Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Living faith

It appears that many Muslims in Syria and Iraq are beginning to realize that the Wahabi branch of Islam is not their friend. As long as Wahabi-inspired terrorism seemed to be mainly directed at Jews, Christians, and Western civilization in general, they could cheer for supposed Islamic victories and overlook attacks against other Muslims. But now ISIS is aimed solely at other Muslims and people are rethinking their admiration for the teachings of the Wahabi movement.

Muslims like to claim that Christians are divided into many conflicting denominations and Muslims are all one. This ignores the fundamental differences between Sunnis and Shiites that are behind many Middle East conflicts. Then there are the Alawis, Druzes, Ahmadiyas and other smaller groups, regarded as heretics by both Sunnis and Shiites. The Wahabis are the hardline ultra-orthodox wing of the Sunnites and consider all the others to be apostate. This doesn’t sound much like unity to me.

The confusion of so many differing conflicting voices, all claiming to speak for the Christian faith is not a strong argument for Christianity. We will not improve matters by trying to paper over those differences and pretending to all get along, which would mean agreeing to not believe much of anything.

Is the only alternative to try and prove everybody else wrong and stridently drown out their voices? How do we seek the truth, take a stand for the truth, without being curmudgeons? How did Jesus do it?

Jesus used many uncomplimentary terms to describe the pharisees, such as “blind leaders of the blind.” But he never stooped to using personal insults. He was pointing out the disconnect between what they professed to believe and the way they conducted their lives. The gospels report that many of the pharisees believed in Him.

In all He said and did, Jesus was uncompromising in His denunciation of sin, yet sinners still felt His love. As Christians, we often claim to “hate the sin but love the sinner,” but do people living in sin really feel that from us? Or do they experience scorn and rejection?

It is not within our human ability to produce a genuine Christ-like attitude. It is when our lives are animated by the presence of the Holy Spirit that we can reject sin in all its forms without rejecting the people captured in those sins.

All the squabbling over truth does nothing to prove the truth of the Christian faith. Yet truth is important, “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” Truth in the abstract form can never set us free. Truth that transforms our lives and makes us more like Christ is the only real evidence of the reality of Christian faith.

The Death of Relativism

Bob Goodnough:

In case people haven’t noticed, here is a very lucid explanation of the changes taking place all around us. (That didn’t come out right did it? What I meant to say was: In case you haven’t noticed the changes taking place all around us, here is a very lucid explanation of what is happening.)

Originally posted on RELATIONAL APOLOGETICS:

relativismRelativism came to popularity in Western culture, where the dominant worldview was the Christian worldview. Ideas like sin and repentance were accepted and normal. Biblical precepts gave society its moral boundaries. Those who chose to live outside those boundaries needed to do one of two things: convince people that their actions were not wrong or erase the idea of wrong all together. Rather than persuade others that their beliefs were right, crafty and deceitful men and women perpetuated the idea that we are all right. It was a dishonest and spineless approach.

When truth is not on your side or you have no power, you need relativism. When you are not in a position to make people do what you think is right, a clever way to justify your own “personal right” is to propagate the idea that everyone is right. So pop philosophy and its bumper stickers gave us…

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A memorable small town minister

Readers may have noticed that in my last post I only gave  the full name of one of the young people who met an untimely death. I named Joan Vickers because I wanted to write a little about her father, Reverend Kenneth Vickers. The funny thing is that I can bring up no memories of Joan from school. Since I had skipped a grade, she would have been one year behind me. The only memories I have of her are of times when we were in their home.

The Vickers family were only in our town for two or three years, but we visited with them often. Ken Vickers was the only minister that passed through our church that had the common touch that made everyone feel comfortable around him. He didn’t think it beneath his calling to spend a few days helping a farmer and getting his hands dirty. It wouldn’t have been hard to imagine him as a carpenter, electrician, or storekeeper. That made him feel more trustworthy as a spiritual advisor. I guess I’ve always found it difficult to relate to someone who was a professional minister and nothing else.

I began serving as an altar boy during the time that Ken Vickers was minister of our church. That often meant getting up early on a Sunday morning to accompany him as he held services in a couple of other towns. He served churches in four towns and usually had services in each of them every Sunday: 9:00 am, 11:00 am, 2:30 pm and 7:30 pm.

Thirteen years later, Chris and I were planning to get married and neither of us had any church connection. It happened that Ken Vickers was then minister of the congregation in Moose Jaw that my parents attended. We asked him if he would marry us and he agreed. We had two marriage counselling sessions with him first. The one thing both of us remember is a mention of the verse in 1 Corinthians 15:47: “The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven.” We have no recollection of what more might have been said, but the fact that we both remember it must indicate some influence on our spiritual journey.

By the time our wedding date rolled around, Ken Vickers had been transferred to another location, but he returned for the marriage ceremony. Perhaps if I had encountered more ministers like Ken Vickers in the Anglican Church, we might have been inclined to try and find a congregation of that church in our new location after we were married. But I guess by that time I had encountered mostly those who were professional ministers and unconnected with real life. Ken Vickers was different.

My times are in thy hands

As teenagers we were invincible. We were young, healthy and strong, what could possibly go wrong?

It turned out that a whole lot of things could , and would, go wrong.  A year after we graduated from high school in 1959, Jim and his dad were installing a septic system for their home. All the digging was done by hand and Jim was at the bottom of a trench when one side collapsed. He was dead by the time they dug him out.

Bobby wanted to see the world, so he enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He went through training, specializing in radio communications. He was assigned to an aircraft carrier; one day out of port an electrical short circuit caused a fire in the radio cabin and he perished.

Joan Vickers’ father was an Anglican minister and had been transferred to another town before we finished school. Joan was a slim, attractive young lady, just nine days younger than me, there was no hint of any health problem. Yet she was only 21 when she suffered a heart attack and died.

A few years later, Ken was driving down the highway in a snow storm. He must not have realized that the white out condition just in front of him was being caused by a semi-trailer. He plowed into the back of the semi and the lights went out for him.

Yet here I am, past the Biblical best before date of threescore and ten, and still going. I won’t say that I’m going strong, though; by now I am well aware that I am not invincible. If I have learned anything in those years, it is that I have no right to expect good things to happen to me. The good things that have happened are not a result of my inherent goodness or wise planning. It’s all a bonus; something to be thankful for.

Yesterday I was part of a group in charge of a chapel service in one of Saskatoon’s hospitals. These services are short; I shared some thoughts on David’s statement in Psalm 31:15: “My times are in thy hands.” Nobody ever wishes or plans to be a hospital patient. Much of our life consists of unplanned things that happen to us. There’s no point looking for someone to blame these things on, especially not God. Yet God knows every detail of our life and will be with us, no matter what we face, if we don’t push Him away.

After the service, one of the attendees told me a little of her life. One day, when she was 30 years old, she had been a happily married lady in the morning; before evening her husband died in a car accident and she was a widow, left to raise their 5 year old daughter by herself. She said it drew her closer to God. He is there when everything else we depended on fails us.

They’ll know we are Christians by our ______

I was walking through the upper shopping level of Midtown Plaza on Wednesday and noticed an elderly Sikh couple standing at the top of an escalator. The man made a few false starts, then grasped the moving handrail and stepped firmly on to the joint between two treads. He almost lost his balance as the front tread dropped away from under his feet, but found his footing and rode safely down. His wife watched, then put her foot forward and quickly pulled it back. She was almost blocking access to the escalator as she repeated this manoeuvre several times. None of those waiting seemed impatient, all tried in some way to be helpful. Finally a man stepped on in front of her and motioned her to follow. He kept an eye on her all the way down to see that she didn’t lose her balance, then went his way. I was touched by the patience and kindness shown by busy people to this old couple who were obviously new to this part of the world.

The news media had been carrying stories for several days about five young teens who had ventured out on a lake in northern Saskatchewan and disappeared. They had been found the previous day on an island, where they had broken into a wilderness resort for shelter and food. On Wednesday it was reported that there appeared to be a lot more damage to the resort lodge than would have been necessary for mere survival.

An hour after witnessing the scene at the Midtown, I was sipping a coffee in a Christian book store. Not far from me, two elderly couples were discussing the news of the lost teens and the damage to the lodge. “They ought to be horsewhipped!” one man said.

As Christians we endeavour to inculcate principles of good behaviour and respect for the property of others. This is as it should be. Does this then give us authority to judge others for every deviation from our standard? The contrast between the two scenes was stark: patient compassion on one hand and impatient condemnation on the other.

The man went on to explain himself. I didn’t hear nearly all of what he said, but it seemed that in his own eyes he was being completely fair and reasonable. But the news reports haven’t even revealed what kind of damage was done, and it’s not an established fact that these young people were responsible for all the damage. It could be that they broke into a liquor cabinet and had a wild party. But we don’t know that.

What would an unbeliever have concluded if he had been able to observe both scenes? That non-Christians are kind, caring and compassionate and Christians are not? That surely is not the impression we want to give.

“To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts” (Hebrews 3:15).

“For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:29). We should never take this to mean that we must be more self-righteous than the scribes and Pharisees.

There is one Lord

Ministers are not lords over their congregations; husbands are not lords over their wives; parents are not lords over their children, employers are not lords over their employees. Yet God has delegated to each one of us a measure of responsibility, and even of authority. As long as we submit ourselves to the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, and exercise of our responsibility as a service to Him and to others, it will produce harmonious results. When we try to impress others with the importance of our roles, the harmony disappears and people will get hurt, including ourselves.

Giving credit where credit is due

I have posted two letters written by Benjamin Eby, the first was on May 14 and entitled “A gentle admonition,” the second was yesterday. These letters were originally written in German, the English translations were done by Isaac R Horst, an Old Order Mennonite of Mount Forest, Ontario.  I obtained the first letter during a personal visit to Mr Horst, the second is contained in his book “Close Ups of the Great Awakening.” This book is a compilation of records around the time of the Old Order division in Ontario, and elsewhere.

We left Ontario 21 years ago and I have not seen Mr Horst since that time. We made several visits to his home during the years we lived in Ontario and found him and his wife to be friendly, hospitable people. I’m not sure how much farming Mr Horst did, he had a few cows and chickens, at least. He dismantled old buildings and sold the materials that could be salvaged for reuse. In whatever time remained, he was an avid historian. There was nothing in his personal appearance that would have suggested just how knowledgeable and articulate he was.

He had collected a wealth of information, old letters and historical records, and published a number of books. Most of them were self published, but a few years ago I came across a book in our nearest Christian book store entitled “A Separate People,”  written by Mr Horst and published by Herald Press in 2000. If Mr Horst is still living, he is 96 years old.

Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace

The first Mennonites to settle in Canada came from Pennsylvania in 1786 and settled near Sherkston, along Twenty Mile Creek in the Niagara region of Ontario. The church membership increased rapidly. Dissension arose between two of the ministers in the later 1840′s. Bishop Benjamin Eby of Waterloo county was called in to make peace between Dilman Moyer and Daniel Hoch. For a short time he appeared to have succeeded. But in 1849 the dissension flared up again and Daniel Hoch left the church and was excommunicated. Benjamin Eby wrote the following letter in November of 1850.

This is a matter of which I would rather be spared; since it might only serve to raise Hoch’s hostility, which I hate to do, for my calling is to seek peace, according to the Lord’s word, where he says “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” Since you, however, so urgently urge me for an explanation of the above question, I feel prompted by my honest love for you to give you a scriptural answer, to enable you to prove it by God’s word.

Jesus commanded his disciples to preach and to baptize; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you. Under this doctrine we have pledged ourselves; it leads us on the narrow way, the strait gate; on this way of the cross we are enlightened through the Holy Ghost, and learn to deny our innate carnal reasoning and self will; walk in obedience to Christ’s teachings; (excluding weakness) we share the divine nature; then we learn meekness and humility from Jesus; we love God with our whole heart, and our neighbour as ourselves; we thank God for His many benefits, and beseech Him for further protection according to His Holy will; we pray for our fellowmen, even our enemies who offend us; and when we see their souls in such great danger on the road to eternal perdition, we come before the Lord with fervent tears in prayer, and pray for grace for them. This is only a little of the fruit and nature of the regenerated children of God; and it is the duty of a faithful shepherd, earnestly and diligently to seek to lead the flock to this doctrine, and strengthen it therein; for the office of a preacher is a serious calling. Paul says, “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us; we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.” And Peter says, “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.” And Paul, “Take therefore unto yourselves and to all the flock, over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood.” Paul also admonished the church when he said, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves; for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do mit with joy and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.”

Many more passages can be quoted out of the old and new Testaments on the duty of preachers, but I consider the above to be sufficient, whereby you can realize why I gladly hold to God’s word unwaveringly. And because of the conviction of my conscience, I can do not other as in my insignificance with the gifts which the Lord in His grace gave me, than to deal honestly, and not to deviate from God’s commandment. This is the reason why I cannot be in unity with Jacob Grosz and his followers, because they have begun to associate with those who do not walk in the doctrine which Christ and the apostles taught.

I admonished them to confess the truth of the Gospel and hold fast thereon, which they do not wish to do, but rather took their own way. I beseech you, you may take time to understand the full meaning of this proposition. I do not wish to judge other religions. But these were of our own church members, therefore I wished to admonish them to steadfastness, that they might not break their baptismal vows. For there where at that time they began to associate with, it is allowed to baptize children, contrary to God’s command, for He commanded to baptize believers. Christ commanded His disciples to preach the Gospel freely; those preach for wages. Christ commended His disciples to flee from one city to another when they are persecuted; those seize the ones who cause unrest, and bring them before judgments. Christ prohibited the swearing of an oath; those do not avoid the swearing of an oath. Christ commanded His disciples to wash each other’s feet; those say that was only a custom in the east, of which we have no need to do. They do not seem to remember that the rest of the commandments were also given in the east. Christ gave His communion to His disciples and said, “This do in remembrance of me.” Acts 2:42 it says that the believes at Jerusalem remained steadfast in the apostle’s teachings, and in communion, and in breaking of bread, and in prayer. They were as one heart and one soul. Those want to make the Lord’s communion common, and allow such the privilege to take it who do not remain in the doctrine of Jesus Christ. Christ commanded, “teach them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” We promised to follow this commandment of Christ at our baptism; those wish to follow their own imagination.

With this association Daniel Hoch also left the church, (that we cast him out, as we are blamed, is an error, for he left on his own accord;) and joined himself with that association, as he himself admitted in a letter of July 31, 1849, where he writes, “We, Jacob Grosz, Jacob Albrecht, and I, came to agreement last fall,” which agreement already ended in August, 1849. Then he came, once more to unite with us, but not in the likeness of the prodigal son, who came in repentance; nor like Peter, who wept bitterly; nor humiliated like Manasse. Were any indications of repentance to be felt, we would have embraced him with love. But unless he realizes and perceives his deviation from the church, and freely confesses that he allowed himself to be led astray, no honest church member can trust him as a true shepherd. For when a shepherd leaves his flock and flees, then the sheep dare not trust him, otherwise the flock may be scattered. I hope through the above writing you may understand my mind regarding holding fast to the teachings of Christ. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. On this foundation our rules and regulations stand, upon which the church of Christ must be planted, built and founded; and when one brother has offended another, confesses his error, comes and says, “I am sorry,” he shall be forgiven; should he not repent of his error, it shall be told to the church, and if he does not hear the church, she shall set him like unto the heathen. Thus the church has the full right, from Christ himself, to keep church counsel.

When the shepherds do not choose to allow the church their rights, mistrust, hostility, and finally strife follows, whereby the enemy has the opportunity to bring heresies among them, and lead the poor souls into destruction. This was the case at the Twenty. Grosz wished to govern the church according to the Gospel, but Hoch left him and would not follow him; whereupon Grosz had to make many grievous complaints, since he could plainly see that the church, instead of being cared for, was being more and more led into confusion, until finally, as if in despair, both united [or agreed] to leave the church, and fled together.

Winter travels

Our fall was much warmer than usual, but now it has turned cold and every once in a while we get a little skiff of snow. There is just enough to cover the ground this morning and most of it could disappear if we get a sunny day or two. Nevertheless, this is the beginning of winter here on the flatlands.

Winter was much more formidable when I was a small boy. Formidable for the adults at least, since there was no machinery to keep the country roads open. Even our driveway filled up with deep snowbanks, due to the thick windbreak of trees between us and the road.

The only way to get anywhere was to walk, or hitch up the team of horses to the sleigh and go around the trees and across the fields. We had heavy horsehide robes to place over our laps and my mother often heated stones in the oven to place on the floor of the sleigh to help keep us warm.

I had a one mile walk across country to get to school. I remember one winter morning, I think I was eight years old. It was bitterly cold and there was five feet of snow in the driveway. Dad had the sleigh hitched up and ready to go as soon as I was finished breakfast. Mom fixed my lunch and I dressed up warmly, climbed into the sleigh, pulled the horsehide robe up over my knees and we were off . The sun was just coming up and it seemed that every snowflake over the whole landscape sparkled like a diamond in the light.

We got to school on time, but no one else was there. I was confused at first, then a little spark of memory lit up.

“Umm, Dad, I guess I forgot. Today is a holiday.”

The ride home was very quiet.

I guess I’ve always been absent-minded. This incident is still clear in my memory. The time was probably February of 1950 and the holiday would have been due to a teachers’ convention. Dad may have been upset, but he never scolded me.

Life is precious

Remembrance Day in Canada has aroused more poignant feelings than it has for many years. For the first time in living memory Canadian soldiers have been killed on Canadian soil. The incidents appear to have been unrelated, uncoordinated. In each case, only one soldier and the attacker died.

Two young Canadian men had come to blame our society for their problems and converted to Islam. They found websites and met individuals who filled their minds with teachings of jihad and decided that Allah wanted them to kill some of their fellow Canadians, preferably those wearing uniforms of the Canadian Armed Forces.

The aftermath has been reassuring. Ordinary citizens rushed to the assistance of the soldier who was shot while standing guard at the National War Memorial and tried to resuscitate him, although without success. There has been an outpouring of sympathy for the fallen soldiers and their families. Most Muslim imams in Canada have come out strongly against radical Islamist teachings that lead to such actions. We have all been made freshly aware of the value of human life.

There are a few radical imams in the country. The RCMP and CSIS (Canadian Security and Intelligence Agency) know who they are. The two attackers were being monitored by the police. We still live in a free society and such people cannot just be rounded up because they have expressed leanings toward radical Islam. There is no telling when such thoughts might turn to action.

While the RCMP and CSIS are necessary to restrain the forces of evil, they are not the real solution to the problem of evil. What we need is a renewed appreciation of the meaning and value of life.

Jesus said “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” Griping Christians are not much of a witness of the abundant life. Neither is artificial enthusiasm. The peace and joy of a Spirit-filled life will be much more convincing.


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