Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Category Archives: Faith and life

So Send I You

After the resurrection and before Jesus departed from this world, He told His disciples “As the Father hath sent me, so send I you” (John 20:21). Just a few simple words, so clear and plain that we are apt to miss their implication.

The Father sent Jesus into the Jewish nation to teach and portray the kingdom of God, a kingdom of truth, righteousness, peace and love. The political and religious forces of the day could not stand the message and conspired to get rid of the messenger.

Jesus rose victorious from the grave and now expects people who have experienced his grace and salvation to carry the same message into a world that is just as hostile. The whole world is in a mess and the Christian will be tempted to get sidetracked into fixing the world. But that has never worked and never will work. It cannot work because the problem with the world is not corrupt and misguided people, though there are enough of those, but the real problem is the powers of darkness which manipulate the affairs of this world.

Christians are called to teach and portray a different kingdom, with different values. We should not expect that to go unnoticed by the ruling forces of the realm of darkness. There will be opposition, attempts to deflect the Christian’s efforts to a different approach that will not be a threat to the realm of darkness. Persecution is not a barbaric relic of the past, it may well be the lot of Christians today who bear witness to the light in a world that loves darkness.

Hymn writer E. Margaret Clarkson understood this reality when she penned the poem So Send I You, which was later set to music by John W. Peterson. Here is the fourth of the five stanzas:

So send I you to to leave your heart’s ambition,
To die to dear desire, self-will resign,
To labour long, and love where men revile you,
So send I you to lose your life in Mine.

-copyright 1954 by Singspiration, Inc.

E. Margaret Clarkson was born 1915 in Melville, Saskatchewan and grew up in Toronto, where she taught school for 38 years. She wrote So Send I You in 1937 at the age of 22.

Uncomfortable truths taught by Menno

Yes, dear reader, true Christian faith as it is required in Scripture, is so living, active and strong in all those who through the grace of the Lord have rightly obtained it, that they do not hesitate to forsake father, mother, wife, children, money and possessions for the Word and testimony of the Lord; to suffer all manner of scorn, disgrace, hardship and prison, and finally to have their weak bodies burned at the stake, as may be frequently seen in many pious children of God and faithful witnesses for Christ especially in these our Netherlands.

Those who trust in their works or ceremonies for salvation deny thereby the grace and merits of Christ. For if our reconciliation consisted in works and ceremonies, grace would come to naught and the merits and virtue of the blood of Christ would all be void. O no! It is grace and will be grace in all eternity, all that the merciful Father, through his dear Son and Holy Spirit has done for us grievous sinners.

This is my joy and the desire of my heart, that I may extend the borders of the kingdom of God, make known the truth, reprove sin, teach righteousness, feed the hungry souls with the Word of the Lord, lead the stray sheep to the right path, and win many souls for the Lord through his Spirit, power and grace.

To this end we preach as much as opportunity and possibility affords, both in daytime and by night, in houses and in fields, in forest and wilderness, in this land and abroad, in prion and bonds, in water, fire and the scaffold, on the gallows, and upon the wheel, before lords and priests, orally and by writing at the risk of possessions and life, as we have done these many years without ceasing.

-excerpts from the Complete Writings of Menno Simons.

These words of Menno make us squirm, don’t they? But can we deny them, disregard their truth, and still call ourselves Mennonites? or even Christians?

The affliction of Joseph

Judah and Ephraim were the largest tribes of Israel. Joshua was of the tribe of Ephraim; perhaps the Ephraimites carried from that some sense of entitlement that they should play more of a leadership role. When Jeroboam of the tribe of Ephraim rebelled against King Rehoboam, Mannasseh and all the other northern tribes followed his lead. The northern tribes retained the name of the kingdom of Israel, the southern tribes are hereafter called the kingdom of Judah.

This division of the kingdom was God’s plan, foretold by prophecy. But the division of the church was never in God’s plan. After Jereboam built new temples and created a new priesthood, he is referred to over and over as “Jereboam the son of Nebat who caused Israel to sin,”

From that point on the prophets referred to the whole rebellious northern kingdom as Joseph, or Ephraim, just as all the tribes united in the southern kingdom were called Judah. And Joseph was now once more separated from his brethren, not just by a border between the two kingdoms but by a separation from the true worship of God at Jerusalem. That is the affliction of Joseph of which the prophet Amos speaks in Amos 6:1-6.

Elijah and Elisha were natives of the northern kingdom, used of God to warn the people of their kingdom and call them back to the true worship of the Lord. Hosea and Amos were sent by God to call the people of the northern kingdom to repentance.

Jonah was also of the northern kingdom. The only mention of him, beside the book which carries his name, is found in 2 Kings 14:25. This is the account of Jeroboam II retaking the northern part of Israel from the Syrians, as prophesied by Jonah.

2 Chronicles 21:12-15 records the letter sent to King Jehoram of Judah by Elijah: “Thus saith the LORD God of David thy father, Because thou hast not walked in the ways of Jehoshaphat thy father, nor in the ways of Asa king of Judah, but hast walked in the way of the kings of Israel, and hast made Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to go a whoring, like to the whoredoms of the house of Ahab, and also hast slain thy brethren of thy father’s house, which were better than thyself: behold, with a great plague will the LORD smite thy people, and thy children, and thy wives, and all thy goods: and thou shalt have great sickness by disease of thy bowels, until thy bowels fall out by reason of the sickness day by day.”

The only other connection of Elijah to Judah is that when he felt his life threatened by Jezebel he crossed into Judah, left his servant there and continued on to Mount Horeb.

There is a revealing incident in the life of Elisha when King Jehoram of Israel and King Jehoshaphat of Judah were preparing for battle and called on Elsha to enquire of the Lord on their behalf. Elisha replied to the king of Israel: “As the LORD of hosts liveth, before whom I stand, surely, were it not that I regard the presence of Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, I would not look toward thee, nor see thee” (2 Kings 3:14).

All of this is pretty conclusive evidence that the prophets regarded Judah as the people of God and Israel, led by Ephraim, to be apostate. Yet God called them to be missionaries to the people of apostate Israel to draw them back into full fellowship with His people.

Hosea spoke of a time when the two houses of Israel would be reunited. During the Babylonian captivity the prophet Ezekiel bemoans the unfaithfulness of the shepherds in chapter 34. Verse 11says: “For thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out.”

The sending of the 70 by Jesus to seek out the lost sheep of the house of Israel should be seen as part of the fulfilment of Ezekiel’s prophecy. Note that he is referring to sheep, that is children of God. The lost condition referred to means that they had no shepherd, not that they were spiritually lost. When the Bible speaks of the saved and the lost it refers to them as sheep and goats. The sheep will enter heaven, the goats will be turned away.

There are multitudes of people in the world today who are unsaved and need to hear the gospel and see it being lived out in the lives of true children of God. But there are also the lost sheep, the children of God who wander through the wilderness of the world because they do not have a shepherd. They are also a mission field. Jesus said: “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd” (John 10:16). Are we grieved today for the affliction of Joseph?

Practical Christianity

For the past two months my head has been occupied with number crunching to the point that there was little opportunity for wordsmithing. Income tax season officially ends tomorrow and I think I have finished anything pertaining to that for this year. Now I can try to capture and organize the thoughts that have been hiding in the corners of my mind.

Christian news media report that 26 million Americans stopped reading the Bible regularly during COVID19 and that thousands of pastors are nearing burnout. What has gone wrong? Is God letting us down?

I wonder if much of the problem might be an impractical view of how Christianity should work. Some 800 years ago Petr Chelćickỳ lamented that the collusion of emperor and pope had created a situation where there was no discernable difference between the people within the church and those without. How common is such a situation in our day?

Some years ago, a friend who was a pastor in one of Canada’s most liberal denominations told me he thought there were seven or eight real Christians in his congregation. He didn’t name them, but I thought a few of the older people in his church still had spiritual life. How does one pastor a church like that without burning out?

Whie visitng Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts thirty years ago, the man playing the role of Samuel Fuller told me. “The church hierarchy in England says that we are not a legitimate church, because we have no ministers. A church is made up of Christian people; they don’t even have a church. Who made them ministers and bishops?” The Congregational churches of my New England forefathers soon declined to much the same state.

What would practical Christianity look like? Firstly, and most importantly, a church could not be a mixed multitude of saved and unsaved. The unsaved should feel welcome to attend. They should feel drawn to come and find out what this is all about, but to include them in the membership undermines the very foundation of the church.

Secondly, and as a corollary of the first point, the functioning of the church would not be totally dependent upon the ordained ministry. If all members are born-again Christians, then all share responsibility for the life of the church.

Thirdly, pastors are necessary. But what kind of pastors? A tentmaker like Paul is better than someone who views a costly lifestyle as evidence of his success. The biblical qualifications for the ministry are heavy on faithfulness in doctrine, in lifestyle, in family life and in hospitality. Such a pastor will no doubt face opposition and difficulties at times, but will also feel the love, respect and support of those he serves.

Does that sound like an impractical dream? I believe it is highly practical and to to attempt to do church in any other way is doomed to dissension, decline and eventual failure.

Henny Penny and her kindred

The story, as I heard it in my childhood, goes like this. Henny Penny, a rather ordinary hen, is contentedly sleeping in the warm sunshine when an acorn falls on her head. She awakens in a flap and begins squawking, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” The other hens are alarmed and one of them says, “Someone needs to tell the king!” Henny Penny decides that since she is the first to be aware of the impending disaster, she must be the one to go. She is joined by Ducky Lucky, Goosey Loosey and Turkey Lurkey, all flapping their wings and crying “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!”. After travelling awhile, they encounter Foxy Loxy, who hears their story and declares his intention to join them to warn the king. “But first, he says, you must come to my place for a meal.” The others accept his invitation, only to discover too late that they are going to be the meal.

There are different versions of this story, which may be as much as 2500 years old. For at least that long there have been folks flapping their wings and saying “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” The result has quite often not been as they expected.

When the plague appeared in Europe during the middle ages and multitudes of people were dying every day, many believed it to be a judgment of God. Groups of people, believing that if they punished themselves enough the anger of God would be appeased, walked from city to city, whipping themselves and raking their backs with sharp rakes. They were called flagellants, and each group spent 33½ days on their pilgrimage, wearing hoods but no shirts, so as to continually have open wounds on their backs. And as they travelled from city to city, they spread the plague from city to city.

There seem to be many folks like Henny Penny among evangelical Christians. People who are keenly interested in knowing what is wrong with the world, and who rejoice in every bit of bad news that they can interpret as a sign of the end. Something they can point to as proof that: “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!”

A few years ago, many Christians were repeating the news that a department of the Canadian government had analyzed the frequency and severity of natural disasters from all over the world over recent centuries and had solid proof that such catastrophes were increasing in frequency and severity. The story was bogus, but that didn’t prevent it from being cited over the pulpit in many churches. The department of the Canadian government named in the story has never existed and those who investigated found that in all the bureaucracy of the Canadian government there is no office dedicated to collecting and analyzing such information. An article in the Christian Research Journal analyzed the available data and determined that there has been no increase in recent history. What has changed is the ability of the media to inform us immediately of any catastrophe anywhere in the world, creating the impression that such events are increasing.

We are warned in the Bible that one day, without warning, the world will come to an end. The apostle Peter tells us that, if we really believe this, we should live accordingly (2 Peter 3:11). That is, we should stop wasting our time looking for signs of the end and rather take care to live in such a way that we will be prepared for the end, ready to meet Jesus in peace.

The alternative to a peaceful and contented heart

Neither prosperity not empire nor heaven can be worth winning at the price of a virulent temper, bloody hands, an anguished spirit, and a vain hatred of the rest of the world.
-John Milton

Demonstration of power

A mortar and pestle used to be standard equipment in kitchens, pharmacies and high school science labs. They could be made of stone, wood or metal, but most often they were ceramic, as in the picture below.

Image by ariesa66 from Pixabay 

Sixty-five years ago I sat in a high school classroom as our teacher demonstrated how gunpowder was made. He took charcoal, sulphur and saltpetre and used the mortar and pestle to grind them to powder. As he was doing so, he placed his left hand over the top of the mortar to keep it from moving around on his desk, holding the pestle between the thumb and forefinger of that had and using his right hand to move the pestle around to grind and mix those three ingredients.

DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME!!!

As he was doing that, he continued to talk to us, explaining the history and use of gunpowder. I’m not sure what his plan was for demonstrating the explosive power of gunpowder, but he achieved something much more persuasive than he could have planned. His left hand pretty much sealed the top of the mortar and his manipulation of the pestle cause friction, which produced heat, which led to

Shards of pottery shot across the classroom; students dived for the floor on the side of their desks away from the source of the explosion. The teacher was as startled as the rest of us but quickly gathered his wits and asked if anyone had been hurt. No one had, except I think the palm of his hand must have suffered some burns and scratches. Then he asked one of the students to get a broom and dustpan to clean up the debris.

That was the coolest science experiment ever (but don’t try it at home). It didn’t turn out as the teacher had planned, but we all left school that day with the recipe for gunpowder and the knowledge of its power permanently engraved on our minds.

There is another situation where a man stands in front of a group of people to talk, and power is unleashed. The apostle Paul called it the foolishness of preaching.

For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. 1 Corinthians 1:21

How can saving power be produced by an ordinary guy standing in front of a group of people and talking? Well, first of all, the guy doing the talking is not the source of the power. But as he speaks, he must blend together three essential ingredients: the Word of God, faith and love. Leave any one of them out and there is no power. A man may have a profound and true faith, but without the Word of God his words sound like his own ideas, without love, his words sound like accusations.

It is good to study the Scriptures, the historical setting in which they were written and the original meaning of the words. But that is not an essential ingredient in effective preaching. Taking shortcuts to that learning can lead to pre-packaged distortions of the truth of God’s Word.

Learning to speak clearly and effectively is good, but we need to steer clear of trying to manipulate people’s emotions. The essential ingredients of preaching with power are the Word of God, faith and love. These three work together even in the mouth of those of little learning or speaking skill.

When they are brought together, the Holy Spirit provides the spark that produces an explosion that blows away our pride, our self-righteousness, our hurt feelings, our suspicions and all the other walls we have built that we think are protecting us, but which are really barriers to fellowship with God and with other believers.

To be sure, the explosion is silent and invisible. The results are nonetheless real. Let’s sweep all that rubble onto the rubbish heap rather than trying to use it to rebuild those walls.

Quality assurance and child training

I spent fifteen years working in the quality assurance department of an auto parts factory and have a certificate showing that 30 years ago I was certified as a quality engineer. There are a few simple lessons I learned during that time that I believe apply as much to little people in the home as they do to big people in a factory.

80% of quality problems are the responsibility of management.
In the home that means the parents. So when a child’s behaviour does not measure up to our expectations, our first reaction should be to ask ourselves:

Have we given them the tools to do what we asked them to do?
This does not mean the right wrench or micrometer. It means have I done all that is needed to explain what I expect of them and how to do it? That involves more than just telling them to do something. In the plant where I worked, the engineering manager had a poster in his office which said:

TELL ME — I’LL FORGET
SHOW ME — I’LL REMEMBER
WORK WITH ME — I’LL UNDERSTAND

The mode of baptism

From Introduction to Theology, page 239 by J. C. Wenger, © 1954 by Herald Press, Scottdale, Pa.:

In 1899 a Christian minister from Pennsylvania (A. D. Wenger) visited the catacombs of Rome. One day he walked out the Appian Way to the catacomb of St. Callistus. “I had been in other parts of this catacomb twice before, but this time I told the guide that I wanted to see frescoes of baptism. Soon we reached one of about the end of the second century where a minister is represented as baptizing a young applicant. The minister stands on the bank and the applicant in the water. A handful of water has just been dipped and put on the head of the applicant where the minister’s hand still rests, perhaps to pronounce a blessing. Small streams of water are plainly seen falling from the head of the applicant. . .
“We went on a little farther to another fresco very similar to the preceding one, and of about the same age, but the minister’s feet appear to be just a little in the edge of the stream and no water is represented as falling from the head of the applicant who is in the water and standing erect.
“We went still farther eastward under the hill and beneath the Appian Way. . . . Here we found the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. John stands right at the edge of the Jordan and Christ stands in the water below him. It is also so represented by the picture of it in the museum. Baptism by dipping water on the head with one hand appears to be just completed and John is bending slightly forward with his hand at the elbow of Christ to help Him come ‘up straightway out of the water.’ . . . This is the fresco of baptism that has been assigned by some to A.D. 107.
“I asked the guide to show me some frescoes of other modes of baptism. He said, ‘There are no other modes represented in any of the catacombs.’”

From Water Baptism – The Doctrine of the Mode, pages 14 & 15, emphasis in the original. Written by Rev. W. A. Mackay, B.A., D.D., reprinted by D. W. Friesen & Sons, Altona, Man.)

But in the second and third centuries we find the state of things deplorable indeed. The disposition to ascribe particular virtue to external forms had gone on constantly increasing, until, by-and-by, nude immersions, accompanied with exorcism, anointing, and every species of superstitions, fairly ran riot in unseemingly and scandalous practice. It was thought that there was a saving virtue in the very water of baptism. Just as it was believed that the bread and wine, after consecration, became the real body and blood of Christ, so it was believed that the water of baptism, after the invocation, possessed the real presence of the Spirit. The natural conclusion from this was the the more water the better, and that the water should be applied to the whole body so that the regeneration might be complete. We, therefore, now find trine immersions in a nude state, accompanied with exorcism, unction, the giving of salt and milk to the candidate, clothing him in snow-white robes, and crowning him with evergreens. Remember that there is not one ancient immersion that was not accompanied with these other superstitions. There is precisely the same authority for the immersion as there is for the nudity, exorcism, unction, etc.,—no more, no less.

The first mention of immersion as a mode of baptism, is by Tertullian, and he mentions it associated with all the above practices, and then acknowledges that all these (immersion included) are based on tradition and destitute of Scripture authority. His words are, ‘For these and such like rules, if thou requirest a law in the Scripture, thou shalt find none.’ (See De Corona Militis, chs. 3 and 4)

Thus immersion, as a mode of baptism, came into use.

The following quotes are from A Third Way, by Paul M. Lederach, © 1980 by Herald Press.

Baptism is administered to a believer, not on the basis of what he knows, but as the Scriptures and the historic Mennonite faith indicate, on the evidence of the new life. . .

Concerning baptism, Anabaptists differ significantly from much of Protestantism, as well as Roman Catholicism, not only by not baptizing babies, but also by the importance given to baptism when compared to other practices of the church.

In general, both the Catholic Church (in the mass) and Protestant churches give much more attention to communion than to baptism. However, among Anabaptists baptism had first place because baptism is the critical issue in realizing a regenerate, disciplined church.

Baptism is the tool for gathering a redeemed society, a society of pilgrims, separated from the evil of the unregenerated world.

Baptism is the symbol of discontinuity with the world.

In terms of binding and loosing, some have seen baptism as “binding” and discipline as “loosing.”

At the heart of baptism is a pledge—a pledge to the Father, to the Son, to the Holy Spirit, and to fellow believers to live a pilgrim life of discipleship.

Baptism is a symbol; it is not a sacrament. It is an ordinance, and as an ordinance it is basically a teaching device. But what does baptism symbolize? This has given rise to an unfortunate detour in the life of the church. For some reason, the church has frequently argued about the mode of baptism while often missing its meaning. Historically, there have been two ways to baptize: immersion and pouring or sprinkling.

Actually, neither mode can carry all the symbolism. Immersion symbolizes participation in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. The believer is immersed in the water and then raised out of the water. But with immersion has gone many other questions: How is it done? Is the believer immersed forward or backward? Is the believer immersed once or three time?
Pouring symbolizes Pentecost and the pouring out of the Spirit. In pouring, the one to be baptized kneels, and after the water is administered, he is offered the right hand of fellowship. . .
(Pages 81 to 83)

But among the Anabaptists the testimony of the one baptized was not enough. The additional testimony of the congregation was needed. It was not enough for a person to come to the congregation and say, “I have received the Holy Spirit.” The claim had to be authenticated by brothers and sisters, who could say, “yes, we see the work of the Spirit in your life.”

A problem facing the church today is unauthenticated claims of professing Christians.(Page 85). At water baptism there was an oral confession of faith. The one being baptized publicly stated: “I believe in God. I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe in the Holy Spirit. I am sorry for my sins. I promise to live a life of faithfulness to Jesus Christ until death.” In addition to the oral confession of faith and the promise of faithfulness, there was a transaction that today is often ignored. The one being baptized placed himself in the care, discipline and fellowship of the faithful community. But even this was not enough. The congregation also pledged to the one being baptized their love, care and discipline. (Pages 86 to 87)

Some personal thoughts:
• The first Baptists, in both England and America, did not practice immersion. Immersion was introduced in England around 1633 and in Rhode Island in 1644.
• If the Greek word baptizo is taken to mean immersion and only immersion, this introduces a serious problem. Immersion means to place an object under water. It does not include the thought of taking that object out of the water. Some Baptist writers have been honest enough to admit that.
• The fierce emotional attachment of Baptists and others to immersion indicates an underlying fear that one cannot be saved without baptism by immersion.
• A number of the Scriptural uses of the word baptism refer to the baptism of the Holy Spirit at the time of conversion, or to the baptism of blood (opposition and persecution) and not water baptism.
• Baptism is symbolic of that Holy Spirit baptism and also of a separation from the world and identifying oneself with the people of God.

80

That is my age, as of today. I saw my doctor for my annual physical checkup yesterday. He told me that I am fine and that arthritis is normal for someone my age. In other words, arthritis, like old age, is incurable.

I got to thinking about a couple of Bible verses relating to old age. The first is found in Leviticus 19:32: “Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the LORD.” Is that happening in our day? Why not?

Perhaps the second verse supplies part of the answer. It is found in Proverbs 16:61: ” The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness.” What does it mean to be found in the way of righteousness.

I strongly suspect that a big part of the meaning is that I should not be trying to convince others that I am still young and foolish. The time has come to act my age.

The books of Job and Proverbs have much to say about wisdom, especially the wisdom that is inspired by the fear of the LORD. The following caution to those who think themselves wise is from Job 32:9: “Great men are not always wise: neither do the aged understand judgment.”

I believe it is reasonable to expect that those who have been Christians for many years should have accumulated a store of wisdom, learned from those who came before them and from their own experience, to pass on to those who are younger. However, the world around us has been indoctrinated to believe that the only valid method of learning is discovery learning and that the older have nothing to pass on to the young. Unfortunately this thinking seems to be also permeating the Christian realm.

The result is that we now have a generation of Christians who are cut off from their heritage. Those of us who are older should be endeavouring to revive that heritage. How can we do that?

In the Anabaptist/Mennonite lineage we find recorded confessions of faith from numerous centuries. We profess to believe them still. But they look an awful lot like sets of rules. I’m sure they did not start out that way, but were divinely inspired conclusions that enabled our spiritual forefathers to face very real problems.

We face those same problems today, the face has changed but not the substance. It seems to me that we need to unpack those confessions of faith to discover why they were decided upon in the first place. They are thoroughly Scriptural, but we seem to have much the same problem with the Bible. Today’s generation relies far too much on a superficial understanding of the Word of God.

So here is the challenge to those of us who are old. We should be explaining the why of our Christian teachings. Not just slogans, or disjointed interpretations, but the deep, unifying truths that ae contained in the old words. Let’s start by asking ourselves and each other why and do it over and over until we plumb the depths of the meaning of Christian life.

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