Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

What happened to the dream?

“I have a dream!” As Reverend Martin Luther King, Junior spoke those words in 1963, millions around the world dared to dream with him of a better day; a day when outward differences would lose their power to divide us; a day when we could all join hands to work together, to pray together.

That dream frightened some people; on April 4, 1968, an assassin’s bullet ended Reverend King’s life. That assassination happened in Memphis, Tennessee, the hometown of Elvis Presley. Two months later, Elvis used his prodigious talent to rekindle the dream, recording the song “If I can dream,” echoing Martin Luther King’s dream of a better land where there was peace and understanding.

What happened to that dream? Why is there still so much prejudice, so much fear? Why is it still possible to say that the most segregated place in America is a church on Sunday morning? I am a Canadian; we like to say we do not have the race problem that exists south of our border. When I lived in Montreal in the 90’s maybe 5% of the city’s population was black and it looked like every one of them was heading to a church on Sunday morning. And it looked like about 5% of the white population were also on their way to church. But they went to different churches, sometimes the same denominations, but different churches.

The dream is essentially a Christian dream. If it will come true anywhere, it has to happen first among Christian people. What is our problem?

I could blame the Church Growth Movement. One feature of their mission strategy was to use the marketing methods of the world to divide people into natural affinity groups and tailor the gospel message to appeal to each group. I thought the gospel was supposed to unite people, not divide them.

But the real problem is our fear of getting to know people different from us. Ignorance breeds mistrust. We have been taught what was right, and it is so plain that there is something evil about a person who does things differently. If we step out of our comfort zone and meet some of those other people, we risk the pain of having to re-examine our preconceived ideas.

It is worth the risk, and the pain. Most likely, we will find that our ideas are not quite the same as God’s ideas; our traditions have bent, not only the way we perceive other people, but the way we perceive what God is telling us in His Word.

We will not change the entire world. All God asks of us is to see our little corner of the world in a new light, the way He sees it. That is enough. It will make a difference.

A refuge

A refuge, a place where I could escape the storms that beat around me; that’s what I needed. When one is young, many storms are more imagined than real. But my father’s anger was real. He was not violent, but when he lost his temper angry words rang throughout the house, seemed to be in the air I breathed. I needed a place of refuge where I could breathe and sort it all out.

When I was nine years old, my parents moved to a small farm that bordered the northwest edge of Craik, Saskatchewan. I discovered my place of refuge the day after we moved in. I found in a hollow, halfway up the bank at the far end of the coulee that ran through our pasture. In that hollow sat a rectangular granite boulder, shaped like a giant step or chair, worn smooth by thousands of buffalo trying to relieve their itch, over a thousand years or more.

First, I sat on the rock, then I sat in the hollow beside it and something wonderful happened—all evidence of the modern world disappeared. I was alone on the open prairie, no buildings, fences, roads or telephone lines were visible. Even the sounds did not penetrate this peaceful spot.

How long had the rock been here? Geologists say that when Lake Agassiz drained thousands of years ago, the rushing waters that carved the ravines, coulees and river valleys of Saskatchewan also swept rocks like this to new locations.  It had been here through the time the buffalo roamed the prairies and the hunters followed them. The time since the settlers had come was just a tiny blip in its history.

Through the rest of my growing-up years that rock became my refuge. When life seemed difficult, I would leave the house and find this spot, my place of refuge. In that quiet and secure place I would rest until the anxiety, the fear, and yes, my anger, had dissipated.

Eight years later I left home. Twice I moved back for a time and each time the ancient buffalo rubbing stone was there when I needed it. Later, in my twenties and on my own, I faced new anxieties and fears.  The rock of my childhood was far away, and no longer the hidden spot it once was. A four-lane highway now runs through the old pasture, the rock is visible from the highway.

It took years for me to find the rock of refuge spoken of in Psalm 94:22 “My God is the rock of my refuge.” I found the words of the Bible drawing me towards that rock. The eternal rock. I read in Malachi 3:6: “I am the Lord, I change not,” and in Hebrews 6:8: “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever.” I heard and responded to The Spirit’s call to build my life upon that rock. I found that rock to be a refuge of peace wherever I was, whatever the circumstances.

Now I wanted to find a church built upon that rock, where I could be in fellowship with people with a living faith and lives solidly anchored to the rock, Jesus Christ. I knew that wouldn’t be the church I had attended in my youth.

I read in history books of a people who had lived such a faith centuries ago. People for whom the kingdom of God was separate from the kingdoms of this world; people for whom their relationship with Jesus Christ was more important than this earthly life. Other people called them Anabaptists, Waldensians and Mennonites. Surely there would be Christians like that today in the Mennonite churches. I visited many churches, met many good people; most were unaware of the old-time faith.

My search finally led me to a church whose members believe and live the faith I had read about; I became a member of that church 40 years ago.

© Bob Goodnough, January 3, 2019

Brought low by such a little thing

The flourishing African violets and other greenery in our home are testimony of my wife’s green thumb.  She grows new plants from cuttings and often has African violets to give away.  When she has too many little succulents she will take a few to a store in our nearest town that sells antiques, home decor and succulents. Richard usually gives her a plant or two in return.

Last Friday she came home with a tiny little plant in a 10 cm pot. At supper time, Chris noticed a scent in the air and wondered where it was coming from. I couldn’t smell anything, but my sinuses were becoming congested and my throat sore.

Chris finally traced the scent to that little pot that she had placed on the corner of our table. The tiny plant in there was flowering, tiny, tiny little flowers, but with a powerful scent.  Chris put the plant in a different location and put a glass cover over it with just a little gap for air circulation.

I turned on our air purifier and started taking decongestants and echinacea. I made it through the weekend with their help, attending a wedding on Saturday, Sunday morning worship and taught the intermediate Bible study in the evening. But the effect of the decongestants kept me awake most of Sunday night.Yesterday I took care of some needed business in the morning, then took it easy the rest of the day.

Today I feel like I’m almost recovered from that allergy attack. That little plant carried quite a punch for someone like me who is susceptible to allergic rhinitis. I suspect that I may have run a little short on sleep in the days prior to this incident, which compromises the immune system and makes me more apt to react as I did. But I’m quite sure it was those flowers that triggered the attack.

My mind remained active during the time I was trying to rest my body. I pondered where I was going with this blog, what is it that I felt a need to share with my readers.  You will start to see the results of that pondering tomorrow.

Questions of life and eternity

What is the most important factor in making a person want to be a Christian? Is it the fear of hell, or the longing for heaven?

Have you ever been in a discussion like that? What was the conclusion?

I think both factors have some motivational influence, but I do not believe that either is enough to empower someone to lead a victorious and happy Christian life.

For that, we need to find meaning for our life in an active relationship with the Creator and Saviour, and in serving Him and our neighbour. That relationship grows when we feed on the God’s Word and communicate with Him by both praying and listening.

That relationship must be the overriding guide in business, work, family and friendships. That does not mean that we talk of God all the time and try to force our views on others. All we need is to be ready to obey whenever the Holy Spirit prompts us to do or say some little thing. A victorious and joy filled life is built by those little things,

Some more thoughts on evangelism

OK, we need to strip the gospel message down to the pure Bible-based essentials and restore all those essentials that have been cast away. Now, when we come to sharing this vital message, we need to strip away all the verbiage and attitudes that hide the message rather than revealing it.

Here are some thoughts about how to share the Good News, as much for my benefit as anyone else’s.

1. Be curious —In the end, the gospel message is the same for everyone. But not all start at the same place. We need to get to know people, find out what are their greatest concerns. The best way to do that is to ask questions.

2. Hide the hammer — If someone doesn’t understand our message, or doesn’t want to listen to it, hammering away at the same point isn’t going to help. We may need to go back to step 1.

3. Stick a needle in the hot air balloon — Impressive words, adjectives, adverbs, a round about way of speaking and Christian jargon are not the stock in trade of a good communicator. A pompous speaking style pumps hot air into our balloon, we go floating away and lose contact with the person to whom we are speaking.

4. Get down off the pedestal — The message is important; we are not. A servant does not try to impress you with how important he is. Let’s take a lesson from the apostle Paul: “For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more,” (1 Corinthians 9:19).

6. Admit you don’t know everything — The Bible is the source of all truth; I am not. In evangelism, if I am always the teacher and the other person is always the student, I have failed. The goal of evangelism is to lead others to dependence on God. Jesus is the Master, we are all disciples (students), always learning from the Master and from one another.

Some thoughts on evangelism

Each time the Apostle Paul stopped in a new location during his missionary journeys, he first went into the synagogue to teach. This always ended with the Jews rising up in opposition, sometimes with great violence. Roland Allen, in Missionary Methods, St. Paul’s or Ours, expresses the view that it was Paul’s intention to make it plain to the Gentile population that he was not teaching the faith of the Jews. He often put his life in danger by doing so, but it aroused the interest of the Gentiles so that they wanted to hear the message Paul was bringing.

Nine hundred years ago, someone among the Christians we know as Waldensians wrote a treatise called Antichrist. The writer may have been Pierre de Bruys, an active evangelist of that era. The treatise made it very clear that the Waldensians had no relationship to the Roman Catholic church or any of its teachings. A dangerous move in that era, but it must have seemed important to those Christians to say what they did not believe in order that people might listen with interest to find out what they did believe.

Five hundred years later, Menno Simons did much the same thing. He also referred to the roman Catholic church as Antichrist, but he also had the new protestant denominations to contend with. He offered to debate publicly, and wrote many books to counter false teachings of other churches. He wrote in one place that he believed there were some true believers in each of the churches, but they were not building on the right foundation to form a church that would maintain the pure faith and pass it on from generation to generation.

Menno was considered a dangerous man, because he aimed his writings at the general public. What if we could do that in our day? Point out all the non-Christian teachings that have attached themselves to the various denominations of our day? If we proclaimed that we were not encumbered with any of that debris, but preached solely the gospel of Jesus Christ, as taught in the Bible. I realize that many other denominations claim to be doing just that; that is why it becomes important to point out all false claims.

The mark of the apostolic church and the Anabaptist churches that followed was purity. The purity of the church which accepted as members only those who were genuinely born again and walking in obedience to the Holy Spirit. The purity of the lives of those members. Purity in family life, in business and in relationships with others. Purity of doctrine, of brotherly love and of ministers who do not preach for popularity or financial gain.

Are there people who would willingly hear such a message today? Let’s not shrink back from trying to find out.

  • Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? by Roland Allen. © 1962 World Dominion Press

Too close for comfort

The days are getting short, the nights cold. These are the days when folks used to gather around the Quebec heater to visit. Stoves like the one in the picture below were found in most Saskatchewan farm homes, and in most stores.  Most wood stoves still come from Quebec, for the same reason that most maple syrup comes from Quebec — that’s where the trees are.

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On a  Saturday night about 70  years ago, Dad placed the big square galvanized tub on the living room floor, Mom filled it with water heated on the stove and we had our baths.  It felt chilly in the room when I got out of the tub, so I backed up to the stove to warm up and dry myself. I backed up just a bit too far and felt a searing pain on my backside that made it inconvenient to sit down for a few days.

Dorothy Sayers on the origin of evil

The orthodox Christian position is . . . [that] the light, and the light only is primary; creation and time and darkness are secondary and begin together. When you come to consider the matter, it is strictly meaningless to say that darkness could precede light in a time process. Where there is no light, there is no meaning for the word darkness, for darkness is merely a name for that which is without light. Light, by merely existing, creates darkness, or at any rate the possibility of darkness. In this sense, it is possible to understand that profound saying, “I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace and create evil: I the Lord do all these things” (Isaiah 45:7).

But it is at this point that it becomes possible for the evil and the darkness and the chaos to boast: “We are that which was before the light was, and the light is a usurpation upon our rights.” It is an illusion; evil and darkness and chaos are pure negation, and there is no such state as “before the light” because it is the primary light that creates the whole time process. It is an illusion, and that is the primary illusion inside which the devil lives and in which he deceives himself and others.

In the orthodox Christian position, therefore, the light is primary, the darkness secondary and derivative; and this is important for the whole theology of evil. In The Devil to Pay, I tried to make this point, and I remember being soundly rapped over the knuckles by a newspaper critic, who said in effect that after a great deal of unintelligible pother, I had worked up to the statement that God was light, which did not seem to be very novel or profound. Novel, it certainly is not, it is scarcely the business of Christian writers to introduce novelties into the fundamental Christian doctrines. But profundity is a different matter; Christian theology is profound, and since I did not invent it, I may have the right to say so.

The possibility of evil exists from the moment that a creature is made that can love and do good because it chooses and not because it is unable to do anything else. The actuality of evil exists from the moment that that choice is exercised in the wrong direction. Sin (moral evil) is the deliberate choice of the not-God. And pride, as the church has consistently pointed out, is the root of it, i.e., the refusal to accept the creaturely status; the making of the difference between self and God into an antagonism against God.

-Dorthy Sayers, Letters to a Diminished Church. [First posted on this blog September 14, 2014]

A pure faith

Catholic originally meant a faith accessible to all people, in all countries, in all eras. Early in the Christian era, imperial pretensions developed in the church at Rome toward other churches in the empire.

That process sped up when Constantine issued the Edict of Milan in 313, granting religious freedom in the Roman empire. Again it was a gradual process, but by the next century the only freedom left was to be a member of the Roman Catholic Church.

Augustine of Hippo aided that process (he died in 430). He borrowed the determinism of Greek philosophy, Stoicism in particular, and interpreted it to mean that God has predestined certain people to salvation. Since only God knew the identity of those predestined to salvation, the church should compel all people within reach to become church members. The church ceased to be a company of the redeemed, but the body which ministered the grace of God to believers and unbelievers alike through the sacraments.

As soon as the Church of Rome began to deviate from being a company of the redeemed, there were churches who stood aside and would have no fellowship with that body which they deemed to be corrupt. People gave them many names, one that stuck for centuries was Cathar, meaning pure.

The Roman Catholic Church tried to wipe out the Cathars. Sometimes local officials acted as a buffer between the Cathars and the demands of the imperial church.

That changed in the 11th century when Gregory VII became pope (1073 – 1085). He believed that God had entrusted the church with embracing all of human society, giving it supreme authority over all human structures. He concentrated all church authority in Rome. He decreed that all priests and members of religious orders must be celibate. This was not mandatory before Gregory. He also reinforced the teaching that when a priest consecrated the bread and wine of the mass, they became the real body and blood of Jesus.

The church grew stronger and the empire weaker. Pope Gregory asserted his authority over the monarch of the Holy Roman empire. The church instituted the Inquisition and the Crusades to eliminate all dissent from the catholic church within the empire.
There is little information for earlier years, but the records of the Inquisition bring to light a network of churches in Languedoc, a region of southern France. We know these churches as Albigensians, from one of the larger towns in Languedoc, or more often as Cathars.

The Roman Catholic Church accused Cathars of non-Christian beliefs and practices. French historian Anne Brenon has researched the documents of the Inquisition. Rather than accept the accusations of the persecutors, she has looked for the responses made by the Cathars. The picture that emerges reveals a people living peacefully among catholics and others who did not share their faith. Until the Inquisition this posed no problems to anyone.

The Bible was the foundation of the Cathar faith; they rejected all other writings, including of the Roman Catholic church fathers. They claimed to be the true successors of the apostolic church, recognized only two sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s Supper and were remarkable for the purity of their lives. When the catholic church launched a crusade against them, they did not take up arms to defend themselves. However, the local authorities, who were often close friends, or even family members, attempted to prevent the massacre of the Cathars by armed combat. The Cathars of Languedoc had links to the Waldensians, and some fled to them for refuge from the persecution.

Anne Brenon has spent decades researching the Cathars. I am reading Cathares, le contre-enquête. Anne Brenon writes that she is an unbeliever, disillusioned with contemporary manifestations of what passes for Christianity. Yet the genuine faith of the Cathar people of many centuries ago touches and inspires her.

Cathares, la contre-enquête,  Anne Brenon and Jean-Philippe de Tonnac, © Éditions Albin Michel, 2011

Suspicions of Suppression

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Image by Emslichter from Pixabay

Some years ago, a backyard mechanic on the Canadian prairies invented a new carburetor that got fantastic gas mileage with no sacrifice of performance. He drove a car equipped with this carburetor from Winnipeg to Vancouver, averaging 130 miles per gallon for the trip (or 107 miles per US gallon). Or did he drive 217 miles on the prairies using only 1 gallon of gasoline? News reports differed in their accounts.

In any case, the news reports caused a sudden drop in the stock market values of oil company stocks. One day some oil company executives showed up on the inventor’s doorstep with a suitcase full of cash and bought the plans for this wonder carburetor and all the complete and incomplete carburetors that he had built. Or was it auto industry executives? Or was it the government, fearing a loss in tax revenue? Or did thieves break into his shop and steal everything?

In any case, this invention that could have saved billions of dollars for consumers has been suppressed. Occasionally however, a car that gets fantastic gas mileage is mistakenly delivered to a customer. Fairly soon the car is recalled by the manufacturer for some supposed manufacturing defect; when it is returned to the customer, it gets normal gas mileage. Or perhaps the owner wakes up in the middle of the night and sees some men working under the hood of his car. When they realize they have been seen they quickly make their getaway. The car still drives just fine, only now it uses a whole lot more gasoline. Or perhaps the car is simply stolen in the night. This is all the work of a sinister industrial conspiracy to keep us using as much gasoline as possible.

The reality

Back in the 1930’s Charles Nelson Pogue of Winnipeg obtained patents for a carburetor that he believed would dramatically increase gas mileage. Gasoline was passed through a spiral line that was heated by the exhaust manifold. This was supposed to completely vaporize the gas before it entered the combustion chamber which would make it burn more efficiently. This process would also increase the engine temperature by about 20°, which would also enhance performance.

Mr. Pogue never claimed to have achieved the promised results. Nevertheless the story took off, fuelled by the public’s desire to believe in technological money-saving miracles and their willingness to believe conspiracy theories.

The patent for the Pogue carburetor has now expired and the plans are available for anyone who wants to experiment on their family sedan. It won’t work. The gasoline in use today needs to reach 450° F to completely vaporize. Gasoline was more volatile when Mr. Pogue invented his carburetor. Apparently there were working models built back then. They did achieve slightly better fuel mileage, at the cost of severely reduced performance.

Common sense would tell us that no auto manufacturer would find it advantageous to suppress such an invention. If one company could produce vehicles that got far better gas mileage than all their competitors, wouldn’t they jump at the opportunity?

The idea that increasing engine temperature will increase efficiency lacks some logic as well. If an internal combustion engine could be made 100% efficient, the exhaust manifold would be cold. All the energy in the fuel would be transformed into work, not heat.

Very real gains in fuel efficiency have been achieved since Mr. Pogue invented his carburetor. They have been small, incremental gains, which have slowly added up. Carburetors have been replaced by fuel injection. Engine computers manage fuel burning more efficiently. Radial tires have reduced rolling resistance. Synthetic motor oils reduce friction in the engine. Lighter, more aerodynamic vehicles require less work from the engine to move them down the road. Cars now have four or five speed transmissions, reducing fuel use at cruising speeds. Some engines are designed to allow some cylinders to cut out at cruising speeds. The latest innovation is a motor that will stop when a car stops at a traffic light and start instantly when the gas pedal is pressed.

Nevertheless, stories of the suppressed 200 mpg carburetor refuse to die. Other supposedly suppressed inventions include incandescent light bulbs that never burn out, 100,000 mile tires and cancer cures. I confess to being an unreformed sceptic concerning these claims.

And then there are all the products that have not been suppressed. Every few months there is a new product or diet plan that promises quick and easy weight loss. I really wish there was a pill that would help me lose weight without any inconvenience to my flesh, even if it was a little hard on the wallet. Perhaps it is time to abandon that forlorn hope and try a little self-denial.

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Image by jun0126 from Pixabay

There are countless over the counter health care products. Some are helpful, some are not, some are just scams, some are harmful. How can a person tell the difference? Many medical doctors are well informed on vitamins and herbal remedies. My wife cannot take any of the nsaids (non steroid anti-inflammatory drugs). Her doctor advised her to use glucosamine. It is slower acting, but does not have any of the side effects of the nsaids. Not all over the counter products are so safe. At the very least, do not conceal from your doctor what you are taking.

There are health care products on the market that are based on the mystical beliefs of Eastern religions or other belief systems that are incompatible with Christian faith. These things need to be avoided like the plague.

There are products being heavily promoted for which the manufacturer claims benefits that cannot be verified by anyone else. If something is based on genuine science, other researchers will be able to reproduce the results. Anything else is junk science.

Some people have gotten hooked by the promises of new money making schemes, only to find they were really money losing schemes. Any business idea that promises big profits from a small investment and little work should arouse our suspicion. Real life doesn’t tend to work that way.

Why are we so gullible?

Everybody likes a bargain. We are all concerned about maintaining our health. Innovative ways of making a little extra cash get our attention. But it would serve us well to develop a healthy scepticism about products or schemes that promise some almost miraculous breakthrough in technology or health care. Especially if there are whispers that the government, or industry, or the medical profession, doesn’t want us to know about it.

© Bob Goodnough, first published in Business Bulletin in 2009

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