Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

An imposter in the temple of God

“Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.” (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4) The apostle Paul wrote this warning at the very beginning of the Christian era.

A few years later, in the Revelation given to the apostle John, he sees two beast arise (Revelation chapter 13). The first beast rose out of the sea, which symbolizes the turbulent and unorganized condition of the peoples of the world. This beast is empowered by the dragon, Satan, to rule over these peoples and establish government and order. This is the pagan Roman empire.

The second beast rose out of the earth, that is out of the organized stability created by the first beast. This beast has some Lamb-like characteristics, evidently a counterfeit of the Christian church, yet is in league with the first beast. This is the Antichrist described by John in 1 John 2:22, 4:3 an 2 John v. 7. Antichrist means in the place of Christ, that is Antichrist denied to Jesus Chris the power and authority that was rightfully His and claimed it for himself.

1 John 2:18 says that there were already many anitchrists in the time of John. This he declares to be evidence that it is the last time, that is, there will not be another era of time to follow.

Our Anabaptist forefathers saw a number of forms of counterfeit Christianity, or antichrists, but the main one was the Roman Catholic church. It took until the time of Pope Urban II (1088-99) for the papacy to be able to claim authority over the Kings of Europe and enlist their power to attempt to eliminate the Anabaptist church. Shortly after this time, in 1120AD, some Christians in the south of France drew up a description of Antichrist and his errors. Here are a few excerpts:

“And therefore let every one take note thereof, that Antichrist could not come in any wise, but all these forementioned things must needs meet together to make up a complete hypocrisy and falsehood, that is to say the worldly wise men, the religious orders, the Pharisees, ministers, doctors, the secular power with the worldly people joining together. And thus all of them together make up the man of sin and error completely. For, although that Antichrist was conceived already in the apostles’ time, yet being but in his infancy, he lacked his inward and outward member.”

“The first work of Antichrist is that he perverts the worship properly due to God by giving it to Antichrist himself and his works.”

“The second work of Antichrist is that he robs and bereaves Christ of His merits. . . and imputes and attributes the same to his own authority, to a form of words, to his own works; unto saints and their invocation and unto the fire of Purgatory.”

“The third work of Antichrist is that he attributes the regeneration of the Holy Spirit unto the dead outward work, baptizing infants in that faith, and teaching that thereby baptism and regeneration must be had.”

“The fourth work of Antichrist is that he has constituted and put all of religion and holiness of the people in going to mass.”

“The fifth work of Antichrist is that he doth all his works so that he may be seen. . .and that he may make all things for sale.”

“The sixth work of Antichrist is that he allows manifest sins without any ecclesiastical censure and doth not excommunicate the impenitent.”

“The seventh work of Antichrist is that he doth not govern nor maintain his unity by the Holy Spirit, but by the secular power.”

“The eighth work of Antichrist is that he hates and persecutes and searches after, despoils and destroys the members of Christ.”

The temple of God

In the Old Testament the unity of worship was clearly God’s plan. That worship was to be centred on the temple in Jerusalem. While God prophesied the division of the kingdom because of sin, it was His intention that this should only be a political division, not a spiritual division. Two kingdoms were OK, two churches were not. That is why, when Jeroboam built a second temple at Bethel and another in Dan, he is forever after referred to as “Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin.”

Is it any different in the New Testament era? Let me begin with a statement that might shock some readers: Almost all the mentions of the temple of God in the New Testament refer not to individual Christians as temples, but to the collective body of Christians known as the church. Lets go through the applicable verses, one by one.

Revelation 3:12: Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God,
The promise is that the overcomer will be part of the temple, not the whole temple.

1 Peter 2:5-7 Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner,
Believers are called living stones who are built together into one spiritual house (temple) with Jesus as the corner stone.

Ephesians 2:19-22 Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.
This is very similar to Peter’s words, believers are the household of God built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets and Jesus the corner stone to become one holy temple.

1 Corinthians 3:9-11 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building. According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
The temple is God’s building with the help of true ministers of the gospel, the foundation is Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 3:16-17 Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.
Ye is plural, these verses are addressed to Christians, as a group they are one temple. Paul does not say ye are temples of God, or thou art the temple. There is only one temple in view here., thus to defile the temple does not refer to the sins of an individual defiling his own body, rather those sins defile the whole body, the temple. Think of Achan, he thought it was harmless to take the things he did, no one knew about it, it would not bother anyone else. Yet the army of God was defeated in battle because of his sin.

2 Corinthians 6:16 And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Again, ye is plural, temple is singular.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body. What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.
This is the one verse that does speak of the body of an individual believer as the temple of God. This verse must not be taken as the key to understanding other verses which speack unequivocally of the temple as the collective body, the church. But one must first be spiritually alive, a living stone, to be added to the holy temple. “Ye are not your own,” – we have no liberty here to think independently or to think we have no need of our fellow believers.

Quotations from Anabaptist/Mennonite leaders of the past:

“For jus as there was but one Adam and one Eve; one Noah and one ark, one Isaac and one Rebecca, so there is but one church of Christ, which is the body, city, temple, house and bride of Christ, having but a single gospel, faith, baptism, Supper, and service; travelling on the same road and leading a pious, unblamable life, as the Scriptures teach.”
Menno Simons, 1539, Complete Writings, page 191

“Paul teaches us in his epistle to the Ephesians, concerning the true church, which Christ has presented to Himself, that it is glorious, holy and without blemish, without spot or wrinkle; that they are baptized together into one Spirit, and into one body, the head of which is Christ, and are joined together as members of His body. These have one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father, of us all, who is through us all, and in us all. This is the true temple of God, in which dwells the Spirit of God. This church Christ has bought and redeemed with His blood.”
Claes de Praet, 1556, Martyrs Mirror, page 558

Hillbilly connection?

I wrote my last blog post shortly after reading Hillbilly Elegy* by J.D. Vance. The book is a very personal memoir which incorporates sociological insights into the roots of poverty among the Scots-Irish people of the Appalachian region, the hillbillies.

As J.D. Vance writes, the poverty of a large swath of black people in the USA is due to pretty much the same factors. I have observed the same attitudes at work in many people in Canada, of various ethnic origins. Poverty is due more to the furniture of one’s mind than to outward circumstances.

The book was doubly interesting because my wife is a Vance. Her people came directly from Scotland to Canada, therefore any relationship would be distant. Yet her family was much like the one described by J.D. My wife was the product of two dysfunctional families; she was raised by her aunt and uncle because they feared she would not survive in the ongoing trauma of her parental home. Her five siblings did survive that home, some successfully, some not so much. One of them is her brother, Jim Vance.

The book struck pretty close to home. And it reinforced a conclusion I had already come to: the only way that a person can escape poverty is to believe that he or she can do it. Without that, all the good advice, all the money, all the government support programs, will never do much good. When a person has such an attitude, they can overcome every obstacle that life places in their way.

Some people will not like this book because of the way the people in it talk. Conversations are liberally laced with four letter words. That’s OK. Be forewarned and don’t try to read the book. But don’t condemn the people described for the way they talk. I don’t know if the book could have been as effective if J.D. had tried to sanitize people’s speech.

I didn’t hear words like that in my parental home, or in my extended family. But I heard a lot of it at school, at work and in other places. I still hear it, and I don’t condemn people for the way they talk. I wish they wouldn’t, yet some of them are better people, more caring people, than others whose speech is perfectly sanitized.

Faith in Jesus Christ can provide the mental furnishings that enable a person to climb out of poverty. Unfortunately, the kind of Christianity that many poor people have been exposed to is of the pharisaical, holier-than-thou, variety. People living in poverty are more apt to catch a glimpse of hope when they meet genuine followers of Jesus Christ, people who are kind, humble, compassionate, patient and not afraid or ashamed to spend time with them.

*Hillbilly Elegy copyright 2016 by J.D. Vance, published by HarperCollins publishers

Recipe for poverty

A home with a revolving set of parents

A home where parents scream at each other and at the children

A home where parents throw things at each other and at the children

A home where parents have no interest in what children are learning in school, or whether they are learning anything at all

A home with no books

A home where relatives, neighbours and friends all have that kind of home.

Such a home is a breeding ground for emotional, spiritual, intellectual and economic poverty. Government programs that provide economic help offer only palliative care.

Saving faith in Jesus Christ offers hope that things can be different, peace in the midst of turmoil, joy in a relationship with a loving heavenly Father, patience when things go wrong, perseverance to keep trying, compassion and love for those near and dear who are still trapped in poverty. This is the escape route from poverty in all its forms.

Questions, questions

When a radiologist takes an x-ray that shows you have a fractured hip, are you going to trust him to do the surgery to repair that fracture? When a scientist invents a new cell phone battery that is longer lasting and non-incendiary, are you going to ask him for advice on vaccines? Do you and I have any expertise on vaccines?

There are several factors that aggravate the confusion and anger about this this pandemic:

1. China is doing its utmost to conceal the origins of the virus;

2. People with no relevant expertise are offering “expert” advice;

3. Opinion, rumour and outright fiction are given the same weight as scientific evidence.

4. Scientific evidence is misunderstood and misinterpreted, sometimes deliberately.

For instance, there is much concern because the vaccine appears to cause myocarditis in 1-5 people out of every 100,000 who are vaccinated. Not as much is being said about studies that show the disease itself causes myocarditis six times as often and that these cases are apt to be more severe and longer lasting.

Why don’t we just accept that our public health officials are more competent than we are to sort fact from fiction? They probably aren’t getting everything right, but they are doing the best they can with the information available to them and we will be better off if we take their advice rather than thinking we know more than they do.

By far the greatest number of deaths from COVID have been people who are elderly or who are immune compromised due to other conditions. The same is true for seasonal influenza. The majority of these deaths take place in nursing homes. What if our system of warehousing the elderly in large institutions is a greater problem than the virus?

What’s going on here?

I’m a statistician, a numbers guy. Put a bunch of numbers in front of me and I’ll start analyzing them. Here are the numbers I have been puzzling over today:

Saskatchewan: number of new cases of COVID – 449 / number of people in hospital due to COVID – 311 / number in ICU – 65

Québec: number of new cases of COVID – 469 / number of people in hospital due to COVID – 321 / number in ICU – 94

The numbers are almost the same, yet the population of Québec is more than seven times greater than the the population of Saskatchewan. That means that COVID is seven times as big a problem in Saskatchewan. Why is that happening?

I think part of the answer appears when we look at the vaccination records. In Québec 73.3% of the population is fully vaccinated (two shots); in Saskatchewan the number is 61.5%. That seems like a pretty significant factor, especially considering that 75% of the infections and 80% of the hospitalizations are unvaccinated people.

Does that mean that the government led by François Legault is doing a much better job of handling the COVID crisis than the government led by Scott Moe? Both government have made vaccines readily available and made it as convenient as possible to find a nearby location to be vaccinated. They have urged people to get vaccinated.

Does it mean then that the folks in Québec are just a wee bit smarter than we are here in Saskatchewan?

I won’t venture an answer to those questions. I have probably stuck my neck out too far already in asking them. What do you think?

Discord among brethren

Many people today, including some Christians, are seeking salvation of the body to the detriment of both their spiritual and physical health. They are drawn to Seers who have been gifted with special enlightenment about medical problems. Armed with such knowledge, which is only granted to a select few, these people believe they see things more clearly than the medical professionals.

Granted, the medical professionals are not infallible, they sometimes make mistakes. But it is an even greater mistake to seek an infallible healer, for there are many impostors ready to make such a claim.

When we believe that there are medical truths that are hidden from the medical professionals, or which the medical professionals are hiding from the public, we become unable to fully trust anyone who does not share our vision of reality. The result is discord, in families, between friends, in congregations. That discord should be recognized as a warning signal.

What has happened to “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you”?

Let’s make our spiritual health our primary concern. Let us “seek peace and ensue it.” That brings us into harmony with God and with all others who truly seek peace. A mind in turmoil is hazardous to both our spiritual and physical health. If our hope is fixed on heavenly things, our life will be better, even if our physical health does not improve.

What’s wrong with the world?

A few years before the First World War a British newspaper published an article bearing the above title. Shortly thereafter the following letter to the editor appeared:

“Dear Sir: Regarding your article ‘What’s Wrong with the World?’ I am. Yours truly,” ― G.K. Chesterton

Chesterton later expanded on that thought, saying:

“In one sense, and that the eternal sense, the thing is plain. The answer to the question, ‘What is wrong?’ is, or should be, ‘I am wrong’. Until a man can give that answer his idealism is only a hobby!”

Now, I may see clearly, or believe I do, that other people are what is wrong with the world. In which case, all my attempts to fix what is wrong with the world will end in futility and frustration. But if I am able to honestly answer, as Chesterton did, that I am what is wrong with the world, then there is something I can do, and need to do. And then there is hope.

Remedy for election fever

There is an election in Canada today; I will not vote. I am a citizen, I am qualified to vote, but I am also a citizen of the Kingdom of God and that citizenship is much more precious to me.

There has been a lot of anger, a lot of divisive emotions stirred by this election campaign. Those emotions should not be allowed entrance into the peaceful kingdom of Christ.

I will continue to pray for the government of our land, no matter who is elected. I will continue to strive to be a good citizen, a good neighbour.

There is much evil taking place around us and most people like to talk about it. But we cannot promote what is good by focusing our attention on what is wrong. There are also many acts of goodness and kindness happening around us. I will strive to be one who notices and talks about the good, and not the evil.

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Matthew 6:33

And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the LORD for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace. Jeremiah 22:7

They’ll know we are Christians by our love

Flatlander Faith

We are one in the Spirit
We are one in the Lord
. . .
We will work with each other
We will work side by side
. . .
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

-Peter Scholtes, © 1966 F.E.L. Publications Ltd.

For the young folk out there who might not recognize these words, they are from the song that best captured the aspirations of the Jesus People movement that began in the late sixties and extended through the seventies. “They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love” was sung in churches, around campfires, in coffee houses and wherever Christian young people gathered.

The Jesus People movement was in some respects a rejection of both the hippie, or “flower power” movement of the sixties and the Christian church establishment. In many ways the movement was a genuine moving of the Holy Spirit and many young people…

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