Rev. VanBaren is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.

Thanksgiving to Whom?

Thanksgiving Day has come and gone. According to custom and in harmony with the requirements of our Church Order, we assembled together as congregations to express thanks to God for all of His benefits bestowed on us for Jesus’ sake. Our thanksgiving was not just for things, but for all that God gave (including even sickness and poverty). Whatever He provides for Jesus’ sake and for our spiritual profit is good and deserving of our thanks.

Apart from Christ there would be no blessing—only condemnation. Whether one received much in the way of material gifts, or little, it could be only in the wrath of God. For when one’s “eyes stick out with fatness,” when one has all that his “heart desires,” he is in slippery places, on which he is cast rapidly into destruction (Ps. 73). So, though Thanksgiving Day in our country is universally considered a holiday, it is only those who belong to Christ that can properly give God thanks.

Many disagree. The Grand Rapids Press, November 25, 2003, presents a front-page account of a joint service of thanksgiving held at the Trinity United Methodist Church in Grand Rapids, MI. The title of the article was: “United in Faith—Various cultures, beliefs share prayers of thanksgiving.”

The article explains:

It was a Thanksgiving service few would recognize.

There was an Arabic reading from the Quran and a Sikh prayer sung in Punjabi.

A rousing black gospel song echoed from the same walls as an American Indian Prayer to the four directions.

Statements were read from Baha’i, Jewish, Unitarian-Universalist, Quaker and free-thought traditions.

In all, more than 500 people from across West Michigan gathered to give thanks Monday night—overcoming ice-covered roads, centuries of religious separation and the pullout of the annual event’s organizer.

The interfaith Thanksgiving service at Trinity United Methodist Church was the first since the area’s leading ecumenical organization—the Grand Rapids Area Center for Ecumenism—withdrew after some churches and clergy criticized it as a compromise of their faith.

Monday night’s 80-minute event attracted Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and a smattering of other faiths. Some participants said the gathering could have been bolstered by the flap, which generated widespread publicity for the fourth-annual service.

“It’s miraculous,” said the Rev. Ellen Brubaker, a Trinity minister who helped organize the service after GRACE dropped out. “People really wanted to be here.”

Bluma Herman, a longtime member of the Jewish congregation Temple Emanuel, said the criticisms strengthened her resolve to attend.

“If we’re not together on this issue, then we’re in trouble,” Herman said. “I’m very grateful these people decided to do it and not let someone else take over.”

GRACE announced in September it was suspending its role in the service due to criticisms from member churches and disagreement on its own board about whether it is appropriate for Christians to worship with non-Christians. Some churches threatened to withhold their financial support if the services continued.

The article’s conclusion?

“What we are doing tonight is indeed quite radical,” Stella said. “We are sharing an intimacy that few would dare even think about.”

Rabbi Michael Schadick of Temple Emanuel said the turnout was encouraging.

“It shows this community can look beyond their differences and understand the importance of giving thanks together,” he said.

The Rev. Steve Cron, rector of St. Andrew’s Cathedral, called it a “wonderful” event consistent with Catholic teaching.

“The official Catholic position does honor a diversity of experiences of God and expressions of that experience,” Cron said.

Liz Hennes brought her 12-year-old daughter, Naomi, who said it was “so cool to hear so much different stuff that I’ve never heard.”

“This is what’s going to heal the world, right here—this energy and this attitude,” Liz Hennes said. “It’s all about love, no matter where we worship.”

It is surely a picture of things to come. No one minds if a person is “Christian” as long as he does not insist that Christ and His cross represent the only way of salvation. As long as one is willing to recognize other religions as legitimate ways in which to thank “god,” there is no problem. It is indeed the solution of the world’s problems: it will “heal the world.” It is all “about love, no matter where we worship.” But this “love” is not that love of God taught in John 3:16. It is a sad reminder that in the end of the age the faithful church will be just a “little flock.”

The “Jackson case”

Though one hesitates to write of it, perhaps because of the media attention to this case, some things ought to be stated.

Almost everyone knows of the charges made against Michael Jackson recently (similar to those made about ten years ago and settled for millions of dollars out-of-court). People are horrified. How could this popular singer be engaged in such awful crimes? What’s wrong with parents who permit their children to stay with this man overnight—and sleep with him in his bed, no less!

The media frenzy is remarkable. Almost without exception the media condemns the action of this man (if he is indeed guilty). Surely the child of God is horrified by the very idea of pedophilia.

But the media? One is appalled by the hypocrisy. Under the guise of “freedom of speech” all sorts of sexual sins are portrayed. It is part of the drama of the movie and television programs. It is part of much of the advertising materials of the day. It can be found on the internet. It is included in the songs that have become so popular. It has become part of the “sex education” in public schools. The media has the “freedom of speech” to portray all of this corruption in the most vivid way—but is horrified when an individual acts out what the media has glorified?

Cal Thomas (frequently quoted in this rubric) writes of this. The Grand Rapids Press printed his article in the November 29, 2003 issue. I quote it in part:

If Michael Jackson did, in fact, as it is alleged, have sex with a minor boy, what’s wrong with that? The question is not meant to be cute; I am serious. If a male child was fondled or sodomized by Michael Jackson, why shouldn’t he and the boy be allowed the orientation of their choice? If you disagree, who are you to impose your morality on them?

Are you outraged by this? Do you think we have gone too far? Not far enough, some say. Yesterday’s unacceptable (divorce, premarital sex, abortion, homosexuality, group sex, domestic partnerships and, soon, same-sex marriage) are today’s acceptable. It’s just a matter of conditioning. Groups exist that promote adult-child sex. Expect an alliance—composed of academics, theologians and cultural commentators—to ram this home through the media, crushing whatever resistance remains.

Nothing shames us. In pursuit of freedom we have embraced license and now licentiousness, throwing off all restraint.

Thomas continues by pointing out various instances of this shamelessness. It is found in catalogs, promoted by clothing manufacturers, taught in the schools. Then Thomas points out the professional approach to this terrible trend:

Professional organizations are trying to catch up in the race to normalize what we once called “depravity.” The American Psychiatric Association (APA), which declared homosexual practice normal, has recently entertained the notion of similarly downgrading pedophilia. The APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) once contended that merely “acting upon” one’s urges toward children was enough to generate a diagnosis of pedophilia (DSM-III). But in the revised DSM-IV, a person who molests a child is considered psychiatrically sick only if his actions “caused clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational or other important areas of functioning.”

That seems to mean that if the molester is OK with it and the child doesn’t complain, it’s healthy. It can’t be wrong if it feels so right, right?

The article points out that others likewise basically agree. The state governments in many instances mandate sex education as early as kindergarten. The conclusion of the article is worth careful thought and consideration:

English philosopher Roger Scruton has written, “The hysteria over pedophilia is indicative of a society that has come to the brink of self-destruction and stands there accusing the void. People reach for their old certainties: words like ‘pervert’ and ‘perversion’ suddenly seem right to them; they look round for the culprit with a view to shaming, humiliating and ostracizing him. And they recognize the vastness of the evil that is around them and within them, an evil they only imperfectly confess to.” (Published in “Modern Sex: Liberation and Its Discontents.” Edited with an Introduction by Myron Magnet. Ivan R. Dee publishers, 2001, Chicago.)

It’s too late for any of that now. For some, Michael Jackson is not a pervert but a pioneer.

This ought to give us also pause. Has all of this emphasis upon sexuality affected our own thoughts and actions? There is the real danger that one finds time for and pleasure in all of the emphasis upon sex in the media—and in recent years, with the emphasis on this found on the Internet. There is the seduction of that which appeals to the fleshly lusts. Dress styles within the church too show influences of this emphasis on the sexual. How easy to ignore or forget the instruction on the seventh commandment presented in the Heidelberg Catechism: “…therefore [God] forbids all unchaste actions, gestures, words, thoughts, desires, and whatever can entice men thereto.”

We can truly give thanks to God that we still have the “freedom of speech” to preach and teach the truths of Scripture. But how shameful when this same “freedom” is used as guise to present the most lustful, corrupt, devious, wicked, and sexual, in order to pander to the corrupt desires of the flesh — and then to have the media label as “deviate” one who acts out what is portrayed regularly in the same media!!

“Wheaton College slates historic dance”

That was the headline in a num-

ber of newspapers—a news bulletin from Associated Press. The Grand Rapids Press printed the article, as did also the Loveland (Colorado) Reporter-Herald (Nov. 14, 2003). What was so unusual? Wheaton College, since its beginning (143 years ago), had had a ban on the dance. In the 1960s the school had lifted the rule prohibiting students from going to movies. In the 1990s students and faculty were permitted to dance with spouses or relatives at family events such as weddings. What was some of the reasoning for the current changes?

“It is really going to improve the outlook the rest of the world has of our students,” the 21-year-old Jones said. “It makes Wheaton into a place where people don’t do so much thinking about what we aren’t allowed to do.”

Administration officials say that lifting the dance ban will help get students ready to deal with the real world after they graduate.

“Students need to learn how to make responsible choices,” said Sam Shellhamer, vice president for student development. “We want to make students learn how to think critically, be discerning and learn how to make wise choices.”

So what’s the big deal? Over the past 40 or more years, one Christian college after another dropped its rules against movie attendance, drinking, and dancing. In some cases this was with denominational sanction. At first there was some opposition—but that has well nigh faded away.

The question is: have movies and the dance become so much better in the past generation, so that what was forbidden in the past can now become a matter of individual discretion? Also: has the spiritual character of the church members grown to such an extent that now they are strong enough to decide these matters spiritually?

Christianity cannot be merely a matter of negatives. (One must recognize, however, that of the Ten Commandments, eight are negative.) But must the negatives be discarded so that it will “improve the outlook the rest of the world has of our students”? Is there to be less and less of the “antithesis”? By increasingly engaging in those activities formerly condemned by virtually all of the churches and church fathers, will the young people and we become spiritually stronger? This all has the appearance of a slippery slope that only leads to greater and greater license and licentiousness.