Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Defenceless Christians?

As Anabaptists/Mennonites we call ourselves nonresistant, or defenceless, Christians. Let’s take a moment to examine ourselves in one small aspect of what this means, or should mean.

The question is, how should we relate to persons in our congregation whose ethnic, social or cultural identity differs from that of the majority of the members? Do we expect all the adaptation to come from their side, so that they fully identify with the cultural norms of the majority? Is that even possible?

We must, of course, be fully united on all points of the faith. The problem is that when almost all the members of a congregation are of the same background, we tend to think that everything we do is based on our faith. We can’t imagine doing things any other way. It wouldn’t seem right.

When someone who is new to the faith asks why we look at aspects of daily life a certain way, we can’t understand why there is even a questions. No one has ever questioned those things before. Our reflex is to become defensive. And when we become defensive, we stop listening.

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When the person asking the question senses our defensiveness, he will often draw back and stop asking questions. But the questions don’t go away, over time they accumulate. Finding no answer to what he considers legitimate questions, he may cease to feel at home in the congregation.

The apostle Paul tells us “Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits” (Romans 12:16). The modern meaning of condescend is to be gracious to those who are of a lower state than we are, while maintaining an awareness of our superiority. To read the verse with this meaning is to miss what the apostle was trying to tell us. French translations say to accommodate ourselves to men of low estate, which I believe is the original meaning. Conceits has also shifted in meaning over the years, the last sentence tells us to not think of ourselves as being wiser than others.

Adam Clarke concludes his commentary on this verse with “Believe that you stand in need of both help and instruction from others.” Isn’t that the attitude we need in order to accommodate ourselves to people of other backgrounds? If we expect that all accommodation must come from their side, we cannot be successful ambassadors for Christ.

Let’s lose the defensiveness. Let’s stop expecting square pegs to fit into round holes. If we can see Christ in people who came from a different cookie cutter that we did, our eyes may be opened to see fields ripe for the harvest all around us.

Without me ye can do nothing

The words of Jesus are blunt; unless we submit our lives, our being, to His control, we are not capable of being a Christian. We can pretend, we may think we are doing a great job on our own, but sooner or later something will happen and whatever is really in our heart will show up.

To take just one example: we read exhortations in the Bible about being humble and set about to make ourselves humble. It goes well; soon we think we have this down pat, we’re doing a much better job of being humble than most of the people around us. . .

Whoa! See the problem? We’ve become proud of our humility.

To become a Christian, we must admit that we have hopelessly messed up our life and cannot clean up the mess by ourselves. It’s pretty humbling isn’t it? That’s a good start in Christian life, the right start. However, as time goes on, we start thinking that we’ve got this figured out, we can complete the task of making ourselves Christian by our own understanding and will. When that doesn’t seem to be working out some folks wonder what the problem is. Others see that they have messed up again and turn to Jesus to make a new start.

Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. He has sent the Holy Spirit to help us do what we cannot do. We all know that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy and peace. But we don’t always remember the other qualities, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance. Aren’t they a good description of humility?

It is the work of the Holy Spirit in our heart that makes us humble. Our own work on the outer man can’t do it. Our own work can’t do anything at all that will count in eternity.

Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen. (Jude 24-25)

Requiem for Tuffy

Tuffy came to us unexpectedly November 17, about a week after our first heavy snowfall. Chris opened the door early in the morning, a four month old kitten walked in, explored our home and decided this was his home. We delighted in his lively presence all winter, then he left us just as unexpectedly March 26, before our snow was altogether gone. He went out the night before and never came home. I found him lying by the roadside in the morning, stiff and cold, no doubt a victim of a passing motor vehicle and his own trusting nature.

He was friendly and fearless, curious and cuddly. The other two cats in this house hissed and growled at him that first day, he took no notice. In time they realized he meant them no harm and accepted him as part of the family. He loved to explore outside, climb trees, chas mice. Indoors he came running when the computer printer began to whir and watched in fascination as sheets of paper appeared in the output slot. When his enthusiasm went too far and he was scolded, he promptly sat flat on the floor to consider this new information. He learned not to walk on the table and to wait his turn when treats were being given out.

He grew rapidly. His size, his colouring, the shape of his head, his long hair, all pointed to mostly Norwegian Forest Cat ancestry. So did his congenial nature. No matter what we were doing, he could come along, jump on our lap to be cuddled and loudly purr his appreciation.

A few weeks ago two neighbour cats were in heat at the same time and came to our yard every day, trying to attract the attention of our cats. By then Tuffy was a eunuch, like the other two. Angus avoided the two females, Pookie chased them away, but Tuffy loved the attention. Looking on, we saw that he had no idea why they wanted to be close to him and no clue about what they expected from him.

He made several visits to the Vet clinic with me: to check for a microchip; to be immunized; to be neutered; and one last time to be cremated. A little later in spring I could have buried him here at home, but the receding snowdrifts of winter still occupy much of the yard.

Tuffy quickly found a place in our hearts and brought us much joy. We miss him. Do we expect to meet him again in heaven? No. Yet I believe that all the beautiful and lovely things that bring us joy here on earth are a foretaste of heaven. The Bible may describe heaven as being made of gold and precious stones. Hard and lifeless building materials do not warm my heart or make me long for heaven. I don’t believe that is all that heaven holds for us. God has endowed the earth with wondrous living beauty: the subtle fragrance of Sweet Williams; the cheery song repertoire of Brown Thrashers; the shimmering of Saffron Winged Meadowhawks on the lawn; the purring of a cat on our lap. Won’t we find beauty and joy beyond any of these in heaven?

I wonder – if I believed an animal unworthy of my love, would I then believe that people needed to fulfil certain conditions to be worthy of my love? I have no regrets about loving a little four-footed creature. We always knew it would only be for a time, yet never expected it to be such a short time.


(The Saffron Winged Meadowhawk is a mosquito-eating dragonfly with a red body and wings of translucent gold.)

The foolishness of preaching

Singing and prayer have always been important ingredients of worship in the Anabaptist – Mennonite faith, but the focal point of a worship service is that which the apostle Paul called the foolishness of preaching. It appears to be foolishness because there are not many powerful orators amongst us, not many who make a great impression by their knowledge or wisdom, and very seldom are the effects of the preaching readily apparent. We don’t expect any of those things, but we do believe that Bible-based, Spirit-led preaching from the heart of godly ministers feeds the listeners with spiritual manna that enables them to persevere in the faith unto the end.

Many years ago we went to hear David Wilkerson preach at the Centennial Auditorium in Regina. Now there was a powerful preacher! And there were visible results, decisions made. The lady who came with us was bubbling over with new-found commitment on the way home. Her life was going to be different, she was not going to go to the dance the following Saturday night and partake of the atmosphere and beverages found there. That commitment lasted through Monday and Tuesday, but by Wednesday it was gone and she did go to the dance on Saturday. David Wilkerson’s message was good, but I question if one message is enough to make a lasting change in someone’s life.

I have heard several thousand sermons, from perhaps 200 different preachers, in the years that I have been a member of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite. About the only things I remember of what all those preachers said was that when Wildoer Losier of Haiti was in Montreal for revival meetings 25 years ago he began every sermon with “Je vous souhait la paix,” (I wish you peace). and that when Arverd Wiggers was at St Marys, Ontario 10 years before that he told how Christian life is sometimes like a mountain climber descending the face of a mountain in the dark . He comes down the face of a cliff, reaches the end of his rope and still cannot find any footing for his feet. He hears a voice from somewhere saying “just let go.” He is certain that will mean falling to his death on the rocks below, so he keeps feeling around with his feet, desperately searching for a ledge. Finally he can hold on no longer, lets go and falls – about ten inches, and his feet are on solid ground.

Those are the only things that remain in my conscious memory, but they seem significant. There are orators who can stir a crowd to battle with one fiery speech. But Christian ministers are trying to stir their listeners to peace. To live in peace to the end of our days requires faith, love, patience, forgiveness, temperance. As we listen to sermon after sermon touching on various facets of living by faith and in peace, the Holy Spirit impresses those thoughts upon us and they find a place within us that is somewhere deeper than our mind.

There are moments in our lives when the Holy Spirit tells us to let go of something and that makes us tremble in fear. That thing, whatever it may be, is part of us, essential to our well-being. Yet the voice keeps telling us to let go. When we do, we find we have lost nothing at all, but gained a more sure foothold in our relationship with God.

A Scottish minister was visiting the members of his congregation and came to a lady who was a storekeeper. She told him, “That was a wonderful message you preached Sunday a fortnight ago.” The minister, a wee bit skeptical of the praise, asked “What part of the message was it that impressed you?” “I don’t remember,” she said. “What were the Scriptures?” “I don’t remember.” The minister now was sure she had only been flattering him, but then she said “All I remember is that I came home and took the false bottom out of my bushel measure.”

No doubt this lady had told herself for years that she needed that little dishonest advantage to enable her to make a living in her store. The minister had said nothing in his sermon about false bottoms in bushel measures, but the Spirit had taken something he had said to impress upon this lady her need to be completely honest in her business. When she obeyed, it gave her such a relief that she had to thank the minister.

The foolishness of preaching is like that. It can go beyond the words that a preacher speaks to address a problem that is completely unknown to him.

Rulers are not a terror to good works

I received my first injection of COVID-19 vaccine this morning. That means that I have chosen to ignore the warnings of well-intentioned friends who send me emails revealing the malevolent conspiracy behind the vaccination program. That means I have chosen not to live in fear.

Image by DoroT Schenk from Pixabay 

I have chosen to believe the information provided by Moderna, Health Canada, the Saskatchewan Health Authority and other competent authorities showing that the vaccine is safe and effective. I have chosen to do what I believe will protect my health and the health of those around me.

What good do conspiracy theories do? Do they help us live happy and productive lives? Do they helps us to comfort and encourage those around us? Jesus said “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” (John 9:32). Conspiracy theories claim to be the truth, but they lock us in a prison of fear, a prison that we build for ourselves.

My current reading list

Your Life is a Book – How to Craft & Publish Your Memoir, Brenda Peterson & Sarah Jane Freymann- Kobo e-book
Everyone has a story to tell. However, most of us are not naturally endowed with the ability to select the parts that may be most interesting to others and how to tell them without appearing teachy-preachy. I found this book informative and encouraging, albeit a touch New-Agey.

The North-West is our Mother, Jean Teillet , copyright 2019, published by HarperCollins, Toronto.
A history of the Métis nation of Western Canada, written by a Métis historian. This is a wholly different perspective than histories written by those who viewed all indigenous people, including Métis, as ignorant and irresponsible savages. Ms. Teillet has done meticulous and thorough research and the result is a book that takes all points of view into account and includes details unknown or deliberately omitted by other historians.

Defying Jihad, Esther Ahmad, copyright 2019, published by Tyndale Momentum, Carol Stream, Illinois.
A young Muslim lady in Pakistan meets Jesus in a dream and her life is forever changed. This is her story of escape from her father who is disgraced by her rejection of Islam, her confrontations with Muslim clerics, her marriage, how they lived in hiding in Pakistan, then as refugees in Malaysia and finally found a home in the USA.

Le roi des derniers jours, Barret & Gurgand, copyright 1981 and published by Hachette, Paris.
.This is a well-researched account of the city of Munster from 1534-1535. This was a Roman Catholic city that turned to a radical form of Anabaptism. They grew more and more radical, feeding on dreams and visions, believing that Jesus was about to return and establish His kingdom at Munster. They prepared to defend themselves from the surrounding forces, made Jan of Leiden their king, adopted community of goods and polygamy. They were defeated in 1535 and most of them perished.

Cathares, la contre-enquête, Anne Bresson & Jean-Philippe de Tonnac, copyright 2008, published by Albin Michel, Paris.
Anne Bresson is one of the leading authorities on the history of the medieval Albigenses or Cathars of southern France. She has drawn much information from the records of the testimonies of the Albigenses before the Inquisitors and is favourably inclined toward their faith. This is a difficult area of research and so little information is available, and I’m afraid that some of what she has discovered may have come from individuals who had accepted divergent teachings and who were somewhat connected to, but not part of, the Albigensian faith.

Beyond Order, 12 more rules for life, Jordan Peterson, copyright 2021, published by Random House Canada.
Jordan Peterson is a Canadian psychiatrist, university professor and public intellectual. His first book, 12 Rules for life, has sold five million copies. This is a follow up, offering counsel for how to face life when it is chaotic. Jordan Peterson is the polar opposite of the woke sensibility that is creeping over our world. He does not explicitly call himself a Christian, but finds in the Bible the best guiding principles for a fulfilling and useful life.

Hills of Zion, Andrew Lambdin
I don’t even have this book yet, but it is a novel about the Waldensians set in 1208-1209.

The Bible is enough

Image by Pexels from Pixabay 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not too young to learn

Do you think your little child is too young to be taught important lessons? She is learning all the time, even when she doesn’t appear to be paying attention. Consider this item that appeared in the newspaper 25 years ago when we were living in Montreal.

A diabetic mother was worried what would happen if she fell into a diabetic coma while her husband was at work. She tried to teach her three year old daughter how to call 911 for help. She explained and demonstrated several times, but the little girl didn’t appear to comprehend and the mother decided she was just too young.

One day it happened. The mother lost consciousness. The little girl tried to awaken her, then went to the phone, picked up the receiver and pushed the buttons 9-1-1. When someone answered she said “Bobo maman, bobo maman” (Mommy owie, Mommy owie). Then she set the receiver down, unlocked the front door and stood by the window to wait for help to arrive.

First came a police car, then a fire engine and then an ambulance. All with personnel trained to help in such emergencies. One of them called the father, but by the time he arrived home his wife was awake and recovered. Thanks to a little girl who really was listening.

Day one of my eightieth year

Image by M W from Pixabay 

Another birthday, this one is number 79. That many candles on a birthday cake would set off the smoke alarm; perhaps I should feel more alarmed than I do.

In my younger days I couldn’t comprehend the world being able to withstand the impact when all those 9’s in 1999 would rotate to become 2000. It seems I wasn’t alone in having irrational fears about that date, but it is 21 years behind us now. So many years are behind me now that I begin to wonder how many remain in front of me.

I had my annual physical checkup yesterday and the doctor found my heart and lungs were sound. I complained of sciatica in one hip and he thought it was probably arthritis. After checking out the range of pain free movement in my legs he dismissed that idea. So I am hale and hearty, with twinges of discomfort here and there to tell me that my body remembers all those years that are behind me.

As I grow older it becomes clear that I need to choose to become the kind of old guy who is interested in the people and goings on around me. There are enough complainers already, saying how the world isn’t what it used to be, mainly because no one cares about them anymore. Some old people are story tellers, they are more interesting, but eventually you have heard all the stories and they’re not learning new ones.

Story telling isn’t a bad thing. Every person has a story that is interesting and instructive to others, but some folks get into a rut of telling and retelling just a small part of their story. It believe it would be a good school project for upper grade children to interview the elderly, try to draw out their stories and write them down.

The really delightful older people are those who want to hear your story, and those who ask you what you want to hear about the things they have done and seen in life. It seems to me that people like that usually don’t develop dementia so soon as others. There are many causes of dementia, but medical experts tell us the brain is a plastic organ, able to develop new paths of memory in people with an active curiosity.

I consider myself to have an active mind. At times my curiosity leads me to information that causes me to change my mind about something. That is a healthy exercise for the mind. Another helpful exercise would be to become more of an active listener to other people. Not an aggressive listener, but less of a passive observer. Just as I have to choose to get physical exercise because my work no longer involves much physical activity, so I must choose to do things that exercise my mind, to keep it fit and healthy.

You don’t know what you don’t know

There’s a deep meaning in that short statement, but if you’ve never heard it before it probably sounds like childish babbling. Let me unpack it for you. What this statement tells me is that if I don’t know something, I don’t even know that there is a gap in my knowledge.

Like the time when I was learning French grammar and we got to the subjunctive mood. It made no sense to me, there is nothing like it in English but it seemed terribly important in French. My head hurt for weeks as I struggled to grasp the significance of this foreign way of speech. One day the fog and the cobwebs disappeared from my brain, at least from one little corner of my brain, and I understood the subjunctive mood.

And I realized that it was not foreign to English. I’d been hearing it, reading it, using it most of my life since I learned to speak, without knowing it. Every tine I said “Have a good day,” or “If I were in your shoes,” I was using the subjunctive. The Bible is stuffed with examples, from the third verse of the Bible when God said “Let there be light,” to the Lord’s prayer, which begins with “hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” It is a means of expressing a wish. Back in Genesis, whenever God expressed a wish it instantly became reality.

There is a difference in the way dogs and cats communicate. When a dog wags his tail, he’s saying “Let’s be friends.” When a cat’s tail makes similar motions, she is getting ready to pounce on something. Therein lies the potential of a lifelong crisis of communication.

Even a simple word like college can be the source of miscommunication. When people in the US speak of a college education, they mean what we in Canada call a university education. In Canada a college provides post-secondary vocational or general education that does not lead to a degree. And in France, where the word originated, college is middle school, coming between elementary school and the lycée, or high school.

In our own country we assume that everyone else has the same set of references for understanding words, gestures and actions that we do. When people of a different background react to our words or actions in unexpected ways, we tend to think they are a bit daft. They probably think the same of us.

Most likely the real problem is that we don’t know that we don’t know. If we can open our minds to that thought, we can receive new information to stretch our minds and make us better able to understand other people.

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