Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Christianity

Loss of power

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Getting our wires crossed

A few days ago, I reorganized our home office. When I turned my wife’s desk a quarter turn, all the wires that were hidden behind it were now a mess in the open air. Not as bad as the illustration above, but seriously unsightly and possibly dangerous.

I went about to put a little order into the confusion. I managed to eliminate one power bar and plug everything into the other. Now the monitor’s power cord was too short to lead it along the wall behind the computer. So I pulled a cord from the wall outlet and plugged it into the power bar, then plugged the monitor’s power cord into the wall outlet. Everything seemed fine now. But nothing worked. The printer, the computer, the monitor, the internet router were all dead.

I thought maybe by rearranging the cords I had inadvertently pressed the power bar switch. But nothing worked at either position of the switch. How could the power bar fail as fast as that?

Most cords were much longer than necessary for this setup and I was not sure which cord went to which device. I followed the cord plugged into the last socket of the power bar, it made a loop – and turned out to be the power cord of the power bar!

These power bars are a wonderful thing: several years ago the modem in a computer was fried during a thunderstorm and I don’t want to risk that happening again. But they have no power in themselves – they must be plugged into a source of power. Everything worked fine once the power bar was plugged into the wall outlet once again. And if the monitor cord is a little short, we will buy a longer one.

I, too, become powerless in Christian life if I am not connected to the source of power. I can not live as a Christian by my own power – I just do not have it in me. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me. The Apostle Paul’s desire was to “know Him, and the power of his resurrection.” So I need a living connection with the source of spiritual power – Jesus Christ – to live as a true Christian.

25 Flavours of Mennonites

When we lived in Ontario it would happen from time to time that someone I had just met would ask me what kind of Mennonite I was. “Does your church allow cars? electricity? telephones?”

I knew these questions arose because there were at least 25 flavours of Mennonites within a 100 km radius of where we lived and for many of them things of this nature were a big issue. I would gladly have avoided these questions because I couldn’t see what they had to do with being Christian, which should be the most essential part of being a Mennonite.

People were curious and they didn’t know where else to start. It was so easy to answer the questions and wander down a rabbit trail that didn’t lead anywhere, leaving the questioner no wiser than when he started and leaving me feeling that I’d failed to say anything really helpful.

What I wanted to say was that the way we use the things available to us in this world can reveal something about our relationship with God. But making rules about things results in a group that is impressive in their outward unity, but does not ensure that they have a relationship with God. It does not even ensure that the members trust one another; sadly, the unity is often only apparent to outsiders.

What I wanted to say was that the essence of Christianity is to be filled with love, joy, peace and all the other qualities described as the fruit of the Spirit. To do that, it is often necessary to avoid things that will feed our pride. Pride is a sneaky thing that tries to enter our lives in so many ways that no amount of rules could ever cover them all. We must each deal with pride on a personal level.

What I wanted to say was that the making of rules provides fertile ground for thinking that I am doing a better job of following the rules than others. That feeds my pride and a critical, suspicious attitude towards others. That would be to head in altogether the wrong direction.

What should I have said? What would you say? What are your questions about being Mennonite?

Duty of separation of the Christian

That the Christian is commanded to separate himself from the Antichrist, is said and proved by the Old and the New Testament:

For the Lord says, Isaiah fifty-two: Depart ye, depart ye; get out of here, do not touch anything unclean, get out of it; purify yourself, you who carry the vessels of the Lord. For you will not go out in haste, nor will you walk away.

And Jeremiah fifty: Flee from Babylon, come out of the land of the Chaldeans, and be like goats at the head of the flock. For behold, I will stir up and set up against Babylon a multitude of great nations in the land of the north; they will fight against it, and will seize it.

Numbers, sixteen: Separate yourself from the midst of this assembly, and I will consume them in a moment. And then: Depart from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing of theirs, lest you perish at the same time that they will be punished for all their sins.

Leviticus: I am the LORD your God, who has separated you from the peoples. You will observe the distinction between clean and unclean animals, between pure and unclean birds, so as not to make your people abominable by animals, by birds, by all the reptiles of the earth, which I have taught you to distinguish as unclean.

Exodus, Thirty-four: Be careful not to make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land where you are to enter, lest they be a snare for you.

And then: Be careful not to make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, lest they prostitute themselves to their gods and offer them sacrifices, and invite you, and eat none of their victims; lest you take their daughters for your sons, and their daughters, prostitute themselves to their gods, do not lead your sons to prostitute themselves to their gods.

Leviticus, fifteen, 31: And ye shall drive the children of Israel away from their uncleanness, lest they die because of their uncleanness, if they defile my tabernacle that is in their midst.

Ezekiel, eleven, 21: But for those whose heart is pleased with their idols and with their abominations, I will make their works fall on their heads, says the Lord, the Eternal.

Deuteronomy, eighteen: When you have entered the land which the LORD your God gives you, you will not learn to imitate the abominations of those nations. For whoever does these things is an abomination to Jehovah; and it is because of these abominations that the LORD your God will drive out these nations before you. You will be wholly to the Lord your God. For those nations that you are hunting will listen to astrologers and soothsayers; but to you the LORD your God does not allow it.

In the New Testament, too, it is manifest, John, eleven: That the Lord should die, that he should gather in one the children of God.

For it is for these truths of unity and separation from one another that he says, Matthew ten: For I came to put the division between man and his father, between the daughter and her mother between the daughter-in-law and her mother-in-law; and the man will have for enemies the people of his house. And he commanded to part, when he said: He who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, & c.

Similarly – Beware false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, etc.

So also: Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees.

In the same way: Take care that no one deceives you. For many will come under my name, saying; It’s me. And, they will deceive many people. If anyone says to you then: Christ is here, or: He is there, do not believe him. ; do not go after them.

And, in the book of Revelation, he admonishes in his own voice and commands his people to come out of Babylon, saying: And I heard another voice from heaven saying, Come out of her, my people, that you do not participate in her sins, and have no part in her plagues. For her sins accumulated to the heavens, and God remembered her iniquities.

The Apostle says this very same: Do not put yourself with the unbelievers under a unequal yoke. For what connection is there between justice and iniquity? or what is there in common between light and darkness? What agreement is there between Christ and Belial? or what part has the faithful with the unfaithful? What connection is there between the temple of God and the idols? Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord; do not touch the unclean, and I will welcome you. I will be a father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.

Ephesians five: So have no part with them. Formerly you were darkness, and now you are light in the Lord.

1 Corinthians ten: I do not want you to be in communion with the demons. You can not participate in the Lord’s table, and at the table of demons.

2 Thessalonians three – We recommend you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to depart from every brother who lives in disorder, and not according to the instructions that you have received from us.You know yourselves How then must we be imitated? And then: And if any man obey not what we say by this letter, note it, and have no communication with him, that he may be ashamed. Ephesians five: Do not take part in the unfruitful works of darkness.

Similarly, 2 Timothy 3: Know that in the last days there will be hard times .. And lower: Having the appearance of godliness, but denying what makes it strong. Keep away from these men.

Of the above-mentioned things, the evil deeds of Antichrist and his perversity are clearly demonstrated. And as it is ordained by the Lord to separate from him internally and externally, and to unite in Jerusalem the holy city. Thus, knowing these things which the Lord reveals to us through his servants, and believing in this revelation, according to the holy Scriptures, and being at the same time admonished by the commandments of the Lord, we separate ourselves internally and externally from what we believe to be Antichrist, and we stand together with one another, united in goodwill and righteous intentions, with the pure and simple foundation of pleasing the Lord and being saved, with the help of the Lord, as much as the truth of Christ and his Bride, as well as our weak intelligence, may permit it.

We therefore point out the causes of our separation, as well as of our congregation, so that if the Lord gives others the same truth, they may love Him at the same time as us. And so that if they are not well enlightened, they will be helped by this blessed ministry sprinkled by the Lord. And if it happens that more has been granted to someone, and more abundantly, we humbly desire to be taught, to know better about Him and to be corrected in what we lack.

Spectator or participant?

Canadian politics just became much more interesting. Maxime Bernier has withdrawn from the Conservative Party, of which he almost became leader, to found a new political party. He is speaking up about issues that others want to avoid talking about and this has raised a storm of criticism. Perhaps he is starting a movement at just the opportune moment to bring the country back to the principles that unite us. Or perhaps his movement will fizzle out and just be a footnote in history. In either case the next few months promise to be interesting for political observers.

However, for those of us who are Christians, we must remember one thing: in politics we must remain spectators, not participants. Politics is a dirty business and no one who engages in politics, however pure his intentions, can avoid becoming soiled. Politics is he art of the compromise, but a compromise is seldom reached before a lot of grime and slime is slung about. Christians cannot win at such a game, unless they cease speaking and acting like Christians.

In the church we must be participants, not mere spectators. If we think the purpose of the church is to provide spiritual entertainment, we will be disappointed. But if we are looking for something to do that is meaningful and fulfilling, the church has a place for us. It may not be highly visible, but if that’s what we want we should ask ourselves if we understand what truly matters in life. There are people in the church who see things differently than we do. Listen to them, perhaps we have missed something. We should speak freely about the things that matter to us that they may have missed. We need to love them, and be lovable. Above all, follow the promoting of the Holy Spirit and trust that they are doing that too. When we are all led by the Holy Spirit the work we are doing will result in something far better than any one of us could have planned.

The truth can stand by itself

A friend likes to preface many of the things he says with:“Without a word of a lie.” For some reason I don’t find such a statement all that convincing. It makes me wonder if he is not accustomed to telling the truth.

I guess that’s why Jesus instructed us: “But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil” (Matthew 5:17). In other words, tell the truth all the time and people won’t have to wonder whether or not you are telling the truth this time.

Sometimes we attempt to shore up the truth with big words and adjectives, for fear that the unadorned truth is too weak to stand on its own. We’ve got that wrong. Our attempts to buttress the truth, to make it stronger, weaken it.

Do we plant dandelions and thistles in our flower beds for emphasis? If that sounds ridiculous, and it should, it’s just as ridiculous to think that we can add emphasis to the truth by throwing in a bunch of adjectives. They draw the hearer’s or reader’s attention away from the truth we are trying to present.

Christian jargon is just as bad. We may know exactly what we are trying to say, but to the hearer it is probably an unknown tongue. Words and expressions that have a profound meaning to a Christian have no meaning at all to most other people. If we wish to communicate the truth we need to use simple words that everybody can understand. That may take some time and effort on ur part. The thing about jargon is that after a number of years it becomes a way to avoid thinking about what we are saying.

The truth of the gospel does not need our help to stand. But it must be told. Let’s tell it simply and often.

What is a talent?

Jesus told a parable of a man going to a far country who distributed talents to his servants. The talents given in this parable were money, not ability, for it says that He gave “to every man according to his several ability” (Matthew 25:15).

After generations of misunderstanding this passage we have come to understand talent to mean ability. This is not such a bad thing, and there’s nothing we can do about it anyway. But it is a serious misunderstanding to interpret the parable to mean that when we become Christians God will give us some new ability that we never had before. That is not taught in this parable, nor anywhere else in the Bible.

What this parable does teach is that God wants us to develop the abilities that we have so that they can be employed for the good of His Kingdom.

I was thinking of this the other day as we were in Saskatoon. Our first stop was at the Christian book store. I am impressed with all the staff here, but I’ll just mention one. This store has a loyalty program which requires the person at the till to enter the customer’s phone number. Tanaya never asks for my phone number, but the cash register slip always comes out with my name on it and a summary of my loyalty account.

This young lady obviously has a phenomenal memory, but that’s only part of it. I do not get preferred treatment over other customers, she makes every one of us feel that we are especially welcome in the store. We say she has a special talent for the job she is doing.

I don’t believe that this is a talent that was given her at the time of conversion, or any other particular moment. It is rather the result of her efforts to develop the abilities she had in a way that would be of helpt to thers.

The same day we had dinner with our friends Ray and Ruth. Ray is an accomplished artist; he has made his living by other means, but has been able to sell some of his art work for good prices. As a child he had an ability to see things around him in a way that allowed him to draw accurate representations.

His third grade school teacher remembers drawings of birds and animals on the margins of his school work. He has studied to refine and deepen the ability he began with. He painted a 60 foot mural in the church which he attends that depicts the history of the world from Creation to the Last Judgment. He also has a talent for teaching basic art techniques to children and people of all ages.

Finally I had an appointment with my eye doctor. This man has given me numerous injections for macular degeneration, which is now stable, and has done cataract surgery on both my eyes. His skill is the reason I can still see to type this post. Someone at the CNIB once told me that this doctor is the best in Western Canada for diseases of the retina.

For each one of us there is a way that we can develop whatever natural ability we have and put it to use in God’s kingdom. We should not feel that we are helpless until God grants us some special talent. Let us not despise the ability we already have, no matter how insignificant it may appear to us, and be ready and willing when He gives us an opportunity to put that ability to use for His honour and glory.

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.

Paul, the master apologist

Being an apologist for the Christian faith may sound like expressing our regrets for being Christians. The true meaning is quite the opposite; it means being able to talk about our faith without fear or embarrassment, and to always be ready to “give an answer” (apologia) to those who ask about it.

The apostle Paul believed that the salvation that had been freely given to him made him a debtor to others. He owed it to the civilized and the uncivilized, the learned and the ignorant. (Romans 1:14) to tell them the good news of salvation . His faith in Jesus Christ empowered him to speak and write without shame or reticence (verses 15 & 16).

In order to fulfill this obligation he became all things to all people, able to relate to all people, no matter what their religion, ethnic origin or social status.

He used examples from the popular culture of the day to describe how a Christian should live. The Olympic Games had been held for over 800 years at the time of his ministry. So Paul spoke of Christian life as a foot race, an effort to reach the goal; and he spoke of the training, discipline and temperance that were required of an athlete.“They do it to obtain a temporal crown, we an eternal.”

He spoke of wrestling, explaining that our opponents in the wrestling match of life are not other people, but spirits and powers from the realm of darkness.

The Roman Empire extended over southern Europe, North Africa and Eastern Asia. Roman soldiers were seen everywhere, ready to maintain order. Paul spoke of the discipline required of a soldier and how he must not entangle himself with things that would hinder his service.

In Athens he was brought before the philosopher judges on suspicion of introducing a new god. Athens had many gods but the law forbade anyone trying to add more. Paul began by mentioning the altar to an unknown god and saying that he was just explaining who that unknown god was. He then proceeded to piece together ideas and quotations that were familiar to the Epicureans and Stoics, leading up to a declaration that God would judge the world by one who had been resurrected from the dead. The men sitting in judgement had followed his reasoning up to this point, but now some mocked and others wanted more time to think about what they had heard. One of the judges believed, along with a few other Athenians.

Paul did not try to tell Gentiles that they first needed to learn to think like Jews to understand the story of salvation. He made himself familiar with the Gentile culture and used everyday things to explain Christian faith and life.

We don’t have to immerse ourselves in pop culture in order to follow Paul’s example. Yet, if we hold ourselves completely aloof from the people around us, how are we going to be able to talk to them? A good place to start would be to ask them questions, show an interest in their lives, rather than hoping they will be interested in us.

Peter writes that we should be ready to answer everyone that asks us the reason of the hope that we have. (1 Peter 3:15). Often we will catch subtle hints that people want to know, but don’t quite know where to begin or how to ask. Most people have preconceived ideas about Christians and will try to fit us into the framework of what they think they know. Here is an opportunity, not to unload a long explanation, but to tell a story or make some allusion to how the longings expressed in popular culture are in fact groping towards answers that can only come from faith in Jesus Christ.

Apologetics is best done by building a relationship with others and treating them with respect. We are not teachers with all the answers, just ordinary people with insights gained from our relationship with Jesus and with fellow believers.

Telling about our failures and how we learned from them will put us on the same level as others and make them feel that the kind of Christian faith we have is not something beyond their reach.

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?

Africa rising

What picture comes to your mind when you think of Africa? A remote village of mud huts with scantily clad people scratching their subsistence from the soil with hand tools? Or modern cities with skyscrapers, factories, hospitals and universities?

Both scenarios exist, but far more people live in the cities. Nigeria is the largest country in Africa, with the largest population. There are 20,000 millionaires in Nigeria nd 20 billionaires.

The wealthiest man in Nigeria is Aliko Dangote with interests in the manufacture of cement, sugar and petroleum products. The fourth wealthiest person in Nigeria is Folorunsho Alakija, a lady who started out as a fashion designer and now also has investments in the oil industry. She has created a foundation to help widows and orphans through scholarships and business grants.

Nigeria has one of the world’s highest rates of university graduation. Emigrants from Nigeria are among the most successful immigrants in Canada, the USA and the UK.
I believe it was at least 10 years ago that someone said that the heartland of evangelical Christianity is now in Africa, not North America. Nigerian churches see North America and Europe as mission fields. In Saskatoon, our nearest city, there are five or six congregations of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, including one French-language congregation. There is also a congregation of the Deeper Christian Life Bible Church. The Anglican churches in Africa, Asia and Latin America have severed all ties with the Anglican Church of Canada and the Episcopal Church in the USA and are now guiding the establishment of a new Anglican movement in North America that is more true to the Bible, especially in the area of morality.

What is true of Nigeria is also true of other African countries in varying degrees. It is true that there is still much poverty in some places, but economic growth rates are astounding.

There are acts of terrorism in various places by hard line Islamists. I have no prophetic vision of how this is all going to play out in coming years, but I wonder if these acts might not a last ditch attempt to hold back the tide that they see sweeping over Africa.

Is it time to take a fresh look at Africa and African people? The evidence shows that these black-skinned people are in no way inferior to white-skinned people. We are equals, in intellect, in faith, in management ability, and we should respect each other as equals.
International aid has done more to hold Africa back than to help it move forward. Emergency aid in time of disaster is always in place, but it would probably be best to have it administered by local people as much as possible. Sending used clothing and mosquito nets may give us a worm glow, but does it undercut the local production of those goods?

Surely it’s time to revamp our selection of mission hymns. The idea of carrying the gospel to “every dark land” has always given a skewed idea of mission work; we need to find better ways to describe the practice of being ambassadors for Christ. The call to proclaim the faith once delivered to the saints and to make disciples in all the world has not expired. But we render ourselves unfit for the task if some illusion of superiority still lingers in the way we relate to others.

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