Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Anabaptists

The Principal Errors of Pietism

Pietism, with a capital P, refers to a movement that began within the Lutheran Church around the year 1600. The Pietists emphasized the new birth, the inward spiritual life of the heart and a pure moral life. There were earlier threads of pietism, but this was the beginning of a distinctive and dynamic movement. The influence of the German Pietists grew and spread and became the principal influence of modern evangelical Christianity.

At first glance Pietism may sound much like the Anabaptist/Mennonite faith. Yet there are three ways where Pietism represents a compromise with the world.

Christianity without the Cross
Pietists avoided persecution by remaining members of the state Lutheran church, having their babies baptized, attending worship services and taking communion. They met privately to share experiences and encourage one another and became known as “the quiet in the land.”

Throughout history Anabaptists and Mennonites have taken the way of the cross, avoiding all compromise with corrupt religions. They have lived a quiet and peaceable life, but their refusal to offer any kind of lip service to oppressing majority religions has often brought persecution upon them.

Pierre de Bruys in the 12th century and Menno Simons in the 16th century were first priests in the Roman Catholic Church. Once spiritually enlightened, they abandoned that church, called it Antichrist, and became earnest evangelists of pure Christianity, untainted by the non Scriptural practices of their former religion. In Menno’s day the persecutors also included the Lutherans and the Reformed Churches.

Anabaptists and Mennonites took very seriously the admonition of Paul in Ephesians 5:11 – And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. They believed that Jesus meant exactly what He said in Luke 9:23 – If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.

Fellowship without Brotherhood
The original Pietists were members of the Lutheran Church, meeting privately without any formal organization. They had an individualistic faith, each one believing he could worship God on his own, appreciating the fellowship of like-minded believers, but having no need of the strictures of an organized body.

Anabaptists and Mennonites did not see their church as restrictive, but as a much needed support network to help them grow in the faith and maintain their spiritual purity. They were a brotherhood; their leaders were brethren, not Lords. They saw the church as it is described in the New Testament: a body of which Christ was the head and each member was needed for the body to function effectively.

1 Peter 5:5 – Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.

Conversion without Discipleship
Pietists and Anabaptists have both earnestly striven to proclaim the gospel to those who do not have a personal knowledge of the Saviour. Pietists, however, make the new birth the main point of their evangelism. True, there is rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents. But is this enough? For Pietists it appears to be the end point of evangelism.

For Anabaptists and Mennonites it is the starting point. The Great Commission says: Go ye therefore, and teach (or, make disciples of) all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen. Matthew 28:19-20. (The Greek word matheteuo can be translated as teach or disciple.)

Sinners not only need to repent and be converted, they need to learn to live as a Christian. Colossians 2:6 – As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him. It is true that it is the Holy Spirit who teaches us how to walk with Christ, but this is best done in the company of other believers who will help, encourage, teach and correct. In other words, they should not be abandoned to stumble along partly in the light and partly in darkness, but offered the support they need to grow into the person that Christ wants them to be.

This does not mean living by the rule book: that does not lead to spiritual growth. But there are spiritual dangers and spiritual resources that mature believers know of and new believers often don’t. Galatians 5:13 – For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.

Be a Christian, not a chameleon

Some members of the early church wanted Gentile converts to be chameleons. They thought that circumcising Gentile Christians would make them appear to be converts to the Jewish religion. Some Jewish Christians thought this would spare them from persecution by other Jews for associating with Gentiles. Such people among the Jewish believers were the true chameleons, trying to conceal that they believed something else than what other Jews believed.

Acts 15 records how the early church put an end to this by ruling that there was no need to circumcise Gentile believers. Soon Gentiles became a majority in the church. The chameleon temptation now was for believers to maintain enough outward conformity to pagan ceremonies to avoid persecution. In his letters, the apostle Paul gave many warnings and instructions against this.

chameleon-2645503_640

Image by Roy Buri from Pixabay

A few hundred years later a Roman emperor made Christianity the official religion of the empire. Persecution ended for a time, but before long the church became a blend of Christian and pagan practices. It wasn’t clear who was truly a Christian and who was just going along with the outward observances.

Many Christians remained outside of this chameleon creature that called itself the church of God and strove to live as Christians no matter what the cost. For some it cost them their lives, as the chameleon could not tolerate these believers who were a living reproach of its compromise. Persecution reared its head against those who maintained the integrity of the faith. Others called them by many names, the one which has stuck the longest is Anabaptist.

The Protestant Reformation began as a protest against the great chameleon, the Roman Catholic Church.  It only created several lesser chameleons, state churches with compulsory membership and salvation promised by ceremonies rather than faith.

Persecution of the Anabaptists appeared to have succeeded, those who remained were scattered and without leaders. God raised up new leaders who gathered the scattered flock. Travelling evangelists brought many new believers into the fold during these tumultuous times. The Anabaptists now became known as Mennonites, after Menno Simons, one of the boldest of their leaders.

Born again people In the state churches did not find spiritual refreshing in the ceremonies and sermons of the chameleon. Some met privately for mutual support and encouragement, yet conformed outwardly to the ceremonies of the chameleon. They considered themselves “the quiet in the land,” living an inward spiritual life and an outward life that would not get them into trouble.

Mennonites also believed in the importance of the inward spiritual life, but found no justification in the Word of God for living a double life. They believed that if the inward piety was genuinely of God, the outward life would show it, including the willingness to suffer for the faith. And suffer many of them did, for all the chameleons hated them.

Active persecution abated over time but much suspicion remained. Many Mennonite groups found tolerance through adopting the pietistic formula of being “the quiet in the land.” They tried to maintain the inward spiritual life, but in time that too faded away. In many denominations that use the Mennonite name today, the memory of what Anabaptist and Mennonite once meant has disappeared.

Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity” (2 Timothy 2:19). Our Anabaptist-Mennonite forefathers believed that departing from iniquity was not something one did in secret, but that it also meant renouncing any form of duplicity.

Consider the words of the apostle Paul to the church at Philippi:

Only let your conversation [conduct] be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; and in nothing terrified by your adversaries: which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God. For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake; having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear to be in me.

The apostle Paul believed that a willingness to suffer for the faith was a clear token of the salvation granted by God. God has not changed; neither should His people adjust to the spirit of our day. To have a rightful claim to God’s salvation, we must not attempt to be chameleons.

Get out of the bus and walk

neoplan-1272511_1920.jpg

Sunday morning. Dad had come in with pails of steaming milk and was cranking the cream separator, Mom was getting breakfast ready and I was setting the table. Over the radio came the voice of Ernest Manning, telling us again how world events were shaping up just as foretold in the book of Daniel and in Ezekiel 38 and 39. Gog and Magog (Soviet Russia) and their allies were on the verge of attacking Israel, which would trigger the Battle of Armageddon.

Dad had experienced crushing disappointment when the Wesleyan Methodist Church that he had been raised in disappeared into the United Church of Canada. This was a church that now taught that Jesus, if he ever really existed, was our model for setting to rights the evils of society. Dad had no use for this Social Gospel, he wanted to hear about the Jesus who could save us from our sins.

Shortly thereafter he heard William Aberhart preaching on radio and had gone to Calgary to visit the Prophetic Bible Institute. When Aberhart formed the Social Credit Party (which was the complete antithesis to the social gospel) and was elected Premier of Alberta in 1935, Dad decided the way to defeat the Social Gospel, Socialism and Communism was to elect Christian statesmen to government. When Aberhart died in 1943, Ernest C Manning took his place as head of the Prophetic Bible Institute, speaker on Canada’s National Back to the Bible Hour and Premier of Alberta and held those roles for another 25 years.

We listened to Manning every Sunday morning and once when the broadcast team held a service in Regina we went to hear him preach in person. I suppose he spoke about other things in all those years, but all I remember is Gog and Magog and the Russian bear.

I was aware that there were people propounding other versions of Bible prophecy. I had listened to the Voice of Prophecy a couple times, out of curiosity. According to them, the “voice of prophecy” the only reliable source of Bible truth, was the writings of Ellen G White. They also talked about a millennium, but had a different interpretation. And they had a lot to say about the Sabbath day. People calling themselves Jehovah’s Witnesses occasionally showed up on our doorstep. Dad called them Russellites, after Charles Taze Russell, their founder. They had another explanation of how things would work out when Jesus returned.

In 1970 I was converted and then married. In the winter of 1971-72 an aged minister conducted a series of Bible studies in which he expounded the dispensational pre-millennial doctrine. We drank it all in. After all, he had Bible verses to prove every point and the way he told it, it seemed completely relevant to events in the world at that time. I got myself a Scofield Reference Bible and read books by Lewis Sperry Chafer, Dwight Pentecost, John Walvoord, Hal Lindsey and others.

Those four were all prominently associated with Dallas Theological Seminary, but I began to note a few discrepancies. Then I began to wonder if those Bible verses the old preacher had quoted actually fit together the way he said. It seemed that it would not be possible to find those meanings just by reading the Bible, you needed a guide to show you how to take the Bible apart and put it together the right way. At that point, my confidence in their teachings crumbled.

It seemed to me that all the different prophetic teachings that I had ever heard were like tour buses, taking people on a tour of ancient cities and each one only showing the sites they wanted you to see, in the order they wanted you to see them. I decided it would be better to get off the bus and hike through the Bible myself, with only the Holy Spirit to guide me.

Later, I have read how that the whole millennial fever was sparked by Jesuit writers trying to counter evangelical criticism of the papacy. Anabaptists identified the papacy as the Antichrist hundreds of years before the Reformation. Luther and Calvin picked up on that and repeated it in their attacks on the Roman Catholic Church.

In order to defend itself, the Roman Catholic Church first decreed that its members could only read books approved by the church. Two 16th century Jesuits wrote books explaining how Antichrist was not the papacy, but an individual who would appear at the end of the Christian era, become ruler of the world and abolish Christianity. Those books weren’t read by many people, but in 1791 another Jesuit, Manuel Lacunza of Chile wrote a book under the assumed name of Rabbi Ben Ezra. This book was translated into English and French and seems to have been the springboard for the millennial fervour which followed.

Edward Irving, a former Presbyterian, formed the Catholic Apostolic Church in England and began to expound on Lacuna’s teaching of the end time Antichrist. John Nelson Darby, a former Church of England clergyman joined the Plymouth Brethren, took on Lacuna’s teachings and expanded them into the dispensational pre-millennial doctrine that I was taught 45 years ago.

A fifteen-year-old girl from Irving’s church had a dream that Christians would be removed from the earth before the coming of Antichrist. Darby also went to hear the young lady tell her dream. This is the origin of the secret rapture teaching. No one has ever found that teaching in the Bible, since all the mentions of Christ’s return talk about the trumpet sounding, the voice of the archangel, and “every eye shall see him.”

Many different millennial fever tour bus companies were spawned in the mid 1800’s, each offering their own unique view of future events. As you can see, I have gone along on a few of those rides and eventually decided they were leading me away from Jesus, rather than closer to Him.

What I was longing for, and not finding on those bus tours, was a place of rest and joy near to the heart of my Saviour. I have realized that anything that comes between me and that place of rest and joy is Antichrist. That word means “in place of Christ” or “in front of Christ.” If we forget the tour guides and search for Christ alone, we will find Him.

An abiding church

As soon as we were married my wife and I set out on a search to find people who still believed and lived the faith once delivered to the saints. I firmly believed we would find that faith among the spiritual descendants of the Anabaptist & Mennonites of long ago. Time and again our search ran aground, and we would sadly move on to search somewhere else.

We met many fine, warm hearted people along the way, but their understanding of the faith always fell short. Some would say that wearing the style of clothes prescribed by their church was evidence of being born again. Others thought that the mere fact of wanting to be a Christian was evidence you were one. Some said that it was better to follow Billy Graham than Menno Simons. I mean no disrespect of Billy Graham, but I fear such a statement indicates a lack of a spiritual foundation and they would just as readily follow the next big name that came along, whatever kind of gospel he would preach.

Then there was this group that claimed to be the true church. I balked at that idea, which I took to be evidence of pride. But after encountering so many “wrong” churches, Mennonites and a variety of others, I began to reconsider. Doesn’t every church claim to be more on the right path than any other? Otherwise there would be no reason for them to continue to exist.

Finally I knelt in prayer and asked for help to understand what the Bible teaches about the church. I found there is nothing in the Bible that gives room to think that competing bodies, differing in doctrine, can all be churches of God. Neither did there seem to be any way to fit the idea of an invisible church into the New Testament teachings about the church.

Then I was led to Menno Simons list of signs by which the true church of God may be known:

Scriptural use of the sacramental signs – by that time I had seen the confusion in so many other churches and knew of only one that carefully proved those who requested baptism to see that they had indeed been born again and the congregation could testify of a Spirit-led life. This same church was the only one I knew of that would not have a communion service unless the congregation was fully united and any sins repented of and quarrels reconciled.

Unfeigned brotherly love – again we had seen many churches that tried to practice brotherly love, but didn’t really trust each other. Only one church seemed to have genuine brotherly love.

Unadulterated, pure doctrine – check

Obedience to the Word – check

Dietrich Philip added another sign – ministers that are faithful in word and deed. I had already noted that in this church there was the power to deal with ministers who crossed a line in doctrine or conduct without disturbing the unity of a congregation.

Thus, on February 11, 1979, Chris and I were baptized and became members of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, the same church that we had earlier vowed to avoid.

One last thought: the doctrine of the true church does not mean that we think no one else outside the church can be saved. Here I’ll quote Menno Simons again:

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

Truth or heresy?

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

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

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

Keeping the faith

Most Amish trace their families back to Mennonites from the Canton of Berne in Switzerland. An Old Order Amish bishop once said to me, “There must have been a special strength of character in those Bernese Anabaptists that has enabled their descendants to keep the faith for hundreds of  years.”

The Amish divided from the Mennonites after some of them fled from persecution in Switzerland and resettled in Alsace. Some of the main issues were that  church members should not wear moustaches or buttons. (Soldiers had moustaches and buttons in those days were much like jewellery, made of silver, gold and other costly materials.) In my friend’s view, the fact that the Old Order Amish still shave their upper lip and fasten their clothes with hooks and eyes was evidence that they were keeping the faith.

John Holdeman was also descended from Mennonites who originated from the Canton of Berne and was also concerned about keeping the faith. His idea of the essentials of the faith was quite different, though. The concerns he mentioned were that only truly born again people should be baptized and that parents should have a proper love and care for their children that would guide them to avoid the dangers of youthful immorality.

John Holdeman’s concerns were shared by a few others in the Mennonite church of his day, but most seemed to think all was well. Almost 160 years ago those who felt that the old church was drifting away from the faith began holding separate services. That was the beginning of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite.

John Holdeman’s first book was entitled The Old Ground and Foundation. That title portrays his concern to maintain the purity of the faith that has been handed down since Apostolic times. The essentials of that faith never become stale and outmoded, it can be adapted to every nation and era, yet still be the same faith. We cannot bind it to fashions and forms of a past era without deforming the faith and rendering it powerless.

An abiding church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pietists, Quietists & Anabaptists

I have been reading some of the writings of François Fénelon and find some moving passages. I plan to post some excerpts in coming days.

Fénelon was a Quietist, that is a Roman Catholic who believed that salvation had to come through a personal relationship with God, rather than through the forms of liturgical worship. So far, so good. Yet, there is a niggling little thought that troubles me – Fénélon appears to have had a genuine faith, but was that faith passed on to following generations? He remained a Roman Catholic all his life. The same question applies to those who were Pietists within the Lutheran Church.

The Anabaptists took a different approach. They believed that Scripture and Spirit called them to remain outside the established state churches and maintain a pure church. This often led to persecution and they accepted that as a necessary consequence of their commitment to God.  Menno Simons wrote:

“Reader, understand what I mean. We do not dispute whether or not there are some of God’s elect in the before-mentioned churches; for this we, at all times, humbly leave to the  just and gracious judgment of God, hoping that he has many thousands unknown to us, as they were to holy Elijah. But our dispute is in regard to what kind of Spirit, doctrine, sacraments, ordinance and life it is with which Christ has commanded us to gather unto Him an abiding church, and how to keep it in His ways.”

It is my conviction that Menno’s faith has more fully endured and been passed on to subsequent generations than has the faith of Fénelon.

My way is the best

I grew up in rural Saskatchewan. My mother had a huge garden, producing enough potatoes, carrots, peas, beans and other veggies to last all year. The potatoes and carrots went into large bins in our cool cellar. Other veggies, fruits and meats were canned in glass jars. She bought flour in 100 lb bags and kept us supplied with bread, buns, cinnamon rolls and pies. The garden also produced strawberries and raspberries that she turned into jam and cucumbers that she turned into pickles. No matter what the time of year, there was food on hand.

At canning time the local grocery store had peaches, pears, cherries and other fruits; at other times there might occasionally be apples or bananas, and at Christmas time there were always mandarin oranges. Usually, there was not much n the way of meat, vegetables and fruit that we didn’t have at home.

Not much has changed. Rural people have freezers now, probably two or three, the ideal is still to be as self-sufficient in food supplies as possible. That’s the right way to do things isn’t it?

Then we moved to Montréal. There we observed that many people bought fresh bread, fruits and veggies every morning for the day’s meals. That seemed wasteful to this prairie boy – until I considered things from their point of view. They were getting fresher, better tasting, more nutritious food in every meal. Very little was wasted.

Yet it cost more – or did it? What about the cost of all the canning supplies? What about the cost of the freezers, the freezer bags, the electricity? How much of what is preserved gets wasted? Sometimes things get lost in the freezer and when they are found nobody wants to eat them anymore.

Which way is really best? Well, people in rural ares still don’t have much choice but to do what they’ve always done. But in Montréal, with fresh food available in the markets year round, the ways of rural Saskatchewan don’t seem like the only right way any more. Still, old habits and attitudes are hard to shake.

I also grew up thinking that when a young woman married it was absolutely necessary that she take her husband’s family name. I was in for another shock when we moved to Montréal. In Québec my wife was once more Christine Vance. How could that be right? That’s an attack on the very fibre of society, isn’t it?

Yet all that really changed was the name on her drivers license and some other official documents. She was as much my wife as before. That got me thinking: family names are a fairly recent invention. Iceland still does not have family names that pass from one generation to the next. When Olaf Nelsen and Brunhild Carlsdottir marry, their names do not change.When they have children, they will be known as something like Sven Olafsen and Helga Olafsdottir.

There are many countries where it never has been the custom for a woman to change her name when she marries. Many Hispanic countries give both last names to children, such as a doctor we once knew in Moose Jaw, Isabelita Joven y Bienvenido. So which way is right? The Bible gives no instruction on this matter. When Rebecca married Isaac, she did not become Rebecca ben Abraham did she? Best to just follow the custom of the country where we live. We will need to make many changes when we move from one culture to another, there is no need to take on the added burden of trying to change the culture.

What constitutes marriage? Thinking of Isaac and Rebecca again, there was no wedding ceremony, no official documents sent to the department of vital statistics. We are simply told that Isaac loved his wife.

Hundreds of years ago, Roman Catholics accused Anabaptists of not being married and went from there to accusing them of all kinds of immoral practices. It was true that in many lands at that time Anabaptists were not legally married. The only legally recognized marriage was that performed by a Roman Catholic priest. Can we imagine a young couple coming to a priest in a time of persecution and saying “We’re not going to attend mass or allow you to baptize our babies, but we want you to marry us”?

Anabaptist couples still considered themselves to be married in the eyes of God and in the eyes of their congregations. According to them, the essence of marriage was their commitment to each other before God. Isn’t that still the essential point?

Exchanging vows before a minister of the gospel, with a multitude of family and friends as witnesses, is a wonderful thing. But it is not a guarantee of a marriage that will endure the stresses that will come. Changing the bride’s last name, putting a ring on her finger, creating a photographic record, none of these are guarantees either.

A deep, settled commitment to God and to one another is the one thing that will create a foundation that will enable them to overcome the challenges and disappointments that will come their way.

Outward forms may differ from culture to culture and from one era to another. The way I do things, the way my parent have taught, is not the only right way to do things. If, beneath the superficial differences of outward customs, there is a submission to the will of God, we will find the way that is safe and sure.

The weakness of God

As I reflected on the latest atrocities, in Jakarta and Ouagadougou, perpetrated by those who claim to be followers of Allah, my mind went to a well known quotation: “A fanatic is a man who does what he believes God would do, if God really understood the facts of the situation.” I don’t know the name of the author, but it seems to me that the person who seeks to kill in the name of his god is implicitly acknowledging that his god is powerless.

This is true for religious fanatics of all kinds. The Crusaders were sent out in the name of God to destroy the infidels, which included Muslims and anyone who called himself Christian but didn’t hold to the Crusaders brand of Christianity. The result has been a millennium of hatred of Christianity by Muslims and the disgrace of Christianity in Europe.

Christianity was never meant to be a state religion, imposed by force on unwilling citizens. Genuine Christians have often faced persecution, from the apostolic era to modern times. Often the persecution has come from those in authority who called themselves Christians. Let me make two things clear:

  1. When someone calls himself a Christian and tries to silence, or even kill, someone else who calls himself a Christian, we can safely assume that the first person does not really know God or Christianity.
  2. When someone is opposed, oppressed or persecuted because he calls himself a Christian, and that person does not respond in anger, hatred or violence, that is good evidence that he truly is a Christian.

“Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: that no flesh should glory in his presence. ” (The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:25; 27-29).

This is another way of saying that faith, love and compassion have more true power than all the things that the rest of the world takes to be emblems of power. The power of God to change people’s hearts and lives may seem to be weakness, yet it is a power that is still at work after swords and cannons have turned to rust.

Historically, the faith has spread most rapidly in times of persecution. When people see someone mistreated, tortured and killed for no other reason than his faith in God, when that person was seen as someone who loved his neighbour as himself, and when such a person has faced death without fear, that has been a powerful witness to all who look on. “The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.”

Zealous Christians who do no evil to others but rather seek their good and do not try to force their faith on others, are not fanatics.

 

%d bloggers like this: