Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

The Editorial Burden That Weighs on the Author

This is the title of an excellent article on the need for editing, posted today by C.S. Lakin.  Every aspiring writer should take this seriously, including myself.  We have a natural tendency to be blind to the flaws in our own writing. You will find the article here.

Life isn’t fair

These are real people that I’m going to write about, but I’m not going to use their real names.

Elsie and Elizabeth were already quite elderly when we knew them; the story of their earlier life was told to us by others. They were sisters, born in pioneer days on a prairie farm and grew up during hard times.

Elsie was the oldest and was born before her mother was married. Her mother appeared to find her a constant reminder of her shame and treated her harshly. Elizabeth, on the other had, was her mother’s favourite. Both girls grew up and married. Elsie and her husband moved several times and endured many hardships; four or five of their children died when quite young. Elizabeth and her husband were never very prosperous but all of their children grew up and married.

When we knew them late in life, Elsie was a sweet and caring lady. She was interested in others, thankful and content, never complained, a joy to visit with. Elizabeth was the one who seemed bitter about how life had treated her, and appeared to have little interest in others. Both would have called themselves Christians and were faithful in attending church. I don’t know all the story and it is not up to me to judge, but the difference in attitude was striking. What impressed me the most was that the one who might have had reason to complain that life wasn’t fair was the one who was the happiest.

Sheila was a young girl we got to know on our visits to Saskatchewan. Her mother subsisted mostly by welfare and had a series of live-in boyfriends, some of whom had fathered her children. Sheila was eleven years old when we invited her to spend a few weeks with us in Ontario. We spent a night with friends along the way and in the morning the husband took Sheila out to show her his chicken barn. Sheila was a city girl and that morning she learned for the first time where eggs came from.

The following year we heard that Sheila had cancer. Along with that we learned that she had been sexually abused by one of her mother’s boyfriends. We were back in Saskatchewan when she had her first chemotherapy treatment. We had a little contact over the next few years as she continued to battle the cancer.

When she was fifteen she flew out to BC to spend some time with her mother’s aunt. We were travelling to Saskatchewan again that summer and arranged to meet her and her mother at the airport when she came home. We met Sheila as she got off the plane, but her mother never showed up. “She never does,” Sheila told us, “even when I come home from the cancer clinic in Saskatoon, I have to find my own way home.” We took Sheila out for a meal and a visit, then drove her home. That was the last time we saw her alive; she died shortly after her sixteenth birthday.

This was certainly a disadvantaged child, yet she was the most stable and mature person in her family. When she was twelve and in the hospital for chemotherapy, she was trying to teach her brothers to behave. She loved her mother and never complained about her. This was just the way things were and Sheila accepted that. We didn’t sense any anger or bitterness in her.

We don’t know how much exposure she had to the Bible or Christian teachings. Certainly, there was none at home. She talked of attending Salvation Army services at times. In the short time she spent with us, she experienced how we prayed before meals, had family devotions every day, and she attended Sunday School and church with us. Members from a nearby congregation went into Saskatoon to sing for her several times when she was there for chemotherapy.

Considering the setting she came from, could she still have been in a state of childhood innocence, or had she at some point made a decision to follow Jesus? I don’t know if even Sheila could have given a clear answer to that, but there was something about her that gives us hope that we shall see her again one day.

Life isn’t fair, but the things that happen to us do not determine whether we are happy or unhappy, whether we are saved or lost. It is the way we react to those things that makes all the difference. “Therefore choose life,” Moses told the people.

How did I get so old, so fast?

elderly_mancaneMy cousin Ted turned 76 today. No, that’s not Ted in the picture. It looks more like me, except that I can still stand up straight and I’m not nearly that skinny — yet. I’m working on it, but it’s coming pretty slow.

There was a day when I believed that anyone past thirty was over the hill. In the spring of 1971 I was the manager of a country grain elevator in Manitoba. A semi load of bagged fertilizer pulled in just after supper one day; I think the driver was about 20. We got to work and unloaded that trailer, then had a beer before he left. I remember him remarking that he would have to tell his friends that he had met this 29 year old guy and he still seemed young! I remember it like it was yesterday. After all, it was only… let me see now… it was only 43 years ago.

A lot of water has gone under the bridge in those years — I still have more hair than the guy in the picture, but it’s white now. So is my beard. And I don’t drink beer anymore. You can read my last post to find out why.

I’m still 3 1/2 years younger than Ted, but that doesn’t seem like much anymore. We’re both past the best before date of threescore years and ten mentioned by Moses.However, it took Moses until he was eighty to dsicover his calling in life, perhaps there is still work for us old folks to do in God’s kingdom. At any rate there are still things to learn, even at this age.

To drink, or not to drink, is that the only question?

During my growing up days practically all my relatives were total abstainers. There was an uncle out in B.C. who was probably an alcoholic, according to my Dad’s tales. The only memory I have of this uncle is of a time when I was very young and he was trying to unload a gun at our kitchen table. The gun went off, necessitating the replacement of the glass in one of our windows. I think alcohol was a factor in that.

Despite their divergence in views on the consumption of alcohol, my Dad still had a soft spot for his oldest brother and kept up a written correspondence. He had a similar warm spot for his nephew Clarence, the only son of my Dad’s only sister. The feeling was mutual, Clarence faithfully came to visit us once a year, beginning the two hour drive after the bar closed in Mossbank and knocking at our door at 3:00 AM. He had enough sense to get someone sober to drive his pickup.The driver would ask for a place to sleep while Clarence visited with my parents.

My Dad always received him warmly and they would settle down in the living room for a long visit. Clarence had a powerful voice and it was next to impossible for me to sleep during those visits. I remember one occasion when Clarence walked in with a twelve pack of beer and placed it in front of the easy chair he sat in. When he got up to go to the bathroom, my Dad moved the case of beer to the side of the chair, where it was hidden by the overstuffed arm. When Clarence returned, he looked for the beer, then concluded that he must have just imagined that he had brought some with him.

When I grew up, I decided to try out various alcoholic beverages and found that I liked them all. I liked them far too much and far too often. Despite that, I managed to do a fairly creditable job of managing prairie grain elevators in several locations. During those years I watched other men drink their businesses down the drain.

I got converted when I was 28 and my taste for alcolic beverages diminished to simply having an occasional drink with a meal. Eventually even that began to trouble me. I was no longer controlled by my thirst. If I had one drink, I didn’t need another, and another, and . . .  But I saw people around me, both men and women, with the kind of thirst that I had once had and it began to trouble me. Could my example cause someone else to stumble? The Apostle Paul thought so: ” It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak” (Romans 14:21).

Many in Christian circles today appear to be unaware that this concern for the weak was the basis of the temperance movement. It seems far too easy nowadays to look down on those who have been overcome by their need for alcohol and to congratulate ourselves on our clean lifestyle. Does that sound uncomfortably like the Pharisee who stood in the temple to thank God that he was better than other people?

Today we can look at the political aspect of the temperance movement, account it to have been a failure, and dismiss the whole movement as a worthless exercise in demagoguery. But the temperance movement was much more than its public, political activist, face. They were people who were actually involved with the victims of alcohol abuse: men who could not stay sober long enough to do a day’s work; neglected, beaten and abandoned wives and children. If the problem is not as severe today as it was one hundred years ago, it is largely due to the efforts of the temperance movement.

Would it be so bad if we would learn some of their compassion and seek to exercise it in helping today’s victims?

Tongue-tied no more

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Echoes of invention

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to invent a church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading each other’s mail

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

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

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

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

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

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

A sense of wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jezebel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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