Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Is there an antidote for extremism?

First a little background for those who may not be up on the news from Canada. There have been two incidents this week of what one newspaper writer calls “microterrrorism.” On Monday in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Québec an automobile driver struck two uniformed soldiers, killing one and injuring the other. Wednesday in Ottawa, a man shot a soldier standing guard at the National War Memorial, then ran through the hall of the Parliament building firing at random until he was shot and killed by the Sergeant-at-Arms.

Both of the attackers were young Canadian-born men who had recently converted to Islam. In both cases police and security responded very quickly. There were no other injuries in the Parliament building and the first attacker didn’t get far before he was captured.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper spoke today, calling for prayers of support for the families involved and said that Canada would not be intimidated. We must be vigilant, but we will continue to be a free, open and safe society.

A prominent Canadian Imam, Syed Soharwardy of Calgary, said today that imams should be investigating the backgrounds of new converts and those with recent problems with crime or drug abuse should not be allowed to convert. He also urged other imams to follow up with new converts to ensure they do not fall under the influence of radicals.

Mr. Soharwardy sounds like a moderate, yet some other things he has said leave room for doubt. The problem is that Islam has no doctrine of the separation of mosque and state. Living under the laws of a secular state is always second best. Living in a nation with religious freedom for all is second best.

I want to believe that there are moderate Muslims. I want to believe that the majority of Muslims who have come to this country have come to get away from religious intolerance and violence. But sometimes I find myself wondering if moderate Muslim is an oxymoron, at least at the organisational level.

Nevertheless, we will do far more harm than good if we treat all individual Muslims as suspect. We need to do our utmost to reach out to them and draw them into the fabric and tradition of our country and encourage them to leave behind the attitudes and suspicions they brought with them from their homelands.

Syed Soharwardy is quoted in one place as saying that 20 to 30 Canadians are converting to Islam every week. How many Canadian Muslims are converting to Christianity? It is happening in some places. What are we doing to give Muslim people an attractive and realistic picture of what Christianity is all about?

We need to realize that most Muslims are simply Muslims by birth and may not even have much grasp of the teachings of Islam. Most of them have been given an entirely unrealistic picture of Christianity. Let’s do all we can to bring the real picture into clearer focus.

Am I a suspect?

We lived in a village in south-western Ontario for 12 years. The United Church Manse was right across the street from our home. Several ministers and their families came and went during that time. We exchanged a few pleasantries, but never really got to know them.

One couple was different. The husband had been raised in Québec as a Roman Catholic, but had undergone a spiritual crisis in his younger years and had switched to the only other church in his area, which was the United Church of Canada. We felt that he had truly had a new birth experience and we enjoyed visiting with him and his family. Our daughter babysat his children on occasion; one summer they sent their children to the Vacation Bible School of our church.

Some members of our congregation were interested in learning French, so I asked if he would be willing to try and teach French to a bunch of Mennonites. He agreed and we got together once a week all through one winter to be exposed to a little French. Many were complete beginners, others already had some knowledge of French. He even taught us a few hymns.

Being Mennonites, there had to be a lengthy coffee break in the middle of each evening with lots of time for visiting. He told me later that those evenings had been the high point of the whole winter for him.

During one visit he had some questions about church discipline. Then he told me that he wished that the United Church could tell people that “this is what we believe, and if you don’t believe it you have no right to be a member.” During another visit he told me that he believed there were nine real Christians in his congregation. He didn’t give names, but by then I had lived long enough in the community to have an idea who he might be thinking of. There were a few elderly people whose lives seemed to speak of an inner grace and one young couple who had recently been converted (and left the United Church a couple years later).

That minister moved on to another community, then died suddenly of a heart attack a number of years ago. Thinking back of that time, and of times before that when we had been “church shopping,” I remember congregations of one denomination or another where we fellowshipped for a time. In each place we found many fine people with good intentions, but only a few that we could feel truly knew God.

Which leads to a sobering question: Does my life, my conduct, my attitude and relationship with others convey that I am walking in fellowship with God, by the leading of the Holy Spirit? It is a fine thing to have a love of the truth and a keen nose for all that is false in others, but a critical, fault-finding attitude is no help to them. If someone is looking for a person with whom they could share their struggles and questions about life and faith, would I be a likely candidate?

In short, if someone was searching for a real Christian, would I be a suspect?

I dreamed there was no God

[From an out of print book, When I Was Thirteen by Christina Young. I first posted this in March of 2013, and thought it worth posting again as it seems to me that far too many people today are living in just such a nightmare and do not know that it would be possible to awaken from that dream and experience the love of God who really is there.]

June 1, 1897
This is Sunday morning, and also the first day of June.  Everyone else is sleeping still, as the sun is just coming up over the trees at the ditch.  I got up early like this, because I had a bad dream, and couldn’t sleep any more, and I thought maybe if I would go out into the beautiful morning, I could crawl back up out of the slough of despond that had swallowed me up in my dream.

I will write down my dream pretty soon, but first I want to get happy again, and feeling that God is close by, as it was a most desolate feeling, to feel shut away from Him.

So I am sitting out here on the stoop watching the sun rising up, and smelling the sweet morning smells that the night sprinkles over the earth to make it sweet for the people when they get up in the morning.  It is a great pity the children in town can never have country mornings.

The little lost lambs have all found their own mother now.  I can see them frisking around along the sides of the road.  You would never think that they were such sorrowful lambs last night, and the happy old mother sheep seem to have clean forgotten their worry for fear they had lost their lambs.

Out in the orchards the birds are holding a service of song, and are nearly bursting their throats trying to make the world understand how happy they feel for this lovely June morning.  And back there in the pasture, the horses and cows are just getting up for another good day in the grass.  Old Nell looks quite a fine lady.

Somewhere in the Bible there is a verse which says “They shall not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountains, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.”  And that is the way the world looks this morning.  No one with a soul locked up in their body, and looking out of their eyes, could see the earth on a morning like this, and not be sure that God made it and loved the people upon it.

But I dreamed last night that there was no God.  And, though it was only a dream and I am awake again now and sure that He is closer to me than the morning air I am breathing, I am sad to think that there must be millions of people and sorrowful little children, away in the heathen lands, who have all the time the unhappy feeling I had while I was dreaming my dream.  For they don’t know about God.

In my dream, the children would not obey their parents, but did as they wanted to do themselves, and nobody wanted to bother themselves with children anyway, and they had to look out for themselves.  The parents found fault with each other, and with the ones higher up, and they wouldn’t stick to each other, and kept stirring up ugly feelings, and the ones higher up did just as they pleased and didn’t care who suffered for it, but were always living in fear of someone conquering them.  Everyone was afraid of everyone else and there was no faith in the world.

I was even afraid of Ma, as the thing that held us together, seemed not to be there anymore, and where love and tenderness once had been, fear and distrust were now.

Each one walked alone, and had no friend.

I was sleeping out on the road, trying to keep myself hid, and had huddled up in the dark beside one of the sheep, as that was the kindest thing I could find, and I wasn’t afraid of it.  I thought that Ma didn’t care for me anymore, but had told me to shift for myself, and there was no use praying to God for there wasn’t any God there.

I was wishing with all my heart that I had never been born, and hoping I would soon die.  I was planning, as soon as the daylight came, to try to sneak down to the creek and be drowned.  I would have to keep out of sight of a man, as they were all cruel to children.  I thought it would be all right to drown myself because if there was no God, neither would there be any Heaven, and if there wasn’t a Heaven, not likely there’d be any Hell, and being so miserable as I was, I would rather be nothing at all.

Just then a sheep bleated a little, and I woke up.  Of all the bad dreams I have ever had, that was the very worst.  There wasn’t any thrill in it, but just a heavy despair, as there was no chance to escape, and nowhere to turn for help.

I was never so glad to wake up before, and find it was just a bad dream.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Hell should turn out just to be shut out forever from under the care of God.

I know there are some in the world who say they do not believe in Him, although they are living in safety and peace, because others’ believe and act that way, but I think they must have a feeling that there is a God taking care of us, although maybe they don’t know that they have it.  Because if they really didn’t believe, and felt as I felt in my dream, I think they’d all kill themselves and so end up the misery.

I think, when God gives life to a child, He plants in its soul the feeling that there is a God.  They say even the worst of the heathens have the instinct that there is some such Presence, and are always searching to find it and seeking to know its will, though so doubtfully and so darkly that they never know any real peace, being so full of the terrors that live in their minds.  I expect the children all feel as I felt last night in my dream.

Pa is up now, and was surprised to see me sitting out here on the stoop.  It was good to see his face, with only kindness on it, and to know that he is a good man and walks in the way of God, and it is good to know that Ma is still Ma, and we can be sure of her love for us and can all be together still, and sure of the love of God, and that He is right here watching out for us all, and none of us need be afraid.  I guess I had better start setting the table for breakfast now.  Pa has the fire going.

The threefold purpose of the church

As I see it, there is a threefold purpose for the existence of the church of God. Each of these purposes is connected to and dependent upon the other two. Perhaps we could call this a three-legged stool and whenever one of the legs is shorter than the others it creates an unstable situation.

The first purpose is to glorify God. “After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; and cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen” (Revelation 7:9-12). This passage is set around the throne of God in heaven, but we must begin glorifying God here and now in order to be able to continue in eternity.

The second purpose is to provide a sheepfold for the God’s flock – a place where they can be fed, have their wounds cared for and be protected from the enemies seeking to harm them. “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:13-16).

The third purpose is to proclaim the saving gospel of Jesus Christ to others. “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matthew 28:18-20). “And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).

I don’t know that any one of these three purposes has preeminence over the others. If we are truly led of the Holy Spirit, we will accomplish all three.

The fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace and all the rest, must be evident in the church. The church should be a place where the wounded and weary can find true brotherly love that will be a balm to their wounds and speed their recovery. Yet the church must also be pure. Weak members should feel welcome, those who live in wilful disobedience must be reproved and if they do not repent they must not be retained in the sheepfold lest their disobedience be a snare to others. Joy should not be muted in the name of humility, or forced, out of a sense of duty. Peace must be genuine, based on thankfulness for God’s forgiveness and readiness to forgive others. If we let the Spirit do His perfect work in us, there will be no wobbliness in the way the church is perceived by others.

Dying with dignity

The Supreme Court of Canada is currently considering the question of assisted suicide, or what some people call the right to die with dignity. This has brought back to my mind something that happened many years ago. This account would not have any significance to the legal minds who are arguing before the Supreme Court, but I think it demonstrates the possible effect the choice of an early exit of this life could have on one’s eternal destiny.

In the early years of our married life Tom and Theresa*, a couple who attended the same church as we did, had been our good friends. Then we moved away and eventually lost touch with them. Some years later we heard that Theresa and the children had left Tom.

A time came when we were back in the area for a few days and we phoned Theresa and invited ourselves over for a visit. She told us how Tom had been physically abusive to her all their married life. She had covered up what was really happening at home and tried to keep the family together for the sake of the children. Then Tom became physically abusive toward their oldest daughter. That was the breaking point, she took the children, moved out and began a new life. Tom never admitted any wrongdoing or made any attempt at reconciliation.

Then she told us how it had gone when Tom’s father (who also belonged to the same church) was dying. Toward the end, when he was in the hospital and it was evident he was not going to get better, Theresa was the only one of the family to spend time with him. Her father-in-law had never admitted that his son had done anything wrong and blamed her for the breakup of their marriage.

Finally one night his internal organs began to shut down and it was apparent the end was near. Theresa sat with him the whole night, praying for him and trying to discover if he was at peace with God and ready to go. He turned his face to the wall and would not speak to her at all through the night. At last, as morning approached, he turned to her and whispered that he was sorry for all that had happened and asked if she could forgive him. They prayed together and he was at peace. He breathed his last as the morning light dawned.

Would it have been better for Tom’s father if he could have decided to “die with dignity” a few hours, or a few days sooner?

* not their real names

We don’t need better politicians, we need better Christians

Well, better politicians would be good, too. But we get what we deserve; and the present crop of politicians are doing the best they can with the information they have. Better Christians could be a means of making better information available to the politicians, as well as everyone else.

“But take heed to yourselves: for they shall deliver you up to councils; and in the synagogues ye shall be beaten: and ye shall be brought before rulers and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them” (the words of Jesus in Mark 13:9). Jesus didn’t teach that Christians should try to negotiate with the rulers to institute better practices of governance. His concern was that the testimony of the gospel should be heard in all places, despite the dangers.

There is no hint in the New Testament that governments will ever be favourable to Christians. Nevertheless, we are to pray for them that they might have wisdom to restrain evil-doers and maintain a modicum of order and freedom. That is the realm of governments, not of Christians, and we should give thanks to God for all that our governments are still doing in those areas.

But we have deceived ourselves into thinking that we live in a Christian nation and that we should rightfully have some influence on the governments. That has led to a laxity among Christians that leaves us feeling helpless when we realize the extent of our deception. The correct way to deal with that is to set our own house in order and not waste our breath trying to set the government house in order.

We need a revival of true faith and righteous living. We cannot tolerate lowered standards of honesty and moral purity in our own circles, then complain that the government has let us down.

Nineteen hundred years ago an unknown Christian wrote: “In a word, what the soul is in a body, this Christians are in the world. The soul is spread through all the members of the body, and Christians through the divers cities of the world. The soul hath its abode in the body, yet it is not of the body. So Christians have their abode in the world, and yet they are not of the world. The soul which is invisible is guarded in the body which is visible; so Christians are recognised as being in the world, and yet their religion remaineth invisible. The flesh hateth the soul and wageth war against it, though it receiveth no wrong, because it is forbidden to indulge in pleasures; so the world hateth Christians, because they set themselves against its  pleasures. The soul loveth the flesh which hateth it, and the members; so Christians love those that hate them. The soul is enclosed in the body, and yet itself holdeth the body together; so Christians are kept in the world as in a prison-house, and yet they themselves hold the world together. The soul though itself immortal dwelleth in a mortal tabernacle; so Christians sojourn amidst perishable things, while they look for the imperishability which is in the heavens. The soul when hardly treated in the matter of meat and drink is improved; and so Christians when punished increase more and more daily. So great is the office to which God has appointed them, and which it is not lawful for them to decline.” (The Epistle to Diognetus, circa AD 150).

Can the same be said of Christians today?

Are you in the grip of, or under the influence of, a virus?

War is hell. The First World War, from 1914 to 1918, resulted in the death of 10 million soldiers and 7 million civilians. At least 20 million more were wounded.

As horrible as that sounds, the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 to 1919 caused at least 50 million deaths, some say 100 million. Beginning in January 1918, it quickly swept around the world, infecting 500 million people. This epidemic was different from most flu epidemics as the highest mortality rate was among the young and strong. It is now thought that the immune system of the healthiest people overreacted to the virus and made it far more deadly. The young, the old, and those with compromised immune systems were more likely to survive. This has not been the case with most subsequent outbreaks of influenza.

The 1918 epidemic was caused by a Type A H1N1 virus. The outbreak appears to have begun at a military staging and hospital camp at Étaples, France. Historian Mark Humphries of Memorial University of Newfoundland thinks that the disease may have originated from the 96,000 Chinese labourers who worked behind the British and French lines on the Western Front. He cites archival evidence that a respiratory illness that struck northern China in November 1917 was identified a year later by Chinese health officials as identical to the Spanish flu.

Wartime censors limited the reporting of the flu outbreak in the combatant nations. Spain was neutral during the war; thus news reporting from Spain was allowed and inadvertently this epidemic became known as the Spanish Flu.

The disease is known as La Grippe in French, I suppose meaning that one is in the grip of the virus. The French name was still commonly used 100 years ago by English-speaking people. At some point English-speaking people switched to the Latin word influenza, which means that one is being influenced by the virus.

Symptoms of the flu include coughing, fever, tiredness, aching muscles, joint pain, headaches and chest discomfort. These symptoms do not usually accompany a cold. Sore throats and nasal discharge are symptoms of the common cold and are less often associated with the flu. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea may occur in children with the flu but not often in adults. What is often mistakenly called the “stomach flu” is usually gastroenteritis, caused by a rotavirus. Allergy symptoms may mimic cold symptoms, but are not so easily confused with the flu. The most severe flu symptoms generally last only a few days, but it may take two weeks or more for full recovery.

The influenza virus is still a serious health concern. In a normal year more than 12,000 Canadians are hospitalized due to the flu, and 3,500 die. I don’t have information for other provinces, but here in Saskatchewan free immunization is offered to all residents over 6 months of age. The vaccine contains an inactivated virus and cannot give you the flu.

I have had recurring bouts of allergic rhinitis, the common cold and the flu all my life, not always being able to distinguish among the three. Time and experience, plus numerous consultations with doctors, have taught me that most of those episodes were due to allergic reactions to dust, pollen, moulds and various other things. However, an allergic reaction can reduce my immunity to the flu virus and I have had some rather lengthy bouts with the flu, leading to pneumonia in at least one case. I have been getting the annual flu shot for at least ten years now and it has definitely reduced those bouts.

Peace in the Valley

Back in 1932 I was 32 years old and a fairly new husband. My wife, Nettie and I were living in a little apartment on Chicago’s Southside. One hot August afternoon I had to go to St. Louis, where I was to be the featured soloist at a large revival meeting. I didn’t want to go. Nettie was in the last month of pregnancy with our first child. But a lot of people were expecting me in St. Louis. I kissed Nettie good-bye, clattered downstairs to our Model A and, in a fresh Lake Michigan breeze, chugged out of Chicago on Route 66.

However, outside the city, I discovered that in my anxiety at leaving, had forgotten my music case. I wheeled around and headed back. I found Nettie sleeping peacefully. I hesitated by her bed; something was strongly telling me to stay. But eager to get on my way, and not wanting to disturb Nettie, I shrugged off the feeling and quietly slipped out of the room with my music.

The next night, in the steaming St. Louis heat, the crowd called on me to sing again and again. When I finally sat down, a messenger boy ran up with a Western Union telegram. I ripped open the envelope. Pasted on the yellow sheet were the words: YOUR WIFE JUST DIED. People were happily singing and clapping around me, but I could hardly keep from crying out. I rushed to a phone and called home. All I could hear on the other end was “Nettie is dead. Nettie is dead.”

When I got back, I learned that Nettie had given birth to a boy. I swung between grief and joy. Yet that night, the baby died. I buried Nettie and our little boy together, in the same casket. Then I fell apart. For days I closeted myself. I felt that God had done me an injustice. I didn’t want to serve Him any more or write gospel songs. I just wanted to go back to that jazz world I once knew so well.

But then, as I hunched alone in that dark apartment those first sad days, I thought back to the afternoon I went to St. Louis. Something kept telling me to stay with Nettie. Was that something God? Oh, if I had paid more attention to Him that day, I would have stayed and been with Nettie when she died. From that moment on I vowed to listen more closely to Him.

But still I was lost in grief . . . On the following Saturday evening . . . I sat down at the piano, and my hands began to browse over the keys. Something happened to me then – I felt at peace. I feel as though I could reach out and touch God. I found myself playing a melody, one I’d never heard or played before, and the words just seemed to fall into place:

Precious Lord, take my hand,
lead me on, let me stand!
I am tired, I am weak,
I am worn. Through the storm,
through the night, lead me on to the light,
Take my hand, precious Lord, Lead me home.

The Lord gave me these words and melody, He also healed my spirit. I learned that when we are in our deepest grief, when we feel farthest from God, this is when He is closest, and when we are most open to His restoring power. And so I go on living for God willingly and joyfully, until that day comes when He will take me and gently lead me home.

This testimony of Thomas Dorsey was published in Guideposts in 1987. It has circulated around the internet in recent years where it has been mistakenly attributed to big band leader Tommy Dorsey. Despite the similarity in names, and the fact that they were prominent during roughly the same era, they are not the same person. Tommy Dorsey was a white band leader who did not write gospel music or display any interest in the gospel as far as I have heard.

Thomas Dorsey was black, the son of an itinerant preacher and an organist. He developed a love of music from his mother and an interest in the gospel from his father. However, when the family fell on hard times, his musical interest turned to the blues. While still in his teens, he began playing the piano and singing in bars and other settings not conducive to Christian faith. His mother urged him to change his life and use his talents to serve the Lord. He tried for a time, but soon was back playing in bars.

One night, when he was 25 Dorsey noticed an unsteadiness in his playing. The unsteadiness grew worse, leaving him unable to practice, write or perform. It lasted for two or three years. Doctors were unable to help him. Finally, he made a new commitment of faith, was healed and vowed to do the Lord’s work. Still, he found there was more money to be made playing the blues and writing blues songs and oscillated between the blues and gospel music until the tragic death of his first wife. From then on he dedicated his life solely to gospel music and served as a choir director until well into his eighties.

He wrote hundreds of gospel songs, many of which have become staples among black Christians. Another that is well known among white Christians is Peace in the Valley.

I am tired and weary but I must toil on
Till the Lord come to call me away
Where the morning is bright and the Lamb is the light
And the night is fair as the day

There’ll be peace in the valley for me some day
There’ll be peace in the valley for me
I pray no more sorrow and sadness or trouble will be
There’ll be peace in the valley for me

Don’t tell your Mom

The teacher told her class: “Your parents probably won’t understand what we’ve been talking about, so it would be better if you didn’t tell them about it.” One of the students in that class was the teenaged daughter of a co-worker. I could tell that her Mom was not impressed when she talked about it at work the next day. But what could she do? She was already doing one of the best things she could in such circumstances: the mother-daughter relationship was so strong that the daughter couldn’t imagine not talking to her Mom about things that troubled her at school.

That was more than 20 years ago. Nowadays we talk about “helicopter mothers” who hover around their children to protect them from bad things that might happen on the way to and from school, or on the playground. Others are convinced that the greatest danger is what goes on inside the classroom and have opted for other methods of teaching their children.

One alternative that is growing in popularity is for parents to teach their children at home. Many other parents are concerned about what their children are learning, and not learning, in school, but they can’t imagine that home-schooling would provide the education their children need. In addition, the time and effort that would be needed appear to be impossible for ordinary humans.

Would it be too strong to say that such parents have been brainwashed? From the beginning of the public schools, it has been the explicit goal of the educational establishment to convince parents that they are incompetent to teach their children. It took more than 100 years, but they have largely succeeded. And children are learning less and less all the time.

This quote from a study by the Fraser Institute blows the cover off the supposed superiority of public schools:

“Surprisingly, several studies have found that home education may help eliminate the potential negative effects of certain sociol-economic factors. Though children whose parents have university degrees score higher on tests of academic achievement than other home schooled children, home education appears to mitigate the harmful effects of low parental education levels. That is, public schools seem to educate children of poorly educated parents worse than do the poorly educated parents themselves. One study found that students taught at home by mothers who had never finished high school scored a full 55 percentile points higher than public school students from parents with comparable education levels.”1

Some exceptional teachers have inspired children from disadvantaged homes to accomplish great things. Such teachers do exist, but they are not the norm. The primary responsibility for instilling a desire to learn in children rests with their parents. They are also in the best position to teach proper conduct and respect for others.

Congregations of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, of which I am a member, have chosen to operate private schools for their children. The key to the successful functioning of these schools is for parents to be parents — to be actively involved in their children’s lives and be the primary teachers of moral, social and spiritual values.

The long and short of it is that, despite the noise from the public system, parents are more qualified to teach their children than any professional teacher. Whatever form of education parents choose for their children, if certain foundational principles have not been taught in the home, the teacher has little to build upon.

1 Home Schooling: From the Extreme to the Mainstream, published 2007 by the Fraser Institute,Vancouver, BC, Canada. The Fraser Institute is an independent research and educational organization founded in 1974. The Fraser Institute does not accept grants from government or contracts for research.

Harvest Home


Here in Saskatchewan the trees are bare, the flowers have died, geese are migrating and most of the combines are parked. Garden produce has been gathered in and the long, plump, white grain bags lying in many fields are silent evidence of a bountiful harvest. Monday will be Thanksgiving.

The custom of giving thanks for harvest is first observed in the fourth chapter of Genesis where Cain and Abel offered sacrifices to God. We are not told why God accepted Abel’s sacrifice and not Cain’s, but it must have had more to do with Cain than with his sacrifice.

The three main festivals prescribed by the Law were all centred around harvest. Passover took place at the very beginning of the harvest of fall-seeded grain and the first sheaf of barley was to be offered at this time. The men then returned home to harvest their crops and seven weeks later returned for the festival of first fruits (also called the festival of weeks, or of wheat harvest and known in the New Testament as Pentecost). Fall was the time for the feast of tabernacles, or ingathering, when all the crops had been gathered in: spring seeded grains, wine and oil.

I think most peoples around the world had some kind of traditional harvest festival. In England it was called Harvest Home and began when the last of the reaped grain was brought in from the fields. It began as a pagan festival, but this is one festival that was fittingly co-opted by the church. Sheafs of grain and garden produce were brought into the church; hymns of praise and thanksgiving were sung and prayers offered to thank God for His goodness.

We call it Thanksgiving today and it comes upon a fixed day in the autumn, whether harvest is complete or not. Many of us are now quite disconnected from the production of the food that we eat, anyway. Why then do we celebrate Thanksgiving?

First off, it is good that we do not forget the rhythms of life around us, that we are entirely dependent upon God to supply our needs. Yes, we work for what we get, but it is within God’s power to withhold the fruits of our labours, or to bestow them upon us in abundance.

When He withholds, this is an opportunity to search our lives and reorder our priorities in order to bring them into harmony with God’s priorities. When He pours an abundance of material blessings upon us, we must remember that this is not merely the result of our labours but a blessing from God. And He does not want us to use it all to pamper ourselves, but to share it with others in need so that they too can give thanks for the blessings we have received.

There is another aspect of thankfulness that should be cultivated by Christians. God has called us to salvation and poured out His Spirit on us. What fruit has the Spirit produced in our lives this year? Are we overflowing with love, joy and peace? The growth of the young trees around our yard site is a visible evidence of the abundant rainfall we have experienced over the past few years. Has there been spiritual growth in our lives?

What about the spiritual harvest? Do we assume that people around us are not interested in the gospel, or do we see fields that are ripe for harvest? Jesus told His disciples to lift up their eyes; they weren’t seeing what He was seeing. Are we? Above all, do our lives, our words, our attitudes communicate thankfulness for the goodness of God, for the spiritual blessings as well as the material?


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