EA Pastors celebrate Hanukkah

For many Christians having a Hanukkah menorah next to a depiction of the Nativity may seem like a strange sight, but for a growing number of EA pastors from around the country, celebrating the biblical holiday of Hanukkah is a natural part of expressing their Christian faith during the Advent season.

Rev. Frank Sapp and Rev. Pete Sapp, brothers and EA pastors, grew up celebrating Hanukkah and the Hebrew roots of their faith as a family under the pastoral leadership of their late father, Rev. Frank Sapp, Sr., who had once served EA churches in Piqua, Ohio.  Rev. Pete Sapp, who serves as pastor of Trinity Reformed Church, an EA affiliated congregation in Bradys Bend, PA, jokes that “We celebrate Hanukkah because my mom lives at my house and she makes us.”  Family roots and faith traditions run deep in the Sapp family.

Yet, all joking aside, the Sapp brothers have deeper reasons for celebrating the biblical holiday.  Rev. Pete Sapp also notes, “My family celebrates Hanukkah because we find it a great chance to stay connected to the Jewish origins of our religion, while at the same time being able to see and worship Jesus in and through its traditions and celebrations.”  Those sentiments are echoed by Pete’s older brother, Rev. Frank Sapp, Jr. who serves as pastor of Beulah Congregational Church in Beulah, ND. Frank states,  “As Christians in my household, we celebrate Hanukkah because Jesus did (cf John 10).  My family and I look at [the] history of the festival and use it as a reminder of God’s faithfulness and a time for us to be devoted to Him, not only those eight nights but throughout the entire year.”

Indeed, the Bible does record that Jesus celebrated Hanukkah during his life and ministry.  John 10:22-23 states, It was now winter, and Jesus was in Jerusalem at the time of Hanukkah, the Festival of Dedication.  He was in the Temple, walking through the section known as Solomon’s Colonnade.” 

“Jesus celebrated Hanukkah. You can too!” quips Rev. Ron Shifley, an EA affiliated pastor serving Scotland United Church of Christ in Scotland, SD.  Shifley believes that since the celebration of the biblical holiday was a part of Jesus’ ministry, and most likely part of the worship life of the Early Church (Acts 2:46), that Christians today ought to be able to follow in the Lord’s footsteps and celebrate Hanukkah since it was important to him.

Rev. Shifley has hosted a number of Hanukkah celebration events for various groups in the church he serves including confirmation classes, and shut-in residents at the local nursing home.  Shifley also assisted the church’s Christian Education committee in writing a children’s Sunday School curriculum to teach about Hanukkah, based on the Apocryphal book of 1 Maccabees, that has been published on Rotation.org.  Part of that curriculum, included a devotional booklet that Shifley later revised and published as a book in 2015 entitled “Light in the Darkness: A Hanukkah Devotional for Jesus Followers.”

Shifley believes that Hanukkah matters to Christians, not just because it was celebrated by Jesus, but because it set the stage for Jesus’ ministry among first century Jews.  He notes, “Had King Antiochus Epiphanes succeeded in wiping out biblical faith, worship and identity by the laws he enacted in 167 B.C. (1 Maaccabees 1:20-63) that banned worship of God, owning and studying the Scriptures, celebration of the Sabbath and all other biblical holidays along with other Jewish customs, then Jesus would have been born into an entirely different world.  The Scriptures probably would no longer have existed, let alone been read and studied.  The Temple in Jerusalem would have been a temple to Zeus, and not dedicated to God.  His parents probably would not have raised him up in the Jewish faith and people would not have been looking for a Messiah, a descendant of David, to be their Savior and Lord. The whole back story of Jesus’ life and ministry would have been erased.   All of Jesus’ teaching about the God of Israel and the understanding of Jesus’ death as an atonement for sin would have been foreign concepts to the Jewish people if biblical faith hadn’t been preserved by the Maccabees at the time of Hanukkah in 165 B.C.”

Yet, because of the events in 1 Maccabees and the holiday of Hanukkah, the faith, worship, and identity of God’s covenant people was preserved.  In fact, the Jewish people were even more observant in their faith and in their longing for the Messiah because of the memory that their religion and culture had almost been wiped out about 160 years before.  If for nothing more, Christians ought to remember Hanukkah because it preserved the world view, faith and Old Testament writings that grounded the Early Church and the composition of the New Testament.”

If you would like to learn more about this biblical holiday that originated between the times that the Old and New Testaments were written, the EA Desk Calendar contains dates of observance and suggested Scripture readings for the holiday.  Questions and suggestions on how to observe Hanukkah either at home with family or in your local congregation may be addressed to Rev. Pete Sapp, Rev. Frank Sapp, or Rev. Ron Shifley, among other EA clergy around the country who celebrate the biblical holiday.


2017 All Saints Day Poll Results


Martin Luther and St. Patrick are the most popular saints (faith heroes) in the Evangelical Association according to an “EA All Saints Day Facebook Poll” conducted on November 1, 2017 on the EA’s Facebook Group Page.  Fellow Reformer, John Calvin, rounded out the top three vote geters for the day.

The poll may not represent the majority of members, pastors or churches in the Evangelical Association since only a very small number of EA pastors and members took part in the polling process.  Nonetheless, the poll does suggest that faith heroes from throughout the ages of Church history still provide inspiration for contemporary Christians in their faith walk with the Lord.

Did Martin Luther receive the  #1 spot because the poll was conducted one day after the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation?   We’ll see if the results change next year when we conduct the All Saints Day Poll again in 2018.

Full results are printed in a screen shot from the Facebook Poll printed below.

Faithful for Four

 Follow meWe recently celebrated the Lord’s Resurrection together, did you know that Jesus appeared to hundreds of people after his resurrection and Paul says in I Corinthians 15 he appeared to 500 at one time. Then just before he ascended he left his disciples with the what we know as the great commission. The crux of this commission was “go and make disciples”. When I was a young man I thought it only meant “go” as in go to Africa, go in to professional ministry, or go on a mission trip. While it does mean that, it may also be explained this way; “as you go” make disciples. This can radically change your understanding of the commission to go. If it is “as you go” it means “as you go” to work, “as you go” to school, “as you go” to the ball field, and even “as you go” home make disciples. If we begin to see our everyday lives as an opportunity to make disciples we will be fulfilling the great commission as the Lord intended.
How do we do this? One of the things that I hear repeatedly from people is they are afraid they are going to say the wrong thing. But, it might encourage you to know that according to recent research “78% of people who don’t attend church regularly are open to discussions about your faith if asked”. Many people want to talk about it. Getting the conversation started might be frightening, but can be a very natural thing. How so? Invite them to church. Many conversations start that way. If they come with you and hear the gospel preached you can ask them afterwards what they thought about what was said. This often will lead to deep conversations about the gospel. What people most want to hear is what your faith means to you and how it has impacted and changed you and your story. You can also commit to pray for them, which might just be the most important thing we can do for them.
To help all of us focus in on this concept of making disciples “as you go” we are going to kick off a campaign we are calling Faithful for Four. The idea behind Faithful for Four is to ask you to join me in committing yourself to praying for, engaging in meaningful conversation with, and inviting to church four friends, co-workers, neighbors, etc. who you know do not attend church regularly. Even as you read this you probably are forming a list in your mind of people who fit that description. Pray for them now! And commit yourself to seeking to be faithful to them.
One of the most profound statements about the early church in Acts 2 is “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved”. As we are faithful to worshipping God, praying, applying the gospel to our lives, and making disciples “as we go” lives will be changed and our church will be full. Filling the pews is not the goal, making disciples is the goal. We can’t sit back and wait for people to come to us. If we truly believe “the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation” (Romans 1) we must go and take the message with us! Won’t you join us as we are Faithful for Four!

Jason-Ford Rev. Jason Ford is pastor of  St. Paul Evangelical Church, Cibolo, Texas, and a member of the EA’s National Board of Directors.

“Faithful for Four” is reprinted from St. Paul Evangelical Church’s May 2017 Newsletter.

What do you believe about marriage?


by Rev. Jim Barnes, EA National Minister

She found our church in a phone book and showed up on a weekday with her tape measure. When I asked the young woman what she needed, her answer was, “I’m looking for a church to get married in and I want to measure your building to make sure my wedding party will fit up front.” I then attempted to redirect her into a discussion of what it would mean to have a Christian marriage ceremony in our church, but she was firmly resolved to go into the sanctuary and take measurements – so I let her go. After the bride-to-be had completed her analysis of our building, I talked with her for a while, explaining what our church believed about the nature of Christian marriage. I then handed her a copy of our church’s wedding policy, told her to read it with her fiancé and then call back if she wanted to move forward. I didn’t hear from her again, nor did I hear from any lawyers complaining that our wedding policy discriminated against people who wanted to marry in our church who were not prepared to affirm our statement of faith, attend worship regularly and agree to practice abstinence and stop living together if they were already cohabiting prior to the wedding day (which were all written requirements for a ceremony in our church).

My assumption is that either our church didn’t measure up, or, the religious convictions regarding faith, worship and sexual behavior expressed in our wedding policy were not acceptable to this particular bride and groom. Regardless of their reasons for not pursuing a ceremony at our church, at least this couple respected our right to have policies based on our religious convictions which they would need to abide by if they chose to have their ceremony in our building. I wonder if their response would have been the same these days?

In recent years, florists, bakers, photographers and the proprietors of wedding chapels and other venues have been challenged and in some cases sued if they refuse to provide services that violate their deeply held religious convictions regarding the nature of marriage. While some believe churches would be exempt from such attacks if our society changes its definition of marriage, the question is, will the right to the free exercise of religion guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution be able to hold up against the newly perceived rights people believe they have to unrestrained sexual expression and the practice of gender fluidity?

I recently attended a meeting of the Common Ground Christian Network on the theme of religious freedom. A featured speaker was constitutional and church law attorney Scott Ward who suggested that many churches are unprepared for what may be coming if the Supreme Court rules against natural marriage later this year. Ward stated, “The best way to protect your rights will be to clearly articulate your religious identity in all important organizational documents.”

Since most of the churches affiliated with the Evangelical Association are independent, the question I would ask is, “Has your church taken the time to clearly articulate what it believes about Christian doctrine and morality?” If your church’s right to the free exercise of religion eventually does come under attack, it will be very important that con-gregations have taken the time to state what their religious convictions are and why they hold those convictions.

Furthermore, if your congregation is part of the Evangelical Association, you need to make sure your affiliation is current since each year a church belongs to the EA is another year that they have gone “on the record” as affirming the religious belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. Since the EA keeps a record of signed renewal forms, we have the paper trail your church might need at some point to prove your position on these matters.

Back when the congregation I served created their first written wedding policy nearly fifteen years ago, we never anticipated the changes to the definition of marriage that would happen in our society just a decade later. At the time, some in our church even thought we were putting things in writing that were so obvious that we were actually being overly cautious. In hindsight, it’s clear that in order to adequately articulate the beliefs of an orthodox, evangelical church, that policy probably needs a few more paragraphs!

The Evangelical Association has a number of resources to help churches strengthen the biblical definition of marriage (Genesis 2:18-24; Matthew 19:4-6) in their church constitutions and marriage policies along with a number of legal opinions from various sources on what churches should do to strengthen the biblical definition of Christian marriage.  Contact the National Minister’s Office to order such resources.

Watch the Webinar Video “Challenges to Religious Liberty: Practical Tips to Articulate Your Ministry’s Identity and Strengthen Your Legal Rights” sponsored by Common Ground Christian Network of which the Evangelical Association is a member.

One way to strengthen the doctrine of Biblical marriage in a local church to be affiliated with a national network which holds such views.  If you or your congregation has not joined the Evangelical Association, this might be the right time to do so.  Check out what the next steps for affiliation might be.

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