Oh no! You and I even worse than Ebenezer Scrooge? That detestable old skinflint, a curmudgeon if ever there was one, all but demonic in being a stingy, miserable old miser—even worse than him? That just can’t be!
Our secular Christmas observance with all its happiness, hubbub, anti hilarity is once again rising to its annual fever–pitch crescendo. And, regarded as a hallowed tradition, the reading of Charles Dickens‘ Christmas Carol is once more a must, a runner–up of sorts alongside Luke 2, the annual recitation of which precious portion of the Holy Word so easily degenerates into cheap and emotional entertainment instead of the sacred exercise in simple, child-like faith it was intended to be.
At any rate, every year at this time, the detestable ghost of Ebenezcr Scrooge is resurrected again from Dickens’ classic to be portrayed and detested as the arch–heretic and killjoy at Christmas time.
And because there is something of the Pharisee in all of us—in a warm glow of self-righteousness, we then gather our sanctimonious wraps around us and we give thanks that we are not like that miserable and contemptible old miser—Ebenezer Scrooge. After ail, what could be worse than to be like him!
“Bah! Humbug!” that’s what Scrooge thought, also because it meant that he had to give his ill-treated and impoverished clerk, Bob Cratchit, a holiday. What a wretched waste of time, so the whole thing seemed to selfish, greedy Scrooge! All that clamor and glamor were preposterous, all the music and the giving were so much stuff and nonsense, and the very idea of doing anything for faithful Bob Cratchit or the Cratchit‘s invalid Tiny Tim—why, such humbug never crossed the greedy mind of miserable, miserly old Scrooge!
Only a Dickens could portray that heartless and avaricious monster, Ebenezer Scrooge, as he did. And welt do we remember how it took an apparition from the dead, the ghost of his deceased partner Jacob Marley, to terrify old Scrooge into coming to his senses before the gales of doom would close on him as well.
Scrooge has gone down in literary history and is remembered not so much as the man who fortunately learned before it was too late, but rather as the miserly old ogre who grasped all he could in his two fists for himself and as a wretched monster without a drop of the milk or human kindness in his veins.
That was Ehenezer Scrooge!
The fellow fills us with revulsion and disgust. And now, as Christmas fills thc air once again and, as the “Ho! Ho! Ho!” of that jolly old faker or impostor (you know who), with our wide-eyed youngsters on his lap, goes on and on and our frenetic shopping hurries on apace, it gives us a warm glow of complacency to think that we and that hateful old Scrooge arc miles and miles apart.
Shopping, shopping, and more shopping—giving, giving, and more giving—parties, parties, and more parties—every year this lavish and ostentatious display would seem to tell us that at some time long ago old Ebenezer Scrooge must have been buried ten miles below the bottom of the sea.
We have no time for an acrimonious and grasping Scrooge who wants to hoard the whole world just for himself, and rightly so. Generous Christmas giving I year after year can serve a high and even a holy purpose, but let’s not be too ready to take for granted that this is always and necessarily so.
Sacred Christmas giving is an art that none but God‘s true children really know. Secular giving at Christmas is a wile of the flesh, the world, and the devil by which they would rob us of all that which is true and good and beautiful, to be found only in the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Anyhow, we agree that Scrooge was bad, but we may not stop there. Rather, let us go on, as now we face another Christmas season, to contemplate the frightening possibility that we may be even worse.
Let’s not deceive ourselves!
Rather than pat ourselves on the back for our magnanimity in giving and for our largess in making charitable contributions as we observe the Christmas season, let’s put ourselves to another test, a Bible test.
You see, Scrooge was had because he clung so tenaciously to his silver and gold; and, because, as one of the haves, he refused to share even one stingy cent with the have-nots everywhere around him. Spiritually also, there are the haves to whom we profess to belong, and also the have-nots who know not our Lord Jesus Christ.
With Paul we too profess: “Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift” (II Cor. 9: 15). And, in writing to the believers at Ephesus, Paul exclaims: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with every spiritual gift in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:3).
That’s what Christmas is all about!
Now the test of Scripture is this: what are you and I doing to share with others this unspeakable gift which we profess to have in the Babe at Bethlehem, in the Man of Sorrows on the cross, and in our risen Lord who is now reigning at God’s right hand as King I of kings and Lord of lords?
Of course, it is not within our human power to share this unspeakable gift of everlasting salvation with others in the sense that we can impart it to them. We know that to be the work and the prerogative of the Holy Spirit to the end that God may receive all the praise for this marvelous redemption.
But we also know that, in doing this, the Holy Spirit is pleased to use human means. Our Lord made this clear beyond a shadow of a doubt when, just before His ascension, he told His followers: “But ye shall receive power, when the Holy Spirit is come upon you, and ye shall be my witnesses . . .” (Acts 1:8).
The only option, as someone has observed, is this: either we will give that unspeakable gift away, or else we will give it up! Of course, this too can be understood aright only if we give full recognition to the clear teaching of the Bible that God’s saving grace is always and only sovereign and not within the power of man to bestow.
To be sure, this is of the utmost importance.
Unless our Christmas giving, benevolence, and merry-making are in their beginning, middle, and end an honest effort to have others share with us in God’s unspeakable gift in Christ, then we are even worse than Ebenezer Scrooge. He hoarded his gold and his earthly gains but we would be guilty of trying to keep for ourselves the Way, the Truth, and the Life, without Whom men will of a certainty perish forever.
Whether it actually was in a dream or in his waking hours, someone reports that he once fancied himself to have died and that he was knocking for entrance at the door of heaven. “Who’s there?” came a voice from within. And when he had identified himself, the voice was heard again: “And who is with you?” “No one is with me,” was the answer. “I’m sorry,” the doorkeeper said, “You can’t come in. No one who comes alone is ever admitted here.”
Ebenezer Scrooge, miser that he was, refused to share with others that which was needful for the body and for this life here on earth. But we are even worse if we are unwilling to be used to share with others that without which for them all the lights will at last go out and their doom will be sealed forever.
This world‘s Christmas has no room for the Savior now even as there was no room for Him in Bethlehem‘s inn two thousand years ago. Subtly, we too are so easily caught up in a Merry Christmas syndrome and a whirligig that is highly charged with the seeular, the commercial, and the glamorous. In the midst of it all, almost unconsciously we become desensitized to our high calling to make our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ the beginning, the middle, and the end of our whole Christmas celebration.
In the midst of a world that is starving spiritually and bleeding from a million wounds, are we in our affluence content to be handing out nothing more than trinkets and gadgets and perhaps more lavish gifts—all of which are here today and gone tomorrow?
Arc we content to he drawn into the orbit of that soul–destroying Santa Claus Christmas without the testimony unto which we have been called, concerning our Lord and Savior –to our children, to our neighbors, and to our friends?
If so, let’s face it. Then we are giving them stones instead of bread, cunningly devised fables instead of the eternal good tidings of great joy. And then we are even worse than that miserable old miser, Ebenezer Scrooge.
It took an apparition, a terrifying ghost, to bring Scrooge to his senses. The Lord does not promise us that. As the rich man who opened his eyes in hell was told, we have Moses and the prophets—and we have the New Testament besides. If these are not enough, there would be no repentance even if one would come back from the dead to bring us to our senses.
While taking a little break while writing these lines I picked up the mail only to find some colorful and most attractive advertising of Christmas gifts. The accompanying letter begins like this:
“What’s the most valuable gift in the world?
“It‘s something that makes folks stop and smile in remembrance, long after the occasion passes. And it’s something that tells folks just how special you think they are. Our customers tell liS that those are the kind of gifts they find in our Christmas Book . . . .”
Obviously, they believe in what they have to offer. Do we as professing Christians really believe in our heavenly stock-in–trade?
Or is it true, in this also, that “the sons of this world are for their own generation wiser than the sons of the light”?
As those who have been to Bethlehem in faith, we have not a but we have the Christmas Book alongside which all other Christmas books are little more than mere scraps of paper.
Ours is the privilege, the calling, and the honor to believe it, to live it, and to proclaim it—to do this all through the year, and especially when Christmas comes again. Whoever docs so will know as he never knew before that in this too it is more blessed to give than to receive.
A very, very blessed Christmas to you!
THE PROPOSED FORM FOR BAPTISM
Do we want it?
ln the September 6, 1974 issue of The Banner (pages 12–14) Rev. Henry Baker wrote an article in which he clearly spelled out his objections to the Form for the Baptism of Children proposed for adoption in 1976 by the CRC Synod of 1973. To date, unless it has escaped my attention, there has been no reply to this critical evaluation from the Liturgical Committee. There is reason to believe that Rev. Baker is not alone in his disapproval of this proposed Form.
A letter in Voices in The Banner of November 1, 1974 from B. Kraai of Moorefield, Ontario, read as follows:
“Reverend Henry Baker’s article on the new form for Baptism (The Banner, Sept. 6) should be reprinted by every church bulletin editor in our denomination, and I dare say the proposed Form for Baptism won‘t be around three and a half centuries from now [our present Form dates back that far].
“Thank you, Rev. Baker, from one who was conceived and born in sin, but baptized in 1925.” We take the liberty of quoting the following from Rev. Baker‘s article in The Banner. “An analysis of the first part (of the proposed Form) will show why it should not be used . . . .
“A translation—that’s what it is supposed to be. The committee said in its report to Synod, ‘This is not a new Form, but a translation of the old one. In comparing the language of the Form presented with the Form in the Psalter Hymnal it becomes clear, we are confident, that the updated Form is not a substitute, or new, or a revised Form, but a new translation.’ We’ll take the committee’s word for it. If this is a new translation, it certainly is not a product of which the committee can be proud. Any person who can read Dutch knows that it is not a good translation and is true neither to the letter nor the spirit of the present Form.
“Our Form contains a confession made by parents who believe their children, as members of God‘s covenant, should be baptized. They confess, ‘we with our children are conceived and born in sin.’ The new Form says, ‘that baptism teaches that every man, woman, and child is by nature sinful.’ Do we want to exchange a covenantal, confessional, and biblical statement for the proposed colorless one?
“Do we want to eliminate the biblical confession, ‘we are children of wrath’ for the toned-down, less specific designation of man’s relationship to God and God’s relationship to man by only saying, ‘we are all under the judgment of God’?
“John 3 proclaims, ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.’ The same chapter warns, ‘He who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests on him.’ According to the second chapter of Ephesians, we all by nature are children of wrath. Is making mention of wrath, in a world that prates senselessly of love, out of date?
“We do not want to change ‘impurity of our souls’ for ‘being badly soiled,’ as the new Form has it. Can a church that adheres to the five points of Calvinism, of which Total Depravity is one, be satisfied with a nondescript ‘badly soiled’? Man‘s condition is much worse than ‘being badly soiled.’
“What especially disturbed me is that for ‘loathe ourselves’ the new Form has ‘being disgusted with ourselves.’ The word ‘loathe’ implies utter abhorrence and is a much more accurate and expressive description of what our attitude toward ourselves should be.”
The question is, do we want this proposed Form? In order to make a mature judgment, we should give the matter study while looking carefully at this proposed Form alongside the Form that has stood the test of the past three hundred and fifty years. Consistories especially should assume their responsibility in doing this.
Those who, like Rev. Henry Baker, do not want this proposed Form are reminded that the deadline for sending their reactions to the Liturgical Committee is September 15, 1975. Consistories and others should send their reactions to:
Rev. John F. Schuurmann, Secretary, Liturgical Committee, 1928 Woodlawn Ave., S. E., Grand Rapids, Michigan 49506.
Overtures to Synod should he sent to:
Rev. William P. Brink, Stated Clerk 2850 Kalamazoo Ave., S. E. Grand Rapids, Mich. 49508.
Someone, who desires to remain anonymous, has consented to prepare a model overture for the guidance of consistories and anyone else who may wish to request Synod to change its decision in recommending this proposed Form for use and eventual adoption in 1976. This model reads as follows:
“The consistory of the ……………………….. overtures Synod to reconsider its decision of 1973 with respect to the Form for the Baptism of Infants.”
The decision of Synod reads: “That Synod recommend the updated Form for Baptism to the churches for provisional use for a period of three years with a view to eventual adoption by Synod, and request that reactions to the Form be presented to the Liturgical Committee.”
“We implore Synod to reconsider and nullify the above decision.
“1. The Liturgical Committee claims that the Form it proposed is not a new Form, but a new translation. The translation is true neither to the letter nor to the spirit of the present Form.
“2. By elimination of the Biblical references to man‘s natural state (“Conceived and born in sin” and “children of wrath”) the Form has been mutilated.
“3. By substituting ”every man, woman, and child is by nature sinful” for “conceived and born in sin,” “we all are under the judgment of God” for “we are children of wrath,” and “badly soiled” for “the impurity of our souls,” the Committee introduces a description of man‘s natural state that is not in agreement with Scripture nor our Reformed Creeds.”
Those who do not want this proposed Form for Baptism should realize that it will probably be adopted at Synod with little difficulty unless consistories and others make their objections clearly known to Synod by overtures of this kind.