Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Canada Day musings

When I was a boy there were hardly any indigenous people to be seen in most parts of Saskatchewan. We knew they were out there somewhere, safely confined to Indian Reservations.

Times have changed, indigenous people are making a place for themselves in the economic, cultural and social life of our province.

The current Lieutenant-Governor of Saskatchewan is Russell Mirasty, whose mother tongue is Cree. The office is mostly symbolic and ceremonial, but he fills it with dignity. Before being named to this position he served 36 years in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, eventually rising to be assistant commissioner and commanding officer of the Saskatchewan RCMP.

He is an example of how the ugliness of many things in our history can be overcome. It is pure foolishness to try to erase the past, it is the present that is in our power to change.

Some people want the Canadian government to pardon Louis Riel. The elected leader of the Métis Nation of Canada does not agree. A pardon would not change the historical fact that in 1885 Riel was tried for treason, found guilty and hung in Regina to satisfy the hatred of the Orange Order for people who were not White Anglo-Saxon Protestants. Furthermore, it was not a Canadian court that conducted the trial. In 1885 what is now Saskatchewan was still a British colony.

Cancel culture, wokeism, blaming people who are white and/or Christian for the evils of the past, will not build a happier future. These are simply new faces put on the prejudices and hatreds of the past. We need to look within ourselves and root out prejudices, not just change their appearance.

There are a few gas bars in Saskatoon run by indigenous businesses. They are clean, offer fast and friendly service, and are always busy.

I recently spent a couple of days in a local small town hospital. I was under the care of a dynamic young lady doctor who originates from India. The nurses and other staff were probably mostly local, but a few had a skin colour or an accent that told of a different origin. They were all caring, competent and cheerful.

These are the sort of things that give me hope for the future of Canada. It is good to be aware of the mistakes of the past, that helps us understand the problems of today. But let’s not allow old attitudes to make us part of the problem. The solution lies in the little things, being kind and respectful to every person we meet. Today is all that we have to work with.

Pure doctrine

Doctrine: a word of Latin origin meaning a teaching, or collectively, a set of teachings. Pure Christian doctrine then is a set of teachings whose sole source is the Bible.

In accepting the Bible is the Word of God, this means that its teachings come from our Creator, who has a full understanding of the nature and needs of mankind. Its teachings are universal, applying to all people, in all ages of time, of all ethnic, social and economic circumstances. This does not rule out the need to interpret the doctrine to make it readily understandable to the hearers. In fact, if we cannot do that, we probably don’t understand the doctrine ourselves.

Such pure doctrine must be a mark of the true Church of God. Any doctrine formed by interpreting one passage of the Bible in a manner that is not consistent with the rest of the Bible must be rejected. The same goes for any doctrine that has been crafted by chopping the Word of God into little pieces and rearranging them to create something hitherto unheard of. A doctrine that has a man’s name attached to it should be regarded with suspicion.

The Bible is an honest portrayal of human history and contains much that is shocking. But the reality of man’s sinfulness, brutality and treachery is never used to teach God’s will for us. The reign of Solomon was the greatest expression of God’s plan in a political kingdom; it’s failure reveals that God must have something far better in mind for those who would follow Him. The New Testament reveals what that plan was from the beginning of time. The teachings of Jesus, especially as condensed in the Sermon on the Mount are the key to understanding God’s plan.

Every person has a longing in the heart and mind to find something to hold on to that is solid and stable. The pure, unadulterated doctrine of the Bible meets that need. People may find temporary satisfaction in other teachings, but the inner craving is not satisfied. The simple, pure doctrine of the Word, without sweeteners or other additives, still has a powerful attraction for those who are truly seeking meaning, fulfilment and peace.

Uninvited

Unlike one of my blogging friends, I did not decide to take a break from writing. It just happened, The pain came unannounced, unexpected, uninvited.

I think it began as kidney stones, bringing severe pain, a UTI, nausea, vomiting and other unpleasant side effects. I had a couple of overnight stays in the hospital and had a variety of tests. Things have now settled down to a persistent pain in my side, perhaps a gallstone, that can be managed with a combination of painkillers. I am beginning to function again, but still don’t have a diagnosis. I had an ultrasound today, will see the doctor again on Wednesday and should have a clearer idea of what lies ahead after that.

I am thankful for all the help and support given by my wife and daughter in scheduling appointments, driving me around, and just bearing with me. Our grandchildren came and did the lawn mowing and yard work last week.

Being able to manage the pain, keep food down and sleep through the night has immensely improved my outlook on life. Perhaps I work more slowly than I used to and rest more often, but I can think clearly and do more and more of the things that need doing. It’s time to get back to blogging.

Confused churches

Louis Riel, the 19th century Métis leader, was troubled by the things he experienced from the churches of his day. He read in the Bible about a Church of Jesus Christ that was characterized by love and peace. What he saw in both the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches was oppression and pride. The churches seemed to be the source of the mistrust and prejudice that separated native and white, French and English, Protestant and Catholic.

He saw the problem: neither Catholic nor Protestant embodied the true faith in Jesus Christ that worked by love and compassion. But he could not find a solution.

Over the years since then a majority of people here on the Canadian prairies have given up hope of finding such a church. Yet there are still hundreds of denominations and small independent groups claiming to embody true Christian faith, indicating that some people still have a longing to experience the loving fellowship promised by Jesus: “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (Gospel of John 13:15)

How does one find such a church? I am going to give a list of characteristics of the true Church of God as given by Menno Simons in the 16th century. But this is not an intellectual exercise. The multiplicity of churches is the fruit of people trusting to their own reasoning. It is only by trusting fully to the leading of the Holy Spirit that one can find a way through the conflicting claims. It helps to remind ourselves that the boasting of men does not enhance the truth – and is not a characteristic of the truth.

The true signs by which the Church of Christ may be known.
By Menno Simons, written in 1554

  1. By an unadulterated, pure doctrine.
  2. By a Scriptural use of the sacramental signs.
  3. By obedience to the Word.
  4. By unfeigned brotherly love.
  5. By a bold confession of God and Christ.
  6. By oppression and tribulation for the sake of the Lord’s Word.

I plan to write a little more about each of these signs in upcoming posts.

MIND BOGGLING

Your brain has 86 billion neurons. Each neuron is linked to 10,000 others and they signal each other once every second.

Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay 

Now memorize those facts, you may need them some day in a game of Trivial Pursuit. Apart from that, I can’t think what useful purpose there may be in knowing about all the scintillating activity going on in your personal upstairs.

The numbers are amazing, but the physical facts bring us no closer to answers for the metaphysical questions. What is life? What is consciousness? What are thoughts? Who am I? What happens to my thoughts when I die?

The Bible teaches that each of us is something else, something more, than a physical body. The apostle Paul speaks of being absent from the body and present with the Lord. Peter speaks of his body as a tabernacle, or tent, which he expected shortly to put off.

I am content to take those statements as trustworthy grounds for believing that the essence of a person lives on after he dies. I dare not go beyond that into metaphysical speculations. The Bible also tells us that some day, after our body has decayed into its primary elements, we will be reunited with our body. And it will be the same body – yet not the same. These mysteries are beyond the capacity of our physical minds, they can only be grasped by faith. And what is faith? Another mystery, yet something that is real and life-changing.

The armour of God

As best as I can understand it, the theme of the Old Testament is that God created mankind and placed us on this earth with a great purpose in mind. There are hints, but only hints, that part of that purpose was that we would be a testimony of His love and kindness to the angels that had rebelled. Many times God appeared on earth, in human or angelic form, and talked with those who were endeavouring to accomplish His purpose. He guided and supported them with many manifestations of His power and glory. But in the end it was evident that mankind was not strong enough, or wise enough, to do what God expects of us.

The theme of the New Testament is that God never expected us to do it in our own strength and wisdom. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught us a way of life that looks a lot like weakness. Jesus Himself submitted to the outrages of those who were powerful according to the measure of this world, and overthrew them by the power of love and forgiveness. The apostle Paul saw how the power of God could only work in us when we are weak, and said, “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”

We often speak of the armour of God as described by Paul in Ephesians chapter six. Do we realize that this armour is only effective when we lay down our own armour? Isn’t this the significance of David taking off Saul’s armour and laying it aside before he went out to meet the giant? He told Goliath, “Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied. This day will the LORD deliver thee into mine hand; and I will smite thee, and take thine head from thee; and I will give the carcases of the host of the Philistines this day unto the fowls of the air, and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel.”

Goliath saw nothing but a sling in David’s hand, but David was clad with the whole armour of God, invisible to human eyes, yet more powerful than any weapon of human warfare. We are powerless against the giants of our day if we face them in our own strength and expect God to provide a little supplementary force. The message of the New Testament is that we must put off every vestige of human strength and trust only in God’s strength.

How to read the Bible

I grew up in a home where the Bible was read every day, my father often talked bout things he read in it. We attended a church, the Anglican Church of Canada, where every service had a reading from the Old Testament, another from the New Testament, and several other passages from the Bible were spoken in unison by the congregation. I becam an altar boy and assisted the minister in communion services. It was in this setting that I first heard the call of God.

And yet, there was tension in our home, inconsistencies in the church, and in all the other churches around us. These things, plus what we were being taught in school and the books I read in my later teens, caused doubts to grow. Finally I abandoned altogether the Bible, Church and Christianity.

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Life was chaotic, without meaning or purpose. In my mid twenties I began to read the Bible for myself. After a few months, I became aware that every part of the book was linked to everything else in the book. It was one book. I found myself backed into a corner where I would have to reject the whole book, or accept it all as God’s truth. That was when God called me the second time and I prayed a spontaneous prayer for perhaps the first time in my life.

It took several months for me to grasp that the direction of my life had changed at that point and that what had happened to me was what Christians called being born again.

I have continued to read the Bible as a single book. I have read it through a number of times, in both English and French. At the very least I read a complete book of the Bible, reading small portions each day. Sometimes I have found it helpful to read a book all the way through at a single setting. That is what the writer expected us to do, isn’t it?

We can’t grasp the fulll meaning of any Bible passage if we separate it from the rest of the Bible. Just reading the highlights here and there is like playing hopscotch over the surface of the Bible and never really grasping what is going on.

I most emphatically do not believe that the Bible should be treated as a series of morality tales. That usually, perhaps always, results in a distorted idea of what was happening. The Bible was not written to teach us about God and how to live a successful life. The Bible is given to us as a personal message from God to lead us to know Him personally. When we truly know Him, He wants to direct our lives in the way that will honour Him.

That way will not be the way we our own inclination would take us. It may be inconvenient and uncomfortable at times, or worse. But it is the way that gives joy that we could never experience in any other way.

The presence of God

The funeral was in the church that was the city’s most famous landmark. Inside, there were vaulted ceilings, stained glass windows on each side and tiered rows of seating. The music from the Casavant Frères organ that filled the east wall, its largest pipes stretching from floor to ceiling, completed the atmosphere of reverence.

The minister entered at the lower level, wearing a cassock. He walked up the spiral staircase to the pulpit and said, “Let us pray.” Then he recited a poem. There was no “Our Father” at the beginning, no “In Jesus’ name, Amen” at the end. Just a poem. Later, in his homily, he told us that eternal life was the memories that we retained of our dear departed.

That was it. Behind all the man-made magnificence there was only emptiness.

The tabernacle in the wilderness had great beauty inside. But only the priests were allowed to enter and see that beauty. From the outside, its waterproof covering gave it a gray, drab appearance. The onlooker could see nothing striking or appealing about the tabernacle. Except for that inexplicable column of cloud that was always there, and as the day became dark that column became light. It was the evidence of God’s presence in the midst of His people.

When Christians gather for worship, we should not be in awe of the magnificence of the building, the excitement in the music or the eloquence in the preaching. We should be asking ourselves, “Is this a place where I can meet with God?”

In Colossians 3:11 the apostle Paul speaks of Christians who are of different ethnic and social identities, then says “but Christ is all, and in all.” We may be worshipping among plain and rather drab people. But if we see glimpses of the presence of Jesus Christ in each of those around us, then we are in the place where God can speak to us and bless us.

Antichrist

The following passages are a brief summary of a writing entitled Antichrist which is at least 900 years old. It originated among the Albigensian Christians of southern France, around the time of Pierre de Bruys, and was preserved by the Waldensians. Readers who have a copy of the Martyrs Mirror will find a brief excerpt from this writing on page 271. Pierre de Bruys, called Peter de Bruis in the MM, is mentioned on pages 273, 274, 279, 293, 294 and 309.

Antichrist is a falsehood, worthy of eternal damnation, covered with an outward appearance of the truth and the righteousness of Christ and his bride, opposite to the way of truth, righteousness, faith, hope and charity and also to the moral life. It is administered by false apostles and obstinately defended by both powers, ecclesiastical and secular. Antichrist is a delusion, a fraudulent contradiction to Christ and his bride and every faithful member thereof. It is not any special person ordained in any degree, office or ministry, but it is the falsehood itself, which opposes itself against the truth, which covers and adorns itself with a pretense of beauty and piety. That iniquity that is after this manner, with all the ministers thereof, great and small, with all those that follow them with a wicked heart and hoodwinked eyes, this congregation taken all together is called Antichrist, Babylon, the fourth beast, the whore, the man of sin, the son of perdition.

He is called Antichrist because, being covered and adorned under the colour of Christ and the church, and the faithful members thereof, he opposes the salvation purchased by Christ and truly administered by the church of Christ, whereof the faithful are partakers by faith, hope and charity. He contradicts the truth by the wisdom of the world, by false religion, by counterfeit holiness, by ecclesiastical power, secular tyranny, riches, honours, dignities and the delights and delicacies of the world.

The first work of Antichrist is to take away the truth and change it into falsehood, error and heresy. The second work of Antichrist is to cover falsehood with a semblance of truth, to assert and maintain lies by the name of faith and grace, and to dispense falsehood intermingled with spiritual things unto the people under his subjection.

The works that proceed from these first works are:
1. He perverts the worship properly due to God by giving it to Antichrist himself.
2. He robs Christ of his merits, with all the sufficiency of grace, justification, regeneration, remission of sins, sanctification and spiritual nourishment and imputes it all to his own authority, to a form of words, to his own works, unto saints and their intercession, and unto the fire of purgatory, thus separating the people from Christ.
3. He attributes the regeneration of the Holy Spirit to dead outward works, baptizing children and teaching that this is how baptism and regeneration must be obtained.
4. He constitutes all religion in going to the mass and has patched together all manner of ceremonies, Jewish, heathen and Christian, depriving the people of the true sacraments and spiritual commandments.
5. He does all his works to be seen, so that he may set all things to sale.
6. He allows manifest sins without censure and does not excommunicate the impenitent.
7. He does not maintain his unity by the Holy Spirit, but by secular power.
8. He hates, persecutes, searches after, despoils and destroys the members of Christ.

The six iniquities of Antichrist:
1. Divine worship is not offered to the Creator but to the creature, to saints and to relics.
2. An excessive love of the world, from whence springs sin and mischief in the church.
3. The invention of false religious orders, rules of monasteries, confession to the priest (though seldom with contrition), the observance of fasts, etc.
4. He adorns himself with authority, power, dignity, ministry, offices and the Scripture and makes himself equal with the true and holy mother church.
5. He promises remission of sins to sinners, not to the truly contrite, but to such as are wilfully persevering in their evil practices.
6. His people go on to the very end of their lives trusting in these iniquities and coverings till they come to the extreme unction and their invented purgatory. They are taught and made to believe that they are thereby absolved of their sins, though they never freely depart from them.

The weapons of a Christian

The whole world is in a mess. What can we do about it?

The answer Jesus gives is :

Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.

That’s counter-intuitive isn’t it? Our intuitive response is to answer anger with anger, hatred with hatred, violence with violence; guns with guns. But that always leads to more anger, more hatred, more violence, more shootings.

Some people say that citizens need to be armed to defend against the rogue element in our society. But the shooter at Uvalde was wearing a bullet proof vest. And where is a teacher going to keep a gun so that it will not get into the wrong hands, yet be instantly available when a threat arises? And how is a teacher to know the difference between rowdiness and a life-threatening situation?

There has to be a better way. The way of love and peace may seem weak. It is entirely possible that we may get hurt while countering evil with love and peace, yet they are still more powerful than any weapon used against us.

For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds

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