Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Bible

Family

We can choose our friends, but we can’t choose our family. We can conceal things about our past from our friends, but our family knows the real story. And we know theirs.

My cousin Ted was 80 on Thursday. Friday evening a few of us got together to celibrate and share memories. Ted’s next older brother, Dennis, was there too. Ted is 3½ years older than I am, Dennis 4½. That was huge 70 years ago, it doesn’t matter anymore.

Their Dad was a brother to my Dad, their Mom a sister to mine.There are differences between us, but they are small; our DNA must be pretty much identical. Ted and I both have trouble with respiratory allergies and with exczema, that seems to run in the family.

Our families always did a lot of visiting back and forth when we were young. Today all three of us are church-going Bible-believing people. It wasn’t always that way and we know things about each other’s history that we don’t talk about anymore. There are some differences in the way we understand the Bible and Christian life, but our experience of the transforming power of Jesus’ love draws us together.

Our daughter and her family were part of the gathering Friday evening. She talked about growing up in an Ontario congegation where all her friends had cousins living close by. Michelle could say that she also had cousins, but they were back in Saskatchewan. I was an only child, my wife was raised apart from her siblings and we have never been all that close to them and their children. Michelle calls Ted and Dennis her uncles and has a good relationship with their children, her cousins. I  didn’t realize just how much that has meant to her until she talked about it Friday evening.

Family — I can clearly see my cousin’s faults, but they are much like my own and it seems that we are together in the struggles of life. We know all kinds of embarrassing stories about each other, but we never talk about them — except for some of the really funny ones. I guess we’re just thankful that the Lord has watched o0ver us and brought us safely this far in our lives.

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Charles de Gaulle and Christian apologetics

(First posted four years ago.)

Why do I think that talking about Charles de Gaulle will help to understand the purpose of Christian apologetics? Follow me as I try to explain.

The First World War was mostly fought on French soil, meaning that the people of France bore the greatest share of the war’s death, destruction and despair. After that war the French military and the government decided that they could protect themselves from a future German invasion by building massive fortifications along the border between the two countries – the Maginot Line.

Charles de Gaulle, as a young officer, realized it would never work. He told the generals that they were preparing for the previous war, that the next time the enemy came he would not come the same way as the last time. He proposed that rather than stationary fortifications the army needed battalions of light armoured vehicles – fast moving tanks that could respond quickly wherever a threat presented itself. He even wrote a book outlining his vision. The generals didn’t take this upstart very seriously, yet recognized his ability and humoured him by forming one such battalion, promoting him to general and putting him in charge.

In 1939 German panzer divisions with overwhelming numbers of tanks swept through Holland and Belgium and into France. De Gaulle’s battalion performed valiantly, but was heavily outnumbered and had little effect. Nevertheless, it was now evident that de Gaulle had been right.

What does this have to do with Christian apologetics? Let’s consider 1 Peter 3:15: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear”. Three words, “give an answer,” are used here to translate the Greek word apologia, from which we get the word apologetics. Are we prepared to give an answer anywhere, any time, to “every man”? Not a specially prepared and rehearsed answer, but one that responds to the question that is asked?

Does it sometimes seem that Christians have a bunker mentality, somewhat like the French witth the Maginot line between the wars? We hide behind slogans and catch phrases, and avoid situations where we think we might face embarrassing questions or even ridicule. How can we prepare ourselves to face unexpected challenges?

Our task in defending the Christian faith is not to stave off critics with lengthy prepared answers, or even short prepared answers. Our task is to respond to the questions that people really have. Tom Skinner, the Harlem preacher, made this point forty years ago with a book entitled If Christ is the Answer – What are the Questions? Tom Skinner made the point that the first question someone asks is usually not the real question. We will need to ask questions in return to help uncover the real questions that people have.

This is why I have made the comparison with de Gaulle’s advocacy of a flexible defence that could move to wherever the danger was. We don’t use tanks in Christian apologetics, we use the Bible, the sword of the Lord. We should not use it as an offensive weapon, firing indiscriminately at everything that looks like it might be a threat.

Peter says to give an answer with meekness and fear. The Louis Second French translation says gentleness and respect. All these words imply humility. We are not trying to intimidate others with our superior knowledge. They will respect us more if we admit we don’t have all the answers. That could open the way to study the Bible together.

When God first promised the land of Canaan to Abraham He told him in Genesis 13:17: “Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it unto thee.” The Bible is our heritage today and we should read through the length and breadth of it; become familiar with the lay of the land so that we will be able to point out the landmarks to others.

The military analogy can’t tell the whole story. Other people are not our enemies. If they act like enemies, it is due to the influence of the powers of darkness. Those powers are the real enemy, and our calling is to help people lose confidence in those destructive spiritual forces and turn away from them. We are not engaged in a battle where there will be a winner and a loser, we are not trying to score points. The point of apologetics is to lead people to consider what the Bible has to say and then let the Word of God and the Spirit of God do the heavy work of bringing light and conviction into their hearts.

What if the French leadership had listened to de Gaulle? What if the German Panzer divisions had been met by equally numerous, well-armed and swift moving French tank battalions? The Second World War might have ended very quickly, sparing millions of lives.

What if every born again Christian today was equipped and willing to confront the forces of darkness and “give an answer” for their faith? How many lives could be saved?

About that beard on my face

Why did I ever decide to grow hair on my face?

The answer should be obvious – I didn’t. It grew all by itself, without any decision or effort on my part.

That brings up another question – Why do I leave it there? The best answer is the simplest one – I decided that if God made the hair to grow on my face it would probably be pleasing to Him if I let it be seen.

That was all there was to it. I didn’t engage in deep theological reflection when I made that decision. Neither did I find any command in the Bible that told me I had to wear a beard. There is no such command in the Bible. I believe the reason for that is that God doesn’t endow all men with the potential to grow hair on the face. Thus He must be OK with the fact that such men don’t have beards, and the rest of us should be too.

There are indications in the Bible, though, that it is a shame and a disgrace for a man who has a beard to have it removed. I don’t think that’s really a doctrinal proof of the need for a beard. Just another indication that it would be a good idea for me to let mine be seen.

I do trim my beard regularly. I don’t want to look like an old prospector who lives in a remote cabin and rarely show his face in public.

The hair on top of my head gets more sparse with the passing years. A barber tried to console me once by saying that we don’t really lose hair as we get older. It just starts to show up in different places – the eyebrows grow bushier, tufts of hair grow out of our ears and nostrils.

At least I think he was trying to console me. One might as well face the changes wrought by passing years with humour. My barber now trims my eyebrows every time I get a haircut. And I do my best to keep the ear and nose hairs trimmed back so they don’t become noticeable.

For the same reason, if a lady finds dark hairs growing on her chin, I believe it’s entirely permissible for her to take whatever measures are needed to make them disappear. In fact, I would highly recommend that she do that.

But I am quite OK with the hair growing on my face. I don’t let my beard grow too long, though. One of my granddaughters used to express an interest in trying to braid it. I thought it best to keep the beard short enough that braiding wouldn’t be possible.

Time to make a decision

At least I thought we had exhausted all the possibilities in trying to find a church that still believed and lived the old Anabaptist faith. Could I have missed something? Or had I misunderstood something?

If I was honest with myself, I had felt more at home in congregations of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite than anywhere else. But the fear of being deceived was holding me back from considering whether this church might be what I was looking for.

Just what does “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5) mean? I went alone to pray and ask God to help me see what the Bible really taught about the church. As I rose from the prayer, I felt a need to read again what Menno Simons wrote about the signs by which the true church of God could be identified. He listed six:

1. By an unadulterated, pure doctrine.
2. By a scriptural use of the sacramental signs.
3. By obedience to the Word.
4. By unfeigned brotherly love.
5. By an unreserved confession of God and Christ.
6. By oppression and tribulation for the sake of the Lord’s Word.

As I read them this time, and considered all the churches we had known, it was suddenly crystal clear that there was no other church to which even one of these signs could be applied. We had met many friendly and helpful people, they seemed from the outside to get along well together. But could it be called unfeigned brotherly love when they didn’t really trust each other? Many churches talked about the new birth, and about spiritual unity. Yet they baptized anyone who said they had been born again and had communion at appointed times, even though they were not fully at peace with one another.

These thoughts were pointing me strongly toward the Holdeman Mennonites. But what about the claim of exclusivity? Once again, I looked to see what Menno said. It wasn’t hard to find and again I understood something I had missed before. Here is what Menno wrote:

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 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.

Menno obviously believed there were many Christians in other churches; he was not saying that there was only one church in which one could be saved. But he was concerned that other churches were offering comfort to the unsaved and not guiding and supporting those who were saved.

My heart was settled. I knew where God wanted us to be and where I wanted to be. I made several two hour trips to visit a minister in the Linden Congregation of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite and knew that was where I wanted to be.

This was too abrupt a change in direction for Chris. She was frightened and not at all willing to make another move. She felt at home where we were and was sure that I was deceived. We hashed this over many times without getting any closer to seeing things the same way. The possibility that we might have to part ways loomed before us.

Finally we knelt together and prayed about the direction we should take. When the prayer was finished, Chris said she still felt the same apprehension about the direction I was taking, but she would go with me.

The night before we left, the bishop and his wife invited us for supper. Before we parted, he had one last warning for me. “You have expressed some misgivings in the past about the Holdeman church. I share those misgivings. We have never seen it happen that a church could drift from full obedience to the truth and recover itself. When a church has drifted, it is time to come out and start over again on the gospel ground.”

As I listened to those words, I realized the bishop understood a church to be merely a man-made entity. What he meant as a warning I took as a confirmation that God was leading me to a church where He was doing the building and the refining.

Family heirloom

Dear children, I am sending this dear old book as a Granny present. It is one of my dearest friends. I have been reading it for the last fifty years and tried to teach my children to live by its teachings and pray you may do the same by your own children. Its blessed promises are so sweet. It has helped me to bear sorrow that otherwise I’m sure I never could have borne if I had not had his strong arm to lean on.
Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to take him at his word.
May the Heavenly Father care for you and help you is the prayer of your Mother.
Mattie Zarn

This note was written in pencil on the fly leaf of an old Bible. Only that page from the Bible has survived. Mattie Zarn was the mother of Bert Zarn, husband of Lottie (Goodnough) Zarn, my aunt. Bert and Lottie were married at Pipestone, Minnesota in 1900, the note was probably written a few years later.

What on earth does shamefacedness mean?

English is a mongrel language, developed by indiscriminate interbreeding of Anglo-Saxon, Latin, Old Norse and French, with lesser contributions from Celtic, Arabic, Greek and other languages. This has created a language with a huge number of words, more than any other language.The grammatical structure puts it in the Low German language group, along with Dutch, Flemish, Frisian, Afrikaans, Plautdietsch and Braid Scots (which has no relationship to Gaelic). But 40% of English words are of French or Latin origin.

The great multitude of words makes it more difficult to write and speak clearly and eloquently in English. Often there are are two or three or five words that mean exactly the same thing. Which one should you choose?

Then there are words that are just plain weird, like shamefacedness. The only place one is apt to run across that word is in 1 Timothy 2:5 where the apostle Paul exhorts Christian women to shamefacedness and sobriety.

No, that word does not mean that Christian women should always be blushing in embrarrassment. The word actually has nothing to do with one’s face. Shamefaced started out in life as shamefast and over time was mispronounced and misspelled until the mistake became the standard. The fast part of the word came from the idea of being held fast, thus the original meaning was to be held back by shame. Makes a little more sense, doesn’t it?

The word used in French translations makes even more sense. In that language the apostle exhorts Christian women to pudeur et modestie. Modestie needs no introduction, it is the source of our English word modesty. Pudeur is the sense of embarrassment that a person experiences in hearing about or witnessing nudity or things of a sexual nature. Or, to put it another way, embarrassment before that which is forbidden by her sense of dignity.

What Paul is really trying to say is that Christian women should have a sense of decency and modesty.

Still looking for an entry level church

We still appreciated the people at the Lowe Farm church, but decided we needed to go shopping for another church. We wouldn’t have been able to put it into words, but we were looking for an entry level church, one that wouldn’t cost us too much in the way of commitment. Nevertheless, we had been disappointed when the Lowe Farm church didn’t even require believer’s baptism.

The first church we tried was a church of a different Mennonite denomination in the town of Carman. As the service began, the minister asked everyone to stand up, shake hands and introduce themselves to the persons on either side, in front and behind. It seemed genuinely warm and friendly. The warm glow of those introductions lasted right up until the final amen was said and all the people around us headed straight for the doors. We were the last ones out, exchanged a few words with the pastor and left. In the car going home we decided we wouldn’t need to visit that church again.

Next we decided to try the other Mennonite church in town. The first thing we noticed was the large number of earnest young people. The story of what was happening emerged as we continued to attend. A young man who had grown up here had lived a decidedly non-Christian life and left looking for adventure. He heard a street preacher in Vancouver and came under conviction. As he surrendered his life to the Saviour all the things he had done back home came flooding into his mind. He associated with a Jesus People group for awhile, until they encouraged him to return home and clean up the mess he had left behind.

He had come home and looked up the people he had wronged, confessing what he had done and paying for damage he had done where needed. His example, the freedom that was evident in his life, brought other young people under conviction.

One young lady told of feeling she needed to go to a store where she had shoplifted a number of items and confess what she had done. She resisted at first, because she had no idea how she could pay for what she had stolen. But she had gone, asked to see the store manager and told him the whole story. His face gave no hint of what he might be thinking. When she was done, he asked “Do you think your youth group could come and share their testimonies at our church? Our young people need to hear this.”

And so the movement had spread. The church was now sponsoring coffee house meeting every Wednesday eveing in town, where young people would gather to sing and share testimonies.

Pastor Harvey* was fully supportive, always ready to listen and counsel. We too found him warm and supportive. He told us he used the Living Bible as he thought it was worded in a way that young people could more readily understand. So I bought myself another Bible.

Chris had several dreams during this time, nightmares really. The dreams brought vivid scenes of the end of the world and the return of the Lord, accompanied by a feeling of dread that she was not ready. She went to visit Pastor Harvey* and he assured her that she need not worry, she was doing what God wanted her to do.

In the fall it was announced that retired bishop Daniel* would be conducting Bible studies through the winter on the subject of the end times and the return of Christ. We attended those Bible studies and took it all in as the elderly bishop took verses and parts of verses from here and there and wove them into a story of the rapture of the church, the coming on Antichrist, seven years of great tribulation, the battle of Armageddon and the establishment of the kingdom of Christ when He would reign for a thousand years from Jerusalem.

All appeared to be going well, in our visits with Pastor Harvey* it seemed that baptism would not be far off. Then there was a surprise meeting at church where the elders of the church informed us that this youth movement was getting out of hand, it seemed too much like Pentecostalism. So they had decided to dismiss Pastor Harvey* and give the pastoral responsibility back to bishop Daniel* until a new pastor could be found.

*Names marked by an asterisk are real people, but these are not their real names.

No longer alone

It was a small wedding, just a few of our family and friends. I remember that we barely made it to the church on time and I remember when we signed our marriage certificate. My meory doesn’t seem to have recorded anything else, but that’s the important stuff anyway – we were there and we got married. Later that afternoon we left to spend our honeymoon at Lake Waskesiu in Prince Albert National Park. In the middle of our first night together Chris woke up, startled and a little disoriented, saying, “I just dreamed that we were married!.”

We’ve been living that dream for almost 48 years now. Like most dreams, it has had twists and turns when we wondered how it would turn out. Now we’re old folks and still together.

They tell you that two become one when you marry. They don’t tell you (or maybe I just wasn’t listening when it was told) how hard it will be to change the old habits of singlehood. As a bachelor, I had washed dishes when I had nothing left to cook with or eat from. Socks and shirts stayed where they dropped when I took them off. Every couple weeks I would go round the house, gather my dirty clothes and take them to the laundromat. I kind of knew my bride wouldn’t be charmed by those old habits,  but they died hard.

I wanted a Christian home, but had little idea what that might involve. The first night after we settled into our home in Sperling, Chris told me she wanted us to read the Bible and pray together. That is, she wanted me to take the lead in doing it. I resisted, she insisted. Once begun it became a practice that has continued to this day.

Chris had finished Grade 11 when living at Kelliher with her uncle. Now she enrolled in Grade 12 in Carman, the second town west of Sperling and caught the school bus early each morning.  That didn’t last long. Being a newcomer and the only married person in the class left her out of the social whirl of school. She decided that she had more important things to do at home.

Before we were married, I tried teaching her to drive my pickup truck. It had a standard transmission with the shift lever on the steering column. We drove out of Belle Plaine onto Highway Number One, the Trans-Canada, and I sat close beside her to coach. This was easier back in the days before seat belts and bucket seats. An RCMP officer stopped us and asked what was happening. Chris showed her learner’s permit and I my driver’s license and explained that I was trying to coach a driver who was unfamiliar with manual transmissions. He was a nice guy, he didn’t snicker or give us a ticket, just suggested that Chris might manage better if I didn’t sit so close.

Now that we were settled down, she enrolled in Driver’s Ed in Carman. I had traded the pickup for a car with automatic transmission and soon she was able to do the grocery shopping while I was at work.

Chris had never heard of Mennonites before she met me, but decided that if I wanted to be a Mennonite she did too. There were Mennonite churches of various kinds within a 15 or 20 minute drive from Sperling. I didn’t know much about any of them and stalled at trying to find out. One day I came home from work and my young bride informed me that she had talked to a minister at Lowe Farm, a town straight south of us, and we had an invitation to go and visit him and his wife.

Life takes some unexpected turns

Alcohol had once enabled me to admit my interest in some day becoming a Mennonite, but the three other people who heard that statement didn’t take it seriously and never again mentioned it. My two trips into Regina to attend a Mennonite church had gone completely unnoticed by those who knew me. I was quite content to leave it that way as I still at a stage where I had no desire to be identified as someone with any interest in Christianity.

Nevertheless, I wanted to have a Bible when I left for Manitoba. There was no way I was going to openly show that desire by going out and buying one. There was another way. My parents had a stack of worn out Bibles in a cupboard; they never threw one out. They would have gladly given me one if I had asked, but that would have been too embarrassing. Before I left, I went to that cupboard, found one that hadn’t quite fallen apart yet, and stashed it in my luggage.

The elevator at Sperling was much bigger and much busier than the one at Belle Plaine. The office was much bigger too. To start with I was provided with a roll away bed in the office for night and got my meals in the home of the former manager.

I settled into a routine, started to get to know the farmers and the people in town. The people in the community were of English, French, Danish, German and other backgrounds. Among the farmers there were members of four different Mennonite denominations. One was a group I had never heard of before, the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite. The men of this group wore beards.

I made monthly trips back to Saskatchewan to see my parents and Chris. Chris and I would often visit until midnight Sunday and then I would drive the 400 miles back to Sperling, open the elevator at eight o’clock in the morning. In the summer of 1969 Chris’s Uncle moved to Kelliher, Saskatchewan to run his sister’s café and Chris went with him. Her aunt stayed in Belle Plaine to run the café there. My once a month trips became more complicated.

After several months the former manager retired for health reasons. I was given the job and UGG rented a house in town and paid to move my belongings. The former manager and his family were given time to find a new home and then the UGG carpenter crew went to work on the house.

I had left all my drinking buddies behind in Saskatchewan and didn’t make any new ones in Manitoba. I often had beer in the refrigerator but no incentive for serious drinking by myself.

There was lots of time to read the Bible and I started randomly reading here and there. I began with the belief that the Bible was a man-made book that might contain parts that were inspired by a God that I didn’t know and hardly knew if I believed in. But I was convinced that most of the book was not to be believed or trusted. As I read, a different picture began to impress itself on me. This appeared to be one book, with every part of it connected to every other part. Many things that I didn’t want to believe were quoted by Jesus. It began to sink in to me that I could not choose to believe some parts and reject the rest; it was either all true, or all false.

Now that I was officially the elevator manager, I began looking through the records and found that a number of farmers had bills outstanding for farm supplies, so I sent out reminders. I soon had irate farmers showing up in my office with receipts showing that they had paid those bills. I accepted that, but UGG had never seen those payments. Those farmers seemed to suspect me of trying to pull a fast one and get paid twice, but the people in town understood the situation. The former manage had always seemed to be in need of more money for his family and different episodes were told me of how he had gotten into a bind and money had disappeared. No doubt he had intentions of making it all right, perhaps the stress of it all led to his heart attack.

Some of my farming customers were members of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, from the congregation at Rosenort, about 15 minutes away. They were friendly and often stayed to visit. One day, one of them came into my office to apologize for something he had said a few days earlier. He was afraid I might have misunderstood his remarks and taken offence at them. I was completely caught off guard. There had been no misunderstanding, no offence taken, but now I was almost offended at him for making a special effort to come and clear up such an insignificant thing. They way I looked at my life, I was leading as decent and upright a life as was possible under the circumstances and this guy had come along and kicked that support out from under me.

Early in 1970 Chris told me that she was getting cold feet and wasn’t sure that she wanted to get married. Life looked bleak, many of the farmers were looking at me with suspicion, I hadn’t made any close friends in this community and now my fiancée wanted to back out of our marriage plans.

By the spring of 1970 I had moved into the renovated house. The wall between the kitchen and dining room had been replaced by a counter and new cabinets installed. Flooding was happening around Carman to the west of us, with the threat of it coming our way. One Saturday I took a drive around to look at the situation, but my mind was churning with troubled thoughts. I wanted to just give up and disappear, but I had tried that once and it hadn’t turned out well.

I returned home and opened my Bible at random. My eyes fell on Revelation 3:16: “So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.” The picture was vivid and shocking – could it be that my life was so distasteful to God that He just had to get that taste out of His mouth? I had never thought of myself as a sinner, but now the weight of sin bore down on me.

I knelt down and admitted to God: “All this trouble I’m in, I did it all by myself, nobody helped me get into this mess.” I asked Him to forgive me and promised that if He would help me now I would serve Him the rest of my life. When I got up from that prayer I had a determination to do whatever I could to work my way through my problems.

Every Day With Jesus – booklet report

My wife has informed me that the book reviews I have posted are not reviews. I have thought about that and decided that she is right. I should have called them book reports.

What I have before me today, though, is not really a book; it is a booklet of daily devotions giving a page per day for two months at a time. I trust that all Christians use the Bible as their daily devotional book, preferably reading a book of the Bible all the way through, in daily bite size pieces. But if you would pick up this booklet from time to time and read several articles,I believe you would find in them a deep spiritual wisdom.

These articles are refreshingly free of feel good, it’s all about me, pop psychology.  The current issue (January/February 2018) spends a number of days each on themes such as repentance, grace and worship. We are told that becoming a Christian is the beginning of a journey not the end.

These booklets are published in the UK and distributed all over the English-speaking world; there are distributors in a number of African and Asian countries, plus Australia, New Zealand and Canada. The Canadian distributor is also the distributor for the USA, and I expect these publications are not well known there. I was introduced to Every Day With Jesus by a Nigerian who lives in Saskatoon. I buy it in the Christian book store.

The publisher is CWR. They publish a vast variety of other Bible study materials. I would be pleased to hear the thoughts of readers of this blog who are familiar with Every Day With Jesus or other CWR materials.

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