John Frum Day

It was the day after Valentine’s Day. John Frum Day, that is. It is celebrated every year on February 15th. Missed it, you say? You should thank the Lord.

In the tiny South Pacific archipelago nation of Vanautu, John Frum Day has been celebrated for over sixty years now. It is a ritual of one of the so-called “cargo cults” leftover from World War II. American soldiers by the tens of thousands came into the Pacific Theatre of WWII and its many islands, dropping in from planes overhead and being dropped off from massive boats by sea. As they brought with them their western machines, jeeps, radios, food items, riches, etc., the local villagers living in grass huts with their ancient superstitions thought the gods had arrived. In many cases, villages began worshiping military leaders and praying that these “gods” would bless them with all these wonders they were seeing. When the war ended and the soldiers disappeared, the islanders kept praying for their return. As the years passed by with no return of these wonders, most of these cargo cults faded away with the disillusionment of unfulfilled expectations. But the John Frum cult remains, even being featured on the Vanuatu’s travel bureau website.

Every February 15th, in the village of Lamakara, islanders gather to honor John Frum. Men march in order with bamboo sticks carved like rifles with bayonets, while other natives dress in bright colors and do special dances. Flags from America are flown proudly, be they Stars and Stripes or Confederate ones. A chief visits a volcano and speaks to John, who supposedly now lives there, and tends to a special house or temple to John. Other celebrations ensue. Every Friday is also a religious day, as locals gather for a time of hymn singing and drinking to John. Though no naval record points to an actual sailor with this name, locals claim a man decked in naval attire with this name promised that he would return with planes and boats loaded with goods if they would pray to him. Though he has not yet kept his promise, sadly the islanders have maintained theirs.

As I read about this in the Smithsonian (you can go here to read the full story), the exact name of the island caught my attention and reminded me of another John who had gone there nearly a century before. The island this cult resides on is Tanna Island. This is the island that John G. Paton, known as the missionary to the New Hebrides (now called Vanuatu), first went to from Scotland in his mission work. After being there for three months, he tragically saw his wife and then newborn son succumb to illness. Paton continued to minister to the natives there, but ultimately he had to flee Tanna for his life. He eventually resettled on the nearby island of Aniwa. Though the people of Aniwa were just as cruel and cannibalistic as those on Tanna, it was here that the Lord blessed Paton with success. After many years, the entire island embraced Christ.

Several lessons are to be gained from this fascinating history:

  • Why did one island become so enthralled with Christ and another similar in nature generally reject Him even to this day? Nothing but the sovereign grace of God can explain that.
  • One common objection raised against Christianity is “What about those who have never heard about Christ?” A careful look at the history of the church will show that in those places where the gospel is lacking, most often there was a prior rejection of it. This should serve as a warning that God will turn His attention away from those who resist Him.
  • People naturally prefer the gods of their own making over the true knowledge of Christ.
  • As the Westminster Confession of Faith states, wherever God constructs a true church, Satan erects a nearby synagogue to mislead people.
  • The foolishness of idolatry should not decrease over time just because it becomes more culturally acceptable. Even the Smithsonian can go to this remote island and refer to this John Frum religion as a cult. Why can it not see the same in Mormonism, whose roots are just as bizarre?

The chief of this religion was asked by the reporter why he had not given up hope in John Frum’s apocalyptic return after sixty years. His answer, which serves as the conclusion to the Smithsonian article? “Christians have been waiting 2000 years for Jesus to return to earth and haven’t given up hope.” Hear in that answer the knowledge of the gospel he is rejecting? And according to this article, sounds like this very chief is being threatened as the gospel is now triumphing, turning “John Frummites” into Christians. Hallelujah!

“For great is the LORD and greatly to be praised; He is to be feared above all gods.” -Psalm 96:4

10 Comments

  1. An Eshelman February 18, 2008 at 5:12 pm #

    I read about cargo cults a couple of years ago and especially Frum’s. It is so amazing how Satan will take aspects of the Gospel and twist them to even make the Gospel sound absurd. Pray that the Gospel penetrates the hearts of these men and women so that they can see that true liberation is freedom from sin- and not freedom to have Western things!

  2. MOPC September 20, 2012 at 1:44 am #

    What amazes me is that Christians can learn abou the Cult of John Frum and not realize that Jesus is their John Frum, equally bogus.

    • Barry York September 20, 2012 at 9:04 am #

      Dear MOPC,

      Please see the third bullet point above.

      Sincerely,

      Barry York

      • MOPC September 20, 2012 at 10:14 am #

        You mean “People naturally prefer the gods of their own making over the true knowledge of Christ”? Christ is a God created by humans, as are any Gods. It is true that people prefer gods of their own making, that is why Jesus, God/Allah etc. are so popular.

        • Barry York September 20, 2012 at 4:27 pm #

          Your insistence that Jesus is a manmade God does not make him so.

          Let’s start with what you do accept. Do you believe Jesus was an historical figure?

          • MOPC September 20, 2012 at 6:52 pm #

            There is always a possibility. Overall I do accept the Jesus character of the Gospels is most likely based on a real person. Probably there was a wandering preacher Jesus of Nazareth and eventually the Gospels enriched his story with facts that made him fit the Old Testament “Messiah” requirements, such as make him be born in Bethlehem. What else is true, I’d say probably all the miracles are false, and the resurrection is either false or Jesus only entered a coma-like state and woke up a couple days later. Hay, but even if I went back in time in a DeLorean and could witness that 100% of Gospel facts were true, still I wouldn’t be a Christian, since that would require proof that Jesus died on the cross “to pay for our sins”, and no observation can corroborate that. As for his physical miracles, I’d be left with no explanation. As for Jesus’ moral teachings, I accept most of them.

          • Barry York September 24, 2012 at 12:33 pm #

            Dear MOPC,

            Wow! You gave me more of an answer than I was expecting. Thank you.

            In your response, may I suggest to you that you show that you prefer to choose what you want to be true rather than examining it for it’s truthfulness? For instance, you call the Jesus of the Gospels a character who is “most likely based on a real person.” What basis do you have for assuming Jesus as testified to in the Bible is not who he and the others claim he is? Also, to think the writers concocted a figure who would fulfill all the Old Testament requirements takes quite a bit of imagination. Sure, anyone born in Bethlehem would satisfy that requirement, but the Messiah also had to fulfill Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 (if you would please read them) which describe one suffering on a cross for the sins of others then rising to life nine and seven centuries before Jesus came, respectively.

            Also, you said that even if you went back and witnessed 100% of what Jesus did you would not be a Christian. You are not alone, MOPC. Most of the people of his generation who did witness these things did not believe him either. You said you would need proof that he died on the cross to pay for our sins. God raised him from the dead to give you that proof, just as he promised centuries beforehand he would do (look again at those two chapters above). If verified prophecies and someone rising from the dead cannot convince you, then what will? I can tell you that the day I believed that he died and was raised from the dead to forgive me and give me a new heart, he changed me. I am a new person because of Jesus.

            MOPC, have you not demonstrated what I was trying to say? That people want gods of their own making? In other words, it does not matter what Jesus did or said, you are not going to believe him anyway but just choose to believe what you want? Please know that I’m not trying to win an argument with you. It’s just that you chose to attack the Lord, God’s only Son, whom I love in your initial comment. I think you need to study Jesus more before you compare him with John Frum.

            Sincerely,

            Barry

          • MOPC September 27, 2012 at 3:13 pm #

            Well, first question: no I don’t want to believe what I pre-select to be true, I want to find out the truth no matter how much I dislike it.
            2 – “What basis do you have for assuming Jesus as testified to in the Bible is not who he and the others claim he is”
            >> The authors did not witness the conception, birth or infancy of Jesus, so that part is either hearsay or totally made up. How could they know Gabriel visited Mary and told her she would conceive a virgin? How did the authors know she was a virgin at all? I mean its “possible”, but there can be no eye witnesses to that. However we do know the Gospels were written after the first churches were established, after many Epistles were written, so they were written by people who already had intentions of selling a specific variation of the story which until then only existed orally in various versions (whose contents we may never know). False quotes can be easily “inserted” in a story by popular mistake or by intentional alteration – how many millions today believe Bogart said “Play it again Sam” and Vader said “Luke, I am your father”, even with movies that can be easily viewed again? Imagine a story that existed as an oral tradition for decades in times of illiteracy and expensive books. Moreover, several other religions also claim many things, such as Mormonism, Islam, etc., which would have to be accepted if you believe in “accounts”.
            Also, how could the authors have witnessed moments when Jesus is alone, such as when tempted by Satan in the desert, etc (Divine inspiration of course is too easy an explanation).

            3 – “Also, to think the writers concocted a figure who would fulfill all the Old Testament requirements takes quite a bit of imagination. Sure, anyone born in Bethlehem would satisfy that requirement, but the Messiah also had to fulfill Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 (if you would please read them) which describe one suffering on a cross for the sins of others then rising to life nine and seven centuries before Jesus came, respectively.”

            >> They didn’t concoct the whole persona, just added elements that would make Jesus a better Messiah candidate. Like (possibly) switching his birthplace from Nazareth to Bethlehem. As to the Biblical passages, even if the Gospels are 100% true, the fact that the Jewish scholars disagree even though they are top experts in Biblical prophecy is a strong indication that these prophecies are so vague (and poorly translated) in many cases as to be useful to justify anything. Muslims even use some to “prove” Muhammad was the last prophet. Would God reveal a message that is so confusing so as to allow honest experts such wide array of disagreement? Strange huh? However, that is what one would expect of a man-made book without any above-human “inspiration” or authorship. If any of those prophecies would at least hint at the year or century of their fulfillment.

            4 – “You said you would need proof that he died on the cross to pay for our sins. ”

            Actually I said I cannot conceive of any circumstance which would prove the axiom “X died to pay humanity’s sins”. How does one die to pay somebody else’s sins? What does that mean? I wasn’t even alive then, so I had no “sins” to be paid, how can Jesus have paid them in 2000 years in advance? So now that my sins are “paid” I can go around “raping and pillaging” and when I die God would not punish me? Doesn’t that make Christianity an “amoral” religion? I mean one of the main functions of God has always been to provide a ‘Santa Claus for adults’ figure that would reward good behavior and punish bad behavior. But now Jesus has already been punished for everyone’s bad bahavior, so hell has not received anyone in 2000 years? And before Jesus died, everyone had to go to hell right, since “Jesus is the only way to salvation” – but Jesus is God, so technically Jesus already existed (without a biological body) since eternity. But he had to die in the cross to become the Savior and pay our sins. So God/Jesus willingly condemned everyone before 30AD to hell and saved everyone after 30AD. That’s a lot of cavemen in hell, unable to party in heaven with Hitler and Stalin. Oh but you have to “accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior” to go to heaven…so many people after 30AD did not go to heaven, like all the Jews and Muslims and Australian Aborigines and everyone who never heard of Jesus, but wouldn’t that make God unfair, putting people in hell without them ever having heard the Gospel? Maybe, but even if you exclude these people (invincible ignorance) you are still left with the Jews and Muslims who know the Gospels but reject them. So it’s not like I don’t want to accept Christianity, it’s just that I can hardly figure out what it is.

            5 – “If verified prophecies and someone rising from the dead cannot convince you, then what will? I can tell you that the day I believed that he died and was raised from the dead to forgive me and give me a new heart, he changed me. I am a new person because of Jesus.”

            Well I am no expert in Old Testament prophecies, but if the #1 experts the Jews are not convinced, who am I to say the matter is settled? Anyone can appear with a book that says “hey this guy rose from the dead” and it may even be true, so how can I know it matches the prophecy, since the prophecy does not give me a year? How do I know Jesus actually died instead of entering a coma-like state? Why should it even matter, I mean, why should anything in my life, my concepts of right and wrong, change just because of a strange material phenomenon such as someone being born of a virgin and rising from the dead? If the life of Jesus was so important, so pivotal for everyone, then isn’t it unfair for all those who lived before Jesus? And those who lived in faraway lands where the Gospels would only arrive centuries later? They were simply not given a chance to accept Jesus.

            How would you feel if you were a Sumerian peasant from the 27th century BC and a time traveller from the 21st century got there and said “if you were born just a few centuries in the future, you would have a chance of spending eternity in Paradise when the Savior comes, but you were born centuries before that, so you’re most likely going to hell”?

            6 – “MOPC, have you not demonstrated what I was trying to say? That people want gods of their own making? In other words, it does not matter what Jesus did or said, you are not going to believe him anyway but just choose to believe what you want?”

            As far as I understand, the God of Christianity:

            a) didn’t give all people the chance of hearing the Gospels, so if acceptingt Jesus is the only way to salvation, God is immoral/ unfair.
            b) inflicted Original Sin by genetic inheritance in all of humanity but only gave us the “antidote” in the year 30 AD, and even so to a limited group of people. Why not just cancel the “poison” all the way from the beginning, and forgiving Adam and Eve? The 2800BC Sumerian peasant would be most thankful.

            So it is not entirely irrational of me to conclude that the God Yahweh/Elohim of the Bible is a human invention to (among other things) induce certain behaviors into people, be it for the better or worse. The Jesus story especially is a belief to (among other things) make people feel they are the lucky ones to find the “only way to salvation” and then spread their belief virally, since, of course, it is the only way to salvation. Certainly Jesus taught correct moral teachings, but the idea that accepting him is the only way to salvation (while great to make a religion spread like the flue) makes God unfair.

            Let’s suppose you are in a tribe who has just heard the Gospel. You accept Jesus and when you die you go to Heaven, but you beloved mother, who died before Christianity came to town, is being eternally tortured in hell. Would you still be emotionally in heaven knowing the most belove person in your life is undergoing torture? For all eternity, you will be in a pleasant place, but you will never be happy knowing your mother will at the same time, for the same eternity, undergoing eternal punishment.

            Kudos and may the Force be with you. Just kidding, I am an aforcist too.

            MOPC

  3. Barry York October 1, 2012 at 1:12 pm #

    MOPC,

    1) You said in your first comment above that you want to find out truth no matter how much you dislike it. So would you become a worshiper of Jesus Christ if I answered each of your points? In that hope I will answer briefly your points.

    2) Many of the writers of the Bible were eyewitnesses (I John 1:1-3). Others such as Luke interviewed eyewitnesses like a good reporter (Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1-3). Is it not fair to assume that you have not really studied the Bible before making up your mind that they are false reports? The issue at stake, your eternal soul, is more important than a Bogart movie. Regarding the other religions such as Islam or Mormonism, I agree with you that their accounts are easily discredited. But not so with Jesus.

    3) It is regrettable that many people get confused about the Bible. Like I said, it’s clear from the Gospels themselves many were confused in Jesus’ day. I’m sorry that you are so confused about it. Yet man’s confusion does not point to a problem with the Bible, but with those who are interpreting it falsely. Regarding timing, a good number of the prophecies in the Old Testament did have specific time and place references to Jesus. I again just submit to you that you seem to have already made up your mind without adequately studying the Scriptures to see that this is so. Have you ever studied the Bible?

    4) You are right you could not pay for someone else’s sins, because you are as guilty as they are. But Jesus was sinless and satisfied all that God required to pay for our sins. And no, the Bible never teaches that because Christians are forgiven we can then go out and sin even more. Read Romans 6:1-2 for instance. Rather, forgiveness means one is delivered from his sin so that he can live a life of holiness as he was created to do.

    Regarding all the questions about fairness, you have the situation reversed. You act as if we deserve to be forgiven for sins. You nor anyone else deserves forgiveness. God would be perfectly just if he allowed the whole world to perish. He showed that in the flood in Noah’s day, when all the world did perish. But he also displayed there his mercy in saving eight people.

    You are wrong about everyone before Jesus perishing. Those who trusted God for salvation to be provided by a future sacrifice he would provide were saved. There is even a story about one “caveman” named Lot who clearly did not deserve to be saved, yet God granted him righteousness (see Genesis 19:30-38; II Peter 2:4-10). You are also wrong to think that the Bible teaches that everyone is now covered by Christ’s death so no one has gone to hell for the past 2000 years. Sadly, too many have perished in their sins. He only died for the elect. Only those who believe in Him will be in heaven.

    5) Most of this section is similar to 4) so see above. But I will answer your question about why Jesus’ life should be so pivotal to you. It is because God said it should be. This is why I keep telling you that you talk as if you have already made up your mind about who your god will be.

    6) Regarding your two summary points of Christianity, again I point out to you that you are demanding God to be merciful. But is it not up to God to be merciful to whom he chooses? (By the way, that’s what he says – see Romans 9, especially verses 14-24) For an example, let’s say I robbed your house. Then after I was caught I came up to you, demanded you not to press charges, and then also said you have to give me $10,000/month for life. You would think that was pretty preposterous. Yet that is what you are demanding of the God who made the peoples of the earth. They go their own way, worship their own gods like the John Frummites, steal, hurt and maim others made in God’s image, then you demand God must forgive them. God may forgive them, but that’s his decision, not mine or yours.

    God did not inflict original sin on us. Our father Adam, who represented us perfectly, did, and every day you continue to exalt yourself against God, MOPC, you show what a son or daughter of Adam (I do not know your gender) you really are.

    Regarding family members who do not believe, I do know that sorrow and it is real. But it is not how you are portraying it. For I know God will do what is right, and every tear will be wiped away in heaven as I behold my loving and just Savior.

    I will not be able to keep writing like this, MOPC. But if you want to talk, not argue, because you really desire to know answers, then write me at pastoryork@gmail.com, give me your phone number and some times you are available, and I’ll set up a phone appointment with you.

    Sincerely,

    Barry York

    • MOPC October 2, 2012 at 9:54 pm #

      To respond first your kind request of personal contact to continue this interaction: may I suggest this webpage is perhaps at this moment the best way to calmly carry out a quality interaction, given that it enables us time to slowly digest each other’s points, and calmly create an adequate and ponderate reply? A real-time dialogue, by phone or chat, gives one little time to ponder appropriate answers, and e-mails after a few days get forgotten. This comment section format is like a chess game, to be played slowly and each move at the right time, not against each other, but in favor of truth.

      1) “So would you become a worshiper of Jesus Christ if I answered each of your points?”
      >> I would have first to even understand what being a worshipper of Jesus Christ mean, and then I would have to be convinced that story has validity, but overall my mind is open.

      2) “Many of the writers of the Bible were eyewitnesses (I John 1:1-3).”
      >> Relying on the Bible to prove the Bible’s info is accurate is not such a solid basis, but I insist: what about the facts that nobody could have witnessed, such as the announcement, Jesus temptation in the desert, etc. If the Gospels were actual eyewitness accounts, we would have all the unwitnessed parts as “So and so said Jesus got lost when he was 12 and his parents found him discussing the Torah at the temple” “Mary claimed she was a virgin when she got pregnant”. Yet we have these things, which no one saw, written as if the author was a witnesses.

      3) “Have you ever studied the Bible?”
      >> It depends on your definition of study, but I have read much of it and read many books about it, Christian or not.

      4) “But Jesus was sinless and satisfied all that God required to pay for our sins” (…) “He only died for the elect. Only those who believe in Him will be in heaven.”
      >> See, that’s what I am talking about, how can you or most Christians even convert people when you don’t even know, or at least are unable to clearly state, what you believe? One time it’s Jesus died for ths sins of all humanity, the other time is Jesus only died for the elect.

      You also claim those who lived before Jesus could get salvation if they believed in a future sacrifice of redemption by God. Then what difference did Jesus make, if we could all be believing in a future salvation until now, did Jesus come only to make that belief more popular, but his coming was not necessary for our Salvation?

      I’ll consider accepting Christianity once a Christian is capable of actually explaining what it is.

      5) “But I will answer your question about why Jesus’ life should be so pivotal to you. It is because God said it should be.”
      >> How do you know God said it? Was it the real God or just some god humans made for themselves? I mean if the two top Bible-based systems (Judaism and Christianity) cannot even agree on who the Messiah is or should be, does that not indicate an incompetent, thus man-made, God? The John Frummites have less disagreement among themselves, and thus a better foundation for their belief than Jews and Christians.

      6) “But is it not up to God to be merciful to whom he chooses?
      >> How would I know? Normally I would assume a perfect supreme being would be fair and just, but then again who knows.

      “For an example, let’s say I robbed your house. Then after I was caught I came up to you, demanded you not to press charges, and then also said you have to give me $10,000/month for life. You would think that was pretty preposterous. Yet that is what you are demanding of the God who made the peoples of the earth. They go their own way, worship their own gods like the John Frummites, steal, hurt and maim others made in God’s image, then you demand God must forgive them. God may forgive them, but that’s his decision, not mine or yours.”

      >> Well let’s analyze this analogy. You are claiming that humans have committed a crime against God, and then we are demanding from the “victim” not only lack of punishment, but some kind of reward for committing this crime, which of course is preposterous, since criminals have to be punished and not rewarded. I would ask for further clarification:

      1 – all humans committed this crime? Or did they inherit the guilt of the crime committed supposedly by Adam and Eve? Is a newborn baby already guilty of this crime?

      2 – God is theoretically all-powerful, all-present and all-knowing, so not punishing people who are infinitely less intelligent and capable is not exactly like asking a victim to pay compensation to a criminal… in this case the human victim would be punished, but how is forgiving us some kind of punishment to God? God is not limited, so you cannot subtract from God anything, thus “punishing God” is meaningless/ impossible.

      3 – It all depends on the first question: who exactly is guilty of this crime against God and why? All humans are guilty? Since conception in the womb?

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