Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

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Antichrist

The following passages are a brief summary of a writing entitled Antichrist which is at least 900 years old. It originated among the Albigensian Christians of southern France, around the time of Pierre de Bruys, and was preserved by the Waldensians. Readers who have a copy of the Martyrs Mirror will find a brief excerpt from this writing on page 271. Pierre de Bruys, called Peter de Bruis in the MM, is mentioned on pages 273, 274, 279, 293, 294 and 309.

Antichrist is a falsehood, worthy of eternal damnation, covered with an outward appearance of the truth and the righteousness of Christ and his bride, opposite to the way of truth, righteousness, faith, hope and charity and also to the moral life. It is administered by false apostles and obstinately defended by both powers, ecclesiastical and secular. Antichrist is a delusion, a fraudulent contradiction to Christ and his bride and every faithful member thereof. It is not any special person ordained in any degree, office or ministry, but it is the falsehood itself, which opposes itself against the truth, which covers and adorns itself with a pretense of beauty and piety. That iniquity that is after this manner, with all the ministers thereof, great and small, with all those that follow them with a wicked heart and hoodwinked eyes, this congregation taken all together is called Antichrist, Babylon, the fourth beast, the whore, the man of sin, the son of perdition.

He is called Antichrist because, being covered and adorned under the colour of Christ and the church, and the faithful members thereof, he opposes the salvation purchased by Christ and truly administered by the church of Christ, whereof the faithful are partakers by faith, hope and charity. He contradicts the truth by the wisdom of the world, by false religion, by counterfeit holiness, by ecclesiastical power, secular tyranny, riches, honours, dignities and the delights and delicacies of the world.

The first work of Antichrist is to take away the truth and change it into falsehood, error and heresy. The second work of Antichrist is to cover falsehood with a semblance of truth, to assert and maintain lies by the name of faith and grace, and to dispense falsehood intermingled with spiritual things unto the people under his subjection.

The works that proceed from these first works are:
1. He perverts the worship properly due to God by giving it to Antichrist himself.
2. He robs Christ of his merits, with all the sufficiency of grace, justification, regeneration, remission of sins, sanctification and spiritual nourishment and imputes it all to his own authority, to a form of words, to his own works, unto saints and their intercession, and unto the fire of purgatory, thus separating the people from Christ.
3. He attributes the regeneration of the Holy Spirit to dead outward works, baptizing children and teaching that this is how baptism and regeneration must be obtained.
4. He constitutes all religion in going to the mass and has patched together all manner of ceremonies, Jewish, heathen and Christian, depriving the people of the true sacraments and spiritual commandments.
5. He does all his works to be seen, so that he may set all things to sale.
6. He allows manifest sins without censure and does not excommunicate the impenitent.
7. He does not maintain his unity by the Holy Spirit, but by secular power.
8. He hates, persecutes, searches after, despoils and destroys the members of Christ.

The six iniquities of Antichrist:
1. Divine worship is not offered to the Creator but to the creature, to saints and to relics.
2. An excessive love of the world, from whence springs sin and mischief in the church.
3. The invention of false religious orders, rules of monasteries, confession to the priest (though seldom with contrition), the observance of fasts, etc.
4. He adorns himself with authority, power, dignity, ministry, offices and the Scripture and makes himself equal with the true and holy mother church.
5. He promises remission of sins to sinners, not to the truly contrite, but to such as are wilfully persevering in their evil practices.
6. His people go on to the very end of their lives trusting in these iniquities and coverings till they come to the extreme unction and their invented purgatory. They are taught and made to believe that they are thereby absolved of their sins, though they never freely depart from them.

Without fear, without pride, without hatred

In 1940 the Nazi war machine overran France. After the surrender of the French forces, André Trocmé, a pastor in one small corner of France, told his congregation how to face an enemy who tried to do violence to their consciences. “We will oppose them with the arms of the Spirit. We will resist when our adversaries demand things of us that are contrary to the gospel. We will do it without fear, without pride and without hatred.”

In the following years the people of his community, Chambon-sur-Lignon, hid several thousand people, many of them Jews, from the Nazi forces. For the most part they were able to do it without detection, although the Nazis did capture a few, including the pastor’s brother, who died in a Nazi prison camp.

May André Trocmé’s message be alive among Christians today. It is only by the arms of the Spirit that we can stand against evil “without fear, without pride and without hatred.”

Mennonite vs Menno

After centuries of persecution, the defenceless Christians of Europe were scattered and demoralized and the persecutors began to feel they were rid of these people whose existence was so troubling to them. They were troubling because they taught, and lived, a faith that testified of the truth and power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Then these supposedly defeated Christians reorganized, began to once more boldly preach the gospel and their numbers grew rapidly. Three of their most prominent leaders were Dietrich Philips, Menno Simons and Leenart Bouwens. Leenart Bouwens left no writings but baptized over 10,000 during his evangelical ministry. Dietrich and Menno travelled much, often at the risk of their lives, and also wrote much. Many of Menno’s writings were aimed at people outside of the church, explaining the faith and pleading for tolerance from the authorities. This made him especially dangerous and a large reward was offered for his capture. This notoriety led to all those of the same faith being called Menno’s people, Mennists and finally Mennonites.

Menno adamantly denied being the founder of a church or religious movement, rather seeing himself as a shepherd to the sheep who had been scattered by persecution. There are dozens of denominations in our day calling themselves Mennonite. Most of them are made up of linear descendents of people who once were of the same faith as Menno, but have little idea what that faith was. The majority have never read Menno’s writings, there are even some who call themselves Mennonites but have no idea where the name came from.

Among those whom we might call ethnic Mennonites, those of Netherlands descent have much less interest in the writings of Menno Simons than those who are of Swiss descent. Why is this?

In the 1820’s several men in the Molotschna Mennonite settlement in Russia (composed of people whose family lineage went back to the Netherlands) took it upon themselves to have a new printing made of the writings of Menno Simons. This alarmed the leaders and in 1829 a statement was issued, signed by all 29 Mennonite elders and ministers in Molotschna which forbade their church members to read, or even own, such a book. The letter demanded that all the copies that had been printed should be destroyed. The reason given was that these writings might fall into the hands of neighbours of a different faith, or even government officials, and thereby cause trouble for the churches. To refute that thought, Peter Toews* mentions a couple of instances from Prussia where government officials had read Menno’s writings and found nothing objectionable, even expressing the wish that more of the Mennonite people should read them.

Toews* quotes one of those responsible for printing the Menno Simons books as saying: “I only fear that a different matter in their own conscience aroused hatred in themselves because Menno Simons’ 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.”

*Toews, Peter (1841-1922), By Their Fruits Ye Shall Know Them

February 6, 1952

It was Tuesday, I was nine years old, in Grade Five and we were living on the outskirts of Craik, Saskatchewan. I got up to get ready for school, turned on the radio and heard only stately orchestral music. I tried another station, then another; it was the same on all stations.

The Eight o’clock news informed us that King George VI had died and his 25 year old daughter, Princess Elizabeth was now Queen Elizabeth II. It was the custom at that time to sing God Save the King and O Canada at the beginning of the school day. That morning we sang God Save the Queen for the first time.

Seventy years have passed and Elizabeth II is still queen. Today is the beginning of her Platinum Jubilee year.

Image by WikiImages from Pixabay

Of course, the Queen has only a symbolic and ceremonial function. Or is that all? As I have listened to her Christmas messages over the years there is something more that comes through. In every message she acknowledges her trust in a Sovereign that is higher than herself, a quiet trust in Almighty God that gives hope for the future. That is something we seldom, if ever, hear from world leaders today.

Queen Elizabeth does not present herself as stern and haughty, she is calm, warm, down to earth, speaking of things that touch all of our lives. That is something reassuring in tumultuous times.

I was an Anglican in those days; worship services followed the order given in the Book of Common Prayer. Every worship service included a prayer that included words like this:

We humbly beseech thee to bless our Sovereign Lady, Queen Elizabeth, and all who are set in authority under her; that they may order all things in wisdom, righteousness, and peace, to the honour of thy holy Name, and the good of thy Church and people.

A prayer like that directs our attention away from politics and towards the overall good of our land. The Bible instructs us to pray for kings and all that are in authority (1 Timothy 2:1-3). Jeremiah 29:7 goes so far as to say: “And 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.”

The more we allow ourselves to become politicized, the less we are apt to feel prompted to pray for those in authority. Isn’t that getting things backwards? Is it possible that the troubles that seem so plain to us in our governments are at least in part due to our failure to pray earnestly for those in authority? It should be an integral part of Christian faith to believe that prayers are more powerful than politics and protests.

History tainted by propaganda

Halfway through high school, it dawned on me that history is not a science like the others. Mathematics textbooks in Canada, England, France, Germany and the USA all agree that two plus two equals four. Textbooks from all those countries agree on the laws of geometry and that a mixture of saltpetre, sulphur and charcoal will produce an explosion. But when it comes to history, the textbooks will likely agree on dates, places and the people involved, but from there on the story will take strange turns.

The theorems of propaganda allow a lot more wiggle room than the theorems of Archimedes. There are bewildering differences in the accounts of why things happened, how they happened and what were the long term results. Likewise for the character of the leading figures. Were they ruthless megalomaniacs, feckless traitors, or dauntless heroes?

Image by Gee Widnell from Pixabay 

Take Napoleon, for example. When I went to school the curriculum for English-speaking Canadians hewed very closely to the Orange Order point of view. Napoleon was depicted as somewhat of a madman who set out to conquer all of Europe, almost succeeded, but was finally defeated by the glorious English at the Battle of Waterloo. Well the got his name right, also the name of his final battle. Everything else was carefully crafted to avoid any facts that might detract from the desired propaganda effect and to avoid mention of any good that he may have achieved.

Let’s look at some of the basic, undisputed facts. France had done away with royalty, something that was considered a damnable heresy by the crowned heads of Europe. So they formed coalition after coalition to attack France and set things to right. Napoleon’s wars were defensive wars. The fact that he won almost all of them does not mean that he was the one who instigated them.

What were the results of those wars? The Holy Roman Empire, dominated by the Hapsburgs of Vienna, came to an end. This brought an end to the Inquisition, as the Pope no longer had the Emperor to back him up. Poland became an independent republic for the first time in its history. The partitioning of the Italian peninsula between the Pope, the Hapsburgs and France came to an end, which eventually led to the uniting of the whole peninsula into one country. The end of the Holy Roman Empire also eventually led to the unification of the dozens of Germanic kingdoms, principalities and duchies into one country.

There were also profound changes within France. The country was stabilized after the tumultuous years of the Revolution. Jews were no longer restricted to certain areas, but could live and worship wherever they chose. Freedom of worship was granted to all religious minorities. Napoleon directed four prominent jurist to draw up a code of laws, which took effect in 1804. This code made the state independent of the Roman Catholic church, made every citizen equal before the law and entitled to a fair trial, no longer subject to the whims of clergy or royalty. This code is what Napoleon regarded as his greatest achievement. It has been the model of the legal systems of many other countries.

Napoleon regarded himself as a liberator, not a conqueror. He was not a flawless person, but the enduring effects of his time as Emperor of France do bear witness of his liberating influence.

This is perhaps a side issue, having nothing to do with Napoleon at all, but those who went to school when I did may still believe that the legal system of France does not recognize the presumption of innocence. This is true of the legal systems of China, North Korea, Burma and Japan, but is not true of France and has not been at least since 1789. The Declaration of the Rights of Man of that year begins with the statement that a man is presumed to be innocent until he is proven guilty. This declaration still has force as constitutional law.

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.

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