Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

An anti-vaxxer from 180 years ago

Efforts were being made in Ontario 180 years ago to immunize people against smallpox. Today’s issue of MooseJawToday.com carried the following snippet from the October 13, 1841 issue of the Christian Guardian, a publication of the Wesleyan Methodist Church of Canada:

“A lady belonging to the Church of England lately refused to have her child inoculated with vaccine virus taken from a Methodist child. She said she would not allow her children to be made (into) Methodists.”

I’m still waiting for the police to come

I received a phone call today from the Canadian Border Services Agency informing me that there was a warrant out for my arrest, due to the discovery of forbidden items in a package addressed to me. I received the same call yesterday, and the day before, just about every day for the past two months in fact. Before that, for half a year, it was Service Canada warning me of an arrest warrant because my Social Insurance Number had been used in an illegal transaction.

I ignore those calls, no government agency works in such a way. I don’t think the people behind them mind at all that I hang up before I hear the whole recorded message. I’m not the kind of person they want to talk to anyway. They are trying to extract money from vulnerable people who are not able to discern that these calls are bogus. The calls come from offshore, somewhere beyond the reach of Canadian law enforcement agencies. The calls are automated, the costs are minimal, so if they hook one person for, say every 10,000 calls, it is a money making business.

Today I received an email saying that my subscription to Norton anti-virus has been automatically renewed and my visa account debited. The amount quoted in the email was ten times the amount charged by Norton. The email gave a number to call if there was any problem. Beside the price, there were a couple of other hints that this was not a legitimate message: spelling, grammar and punctuation were erratic, and it came from a gmail address.

Those of us who notice such things can laugh. Maybe we shouldn’t . The people who fall into these traps are vulnerable people who can not afford to throw money away to support shadowy offshore scammers.

Good works follow conversion

It is a good thing that the persons who have been inwardly renewed by grace should be induced to perform works of piety and penance proportionate to their ability, because both are preserved by the proportion existing between the goodness of the works and the spirit in which they are performed. When someone not yet inwardly renewed is forced to perform extraordinary works of piety and penance, both are spoiled, the man corrupting the works through his wickedness, and the works proving too much for the weakness of the man, who is unable to bear them. It is a bad sign when someone is seen producing outward results as soon as he is converted. The order of charity is to drive roots into the heart before producing good works outside.
-Blaise Pascal

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.

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