Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

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A life-giving faith

We Christians have a lot to say about heaven and how we long to be there. Is anticipation enough to get us there? If we are not experiencing joy in the journey, will we make it?

Many Christians are experiencing a joyous and happy life, filled with joy far more abundant than they ever knew before they abandoned the way of the world. Others are burdened with care, wanting to always do the right thing and avoid doing the wrong thing. Their eyes are so fixed upon the ground, ever fearful of dangers that may lie on their path, that they forget to look up and see the glory of the Lord.

We don’t have to live like that. We don’t want to look for pleasure in things the world around us calls fun; but living with the dread of making a misstep is not the way Jesus wants us to live. He has given us the Holy Spirit to guide us on our way, to comfort us when we are on the right path and warn us if we are in danger of stepping off that path.

The fear of the Lord is an honest awareness of the seriousness of life, the seriousness of the choices we make every day. That kind of fear leads not to dread but to trust and joy.

May I offer this paraphrase of Romans 12:2;

“Don’t pattern your thinking after the things that are highly esteemed in today’s world, but let the Holy Spirit renew your thinking to understand the complete will of God so that your life can be transformed into what He wants it to be.”

What is needed to have a healthy congregation?

Blaise Pascal wrote; “The heart of man is so deceitful that as soon as he begins to think about getting converted, he believes he is.” A congregation largely made up of people like that will never prosper spiritually. So the starting point for a healthy congregation is that it must be made up of people who really are converted.

Is that all it takes? Let’s be honest, we are at best flawed and selfish creatures, each with out own blueprint of what a congregation should be. It as inevitable that even among spiritual people there will be frictions and differences of vision. We need to accept that and not expect that a church will be made up of people who are flawless. Not here on earth.

Another essential element in a real life congregation of real people is that there must be one or more members who do not soon get excited about differences, but who quietly work to help people lay aside their differences and work together for the honour of God.

Not a dynamic leader who has all the answers and expects others to fall in line and follow him. That eventually leads to shipwreck. I mean someone who can listen, discern where the shoe pinches and help members make the small adjustments that will ease the pain so that all can turn their attention to God and away from themselves.

Every congregation needs to have its peacemakers, because it is certain that things will arise to disturb the peace. Another name for such a person is a rassembleur. He is that special kind of leader who helps people all arrive at the same conviction without feeling that it has been imposed on them by someone else.

If there is no rassembleur in a congregation, that lack will be obvious. Little misunderstandings will not be resolved and will grow into major problems. If there is one or more in a congregation, things work smoothly and others are hardly aware of what the rassembleurs are doing.

(I have chosen to use a French word here, for lack of a good English equivalent. Rassembleur means a person who is able to inspire others to work together toward a common goal. The best English translation would be uniter, but it does not describe all that is meant by rassembleur. Besides, uniter is not a word we are accustomed to hearing in English, whereas rassembleur is a very common word in French.)

And be ye thankful

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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Reading the news can can give one the impression that everything around us is changing, crumbling, ready to collapse. But when I pause to reflect, there are a lot of things in my day to day life that have not changed, and I take courage. Here are a few things that come to my mind:

  • The Lord is my shepherd
  • My wife, who has stuck with me for almost 50 years
  • I am 78 and still in good health
  • Our daughter, her husband and our four grandchildren
  • Our spiritual family, brothers and sisters who are serving God, but who don’t do everything just right and who are OK with the fact that we don’t either
  • The few cousins left whom I have known all my life
  • Every opportunity to meet new people
  • Young people who choose to follow the Lord
  • Our two cats who keep home life interesting
  • It’s almost spring and the daylight hours are increasing by four minutes each day

Feeling like a victim?

Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, unto all that are carried away captives, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem unto Babylon; build ye houses, and dwell [in them]; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them; take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; that ye may be increased there, and not diminished. And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the LORD for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace. Jeremiah 29:4-7

Aren’t we in much the same position as the Jews who were captive in a foreign land that did not know their God? This vile world that we live in is not a friend of grace, to lead us on to God. Do we think it should be? Do we feel like victims?

Victims we may be, but we are not helpless. God is our help and He instructs us to stop feeling sorry for ourselves and get on with living a victorious Christian life, right here where we are.  He even tells us to pray for our governments in these heathen lands. And all the countries of the world are heathen lands.

Complaining does not bring peace, it just discourages us. Why should citizens of the heavenly kingdom ever be discouraged? Jesus promises abundant life, it is within our grasp. “Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; and make straight paths for your feet.” (Hebrews 12:12-13)

Basic nonresistance

Matthew 5:39 — But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.

If I cannot forgive the person who hurts my feelings, can I honestly claim exemption from military service because I am nonresistant?

The pen of the wise

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Image by Pexels from Pixabay

I begin every day by meeting God, first in His Word, then in prayer. My French Bible is on a shelf just above the computer monitor. Most often I read and hear gentle reminders of things I know, but which are always in need of reinforcement. The strength I receive from this quiet time helps me through the day, even if the words I read seldom come to mind.

Some mornings are different. It’s afternoon now and the message of Proverbs 15:2 is still turning around in my mind, like a cat looking for the most comfortable position to settle down. I have three French Bibles on that shelf, all translations I believe to be trustworthy. One word is different in two of them, but the sense is still the same: The tongue of the wise makes knowledge attractive.

Well, of course. That’s so obvious. I knew that already. But did I really? Have I really got it yet? Why do I so naturally slip into teachy-preachy mode, reproaching others for not understanding things that seem so obvious to me?

That’s why people love to read C. S. Lewis. It’s like sitting down to visit with an old friend about everyday things. After the visit, you realize you have learned something important, without ever feeling like you were being taught. There is nothing bombastic about his writing style; no hint of: “You need to listen to what I say because I am important.”

Blaise Pascal was like that, too. He set out to write a defence of Christian faith, knowing how difficult it would be: “People despise Christian faith. They hate it and are afraid that it may be true.  The solution for this is to show them, first of all, that it is not unreasonable, that it is worthy of reverence and respect. Then show that it is attractive, making good men desire that it were true. Then show them that it really is true. It is worthy of reverence because it really understands the human condition. It is also attractive because it promises true goodness.”

Pascal died young, before he could complete the book he wanted to write. All he left behind was scraps of paper on which he had written his thoughts. His friends collected those thoughts into a book; Les Pensées has become a classic of French literature on the same level as Pilgrim’s Progress in English.

I have four copies of Les Pensées (the thoughts) of Blaise Pascal, in French and in English. Each editor had his own idea of the way Pascal wanted his thoughts ordered. None of them agree. It doesn’t matter. Each time I read a few of those scraps of paper Pascal left behind I am struck with how simple Christian truth appears from his hand, his mind—and how profound.

And Wow! This is how it’s done. This is how one makes truth attractive.

Is possible for me to learn this?

Christ is in all

The following question came in my email this morning and I decided to post it and give my thoughts.  Feel free to join the conversation.

I enjoy many of your inspiring blogs and this morning read “A matter of the heart, not the head.” You wrote: “ …and there did not seem to be a closeness, a genuine trust and fellowship among the members.”

I understand the line and have noticed or experienced this too; but my question is: what specifically brings us to “closeness, genuine trust and fellowship” ? Not to downplay faith in Christ, I am thinking that a common practiced tradition and custom also play a part of the closeness you refer to. Can such closeness and fellowship exist without a common tradition ? What do you think ? H. W.

I believe that “a common practiced tradition and custom” can lead to a form of closeness.  Just not the kind we were looking for. Some of the churches we visited did have the form of unity produced by a common ethnic and religious heritage, but as I wrote “it was never clear to us how many of them might actually have a relationship with the Shepherd.”

The apostle Paul described the church this way in Colossians 3:11: “Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond [nor] free: but Christ [is] all, and in all.” Let me unpack that statement. Jews were those people who believed themselves to be God’s people by virtue of their family heritage. Greeks were everybody else in the parts of Asia and Europe mentioned in the New Testament. The circumcised were the adherents to the Jewish traditions, the uncircumcised were those for whom those traditions had no meaning. Barbarians were people who spoke an unfamiliar language. Scythians were people whose culture and customs seemed bizarre to the Jews and Greeks. Bond and free refers to social status. Paul is saying that none of those things mattered; the one thing that matters is whether one has a relationship with Jesus Christ.  “Christ in you, the hope of glory” Colossians 1:27.

That must still be the grounds of Christian fellowship. My wife and I have belonged to the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite for 41 years. A majority of the members are of one ethnic heritage. We are not. It doesn’t matter. Mennonite in our day has been relegated in many people’s minds to an ethnic culture. I am not part of that culture, much of it is incomprehensible to me, but I am a Mennonite by faith.

By culture and tradition I still feel like a boy out of a W. O. Mitchell story. I listened to Jake and the Kid on radio when I was young, a few years later I read Who Has Seen the Wind. I felt like I was the kid in  those stories, I identified fully with this boy  experiencing the wind in the grass, watching people around him cope with life, feeling part of the prairie.

God has called me, I have embraced the faith once delivered to the saints, I enjoy fellowship with brothers and sisters of this faith, whatever their background. But I am not a Mennonite by birth, language, culture or tradition. In those things I am a kid from the prairie, this is my land, these are my people.

Characteristics of a rassembleur

I have chosen to use a French word in this post. The closest equivalent in English is uniter, but I see the French word being used in a larger sense. It means someone who can unite people to work together for a common cause, a common goal.

The principles listed here can be applied in many different contexts, in business, in the family and so on. More specifically, I am thinking of a Christian congregation, in general and in any function or project of the congregation.

1. VISIONARY
Where there is no vision . . . the people are confused. A rassembleur has a vision of a work that needs to be done, is passionate about the benefits of the task at hand in a way that helps others believe it is possible to achieve.

2. ENCOURAGER
A rassembleur will take to heart the words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 14:19: “Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.” He will use his influence to encourage, not to discourage.

3. PEACEMAKER
A peacemaker will create an atmosphere where everyone feels free to state their views. He will not permit criticism of members of the team for the ideas they express. He will gently steer the conversation towards suggestions that are positive and helpful in attaining the objective.

4. CONFIDENCE BUILDER
A rassembleur builds confidence in his leadership by demonstrating his confidence in all members of his team, never preferring one above another, but encouraging everyone to work together for the common good.

5. EXAMPLE
A rasembleur will be an example of the values he professes.

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.

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