How Christians Spellbook the Bible and Miss the Gospel Entirely


eye of newt potionAbout the only time you’ll hear Christians talking about witchcraft is around Halloween. Then, you’ll be warned why trick or treating is associated with village crones who practiced earth religions and had a thing for mandrake. Loose associations with the Devil will be discussed. Handwringing will be commenced. Dire warnings of hell will be proclaimed. Passive voice will be used. Horrors.

Specks, actually.

And by that, I mean this speck:

“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
—Matthew 7:3-5 ESV

If you’ve been a Christian even a couple months, you’ve probably read or heard that passage. It’s common. But how often do we see the relevance?

I find it interesting that Halloween and Reformation Day coincide. Protestant Christians celebrate the day that Martin Luther pounded his complaints against the unbibilical practices of the Roman Catholic Church to the door of his local Catholic cathedral, thus kicking off the Protestant Reformation.

The key to the Reformation was the Gospel. Somehow, buried beneath all the crap of religious performance and “do this and don’t do that” pseudo-Christianity, the truth that Christ brought with Him in Himself mouldered, dormant. What came of the Reformation is that many a Christian died to resurrect that neglected truth.

The Presbyterian Church arose due to the Reformation. The Presbyterians have long been a church that gets the authority of the Bible correct, one of the hallmarks of Reformation thinking and the rediscovery of the Gospel of Grace.

So yesterday, I’m listening to a podcast from a noted Presbyterian church, and the speaker is telling me that effective prayers follow the format that King David prayed in the Psalms. That God answers the kinds of prayers that are humble, that start by invoking God’s name, that mention God’s glory before anything else is prayed. To be an effective prayer, one must pray that prayer with a specific attitude, that the prayer cannot be too needy or too self-centered, so it must contain little of oneself and a whole lot of what is not oneself.

I listened to that podcast for a half hour as the preacher went on and on about how to pray perfectly before I finally had enough and switched it off.

Since we started with a reference to witchcraft, let’s do a little comparison:

Witch thinking: For me to get what I want from the elemental spirits of the earth, my potion needs to brewed under a full moon and have mummified bat wings, a drop of hippopotamus sweat, some tincture of hemlock, and a hint of eye of newt. Stir for an hour counterclockwise while envisioning the outcome. I should probably be naked while I concoct it, too.

“Christian” thinking: For me to get what I want from God, my prayers need to be done in the morning, and I should praise God first, then follow the pattern of King David in the Psalms, sprinkle in the prayer of Jabez for certainty, and pray with faith, while also being humble, with totally pure motives, thus being naked in spirit before the Lord.

Between you and me, I’m not sure I see the difference. Both are formulas designed to get something from a power, which will only happen if performed and brewed correctly by the supplicant. And we know what the formula and ingredients are, because the pastor told us on Sunday.

Earlier, we saw the speck. There’s the log.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t even do a grocery list right. I write down a dozen items, shop for an hour, and still come home missing the corned beef and mayonnaise. How in the heck am I going to get the “10 Steps for a Perfect Christian Marriage” right? How will I recall the “12 Keys to Raising Godly Children”? I mean, even if I get it right Monday, Tuesday is another day.

What if I forget the eye of newt?

I can understand why a lot of people don’t want to go to church anymore. Too much of what we give people resembles a spellbook. If we just combine the right ingredients the right way, the way the pastor and elders say, a perfect life will pop out of the cauldron.

But what we don’t ever allow for is the frailty and fallenness of human beings. We don’t give people a way to be real and flawed.

The truth is, I’m never going to go into prayer with pure motives because nothing about me is pure, ever.

I’m not going to remember how David or Hezekiah or Jesus prayed. And I’m not going to perfectly replicate their life situation at the time of that prayer either.

I’m not going to recall the steps for doing such and such the godly Christian way. Heck, I’m not sure where I parked the car in the church parking lot.

I’m not always going to be on. Sometimes, I’m going to be off. Most of the time, honestly.

We no longer appear to understand those truths about ourselves. The Reformation? The Gospel of Grace? What are those? Somehow, we Christians today are reburying the Gospel under a pile of performance-based crap to moulder for some other generation to find.

A reminder of what that Gospel is: Jesus did it all perfectly so we don’t have to.

We don’t have to gin up perfect motives when we come to God in prayer because Jesus’ motives were always perfect.

We don’t have to say the formula perfectly because Jesus said it all, and just in the right way.

We don’t have to get the order and ingredients right because Jesus took care of everything for us.

If we’re in Jesus, we’re set. It is finished. Jesus did it all. Period.

People are lost because they’re still trying to make the recipe themselves, the way they think it should be, if they can find that recipe at all. For the Christian, none of that matters. Finished, all of it.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t need to go to church to hear how I’m doing it wrong and need to fix my recipe. I need to hear how Jesus perfectly did it all for me, so I no longer need to worry about getting it right, ever.

Because that’s the Gospel. That’s the Good News. That’s the Bible being used the right way, to tell the story of Jesus and what He did for you and for me so we can stop all our striving and rest in Jesus’ finished work—not the wrong way, as the ingredient list and formulas we need to spell up the solutions to our problems.

Because the real witchcraft is relying on ourselves to get it done and done right. And that’s not just relegated to Halloween but to nearly every day of most people’s lives, even far too many “Christian” lives.

Thoughts on Halloween and Reformation Day


We interrupt this Cerulean Sanctum “Being the Body” series to bring you the ubiquitous Godblogger posturing on Halloween and Reformation Day. I’ve seen scads of previous analyses of the former over the last few years, but now there’s a push to bring the latter out from under the covers. Better discuss both.


As to Halloween, last year I wrote a piece detailing why I now opt out even though I was raised in a Christian household that had no problems with the “holiday.”

The Obligatory “Halloween Is Bad” Post

Rob Wilkerson over at Miscellanies on the Gospel is one of my favorite bloggers. His recent post on Halloween is outstanding:

A Gospel Perspective on Halloween Horror

I don’t know what it is about folks from charismatic and Pentecostal backgrounds, but they seem most leery of Halloween, almost without exception. Meanwhile, Christian folks on the far, far side away from that perspective seem to be more tolerant of trick or treating.


Celebrating Reformation Day, for me, is a little like remembering someone you loved dearly who has passed away. As a dyed-in-the-wool, anti-RCC Protestant, I would love to rousingly celebrate the anniversary of Luther’s pounding his 95 Theses into the cathedral door at Wittenberg. But I think we’ve squandered a lot of what the Reformation bought us.

I don’t think we practice most of the backbone concepts of the Reformation, even in the most ardent Reformed churches. I grew up Lutheran, and even so I ran into disconnects all over the place.

Take the idea of the priesthood of all believers. Nothing in our practice of our church life proves that we believe this foundational truth of the Reformation one iota. Too many of our churches have pastors who lord it over their congregations, disempowered congregants who are routinely told that only the specially trained (read “seminarians”) are equipped to minister, Martin Luther sticks it to the RCCand vicious church factions debating the same “who is greater?” nonsense that got the disciples in hot water with Jesus. Truthfully, our practice of the priesthood of all believers better resembles that classic line from George Orwell’s Animal Farm.

I know in my own life I’ve encountered that hypocrisy more times than I can count, none more glaring than my experience in the church Martin Luther founded. I worked at a Lutheran camp a couple summers and got in serious trouble with the leadership of the camp for baptizing kids who converted to Christ. Seems like a perfectly ordinary action to take with new believers, baptizing them and all. From the reaction of the leadership, though, you would’ve thought I’d killed those kids à la Jason of Friday the 13th movie fame.

At sole issue was the fact that I wasn’t a pastor. When I countered that the Philip who baptized the Ethiopian eunuch wasn’t an apostle but a guy who waited on the tables, I was lucky not to be stuffed into a canvas sack and thrown into the lake right then and there. So much for the priesthood of all believers. I guess some priests are more equal than others.

I could walk through the Reformation’s five solas and ask how we practice them in reality. Just the other day, I experimented by Googling the phrase “What must I do to be saved?” and perused the answers provided by leading Protestant Web sites. If that cursory survey is any indication, we’ve got to do a whole lot more to be saved than have faith in Christ, trust His Scriptures, and receive His grace. (Though I think soli Deo gloria still holds up in all cases.) Sadly, at the site of one prominent Reformed blogger, the list of requirements for salvation (according to the sermon by Cotton Mather posted there) included a whole lot more than what we got out of the entirety of the Reformation. Somehow, we Protestants have found a way to obscure the simple answer to that most necessary question. In many ways, we’re back where we were just prior to the Reformation.

But I guess the main reason that I’m not quite as pumped about Reformation Day as some others is my speculation about Martin Luther. I fear that some of the loudest celebrants of Reformation Day might be the very same people who would call for a good old burning at the stake for Martin Luther if he showed up today and pounded a new set of 95 Theses on the doors of our modern Evangelical churches. Love to see them Catholics squirm, but don’t tell us to give up our modern indulgences.

Too many of us Protestants have capped Christianity at the Reformation. We believe that nothing more can come out of Christ’s Church than what we got out of the Reformation nearly five hundred years ago. In some ways, we’re like the fifty-year-old shoe salesman at K-Mart who once quarterbacked his high-school team to a state championship. Our entire lives revolve around that day when we threw the winning touchdown. We relive it, revel in it, and on and on. But we let that one event in time become the be all and end all of our existence. It can never get better than that time, nor can we ever let it possibly come close.

But oh what we may be missing because we can’t see the opportunities that lie before us today!

Don’t get me wrong. I supremely value the Reformation. I also supremely value practicing what we preach and asking if we need a new reformation even better than the old one.

Now what church will let me nail that to their door today?