Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Christianity

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.

Facing up to the bull

One year in my late teens I spent several months working for farmers. I drove the truck for one during harvest. Then I spent a month on a cattle farm, putting up hay, fixing fences, things like that.

The fences were in bad shape. The first day, the big Hereford bull walked through the fence to graze the greener grass on the other side. I had heard and read enough scary stories about what a bull could do that the sight of this guy filled me with a sense of impending trouble.

Then the farmer said “Put that bull back in the pasture.”

bull-940209_640

Image by Olichel Adamovich from Pixabay

I was shaking, but I didn’t want to admit that a grown fellow like me was afraid of a bull. So I prayed. At that point in my life I only prayed when fear overwhelmed me.

Then I walked toward the bull. He looked up, shook his head–then ambled along the fence line toward the gate. I went ahead of him, opened the gate, he walked into the pasture and I closed the gate.

That was my daily task after that; when supper time came, I first helped the bull  go back where he belonged. The bull and I never became friends, but he knew the routine and was always cooperative. That stretch of fence was the last one fixed.

In later years I have faced other bulls in my life, in the form of thoughts. My father was prone to unpredictable outbursts of anger. That seems to have left a hook within me where fears of how other people might react in anger can fasten themselves. Other destructive thought patterns became a routine in my life.

In time I realized that these are tempting and tormenting spirits from the realm of darkness. I don’t want them, but my willpower is not enough on its own to overcome them.

So I pray. Then tell those thoughts to go away. By the grace of God they do.  The next day I have to rebuke them again. Victory comes through Jesus Christ, but the battles repeat day by day.

Jesus said: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me,” (Luke 9:23).

The half-converted farmer

There was a farmer in our neighbourhood who lived a simple life. He had no need of electricity, running water or a lawn mower. He didn’t need a wife either though we heard that there had once been a lady of the house. Perhaps the rustic simplicity of the homestead soon lost its charm.

cabin-244647_640

Image by noahherrera from Pixabay

This rustic farmer had a simple approach to farming. In the spring he seeded his wheat and in the fall he harvested his wheat — as much as his equipment could capture. For the fields produced a much greater crop of weeds than of wheat, in such a manner that the wheat that grew was short in stature. Then too, he needed to manoeuvre around the many prominent rocks throughout the fields when seeding and harvesting. As we passed by his fields after harvest we saw much wheat still standing, waiting for the birds, mice and gophers to glean. The proximity of these heads of wheat to the rocks or to the surface of the ground made them inaccessible to the harvesting machinery.

Then came a day when the farmer announced that he had seen the light, from henceforth things would be different. He purchased top quality seed and fertilizer, enough for all his fields. He chose not to remove the rocks and the weeds. The good seed, he said, with the help of the fertilizer, would produce vigorous plants that would choke the weeds and grow so high the rocks would not be a problem.

Unfortunately, the bad seeds in the ground outnumbered the good seeds he planted. With the help of the fertilizer, they grew taller that year than ever before. The wild mustard plants resembled small trees. I did not see if the birds of the air built their nests in these great shrubs, but I observed them flitting joyfully from branch to branch.

Harvest that year was neither better nor worse than in previous years. Whereupon the farmer declared that scientific farming was a fraud designed to separate gullible farmers from their money. He would never again believe a word of it. And the latter end of that farmer was worse than the beginning.

Some people approach Christian life in like manner. They realize the futility of their old ways and resolve to follow the way of Jesus. They read the Bible and attend church, and verily their countenances change. They have hope.

Still, there are the hurtful things they have said and done in the past, and perhaps dishonest things. These are great rocks in their life and removing them seems too great a task. The cost and effort of confession and restitution is higher than they wish to pay. Thus the rocks remain, ever a hindrance to the trust they desire from others.

Worse yet, the tendency to hurt feelings and flare-ups of temper remains and impedes the good they try to do. An apology would be too humiliating, better to wait and hope people forget. These thorns in their personalities choke out their good intentions. After a time, they conclude that Christianity was only an illusion and return to their old ways.

It need not be that way. But many evangelists who mean well neglect to explain that one cannot live a fruitful Christian life without removing the rocks and the thorns.

What does an angel look like?

This question was prompted by my search for an image to illustrate the words of John Milton which I posted a few days ago. I found all kinds of images, but not one that I would fell comfortable using.

The question may seem frivolous, as the Bible does not give a clear description of an angel. There are descriptions of seraphim, cheubim, living creatures in Ezekiel, and living beasts before the throne of God in Revelation. I don’t know if anyone has really succeeded in drawing a picture that accurately represents those descriptions. These beings have some role in God’s kingdom, but just what it is isn’t exactly clear, except that they are continually praising God.

Angels are something a little different. The name means messenger and is used in Revelation to describe the human messenger, or minister, of each of the seven churches of Asia. The celestial angels appear to have the specific responsibility of being God’s messengers to mankind and also protectors of mankind.

In the few mentions we have of an angel appearing to individuals in the Bible, he is usually described as appearing to be a man. That is, the angel appeared to be human. That would preclude wings. Though the other beings are usually described as having wings and flying, angels appear to simply step from the unseen celestial realm into the terrestrial.

Angels appear to have no gender, “neither marry, nor are given in marriage,” thus depictions of angels in sensuous feminine form are clearly false. For the same reason, it is probably correct that angels are never depicted with a beard.

Thus, the best I can do to describe an angel is to describe what is probably not part of his appearance: no wings, not distinctly masculine or feminine. Sometimes an angelic appearance is glorious, often there is nothing startling about the appearance of the angel.

The ministry and purpose of angels is more important than their appearance, for that reason I will quote Hebrews 1:14 as the conclusion:

Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?

Freedom of the will

Freedom of choice means that I am at liberty to do as I please. Nevertheless, I learn every day in small ways that the choices I make have consequences; and the choices that other people make often have consequences that affect me. Why then should I not expect that consequences might not only be immediate, but long-term, even eternal?

God is not to blame when bad things happen, He has given us the liberty to choose freely. Often those choices have unanticipated consequences. The unpleasant consequences of our bad choices should lead us to pause a moment to consider whether God might not have a better way for us.

God does not protect us from the negative consequences of the choices we and other people make. Neither does he force us to choose His way.

Yet God does speak to us, quietly and often, asking us to reconsider the direction we are travelling in life. Some time in our life He will tell us that the bad things happening to us are the result of our bad choices which make us sinners.

It doesn’t work to decide that we will live the way God wants us to live by our own will and strength. But we do have the ability to accept God’s judgment on our sin and ask Him to help us. That is called repentance and when God sees that our repentance is genuine, He forgives us because of the sacrifice Jesus has made for our sin, He adopts us as His child and gives us His Holy Spirit to enable us to make right choices.

That is called the new birth, conversion, regeneration. Those words all mean a change in the way we think and a u-turn in the direction of our life. When we live to please God and to love and help the people around us, we will be far happier than when we were only trying to please ourselves.

This is the beginning of Christian life. Some people stop as soon as they reach this point, thinking this is all there is to Christian life. God wants us to keep on going, learning a little more each day about our own weakness and about God’s will and the blessings that He has for those who really consecrate their lives to Him.

%d bloggers like this: