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THE ASSOCIATION FORUM: Candles at Church Rites

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Archives / 1950 / January



THE ASSOCIATION FORUM: Candles at Church Rites

J. A. Stevens

Secretary of the Sabbath School Department



Should we burn candles at our baptismal services? Such a practice would be perfectly consistent with the insidious and alarmingly increasing practice of burning candles at wed dings.

Many good people erroneously conclude that the use of candles in religious services had its beginning in the sanctuary erected by Moses in the wilderness. Was there not a golden candle stick in the first apartment? It is true that an unfortunate translation describes the seven- branched lamp holder as a "candlestick." But there were no candles in Jewish religious services until comparatively modern times, according to the Jewish Encyclopedia, volume 6, pages 517, 518.

Whence came the use of candles in religious observances? Taken from pagan festivals and rituals, candles insidiously fund their way into Christian worship as the church lost the simplicity and devotion of apostolic times. As early as A.D. 200 Tertullian inveighed against the burning of lamps and the hanging of wreaths in honor of the gods. Lactantius (A.D. 300), ex posing the folly of the heathen worship, ex claimed, "They kindle lights to Him as though He were^ in darkness." The Schaff-Hersog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, in volume i, declares :

"Candies, use of, in divine service. There is no trace of their use during the first three centuries; for Lactantius (250-330) says, 'If they (the heathen) would contemplate that heavenly light which we call the sun, they will at once perceive how God has no need of their candles, who has Himself given so clear and bright a light for the use of man. ... Is that man therefore to be thought in his senses, who presents the light of candles and torches as an offering to Him who is the Author and Giver of light?' (Div. Inst., VI, 2.)"—Page 383.

Lactantius, himself a convert from heathen- Ism, understood clearly the place of candles in heathen worship. The Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, volume 3, page 188, goes on to say:

"We may take it as established beyond dispute that there was no ceremonial use of candles or lamps in Christian worship or in churches for the first three centuries. Up to that time the spiritual simplicity of worship as well as the strong antagonism to heathen customs which characterized the early days still continued, and found expression in occasional protests against the corrupting effect of heathen customs."

But candles, along with many another accessory of heathen worship, found their way into the church in the days of the great apostasy. Jerome wrote of the practice of burning candles during the reading of the Gospel throughout the Eastern churches. By the end of the fourth century, according to Chrysostom, candles burning on the altars of churches was a usual sight. Candlemas, a Christianized pagan festival, was dedicated to Mary. This ancient feast required the purification of the whole house in anticipation of the return of the sun, and by lighting candles and torches, in memory of Ceres searching for Proserpina

These historic explanations of the use of candles in church services reveal their origin in heathen worship. Along with other pagan customs they were adopted by Rome, and in these later years have found their way into Protestant church services. An attractive brochure distributed by a candle manufacturer declares, "The presence of candles in churches is as natural and appropriate as is the symbol of the cross," and outlines the many uses of candles in religious services.

No doubt candlelight weddings in Seventh- day Adventist churches have come about innocently enough. But remember, the Church of Rome features not only marriage candles but also baptismal candles and burial candles. If we are to follow their example, we must use only wax candles. Stearine or tallow candles simply will not do. How far are we to go in this candle burning?

At one of the Autumn Councils of the General Conference Committee careful and prayerful consideration was given to the tendency in some places to make Seventh-day Adventist weddings as much like those of the world as possible. It was the consensus of the council that we should hold to Christian simplicity in wedding services. So the following action was voted :

"WHEREAS, There is appearing in the church an -un wholesome trend toward elaborate and costly weddings, patterned after the extravagance of the world, and often creating a spirit of emulation or rivalry, all of which is decidedly at variance with that simplicity that should characterize the practices of the remnant church and the performance of its rites and ceremonies ; and,"

WHEREAS, The ministry of our church has a solemn and inescapable duty in relation to this trend, which should be exercised in public admonition and private counsel; therefore,

"Resolved, That this Council hereby registers its disapproval of elaborate or costly marriage ceremonies in our churches or in the homes of our people, as contrary to the spirit of the gospel, particularly in these remnant hours of time, and by this action asks our ministers to exert their influence against this unwhole some trend by personal counsel and public admonition; and, further,"

Resolved, That we request the Review and the Ministry and our union papers to print articles for the church and the workers, as an educational measure in harmony with this objective; and that our union con ference papers be requested for delete such expressions in their printed reports of weddings as would tend to perpetuate these extravagances."—Autumn Council, Battle Creek, Michigan, Oct. 17-25, 1933.

Marriage and the Sabbath are the two re minders of Edenic purity left in the world today. Seventh-day Adventists should stand for the proper celebration of either and both. But the adversary of God and God's people is tire less, and unless constant vigilance is practiced, we will allow his devices to creep into these sacred things. We of the ministry should stand as watchmen to guard our people from these evil trends.




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