‘Tis the season for spooky Halloween movies! My favorite Halloween movie is Hocus Pocus, which features three witches from the infamous Salem Witchcraft Trials who come back to modern day Salem… ok, so maybe 1993 isn’t so modern anymore, but you get the point. The theology is terrible, but it’s a cute Disney movie about witches.
Hocus Pocus is great, because it brings Salem back to a time that was long ago, but not forgotten. In fact, the Salem Witchcraft Trials is probably the most famous thing about Salem. It’s a rather shameful chapter of history, but there really is a lot we can learn from it. Perhaps we can talk about current witch-hunting trends in Christianity in a later post. Today I want to talk about something a bit more broad, about how we often bring back our ‘witches’ from long ago and willingly inflict ourselves with the same mistakes we’ve made in the past.
We have recently taught from Galatians, a letter in which Paul criticizes a church for trying to bring back the Mosaic Law. “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?” (Gal 3:1a). Christianity was pretty new at the time, so people were still making that adjustment. Let’s face it, the dispensation of Mosaic Law ended in failure. Why would we even want to bring it back? But really, I don’t think living under the Mosaic Law is as much of a struggle for Christians today. I think that today the Church has been bewitched by a system that is much older than the Mosaic Law.
After Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden, they were basically left with their consciences to guide them. They had knowledge of Good and Evil, and this knowledge, or conscience, is what told them how to behave. Before too long, the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen 6:5b). In fact, it was so bad that God had to wipe out the human population and establish a new system of governing man. We criticize the Mosaic Law for being a failed system, but isn’t conscience an even worse system?
I maintain that the modern Church has been bewitched by conscience. Yea, there is still a problem with people trying to live under the Mosaic Law, but I think that the bigger problem today is bringing back the Dispensation of Conscience from the dead. I recently spoke with a pastor who had to deal with a woman in his church that moved in with her boyfriend. She told him, “I talked to God about it. He’s cool with us living together.” Um… no. It may feel that way (conscience), God has a lot to say about it in His Holy Writ and he’s not cool with you living together.
It’s easy for us to get on our high horses and point at sinners, so let’s make it difficult. How often does conscience motivate people to do outwardly good? I met someone once who was preparing to go on a missions trip to Africa. Sounds great! She said that she felt God calling her to service. Hmm… I think The Great Commission is universal enough that we are all called to His service. She was also neglecting a lot of personal responsibilities here in the States in order to go… Sometimes short-term missions sound a lot like tourism with Christianity as a cover. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about short-term missions! But, God has revealed enough about serving Him in the Bible that we don’t need to relive the old law of conscience.
Have you ever seen legalism result from conscience? Legalism is one of Satan’s best devices, because it is straight up wicked, but it looks so stinkin’ holy. Paul dealt with this kind of thing, actually. “But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled” (1 Cor 8:7b). Notice two things: 1) Paul calls the people and their consciences “weak” five times in 1 Cor 8 and 2) in the end, eating this food is not a sin (though, we should still maintain the mandate to love each other). It is not a sin to eat food offered to an idol, but he does say not to be a stumbling block to the weak. Idol food isn’t much of a topic in the West today, but ______ is. Some people, being weak, don’t feel that it is ok to ______, and so they inflict a rule that it is a sin to ______. These weaklings are often hoisted up for refraining from ________, but in reality they are weak and inventing sins because they have been bewitched by a former dispensation.
When the Hocus Pocus witches returned to Salem 300 years after they had been hanged, all that anyone really had to do was distract them long enough for the sun to come up so that they would be turned into dust. It has been over 4,000 years since the Dispensation of Conscience, and I don’t think it will be gone by sunrise tomorrow. This one is going to take some work.