Friday, December 21, 2012

Redeeming Holy Days from Pagan Lies

Did Christianity Steal the Date of Sol Invictus?

The claim is that Sol Invictus “Invincible Sun” is a more ancient pagan holiday in Rome celebrated on December 25th. The claim assumes that this pagan holiday was so popular and dangerous that the Christian Church sought to suppress it by establishing the celebration of Christ’s Nativity on December 25th. By doing this, the claim continues, the Christians adopted the pagan day and some of the practices of that pagan festival to make the celebration of Christmas more appealing to pagans.

Remember first that the Christian faith is as old as the curse on Satan in Genesis 3:15. And while pagan worship of the sun certainly existed in Rome before the spread of the fulfillment of that promise in Christ came to the city; the celebration of Sol Invictus as a god in Rome actually came as pagans attempted to suppress Christianity. This early attempt as suppressing Christianity by means of the pagan worship of Sol is found in the Historia Augusta, a pagan history of Rome compiled in the fourth century AD.

The Historia Augusta in TheLife of Elagabalus (1.3) relates events from the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus, a particularly twisted man, who reigned from 218-222 AD. Marcus Aurelius Antoninus came to be called Elagabalus after the name of the Syrian sun god, and was himself initiated as a priest of that false god. He viewed himself as the personal manifestation of the Syrian sun god. After coming to Rome and being established as emperor at the age of 14, the Historia states:
4 Elagabalus [established himself] as a god on the Palatine Hill close to the imperial palace; and he built him a temple, to which he desired to transfer the emblem of the Great Mother, the fire of Vesta, the Palladium, the shields of the Salii, and all that the Romans held sacred, purposing that no god might be worshipped at Rome save only Elagabalus. 5 He declared, furthermore, that the religions of the Jews and the Samaritans and the rites of the Christians must also be transferred to this place, in order that the priesthood of Elagabalus might include the mysteries of every form of worship.  [Latin]
And, coincidentally, very shortly after Elagabalus tried to establish worship of the Syrian sun god, Sol Invictus, he was thought to be too licentious and was assassinated by his own people, pagan Romans, at the age of 18 years old.

From that time there is no mention of the celebration of Sol Invictus in Roman history until the rule of Aurelian (A.D. 270-275). Aurelian did try to re-introduce the worship of Sol Invictus by decree in the year 274. But there is no record of this festival being held on December 25th. “The traditional feast days of Sol, as recorded in the early imperial fasti, were August 8th and/or August 9th, possibly August 28th, and December 11th.”(Hijmans, p. 588 )

Aurelian did declare games to Sol every four years. But there is no record from the period or early historiographers that these games were associated with December 25th in any way. The best evidence suggest that the games were held October 19-22 of their calendar. Anyway, on another coincidence, a year after Aurelian declared these games in honor of Sol Invictus, he was assassinated by his own pagan Roman officers out of fear he would execute them based on false charges.

The earliest calendar to mention that Invictus as a specified date for Roman religious life comes from a text of the Philocalian Calendar, VIII Kal recorded in an illuminated 4th Century manuscript called The Chronography of 354. In this late manuscript the date is listed in Mensis December (The Month of December) as N·INVICTI·CM·XXX.
[The calender can be seen by clicking here ]

Many scholars through the years have assumed that INVICTI in this calendar must mean “Sol Invictus.” This is possible. However, elsewhere the calendar does not hesitate to make explicit mention of festivals to Sol, for example: on SOLIS·ET·LVNAE·CM·XXIIII (August 28th) and LVDI·SOLIS (October 19-22).
Even if INVICTI does refer to Sol Invictus on December 25th of this calendar, all this shows is that the celebration of Sol Invictus was placed on December 25th after Christianity had already widely accepted and celebrated December 25th as the Nativity of Christ.

There are many historians and people following them who will still assert that December 25th is Sol Invictus in ancient Rome. Some will even claim that another religion, Mithraism, has close connection to this December 25th celebration. In actual fact there is no ancient documentation tying Mithraism to December 25th or Sol Invictus. The Christian celebration of the Nativity of Christ as December 25th predates anything in the earliest actual documentation for Sol Invictus on December 25th. That documentation is from the much later Philocalian Calendar Chronography of 354.

[For those interested in a more technical look see T.C. Schmid's article at

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

What Can and Cannot Change in Our Relationship with God

Bryan Chapell, in Holiness by Grace: Delighting in the Joy That Is Our Strength (Crossway, 2001), 196, has a helpful chart looking at what does and does not change in the relationship between God and his children (lightly adapted below):

What Can Change What Cannot Change
our fellowship our sonship
our experience of God’s blessing God’s desire for our welfare
our assurance of God’s love God’s actual affection for us
God’s delight in our actions God’s love for us
God’s discipline our destiny
our sense of guilt our security
(HT: Dane Ortlund)

These truths were wonderfully explored by the great Puritan theologian John Owen, who distinguished between our unchanging union with God and our changing communion with God. Kelly Kapic summarizes:
It is important to note that Owen maintains an essential distinction between union and communion.
Believers are united to Christ in God by the Spirit. This union is a unilateral action by God, in which those who were dead are made alive, those who lived in darkness begin to see the light, and those who were enslaved to sin are set free to be loved and to love. When one speaks of “union,” it must be clear that the human person is merely receptive, being the object of God’s gracious action. This is the state and condition of all true saints.
Communion with God, however, is distinct from union. Those who are united to Christ are called to respond to God’s loving embrace. While union with Christ is something that does not ebb and flow, one’s experience of communion with Christ can fluctuate.
This is an important theological and experiential distinction, for it protects the biblical truth that we are saved by radical and free divine grace.
Furthermore, this distinction also protects the biblical truth that the children of God have a relationship with their Lord, and as a relationship, there are things that can either help or hinder it. When a believer grows comfortable with sin (whether sins of commission or sins of omission) this invariably affects the level of intimacy this person feels with God. It is not that the Father’s love grows and diminishes for his children in accordance with their actions, for his love is unflinching. It is not that God runs from us, but we run from him. Sin tends to isolate the believer, making him feel distant from God. Then come the accusations—both from Satan and self—which can make the believer worry he is under God’s wrath. In truth, however, saints stand not under wrath, but in the safe shadow of the cross.
While a saint’s consistency in prayer, corporate worship, and biblical meditation are not things that make God love him more or less, such activities tend to foster the beautiful experience of communion with God. Temptations and neglect threaten the communion, but not the union [Works, 2:126]. And it is this union which encourages the believer to turn from sin to the God who is quick to forgive, abounding in compassion, and faithful in his unending love.
Let there be no misunderstanding—for Owen, Christian obedience was of utmost importance, but it was always understood to flow out of this union, and never seen as the ground for it. In harmony with Bunyan and other Dissenters like him, Owen “insisted upon a very personal and emotional experience of union with Christ and the Holy Spirit,” and out of this union naturally flowed active communion.

Kelly M. Kapic, “Worshiping the Triune God: Insights from John Owen,” introduction to John Owen, Communion with the Triune God, ed. Kelly M. Kapic and Justin Taylor; foreword by Kevin J. Vanhoozer (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007), pp. 21-22.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

7 Ways to Write an Awful Worship Song

So you finally learned to play the guitar and now you’re wondering, “How do I write a truly awful worship song?” You’ve come to the right place, my friend. Here are some surefire ways to write a truly horrible worship song.

1. Recycle a Love Song.

Write a song for your girlfriend. When she breaks up with you, convert it into a worship song. Be sure to change all uses of “girl” or “baby.”

2. Use Time-Tested Rhymes.

Make sure you rhyme “love” and “above” at least twice.
The song becomes doubly awful if you can also incorporate the word “dove.” Example: “You sent your love from above, makes my heart feel like a pure white dove.” You get the point.

3. Be Vague About Your Theology.

Make sure to avoid any theology at all costs.
Don’t talk about atonement, wrath or any other biblical concepts. You want your song to be all about feeling. Don’t let the mind get in the way.
Repeat after me: “Worship is a warm feeling, sort of like heartburn, only better.”

4. Make the Song All About You.

The main point of your song should be your experiences and how God makes you feel.
Don’t bother with objective truth about God. I would suggest you use the words “I” or “me” at least 12-15 times.
For example: “I feel like singing, yes, I feel like spinning, because You make me feel so good inside. Like it’s my birthday, but more awesome.”

5. Be Incredibly Poetic.

If you can, muddy the waters with poetic phrases that don’t make much sense. Example: “Your love is like a warm summer’s breeze, washing over my heart like a crystal river.”

6. Use Well-Worn Musical Progressions.

If you can, keep your music and melody boring. I would suggest you use no more than four distinct notes in a song, so by the time someone is done listening to it they want to scream.
A worship scream, but a scream nonetheless.
It also helps if you use the chords G, C and D over and over.

7. Defend Your Song Like It’s Your Firstborn Child.

Do not, I repeat, do not let anyone make suggestions for improvement.
Tell people God laid the song on your heart. Tell people you really want to preserve the artistic integrity of the song. Tell people you already did the song at your campus ministry and a revival broke out.
Don’t take advice from anyone.

There you have it. Seven ways to write a terrible worship song. You can thank me later.