Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

The need for Christian apologetics

According to Nancy Pearsey, when young people who have abandoned the Christian faith are asked why, the most common answer is that they could not get answers to their questions about the faith. Thus they assumed that there were no answers and that the stories hey had been taught were just so many fairy tales.

This brings us right up against Peter’s command: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15). “Give an answer” is the English translation of apologia, the Greek word that Peter used. Thus apologetics simply means always being ready to give an answer when questions arise about our faith.

This does not mean that we need to be prepared with arguments that will overwhelm and overpower the skeptics — notice that Peter says “with meekness and fear.” But we should never avoid an honest question, even if we don’t know the answer. We simply need the confidence that answers do exist and to be willing to help the questioner search for those answers. If we are afraid to even do that, what hope is there for the future of Christianity?

Christian persuasion is an art for lovers

Christian persuasion is for those  who love God, who wish to make the best possible case for the one they know and love, and who appreciate that love is an essential part of the knowledge that stems from the seeking and finding. Persuasion is for followers of Jesus who love him because they know him, and therefore need no convincing of  their unspeakable privilege of knowing him and making him known. . . . The Christian persuasion we are exploring here is not for salesmen, propagandists, proselytizers, PR consultants, lobbyists, press officers, spin doctors, damage control experts and the like. It is not enough to share our faith out of guilt or social pressure or a desire to compete with rivals for cultural influence in today’s world. There are more than enough consultants to cater to those with such motives. This book is for those who desire to share the way of Jesus because of their love for Jesus, and who know that love is a key part of any human being’s search for knowledge and truth.

-Os Guinness, from his new book Fool’s Talk, Recovering the art of Christian persuasion. © 2015 by Os Guinness, published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL

Things I am thankful for

Our son-in-law

My wife got up early yesterday morning and had three loads of laundry done before I had my shower, and I still had hot water for my shower.  I was away until mid afternoon and when I came home my wife informed me that we had no hot water.

I checked things out, just like I knew what I was doing. The breaker hadn’t tripped, so I took the outer panel off the water heater to look at the wiring. There was a red thing that said reset so I pushed it. Nothing happened. So I texted our son-in-law, who was at a meeting. He came over this morning, looked things over, pushed the reset button — it clicked and the water heater started working again.

Well, I thought I had pushed it.

Our oldest grandson

I took our oldest grandson into Saskatoon today for a session at Sylvan Learning, then did some shopping while he was there. We had lunch, then came home. Along the way, we saw lots of big equipment working at twinning the highway we were using. We saw all kinds of highly specialized machinery working on the railway on the other side of the highway. They are replacing ties, levelling the rails and who knows what else. We stopped at the work site where his dad’s crew is building a road for some industrial lots in a town along the way. Nathan is much more knowledgeable about this sort of stuff than I am and enjoys explaining it. I enjoyed the time with him.

Honda engines

It takes me about two hours with a riding mower to trim the grass on our yard. I have a smaller mower that I used to use for closer trimming around buildings and trees. About this time last summer the cable to the safety bar broke. I got cable to fix it, but the job never got done before winter. I finally did it today. It had sat for a year with a little gas in it. I didn’t check the oil, the air filter, the spark plug or anything. I just pulled the starter cord and it started on the second pull. Then I checked the oil, which still looked pretty good, not having seen much use last year.  I have a replacement air filter and want to do a little more service before I use it much.

I know other engines are better than they used to be, but I am thankful to have a Honda on this little mower.

The Welfare Trap

Welfare systems began with the noble intent of helping those unable to help themselves. Well, actually those noble intentions were somewhat tainted from the beginning. Christians had long felt a need to help those most in need. Governments, motivated by the social gospel, decided people needed something better than to rely on charity.  Thus a bureaucracy was built step by step, and the bureaucracy needs clients to justify its existence. Therefore, it has become increasingly difficult for welfare clients to escape the system.

Whatever the faults of Christian charity, it did not encroach on people’s dignity nearly as much as organized welfare systems. These systems are structured so that there are penalties for every effort a person makes to become self supporting. Income from a part time job is deducted from welfare payments. Find full time employment and you lose your rent subsidy and many other benefits. Enrol in a government sponsored training program and you likewise lose all your benefits. Whether such disincentives are deliberate or not, the fact is that the system is rigged to keep people on welfare. After a while many people give up hope of finding a way out.

Then there are the child welfare services. One lady went from foster home to foster home during her growing up years and was left feeling that she must have been a difficult child. In her adult years she approached the welfare agency and was given a report of the times she had been moved. In every case there there had been some misconduct by the foster parents — she had never been the problem.

Here in Saskatchewan, many First Nations reserves have their own child welfare agencies. They try to provide some continuity in the life of a child that is at risk in the home of his parents by placing him with relatives. That seems like a sensible solution. The problem is that many families live off reserve and when problems arise they fall under the jurisdiction of the provincial social services agency. Children are placed in foster homes that may not have any understanding of their cultural background. At the first sign of trouble the child is moved to a new home. And on and on. What they most need is stability and only a few find it.

Some foster parents are able to manoeuvre through the bureaucratic jungle of social services and provide a secure and stable home for children in their care. They do a wonderful job, But they are not produced by the system The good that they do is the result of their personal convictions and principles.

The idea that governments can create a better world, where everyone is valued, everyone’s needs are met and everyone’s dignity is respected, has not worked out in practice. This is the social gospel, and it is a false gospel. Yet people are still looking to governments to fix what they have broken.

Commencement At Villanova…

Bob Goodnough:

I don’t know who this lady is, but that’s not so important, her message struck a chord with me and I’d like to share it.

Originally posted on Morning Story and Dilbert:

 

It’s a great honor for me to be the third member of my family to receive an  honorary doctorate from this great university. It’s an honor to follow my  great-Uncle Jim, who was a gifted physician, and my Uncle Jack, who is a remarkable businessman. Both of them could have told you something important about their professions, about medicine or commerce. I have no specialized field of interest or expertise, which puts me at a disadvantage, talking to you today. I’m a novelist. My work is human nature, real life is all I know.

Don’t ever confuse the two, your life and your work. The second is only part of the first.

You walk out of here this afternoon with only one thing that no one else has. There will be hundreds of people out there with your same degree; there will  be thousands of people doing what you…

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The sad condition of man

Man is neither angel nor beast, and it is unfortunately the case that anyone trying to act the angel acts the beast.

-Blaise Pascal

Slaying the beast within

A year and a half ago, a young man who had served a sentence for armed robbery appeared in court to explain that he had learned his lesson. He said that he had learned that he needed to stop and think before doing something and consider the consequences. “I have learned to tell the difference between good and evil,” he testified.

Two weeks ago, the fiancee of this young man, mother of his two young children, went missing. A few days later a sack containing her dismembered body was found under a bridge. The young man who had supposedly learned to tell the difference between good and evil has been charged with murder. What happened?

There is a beast within each one of us that cannot learn, cannot be tamed. Most often it shows itself in words, but sometimes far more horrible things happen. James writes:

And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: but the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.  James 3:6-10

The apostle Paul wrote: “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing” (Romans 7:18). No  anger management course, no behaviour modification therapy, can ever fully master this beast. It has to die.

That is why Jesus said: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” (Luke 9:23). That is, if we are to be followers of Jesus Christ, we must daily renounce the inclinations of that inner beast and nail it to the cross. Paul is saying the same thing when he writes: “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live” (Romans 8:13). “Mortify” is used here in its original French sense of “make to die.”

The new birth is the result of the death of this inner beast, to be replaced by a new life, one that is not animated, or in harmony with, the forces of hell, but one that is animated by the Holy Spirit and in harmony with the powers of heaven. Here are the words of Paul again: “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” (Galatians 2:20).

The beast within does not want to stay dead. That is why Jesus spoke of the daily need for self-denial and cross bearing. That does not mean a daily new birth; the Holy Spirit does not leave us so easily. A Christian may do and say things at times that indicate the influence of the inner beast; if someone else has been hurt the Holy Spirit will prompt him to make amends for the hurt he has caused. No one should ever have to wonder who has control of the life of someone who calls himself a Christian.

He hath torn and he will heal

I took our little Pookie to the vet a few days ago; Pookie being our three year old Flame Point Siamese. This was a follow up visit after his latest ear infection had cleared up; the vet is trying to figure out why he so often gets these infections.  Her theory now is that it may be a food allergy.

Pookie makes these trips a few times each year and nothing horrible has happened to him yet, still he does not like these trips to the vet. He complains all the way there, all the time he is there, and only a little less when he know that he is on his way home.

Once we are home he is my friend again. He is a very friendly cat and will often come to me to let me know he values our friendship and wants a tummy rub. My wife is the one who applies the medicine in his ear, something he would dearly love to avoid. Yet when she sits in the recliner and puts her feet up, he will come and curl up in her lap. In other words, this little guy holds nothing against us for the scary treatment we sometimes mete out.

That reminds me of the words of the prophet Hosea that I quoted in the title. Sorrow and pain are a part of every human life, some experience less than others, some much more. Sometimes it is obvious that we are suffering the consequences of something that we have done; at other times it seems like we are victims of random acts of fate. Whatever the case may be, it would have been in God’s power to prevent the pain and sorrow.

Job found that it was futile to demand that God give an account of these things, partly because the interplay of our actions with the actions of others around us, aided and abetted by unseen spiritual forces, is simply beyond the capacity of our understanding.

Besides, blaming God, or demanding an answer of God, will do nothing to make our circumstances any better. Yes, God allowed this to happen. But, He is also the only one who can help us in such circumstances. So may we come to Him without bitterness or recrimination, love Him and seek His help and comfort.

That is the message of Hosea 6:1-3. Here is the full text of that message.

Come, and let us return unto the LORD: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up. After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight. Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the LORD: his going forth is prepared as the morning; and he shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth.

Revival!

In the 19th Century, before Saskatchewan was settled, a survey expedition led by John Palliser was sent west to evaluate the agricultural prospects of this country. They reported that there was a huge triangle  of land starting along the southern border of the Canadian prairies with its northern point near Lloydminster that would not be suitable for agriculture and should not be considered for settlement. Their conclusion was based on the scarcity of native trees, indicating a shortage of rainfall. This area has forever after been know as the Palliser Triangle.

They were not wrong about this being a semi-arid country, some of it is ranch country, but the triangle also includes a large part of the cultivated farmland of Alberta and Saskatchewan. My wife and I live in the heart of the Palliser Triangle; the soil in our area is sandy, the rainfall is scanty. Yet farmers have adapted their tillage methods and learned how to raise some pretty impressive crops in these circumstances.

This year was looking like it would be different. The rainfall in May and June was almost non-existent, the lowest on record. Last week the news media began talking of drought, saying the crop would probably be the poorest in decades.

Saturday it began to rain, and has rained off and on for three days. The main crops grown here are Canola, lentils, wheat and barley. They are all at the seed forming stage now and the rain has come just in time to make a huge difference.

Our brown lawn is turning green already. The pastures will revive, the trees and wildflowers will thrive. Even if the rains had come too late for this year’s crop, the renewed soil moisture would renew farmers’ hopes for next year.

Nature is always ready for a revival. Are we? Or do we accept dry and arid conditions as the normal Christian life? Or do we look for the excitement of thunder and lightning and underestimate the restorative power of gently falling rain?

A sound and light show, however thrilling it may be, will not by itself bring revival to a dry and thirsty land. It is the rain that we need. May we be ready to soak up the showers of revival, no matter how God may choose to send them.

What is marriage?

The first marriage took place between Adam and Eve. There was no certificate issued, no record in the government bureau of vital statistics and no ceremony, there having been a notable lack of preachers and witnesses at the time. Nevertheless, a precedent and a principle were established: ” Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).

Another notable example from the Old Testament is the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah. This was an arranged marriage, but if we follow the account closely, it is evident that it was God who did the arranging. And when the two finally met: “Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her: and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death” (Genesis 24:67). Here again there were no ceremonies or formalities, yet a monogamous relationship was established that lasted a lifetime.

Nowadays governments find it necessary to record and govern every major event in our lives, including marriage and divorce. In most cases God is not involved and the results bear little resemblance to the relationship between Adam and Eve, or Isaac and Rebekah. More than 100 years ago, a leader in the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite wrote: “Circumstances arise in the world which cannot be governed on the gospel basis of marriage” (John Holdeman, Mirror of Truth, page 414).

I doubt that brother Holdeman could have imagined the circumstances around us in the 21st Century. Yet there are people who have grown up in these circumstances, become thoroughly entangled in the chaos and confusion of the present era, and then turn to God. They get converted and then want to regularize their family situation so they can have a truly Christian home. This raises many questions. As Christians, we cannot recognize everything that the world calls marriage, whether religious, civil or common law; nor can we recognize everything that the world calls divorce. Neither can we make a one size fits all rule for these circumstances, for often they occurred while the persons involved were quite ignorant of God’s perfect will for their lives.

There was a lengthy period in the history of the Anabaptist people when they could not be legally married. The only marriage that was recognized by most European nations was a marriage performed by the Roman Catholic Church. Of course, had the Anabaptists wished to have their marriages legally recognized, they would have put their lives in peril by identifying themselves to a priest. Anabaptist brethren of that era considered the wedding vows made in their circles to be sacred, but since their ceremonies had no legal standing this led to many scurrilous, and untrue, accusations from the priests.

In their defence, Anabaptists made statements such as the following: “That marriage properly consists in the consent or agreement of union between man and woman” (Martyrs Mirror, page 346, part of the confession of three brethren executed at Norwich, England in 1428).

This is a return to first principles. It is good for wedding ceremonies to be public affairs, but those who witness the making of the vows should consider themselves bound to support the couple in being faithful to their vows. This commitment of a man and woman to one another is the essence of Christian matrimony and is the thing to be looked for when considering the situation of those who began married life in questionable circumstance.

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