Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

The farmer and the salesman

Once upon a time there were two Bible study groups, one led by a farmer and the other by a salesman. Both groups studied the same portions of Scripture, but the discussions were not at all the same.

The farmer spent his days alone, driving a tractor up and down the fields or repairing the fence around his pasture. When he came to Bible study he was ready to talk. Any time there was a gap in the discussion he filled the time with philosophical musings about life that had come to him while he was alone or with something interesting that he had read. Nobody could think of much to say about the Bile passage, except to repeat a few platitudes they had all heard before.

The folks in the farmer’s class went home feeling they had reaffirmed what they already believed about the Scripture and didn’t think much more about it during the following week. Their spiritual lives continued to unfold along a predictable path without many challenges.

The salesman did not have a product to sell and didn’t see any need to sell himself. As a salesman he understood that the way to begin was to find out what people needed. So he would ask a question or two and let others think about it. He was comfortable with quiet moments in the discussion and never tried to fill them with chatter that would distract from searching for the meaning and application of the Scripture. Others in the class felt comfortable sharing their own thoughts and questions.

The folks in the salesman’s class went home with new thoughts about what the Scripture meant for their lives and questions about how they could be more obedient to the leading of the Holy Spirit. These people explored the Scriptures, saw new implications for their lives and talked about these things with their friends. They were growing spiritually.

This is a parable and the occupations of the Bible study leaders are inconsequential. I could just as easily have told how the farmer watched in wonder as his crops and his calves grew, knew that it was not his doing, tried to sow the seed in his Bible study and let God make it grow. The salesman could have been convinced of a particular teaching, supposedly drawn from the Scriptures, and endeavoured to sell this teaching to his class. I have chosen to write as I have because the parable is loosely based on a real example from many years ago.

My true purpose in writing this parable is that I have looked in the mirror and realize that I am way too much like the farmer, and I want to grow to be more like the salesman.

Bird watching

Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay 

We have three hummingbird feeders and enjoy watching the little guys zip to and fro. They are also very much aware of our presence and every once in a while one will come close to the window and hover there a few moments to get a better look at one of us.

The value of history

Some folks dream of the coming of a golden age, when the gospel will have created a state of peace and benevolence on earth almost approaching that of heaven. Most of us dismiss such ideas as folly, the pride of man.

What about the good old days? Many folks believe things were better in the past. Such an idyllic view of the past is evidence of a selective memory which chooses to ignore the wars, oppression, violence, immorality and cruelty that have marked the history of mankind. There are sincere Christians who think that is how history should be taught; future generation will be better off if they learn nothing about wars and conflicts of the past. I believe there is a fatal flaw in that line of thought.

Most people consider their own country to be the greatest example of human civilization. China, for example, has called itself the Middle Kingdom since 1,000 BC, the centre of the world around which everything else revolves. There is a similar tendency in the USA. I am a Canadian, but my roots in the USA go deep. When my grandparents came to Canada with their sons in 1908, the Goodnough family had been in the USA for 270 years, going back to before there was a USA.

When we reminisce about a golden era in US history, let us not forget that there has never yet been a golden era for black people, or native people. We put people of the past on pedestals, telling ourselves that they were the very models of Christian public figures. Take the Puritans of New England, for instance. (This includes my ancestors who landed in Massachusetts 18 years after the Mayflower.) They were such kindly, peace-loving people; didn’t they have the wonderful Thanksgiving meal with the native people? That was nice, to be sure; but it didn’t last.

The Puritan settlers believed that they were God’s elect and therefore could take any land they wanted for their growing settlements with no consideration for the original residents. Their attitude eroded the trust of the Indian peoples and finally led to what is called King Philip’s War in which thousands of Indians were killed.

Neither did they tolerate any variation in Christian doctrine. When Roger Williams, one of the Bay Colony (Boston) preachers, advocated believer’s baptism he was forced to flee for his life in the dead of winter, with only the clothes on his back. The few Quakers in the colony talked about non-resistance. They were expelled from the colony, but some came back. Two of them were burned at the stake.

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Roger Williams (right) being sheltered by Native Americans after fleeing Massachusetts Colony to avoid arrest, 1636. Image from Shutterstock 

“I am of a sect by myself, as far as I know,” Thomas Jefferson, 1819. Jefferson considered Jesus to be the greatest moral teacher of all time, but rejected anything that smacked of the supernatural, or the divinity, the miracles or the resurrection of Jesus. He was the main author of the Declaration of Independence, which begins by saying:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Jefferson most definitely did not believe that black people were created equal, nor had they any unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Lafayette urged Jefferson on several occasions to free his slaves. His response always was that black people were not fit for freedom. That did not prevent him from fathering six children by one of his slaves. Four of those children lived to adulthood and were the only slaves that Jefferson ever freed.

Those children were only one eighth black ancestry. Their great-grandmother was an African woman who was made pregnant by a British ship captain. The daughter who resulted grew up as a slave on a Virginia plantation and was in her turn made pregnant by the plantation owner and gave birth to Sally Hemings. When her master’s daughter married Thomas Jefferson, Sally Hemings went to Monticello. When Jefferson’s wife died, he turned to Sally Hemings to satisfy his carnal lust. She was only 14 at the time, a half-sister to Jefferson’s wife and three quarters white ancestry. As a slave, she had no choice in the matter; this cannot be termed a romantic relationship.

For years people have argued passionately that someone else was the father of Sally Hemings’ children. A few may still hold to that argument, but the evidence seems conclusive that Jefferson was the father.

Slavery was brutal, people were forced to work long and hard, with poor food and whipped savagely if they faltered or dared to ask questions. From the time slavery ended until well into the 20th century, at least 3,000 black people were lynched in the US South. These were not clandestine events, carried out in the dark of night. They were publicised, postcards with photos of lynchings were sold in the stores, in one case an excursion train was arranged for people wanting to witness a lynching. Law enforcement officers looked the other way.

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Anti-slavery poster of 1780

In the “Red Summer” of 1919 there were anti-black riots in more than three dozen cities across the USA. In 1943, with auto plants converted to war production, the Packard plant in Detroit promoted two black workers to supervisory positions. The white workers walked out and a riot ensued as the news spread. In the evening, unemployed white youth traveled to black residential areas, looting and vandalizing homes. The police ignored the white vandals and arrested black men trying to protect their homes and families.

It is good for us to read history, especially those parts of history that jar our illusions of the sweetness and light of our forefathers. We are not better than the people of past generations. The most important lesson of history is that the heart of man is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. My heart is no different than the heart of any of the villains of the past. It is when I ignore the true nature of my heart that I become a villain, while believing that I am doing some great and noble good. As Blaise Pascal wrote: “Man is neither angel nor beast; and the misfortune is that he who would act the angel acts the beast.”

Solomon said: “Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not enquire wisely concerning this.” (Ecclesiastes 7:10).

Simple and Complete – God’s plan for the church

Since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, the whole world has lain in wickedness. All mankind is by nature inclined to choose darkness rather than light, to obey Satan, the god of this world, rather than the Creator. Therefore God has from the beginning called people to come out of the kingdom of Satan and to love and serve God in His kingdom.

Those who have separated themselves from the realm of Satan and become members of the kingdom of God by a new birth and the baptism of the Holy Spirit should be united in love and faith. Yet even here Satan has been able to sow confusion by conflicting doctrines of human invention and by loyalty to human traditions.

Yet God’s plan is not complicated. We must allow Jesus to build His church, as he said He would. We do this by submitting to His commandments in the Bible as the Holy Spirit interprets them for the needs of our time and place. The Holy Spirit is not the source of confusion and dispute. Such things are the work of the enemy, Satan.

The church of God is a united body, bound together by faith and love in obedience to Christ, the head. It is also a spiritual temple built of living stones, that is believers led by the Spirit, of which Christ is the foundation. Here are believers untied to worship and praise God and to love and care for one another.

To maintain good order and charity in this body or temple, there must be leaders to instruct, encourage and help the members. Such leaders are chosen by the members, according to the leading of the Holy Spirit. The must be known to the other members as faithful and unblamable servants of God, and must not expect their service to God and the brotherhood to bring them material gain.

Two types of leaders are described in the Bible. One, who may be called pastor, minister, elder, or evangelist, is principally occupied with the spiritual welfare of his fellow believers. The other, usually called a deacon, is principally occupied with the material welfare of fellow believers, in caring for the needy, the widows and orphans. These are chosen by the voice of the members and ordained by the laying on of hands of the elders. If any pastor or deacon departs in faith or conduct from the way of truth, he must be removed from his place.

If any member of the body or temple of Christ appears to depart from the way of truth, in faith or conduct, other members who are aware of this departure must reprove such a member. If he or she acknowledges their error and repents, peace and confidence is restored. If the erring member refuses the matter must be brought before the whole congregation. As a final step, an erring member who refuses the counsel of the congregation must be separated from the church until he or she repents. This must be done in love for the soul of the erring one and fear lest others be drawn away or that the church should be reproached for his or her wayward conduct.

The person who is severed from the fellowship of the church must be entreated in love to reconsider and repent. He or she is still welcome in worship services to be instructed in the gospel. When such a person truly repents before God and peace with God is restored, the church will then restore him or her to full fellowship with the brothers and sisters of the faith.

This is God’s plan for the church, a united body of believers who believe and live the truth of the gospel and proclaim it to others.

Seldom Seen Saskatchewan fauna

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Image by Bernell MacDonald from Pixabay

I have hardly ever seen a live porcupine. They are nocturnal, reclusive and prefer wooded areas. We know they are around by the steady stream of dogs brought to veterinary clinics with their snouts full of quills. We occasionally see a porcupine lying by the side of the road, a result of trying to cross the road in the dark. They move slowly and wear no reflective gear. They never run from predators, their quills being an effective deterrent. Automobiles, however, do not know that and dogs appear to be slow learners.

The northern pocket gopher spends most of its life underground in its network of tunnels. We do not have moles in Saskatchewan, the mounds of soil that appear in fields, gardens and lawns are the work of this little guy. The underground activity of the northern pocket gopher provides ecological benefits to the soil, but at great inconvenience to farmers and homeowners. We only know of their presence by seeing fresh mounds of soil appear in our fields, gardens and lawns. And by the occasional one that falls victim to our nocturnal cats.

More than one side to history

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My Grade 11 and 12 classroom had a library — a two shelf bookcase. I read all the books in that library, in class time, during those two years. One book was a history of an era we had recently studied in Social Studies, but gave a different version of that history than our textbook. That was when it dawned on me that history depends on the point of view of the one writing the story. The people and events may be the same, but the causes and results quite different. Not to mention the identities of the heroes and villains.

I also read historical novels, in which the English protagonists were noble, honest, kind and all round wonderful guys. Other people, especially if they were French, were portrayed as shifty-eyed, dishonest and cruel miscreants. Later in life I learned to read French and found that historical fiction in French was exactly the same as in English. Except that now the French were the noble, honest, kind and wonderful heroes and the English were double-dealing, arrogant, dishonest and pitiless villains. No doubt both the English and the French writers believed they had the facts on their side. Certainly, the French felt they had good and sufficient reason to refer to England as perfidious Albion.

I recall a Canadian federal-provincial conference of almost 50 years ago, a meeting of the heads of government of the provinces and the national government. Shortly before the meeting started an English-speaking reporter got a glimpse of a list brought by the Quebec delegation. He could not read the French-language list, but saw that the headings was Demandes. He began to hyperventilate and soon it was headline news all over English Canada that Quebec had come to the conference with a list of DEMANDS. A few cooler heads pointed out that in French demande means question, but the damage was done.

History is not only made by well-intentioned people defending what they believe to be noble principles. Bone-headed stupidity also plays a role. So does propaganda. During the first five years of Nazi rule in Germany, they carried on a pervasive propaganda campaign through books, movies and all media to depict the Jews as the cause of all that had ever gone wrong in Germany. By the time Hitler launched his final solution, a large part of the German population believed that the Jews had brought it on themselves.

An older brother spent several weeks in hospital. The man in the bed beside him was constantly complaining about the faults of his wife. Our brother told him, “You know George, there are three sides to your story. There is your side, there is your wife’s side, and then there is God’s side.”

How do we discern what is God’s side in current history? The first step is to cast aside all thoughts that God has a preferred nation in the world today. The time of an earthly kingdom of God came to an end 2,000 years ago. The only kingdom that is of interest to God today is His spiritual kingdom. As we consider political events today, in our own country or on the international scene, our question should not be which party or which country God favours, but how these events affect the spiritual kingdom.

Let us remember, above all, that our physical and financial well-being is not a prerequisite for the welfare of God’s spiritual kingdom.shutterstock_736401193

Leadership in the church

Three words are commonly used in the New Testament to describe leaders in the church: diakonos (servant or minister), episkopos (overseer or bishop) and presbuteros (elder). A careful reading shows that these words do not denote different offices in the church, but different areas of responsibility for the same person. Neither is there any sense of a hierarchy, of one church leader having authority over the others.

The qualifications for church leadership are that a man be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

These are not qualities that can be learned in a Bible School or Seminary. They are virtues that are best attested to by those who know the person well – the members of his own congregation. In addition, this person must be called of God and of the congregation, he must not take the responsibility of leadership upon himself.

The New Testament gives instructions for providing material support for a leader, but not for making him an employee of the church. The leader should be able to support himself and his family, but the congregation should help when responsibilities of leadership demand travel or extra expenses. The apostle Paul worked as a tent maker, but welcomed gifts during the times he was in prison.

When the simplicity of the New Testament pattern is ignored it creates many troubles in a congregation. A leader may assume lordship over the church and demand conformity to his way of thinking. Congregations divide over personality differences or small differences in practice that cannot be reconciled. Individuals start their own churches. Small rural churches close because they believe they need a trained pastor, but cannot afford to pay one.

The New Testament leadership pattern is workable and blessed of God when it is followed by those who are true believers.

Meekness

Meekness rhymes with weakness; modern English dictionaries defines it with words that sound like weakness. That is not what the Bible means by meekness.

Meekness is a strength of character that is neither an inherited personality trait nor the work of the human will, but solely a gift of the Holy Spirit. It is an inner strength, founded on trust in God, which enables the child of God to face adversity, opposition and even persecution with assurance and joy rather than resistance or dispute.

The meek do not inherit the earth by strength of will, nor by timid and passive waiting. They proclaim their trust in God, their willingness to suffer injustice for His sake, their refusal to deny God for the sake of temporal safety. They make no counter accusations, but trust that in the end of all things God will judge them and others according to His perfect righteousness.

18,263 days ago,

on August 1, 1970, I married a young lady named Christine. The marriage took place in the St Barnabas Anglican church in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan; the church is gone, but Chris and I are still married. The days slip by one after another, then we wake up one morning and we are old folks.

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Early in our married life we drove a car that looked like this, different colour though. They don’t make Plymouths any more, but we are still happily plugging along.

A renewed commitment to writing well

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Image by yogesh more from Pixabay

I have always thought of myself as a writer, one who would get serious about writing at some moment in the future. If reading is part of the training for becoming an effective writer , then I have been in training all my life. One cannot learn to write effectively without noting how and why some people’s writing catches your attention and draws you in; and how you mind wanders to other things when trying to read the words of others.

I feel that the moment to get serious about writing has come, and the place to start is to pull up the memoir of my faith journey and put it through the refining fire. If I were to publish it as it is now it would probably sell a couple hundred copies to people who know me or know a little bit about me. That’s nice, but the real test of writing is whether it is interesting to people who know nothing about me.

Here are some thoughts on writing well that I am putting down as an aide-memoire to myself. I hope others might find something here to consider.

1. Forget the Sergeant Joe Friday approach: “Just the facts ma’am, just the facts.” That may have been an effective police interview technique 70 years ago, but it doesn’t work in story writing. Not even when writing my own story. I know the story, I’ve lived it, I remember it because it had an impact on my life. How can I make it grab the attention of a reader who knows nothing about me and make him care about the outcome?

2. Don’t preach, don’t moralize, don’t explain. Let the story tell the story. Animal Farm by George Orwell and The Machine Stops by E.M. Forster are two short books by British authors that make us think about our relationships with others. They are not Christian books, they don’t spell out any moral instruction, yet the messages are powerful.

3. Use simple words. A word with a single syllable is more powerful than one with six. Two adjectives to a noun cancel each other. Most adjectives and adverbs do more harm than good.

4. Eliminate jargon: Christian jargon or anything that is only understood by a certain group of people. It’s OK to use a little in dialogue to paint a picture of the character, but go easy.

5. Master the language you are writing in. Don’t use a word unless you are 100% sure of its meaning.

6. Respect the people you write about, whether real or fictional. Some of the people who appear in my memoir have made deplorable choices. That’s real life. People make choices that lead to unfortunate consequences and most don’t find their way home. That doesn’t mean they are stupid, or evil.

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