Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Christianity

We try to do too much

heavy-934552_640

Image by gentlegiant27153 from Pixabay

Trying to save the planet leaves us frustrated, angry, bitter and in despair.

Trying to compel other people turn to Jesus will do the same thing.

These jobs are too big for us; leave them to God.

We can be kind to others because of the love of God n our hearts.

We can respond peacefully to other people’s anger.

We can forgive others when they do us wrong.

We can tell of our own failures and how God forgave us.

We can praise God openly for what He has done for us.

We can explain how trusting Jesus enables us to live with hope.

These are little things, but they do more to make the world a better place than any of the big things we may try to do.

© Bob Goodnough

God loves messed up people

Adam and Eve disobeyed God. Abram was ready to sacrifice his wife to the lusts of powerful men to save his own skin. Jacob gained his brother’s birthright by dubious means, and with his mother’s connivance. David had way too many wives. These were the kind of people God used to accomplish His plans here on earth. A disagreement arose between Paul and Barnabas so that they could not work together. Both died as martyrs for the cause of Christ.

Rahab helped the Israelite spies get safely out of Jericho, the Bible calls her a prostitute. Ruth got under the covers with Boaz out in the harvest field. Bathsheba had a one night stand with King David and he arranged the death of her husband in consequence. These are the three women mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus in the gospel of Matthew.

God blesses and works with people who are deeply flawed. There are no other kind of people for Him to work with. If we think we are better, we put ourselves in the category of the Pharisees who trusted in themselves that they were righteous. Jesus called them white washed sepulchres – pure and clean on the outside, but full of dead men’s bones and filth inside.

I am not better than the people I have already named, or all the other messed up people described in the Bible. I have repented, I have been forgiven, but I am still a messed up person who messes up far too often when I am trying to do good. But I don’t hear God screaming at me every time I make a mistake “You idiot! You made a mess of things again!” He tells me that it was good that I tried and that He wants me to keep on trying.

The accusations come from another source, the accuser of the brethren. If I listen to him I won’t have the courage to try to do anything good again.

The Bible tells us we need to be perfect. Some people have devised a doctrine whereby they believe they have had a second touch from the Lord, a second work of grace, and now they don’t sin anymore. I’ve met people like that. They didn’t seem like the kind of people I’d want to go to if I was troubled.

The perfection the Bible speaks of is maturity. Perfect means complete, not flawless. Biblical perfection is taking responsibility for what we do. When I do something bad, it was not Tommy, or Suzy, or the devil, who made me do it. I did it all by myself and I need to own up to it.

When David numbered the people and God gave him a choice of punishments to be visited upon the people, he responded “I have sinned, but what have these sheep done?” That is maturity, or perfection. That is why David was a man after God’s own heart.

Isaiah said “I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell among a people of unclean lips.”  I often mess up and hurt other people by the things I say and do. Other people often hurt me by the things they say and do. That’s life. That’s why Jesus instructed us to pray that God would forgive us as we forgive others. Forgiveness can’t just be between me and God. I need to forgive others for every careless word and deed they do.

All unrighteousness is sin. But not all is deliberate, not in the things we do or in the things others do. We are messed up, every one of us, and God loves each one of us. Let’s just forgive and move on.

Jesus told the Pharisees that the prostitutes and publicans would find it easier to enter the kingdom of heaven than they would. We may look at the people who are leading honest and orderly lives and think they are the ideal mission prospects. In all likelihood they are quite content with the results of their own efforts and don’t see any need to repent and trust in the blood of Jesus. A few will, just as some of the Pharisees did.

But we should not expect converts to present themselves to us in neat, gift-wrapped packages. Most often their lives, their feelings and their ideas about themselves, and about God and Christianity, will be in turmoil. These are the ones who know that things are  not right, that they need help. The challenges they present do not have easy answers. Let’s remember that God loves messed up people. After all, He has accepted us. All we need to do is listen to them and listen to God. He is the one who has the answers, we don’t.

Wringing our hands doesn’t help

It is possible that the contemplation of cruelty will not make us humane but cruel; that the reiteration of the badness of our spiritual condition will make us consent to it.
-Lionel Trilling

Let’s apply Trilling’s observation to ourselves as Christians, on a personal level, or as a family, a congregation, or even on a national level. We thought we knew where we were going, but we find ourselves in a cul-de-sac.  We’re not sure how we got here, and we have no map in our head to show us the way out. Many possible solutions come to our minds, we tried some of them, but they got us nowhere.

So here we sit and wring our hands.  We have memories of once being on a road with a clear idea of where we were going. Or are they just dreams?

Saul of Tarsus found himself in just such a situation, but he didn’t stay there long. He asked “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” And the Lord answered, one step at a time.

He will do the same for us if we ask the same question and are willing to follow, one step at a time.

The Principal Errors of Pietism

Pietism, with a capital P, refers to a movement that began within the Lutheran Church around the year 1600. The Pietists emphasized the new birth, the inward spiritual life of the heart and a pure moral life. There were earlier threads of pietism, but this was the beginning of a distinctive and dynamic movement. The influence of the German Pietists grew and spread and became the principal influence of modern evangelical Christianity.

At first glance Pietism may sound much like the Anabaptist/Mennonite faith. Yet there are three ways where Pietism represents a compromise with the world.

Christianity without the Cross
Pietists avoided persecution by remaining members of the state Lutheran church, having their babies baptized, attending worship services and taking communion. They met privately to share experiences and encourage one another and became known as “the quiet in the land.”

Throughout history Anabaptists and Mennonites have taken the way of the cross, avoiding all compromise with corrupt religions. They have lived a quiet and peaceable life, but their refusal to offer any kind of lip service to oppressing majority religions has often brought persecution upon them.

Pierre de Bruys in the 12th century and Menno Simons in the 16th century were first priests in the Roman Catholic Church. Once spiritually enlightened, they abandoned that church, called it Antichrist, and became earnest evangelists of pure Christianity, untainted by the non Scriptural practices of their former religion. In Menno’s day the persecutors also included the Lutherans and the Reformed Churches.

Anabaptists and Mennonites took very seriously the admonition of Paul in Ephesians 5:11 – And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. They believed that Jesus meant exactly what He said in Luke 9:23 – If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.

Fellowship without Brotherhood
The original Pietists were members of the Lutheran Church, meeting privately without any formal organization. They had an individualistic faith, each one believing he could worship God on his own, appreciating the fellowship of like-minded believers, but having no need of the strictures of an organized body.

Anabaptists and Mennonites did not see their church as restrictive, but as a much needed support network to help them grow in the faith and maintain their spiritual purity. They were a brotherhood; their leaders were brethren, not Lords. They saw the church as it is described in the New Testament: a body of which Christ was the head and each member was needed for the body to function effectively.

1 Peter 5:5 – Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.

Conversion without Discipleship
Pietists and Anabaptists have both earnestly striven to proclaim the gospel to those who do not have a personal knowledge of the Saviour. Pietists, however, make the new birth the main point of their evangelism. True, there is rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents. But is this enough? For Pietists it appears to be the end point of evangelism.

For Anabaptists and Mennonites it is the starting point. The Great Commission says: Go ye therefore, and teach (or, make disciples of) all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen. Matthew 28:19-20. (The Greek word matheteuo can be translated as teach or disciple.)

Sinners not only need to repent and be converted, they need to learn to live as a Christian. Colossians 2:6 – As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him. It is true that it is the Holy Spirit who teaches us how to walk with Christ, but this is best done in the company of other believers who will help, encourage, teach and correct. In other words, they should not be abandoned to stumble along partly in the light and partly in darkness, but offered the support they need to grow into the person that Christ wants them to be.

This does not mean living by the rule book: that does not lead to spiritual growth. But there are spiritual dangers and spiritual resources that mature believers know of and new believers often don’t. Galatians 5:13 – For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.

Discipleship

The messengers of Jesus will be hated to the end of time. They will be blamed for all the division which rend cities and homes. Jesus and his disciples will be condemned on all sides for undermining family life, and for leading the nation astray; they will be called crazy fanatics and disturbers of the peace. The disciples will be sorely tempted to desert their Lord. But the end is also near, and they must hold on and persevere until it comes. Only he will be blessed who remains loyal to Jesus and his word until the end.
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Why I do not read the King James Bible

I read the Authorized Version instead, of which Cambridge University Press is the main publisher. The text is identical to that in Bibles that are called the King James Version, except that the AV maintains the alternate marginal readings that were placed there by the translators 400 years ago.

bible-1868359_640

Wenceslas_Hollar_-_Lancelot_Andrewes_(State_1)

I suppose that if we would meet the members of the company of translators who produced the AV, we might find their manner of dress far too extravagant to consider them to be humble men. But if we can look past the clothing, we may see that they were far more humble than any who have come after them. They believed they were handling the Word of God and they had a holy fear of inserting their own opinions or preferences into the translation. Thus, when they came to a word or phrase that might be translated more than one way, they did not feel that they had a right to choose one over the other. They placed one in the text and the other in the margin. These marginal notes they considered to be an integral part of their translation.

The custom of calling this translation the King James Version originated in the USA. Our American friends do not seem to have had the same humility as the translators, as I don’t believe the marginal readings can be found in any KJV printed in the USA. There are plain text printings of the KJV with no notes at all, but in many editions they have inserted other notes, producing a great variety of reference Bibles that are of dubious usefulness and trustworthiness.

I am reprinting below an abridged excerpt from the long introduction to the Authorized Version which explains their reasons for placing alternate readings in the margin. You will notice that they did not believe there to be any confusion in things essential to our salvation, but felt that where there were different possible renderings we should seek the assistance of God’s Spirit by prayer and the aid of our brethren by conference.

Reasons moving us to set diversity of senses in the margin,
where there is great probability for each.

Some peradventure would have no variety of senses to be set in the margin, lest the authority of the Scriptures for deciding of controversies by that show of uncertainty should somewhat be shaken. But we hold their judgement not to be so sound in this point. For though whatsoever things are necessary are manifest, . . . yet for all that it cannot be dissembled, that partly to exercise and whet our wits, partly to wean the curious from loathing of them for their everywhere plainness, partly also to stir up our devotion to crave the assistance of God’s Spirit by prayer, and lastly, that we might be forward to seek aid of our brethren by conference, and never scorn those that be not in all respects so complete as they should be, . . . it hath pleased God in His divine providence here and there to scatter words and sentences of that difficulty and doubtfulness, not in doctrinal points that concern salvation, (for in such it hath been vouched that the Scriptures are plain) but in matters of less moment, that fearfulness would better beseem us than confidence, . . . it is better to make doubt of those things which are secret, than to strive about those things that are uncertain. There be many words in the Scriptures which be never found there but once, (having neither brother nor neighbour, as the Hebrews speak) so that we cannot be holpen by conference of places. Again, there be many rare names of certain birds, beasts, and precious stones, &c., concerning which the Hebrews themselves are so divided among themselves for judgement, that they may seem to have defined this or that, rather because they would say something, than because they were sure of that which they said. . . . Now in such a case, doth not a margin do well to admonish the reader to seek further, and not to conclude or dogmatize upon this or that peremptorily? For as it is a fault of incredulity, to doubt of those things that are evident, so to determine of such things as the Spirit of God hath left (even in the judgement of the judicious) questionable, can be no less than presumption. Therefore . . . diversity of signification and sense in the margin, where the text is not so clear, must needs do good, yea, is necessary, as we are persuaded . . . They that are wise, had rather have their judgements at liberty in differences of readings, than to be captivated to one, when it may be the other.

Self-surrender

The story of Joseph is one of the most thrilling in the Bible. A misunderstood boy is rejected by his brothers, sold into slavery. Then he is falsely accused, put into prison and forgotten. Someone promises to help him, but he too forgets as soon as he is out of prison. Yet in the end this unfortunate lad is crowned with glory and power and becomes the benefactor and protector of his brothers.

It’s a wonderful story. But most of us are so dazzled by the pomp and glory achieved by Joseph that we completely miss another story happening in the shadows. Yet this other story is more important in the history of God’s people and in the story of redemption.

I am talking about the story of Judah. Judah was the fourth son of his father, the fourth son of Leah, the wife that Jacob hadn’t really wanted. Rachel, the mother of Joseph, was the great love of Jacob’s life.

But when the chips were down, when the ruler of Egypt had told them they needn’t bother coming to buy food again if their youngest brother wasn’t with them, it was Judah who laid his life on the line to save his family from starvation. He told his father he would do everything in his power to bring Benjamin home again, and if he failed he would bear the reproach forever. Jacob’s heart was touched, he trusted Judah and gave permission for Benjamin to go.

Then the ruler of Egypt declared that Benjamin was his hostage, he would not allow him to return to his father. Once again Judah stepped forward and put his life on the line. He told the ruler of Egypt to take him as hostage in place of his younger brother. He told of the promise he had made to his father and how it would be more than his father could bear if Benjamin did not return home. This melted the heart of the ruler of Egypt and he revealed himself as their brother Joseph.

And this is where Judah became the leader of the family. Just before he died, Jacob blessed his sons and said of Judah:

Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise: thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies; thy father’s children shall bow down before thee. Judah is a lion’s whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up? The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be. Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass’s colt unto the choice vine; he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes: his eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk. Genesis 49:8-12.

bible-2167778_640

King David was of the tribe of Judah. Like his ancestor, he cared more for the well-being of his people than he did for personal honour and glory. Jesus was of the lineage of David and of the tribe of Judah. He went beyond the examples left by both in surrendering his life so that all mankind might be saved. The cross, the supreme sacrifice, was foreshadowed in the life of Judah. How can we overlook it?

Sometimes a light surprises

robin-3843972_640

Image by Piet van de Wiel from Pixabay

Sometimes a light surprises
The Christian while he sings;
It is the Lord who rises
With healing in His wings:
When comforts are declining,
He grants the soul again
A season of clear shining,
To clear it after rain.

In holy contemplation,
We sweetly then pursue
The theme of God’s salvation,
And find it ever new:
Set free from present sorrow,
We cheerfully can say,
Let the unknown tomorrow
Bring with it what it nay.

It can bring with it nothing,
But He will bring us through;
Who gives the lilies clothing,
Will clothe His people too:
Beneath the spreading heavens,
No creature but is fed;
And He who feeds the ravens,
Will give His children bread.

Though vine nor fig-tree neither,
Their wonted fruit should bear,
Though all the fields should wither,
Nor flocks, nor herds be there;
Yet God the same abiding,
His praise shall trill my voice,
For while in Him confiding,
I cannot but rejoice.

-William Cowper

Prairie fire!

Just before supper time today my wife smelled smoke. We went outside and saw the fire behind the buildings of our neighbour. Our son-in-law was the first to see it while going home for supper. He turned around to get the fire engine from the village six miles away, sending out the alert to  other members of the volunteer fire department as he went. He called the closest farmer and he drove his tractor over there right away to make a fire guard in the stubble.

burning-grass-1165823_640

Image by skeeze from Pixabay

This is spring time in Saskatchewan; Quebec is having floods, we are having fires. They happen most often around the Easter weekend; people clean up their yards and want to burn the trash. If there is a little breeze, the fire gets away on them and spreads like wildfire in the dry grass, stubble and brush. A week ago our son-in-law spent the whole day going from one fire to another, three in all.

Today’s fire may have been caused by spontaneous combustion. Our neighbour makes doors for cabinet makers. I am guessing the fire may have started in a pile of wood scraps, rags and empty paint and glue containers. He was not aware there was a fire until our son-in-law called him.  It took two hours to put the fire out, a couple of trees and some dry grass and stubble burned, but the fire was away from the buildings. 

There is a spiritual parallel in the way so many churches are disappearing in rural and small-town Saskatchewan. The town where I grew up once had five churches; only two are left. Of those two, neither has roots in the Word of God. One teaches salvation through the sacraments, the other teaches that it is society that needs salvation, not people.

What happened? I think they dried up from the roots. Many people used to read the Bible daily. Perhaps their understanding of what they read differed somewhat from the way those in another church believed. Yet they all had a basic trust in the truth of God’s Word. Many preachers were pretty down to earth men who were willing to get by on meager fare to bring the gospel to their people.

Denominational leaders thought they could make the gospel more effective in providing more education for preachers. Once these better-educated preachers went out into the rural churches, the people discovered they hadn’t really understood anything about the Bible. The new preachers brought new insights, but people didn’t trust themselves to read the Bible for themselves any more.

Then too, better educated ministers deserved a better salary. Soon the smaller churches couldn’t afford a minister. They amalgamated to pool their resources. That meant people had to drive further to church and sometimes they just couldn’t make it every Sunday. That often led to another round of amalgamations. Today very few small communities have any kind of gospel preaching church.

A prairie fire mostly just burns dead grass, leaves and bushes. Before long green growth appears amid the ashes and by summer’s end there will be little evince of the fire.

The spiritual prairie fire that destroyed our rural churches burned underground, destroying the roots. People forgot that it is not well-paid, educated ministers and big buildings that make a Christian church. It is people, individuals and families, who read their Bible every day and pray to God to help them live what they read. Once that faith has withered and died, there is no need for buildings and preachers.

Still, something will grow in that burned over ground. We say we don’t like what we see growing around us, so let’s be like the sower in the parable Jesus told and scatter the precious seed wherever we go.

Be a Christian, not a chameleon

Some members of the early church wanted Gentile converts to be chameleons. They thought that circumcising Gentile Christians would make them appear to be converts to the Jewish religion. Some Jewish Christians thought this would spare them from persecution by other Jews for associating with Gentiles. Such people among the Jewish believers were the true chameleons, trying to conceal that they believed something else than what other Jews believed.

Acts 15 records how the early church put an end to this by ruling that there was no need to circumcise Gentile believers. Soon Gentiles became a majority in the church. The chameleon temptation now was for believers to maintain enough outward conformity to pagan ceremonies to avoid persecution. In his letters, the apostle Paul gave many warnings and instructions against this.

chameleon-2645503_640

Image by Roy Buri from Pixabay

A few hundred years later a Roman emperor made Christianity the official religion of the empire. Persecution ended for a time, but before long the church became a blend of Christian and pagan practices. It wasn’t clear who was truly a Christian and who was just going along with the outward observances.

Many Christians remained outside of this chameleon creature that called itself the church of God and strove to live as Christians no matter what the cost. For some it cost them their lives, as the chameleon could not tolerate these believers who were a living reproach of its compromise. Persecution reared its head against those who maintained the integrity of the faith. Others called them by many names, the one which has stuck the longest is Anabaptist.

The Protestant Reformation began as a protest against the great chameleon, the Roman Catholic Church.  It only created several lesser chameleons, state churches with compulsory membership and salvation promised by ceremonies rather than faith.

Persecution of the Anabaptists appeared to have succeeded, those who remained were scattered and without leaders. God raised up new leaders who gathered the scattered flock. Travelling evangelists brought many new believers into the fold during these tumultuous times. The Anabaptists now became known as Mennonites, after Menno Simons, one of the boldest of their leaders.

Born again people In the state churches did not find spiritual refreshing in the ceremonies and sermons of the chameleon. Some met privately for mutual support and encouragement, yet conformed outwardly to the ceremonies of the chameleon. They considered themselves “the quiet in the land,” living an inward spiritual life and an outward life that would not get them into trouble.

Mennonites also believed in the importance of the inward spiritual life, but found no justification in the Word of God for living a double life. They believed that if the inward piety was genuinely of God, the outward life would show it, including the willingness to suffer for the faith. And suffer many of them did, for all the chameleons hated them.

Active persecution abated over time but much suspicion remained. Many Mennonite groups found tolerance through adopting the pietistic formula of being “the quiet in the land.” They tried to maintain the inward spiritual life, but in time that too faded away. In many denominations that use the Mennonite name today, the memory of what Anabaptist and Mennonite once meant has disappeared.

Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity” (2 Timothy 2:19). Our Anabaptist-Mennonite forefathers believed that departing from iniquity was not something one did in secret, but that it also meant renouncing any form of duplicity.

Consider the words of the apostle Paul to the church at Philippi:

Only let your conversation [conduct] be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; and in nothing terrified by your adversaries: which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God. For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake; having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear to be in me.

The apostle Paul believed that a willingness to suffer for the faith was a clear token of the salvation granted by God. God has not changed; neither should His people adjust to the spirit of our day. To have a rightful claim to God’s salvation, we must not attempt to be chameleons.

%d bloggers like this: