Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Dying with dignity

The Supreme Court of Canada is currently considering the question of assisted suicide, or what some people call the right to die with dignity. This has brought back to my mind something that happened many years ago. This account would not have any significance to the legal minds who are arguing before the Supreme Court, but I think it demonstrates the possible effect the choice of an early exit of this life could have on one’s eternal destiny.

In the early years of our married life Tom and Theresa*, a couple who attended the same church as we did, had been our good friends. Then we moved away and eventually lost touch with them. Some years later we heard that Theresa and the children had left Tom.

A time came when we were back in the area for a few days and we phoned Theresa and invited ourselves over for a visit. She told us how Tom had been physically abusive to her all their married life. She had covered up what was really happening at home and tried to keep the family together for the sake of the children. Then Tom became physically abusive toward their oldest daughter. That was the breaking point, she took the children, moved out and began a new life. Tom never admitted any wrongdoing or made any attempt at reconciliation.

Then she told us how it had gone when Tom’s father (who also belonged to the same church) was dying. Toward the end, when he was in the hospital and it was evident he was not going to get better, Theresa was the only one of the family to spend time with him. Her father-in-law had never admitted that his son had done anything wrong and blamed her for the breakup of their marriage.

Finally one night his internal organs began to shut down and it was apparent the end was near. Theresa sat with him the whole night, praying for him and trying to discover if he was at peace with God and ready to go. He turned his face to the wall and would not speak to her at all through the night. At last, as morning approached, he turned to her and whispered that he was sorry for all that had happened and asked if she could forgive him. They prayed together and he was at peace. He breathed his last as the morning light dawned.

Would it have been better for Tom’s father if he could have decided to “die with dignity” a few hours, or a few days sooner?

* not their real names

We don’t need better politicians, we need better Christians

Well, better politicians would be good, too. But we get what we deserve; and the present crop of politicians are doing the best they can with the information they have. Better Christians could be a means of making better information available to the politicians, as well as everyone else.

“But take heed to yourselves: for they shall deliver you up to councils; and in the synagogues ye shall be beaten: and ye shall be brought before rulers and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them” (the words of Jesus in Mark 13:9). Jesus didn’t teach that Christians should try to negotiate with the rulers to institute better practices of governance. His concern was that the testimony of the gospel should be heard in all places, despite the dangers.

There is no hint in the New Testament that governments will ever be favourable to Christians. Nevertheless, we are to pray for them that they might have wisdom to restrain evil-doers and maintain a modicum of order and freedom. That is the realm of governments, not of Christians, and we should give thanks to God for all that our governments are still doing in those areas.

But we have deceived ourselves into thinking that we live in a Christian nation and that we should rightfully have some influence on the governments. That has led to a laxity among Christians that leaves us feeling helpless when we realize the extent of our deception. The correct way to deal with that is to set our own house in order and not waste our breath trying to set the government house in order.

We need a revival of true faith and righteous living. We cannot tolerate lowered standards of honesty and moral purity in our own circles, then complain that the government has let us down.

Nineteen hundred years ago an unknown Christian wrote: “In a word, what the soul is in a body, this Christians are in the world. The soul is spread through all the members of the body, and Christians through the divers cities of the world. The soul hath its abode in the body, yet it is not of the body. So Christians have their abode in the world, and yet they are not of the world. The soul which is invisible is guarded in the body which is visible; so Christians are recognised as being in the world, and yet their religion remaineth invisible. The flesh hateth the soul and wageth war against it, though it receiveth no wrong, because it is forbidden to indulge in pleasures; so the world hateth Christians, because they set themselves against its  pleasures. The soul loveth the flesh which hateth it, and the members; so Christians love those that hate them. The soul is enclosed in the body, and yet itself holdeth the body together; so Christians are kept in the world as in a prison-house, and yet they themselves hold the world together. The soul though itself immortal dwelleth in a mortal tabernacle; so Christians sojourn amidst perishable things, while they look for the imperishability which is in the heavens. The soul when hardly treated in the matter of meat and drink is improved; and so Christians when punished increase more and more daily. So great is the office to which God has appointed them, and which it is not lawful for them to decline.” (The Epistle to Diognetus, circa AD 150).

Can the same be said of Christians today?

Are you in the grip of, or under the influence of, a virus?

War is hell. The First World War, from 1914 to 1918, resulted in the death of 10 million soldiers and 7 million civilians. At least 20 million more were wounded.

As horrible as that sounds, the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 to 1919 caused at least 50 million deaths, some say 100 million. Beginning in January 1918, it quickly swept around the world, infecting 500 million people. This epidemic was different from most flu epidemics as the highest mortality rate was among the young and strong. It is now thought that the immune system of the healthiest people overreacted to the virus and made it far more deadly. The young, the old, and those with compromised immune systems were more likely to survive. This has not been the case with most subsequent outbreaks of influenza.

The 1918 epidemic was caused by a Type A H1N1 virus. The outbreak appears to have begun at a military staging and hospital camp at Étaples, France. Historian Mark Humphries of Memorial University of Newfoundland thinks that the disease may have originated from the 96,000 Chinese labourers who worked behind the British and French lines on the Western Front. He cites archival evidence that a respiratory illness that struck northern China in November 1917 was identified a year later by Chinese health officials as identical to the Spanish flu.

Wartime censors limited the reporting of the flu outbreak in the combatant nations. Spain was neutral during the war; thus news reporting from Spain was allowed and inadvertently this epidemic became known as the Spanish Flu.

The disease is known as La Grippe in French, I suppose meaning that one is in the grip of the virus. The French name was still commonly used 100 years ago by English-speaking people. At some point English-speaking people switched to the Latin word influenza, which means that one is being influenced by the virus.

Symptoms of the flu include coughing, fever, tiredness, aching muscles, joint pain, headaches and chest discomfort. These symptoms do not usually accompany a cold. Sore throats and nasal discharge are symptoms of the common cold and are less often associated with the flu. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea may occur in children with the flu but not often in adults. What is often mistakenly called the “stomach flu” is usually gastroenteritis, caused by a rotavirus. Allergy symptoms may mimic cold symptoms, but are not so easily confused with the flu. The most severe flu symptoms generally last only a few days, but it may take two weeks or more for full recovery.

The influenza virus is still a serious health concern. In a normal year more than 12,000 Canadians are hospitalized due to the flu, and 3,500 die. I don’t have information for other provinces, but here in Saskatchewan free immunization is offered to all residents over 6 months of age. The vaccine contains an inactivated virus and cannot give you the flu.

I have had recurring bouts of allergic rhinitis, the common cold and the flu all my life, not always being able to distinguish among the three. Time and experience, plus numerous consultations with doctors, have taught me that most of those episodes were due to allergic reactions to dust, pollen, moulds and various other things. However, an allergic reaction can reduce my immunity to the flu virus and I have had some rather lengthy bouts with the flu, leading to pneumonia in at least one case. I have been getting the annual flu shot for at least ten years now and it has definitely reduced those bouts.

Peace in the Valley

Back in 1932 I was 32 years old and a fairly new husband. My wife, Nettie and I were living in a little apartment on Chicago’s Southside. One hot August afternoon I had to go to St. Louis, where I was to be the featured soloist at a large revival meeting. I didn’t want to go. Nettie was in the last month of pregnancy with our first child. But a lot of people were expecting me in St. Louis. I kissed Nettie good-bye, clattered downstairs to our Model A and, in a fresh Lake Michigan breeze, chugged out of Chicago on Route 66.

However, outside the city, I discovered that in my anxiety at leaving, had forgotten my music case. I wheeled around and headed back. I found Nettie sleeping peacefully. I hesitated by her bed; something was strongly telling me to stay. But eager to get on my way, and not wanting to disturb Nettie, I shrugged off the feeling and quietly slipped out of the room with my music.

The next night, in the steaming St. Louis heat, the crowd called on me to sing again and again. When I finally sat down, a messenger boy ran up with a Western Union telegram. I ripped open the envelope. Pasted on the yellow sheet were the words: YOUR WIFE JUST DIED. People were happily singing and clapping around me, but I could hardly keep from crying out. I rushed to a phone and called home. All I could hear on the other end was “Nettie is dead. Nettie is dead.”

When I got back, I learned that Nettie had given birth to a boy. I swung between grief and joy. Yet that night, the baby died. I buried Nettie and our little boy together, in the same casket. Then I fell apart. For days I closeted myself. I felt that God had done me an injustice. I didn’t want to serve Him any more or write gospel songs. I just wanted to go back to that jazz world I once knew so well.

But then, as I hunched alone in that dark apartment those first sad days, I thought back to the afternoon I went to St. Louis. Something kept telling me to stay with Nettie. Was that something God? Oh, if I had paid more attention to Him that day, I would have stayed and been with Nettie when she died. From that moment on I vowed to listen more closely to Him.

But still I was lost in grief . . . On the following Saturday evening . . . I sat down at the piano, and my hands began to browse over the keys. Something happened to me then – I felt at peace. I feel as though I could reach out and touch God. I found myself playing a melody, one I’d never heard or played before, and the words just seemed to fall into place:

Precious Lord, take my hand,
lead me on, let me stand!
I am tired, I am weak,
I am worn. Through the storm,
through the night, lead me on to the light,
Take my hand, precious Lord, Lead me home.

The Lord gave me these words and melody, He also healed my spirit. I learned that when we are in our deepest grief, when we feel farthest from God, this is when He is closest, and when we are most open to His restoring power. And so I go on living for God willingly and joyfully, until that day comes when He will take me and gently lead me home.


This testimony of Thomas Dorsey was published in Guideposts in 1987. It has circulated around the internet in recent years where it has been mistakenly attributed to big band leader Tommy Dorsey. Despite the similarity in names, and the fact that they were prominent during roughly the same era, they are not the same person. Tommy Dorsey was a white band leader who did not write gospel music or display any interest in the gospel as far as I have heard.

Thomas Dorsey was black, the son of an itinerant preacher and an organist. He developed a love of music from his mother and an interest in the gospel from his father. However, when the family fell on hard times, his musical interest turned to the blues. While still in his teens, he began playing the piano and singing in bars and other settings not conducive to Christian faith. His mother urged him to change his life and use his talents to serve the Lord. He tried for a time, but soon was back playing in bars.

One night, when he was 25 Dorsey noticed an unsteadiness in his playing. The unsteadiness grew worse, leaving him unable to practice, write or perform. It lasted for two or three years. Doctors were unable to help him. Finally, he made a new commitment of faith, was healed and vowed to do the Lord’s work. Still, he found there was more money to be made playing the blues and writing blues songs and oscillated between the blues and gospel music until the tragic death of his first wife. From then on he dedicated his life solely to gospel music and served as a choir director until well into his eighties.

He wrote hundreds of gospel songs, many of which have become staples among black Christians. Another that is well known among white Christians is Peace in the Valley.

I am tired and weary but I must toil on
Till the Lord come to call me away
Where the morning is bright and the Lamb is the light
And the night is fair as the day

There’ll be peace in the valley for me some day
There’ll be peace in the valley for me
I pray no more sorrow and sadness or trouble will be
There’ll be peace in the valley for me

Don’t tell your Mom

The teacher told her class: “Your parents probably won’t understand what we’ve been talking about, so it would be better if you didn’t tell them about it.” One of the students in that class was the teenaged daughter of a co-worker. I could tell that her Mom was not impressed when she talked about it at work the next day. But what could she do? She was already doing one of the best things she could in such circumstances: the mother-daughter relationship was so strong that the daughter couldn’t imagine not talking to her Mom about things that troubled her at school.

That was more than 20 years ago. Nowadays we talk about “helicopter mothers” who hover around their children to protect them from bad things that might happen on the way to and from school, or on the playground. Others are convinced that the greatest danger is what goes on inside the classroom and have opted for other methods of teaching their children.

One alternative that is growing in popularity is for parents to teach their children at home. Many other parents are concerned about what their children are learning, and not learning, in school, but they can’t imagine that home-schooling would provide the education their children need. In addition, the time and effort that would be needed appear to be impossible for ordinary humans.

Would it be too strong to say that such parents have been brainwashed? From the beginning of the public schools, it has been the explicit goal of the educational establishment to convince parents that they are incompetent to teach their children. It took more than 100 years, but they have largely succeeded. And children are learning less and less all the time.

This quote from a study by the Fraser Institute blows the cover off the supposed superiority of public schools:

“Surprisingly, several studies have found that home education may help eliminate the potential negative effects of certain sociol-economic factors. Though children whose parents have university degrees score higher on tests of academic achievement than other home schooled children, home education appears to mitigate the harmful effects of low parental education levels. That is, public schools seem to educate children of poorly educated parents worse than do the poorly educated parents themselves. One study found that students taught at home by mothers who had never finished high school scored a full 55 percentile points higher than public school students from parents with comparable education levels.”1

Some exceptional teachers have inspired children from disadvantaged homes to accomplish great things. Such teachers do exist, but they are not the norm. The primary responsibility for instilling a desire to learn in children rests with their parents. They are also in the best position to teach proper conduct and respect for others.

Congregations of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, of which I am a member, have chosen to operate private schools for their children. The key to the successful functioning of these schools is for parents to be parents — to be actively involved in their children’s lives and be the primary teachers of moral, social and spiritual values.

The long and short of it is that, despite the noise from the public system, parents are more qualified to teach their children than any professional teacher. Whatever form of education parents choose for their children, if certain foundational principles have not been taught in the home, the teacher has little to build upon.

1 Home Schooling: From the Extreme to the Mainstream, published 2007 by the Fraser Institute,Vancouver, BC, Canada. The Fraser Institute is an independent research and educational organization founded in 1974. The Fraser Institute does not accept grants from government or contracts for research.

Harvest Home

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Here in Saskatchewan the trees are bare, the flowers have died, geese are migrating and most of the combines are parked. Garden produce has been gathered in and the long, plump, white grain bags lying in many fields are silent evidence of a bountiful harvest. Monday will be Thanksgiving.

The custom of giving thanks for harvest is first observed in the fourth chapter of Genesis where Cain and Abel offered sacrifices to God. We are not told why God accepted Abel’s sacrifice and not Cain’s, but it must have had more to do with Cain than with his sacrifice.

The three main festivals prescribed by the Law were all centred around harvest. Passover took place at the very beginning of the harvest of fall-seeded grain and the first sheaf of barley was to be offered at this time. The men then returned home to harvest their crops and seven weeks later returned for the festival of first fruits (also called the festival of weeks, or of wheat harvest and known in the New Testament as Pentecost). Fall was the time for the feast of tabernacles, or ingathering, when all the crops had been gathered in: spring seeded grains, wine and oil.

I think most peoples around the world had some kind of traditional harvest festival. In England it was called Harvest Home and began when the last of the reaped grain was brought in from the fields. It began as a pagan festival, but this is one festival that was fittingly co-opted by the church. Sheafs of grain and garden produce were brought into the church; hymns of praise and thanksgiving were sung and prayers offered to thank God for His goodness.

We call it Thanksgiving today and it comes upon a fixed day in the autumn, whether harvest is complete or not. Many of us are now quite disconnected from the production of the food that we eat, anyway. Why then do we celebrate Thanksgiving?

First off, it is good that we do not forget the rhythms of life around us, that we are entirely dependent upon God to supply our needs. Yes, we work for what we get, but it is within God’s power to withhold the fruits of our labours, or to bestow them upon us in abundance.

When He withholds, this is an opportunity to search our lives and reorder our priorities in order to bring them into harmony with God’s priorities. When He pours an abundance of material blessings upon us, we must remember that this is not merely the result of our labours but a blessing from God. And He does not want us to use it all to pamper ourselves, but to share it with others in need so that they too can give thanks for the blessings we have received.

There is another aspect of thankfulness that should be cultivated by Christians. God has called us to salvation and poured out His Spirit on us. What fruit has the Spirit produced in our lives this year? Are we overflowing with love, joy and peace? The growth of the young trees around our yard site is a visible evidence of the abundant rainfall we have experienced over the past few years. Has there been spiritual growth in our lives?

What about the spiritual harvest? Do we assume that people around us are not interested in the gospel, or do we see fields that are ripe for harvest? Jesus told His disciples to lift up their eyes; they weren’t seeing what He was seeing. Are we? Above all, do our lives, our words, our attitudes communicate thankfulness for the goodness of God, for the spiritual blessings as well as the material?

How adaptable can a flatlander be?

I am a flatlander, a native of Saskatchewan. The nickname refers to the flatness of our landscape, but there are other aspects of our character where the term applies too. I like people to just say what they have to say, with no long descriptive or flowery preambles. Sir or Ma’am sound artificial and phony to me. If anyone tries to tell me something in a round about way, only hinting at the message they want to get across, I’m not going to get the message. I don’t have the code book, it’s not part of my genetic or cultural heritage. Most likely, I won’t even catch on that they are hinting at something.

Now, our landscape is not completely flat and barren. I grew up, and now live once again, in the part of Saskatchewan that is called short grass prairie. The grass never grows very high, neither do the trees. But there is a lot going on that doesn’t meet the eye of someone speeding through on the freeway. An abundance of wildflowers grow on the seemingly barren prairies, though mostly close to the ground. There is abundant wildlife too, and I don’t just mean the mosquitoes.

In like manner, we may not appear to have very polished manners, but we are considerate and try to take care of one other. Like the the time I was riding a city bus in Moose Jaw and the driver saw in his mirror that someone had come to the bus stop just after he had passed it. He stopped the bus, backed up and let the man on. They then traded friendly insults and the man sat down and began to visit with the driver. You see, it just wouldn’t do to make a man feel that you had gone out of your way to help him, even though that is exactly what you did.

How does it work then when a flatlander moves to a place where the culture is altogether different? Well, we can adjust, but there are so many little things that are so different that it may take a long time. The first step is learning that other people’s minds are not wired like mine. What seems normal to them and what seems normal to me, are so different that it takes quite a while to even catch on that I’m giving people an altogether different impression than what I thought.

While in Scott’s Parable Christian Store on Tuesday I found a book that I wish I could have read more than twenty years ago, before we moved to Québec. Unfortunately, it wasn’t even written then.

The book is Foreign to Familiar by Sarah A Lanier and it is a primer in understanding the differences between cultures. It does not give an in-depth look at all the different cultures, just enough information that one will know that there are differences and be alert to the possibility that one is not picking up, or sending, the right signals. It would be good to have that much understanding in advance, so that one does not blunder on, assuming that the other person is the problem.

Ms. Lanier differentiates between cold-climate cultures and hot-climate cultures. Evidently I belong to a cold-climate culture. She also speaks of high-context and low-context cultures. High context cultures are those with an abundance of unspoken rules governing behaviour. I don’t think that’s me. I would highly recommend this book for anyone planning a mission term, also for those thinking of any kind of outreach to immigrants in our local communities.

Once again, the book is Foreign to Familiar, the author is Sarah A. Lanier, and it is published bu McDougal Publishing of Hagerstown, Maryland. The ISBN is 1-58158-022-3. It’s not a big book, not very expensive, a quick read. But it will probably need to be read more than once. It could be life-changing.

The challenge of Islam

[This post is my translation of a portion of Robert Dubarry's commentary on the book of Revelation. I bought this book many years ago from a Montréal bookstore. It is undated, but I believe it was written about sixty years ago. M. Dubarry was a French Baptist pastor; I can find next to nothing about him on the internet, but I did come across one mention of an article on the history of the Baptists in France that he wrote in 1912. The following passage is part of his commentary on Revelation 9:1-12.]

The monstrous union of secular power with fallen Christianity since the time of Constantine had assured the domination of paganism disguised as the gospel. Savage doctrinal battles, the domineering and dissolute spirit of the clergy, absurd notions and idolatrous practices, all these things had transformed the holy and blessed piety brought by Jesus into a scandalous religion. Mohammed, faced with such a spectacle and priding himself on never having wanted to learn to read and write, was incapable of making contact with the revelation of true Christianity. Many who have studied his life are persuaded that if he had first known Jesus Christ by other means than these degenerate representatives, he would not have gone further in seeking an ideal alternative to the lamentable state of his epoch and his milieu.

He was born in 571 at Mecca in the desert of Arabia and experienced the harshness of life, yet was endowed with remarkable intelligence despite a mental imbalance probably due to epilepsy. Having an iron will and aware that there must exist a moral ideal superior to that of his time, yet devoid of scruples, he developed the ambition to reform the thinking of his people, which was at that time half pagan, half Christian.

He offered more than paganism by getting rid of the notion of many gods, he brought more than degenerate Christianity by reviving certain elementary principles of order, wisdom, morality, righteousness and piety, sadly lost from the view of the false disciples of Jesus Christ.

But he gave infinitely less than apostolic Christianity, by denying the Trinity, in ignoring redemption, in putting aside true spirituality and opening new avenues for the carnal nature of man through earthly advantages and by heavenly promises entirely contrary to the spirit of the gospel.

Mohamed has sometimes been considered as being in many ways an extremist of oriental Christianity. However that may be, over an immense territory and for more than a thousand years, Islam has become the most insurmountable obstacle ever encountered by the gospel. The simplicity of its doctrine and practices has gained the allegiance of many hearts. Instinctively moulded to man’s natural tendencies, it requires an insignificant minimum of sacrifice for a maximum of privileges. As a substitute for evangelical Christianity, the Enemy could not have done better. The religion of the least effort, Islam has immobilised the thinking, morality and spiritual aspirations of its followers to such an extent that those that it has gained from paganism are too satisfied by this easy gain to imagine that greater spiritual progress might be possible, or even desirable.

It would be inconceivable that in a prophecy of “things which must soon come to pass” there would be no mention of such a great upheaval, involving not only the province of the seven churches of Asia but the whole Orient and even our own nation. For we must not forget that in the eighth century all the south of France was ruled by the Crescent of Mohamed, as was all of Spain until the eleventh century. The charred stones at Nîmes remind us that after seventeen years of Saracen occupation this improvised fortress was liberated by Charles Martel in 737. Islam remains in our day the most difficult missionary problem of all, and for civilized nations the most troubling foreign problem in the political, social, cultural and moral areas.

Waldensian Confession of Faith of 1120 AD

1. We believe and and do firmly hold all that which is contained in the twelve articles of the symbol, which is called the Apostles Creed, accounting for heresy whatsoever is disagreeing and not consonant to the said twelve articles.

2. We believe that there is one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

3. We acknowledge for the holy canonical Scriptures, the books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Chronicle, 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, Psalms, Proverbs of Solomon, Ecclesiastes or the Preacher, Song of Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.

Here follow the books Apocryphal, which are not received of the Hebrews. But we read them (as saith Jerome in his Prologue to the Proverbs) for the instruction of the people, not to confirm the authority of the doctrine of the Church: 3 Esdras, 4 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch with the Epistle of Jeremiah, Esther from the tenth chapter to the end, The Song of the Three Children in the Furnace, The History of Susanna, The History of the Dragon, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, 3 Maccabees.

Here follow the books of the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts of the Apostles, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans, #1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, the Epistle to the Hebrews, The Epistle of James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, Revelation of John.

4. The aforesaid books teach us that there is one God, Almighty, all wise and all good, who has made all things by his goodness. For he formed Adam in his own image and likeness. But that by the envy of the devil, and the disobedience of Adam, sin has entered into the world and that we are sinners in Adam and by Adam.

5. That Christ was promised to our fathers who received the Law, that so knowing by the Law their sin, unrighteousness and insufficiency, they might desire the coming of Christ, to satisfy for their sins and to accomplish the Law by himself.

6. That Christ was born in the time appointed by God the Father, that is to say in the time when all iniquity abounded, and not for the cause of good works, for all were sinners: but that he might show us grace and mercy, in being faithful.

7. That Christ is our life, truth, peace, and righteousness, as also our shepherd, advocate, sacrifice and priest, who died for the salvation of all those that believe, and is risen for our justification.

8. In like manner, we firmly hold that there is no other mediator and advocate with God the Father, save only Jesus Christ. And as for the virgin Mary, she was holy, humble and full of grace, and in like manner do we believe concerning all the other saints, that they wait in heaven for the resurrection of their bodies at the Day of Judgment.

9. We believe that after this life there are only two places, the one for the saved and the other for the damned, which two places we call Paradise and Hell, absolutely denying that Purgatory imagined by Antichrist and taught contrary to the truth.

10. We hav always accounted as an unspeakable abomination before God all those inventions of men, namely the feasts and the vigils of saints, the water which they call holy, and to abstain from flesh upon certain days, but especially their masses.

11. We esteem for an abomination and as anti-Christian all those human inventions which are a trouble and prejudice to the liberty of the Spirit.

12. We do believe that the sacraments are signs of the holy thing, or visible forms of the invisible grace, accounting it good that the faithful sometimes use the said signs or visible forms if it may be done. However, we believe and hold that the faithful may be saved without receiving the aforesaid signs in case they have no place nor any means to use them.

13. We acknowledge no other sacrament but baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

14. We ought to honour the secular powers by subjection, ready obedience and paying of tributes.

The red rubber ball theory of church growth

red-36598_1280 (2)Why does a rubber ball bounce? The key is found in polymer science. The chemical formula for the rubber molecule is (C5H8)20,000+. C5H8, a single unit of the molecule is called a monomer, the complete molecule, a long string of 20,000 or more monomers, is called a polymer. The classic illustration is to think of raw rubber as a mass of cooked spaghetti. A mass of raw rubber may appear to be solid, but it is still technically a liquid as these polymer strands can slide past each other, causing the mass of rubber to slowly spread and flatten out.

The application of heat, usually with sulphur added as a catalyst, causes these molecule strands to cross link to each other at random points along the molecule string. This is usually done in a mould to shape the rubber into the desired finished product, in this case a rubber ball.

The scattered cross-linking allows the finished product to be stretched, but as soon as the tension is released the cross-linked molecules will snap it back to its original shape. It can be compressed, but as soon as the pressure is released it will likewise snap back to its original form.

When a rubber ball is dropped on a hard surface, the bottom will flatten out. The cross-linked molecules will immediately push the ball back to its original round shape, which pushes it away from the surface it was dropped on. We say that it bounces back.

The church growth movement that began some forty years ago taught that Christian congregations should be organized along the lines of people who have a natural affinity: a common ethnic background, or a similar education or type of employment. It seemed a defeatist mentality, assuming from the outset that people of different backgrounds and different interests could not worship together.

That assumption was based on the observation that too often a congregation would fracture along those lines. Yet accepting defeat is not the way to victory.

The New Testament gives a different picture. The apostle Paul described the members of a congregation thus: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28) and “there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11).

Some may take this to mean that Greeks, Jews, Barbarians and Scythians immediately lose their distinguishing characteristics upon becoming Christians. Take care here, he also says there is neither male nor female and from what he wrote in other places we can safely assume that he did not mean to say that men and women would become indistinguishable and interchangeable. We know where that leads. What he is saying is that all are of equal value in the sight of God and thus should be counted equally worthy of love and honour in the eyes of fellow believers.

For this to happen there needs to be cross-linking between the different groups. Family is important, ideally each extended family forms one of the strands that make up the congregation. But if members of this extended family do not form strong bonds with members of other families, ethnic groups or other natural affinity groups, when pressures and stresses arise the strands will slide right past each other and the congregation will fragment.

Love is the catalyst that makes it possible for Christians to bond together across lines of natural affinity: “And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness” (Colossians 3:14).

The apostles all emphasize this. James instructs us to not have respect of persons, to confess our faults one to another and tells us that there is no partiality in the wisdom that comes from above. John says “And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also” (1 John 4:21). Peter says “see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently” (1 Peter 1:22).

Paul speaks in Colossians 2:2 of being knit together in love. When we are knit together in love so that we bounce back from pressures and tensions, then we are experiencing the blessing that he describes in Ephesians 2:19: “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God”.

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