Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

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Chapter 3 – My father

The time has come for me to write about my father, but I don’t want to. I’m afraid that I’m going to make him sound like an ogre, and he really wasn’t. Most of the time he was a pretty decent sort, but I grew up living in dread of the times when his internal volcano would erupt. He never physically harmed my mother or me, he was kind to animals and polite to others. His anger was only words, but those words would peel the paint off your self respect and wither your soul.

You see? I’m already off on the wrong foot if I want to portray my father in anything like a sympathetic light.

Let’s start over. My father was of New England Puritan stock, had high moral ideals and strong religious convictions. He was a tireless worker, he could fix anything mechanical and build most anything of wood with just a few hand tools. Sometimes he could laugh at himself, but only once did I hear him come close to admitting he’d made a mistake. He’d always had cattle and chickens on the farm and one time when he was about done with farming he said it might have been better if he’d kept a few pigs, too.

His mother was Franco-American, the granddaughter of a man who settled in New York state after serving as a maître d’armes, a master swordsman, in the army of Napoleon Bonaparte. My father believed the world would be a better place if everyone spoke the same language, namely English. He only learned a few words of French from his mother, but had a warm spot in his heart for his French heritage because the USA could not have won the revolutionary war without help from France.

My grandparents were from St. Lawrence county, New York and moved to the Newell, Iowa area shortly after they married. Five children were born to them there, then they moved to Pipestone county, Minnesota. In 1908 they came to Canada and homesteaded near the south-west end of Old Wives Lake in Saskatchewan. My father built a house across the road from the estate house where his widowed mother lived and cared for her until her death.

He was 49 when he married and 50 when I was born. Perhaps that half century between us was too much to bridge. Or perhaps he expected a son who would be just as robust as he was and was disappointed to find himself the father of a sickly wimp.

There were good times. Our farm at Bishopric had rows of trees between the yard and the road on the west. All our kinfolk in the area would come once a summer for a family gathering and picnic in an open area among the trees. In the winter, the snow would accumulate in the trees and our driveway became impassible. Then we would travel by team and sleigh with horsehide robes to protect us and maybe a big stone or two at our feet that had been warmed in the oven.

One ice-cold Monday morning, when walking the mile to school was not an option, my father hitched up the sleigh and took me across country to the little brick schoolhouse in the village of Bishopric. When we go there, there was not another person there, no foot prints in the snow. Then I remembered: “Uh, Dad, I forgot. Today is a holiday.” The ride home was quiet, but Dad was not angry and never mentioned the incident.

Once when I was in my teens, Dad started talking about the evils of a white person marrying a black person. “Their children will be mixed colours, one leg white, the other black.” I found that a little hard to take. “I don’t believe that is possible. Did you ever see anyone like that?” He didn’t answer, but that was the last I heard of people with Holstein markings.

I was maybe 15 when he got me to change the water pump on the truck. He told me what to do, then I crawled under the truck and went to work. He wasn’t anywhere near to answer questions, so I figured out what tools to use and which way to install the pump, and it worked. Another time, he got some grinding compound and had me grind the valves and the valve seats on a Briggs & Stratton engine that had lost power. That worked too. But usually Dad didn’t have the time or patience to teach me how to do all the things he could do.

Dad was a Wesleyan Methodist whose church got sucked into the church union fever, eventually being incorporated into the United Church of Canada. Dad talked of attending a United Church in Edmonton, sometime in the later 1920’s. As the preacher spoke, it became evident that he was getting his direction from somewhere else than the Bible. The creation, miracles, virgin birth of Christ and the resurrections were only fables meant to teach a lesson. And the lessons this preacher drew from them bore no resemblance to Bible teachings. Dad walked out into the street, tears streaming from his eyes.

Soon he visited the Calgary Prophetic Bible Institute and become an ardent follower of William Aberhart. When Aberhart created the Social Credit Party and led it to power in Alberta in 1935, Dad was convinced that this was the way forward. The churches had become corrupt, what was needed was to elect Christian statesmen to office.

As a true believer of Social Credit principles, it was hard for him to listen to someone expound a contrary philosophy. Occasionally I would see him clench his jaw and tremble in striving to maintain an outward civility when the fire inside was on the point of bursting forth.

I guess it didn’t always work. One day he came walking home from Mr Harlton’s. Mr Harlton was David’s father and a member of the CCF party, at the opposite end of the political spectrum from Social Credit. The Harltons lived two miles from us; I’m not sure why my father stopped there on his way home from town, but they got into a political discussion. My father became so agitated that Mr Harlton decided it wasn’t safe for him to drive and took his keys. Dad walked back the next day, in a somewhat calmer frame of mind, and got his keys back.

The Social Credit movement never got close to political power on the national level and eventually declined. When we went to Moose Jaw, Dad would go to Charlie Schick’s barber shop for a haircut and a religious discussion. Mr Schick was a fervent Lutheran and his influence gave Dad the impetus to start looking for a church again. That led to us joining the Anglican Church when we moved to Craik.

Dad’s eyesight began to fail in his 60’s and pretty soon he let me drive the family half ton to church. There was an RCMP officer attending the same church and I’m sure he was aware that I was nowhere near old enough to have a license. I wonder if he thought it might be safer to let me drive those short distances around home than to have Dad drive. When I turned 16 and got my drivers license, Dad gave me permission to drive the truck to school and to band practice.

My father was really a decent man and he meant well. He would accept advice from a few people, but for the most part he was the judge of what was right and wrong. One evening when we had family devotions he prayed that God would show others that he was right.

Every once in awhile the volcano within would come spewing forth and for three days, every time he came into the house, he would rant about all the things my mother and I had done that he didn’t like. We walked on eggshells to avoid triggering such outbursts, but never actually knew when they would happen. Most of life was normal, but I grew up with an overriding fear that anything I would say or do might be exactly the wrong thing to say or do at that moment.

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Is there any hope?

So many people want to save humanity. What do we need to be saved from? Who really knows? Is it the one who talks the loudest? Why does that person tell us it is a crime to allow those who disagrees with him to talk about their ideas? Is there any hope?

The Bible tells us that if we bite and devour each other, we will all be devoured. We cannot save humanity by fighting with each other. That is the devil’s game.

It is the devil who is behind every attempt to make us distrust and hate each other. If we want to make the world a better place, we must start by refusing to listen to the devil.

Jesus offers a better way. He came to help the sick, the suffering, the sorrowing and the brokenhearted and to offer hope to everyone. He says that we should love everyone and count no one as an enemy. Our true enemies are the devil and his dark angels.

Study the teachings of Jesus in the Bible. He wants us to forsake the ways of hatred and of doing things that hurt others. If we ask Him, He will give us a transformed heart and a new way of looking at life and at the people around us.

We can’t change the whole world, even governments have much less power to do that than we think. But we can do little things to help and encourage others. We can pray to God and ask Him to help others in need and to help our governments do what is best for all mankind. Those things will do more good than to defeat a government that isn’t doing what we think it should do.

We are able to do much more good than we think. Instead of saying “somebody really should do something,” why not be that somebody whenever we have the opportunity? If Jesus is directing our lives, He will show us little things to be done that will make a difference to someone. We shouldn’t keep a record of the good things we have done or boast of them to others. By doing these things we are laying up treasures in heaven, not working for an earthly reward.

It’s not hard to see that the world would be a better place if everyone would live the way that Jesus taught. Most people don’t. The only way to change that is to start with you and me. That is the only, and the best, hope for the world.

A living faith

I CAN NEITHER TEACH NOR LIVE BY THE FAITH OF OTHERS. I MUST LIVE BY MY OWN FAITH AS THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD HAS TAUGHT ME THROUGH HIS WORD.
-MENNO SIMONS

THE TITLE ITSELF (MENNONITES) HAS NO SAVING POWER, IT’S VALUE LIES ONLY IN THE FACT THAT MENNO’S TEACHING IS ENTIRELY IN ACCORD WITH THE TEACHING OF JESUS AND THE APOSTLES.
-REUBEN KOEHN

*These were among a series of quotations posted yesterday on Operation Noh’s Ark. To see all the quotations click on the link at right under Blogroll. I first translated these two into French and posted them on my French blog – Témoin anabaptiste

Worship styles – what is essential?

I was reading articles about the history of church pews and it seems most writers feel that pews became important at the time of the Reformation. In Roman Catholic worship the focus was on the communion and provisions for congregational seating were not of major importance. With the Reformation, the focus switched to the sermon where the congregation remained seated for a lengthy period of time and where and how they sat became more important.

That may be true, but I was raised in the Anglican tradition which did not fit neatly into either category. There were two Bible readings in every service, one from the Old Testament and one from the New. In addition there were a few significant passages of Scripture that were spoken aloud, either in unison or as responsive readings. There was a sermon, usually not lengthy, and often there was communion, but the real emphasis seemed to be on the Bible.

Contemporary worship music seems to have come front and centre in most evangelical churches today. Thus the worship leader who leads and directs this aspect of the worship service seems to be as important as the preacher.

Early Christian worship took place in places like private homes, forests, or the catacombs of Rome. This type of worship did not require a special church building, nor did it require pews or musical instruments. This was worship stripped to its bare essentials: Bible reading, prayer, and exhortation to faithfulness. And people risked their lives to be at these worship services.

Anabaptists retained that simple style of worship throughout most of their history. One could question whether the many persecutions they suffered made that the only feasible style of worship, or whether they were persecuted because they chose to avoid the worship style of the official churches. Both were probably factors.

Today, we of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite consider ourselves to be linear descendants of the Anabaptists. Bible reading, prayer, hymns and a sermon all have a place in our worship services. The sermon usually consists of some combination of exposition of a Bible passage, teaching, testimony and exhortation to faithfulness. It is not a prepared, scholarly discourse, but flows from a heart inspired by the Holy Spirit.

We sing both old and new hymns, without musical accompaniment. The message of a song remains with us much longer when we all sing together, rather than just listening. Many have testified of times of difficulty or crisis when part of a song has popped into their mind with words that brought comfort and direction.

A parable about a parable

The kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it. The words of Jesus recorded in Matthew 13:45-46

Renowned investigative reporter Ernest Digger has just returned from a trip to the Middle East where he was able to track down a descendant of the merchant in Jesus’ account. Here is his report:

—Joseph ben Ezra did not want me to tell where he lives, so I will just say his home is in a small mountain village. His house is small and sparsely furnished. He does not appear to be poor or rich, but able to provide for the needs of his family by weaving carpets of traditional style.

—Mr ben Ezra, I understand that you are a descendant of the pearl merchant of whom Jesus spoke?

—Yes, through the grace of God I am one of the descendants of that illustrious man.

—What can you tell us about your ancestor?

—He was a rich man, but he sold everything he had to obtain that precious pearl. Of course he could not sell that pearl, so he turned to making his living as I am doing today. He left instructions for his descendants that they should always live humbly and simply to hour God for the great gift that he had found.

—What happened to the pearl after your ancestor died?

—No one knows. It disappeared.

—He did not bequeath it to his children?

—There were mysterious words in his testament. He said that the pearl could not be given from one person to another, but each one would have to do as he did, sell everything they had to obtain the pearl.

—Have you done that?

—I am not a rich man. All that I own would be too paltry a sum to buy such a pearl.

—Has anyone in your family obtained such a pearl?

—There are stories. I once met a distant cousin who said he had such a pearl. He told me the same ridiculous story about how I could have one too. I would have to sell everything I have, even the clam shell that once contained the pearl.

— You have the original shell?

—Yes I do.

He showed me a large oyster shell, carefully wrapped in a cloth.

—So, you have the shell, but not the pearl?

—Yes, but don’t you see how beautiful it is? See how the mother-of-pearl inside almost glows. It is a beautiful and precious thing. I cannot afford the pearl, but this treasure reminds us continually of that pearl our ancestor found.

—Still, you have only the shell, not the pearl.

—But surely that is enough. Would God require me to sell the shell and everything else I have and deprive my family of their living? That would be unreasonable.

—Thank you for your time Mr. Ben Ezra.

—You are most welcome. May the peace of God be with you.

Strangely enough, I later met several relatives of Mr. Ben Ezra. Each told much the same story and each had an oyster shell that they claimed to be the original.

The old days were not better

Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not enquire wisely concerning this. – the words of Solomon from Ecclesiastes 7:10

When I was young many waterways were horribly polluted. I once stood on a footbridge in Toronto and watched the Don River flowing blood red beneath my feet.

When I was young we hardly ever saw First Nations people. They could not leave their reserves without permission from the Indian Agent.

When I was young there were deadly epidemics of diphtheria, tuberculosis and polio.

When I was young, babies were being born with missing limbs because of a drug their mothers had taken.

When I was young, the children of unwed mothers were committed to mental hospitals for life (during the Duplessis era in Québec).

Today the Don River, and most other rivers, runs clear and clean. Today there are no Indian Agents. Today those diseases I mentioned have been virtually eradicated. Today drug testing is more stringent, though not yet perfect.  Today no one can be kept in a mental hospital against his will, unless he has committed a crime. In many ways we are living in better times today.

As Christians, we bemoan the fact that so many people whose parents and grandparents were faithful church attenders have given up on church. We wonder what is wrong with them. Do we ever stop to ask if their parents and grandparents read the Bible and prayed? Yes, most homes had a Bible in grandpa’s day, but usually it sat on a shelf and gathered dust. Do we ask if there was any real evidence of a living faith in their parents and grandparents?

What is the remedy for a faded, worn-out, dysfunctional Christianity? Isn’t it to open our entire being to the Word of God and the Spirit of God? To love God with all our heart, soul and mind? To live in that love, to walk it and talk it? Not in a boastful or argumentative way, but in thankfulness and praise.

Wouldn’t that be a contagious faith? There is nothing hindering us from living such a faith today, except our doubt and timidity.

Bravo, Mr Farron

To be a political leader – especially of a progressive, liberal party in 2017 – and to live as a committed Christian, to hold faithfully to the Bible’s teaching, has felt impossible for me.”

I seem to be the subject of suspicion because of what I believe and who my faith is in. In which case we are kidding ourselves if we think we yet live in a tolerant, liberal society. And that is why I have chosen to step down as leader of the Liberal Democrats.”

– publicly reported quotes from Tim Farron who resigned today from the leadership of the Liberal  Democrat party in the UK  (a small party with 12 seats in the current parliament).

Darkness and light

And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. (Genesis 1:2-3)

The Scriptures speak of two kinds of darkness: the one a natural darkness which is simply the absence of natural light: the other a spiritual darkness that is opposed to God and which is the dwelling place of spiritual beings opposed to God. The original Hebrew and Greek texts of the Bible use different words to differentiate between the two forms of darkness. Many languages have two words for darkness, English has only one and that can lead to misunderstandings of the text.

In French Bibles the underlined word in the above text is rendered ténèbres. The dictionary defines this word as profound darkness, most often considered to be a material environment; in a religious sense, that which is opposed to the light of God.This captures well the meaning of the word used in the original Hebrew.

Understood this way, the verse is telling us that the forces of spiritual darkness were present on the earth from the beginning of creation. It also explains why God created light on the first day of creation, but the sun was not created until the fourth day. The light of the sun cannot drive away spiritual darkness, only the light of God’s presence can do that.

The next verse tells us that God divided the light from the darkness. The conflict between light and darkness has continued from that day and will continue until the end of the world. Natural night and day are realities that should remind us of the deeper reality of spiritual darkness and light.

Many cultures confused the light of the sun with the light of God and worshipped the sun. God showed His judgment of Egyptian sun worship by bringing darkness on the land of Egypt. The word used in Hebrew (and in the French translation) denotes spiritual darkness, but it also manifested itself as natural darkness. The land of Goshen, where the children of Israel dwelt, had light, both natural and spiritual.

Later on, when God called Moses to go up Mount Sinai, we are told that the mountain was covered by a cloud of thick darkness. The word used here simply means natural darkness. In French it is rendered obscurité. When Moses climbed up the mountain he was obscured from the view of the people below. When he reached the top of the mountain, the natural light of the sun was completely obscured and he was illuminated by the light of God’s presence.

Moving on to the New Testament, the gospel of John, speaking of Jesus, tells us: In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. (John 1:4-5) Here again, the underlined words are rendered ténèbres in French, an accurate translation of the Greek word in the original.

Here are a few more New Testament passages:

And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness (ténèbres)rather than light, because their deeds were evil. John 3:19

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness (ténèbres) of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Ephesians 6:12

He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness (ténèbres) even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in darkness (ténèbres), and walketh in darkness (ténèbres), and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness (ténèbres) hath blinded his eyes. 1 John 2:9-11

(This is a good verse for discerning those who profess enlightenment in social, environmental or spiritual matters, but react angrily to anyone who dares to disagree with their enlightenment. It should be first and foremost a standard to prove our own spirit in these and all other matters.)

Finally, there shall be an eternal separation between darkness and light:

Raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness (obscurité) of darkness (ténèbres) for ever. Jude verse 13

And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. Revelation 21:23

Safety systems that make life dangerous

Last month a semi hauling aviation fuel was travelling down the A-40 expressway in Montréal. The truck was equipped with a state of the art safety system that was designed to bring the truck to a safe stop if it detected any sign of a leak from a load of fuel. I’m not sure exactly how this was supposed to work, certainly what happened that day could not have been the way it was intended to function.

The truck was driving in heavy traffic down the freeway when the safety system malfunctioned and brought the truck to a sudden stop. The driver of the cube van directly behind him was able to stop, but the two semis following him did not see in time and all four trucks smashed together, the aviation fuel caught fire and all four trucks burned. The driver of the first truck died in the fire, despite desperate attempts by another driver to open his door and get him out.

The one who died was an experienced, careful driver with a clean record. Perhaps it would have been better to trust him than some wonder of modern technology.

Last week a young man appeared in court in Saskatoon for breach of probation. He was obviously high on drugs, could not walk or talk properly. His mother was there and pleaded for him to be taken into custody. It seems that our legal system is so hedged about with rulings and regulations to protect the rights of the accused that the mother’s pleas were of no avail.

The young man went home, took his girlfriend’s car and drove away. He sideswiped a parked car and kept going to the freeway. On the freeway, he drove erratically at a high speed, struck a piece of construction machinery working beside the freeway hard enough to take off a wheel, lost control, went through the median into oncoming traffic and collided head-on with another car. The driver of that car died, the young man escaped with hardly a scratch. Now he is in custody.

Do you think it might have been better if the police had a little more leeway to take someone into custody if there was reason to believe he was a danger to himself or others?

The Bible contains much instruction about how a person should live a Christian life. It is all good and true, that is how we should live. But if we reduce Christian life to just following the rules, sooner or later there is going to be a disaster. No set of rules can cover every possible contingency that we will encounter in life. This is why the Holy Spirit has been given to each believer to guide us safely through life. He is our safety.

The fisherman’s net

fishing-net-1526496_1280

By the time I started reading the Bible for myself I had abandoned all belief in the Christianity that I had been taught at home and in the church of my youth. I had read books on philosophy and on esoteric religions. It was interesting to consider all the permutations and combinations of their explanations of the meaning of life, but not very satisfying for one looking for some clues about how to find something meaningful in the life he was living.  I began to feel there might be something in this Christianity stuff after all, but I was quite sure that I could not trust most of the Bible.

Thus I began to read the Bible, hoping to find that there were some nuggets of truth in it that I could use to realign my life. I don’t know how long it took – weeks, months – but a shocking realization began to dawn on me. The things I didn’t want to believe were linked to the things I did want to believe. Things I wanted to dismiss as mythology and the brutality of some of the Old Testament accounts, were picked up by the prophets, the apostles and Jesus Himself and shown to be part of a great cosmic story of the battle between good and evil.

I could no longer imagine that some elements of the Bible were worthy of belief and others were not. I could not separate the strands, each one was linked to others in a way that meant that everything in the Bible was linked to everything else. I was facing a decision – either the whole Bible was false and I should reject it and never open it again, or it was all true and was pointing me to a life of fulfillment that would one day lead to an eternity in heaven.

By this time I was inside the net, although I could have made my escape if I had wished. Soon after I came to the point of repentance and the surrender of my will and became a new born child of God. I have spent much time since then surveying all the strands that make up this net and the way they are tied and bound together.

Jesus told a group of fishermen “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” As we read the New Testament, we see how expertly they used the net of God’s Word, expounding  the Law and the Prophets to show how the old writings all pointed to Jesus Christ and His spiritual kingdom. This net was the primary tool that led to the explosive growth of the early church. It was used by many down through history, including our Anabaptist forefathers.

Nowadays, there are too many preachers who don’t have time for the study it takes to know the net and how to use it. Reference Bibles seem to offer an easy alternative, giving lists of supposedly related verses on a variety of topics. But how can one trust those references without a personal study of the context? Far too many people today think they are using the net when all they have is a handful of loose strings. Is it any wonder they don’t catch many fish?

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