Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

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Catechism Classes

About the only thing my parents had in common was a feeling that the church in which they had been raised had let them down.

My father was a descendant of New England Puritans, with some French and Scottish blood thrown in.  He was born in Iowa, grew up in Minnesota and arrived in Saskatchewan in 1908 at the age of 17.  The family was Wesleyan Methodist, but a series of mergers brought most Methodists into one fold and then in the 1920’s they became part of the new United Church of Canada.  My dad told of a service he had attended in Edmonton in the early years of the United Church.  As the preacher spoke, it became evident that he didn’t believe the creation account, the virgin birth of Jesus, or much of anything else in the Bible.  Dad walked out of that church into the street and wept.  After that he tried to avoid ever setting foot in a United Church again.

My mother was of pure Low German descent.  Her grandparents came to Canada in the great migration of the 1870’s.  There is a story in our family that her grandfather learned to read and write English and discovered that the bishop of the Old Colony Mennonite Church was using money that belonged to the congregation for his own benefit.  Great-grandfather was thereupon excommunicated and joined the Sommerfelder Mennonite Church.  I’m sure there would be a different story from the other side, but this is the story that I have been told.

Mom was born in Manitoba and grew up in Saskatchewan, the sixth in a family of 14 children.  She was the last one in the family to learn High German, which was the only language used in the Sommerfelder Church worship services.  Mom often spoke of how she felt that the church had abandoned her younger siblings.

In her later teens she joined a group of other young people in a catechism class.  They were supposed to learn the catechism by heart.  After the catechism classes were finished, they were to answer the questions of the catechism before the congregation.  I believe this took place over several Sundays.  Mom was the only one of the group to memorize the whole catechism.  As they always sat in the same order, the others calculated which questions they would be asked and memorized only those answers.  One of Mom’s cousins sat beside her.  The morning they were to begin answering the questions before the congregation this cousin told Mom, “I don’t have my answer memorized, so when the bishop asks my question, just speak up and answer it for me and no one will know the difference.”  Mom agreed to this subterfuge.  All went well until the bishop came to the person after Mom.  The anticipated sequence was now broken and he had not memorized the answer to the question he was asked.  Somehow it all worked out and they were all baptized.

My parents were married in the Alliance Church in Moose Jaw, but did not affiliate with any denomination.  I remember that we once attended a service in a rural school house.  I suspect my father was not pleased as we never went again.  One time we attended an Ernest Manning crusade in Regina.  When I was nine, my father arranged for me to be baptized in a private ceremony in a Lutheran church.

That same year, we moved to a farm on the outskirts of Craik.  There were three churches in this town, United, Catholic and Anglican.  My father decided that we needed to start attending church and the Anglican Church was the only good choice available.

A catechism class was planned for the following winter and my father decided I should join.  There were four other boys my age in the class and we spent a number of months studying, not memorizing, the Anglican catechism.  I still remember the definition of a sacrament: “An outward and visible form of an inward and spiritual grace,” and think that is the best definition that I have heard.  The confirmation service, where the bishop would be present to lay his hands on our heads and pray for us, making us full members of the church, came in the spring of 1953.

We five boys had a meeting with the bishop before the service began.  The Right Reverend Michael Coleman, Bishop of Qu’Appelle, was a kindly, white-haired gentleman.  He spoke to us of how the service would be conducted.  Then he told us: “When I was your age, I had the idea that after the bishop laid his hands on me and prayed for me, I would not be able to sin anymore.  When we got home after church, I went out behind the barn to see if I could still say the words that I had used before.  They came just as easily as they ever had!  When I lay my hands on your head today and pray for you, that will change nothing inside of you.  To overcome sin you will need something that I cannot do for you.  You will need a change of heart.”

This happened 57 years ago and I may not have the words exactly as he said them, but this was the essence of his message to us.  The fact that I remember that message so clearly must indicate the impact those words had on me, even though the fruit did not appear until many years later.

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What is your duty towards your neighbour?

The title of this post is a question from the catechism in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. The answer given in the catechism is as follows:

My duty towards my neighbour is to love him as myself, and to do to all as I would they would do unto me.

To love, honour, and help my father and mother; to honour and obey the Queen, and all who are in authority under her; to show respect to teachers and pastors; and to be courteous to all.

To hurt nobody by word or deed; to be true and just in all my dealing; to bear no malice or hatred in my heart; to keep my hands from picking and stealing, and my tongue from evil-speaking, lying, and slandering.

To keep my body in temperance, soberness, and chastity:

Not to covet or desire other men’s goods; but to learn and labour truly to get my own living, and to do my duty in the vocation to which it shall please God to call me.

As I read this over, 60 years after I first studied this catechism, it strikes me that there is nothing impossibly idealistic in these statements; nor do they contain anything distinctively Anglican. They are the simple Biblical standards by which all who call themselves Christian should measure their lives.

Perhaps there is no merit in simply memorizing such fine-sounding words. Yet it seems to me that they could well serve as a daily check list to examine myself to see if I am as much a Christian as I would like to think I am.

It also struck me that there is considerable merit in our country being a constitutional monarchy. The Queen has no real authority over us in Canada, the idea that she is the head of state is considered by many to be an irrelevant fiction. Yet there is virtue in praying for “the Queen, and all who are in authority under her,” in that it overrides any political sensibilities we may have and allows us to pray for our governments as the Bible instructs us to.

We are in the middle of a federal election campaign here in Canada and the party leaders are competing to see who can sling the most mud. If we follow the news at all, it may be difficult to avoid having our feelings stirred. What happens then when the election is over and the “wrong” party has been elected? Can we still pray for God’s guiding hand over our government and promise to respect and obey those in authority?

The Queen is not elected, not a political appointee. For all that she has no real authority, praying for her and “all who are in authority under her” is a politically neutral form of prayer and a reminder of the proper Biblical attitude towards those in authority.

Things I learned from the Anglican Church of Canada

I was a member of the Anglican Church of Canada throughout the years of my youth .  Fifty years ago, I concluded that it might well have an abundance of outward and visible form, but was sadly lacking in the true inward and spiritual grace.  Since that time, the Anglican Church of Canada has abandoned the Book of Common Prayer.  In recent years, large numbers of people have left the A.C.C. to form a new Anglican movement in Canada, stressing the new birth and a Spirit-led life.  That has caused me to take an inventory of the things that I learned during my youth and that I still believe to be good and true and right, and wholly conformable to a sound faith in God.

A study of the Word of God has convinced me that infant baptism, weekly communion, a salaried ministry and a liturgical form of worship are not hallmarks of the true faith.  Even so, I still found much for which I could be thankful and which I would not have learned in other churches in our area during my growing up years.  Passages within quotation marks are taken from the Book of Common Prayer, 1959 edition.

A love for the spoken Word of God
In every service there was a reading from the Old Testament and another from the New Testament, plus a number of other verses that were either spoken by the minister or recited by the congregation as a whole.

To pray for those in government
“That all things may be so ordered and settled by their endeavours upon the best and surest foundations, that peace and happiness, truth and justice, religion and piety, may be established among us for all generations, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

To kneel for prayer
The kneeling boards that folded down from the pew in front of us got considerable use in each service.

To love the old hymns of the faith
The beautiful old hymns have a depth of meaning that is lacking in the feel-good choruses of our day.

That there is an inward and spiritual grace that God wishes to grant us
The Anglican catechism says that a sacrament is “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.”

The need for self examination before communion
It is required of those who come to the Lord’s Supper “to examine themselves, whether they truly repent of their former sins, steadfastly purposing to lead the new life; have a living faith in God’s mercy through Christ, with a thankful remembrance of his death; and be in charity with all men.”

An acceptance of people of other backgrounds
Even in a little Saskatchewan town, we were exposed to the reality that Anglicanism included large numbers of people of different backgrounds and different skin colours.

That the true church of God had a continuous existence since the time of the Apostles
The Anglican Church understood this as meaning an unbroken lineage of the laying on of hands in ordination.

Catechism Classes

About the only thing my parents had in common was a feeling that the church in which they had been raised had let them down.

My father was a descendant of New England Puritans, with some French and Scottish blood thrown in.  He was born in Iowa, grew up in Minnesota and arrived in Saskatchewan in 1908 at the age of 17.  The family was Wesleyan Methodist, but a series of mergers brought most Methodists into one fold and then in the 1920’s they became part of the new United Church of Canada.  My dad told of a service he had attended in Edmonton in the early years of the United Church.  As the preacher spoke, it became evident that he didn’t believe the creation account, the virgin birth of Jesus, or much of anything else in the Bible.  Dad walked out of that church into the street and wept.  After that he tried to avoid ever setting foot in a United Church again.

My mother was of pure Low German descent.  Her grandparents came to Canada in the great migration of the 1870’s.  There is a story in our family that her grandfather learned to read and write English and discovered that the bishop of the Old Colony Mennonite Church was using money that belonged to the congregation for his own benefit.  Great-grandfather was thereupon excommunicated and joined the Sommerfelder Mennonite Church.  I’m sure there would be a different story from the other side, but this is the story that I have been told.

Mom was born in Manitoba and grew up in Saskatchewan, the sixth in a family of 14 children.  She was the last one in the family to learn High German, which was the only language used in the Sommerfelder Church worship services.  Mom often spoke of how she felt that the church had abandoned her younger siblings.

In her later teens she joined a group of other young people in a catechism class.  They were supposed to learn the catechism by heart.  After the catechism classes were finished, they were to answer the questions of the catechism before the congregation.  I believe this took place over several Sundays.  Mom was the only one of the group to memorize the whole catechism.  As they always sat in the same order, the others calculated which questions they would be asked and memorized only those answers.  One of Mom’s cousins sat beside her.  The morning they were to begin answering the questions before the congregation this cousin told Mom, “I don’t have my answer memorized, so when the bishop asks my question, just speak up and answer it for me and no one will know the difference.”  Mom agreed to this subterfuge.  All went well until the bishop came to the person after Mom.  The anticipated sequence was now broken and he had not memorized the answer to the question he was asked.  Somehow it all worked out and they were all baptized.

My parents were married in the Alliance Church in Moose Jaw, but did not affiliate with any denomination.  I remember that we once attended a service in a rural school house.  I suspect my father was not pleased as we never went again.  One time we attended an Ernest Manning crusade in Regina.  When I was nine, my father arranged for me to be baptized in a private ceremony in a Lutheran church.

That same year, we moved to a farm on the outskirts of Craik.  There were three churches in this town, United, Catholic and Anglican.  My father decided that we needed to start attending church and the Anglican Church was the only good choice available.

A catechism class was planned for the following winter and my father decided I should join.  There were four other boys my age in the class and we spent a number of months studying, not memorizing, the Anglican catechism.  I still remember the definition of a sacrament: “An outward and visible form of an inward and spiritual grace,” and think that is the best definition that I have heard.  The confirmation service, where the bishop would be present to lay his hands on our heads and pray for us, making us full members of the church, came in the spring of 1953.

We five boys had a meeting with the bishop before the service began.  The Right Reverend Michael Coleman, Bishop of Qu’Appelle, was a kindly, white-haired gentleman.  He spoke to us of how the service would be conducted.  Then he told us: “When I was your age, I had the idea that after the bishop laid his hands on me and prayed for me, I would not be able to sin anymore.  When we got home after church, I went out behind the barn to see if I could still say the words that I had used before.  They came just as easily as they ever had!  When I lay my hands on your head today and pray for you, that will change nothing inside of you.  To overcome sin you will need something that I cannot do for you.  You will need a change of heart.”

This happened 57 years ago and I may not have the words exactly as he said them, but this was the essence of his message to us.  The fact that I remember that message so clearly must indicate the impact those words had on me, even though the fruit did not appear until many years later.

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