Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

The other epidemic

Image by picman2 from Pixabay 

There is an epidemic stalking our land, people are dying, others are left incapable of working or maintaining relationships. No, I’m not talking about COVID, this is an epidemic that was around before COVID and will probably still be afflicting people long after COVID is gone. Since this epidemic only affects people hooked on street drugs, the rest of us may think we can ignore it.

Last Sunday my wife’s sister was found dead in a city several hours from us, with drug paraphernalia on the table in front of her. She had no phone, no one in the family knew where she lived. My wife had been able to locate her and visit a few times in recent years, but she kept moving and did not keep in touch with any of her family.

Sometimes the opioid epidemic ceases to be just an item in the newspaper, comes this close to us and robs us of a beloved family member. The people selling street drugs are not pharmacists or chemists, the drugs they sell are not uniform in effect. When a person uses such drugs for years they are sooner or later going to get something that gives them a bad trip or something that turns the lights out for good. Naloxone reverses the effects of opioids, but it appears no one was with my sister-in-law when she took her last hit. No one to rush her to the hospital or to find a street worker with a Naloxone kit.

What can we do to help such people? We feel compelled to do what we can to fix broken lives. The tough reality is that we can do nothing to rescue people against their will. They made choices, choices that seemed small and insignificant at the time, that led them into being trapped in a lifestyle where nothing: family, job or home, means as much as getting another hit. They must start making small choices to break free from that web. No one else can make those choices for them.

What can we do to help such people? We can pray. We must pray. We cannot manipulate God, God does not manipulate people. But we can pray that at some place and moment a connection can be established between God and the person we are praying for. We can do our best to maintain a connection with that person. It won’t be easy because addictions lead to broken connections, or connections solely for the purpose of getting money to buy drugs.

Above all, we must keep ourselves in the love and peace of God, without anger or bitterness. A loved one who is an addict has probably betrayed our trust, lied to us, maybe even blamed us for his or her problem. But this addict is still a person whom God loves and so must we. If we feel angry or bitter, our loved one will know it and that will be a barrier between us.

Brushes, Candles & Drugs

Family news from my wife’s blog

Christine's Collection

Hello Everyone! I wonder what sort of a day you’re having?

So far this day has brought me a mixture of relief, celebration and sorrow. I’m relieved and relaxed because our Craft Sale is over. On Friday I was at my table at the Villa from 10am-5pm setting up, chatting with other vendors and customers, and selling a few of my pictures. I didn’t sell a lot, but then mine weren’t Christmas-themed like most of the items for sale. I should do some snow scenes to fit the season.

I’m putting my brushes away for a few days, but am happy in retrospect to have done the work even though I didn’t sell many paintings. Every bit of painting works toward improving. Also, I photocopied a dozen with the thought of sometime making note cards. And here’s one:

I did add more sky colors to the water on the left…

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I will be true to Thee, Lord

“Fully surrendered, Lord divine, I will be true to Thee.” It’s an old hymn, expressing noble aspirations. I have sung it often and believed that I meant every word.

Lately, I’ve been wondering, though. “Though it may cost me friends and home.” It’s easy to believe I mean that when there appears to be no possibility of it ever happening. I read about the Anabaptist martyr brethren of years ago with great admiration. They were driven from their homes, betrayed by those they thought were friends. That was long ago and far away, it’s never going to happen here is it?

“Now to the world I bid farewell; Broken forever its deep spell.” Is it possible the world has cast a spell on me, making me feel at ease, unable to see the danger that I am in? That was not merely a theoretical question to those we claim as our spiritual forefathers. They saw only two possibilities: the way of the cross or the way of compromise with the world. Today we seem to have so many options. Yet as I look more closely I see that most of them are compromises with the world. They are cleverly camouflaged to look like Christian spirituality, but they avoid the cross.

In 1774 Henry Funk, the first Mennonite bishop in North America, wrote a little book called A Mirror of Baptism. He explains that the Bible speaks of three types of baptism: baptism of the Holy Ghost; baptism of water and baptism of blood. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is the first, the most important and the foundation for the other two, but each one is essential.

The baptism of blood is the commitment to be faithful whatever it may cost, including dying as a martyr if it would come to that. Our spiritual forefathers found that liberating. Once they came to the point of being willing to give their life for their faith nothing could frighten them anymore. They did not live recklessly, endangering their families and brothers and sisters in the faith. But they live boldly, speaking freely of a relationship with Jesus Christ that was more meaningful and more important than life itself.

I want to have what they had.

Do we have to be copy-cats?

Many Canadian retailers, desperate to get people in the door, are advertising Black Friday sales. Besides the ugly name, Black Friday has no relevance to Canadians. In the USA it is the first day after Thanksgiving. Doesn’t it cheapen Thanksgiving to make it the day of preparation for Black Friday? Thanksgiving in Canada came almost six weeks ago.

Yesterday I went looking for a new winter coat. I found one I liked at the Hudson’s Bay Company, who were having a “Warming up to Black Friday” sale. I held my nose and bought it. It wasn’t the coat’s fault the store used an idea I found obnoxious as a pretense for their sale.

Walking out of the mall, I passed RW & Co. and saw that they were having a “Bright Friday” sale. I almost wished I had shopped there first. Then I noticed some other stores have also adopted the Bright Friday name for their sales. I find that more appealing, a brighter idea.

COVID confusion

The people who are opposed to the COVID vaccines point to the fact that vaccinated people are getting COVID anyway. That’s true, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

The statistics here in Saskatchewan show that if you’re not vaccinated you are five times as apt to get the disease and 20 times as apt to need hospital care. In other words, if vaccinated people get COVID, it’s usually a mild case.

The really scary statistic is that only 10% of people over the age of 60 in Saskatchewan are not vaccinated. But that small segment of the population accounts for 75% of the people hospitalized with COVID.

Now this is just a personal observation, I don’t know what the statistics are. But there is a possibility of getting myocarditis from the vaccine. I don’t know anyone who has, but I know at least two people who have suffered life-threatening cases of myocarditis as a result of having the disease.

The quiet in the land

According to the Scriptures, Christians should lead quiet and peaceable lives. Is that the same as being “the quiet in the land?” That slogan has taken deep root among many who call themselves Mennonite.

The words come from Psalm 35:20: “For they speak not peace: but they devise deceitful matters against them that are quiet in the land.” This psalm is a prayer of David when he was being hunted by Saul and his army. Both Saul and David knew that it was God’s plan to make David king in the place of Saul. Yet David attempted to live peaceably until that day should arise, twice refusing to take Saul’s life when the opportunity was given him. Saul, on the other hand, was determined to slay David and retain the kingship for himself and his family.

I believe we can take from David’s example that it is not God’s plan for us to become politically active, nor to agitate to replace a government that we feel to be misguided and oppressive. But I do not believe it is God’s will to take this further to the point of being quiet about our faith in order to avoid persecution. This is what the German Pietists did by remaining in the Lutheran Church and partaking of its sacraments. This is what the Mennonites in Russia did when they banned the reading of the writings of Menno Simons.

I do not believe that being “the quiet in the land” to such an extent is compatible with true Christian faith. Peter admonished us to “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,” (1 Peter 3:15). There is a real danger that we can become so quiet about our faith that no one would ever have cause to ask us about it. And if they did, we might not have a clue what to say.

In our search years ago for a church that still held to the old Anabaptist faith, we found many Mennonite churches that were like that. They called themselves Mennonite, but had no idea what that signified.

Even for those of us who retain the faith that was held by Menno Simons, it is time to strengthen those things that remain. Let’s not be shy about talking about that faith with each other, endeavouring to discern how the Spirit is leading in our personal lives and in our collective life. I believe there are people around us who will find the old faith attractive, offering something solid to hold on to in a world that appears to be crumbling. Let’s not be so quiet that they cannot hear.

The fear of some people who called themselves Mennonites

Beginning in the 16th century many Mennonites fled persecution in Friesland and Flanders and settled in the Vistula delta region of Poland. Here they gradually lost their evangelistic fervour and their faith dwindled to a mere outward conformity to some principles that they felt to be the essence of the faith. It seems they ceased to read the writings of Menno Simons and lost any concept of what it meant to be of the same faith that he upheld.

When Prussia annexed the Vistula delta region in the late 18th century, many of these people moved into southern Russia (today Ukraine). Here they could live in peace and began to feel that their peace depended upon keeping quiet about the real foundations of the Mennonite faith. When two men had Menno Simon’s writings printed for the benefit of those who called themselves Mennonites in the Russian colonies, the Mennonite church reacted strongly.

In August of 1835, all 29 elders and ministers of the Moltotschna colony signed a letter demanding that all copies of Menno’s book should be confiscated and destroyed. The pretext was that some people of other faiths, or some government officials, might read those writings and cause trouble for the so-called Mennonites.

Abram Friesen, one of those who had arranged for the printing, had a different impression of the true motive for banning the book:

“One would like to ask these men: How come do you want to put the lighted lamp under a bushel? Oh, that they might take the words of Christ in Matthew 5:13, 14, 15 to heart! They would have to call out woe upon woe for having done so foolishly. For what do these good men think of this? Menno feared neither tyranny nor persecution, neither pressure nor disfavour, hatred nor poverty, but in this book has freely professed before all men his ground and faith, and confessed the Lord Jesus Christ before men according to Matthew 10:31-39. But without imminent threat of danger these good elders and teachers are afraid without reason, for the hearts of the higher authorities are favourably inclined concerning freedom of conscience and worship and rule over the pious with great gentleness. Not only do they refrain from interfering in their faith and principles but often refer us back to them.

“On the contrary, the elders and teachers, who should be more in favour of the work consider it a great risk, and fear hatred from people of other religious persuasions. I only fear that a different matter in their own conscience aroused hatred in themselves because Menno Simon’s teaching severely reproves the Mennonites of the present and especially the ministry. Consequently they feel ashamed and reproved and therefore prefer not to have these books in their congregations.

The last two paragraphs are taken from By Their Fruits Ye Shall Know Them, by Peter Toews, emphasis added.

The faith of Menno Simons

Thus we do not contend with carnal, but with spiritual weapons, patience and with the word of the Lord, against all flesh, world and devil, trusting in Christ. Nor shall there ever be found other weapons with us. Therefore, be not afraid of us (behold, in Christ Jesus I lie not); for we do not desire your destruction, but your regeneration; not your condemnation, but your everlasting salvation; not your flesh and blood, but your spirit and soul; on account of which I have these seven years suffered and yet suffer slander and scorn; anxiety, suspension, persecution, and great peril of being imprisoned.

The more the word of the Lord is extended, by the grace of God, to the reformation of some persons, who, however, are few, the more hatred and bitterness increases against me; so that up to this hour I could not find, in all the country, where, alas, the mere boasting of the divine word is a great deal more plenty than the fear of God, a cabin, or hut (blessed be the Lord) in which my wife and little children can safely sojourn for a year or two. O, cruel, unmerciful Christians ! O, that all magistrates and princes, as also all the wise and learned knew the seeking, intention and desire of my heart, as also of my beloved brethren who, by the grace. Spirit and word of God, are converted into a new spirit or new birth !

If they rightly understood our teaching how soon their hearts and minds would be changed into a different sense ! But as all of them, with but few exceptions, are nothing but earth and flesh and not gifted with the Spirit of Christ; therefore, alas, we hear nothing from them but upbraiding and slander, can expect nothing from them (I mean the evil-disposed) but the stake, water, tire, wheel and sword, as a reward of gratitude, that we have sought and yet seek our conversion, salvation and eternal life, and that of the whole world, with such diligence, solicitude, pains and labour from our inmost heart. For I strive after nothing, of which God is my witness, but that the God of heaven and of earth, through his blessed Son, Jesus Christ may have the glory and praise of his blessed word; that all men may be saved; and that they may awaken in this convenient time of grace, from their profound sleep of sinfulness; that they may lay by all adhering sin and the damnable works of darkness; that they may put on the armour of light, that they may thus become, with us by true penance, faith, baptism, Supper, ban or separation, love, obedience and true life, one holy, Christian church and body in Christ Jesus. Something which the whole world today yet opposes with all its strength with both shoulders and horns; not being willing that Christ Jesus, forever blessed, shall reign over them. Yea, they persecute, banish, burn, murder, and destroy all those who willingly teach and uphold the glory, praise, honour, will and commandments of the Lord.

Pietism

Oxford gives these definitions for pietism: 1 a a pious sentiment. b an exaggerated or affected piety. 2 (esp. as Pietism) a movement for the revival of piety in the Lutheran Church in the 17th c.

Perhaps the best dictionary definition of what a pietist is is this one that I translated from le Petit Robert, the most popular French dictionary: Member of a Lutheran sect that put more emphasis on the necessity of personal piety and religious feelings than on strict doctrinal orthodoxy.

The same dictionary gives this definition of Quietism, a similar phenomenon within the Roman Catholic Church: Mystical doctrine in which Christian perfection consists of a continuous state of quietness and union with God, where the soul becomes indifferent to works and even its own salvation.

To make my meaning clear, piety that deepens one’s relationship with God is a good thing. Pietism as a movement is not. There were earlier individuals that one might label as pietists, but as an identifiable movement it began in the Lutheran Church in the 17th century. These pietists were disappointed in the lack of spiritual life in the Lutheran Church and sought a meaningful relationship with God. They continued to attend the Lutheran services and take part in the sacraments, but also met privately to share their experiences and the vitality of their newfound faith. Heartwarming experiences were highly valued among them and taken as evidence of a living relationship with God.

So far so good. Up to this point a Pietist and an Anabaptist would seem much the same. The difference was that the Anabaptist believed that the Holy Spirit expected obedience. Obedience meant self-denial, bearing the cross, avoiding compromise, seeking baptism and communion with true believers and a fearless confession of Christ, even when it meant almost certain death. The Anabaptist would not hide the light of God’s truth under a bushel to avoid persecution.

Pietism, the capital P kind, has pervaded much of modern Christianity, even among those of us who claim to be spiritual descendants of the martyrs. I am not intending to criticize or blame anyone. No one opened the door wide and invited it in, it just seeped in under the door when we were looking elsewhere. Neither do I pretend to see all the ramifications of the danger of Pietism. But I do want to point out some of the things that I do see.

My Reading List

Here, in no particular order, are the books which I am currently reading, books that I have begun and intend to finish.

  1. The North-West is our Mother. The story of Louis Riel’s people, the Métis nation. copyright 2019 by Jean Teillet, published by Harper Collins. (This is Métis history written by a Métis.)
  2. Beyond Order. 12 more rules for life. copyright 2021 by Jordan B. Peterson, published by Random House Canada
  3. Hidden Worldviews. Eight cultural stories that shape our lives. copyright 2009 by Steve Wilkins and Mark L. Sanford. published by IVP Academic
  4. Cathares, la contre-enquête, by Anne Brenon and Jean-Philippe de Tomac. copyright 2008 Éditions Albin Michel (At least a partial corrective to some of the more fanciful views of the Albigenses, or Cathars of southern France in the 12th century, by a lady who has spent a lifetime in researching their history.)
  5. Stay Salt. The world has changed, our message must not. copyright 2020 by Rebecca Manley Pippert, published by thegoodbook company
  6. Fault Lines, the social justice movement and evangelicalism’s looming catastrophe, copyright 2021 by Voddie T. Baucham, Jr., published by Salem Books
  7. Marpeck, a life of dissent and conformity, by Walter Klaassen and William Klassen, copyright 2008 by Herald Press. (Biography of Pilgram Marpeck, an important 16th century Anabaptist thinker and writer.)
  8. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, copyright 1960 by Maya Angelou, published by Ballantyne Books (A memoir)
  9. Where the Light Fell, copyright 2021 by Philip Yancey, published by Convergent.(A memoir)
  10. A Biography of Robert Baldwin, The morning star of memory, copyright 2012 by Michael S. Cross, published by Oxford University Press Canada (Robert Baldwin was the first prime minister of the United Provinces of Canada, Ontario and Québec, in 1841; the beginning of elected responsible government in Canada.)

Does this give you some idea of the cluttered nature of my mind? I think I should do this every three months to track how many of these I have completed and how many others I have started.

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