Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Things I am thankful for

I know that it is still three weeks until Thanksgiving Day, but there are many things to be thankful for every day and I want to tell you about the things that I am thankful for right now.

My wife arrived home Thursday from a nine day stay in Edmonton where she was helping an elderly cousin who recently moved there from Saskatoon. I was glad she could go and help, and even more thankful when she came home. I was working while she was gone, plus taking care of the household chores. Some of the ways that she does things that seemed odd to me before make a lot more sense after having to do them myself.

Our youngest grandson had surgery to correct a lazy eye that same day. I am thankful that went well.

Pookie, our little white cat who had an encounter with a dog is back to his normal energetic self. He doesn’t look too good yet, but the wounds are healing with no more sign of infection.

A young couple whom we have not seen for ten years dropped in on us Saturday evening. They live in Québec and are out for a short visit with their oldest son who is working on a farm here. I said young, but that is from my perspective, Kevin must be 45 and there is some gray in his beard. We have known both of them, and their parents for years and it was a special treat to have them in our home, even if only for an hour.

There was a welcome at church this evening for a young couple, Renaldo and Brenda, (mid-thirties this time) who are moving back here after spending the past eleven years in Alberta.

Renaldo spent time in voluntary service in Montréal when in his youth, during the time that we were missionaries there. We had been living in Ontario before going to Montréal. Three young brethren from the Swanson congregation came to visit him. One of the three was Ken Klassen who first laid eyes on his future wife during that trip. He is now our son in law and the father of our grandchildren.

Brenda doesn’t remember the first time we met, as she was not yet four years old then. In January of 1981 her parents and their little children made a stop in our home in Ontario. At that time I had always counted on my wife to cut my hair, but she had undergone surgery a couple weeks earlier and wasn’t able to do it. Somehow it was mentioned that I was getting a little shaggy and Brenda’s father offered to cut my hair. We got out the clippers and the job was quickly done. Brenda doesn’t remember that, but her mother was there last night and she does. Then Brenda put me on the spot and asked if I remember the time she had been in our apartment in Montréal when she was 16. I had to admit that I had forgotten about that.

I am thankful for all the little things like this that bind us together as our paths cross and recross over the years.

Eloquent words

I was a member of the Anglican Church of Canada during my youth and a faithful participant in her worship services. The services and prayers of the Book of Common Prayer presented the gospel message in simple, yet eloquent, words and I found comfort in the familiar liturgy.

As I entered my twenties, I realized that the familiar words and cadences of the liturgy were not enough to bring me into a relationship with God. My theological perspective has shifted since then from Anglicanism to Anabaptism. I appreciate the simplicity of our worship services and the way that ministers and lay brethren speak from the heart.There are a few things in the Book of Common Prayer that I no longer consider sound doctrine.

Despite all this, the gospel is there in the services of the Book of Common Prayer. They may become so familiar that one can repeat them without hearing what one is saying, yet many people have found a genuine saving relationship with God through those words. Many evangelical writers and missionaries have been Anglicans.

The Anglican Church of Canada stopped using the Book of Common Prayer some years ago. That seems to have gone hand in hand with a shifts in their position on abortion and homosexuality. Anglican bishops in Africa and Asia severed their ties with the Anglican Church of Canada and the Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA over those issues and helped begin a new Anglican movement in North America. This new movement is fervently evangelical and has returned to the use of the Book of Common Prayer.

You may note a certain ambivalence in my sentiments as I write this. I am no longer Anglican, I cannot unequivocally support their doctrines or their worship style, yet I still rejoice in seeing the stirrings of renewed gospel fervour in what appeared a few years ago to be a decayed and moribund body.

The worship services are saturated with passages from the Bible, from a translation that predates the Authorized, or King James, Version. The prayers and other parts of the services are written in much the same style. There may be a slightly archaic ring to the words, yet they are simple and easy to understand – and to remember. There is the other side of learning the words so well that you can say them without engaging the mind – they nevertheless remain embedded in the mind and may surface at times bearing precious truth.

I believe the old English Bibles and the Book of Common Prayer are proof that one does not have to use big words and complicated sentence structures to be eloquent. In fact, the opposite is true, the only way to be truly eloquent is to avoid complicated words and writing styles. Here is one example from the Book of Common Prayer, probably added at a later date, but written in the same style as the rest:

“We thank thee, most merciful Father, that it hath pleased thee to build thy Church in many lands. We praise thee for the light of the Gospel, the labours of thy servants, and the ministrations of thy Church. We also bless they holy Name for those who have lived, and suffered, and died for thy sake; beseeching thee to give us grace so to follow their good examples, that with them we may at last attain thy heavenly promises; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Squirrel cage economy

Twenty-five years ago I took a course taught by a man who had grown up in India and who had travelled the world. He talked of seeing how coffee, tea and sugar were grown by dirt poor peasant farmers. He described the steps in getting these products to the multinational companies that then processed them for world markets. Then he said: “Enjoy your coffee, but remember all the people who have worked so hard and earned so very little so that you could have it.”

This morning I had coffee with Carole Thomas, a lady from our area who owns a farm in Costa Rica and spends over half the year there. She grows black pepper and cacao and buys coffee from a neighbouring farmer and sells these products here in Canada, largely through the Saskatoon Farmers Market.

Through talking to Carole, and also from other sources, I am beginning to think that fair trade coffee may not be quite what it purports to be. For one thing, it costs a subsistence farmer an enormous amount of money to join the fair trade program and become certified. And then, they may not necessarily get any more for their coffee than if they sold it to the private merchants, though the fair trade association may offer a guaranteed price. One other concern that comes up is that the fair trade program doesn’t necessarily buy all of a framer’s production and pays the same, no matter what the quality of the coffee. Therefore a farmer may tend to sell his best coffee to a private merchant for a premium price and sell the poorer quality beans to the fair trade association for their guaranteed price.

That doesn’t really sound like it will ever help the poor farmers to rise above subsistence level farming. I was reminded once again of something Dorothy Sayers wrote during the Second World War:

“It may well seem to you – as it does to some of my acquaintances – that I have a sort of obsession about this business of the right attitude to work. But I do insist upon it, because it seems to me that what becomes of civilization after this war is going to depend enormously on our being able to effect this revolution in our ideas about work. Unless we do change our whole way of thought about work, I do not think we shall ever escape from the appalling squirrel cage of economic confusion in which we have been madly turning for the last three centuries or so, the cage in which we landed ourselves by acquiescing in a social system based upon Envy and Avarice.

“A society in which consumption has to be artificially stimulated in order to keep production going is a society founded on trash and waste, and such a society is a house built upon sand.”

Dorothy Sayers, Letters to a Diminished Church

I think we’re further than ever from escaping from the squirrel cage, principally because envy and avarice are still the driving force of the world economy. What would it do to the world economy if individuals would renounce envy and avarice, buy products that are the fruit of honest labour, rather than flashy mass produced items made of dubious ingredients in far away lands by almost slave labour?

Timidity in the pulpit

If spiritual pastors are to refrain from saying anything that might ever, by any possibility, be misunderstood by anybody, they will end – as in fact many of them do – by never saying anything worth hearing. Incidentally, this particular brand of timidity is the besetting sin of the good churchmen.

Dorothy Sayers

Effective Words

It is not a simple thing to learn how to use words to say exactly what one wants to say in the most effective way possible. But the words themselves should be simple. Here is some of the best writing advice I have come across. The first two were written by Canadians, the third by an Englishman and the fourth by an American.

In all ages pompous people use a pompous language, half-educated people an over-educated speech, and people of small intellect run to words a size too large.
Stephen Leacock, How to Write, © 1944

Too many writers have the habit of purchasing, utilizing, requiring when they need, acquiring when they get — all the time. The simpler word seems inadequate. This is an illusion. Use the simplest, most everyday words you can. . . . One way to put it into practice is to imagine that instead of putting words on paper. . . you’re talking to someone you know. If you can work that way, you’ll be bugged a little less by the inclination to lapse into bigger words than you need.
Bill Cameron, A Way With Words © 1979

It need hardly be said that shortness is a merit in words. There are often reasons why shortness is not possible; much less often there are occasions when length, not shortness, is desirable. But it is a general truth that the short words are not only handier to use, but more powerful in effect; extra syllables reduce, not increase, vigour.
H.W. Fowler, A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, © 1965

If you have any doubt of what a word means, look it up. Learn its etymology and notice what curious branches its original root has put forth. See if it has any other meanings that you didn’t know it had. Master the small gradations between words that seem to be synonyms. What is the difference between “cajole,” “wheedle,” “blandish” and “coax”?
William Zinsser, On Writing Well, © 1976

Strange Gospel

Approximately 300 years ago there arose a line of thought in pietistic Protestantism that God’s reign would progressively manifest itself through human action cooperating with God’s action. The belief that the gospel will gradually Christianize the world, bringing a reign of peace and harmony preceding the return of Christ, is known as postmillenialism.

In 19th century Germany, theologians Friedrich Schleiermacher, Albrecht Ritschl and Adolf Harnack concluded that most of the Scriptures were simply mythology or allegory used to convey spiritual teachings. This was called higher criticism of the Bible. Although they did not believe the Bible to be literally true, they taught that the life and teachings of Jesus carried a message of hope for the poor and oppressed. Rejecting the historical truth of the Bible, they also rejected the thought that evil was the product of the sinful nature of the heart of man. They rather taught that it is the evil in the social environment which prevents men and women from living as Jesus taught. This teaching infiltrated most of the major protestant denominations, and was called “modernism.”

Meanwhile, the success of the abolition movement in the USA led to a belief that it would be possible to cure all the ills of society. In His Steps, published in 1897, became the second-best selling book in the USA (after the Bible) for the next 60 years. This was the account by Charles Sheldon of the transformation of the fictional town of Raymond when people began to ask “What would Jesus do?” It seems an inspiring story, the Bible is read, powerful prayers are offered up, good things happen.

But when answers come to the question “What would Jesus do?” they do not come from Scripture or from the leading of the Holy Spirit, but rather from the intellect and imagination of the persons asking the question.

The theme of the book is that the liquor business and big business in general have created a social environment where people cannot live a Christian life. There is no hint that the great need of rich and poor alike is to repent of the evil in their own heart. The sin of society must first be addressed. This book played a large part in creating the Social Gospel movement.

Walter Rauschenbusch was the principal theologian of the movement. He was a Baptist minister of German descent, who had studied the writings of Schleiermacher, Ritschl and Harnack. His work as a pastor in one of the worst slums of New York City led him to develop a theology to impel Christians to work towards the immediate correction of the evils in society.

His best known book, A Theology for the Social Gospel, appeared in 1917. Rauschenbusch quotes Scripture and uses the language of evangelical Christianity. But he does not believe in the divine inspiration of the whole Bible, leaving him free to select certain Scriptures as authoritative, and to reject others. The Scriptures he does use are interpreted according to social gospel theology.

According to Rauschenbusch, the kingdom of God includes all of humanity. Men are not inherently sinful, but live in a sinful environment which hinders them from living as God wants them to live. Sin is not committed against God alone, but since God resides in every human being, every sin against our fellow man is a sin against God. There is no thought of Jesus being the incarnate Son of God. He was simply a man who attained to a new level of understanding and living the kingdom of God.

Rauschenbusch names six sins which caused the death of Jesus: religious bigotry; graft and political power; corruption of justice; mob spirit and mob action; militarism; and class contempt. There is no mention of a resurrection. The devil, hell and heaven exist only in a figurative sense. All people are somewhere in the unending process of growing closer to God and becoming more like him.

Rauschenbusch considered the production and marketing of alcoholic beverages to be a great evil. Even worse was the oppression of mankind by privately owned businesses operated for the profit of the owners. He called these businesses unsaved organizations. Collectively owned businesses, such as co-operatives and government owned businesses, are saved organizations. This is the Social Gospel and it is indeed a strange gospel.

The right and wrong use of statistics

[This is an article I wrote a year ago for The Business Bulletin.]

A few weeks ago I went into a small town branch of the Royal Bank of Canada with a cheque received for some translation work. The cheque was in US dollars and I asked the teller to convert it to Canadian dollars, give me $80.00 in Canadian cash, $20.00 in US cash (to include in a card I was sending to someone in the US) and deposit the rest to my account. I received friendly and efficient service and left without thinking any complicated thoughts about what had transpired.

A survey firm called a few days later, asking me to rate different facets of that banking experience on a scale of one to ten. I told him I couldn’t do it. I do not look at other people as machines and mentally rate their performance on a scale of one to ten. That doesn’t make sense to me.

I suspect the bank intended to use the survey results for publicity purposes, informing the public of the great satisfaction rating of the Royal Bank of Canada. How can anyone trust such a poll when the respondents most likely just pick numbers out of the air so the questioner will let them get back to their work?

Sometimes it is important to consider what the statistics are actually measuring. Do statistics of traffic violations by province measure the driving habits of the population or the enforcement habits of the police? Statistics on charitable donations per capita show Saskatchewan near the top of the list and Quebec near the bottom. These stats come from the receipted donations claimed on income tax returns. Is it possible that Quebeckers are more generous in giving spontaneously without needing a receipt? Do statistics such as these shape our opinions of the people of each province?

I believe it was Mark Twain who stated that there were three kinds of lies: lies; d****d lies; and statistics. That being said, I am a strong believer in the usefulness of statistics — when dealing with inanimate objects that can be measured or counted. I took numerous courses in statistics in preparation for writing the Certified Quality Engineer exam. I worked for many years with the practical application of statistical analysis in a manufacturing setting and I am convinced that this is the most effective way of determining what is going on in an industrial process.

We first need to understand some basic principles. The sample to be measured must be chosen completely at random, there is a margin of error to be taken into account in each sample, and an average of one time out of twenty the sample will not be representative of the actual process. In a manufacturing setting, samples are taken at regular intervals. If one sample does not fall within the range established by preceding samples it may mean that the process has changed, or it may be the one time out of twenty when the sample was not truly representative of the process. The way to find out is to immediately take another sample. If this one falls within the limits established by earlier samples, it means the former sample was not representative. If measurement of the resample gives results close to the former sample it is time to sound the alarm, shut down the process and find out what has changed. Statistical methods have done wonders in tightening tolerances and reducing waste in industrial processes.

Statistical sampling of opinion is fraught with much more complexity. First off, you are dealing with opinions, which are subjective and not amenable to precise measurement. Secondly, it is hard to obtain a truly representative sample, many people might be unavailable or unwilling to participate. Thirdly, there is no way of telling if a one time poll falls on the side of the 19 times out of 20, or the 1 time out of 20. Fourthly, many polls are conducted with leading questions designed to elicit a certain type of response. Another complicating factor arises when a newspaper eliminates the no responses and no opinions and calculates a percentage using only the remaining responses. That can raise the margin of error into the stratosphere.

I could phone a few hundred people at random with the following question: “The beautiful flowers of Purple Loosestrife are no longer seen in Saskatchewan’s wetlands. Do you think this is due to: a) global warming; b) excessive use of pesticides; c) lack of pollination due to honey bee die back; or d) a dramatic increase in the number of Canada Geese?” Many people will have forgotten, or perhaps never knew, that Purple Loosestrife was deliberately eradicated ten years ago as an invasive species and will pick one of the answers supplied. I might come up with a statistic saying that 50% of Canadians believe that Canada Geese are destroying Purple Loosestrife in Saskatchewan, but such a result would be rubbish.

Too many surveys are conducted along similar lines, giving a choice of preselected answers on sensitive subjects such as abortion and gay marriage. Then the results are fed back to us as proof of what the majority of Canadians think on this particular topic. The newspapers report the results of these surveys with a slant that indicates that those of us who think otherwise are quite out of step with the times, perhaps even hinting that we are dangerous to the public good.

Such carefully manipulated polls are voices of the zeitgeist, pressuring us to think in the approved manner of our time. We should take a step back and look at what is really behind these polls, so we can think soberly and realistically. May we never be ashamed to express those sober and realistic thoughts, they may be a breath of fresh air for someone trapped in the stifling atmosphere of the zeitgeist.

We are men and women. It should not be possible for a propaganda machine to adjust and fine tune our attitudes as if we were machines.

Dorothy Sayers on the origin of evil

The orthodox Christian position is . . . [that] the light, and the light only is primary; creation and time and darkness are secondary and begin together. When you come to consider the matter, it is strictly meaningless to say that darkness could precede light in a time process. Where there is no light, there is no meaning for the word darkness, for darkness is merely a name for that which is without light. Light, by merely existing, creates darkness, or at any rate the possibility of darkness. In this sense, it is possible to understand that profound saying, “I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace and create evil: I the Lord do all these things” (Isaiah 45:7).

But it is at this point that it becomes possible for the evil and the darkness and the chaos to boast: “We are that which was before the light was, and the light is a usurpation upon our rights.” It is an illusion; evil and darkness and chaos are pure negation, and there is no such state as “before the light” because it is the primary light that creates the whole time process. It is an illusion, and that is the primary illusion inside which the devil lives and in which he deceives himself and others.

In the orthodox Christian position, therefore, the light is primary, the darkness secondary and derivative; and this is important for the whole theology of evil. In The Devil to Pay, I tried to make this point, and I remember being soundly rapped over the knuckles by a newspaper critic, who said in effect that after a great deal of unintelligible pother, I had worked up to the statement that God was light, which did not seem to be very novel or profound. Novel, it certainly is not, it is scarcely the business of Christian writers to introduce novelties into the fundamental Christian doctrines. But profundity is a different matter; Christian theology is profound, and since I did not invent it, I may have the right to say so.

The possibility of evil exists from the moment that a creature is made that can love and do good because it chooses and not because it is unable to do anything else. The actuality of evil exists from the moment that that choice is exercised in the wrong direction. Sin (moral evil) is the deliberate choice of the not-God. And pride, as the church has consistently pointed out, is the root of it, i.e., the refusal to accept the creaturely status; the making of the difference between self and God into an antagonism against God.

-Dorthy Sayers, Letters to a Diminished Church

Pookie come home

Pookie wasn’t here to greet me when I came home Tuesday evening after taking my wife to the airport. Pookie,a little flame point Siamese, showed up on our doorstep two years ago in fall, a feral kitten looking for a home. We didn’t need a third cat, but pretty soon he had captured our affection and we couldn’t think of letting him go. He is the Energizer bunny of the cat world, and is always there to give an enthusiastic greeting when he hears the car coming. This time he wasn’t there, and didn’t come when I called.

Finally, after dark, he showed up. He had wounds on his head between his ear and his eye and below his chin. He had been attacked a week earlier by some creature and we were giving him antibiotics to quell the infection from that. I hoped that the antibiotic in his bloodstream, plus the two remaining pills, would be enough to prevent any infection from this new attack. By Thursday evening I knew it wasn’t going to be enough, so I took him with me when I went to the Delisle vet clinic to work on their bookkeeping. He got one antibiotic pill there at the clinic and another that evening.

Our most lively cat had become lethargic and slow moving, yet yesterday morning he wanted to go out. I expected that he would only be out a short time, but the hours went by and no Pookie appeared. I finally called the lady on the farm next to our acreage and she said she had not seen Pookie, but that all their cats went into hiding during the day because of the dogs. Their son and his family are moving back from Alberta and the dogs are staying next door until they can move to their new home. But the dogs are penned up in the evening and then the cats come out to be fed.

Evening came, and still no Pookie. By this time I had worked through most of the grieving process, from denial to anger and finally acceptance that I probably would not see him again. Just before I went to bed, I decided to look once more. In my pyjamas, with slippers on my feet and a flashlight in my hand, I opened the door to go out . . . and in walked Pookie.

He must have found a safe place to sleep the day away and was moving  with greater ease than in the morning. I popped a pill in his mouth, made sure he had enough to eat, went to bed and slept peacefully.

I wondered about my feelings, is it right to be so emotionally affected by the supposed loss of an animal? We humans seem often to be unbalanced in our love. Some people are animal lovers, but have difficulty getting along with people. Some people profess a love for their fellow man, yet are very hardhearted toward animals. I don’t believe either extreme is pleasing to God.

Wasn’t it the shepherd’s love for his sheep that gave meaning to the Old Testament sacrifices? Shepherds knew their sheep, called them by name, took care of their needs, protected them, and loved them. God asked them to take the very best out of their flock and to offer it as a sacrifice for their sins. Don’t you suppose they were reminded again and again how serious their sins were when they had to take a sheep that they loved and offer it as a sacrifice to atone for their sins?

David went from tending his father’s flock as a shepherd to tending his heavenly Father’s flock as king. He never lost the heart of a shepherd. When he sinned by numbering the people and the death angel was sent among the people, David said: “Lo, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly: but these sheep, what have they done? let thine hand, I pray thee, be against me, and against my father’s house” (2 Samuel 24:17).
Isn’t this why David was a man after God’s own heart?

Finally, it took the sacrifice of Jesus, the only-begotten Son of God, the perfect Lamb of God, to bring an end to the slaughter of animals as atonement for sin. Don’t you suppose the Father’s heart was broken when Jesus cried out from the cross “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

No suffering is pleasing to God, He knows every sparrow that falls. He has no pleasure in the death of sinners, yet the death of His own Son makes plain the terrible reality that sin separates us from God.

 

If wishes were horses . . .

If wishes were horse, I would be in Edmonton with my wife instead of here at home looking after our three cats and trying to keep earning some money. But I supported my wife in leaving on this little one week adventure to help her elderly cousin and visit some of the people we know, so I will make the best of things here at home.

And I do get to do some interesting things. Tonight was the humorous speech competition at Toastmasters. I won, which means that I will need to deliver that speech in a few weeks at the district level. I wasn’t counting on that, but I guess I can do that, too.

If wishes were horses . . .  Some people seem to spend their whole life wishing things were different, wishing that other people would treat them better, wishing for better living conditions, wishing for all the fun and enjoyment that other people appear to be getting out of life, but which always seem beyond their grasp.

One of the people Chris wants to visit in Edmonton is Rose, the 90 year old widow of my cousin Ron. Rose never appears to waste time wishing things could be better. I don’t think she believes life could get any better. She is thankful for everything and everyone in her life. She is not really well-to-do, but she has all she needs and wants no more. She spends a lot of time on the phone talking with family and friends, and many of those friends go back a long time.

Ron and Rose had been married for almost 65 years when Ron passed away two years ago at the age of 91. The parting was difficult, yet welcome as Ron had so much pain in the last few years of his life. He never complained either, he was the favourite of the nurses in the home where he spent the last couple years of his life, as he was so thankful for every little thing they did.

What makes the difference? Ron and Rose were never difficult people, but they were not always as contented and happy as they were in the later years of their life. They were always church-going people, but they didn’t get converted until they were about 70. Knowing God, His forgiveness, His peace had a transforming power in their lives.

When our hopes are set on earthly things, we will always be disappointed. When we set our hopes on things that are heavenly and eternal,  we receive far beyond what we deserve or could ever wish for.

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