Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Why a child should not be king of the home

There are widely divergent views on child training in North America – ranging all the way from a laissez faire attitude (let the child alone and she will figure things out on her own), to the harsh disciplinarian (if you want a child to learn how to behave you need to spank him once a day, and twice on Sundays). Actually, neither extreme can be called child training, both imply that the parents have abdicated from their role as parents to become either neutral observers or the administrators of a punitive law.

Child training means teaching and the teaching needs to begin in the first weeks and months. There is no harm in getting used to explaining to a baby what we expect of her when she is very small. This is a habit that we need to develop early, so that when a child is older we don’t leave our explaining until after she has done something wrong.

Parents in France start by teaching their babies to sleep through the night. They do this simply by learning to discern the sounds a baby makes when he wakes up in the night. We all go through many cycles each night of deep sleep and light sleep where we are awake or almost awake. A newborn does not know how to connect these cycles and if a mother jumps up at every whimper to comfort her child, she is actually hindering the child from learning. If the child’s cry is a cry of distress, then the mother knows the child needs help, but a few little whimpers between sleep cycles are normal. By not running for every whimper, the mother is also teaching the child that parents need sleep, too, they are not just servants who are at their child’s beck and call.

This is part of the essential task of teaching a child that she is not the one in charge, the parents are.  As soon as possible, a child should be expected to greet adults when they come to visit and to greet the adults in a home where the family visits. This is good manners, and makes the child more aware that other people matter.

Most of us in North America grew up being ordered to eat everything on our plate and threatened with no dessert if we didn’t. Sometimes we were told about the poor starving children in China who would love to eat what we were leaving on our plate. Today there is an epidemic of obesity in both North America and China, and North American children are still very picky eaters. A better plan is to teach children that they don’t have to clean their plates, but they must eat at least a little of every food on the table.  Treats should be limited to once a day, perhaps an after school snack. If this plan is explained and adhered to without exception the child will learn that begging for a treat is useless. (This plan needs to be explained to the grandparents, too.)

A newborn baby understands only his own needs, but small steps such as these make him aware that other people have needs, too. This is child training and much of it can be accomplished without much fuss or stress. The goal is to teach the child that he is not in charge, the parents are. This does not mean that there might not be a need for stronger measures on occasion, but I am convinced that a lot of corporal punishment is simply an attempt to compensate for a lack of child training.

The child who grows up in a home where parents constantly yield to his wishes and whines is going to have a hard time adjusting to real life as an adult. It seems that some people today never really reach adulthood. We are doing our children a favour if we teach them in such a way that they are spared from a life of perpetual spoiled childhood.

Newspeak at work

There is an article in Montréal la Presse today about the horrified reaction of some women to the Dico des filles 2014 (2014 Girls dictionary). This is a book, published in France, written to help girls aged 12 and older face questions of conduct and morality. What is it that some women find so inappropriate? Here is a free translation of a few quotes from the book:

On the subject of abortion: “Although this is permitted by law, that does not make it just and moral. Abortion is a serious act which brings into question the value of human life.  . . .  An abortion always causes a wound that takes a long time to heal.” And: “Moral authorities and the major religious families all have something to say [on the subject of abortion] because it is their role to set out the priniples for guiding human activities. . . . . It is true that abortion is a serious act. But it is possible to condemn the act without condemning the person who had an abortion.”

On the subject of homosexuality: “It is true that some stable homosexual couples do exist. But the relationships are often ephemeral and unstable.” And: “Life is not simple for homosexuals and the road to happiness is full of pitfalls.”

Such words as these, which seem so mild and tolerant to me, are judged as being hideously intolerant by certain women’s groups.  They want the books removed from public libraries and anywhere that girls might have access to such retrograde ideas of right and wrong.

George Orwell coined the word “newspeak” in his dystopian novel 1984.  He foresaw a world where the thought police would take a word and make it mean the the direct opposite of what it originally meant. Are we there yet? It seems that we are getting close when some people  label as intolerant any hint of a view that is different than their own and try to prevent it from being heard, then say that they are the tolerant ones.

Nevertheless, the Dico pour filles appears to be selling well, bookstores are sold out of the 2014 edition and awaiting the arrival of the 2015 edition in a few weeks.

Is Christianity a subculture or a counterculture?

Subculture, a cultural group within a larger or predominant culture but distinguished from it by factors such as class, ethnic background, religion, or residence, unified by shared beliefs or interests which may be at variance with those of the larger culture. A group within a culture, distinguished from it by features of custom, conduct, etc.

Counterculture, a culture having values or lifestyles that are in opposition to those of the current accepted culture. A movement that actively rejects the values of the prevailing culture in favour of other ones.

The definitions above come from two dictionaries. In each case the first definition is from the Canadian Oxford Dictionary and the second from the Nelson Gage Canadian Dictionary. In simple terms, what these definitions are telling us is that people within a subculture are marching the the drums of the zeitgeist, heading in the same direction, but wearing a different uniform. People who belong to a counterculture are marching to the sound of a different drummer and heading in a different direction.

Which definition best describes evangelical Christianity today? Zeitgeist is a German word that has entered common usage in English. The Nelson Gage dictionary defines it simply as the pattern of thought or feeling characteristic of a particular period of time.

Here are some characteristics of the zeitgeist, which will also be characteristic of a subculture, but not a counterculture; followed by Bible passages that indicate what the Christian attitude should be:

Consumerism, a lifestyle in which buying and consuming goods is the prime interest. “And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” (Luke 12:15).

Materialism, a tendency to care more for material possessions than spiritual needs. “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).

Self-esteem, a good opinion of oneself. “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves” (Philippians 2:3).

Egocentric, seeing everything in relation to oneself. “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake” (Matthew 5:11).

Individualism, emphasizing the importance of individuals as opposed to that of a group. “Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10). “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1).

Pietism, an emphasis on a personal relationship with God independent of a relationship with fellow believers. “No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. . . . If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? (1 John 4:12, 20). “ I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3).

Unreached peoples

Unreached peoples! How can it be that there are still people groups in our modern world who have never heard about the Saviour, who do not have even a portion of the Bible in their language? Mission and Bible translation and distribution agencies tell us with considerable urgency that many such groups still remain on planet Earth.

I do not wish to detract anything from the urgency of that concern. Nor do I wish to distract us from the worthy goal of reaching all those groups with the gospel. But while we are doing that, I wish that we could all take a look at the people around us, right here in our own land. One hundred years ago, most everyone in Canada would have had some grasp of the tenets of Christianity. The majority of homes would have had a Bible somewhere in the house, often in plain view, though perhaps seldom read.

None of that is true anymore. One has only to read newspaper reports of controversies about Christian activities to realize that we are living in a different era. The incomprehension of the reporters about what motivates Christians is strikingly evident to Christians; judging by the responses, or the lack of response, to these articles most readers are no better informed than the reporters.

I am going to suggest that most segments of Canadian society have become unreached people groups. I recently quoted a statistic that said 50% of Canadians have never read anything in the Bible. I would be surprised if even 25% of Canadian homes contained a Bible today. So I will lump all Canadians into four unreached people groups.

First are the aboriginal peoples: Indians, Métis and Inuit. At one time, many of these peoples would have professed some form of Christianity, but now the great majority have openly returned to their native spirituality or shamanism. Some try to mix Christianity and shamanism, but Christianity plus something else is no longer Christianity. There are some bright lights here and there, but the overall picture is of great darkness.

The second group is the recent immigrants. Those who come from first world countries tend to be mostly agnostics or atheists. From third world countries we have many people of Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and other Eastern religions. Here is our opportunity to reach out to these people with the gospel of Jesus Christ. There are a few reports of successful missions to these people, but in reality very little is being done. Among the recent immigrants from Africa there are many Christians. They could add some vitality to the Canadian religious scene, but often they establish congregations of their own.

The third group would be the French-Canadians, who at one time were solidly Roman Catholic. Unfortunately, during the time when the Roman Catholic Church controlled the schools and so many other facets of French-Canadian society, they did their best to keep people from reading the Bible. Now that most French-Canadians have abandoned the church; there is no lingering reservoir of Bible knowledge. There are many evangelical congregations established among the French-Canadian people, but their impact still touches a very small minority of the people.

The last group would be the Anglo-Canadians – English-speaking Canadians of various ethnic backgrounds. (It should be noted that Québec is also a melting pot – many French-Canadians are not of French ethnic heritage.) Anglo-Canadians were resolutely Christian at one time, at least in name. But society has changed, and many of the once dominant denominations tried to change with the times, watering down the gospel in the process. People have abandoned those denominations in droves. Anglo-Canadians still represent the largest concentration of evangelical Christians in Canada, both in percentage and actual numbers. But their influence on the mores and values of our society has greatly diminished. The great majority of young people today know nothing about the Bible or about the real meaning of Christian faith.

My hope is that when we talk about unreached people groups we wouldn’t only think of people in countries somewhere across the sea. There is a great need in those countries. There is also a great need right here on our doorstep where we might be able to have an impact on the lives of people without major organization or expenditure. If all true Christians would be alert to the little opportunities to speak a word for Jesus, the results might amaze us.

Charles de Gaulle and Christian apologetics

Why do I think that talking about Charles de Gaulle will help us understand the purpose of Christian apologetics? Follow me as I try to explain.

The First World War was mostly fought on French soil, meaning that the people of France bore the greatest share of the war’s death, destruction and despair. After that war the French military and the government decided that they could protect themselves from a future German invasion by building massive fortifications along the border between the two countries – the Maginot Line.

Charles de Gaulle, as a young officer, realized it would never work. He told the generals that they were preparing for the previous war, that the next time the enemy came he would not come the same way as the last time. He proposed that rather than stationary fortifications the army needed battalions of light armoured vehicles – fast moving tanks that could respond quickly wherever a threat presented itself. He even wrote a book outlining his vision. The generals didn’t take his suggestion seriously, yet recognized his ability and humoured him by forming one such battalion, promoting him to general and putting him in charge.

In 1939 German panzer divisions with overwhelming numbers of tanks swept through Holland and Belgium and into France. De Gaulle’s battalion performed valiantly, but was heavily outnumbered and had little effect. Nevertheless, it was now evident that de Gaulle had been right.

What does this have to do with Christian apologetics? Let’s consider 1 Peter 3:15: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear”. Three words, “give an answer,” are used here to translate the Greek word apologia, from which we get the word apologetics. Are we prepared to give an answer anywhere, any time, to “every man”? Not a specially prepared and rehearsed answer, but one that responds to the question that is asked?

Does it sometimes seem that Christians have a bunker mentality, somewhat like the French witth the Maginot line between the wars? We hide behind slogans and catch phrases, and avoid situations where we think we might face embarrassing questions or even ridicule. How can we prepare ourselves to face unexpected challenges? Our task in defending the Christian faith is not to stave off critics with lengthy prepared answers, or even short prepared answers.

Our task is to respond to the questions that people really have. Tom Skinner, the Harlem preacher, made this point forty years ago with a book entitled If Christ is the Answer – What are the Questions? Tom Skinner made the point that the first question someone asks is usually not the real question. We will need to ask questions in return to help uncover the real questions that people have.

This is why I have made the comparison with de Gaulle’s advocacy of a flexible defence that could move to wherever the danger was. We don’t use tanks in Christian apologetics, we use the Bible, the sword of the Lord. We should not use it as an offensive weapon, firing indiscriminately at everything that looks like it might be a threat.

Peter says to give an answer with meekness and fear. The Louis Second French translation says gentleness and respect. All these words imply humility. We are not trying to intimidate others with our superior knowledge. They will respect us more if we admit we don’t have all the answers. That could open the way to study the Bible together.

When God first promised the land of Canaan to Abraham He told him in Genesis 13:17: “Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it unto thee.” The Bible is our heritage today and we should read through the length and breadth of it; become familiar with the lay of the land so that we will be able to point out the landmarks to others.

The military analogy can’t tell the whole story. Other people are not our enemies. If they act like enemies, it is due to the influence of the powers of darkness. Those powers are the real enemy, and our calling is to help people lose confidence in those destructive spiritual forces and turn away from them. We are not engaged in a battle where there will be a winner and a loser, we are not trying to score points. The point of apologetics is to lead people to consider what the Bible has to say and then let the Word of God and the Spirit of God do the heavy work of bringing light and conviction into their hearts.

What if the French leadership had listened to de Gaulle? What if the German Panzer divisions had been met by equally numerous, well-armed and swift moving French tank battalions? The Second World War might have ended very quickly, sparing millions of lives.

What if every born again Christian today was equipped and willing to confront the forces of darkness and “give an answer” for their faith? How many lives could be saved?

[This is, more or less, the talk that I gave at Toastmasters yesterday evening.]

Pressing utmost need

hummingbird-140461_640The days here have been cool for the last few days. Today was the coolest at 10° Celsius. Sunshine and warmer weather is supposed to return tomorrow. Throughout the day today there was always a hummingbird at our hummingbird feeder and a goldfinch at our finch feeder. I know there was more than one of each, but we only saw one at a time.

These birds are so tiny that they need to take in prodigious amounts of food to maintain their body temperature. That reminded me of a verse from a hymn that we sang in church this morning:

Come ye thirsty, to the living waters,
Hungry, come and on His bounty feed;
Not thy fitness is the plea to bring Him,
But thy pressing utmost need. *

The birds obviously felt their pressing utmost need, and were taking full advantage of the food offered. How am I doing at maintaining my spiritual temperature? Something I read in the Bible three days ago really warmed my heart — is that keeping me warm today? Not likely, especially if what I read didn’t move me to take action of some kind.

It is not enough for the birds to just eat, either. The physical activity fuelled by the food they eat helps to warm their body. In the same way, a Christian needs to feel a “pressing utmost need” of spiritual food, but if that food does not lead to spiritual activity of some kind, Christian life will eventually grow cold.

* Him That Cometh Unto Me, words by Eliza E Hewitt, 1851-1920

What does the Bible mean by “left thy first love”?

“Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.” (Revelation 2:4).

I have been part of many discussions over this verse. As far as I recall, we have always taken it to mean “I am disappointed in you because you’ve lost that loving feeling.” Then we discussed how we can tell if we’ve lost that loving feeling and what to do about it if we have.

What if it really means “I am disappointed in you because you’ve found somebody new?”  We don’t really want to consider that, do we? What if our love and devotion to Mammon has become more important to us than our love for our Saviour?

It happens so subtly. Mammon comes to us with an offer of immediate gratification and we don’t consider what that temporary benefit might do to our long-term relationship with our Lord. The first time we do it, it doesn’t seem like much has changed, so we go on, getting deeper and deeper into this adulterous relationship with Mammon.

Soon our attention is wholly taken up with the pursuit of the earthly benefits of wealth, pleasure, honour and pride that Mammon promises, and we forget the ultimate reason why we first entered into a relationship with Jesus.

The apostle Paul expressed his concern for the Corinthian Christians this way: “For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.” (2 Corinthians 11:2-3)

Who has control of your heart, Jesus or Mammon?

Chicken apocalypse

 

 

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A couple in the city of Saskatoon has been ordered to get rid of the chickens they are keeping in their backyard. Two city councillors came up with a whole list of reasons why it is a terrible idea to keep chickens in the city. Chickens attract pests, they are noisy, chicken manure smells. They might freeze in the winter and then the city would be blamed. Somebody might get ill and die from food-borne disease from eating a backyard egg with a cracked shell.

Let’s see now, are chickens as noisy as the dogs that bark in the middle of the night, or the next door neighbours whose patio party lasts until 1:30 AM? If the city is responsible for winter, why didn’t they come and clear my driveway every time it snowed? Are chickens in one neighbour’s backyard any messier than the cats that use my children’s sandbox for their litter box? As for eggs with cracked shells, I guess that would be a danger if you ate raw eggs.

How many chickens did these people have in their backyard anyway to cause such a furor on city council?

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That’s right, three. It took three chickens to get these two councillors into a tizzy. The chickens are kept in a 40-square-foot, insulated coop. The neighbours have no objections. But the couple has purchased an acreage outside the city and plans to move soon. Problem solved . . . . until the next time. The newspaper article names four Canadian cities that do allow backyard chickens, as many as 12 in the case of Edmonton. I’m sure the question will come up again in Saskatoon.

Another councillor, with a little firmer grip on reality it would seem, suggested that people have become disconnected with how food is produced.

What does the Bible mean to you?

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In the 2011 census, 67% of Canadians identified themselves as Christians. A statistic that is somewhat older and probably outdated says that 25% of Canadians attend church once a week. The latest survey gives a glimpse of the rot at the base of our Christianity: 5% of Canadians read the Bible daily, 11% once a week, 14% once a month. 55% have never opened a Bible in their life.

The fact that 67% self-identified as Christians indicates that they still see some value in the historic teachings of the faith — even though they might not have much of an idea what they are. Do you suppose there would be a way of getting them intrigued about the roots of that heritage? Who is going to do it? Obviously, the majority of church-going people are not Bible readers.

Here are some questions for those of us who say we read the Bible every day:

- Have you ever read a passage in the Bible and realized it was a personal message for your immediate situation?

- Do you pray for understanding when you read the Bible?

* Does a verse from the Bible ever come to your mind when you find yourself in a difficult situation?

- Have you ever read the Bible all the way through? Are there parts of the Bible that you have never read?

- Do you sometimes take time to study a particular event, or teaching, or promise so that you can understand it more fully?

- Do you talk about what you have read with your family? your Christian friends? your non-Christian friends?

If I am reading the Bible and I am suddenly struck about how this is just what brother George needs to hear, I am probably not getting much personal benefit from my Bible reading. Neither is brother George, even presuming that he is in need of help. If brother George truly needs help, then I should be praying for direction on how to talk to him as a brother without sounding superior. Perhaps I should pray to know how to encourage him to talk.

People around us need to read the Bible and believe what it says. Let’s not be one of those self-righteous religious people that have given the Bible and Christianity a bad name.The people around us have a pretty keen nose for the slightest whiff of hypocrisy. How do we avoid having that odour attach itself to us? Well, that might mean taking the Bible seriously enough to make major changes to our lifestyle if it is not 100% compatible with the teachings of the Word.

When we find inspiration in the Bible for our personal life, it is much more likely that we will inspire others to look in the same Book for answers to their needs.

Friendship

When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled, And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see. Jesus wept. Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him! (John 11:33-36).

I have at times wondered about the accounts of the close friendship Jesus had with Lazarus, Mary and Martha. The gospel accounts make it clear that there was a special connection here and He loved to visit their home. What do we think about the preference that He seemed to show for the company of Lazarus and his sisters?coffee-367887_640

Then again, what would we think of Jesus if He had no close friends? What if He had gone about treating everyone with the same kindness and respect, yet never allowing Himself to get too closely attached to anyone? What if He had never been moved to tears by the sorrow of close friends?

In everything Jesus is our example. If we belong to a congregation of believers, they should all be our friends. Yet it is completely normal, and highly desirable, that we should form closer bonds with a few. These close friendships should not be limited to our own kinfolk either. There will be those whose nature and interests naturally draw us together. These close bonds of friendship should not ever be the source of divisions in the body, they should rather bind us more closely to the whole body. Our closest friends may also feel close to someone with whom we might other wise not have been able to develop much rapport, but our mutual ties will draw us together.

It would also be entirely normal to have friends outside the bounds of our Christian fellowship. They may be unsaved family members, work associates, people with common interests. We should be just as much Christians when with them as when with our Christian friends. Not that we should browbeat them with the gospel or constantly remind them of shortcomings in their lives. Those could be quite effective means of ending the friendship. But if they never have questions about our faith, perhaps we are trying to hard to be like them.

A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly  (Proverbs 18:24). When we show a genuine interest in other people’s lives, they are more apt to be interested in what makes us tick. That is the basis for forming true friendships and also the basis upon which those friendships can become a setting for heart to heart sharing of spiritual concerns, trials and victories.

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