Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Category Archives: History

Misunderstanding the Gospel

In 1655 the plague spread through London, killing a quarter of the population. The city was rife with reports of strange visions, prophecies and rumors. Daniel Defoe wrote about the happenings during the plague, writing in the first person although he was only four years old at the time. Nevertheless, the book is not fiction but rather a well-researched account of the events during the plague. It is quite possible that much of the information came from the journals of his uncle. The book makes the following observation about the way many preachers attempted to apply their understanding of Christian faith to what was happening all around them. Words that could be applied in many other places and circumstances.

“Neither can I acquit those Ministers, that in their Sermons, rather sunk, than lifted up the Hearts of their Hearers; many of them no doubt did it for the strengthening of the Resolution of the People; and especially for quickening them to Repentance; but it certainly answer’d not their End, at least not in Proportion to the injury it did in another Way; and indeed, as God himself thro’ the whole Scriptures, rather draws to him by Invitations, and calls to turn to him and live, than drives us by Terror and Amazement; so I must confess, I thought the Ministers should have done also, imitating our blessed Lord and Master in this, that his whole Gospel, is full of Declarations from Heaven of God’s Mercy, and his readiness to receive Penitents, and forgive them; complaining, ‘Ye will not come unto me that ye may have Life,’ and that therefore, his Gospel is called the Gospel of Peace, and the Gospel of Grace.”
-Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year, first published in 1722

An anti-vaxxer from 180 years ago

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

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

The fear of some people who called themselves Mennonites

Beginning in the 16th century many Mennonites fled persecution in Friesland and Flanders and settled in the Vistula delta region of Poland. Here they gradually lost their evangelistic fervour and their faith dwindled to a mere outward conformity to some principles that they felt to be the essence of the faith. It seems they ceased to read the writings of Menno Simons and lost any concept of what it meant to be of the same faith that he upheld.

When Prussia annexed the Vistula delta region in the late 18th century, many of these people moved into southern Russia (today Ukraine). Here they could live in peace and began to feel that their peace depended upon keeping quiet about the real foundations of the Mennonite faith. When two men had Menno Simon’s writings printed for the benefit of those who called themselves Mennonites in the Russian colonies, the Mennonite church reacted strongly.

In August of 1835, all 29 elders and ministers of the Moltotschna colony signed a letter demanding that all copies of Menno’s book should be confiscated and destroyed. The pretext was that some people of other faiths, or some government officials, might read those writings and cause trouble for the so-called Mennonites.

Abram Friesen, one of those who had arranged for the printing, had a different impression of the true motive for banning the book:

“One would like to ask these men: How come do you want to put the lighted lamp under a bushel? Oh, that they might take the words of Christ in Matthew 5:13, 14, 15 to heart! They would have to call out woe upon woe for having done so foolishly. For what do these good men think of this? Menno feared neither tyranny nor persecution, neither pressure nor disfavour, hatred nor poverty, but in this book has freely professed before all men his ground and faith, and confessed the Lord Jesus Christ before men according to Matthew 10:31-39. But without imminent threat of danger these good elders and teachers are afraid without reason, for the hearts of the higher authorities are favourably inclined concerning freedom of conscience and worship and rule over the pious with great gentleness. Not only do they refrain from interfering in their faith and principles but often refer us back to them.

“On the contrary, the elders and teachers, who should be more in favour of the work consider it a great risk, and fear hatred from people of other religious persuasions. I only fear that a different matter in their own conscience aroused hatred in themselves because Menno Simon’s teaching severely reproves the Mennonites of the present and especially the ministry. Consequently they feel ashamed and reproved and therefore prefer not to have these books in their congregations.

The last two paragraphs are taken from By Their Fruits Ye Shall Know Them, by Peter Toews, emphasis added.

A Christian admonition from 600 years ago

[Barbe means beard. It came to be applied to the person wearing the beard, becoming a term of affection for an uncle and then became the term which Anabaptists in France and Italy used for their ministers. Pragela, a valley in the Alps west of Turin and near the French border was home to a large number of Waldensians.]

An Epistle of the Barbe Bartolemi Tertian to the Evangelical churches of Pragela, circa 1420 AD.

Jesus be with us.

To all our faithful and beloved brethren in Jesus Christ.  I greet you all.  Amen.

This Epistle is to alert your brotherhood, acquitting myself of that trust which is committed to me by God concerning you for the salvation of your souls, according to the light of truth given to us by the Most High.  May every one of you maintain, increase and cherish to your utmost and by no means weaken or diminish those good principles, forms and customs given by those who have gone before us, of which we are not worthy.

For it would be but a very small and poor advantage for us to have been renewed by the fatherly persuasions and the light given to us by God, if we should now give ourselves up to a worldly, diabolical and fleshly conversation, forsaking the principal good, which is God, and the salvation of our souls for a short temporal life.  For the Lord has said in the gospel, What will it profit a man to gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?  And, It were better never to have known the way of righteousness, than having once known it, to walk contrary to it.

Yea, we shall be altogether inexcusable before the righteousness of God, and our condemnation more severe.  For more torment will be inflicted upon those who have had the greatest knowledge.  Wherefore I beseech you by the love of God not to diminish but to increase the love, fear and obedience which is due unto God, and to one another, and also to keep the good customs which you have seen and heard of God, by us and others.  And that you will purge out from among you all those faults and failings which disturb your peace, love and concord, and all that obstructs your liberty in the service of God, and your own salvation and the administration of truth, if you desire that God would prosper you in the temporal and spiritual goods.  For you can do nothing without Him.

If you desire to be heirs of His glory, do as He tells you, If you would enter into life, keep my commandments.  Moreover, let there be among you no vain sports, gluttony, whoredoms, balls or other debaucheries, nor questions, fraud, usury, envy or discord.  Neither support or uphold among you any persons of an evil life who could become a stumbling block or evil example to you.  Rather let love and faithfulness reign among you and all good examples, doing one to another as every one would that it should be done to him.  For otherwise it is not possible that any can be saved, or find grace and favour with God and man in this world, or glory in that which is to come.

And it is necessary that the leaders and those who govern among you see to maintaining these things.  For when the head is sick all the members suffer.  Wherefore, if you hope and desire to possess eternal life and to be held in esteem and favour and to prosper in the world in both spiritual and temporal things, cleanse yourselves from every disorderly way among you so that God may always be with you, Who never forsakes those who put their trust in Him.  But know for certain that God does not answer or dwell with sinners, nor with the soul who desire evil, nor with the man that is a slave to sin.  Wherefore let every one cleanse the way of his own heart and flee from dangers if he would not perish in them.  I shall not say more for the present, except that ye do all these things and the God of Peace be with you all.  Join with us in true, humble and devout prayer.  Greetings to all the faithful and beloved of Christ.  Amen

I am wholly yours, Bartholomeus Tertianus, ready to serve you in all things in our power, according to the will of God.

Quebec: from Ultramontanism to nationalism

Ultramontanism was a word invented to describe the Roman Catholic church in France which taught that people owed a greater loyalty to the man on the other side of the mountains than to their own government. The man on the other side of the mountains was the Pope who resided across the Alps in Rome.

The French Revolution, beginning in 1789, severely limited the influence of the Pope in France. By this time Quebec had been separated from France for 30 years, due to the English conquest and ultramontanism continued to be the orientation of the Roman Catholic church of Quebec. After the conquest, it was able to pose as the sole defender of the French Canadian language and culture. They were aided in this by a tacit agreement with English Canadian business interests that left financial affairs in the hands of the English, while the church looked after the educational, health care, religious and social needs of the population.

After two centuries this came to an abrupt end with the election of 1960 which brought to power the Quebec Liberal Party, led by Jean Lesage. In a few short years the new government had turned education, health care and social services into government responsibilities. This era is known as the Quiet Revolution.

The Roman Catholic church, stripped of most of its power to control the people, also lost most of its religious influence. Church attendance in Quebec is now the lowest of any North American jurisdiction. Churches which used to hold three or four masses Sunday morning now have one service with the church half full. Many churches have closed. Evangelical churches have grown rapidly. So have groups with bizarre and esoteric beliefs.

The people of Quebec are still determined to maintain their cultural identity, which includes but is not limited to the French language. They see themselves as a unique nation, that is, a people sharing a common language, history and culture. Not all Québecois are of French ancestry, many are English, Scottish, Irish, German, Hispanic, Italian, etc. Not all Québecois believe that as a nation they need to be a separate country. Though some politicians still promote that idea, most Québecois are nationalists, not separatists.

One effect of Québec nationalism is that woke thinking which has become the only correct way of thinking in educational institutions, media and politics in English Canada has not been able to gain quite the same foothold in Quebec. Ultramontanism is dead, but respect for prominent persons and events of the past is an essential part of nationalism.

Seeing French as a Bridge

Some languages are walls, some are artefacts, a few are bridges. A language used only by one tribe or ethnic group is useful for communication within that group, but it is also a wall that prevents communication with, and assimilation by, another group.

Some languages are no longer in daily use but are studied as artefacts for understanding and preserving a heritage. Examples are Gaelic in Nova Scotia and Michif in Saskatchewan. (Michif, a blend of French and Cree, was once widely spoken by the Métis people.)

A member of one tribe wishing to communicate with members of another must either learn their tribal language or yet another language which can serve as a bridge between many tribes. For example, Kiswahili, a blend of Bantu tribal languages and Arabic, is spoken in many East African countries.

There are two world-wide bridge languages, English and French, spoken on every continent and learned as a second language by people in almost every country of the world. I assume that readers of this blog know quite a bit about English, but perhaps not a lot about French as a bridge language.

A generation or two ago it appeared that French in Saskatchewan was on the verge of extinction. It was only in the 1980’s that it became possible to establish French language schools. French immersion schools began in the 1990’s. Today the Conseil des écoles fransaskoises operates 15 schools in communities across the province. These are open to children from homes where at least one parent speaks French. In addition, there are 85 French immersion schools, for children with no prior knowledge of French. Enrolment in these schools is increasing every year.

Non French-speaking parents see French as a bridge to new opportunities for their children. Among those parents are many of Hispanic and Asian descent. French-language radio and TV is available everywhere, the internet gives access to unlimited French-language resources.

The last census showed that there are 750,000 people in the four western provinces of Canada who consider themselves fluent in French. Not all are people of French ancestry. On several occasions a few years ago I dropped in on meetings of a French Toastmasters Club in Saskatoon while my wife was at medical appointments. The secretary of the club at that time was a young lady whose last name was Reddekopp.

The situation in Louisiana is much like Saskatchewan 25 years ago. After trying to suppress French for many years, the state has decided to celebrate its French heritage. There are now French-language schools and French immersion schools. The state has placed billboards at entry points proclaiming Bienveue en Louisiane, and joined the international Francophonie organisation. The state of Maine is making tentative steps to encourage the learning of French.

There are currently 300 million French-speaking people in the world and it is estimated that by 2050 there will be 500 million. The Church of God in Christ, Mennonite has congregations and/or missions in seven of the French-speaking countries of Africa.

Personally, I feel there are two reasons for Anabaptist/Mennonite Christians to be interested in French. We are accustomed to dating the history of our faith from the activities of Dutch and German speaking people in the 16th century. But for a millennium prior to that the heartland of Anabaptist Christianity was found in the south of France and among the French-speaking people in the Alpine valleys. Much of that history was obscured by intense persecution, but I feel it is worth investigating and attempting to sort out the true from the false that history books tell us of those times. The second reason is that there are so many French-speaking people throughout the world who need to hear the gospel in a purer form than what is being told by many evangelists today.

The Bible is enough

Image by Pexels from Pixabay 

A reader of my French blog recently mentioned the book Le roi des derniers jours, l’exemplaire et très cruelle histoire des rebaptisés de Münster (1534-1535), written by Barret and Gurgand, first published by Hachette in 1981.

I obtained a copy of the book and found it a meticulous, almost day by day account of how currents of lutheran and anabaptist thought entered a Roman Catholic city until its citizens opted for a form of anabaptism that at first conformed quite closely to Biblical anabaptism.

The first divergence of the Munsterites from mainstream anabaptism was to take political control of the city. This led to further steps, as seeing themselves as the New Jerusalem prepared for Christ’s return to reign, arming themselves to resist the army assembled by the Roman Catholic bishop, naming John of Leiden as king, community of goods and polygamy. Dreams and visions provided the basis for all of these steps. The supposed latter day kingdom of Christ came to a horrible end in June 1535.

A treatise by Menno Simons on the Blasphemy of John of Leiden appeared earlier that year, possible occasioned by the death of his brother who had gotten caught up in that movement. Menno was still a Roman Catholic priest at the time he wrote this but renounced that faith at the beginning of 1536 and united with the peaceful anabaptists.

In his writing against John of Leiden he states that Christians have only one king, Jesus Christ and his kingdom is a spiritual kingdom of love and peace. Christians cannot bear arms or fight, cannot mete out punishment to evildoers. The ultimate judge of all will be Jesus Christ when he comes again and that day has not come yet.

Some years later he included the following thoughts in another writing:

Brethren, I tell you the truth and lie not. I am no Enoch, I am no Elijah. I am not one of those who sees visions, I am no prophet who can teach and prophesy otherwise than what is written in the Word of God and understood in the Spirit. (Whosoever tries to teach something else will soon leave the track and be deceived.) I do not doubt that the merciful Father will keep me in his Word so that I shall write or speak nothing but that which I can prove by Moses, the prophets, the evangelists and other apostolic Scriptures and doctrines, explained in the true sense, Spirit, and intent of Christ. Judge ye that are spiritually minded.

Once more, I have no visions nor angelic visitations. Neither do I desire such lest I be deceived. The Word of Christ alone is sufficient for me. If I do not follow his testimony, then verily all that I do is useless, and even if I had such visions and inspirations, which is not the case, even then it would have to be conformable to the Word and Spirit of Christ, or else it would be mere imagination, deceit, and satanic temptation. For Paul says, Let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith. Romans 12:6.

To know and to do the will of God

There are striking similarities in the stories of the three men mentioned in Monday’s post. Their study of the Martyrs’ Mirror and the writings of Menno Simons and Dietrich Philips led them to see that the Mennonite church to which they belonged was adrift from the anchor of the old faith. Each one found that a leader of their church saw things as they did, but lacked the fortitude to act on that conviction.

In John Holdeman’s case it was bishop Abraham Rohrer of Medina county, Ohio. John Holdeman considered him to be the most gifted minister in his time. He believed that bishop Rohrer was convinced of the decay in the church and believed that if he had begun in one point to labour to bring the church back to the right foundation that God would have revealed more to him. But he was not willing.

Levi Young expressed confidence in William Gehman, one of the elders of the Evangelical Mennonite Association. But William Shelley, the other elder, was much opposed to Levi Young’s concerns. On April 30, 1865 Levi Young wrote in his diary: “After meeting I was attacked by many members of the E. Men. and accused of having acted very unwise in withdrawing from them. My convictions are still that I did but my duty, but if I did wrong my confidence in the Lord is that He will convince me of my error. My only desire and resolution is to learn the will of God and to do the same.”

Hiram Mininger wrote of his visits with the aged bishop Josiah Clemmer. The bishop felt that God’s hand was leading. Mininger told him that he would remain with the old Mennonite church if it would be wiling to comply with the original Mennonite confession of faith. Clemmer promised to call a ministers’ council to see what could be done. After hearing nothing form some time, Mininger asked the bishop how he was getting along in this matter. Bishop Clemmer reponded that he had considered the matter and come to the conclusion that it was more than he could undertake.

Bishop Clemmer told Hiram Mininger: “You can expect that the community will have a lot to say. They will go back in your life, and whatever they can accumulate as a witness against you, that will they say.” The bishop said that member of his church would be among those who did that, but he never would. That all came to pass.

John Holdeman, Levi Young and Hiram Mininger followed the leading of the Holy Spirit, despite opposition and ridicule. Many people even today acknowledge that God is calling them to come closer, yet only a few follow through. Is the approval of men more persuasive than the approval of God?

A little history, and a little mystery

Levi Young was a young man on fire for the Lord. He couldn’t have been more than 21 when he was ordained a minister in the Evangelical Mennonite Association. This was a small group with a few congregations in Montgomery county, Pennsylvania. Levi Young served as an itinerant evangelist, but soon began to feel that it was not the spiritual home that he longed for: a church that lived the old faith as portrayed in the writings of Menno Simons, Dietrich Philips and in the Martyrs’ Mirror. He read through those old writings and corresponded with leaders in other Mennonite groups.

One of those he contacted was John Holdeman of Wayne County, Ohio, who had left the old Mennonite church after the same longing and search and now led a small group with members in Ohio, Indiana and Ontario. Levi Young began to come under conviction that he should withdraw from the Evangelical Mennonite Association and finally did so in May of 1866. In December of that year he made another visit to John Holdeman in Ohio and on December 12 John Holdeman baptized Levi Young.

On December 31 Holdeman and Young left for Wilmot township of Waterloo County, Ontario. Here they spent two weeks, holding meetings almost every evening in people’s homes. Levi Young’s diary provides precious historical information. He names a few who were already members of Holdeman’s church, indicating that this was not Holdeman’s first visit. He names a number of others who later became members. Another interesting point is that several times he says “I preached and brother Holdeman exhorted.”

After Levi Young returned home to Pennsylvania, he continued his itinerant preaching, sometimes in the company of ministers from Holdeman’s church. It is evident from his diary that he is an increasingly sick man. In July of 1868 he writes of giving instruction for disposing of his goods. The diary ends in mid-sentence on Monday, July 13. He died two or three days later, three months short of his 27th birthday. The cause of death appears to have been what was in those days called consumption, nowadays known as tuberculosis.

I promised a mystery, and here it is. Levi Young, despite the precarious state of his health, endeavoured to preach the saving grace of Jesus Christ as long as he had breath. Many people gave him hearing, among them in the last months of his life were families named Mininger and Stauffer.

Thirty years after Levi Young died, a young man of Montgomery County by the name of Hiram Mininger made contact with John Holdeman. He too had been searching the old writings and had come to the conclusion that the Mennonite church to which he belonged had departed from the faith. In 1899 Hiram Mininger and his wife, plus Isaiah Stover (Stover is a variant spelling of Stauffer) and his wife, were baptized by John Holdeman. Thus began a small congregation at Souderton, Pennsylvania. Is there some link from Levi Young to Hiram Mininger? I have no idea and no idea how to find out.

Hiram Mininger was later ordained to the ministry and was for many years one of the nmost active ministers and evangelists in the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite.

Good news, somewhat disguised

1918, Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. People began dying from the Spanish Flu in the first week of October. Sick soldiers returning from the European front were housed at the Moose Jaw Armoury and the disease spread from there.

The Moose Jaw and District Medical Officer, Dr. Turnbull, ordered all gathering places closed until further notice. That included schools, places of worship, pool halls and so on. He asked for volunteers to work with the sick and for people to wear masks and not gather. The military district sent soldiers home directly and stopped housing them at the armoury. Their discharge papers would be mailed to them. Dr. Turnbull converted Prince Arthur School and the hotel on the South Hill into hospitals.

When the war ended in the second week of November, thousands of people thronged the streets in celebration. Dr. Turnbull feared a renewed outbreak of Flu , but it didn’t happen. The five weeks of closure got Moose Jaw through the worst of the outbreak. It wasn’t over, but the rapid spread had been stopped, infection and death numbers were lower. Dr. Turnbull re-opened schools, pool halls, places of worship, gathering places and closed one ‘relief’ hospital.

2020, France. A month ago, in the face of an exponential rise in COVID-19 cases, the government decreed a strict shutdown. At first the number of cases and deaths continued to increase. But during the past week the number of infections and deaths have decreased every day. President Macron has now announced a gradual relaxation of the confinement rules, beginning this week.

Meanwhile, back here in Saskatchewan, COVID cases continue to rise and the government says that new restrictions will be announced today. That should be good news, shouldn’t it?

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