Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Christianity

Preface

Half a century ago a drunken young man announced to a couple of friends that one day he would be a Mennonite and wear a beard. His friends dismissed this as babbling inspired by the booze he had consumed. The young man himself was bewildered. The few Mennonites he had met, from his mother’s side of the family, had not inspired any longing to be like them. He had never seen a Mennonite who wore a beard, didn’t know if he wanted to be a Christian, or even if there was such a thing as a real Christian.

Over the next twelve years he quit drinking, quit smoking cigars, became a Christian, got married and started a family, in that order. Then he and his wife joined a Mennonite church, one that is of the persuasion that if hair grows on a man’s face it doesn’t make sense to try to remove all trace of that hair each morning.

That drunken declaration was prophetic, springing from a longing within that took the young man years to understand. It is now apparent that the longing came from God, and that over the years He continued to prompt and nudge that young man in ways that would allow that longing to become a living faith.

This book is the story of all that led up to that unexpected statement and all that happened after to make it become reality, despite the bumbling confusion of the young man, who was me. I am an old man now, and look back in wonder at that journey.

I hope that my story will encourage others to trust that there is light for the pathway and unexpected moments of joy in the journey, even when one is stubborn and doubtful of the way.

[With this post I am beginning a memoir of my spiritual journey, which I hope to publish before I get too old for stuff like this. The working title, for now at least, is One Day I Will be a Mennonite and Wear a Beard. I encourage readers to offer critiques and comments. Tell me what works and what doesn’t. Does my writing style put you to sleep? Do I offer too much information, or not enough? Your thoughts are welcome.]

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Precious memories

My cousin Dennis was born September 9, 1937, the first of six children born to Art and Katherine Goodnough. His wife called last week to tell us that his children were planning a surprise birthday party for him for his 80th birthday, last Saturday. Could we come?

I thought about it briefly, maybe half a second, and said “Of course, we’ll be there.” I had been thinking of this momentous occasion coming up, had bought a card and was wondering how or when to deliver it. Saturday we made the two and a half hour drive to Moose Jaw and joined 50 others, family and friends, to celebrate Dennis’s 80 years.

All of Dennis’s brothers came, from Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta and BC. His sister lives in Portugal and didn’t make it. Four of his five children were there, two live in Moose Jaw, one in Alberta, one in BC and the one missing was out of the country on a business trip.

Uncle Art was my father’s brother, Aunt Katherine my mother’s sister. Our two families have always been close. Everything his brothers said about Dennis was completely familiar. None of us has ever seen him get angry, nor have we ever seen him violate a traffic law. Richard told how Dennis would always use his signal lights before making a turn, even if he was out in the middle of a 100 acre field or a thousand acre pasture.

He was always interested in others. Whenever you talked to him, his first questions were about your family. He never wanted to hurt anyone’s feelings. Stan, 15 years younger, told of encountering a kangaroo on his big brother’s farm when he was just a little lad. He told Dennis about the kangaroo and Dennis said, “Well, it might have been something else that looked a lot like a kangaroo.” Some time later Stan figured out that it had been a jackrabbit.

His patience was his great strength, but at times it looked like a weakness. Jason, his youngest son, told of how his Dad taught them the importance of cleanliness and also modelled it for them. One time the family was ready to get in the car to go somewhere, they were already 20 minutes late, but Dad decided he had to have a shower first.

Jason also told of how his Dad had been a good teacher. He didn’t get angry when they didn’t do as they had been taught, but relations could get rather cool for a while. Ted, the brother next after Dennis in the family, picked up on that and said that had come from their mother. When he did something wrong his mother wouldn’t speak to him for days. Finally he would get so desperate that he would do anything, wash dishes, scrub floors, to get her to talk to him. Thinking of that later, it seems that Ted would be the one in the family who would have most often incurred this treatment from his mother. He was also the one for whom it was most apt to produce a favourable result.

Joel, Dennis’s oldest grandson and a Pentecostal preacher, was MC for the afternoon. Jeff, Dennis’s oldest son and also a Pentecostal preacher (but of a different denomination), had the prayer for the supper. The Goodnough family is a mixture of Christians of differing persuasions and others who are not Christians. We don’t get together as often as we did when we were younger and lived closer to each other, but there is still something that binds us together. I believe the tie that binds us together, at least for those of us of the older generation, is the influence of our mothers. I am not alone in thinking that, the thought was expressed a number of times on Saturday.

Hard work is not a Christian virtue

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

Several years ago a business magazine did a survey of the qualities that businesses were looking for when hiring new employees. The top two items on that list 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.

We Christians have absorbed an idea from the world around us that values a person by the amount he produces. We also 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 in the years after World War II. It wasn’t until 1980, when Deming was 80 years old, 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 I 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 well expect prospective employers to give them preferential treatment. The problem is that things learned in the classroom usually don’t have much practical value in the workplace.

Employers do want employees who are willing to be life long learners. They just want to be able to direct their employees towards learning things that will directly apply to their work and thus be of benefit to the business. Many 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 be teaching 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 than someone else. The person who dedicates his efforts towards the success of the whole group will be a valued member of any team.

 

The problem of ethnic pride

I read a number of English language historical novels when I was young. The English heroes were brave, honest, noble and kind. The villains, often French or Spanish, were shifty-eyed, cowardly dishonest and cruel. I accepted this as truth, and, being of English ancestry, it felt good to be able to identify with the good guys.

Later in life I learned to read French and read some books of the same sort. Imagine my shock to find that in these books the French were honest, noble and brave, considerate of others, kind to the weak. The English were traitors, untrustworthy, dishonest, promise-breakers and capable of incredible cruelty.

Through reading a number of books of history in my adult years I discovered that the French had ample grounds to consider the English as perfidious, dishonest and villainous. Our school history books had been quite selective in the information they provided.

I concluded that every nation and ethnic group has this picture of themselves as possessing all the virtues and of other peoples as possessing all the vices.

Does becoming a Christian take care of these attitudes? When God calls us and we come face to face with the ugliness of our sinful nature, that is a humbling experience. If we repent and find peace with God, the reality of our sinfulness should ever be with us to prevent us from thinking too highly of ourselves. Thus, a Christian is a humble person, on a spiritual, personal level. But does that change our attitude about the inherent superiority of our ethnic group? Not necessarily.

This is why a congregation that is predominantly of one ethnic group is in a precarious position. We cannot lose all of the attitudes that we have soaked in since we were little children. There are rough edges that are a stumbling block to others that we will never be aware of until we mix with people of other ethnic origins who hold to the same faith.

We will be exposed to the rough edges that other people have. Through mutual apologies and forgiveness we will learn to appreciate one another, our fellowship will be enhanced and the gospel witness will grow stronger. People looking on will grasp that it is not a shared ethnic background that brought us together and holds us together, but a shared faith in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ..

Don’t get much out of church?

What are you putting in?

Are you  a church shopper? Do you go from church to church to find the one that will give you the most value for the lowest cost in personal involvement? Are you a builder or a freeloader?

A church service service is not entertainment. If you are looking to find just the right kind of singing or music, or to hear a preacher that will say just what you want to hear, in the way you want to hear it, you will certainly hear something that you don’t like.

Church is not an exclusive club that lets in only the right kind of people. Not everyone is going to dress, behave or talk the way that you think is right.

Church should feel peaceful and comfortable. Up to a point. Jesus came to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. If we never encounter anything in church that makes us squirm a bit and feel a need to examine our values and attitudes, we are missing one of the essential values of church.

Churches need Sunday School and Bible Study teachers and members of many different committees. These are good opportunities to serve, but the real test of whether we are a freeloader or a builder comes in the things that we were not elected or asked to do.

That would include things like trying to make edifying and encouraging contributions to Sunday School and Bible Study discussions, and in our conversations. It would include being hospitable, not just to the people who are most like we are, but to anyone. It would include listening to and considering the thoughts of others. It would mean having a thoughtful answer to someone who asks about our faith. And it would include expressing our appreciation for others.

A freeloader is apt to go from church to church and never really feel welcome. A builder will not readily switch churches, but if he does so because he is searching a fellowship that meets God’s criteria and not his own preferences, he will be welcomed.

Taking the long view

The proof of a living faith is seen when it is passed on intact from generation to generation. It is true to say that the fruit of the Holy Spirit is evidence of faith: brotherly love, peace of mind and peace in word and action, joy, thankfulness, contentment, humility. But when this is not passed on from one generation to the next, it would appear that something was missing.

Tradition is important. The ancient landmarks of the faith were placed for a reason. But if the next generation doesn’t understand why they were placed or just what they mean, they are apt to get their bearings from the things that seem most important in their day.

The ancient landmarks may have been interpreted in a way that met the needs of the older generation, but no longer meets the needs of the younger. Yet the basic principles remain unchanged. These principles must be continually taught, always in a way that can be understood and will meet the needs of upcoming generations. A rigid adherence to a form of words or practice will not do that.

The new birth is important. There must be a genuine repentance for the sins of the past life and evidence that a new life has begun. This would include love for everyone, new priorities in life, carefulness to avoid things that have led to the sins of the past, and a desire to make right whatever harm may have been done to others.

The danger is to mistake the experience for the change that is needed. To tell a dramatic, heart-touching experience is not proof the heart has really been changed.

Knowledge of the Bible is important. But it needs to be studied to establish a foundation for my life, not to prove a point with somebody else. it is a danger sign when one has a proof text handy for most any discussion, but can’t explain what that text means in the language of everyday life.

A living faith does not have to be loud, but it should not be silent. A living faith will be modest, but should never run from a challenge. A living faith will make a difference at church, at home, at school, at work, on vacation, and especially in those times when no one is looking.

It is best for children to grow up in a home where parents are deeply committed Christians. But it is not enough and it is not a guarantee that the children will catch their parents faith. It is far better to grow up among a united group of believers who live out their faith in all aspects of everyday life. The spiritual heritage is much more important than the family heritage. This is what allows the upcoming generation to catch the faith of their elders and then to pass it on to the next generation.

The old days were not better

Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not enquire wisely concerning this. – the words of Solomon from Ecclesiastes 7:10

When I was young many waterways were horribly polluted. I once stood on a footbridge in Toronto and watched the Don River flowing blood red beneath my feet.

When I was young we hardly ever saw First Nations people. They could not leave their reserves without permission from the Indian Agent.

When I was young there were deadly epidemics of diphtheria, tuberculosis and polio.

When I was young, babies were being born with missing limbs because of a drug their mothers had taken.

When I was young, the children of unwed mothers were committed to mental hospitals for life (during the Duplessis era in Québec).

Today the Don River, and most other rivers, runs clear and clean. Today there are no Indian Agents. Today those diseases I mentioned have been virtually eradicated. Today drug testing is more stringent, though not yet perfect.  Today no one can be kept in a mental hospital against his will, unless he has committed a crime. In many ways we are living in better times today.

As Christians, we bemoan the fact that so many people whose parents and grandparents were faithful church attenders have given up on church. We wonder what is wrong with them. Do we ever stop to ask if their parents and grandparents read the Bible and prayed? Yes, most homes had a Bible in grandpa’s day, but usually it sat on a shelf and gathered dust. Do we ask if there was any real evidence of a living faith in their parents and grandparents?

What is the remedy for a faded, worn-out, dysfunctional Christianity? Isn’t it to open our entire being to the Word of God and the Spirit of God? To love God with all our heart, soul and mind? To live in that love, to walk it and talk it? Not in a boastful or argumentative way, but in thankfulness and praise.

Wouldn’t that be a contagious faith? There is nothing hindering us from living such a faith today, except our doubt and timidity.

WASPs and other Canadians

When I was young, WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants), considered themselves to naturally be the epitome of all that was right and good. It was the privilege of the WASPs to grant each other entrance to the best schools, the best jobs and the best clubs. The Orange Lodge bears a large share of the responsibility for inculcating this attitude. To an Orangeman, anyone nonwhite, non-Anglo-Saxon, or non-Protestant was a threat to the good order of society.

In most of the historical novels I read as a boy, WASPs were portrayed as brave, honest, trustworthy and heroic. Everyone else was shifty-eyed, cowardly and obviously not to be trusted. Years later, after I learned to read French, I found exactly the same attitudes in French-language historical fiction for young people. Except that the roles were reversed: the French were honest, heroic and good and the WASPs were the ones who were shifty-eyed, cowardly and untrustworthy. I suspect the same self-congratulatory attitudes would be found in the literature of all peoples.

In the span of my lifetime attitudes have shifted radically. A large segment of our society wants to blame all the sins of the past on the WASPs, including many of the WASPs themselves. The WASP label is not much used anymore, the current term is White Privilege. All kinds of people are seeking reparation, thinking that punishing the representatives of White Privilege will somehow make life better for themselves.

I suppose that this might make some sense if there was any sign the other groups would then get along with each other. There doesn’t seem to be much chance of that. Blaming others, demeaning others, seeking retribution, are not ways to build a peaceful society.

Many of the abuses of the past were done in the name of Christianity. That makes the task of reconciliation difficult. Rejecting the Bible, rejecting the fundamental tenets of Christianity, leaves people with no landmarks, no shared sense of direction. Many believe they see a way forward, yet their goal constantly shifts and seems to get farther away. If nothing changes, current trends will lead to anarchy and chaos.

I did not choose the colour of my skin, my ethnic heritage or the religious affiliation of my parents. Neither did anyone else. It is not our job as Christians to defend the sins of the past, or to apologize for events in which we had no part. But it is our job as Christians to point out that reconciliation between people doesn’t work well when people are not reconciled to God. As Christians, we must believe and proclaim the whole counsel of God.

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-20.)

Adopted

I remember the last time my father blew up at me. He was 80, I was 30 and it was the same tirade that I had heard so many times before during my 30 years. I knew there was no use trying to argue, change the subject or yell back at him. He was not in control of himself at moments like this and any resistance would just aggravate him further. I just waited patiently for the storm to blow itself out.

I had become a Christian two years earlier and when the blast was over I found a quiet place to pray. “Oh God,” I asked, “why couldn’t I have had a better father?”

The answer was immediate: “But you do, you have a perfect father.” I have clung to that ever since.

This is what the apostle Paul meant when he wrote in Romans 8:15: “ For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.”

My father sank into dementia not long after that, and soon he didn’t even know me. He was 50 when I was born, after all. I really think he meant well, but he simply didn’t know how to cope with starting a family at that age. Our heavenly Father does not have that problem. Even when we stray from Him and suffer the consequences, He does not drive us farther away, but calls us back.

Bravo, Mr Farron

To be a political leader – especially of a progressive, liberal party in 2017 – and to live as a committed Christian, to hold faithfully to the Bible’s teaching, has felt impossible for me.”

I seem to be the subject of suspicion because of what I believe and who my faith is in. In which case we are kidding ourselves if we think we yet live in a tolerant, liberal society. And that is why I have chosen to step down as leader of the Liberal Democrats.”

– publicly reported quotes from Tim Farron who resigned today from the leadership of the Liberal  Democrat party in the UK  (a small party with 12 seats in the current parliament).

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