Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Christian

Dorothy Sayers on the origin of evil

The orthodox Christian position is . . . [that] the light, and the light only is primary; creation and time and darkness are secondary and begin together. When you come to consider the matter, it is strictly meaningless to say that darkness could precede light in a time process. Where there is no light, there is no meaning for the word darkness, for darkness is merely a name for that which is without light. Light, by merely existing, creates darkness, or at any rate the possibility of darkness. In this sense, it is possible to understand that profound saying, “I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace and create evil: I the Lord do all these things” (Isaiah 45:7).

But it is at this point that it becomes possible for the evil and the darkness and the chaos to boast: “We are that which was before the light was, and the light is a usurpation upon our rights.” It is an illusion; evil and darkness and chaos are pure negation, and there is no such state as “before the light” because it is the primary light that creates the whole time process. It is an illusion, and that is the primary illusion inside which the devil lives and in which he deceives himself and others.

In the orthodox Christian position, therefore, the light is primary, the darkness secondary and derivative; and this is important for the whole theology of evil. In The Devil to Pay, I tried to make this point, and I remember being soundly rapped over the knuckles by a newspaper critic, who said in effect that after a great deal of unintelligible pother, I had worked up to the statement that God was light, which did not seem to be very novel or profound. Novel, it certainly is not, it is scarcely the business of Christian writers to introduce novelties into the fundamental Christian doctrines. But profundity is a different matter; Christian theology is profound, and since I did not invent it, I may have the right to say so.

The possibility of evil exists from the moment that a creature is made that can love and do good because it chooses and not because it is unable to do anything else. The actuality of evil exists from the moment that that choice is exercised in the wrong direction. Sin (moral evil) is the deliberate choice of the not-God. And pride, as the church has consistently pointed out, is the root of it, i.e., the refusal to accept the creaturely status; the making of the difference between self and God into an antagonism against God.

-Dorthy Sayers, Letters to a Diminished Church. [First posted on this blog September 14, 2014]

New Eyes

You have to be displaced from what’s comfortable and routine and then you get to see things with fresh eyes, with new eyes. -Amy Tan

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Image by S. Hermann & F. Richter from Pixabay

For those who have experienced a displacement from all that is familiar and routine,  this statement will be self-evident.

What about people who have never experienced such a disruption and cannot comprehend that it is even possible to see things differently?

When the apostle Paul wrote about being “all things to all men,” didn’t he mean that he had learned to see things  as other people saw them?

That is the essential starting point of Christian missions.

The abolition of sin in children’s literature

Nowadays the lead character in a highly acclaimed book for children is apt to be a lesbian who is a practicing Wiccan. Parents have been banished from children’s books for many years, but are making a comeback in situations where a child has two mothers or two fathers. But any mention of God, Christianity or morality makes a book far too dangerous for young children.

Perhaps this started in a small way many years ago. The fairy tales of Charles Perrault, from the 18th century, were morality tales. When Little Red Riding Hood got into bed with the wolf, that was the end of her. Perrault made it clear at the end that he was thinking of wolves of the two-legged, smooth talking kind. In Cinderella, the heroine forgave her two stepsisters and found good husbands for them. Perrault’s point was that true beauty is not on the outside, but inside, in the heart. Those moral teachings disappeared in the versions of the Grimm brothers that appeared 100 years later. Little Red Riding Hood was miraculously rescued and Cinderella was well rid of her mean stepsisters.

Children’s books that depicted the value of moral purity and respect for parents went out of fashion years ago. Modern books are teaching a whole different sense of values.

On the other side are the type of conservative Christian children’s books where sin and evil have become unmentionable. Tender and sensitive children must be protected from such awful things. Many parents who think like that would be appalled to see what their children read a few years later.

Even Bible story books are getting the makeover to supposedly make themn less scary to children. David doesn’t kill Goliath, he just defeats him. The Bible says that David didn’t stop with stunning the giant with a stone from his sling, he cut his head off. That is not just gratuitous blood and gore, David did not want to see the giant get up from the ground and seek revenge. He wanted to be sure that he was well and truly dead. We need to do the same with the things that tempt us.

By either denying that anything is sinful or pretending that sin is something about which little children should have no knowledge, neither extreme prepares children to navigate the dangers and temptations of life. Children realize from quite a young age that the world is a scary place. How do we explain the dangers in the world in a way that helps them know to avoid evil and trust in the good?

C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and others have endeavoured to answer this question by creating a genre of Christian fantasy for children. As fantasies they portray dangers in a way that is not explicit, but shows that there are dangerous unseen forces in the world. Children can relate to that. Even more importantly, these books always show that evil can be overcome. The good guys in these fantasies never use the methods of the bad guys in order to win, in itself a very important lesson that is not characteristic of books like Harry Potter.

Another book in the genre is Hari & Rudi in the Land of Fruit, by English author Andrew Ratcliffe. It was published earlier this year and is available from Amazon.

 

Five reasons Christian communes don’t work

1. They isolate members from other people

Relationships with family and friends outside the community that do not further the goals of the community become suspect.

2. They disconnect members from the reality of the world around them

People who don’t have to choose and pay for their own food, clothing and shelter can hardly relate to the people around them who do.

3. Giving is mandatory, not voluntary

When someone joins a commune, he voluntarily gives all he has to the community. After that he is assigned tasks to do for the well-being of the community.

4. Conversion becomes merely assent to the values of the community

When one’s home and livelihood are tied to being a member, young people who grow up in the community face enormous pressure to make an outward commitment to the faith of the community. Those who are already members also face pressure to admit young people on such a basis, for the continuation of the community.

5. Allegiance to the community outranks a relationship with God

Since the community is believed to be the ultimate expression of the will of God, a personal relationship with God and being led of the Holy Spirit are taught to be synonymous with living in accordance with the values of the community.

Sharing of material blessings received from God, mutual aid, bearing one another’s burdens, helping the poor and the weak are all values clearly taught in the New Testament. But they are taught as voluntary actions proceeding from a heart that is transformed by the Spirit of God.

2 Corinthians 9:7 – Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.

Religious communes in Canada

Reading posts by Jnana Hodson about religious communes in the USA prompted me to compile a list of some of the more notable communal groups of the past and present is Canada. Read Jnana Hodson’s posts here, and here.

1. The Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy and the Huron Confederacy could be considered as having been religious communes. Each of their longhouses was home for many families and also the place where sacred ceremonies were held.

2. The Children of Peace, founded by David Willson and several other families who left the Religious Society of Friends. They built the Sharon Temple at Sharon, Ontario in 1819. The last service there was held in 1899.

3. The Community Farm of the Brethren, founded at Bright, Ontario in 1941 by Hungarian immigrants on Hutterite principles. The founder was Julius Kubassek. They received some help from the Hutterites of Western Canada but were never united with them.

4. The Apostles of Infinite Love, Mont Tremblant, Quebec. A large community with affiliates elsewhere, professing to be a continuation of the true Roman Catholic faith, but rejected by that church.

5. I AM – Institute of Applied Metaphysics, a New Age group founded in the Ottawa area which once had several communities in other parts of Canada. They believed they had the answers for world peace and tried to share them with governments, but could not remain peacefully united among themselves and dissolved.

6. The Christian Community, Woodstock, New Brunswick, was part of a group led by Elmo Stoll. He was formerly an Old Order Amish bishop at Aylmer, Ontario with a heart for non-Amish people seeking a plain lifestyle. He established the first community at Cookeville, Tennessee in 1990. It quickly grew to five communities, including the one in New Brunswick. The movement collapsed after Elmo Stoll’s sudden death in 1998.

7. Fort Pitt Farms Christian Community, Frenchman Butte, Saskatchewan was formed in 1999 by Hutterites who professed to be born again and were excommunicated. They have retained the Hutterite communal lifestyle and now have affiliates in the USA and Australia.

8. Bountiful, British Columbia is the home of two polygamous communal groups who claim to be the true followers of the Book of Mormon.

9. Lev Tahor is an ultraconservative Jewish sect that was first organized at Ste Agathe des Monts in Quebec and has moved numerous times in attempts to escape government scrutiny of their child care practices. They moved to Ontario in 2013, to Guatemala in 2014 and then to Chiapas, Mexico, where several of their leaders were arrested.

10. Lifechanyuan International Family Society, Vancouver, British Columbia. This group was founded in 2009 in China by Xuefeng, They moved to Vancouver in 2017 to escape legal problems. They have a syncretistic belief in the “Greatest Creator.”

Some spirits need to be quenched

I was alone in the lunchroom when Rhonda came in. She sat down on the other side of the table, opened her lunch bag and announced “He told me I looked like a horse.”

“What? Who did?”

“Doug, that young guy who got a summer job here. He just walked up to me and said: ‘You look like a horse.’”

While I was trying to digest that, she asked: “He’s going to Bible School isn’t he? What is he learning there?”

“I don’t know”

That wasn’t entirely true. There were stories about the students from the Bible College that Doug attended. They had a reputation for unusual and inconsiderate behaviour. The school encouraged them to “Quench not the Spirit.” Be open and enthusiastic and speak and act according to the impulses that came to them.

“What does he plan to do when he graduates? Become a missionary?”

“Probably.”

“How is that going to work?”

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Image by Robin Higgins from Pixabay

I allowed that it didn’t seem that Doug had quite got the hang of relating to other people in a way that would be an asset to the cause of Christ.

With that our conversation turned to subjects other than Doug, but every once in a while it replays in my mind. Rhonda was Roman Catholic. Working with Doug did not give her the impression that evangelical Christianity had anything to interest her.

I am all in favour of enthusiasm and of being prompt to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. But the Bible also tells us that the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets, that we need to prove the spirits, and that we will one day need to give account for every idle word that we have spoken. Doug failed on all counts.

Here are some wise counsels from the apostle Paul: “Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man” Colossians 4:6 . “Young men likewise exhort to be sober minded. In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine shewing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity, sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you” Titus 2:6-8.

[A true story, names have been changed, location shall remain unidentified.]

Hard work is not a Christian virtue

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Image by leo zeng from Pixabay

The robots are coming. Technology could eliminate half of all jobs over the next ten years. Working harder isn’t going to save your job. Working smarter won’t to do it either. The economy is changing and the way to ride the wave of change is to change our attitude about work.

Several years ago a business magazine surveyed businesses to find what qualities they looked for when hiring employees. The top two items were a desire to serve others and an aptitude to work with others in a team environment. Those sound like Christian virtues, don’t they?

Let’s stop telling young people entering the job market that if they are willing to work really hard they will always have a job. T’aint necessarily so. Especially not in the coming economic transformation. The old ideals of individualistic effort are about to be cast on the scrap heap.

Christians have absorbed an idea from the world that values a person by the amount he produces. We expect that success equates high production with the ability to spend more on the things we consume. Could we shift our attitude to value a person by what he or she contributes to the common good? That would seem more like a Christian value system, unless we would try to measure that contribution in dollars and cents.

W. Edwards Deming became a hero to Japanese industry when he showed them how to drastically improve the quality of their products after World War II. It wasn’t until 1980, when Deming was 80, that US business started to pay attention to what he had to say. His analysis of American management methods were devastating. He told companies that they needed to drive out fear and eliminate barriers between departments so that everyone could work together for the good of the business. He condemned annual performance reviews, saying they forced employees to compete against each other rather than working together for the common good.

In the survey quoted earlier, educational accomplishments came far down the list of qualities that business leaders were looking for in new hires. Graduates who have a piece of paper showing their success in the classroom may expect employers to give them preferential treatment. The problem is that things learned in the classroom often don’t have much value in the workplace.

Employers want employees who are life long learners. They want to be able to direct their employees towards learning things that apply to their work and will benefit the business. Years ago Henry Ford said: “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.”

To put this all together, as Christians we should teach the value of a servant spirit. This should be evident in every area of life. Can we really serve God and not be willing to serve our fellow man?

Ideas like “I know better” or “I can do it better” should have no place in Christian life. We should not expect them to be useful in our work life either. Success in the coming economy will not go to the one who works the hardest to prove that he can do things faster and better. The person who dedicates his efforts to the success of the whole group will be a valued member of any team.

The church as the most important family

There are serious consequences of losing a sense of family within the church. . . We assume that the nuclear family can meet this need, and yet some of the loneliest, most isolated people in our communities are married with children, often so frenetically busy with child rearing and/or caring for aging parents that they have lost touch with old friends and no longer know how to make new ones.

The church is not a collection of families. The church is family. We are not “family friendly” ; we are family. We learn the skills within the church to be godly sons or daughters, brothers or sisters, husbands or wives, fathers or mothers, and the reverse is also true. . .

God wanted to make Israel distinct, not just morally but also through the signs of the covenant and through the prohibition against their intermarrying with the nations around them. In order to bless the nations, Israel could not be absorbed into the other nations and cease to exist.

The Storm-Tossed Family, by Russell Moore, pages 60 & 61; © Russell Moore, 2018, published by B & H Publishing Group, Nashville, Tennessee.

Not a scary book

When Howard was converted, he knew there were a lot of differing ideas out there about what the Bible said. So, every time he sat down to read the Bible, he would pray first and ask God to help him understand correctly. When I met him some years later it was evident that God had honoured those prayers. Unfortunately, Howard also clearly understood that by the time I met him he was living in sin that the Bible condemned, and didn’t know what to do about it, or perhaps more correctly, didn’t want to know.

Still, if you find the Bible intimidating, prayer would be a good place to start. Understanding isn’t enough, though, as Howard had discovered. It would also be a good idea to pray after you read the Bible and ask God to help you be obedient to as much as you understood from His Word.

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God didn’t intend for the Bible to be a scary book. Can I say it that way? What I mean is that there should be times when the Bible speaks to us in a way that will frighten us out of our complacency and lukewarmness, but most of the time we will find it the most fascinating book we have ever read. It tells us that our life has a meaning, that God loves us, wants to have a conversation with us and has always battled the unseen powers that are against us.

Perhaps a little introduction to the structure of the Bible will help demystify it. The Old Testament began with Moses and reached its completion in the days of Ezra. Jewish synagogues still have the books of the Old Testament written on scrolls and those scrolls are arranged a little differently than how the same books appear in our Bibles. It may interest you to know that arrangement and the reasons behind it.

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The Jewish Scriptures are divided in three: first the Torah, the teachings, or the law – the books of Moses; then the Nevi’im, the Prophets; and lastly the Ketuvim (Writings). All together, they are referred to as the TaNaKh, an acronym of the first letters of each section.

When the New Testament refers to the law and the prophets it is referring collectively to the first two groups of scrolls. “It is written in the prophets” means that it is found somewhere in the group of scrolls called the Prophets.
Here are the divisions, I will elaborate a little more in the posts that follow:

Torah, or Law:
Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, all written by Moses.

The Prophets:
The former prophets: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings
The latter prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the Twelve (the minor prophets).

The Writings
Poetry and wisdom literature: Psalms, Proverbs, Job
History: Daniel, Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah
Five special scrolls: Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther.

You probably noticed that the books called the former prophets are books we think of as history and that the book of Daniel is grouped with the history scrolls rather than the prophets.

One other interesting point is that the last five scrolls listed were each read every year, and still are in synagogues, at specific festivals. The Song of Solomon was read at Passover; Ruth at Pentecost; Lamentations on the eve of the ninth of Av to commemorate the destruction of Jerusalem; Ecclesiastes at the feast of Tabernacles; and Esther at Purim, the festival commemorating the deliverance of the Jews in Persia that is described in Esther.

Doesn’t everybody want to change their life?

Jim walked into the small town grocery store, a bundle of tracts in his hand. He looked around, found the tract rack and saw it was almost empty. He dropped the tracts in his had on the counter and went out to his car to get more.

The clerk was reading one of the tracts when he returned. “Don’t read that!” he said. “Unless you want to change your life.”

She looked up at him, smiling. “Doesn’t everybody want to change their life?”

I’ve pondered that for a long time. I don’t think we do. We want our life to be different, but it’s other people and the circumstances of my life that need to change. I am not the problem here, my life will never change unless someone else makes some changes in the way they treat me.

It’s like banging my head against a brick wall. I get a headache, the wall is just the same, has no idea why anyone would expect it to change.

One day God says “You are the problem. You need to change.”

That’s ridiculous. I’m doing the best anyone could hope to do when he has to live and work around all these turkeys.

God persists. I begin to see little things where I might have said things differently, done things differently. But what would that really help? The turkeys are the real problem.

One day things go really badly, and I know that I caused this problem. A light goes on. “OK God, I don’t know how to get out of this mess I’ve made. Please help me.”

Nothing great happens, except I’m a little calmer, now. After a few days I realize that the turkeys don’t seem much like turkeys anymore; they’re pretty much the same as me. I even start to like them. I don’t often see them making mistakes any more but my own mistakes are becoming painfully obvious. I find myself saying “I’m sorry” quite often. I never used to do that. 

One morning I realize that I am looking forward to the day, the little interactions that I might have with all those interesting people around me. Something has changed, and it’s not them. I am different, but it is God who has made the difference in me. I didn’t have a clue where to begin.

Do you want to change the world?

So does God.

He wants to begin with you.

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