Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Understanding the language of the Bible

There is a good possibility that using a dictionary of the English language will muddy the waters when it comes to trying to understand a word used in the Bible. The word science found in 1 Timothy 6:20 is a case in point. The Greek word here translated science is gnosis, which in all its 28 other appearances in the New Testament is translated knowledge. That is what it means in this verse also. Science is a word of French origin, derived from the verb scier – to know. In French, science simply means knowledge and that was its original meaning in English. The meaning has shifted in English over the past 400 years, but to understand 1 Timothy 6:20 we need to go back to its original meaning.

Image by Robert C from Pixabay 

Here is what Adam Clarke says on this verse:

And oppositions of science falsely so called – Και αντιθεσεις της ψευδωνυμου γνωσεως·
And oppositions of knowledge falsely so named. Dr. Macknight’s note here is worthy of much attention: “In the enumeration of the different kinds of inspiration bestowed on the first preachers of the Gospel, 1Co_12:8, we find the word of knowledge mentioned; by which is meant that kind of inspiration which gave to the apostles and superior Christian prophets the knowledge of the true meaning of the Jewish Scriptures. This inspiration the false teachers pretending to possess, dignified their misinterpretations of the ancient Scriptures with the name of knowledge, that is, inspired knowledge; for so the word signifies, 1Co_14:6. And as by these interpretations they endeavored to establish the efficacy of the Levitical atonements, the apostle very properly termed these interpretations oppositions of knowledge, because they were framed to establish doctrines opposite to, and subversive of, the Gospel. To destroy the credit of these teachers, he affirmed that the knowledge from which they proceeded was falsely called inspired knowledge; for they were not inspired with the knowledge of the meaning of the Scriptures, but only pretended to it.” Others think that the apostle has the Gnostics in view. But it is not clear that these heretics, or whatever they were, had any proper existence at this time. On the whole, Dr. Macknight’s interpretation seems to be the best.

Prairie Spring

A few days ago we still needed to run the furnace in the morning to make the house comfortable. Today we have to try to cool it down. The temperature at 11:00 am is 30° (86°F).

We had a long winter and a slow spring. But now we hear birds singing at 4:00 am and I was hearing the serenade of a brown thrasher as I ate my breakfast. Chris was almost despairing of seeing the swallows this year, this is much later than their usual first appearance. This morning they are back!

Image by S. Hermann & F. Richter from Pixabay 

I haven’t cut the grass yet, the lawn is green but hasn’t grown much because of how dry it is. Little yellow flowers have appeared on our lawn and I enjoy the splash of colour. The scent of lilacs will soon be wafting through the air. Our neighbour’s house has disappeared behind a wall of green leaves. In a few days we won’t be able to see the highway from our house. It is half a mile away and last summer was the first time that the trees on the west side of our acreage had grown dense enough to block our view.

We are enjoying the beautiful weather, farmers around us have been busy the past two weeks and most of the crop is now in the ground. Now we are hearing the old flatlander lament:

We sit and gaze across the plains
And wonder why it never rains.

For the past three weeks the long range forecast has promised heavy rains 7 to 10 days in the future. It’s like a mirage, it keeps moving and we never get closer. One of these days it will surprise us.

Are You Perfect?

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructed his disciples: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:46). Instructions like this are found all through the Old and New Testaments. In Genesis 17:1, God said to Abraham: “I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect.”

Some people say that the only way that we can be perfect is by faith in Jesus Christ so that His perfection is imputed to us. How does that fit with God’s instruction to Abraham?

There are 12 Hebrew words that are translated perfect in the Old Testament, and 8 Greek words that are translated perfect in the New Testament. These Hebrew and Greek words are often translated by other words in the Bible, usually words like complete or finished.

The Greek word teleios, which is twice used in the first verse that I quoted, means brought to an end, full grown, adult, mature. In 1 Corinthians 14:20 the same word is translated men: “Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.” And in Hebrews 5:14 it is translated of full age: “ But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”

The English word perfect is defined thus by Oxford: 1 complete; not deficient 2 flawless; without defect 3 very satisfactory 4 exact; precise 5 entire; unqualified 9 eminently suitable. Meanings 6, 7 and 8 deal with grammar, botany and sports. In English grammar the perfect past tense refers to an action that was completed in the past before something else happened; the imperfect past tense refers to an action that began in the past and was not complete at the moment being spoken of.

Too many people get hung up on definition 2 and think it is the only meaning of perfect. In fact, that meaning does not seem to be implied in any of the Scriptural uses of the word perfect. Most often the intended meaning, when referring to people, is grown up, mature. Maturity does not make us flawless, it makes us responsible. We make mistakes, confess them and do our best to make amends. That is what God wants of us.

We read in history of some Christians of many years ago who referred to their leaders as the perfect. If we understand the true meaning of perfect, that amounts to much the same thing as calling them elders. The use of the word perfect by those people is not enough in itself for us to judge them as having a false belief.

So, yes, we are called to be perfect, in the sense of being mature and responsible. It is a high calling, but God has given us the Holy Spirit to help us fulfill that calling.

Pray for them which despitefully use you

Job didn’t know why this was happening to him. All his children and all his livestock were suddenly gone, then his body became covered with oozing sores. He used dust and ashes in an attempt to calm the itching.

His three closest friends came to commiserate with him and at first had no words to say in face of such a calamity. It seemed logical to them that Job must have somehow brought this on himself. The more Job protested his innocence and his trust that God would vindicate him, the more his friends became convinced that he was hiding a great sin.

“Miserable comforters are ye all,” Job responded. “No doubt but that ye are the people and the truth will die with you.” In frustration, Job demanded an explanation for his suffering from God.

The three friends ran out of accusations and fell silent. Another person, Elihu, began to speak, saying “God is greater than man. Why dost thou strive against him? for he giveth not account of any of his matters.”

In the end Job repented of asking for answers, but his trial was not quite over. God spoke to Job’s three friends and told them to bring animals for a sacrifice to Job and ask him to pray for them. It was only when Job prayed for these men who had spoken falsehoods against him that God set Job free from his troubles.

That is still the only way to experience peace and freedom. Jesus said “Pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.” In other words, when we face criticism and unjust accusations, rather than thinking of ways to cut our accusers down to size, let’s pray for them.

What is Christian mission?

Do we think of mission as a structured work of the church whereby we elect a committee, choose a location to do mission work and then choose people to go there and be missionaries? What are the missionaries supposed to do when they get there?

The starting point for all Christian outreach is to tell others what God has done for us. Do we need a committee to tell us to do that? I hope not. It is possible for every person who has experienced the forgiveness of sins and freedom from the power of sin to tell others about what they have experienced and are experiencing daily as they walk and talk with God.

Sometimes organisation is needed to share the gospel in places far from home. But people are ill-equipped to be missionaries far from home if they have never been missionaries close to home.

Let’s not make it complicated. This is not an intellectual exercise, it is a matter of sharing from the heart about the most important thing in our life. Let’s encourage one another to freely tell what God has done for us.

The art is in knowing what to remove

Michelangelo, when asked how he managed to create such a lifelike sculpture of David out of a block of marble, replied “I just removed everything that was not David.”

Chaim Potok, who wrote novels such as The Chosen and My Name is Asher Lev, said something much the same: “I think the hardest part of writing is revising. And by that I mean the following: a novelist has to create the piece of marble and then chip away to find the figure in it.”

Yearning for more red rhubarb

Image by Di Reynolds from Pixabay 

What is a yard in Saskatchewan without a couple of rhubarb plants? But this yard did not have any when we moved in 13 years ago. Ten years ago I bought one plant from a garden centre and planted it in a back corner of the garden. It grew, but never produced enough stalks that we dared cut any for eating.

I finally had to admit that I had planted it too close to the trees. They were thriving, the rhubarb just surviving. Last spring I dug deep to get all the root and transplanted it to a more open area. We didn’t expect much the first year after transplanting, but the rhubarb surprised us. It loved the new location and produced enough for us to have a few good desserts from it.

And was it ever good! In other places where we have lived we planted rhubarb that promised to be redder and sweeter than the old-fashioned rhubarb and could barely discern the difference. This stuff is different. Well, you can’t exactly call rhubarb sweet, but it is much less bitter than others. We look forward to treating ourselves to more this summer. Now I wish we had two plants. But how can I find another plant like this when I have no idea what variety the first one is?

Connecting the dots

In our small town school, there was a two shelf bookcase in the Grade 11 and 12 classroom. That was our library, and I read every book in those shelves during my last two years in that school. During the reading of one of those books, a historical book, I had a moment of enlightenment. This was over 60 years ago, thee name and subject of the book have vanished into the mists of time, but I remember that it dealt with the same period of history that we were studying in class. It named the same people and places, the same events, but the narrative was different. That was when it dawned on me that the way history is told depends upon the point of view of the writer.

After that I looked on historical research as a page covered with dots, some small, some large. Different historians studied the information provided by those dots and each one connected the dots he felt to be most important to produce a recognizable picture. Some may do it with the intent to deceive, but I believe most are honestly trying to create a clear picture for their readers.

Even the Bible has examples of histories told from different points of view. There are two histories of the kingdoms of Judah and Israel. The first, 1st and 2nd Samuel and 1st and 2nd Kings, was written before the Babylonian captivity by Jeremiah, or by someone else under his direction. The unity of purpose linking these books with the book of the prophet Jeremiah is underlined by the fact that the same four verses form the conclusion of 2 Kings and Jeremiah. Jeremiah consulted the records of those kingdoms and pointed out the episodes of disobedience and idolatry that led to the judgment of God.

The second history, written by Ezra after the people returned from their captivity, is drawn from the same records as the first. But Ezra points out how God was faithful and had often poured out blessings upon His people. He tells how King Manasseh, the most evil king Judah ever had, repented and spent the last years of his life labouring to undo the evil he had done. The link between 1st and 2nd Chronicles and Ezra is evident in that the two final verses of 2 Chronicles are repeated in the beginning of Ezra.

In the New Testament we have four accounts of the life of Jesus. The Gospel of Mark is an eyewitness account, generally understood to have been told to Mark by Peter. Matthew was writing for Jewih readers and pointed out in great detail how the life of Jesus fulfilled the prophecies about the Messiah. Luke, wrote as a Greek historian and told a coherent, well documented story of Jesus’ life from beginning to end, including the resurrection. John put more emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit. Each writer told the story in a different way, sometimes choosing different dots. There is no contradiction, we are enriched by having all four.

We need to be very careful in accepting all that we read in the news of current events. News reporters often choose the dots that fit a predetermined point of view. Here is one instance. We are often told that the income disparity between black people and white people in the USA is positive proof of racism. But if you look at the incomes of married black people and married white people, that disparity disappears.

That should cause us to look for the causes of the difference in the number of stable marriages among black people and white people. Then we see the same forces working among all groups of people to undermine the family. There is a war on the family in the world today. This war is not going to be won on the battlefield of politics. It is a matter of faith.

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.

WASP to Woke

In my school days, over 60 years ago, I learned that anyone who wasn’t a WASP was less than the ideal Canadian. WASP stood for White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant. I could check all the boxes, and felt good about it.

What I received in school was an indoctrination into the Orange Order perception of Canada and Canadian history. The Orange Order frequently resorted to riots to get their point of view across to governments. They believed that people who were not white, Anglo-Saxon protestants should have no influence on Canadian society. They did not share the moral values or the nobility of character that was characteristic of WASPs. Perhaps it was not stated so blatantly, but that point of view permeated our curriculum. The books we read portrayed WASPs as noble and true, other people were shifty-eyed and untrustworthy.

There is a segment of our society that still thinks that way; I don’t anymore. One reason was my mother’s quiet influence. She was much more open-minded and that gradually undermined my tendency to be dogmatic in my attitudes. I read a lot, from many points of view, including books in French, that challenged the Orange Order view of the world that I had learned in school.

Woke is the correct way to think nowadays. The woke perception of Canadian society and history now permeates our educational system, the media and the political parties. The term originated among African-American people in the 1940’s to refer to those who were awake the the social injustices inherent in the structure of society.

The meaning has grown to encompass every perception of injustice and the need for a revolutionary restructuring of society. To those who are woke, it seems imperative to erase all prior history. The views of those who are not woke should not be allowed to be disseminated in any form to the public. In other words, we are now facing an ideology that is every bit as intolerant as the Orange Order, right down to the riots.

As Christians, we must not let ourselves be drawn into such ideological strife, either for or against the prevailing attitudes. We are part of the heavenly kingdom, a kingdom of peace and love; we serve the Lord Jesus Christ. The devils must laugh with glee when Christians get emotionally involved and make statements that do not come from the Spirit of Christ.

Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but [is] earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace. (James 3:13-18).

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