Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Thank you War Amps

My wife’s keys came home in the mail today. They went missing two months ago; it must have happened between our car in a mall parking lot and the Tim Horton’s inside the mall where we had dinner. There was a keychain with a car key, two house keys and a War Amps tag.

This will make sense to Canadians. Since I’m not sure if a similar program exists in other countries I will explain. The War Amps is an organization founded in 1918 to help soldiers who had lost limbs during the war. That work continues today, but now they are also providing prosthetic limbs, encouragement and support to children who have lost a hand, an arm or a leg.

In a stroke of genius in 1946 they began the key chain program which provides work for amputees, raises money to provide prosthetic limbs for amputees, and provides a valuable service to all Canadians.

The key tags are produced in sheltered workshops and are mailed to all Canadians. Donations are optional, but everyone should have one of these tags on every keychain that they use. Each tag bears a number that is linked to the keychain owner in the War Amps database. Someone who finds a keychain and has no other means of identifying the owner can put that keychain in the nearest mailbox. Canada Post will send the keys to War Amps who will identify the owner from their database and mail the keys back to the owner, at no charge.

That is what happened to my wife’s keys. We had one other key for the car, but the rubber facing had broken off and I needed to use the point of a ballpoint pen to push the buttons. So I bought a new key, at a cost of over $500. That is extravagant, but I really needed to replace my key. Now we once more each have a fully functional key.

We have used War Amps key tags for as long as I can remember and know that they return thousands of keys to their owners every year. This is the first time we have been a beneficiary and are thankful there was a War Amps tag on that keychain. We are also thankful to the person who found the keys and dropped them in a mailbox.

Who was “John the Revelator”?

It has become common in some Christian circles to speak of the writer of the book of Revelation as being “John the Revelator.” Who was this guy?

This nom de plume seems to have originated with German Bible scholars of the 19th century who approached the Bible as literature, simply a series of writings produced by human understanding and imagination. For instance, in studying the book of Daniel, they concluded there must have been two authors. The first six chapters were no doubt written by a man named Daniel who lived in the time of Nebuchadnezzar and Darius. But the rest, especially chapter eight which contains a thinly veiled description of the conquests of Alexander the Great, the division of his kingdom into four parts and the rise of Antiochus Epiphanes, could not possibly have been known by this Daniel who had lived centuries before the events he described. Therefore there must have been a second “Daniel” who wrote after those events.

After studying the book of Revelation, they concluded that the writer had done a masterful job of blending elements of Daniel and Ezekiel with current events. He had spun a wonderful yarn, but they had no idea who the writer could be. He called himself John, but they could not connect him to anyone named John who was known to have lived in that time period. It could not be the apostle John, for his writing style and choice of words did not match those found in the gospel and epistles of John the apostle. So why not just call him “John the Revelator”?

I suppose that all makes sense to those who do not believe in a God who had any part in the events described in the Bible, or in the writing of it. For those who believe that God was very much involved in all of that, there are immense problems with the idea of “John the Revelator.”

The first verse of the book of Revelation identifies it as “The Revelation of Jesus Christ which . . . was signified by his angel unto his servant, John.” This revelation was given to John, not by John, therefore it cannot be correct to speak of him as “the Revelator.”

Secondly. if we believe that John actually saw Jesus as he is described in chapter one, standing in the midst of seven candlesticks, his feet glowing as molten brass, his eyes as flames of fire and a double-edged sword coming out of his mouth, it is not hard to believe that his writing style would change.

If we believe that John the apostle actually saw everything he records in the Revelation, it is entirely inappropriate to follow the lead of unbelieving scholars and call him “John the Revelator.” Why don’t we just call him “the Apostle John”?

The story arc

Have you ever read a book which follows the life of a main character, yet there doesn’t seem to be a story? This character does a variety of things, things good and bad happen to him or her, but they are just disconnected happenings without a point. Evidently, the writer had no idea how to fit it all into a story arc.

The story arc is the backbone of the story. The story begins with a central character who is facing some kind of trouble. He tries to find a way out of this trouble, but makes it worse. He continues to struggle to find a way to overcome this trouble, but it just compounds itself and gets worse and worse until it seems there is no possible way out. Finally, the central character gets hold of himself, faces his own weaknesses which have hindered him all along, faces the problem with courage he never had before and is victorious. The character has grown, the problem is overcome, and we have a story that grips our interest from start to finish.

This is not a newfangled modern concept. The stories in the Bible are prime examples of the story arc.

Moses is born in a time when Pharaoh has decreed that Israelite boy babies should not be allowed to live. His mother abandons him, but with a little help from his sister he is rescued by Pharaoh’s daughter and reunited with his mother until he is weaned. He grows up to be a prince of Egypt. Josephus tells us that he became a brilliant military commander. At the age of 40 his mind turns to the distress of the Israelites. He tries to help, but finds his help is not appreciated. But now he has crossed a line and can no longer stay in Egypt.

He flees to Midian and connects with a Midianite priest and shepherd. He marries this man’s daughter and spends the next 40 years caring for his father-in-law’s sheep in the Sinai peninsula. It seems that he keeps in sporadic contact with his brother and sister and is aware of the increasing oppression of the Israelite people. Then God appears to him in the burning bush and calls him to go back to Egypt to lead the Israelite people to freedom.

Moses balks at God’s call, claiming to be slow of speech. In the circumstances, the simplest explanation is that Moses could barely speak the Hebrew language. He had learned a little when he was very young, but never enough that the Israelites would believe that God had sent him to deliver them from bondage. God insisted and Moses went, with the support of his brother Aaron.

Moses has no difficulty speaking to Pharaoh and soon learns Hebrew so that he is no longer dependent on Aaron as his interpreter. But his repeated requests to let the Israelites go only increases Pharaoh’s oppression of them. The plagues of Egypt do nothing to make things better, until the death angel slays the firstborn of every Egyptian family. Then Pharaoh tells the people to go, and they get as far as the Red Sea which they have no means of crossing with all their people, possessions and livestock.

Pharaoh changes his mind and leads his army in hot pursuit. Here are the Israelites, trapped between the sea and an army with murder on its mind. Then God intervenes, placing a thick cloud between the Egyptians and Israelites and opening a passage through the Red Sea. The people walk through on dry land, with a wall of water on each side. Then God takes away the cloud and the enraged army charges after the Israelites. The wheels fall off their chariots and there is confusion and tumult. When the whole army is in the seabed, God lets the walls of water collapse, drowning the whole army. Moses has led the Israelites to freedom.

That is the classic story arc. Now, the Israelites were people just like us and one happy ending was not the end of the story. The Bible is full of story arcs like this. In fact, the Bible as a whole is one big, overarching story arc.

The stories in the Bible are about real people, people who are a bewildering mixture of strength and weakness, just like you and me. These stories reveal how God can use such weak, failure-prone people to accomplish His purposes. They are inspiring stories. And they are the ideal examples for us to study if we wish to learn how to write a gripping story.

Demonstration of power

A mortar and pestle used to be standard equipment in kitchens, pharmacies and high school science labs. They could be made of stone, wood or metal, but most often they were ceramic, as in the picture below.

Image by ariesa66 from Pixabay 

Sixty-five years ago I sat in a high school classroom as our teacher demonstrated how gunpowder was made. He took charcoal, sulphur and saltpetre and used the mortar and pestle to grind them to powder. As he was doing so, he placed his left hand over the top of the mortar to keep it from moving around on his desk, holding the pestle between the thumb and forefinger of that had and using his right hand to move the pestle around to grind and mix those three ingredients.

DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME!!!

As he was doing that, he continued to talk to us, explaining the history and use of gunpowder. I’m not sure what his plan was for demonstrating the explosive power of gunpowder, but he achieved something much more persuasive than he could have planned. His left hand pretty much sealed the top of the mortar and his manipulation of the pestle cause friction, which produced heat, which led to

Shards of pottery shot across the classroom; students dived for the floor on the side of their desks away from the source of the explosion. The teacher was as startled as the rest of us but quickly gathered his wits and asked if anyone had been hurt. No one had, except I think the palm of his hand must have suffered some burns and scratches. Then he asked one of the students to get a broom and dustpan to clean up the debris.

That was the coolest science experiment ever (but don’t try it at home). It didn’t turn out as the teacher had planned, but we all left school that day with the recipe for gunpowder and the knowledge of its power permanently engraved on our minds.

There is another situation where a man stands in front of a group of people to talk, and power is unleashed. The apostle Paul called it the foolishness of preaching.

For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. 1 Corinthians 1:21

How can saving power be produced by an ordinary guy standing in front of a group of people and talking? Well, first of all, the guy doing the talking is not the source of the power. But as he speaks, he must blend together three essential ingredients: the Word of God, faith and love. Leave any one of them out and there is no power. A man may have a profound and true faith, but without the Word of God his words sound like his own ideas, without love, his words sound like accusations.

It is good to study the Scriptures, the historical setting in which they were written and the original meaning of the words. But that is not an essential ingredient in effective preaching. Taking shortcuts to that learning can lead to pre-packaged distortions of the truth of God’s Word.

Learning to speak clearly and effectively is good, but we need to steer clear of trying to manipulate people’s emotions. The essential ingredients of preaching with power are the Word of God, faith and love. These three work together even in the mouth of those of little learning or speaking skill.

When they are brought together, the Holy Spirit provides the spark that produces an explosion that blows away our pride, our self-righteousness, our hurt feelings, our suspicions and all the other walls we have built that we think are protecting us, but which are really barriers to fellowship with God and with other believers.

To be sure, the explosion is silent and invisible. The results are nonetheless real. Let’s sweep all that rubble onto the rubbish heap rather than trying to use it to rebuild those walls.

Quality assurance and child training

I spent fifteen years working in the quality assurance department of an auto parts factory and have a certificate showing that 30 years ago I was certified as a quality engineer. There are a few simple lessons I learned during that time that I believe apply as much to little people in the home as they do to big people in a factory.

80% of quality problems are the responsibility of management.
In the home that means the parents. So when a child’s behaviour does not measure up to our expectations, our first reaction should be to ask ourselves:

Have we given them the tools to do what we asked them to do?
This does not mean the right wrench or micrometer. It means have I done all that is needed to explain what I expect of them and how to do it? That involves more than just telling them to do something. In the plant where I worked, the engineering manager had a poster in his office which said:

TELL ME — I’LL FORGET
SHOW ME — I’LL REMEMBER
WORK WITH ME — I’LL UNDERSTAND

The mode of baptism

From Introduction to Theology, page 239 by J. C. Wenger, © 1954 by Herald Press, Scottdale, Pa.:

In 1899 a Christian minister from Pennsylvania (A. D. Wenger) visited the catacombs of Rome. One day he walked out the Appian Way to the catacomb of St. Callistus. “I had been in other parts of this catacomb twice before, but this time I told the guide that I wanted to see frescoes of baptism. Soon we reached one of about the end of the second century where a minister is represented as baptizing a young applicant. The minister stands on the bank and the applicant in the water. A handful of water has just been dipped and put on the head of the applicant where the minister’s hand still rests, perhaps to pronounce a blessing. Small streams of water are plainly seen falling from the head of the applicant. . .
“We went on a little farther to another fresco very similar to the preceding one, and of about the same age, but the minister’s feet appear to be just a little in the edge of the stream and no water is represented as falling from the head of the applicant who is in the water and standing erect.
“We went still farther eastward under the hill and beneath the Appian Way. . . . Here we found the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. John stands right at the edge of the Jordan and Christ stands in the water below him. It is also so represented by the picture of it in the museum. Baptism by dipping water on the head with one hand appears to be just completed and John is bending slightly forward with his hand at the elbow of Christ to help Him come ‘up straightway out of the water.’ . . . This is the fresco of baptism that has been assigned by some to A.D. 107.
“I asked the guide to show me some frescoes of other modes of baptism. He said, ‘There are no other modes represented in any of the catacombs.’”

From Water Baptism – The Doctrine of the Mode, pages 14 & 15, emphasis in the original. Written by Rev. W. A. Mackay, B.A., D.D., reprinted by D. W. Friesen & Sons, Altona, Man.)

But in the second and third centuries we find the state of things deplorable indeed. The disposition to ascribe particular virtue to external forms had gone on constantly increasing, until, by-and-by, nude immersions, accompanied with exorcism, anointing, and every species of superstitions, fairly ran riot in unseemingly and scandalous practice. It was thought that there was a saving virtue in the very water of baptism. Just as it was believed that the bread and wine, after consecration, became the real body and blood of Christ, so it was believed that the water of baptism, after the invocation, possessed the real presence of the Spirit. The natural conclusion from this was the the more water the better, and that the water should be applied to the whole body so that the regeneration might be complete. We, therefore, now find trine immersions in a nude state, accompanied with exorcism, unction, the giving of salt and milk to the candidate, clothing him in snow-white robes, and crowning him with evergreens. Remember that there is not one ancient immersion that was not accompanied with these other superstitions. There is precisely the same authority for the immersion as there is for the nudity, exorcism, unction, etc.,—no more, no less.

The first mention of immersion as a mode of baptism, is by Tertullian, and he mentions it associated with all the above practices, and then acknowledges that all these (immersion included) are based on tradition and destitute of Scripture authority. His words are, ‘For these and such like rules, if thou requirest a law in the Scripture, thou shalt find none.’ (See De Corona Militis, chs. 3 and 4)

Thus immersion, as a mode of baptism, came into use.

The following quotes are from A Third Way, by Paul M. Lederach, © 1980 by Herald Press.

Baptism is administered to a believer, not on the basis of what he knows, but as the Scriptures and the historic Mennonite faith indicate, on the evidence of the new life. . .

Concerning baptism, Anabaptists differ significantly from much of Protestantism, as well as Roman Catholicism, not only by not baptizing babies, but also by the importance given to baptism when compared to other practices of the church.

In general, both the Catholic Church (in the mass) and Protestant churches give much more attention to communion than to baptism. However, among Anabaptists baptism had first place because baptism is the critical issue in realizing a regenerate, disciplined church.

Baptism is the tool for gathering a redeemed society, a society of pilgrims, separated from the evil of the unregenerated world.

Baptism is the symbol of discontinuity with the world.

In terms of binding and loosing, some have seen baptism as “binding” and discipline as “loosing.”

At the heart of baptism is a pledge—a pledge to the Father, to the Son, to the Holy Spirit, and to fellow believers to live a pilgrim life of discipleship.

Baptism is a symbol; it is not a sacrament. It is an ordinance, and as an ordinance it is basically a teaching device. But what does baptism symbolize? This has given rise to an unfortunate detour in the life of the church. For some reason, the church has frequently argued about the mode of baptism while often missing its meaning. Historically, there have been two ways to baptize: immersion and pouring or sprinkling.

Actually, neither mode can carry all the symbolism. Immersion symbolizes participation in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. The believer is immersed in the water and then raised out of the water. But with immersion has gone many other questions: How is it done? Is the believer immersed forward or backward? Is the believer immersed once or three time?
Pouring symbolizes Pentecost and the pouring out of the Spirit. In pouring, the one to be baptized kneels, and after the water is administered, he is offered the right hand of fellowship. . .
(Pages 81 to 83)

But among the Anabaptists the testimony of the one baptized was not enough. The additional testimony of the congregation was needed. It was not enough for a person to come to the congregation and say, “I have received the Holy Spirit.” The claim had to be authenticated by brothers and sisters, who could say, “yes, we see the work of the Spirit in your life.”

A problem facing the church today is unauthenticated claims of professing Christians.(Page 85). At water baptism there was an oral confession of faith. The one being baptized publicly stated: “I believe in God. I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe in the Holy Spirit. I am sorry for my sins. I promise to live a life of faithfulness to Jesus Christ until death.” In addition to the oral confession of faith and the promise of faithfulness, there was a transaction that today is often ignored. The one being baptized placed himself in the care, discipline and fellowship of the faithful community. But even this was not enough. The congregation also pledged to the one being baptized their love, care and discipline. (Pages 86 to 87)

Some personal thoughts:
• The first Baptists, in both England and America, did not practice immersion. Immersion was introduced in England around 1633 and in Rhode Island in 1644.
• If the Greek word baptizo is taken to mean immersion and only immersion, this introduces a serious problem. Immersion means to place an object under water. It does not include the thought of taking that object out of the water. Some Baptist writers have been honest enough to admit that.
• The fierce emotional attachment of Baptists and others to immersion indicates an underlying fear that one cannot be saved without baptism by immersion.
• A number of the Scriptural uses of the word baptism refer to the baptism of the Holy Spirit at the time of conversion, or to the baptism of blood (opposition and persecution) and not water baptism.
• Baptism is symbolic of that Holy Spirit baptism and also of a separation from the world and identifying oneself with the people of God.

80

That is my age, as of today. I saw my doctor for my annual physical checkup yesterday. He told me that I am fine and that arthritis is normal for someone my age. In other words, arthritis, like old age, is incurable.

I got to thinking about a couple of Bible verses relating to old age. The first is found in Leviticus 19:32: “Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the LORD.” Is that happening in our day? Why not?

Perhaps the second verse supplies part of the answer. It is found in Proverbs 16:61: ” The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness.” What does it mean to be found in the way of righteousness.

I strongly suspect that a big part of the meaning is that I should not be trying to convince others that I am still young and foolish. The time has come to act my age.

The books of Job and Proverbs have much to say about wisdom, especially the wisdom that is inspired by the fear of the LORD. The following caution to those who think themselves wise is from Job 32:9: “Great men are not always wise: neither do the aged understand judgment.”

I believe it is reasonable to expect that those who have been Christians for many years should have accumulated a store of wisdom, learned from those who came before them and from their own experience, to pass on to those who are younger. However, the world around us has been indoctrinated to believe that the only valid method of learning is discovery learning and that the older have nothing to pass on to the young. Unfortunately this thinking seems to be also permeating the Christian realm.

The result is that we now have a generation of Christians who are cut off from their heritage. Those of us who are older should be endeavouring to revive that heritage. How can we do that?

In the Anabaptist/Mennonite lineage we find recorded confessions of faith from numerous centuries. We profess to believe them still. But they look an awful lot like sets of rules. I’m sure they did not start out that way, but were divinely inspired conclusions that enabled our spiritual forefathers to face very real problems.

We face those same problems today, the face has changed but not the substance. It seems to me that we need to unpack those confessions of faith to discover why they were decided upon in the first place. They are thoroughly Scriptural, but we seem to have much the same problem with the Bible. Today’s generation relies far too much on a superficial understanding of the Word of God.

So here is the challenge to those of us who are old. We should be explaining the why of our Christian teachings. Not just slogans, or disjointed interpretations, but the deep, unifying truths that ae contained in the old words. Let’s start by asking ourselves and each other why and do it over and over until we plumb the depths of the meaning of Christian life.

Making disciples

I confess that I feel a lack in my life in being able to fulfill Jesus’ command to make disciples of all nations. It seems to me that I am not alone in this, the people who sit beside me on the church benches Sunday after Sunday don’t seem to be doing a whole lot better than I am.

Every once in a while I read a book that promises to have the solution for our spiritual lethargy. Each time I read the first chapter or two with growing enthusiasm. But that enthusiasm slowly drains away as I realize the writer is just proposing one more sure-fire method for being a witness or evangelist, complete with guide books, podcasts and other paraphernalia to equip me for the task.

That usually brings me back to the following words found at the end of Jonathan Goforth’s book By My Spirit, first published in 1929.  Jonathan Goforth was a missionary to China from 1888 to 1935.

Was there ever such an incomparable opportunity for Christian leaders to get rid of their ecclesiastical idols and bring themselves into heart contact with the unsearchable riches of Christ as at the Missionary Conference in Edinburgh in 1910? There has been no Church gathering in modern times around which such expectations have centred. Missionary leaders had come from all parts of the world. It was the confident hope of many that a new era in missions had dawned. The subject for the last day was — “The Home Base.” It provoked visions of endless possibilities. The home churches, empowered by a mighty Holy Ghost Revival, would send out men fitted as were Paul and Barnabas. With their enormous resources in men and means the world would be evangelized in a generation.

Alas! it was only a dream. Never have I experienced such keen pain and disappointment as I did that day. Of the many who addressed that great missionary gathering, not more than three emphasized God the Holy Spirit as the one essential factor in world evangelization. Listening to the addresses that day, one could not but conclude that the giving of the Gospel to lost mankind was largely a matter of better organization, better equipment, more men and women. Symptoms, indeed, were not lacking that a few more sparks might have precipitated an explosion. But no, the dethronement of the idol of ecclesiastical self-sufficiency was apparently too great a price to pay.

But, brethren, the Spirit of God is with us still. Pentecost is yet within our grasp. If revival is being withheld from us it is because some idol remains still enthroned; because we still insist in placing our reliance in human schemes; because we still refuse to face the unchangeable truth that “it is not by might, but BY MY SPIRIT.”

That seems almost too simple. According to Jonathan Goforth, our problem is not a lack of training, a lack of knowing how to be a witness for Jesus. Our problem is that we very much want to be self-sufficient, in control, to know just what to say and when and where to say it. Our problem is that those feelings lead us to suppress the gentle promptings of the Holy Spirit.

What if he was right?

It’s two’sday!

Today’s date, written as all Canadians used to write it (day-month-year), looks like this:

22-02-2022

But U.S. influence has crept in and prompts some of us to write it month-day-year:

02-22-2022

Having two styles of notation can be confusing, especially for days from 1-12. For instance, what day and month are meant by 09-02-2022? The recent trend is to write the date as year-month-day:

2022-02-22

So we now have three styles of writing the date. The third one eliminates the possibility of confusion and will no doubt prevail in the long run.

No matter how we write today’s date, it is a unique day, whose like we will never see again. Maybe the world will last for another millennium, maybe the calendar will be re-jigged so that there will be a day that is written 3033-03-33, but none of us are going to be around to see it.

Are you feeling lonely?

“It is not good that the man should be alone.” This statement, found in Genesis 2:18 is often cited in the context of marriage, and it is very fitting in that context. But let’s consider the setting in which it was said. Got had placed the first man in an idyllic setting, the garden of Eden, a place teeming with life and beauty. But the man was alone, not another human being existed. That was not a healthy situation.

We have lived in a pandemic situation for two years, where we were told it was best for our health to keep our distance from one another, to avoid contact with other people as much as possible, to isolate ourselves. That may have had some effectiveness in mitigating the spread of the virus. But it seems to have caused an epidemic of loneliness.

The devil has been at work during this time of isolation, spreading rumours of conspiracies, distrust of political and health care leaders, and division between people who do not agree on the approach to take in coping with the virus.

If there is going to be a healing of this epidemic of loneliness, we need to recognize how much the devil has used the circumstances of the past two years to spread fear and mistrust. We must open our eyes to see the cloven hoof, if I can use that metaphor.

In the third chapter of the Epistle of James, he tells us that if we are feeding on information that causes strife and division, we need to step back and recognize that this wisdom is not from God, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. It is the wisdom of this world that appeals to our senses, and the force of the arguments supporting this wisdom comes from the pit of hell.

Then James tells us that the wisdom that comes from above, from God, “is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.”

Let us have an outbreak of this kind of wisdom. That will be the antidote to the epidemic of loneliness and divisiveness.

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