Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Cultural amnesia

One hundred years ago, when the Social Gospel was well on the way to infiltrating and taking control of many of the major Christian denominations of North America, my father was already 24 years old. It has lately dawned on me that because I was born when he was 50 I have a window on that long-ago era that most people today know nothing about.

My father was a Methodist, but the social gospel changed that denomination into something he no longer recognized. He told of visiting Edmonton in 1925, and attending a Methodist church there. The minister had much to say about the social responsibility of Christians, but it became evident as he spoke that the Bible’s accounts of creation, the miracles, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus were just mythology, allegories meant to teach moral lessons. My father walked out into the street after the service and wept.

A few years later the Methodists, Congregationalists and half the Presbyterians merged to form the United Church of Canada. This was by far the largest protestant denomination in Canada and it was dedicated to ministering to the social and materiel needs of all those oppressed by the evils of our society. The belief that the greatest need of each person was to find forgiveness of sins and peace with God was dismissed as a childish amusement that diverted people’s attention from more important concerns.

In subsequent years, the Anglican Church of Canada and some Baptist, Mennonite and Lutheran churches have also embraced the Social Gospel. It is worthy of note that the social gospel churches have all experienced precipitous declines in membership. People are either turned off by the social gospel or decide that the battles can be more effectively fought outside the churches.

The social gospel movement was the main impetus behind the co-operative movement. People were taught that the private ownership of business was a great injustice that deprived them of the fruits of their labour. They formed co-operatives to buy grain from farmers and to provide the supplies they needed, co-operative retail stores and co-operative banks (credit unions).

For many years the grain co-ops were the dominant agricultural businesses in Western Canada. They calculated patronage dividends for their farmer-owners, based on the amount of business they did with them, but retained the money to provide working capital. Farmers were able to withdraw their patronage dividends upon retirement. Then difficult times came and the co-ops suffered financial reverses. All the prairies grain co-ops merged into one, reorganized as a shareholder owned corporation, then sold out to a Swiss investment company. In the process, the patronage dividends evaporated into thin air. There is no evidence that farmers have suffered from losing the opportunity to sell to the co-operatives.

The Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) was a political party born of the social gospel. It promised to bring about a more just society by limiting the depredations of privately owned businesses, so that resources were more evenly shared between all people. This party (now known as the NDP) formed the government of my home province for the best part of 60 years. They did many good things, but the social gospel ideals of economic equality created an atmospherics of suspicion of anyone who appeared to prosper more than the average. The result was economic stagnation, leading to an increase in unemployment and poverty – very much the opposite of the promised result.

My father saw the fatal flaw in the social gospel long before I was born. Time has proved him right – in church, in business and in politics.  But the social gospel message still has power to seduce well-meaning people into expending great efforts on activities that will not produce the promised results.

Now we hear people who once were evangelical Christians proclaiming that our highest duty is to reach out to the suffering members of society. There is an element of truth in this, but if one listens closely it becomes evident that the social, emotional and economic needs are their sole concern and the spiritual needs of people are forgotten. This is simply the social gospel warmed over for a new generation who are not aware of history and are not aware that the promises of the social gospel are doomed to fail.

I am not trying to say that we need to forget everything else and just preach the gospel. After all, James said “If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?” If we are blind to the material, emotional and social needs of others, we are not going to present a complete gospel. But the spiritual distress of people around us cannot be relieved by only ministering to their outward needs.

My concern is that if we trim our sails to catch the latest wind of doctrine and ride the wave of what is highly thought of in the world, we will end up far from where we thought we were going.

The sad state of publishing

Doesn’t everybody have a dream about writing a fantastic book that will be bought by a major publisher, where an editor will be assigned to fine tine the manuscript, a publicist will be assigned to promote the book, and everyone will live happily ever after? Forget about it. It’s not going to happen.

The publishing industry has fallen on hard times, most of the well-known publishing companies around the world are now owned by a handful of big companies, mostly European. None of them are apt to publish anything by an unknown author. If they do, the editing and publicity will be the author’s responsibility.

There are many companies offering to help you publish your book, for a hefty fee. The majority of these are branches of one company which has an unsavoury reputation. They will publish your book, but the promised services – editing, cover design, book promotion – turn out to be pretty much worthless.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that it is easier than ever before for an aspiring writer to get his or her book into print. But the writer has to take charge of the whole process – editing, illustrating, book layout, cover design, promotion and sales. An author needs help in all of these aspects of preparing a book for market and then marketing it. You can spend a lot of money, or you can look for talented people who will offer their services for free or for a very small fee as a means of gaining experience and visibility for themselves.

Create Space is subsidiary of Amazon that will publish your book at no cost to you. They do print on demand, meaning that books are printed individually when an order comes in. They offer paid services to help with editing, cover design, and so on, but you don’t have to use them. Create Space is a US company and used to withhold a very large portion in US taxes and a Canadian author would have to jump through all the IRS hoops to try and recover that money. I understand that has changed.

Create Space will provide an ISBN (International Standard Book Number), but a Canadian author should obtain a Canadian ISBN. Most countries sell ISBN’s, but they are free in Canada. If you publish through Create Space it would be a good idea to create your own name to use as the publisher. Book stores are not likely to carry your book anyway, but if the Create Space name appears anywhere on your book that could pretty much guarantee they won’t touch it.

There are small publishers everywhere and one of them might be willing to publish your book if it fits their interests and their region. Another option would be a company like PageMaster in Edmonton. The owner of PageMaster did a presentation at the conference and it sounded pretty attractive. They offer all the services you need to prepare your manuscript for publishing and you can choose the ones you need. They do initial print runs of 20 to 200 copies, so that you are not stuck with a garage full of unsold books. You can probably find a business like this in other regions of the country.

The bottom line is that your name is on the book and you want to make it as high quality as you can. Don’t ask your sister in law or cousin to edit it. Find someone who will actively look for things that don’t add up, don’t sound right. If the book was worth writing, it is worth going the extra mile and making it what you really want it to be.

Memories of the Inscribe Conference

You know you’re in a group of writers when a workshop leader asks each participant to name five of their favourite books from childhood and one includes the dictionary in her list. She says she used to read two pages a day. And nobody thought that was weird.

That happened in Colleen McCubbin’s class on writing for children. Our goal in writing for children should be to charm, inform and nourish on the intellectual, social, emotional and spiritual levels. She recommended a book by Mollie Hunter, a Scottish writer for children, entitled Talent is Not Enough. I have ordered the book and will share my impressions once I have read it.

Jack Popjes was probably the most entertaining attendee. At supper one day someone chided him for taking two desserts (they were small). “I only allow myself one dessert per day,” he said. “This one is for August 23, 2016 and this one is for August 24, 2016.”

There is another side to Jack. He and his wife spent 20 years living with an unreached tribe in Brazil. They learned the language, put it into writing, taught the people to read and write. At the same time they translated the Bible into this language and by the time they left there was a thriving congregation of believers.

We were told that the conference cost $265.00 per attendee. Of this, $100.00 per person went for the rent of the space we used, travel expenses for speakers, honorariums for the speakers and workshop leaders and miscellaneous other expenses. The other $165.00 was the cost of the meals and coffee breaks. Three meals and five or six breaks with coffee, tea, juices and snacks were provided.

As is usual in meetings like this, it is not permitted to bring in food from outside sources. We live in a litigation-happy world and if anyone got sick from food that was brought in, someone would be likely to sue the hotel. At least that is the fear. The conference was held in the Edmonton South Sawridge Inn. For those of us who stayed at the hotel, our breakfast was included in the room rate. This was a real breakfast, not the “continental breakfast” that many motels offer.

That’s all for today, I will write more about the conference in coming days.

Our cats missed us

When we came home Sunday night Panda and Pookie, two of our three cats, were in the house. Angus, the third, streaked through the yard a few minutes later as we were cleaning the last of our stuff out of the car. He stopped, saw that it was us and dashed in the door. Michelle said she saw Angus a time or two while we were gone but he would never come close.

We hadn’t been gone long – five days, four nights – but they didn’t want to let us out of their sight for most of the day yesterday. In the afternoon I sat in the recliner, put my feet up and instantly had two cats on top of me. This morning I slept late and when I awoke all three cats were lying beside me, each one snuggled up next to me, but not touching each other.

I know that dog lovers all have good reasons for loving their dogs, but there is nothing that a dog can do that compares with the purring of a cat. There is power in the contented purring of a cat that draws tension and anxiety from the mind and body. There is a different kind of purring that cats do when they are hungry that isn’t so relaxing – I’m not talking about that.

For two older people, our cats are just what we need to make sure our days aren’t totally boring and dreary.

Driving home beneath the lunar eclipse

astro-87925_1280We left out friends in Alberta just after 4:00 PM to return home to Saskatchewan. We stopped for supper at Provost and when we got back out on the highway this great white moon was straight in front of us and just above the horizon.  There was a little bite out of the left size and we asked ourselves if it was waxing or waning.

We hadn’t been paying any attention to the news, or the moon phases, but here we were headed east with a long drive ahead of us. As the dark spot on the left grew larger we realized that we had a front row seat to a lunar eclipse. By the time we stopped for gas at Unity the moon had all but disappeared. The young man at the service station told us it would soon start changing colours.

We didn’t see much of that, except for a dark orange phase. It seemed to take a long time until a sliver of light appeared on the left side. We watched as it grew and by the time we reached home the eclipse was all but over. I went outside again a few minutes later and saw a brilliant, unobstructed full moon.

I understand that some people regard this event as a sign of the times, a message of impending doom. What I saw was evidence that the universe cannot be the result of random cosmic chaos. It cannot be an accident that the sun, earth and moon are precisely spaced so that the shadow of the earth just matches the circle of the moon.

This is my first post in a week and I am touched to see that people have still been looking at my blog. We have been away to Edmonton for the Inscribe Christian Writers Conference and fitted some visiting in before, during and after the conference. I will share some thoughts about that in later posts.

Making a faux pas

bird-40083_1280Today I stepped out of the place where I was working and started out for the nearest convenience store to find myself something to eat. Halfway there I made a misstep (a faux pas) and felt myself going face first towards the ground. My first thought was that I am going to be at a writers’ conference in a few days with the imprint of this impact on my face.

The ground surface at that point was broken pavement and gravel. I have serious scrapes on my right hand and left knee to prove that I partially broke my fall. My left hand is not so badly scraped, but that wrist is sore; my right knee has a small scrape, too. But my nose and forehead came out the worst. There is a long cut above my eyebrows where the top edge of my sunglasses hit my forehead. Nevertheless, I am thankful for the sunglasses as they appear to have protected my eyeglasses from damage, except for bending the nose pieces.

I had a fall somewhat like this almost two years ago and that makes me wonder what is happening to me. I have thought of a few possibilities. In neither case did I feel light-headed, or that my legs gave out. But my sense of balance never has been good, due to chronic hay fever, or allergic rhinitis. I wear progressive lenses, trifocals, and that may make it more difficult to see objects or uneven surfaces on the ground. The medications I take may affect my sense of balance, and I don’t get enough physical exercise to keep really fit.

Tomorrow I have to go to the city, no matter how horrible I look, and I’m going to buy a cane.

The Inscribe Christian Writers’ Conference begins Thursday in Edmonton and my wife and I have already paid our registration and booked our hotel rooms.

One of the sessions is on editing our own writing. We were asked to send in a sample of our best writing before the class. The class instructor emailed the corrections on mine today. I find that I make a lot of faux pas in my writing, too. For one thing, I really do try to avoid the passive voice, but my three page double spaced article came back with at least eight instances of passive voice flagged.

That’s why I am going to the writers’ conference – I still have lots to learn. Getting together with other writers is the icing on the cake.

Activating the gospel leaven

[I am posting this again for the benefit of the email subscribers who received only half of the original post because  I accidentally hit a button before I was finished.]

Matthew 13:33  Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.

In this parable the woman is the symbol of the divine agency, the meal is the humabread-417801_1280n heart, the leaven is the Gospel. As leaven diffuses itself through the meal until the whole lump is leavened, so the grace of God and the power of the Gospel are a diffusive power, which impregnates the whole heart and transforms its character. As the parable of the mustard tree describes the external, so this parable describes the internal prevalence of the Gospel power. It describes the internal influence not upon the individual alone, but upon the masses of humanity. (Daniel Whedon, Whedon’s Commentary)

loaf-of-bread-529237_1280When my mother baked bread, she kneaded the dough three times: first when she mixed it; then after it rose the first time she would punch it down and knead it again; after the second rise she would punch it down and knead it again, then form it into loaves and allow them to rise once more before baking. The purpose of all that kneading was to distribute the yeast evenly through the whole lump. The result was a light loaf, with no big holes in the middle.

Leaven, or yeast, is a living thing and needs warmth to grow. So does the gospel. It is obvious to believers and unbelievers alike that the cold, hard confrontationalism of the Westboro Baptist Church does not make the gospel grow and spread.

But how are the rest of us doing? Are we expending too much of our time and resources worrying about conditions in the world over which we have no control? And not enough spreading the warmth of Christian love in situations near at hand where it might make a little difference?

God’s hatred of sin is real. But the good news of the gospel is that God loves sinners and wants to rescue them from the bondage and consequences of their sin. We can become so wrapped up in a constant striving to be good, that we hardly have time to do good to those who are hurting. Where then is the warmth of the gospel?

Can people feel the warmth of genuine Christian love when they meet us, visit in our homes, visit our churches? If they can, then surely the leaven of the gospel will grow and spread.

The education of a pioneer bride

The first settlers on the Saskatchewan plains were faced with a quandary – there were no large trees that could be cut to build log houses, and lumber yards were usually far away. So they set to work to build their first homes out of the material under their feet – the sod.

This was actually quite a practical choice. This was native grass prairie that had never been cultivated. The dense root structure made sturdy building materials. The sod was cut into strips two feet wide, about six feet long and two to three inches thick and they were laid much as one lays bricks, with alternating joints to tie the structure together. The sod was removed from around the growing house, providing a fire guard to protect against prairie fires.

Poplar poles were cut from nearby ponds or streams and lashed together to make a framework for the roof, which was then covered with sod strips. There was usually one door and two windows cut into the walls and a stovepipe stuck out the roof. The inside walls were often covered with a material like canvas. The result was a cozy home that was well insulated from the winter cold and the summer heat. Sometimes the roof would get saturated from a heavy rainfall and it would be necessary to move the bed and table away from the leaks.

Many a bride spent her first few years in a home such as this until her husband could accumulate enough money to buy lumber to build a wood frame home. No doubt the promise of that soon to be built two-storey home with a proper roof made life in the sod home easier to bear, but those early prairie brides had an amazing ability to adapt to conditions as they were.

Nevertheless, sod homes did present some unexpected challenges. Early one fine summer day a new bride set to work to bake some bread before her husband came home for dinner.  She measured the flour and other ingredients, soaked the yeast in water, then mixed it all together and set it aside to rise. But it didn’t rise. She checked it anxiously as the morning hours went by. There was never any change, it sat there in exactly the same shape as when she had first mixed it.

She set about making dinner, without the hoped for bread. She checked it one last time, then, not wanting her husband to know of her failure, she took the bowl outside and with a large spoon dropped a portion of the dough into the gopher holes around the yard. She felt a little solace in knowing that at least she had hidden the evidence.

When her husband came in for dinner, his first words were: “I just saw the most amazing thing. There are big white mushrooms growing out of all the gopher holes in the yard.”

I think it was the sudden flush of red in her cheeks that gave her away. Together they realized that she had done nothing wrong, but it was just too cool in the sod house to activate the yeast. The ground outside had been warmed by the sun and the hidden dough just couldn’t stay hidden.

Sing Out!

Alf Soper was janitor of the school I attended as a boy. Once he had been a travelling repairman for a farm implement company, then the boss of some large construction projects. New he was old and content to tend the coal fired boiler that heated the two storey brick school, sweep the floors, carry out the garbage and do all the other little chores involved in cleaning and maintaining this building that was daily swarmed by more than a hundred children of all ages.

Alf Soper never married, didn’t appear to have much of a social life, yet never seemed grumpy about the shenanigans of the children. He often attended the same little Anglican Church that our family attended. He would sit on the second bench from the front on the side nearest the organ. Our family sat the second seat from the back on the opposite side, yet when a hymn was sung we could near Alf’s voice as clearly as if he was sitting beside us.

Alf was born in England and was probably of pretty much unadulterated Celtic heritage. The rest of us were not terribly good singers and were content to sing along with the organ, taking care not to be too loud lest someone hear our false notes. Not Alf. He was in his element when we sang the old hymns and not the least self conscious about letting his powerful voice be heard. And I don’t think he ever hit a false note.

Years later, we were members of a congregation of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite in Ontario. There was no organ in our church, we sang a cappella in four part harmony, and most people loved to sing. A song leader would go up to the front mike, use a pitch pipe to set the correct pitch and lead the singing.

Except when Frank Adams was in church. Frank was another elderly man of Celtic ancestry, Welsh to be exact, and an amazing singer. He would sit on the fourth bench from the front and give out the number for Guide Me Oh Thou Great Jehovah or one of his other favourites. The song leader would dutifully get up, blow the pitch, start the song – and from there on Frank would lead it. The song leader would be someone with a good voice and he had the advantage of the PA system, but he simply was no match for the power of Frank’s voice.

I’m glad no one ever told Frank that maybe he should turn down the volume a bit. He loved to sing, he was enjoying himself, and to tell the truth, we enjoyed it too.

Perhaps we take singing a bit too seriously, trying to get every note just right. If you listen to one of our church services, you will hear the voices of little children babbling along with the singing. They don’t know the words or the melody, but they joyfully blend their voices with the rest of the congregation and it does not distract at all from the beauty of the singing.

When these children get older they learn to read the words, they learn to read the music and hit the notes, but lose their childlike innocence and become self-conscious about letting their voice be heard. Most grow out of that stage, but not all.

I’m one of the self-conscious ones. I learned next to nothing about music in public school, in the church we attended when I was young, or at home. My mother loved to sing, but we never had any family singalongs because my father didn’t sing. I do my best singing in the shower, probably always will, but I enjoy it when I see others sing out with no thought of “what will people think?,

Being childlike without being childish

“When I became a man I put away childish things” (1 Corinthians 13:11).

That would be things like:

-wanting to be the centre of attention
-wanting to be entertained
-wanting what somebody else has
-wanting other people to do what I want
-feeling sorry for myself when things don’t go the way I want
-trying to get even
-not admitting when I have done something wrong
-blaming somebody else

“And a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11:6)

” Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3-4).

Childlike qualities:

-willing to trust
-taking delight in unexpected beauty
-feeling happy because others are happy
-feeling sad when others are hurt
-giving without counting the cost
-eager to learn
-looking up to others
-caring about others

These are a few thoughts that came to me over the past two days. These are not complete lists, I would be happy if others would add to them.

This was prompted by the question of why some people seem to shrink emotionally and spiritually as they come to their latter years, while others seem to keep on growing. It seems to me that the ability to keep on learning and to see and delight in little scenes of goodness and beauty keeps us from becoming stiff and brittle as we age.

As I write this there are signs all around that summer is dying. Leaves are turning colour and beginning to fall. There has been no frost yet, but that can’t be far away. Most green plants have stopped growing and will soon be dying. There is no need for us to do the same. May we find joy in living all the days that God gives us.


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