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Christian Social Engagement

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)

On the eve of All Saints Day (known by some as Halloween), we celebrate that God’s light, through His Church, is progressively conquering evil and darkness (Matthew 16:18). We move forward, in the face of opposition from the forces of the Prince of this World (Satan; John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11), knowing with assurance that not only do we have the final victory (Book of Revelation), but we have immediate victories through faith in Christ Jesus (1 John 5:4-5).

No, we may not worship in the same manner as the Church in the 4th century, with feasts commemorating Christian martyrs in various times and places, but it would do our own faith well to reflect upon these things regularly. On a day when forms of darkness are even commercialized, we recognize that we stand on the back of “spiritual giants”, meaning that there were those who came before us who were “faithful to the point of death” (Rev 2:10), and we have come to the knowledge of the truth because God saw fit to work through them, to us!

The tradition of remembering the Church triumphant dates back to the time of the first Christian martyrs. When soldiers of Marcus Aurelius Verus came to arrest Polycarp, the disciple of John the apostle, Polycarp greeted them kindly. According to the 3rd-century historian Eusebius, Polycarp “ordered a table to be laid for them immediately, invited them to eat as much as they liked, asking in return a single hour in which he could pray.” When Polycarp later stood in the coliseum, accused and surrounded by the jeering crowds, the governor pressed him to recant his faith. Instead, this man, who himself had been discipled by the Apostle John, said this: “For 86 years, I have been [Christ’s] servant, and He has never done me wrong: How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” As they were preparing to burn him alive, Polycarp offered up prayers of faith and praise.

In the years following Polycarp’s death, Christians would gather annually to take communion beside his grave. There they would remember his brave witness and take courage from his example. As the years passed, the day shifted in focusing from remembering Polycarp to honoring all martyrs. By the 7th century, the Catholic church created a holiday to honor all of God’s saints—heroes of the faith.

One notable hero that many miss was a woman named Monica, who lived during the 4th century. She never faced flames or jeering crowds, as did Polycarp, but she did face testing. That testing came in the form of her own longing for the return of her prodigal son, Augustine. His promiscuous lifestyle made his Christian mother weep. Later, when Augustine, who is now known as one of the foremost theologians of Christianity and scholars of Western civilization, did come to Christ, he wrote this prayer: “My mother, Your faithful servant, wept to You for me, shedding more tears for my spiritual death than others shed for the bodily death of a son. You heard her.”

There are heroes like this and stories like this that exist today, and they serve to strengthen and encourage our resolve to follow Him faithfully, even in the face of darkness and discouragement. Christians don’t cower in fear; we engage the world with confidence, being reminded again that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Eph 6:12) It would be good to remember the battles of those who have gone before us; this “Great Cloud of Witnesses” as proclaimed by Hebrews 12:1, both those in the scriptures and those who followed in the early church.

Halloween need not be an occasion of avoidance, but rather of reformation as October 31st also commemorates Reformation Day when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the Door to the All Saints Church in Wittenburg, Germany. In like manner, we see where our society, both religious and secular, has gone awry, and play a part in “reforming” it with the Truth and Light that God has given us. We can do this in full assurance that we fight against an already defeated foe. Evil does not have the final say; God does! The battles may be waged differently on different fronts, but all believers must take up arms and the battle standard previously carried by those who have gone before us. So fear not, and march on!


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