Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Sitting around the fire

We were in a small mission congregation in a major Canadian city. A middle-aged single lady, I’ll call her Anne, had been attending for a year or more. One day she said to me, “It seems like there is a warm fire burning here and you are all gathered around to warm yourselves by that fire, but you won’t let me get close.” “No,” I answered, “we want you to join us around the fire, the problem is that you are afraid of the fire.”

We all struggle with that fear from time to time, some more than others, and some never seem to overcome that fear. To enter into the presence of God, to warm ourselves in His love and the love of fellow believers, requires that we let go of some things. Things like pride, lust, materialism, envy, anger and so on.

The problem is that we don’t want to call them by their proper names. We create a mask for ourselves, depicting the person that we want to be, the kind of person that we think will be admired and respected by those around us. We want to believe that this is our true identity. Yet as soon as we approach that warm bonfire of God’s love that mask starts to melt and we hasten back to the cool shadows.

This is futility, and deep down we know it. Still, we are afraid to take off the mask and let others see what we are really like. The plain truth is that God cannot do anything for the person we are pretending to be. It’s only when we drop the mask and all pretense that we can become the person God wants us to be. And that will be far better than the person we were pretending to be.

We can’t develop warm and lasting friendships with others either if we don’t allow them to see who we really are. When we stop trying to protect ourselves from the warmth of God’s love, there is nothing left to inhibit the warmth of our fellowship as we gather around the fire.

Anne died a few years ago. Those who visited with her in her last days say that near the end she seemed to grasp the reality that we must come to God on His terms, holding nothing back. There is hope that she finally did enter into the warmth of His love. God is gracious and full of mercy, but why would any of us want to wait until the last minute to discover that?

The liberation of men

A young lady who worked in a doughnut shop found that she was pregnant. She was only 19, living on her own, working to support herself. She had already had an abortion at 15, her parents pressured her into it because she was too young for the responsibility of motherhood. That memory was painful and she did not want to have another abortion. But she didn’t have enough education for a better job, how could she support herself and a child? She finally chose to have a second abortion.

A young lady came in to register at the food bank one day when I was volunteering there. She was attractive, neatly dressed, well spoken – probably better educated than the first young lady. She had moved in with her boyfriend, expecting it to be a long term arrangement, but when they found a baby was on the way the young man disappeared. She was raising the child on her own and could hardly make ends meet.

The contraceptive pill and easy access to abortion were heralded as means of setting women free. Have they really? But it does certainly seem that men have been liberated — set free from worrying about the responsibilities of being husbands or fathers.

Doesn’t it seem that since our society has separated sex from responsibility, men’s attitudes towards women have become more and more degraded? Women may get more respect in the working world and in politics, but in personal relationships it seems there is much less. Violence against women continues to increase.

Homeless children, children who don’t dare go home, and children who are part-timers in two different homes, are increasing in number. Most of the troubled youth in our society have never really had a father. Schools and social service agencies are trying to cope with the problem, but they can never accomplish what a real father could do.

The nuclear family, with both a father and mother, is the ideal natural setting for children to grow up into responsible, mature adults. Of course, there have always been homes that were less than ideal, some were quite awful in fact. That is not an argument for the abolition of the family. It is an argument for better parents.

It is also an argument for the Christian faith and the church. It is a wonderful thing when the parents of the friends of your children are your friends and you can trust that they have the same hopes and ideals as you have for their children. Children grow up knowing they are loved and respected. They feel secure, they learn better in school, they trust there will be answers for their problems. They learn to be responsible, and responsive to the needs of others.

Far too many young adults today have no experience of a stable, trusting home life. In all probability, none of their friends do either. Is this really liberty? Does it look like they are happy?

The world today is beginning to look a lot like the world in which the Christian church was first born. Acts 1:19 give the number of believers before Pentecost as about 120. If it was possible for that small group to grow and “turn the world upside down,” is it impossible to think that it could happen again? For that to happen we will have to trade in our liberty for responsibility.

No compulsion in matters of religion

Around 204 AD, Tertullian wrote: “As the religion of others does not concern us, and neither profits nor harms us; therefore it does not become any one religion to force itself upon another; since it must be accepted voluntarily, and not by coercion, for what is required is the offering of a willing mind.”

In 320 AD Lactantius Firmianus wrote these words to the Emperor Constantine:

“The more the religion of God is suppressed, the more it breaks forth and grows; hence they should employ reasoning and admonition, it is not necessary to proceed with violence. For religion admits of no compulsion; persuasive words can do more to promote the cause than blows.”

In another place he wrote: “We Christians do not desire that any one should serve God, the Creator of all, against his will; neither are we angry if he does not serve Him; for we trust His Majesty, who can easily avenge Himself against those who despise Him, as He does the vexations and injuries inflicted upon His servants. Therefore, when we suffer such shameful things, we say not one word against it, but commit all vengeance to God; not doing as those who would be regarded protectors of their gods; and very cruelly assail those who do not worship them.”

In 1554 Menno Simons wrote: “Faith is a gift of God, therefore it cannot be forced upon any one by worldly authorities or by the sword; alone through the pure doctrine of the Holy Word and with humble ardent prayer it must be obtained of the Holy Ghost as a gift of grace. Moreover, it is not the will of the Master of the house that the tares be rooted up as long as the day of reaping is not at hand, as the Scriptural parable shows with great clearness.

“Now if our persecutors are Christians, as they think, and accept the Word of God, why do they not heed and follow the word and commandment of Christ? Why do they root up the tares before the time? Why do they not fear, lest they root up the good wheat, and not the tares?  Why do they undertake to do the duty of angels who, at the proper time, shall bind the tares in bundles and cast them into the furnace of everlasting fire?”

Our Muslim neighbours

In our worship service yesterday evening, a minister told us about a young couple living in an apartment building in New York City. There was a Muslim family living in the same building, with children the same age as the children of this couple. The children played together, became friends, and the parents also became friends, often visiting each other. The young man in this account had been feeling under the weather for a few days when the Muslim couple dropped in for a visit one evening. His Muslim friend advised him to just take the next day off work and he decided to do that. This man worked in an office in the twin towers and the next day was September 11, 2001. The point of this little story was that taking the day off saved his life.

As for the Muslim friends, they were never seen again. They left quietly and quickly with no forwarding address. This raises two possibilities: either the husband knew what was going to happen on 9/11 and wanted to warn his friend; or, he knew nothing at all about what was going to happen and was overcome by the fear that his friendly advice might bring him under suspicion.

This brings us to the present day where our Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, refers to ISIS and other groups and individuals involved in terrorist activity as jihadists.  Muslim organizations are objecting quite strongly, saying the original meaning of jihad has nothing to do with terrorism and that all Muslims should not be stigmatized by referring to terrorists in this way. President Obama, on the other hand, will not make a connection between Islam and terrorism for fear of radicalizing all Muslims.

Who has it right? I don’t want to get political here, but the fact is that the terrorists refer to themselves as jihadists, and the stated goal of ISIS is to establish a Muslim Caliphate. I am quite willing to admit that most Muslims in our country are not in sympathy with the terrorists. Most have come here because they preferred the tolerance and stability of Canada to conditions in Islamic nations. I am happy to hear their leaders taking pains to dissociate themselves from the radicals and making real efforts to reach their young people with teachings of moderation and respect for others.

I also realize that the victims of these terrorist movements are mostly other Muslims. That brings up a point that needs to be made. Much of the hatred of radical Muslims toward Western society is based on memories of the Crusades, when supposedly Christian armies were sent out to drive back and subjugate the forces of Islam. There is no doubt that many atrocities against Muslims were perpetrated by the Crusaders. But were the Crusaders true representatives of Christianity?

I call myself an Anabaptist, a spiritual heir of a Christian movement that was also the victim of numerous Crusades, and the Inquisition. The plain fact of history is that for hundreds of years the same Roman Catholic Church that was responsible for the Crusades against Muslims also systematically hunted down, tortured and killed many thousands of Christians whose sole offense was that they did not want to be Roman Catholic.

There is nothing sinister about the word catholic, it was originally used to describe the Christian faith as being applicable to all people, of all nations, of all eras. But the Roman Catholic Church appropriated that word for themselves and in the minds of many brought such disrepute upon it that they refuse to use it today. That is not the fault of the word.

It seems to me that Muslims will have to get used to the fact that jihad has been appropriated by the terrorists and it is probably no longer possible to dissociate it from that in the public mind. I am quite willing to believe that most Muslims in our country have as much horror of terrorism as I do. I wish them well in their efforts to make a clear distinction between themselves and the extremists, in the minds of their own young people and in the minds of the general public.

Don’t be anxious for anything

We were going through self-examination before communion when a frail elderly brother stood and said “I want to say that I have peace with God, but it seems like I should do something to be able to claim that I have peace. I have prayed God to show me if there is anything I need to make right, but nothing comes to me. I don’t know where I’m at.”

One of the ministers called this brother aside and explained to him that if he had honestly prayed God to show him if there was anything in his way, and nothing came to him, that meant that he did have peace. There was nothing he needed to do. Whereupon the dear old brother was able to say “I believe by faith that I have peace with God.”

Jesus taught: “Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift” (Matthew 5:23-24). This is something we consider in self-examination — is there something that hinders me from coming to the communion altar with a clear conscience?

This is well and good, and Scriptural, but it can become a pattern. We expect that we need to find something to confess so that we can claim peace with God. And when we make that confession we feel a release of tension and believe we can now claim that our peace with God is unclouded by any transgression on our part.

Most of the time it is probably genuine, but perhaps there are more serious needs that we don’t want to deal with, yet we feel we have done what was expected of us and claim that all is well. Or, we may be like this old brother and feel we need to confess something, but their is nothing to confess.

What we are missing in both cases is that the peace of God cannot be purchased by our efforts, however sincere and earnest we may be. God does want us to keep our lives pure and uncluttered by things that would be a hindrance to ourselves or others. But all our efforts to maintain a pure and upright life do not earn peace with God. It is a gift. “When he giveth quietness, who then can make trouble?” (Job 34:29).

As I grow older the passage in Philippians 4:6-7 becomes more meaningful to me. (I have changed a few words to follow the French translation of these verses.)

Be anxious for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all intelligence, shall guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

The peace which God gives goes far beyond anything that we can attain to by our intellect. We may feel a certain relief by confessing a wrong, or making restitution for something we have done. We need to do those things, but that relief is not necessarily the peace of God. If we are simply doing things according to our own understanding and feeling satisfied in doing them, there is no keeping power in that. Only the peace of God can bring rest to our hearts and minds and guard them from intrusions of needless anxiety.

Business and Church

I grew up in a small Saskatchewan town with four grocery stores and three churches. One store was owned by a cousin and another by an old friend of the family. Another was owned by a Catholic family and the fourth was the local Co-op.

The three churches were the United Church of Canada, the Roman Catholic and the Anglican. The United Church was the largest and the Anglican the smallest. My family was Anglican. Sixty years ago there were enough mouths to feed in the town and the surrounding farms to support all four stores. Cut-throat competition was unheard of.

As the years went by things began to change. Gravel highways were paved, and travel to the city became more common. Young people went to the cities to further their education and stayed to work. Small farmers sold out to their neighbours and moved to the cities. Families had fewer children. As the population of the town and the surrounding countryside slowly shrank, the owners of the grocery stores began to feel pressure on their profit margins.

One day a fire started at one store. The bell on the town hall was rung, the town’s fire engine and water wagon rushed to the scene, and in true small town neighbourliness every able bodied man and youth converged on the scene to fight the fire. In their zeal to help, they got the fire hoses tangled up. By the time they got them straightened out and were able to pour water on the fire the store was past saving. It was not rebuilt.

The other stores could breathe easier for a time, but the trend toward a shrinking local market continued. One day a lady came to my cousin’s store to ask him to buy an ad in a Catholic periodical. He was not interested. She told him that if he did not buy an ad the Catholic people would be told to stop buying at his store. He didn’t take it very seriously, but one by one his Catholic customers stopped coming into his store. Some of them were among his best friends, and they remained friends, but the priest had told them they should support the business owned by a Catholic and they felt pressed to do so.

The United Church and the Co-op were both products of the social gospel movement, resulting in a similar commitment from the United Church people to support the Co-op. That left my cousin with the Anglicans and the people who were of other religious persuasions, or none at all. He began to reduce the shelf space devoted to groceries and to stock clothing and dry goods, items where he had no competition from the Catholic or social gospel people. This provided a livelihood for a number of years. I believe the town is now down to two churches and one store, the Co-op.

Thinking over this little bit of history has raised a question in my mind. When I go into business, should I feel that my brethren are obligated to do business with me? Should I expect the deacons to drop a few gentle hints that brethren should support my business rather than a “worldly” competitor?

Having a captive market may sound like a sure road to success in business. But does it work that way in real life? I think I know myself well enough to admit that the quality of service to my customers would tend to go downhill if I could take it for granted that most of them would deal with me even if I made no special effort to see that their needs were being met. A captive market begets mediocrity.

We operate a business to earn a livelihood for our family. In most cases, we could not make a living by serving only the members of our own church community. This is a good thing. Our neighbours are predisposed to see us as closed, inward-looking people. Operating a business in the community can give people a better picture of what we are like. Our business is not a mission, but the way we run it shows what is important to us. When we are open, honest, friendly and fair to all, that is a witness of what our faith is. When we and our employees work together harmoniously, when there is no foul language, and no racy pictures on the walls, that is a witness. When we patiently and kindly attempt to meet the needs of customers who are old, frail and a little confused, and customers who are angry and demanding, that is a witness. When we show no evidence of prejudice or favouritism, that is a witness. Honesty in our dealings with governments is also a witness.

The purpose of a business is to serve our customers and support our families, not to bring salvation to our neighbours. Yet we should remember that as these neighbours observe us, they will form impressions about the church to which we belong, the faith we profess and the God we serve.

The church in perpetual tune-up mode

[Adapted from a question in an old Bible study book.]combine-harvester-545090_1280

The purpose of the church is to win souls. It is important that the church be kept pure. Is it possible, though, that so much time and energy is spent on the details of church work that we have come to see that as our main mission, somewhat as though a man was forever servicing and tuning up a combine and never getting to the field to use it to harvest the waiting grain?

Leaerning to recognize the tempter’s voice

[Another excerpt from When I Was Thirteen, the diary of a young girl in South-Western Ontario. The writer was Christina Young, but she used the pen-name of Mary McKenzie when the diary was published 20 years later in a weekly paper. As an incentive to keep writing in her diary, she had vowed to take castor oil if she ever forgot.]

June 15, 1897: It is queer how whenever you have to make a choice as to what you will do, you seem to be three people instead of one: yourself, and a jolly good friend who says, “Aw, take it easy and come on and have a good time,” and a sharp old scold who says, “Now don’t be a jelly fish again, be a real person for once and do what is right. Haven’t you any back bone?” And then if you do as a jolly friend says it seems to turn to a snake and stick out its tongue at you, and you hate it as it slithers away and leaves you feeling ashamed, and the sharp old scold seems your best friend, whose feelings you’ve badly hurt. But if you do as the old scold says, why she turns herself to a jolly good friend and you have a jolly good time in the end.

Sometimes as I’m walking along, I can feel one on each side as plainly as can be, and hear them lipping each other back, each trying to get me to go their way. Virginia says she can hear her two talking that way too, but they seem to be in her throat, instead of walking beside her.

It is queer how the jolly one can keep on fooling you though, if you sort of want to be fooled, though away down deep you are hating it all the time, knowing it will crawl away pretty soon not caring what happens to you after it’s got you into your trouble and the good time, that wasn’t a very good time after all, is past and gone and you are repenting in sackcloth and ashes.

But the scolding one stops scolding then and trudges along beside you feeling sad and hurt, yet still sticking to you and ready to put up a fight for you next time when the snake comes back as a jolly good friend and starts in to fool you again.

I expect they are really the spirit of goodness and the spirit of badness, striving to win your soul, and the bad one doesn’t really want your soul when he gets it, except just to laugh at your shame, but what he wants most is to hurt the spirit of goodness through spoiling something it loves.

August 2: I had to take castor oil last Monday as I forgot all about my diary on Saturday. I remembered it on Sunday just as I was eating a piece of apple pie, and I suppose I should have taken the oil right away, but I put it off though the thought of it spoiled my pie.

My bad one, which to myself I call Slop-Mouth, came popping up to my side and kept saying to put it off until Monday, as we were going to have a roasted rooster for supper, and I would not enjoy it if I took the oil then. I knew we were going to have the rooster because Ma had got it all ready on Saturday. For dinner on Sundays we just have lunch, but always have something extra for supper.

So I waited, not being sharp enough to see it was Slop-mouth talking to me. Then on Monday Slop-mouth said, how would it be to put off taking the oil till sometime I was sick and needed it anyway, as I hadn’t said in my vow just when I would take it. I was just deciding to do that when old Crusty, as I call my good one, who walks on my right, gave me one of her sharp digs and asked me if I didn’t know Slop-mouth yet when I saw him.

It is easy to get away from Slop-mouth, as soon as you let yourself see him, but it is queer how he can fool you into looking him straight in the face, and can get you to keep your eye off your good one at the same time.

As soon as Crusty said that, I jumped up and went to the pantry and got the oil bottle.

September 13: I always feel safer to let everyone know the worst things about me, and then I need never quake in my boots for fear they are going to find it out for themselves. And I notice that when you confess your sins yourself it takes away all the enjoyment anyone else might find in casting them up to you, if they happen to find out about them some other way. It is always safest, with nine in your family, to keep all your sins confessed up.

All the family knew about this anyway, because when I was the maddest I felt as though I must hear something smash, and I kicked a pane out of a window.

It wasn’t much to get mad at, and I knew I was in the wrong, which was what helped to make me so mad. I had left a little hair in the comb, and Jessie told me to go back and take it out. She said it in a rather bossy way, and I told her to do it herself. That was what started it, but it kept getting worse and worse, and when Ma made me take the hair out I was so mad that I walked up to the window and smashed the pane. And then I rushed upstairs and locked myself in my room and bawled.

I would have felt alright if Ma had given me a good licking, but nobody said a word. Pa put the pane in next day.

When I was mad like that old slopmouth didn’t seem like slopmouth at all, but like some powerful leaping snake that had suddenly somehow sprung into my body and was snapping and darting in every direction, and didn’t care where it bit. I hate putting it down in my diary, and I almost left it out, as I have been repenting ever since and don’t think I will ever lose my temper like that again, but I may have some descendants with very bad tempers, and this might be a lesson to them, supposing it does make them think less of me.

I will always be more afraid of slopmouth now, as I didn’t know he could act like that, and sort of take possession of me. I have changed his name to snake-eye. Writing it all down has made me feel so sort of dumpy that I don’t feel like writing anything else tonight.

The circle of God’s love

Ma says the greatest mistake in the world is the notion some people get that outside of God’s laws there is freedom.  She says that the only real freedom to be found on the earth is within the circle of His laws, and as soon as one steps outside of that circle, he finds himself in another circle that gradually closes in upon him, closer and closer till all the joy is squeezed out of his life and out of the thing he went outside to enjoy.  But God’s circle widens and widens to hold all your happy times, and add happy times unto them, and keep them for you forever.

[This is a repeat of a post from February 6, 2013, excerpted from When I Was Thirteen, copyright the estate of Christina Young Plumb.  It is the diary of a thirteen year old girl in south-western Ontario at the end of the nineteenth century.]

Parents: Don’t run ahead of God!

I heard it again the other night — the failure of a childhood conversion.

The counsellor at a Christian summer camp had talked about Jesus and heaven and then asked the children if they wanted to go to be with Jesus in heaven when they died. A little girl was among those who said yes. The counsellor led her in a prayer and then told her that she was saved. She tried to do all the right things after that, but God didn’t seem very real and eventually she quit trying. After many twists and turns in her life she found herself a single mother in desperate need of help.  This time her prayer came from her heart and God was there to answer and has continued to guide and sustain her.

It’s not always the camp counsellor, most often it’s Mom and Dad. They want an assurance that their precious child will not be lost and so they begin at a tender age to prompt their child to give her heart to the Lord. Precious Child is happy to please Mom and Dad and recites the sinner’s prayer, often at the age of four, five or six. Mom and Dad rejoice that Precious Child is now a child of God. As soon as Precious Child grows up and leaves home, she drifts away from the church and her profession of Christianity.

One Canadian writer described these young people as the Goodbye Generation — those who appear outwardly to be faithful Christians during their youth. Yet when they say goodbye to Mom and Dad and face life on their own, they also say goodbye to faith and church. I think it is fair to ask if they ever really had a relationship with God. A survey a year or two ago found that young people who find meaning and direction in Bible reading and prayer while growing up, continued to live out their faith after they left home.

I know Moms and Dads, you love your children, you want them to be saved. But salvation is a personal relationship between your child and God. You cannot arrange, manage or force the beginning of that relationship. If you try, the results might be heart-breaking.

Wait for God to call your child. You are not the Holy Spirit, you cannot force God to do His part. Just trust that He will. Neither can you persuade or force your child to do his part. That is entirely between him and God.

I know that it can be painful to wait. While you are waiting, you might want to check your own relationship with God, ask Him if your life is all the He wants it to be. Don’t give your child a mixed message by calling yourself a Christian, yet living as though God has little place in your life.

So many of the things that are done to make church attractive to young people are a tragic waste of time and effort.  Churches should not be trying to convince young people that they can have Jesus plus all the worthless baubles that the world runs after. Tell them that it will cost something to be a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. Young people are searching for meaning in life, don’t try to sidetrack them with empty fun.

But most of all, let God do the God part. Let God do the calling, let your child make the choice to respond to that call and then let God do the adopting. God will not adopt your child as His own if all He sees is a forced or halfhearted repentance. But when the repentance is truly from the heart then God responds by wrapping your child in His love. This is what you really want, isn’t it? Then try not to get in God’s way.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 408 other followers

%d bloggers like this: