Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

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And man, this clever fellow, seems to have become sleepless in order to invent ever new instruments to increase noise, to spread noise and insignificance with the greatest possible haste and on the greatest possible scale. Yet everything is soon turned upside down: communication is indeed soon brought to its lowest point with regard to meaning, and simultaneously the means of communication are indeed brought to their highest with regard to speedy and overall circulation; for what is publicized with such hot haste and, on the other hand, what has greater circulation than — rubbish!

Søren Kierkegaard, first published in 1851

Moose Jaw Memories

I was seven years old when I got my first train ride. It was back in 1949 and my mother and I boarded the train in early morning for the hour long ride into Moose Jaw. When we arrived in the city, the conductor held out his hand to help my mother and me down the steps from the passenger car. I looked across the many rows of tracks between us and the big railway station and wondered how we were supposed to walk across those tracks when there were other trains coming in the distance. My mother told me to just follow the other passengers; we walked along the concrete walk to a set of steps leading down to a tunnel under the tracks. When we came up the steps in the railway station, the first thing that caught my eye was a large sign giving departure and arrival times, topped by a clock and saying at the bottom “Welcome to Moose Jaw, population 27,000.”

I don’t remember the reason for our trip; it was probably to see a doctor or a dentist, though I am sure a visit to the dentist would have instilled a vivid memory. My father was partial to Doctor Fraser Muirhead, a true frontier dentist who did not believe in using any kind of pain relief and could be heard from the waiting room shouting at the unfortunate children who could not hold still for him to work on their teeth. There was a time when I was the child in his chair and he threatened to strap me in. It took me years to overcome my fear of dentists.

Moose Jaw had been a boom town in the early days, as evidenced by the impressive buildings that lined Main Street. The Canadian Pacific Railway was built in the 1870’s to connect the prairies and British Columbia to the rest of Canada. Moose Jaw became a hub for the construction and later for the maintenance of the CPR. Branch lines fanned out in all directions, including the Soo Line Railroad, owned by the CPR, that ran from Moose Jaw all the way to Chicago. A huge tent city appeared during construction, soon replaced by sturdy brick structures. Moose Jaw became the business centre for farm families from a large part of southwest Saskatchewan. There was a flour mill, meat packing plants, lumber yards, feed mills and everything else needed in the rural economy. There were also grocery and hardware wholesalers, supplying merchants in smaller communities.

Two hospitals were built in the early years, I was born in one of them in 1942, went back five years later to have my tonsils removed. The department stores were Eaton’s, Joyner’s and Army and Navy.

Joyner’s Department Store carried clothing and shoes for the whole family. Shopping there was an unforgettable experience for a youngster. There were no cash registers to be seen, just cables humming overhead in their endless run between pulleys, connecting each area of the store to a cashier on the mezzanine level. When you bought something, the clerk would write out the bill of sale, take your money, place both in a little metal box, then reach up and attach the box to one of those cables. The box would go zipping up to the cashier and soon come back with your change and the bill stamped paid.

The Army and Navy Discount Store sold most everything, clothing, hardware, housewares, paint, toys, fabrics, on three levels. There was a marvellous modern device in their shoe department that looked something like an old platform scale. You could try on a pair of shoes, step on the platform with the toes of your shoes under the working part of this machine, then look in the top and see how the bones of your toes fit inside the shoes. This was long before anyone was aware of the dangers of too much x-ray exposure.

Eaton’s was bigger yet, carried a wider range of merchandise, more up to date, including furniture and appliances. Of special interest to me was the watch maker in a little office on the landing between the main floor and the upper level. One time I went to him with a watch that had a badly scratched crystal. It only took a minute or two for him to find the right size, pop the old one out and the new one in. The best part was that he didn’t charge me anything!

A large part of the workforce hired to build the railroad were Chinese men. Many of them made Moose Jaw their home after the railroad was built. Circumstances were difficult for them for many years, they were not allowed to bring their wives over and new immigration from China was forbidden. Still, they carved out a place for themselves in the Moose Jaw business community. George Wong, owner of the Exchange Café and “Scotty” Kwan, owner of Kwan’s Music were pillars of the community in the era that I remember.

For many years there was a thriving Jewish community. Many may not have been much in the public eye, but I remember the two Cohen’s Drug Stores, in opposite corners of the city, Harvey Stein’s Globe News and Schwartz’s news stand, run by Hymie and Bennie Schwartz. Now the drug stores, the newspaper vendors and the synagogue are all gone.

We probably had dinner at the Exchange Café or one of the other Chinese restaurants downtown. When our appointments and shopping were all done, my mother and I walked into the offices of CHAB, the radio station listened to by most people for miles around. We were shown into a room with seating all around the four walls. Just about every seat was filled with people on the same mission as my mother. I think it was around four o’clock when a radio announcer stepped in with a microphone is his hand and made his way around the room. When my mother’s turn came, she spoke into the mike “This is Agnes Goodnough from the Bishopric area. Tell Walter that we will be home on the six o’clock train.” This was an invaluable public service in the days when long distance phone calls, especially from a pay phone, were horribly expensive.

I don’t remember the train ride home, I wouldn’t be surprised if I slept the whole way, tired from an early morning and hours spent walking the streets and through the stores of the city. Sixty-seven years have passed, Joyner’s. Army & Navy and Eaton’s have all closed. So have the wholesalers, the flour mill and the meat packing plants.  You can’t get there by train anymore. The population now stands at 35,000. For years now, the city has tried to re-invent itself as a tourist destination, capitalizing on its history.

My wife and I both have family in Moose Jaw, our parents are buried there. For us, it is the family connection and family history that keep drawing us to visit Moose Jaw.

 

The fisherman’s net

fishing-net-1526496_1280

By the time I started reading the Bible for myself I had abandoned all belief in the Christianity that I had been taught at home and in the church of my youth. I had read books on philosophy and on esoteric religions. It was interesting to consider all the permutations and combinations of their explanations of the meaning of life, but not very satisfying for one looking for some clues about how to find something meaningful in the life he was living.  I began to feel there might be something in this Christianity stuff after all, but I was quite sure that I could not trust most of the Bible.

Thus I began to read the Bible, hoping to find that there were some nuggets of truth in it that I could use to realign my life. I don’t know how long it took – weeks, months – but a shocking realization began to dawn on me. The things I didn’t want to believe were linked to the things I did want to believe. Things I wanted to dismiss as mythology and the brutality of some of the Old Testament accounts, were picked up by the prophets, the apostles and Jesus Himself and shown to be part of a great cosmic story of the battle between good and evil.

I could no longer imagine that some elements of the Bible were worthy of belief and others were not. I could not separate the strands, each one was linked to others in a way that meant that everything in the Bible was linked to everything else. I was facing a decision – either the whole Bible was false and I should reject it and never open it again, or it was all true and was pointing me to a life of fulfillment that would one day lead to an eternity in heaven.

By this time I was inside the net, although I could have made my escape if I had wished. Soon after I came to the point of repentance and the surrender of my will and became a new born child of God. I have spent much time since then surveying all the strands that make up this net and the way they are tied and bound together.

Jesus told a group of fishermen “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” As we read the New Testament, we see how expertly they used the net of God’s Word, expounding  the Law and the Prophets to show how the old writings all pointed to Jesus Christ and His spiritual kingdom. This net was the primary tool that led to the explosive growth of the early church. It was used by many down through history, including our Anabaptist forefathers.

Nowadays, there are too many preachers who don’t have time for the study it takes to know the net and how to use it. Reference Bibles seem to offer an easy alternative, giving lists of supposedly related verses on a variety of topics. But how can one trust those references without a personal study of the context? Far too many people today think they are using the net when all they have is a handful of loose strings. Is it any wonder they don’t catch many fish?

Is your church a theology-free zone?

I became aware of the declining interest in theology on the part of most churches shortly after my conversion and marriage. Both happened in 1970 and I mention my marriage because it was only after we were married that my wife and I began to attend church and look for spiritual fellowship.

There was the Western Canada Revival that swept through the prairies in the early’70’s, uniting all evangelical denominations in sponsoring city-wide meetings where revival was preached in bigger and bigger venues. This co-operation was achieved by a tacit agreement to avoid denominational distinctives in doctrine.

A few years later there was the “I Found It!” outreach, which included an even wider group of churches to encourage the people around us to seek some kind of meaningful encounter with Jesus Christ. The nature and significance of this encounter was purposely left vague in order to involve as wide a range of professing Christians as possible.

I’m sure that many lives were touched and changed by both of these movements. Nevertheless, they did something else – they sowed the seeds of a belief that theology is divisive and a hindrance to reaching unbelievers with the gospel.

What are we then left with? A belief in a benevolent Deity who wants us all to get along and who wants to help us when we are in trouble. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s not enough. Does anyone really believe there is power in moralistic, therapeutic deism to rescue us from our sins? Does anyone believe in sin anymore?

What happened to truth? Where is it to be found?

No doubt some of the old denominational distinctives were somewhat off the mark. But there was a day when people believed fervently in them, and quoted chapter and verse of the Bible to support them. Were they worse off spiritually than the bland, theology-free folks of today?

Do we search the Bible for truth today? Or do we search for encouraging, heart-warming verses that don’t ask too much of us? I believe that God had more than that in mind when He gave us the Bible. and the Holy Spirit, to guide us into all truth. I believe that truth is necessary for our salvation in the present time and for eternity.

Any church, preacher, or book that doesn’t in some way encourage my search for the truth is subtly deceiving.

Juggling jobs

I am getting old, I call myself semi-retired, but it seems that I have more demands on my time than ever before, and I’m not at all sure that I’m managing my time wisely.

I am a bookkeeper: A large part of my income is pension, but I still have five bookkeeping clients that I need to work for on a regular basis.

I am a member of the French editing committee of our church. This doesn’t take up a lot of time, but it is enjoyable and useful work. And I do get some payment for the time spent.

I am a writer: Besides this blog, and another one in French, I have other writing projects that are really important to me, but it is hard to find time for them.

I am a father and grandfather: At this stage that may mostly mean being a cheerleader. That means being there, paying attention. I don’t think I’m doing a very good job of it.

I am a husband: My wife is going through chemo-therapy treatments for Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia. I go with her to almost all her appointments. The treatments have worked, there are no more symptoms, but she still needs two more rounds of chem to keep it away as long as possible. Meanwhile, she needs a lot of rest and her resistance is low. One side benefit of the chemo is that it has pretty much eliminated her arthritis pain. I’m sure that is only temporary.

Monday was our 46th anniversary. To celebrate, I took her to our nearest town where one of the vets and her husband were doing a barbecue to raise money for their non-profit pet rescue organization. So we both had a hot dog, a can of pop and a cookie. I thought it was a good deal, Chris didn’t have to cook or do dishes and the money went to a good cause.

Yesterday we went out for a more formal meal at the Cave Restaurant in Saskatoon.

Darkness was upon the face of the deep

When first created the earth was tohu and bohu  – “without form and void,” as the AV translation has it. The words could also be translated “confusion and emptiness.” And there was darkness over all this chaotic mass – not a physical darkness, which would be meaningless before the vision of the Creator – but spiritual darkness was present here from the very beginning and would soon begin to manifest its subversive presence in God’s creation.

“And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” I much prefer the “moved” of the AV to the “hovered” found in many newer translations. “Moved” indicates a purposeful surveying of the chaos below with a plan for what it would become. The first indication of that purpose was shown when He said “Let there be light,” and instantly there was light, and a clear demarcation between light and darkness.

Not much later, God caused the dry land to rise up out of the water, then proceeded to populate the land with vegetation, animal and bird life and finally humanity. The sequence of the events in the days of creation are significant. The conflict between light and darkness, between the sea and the dry land, are themes that play out all through the narrative of the Bible, and these conflicts existed before man made his appearance on the earth.

I will not say much about darkness and light, for I suspect the concept of the powers of darkness and the God who brings light are at least somewhat familiar to most people.  Water and the sea are often used in the Bible as symbols of the  unstable state in which most of the people of the world exist. Consider the following verses:

Revelation 17:15 – And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.
Psalms 18:4  – The sorrows of death compassed me, and the floods of ungodly men made me afraid.
Psalms 65:7 –  Which stilleth the noise of the seas, the noise of their waves, and the tumult of the people.
Isaiah 8:7  – Now therefore, behold, the Lord bringeth up upon them the waters of the river, strong and many, even the king of Assyria, and all his glory: and he shall come up over all his channels, and go over all his banks.
James 1:6  – But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.

There are fearsome creatures in this water, of which leviathan appears to be the chief. The description of leviathan in the book of Job led many commentators in past years to identify leviathan as a crocodile. Fearsome though a crocodile may be, the turmoil and devastation caused by leviathan goes far beyond the powers of a crocodile. More recent writers conjecture that leviathan was a water-dwelling dinosaur. Perhaps that gets us a little closer to the physical description, but the Biblical passages describing leviathan go beyond even that. They appear to describe a mighty spiritual power that is behind the stirring of the waters and the tossing of the waves of this world – Satan himself.

Isaiah 27:1  – In that day the LORD with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea.

The dry land – eretz – is meant to be a place of safety and stability for those who put their trust in God. Nevertheless, the book of Revelation shows us the prototypes of two forms of false religions. One arises out of the sea of confused humanity that does not know God and its power comes from the dragon, or Leviathan. This is paganism and all forms of false religion. The other arises out of the earth, has the appearance of a lamb, yet speaks as the dragon. This is counterfeit Christianity and is as dangerous as the first.

God promised a land to His Old Testament people – eretz Israel. They did possess it in peace for a short time. The teaching that some near day God will once again rule from eretz Israel is fantasy and delusion. He has something much better in store for his people. The description of the new Jerusalem shows a land where there is no more darkness and the sea is now a solid and safe sea of crystal . There are no more monsters; there is no evil, no sorrow. The redeemed of all the ages shall dwell there in peace and joy in the presence of their Lord and Redeemer.

 

Apocalyptic Forecasts

There is no such thing as normal weather. At least not in my part of the world. Perhaps this is what lures so many enterprising types into the weather forecasting field. We now have Environment Canada, The Weather Network, Weather Underground and Accu-Weather to name just a few. Most of them are fairly accurate at telling you what’s going to happen in the next few hours.

This summer we have been getting severe weather watches, alerts and warnings just about every day. There is a possibility of heavy rain, strong winds, severe thunderstorms, hail, funnel clouds, tornadoes and anything else that could possibly happen. Most of it doesn’t happen.

Of course we have had rain, wind, thunderstorms, pea sized hail that fell for a minute or two and didn’t really damage anything. Funnel clouds have been seen here and there, one actually touched down about 70 km south-east of us, ran along the ground for a few minutes and damaged a couple of storage sheds. Not much action for all the apocalyptic-sounding warnings we’ve had.

Years ago, most Protestants were of the Post Millennial persuasion: the world would get better and better until the millennium came and then Christ would return. In the first half of the 19th century, when hopes for the arrival of the millennium through natural progress began to dim, a new idea sprang forth: Christ would return before the millennium and establish it by divine force. There were many varieties of this thinking: John Nelson Darby’s dispensational pre-millennialism, Ellen G White’s Seventh Day Adventism, Charles Taze Russell’s Jehovah’s Witnesses, and yet more. None of them will admit it, but they were all lit by sparks from the same fire.

All teachers of this type of persuasion are specialists in apocalyptic forecasts about the impending doom of this world. Lewis Sperry Chafer, the founder of Dallas Theological Seminary, wrote a book 75 years ago in which he named Benito Mussolini as the Antichrist. Shorty before that time, a well-known American preacher dropped in on a Baptist church in France one Sunday. He recounted to the pastor of this church his visit with Il Duce a few days earlier, in which he had showed Mussolini all the prophecies in the Bible that applied to him. The pastor of that French Baptist church, Robert DuBarry, was appalled, thinking that Mussolini did not need that kind of encouragement.

When I was a boy, my father listened to Canada’s  National Back to the Bible Broadcast every Sunday morning, in which Ernest C Manning would expound on Bible passages referring to Communist Russia and speak of the coming Battle of Armageddon.

Like the weather forecasts, the forecasts of Armageddon change with every shift in the wind patterns. Solomon had sound advice for us in these times: “He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap.” (Ecclesiastes 11:4).

Temperamental devices

My internet has been down. My wife’s computer is connected to the same service, through the same modem and router and has had no problem. The cable connecting my computer to the internet had several splices and bare spots on the wire, evidently that must be the problem.I bought a new cable yesterday, hooked it up – still no signal.

The internet connection troubleshooter on my computer told me that an ethernet cable was disconnected. I’d just been through all that, so decided the problem must be an internal disconnection. This morning I pulled off all the wires and took my computer for a ride in the car to our nearest town with a computer shop. They plugged it in and it worked ! !? Evidently the car ride fixed it. The young man at the computer shop charged me for 15 minutes labour.

The next time this happens, I’ll just tell my computer “I’m going to take you for a ride.” Hopefully that will do the trick. If it doesn’t, I’ll try the little device the computer repair man sold me. It has one end that plugs into a USB port and the  internet cable plugs into the other end. This gives another pathway for the internet signal.

No doubt our grandfathers have all told us about their first  car that wouldn’t start until they gave it a good whack at a certain spot on the left front fender. Cars nowadays are much easier to start. A good thing too, a whack like that would make a permanent impression on their fenders.

I have had my share of temperamental automobiles. There was the venerable Olds which regularly coughed and sputtered to a stop because the timing had gone out of whack. I took to carrying a wrench so I could get out and turn the distributor housing until it would run smoothly. There was the 1972 Toyota Corolla that had the coil sitting low down a few inches from the road. Every time there was water on the road the connection got wet and the car stalled. (It never rains in Japan?) I carried a cloth to wipe off the moisture from the wire connection that fit into the top of the coil. Then there was the Dodge with a capacitor mounted behind and above the motor that was prone to failure. I always carried a spare so that I wouldn’t be stranded somewhere miles from home or a repair shop.

Unfortunately, we people can be temperamental at times, too. I’m sure many a person has at times wished to give me a good whack to see if that would solve my problem. I’m thankful that they have refrained and tried gentler ways. I would like to think that, unlike many cars that I have owned, I have become less temperamental with age.

A Christian’s greatest enemy is inside of him

The apostle Paul knew it: “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.”

John Newton knew it: “In defiance of my best judgment and best wishes, I find something within me which cherishes and cleaves to those evils, from which I ought to start and flee, as I should if I found a toad or a serpent was put in my food or on my bed.”

A Christian today may constantly fret over the evils in the world around him, all the while doing his best to ignore that there is something inside of him, part of his very being, that is in alliance with the external powers of evil. We may try to flee from the external evils, but wherever we flee to, the internal evil is still with us.

It is altogether vain to seek within ourselves the strength to overcome this evil. That strength cannot be found within, we must look beyond ourselves to find that power.

Paul knew where to find it: “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” and ” But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.”

So did John Newton: “But though my disease is grievous, it is not desperate; I have a gracious and infallible Physician. I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.”

Really Simple Theology

Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure,
having this seal,
The Lord knoweth them that are his.
And,
Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.

Here in 2 Timothy 2:19 the Apostle Paul gives the ground rules for discerning whether or not I am a Christian.

The first rule is that salvation is not a one-sided transaction – it is not enough to say that I know God and that from now on I will be a Chriustian. The real question is “Does God know me?” Jesus warned that at the judgment there will be many who claim that they know Him and did many wonderful things in service to Him, yet He will reply “I never knew you.”

God calls, I respond, and if God sees that I have responded with all my heart, no reservations, he adopts me as His child. We will know when this happens. “For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15). “And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us” (1 John 3:24).

The second rule is that I cannot go on living as I did before. “And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them” (Ezekiel 36:27). “He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him” (1 John 2:9-10) .

Theology can quickly become very complex, and sometimes it is merely an intellectual exercise that offers no real help in showing us how to truly live as a Christian. But if I have the Holy Spirit within me and love my neighnour as myself, I will not want to steal, lie, cheat or hurt anyone. Why make it more complicated than that?

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