Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Temperance

1965_Mercury_Comet_--_06-30-2011.jpgFifty years ago, I was the manager of a country grain elevator in a small Saskatchewan town. It was  a very small town, the only businesses were two grain elevators, two service stations, and a small building containing the town’s café, general store and post office.

Bill Alcock, an eighty year old retired farmer, lived on the east side of town. He drove a Mercury Comet with a standard shift and was stone deaf. Around ten o’clock every morning I would hear a loud roar as old Bill drove his Comet down the street by the elevators, making the four block trip to get his mail.  The car moved at a very sedate speed as Bill held the gas pedal almost to the floor and the clutch at about the same position.

Bill never could figure out why the clutch in his car needed replacing so often. It was no great mystery to the rest of us who witnessed his daily parade to and from the corner store and could actually hear the roar of the engine.

The dictionary defines temperance as self-control, or self-restraint. Would that mean something like Bill’s style of driving? Am I temperate if I maintain a calm and mild outward demeanour while there is fire glinting from my eyes and wisps of smoke curling from my ears? I’m afraid that I would be able to maintain that mild outward demeanour for only so long before my self-restraint snapped and the fire burst from my mouth to singe the hair and eyebrows of whoever had got me so fired up.

Wait a minute. Let’s step back and consider what is happening here. Is it really the other person who is stoking that fire within me? Or am I doing it myself? Logic tells me that the other person is responsible for the things he does and says; the way I react is entirely my own responsibility.

There may be people who are naturally endowed with a nature that does not get fired up when challenged by people or circumstances. I am not one of them – not by nature at least. If I am now able to face challenging situations without danger of explosion, all the credit must go to the Holy Spirit.

If I now appear to be a person who is moderate and temperate (and I hope I do), it is due to the moderating and tempering influence of the Holy Spirit on my inner thoughts and  feelings, not to any innate gentleness in my nature.

Three cats in the house

We are two elderly people and three cats in a fairly small house, and it is winter. All five of us spend much more time inside these four walls than we would if the weather outside were more clement. This makes for some conflicts. We provide nice cushions for our cats, plus two recliners and two office chairs for ourselves. The cats prefer our chairs. Plus, they prefer to be in the same room as we are.

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Panda, the oldest at thirteen, coming fourteen in summer, is a big black Maine Coon cat. She wants to have her long hair brushed or combed several times a day. This grooming must take place in one specific corner of the living room carpet. If we try to brush or comb her when she is somewhere else she will get up and walk to this spot and lay down. She also loves to be vacuumed and will come whenever she hears the sound of the vacuum cleaner. The other cats maintain a respectful distance between themselves and that noisy machine. When Panda wants my attention she will use her claws to tug at my pant leg. She is a patient cat; if I speak to her emphatically she will lay down and wait for a more opportune moment.

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Pookie, the youngest and smallest, will be five in summer. He is a flame point Siamese, and the most talkative of our cats. He will let us know vocally if he wants our attention, and if ignored will reach up and tap our arm with a soft paw, the claws fully sheathed. He will also respond well to being told to wait awhile.

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Angus is a year older than Pookie, a Siamese in conformation and temperament, but all black. Everything is an emergency to him. He begins by running back and forth, punctuated by plaintive cries:”The sky is falling! the sky is falling! Do something right now!” If we ignore him he will bite one of us on the arm to make his point. The bite is not a vicious bite, never leaves a mark, but it does get our attention. Most often, the reaction is a shriek from my wife which startles Angus enough to make him forget the cause of his anguish, at least momentarily.

Why do we put up with these nuisances? Why do we feed them, groom them, take them to the vet and vacuum up the cat hair? A few answers have come to my mind.

  1. Having other living creatures around that are dependent on us keeps us from becoming too engrossed in our own thoughts and health problems.
  2.  There is something very soothing and calming about having a cat jump on your lap and start purring when you sit in the recliner and put your feet up.
  3. Cats are very forgiving. It is reassuring to know that our cats still like us and trust us even if we accidentally step on one’s tail, or take one on an unwelcome trip to the vet.
  4. There is an object lesson in all this. If I can love and accept my cats, with all their foibles and annoying habits, why can’t I love and accept the people around me in the same way?

[The cats in the photos are not our cats, the pictures were downloaded from Pixabay. Our cats do look very much like the ones in the pictures.]

Picking up the feathers

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Many years ago, in a little European village,  there lived a decent, well-intentioned man. This man had just one fault, he was a gossip. He knew he shouldn’t do it, he felt bad about it; but every time he heard a scandalous story about one of his neighbours he had to tell it to the other neighbours.

One day, after once again telling a story that turned out not to be true, and being sternly rebuked by his neighbours, he asked his wife what he should do.

“Well,” she said, “I have heard that the rabbi in the next village is very wise. Perhaps he could help you if you asked him.”

There seemed to be a glimmer of hope in his wife’s suggestion, so he set out for the village, which was about one hour away. After being warmly welcomed by the rabbi he explained his problem. “I feel bad about it all the time, but I just can’t seem to stop myself. O wise rabbi, can you help me?”

The rabbi pondered the question a while, then said, “This is what I want you to do. Go back home, have a good night’s sleep and come to see me again tomorrow morning. Bring a pillow with you, open the seam and shake out the feathers as you walk, a few at a time, but make sure they are all gone by the time you get to my home.”

The man wondered at this strange advice, but it seemed simple enough. He would try it, even though he couldn’t understand how it might help. The next morning he walked back to the rabbi’s home in the next village. There was a little breeze and he watched as the feathers fluttered and floated away into the meadow and into the forest.

When he reached the home of the rabbi the bag was empty. “I have done as you asked,” he told the rabbi.

“Very good. There is one more thing you need to do to cure your gossip habit. As you go back home, I want you to collect every one of those feathers and stuff them back into the bag.”

The quest for health

Some trust in doctors

Folks today seem to accept it as fact that this life is all they have. They turn to doctors for help in staying alive as long as they can.Sometimes people blame the doctor when someone dies – it would not have happened if the doctor had done his job.

People also turn to doctors for help in staying happy, or dealing with emotional trauma. Yeats ago, they would have gone to their pastor, priest or rabbi for help in such troubles.

I believe most doctors are trustworthy. I also believe they can help with many emotional, mental and developmental issues. But genuine healing can only come from God. The doctor can help, but he is not infallible, and we are all going to die sometime.

Some trust in natural remedies

My wife and I visited a young wife and mother who had cancer. She knew her time on earth would soon be over. Yet she faced the future with faith, peace, and even joy. She told us that the thing that troubled her the most was Christians who came to her to propose one kind of herbal remedy or another. These were well-meaning people who were true believers in the remedies they suggested and made her feel that they thought that if she didn’t try their remedy it would be her fault if she died.

Some people spend their life savings on a new remedy or therapy that is not approved by the medical profession, but which promises to cure their ailment. Reports come back that they are feeling better every day. Then we hear that they have died.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that many prescription medicines are plant-based. I know that many herbal and vitamin supplements will enhance our health. I also know that many “natural” remedies do not deliver on the promises made for them and may even have harmful side-effects or interactions with other medications.

Some trust in faith healers

Another young lady was dying of cancer. A minister anointed her and prayed for her healing, and she was healed. She then was called upon to speak to groups of people and interviewed on radio to tell of her healing. A year later she was again dying, of the same cancer that she had been healed of. Her friends hardly knew how to talk to her – wouldn’t it be unbelief to admit she was dying?

This happens all too often, yet people want to believe that there is someone out there with the gift of healing who can help them.

Some trust in God

Isaac Mastre was a well-known minister and travelling evangelist in the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite. There were times in his travels when he was asked to pray for a sick person. A number of remarkable healings occurred. In writing about one such incident he said “This is given to the church.” In other words, Isaac  Mastre did not see himself as someone with the gift of healing – all healing comes from God.

“Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: and the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him” (James 5:14-15). Please note that this does not say “call for an elder whom you know has the gift of healing.”

These verses are not just about physical healing. They point to the need for spiritual healing. That is the most important healing of all, because this life is not all that we have.

 

Gerhard Roosen and the Amish division

The year was 1697. Mennonites fleeing persecution in Switzerland had been living in Alsace for some time. There was danger without because Louis XIV had sent his troops to annex Alsace to France. There was trouble within because Jacob Amman, one of the Mennonite ministers, accused the church of apostasy and worldliness. He demanded a strict conformity to a certain form of clothing and other outward things. Jacob Amman excommunicated all the Mennonites in Alsace, Switzerland and the Palatinate who did not see things his way. He and his followers were in turn excommunicated by the Mennonites. The followers of Jacob Amman came to be known as Amish.

In the midst of all this confusion, someone wrote to the aged elder Gerhard Roosen of Hamburg. The paragraphs below are excerpts from his reply. Roosen was 85 years old when he wrote this and remained active until his death in 1711 at the age of 99.

It should be noted that the original Mennonite settlers in Pennsylvania had fled from Switzerland to Holland before the division and later emigrated to America. Thus they had no part in this unedifying affair.

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I am heartily sorry that you have been disturbed by some that think highly of themselves and make laws about things that are not required in the Gospel. Had the apostolic writings stated how and wherewith a believer should clothe himself, and a person travelling in other countries would find people living contrary to these rules, then this stand might be valid. But to contradict the Gospel in binding the conscience to a certain form in hats, clothes, shoes, stockings or hair, which forms differ from country to country, and to take upon himself to ban those that  who will not accept such rules; also to cast out of the church as leaven those who will not avoid such, is something that neither the Lord Jesus in the Gospels, nor the holy apostles have commanded, to be bound by these outward things, and have given neither law nor rule in this matter.

In all of Paul’s letters we do not find a single word that he has given commandments to believers what form or style of clothing they should have, but rather he admonishes to condescend to them of low state, in all humility. I consider it to be proper and right to conduct oneself like the customs of the country in which you sojourn. But it is reasonable and just that all luxury, pride, highmindedness and fleshly lust be avoided (1 John 2), and not quickly accept new styles of clothing nor alter them to conform to fashion. That is something to be disciplined. But where it has become common usage in a country it is honourable and proper to accept such usage, but to walk in humility.

Thanks be to God, I do not want lust of the eyes nor pride of this world, but have always worn nearly the same pattern of clothing. But if I put on another style, according to the usage of the country, should I have been banned because of it? That would have been unreasonable and contrary to Scripture.

The Lord has ordained, of course, that there should be discipline in the Church of God for stubborn members and such as resist the law of God in the Gospel. Therefore it must arise whether that which we intend to bind will also be bound there, or is commanded to be bound.

The Holy Scriptures must be our measuring standard. To them we must submit; not run ahead but follow them, not too rashly, but in carefulness, fear and affliction; for it is a perilous thing in the judgment of God to bind that which is not bound in heaven.

 

How a Biblical worldview can make life better for everybody

There was a school shooting a few days ago at La Loche, a small community in northern Saskatchewan. A teenager who had been relentlessly bullied took a gun and killed two people in their home and then went to school, killed two more and wounded a number of others.

It appears that the young man felt pushed to the point of desperation. That does not make him innocent; it just means that there is a good deal of blame to go around to others in the community who participated in the bullying, or who were aware of the bullying and did nothing to stop it.

After a tragedy like this there are many proposals as to how to deal with the aftermath and what to do to prevent a repeat. Many of them involve more psychological counselling and the spending of large amounts of money.

These things might do some good, but they really don’t get to the root of the problem, which is a lack of respect for one another. Bullying seeks to ridicule, demean and intimidate another person. Such words and actions should never be trivialized by calling them teasing.

One of the first things we read in the Bible is that we are created in the image of God. That applies to all human beings, regardless of ethnic or national origin,or social or economic status. Therefore to belittle another human being, made in the image of God, is an act of defiance against God.

Humanists and atheists claim that they have a better way to instill in people a respect for others. Does anyone think that is really working? If so, why are there so many tragic incidents like the one at La Loche? Why are there so many suicides? Why is there so much violence against women?

It is true that Christians, and people who call themselves Christians, have at times been guilty of words and actions that indicate disrespect for others. That is why we must begin with ourselves to establish a foundation for a truly Biblical worldview to guide our relations with others. The next step is to be able to communicate this to others – not in terms of “the Bible says,” but “this is what works, and it works because God made us, understands us and has given us workable instructions for life.”

We need to be convinced of the value of our Bible-based faith and learn how to share it with others. When tragedies occur it will not do to point fingers, find somebody to blame, and pat ourselves on the back because we are not like that. Might it even be true that we bear a portion of the blame because we have not fulfilled our calling to be ambassadors for Christ, calling the world around us to be reconciled to God?

Holdeman Mennonites

I have been a member of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite for half my life (in a few weeks it will be 37 years out of 74). The church name is a bit of a mouthful. Ideally we would like to simply call ourselves the Church of God, but at least 50 other denominations have had the same idea.

Some denominations seem to have tried to pack their doctrinal statement into their name, for example The House of God, Which is the Church of the Living God, the Pillar and Ground of the Truth, Inc. I’m not trying to make fun, that’s just an illustration of how difficult it is to come up with a name that clearly differentiates one church from another.

There are those among us, at least in Canada, who would like to drop “Mennonite” from the church name. The problem with that is there is already a Church of God in Christ and it happens to be the second largest Pentecostal denomination in the U.S.A., claiming 200 times as many members as the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite. Besides, they were using the name before we were. So that’s definitely a no go.

Early copies of the church periodical gave the name as the Church of God, a Branch Mennonite. That sounds suspiciously like it may have originally been written in some other language (namely German) and awkwardly translated into English. The current name was adopted about 100 years ago.

Do we object to being called Holdeman Mennonites? Well, we do it ourselves, at least in casual conversation, so we can’t very well object to others doing it. But there is a little problem with both words: neither John Holdeman nor Menno Simons considered themselves to be the founders of a church.

Menno Simons was a 16th century Roman Catholic priest in Holland who experienced the new birth and began preaching evangelical sermons in the Catholic church. After a year he withdrew and began to associate with the remnant of the Anabaptists, who had been scattered and demoralized by persecution. Soon he was asked to become a minister. He wrote extensively to explain and defend the faith to others. Soon his name was indelibly associated with the faith and all who were of the same faith were considered followers of Menno. Which wasn’t exactly true, there were other prominent leaders, but Menno was the name best known to those outside the church.

John Holdeman was a 19th century member of the Mennonite Church who felt it had drifted away from the historic faith . His intention was not to start a new church but to encourage the Mennonites to return to the Old Ground and Foundation (that was the title of his first book). No such return happened so a small group of Mennonites, at three different locations, began holding separate services. John Holdeman was the main leader in the early years, but as the church grew many others worked along side of him.

Thus it is not wholly inaccurate for us to be called Holdeman Mennonites, though I am quite sure that neither John Holdeman not Menno Simons would approve.

[By the way, I have added a Contact Me page with my gmail address and questions are welcome.]

But what do they think of us?

The city of Saskatoon has been growing rapidly aver the past fifteen years. Among the many newcomers, there is a high percentage of people Of Asian and African origin, including several thousand Muslims. Two large mosques have been built and are reported to be full to over flowing. Many of these people are showing up behind the counter at Tim Horton’s, as cashiers in Walmart and in other such places of business. There are a number of African doctors.

I hear some Christians expressing troubled thoughts about the kind of people that are coming into the country. Some complain that many of them have an accent that is hard to understand. Others express worries about Muslims taking over the country and wonder if we will soon have jihadist incidents.

A more pertinent question might be what do these people think of the Christians they meet here? Do we seem like people who love our neighbours as ourselves and have no respect of persons? Really, if we want these people to form a proper picture of what Christianity is all about, we had better conduct ourselves as Christians.

Many of the Africans who come here are Christians. Denominations based in Nigeria have established six congregations in the Saskatoon area. Is that good or bad? It could be a sign that the existing churches didn’t offer a warm welcome to the newcomers.

Recently there was a newspaper article about a young lady from Pakistan who was a long distance runner and competed in the Olympics. The government of Pakistan was supportive, but some Islamist militants made life dangerous for her, so she came to Canada. Her advice to newcomers to Saskatoon is to get to know people outside their own ethnic communities, make friends and learn to know and enjoy their new homeland.

That seems like good advice to those of us who were born here: let’s get to know these newcomers, make friends, make them feel at home. It is those who feel marginalized in their new land who are most apt to be lured into extremism. The more we get to know these people the more opportunities there will be to show what Christian faith is all about.

Please slow down

It is winter inauto-70075_1280 Saskatchewan. Last night there was a heavy fog; the fog deposited its humidity on roads and streets where it formed a sheet of ice. After a rash of accidents in Saskatoon this morning, the police issued the following bulletin:

Speed limits are set based on ideal road conditions. THESE are not “ideal” road conditions. Please slow down.

Don’t second guess your repentance

To repent is to rethink, or change your mind. In religious terms, repentance toward God means to reconsider the way you have been living, ask God to forgive you and resolve to live differently with the help of the Holy Spirit.

This is a complete change in a person’s way of thinking and is not something that one can decide to do upon a whim. The first step in repentance is to feel the need to repent and that must come from God Himself. People live the way they do because they believe this is the best way to get what they want out of life. It isn’t until the Holy Spirit opens their eyes to see that all the trouble they have encountered in life is the result of bad decisions they have made that it is even possible to consider living differently.

Feeling sorry for what you have done is not repentance. That is, it does not automatically lead to changing course and doing things differently. Yet feeling sorry for what you have done is the first step toward repentance. It is important to distinguish between feeling sorry for yourself and feeling sorry for what you have done.

There are a few places in the Bible which speak of repentance in the simpler sense of a change of mind. Esau sold his birthright to his younger brother for one meal, and doesn’t seem to have grasped the consequences until Jacob received from his father the blessing due to the firstborn son. The Bible says “For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears” (Hebrews 12:17). I believe the “place of repentance” spoken of here does not refer to repentance toward God. Esau just wanted his father to change his mind and give him the blessing he thought he deserved, but it was too late.

There are verses in the Old Testament that say that God repented. This does not mean that God was sorry for something He had done, or intended to do, but that God changed His mind because of changing circumstances, either the rebellion of mankind or the entreaties of one of His servants.

The apostle Paul speaks of “repentance not to be repented of.” When we have repented of a life of sin and turned around to follow God, it would be folly to once again change our mind and go back to our former life.

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