Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

The Logos

Why do we have four gospels? Wouldn’t it be enough to tell the story once? Evidently Matthew, Mark, Luke and John didn’t think so and the early church agreed that they all merited a place in the Holy Scriptures. Some skeptics have claimed to find discrepancies and disagreements in the accounts, but these all disappear when one understands what each writer was trying to do.

The Gospel of Mark was the first, a bare bones gospel, simply a recording of the memories of an eye witness of Jesus’ life. It is generally understood that the eye witness was Peter and that Mark merely wrote down Peter’s recollections.

Matthew’s gospel was written for the benefit of Jewish believers and seekers. He takes great care to show how Jesus was the true fulfillment of all the Old Testament prophecies.

Luke wrote as a Greek historian. His gospel provides a coherent and well documented account of Jesus’ life for the Greeks, who put no stock in Jewish prophecies but just wanted to know the facts.

John’s gospel is something else again. It was the last one written and begins by identifying Jesus as the Logos and has a much greater emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit than the other gospels.

Psalm 33:6 tells us ” By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.” The Book of Proverbs personifies the wisdom of God and in one place tells us: ” The LORD by wisdom hath founded the earth; by understanding hath he established the heavens” (Proverbs 3:19).

In the time of Jesus and the disciples, the Old Testament Scriptures were being read in a Greek translation (the Septuagint) where word in Psalm 33 read logos. The Greek understanding of logos would have included all the meaning of word, wisdom and understanding. To the Stoics, the Logos was the divine force that pervaded and upheld the universe.

John began his gospel by stating “In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was nothing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. . . . And the Logos was made flesh and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”

These words affirm the Old Testament teachings, then show how they are embodied in Jesus Christ and make the bold statement that the one writing this saw the Logos with his own eyes. These same words tell the Greeks that the Logos, which their philosophers have endeavoured to understand, has a genuine historical existence and has come to earth and walked among men.

From this divinely inspired beginning, John goes on to tell the story of Jesus. As he is the last of the gospel writers, writing some years after the others, he takes great pains to include the fullness of Jesus’ teaching about the Holy Spirit, as the power, grace and leading of the Holy Spirit were essential for the church in continuing the work begun by Jesus.

Each of the gospel writers was reaching out to engage their surrounding culture in a transformative manner. They were not  trying to make the gospel less offensive. They were showing how the gospel was the answer to the aspirations of all people for a relationship with their Creator. The gospel was a direct challenge to all other religious and philosophical claims to provide a meaningful life, and thus aroused much opposition. At the same time it was the answer that fit the lock and opened the door that nothing else could open.

Intellectualism, reason and faith

Intellectualism is the idea that all truth can be discovered by reasoning. René Descartes started with “I think, therefore I am,” and proceeded down this line of reasoning to discover all that was worth knowing, to his own satisfaction at least.

The fatal flaw in this is that God is considered as irrelevant and thus the reasoning is based on the false premise that the human mind is able to comprehend the meaning of all things. Reason is not contrary to faith, but reasoning based on false premises does lead away from faith.

The rage against faith by many intellectuals of our day should be seen as an acknowledgement that they know they are on shaky ground. Their fine sounding reasoning has not brought the fulfillment and happiness they anticipated, but they are determined to never admit that. Hence the furious attempts to ridicule, vilify and silence anyone who has the temerity to point out the weaknesses in their reasoning.

There is nothing about Christian faith that is contrary to reason; there is no evidence in the way that things really are and how they work that contradicts the revelations given in the Bible. Christian faith puts us in harmony with the way things really are. That is to be expected if we are in harmony with the Creator of all things.

It is enough for Christians to patiently and humbly point out the reasonableness of Christian faith. We should never be the ones on the attack, with ridicule and harsh words. We should avoid all triumphalism and above all avoid all fables that purport to offer proof of Christian faith. The Bible is enough.

Is Christian humilty the same thing as stoicism or zen buddhism?

Consider the following:

“Humility is perfect quietness of heart. It is for me to feel no trouble, never be fretted, or vexed, or irritated, or sore, or disappointed. It is to expect nothing, to wonder at nothing that is done to me, to feel nothing done against me. It is to be at rest when nobody praises me and when I am blamed and despised. It is to have a blessed home in the Lord where I can go in and shut the door, and kneel to my Father in secret, and am at peace in a deep sea of calmness, when all around and above is trouble. It is the fruit of the Lord Jesus Christ’s redemptive work on Calvary’s cross, manifest in those of His own who are completely subjected to the Holy Spirit.” This is Andrew Murray’s concept of Christian humility.

Zeno of Citium, the founder of the Stoic school of philosophy, taught that true happiness was to be found in becoming insensitive to the four negative emotions: desire, fear, pleasure and pain. Epictetus, another Stoic philosopher, taught that “Freedom is secured not by the fulfilling of men’s desires, but by the removal of desire.”

“Stoicism teaches the development of self-control and fortitude as a means of overcoming destructive emotions; the philosophy holds that becoming a clear and unbiased thinker allows one to understand the universal reason (logos). A primary aspect of Stoicism involves improving the individual’s ethical and moral well-being: Virtue consists in a will that is in agreement with Nature.’ This principle also applies to the realm of interpersonal relationships; ‘to be free from anger, envy, and jealousy.'” (Wikipedia)

In Zen Buddhism, mushin “is a state of mind where mind is not fixed on or occupied by any thought or emotion, and is thus connected to the Cosmos. . . This pure state of mind, of pure mental clarity is produced by the absence of the ego or limited self.” (zen-buddhism.net)

It seems that when we try to make humility the chief virtue of Christian life, the temptation immediately presents itself to veer off into elements of pagan philosophy and mysticism. The definition of humility is the absence of pride, but when we make humility our goal, it becomes a self-centred thing and we circle back to feeling pride in our mastery of destructive emotions.

The antidote to this is love. Love is, after all, the chief virtue demanded of Christians and we dare not trade the positive virtue of love for the negative virtue of humility. If our life is genuinely motivated and empowered by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, of which love is the first mentioned, there will be precious little room for pride to take root.

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

“Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13:10)

“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:35)

Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

Notice that Jesus does not say: “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have humility.” 1 Corinthians chapter 13 is a beautiful description of humility, yet humility is not once mentioned. All the virtues described are attributed to the working of God’s love in our hearts and lives. Humility is the result of love, not the source of love and virtue, or something to be sought on its own.

Therefore give us love.

Wednesday morning gripe session

Sixty years ago a scientific study concluded that saturated fat was the primary cause of heart disease. Saturated fats are those that come from animal sources, like cream, butter and lard. That study pretty much destroyed the market for butter and lard and got most people to switch to drinking partially skimmed milk and using coffee whitener instead of cream. It turns out that the author of that study selected data from six countries that appeared to support his intended conclusion and rejected data from 16 other countries that did not fit his hypothesis.

A massive new study, the largest ever conducted, does not show any adverse health effects from saturated fats, but shows that trans fats can increase the rate of cardiovascular disease by 34%. This study was led by Doctor Russel de Souza of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario and published in the British Medical Journal. Trans fats are found in vegetable oils that have been hydrogenated to solidify them. Thus, butter has no bad health effects, margarine may be dangerous. (Not all margarines contain hydrogenated vegetable oil.  Check the label — if it does not mention hydrogenated vegetable oil and says 0 trans fat, you should be OK.)

The media bring us news about all sorts of “scientific” studies, and often the results of one study directly contradict the results of another. “Scientific” is not a magic word, one needs to know the methodology and whether the results have been replicated by others using the same methodology. That kind of information is generally considered too arcane for the general public, so many of us are becoming more and more skeptical of anything labelled as scientific.

At suppertime yesterday evening, I sprinkled some dried cranberries over my salad. Then I looked at the package. These were organic cranberries, with no trans fats, gmo’s or gluten. Are there people out there gullible enough to believe that cranberries might contain trans fats, gmo’s and gluten? If so, I expect any day now to find bottled water on the supermarket shelves, labelled as organically grown, gmo free, gluten free and trans fat free.

About forty years ago, CBC television did a news report on Dutch Puck Disease. It showed a grove of trees bearing shrivelled up hockey pucks due to this disease and speculated that the NHL season might have to be cancelled. The interviewed Bobby Orr, who managed to keep a straight face while lamenting the possibility that he might not be able to score any more goals. Then they did man in the street interviews and showed the shocked reaction of people upon hearing this news. Millions of people had a good laugh at the story, but thousands believed it.

Reality

  1. This is my Father’s world. I did not ask to be here. I cannot choose to be in another world. This is it and I may as well make the best of it.
  2.  I am made in my Father’s image. Even though I am earthly, like the animals, with all the capacity for savagery that entails, I am also a spiritual being, able to know and communicate with my Father, with all the wonderful possibilities that provides.
  3.  This world, this life, is not all there is. Voices are coming to me from beyond this world, alluring me to discontent, envy, anger, rebellion. Other voices, softer voices, urge me to love and be loved. My destination after this life depends on which voices I choose to listen to and obey.

This is reality. I may wish it wasn’t like that; I may choose to believe that it is not like that. But in the end, I cannot escape reality. Denying reality will not make me happy, now or ever. Happiness is only to be found in living in this world as it really is, not as it may appear to be or as I would wish it to be. Happiness is to be found in living to make others happy, not just in looking out for myself.

There are people around me who do not accept reality. Many people, probably most of the people I meet. This is shown by their attitudes, the way they choose to live their lives. Yet underneath the mask and armour there is still a person made in the image of the Father. A person who is sometimes capable of great acts of kindness, a person who might be touched by the kindness of others.

It is not up to me to unmask them, or tear off their anti-God armour, only the Father Himself can do that. Words and acts of love and kindness will do more good than cutting words of criticism. They are receiving altogether enough criticism already. And underneath that hard shell there is still the image of the Father and the realization that their rebellion against Him is not working out as they thought it would.

To show love and kindness is not to accept their rebellion against the Father. It is to show them that genuine happiness is found when we are ready to live the life that the Father made us for.

Jesus is not my enforcer

“My Dad could beat up on your Dad any day!”

“Oh yeah? My Dad would just clobber your old man!”

Are conversations like that still heard on schoolyards? They were common when I was a boy, little boys trying to establish superiority over others, based on their fathers’ credentials.  I never joined in those taunts, because I just couldn’t imagine my Dad getting into a fight — an argument yes, but not a fight.

The Jews of Jesus’ day were a lot like those little boys — they dreamed of a Messiah who would come and utterly defeat the Romans who lorded it over them and then they would be able to lord it over all mankind, using Messiah’s credentials.

Christianity has been used to the same ends, the Pope reigning over kings and emperors because he supposedly exercised all the authority of Jesus upon the earth.  Other brands of Christianity emerged in later years, each one exercising exclusive authority over its “Christian” nation, always in the name of Jesus.

The fragmentation of Christendom made the idea of a denominational domination less believable; but the post-millennial teaching still promised that Christians would rule the world. The gospel would slowly permeate the whole world until Christians were in control everywhere, and then the millennium would begin.

Dispensational pre-millennialism first saw the light of day in 1840 and by the beginning of the twentieth century it was fully primed to take over when post-millennial hopes began to fade. Proponents of this teaching believe that Christians will suddenly be removed from the earth, following which a seven year “great tribulation” will break the power of Antichrist and all the forces opposed to God. Then will begin the millennium, with Jesus as earthly lord, and, of course, Christians will reign with Him.

Didn’t the Jews turn against Jesus because they wanted a Messiah who would make them superior to all other people?  Aren’t Christians who dream of Jesus as a cosmic conqueror making the same mistake?

The kingdom of Jesus is a spiritual kingdom, and He wants us to have victory over our spiritual enemies, the thoughts and intents of our hearts. ” Those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matthew  15:18-19). When some of Jesus’ followers asked Him if they should call for fire to fall from heaven on an unfriendly village, He responded: “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of” (Luke 9:55).

The apostle Paul also taught of the spiritual kingdom: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). “And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful” (Colossians 3:15).

If the Lord Jesus Christ is truly reigning in my heart, then I should feel no impulse to want to lord it over anyone else.

What handicap?

Frances Kelsey died this morning in London, Ontario, at the age of 101. Why is that worthy of note? Well, Frances Kelsey was the Canadian lady who prevented the thalidomide tragedy from spreading to the USA.

Thalidomide was developed by a German pharmaceutical company as a remedy for morning sickness. It went on sale there as an over the counter medication in 1957 and soon thereafter in other European countries. It was available in Canada from 1959 to 1962. In 1960, Doctor Kelsey was medical agent for the US Food and Drug Administration when the German company tried to get approval to sell thalidomide in the USA. She had doubts about its safety and refused to approve it, despite the pressure applied by the pharmaceutical company.

There were 10,000 to 20,000 babies born in Canada with missing or deformed limbs because their mothers took thalidomide during pregnancy. Many more were born in Europe, none in the USA. If you were born in the USA during the years that thalidomide could have been available, you can thank God that this lady trusted her doubts about the safety of this medication and refused to allow its approval.

But let me tell you about another remarkable lady. I can’t remember her name and don’t know what has become of her, but she was born without arms due to thalidomide. Thirty years ago, she was writing a column for the weekly newspaper that served the community where we lived in Ontario. She lived alone in an apartment in another small town. In one article she told how she used her toes to type her articles, to do her cooking and all the other daily tasks that we use our hands for.

One day I came out or the bank just as a young lady with no arms left the newspaper office across the street. I watched as she walked around to the driver’s door of a jeep-type vehicle, lifter her right foot out of her boot (it was winter and there was snow on the ground) reached into her coat pocket for the keys, unlocked the door, put her foot back in the boot, got in the vehicle and drove away.

And most of us think our feet are only for walking on!

The true signs by which the Church of Christ may be known

1. By an unadulterated pure doctrine. Deuteronomy 4:6, 5:12; Isaiah 8:5; Matthew 28:20; Mark 16:15; John 8:52; Galatians 1

2. By a Scriptural use of the sacramental signs. Matthew 28:19; Mark 16; Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:12; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:22,23

3. By obedience to the Word. Matthew 7; Luke 11:28; John 7:18, 15:10; James 1:22

4. By unfeigned brotherly love. John 13:34; Romans 13:8; 1 Corinthians 13:1; 1 John 3:18, 4:7,8

5. By a bold confession of God and Christ. Matthew 10:32; Mark 8:29; Romans 10:9; 1 Timothy 6:13

6. By oppression and tribulation for the sake of the Lord’s Word. Matthew 5:10, 10:39, 16:24, 24:9; Luke 6:28; John 15:20; 2 Timothy 2:9, 3:12; 1 Peter 1:6, 3:14, 4:13, 5:10; 1 John 3:13

-Menno Simons, 1554 AD

What is wrong with the world?

“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him”(1 John 2:15). The Bible has a lot to say about the world and the danger there is if Christians become worldly. Why? What is there about the world that is so dangerous for the Christian?

What I say here will not be a complete answer to those questions, just a few thoughts on the subject of worldliness. First of all, the danger in worldliness did not originate with things and it does not consist primarily of things. There is a spirit of the world that is always opposed to Christian faith, but which manifests itself in ever changing ways. We can avoid most all of the things that some people label as worldly, yet still be pretty much completely worldly minded.

The apostle John went on to write: ” For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever” verses 16 & 17).

I believe it is fair to conclude from this that when we feel that we have a right to do all the things that we want to do, and have all the things that we want, that is the spirit of the world. On the other hand, the Bible teaches that a Christian should always consider the good of others.

We may wonder if God doesn’t want us to do or have the things that will make us happy. But a selfish person is never happy. There is always something more that is needed to make such a person happy.

This lack of happiness is just the beginning, it often leads to envy, jealousy and anger. Then comes the belief that other people are to blame for our lack of happiness. This can even be made to sound unselfish: the people who are running things are being unjust, trampling upon the needs of the weak. Something must be done to set things to right. Media, politicians and social activists all have long lists of things that are wrong in the world and have many proposals on how to set things right.

As a result the world is a seething, tempestuous sea of unfulfilled desires, bruised emotions, anger and even hatred. Ideas of right and wrong, of what makes for a good life, are constantly changing. Every time something is done to set things right, more people are hurt and new ideas come to the surface.

True peace, freedom and happiness can only be found when there is a solid, unchanging foundation. It may seem to be almost within our reach when we are immersed in the restless sea of the world, yet it always eludes us. Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is that sure and changeless foundation.

The need for Christian apologetics

According to Nancy Pearsey, when young people who have abandoned the Christian faith are asked why, the most common answer is that they could not get answers to their questions about the faith. Thus they assumed that there were no answers and that the stories hey had been taught were just so many fairy tales.

This brings us right up against Peter’s command: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15). “Give an answer” is the English translation of apologia, the Greek word that Peter used. Thus apologetics simply means always being ready to give an answer when questions arise about our faith.

This does not mean that we need to be prepared with arguments that will overwhelm and overpower the skeptics — notice that Peter says “with meekness and fear.” But we should never avoid an honest question, even if we don’t know the answer. We simply need the confidence that answers do exist and to be willing to help the questioner search for those answers. If we are afraid to even do that, what hope is there for the future of Christianity?

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