christian woman accused of being a witch and executed at Salem, Massachusetts on July 19, 1692.”

Martha Carrier, a 33 year old mother from a neighboring town, was also executed on July 19th. I read a good historical novel based on her life called, “The Heretic’s Daughter”, by Kathleen Kent, a direct descendant of hers. If you are intrigued by these women, I highly recommend her book!

Giles Corey under the stones (Wikimedia)

Giles Corey under the stones
(Wikimedia)

Martha Corey is recorded in history as saying, “I am a gospel woman”, at her examination. Both Martha and her husband, Giles, were members of the church. Giles defended his wife and was later also accused of witchcraft. When he refused to enter a plea, he was forced to lay down with heavy stones placed on him. When the judge came to hear his plea, he replied, “More weight!” Giles died on September 9th, after being crushed under the stones for 2 days. His wife, Martha, would follow him in death by hanging, on September 22.

Mary Eastey, Rebecca Nurse’s sister, was arrested after her examination, but was released after 2 months on May 18th, however, on May 20th Mercy Lewis claimed that Eastey’s spector was afflicting her.  She was returned to jail and hanged on September 22. Other men and women executed on that day were Samuel Wardwell, Ann Pudector, Wilmot Reed, Margaret Scott, Mary and Anne Parker.

George Burroughs was the only minister accused and convicted. Reverend Burroughs was a 42 year old graduate of Harvard University and widower of 3 wives. He was hanged along with George Jacob, John Proctor and John Willard on August 19th.  John Proctor’s wife was pardoned along with Abigail Faulkner because they were pregnant. Anne Foster, Sarah Osborn, Lyndia Dustin and Roger Toothaker were among the many who died in the horrible conditions of the jail cells, before their hanging.

Examination of a Witch, by Thompkins H. Matteson (Wikimedia)

Examination of a Witch, by Thompkins H. Matteson
(Wikimedia)

Righting Wicked Wrongs

In 1706, Ann Putnam Jr. publicly asked for forgiveness for accusing innocent people. In 1711, the government compensated several of the families for their family member’s wrongful deaths. In 1712, Salem Village Church reversed the excommunication of Giles Corey and Rebecca Nurse. In 1957, the court formally cleared the names of more of the victims. On October 31st, 2001 the names of all the victims were finally proclaimed innocent.

Although all of the victim’s families have received a formal apology, and court reversals of their verdicts, our culture still calls them witches. My goal was to draw attention to these professing Christian women and men and help to restore their reputation as belonging to Christ. They belong to the body of believers. They belong to us.

As you live out your Christian life, remember the lesson that we can learn from this tragedy.

“For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’, but if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.” (Galatians 5:15.)

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For further reading:

Wikipedia – Salem Witch Trials

History of Massachusetts – Elizabeth Proctor – the Salem witch trials widow

Women’s History – Accused Witches in Salem

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Why It’s OK For Christians To Celebrate Halloween

Tom Burns and his daughter pair up for Halloween costumes every year. As he wrote on his blog, this year she was unsure if her choice was all right so she asked her dad, “Do you think I could be Han Solo?”

Her hesitation? Han Solo is not a woman or girl, like all the other characters she’s dressed up as in previous years.

I love Burns’ response: “Yeah, why, of course, you could. That would be amazing. Why couldn’t you be Han Solo?”

Then she dropped the big one, telling him he should dress up as Princess Leia. Here’s the result.

Han and Leia ready to take on the Empire (The Good Men Project)

Han and Leia ready to take on the Empire
(The Good Men Project)

If I’m going to tell my daughter that she can do almost anything a man can do (excepting some very specific biological acts), then I also need to show her that a man can do almost anything a woman can do too… especially when it’s something awesome like dressing up as a character from one of the best movies ever.

Burns is right. Star Wars is one of the best movies ever. (You can disagree with me in the comments, but you’ll never convince me to think otherwise!) Plus, Han and Leia are the two best characters from the entire set of Star Wars movies, and while they each have their flaws they also have admirable traits that make for good dress-up fun.

The other thing that comes to mind is Galatians 3:28.

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Burns knew that being a little girl was no reason not to wear a Han Solo costume, and likewise being a grown man was no reason not to pair up with his daughter by coming up with a Princess Leia costume.

Fighting the Fallacies of Men’s and Women’s Roles in Society

Some people in the church insist that there are things men and women can and can’t do: women need to get married and stay home to raise a family, men have to work and can’t stay home to raise a family, girls can’t play football, boys can’t play with dolls. The lists people come up with seem endless.

None of that is in the Bible, though, and it’s all a load of hooey. They’re just somebody’s idea of laws and rules they want you to follow because they can’t handle the freedom that comes from belonging to Jesus.

Here’s something that is in the Bible, though.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:1-2.)

and

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Ephesians 5:1.)

So enjoy your freedom from rules and condemnation.

  • Do you want to celebrate Halloween? Go ahead.
  • Do you want to wear costumes – for Halloween or any other time of the year – even though someone might say you can’t wear them just because you’re male or female? Go ahead.
  • Do you want to make some kid really happy by saying yes to something the Bible doesn’t anywhere at all ever prohibit? GO AHEAD!

And if, like our family, you choose not to celebrate Halloween, please go right ahead and do that as well.* Let no one condemn you for it, because if God isn’t condemning your choice why should you listen to anyone else about it?

So despite how much I love the movie, rather than employ the standard Star Wars benediction “May the Force be with you” I will let you in on something infinitely better: Jesus is with you now and forever, and he approves of you.

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*I bet you didn’t see that coming. We do celebrate the candy sales the day after Halloween, though!

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Jane Austen Novels and Hannah More’s Life – intersecting planes

Jane Austen and Hannah More were contemporaries in the late 1700s and early 1800s (even though More was born long before Austen and lived well after Austen’s death). Austen is known for her novels, and while she did not invent this literary art form she deserves credit in my opinion for bringing it to maturity. Her stories continue to resonate with modern readers who can read her prose with ease.

More, on the other hand, wrote only one novel. Her writing talents were found in great abundance in plays, essays, tracts, and poetry and non-fiction works designed to better society. The style of writing she employed is at times inaccessible to modern readers who are unused to blatant pedantry from popular authors, which likely accounts for her being relatively unknown as a writer today.

More was quite popular in her time, though, selling multiple editions of her writings and influencing her nation for the improvement of education for the poor, providing food for starving villagers, putting an end to the infliction of animal cruelty in the name of entertainment and industry, and – the cause she is best known for – the abolition of slavery.

Austen, on the other hand, never wrote a pedantic piece to advance any cause whatever. Instead, she famously noted in a letter to her nephew, she considered herself ill-suited for grand feats:

How could I possibly join them on to the little bit (two inches wide) of ivory on which I work with so fine a brush, as produces little effect after much labour?

Jane Austen’s self-deprecation does not stand up to the fact that every one of her six novels is now a considered a masterpiece. She knew her novels were not held equal to the serious works of writers like Hannah More, yet in reading Karen Swallow Prior’s new biography of More, Fierce Convictions, I saw repeated parallels in the fictional lives of characters created by Jane Austen and the real life of Hannah More.

Prior herself draws a parallel between the somewhat dubious reputation of plays and performances in that era, and the way Austen treated the subject in Mansfield Park. Many other parallels came to mind as I read More’s biography, and thought they are worth considering further. This is not an exhaustive list of the connections I saw, but here are some that other Jane Austen fans might appreciate.

The Slave Trade

Hannah More grew up near Bristol, a port city heavily reliant on the slave trade for its wealth. Her personal acquaintance with the economic realities of slavery and her later study of its barbarity led her to work diligently and tirelessly for decades to abolish slavery throughout Great Britain and its realms.

Jane Austen touched on slavery twice. In Mansfield Park the wealthy Sir Thomas Bertram returns from his plantations in the West Indies and his young ward Fanny Price asks him of the slave trade, a subject no one else in the room was apparently willing to bring up but which her cousin Edmund, Sir Thomas’ son, assures her was completely appropriate to discuss.

A closer connection to Hannah More’s background is found in Jane Austen’s Emma. The young Mrs. Elton, a character who appears a few chapters into the book, is from Bristol. Soon after arrival she takes an interest – the interest of a busybody – in Jane Fairfax. Miss Fairfax, though from a good family, is an orphan who must find employment and is forced to consider taking a position as a governess. She is reluctant, while Mrs. Elton enthusiastically insists on securing a position for her. Miss Fairfax has no illusions regarding what awaits her as a governess in the early 19th Century, and when she is forced into conversation about it with Mrs. Elton she compares it to slavery. Mrs. Elton protests, and it appears her protest is based in part on the subject hitting too close to home, both figuratively and her literal home of Bristol.

The Definition of an Accomplished Woman

Education for girls and young women in that era was designed for one purpose: “ornamental accomplishments”, as Prior quotes More in her biography. More, contrary to many people in her day, thought that women and society as a whole would benefit from education in subjects thought unsuitable for them such as “Latin, mathematics and natural history” Prior notes. Prior goes on to quote More’s 1777 Essays on Various Subjects:

One would be led to imagine, by the common mode of female education, that life consisted of one universal holiday, and that the only contest was, who should be best enabled to excel in the sports and games that were to be celebrated on it.

There was nothing a woman from a good family could hope for that would be of more value in securing a good marriage than to achieve the status of an accomplished woman. More clearly held such status in contempt.

So did Austen. In Pride and Prejudice, Caroline Bingley wants both to be considered an accomplished woman and to secure a good marriage – her eye is set on the wealthy Fitzwilliam Darcy, whose own eye in turn seems to be finding Elizabeth Bennet to be attracting its attention. A conversation ensues among the three of them where Miss Bingley says:

“[N]o one can be really esteemed accomplished who does not greatly surpass what is usually met with. A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half deserved.”

Mr. Darcy is unsatisfied with this list and adds:

“All this she must possess,” added Darcy, “and to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading.”

Through this dialog Austen appears to agree with More: accomplishments are of little worth without a mind improved by extensive study.

The Company One Keeps

Hannah More’s friends and acquaintances included royalty, literary giants, influential politicians, and prominent clergy. She and her closest friends – united by their common faith in Christ – worked together on social reforms in education, poverty, and the abolition of slavery. The group came to be known as the Clapham Sect, named for the village where they met in the home of one of the wealthiest members of their small circle.

Prior writes:

[T]his fellowship of like-minded believers, “bound together by shared moral and spiritual values, by religious mission and social activism, by love for each other, and by marriage” changed history as they sought to serve God in every area of their lives, personal and public, at home and abroad. … They operated as an intimate group that “planned and labored like a committee that never dissolved” as they decided on projects and issues and mapped out their strategies for accomplishing the group’s goals.

One can’t help thinking that such a group of friends is a group well worth having if only one could.

Jane Austen showed that having a worthwhile and satisfying group of friends actually is within our grasps. In Persuasion, Anne Elliot and her cousin William Elliot discuss what it means to be in good company.

“My idea of good company, Mr. Elliot, is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation; that is what I call good company.”

“You are mistaken,” said he gently; “that is not good company; that is the best.”

This description of good company is one we can all strive to possess among our friends. We do not have to settle for shallow relationships, and even though our own circle of friends might not change history as More’s did we can still enjoy deep friendships (the best of company as Austen encourages) with the people God puts in our lives and with them we can honor him in what we do.

And when we honor God, we are always part of the best historical change there is: God building his kingdom by his Spirit through his people.

This is the best company to keep.

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What On Earth Is This Blog About!

When people ask me what this blog is about, I am a bit hard pressed to answer. I do know that my hope is I never write a blog post that resembles this sermon:

And I am glad that my readers – who are quite a discerning bunch – do not resemble the people listening to this sermon:

My hope is that I will always remember that it’s not about me giving my all (whether through money or prayer or anything else I do) but about Jesus who has done it all for me. And I hope everyone who visits this blog is reminded of Jesus as they read from post to post here, and that each post is an encouragement in their relationship with God.

Honoring God and encouraging people.

That’s what I’d like this blog to be about.

 

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The Fierce Convictions of Hannah More – a review of Karen Swallow Prior’s biography of a poet, reformer and abolitionist

A Consecrated Pen

In Fierce Convictions – The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More: Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist (2014, Thomas Nelson), Karen Swallow Prior presents the life of a woman described by John Newton as wielding “a consecrated pen.” One might be tempted to say that Prior wields the same pen in her account of this 18th-19th Century woman of letters, action and faith.

In fact, for More there would be no way to separate her pen from her actions, nor either of those from her faith. She pursued them all for the sake of serving the people God placed in her life – from her teen years organizing a local school with her four sisters to her later efforts to feed the poor, prevent animal cruelty, and abolish slavery throughout the British realms.

While she worked hard in serving others, all her efforts seem to have rested upon what she could do with words. From writing successful plays for the London stage to tracts produced inexpensively for the poor, from poetry to novels, there wasn’t a genre of writing that More did not attempt. And once attempted, there wasn’t a genre she did not master.

A Nondescript Origin

Prior’s description of Hannah More’s childhood reveals More’s early life to be nothing out of the ordinary. She was a bright child who benefitted greatly from her father being a school teacher, but the world is always populated by such children. Few of them rise to More’s level of influence and success.

Still, Prior’s work on More is no hagiography, as she explains the earliest biographies of More tended to be. There are triumphs and failures, with many personal shortcomings noted alongside many admirable qualities.

For example, More was generous to the poor, yet took pains to make sure she did nothing that might encourage the poor to rise above their station in life. She provided support for French Catholics fleeing the anti-religious violence of the French Revolution, but she refused to join those who would give British Catholics the right to hold political office. And she reached out to those below her rank in society as people of merit and whose company she cherished, while also chasing after connections with those above her own mid-level station in life.

A Varied Career

Fierce Convictions starts with More’s early years, and each chapter addresses various pursuits and causes. Prior keeps the story generally progressing toward the end of More’s life as we see that More took on some issues later than others. But there is much in her life that overlaps and the chapters cannot be taken as strictly moving ever forward.

This is one of the book’s main strengths, along with Prior’s ability to present her extensive research in a thoroughly readable fashion. Prior chose the subject of More’s literary influence for a scholarly treatment in her dissertation for her PhD, so a reader might fear that this biography is written in a way that no lay reader could access. Prior’s prose, however, is welcoming and well-crafted throughout. Readers who are new to Prior’s writing will be pleased while those who have read her 2012 literary memoir Booked – Literature in the Soul of Me will not be the least surprised.

We read of More starting a school that included boys and girls learning the same subjects, an untypical practice of the mid 1700s. More and her sisters wanted to counter the trend of “Frivolous education [which] created shallow women”, as Prior puts it. They were up against tough opposition, with Jean Jacques Rousseau’s treatise on education stating the prevailing view that “the whole education of  women ought to relate to men” (as quoted by Prior), and thus there was no subject a woman should bother learning except those that improved her ability to serve a man. More’s words and her actions showed she disagreed with that influential philosopher entirely.

Cheddar, Somerset, England - One of the school's More established

Cheddar, Somerset, England – One of the school’s More established

Much of the book returns to More’s education efforts. She helped establish schools for the poor and wrote educational tracts for the working class. Most of her works seemed to have been pedantic in nature, whether directed at education reforms in particular or the betterment of some other aspect of British society.

Prior describes the animal cruelty prevalent in popular entertainment at that time – bear baiting, bull running and cock fighting for instance – in order to set in sharp contrast More’s writings against the cruelty. More didn’t stop at writing, though, as she also called upon her wealthy friends and acquaintances to provide funds to support her efforts to sway public opinion and eventually change the law.

She also provided food for the poor, and not just from her own larder. When the economy suffered during the Napoleonic Wars and the laboring class was most affected, she raised funds and published pamphlets and herself brought food to nearby villages and towns in order to feed families.

Yet the cause she is most known for – if she is known for anything at all – is the abolition of slavery in the British realms.

Abolitionist

The abolition of slavery in England is often credited to William Wilberforce. He acted when many would not, but he did not act alone. He was aided by many friends and colleagues, including his close life-long friend Hannah More.

The chapters on abolition and the group of friends who gathered in a stately home of a friend in Clapham – then a village just southwest of London – come in the second half of this biography. One might have expected to read of this earlier, or at least hoped to get to the anticipated good parts more quickly. It would have been a shame.

In Prior’s hands, the life of Hannah More is presented just as it should be. By understanding More’s other efforts to live out her faith we better understand why and how her work on abolition came about and reached fruition. It’s not that the abolitionist work came after all the other work was completed. More’s life, remember, did not progress as linearly as a biography might suggest. Rather, while much was happening concurrently it is by learning of More herself through her actions that the abolition work is revealed most clearly. The decision to save this work for later in the book turns out to be Prior’s gift to the reader.

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[I received a complimentary advance copy of the book from the publisher. I did not promise anything in return, and this review is based on what I think my readers might want to know about Prior's book.

One thing that jumped off the pages is an interesting parallel between Hannah More's life and the novels of Jane Austen, a contemporary of More's. I explore this parallel in Jane Austen Novels and Hannah More’s Life – intersecting planes.]

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Where Have You Built Your House – under a rock or on The Rock?

[From the archives.]

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Faith in a rock

Here’s a family who knows what it means to build their house on solid rock, or at least under one.

House Under The Rock

Can you imagine having that thing hang over your head every time you go to sleep at night? But the man who dreamed of building his home and raising a family there had visited the place for years, starting as a little boy, so he knew that boulder wasn’t likely to tumble down any time soon.

He had faith in that rock’s stability.

Faith in the Rock

The Bible uses tons of rock metaphors for God. In the Old Testament, examples are found at Deuteronomy 32:30, 1 Samuel 2:2, 2 Samuel 22, Isaiah 26:4 and 30:29, and Habakkuk 1:12. And then there’s Psalm 89:26 -

He will call out to me, ‘You are my Father,
my God, the Rock my Savior.’

This is a prophecy about the New Covenant, the promise of an eternal King who is God our Rock and Savior. This is a promise about Jesus, who said -

Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete. (Luke 6:46-49.)

And Peter, whom Jesus named a Stone for his faith (Matthew 16:15-18), directed everyone’s attention to the true Rock of salvation -

Jesus is “the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.” Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:11-12.)

So where are you building? Are you like that man who raised his family in the boulder? Are you resting your head each night – and your life each day – in the one true Rock and Savior? What does that look like?

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How To Tell If You’re Really A Christian

Have you ever taken a spiritual gift test? These are quizzes that typically ask about your likes and dislikes, how you view your personality, and what you think about God and the Bible. Most spiritual gift tests will then tell you who you are and what your spiritual gift is (at least according to the people who made up the test).

A pastor told me he’d discovered that the best way to discern one’s spiritual gift is to see what the person likes to do. He said likes, abilities and spiritual gifts usually end up being in alignment, and that taking spiritual gift tests only served to confirm this for most college students he worked with.

One thing I’d add is that the Bible doesn’t have a single spiritual gift test in it. Not one.

The Bible does have a spiritual inventory, though.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5;22-23.)

You’ll notice these are called fruit of the Spirit rather than gifts. I think it’s good to focus on the way we exercise the gifts God has given us rather than spend time trying to identify what the spiritual gifts themselves may be.

Spiritual Matters in the Life of a Christian

The passage on the Spirit’s fruit in a person’s life comes immediately after a very different list:

For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. … The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. (Galatians 5:17, 19-21.)

As the passage says, these things are contrary to what the Spirit desires in our lives, the fruit the Spirit wants to bear in us. Yet in our flesh (apparently the Bible’s name for desires working in us that are not from God) we still do these things to varying degrees. Sometimes we can even fool ourselves into thinking that an act of the flesh is a fruit of the Spirit.

How can we tell the difference at any given moment?

There’s a simple way to identify whether actions are in line with one or the other. An earlier portion of the passage introduces the two contrasting lists:

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:13-14.)

That’s it. If you are acting in a way that truly loves your neighbor, or yourself if other people are not affected (and they are rarely unaffected by your actions in some way), then it’s a good bet you are showing evidence of the Spirit’s fruit in your life rather than an act of the flesh.

So don’t start by analyzing whether you’ve engaged in debauchery, selfish ambition, lust and the like. First look at whether you are showing love for your neighbor and yourself.

If you are, then I think it’s safe to say you will see the fruit of love and self-control, gentleness and peace, joy and faithfulness, goodness and kindness and patience as the Spirit works out God’s divine desires in you.

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Burying Poop

Who says the Bible doesn’t have practical advice:

Designate a place outside the camp where you can go to relieve yourself. As part of your equipment have something to dig with, and when you relieve yourself, dig a hole and cover up your excrement. (Deuteronomy 23:12-13.)

Sound advice. If you’re going to poop, don’t leave it in your tent. Don’t leave it in your neighbor’s tent. Don’t leave it in the space between your tent and your neighbor’s tent.

After all, why stink up the camp?

There’s a spiritual aspect to this burying poop, too. The passage goes on to say:

For the Lord your God moves about in your camp to protect you and to deliver your enemies to you. Your camp must be holy, so that he will not see among you anything indecent and turn away from you. (Deuteronomy 23:14.)

The Indecency of Bowel Movements?

I read that passage a few nights ago and wondered what connection there could be between our bodily excrement and holiness before God. After all, God called all his creation very good (Genesis 1:26-31), so I figure even our bowel movements must have been a good thing for God to create.

Then again, the connection of pooping and holiness isn’t the only connection I wonder about. Food is another area. God told the Israelites what they could and could not eat, calling permitted foods clean and forbidden ones unclean.

Then there is life under the New Covenant, where these food rules no longer apply and the spiritual connection with eating formerly forbidden food no longer exists. (Acts 10.) The New Testament writings don’t speak of bowel movements specifically, but with all that the New Testament does say about our freedom from Old Testament legal regulations it’s safe to say that the spiritual aspect of disposing with poop is gone too.

Why, then, should we bother learning the cleanliness regulations in Deuteronomy 23 at all?

Because it still provides an analogy for our spiritual lives now.

Burying Sin in a Hole

God used physical excrement to represent spiritual uncleanness to the Israelites. Having to step outside the camp provided a tangible and daily opportunity for the nation of Israel to remember that God dwelled with them, right there with them in their very camp, and that they were to live in a way that acknowledged his holy presence.

God is with us under the New Covenant too, and he lives not in our camps but in our very selves. (Ephesians 2:22.) The Bible encourages us to remember that we are cleansed of our sins (2 peter 1:9), meaning that unlike the Israelite camp which the Jews needed to keep holy we are now kept holy by God himself.

Yet God’s people still sin. (Romans 7.) The question then becomes: what are we to do with that sin?

  • First, we should rejoice that all of our sins – past. present and future – have already been forgiven. (Colossians 2:13.)
  • Second, we are to remember that God never condemns us for our sins. (Romans 8:1-2.)
  • Third, we can follow the example of the Israelite camp. If you have sinned in whatever way, don’t keep that sin close to you where it will continue to tempt you. (James 1:14.) Don’t keep it somewhere you will come across it easily. Instead, put it aside and remove yourself as best you can from the temptations the led you to it, and move on by the power of the Holy Spirit.

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13.)

What about when we don’t resist temptation, though. The passage in Deuteronomy 23 gives good advice on what to do with that sin: leave it behind like the refuse it is.

And remember, the Spirit of Christ lives in us and we are eternally holy to our heavenly Father who never lets us go. (John 10:27-30.)

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Bad Christian Music (as in heresy-bad)

[From the archives.]

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I grew up in a liturgical church that sang songs out of a hymnal. A hymnal, kids, is a book containing songs written before you were born. A book is something people would read before the internet.

I digress.

One Sunday morning the choir director – that’s someone who led music before we had worship leaders – one Sunday morning the choir director said we were going to sing a song that wasn’t in the hymnal. A Christian song. I didn’t know there were any Christian songs that weren’t in hymnals.

It sounded different. It sounded like it wasn’t written a hundred years before I was born. It sounded almost – not quite, but almost – like a song you’d hear outside of church.

The song? We Are One In The Spirit. Its chorus is all about how much love Christians have for each other and how this shows the world we are, you know, Christians. I don’t want to give the wrong impression about that message. It’s awesome, because it’s based on something Jesus told his friends in their last night together:

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:34-35.)

You can’t go wrong with the words of our Lord, right? Right. But why did the song writer have to take such a hopeful and joyful message and write the music in a minor key? It ends up coming across as a dirge, for crying out loud.

Bad Doctrine – bad, bad doctrine!

You know what’s worse than singing a dirge with joy-filled lyrics. Singing a happy little tune with doctrinally abysmal lyrics, yet that’s what we got when the choir director introduced a second song not found in the hymnal. Back then I didn’t know enough to question the Scriptural basis for church songs, but when I heard Lord of the Dance on the radio yesterday my doctrinal Spidey-sense started tingling*.

v. 4 – I danced on a Friday and the sky turned black;
It’s hard to dance with the devil on your back;
They buried my body and they thought I’d gone,
But I am the dance and I still go on.

Dance, then, wherever you may be;
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he.
And I’ll lead you all wherever you may be,
And I’ll lead you all in the dance, said he.

v. 5 – They cut me down and I leapt up high,
I am the life that’ll never, never die;
I’ll live in you if you’ll live in me;
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he.

There are real problems with those lyrics.

It’s hard to dance with the devil on your back

Even allowing for poetic license it’s hard to see anywhere in the four gospels where Jesus can be said to have the devil on his back, let alone that this impeded his ministry in any way. In fact, just the opposite is shown.

  • When Satan tried to take Jesus on directly, Jesus merely spoke and Satan left in a hurry. (Matthew 4:1-11.)
  • Again, all it took was a word from Jesus and demon after demon fled. Not much of a struggle there. (Matthew 8:16.)
  • Even at his crucifixion, Jesus was the one in control. (John 19:10-11.)

I’ll live in you if you’ll live in me

Also, there’s nothing in the Bible to support the proposition that Christ’s living in us is predicated on our first living in him. Quite the opposite is true.

  • Jesus is not the True Vine because we are attached to him. Rather, we are fruitful branches because we are first attached to the True Vine. (John 15:1-4.)
  • His ability to give himself for us is not somehow made possible because we first live in him. Rather, our life in Christ is possible because he gave himself for us. (Galatians 2:20.)
  • We did not do something worthy of Jesus’ sacrifice. Rather, we were actually powerless to do anything for ourselves when Christ died for us to bring us to himself. (Romans 5:6-8.)

“Dubiously Christian”

Some may say I’m making too much out of this, that I’m misconstruing the song writer’s words and taking them out of context.

I beg to differ. So does Sydney Carter, the song writer himself, who said that while Jesus was part of the inspiration for the song so was Shiva (a Hindu god):

I did not think the churches would like it at all. I thought many people would find it pretty far flown, probably heretical and anyway dubiously Christian. But in fact people did sing it and, unknown to me, it touched a chord … Anyway, it’s the sort of Christianity I believe in.

I see Christ as the incarnation of the piper who is calling us. He dances that shape and pattern which is at the heart of our reality. By Christ I mean not only Jesus; in other times and places, other planets, there may be other Lords of the Dance.

“Dubiously Christian” – finally, something I can agree with.

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Questions to ponder:

Do you scrutinize the lyrics of songs presented to you as being appropriate for worship?

What do you do when you hear unsound doctrine in a song at church?

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*Copyright 1963 Stainer & Bell Ltd. London, England. The questionable lines show up in verses 4 and 5.

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Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Mysterious Duodenum

“But Holmes, how on earth did you know the murder weapon was lodged in the victim’s intestine?”

“It’s alimentary, my dear Watson.”

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[Old joke, worth retelling. Because puns are funny.]

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