Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Christianity

Consequences of a false gospel

Several weeks ago I wrote about the effect on education of René Descartes’ belief in the ability of the human mind to discover all truth through the exercise of reason. That belief has worked its way into every aspect of Western civilization. It is found in our media, our social institutions, our ideas about business, religion and politics.

I may as well come right out and say it – There are times when it appears to me that Donald Trump is the only sane political leader in North America. Everyone else is so caught up in trimming their sails to catch the latest wind of political correctness that they have no idea where those winds are coming from or towards what destination they are being driven.

This was a gradual development, but the point where it hit mainstream North American culture began with Walter Rauschenbusch and Charles Sheldon. Rauschenbusch was a Baptist minister who came to believe that sin was not a personal matter but something rooted in society. He coined the term “social gospel” around 1892, teaching and writing extensively on the subject. He taught that there was no such thing as a sin against God, all sins are against our fellow humans. In fact, he ceased to believe that God was a real Being. He was just a social construct, created in men’s minds to give some coherence to their beliefs.

Rauschenbusch saw private ownership of business as the great sin and the root of all evil. He went as far as to describe a privately owned business as an “unsaved” business and a collectively owned business, either by government or a co-operative, as a “saved” business.

Sheldon’s book, In His Steps, appeared in 1896. I have read it four times from cover to cover, searching for some trace of the Christian theme that many profess to find in it, and came up empty every time. There is Christian window dressing, but that’s all it is. The characters in the book read the Bible, but find nothing to guide their actions; they pray, but receive no guidance; they are moved to tears by hymns, but hear nothing to move them to action. It’s all just camouflage. The answers come when people ask themselves “What would Jesus do?” and answer by their own power of reason. This is following René Descartes, not Jesus Christ. Once again, the real culprit is privately owned business; salvation comes to Raymond when the owner of the daily newspaper decides to turn the business into an employee-owned co-operative.

Sheldon described himself as a Christian socialist. That is revealing. The Christian label was only camouflage to introduce socialist ideas to a North American populace that was largely composed of church-going people.

Thanks to Rauschenbusch and Sheldon, Marxist economic theories and the concept of class struggle took root in many of the largest denominations. Those denominations then moved into social activism, urging governments to set to right social injustices. The list of social injustices grows ever longer and the pressure on governments to fix things ever stronger.

Many major US foundations, now in the hands of Marxist administrators, are funnelling money into Canadian protest movements. Many movements are ostensibly grassroots indigenous protesters, but the money and the tactics are coming from US foundations. The money is channelled through a tangle of entities in an attempt to camouflage its source. But they are becoming bolder, to the point of openly declaring their aim to shut down Canada. Why? I suppose because Canada is seen as a soft target, the low hanging fruit. If they would succeed in imposing their collectivist Marxist principles in Canada, they would move on to target the USA.

Actually, they have already made great headway in the USA. Make no mistake about it, the protest movements, whether their stated aim is to stop climate change, save the animals, create equal rights or better access to health care, do not care for individual people, these are only ruses to impose a collectivist agenda.

What is the best response of Christians to these dangers? Lets go back to being Christians, followers of Jesus Christ. It is not for us to reform society. The history I have briefly sketched shows what happens when Christians take that detour.

When I hear those who profess to be Christian expressing indignation, vituperation or even hatred, for or against Donald Trump, for or against the various protest movements, it raises questions. How well do they understand what it means to be a Christian? Are they truly following the leading of the Holy Spirit?

It may seem folly to say that Christians should have a peaceful attitude toward everyone, but that is what the Bible says. If Christians had done that 100 years ago, would we be in this mess today?

All Christians are hypocrites

□ True
□ False

I think we have to check the true box on this one. Let’s be clear though, that we are not hypocrites because we are Christian, we are hypocrites because we are human. The desire to appear to be better than we are is endemic in humanity.

Becoming a Christian makes us aware of that fact, but we are very prone to forget. Perhaps we should write it in red lipstick upon every mirror in our home: “We are not better than other people.”

Would that help? Perhaps at first, then we would probably forget again. Oh, we would see it there and nod our heads in agreement. But, human nature being as it is, our thinking would gradually shift to believing that it applies to other people that we know, not so much to us.

The one thing that should make a difference between people who are Christian and those who are not, is the Holy Spirit in our lives. When I think back to the time before I was converted, I really and truly believed that I was doing the best that I could, under the circumstances. That is how we are made, and it is probably best for our mental health to think that way–as long as we know of no remedy for the all things in our life that we have messed up.

But there came a day when the Holy Spirit spoke to me and told me I could not blame people and circumstances for all the things that I had messed up in my life. I had done them and I needed to own up to them. That condemnation was easier to accept by the invitation that came with it. If I would confess my sins to God, He would forgive them. I did, and He did.

My Christian life began at that point, when all my past sins were taken away. But that is only the beginning.  I did not suddenly become a “good” person, incapable of making the same mistakes that I had made in the past. The only difference was that now I had the Holy Spirit to warn me when I was about to sin. If I ignored Him, He would then prompt me to go back and clean up the mess I had made.

That should be the obvious difference between a person who is a Christian and one who is not. Both will make mistakes, do and say things they shouldn’t, often things that hurt other people. The Christian should admit his fault, apologize and try to make things right. And it should not seem in any way forced or artificial.

Restitution is difficult. It is often difficult to admit what I have done, apologize, and do the best I can to undo the damage that was done. But the more I will do that, the easier it becomes for me to hear and obey the warning voice of the Holy Spirit before I do such a thing the next time. It is when a Christian repeatedly quenches the warning voice of the Holy Spirit that he comes to appear more and more like a hypocrite.

© Bob Goodnough, January 05, 2020

Winsomeness

More than 350 years ago, Blaise Pascal described what he hoped to achieve with his writing this way:

People despise Christian faith. They hate it and are afraid that it may be true.  The solution for this is to show them, first of all, that it is not unreasonable, that it is worthy of  reverence and respect. Then show that it is winsome, making good men desire that it were true. Then show them that it really is true. It is worthy of reverence because it really understands the human condition. It is also attractive because it promises true goodness.
-Blaise Pascal, Les Pensées

I have often read this passage, given mental assent to it, desired that the things I write could be winsome and attractive. Yet it dawns on me now how far I fall short of achieving that goal.

I don’t do New Year resolutions. I tried years ago. They were largely futile attempts to make me feel better about myself with minimal effort. I took comfort in having noble aspirations, then promptly forgot them. Real change is only possible by taking an honest look at the not so noble part of my character.

Pascal used the word aimable in French. The above English version translates aimable by winsome in one place and attractive in the other. Apologetics, giving an answer for the hope that lieth within me, is only effective if it makes that hope winsome and attractive.

Giving an answer that carries the slightest whiff of self-righteousness or arrogance renders that answer unattractive.  Truth is important, right doctrine is necessary, yet if truth and right doctrine seem repugnant to the reader, I am an abject failure.

Effective apologetics then must be the putting Christian faith into words that bring out the winsomeness of the faith. As a writer, I need to get myself out of the way and think of how to present different aspects of the faith in Jesus Christ to the reader, who probably looks at life in quite a different way than I do. It is not my job to prove him wrong; it is not my job to prove myself an authority to be trusted. It is my job to show that Jesus Christ is worthy of our trust.

© Bob Goodnough, January 03, 2020

The power of little things

My mother was 10 when her family moved from south-east Manitoba to south-west Saskatchewan. Whenever she talked about that move she would say “The thing I missed was seeing the tees and the Indians.”

It wasn’t until I reached adulthood that I asked the obvious question: “Mon, I get the part about the trees, but what’s this about the Indians?”

“Well, whenever Indians travelled through our area, they would stop at our place for a rest and a drink of water.”

My grandfather was a Plautdietsch speaking Sommerfelder Mennonite, not very prosperous, blind, and the father of 14 children, of which my mother was number 6. Apparently he was blind in more ways than one.

Before he married, he had worked at Letellier, Manitoba. One of his coworkers was a black man who had made his way to Canada from the US South. My grandfather learned some old negro spirituals from him and then taught them to his children. My mother used to sing some of them.

My grandfather learned English while working there, and later said he wished he had learned French, too, as there were French-speaking people living there. Whenever my mother told about her father’s wish that he had learned French, she would add, “And if he had, I would have, too!”

I heard those little things when my mother talked about her earlier years. They made a lasting impression, and I believe enabled me to look at other people as being not a lot different from me.

In her late teens, my mother memorized the German catechism, and the bishop baptized her. I think the teachings in that catechism found a place deeper than just in her mind. The family spoke mostly Plautdietsch at home, and some English. The church was entirely German — Bible reading, hymns, sermons, prayers. My mother was the last of the children to learn German. As she grew older, she realized that in her church the language was more important than the teachings in the catechism; it had nothing to offer her 8 younger siblings who did not know German.

She left that church and expressed no nostalgia for it. Her mother, my grandmother, appeared to believe that I needed to learn German to be a Christian. She sent me a copy of the catechism and a German primer. I was curious and made a beginning in the primer. Mom would help me whenever I asked, but never prompted me to keep on trying to learn German. She had a large English dictionary that she had studied for years, learned to speak English with no trace of an accent, had a larger vocabulary than many whose mother tongue was English.

When Chris and I started to attend the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, some members got all excited when they found that Mom’s mother tongue had been Plautdietsch. She was polite and friendly, but did not share their enthusiasm. I have wondered if she didn’t have a little fear that I was getting into the sort of thing she had left behind.

I am my mother’s son. She said nothing negative about anyone, but the impression she left was that Plautdietsch and German had nothing to do with being a Christian and were not anything I needed to pursue.

My father was from the USA, his mother was Franco-American and it embarrassed him when she spoke French to their neighbours here in Saskatchewan. I got a lot more encouragement from my mother to learn French than from my father.

That’s my personal history. I could say more about my father, but I don’t think it’s necessary. I’ll just say that my mother’s positive remarks about others had more influence on me than my father’s negative remarks.

Are there negative things that Christians say today that can have a harmful effect on their children’s attitude toward others?

How do we look at ourselves? 

We can’t change our ethnic identity, or the family into which we were born. But if we think that our family, or our ethnic group, has some innate quality that makes us more apt to be Christian, or a better Christian, than others, we are contradicting the whole message of the New Testament. Any hint of pride or exclusivity undermines our gospel witness..

How do we look at others?

Sometimes I hear Christians say that the people around us aren’t interested in the gospel. That implants the thought in the younger generation that there is no point in trying to share the gospel in our home communities.

How do we talk about people of a different skin colour, or who speak with an accent? Nigger, negro, darkie and coloured are not polite or respectful terms to use for black people. Sometimes we complain about the immigrants in our communities. It enthuses us to send missionaries to the countries they came from, but when they arrive here, we have a different attitude.

There is no 8 step program to break the problem I am describing. It’s a matter of the heart. Little changes in our attitudes toward the surrounding people, little changes in our speech, could add up to a big change in the way others see us.

What happened to the dream?

“I have a dream!” As Reverend Martin Luther King, Junior spoke those words in 1963, millions around the world dared to dream with him of a better day; a day when outward differences would lose their power to divide us; a day when we could all join hands to work together, to pray together.

That dream frightened some people; on April 4, 1968, an assassin’s bullet ended Reverend King’s life. That assassination happened in Memphis, Tennessee, the hometown of Elvis Presley. Two months later, Elvis used his prodigious talent to rekindle the dream, recording the song “If I can dream,” echoing Martin Luther King’s dream of a better land where there was peace and understanding.

What happened to that dream? Why is there still so much prejudice, so much fear? Why is it still possible to say that the most segregated place in America is a church on Sunday morning? I am a Canadian; we like to say we do not have the race problem that exists south of our border. When I lived in Montreal in the 90’s maybe 5% of the city’s population was black and it looked like every one of them was heading to a church on Sunday morning. And it looked like about 5% of the white population were also on their way to church. But they went to different churches, sometimes the same denominations, but different churches.

The dream is essentially a Christian dream. If it will come true anywhere, it has to happen first among Christian people. What is our problem?

I could blame the Church Growth Movement. One feature of their mission strategy was to use the marketing methods of the world to divide people into natural affinity groups and tailor the gospel message to appeal to each group. I thought the gospel was supposed to unite people, not divide them.

But the real problem is our fear of getting to know people different from us. Ignorance breeds mistrust. We have been taught what was right, and it is so plain that there is something evil about a person who does things differently. If we step out of our comfort zone and meet some of those other people, we risk the pain of having to re-examine our preconceived ideas.

It is worth the risk, and the pain. Most likely, we will find that our ideas are not quite the same as God’s ideas; our traditions have bent, not only the way we perceive other people, but the way we perceive what God is telling us in His Word.

We will not change the entire world. All God asks of us is to see our little corner of the world in a new light, the way He sees it. That is enough. It will make a difference.

Three Impossible Things That I Believe

I believe that God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ), and God the Holy Spirit are three distinct persons, yet only one God. All three are shown in the scene of the baptism of Jesus in Matthew 3:16-17: “And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: and lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

I have no logical explanation of how it is possible that three can be one, yet I believe it is true. As Billy Sunday once said: “God is not an explanation; He is a revelation.”

I believe that Jesus is fully God and fully human, but not two persons in one body. I believe that Jesus’ body was identical to our bodies in every way, except for the inheritance of the sin nature and the effects of sin. In other words, though His body was formed in Mary’s womb, He had no genetic inheritance from her.

One of the best expositions of why it was necessary for the body of Jesus to be a special new creation was done by Henry Morris of the Institute for Creation Research. You can read his article here.

Again, I have no logical explanation of how this was possible. But to believe otherwise leads to the sort of illogical conclusions that Menno Simons encountered: “The English, or Zwinglians believe and confess that there are two sons in Christ Jesus, the one is God’s son, without mother and impassive; and the other is the son of Mary, or the son of man, without father, and passive. And in this passive son of Mary, the impassive Son of God dwelt; so that the son of Mary, who was crucified, and died for us, was not the son of God.”

I believe that Jesus, after the resurrection had a physical body that could be seen and touched. That he could break bread, cook fish and eat them. Yet He could enter a room without going through the door, the wall or the ceiling and leave as He came. This was not a magical conjuring trick, nor some mythical Star Trek technology. It appears that He could pass at will from the visible physical realm to the invisible spiritual realm. This was not done through technology yet to be discovered by mankind, nor was it an illusion. I believe He is still alive today with a physical resurrection body, in a realm that cannot be discerned by our physical senses.

These three things are all clearly impossible in any way that my human mind can comprehend. Yet to say that God cannot do anything that my human mind cannot understand is to reduce God to my level, or to exalt myself to His level. If God were to be limited by the capacity of my human mind, He could not be God.

© Bob Goodnough, November 18, 2019

We try to do too much

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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.

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