Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Category Archives: Faith and life

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.

Unmoved by empathy

Empathy was foisted upon us 60 years ago as a more egalitarian substitute for sympathy. I suppose I’ve always had an analytical mind, sometimes that’s just an excuse for inaction. But I never believed this new word offered anything useful.

I have been part of a small minority. The majority has come to believe that what the world needs is more empathy. In recent years this has even crept into Christian thinking and Christian literature.

Empathy is the idea that we need to feel the pain and pleasure of others. But how does it help someone to tell him “I feel your pain”? How does it help me to be able to make myself feel the pain that others are going through?

Paul Bloom, a New York psychologist and researcher at Yale University, believes that empathy is a self-centred emotion and does more harm than good. In 2016 he published Against Empathy*, in which he argues that compassion is a far healthier and more useful response to the pain and suffering of others.

To put it as simply as possible, Bloom argues that when I feel empathy for your suffering it makes me feel very bad, but does not move me to do anything to help you. Compassion, on the other hand, causes me to do something to help you, rather than trying to analyse my own feelings. Bloom says that empathy can cause us to become overloaded with painful feelings and separate us from the ones who are suffering.

Compassion is a word that we often encounter in the Bible. Jesus demonstrated compassion for all those in sorrow and distress. In the parable of the good Samaritan, the priest and the Levite may well have felt empathy for the poor man lying by the side of the road. But contact with blood, or with someone who was possibly dead, would have rendered them unclean for service in the temple. So they avoided looking too closely at the injured man. The Samaritan was moved by compassion and went ahead and did what he was able to do to help the man. Jesus closed the parable by telling the Pharisee “Go and do thou likewise.”

That message is meant for all of us. Let’s discard this newfangled empathy which leads to a preoccupation with our own feelings. May we rather allow ourselves to be moved to action by compassion.

Against Empathy: The case for rational compassion, by Paul Bloom, © 2016, published by The Bodley Head, London

The old path is narrow

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Image by Jan Alexander from Pixabay

Jeremiah 6:16 Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein.

I am – Christian, born-again, evangelical, Anabaptist, Mennonite – all those terms can be used to describe my faith in Jesus Christ. Yet, so many people of our time have only a fuzzy notion of what those terms mean.

We have arrived at a decisive moment in history, and most people have no notion of how we got here or where we should go from here. We are not at a crossroads; there are multiple roads leading on from here, each one promising to bring us to paradise – some kind of paradise. How can we know which is the good way?

Menno Simons listed six signs of the true way: unadulterated, pure doctrine; scriptural practice of baptism and the Lord’s Supper (baptism only of those truly born again, not observing the Lord’s Supper when there is conflict and lack of unity in a congregation); obedience to the Word; unfeigned brotherly love; open confession of God and Christ; oppression and hatred for the sake of the Word of the Lord. Times may have changed, but those signs are as valid now as they were 450 years ago.

Unfortunately, we sometimes pick up teachings from the other paths that sound pious and good. Here are some ideas that don’t belong on the old pathway:

– The world was in much better shape when it was run by Christians.
There never was such a time; if we think there was we are averting our eyes from the dark underside of those supposed Christians.

– There is a lifestyle that is synonymous with Christian faith.
Such a lifestyle does not necessarily indicate spiritual life. The Bible teaches purity, modesty, honesty, etc., but we can deceive ourselves by adopting an outward show of those things and we can be mistaken in our judgment of others if we look only at the outward form.

– The people around us are not interested in our faith.
Are we sure it’s not the other way around: we’re not interested in talking to others about our faith?

– People from other ethnic groups are not compatible with the true faith.
Perhaps our attachment to our own ethnic group is not compatible with living a genuine Christian faith.

– People who live in rural areas have much higher moral standards than those who live in cities.
Street missions in our cities report that the majority of prostitutes are girls who were sexually abused in rural areas, and the majority of their clientele comes from rural areas and small towns.

– The death and suffering of our country’s soldiers on foreign battlefields are no concern of ours. We are a separate people and do not participate in war.
This aloof, holier than thou attitude will come back to bite us some day. If we care nothing for the grief and suffering of our neighbours, why should they care when persecution comes upon us?

– Our faith is a heritage from our parents and ancestors.
Our Christian heritage comes from God alone.

Flotsam and jetsam

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At the beginning of Creation, God separated earth and sky from the primordial sea. The sea remains as a constant threat to the earth and those that dwell upon it. The sea is chaos, unpredictable, ever changing, ever threatening to overflow the boundaries that God set for it.

The Bible depicts the multitudes of mankind who do not put their trust in God as the sea. There is the same disorder and tumult in the masses of mankind where ideas of right and wrong are built upon the changeable fashions of human reasoning, where the ebb and flow of quests for wealth and power create continuous instability.

Here are some examples of what the Bible says about that sea:
Ephesians 4:14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
James 1:6 But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.
Jude 1:13 Raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever.
Revelation 17:1 And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, Come hither; I will shew unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters:
Revelation 17:15 And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.

Christians who think that they, or other well-meaning people, are capable of bringing order to the sea, are not seeing things as they really are. The shipwrecks of previous attempts to set the sea in order now make the sea an even more dangerous place.

When Jesus stilled the storm on Galilee, He demonstrated his authority over the raging of the sea, both the natural sea and the primordial sea that is driven by winds from the realm of darkness. Christians must cease to entertain dreams of creating a refuge in the chaotic sea of this world and build our refuge on the rock, Jesus Himself.

Psalm 65:7 Which stilleth the noise of the seas, the noise of their waves, and the tumult of the people.
James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.
Luke 6:48 He is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock.
Malachi 3:6 For I am the LORD, I change not.
Hebrews 13:8 Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.

The Church of God is not racist

But members sometimes do and say inappropriate things

Several weeks ago the French news magazine Le Point carried an interview with a man who had come to France in his youth from Togo. The title of the article was France is not racist, a point of view staunchly upheld by the man being interviewed, although he did talk of incidents when the colour of his skin had caused difficulties.

This man had come to France to attend university, then stayed and made himself at home. He applied for citizenship and in due time received a brown envelope in the mail with a paper inside that told him, “You are now a Frenchman.” He wondered about the  impersonal nature of that notice. Many years later he became Minister of Citizenship in the government of François Mitterand and used the opportunity to establish a public ceremony for welcoming new citizens.

Being born in France, or born elsewhere to French parents, is not the only way to become French. France has always welcomed people from all parts of the world, believing that anyone can become French. But that means that you must become French, become at home with the language, the culture and the French values of liberty, equality and brotherhood.

Within this framework there is room for a great deal of diversity. One example is that education has been compulsory in France for 140 years, but the law has never made school attendance compulsory. Home schooling is legal, as long as it includes the essential subjects, which includes achieving fluency in French and one other language.

In the same way, the Church of God is not racist, even if there are sometimes misunderstandings between people of different ethnic backgrounds. Membership is never by birth, but only by choice, in choosing to answer the call of God to salvation and sanctification. Anyone can become a member, on those conditions.

We can be united in faith, yet not think and act in identical ways. That is perfectly all right, we can all learn from the ways that people of a different ethnic background see things.

However, when most members of a congregation are of the same ethnic background it is easy to assume that we do things in a certain way because that is the way that a Christian should do things. Some of those things are deeply rooted ethnic traditions. They are not wrong, but we cannot expect that people of other ethnic backgrounds will conform to those things that are passed on through our culture.

Problems arise when ethnic traditions harden into a belief that there is only one right way to think or act. This is being carnally minded, not spiritually minded. Another way to describe such an attitude is ethnocentrism. Such an attitude hinders us from seeing the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of people with different cultural values. It may hinder Christians of other backgrounds from feeling at home among us.

That is not racism. There is nothing deliberate about ethnocentrism, it is learned in childhood and one is unaware of even having such an attitude. I believe the time has come for us to name it as a problem. That does not mean we need to change our culture, such a thing is pretty much impossible. All we need to do is learn to value and love people of other cultures just the way they are.

Questions

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The techniques for evangelism known as the Church Growth Movement, were first introduced to North America in 1961. I use the word techniques deliberately, as the movement sought to use sociological research to select social groups that could be reached through the use of modern marketing methods. The key assumption of the movement was that people are most likely to feel comfortable with and trust people like themselves.

Does this sound like an opportunity to share the gospel more effectively?

Or does it sound like a description of the problem that we should expect the gospel to overcome?

Why are churches still the most segregated places in North America?

Has the Church Growth Movement done anything to heal tensions between ethnic groups?

How many close friends do you or I have who are of a different skin colour or different ethnic origin?

How open are we to changing that?

This is where we need to accept that the best way to change the world is to start with ourselves. We need to allow ourselves to be vulnerable. If we are to make any lasting friendships with people who are not just like us, we are going to learn that we have not always been such nice people as we thought we were. That might be painful, but it can be liberating, too.

Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all. Colossians 3:11 (Substitute the peoples in your city for the underlined words.)

The Quiet in the Land

MennoSimons

Throughout Christian history, there has always been a united, visible body of believers who professed much the same faith regarding conversion and a personal relationship with God but who refused to conform to the state enforced form of worship of their day. The Martyrs’ Mirror catalogues the faith, and the persecution of these people because of their faith, from the time of the apostles up to the time the book was published in 1660.

Other people decided to live their faith in a way that would not bring persecution. They conformed to the outward practices of the state church, Reformed, Lutheran or Roman Catholic, but professed an inward piety and heartfelt devotion to God

The label of pietism first appeared in the seventeenth century. Some members of the Lutheran Church professed to have received forgiveness of sins through a conversion experience that warmed their hearts and led them to a deeper communion with God. They remained in outward fellowship with the Lutheran Church, attending worship services regularly, receiving communion, and baptizing their babies, but sought fellowship in private gatherings with like-minded people to testify of what God had done for them.

Sometimes the pietists called themselves “the quiet in the land”, from Psalm 35:20. That term, and pietism itself, appealed to large groups of Mennonites who had grown weary of persecution, and may even have forgotten why they had been persecuted. When Mennonites from Prussia settled on colonies in Ukraine 200 years ago they agreed not to proselytize the Russian people. Around them were other German colonies, Roman Catholic and Lutheran. The Mennonites absorbed pietist teachings from Lutheran pietists and called themselves “The Quiet in the Land.”

That term is not part of our Mennonite heritage. Indeed, I feel it marks the abandonment of that heritage. Menno Simons wrote a lengthy article in 1539 entitled Why I do not Cease Teaching and Writing. In other articles he wrote:

This is my only 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 so win many souls for the Lord, through His Spirit, power and grace,” and

We preach, therefore, as much as is in our power, both day and night, in houses and in the open air, in forests and in wildernesses, hither and thither, in this and in foreign lands, in prisons and in dungeons, in water and in fire, on the scaffold and on the wheel, before lords and princes, orally and by writings at the risk of possessions and blood, life and death; as we have done these many years.”

The reluctance of the pietists to unite with the persecuted church may have saved them much physical suffering. The result of this individualistic approach is the tendency to interpret the Bible in the light of one’s own experience, rather than subjecting one’s experiences to the light of Scripture. They are convinced that they have attained to a level of spiritually and communion with God that is not shared by the common run of professing Christians. Such a person may conform to the outward practices of a church for the sake of avoiding censure or persecution, but does not feel bound to give account of his faith and life to other Christians.

In Search of the Age of Gold

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Image by Jan Steiner from Pixabay

From postmillennialism
to the social gospel
to saving the world from weather

For lo!, the days are hastening on,
By prophet bards foretold,
When with the ever-circling years
Comes round the age of gold
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendours fling,
And the whole world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.

This is the fifth and final verse of It Came Upon the Midnight Clear, the Christmas carol written in 1849 by Edmund Hamilton Sears, pastor of the Unitarian Church in Wayland, Massachusetts.

This verse is an expression of the prevailing view of that day that the gospel would permeate all nations and all levels of society, eliminating strife and injustice, in preparation for the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. That view is called postmillennialism. There are still preachers, writers and churches that hold to that view.

The proponents of postmillennialism believed they had a duty to hasten the coming of the golden age which would lead to the return of the Lord. They engaged in many praiseworthy activities to help the poor and oppressed; they were the prime movers behind the movement to abolish slavery.

After the abolition of slavery in the USA, the movement move on to other targets. By now they had infiltrated political parties and began to influence them to use governments to achieve their objectives. They advocated for better working conditions for labourers, the right to vote for women, and the prohibition of the sale of alcoholic beverages.

In the 1890’s postmillennialism morphed into the social gospel. Leading writers of the movement saw the private ownership of business as a roadblock in the way of making the golden age a reality. The social gospel movement succeeded in attaining many of its goals, yet the golden age still seemed as far away as ever.

Strife between nations, strife between social and ethnic groups, has not diminished. By now the movement has become disconnected from its Christian roots, though many churches still want to believe that it is going to lead to a better world. There are new targets today, climate change, gender choice and so on.

Some Christians today think the best way to counter this movement is to strive for influence in political parties. But this whole problem was caused by Christians trying to use political means to make the world a better place. Satan is a cunning enemy, he encourages such tactics, then turns them against us.

The best choice for Christians today is to renounce politics and get back to being Christians. People, politicians and governments are not our enemies, attacking them is another of Satan’s ruses to keep us from seeing who our real enemy is.

People around us are dying for lack of a drink from the well of salvation. Most of them may not be aware that is what they need; we can’t force them to drink, but we can tell them about the soul refreshing water and offer it to them.

Are you a deist or a theist?

If you are a deist, you believe:
– that there must be a higher power because this complex world could not just have happened;
– that there are moral lessons in the Bible that will help us to find happiness;
– that the Bible as a whole is mysterious and confusing and better left alone;
– that it is good to pray when in need, because the higher power might hear and help.

If you are a theist, you believe:
– that God is not an explanation, He is a revelation;
– that the God who created all things reveals himself personally to us;
– that the whole Bible is an introduction to God;
– that we need to read the whole Bible to recognize how God speaks to us;
– that God is near, hears our prayers and answers them;
– that true happiness can only be found by making God the Lord of our life.

Scales of Justice Call for Balance

Majed El Shafie was born in Cairo, Egypt. After converting to Christianity he was arrested in 1998, tortured and sentenced to death. He managed to escape to Israel, where he was once again arrested. In 2002 he obtained political asylum in Canada and became a Canadian citizen in 2006. He lives in Toronto and is the founder of One Free World International (OFWI) an international human rights organisation which advocates for oppressed religious minorities.
Earlier today he posted an excellent article on the reaction to the murder of George Floyd. The article supports the need for change, but warns against forces that seek to destroy rather than to improve.
The article is entitled Scales of Justice Call for Balance. You can find it here.

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