Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

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Every Day With Jesus – booklet report

My wife has informed me that the book reviews I have posted are not reviews. I have thought about that and decided that she is right. I should have called them book reports.

What I have before me today, though, is not really a book; it is a booklet of daily devotions giving a page per day for two months at a time. I trust that all Christians use the Bible as their daily devotional book, preferably reading a book of the Bible all the way through, in daily bite size pieces. But if you would pick up this booklet from time to time and read several articles,I believe you would find in them a deep spiritual wisdom.

These articles are refreshingly free of feel good, it’s all about me, pop psychology.  The current issue (January/February 2018) spends a number of days each on themes such as repentance, grace and worship. We are told that becoming a Christian is the beginning of a journey not the end.

These booklets are published in the UK and distributed all over the English-speaking world; there are distributors in a number of African and Asian countries, plus Australia, New Zealand and Canada. The Canadian distributor is also the distributor for the USA, and I expect these publications are not well known there. I was introduced to Every Day With Jesus by a Nigerian who lives in Saskatoon. I buy it in the Christian book store.

The publisher is CWR. They publish a vast variety of other Bible study materials. I would be pleased to hear the thoughts of readers of this blog who are familiar with Every Day With Jesus or other CWR materials.

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Fire Road – a book review

FIRE ROAD – The Napalm Girl’s Journey through the Horrors of War to Faith, Forgiveness and Peace, by Kim Phúc Phan Thi.

June 8, 1972, a nine-year-old girl had the clothes burned off her back by napalm during the Vietnam war. The photo taken by AP photographer Nick Ut won him a Pulitzer Prize and became one of the most iconic news photos of the twentieth century.

This is the first person account of the girl in the picture.  To his immense credit, Nick Ut gathered up the children burned by the napalm and drove them to a hospital in Saigon. Kim Phúc was the most badly burned and doctors doubted that she could be saved.

But survive she did. When she started university, news got out around the world that she was still living and reporters began coming to Vietnam wanting to meet and interview her. The communist government seized upon this as a propaganda opportunity.  Kim Phúc did not understand the words interpreters spoke in foreign languages when she answered the interview questions but realized they were not repeating what she had said, but telling a story that the communist officials wanted the world to believe.

These interviews came several times a week and prevented her from continuing her university studies. She finally got permission to go to Cuba to continue her studies. There she met Toan, a Vietnamese man and they married. They could only go to another communist country for their honeymoon, so they chose Moscow. The choice was not made because of the appeal of a trip to Moscow, but because Kim Phúc had no intention of returning to Cuba, or any other communist country.

She had learned that the return flight from Moscow to Havana would make a refuelling stop at Gander, Newfoundland. The passengers all disembarked from the plane into the terminal at Gander. Kim Phúc didn’t know what to do next, who she could trust. After some time, she decided to pray; when she opened her eyes she saw a door that she had not noticed before, leading into a narrow hallway. She knew this was the way she had to go. She took her husband’s hand, went through the door and soon came to an office where an official said “Welcome to Canada.”

Doctors have done all they can to lessen the effects of the brutal scarring on Kim Phúc’s back and arm, but she still lives every day with pain. The emotional pain she suffered was even worse. Her family, like most South Vietnamese, were devotee’s of the Cao Dai religion. She found no help, no solace in this religion. While still in school she met a Vietnamese Christian minister and found peace and strength to face her problems through faith in Jesus Christ.

Toan and Kim Phúc have become Canadian citizens, they are parents of two grown sons and now grandparents. She has speaking engagements around the world to tell her story of hope, that the only way to peace is forgiveness and love, which is only possible through faith in Jesus Christ. Her story will move you, perhaps even change your life.

FIRE ROAD, © 2017 by Kim Phúc Phan Thi, published by Tyndale Momentum, Carol Stream, Illinois.

I wasn’t grown up yet

In the fall of 1959 I left home to go to university. The question of what I wanted to be when I grew up seemed to be settled – I would be an architect. During the last years of high school I began to pore over magazines with house floor plans and to draw my own. I dreamed of creating wonderful structures like those of Frank Lloyd Wright and le Corbusier. On the other hand, the cold glass and steel of Mies van der Rohe’s buildings left me cold.

I was accepted by the School of Architecture at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg. My Grade 12 marks were good enough to win a $500.00 scholarship. Mom, as always, was supportive and encouraging. Dad didn’t say much but seemed satisfied that I was going to make something of myself.

It should have worked. I was grown up on the outside, maybe even reasonably close to intellectual maturity, but inside I was still the little boy who was afraid of the shadows on the walls. My wounded emotions were so thoroughly swathed with layer upon layer of protective bandages that I was walking through life like a living mummy, aware of what was going on around me, but never able to participate.

I had lost all interest in church and Christianity, yet had no interest in partying either. Girls were strange and frightening, unless their name was Joan. At each stage of  my years of schooling there was a girl named Joan whom I could talk to without stammering or breaking out in a cold sweat. There were four of them altogether, at different times.

I saw Coke machines dropped down the stairwells of the residence and various other shenanigans on campus. But I was a watcher, not a participant. I read or watched TV until late at night, then could barely stay awake through the lectures.

Two classes brought me to life. One was mechanical drawing, or drafting. That I enjoyed and did well at. The other was English. We spent that first semester studying three utopian novels: Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell; Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley and Erewhon by  Samuel Butler. Nowadays they would be called dystopian, but the word didn’t exist in 1959. I was intrigued and was able to analyze and comment on them to the professor’s satisfaction.

I failed the other courses because I drowsed through the lectures and didn’t study the textbooks. By the time I realized how far behind I was it was too late to make up lost time in that semester. Surely there would be some way to catch up during the next semester, but I had no plan on how to do it and was afraid to ask for help.

I obtained a student loan of $300.00 to cover my living expenses for the next semester. I cashed the cheque and put the money in my back pocket, intending to pay my residence fees the next day. Then I went down to the lounge in the residence and fell asleep watching TV. When I woke up the money in my back pocket was gone.

Mennonites are not Protestants

I applaud the sincerity and courage of Martin Luther when he nailed his 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg 500 years ago. I am appalled by the savagery of his address to the armies fighting the peasants’ revolt, when he called on them to “slash, stab, kill as many as you can,” and promised them a sure entrance to heaven if they died in the battle. He found a way to use Scripture to show that this killing would be an act of mercy, as he did later when he called for the extermination of Anabaptists and Jews.

I’m afraid that Martin Luther took a wrong turn when he decided to rely on the secular power to establish his reformation of the church. He was able to effect a reformation of some of the more egregious practices that were characteristic of the Roman Catholic Church of his day, but even Luther did not believe his reformation had produced people who were more Christian.

Anabaptists and Mennonites have always held to the concept that only Christian people should be members of the Christian church. That is, people who have been born again and whose life bears evidence of an inner transformation. We have never taught that salvation can be earned by works, as the Roman Catholics did in Luther’s day. But neither do we believe that a person whose life is devoid of all evidence of regeneration can be a Christian, as Luther seemed to say with his emphasis on Sola Fides.

When a person is born again a new life begins. Works are the life signs. If there are no works, the faith is dead, or nonexistent. A born again Christian is never fully aware of how much his life has changed. He is simply thankful for the peace God has given and tries to maintain his connection with God. His works are not done to obtain the approval of others, nor is his assurance dependent on what other people think. There are simply the effects of an inner transformation.

The Protestant reformers believed that the survival of their reformed churches was worth killing for; Anabaptists believed that the survival of their peace with God was worth dying for.

What shall our children read?

What books are safe for children to read? Some Christian parents provide only  books about nice people who do nice things and everything turns out nicely for them. How realistic is that? Children know that there is evil in the world. There are scary things out there, things happen that they do not understand.

Other Christian parents believe that any book that turns out well in the end is sound reading material for their children. Even books where sorcery and witchcraft are used to attain that happy ending. The end justifies the means – or does it?

The Bible only promises a happy ending for people who use Christian means. Evil can only be overcome by good; in that sense the means are the end. We cannot live an overcoming Christian life by using the tools and methods of the enemy. Books that underline that principle can help to develop spiritual understanding.

In 17th century France, Jean de La Fontaine took ancient fables, many of them from Aesop, and rendered them into charming verses with a touch of humour and a clear moral teaching woven in. The fables of La Fontaine were once part of the school curriculum in all French-speaking countries. I’m afraid their moral teaching is now considered old fashioned.

In the same era, Charles Perrault collected and rewrote old folk tales and created others, all having a clear moral teaching. Almost 120 years later the brothers Grimm included some of these tales in their books of fairy tales, leaving out the moral teachings.

Perrault’s tale, La Belle au Bois Dormant, is much more gruesome than the Sleeping Beauty that I read as a child. In the end the innocent children are rescued by the return of their father and the evil woman who wanted to consume them comes to a horrible end. There is nothing here to lull children to overlook evil with the idea that the poor woman was just misunderstood. She was out and out evil and their father was pure and good.

One of Perrault’s stories does not have a happy ending. In Le Petit Chaperon Rouge, when the young lady gets into bed with the wolf that is the end of her. Perrault wrote: “There is one kind [of wolf] with an amenable disposition – neither noisy, nor hateful, nor angry, but tame, obliging and gentle, following the young maids in the streets, even into their homes. Alas! Who does not know that these gentle wolves are of all such creatures the most dangerous!” That lesson is lost when Little Red Riding Hood is allowed to escape unharmed from the wolf. Unfortunately, it is difficult to find a copy of Perrault’s tales that has not been Disneyfied, even in French. Don’t expect clear moral teachings from that source.

In the 20th Century British writers created several series of Christian fantasy novels.  I am thinking specifically of the Narnia Chronicles by C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald’s Princess and Curdie books and The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien.

I know Christian parents who will not let their children read such books because they describe fantasy worlds, fantastic creatures and fantastic events. Yet in these books evil is always evil and the good people do not use evil means to accomplish good. I am of the opinion that it is better for children to read books where evil exists and is overcome by good than to read books where evil does not appear to exist at all. Isn’t that a more dangerous fantasy?

 

 

What’s in the bottle?

Once upon a time a family was given a wonderful elixir that would cure every disease of mankind. They bottled it in plain brown bottles and offered it for sale to others. The price was very high and it didn’t taste very good, but it worked.

As time went on the descendants of this family developed different points of view on how best to make this elixir available to others.

Group one was very careful to guard the original formula of the elixir. The size and shape and colour of their bottles varied from time to time and place to place, but it remained just as expensive and just as bitter tasting. And just as effective.

Group two thought the bottle was too old-fashioned, let’s make it more eye catching. And something needs to be done to make it taste better, so they added new ingredients. And the price is too high, it turns people off, so the elixir was made of less costly ingredients. There were many disagreements about the best way to make the elixir appeal to the greatest number of people and there began to be many variations of the product on the market.

Group three thought that they dare not tamper with the elixir, so they went to great efforts to obtain bottles that looked just like the originals. They thought they remembered what the formula was, but there was disagreement among them and soon there were many variations of the elixir on the market, all in bottles that looked pretty much the same, each claiming to be the original.

It didn’t take long for people to discover that the elixirs offered by groups two and three did not really work. Soon people began to doubt if there ever was an elixir that did work. They observed that those in group one seemed much healthier than others, but attributed it to factors other than the elixir.

This is an allegory of the churches of our day. Each one claims to be the most trustworthy steward of the faith once delivered to the saints. The world around us expects that if the faith is what Christians say it is, they should be able to see some results. Far too many have given up on Christianity altogether, deeming it to be a fraud that cannot deliver what it promises.

Nevertheless it does work for some. Why not for everybody? Isn’t it because so many who claim to be Christians seem to be more interested in how the bottle looks, the outward appearance, than what is in the bottle, the transforming power of the Holy Spirit?

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. (Galatians 5:22-24)

Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. (Romans 8:9)

I believe it was G. K. Chesterton who said “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and therefore not tried.”

 

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.]

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..

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