Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Putting away childish things

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. (1 Corinthians 13:11).

Does this mean that grownups should not play games? My father hardly ever seemed to have the time to play games with me, but my mother would take the time to play catch, to run races, to play croquet, and probably other things that i can’t remember just now. Those are precious memories and I think they should be part of every child’s growing up. Children need these kinds of exercises to acquire coordination and fine motor skills, but playing games with parents should also teach them how to play fair and be considerate of others.

In sports, boys will strive with all their might to outdo each other, yet still be friends after the game. Girls do not tend to be so intensely competitive in games between friends. The desire to show off, to demonstrate superiority over others, is childish and needs to be put away as one matures.

Which brings me to the baseball game at our recent school picnic. The picnic, or play day, is the traditional way of ending the school year in the school run by our congregation. There were various activities going on around the school yard for children of all ages, but the ball game was the main attraction. The two teams were made up of boys and girls, fathers and mothers, and even a grandfather and grandmother. The ages ranged from 12 to 62.

The aim was for everyone to have fun. There were power hitters and some who could just hit the ball a little way on the ground. Some could run fast, one or two couldn’t get up much speed. There were some outstanding catches in the outfield, and a lot of misses and dropped balls. The pitchers were not all that outstanding. Score was being kept, but I don’t think anyone really cared. One girl was thrown out at first, yet still allowed to run the bases. There were lots of cheers and not a single jeer.

I don’t think there is anything childish about such a game.

Perfection and humilty and servanthood and leadership

Is it possible to be perfect, humble, a servant and a leader all at the same time? According to the New Testament, God expects us to be all of the above. If that seems impossible, perhaps we have gotten hung up on a misunderstanding of the meaning of one or more of those words.

Many well-meaning Christians will insist that the only perfection that we can ever attain to is to be found in Jesus Christ and then His perfection becomes ours. I was going to say that this is a cop-out, but that would be too harsh. It is just a misunderstanding of what the Bible means when it calls us to be perfect. The basic meaning of the word is complete when referring to things, and fully grown or mature when speaking of people. It does not mean to be utterly without flaw or blemish. In the AV, the Greek word teleios is translated 17 times as perfect, once as men (“in understanding be men” 1 Corinthians 14:20) and once as of full age (“But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” Hebrews 5:14).

Thus, what the Bible is asking of us is maturity. A person who is mature does not think that he knows everything, that he never makes a mistake, never misunderstands. Someone who is mature is quick to own up to his mistakes, apologize where he has caused offence, and to fix what he has broken.

Looked at in this way, perfection begins to sound a lot like humility, doesn’t it? They really are like the two sides of the same coin. A person who is perfect and humble can be entrusted with responsibility. He will do his best to fulfil that responsibility, without running over anyone who might get in the way. In other words, he see himself as a servant. He is not simply trying to please himself, but whoever has entrusted him with this responsibility. Ultimately, he sees himself as a servant of God and of his fellow men.

Such a person is a leader. He does not see himself as lord over those whom he is leading, but rather as their servant. He goes ahead to show the way, to avoid dangers, to help all to reach their goal. We are all called to be leaders in some way, in the home, at work, even at play.

We will not always do everything just right, or say everything just right. We will be misunderstood; we will be criticized, sometimes justly, sometimes unjustly. Either way, if we respond to the criticism with kindness and respect we will grow and become more useful. This is the way of perfection. If we respond with impatience and anger, we will shrivel and become less useful.

The weakness of the law – any kind of law

The confederate flag is disappearing all over the US South. That should make black folks feel more like they belong, shouldn’t it?

At least it’s a symbolic act, one that shows that racism should not have any part in a society that calls itself civilized. Yet I fear that Mr. Roof is symbolic of a deep-rooted attitude in many people that will not so easily be changed. The laws have already been changed and black people should have all the rights and privileges of other citizens, yet  —

He who is convinced against his will
Remains of the same opinion still.

A long time ago, the apostle Paul wrote: “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:3). He is even more emphatic in Galatians 2: 20-21 — “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.”

The law, and this applies to any kind of law, cannot make people good. Laws, teaching, indoctrination, law enforcement, all have their place in maintaining order in society. But it is only the transforming power of the blood of Jesus Christ that can erase jealousy, hated, bitterness and replace them by love.

The very idea of racism is contrary to Christian faith — there is only one human race, we are all descended from a common ancestor, we are all made in the image of God. The idea of there being different races of mankind originates with Charles Darwin, who taught that the white race was the most-favoured race and would prevail and eventually replace the other races in the struggle for survival. Not many people like to remember that, but he did teach it quite explicitly.

God makes no distinctions between people, why should we? Christians should be a model of how all the world should live. Can we follow the model of the world in making a difference between people without compromising the faith?

The pursuit of happiness

Times are tough for writers today. Every writers’ group and every writers’ conference tells us that no publisher will even look at a book manuscript unless the author has an impressive “writer’s platform.” That would consist of a blog with at least 10,000 followers and a similar presence on Facebook and Twitter. And then there are experts who will explain how to promote your book on Amazon.

I just don’t want to go there. If the underlying purpose of my writing is to exalt the One who said “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” how can I put that together with going on Facebook and Twitter every morning and finding some new way to call out “Hey everybody! Look at me!”?

I guess that means I’m not going to be rich or famous. I’m OK with that. But at least I can be happy. I don’t think our me-first world today even knows what happiness means. True happiness has no connection to hilarity and thrills, it comes from a holy life, lived in service to God and to our fellow men.

The beatitudes are a description of true happiness. The AV translation uses the word “blessed,” but the original Greek word means happy and is translated that way in other passages. The beatitudes tell us that true happiness is found in being poor in spirit, meek, merciful and pure in heart; to hunger and thirst after righteousness,to be peacemakers. Jesus ends the beatitudes with this astounding statement:

Happy are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

Jesus is not telling us to provoke people into reviling and persecuting us, but there is nothing anywhere in His teachings to indicate that we should carefully court the approval of the world. We should rather seek to serve others in whatever way we can, without expecting or begging their approval.

Writing is one way in which we can serve others. But no one will appreciate our attempts to serve if we come across as feeling superior, or try to impress by pompous words and a bombastic writing style. The apostle Paul wasn’t exalting himself when he said “Be ye followers of me, even as I am also of Christ.” We can say the same thing, but only if we can attain to his level of humility in following Christ. That is where we will find true happiness.

Touche pas à nos cornichons!

cucumber-150595_1280[Leave our pickles alone!]

Alas, but it’s too late. Authentic dill pickles are no longer made in Canada.

My mother used to grow rows of cucumbers in her garden, plus a short row of dill. She would pick and wash the cucumbers and layer them in an earthenware crock with a few sprigs of dill scattered across each layer, then a layer of coarse pickling salt, then more cucumbers and dill and so on. When the crock was full, she would pour in white vinegar until everything was immersed, then she would place a lid on the crock. When the pickles were ready to be eaten they were crisp, tangy, with just enough dill to enhance the flavour. That is the taste of real dill pickles that I grew up with.

As my mother grew older, she developed arthritis and was no longer able to do all the baking and preserving that she had once done. No matter, by this time we could buy Bick’s pickles at our local grocery store. This was a family run enterprise in Ontario that made pickles that tasted just like the ones my mother used to make.

I’m not sure just what happened, but I suspect the younger generation of the Bick family wanted to enjoy the fruit of their parents’ labours, without performing the labour themselves. In any case, they accepted a buyout offer from a multinational company. The pickles still tasted as good, so why should we worry?

Then the multinational discovered they could get pickles from Asian countries at a lower cost than producing them here in Canada. They closed the Canadian pickle factory, but the pickle jars still look the same. What is inside the jar is another story. They taste like they have been marinated in swamp water. Please forgive my cultural snobbishness, but these are not the pickles my mother used to make.

I read recently in Marianne, a French news magazine, that the same thing has happened in France. The last pickle factory, also owned by a multinational, closed in 2009. But here the story begins to differ, in a way that give me some hope for us here in Canada. Henri Jannequin and his family decided to start producing authentic dill pickles from their farm. Their cucumbers are grown with no pesticides or insecticides, and they use no preservatives in their pickles. That sounds just like the way my mother made pickles. Their pickles are sold under the label Maison Marc and are available in France in fine grocery stores and are served in better restaurants and even in the Élysée (the presidential palace). The price is 8 € for a small jar.

Why couldn’t that be done in Canada? Cucumbers and dill will grow anywhere, what’s needed is an entrepreneurial vision coupled with a willingness for hard work. I suspect there is a market out there just waiting for pickles “just like Grandma used to make.”

Peace in time of war

There are four main religious groups in Lebanon: Maronite Christians, descended from the old Syriac church and united with the Roman Catholic Church, yet maintaining some of the old ways, including a married priesthood; Shiite Muslims; Sunni Muslims and Greek Orthodox. A power sharing agreement was worked out after the Second World War that worked well for a number of years. Lebanon prospered, became a major tourist destination and Beirut became the banking and financial centre of the Middle East.

That changed in 1975 with attacks by radical Muslims, PLO and Hezbollah, and a civil war ensued that lasted until 1990. Peace has never been fully restored.

Our friend Helen, from a Maronite family, was attending university in Beirut in the 1980’s. She told us that practically every building in the city had suffered some damage from the war. She rode the bus to the university every morning, carrying with her a bag with extra clothes and supplies in case she wouldn’t be able to get home that night.

Her parents home was a peaceful haven amid the strife and turmoil of the war. Her father’s presence in the home gave her a feeling of security and peace. He told his sons that they were never to think of enlisting in the army, or of getting involved in the conflict in any other way. The war was to remain outside, thee should be no strife in their home.

When she finished university the economy of Lebanon was in ruins. There seemed to be no hope of finding work, no future at all in this war torn country. She applied to immigrate to Canada and was accepted. She obtained a passport, but could not seem to obtain the document needed to leave the country. By this time the Beirut Airport was controlled by a Muslim militia. She left for the airport with her documents and ticket, praying that somehow she would be able to get on the plane.

As soon as she walked though the doors of the airport a man approached her and asked for her documents. She handed them over, then panicked as she realized how foolish that was. The man asked her to come with him and she followed in an almost dream-like state. He led her through every step of the way, ticket counter, baggage check, security and so on, always going directly to the head of the line and getting her passed through with hardly a glance at the papers. Finally she was to the boarding ramp of her airplane; he handed her papers back to her, wished her well and was gone.

It wasn’t until her plane was airborne and she was safely on her way to Montreal that it sunk in how wondrously her prayer had been answered. She has no idea who the man was, or why he helped her. Her family has no idea either.

Am I a uniter or a divider?

During a recent visit in the home of a young couple in another congregation, the wife talked about the church her parents had attended when she was a child. The membership of that church is now down to the pastor and a few women; no man has been able to abide the pastor’s controlling ways. That pastor may well have a sound grasp of the Christian faith and how it should be lived, but he is a divider, not a uniter.

My spell-checker doesn’t like the word uniter, and I don’t much care for it either. I would prefer to use the French word rassembleur, as that carries the implication not just of drawing people together, but of drawing them together for a common purpose. However, rassembleur would not be understood by most English-speaking people, so I will stick with uniter.

Can a revival have an enduring effect if it does not instill in believers a united vision of the purpose of Christian life? I am thinking of the Western Canadian Revival of 40 years ago. It swept through city after city, bringing together people from the whole spectrum of evangelical Christianity to hear messages calling on them to deal with sin in their lives. I believe many people were genuinely touched and their faith renewed or restored. But were they united? I don’t think so; the churches remained as before with all their internal and external frictions and divisions.

The church of God is often in need of revival. Anything that involves people will tend to get messy. Many people do not see the problems, they need to be stirred and awakened. A revival that only seeks to restore the purity of practice as it was formerly will not be durable as there is no vision of the purpose of that purity of practice. Some people see needs in the church, but have no patience for the slowness of others to see. If they attempt to impose their vision on others, some may abandon the faith. Or they themselves will abandon the assembly of the saints and wander here and there seeking others who see things as they do. These people are dividers.

Menno Simons was a true rassembleur (or uniter if you prefer). He was a priest at Witmarsum in Friesland who was converted almost 400 years ago through studying the Bible. While still in the Roman Catholic church he taught against the zealous and misguided people who took over the city of Muenster, expecting the Lord to return and establish His kingdom there. When 300 people took over an old monastery near where he lived and were killed in the ensuing siege, the burden of his conscience became almost unbearable. He felt that some had left the Roman Catholic church because he had revealed its errors, but he had not led them further in the truth.

“I thought to myself — I, miserable man, what am I doing?” “I began in the name of the Lord to preach publicly from the pulpit the true repentance, to point people to the narrow path, and in the power of the Scripture to openly to reprove all sin and wickedness. . . to the extent that I had at that time received from God the grace.”

Nine months later he left the Roman Catholic church, abandoning his reputation and easy life. “In my weakness I feared God; I sought out the pious and though they were few in number I found some who were zealous and maintained the truth. I dealt with the erring, and through the help and power of God with His Word, reclaimed them from the snares of damnation and gained them to Christ. The hardened and rebellious I left to the Lord.”

A year later , a group of brethren came to him and urged him to put use the talents he had received from the Lord to build up the church of God. “I was sensible of my limited talents, my unlearnedness, my weak nature and the timidity of my spirit, the exceeding great wickedness . . . of the world, the great and powerful sects, . . . and the woefully heavy cross that should weigh on me should I comply. On the other hand I saw the pitiful great hunger and need of these God-fearing, pious, children, for I saw that they erred as do harmless sheep which have no shepherd.”

He accepted the plea of the brethren to be ordained as an elder of the church and could later say: “The great and mighty God has made known the word of true repentance . . .through our humble service, doctrine, and unlearned writings, together with the diligent service and help of our faithful brethren in many towns and countries. It has been made known to such an extent that He has bestowed upon His churches such unconquerable power that many proud and lofty hearts have become humble; the impure, chaste; the drunken, sober; the avaricious, benevolent; the cruel, kind; and the ungodly, pious; but they also left their possessions and blood, life and limb with the blessed testimony they had, as it may be seen daily still. These are not the fruit of false doctrine. Neither could these people endure so long under such dire distress and cross were it not the power and word of the Almighty which moves them.”

In the 16th Century, church and state were closely bound together and any deviation from the state church was considered subversive, even the peaceable Anabaptists. There were many other sects at the time, due to widespread dissatisfaction with the state church. The Anabaptists taught and lived a Biblical faith that answered the cry in the hearts of many people. Attempts to destroy this faith by persecution only drew more attention to it and it continued to grow. There were many other leaders, but Menno Simons was the one who was best known to those outside the church. Thus, the members of the church came to be known as Menno-nites.

I didn’t get the message

elevator-48615_1280Way back when I was still single, some time before 1970, I was living alone in a little Saskatchewan town and running a grain elevator. Well, I wasn’t completely alone — there was a cat sharing the house with me. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that there would have to be a cat in the picture.

I was sound asleep one night when the yowling of the cat penetrated the fog of sleep. My first thought was that she was hungry, but no, her food dish was full. I stumbled around the house, turning lights on and off, even turning on the outside light and peering out at my pickup just a few feet from the door. There was nothing unusual anywhere and the cat didn’t seem upset anymore, so I stumbled back to bed, muttering “stupid cat.”

I should have known better. The next morning I got up, had breakfast and drove to the grain elevator, opened the doors, unlocked the office and walked in. I happened to glance out the office window and stopped in my tracks. There on the front of my pickup was a British Columbia license plate. I wrote down the number and called the RCMP. Now I understood what the cat had been trying to tell me — someone was messing around just outside my door. No doubt he had left quickly when I turned the lights on.

The police informed me a couple days later that they had caught up with the guy at Sault Ste Marie, Ontario, with my licence plate still on the car that he had stolen in B.C. It took my neighbour across the street a few more days to discover the matching B.C. licence plate on the back of his car.

I wish I could say that I have always gotten the message when the Holy Spirit tried to get my attention. To my regret, I have often let His warnings and the gentle prompts pass me by. It wasn’t that I didn’t understand what He was saying, but it seemed too hard a thing for me to do and I persuaded myself that I must have misunderstood.

Ignoring the cat usually doesn’t have serious consequences. I have slowly learned that when the Spirit speaks it pays to trust that the message is important and to obey, even if what He asks is not at all what I want to do.

Social media vs girlfriend

We had been shopping in the city and our last stop was Walmart. By the time we were done there it was almost supper time. If we drove home, unloaded and put away the groceries and made supper it would be an hour and a half before we could eat. Not to mention that the cook was weary. So we decided to eat there. Chris went to McDonald’s and I went to the other end of Walmart to get my meal at Tim Horton’s, carried it back to McDonald’s and we sat down to eat together.

I noticed a young man at another table with an attractive young lady sitting across from him. Evidently they had finished eating and his attention was now fully engaged by electronic interaction with phantom people via words on a small screen, probably via Facebook or Twitter. He would type something, press send, then read something else and start typing again. This continued all the time that we sat there.

Meanwhile, the young lady was trying to engage him in conversation. He would look up,give a one word answer and return to his social media conversations. She got up and left for a few minutes, then returned. He was still completely engrossed in communication with people in cyberspace. She made a few more attempts to get his attention, then stood up, kissed him on the cheek and left.

All this time I am thinking, “What is wrong with this guy? Here is an attractive young lady just across the table from him who wants to get his attention — and he is more interested in engaging with people in  cyberspace that he might not even know.”

So who was the loser in this competition between the girlfriend and social media? I would have to say that it was the young man.

Girl on a pilgrimage

I worked in Delisle today, sitting in a cubbyhole office in the vet clinic, hunched over a computer trying to get financial records up to date. About One o’clock my stomach finally got through to me that it was time to eat and I walked over to the nearby snack shack. The waitress soon brought me my usual meal of poutine, cookies and Diet Pepsi and I sat down to eat.

A young lady came in, ordered an ice cream cone, ate it while visiting with an older lady at another table. Then she decided she needed a little more to eat. I had overheard her talk about biking across Canada so I started asking questions. She sat down at my table and started answering.

She started out from Vancouver 15 days ago and is trying to average 120 km a day on her bicycle. Her destination is St. Johns, Newfoundland and she hopes to be there in another 2 months. The mountains were slower travelling, her best day so far was 140 km. She is travelling alone, sometimes camping for night, sometimes staying with friends. Tonight she plans to be with a friend of a friend in Saskatoon. At the end of her journey she will fly back to Vancouver and look for work in one of the smaller cities in the mountains of B.C. She is a nurse. I admire her courage and spirit of adventure and I believe she will make it.

Back in 1967, Canada’s centennial year, I was living in a small town beside the Trans-Canada Highway in Southern Saskatchewan. Many people making the cross Canada trek passed through our town that summer, some on foot, some on bicycle, some on roller skates, some on horseback.

A few years later Terry Fox attempted the trip from east to west running on an artificial leg. He had lost his leg from cancer and was raising money for cancer research. There is a monument to Terry Fox beside the highway at Thunder Bay where he had to abandon the trek because his cancer had returned. Rick Hanson made the trip by wheelchair a year or two later, raising money for spinal cord research. Both of these were being accompanied by a support crew of family or friends.

I had to wonder about an attractive young lady making this trip on her own. But don’t we all make our pilgrimage through this life on our own? As the song Jesus Walked This Lonesome Valley says “Nobody else can walk it for you, You’ve got to walk it by yourself.”

This young lady knows of others who are making the same trip this summer, she says there is one couple not far behind her. We have company on our Christian pilgrimage through life, they offer encouragement and help when they can, but we’ve got to make this pilgrimage on our own determination. There are people along the way who will offer us shelter, nourishment and a chance to recharge our inner batteries, but then we have to keep on going. We don’t know when our journey will end, but every morning we are one day closer to our destination and it will be worth all the troubles of the way.

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