Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Category Archives: Faith and life

Uncharted Seas

Everything is changing and we must change with the times or be left behind. Nothing we knew yesterday will be of any value to us tomorrow. But tomorrow will be better than today and the day after that even better. This is the age of progress.

But where is this progress taking us? Hush! It is heresy to even talk of a destination. There is none, only endless change. And all change is for the better. Any thought that things might not be getting better dare not be uttered. That too is heresy.

Things that used to be accepted as self-evident reality have been swept away. Things like gender and procreation for example. Gender is now changed, manipulated at will. We are getting beyond even the dystopian vision of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

As if being adrift in this restless sea of modernity was not enough, I hear some Christians quoting Hegel: “The only thing we learn from history is that we do not learn from history.” Do they not understand how profoundly anti-Christian such a statement is?

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Image by Elias Sch. from Pixabay

In the turbulent waters of change there are no reference points to tell us where we are or in which direction we are moving. We have to look outside of the waters of change to find stable landmarks to orient ourselves in the journey of life.

All of the Bible is history. “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope” Romans 15:4. “Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come” 1 Corinthians 10:11. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” 2 Timothy 3:16.

The Bible is honest to God history, history that tells us that others have travelled through this life before us with a destination in mind, that God inspired them to believe that there was a destination and then guided them step by step through life to find that destination. This is history that we desperately need to read and learn from.

“But now they [we] desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their [our] God: for he hath prepared for them [usd] a city” Hebrews 11:16. “For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come” Hebrews 13:14.

We cannot see that city, but we have the Bible to show us the way. In addition there are the ancient landmarks set by our spiritual forefathers through their faith and experiences and their statements of faith.

Truth still stands, impervious to every attempt to deny it, dilute it, twist it, destroy it or pretend it never existed. Truth is not the popular choice, but if we look closely we will see that the impetuous waters of change destroy everything end everyone afloat on its surface.

Sins of omission?

James 4:17: “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.”

The last clause of this verse is written in the passive voice which leads some presumptuous readers of the Bible to take it to mean that there are sins of omission which are much less serious than sins of commission.

“There’s nothing happening here folks, nothing to be alarmed about.”

But there is something happening and we should be alarmed. When we neglect to do what we know we should do, we have made a choice. That choice is rebellion against God, and it is a sin. It is just as serious a sin as any other choice we make that we know to be contrary to the will of God.

French Bibles cast this verse in the active voice: “He then sins, who knows what is good and does not do it.”

Adam Clarke says: “As if he had said: After this warning none of you can plead ignorance; if, therefore, any of you shall be found to act their ungodly part, not acknowledging the Divine providence, the uncertainty of life, and the necessity of standing every moment prepared to meet God – as you will have the greater sin, you will infallibly get the greater punishment. This may be applied to all who know better than they act. He who does not the Master’s will because he does not know it, will be beaten with few stripes; but he who knows it and does not do it, shall be beaten with many; Luke 12:47-48.”

May we not take false comfort from a mistaken reading of one verse. Remember that God is keeping account of every decision we make. May we live accordingly.

Adam Clarke says it well: “That man walks most safely who has the least confidence in himself. True magnanimity keeps God continually in view. He appoints it its work, and furnishes discretion and power; and its chief excellence consists in being a resolute worker together with him. Pride ever sinks where humility swims; for that man who abases himself God will exalt. To know that we are dependent creatures is well; to feel it, and to act suitably, is still better.”

Some spirits need to be quenched

I was alone in the lunchroom when Rhonda came in. She sat down on the other side of the table, opened her lunch bag and announced “He told me I looked like a horse.”

“What? Who did?”

“Doug, that young guy who got a summer job here. He just walked up to me and said: ‘You look like a horse.’”

While I was trying to digest that, she asked: “He’s going to Bible School isn’t he? What is he learning there?”

“I don’t know”

That wasn’t entirely true. There were stories about the students from the Bible College that Doug attended. They had a reputation for unusual and inconsiderate behaviour. The school encouraged them to “Quench not the Spirit.” Be open and enthusiastic and speak and act according to the impulses that came to them.

“What does he plan to do when he graduates? Become a missionary?”

“Probably.”

“How is that going to work?”

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Image by Robin Higgins from Pixabay

I allowed that it didn’t seem that Doug had quite got the hang of relating to other people in a way that would be an asset to the cause of Christ.

With that our conversation turned to subjects other than Doug, but every once in a while it replays in my mind. Rhonda was Roman Catholic. Working with Doug did not give her the impression that evangelical Christianity had anything to interest her.

I am all in favour of enthusiasm and of being prompt to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. But the Bible also tells us that the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets, that we need to prove the spirits, and that we will one day need to give account for every idle word that we have spoken. Doug failed on all counts.

Here are some wise counsels from the apostle Paul: “Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man” Colossians 4:6 . “Young men likewise exhort to be sober minded. In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine shewing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity, sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you” Titus 2:6-8.

[A true story, names have been changed, location shall remain unidentified.]

She never gives up

Saturday afternoon Bianca Andreescu won the U.S. Open women’s tennis tournament. She is 19 and the first Canadian ever to win a grand slam tennis tournament.

A comment made by one of her opponents has stuck in my mind: “She never gives up.” In several matches she seemed to be faltering, on the verge of being defeated. Then Ms. Andreescu would re-focus, buckle down and do what she needed to do to win the match.

The New Testament writers, especially the apostle Paul, often drew analogies from the popular sports of their day. Here, in abbreviated form, is the way Adam Clarke explained the last four verses of the ninth chapter of 1 Corinthians:

They which run in a race run all – The apostle alludes to the athletic exercises in the games celebrated every fifth year on the isthmus which joins the Peloponnesus, or Morea, to the main land; and were thence termed the Isthmian games. The exercises were running, wrestling, boxing, throwing the discus, etc.; to the three first of these the apostle especially alludes.

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Image by jacqueline macou from Pixabay

But one receiveth the prize? – The apostle places the Christian race in contrast to the Isthmian games; in them, only one received the prize, though all ran; in this, if all run, all will receive the prize; therefore he says, So run that ye may obtain. Be as much in earnest to get to heaven as others are to gain their prize; and, although only one of them can win, all of you may obtain.

Is temperate in all things – All those who contended in these exercises went through a long state and series of painful preparations. To this exact discipline Epictetus refers, cap. 35:“Do you wish to gain the prize at the Olympic games? – Consider the requisite preparations and the consequences: you must observe a strict regimen; must live on food which you dislike; you must abstain from all delicacies; must exercise yourself at the necessary and prescribed times both in heat and in cold; you must drink nothing cooling; take no wine as formerly; in a word, you must put yourself under the directions of a pugilist, as you would under those of a physician, and afterwards enter the lists. Here you may get your arm broken, your foot put out of joint, be obliged to swallow mouthfuls of dust, to receive many stripes, and after all be conquered.” Thus we find that these suffered much hardships in order to conquer, and yet were uncertain of the victory.

They do it to obtain a corruptible crown – The crown won by the victor in the Olympian games was made of the wild olive; in the Pythian games of laurel; in the Nemean games of parsley; and in the Isthmian games of the pine. These were all corruptible, for they began to wither as soon as they were separated from the trees, or plucked out of the earth. In opposition to these, the apostle says, he contended for an incorruptible crown, the heavenly inheritance. He sought not worldly honour; but that honour which comes from God.

I therefore so run, not as uncertainly – In the foot-course in those games, how many soever ran, only one could have the prize, however strenuously they might exert themselves; therefore, all ran uncertainly; but it was different in the Christian course, if every one ran as he ought, each would receive the prize.

Not as one that beateth the air – Pugilists were said to beat the air when they had to contend with a nimble adversary, who, by running from side to side, stooping, and various contortions of the body, eluded the blows of his antagonist; who spent his strength on the air, frequently missing his aim, and sometimes overturning himself in attempting to hit his adversary, when this, by his agility, had been able to elude the blow. We have an example of this in Virgil’s account of the boxing match between Entellus and Dares, so well told Aeneid. v., ver. 426, etc., and which will give us a proper view of the subject to which the apostle alludes: viz. boxing at the Isthmian games.

To such a combat as this the apostle most manifestly alludes: and in the above description the reader will see the full force and meaning of the words, So fight I, not as one that beateth the air – I have a real and a deadly foe; and as I fight not only for my honour but for my life, I aim every blow well, and do execution with each.

But I keep under my body, etc. – This is an allusion, not only to boxers, but also to wrestlers in the same games, as we learn from the word υʽπωπιαζω, which signifies to hit in the eyes; and δουλαγωγω, which signifies to trip, and give the antagonist a fall, and then keep him down when he was down, and having obliged him to acknowledge himself conquered, make him a slave. The apostle considers his body as an enemy with which he must contend; he must mortify it by self-denial, abstinence, and severe labour; it must be the slave of his soul, and not the soul the slave of the body, which in all unregenerate men is the case.

Lest – having preached to others – The word which we translate having preached, refers to the office of the herald at these games, whose business it was to proclaim the conditions of the games, display the prizes, exhort the combatants, excite the emulation of those who were to contend, declare the terms of each contest, pronounce the name of the victors, and put the crown on their heads.

Should be a castaway – The word signifies such a person as judges of the games reject as not having deserved the prize. So Paul himself might be rejected by the great Judge; and to prevent this, he ran, he contended, he denied himself, and brought his body into subjection to his spirit, and had his spirit governed by the Spirit of God. Had this heavenly man lived in our days, he would by a certain class of people have been deemed a legalist; a people who widely differ from the practice of the apostle, for they are conformed to the world, and they feed themselves without fear.

God loves messed up people

Adam and Eve disobeyed God. Abram was ready to sacrifice his wife to the lusts of powerful men to save his own skin. Jacob gained his brother’s birthright by dubious means, and with his mother’s connivance. David had way too many wives. These were the kind of people God used to accomplish His plans here on earth. A disagreement arose between Paul and Barnabas so that they could not work together. Both died as martyrs for the cause of Christ.

Rahab helped the Israelite spies get safely out of Jericho, the Bible calls her a prostitute. Ruth got under the covers with Boaz out in the harvest field. Bathsheba had a one night stand with King David and he arranged the death of her husband in consequence. These are the three women mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus in the gospel of Matthew.

God blesses and works with people who are deeply flawed. There are no other kind of people for Him to work with. If we think we are better, we put ourselves in the category of the Pharisees who trusted in themselves that they were righteous. Jesus called them white washed sepulchres – pure and clean on the outside, but full of dead men’s bones and filth inside.

I am not better than the people I have already named, or all the other messed up people described in the Bible. I have repented, I have been forgiven, but I am still a messed up person who messes up far too often when I am trying to do good. But I don’t hear God screaming at me every time I make a mistake “You idiot! You made a mess of things again!” He tells me that it was good that I tried and that He wants me to keep on trying.

The accusations come from another source, the accuser of the brethren. If I listen to him I won’t have the courage to try to do anything good again.

The Bible tells us we need to be perfect. Some people have devised a doctrine whereby they believe they have had a second touch from the Lord, a second work of grace, and now they don’t sin anymore. I’ve met people like that. They didn’t seem like the kind of people I’d want to go to if I was troubled.

The perfection the Bible speaks of is maturity. Perfect means complete, not flawless. Biblical perfection is taking responsibility for what we do. When I do something bad, it was not Tommy, or Suzy, or the devil, who made me do it. I did it all by myself and I need to own up to it.

When David numbered the people and God gave him a choice of punishments to be visited upon the people, he responded “I have sinned, but what have these sheep done?” That is maturity, or perfection. That is why David was a man after God’s own heart.

Isaiah said “I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell among a people of unclean lips.”  I often mess up and hurt other people by the things I say and do. Other people often hurt me by the things they say and do. That’s life. That’s why Jesus instructed us to pray that God would forgive us as we forgive others. Forgiveness can’t just be between me and God. I need to forgive others for every careless word and deed they do.

All unrighteousness is sin. But not all is deliberate, not in the things we do or in the things others do. We are messed up, every one of us, and God loves each one of us. Let’s just forgive and move on.

Jesus told the Pharisees that the prostitutes and publicans would find it easier to enter the kingdom of heaven than they would. We may look at the people who are leading honest and orderly lives and think they are the ideal mission prospects. In all likelihood they are quite content with the results of their own efforts and don’t see any need to repent and trust in the blood of Jesus. A few will, just as some of the Pharisees did.

But we should not expect converts to present themselves to us in neat, gift-wrapped packages. Most often their lives, their feelings and their ideas about themselves, and about God and Christianity, will be in turmoil. These are the ones who know that things are  not right, that they need help. The challenges they present do not have easy answers. Let’s remember that God loves messed up people. After all, He has accepted us. All we need to do is listen to them and listen to God. He is the one who has the answers, we don’t.

The Christian nation heresy

Time was that most Canadians attended a church where Christian values were taught and claimed to govern their lives by those teachings. In such circumstances governments found it expedient to pay lip service at least to Christian principles and to legislate accordingly.

Times have changed. A survey several years ago found that 16% of Canadians attend church each week and only 5% of us read the Bible daily. 55% have never in their life opened a Bible and read a few words in it.

The few of us who still read, believe and endeavour to live by the Bible are left in disarray by this shifting of the ground beneath our feet. It’s all the fault of the government, we say. This was once a Christian country, but it doesn’t feel like it anymore.

We are avoiding reality when we say such things. The government did not create the situation we find ourselves in and has no ability to remedy it. Political activism is a snare for the Christian, a means of diverting us into fruitless activity while the world around us pursues its downward course.

Another danger for Christians is to draw apart from the troubles of the world and concentrate on being ready for our Lord’s return. But this is just the self-centred attitude that has allowed the society we live in to drift into its present situation.

For as Christians we have a responsibility to our fellow citizens. Jesus said we are the salt of the earth. He was talking of salt as a preservative, the only means available in those times to prevent food from spoiling. What good is salt if it is deposited in little piles that have no contact with what it is supposed to preserve?

He also said we are the light of the world and warned us not to hide our light under a bushel. If we cannot talk about our Christian faith in terms that are readily understood by others, isn’t that hiding our light under a bushel? Worse still is to think we don’t have to say anything, people will observe us and be drawn to enquire about our faith. Really? When we don’t even know how to articulate that faith?

When the people of God were taken captives to Babylon, the Holy Spirit inspired Jeremiah to tell them to “seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the LORD for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.”

Paul told Timothy: “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”

Can we say that we love God with all our being and our neighbour as ourselves if we decide the best thing for us to do is live in peace and quietness and let the world go on its merry way to destruction?

That wasn’t the way the early Christians thought, nor the Anabaptist martyrs whom we call our forefathers. There is no such thing as a Christian country. Never has been. There used to be Christian people. Do they still exist today? Do our neighbours know anything about them?

What does “Mennonite” mean to you?

Some people consider themselves to be birthright Mennonites because their ethnic origin is Plautdietsch or Pennsylfannisch Dietsch and their parents held to certain traditional values that they called Mennonite. Those values may have been cultural; language, clothing, lifestyle; or they may hae been intellectual: a somewhat counter cultural emphasis on peacefulness and helping one’s neighbour. Beyond these two groups there are those who cling to the Mennonite name but have become thoroughly Protestant in religion, abandoned religion altogether, or are experimenting with Buddhist meditation.

But what does it really mean to be Mennonite? Can any of the above persuasions and practices really be called Mennonite? Where does the name Mennonite come from?

The last question is the easiest to answer and may shed some light on the others. Five hundred years ago in Holland a Roman Catholic priest by the name of Menno Simons became troubled about the life he was leading. He began to read the Bible, repented and experienced a new birth. He remained in the priesthood for a time and gained some renown as an evangelical preacher. Eventually he found his situation untenable, left the Roman Catholic church and joined with those he considered to be true Christians, who had been scattered and demoralized by persecution.

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In the course of time he was ordained a minister in this group and set about to gather together and encourage the scattered believers. There were other noted leaders in the church during this era, especially Dietrich Philips and Leenart Bouwens. Menno does not appear to have been above the others, but became well known in the public eye due to his prolific writings. Dietrich Philips was also a prolific writer, but his writings were addressed to members of the church, while Menno often addressed his writings to the general public and to the authorities of the land.

For this reason the name of Menno Simons became very well known. The authorities put a price on his head and did their best to apprehend him, but he always managed to escape their attempts. In time, the authorities and the general public began to label as Menno’s people those who were of the same faith as Menno Simons. This was later shortened to Mennists and then Mennonites. Menno denied being the founder of the church he belonged to, and it would be wrong today to attribute such a thing to him. But it is still true that someone who is of the same faith as Menno could rightly be labelled a Mennonite.

So what did Menno believe? He once summarized the characteristics by which the true church of God would be known like this:

1. The salutary and unadulterated doctrine of His holy and divine Word. Where the church of Christ is, there His Word is preached purely and rightly.
2. The right and Scriptural use of the sacraments of Christ, namely, the baptism of those who, by faith, are born of God, sincerely repent, and have a clear conscience. And the dispensing of the Lord’s Holy Supper to the penitent, who seek grace, reconciliation and the remission of their sins in the merits of the death and blood of the Lord, who walk with their brethren in love, peace and unity, who are led by the Spirit of the Lord, into all truth and righteousness, and who prove, by their fruits, that they are the church and people of Christ.
3. Obedience to the holy Word, or the pious, Christian life which is of God.
4. The sincere and unfeigned love of one’s neighbour.
5. The name, will, word and ordinance of Christ, are unreservedly confessed, in spite of all the cruelty, tyranny, uproar, fire, sword and violence of the world, and that they are upheld unto the end.
6. The pressing cross of Christ, which is taken up for the sake of his testimony and word. That this very cross is a sure sign of its being the church of Christ, has been testified not only in olden times by the Scriptures, but also by the example of Jesus Christ, of the holy apostles and prophets, by the primitive and unadulterated church; and also, by the present pious, faithful children, especially in these our Netherlands.

This was the faith of Menno Simons. Who then can honestly say today that he has the same faith as Menno? Such an identification cannot come from natural inheritance, culture, tradition or philosophy. It can only belong to those who are truly born again and faithfully following the leading of the Holy Spirit, despite all the roadblocks and menaces which the world may place in their way?

Is that what Mennonite means to you?

The things I believe

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Image by Heidi B from Pixabay

I believe in the God revealed in the Bible. The great and terrible Almighty and Eternal Creator of all things, who hates all unrighteousness. I believe that He is at the same time loving, merciful and compassionate, a father for the fatherless. He knows everything about us and wants us to know Him and be with Him for eternity.

I believe the Bible as it is written. It was written by many different men over several thousand years, yet the more I read it the more I see that there was one mind guiding it every step of the way, the mind of the Holy Spirit. I believe the Bible interprets itself, providing we read it all. Each time we read it a little more of God’s great design opens up before our eyes. We cannot discover that design by reading little bits here and there, or by looking for some external key to unlock its mysteries. That is a way that leads to deception.

I believe in the church revealed in the New Testament. I believe that it was God’s plan from the beginning to draw all those who put their trust in Him into one body, with Jesus Christ as both the foundation and the head. God is calling all mankind, but only those who are born again and led of the Holy Spirit may become members of His church. The church described in the New Testament cannot be an amorphous confusion of disembodied body parts, or living stones scattered here and there. The picture given by the New Testament is of a living, functioning and coordinated body or temple.

I believe that Jesus’ call to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations is still being obeyed. The door is yet open for those who are willing to consecrate their lives to Jesus, not only as Saviour, but as Lord of their lives.

I believe the time is short; judgment is coming.

Faith vs doubt

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Image by Lorraine Cormier from Pixabay

Doubt sees the obstacles
Faith sees the way.
Doubt sees the darkest night
Faith sees the day.
Doubt dreads to take a step
Faith soars on high.
Doubt questions ‘who believes?’
Faith answers, ‘I.’

Author Unknown

Wringing our hands doesn’t help

It is possible that the contemplation of cruelty will not make us humane but cruel; that the reiteration of the badness of our spiritual condition will make us consent to it.
-Lionel Trilling

Let’s apply Trilling’s observation to ourselves as Christians, on a personal level, or as a family, a congregation, or even on a national level. We thought we knew where we were going, but we find ourselves in a cul-de-sac.  We’re not sure how we got here, and we have no map in our head to show us the way out. Many possible solutions come to our minds, we tried some of them, but they got us nowhere.

So here we sit and wring our hands.  We have memories of once being on a road with a clear idea of where we were going. Or are they just dreams?

Saul of Tarsus found himself in just such a situation, but he didn’t stay there long. He asked “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” And the Lord answered, one step at a time.

He will do the same for us if we ask the same question and are willing to follow, one step at a time.

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