Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Bible study

Turbulent waters

Our planned evangelistic services were imminent; a preacher and a men’s quartet would be arriving on Sunday. Our pastor didn’t want the disaster cleanup to distract from that effort, so he let people know that no more volunteers were needed.

He thought flowers for the church would be a nice touch so he sent one of the ladies to order flowers. All the flower shops in Moose Jaw were owned by one extended family. The basements of two family hames had flooded and volunteers had cleaned them. The pastor told the lady that if she casually mentioned that the flowers were for the church that had done the cleanup they might just offer to give the flowers at no charge. The strategy worked.

Really, all the members of the church had day jobs and all the work had been done by volunteers from out of town, but the news media gave all the credit to the church. The first night of the meetings, the mayor of Moose Jaw came to thank the church on behalf of the people of Moose Jaw.

I found all this a little disconcerting, but it would get worse. The men from Linden had left a bunch of tracts with us and we read most of them. Chris read one that taught about how a Christian woman should cover her head when praying. At a Bible study shortly after the evangelistic meetings, Chris innocently asked if that was still a requirement for Christian women. The unanimous answer was no. Many remembered that their mothers or grandmothers had worn head coverings, but didn’t know why and were happy the practice had stopped. One lady said “The Bible also says that a woman shouldn’t wear men’s clothing. As long as I wear pants I’m not going to worry about a head covering.”

I was working evenings at the Post Office and didn’t get in on that discussion. But I was in church to witness the aftermath the following Sunday. The pastor began his message by saying “The question has been raised about whether women should wear hats to church.” He went on from there to ridicule the idea of women wearing big flowery hats to church that would look ridiculous and hinder the view of people behind them in the pews. That wasn’t at all the question that Chris had raised and he never did address the teaching of the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians chapter 11.

When we got home, I told Chris “You hit a nerve.” The pastor’s desperate attempt to stifle any discussion of this topic would have been humorous if it hadn’t been so sad. Perhaps it did work for those who were already of that mind, but for us in our search it seemed like there might be a truth here that he was afraid to even look at.

Then we got a phone call from one of the men from Linden who had been to Moose Jaw. He told us that there were tent meetings being held at Osler, north of Saskatoon. That was almost a three-hour drive, but we decided to go Sunday evening when I didn’t have to work. The tent was set up on a vacant lot just off the highway. We had no trouble finding it and soon we were attending our first service of the Church of God in Christ Mennonite. We enjoyed the singing, the preaching was more straightforward than we had heard before, no beating around the bush.

There were a couple of travel trailers parked behind the tent and we stayed until 1:00 a.m. visiting with the ministers and got home at 4:00. That was fine, since my work shift didn’t start until 3:00 the next afternoon.

We went back to the Moose Jaw church the next Sunday and they were markedly uninterested in our trip to the tent meeting. Finally we decided that we were travelling a different path than the rest of the church and stopped going.

We made a trip to Linden on a long weekend that summer and thoroughly enjoyed it. There were two tiny congregations of that church in Saskatchewan, one at Hague and one at Bredenbury. Each one was a three-hour drive, but we visited each several times.

There was a stumbling block, though, that prevented us considering membership in this church. They believed that their church was the one that Jesus was building and that all others were man-made churches.

That fall the Sutera twins came to Moose Jaw to hold revival meetings, sponsored by all the evangelical churches in the city. We attended as many as we could, they went on for several weeks; the attendance outgrew the church where the meetings began and the meetings moved to a larger one.

The meetings were aimed at born-again Christian people and the messages all came down to the point that if you had sin in your life and were not willing to repent and forsake it, God could not bless or use you. The messages were good as far as they went.

We were well enough acquainted to know what was going on in most of the evangelical churches and knew there was some level of strife and dissension in each of them. That was never addressed, but I wondered if the theme of Ralph and Lou Sutera didn’t especially apply to churches. How could God bless or use a church that knew there was sin in its midst and saw no way to do anything about it?

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Things were going well for us

The Mennonite congregation in Moose Jaw was small, but we found the people warm and friendly. Being small, they overlooked the fact that we had not been baptized in the way they believed (immersion) and put us to work in the congregation.

One Sunday I was teaching the adult Sunday School class and one of the questions in the lesson, or rather the way the others ansered it, startled me. The question began with the scenario of a young couple that felt called to go to the mission field and seemed ideally qualified in every way, except they did not have a university degree. And the mission board required candidates to have a degree. What should they do? Look for a different opportunity to do mission work, or go to university and get the degree? Everyone in the class, except me, thought they needed to get that degree. I couldn’t grasp how that was supposed to help them be missionaries. But these people were almost all teachers or other professionals and seemed to feel that a degree trumped all other qualifications.

This was the time that Hal Lindsey’s book, The Late Great Planet Earth, was at the peak of its popularity. The pastor decided it would be a great idea to use it for Bible study through the winter, taking turns meeting in each other’s homes. I was fully bought into the premillenial scheme and beleived we were delving into deep Bible truths. I was dumbfounded when spring came and the pastor told me he didn’t believe the premillenial scheme. He had just thought that the book was a good way to get people interested in studying the Bible.

I don’t remember what Bible translation the pastor used, but it seemed that almost everyone in the congregation was using a different translation. I had accumulated a few different Bibles by that time and had been spending a lot of time comparing passages in them to discover the underlying meaning. It dawned on me one day that comparing Bible translations was not Bible study, it was just an exercise in confusion. By that time I had left my old tattered AV (KJV) Bible behind somewhere, so I had to get a new one.

Shortly thereafter I was leading a Bible study class based on Psalm 22. Each one in the class had their own favourite translation and it was bewildering to find that in none of the others could one discern any hint of a prophecy of the crucifiction. For instance, instead of “they have pierced my hands and my feet,” other versions said things like “wild beasts are clawing at my hands and my feet,” or “they have hacked off my hands and my feet.”

Such things left me with questions, but good things were happening in this church, too. An older lady, the mother of one of the memebers, began to have recurring dreams that pointed her to a verse in the Bible. She decided she should read that verse and it led to her conversion. She left the mainline Protestant denomination she had belonged to all her life and was baptized in the little Mennonite church.

Chris got a job as a cook in a large privately owned senior’s residence. The owner was from the community where my mother had grown up and had been acquainted with the family. The head cook was an elderly Belgian lady, crusty and warm-hearted. Chris found it an enjoyable place to work.

I applied for a job in the Post Office, passed the exam and the interview and was hired as a casual postal clerk. That meant I had no guarantee from week to week that there would be work for me, but it actually turned out to be full time work for six months until I was hired on to full time staff.

Everything seemed to be working out for us, Moose Jaw felt like our old home town, we had family and friends there. Our work schedules were such that we usually didn’t work at the same time, one of us was usually available to look after our growing girl. We had moved into the upstairs suite in my parent’s house and Grandma was delighted to help look after and entertain Michelle.

What could go wrong?

Food for the hungry

Back when we were living in southwestern Ontario we made the trip back to Saskatchewan every two years. The trip was 3,000km and took 3 days each way. The first two days we tried to get an early start and got our meals at fast food restaurants to save time. When we stopped for gas we would load up with pop and snacks to keep us going. By the third day, we were all tired of fast food and junk food and knew we had to stop for one real meal before we got to our destination.

We still enjoy fast food and junk food, more often than we should if truth be told. But we know that we cannot live on a diet like that. Even fast food restaurants are advertising healthier meals, with more fresh, natural ingredients and fewer additives.

But there are still far too many churches out there trying to feed their congregations with fast food spirituality. They offer contemporary music that is initially fresh and attractive but provides very little nourishment. Then they add “seeker-friendly” messages that intrigue but don’t satisfy. And they wonder how they can keep their young people from wandering off in search of the world’s amusements.

People want to be fed, need to be fed. Preachers need to spend less time studying psychology and more time in deep study of the Word of God, less time trying to adapt marketing methods to evangelism and more time in prayer, less time trying to get new people into the church and more time feeding the souls of those who are already in.

That last point may seem counter-intuitive, most of us agree that churches today need to be more evangelistic in their home communities than they have been in past generations. But – the preacher is not the church, the people are. Feed the people, show them how to find solid spiritual nutrition for themselves, then let them invite others to the banquet.

“Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2-3).

The God who loves us

People who trust in pagan religions believe there are many gods. These gods spend so much time squabbling among themselves that people need to make great efforts to get their attention.

The religions of the native peoples of North America are much like that, but many of them have a creation account that sounds remarkably like the one in the book of Genesis. In most cases these people believe the Creator is not much interested in their daily lives. The Great Spirit is the one that they pray to. Some tribes believe the Great Spirit is the same as the Creator and wants to help them. Others believe the Great Spirit is a powerful spirit who might do them good, but is just as likely to trick them.

Islam teaches that there is only one god. Allah sent his angel to Mohammed to dictate the words of their holy book. Their holy book is called the Koran, or Qur’an, which means recite. The whole duty of man is to submit to the teachings of the Koran. Islam means submission. Allah is far away and does not give personal answers to prayer.

Judaism believes in the God who is revealed in the Old Testament, the God who loves His people and performed many miracles for them in ages past. Now they are waiting for Messiah to come and restore them to their rightful place of glory in the world.

Christians believe in the same God as the Jews, but the New Testament reveals aspects of God that were only hinted at in the Old Testament. God loves all mankind and sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to suffer and die on the cross for the sins of all mankind. Now the way to heaven is open for anyone who will believe in Jesus. Not only that, but God has given the Holy Spirit to guide each believer through every day of his or her life.

The teaching that there is only one God, but He is three persons in order to better relate to us, is difficult to understand. Really, it is impossible for our human minds to understand just how it can be. But this is what the Bible teaches, and if we could understand everything about God, then we would think ourselves as great as He is.

The Trinity, the reality that God relates to us in three different ways, as three different persons, is what makes Christianity different than all other religions. It is what allows each one of us to know that God loves us personally, every day, wherever we are.

Give them reasons to believe

I just read a sentence from a children’s lesson about the Bible that leaves me bewildered. I don’t want to reveal the source, but here is the sentence: “Through the past centuries many ungodly men have determined and tried to destroy the Bible, the Word of God, but have not been able to accomplish it.”

Folks, this is whistling past the graveyard. The writer is saying:“I have this uneasy feeling that there might be something scary out there, so I’ll make a happy noise and pretend that I’m not scared.”

That just won’t do. Children who are old enough to read something at this level, with its bombastic writing style, already know that confidence in the Bible has been destroyed for the majority of the people in our country. Even among those who say they are Christians and go to church, many don’t believe the first few chapters of the Bible can be considered to be fact.

Our children deserve something more than “don’t worry, just believe.” We need to endow them with a solid foundation of why the Bible can be trusted. If it’s not being done, someone needs to write a new series of lessons for children who are coming into that age where they are beginning to question the meaning of life and the validity of faith. Let’s give them solid information, not platitudes.

I think I may have just talked myself into doing some writing.

Book Review: Dictionary of Biblical Imagery

At the ripe old age of 17 I believed I had outgrown any need for the Bible. It was almost ten years before I opened the book again. I was sceptical, but I thought there might be something worthwhile somewhere in this collection of writings. I guess I was looking for answers, but didn’t really expect to find any.

After a few months the connectedness of this “collection of writings” became harder and harder to ignore. There was no way I could pick and choose what I wanted to believe of its content, every part of it was connected to all the other parts. This was one book and I ether had to reject the whole thing, or believe the whole thing. This conviction was a major step leading up to my conversion a year later.

It is difficult for me to understand why so many Christians don’t seem to have caught on to this fact. Perhaps it is because they read here and there without ever reading through a whole book of the Bible. Perhaps it is because of outside helps that purport to explain the Bible. Reference books can be helpful, but one should never put too much confidence in them.

The Bible explains itself. There are symbols that have the same meaning whenever they appear. The more you read, the clearer the meaning becomes. There are threads of meaning that can be followed through the whole Bible. Many Bible stories are impressive and meaningful to a small child, yet there are depths to those stories that can never be fully plumbed in a lifetime of Bible study.

One of the workshop leaders at the Inscribe Christian Writers Conference recommended the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery. The editors of this book attempt to trace the continuity of images and themes throughout the Bible. I like the approach of this book, yet I’m not going to say that they got everything just right – none of us ever do. This is a good book for the serious student of the Bible, and for those who have never caught on to the idea of how the themes and images of the book are woven together so tightly from beginning to end.

This is a big book, over 1,000 pages. Beware of shipping costs if you try to buy it online. I ordered mine from Kennedy’s Parable in Saskatoon. The price was higher than buying it online, but there were no shipping costs.

Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, General Editors: Leland Ryken, James C Wilhoit, Tremper Longman III.  © 1998 InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

The achilles heel of reference Bibles

An ancient Waldensian confession of faith states that their preachers were required, before being ordained, to memorize the gospels of Matthew and John, all the Epistles, and a good part of the writings of Solomon, David and the prophets. Of course that was necessary in their day, before the invention of the printing press. After all, a manuscript copy of the Scriptures was far too bulky to be carried about.

Nowadays we have reference Bibles and electronic Bibles that allow us to look up relevant verses on any topic that we are concerned about. With all that information about the Word of God at our fingertips, one would think that knowledge and understanding of the Word would be increasing at an exponential rate. Is it?

Not as far as I can see. The thing that is being missed in this reliance on search tools is that knowledge and understanding of the Bible is contextual and cumulative. If we do not understand the context in which one passage of Scripture was written, and how it is connected to all the rest of Scripture, we are pretty much Scripturally illiterate.

We need to read the whole Bible, and read it again and again. In doing that, we begin to see the whole picture; and we find that the Bible interprets itself. When we only read snatches here and there, we are reading Scriptures out of context all the time and then we need someone to tell us how it all fits together. Lots of people are quite willing to do that, but can we trust their interpretations? How can we even know if they are trustworthy if we don’t really know the Bible ourselves?

The Bible should not be treated as a black box that we can reach into and pull out a short passage of Scripture each morning to inspire us for that day. We are missing so much if we do not read a book of the Bible from beginning to end, reading a part each day. That is the way that our understanding will grow about what God has been doing in the world all these many years, and what He expects of us. The plan of salvation is implicit in the Old Testament, but we don’t really get it until we read the New. But we don’t really get what the New Testament is saying either if we haven’t read the Old.

All the Bible is interrelated and fits together in a way that reveals the hand of God at work over the many centuries it took to complete the book. It is a bottomless well of spiritual water, but we have to pump it up for ourselves. Let’s not drink from the stagnant pools that someone else has pumped and left behind.

Dumbing down the gospel

I think it is dawning on many people that evangelical Christianity has shallowed out over the past generation or two. I will be so bold as to suggest some causes which are not often mentioned by others.

Children’s Bible story books: Parents have felt inadequate to help their children understand what the Bible is all about, and these attractive, nicely illustrated books have seemed like a godsend. But are they? The writers pick some of the more dramatic accounts in the Bible and attempt to weave a stand alone moral teaching into each story. This requires the insertion of editorial comments that may miss the relationship of the event recorded in the Bible to the unfolding of God’s plan of salvation. The writer’s comments are well-intended, but sometimes presume an ability to read God’s mind to draw conclusions that are not even hinted at in the Bible.

Study Bibles: People feel intimidated at trying to study and understand the Bible, so many turn to reference Bibles that promise to aid them in their study of the Bible. The problem is that these study Bibles really become a substitute for personal Bible study. The point of view of the compiler of the study Bible is not blatantly displayed, yet it affects how they see the relationship of one passage of the Bible to others. Their point of view leads them to link passages that really have no connection to each other, to miss other links, and to use one passage as the key to understanding other similar passages that really say something quite different. It is would be better to trust the Bible to interpret itself and not separate verses from their context.

The desire for Christian unity: The desire is good, but the approach leads to downplaying denominational differences in doctrine and practice. I think most of us will admit that not all the differences were inspired by God, but to just abandon them has in many cases led to abandoning clear Scriptural teachings. True spiritual unity cannot be achieved by a spirit of compromise, but only by obedience to the Word of God and the Holy Spirit. The “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” is not the same thing as deciding to make nice to each other in public.

The remedy to all of these things is to become like the Bereans and search the Scriptures daily and to obey its teachings.

The Bible is enough

Many years ago, when Hal Lindsey’s book, The Late Great Planet Earth was the “Christian” publishing sensation, the pastor of the church we were attending chose to use that book as the basis for weekly Bible study through the winter. I won’t name the city, church or pastor. Spring came, we finished the book, and then during a private visit the pastor told me he didn’t believe anything in the book, he just thought of it as a way to get some people interested in Bible study.

I was shocked that he didn’t believe the book, which at the time I considered to be gospel truth. I was equally shocked that he would lead a Bible study that taught something he did not believe was Biblical. As time went on, I read more and more books by highly regarded authors expounding the same subject matter as Hal Lindsey’s book and I began to grow disenchanted. Henry Walvoord, Dwight Pentecost, Lewis Sperry Chafer and many others , presented the dispensational, pre-millenial doctrine as unquestionable, Bible-based truth. Yet each one presented this supposedly foundational truth in a way that differed from all the others. The disillusionment was furthered by reading a book by Chafer that was written around 1940 and identified Benito Mussolini as the Antichrst who was at that very time setting up his end time kingdom.

The pre-millenial doctrine continues to generate endless speculation and has enabled writers to sell millions of books, tapes and even movies. In recent years, we are seeing a lot of books tying events in the Middle East to Bible prophecy and producing many fanciful scenarios of how this will all play out.

Another theme that has sold a lot of books in recent years is stories of visits to heaven, particularly by little children. I haven’t read any of these books, but I gather that some of the details don’t bear much resemblance to what the Bible tells us about heaven.

Now, one of the boys who was credited with multiple visits to heaven has denied the whole story. Alex Malarkey was in a serious automobile accident when he was six years old, was in a coma for several months and is left with a spinal cord injury causing major physical impairment. A book, The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven, was written about his supposed heavenly experiences in the months following the accident. His mother. Beth, has suggested for years that the book was not to be trusted, but did not want to put words into her son’s mouth. Alex is now 16 and recently wrote the following letter:

Please excuse the brevity, but because of my limitations I have to keep this short.

I did not die. I did not go to heaven.

I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention. When I made the claims that I did, I had never read the Bible. People have profited from lies, and continue to. They should read the Bible, which is enough. The Bible is the only source of truth. Anything written by man cannot be infallible.

It is only through repentance of your sins and a belief in Jesus as the Son of God, who died for your sins (even though he committed none of his own) so that you can be forgiven may you learn of heaven outside of what is written in the Bible . . . not by reading a work of man. I want the whole world to know that the Bible is sufficient. Those who market these materials must be called to repent and hold the Bible as enough.

In Christ,

Alex Malarkey

The book names Alex Malarkey as co-author with his father. The parents are no longer together and the mother, Beth Malarkey is the primary care giver for Alex and his three younger siblings. She states that Alex has received no money from the book, nor much support for his medical needs. The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven has now been withdrawn from the market.

Books like this are not what you want to give to your unbelieving friends. When the illusion is shattered and the story is revealed to be bunk, they are apt to think that means all of Christianity is bunk. Alex and his mother are right, we do not need colourful stories of doubtful veracity to prove the Christian way,  the Bible is enough.

A simple question

The following paragraphs are quoted from By My Spirit, written by Jonathan Goforth.  I would like to add a simple question to what Mr. Goforth has written: In this age of leisure, why do so many of us struggle to find time for reading the Bible? 

During my student days in Toronto my one weapon, in the jails and slums, was the Bible. In China I have often given from thirty-five to forty addresses in a week, practically all of them being simply Bible rehearsals. In fact, I think I can safely say that, during the forty-one years that I have been on the foreign field, I have never once addressed a Chinese audience without an open Bible in my hand, from which I could say, “Thus saith the Lord!” I have always taken it for granted that the simple preaching of the Word would bring men to Christ. It has never failed me yet. My Chinese pastor, one of the most consecrated men I have ever met, was saved from a life of shame and vice by the first Gospel address which he ever heard me give.

My deepest regret, on reaching threescore years and ten, is that I have not devoted more time to the study of the Bible. Still, in less than nineteen years I have gone through the New Testament in Chinese fifty-five times. That prince of Bible teachers, Dr. Campbell Morgan, has declared that he would not attempt to teach any book in the Bible unless he had first read it over at least fifty times. Some years ago, I understand, a gentleman attended the English Keswick and was so fired with a zeal for the Bible that in three years he read it through twelve times. One would imagine, of course, that he belonged to the leisured class. On the contrary, however, he began his day’s work at the Motherwell steel plant at 5:30 a. m.

The Bible was not so neglected a Book when the great revivals of 1857-59 swept over the United States and Great Britain. Neither was it so neglected in Moody’s time. During the late Manchu dynasty, scholars were expected to know the classics of their sages off by heart. How do the scholars of so-called Christian lands measure up to that standard as regards the “World’s Great Classic”? It is nothing short of pathetic how so many, who come professedly to represent the Lord Jesus Christ in China, know so little of His Word. Thirty years ago the missionary ideal was to know the Bible so well that one would not have to carry around a concordance. Is the indifference to the Bible today on the part of so many missionaries due to the fact, perhaps, that they have discovered some better means with which to meet the needs of a sin sick world?

 

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