Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tongue-tied no more

I was painfully shy in my younger days.  The only child of older parents, I wandered the hills of our farm anddeveloped a lively imagination but felt inhibited in communicating with adults or in a large group.

In high school we had to give speeches once a year. I was good at researching and preparing a speech, but when it came time to deliver it to my classmates I would put my head down, read as fast as I could, and feel immensely relieved when it was over.

That began to change during the second half of my life. I found myself in circumstances where I had to get up in front of a group of people and talk, at church and at work, and I gradually began to relax and really try to communicate with my listeners. For a few years I was a missionary in the province of Québec and had to preach in a language that I was still learning.

This year I decided to go a step further and joined a Toastmasters club. This particular club is called the Christian Communicators Club and the core members are people I already knew. That made it easier to take the first step and as I see how Toastmasters works I wish I had taken this step sooner.

A friend of my wife joined at the same time as I did. She tends to get nervous and flustered in front of a group of people, but the talk she gave at last night’s meeting showed that she has come a long way in a short time. This is the beauty of Toastmasters, it provides a supportive setting to practice speaking and to receive advice on how to improve.

The talks are short, they are timed, there is a grammarian to count the number of hesitations and crutch words used, there is an evaluation. But we all take turns at these roles so that we are being evaluated by our peers, who know that we will also have a turn at evaluating them at another meeting. Weaknesses are pointed out, but with the aim of helping us do better. The whole format of a Toastmasters meeting is designed to give us the confidence to learn to communicate effectively.

When I think back to my school days, I suspect that my teachers didn’t really know how to help us become effective speakers. It was just part of what we had to do each year, with not much guidance on how to do it. I wonder if it’s still not that way in most schools. As a result, boys and girls are becoming men and women and still don’t have the skills to speak effectively and to the point when they are called upon to do so.

None of wider aspects of Toastmasters interest me, the local, regional and international competitions. It is not my goal to become a professional speaker. But if I can learn how to say the things I want to say more clearly, leaving out thoughts that ramble off the topic and avoiding distracting mannerisms, then I will feel the time spent at Toastmasters has been worthwhile.

I believe that many Christians would benefit from such a program, and it would be entirely possible to set up a group within a congregation. All that would be needed would be enough people willing to make the effort to learn how to share their thoughts more effectively.

 

Echoes of invention

The Church of God (Anderson, Indiana) gradually began to downplay some of the distinctive teachings of Daniel Warner, leading some of those who believed strongly in those teachings to leave the church. In 1980, Daniel Layne left the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana) and assumed the leadership of those who had separated from that group.

Layne accepted Warner’s prophetic revelations, adding a little more from Revelations chapter 8. The space of about  a half hour was interpreted as half a century and the starting date as 1930 when they believed the mother church had fallen into apostsy. Counting 50 years from then brings one to 1980 and Daniel Layne, when the seventh trumpet is said to have sounded.

This group calls itself the Church of God (Restoration). It may be better known to many as the Gemeinde Gottes as it has had a special appeal to German-speaking Mennonites in Canada and Bolivia.

A friend recounted observating a conversation between a minister of this group and a minister of another denomination. The Gemeinde Gottes minister stated that he had given his heart to the Lord the first time he was called and that as far as he was aware he had never sinned.  Another man, who had been silent up to that point, said: “That thought itself is sin!” That brought the conversation to an abrupt end.

The prophetic interpretations of Warner and Layne are examples of eisegisis, of reading into the Bible what you want to find there. The year for a day interpretation of Daniel’s 1260 days is generally accepted as the inteded meaning. The dates of 270 and 1530, however, have no significance in history and appear to have been picked to make things work out to the desired end. The century for a day interpretation has no support in the Scriptures, or elsewhere. It appers that Warner began with the 1880 date and worked backwards. The 50 years for half an hour interpretation of Layne is equally meaningless, simply an attempt to explain his 1980 defection.

I’m not meaning to imply that Warner and Layne were scoundrels, intentionally deceiving their followers. I think they were as gullible as their followers. Unfortuneately, gullibility is nowhere listed as a Christian virtue. It would have been much better if they and their followers had been like the Bereans, searching the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so (Acts 17:11). That is called exegisis, when we search the Scriptures to see what they say, rather than seeking a verse or two that we can use to support our cause.

Herbert W Armstrong was a master at eisegisis, and there doesn’t seem to be much doubt that he was a scoundrel. The church he founded has renounced his teachings and changed its name. Nevertheless, there are ten or twelve denominations carrying on his message. It seems that when one has the persuasive skills to make a teaching based on twisted Scriptures seem credible, it takes a long time for the echoes to die awy.

How to invent a church

Let’s say that I am a young man on fire for the Lord, thrilled by what God has done for me and eager to share this good news with others. But I can’t find a church that sees things exactly the way I do. What shall I do?

Well, if my name is Daniel Warner, here is what I do. I assume all the churches that exist are spiritually dead, not necessarily all the members, but the churches themselves. Moreover, it seems that since the apostolic age there has not been a church with the true light that God has given to me. And lo and behold! The Old testament prophet Zechariah said that this is the way it would be. There would be a long period of darkness, “but it shall come to pass, that at evening time it shall be light” (Zechariah 14:7). This can only mean one thing, now is the evening time of the world, the light has returned and it is up to me to spread the news of the evening light.

Searching the Scriptures a little further, I find in the 7th chapter of Daniel the prophecy of the little horn which shall make war on the saints for a time, and times and half a time. This little horn can be nothing else but the Roman Catholic Church which began in 270 AD. A time, and times and half a time means three and one half years, taking each day for a year, and counting 1260 years from 270 AD, gets us to 1530 AD, when Protestantism overthrew the power of Catholicism. But then the book of Revelation, in chapter 11, speaks of God’s two prophets, the Spirit and the Word, lying dead for three and one half days. Now, in this case the days must represent centuries.

That would bring us to 1880, which is the year I am living in right now. Do you see? There it is prophetically foretold that this year the restoration of the work of God, and His Church, would begin. And that ministry has been committed to me.

The above information has been culled from Birth of a Reformation, Life and Labors of D. S. Warner, written by Andrew L. Byers and published in 1921. Mister Warner’s handling of Scriptures seems more than a little suspect, but he succeeded in gathering a considerable following, known today as the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana).

There were prolific songwriters among the early leaders of this church, among them Daniel S Warner himself, Andrew L Byers, Benjamin B Warren, Charles W Naylor, Dennis O Teasley and Clara M Brooks. The melodies are catchy, some of the messages are standard evangelical fare, but many carry a distinctive message that may escape the notice of the unwary.

For instance, the song Once Again We Come, by C W Naylor, is a celebration of the coming of the evening light, and contains the lines: “Thou hast led us safely on, To the blessed light of the present day, Where the darkness now is gone.” Once one knows that the darkness refers to the centuries when the church of God had ceased to exist and the blessed light of the present day refers to Daniel Warner’s Church of God, the song loses its charm.

Daniel Warner believed that he had received the second work of grace, a second work of the Holy Spirit which eradicated the root of sin from his life and enabled him to live without sin. He earnestly believed that when others received this second blessing it would unite their hearts in Christian unity. This is the meaning behind his song The Bond of Perfectness. Though the second work of grace is not actually mentioned in the song, the idea of sinless perfection is really what the song is celebrating.

There you have it; inventing one’s own church is quite simple. Far too many people have done it and are still doing it. Of course there are big problems with most of the churches around us, but Daniel Warner’s method is not to be recommended as a solution. A better approach would be to ask, where is the church that Jesus said He would build?

Reading each other’s mail

How long does the honeymoon last when Christians marry? How long does it take for the husband to realize that his bride isn’t submitting to him like the Bible teaches? How many days does it take before the young lady becomes aware that her husband isn’t giving himself for her like it says in the Bible?

We start out by seeing so many good qualities in each other and believing that a lifetime together is going to be effortless bliss. It doesn’t take long to see that my partner isn’t quite perfect and then natural response then is to try to help her / him become the ideal partner that I had originally envisioned. And then we wonder why our attempts to help meet with so much resistance.

The same annoyances crop up in the marriages, or relationships, of those who are not Christians. The shine soon begins to wear off the partner who seemed just about perfect just a short while ago. But we, as Christians, have the advantage of being able to point out the exact passages of Scripture that name the flaws in our beloved.

Do you see the problem here? We are reading each other’s mail. The passages about the wife’s responsibilities are addressed to the wife. Husbands should just ignore those verses and go on to the ones addressed to them. Likewise the wives should forget about reading the passages addressed to their husbands and assessing how well their own husbands measure up.

By and by, if we are truly Christians, it will begin to dawn on us that I can accomplish more for our mutual happiness by considering the passages of Scripture that address my role in the home and endeavouring to actually do what those verses say I should do. That is after all why they were written.

One of the great benefits of marriage is that it reveals how selfish I am. I begin married life with dreams of how my happiness will be enhanced by joining hands with this other person. Eventually I must realize that my happiness is bound up in helping this other person to be happy.

A sense of wonder

Aslan, copyright (c) Lucy Learns Ltd www.lucylearns.com

Aslan, copyright (c) Lucy Learns Ltd
http://www.lucylearns.com

There are sober and serious Christians who object to C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books and Tolkien’s Hobbit books on the ground that they are not real life stories. To which I would ask “Is this visible world all there is to real life?”

Children are aware that there are unseen forces influencing the events around them. They live in a world of mystery and wonder that is sometimes frightening, sometimes reassuring. The schools do their best to abolish that awareness of unseen wonders. What is left of life when that is gone? Emptiness, meaninglessness and despair.

The Bible is not simply a book of moral teachings, with some history and some poetry. It is a book that allows us a glimpse beyond our mortality at the wonders that God has prepared for His people, and also the great spiritual forces that are trying to prevent us reaching that goal.

There are miracles all through the Bible. We accept them as fact. But they are only a small part of the spiritual realities hinted at in the Bible. Jesus, and many others before Him, revealed important truths by the means of stories, or parables. Are they all true life stories, things that really happened? Some may have been, but even then there are details that reach beyond the limitations of this earthly life.

Consider the parable of the prodigal son. He asked for his share of the inheritance from his father, wasted it all, and then returned home. When his brother complained of the favour the father bestowed on this wastrel, the father told him “All that I have is thine.” This is beyond the earthly division of property among a father’s heirs. When we waste our spiritual heritage, it does not diminish the wealth our Father has to bestow on His other children. Likewise, when we repent and those spiritual benefits are restored, there is nothing subtracted from the spiritual heritage available to others. There is a marvellous truth here that is beyond earthly reality.

The parable of the sower conveys a similar truth. A real life farmer will sow his seed in a prepared field where it has the best chance of producing a crop. In this case the seed is the word of God and our Father is altogether profligate in the way he strews it about, in the hope that even in the most unlikely places a few kernels might take root and amount to something. He also makes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust. A new spiritual life can spring up in places that we think are incapable of bearing fruit.

But the Bible goes beyond parables to describe the wonders of the world that now is and the world that is to come. John saw the streets of New Jerusalem as transparent gold and each gate as made of a single pearl. He was using the words and images at his disposal to describe something that has no earthly counterpart.

And consider this image: “For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands” (Isaiah 55:12). There are many more verses like this. Will they be literally fulfilled? Yet the Scripture says that all Creation will rejoice at the coming of the Lord. There is a thrill in contemplating that great day of rejoicing.

There are works of imagination and fancy that try to twist the message of the Bible out of shape. Those we must avoid. A devoted student of the bible will find that it interprets itself; there is no need for some teacher to provide an explanation from his own imagination.

There are other works of fancy and imagination that portray humans as having magical or supernatural powers. These too should be avoided. But books that portray ordinary boys and girls, men and women, in a world of wonder and mystery, are more true to life than books that merely try to inculcate a moral lifestyle. It is not fair to children to teach that if they are honest and industrious, respectful to elders and never use bad words, that one day they will go to heaven.

They will encounter dragons and giants in life. If they do not expect such things, they may well flee and fall into a horrible snare. If they know that such things exist, and also that there are unseen helpers to help them overcome the giants and dragons, they are much more likely to face them with courage.

Jezebel

These things saith the Son of God, . . . I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first. Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols. Revelation 2:18-20

There was a church of wonderfully consecrated and dedicated believers in Thyatira. All was well, except that they were paying too much attention to that woman Jezebel and as a result some were falling into serious sin.

There have been many more Jezebels since the end of the first century AD, of both genders. But I would like to nominate Ellen G White as a prime candidate for this role in our era.

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I believe William Miller gets a bum rap. He really believed he had calculated the exact date of our Lord’s return. Twice. After the Lord did not return on schedule for the second time, William Miller admitted he had been deceived and abandoned the Advent movement altogether. Ellen G White stepped in to take the leadership, and her prophecies always came to pass.

Or so she said. Christ didn’t return on the appointed date? Of course He did! Although He didn’t return to earth as first thought, He entered into the sanctuary in heaven to cleanse it in preparation for His return to earth. And so on. She had an explanation for everything. Her expositions of the Scriptures and the coming return of the Lord, written in numerous books, became known as the Spirit of Prophecy.

I once got into a discussion with an Adventist about the meaning of Matthew 25:46 — And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal. We were both aware that everlasting and eternal were translations of the same Greek word. I understand then that everlasting punishment will have the same duration as eternal life. My friend did not agree, for the Spirit of Prophecy said that everlasting means temporary, not eternal. And there our discussion stalled; I would not accept the testimony of Ellen G White and he would not accept the words of Scripture except as explained by Ellen G White.

I bought a set of My Bible Friends some forty years ago. In every story there were elements reported as fact that I could not find in the Bible. That gave me an uneasy feeling and those books didn’t last long in our home. Years later, I told my Adventist friend that I hadn’t been sure whether those insertions were imagined by the writer of the book, or if they came from Ellen G White. “They come from Ellen G White,” was his reply.

Some of those things may have been removed from later editions, but many lasting impressions have been left on those who were raised with Seventh Day Adventist Bible Story books. Like the idea that the smoke of Abel’s sacrifice rose straight up to heaven and the smoke from Cain’s sacrifice clung to the ground. I suspect that comes from Ellen G White, but I’ve never wanted to wade through her writings to find out for sure. (In  other instances, God showed his acceptance of a sacrifice by sending the fire to consume it. I doubt that the sacrifice of Abel was any exception.) I do know that the idea that the star of Bethlehem was the light emanating from the angel host comes directly from Ellen G White.

Did Ellen G White truly mistake her imagination for prophetic messages from the Holy Spirit, or was she knowingly trying to deceive? My best guess is that she really believed herself to be the channel which God used to reveal His truth to the world. In any case, there is a seductive appeal to her explanations that appear to explain many things in the Bible without requiring the seeker to actually search the Scriptures. Her influence has reached far beyond the Seventh Day Adventist Church, and its many splinters.

The Seventh Day Adventist Church publishes a wide array of attractive books for all age groups. Perhaps even more serious than the propagation of Ellen G White’s false prophecies, is the subtle inducement these books give for an imaginative approach the Scriptures that leads readers to be moved by the contents of their imagination rather than the contents of the Bible.

The strait way or the straightaway

Which road are you on? The straightaway is a wide, smooth road with gentle curves and gradual slopes. Multitudes are travelling down this road, pedal to the metal, hellbent on getting to . . . well — hell. Where else would you expect to get to on this road?

Jesus tells us that a lot of people travelling this road actually do expect to arrive at a different destination. At the judgement day they will complain insistently that a terrible mistake has been made. Indeed there has been a terrible mistake, but the Judge is not the one who has made it.

English can be a little confusing at times. The Bible does not speak of a straight and narrow way — it speaks of a strait gate and a narrow way. Strait means narrow, tight, restricted. We cannot get through that strait gate with our burden of unresolved sin, our list of accomplishments, our list of grievances. A good thing, too, as the weight of those things would be an insupportable burden on the narrow way.

Many people have looked at that way and decided that it’s not going to get them anywhere that they want to go. This is a fatal mistake, for this is the way that leads to the destination which every heart longs for.

The road to heaven is strait, or narrow, but it is not straight. We will get glimpses of our destination, but it will often be hid from view. We can never know what will be around the next corner in our life. We don’t need to; we have Someone to guide us: “And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left” (Isaiah 30.21).

There is a passage in Isaiah that, at first glance, appears to contradict what I am saying here: “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain” (Isaiah 40:4). If one reads the whole passage from verse three to verse five, and then Luke 3:4-6 where it is quoted to describe the ministry of John the Baptist, it takes on a different meaning. God is calling people to prepare the way of the Lord, by untangling the crooked and perverse ways in their heart, by allowing their pride to be abased and by allowing faith in God to grow to fill the emptiness in their heart.

Perhaps we could make a secondary application of this verse in Isaiah by saying that the mountain doesn’t seem as high after we have climbed it with God’s help, and the valley not so deep after we have climbed out of it with God’s help. Nevertheless, there are mountains and valleys on the narrow way, and some of them are formidable.

The strait way is not easy on the flesh. But there are companions on this way to help us through the rough spots, and opportunities for us to help others who may be faltering. There is time to stop and smell the roses — and to admire the orioles who come to admire the roses (one was at our rose bush as I was writing this).

What choice will you make? If you choose the road, you must accept the destination to which it leads. If you choose the destination, you must accept the road that will get you there.

Christianity: it’s not all about me

Nine years ago we were living in a little village north of Saskatoon. One day early in the year the phone rang  and when I answered a voice with a pronounced southern accent said, “My name is Jay Bullock and I hear you are having Vacation Bible School up there this summer and I wonder if I can help.”

Wow! Was that ever an answer to prayer! I was part of a committee of a tiny congregation that was planning an outreach Vacation Bible School and boy, did we need help! Jay came that summer and has continued to come every summer since.

Jay runs a large hardware and building supply store down in Georgia and his idea of a vacation is to come up to Saskatchewan and lead a bunch of young sisters from all over the US and Canada who have volunteered to teach Vacation Bible School to 50 or 60 children in a suburb of Saskatoon. We are heading to Warman this morning for the worship service that is held the Sunday after Vacation bible School.

Many Christians today appear to believe the main goal of faith is to make them feel good about themselves. There are all kinds of “Christian” books available sharing the “secret” of self-help happiness. Funny that the Bible doesn’t have anything to say about that.

I believe Jay and those young sisters are acting on the true Biblical teaching about Christian life: it’s not about how I feel about myself, it’s about how I feel about you. It’s about whether I can forgive you, love you and show that I care about you.

We can invest all our energy into trying to make ourselves feel good, and those efforts will fail. Or we can invest our efforts into serving others and forget about ourselves. In doing that, we will find the happiness that eludes so many people, including Christians.

“And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).

The bugs of summer are here

We congratulate ourselves sometimes that we live in a country where winter protects us from the kind of bug problems they have in some other places, say the southern USA for instance.

Nevertheless, short though our summers may be, there are bugs that thrive in that season. Mosquitoes, grasshoppers and ticks, for instance. The vet clinic for which I do the bookkeeping is seeing more dogs with ticks this year than ever before.

A young man in our congregation was diagnosed with MS a few years ago and has been steadily growing weaker despite taking heavy doses of medication. Earlier this year he saw a doctor who tested him for Lyme Disease and got a positive result. This brother is now on long-term antibiotic therapy and is slowly reagaining strength. This treatment is controversial, first of all because the experts say Saskatchewan doesn’t have the kind of ticks that carry Lyme disease, secondly because the medical profession is highly skeptical of treating chronic Lyme disease. Whatever the experts say, it would be a real blessing if theis brother could regain his strength.

I'm not sure if this is really a saffron-winged meaadowhawk, but it's the closest I could get from pixabay.

I’m not sure if this is really a saffron-winged meaadowhawk, but it’s the closest I could get from pixabay.

Some insects are more attractive than others, and I’m not just thinking of butterflies. The saffron-winged meadowhawks have just made their appearance, skimming over water and land. The reddish body and shimmering amber wings make them a beautiful sight, but what makes them even more attractive is that their diet consists largely of mosquitoes. There are other dragonflies around, including the equally striking blue darner, but none are as abundant as the saffron-winged meadowhawk. If only they would eat grasshoppers!


Wicked women of the Bible

One was a Canaanite woman who disguised herself as a prostitute to seduce her father-in-law. Another Canaanite woman was a prostitute. A Moabite woman crawled under the covers with a man while he was sleeping to hint that she wanted to marry him. The fourth was an Israelite woman who bathed on the roof of her house in full view of her neighbour.

What do these four women have in common? They are all named in the genealogy of Jesus. In fact, they are the only women mentioned in His genealogy.

Tamar, the first, was the widow of both of Judah’s two oldest sons. Judah promised her that she would marry his youngest son when he came of age, but did not keep his promise. Tamar then took matters into her own hands, playing the prostitute to Judah himself. When Judah was informed that his daughter-in-law was pregnant, he decreed that such a sin must be punished by death. However, when she informed him who was the father of the expected child, Judah was humbled and responded “She hath been more righteous than I.”

Rahab was the Canaanite prostitute who hid the Israelite spies who had come to search out the defences of Jericho. Because of this, she and her household were the only survivors of the destruction of Jericho. She married an Israelite – possibly one of the spies?

Ruth the Moabitess may have taken unusual measures to make her wishes known to Boaz, but he appeared to take her intentions kindly. He told her: “Blessed be thou of the LORD, my daughter: for thou hast shewed more kindness in the latter end than at the beginning, inasmuch as thou followedst not young men, whether poor or rich.”

The Bible tells us nothing of Bathsheba’s thoughts when she bathed on the roof. Some commentators think that she was actually performing the ritual cleansing after the end of her menstrual period. If that be so, it could have appeared as an invitation to King David. He certainly seems to have taken it that way.

None of these women had the Bible we have today. The law had not been given at the time of Tamar, even later no one had access to a personal copy of the Scriptures. There was no weekly worship and instructional service during Old Testament times. None of this excuses their conduct. Yet God had mercy on them and they became known as godly women. When the elders blessed the marriage of Boaz and Ruth, they said “Let thy house be like the house of Pharez, whom Tamar bare unto Judah.”

Three of these women appear in the genealogy of David and the fourth, Bathsheba, was his wife and the mother of Solomon, the son whom God loved best of all the sons of David. Proverbs 31 begins: “The words of king Lemuel, the prophecy that his mother taught him.” No king by this name appears in any ancient record. The name signifies “for God” and the rabbinical commentators considered it another name for Solomon. We cannot be positive, but the only alternative is that Lemuel is a complete mystery. If Lemuel was indeed Solomon, then Proverbs 31 was written by Bathsheba.

Jesus, during His ministry, had a compassion for scorned and mistreated women that was unheard of in that day. The Pharisees were the true believers of Jesus’ day, in that they believed all the Scriptures taught and scrupulously observed all the commandments of the law. They often scorned Jesus for His friendship with sinners. His response? He told the Pharisees “The publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.”

Do we have the same compassion toward the fallen and downtrodden that Jesus and the early church had? One of the primary reasons for the rapid growth of the early church was that the gospel offered hope and dignity to the outcasts of society. Have we forgotten this in our day?

It has been a great temptation for us as North American Christians to sit in our comfortable, middle-class pews and rejoice in God’s goodness, all the while averting our eyes from the misery around us. If we do see it, we console ourselves that all these people are going against better knowledge. Really? I am convinced that most people in North America today have no more understanding of God’s mercy and righteousness than Tamar and Rahab had at the beginning.

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