Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Category Archives: History

Truth or heresy?

The Roman Catholic Church endeavoured to destroy all evidence of the faith of those whom they persecuted. Nevertheless, much can be learned from their accusations against those they called heretics.

For instance, here is the accusation of Peter of Cluny against Peter de Bruys: “They deny that infants who have not yet attained the years of understanding can be saved by the baptism of Christ; and say that the faith of another cannot help those who cannot use their own faith; for, according to their view, not the faith of another, but one’s own faithsaves with baptism, because the Lord says: He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”

What shall we say of one who considers such a statement to be heresy?

Advertisements

The significance of Canada Day

canadian-flag-1174657_1280

July 1 is Canada Day. This year we are celebrating the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation. Canadian history goes back much further than July 1, 1867. Why has this date been chosen as the birth of Canada as a nation?

A quaint notion has arisen today that before the coming of white people the aboriginal peoples lived in perfect harmony with nature and with each other. Their own oral history does not bear this out. There are many different ethnic groups among the First Nations people, which led to constant rivalry and conflicts over territory and hunting grounds. Wars and rumours of war are not exclusive to people of European background.

The beginning of white exploration and settlement introduced new sources of conflict. European settlers were divided between those who spoke French and those who spoke English and each group sought alliances with neighbouring aboriginal people.

The largest European settlements were established in the Great Lakes area, along the St. Lawrence River and on the Atlantic seaboard. The English speaking area north of the Great Lakes became known as Upper Canada and the French speaking area along the St. Lawrence was Lower Canada.

Both were ruled by governors sent from England, assisted by a small , self-perpetuating coterie of local dignitaries. In Upper Canada the Anglican Church was the only legally recognized denomination and the ruling group was known as the Family Compact. When Mennonites from Pennsylvania began settling in Ontario around 1800 they had freedom of worship, but no authority to perform marriages. Lower Canada was officially Roman Catholic and the ruling group was called the Chateau Clique.

In 1837 there were armed uprising in both colonies, led by William Lyon Mackenzie in Upper Canada and Louis Joseph Papineau in Lower Canada. Both rebellions were quickly snuffed out, yet they resulted in a move towards more representative local rule. In 1841 Upper and Lower Canada were untied under a single government, with the two parts now called Canada West and Canada East.

The first election resulted in a majority for the Reform Party (the precursor of today’s Liberal Party) led by Louis Hippolyte Lafontaine and Robert Baldwin. This was the beginning of democratic self-rule. Baldwin and Lafontaine were reelected in 1848 and enacted a number of laws over the next three years that replaced British decrees that were felt to be unjust, another step towards self-determination.

In the 1860’s the Liberal-Conservative Party (precursor of today’s Conservative Party), led by John Alexander Macdonald and Georges Étienne Cartier, formed the government of what was then Canada. These men had a vision of a greater Canada that stretched from sea to sea.

They found kindred aspirations in Leonard Tilley of New Brunswick and Charles Tupper of Nova Scotia who agreed to a confederation of their colonies. On July 1, 1867 the new Dominion of Canada came into existence, consisting of four provinces: Ontario (Canada West). Québec (Canada East), New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The title Dominion came from Psalm 72:8, “He shall have dominion also from sea to sea.” In recent years the title of Dominion has been dropped.

Manitoba was admitted to Confederation in 1870; British Columbia in 1871, with the promise that a transcontinental railway would be built. Prince Edward Island joined in 1873. The building of several intercontinental railways led to a massive influx of settlers to the prairies and the formation of the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan in 1905. And in 1949 Newfoundland became the tenth province.

The significance of July 1, 1867 is not that this was the beginning of responsible, democratic government, but that it was the first step in uniting widely separated colonies into a united nation that stretches from sea to sea. (Nowadays we say “from sea to sea to sea” as we border on the Pacific, Arctic and Atlantic oceans.)

WASPs and other Canadians

When I was young, WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants), considered themselves to naturally be the epitome of all that was right and good. It was the privilege of the WASPs to grant each other entrance to the best schools, the best jobs and the best clubs. The Orange Lodge bears a large share of the responsibility for inculcating this attitude. To an Orangeman, anyone nonwhite, non-Anglo-Saxon, or non-Protestant was a threat to the good order of society.

In most of the historical novels I read as a boy, WASPs were portrayed as brave, honest, trustworthy and heroic. Everyone else was shifty-eyed, cowardly and obviously not to be trusted. Years later, after I learned to read French, I found exactly the same attitudes in French-language historical fiction for young people. Except that the roles were reversed: the French were honest, heroic and good and the WASPs were the ones who were shifty-eyed, cowardly and untrustworthy. I suspect the same self-congratulatory attitudes would be found in the literature of all peoples.

In the span of my lifetime attitudes have shifted radically. A large segment of our society wants to blame all the sins of the past on the WASPs, including many of the WASPs themselves. The WASP label is not much used anymore, the current term is White Privilege. All kinds of people are seeking reparation, thinking that punishing the representatives of White Privilege will somehow make life better for themselves.

I suppose that this might make some sense if there was any sign the other groups would then get along with each other. There doesn’t seem to be much chance of that. Blaming others, demeaning others, seeking retribution, are not ways to build a peaceful society.

Many of the abuses of the past were done in the name of Christianity. That makes the task of reconciliation difficult. Rejecting the Bible, rejecting the fundamental tenets of Christianity, leaves people with no landmarks, no shared sense of direction. Many believe they see a way forward, yet their goal constantly shifts and seems to get farther away. If nothing changes, current trends will lead to anarchy and chaos.

I did not choose the colour of my skin, my ethnic heritage or the religious affiliation of my parents. Neither did anyone else. It is not our job as Christians to defend the sins of the past, or to apologize for events in which we had no part. But it is our job as Christians to point out that reconciliation between people doesn’t work well when people are not reconciled to God. As Christians, we must believe and proclaim the whole counsel of God.

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-20.)

Primitive Christianity and the Celts

As far as archeologists can determine, the Celtic peoples originated near the Danube River and spread east, south and west from there. Today, the only identifiable Celtic populations are found in France (Brittany) and the British Isles (Ireland, Scotland and Wales). Two thousand years ago they were all over southern Europe.

They lived along the Po River in northern Italy, in Switzerland, Belgium, France, Spain, all over the British Isles, into Bosnia and as far as Asia Minor (present day Turkey). The Greek form of Celts is Galatai. In France they were known as Gauls, in Asia Minor they were Galatians.

The Apostle Paul brought the gospel to the Galatians. Believers from there took it to the Gauls in southern France and from there it spread into the British Isles. It may have been Celtic missionaries from Scotland that carried the gospel to northern Italy, Bohemia and Switzerland. In time the gospel spread from the Celts to the people around them.

The Celts never organized into nation states, they were more a loose association of clans. As long as they were able to maintain their independent existence, the gospel that took root among them was of a purer form than the syncretistic gospel that was imposed in the Roman Empire after Constantine.

As Germanic peoples moved into the territories occupied by the Celts and the Roman Empire extended its reach, the Celtic peoples were absorbed into the majority culture. Nevertheless, evidence remained of their purer gospel among the faith groups known as Waldenses in the Alps, Albigenses in southern France and Bogomils in Bosnia. There is historical evidence of links between these groups, preachers from Bosnia appearing in the south of France, in Italy, Bohemia and other places.

These old evangelical brethren believed that Christians were citizens of the kingdom of God and were not to take part in governing earthly kingdoms. The Roman Catholic church accused them of being dualists, of believing that the God of the Old Testament was not the same as the God revealed in the New Testament. There is historical evidence of that belief in many of the same areas, but the faith groups named above did not hold such a belief. It was merely a handy accusation to justify using political power to persecute rivals to the Roman Catholic church and taint all evidence of the purity of their faith.

Eventually these churches appeared to have been persecuted into oblivion. Yet the faith proved to be more resilient than the persecutors. New churches sprang up in Switzerland, south Germany and the Low Countries, professing the same old faith. They came to be known as Mennonites. There is one intriguing last glimpse of the old churches in eastern Europe. In the 16th century, three men from the region of Thessalonika travelled to Germany because they had heard there were fellow believers there. They met with a Mennonite congregation, found they were united in all points of their faith and held communion together.

The integrity factor

Hugh Edighoffer was a highly regarded businessman in the town of Mitchell, Ontario, the proprietor of a clothing store. His son Robert was managing the store at the time we lived near Mitchell.

Mr. Edighoffer served a term on the town council and a term as mayor, then entered provincial politics as a member of the Liberal Party. He was soundly defeated in 1963 by the Conservative candidate. He ran again four years later, against the same Conservative candidate and just squeaked in. He was re-elected six times after that, by steadily increasing margins. After the first few elections, Hugh Edighoffer always won his seat with the highest margin of victory of any candidate in Ontario.

In the 1987 election, the Conservative candidate went all out to take Mr. Edighoffer down with a mud-slinging campaign. He couldn’t find fault with Mr. Edighoffer in matters of uprightness or honesty but tried to paint him as an incompetent who accomplished nothing for his constituents. Hugh Edighoffer did not respond to the accusations and made none of his own against his opponent. He simply promised to do his level best to serve his constituents. When the votes were counted he had won by the largest margin ever.

In 1985 he was nominated to be Speaker of the Ontario legislature by the leaders of all three political parties in the legislature. He was regarded by all as fair and impartial and continued as Speaker until he retired from politics in 1990.

This is how politics is supposed to be and hardly ever is. A man of integrity has no need to boast of all he has done or will do. Nor does he have any need to point out the faults of others, real or imagined. The more people know about such a man, the more confidence they have in him.

An abiding church

“Reader, understand what I mean; we do not dispute about whether or not there are some of the chosen one’s of God, in the before mentioned churches; for this we, at all times, humbly leave to the just and gracious judgment of God, hoping there may be many thousands who are unknown to us, as they were to holy Elijah; but our dispute is, in regard to what kind of Spirit, doctrine, sacraments, ordinances and life, Christ has commanded us to gather unto him an abiding church, and how we should maintain it in his ways. ” – Menno Simons, 1554

This statement reveals a fundamental difference between the historic position of the Anabaptist/Mennonite faith and other faith traditions. We are concerned that the faith be transmitted unchanged in spirit and life from one place to another and from one generation to following generations. Granted, there are Mennonite denominations which have majored in preserving cultural traditions to the detriment of genuine faith. This is a departure from the faith.

As I look at other denominations, the change and decline of their faith during my lifetime is something that, if it had been foretold 50 or 60 years ago, I would not have believed possible. Even the Anglican Church of today bears faint resemblance to the Anglican Church of which I was a member in my youth.

It has been ever thus. My paternal ancestors were English Puritans who in 1638 removed to Massachusetts in search of religious liberty. When churches were established in the towns of Massachusetts, membership was restricted to those who could tell of an experience where the Lord forgave their sins and spoke peace to their hearts. Feeling assured that God would bless their commitment by leading their children to the same salvation, they continued to have their babies baptized.

Alas, the Christian experience is not automatically transmitted from one generation to the next. The majority of those children did not get converted. In 1662, a Synod of the New England Congregational churches enacted a new policy. Those who had been baptized in infancy but had not come to a personal experience of saving faith were members and could have their own children baptized, as long as they professed the doctrines of Christianity and lived a life free from scandal. However, they would henceforth not have the right to vote in church affairs, nor to take part in the Lord’s Supper. This is known as the Halfway Covenant.

A few years later, John Stoddard began to admit all members to communion in his church, considering the sacrament  a means by which the grace of God was extended to mankind and arguing that it was not right to refuse the means of grace to those who were most in need of it. Despite opposition from the Cottons and Mathers, this position spread to other churches and by 1700 all Congregational churches practiced open communion, making no distinction between the converted and unconverted.

The New England Congregationalists had now come full circle to the position of the Church of England that their fathers had felt the need to flee. Then in 1748 Jonathan Edwards, Stoddard’s grandson and his successor in the pulpit at Northampton, Massachusetts, announced that he could not admit members to communion without evidence of saving grace.

This was the beginning of the Great Awakening which revitalized New England Christianity. In later years, others opted for Unitarianism or just abandoned any pretense of Christian faith. And the circle goes round and round.

This is the merry-go-round that Menno wanted to avoid. And so do we in our day. Our desire is for an abiding church where the true faith will be taught and lived by our grandchildren, and their grandchildren.

Barbarians at the gate

What remains to be seen is whether Donald Trump and his friends are the barbarians or the best defense against a barbarian takeover. I would suggest we take a long walk and wait a while to see. Let’s say about 100 years.

By that time historians should have a clearer view of what has happened. For sure, we shouldn’t count on it that the people who told us a Trump victory was unthinkable and impossible will now be able to explain what his victory will mean.

For a little perspective, let’s consider the situation of Israel several thousand years ago. First Alexander the Great conquered all the countries around the Mediterranean and into the Middle East. His empire then split into three empires competing for supremacy and Israel was trampled underfoot by armies coming from all directions. Eventually, the Romans brought the whole Mediterranean area under their control and set up an Edomite puppet as king of Judea.

The result was that the Greek language became the lingua franca of the whole area, the Roman road system and the rule of Roman law enhanced trade and travel over the whole area, and the sceptre had decisively departed from Judah.

This was the fulness of the times, the stage was set for the coming of the Messiah and for His gospel to spread with amazing speed throughout that whole area. Do you think any of the pious Jews who were awaiting the coming of the Messiah saw any of those barbarian invasions as part of the necessary preparation for His advent?

Let’s not be too quick to believe we understand what God thinks of the current political landscape.

Black day in July

Sunday, July 23, 1967. Detroit police officers raided an unlicensed bar in the offices of the United Community League for Civic Action. They found 82 black people celebrating the return of two soldiers from Vietnam and decided to arrest all 82. A crowd of people gathered on the street, largely outnumbering the police officers. The officers left, fearing for their safety, and people began looting a nearby clothing store. The looting spread through the neighbourhood and into other neighbourhoods.

State police were called in to assist and eventually Governor George Romney sent in the National Guard. The rioting went on for five days and only ended when President Lyndon B. Johnson sent in the army. Forty-three people died and 2,000 buildings burned.

The best-known song about the riot was Black Day in July by Canada’s Gordon Lighhtfoot. It contains lines such as:

Black day in July
Motor City’s burning and the flames are running wild

And you say how did it happen and you say how did it start
Why can’t we all be brothers, why can’t we live in peace

Why indeed? It helps to know a little of Detroit’s history. Huge auto assembly plants made Detroit into a booming city, drawing people from all over, many from the US South, both black and white. Anti-black feelings ran high. In 1943 the Packard Motor Company placed three black workers on its assembly line and all 25,000 white workers walked out. Three weeks later race riots broke out that lasted three days and left 43 dead.

White residential neighbourhoods made it known that they intended to remain white. If a black family moved in, they faced intimidation, threats, pickets, smashed windows and attempts to burn their house. In 1956 the mayor of Dearborn, a Detroit suburb, boasted that his city was more segregated than Alabama. Schools were completely segregated.

By 1967 black people made up 30% of the population of Detroit, but the police force was 93% white. Many police officers had strong anti-black feelings. A survey showed that the black population of Detroit felt that police brutality was their number one problem.

The Michigan National Guard was almost entirely made up of young white men from rural areas. They were sent into an urban centre that was unlike anything in their experience, to face a mob of black people that was terrifying to them. They were armed with lethal weapons. Nothing good could come from that combination. The army units that were sent in were integrated, disciplined and able to communicate with the rioters. They were the ones who brought the riot under control.

The riots accelerated the movement of white people to the suburbs. The population of the city, once 1,850,000, shrank to 700,000. Some auto assembly plants closed due to mergers and loss of market share to imports. Downtown stores closed. There are thousands of empty houses, plus empty apartment buildings and at least two huge auto assembly plants that have been empty for years. In 2013 the city of Detroit declared bankruptcy.

Detroit city is now over 80% black, the suburbs probably close to 80% white. Prejudice and segregation are less blatant but have not altogether disappeared. There are hopeful signs that Detroit may be reviving, but it is not likely it will ever be the city it once was.

Beware. Prejudice is like a boomerang, it can come back at you and destroy everything you thought you were trying to protect.

Unto the hills around

Unto the hills around do I lift up my longing eyes;
O whence for me shall my salvation come, from whence arise?
From God, the Lord, doth come my certain aid,
From God, the Lord, who heav’n and earth hath made.

He will not suffer that thy foot be moved: Safe shalt thou be.
No careless slumber shall His eyelids close, who keepeth thee.
Behold, our God, the Lord, He slumbereth ne’er,
Who keepeth Israel in His holy care.

Jehovah is Himself thy keeper true, thy changeless shade;
Jehovah thy defense on thy right hand Himself hath made.
And thee no sun by day shall ever smite;
No moon shall harm thee in the silent night.

From ev’ry evil shall He keep thy soul, from ev’ry sin;
Jehovah shall preserve thy going out, thy coming in.
Above thee watching, He whom we adore
Shall keep thee henceforth, yea, forevermore.

John Douglas Sutherland Cambell, 1877

[John D. C. Campbell, Marquess of Lorne, Chief of Clan Campbell and later 9th Duke of Argyll, was Governor General of Canada from 1878 to 1883. His wife, Princess Caroline Louise Alberta, was the 4th daughter of Queen Victoria. She gave her name to Lake Louise in B.C. and to the province of Alberta. Queen Victoria really would have preferred for her daughter to marry a European prince, to which Mr. Campbell is reported to have quietly responded: “Madam, my forefathers were kings when the Hohenzollerns were parvenus.” Despite his aristocratic heritage, Campbell was a fervent Christian and a supporter of Dr. Barnardo’s homes for homeless children. The above poem is sung to a melody composed by Charles H. Purday.]

Moose Jaw Memories

I was seven years old when I got my first train ride. It was back in 1949 and my mother and I boarded the train in early morning for the hour long ride into Moose Jaw. When we arrived in the city, the conductor held out his hand to help my mother and me down the steps from the passenger car. I looked across the many rows of tracks between us and the big railway station and wondered how we were supposed to walk across those tracks when there were other trains coming in the distance. My mother told me to just follow the other passengers; we walked along the concrete walk to a set of steps leading down to a tunnel under the tracks. When we came up the steps in the railway station, the first thing that caught my eye was a large sign giving departure and arrival times, topped by a clock and saying at the bottom “Welcome to Moose Jaw, population 27,000.”

I don’t remember the reason for our trip; it was probably to see a doctor or a dentist, though I am sure a visit to the dentist would have instilled a vivid memory. My father was partial to Doctor Fraser Muirhead, a true frontier dentist who did not believe in using any kind of pain relief and could be heard from the waiting room shouting at the unfortunate children who could not hold still for him to work on their teeth. There was a time when I was the child in his chair and he threatened to strap me in. It took me years to overcome my fear of dentists.

Moose Jaw had been a boom town in the early days, as evidenced by the impressive buildings that lined Main Street. The Canadian Pacific Railway was built in the 1870’s to connect the prairies and British Columbia to the rest of Canada. Moose Jaw became a hub for the construction and later for the maintenance of the CPR. Branch lines fanned out in all directions, including the Soo Line Railroad, owned by the CPR, that ran from Moose Jaw all the way to Chicago. A huge tent city appeared during construction, soon replaced by sturdy brick structures. Moose Jaw became the business centre for farm families from a large part of southwest Saskatchewan. There was a flour mill, meat packing plants, lumber yards, feed mills and everything else needed in the rural economy. There were also grocery and hardware wholesalers, supplying merchants in smaller communities.

Two hospitals were built in the early years, I was born in one of them in 1942, went back five years later to have my tonsils removed. The department stores were Eaton’s, Joyner’s and Army and Navy.

Joyner’s Department Store carried clothing and shoes for the whole family. Shopping there was an unforgettable experience for a youngster. There were no cash registers to be seen, just cables humming overhead in their endless run between pulleys, connecting each area of the store to a cashier on the mezzanine level. When you bought something, the clerk would write out the bill of sale, take your money, place both in a little metal box, then reach up and attach the box to one of those cables. The box would go zipping up to the cashier and soon come back with your change and the bill stamped paid.

The Army and Navy Discount Store sold most everything, clothing, hardware, housewares, paint, toys, fabrics, on three levels. There was a marvellous modern device in their shoe department that looked something like an old platform scale. You could try on a pair of shoes, step on the platform with the toes of your shoes under the working part of this machine, then look in the top and see how the bones of your toes fit inside the shoes. This was long before anyone was aware of the dangers of too much x-ray exposure.

Eaton’s was bigger yet, carried a wider range of merchandise, more up to date, including furniture and appliances. Of special interest to me was the watch maker in a little office on the landing between the main floor and the upper level. One time I went to him with a watch that had a badly scratched crystal. It only took a minute or two for him to find the right size, pop the old one out and the new one in. The best part was that he didn’t charge me anything!

A large part of the workforce hired to build the railroad were Chinese men. Many of them made Moose Jaw their home after the railroad was built. Circumstances were difficult for them for many years, they were not allowed to bring their wives over and new immigration from China was forbidden. Still, they carved out a place for themselves in the Moose Jaw business community. George Wong, owner of the Exchange Café and “Scotty” Kwan, owner of Kwan’s Music were pillars of the community in the era that I remember.

For many years there was a thriving Jewish community. Many may not have been much in the public eye, but I remember the two Cohen’s Drug Stores, in opposite corners of the city, Harvey Stein’s Globe News and Schwartz’s news stand, run by Hymie and Bennie Schwartz. Now the drug stores, the newspaper vendors and the synagogue are all gone.

We probably had dinner at the Exchange Café or one of the other Chinese restaurants downtown. When our appointments and shopping were all done, my mother and I walked into the offices of CHAB, the radio station listened to by most people for miles around. We were shown into a room with seating all around the four walls. Just about every seat was filled with people on the same mission as my mother. I think it was around four o’clock when a radio announcer stepped in with a microphone is his hand and made his way around the room. When my mother’s turn came, she spoke into the mike “This is Agnes Goodnough from the Bishopric area. Tell Walter that we will be home on the six o’clock train.” This was an invaluable public service in the days when long distance phone calls, especially from a pay phone, were horribly expensive.

I don’t remember the train ride home, I wouldn’t be surprised if I slept the whole way, tired from an early morning and hours spent walking the streets and through the stores of the city. Sixty-seven years have passed, Joyner’s. Army & Navy and Eaton’s have all closed. So have the wholesalers, the flour mill and the meat packing plants.  You can’t get there by train anymore. The population now stands at 35,000. For years now, the city has tried to re-invent itself as a tourist destination, capitalizing on its history.

My wife and I both have family in Moose Jaw, our parents are buried there. For us, it is the family connection and family history that keep drawing us to visit Moose Jaw.

 

%d bloggers like this: