Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Christianity

The quiet in the land

According to the Scriptures, Christians should lead quiet and peaceable lives. Is that the same as being “the quiet in the land?” That slogan has taken deep root among many who call themselves Mennonite.

The words come from Psalm 35:20: “For they speak not peace: but they devise deceitful matters against them that are quiet in the land.” This psalm is a prayer of David when he was being hunted by Saul and his army. Both Saul and David knew that it was God’s plan to make David king in the place of Saul. Yet David attempted to live peaceably until that day should arise, twice refusing to take Saul’s life when the opportunity was given him. Saul, on the other hand, was determined to slay David and retain the kingship for himself and his family.

I believe we can take from David’s example that it is not God’s plan for us to become politically active, nor to agitate to replace a government that we feel to be misguided and oppressive. But I do not believe it is God’s will to take this further to the point of being quiet about our faith in order to avoid persecution. This is what the German Pietists did by remaining in the Lutheran Church and partaking of its sacraments. This is what the Mennonites in Russia did when they banned the reading of the writings of Menno Simons.

I do not believe that being “the quiet in the land” to such an extent is compatible with true Christian faith. Peter admonished us to “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear,” (1 Peter 3:15). There is a real danger that we can become so quiet about our faith that no one would ever have cause to ask us about it. And if they did, we might not have a clue what to say.

In our search years ago for a church that still held to the old Anabaptist faith, we found many Mennonite churches that were like that. They called themselves Mennonite, but had no idea what that signified.

Even for those of us who retain the faith that was held by Menno Simons, it is time to strengthen those things that remain. Let’s not be shy about talking about that faith with each other, endeavouring to discern how the Spirit is leading in our personal lives and in our collective life. I believe there are people around us who will find the old faith attractive, offering something solid to hold on to in a world that appears to be crumbling. Let’s not be so quiet that they cannot hear.

The faith of Menno Simons

Thus we do not contend with carnal, but with spiritual weapons, patience and with the word of the Lord, against all flesh, world and devil, trusting in Christ. Nor shall there ever be found other weapons with us. Therefore, be not afraid of us (behold, in Christ Jesus I lie not); for we do not desire your destruction, but your regeneration; not your condemnation, but your everlasting salvation; not your flesh and blood, but your spirit and soul; on account of which I have these seven years suffered and yet suffer slander and scorn; anxiety, suspension, persecution, and great peril of being imprisoned.

The more the word of the Lord is extended, by the grace of God, to the reformation of some persons, who, however, are few, the more hatred and bitterness increases against me; so that up to this hour I could not find, in all the country, where, alas, the mere boasting of the divine word is a great deal more plenty than the fear of God, a cabin, or hut (blessed be the Lord) in which my wife and little children can safely sojourn for a year or two. O, cruel, unmerciful Christians ! O, that all magistrates and princes, as also all the wise and learned knew the seeking, intention and desire of my heart, as also of my beloved brethren who, by the grace. Spirit and word of God, are converted into a new spirit or new birth !

If they rightly understood our teaching how soon their hearts and minds would be changed into a different sense ! But as all of them, with but few exceptions, are nothing but earth and flesh and not gifted with the Spirit of Christ; therefore, alas, we hear nothing from them but upbraiding and slander, can expect nothing from them (I mean the evil-disposed) but the stake, water, tire, wheel and sword, as a reward of gratitude, that we have sought and yet seek our conversion, salvation and eternal life, and that of the whole world, with such diligence, solicitude, pains and labour from our inmost heart. For I strive after nothing, of which God is my witness, but that the God of heaven and of earth, through his blessed Son, Jesus Christ may have the glory and praise of his blessed word; that all men may be saved; and that they may awaken in this convenient time of grace, from their profound sleep of sinfulness; that they may lay by all adhering sin and the damnable works of darkness; that they may put on the armour of light, that they may thus become, with us by true penance, faith, baptism, Supper, ban or separation, love, obedience and true life, one holy, Christian church and body in Christ Jesus. Something which the whole world today yet opposes with all its strength with both shoulders and horns; not being willing that Christ Jesus, forever blessed, shall reign over them. Yea, they persecute, banish, burn, murder, and destroy all those who willingly teach and uphold the glory, praise, honour, will and commandments of the Lord.

An imposter in the temple of God

“Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.” (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4) The apostle Paul wrote this warning at the very beginning of the Christian era.

A few years later, in the Revelation given to the apostle John, he sees two beast arise (Revelation chapter 13). The first beast rose out of the sea, which symbolizes the turbulent and unorganized condition of the peoples of the world. This beast is empowered by the dragon, Satan, to rule over these peoples and establish government and order. This is the pagan Roman empire.

The second beast rose out of the earth, that is out of the organized stability created by the first beast. This beast has some Lamb-like characteristics, evidently a counterfeit of the Christian church, yet is in league with the first beast. This is the Antichrist described by John in 1 John 2:22, 4:3 an 2 John v. 7. Antichrist means in the place of Christ, that is Antichrist denied to Jesus Chris the power and authority that was rightfully His and claimed it for himself.

1 John 2:18 says that there were already many anitchrists in the time of John. This he declares to be evidence that it is the last time, that is, there will not be another era of time to follow.

Our Anabaptist forefathers saw a number of forms of counterfeit Christianity, or antichrists, but the main one was the Roman Catholic church. It took until the time of Pope Urban II (1088-99) for the papacy to be able to claim authority over the Kings of Europe and enlist their power to attempt to eliminate the Anabaptist church. Shortly after this time, in 1120AD, some Christians in the south of France drew up a description of Antichrist and his errors. Here are a few excerpts:

“And therefore let every one take note thereof, that Antichrist could not come in any wise, but all these forementioned things must needs meet together to make up a complete hypocrisy and falsehood, that is to say the worldly wise men, the religious orders, the Pharisees, ministers, doctors, the secular power with the worldly people joining together. And thus all of them together make up the man of sin and error completely. For, although that Antichrist was conceived already in the apostles’ time, yet being but in his infancy, he lacked his inward and outward member.”

“The first work of Antichrist is that he perverts the worship properly due to God by giving it to Antichrist himself and his works.”

“The second work of Antichrist is that he robs and bereaves Christ of His merits. . . and imputes and attributes the same to his own authority, to a form of words, to his own works; unto saints and their invocation and unto the fire of Purgatory.”

“The third work of Antichrist is that he attributes the regeneration of the Holy Spirit unto the dead outward work, baptizing infants in that faith, and teaching that thereby baptism and regeneration must be had.”

“The fourth work of Antichrist is that he has constituted and put all of religion and holiness of the people in going to mass.”

“The fifth work of Antichrist is that he doth all his works so that he may be seen. . .and that he may make all things for sale.”

“The sixth work of Antichrist is that he allows manifest sins without any ecclesiastical censure and doth not excommunicate the impenitent.”

“The seventh work of Antichrist is that he doth not govern nor maintain his unity by the Holy Spirit, but by the secular power.”

“The eighth work of Antichrist is that he hates and persecutes and searches after, despoils and destroys the members of Christ.”

Hillbilly connection?

I wrote my last blog post shortly after reading Hillbilly Elegy* by J.D. Vance. The book is a very personal memoir which incorporates sociological insights into the roots of poverty among the Scots-Irish people of the Appalachian region, the hillbillies.

As J.D. Vance writes, the poverty of a large swath of black people in the USA is due to pretty much the same factors. I have observed the same attitudes at work in many people in Canada, of various ethnic origins. Poverty is due more to the furniture of one’s mind than to outward circumstances.

The book was doubly interesting because my wife is a Vance. Her people came directly from Scotland to Canada, therefore any relationship would be distant. Yet her family was much like the one described by J.D. My wife was the product of two dysfunctional families; she was raised by her aunt and uncle because they feared she would not survive in the ongoing trauma of her parental home. Her five siblings did survive that home, some successfully, some not so much. One of them is her brother, Jim Vance.

The book struck pretty close to home. And it reinforced a conclusion I had already come to: the only way that a person can escape poverty is to believe that he or she can do it. Without that, all the good advice, all the money, all the government support programs, will never do much good. When a person has such an attitude, they can overcome every obstacle that life places in their way.

Some people will not like this book because of the way the people in it talk. Conversations are liberally laced with four letter words. That’s OK. Be forewarned and don’t try to read the book. But don’t condemn the people described for the way they talk. I don’t know if the book could have been as effective if J.D. had tried to sanitize people’s speech.

I didn’t hear words like that in my parental home, or in my extended family. But I heard a lot of it at school, at work and in other places. I still hear it, and I don’t condemn people for the way they talk. I wish they wouldn’t, yet some of them are better people, more caring people, than others whose speech is perfectly sanitized.

Faith in Jesus Christ can provide the mental furnishings that enable a person to climb out of poverty. Unfortunately, the kind of Christianity that many poor people have been exposed to is of the pharisaical, holier-than-thou, variety. People living in poverty are more apt to catch a glimpse of hope when they meet genuine followers of Jesus Christ, people who are kind, humble, compassionate, patient and not afraid or ashamed to spend time with them.

*Hillbilly Elegy copyright 2016 by J.D. Vance, published by HarperCollins publishers

WASP to Woke

In my school days, over 60 years ago, I learned that anyone who wasn’t a WASP was less than the ideal Canadian. WASP stood for White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant. I could check all the boxes, and felt good about it.

What I received in school was an indoctrination into the Orange Order perception of Canada and Canadian history. The Orange Order frequently resorted to riots to get their point of view across to governments. They believed that people who were not white, Anglo-Saxon protestants should have no influence on Canadian society. They did not share the moral values or the nobility of character that was characteristic of WASPs. Perhaps it was not stated so blatantly, but that point of view permeated our curriculum. The books we read portrayed WASPs as noble and true, other people were shifty-eyed and untrustworthy.

There is a segment of our society that still thinks that way; I don’t anymore. One reason was my mother’s quiet influence. She was much more open-minded and that gradually undermined my tendency to be dogmatic in my attitudes. I read a lot, from many points of view, including books in French, that challenged the Orange Order view of the world that I had learned in school.

Woke is the correct way to think nowadays. The woke perception of Canadian society and history now permeates our educational system, the media and the political parties. The term originated among African-American people in the 1940’s to refer to those who were awake the the social injustices inherent in the structure of society.

The meaning has grown to encompass every perception of injustice and the need for a revolutionary restructuring of society. To those who are woke, it seems imperative to erase all prior history. The views of those who are not woke should not be allowed to be disseminated in any form to the public. In other words, we are now facing an ideology that is every bit as intolerant as the Orange Order, right down to the riots.

As Christians, we must not let ourselves be drawn into such ideological strife, either for or against the prevailing attitudes. We are part of the heavenly kingdom, a kingdom of peace and love; we serve the Lord Jesus Christ. The devils must laugh with glee when Christians get emotionally involved and make statements that do not come from the Spirit of Christ.

Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but [is] earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace. (James 3:13-18).

Without me ye can do nothing

The words of Jesus are blunt; unless we submit our lives, our being, to His control, we are not capable of being a Christian. We can pretend, we may think we are doing a great job on our own, but sooner or later something will happen and whatever is really in our heart will show up.

To take just one example: we read exhortations in the Bible about being humble and set about to make ourselves humble. It goes well; soon we think we have this down pat, we’re doing a much better job of being humble than most of the people around us. . .

Whoa! See the problem? We’ve become proud of our humility.

To become a Christian, we must admit that we have hopelessly messed up our life and cannot clean up the mess by ourselves. It’s pretty humbling isn’t it? That’s a good start in Christian life, the right start. However, as time goes on, we start thinking that we’ve got this figured out, we can complete the task of making ourselves Christian by our own understanding and will. When that doesn’t seem to be working out some folks wonder what the problem is. Others see that they have messed up again and turn to Jesus to make a new start.

Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. He has sent the Holy Spirit to help us do what we cannot do. We all know that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy and peace. But we don’t always remember the other qualities, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance. Aren’t they a good description of humility?

It is the work of the Holy Spirit in our heart that makes us humble. Our own work on the outer man can’t do it. Our own work can’t do anything at all that will count in eternity.

Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen. (Jude 24-25)

The foolishness of preaching

Singing and prayer have always been important ingredients of worship in the Anabaptist – Mennonite faith, but the focal point of a worship service is that which the apostle Paul called the foolishness of preaching. It appears to be foolishness because there are not many powerful orators amongst us, not many who make a great impression by their knowledge or wisdom, and very seldom are the effects of the preaching readily apparent. We don’t expect any of those things, but we do believe that Bible-based, Spirit-led preaching from the heart of godly ministers feeds the listeners with spiritual manna that enables them to persevere in the faith unto the end.

Many years ago we went to hear David Wilkerson preach at the Centennial Auditorium in Regina. Now there was a powerful preacher! And there were visible results, decisions made. The lady who came with us was bubbling over with new-found commitment on the way home. Her life was going to be different, she was not going to go to the dance the following Saturday night and partake of the atmosphere and beverages found there. That commitment lasted through Monday and Tuesday, but by Wednesday it was gone and she did go to the dance on Saturday. David Wilkerson’s message was good, but I question if one message is enough to make a lasting change in someone’s life.

I have heard several thousand sermons, from perhaps 200 different preachers, in the years that I have been a member of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite. About the only things I remember of what all those preachers said was that when Wildoer Losier of Haiti was in Montreal for revival meetings 25 years ago he began every sermon with “Je vous souhait la paix,” (I wish you peace). and that when Arverd Wiggers was at St Marys, Ontario 10 years before that he told how Christian life is sometimes like a mountain climber descending the face of a mountain in the dark . He comes down the face of a cliff, reaches the end of his rope and still cannot find any footing for his feet. He hears a voice from somewhere saying “just let go.” He is certain that will mean falling to his death on the rocks below, so he keeps feeling around with his feet, desperately searching for a ledge. Finally he can hold on no longer, lets go and falls – about ten inches, and his feet are on solid ground.

Those are the only things that remain in my conscious memory, but they seem significant. There are orators who can stir a crowd to battle with one fiery speech. But Christian ministers are trying to stir their listeners to peace. To live in peace to the end of our days requires faith, love, patience, forgiveness, temperance. As we listen to sermon after sermon touching on various facets of living by faith and in peace, the Holy Spirit impresses those thoughts upon us and they find a place within us that is somewhere deeper than our mind.

There are moments in our lives when the Holy Spirit tells us to let go of something and that makes us tremble in fear. That thing, whatever it may be, is part of us, essential to our well-being. Yet the voice keeps telling us to let go. When we do, we find we have lost nothing at all, but gained a more sure foothold in our relationship with God.

A Scottish minister was visiting the members of his congregation and came to a lady who was a storekeeper. She told him, “That was a wonderful message you preached Sunday a fortnight ago.” The minister, a wee bit skeptical of the praise, asked “What part of the message was it that impressed you?” “I don’t remember,” she said. “What were the Scriptures?” “I don’t remember.” The minister now was sure she had only been flattering him, but then she said “All I remember is that I came home and took the false bottom out of my bushel measure.”

No doubt this lady had told herself for years that she needed that little dishonest advantage to enable her to make a living in her store. The minister had said nothing in his sermon about false bottoms in bushel measures, but the Spirit had taken something he had said to impress upon this lady her need to be completely honest in her business. When she obeyed, it gave her such a relief that she had to thank the minister.

The foolishness of preaching is like that. It can go beyond the words that a preacher speaks to address a problem that is completely unknown to him.

Wimpy evangelism

Forty-five years ago there was a city-wide outreach in our city based on the theme “I found it!” The slogan was purposefully vague so as to engage all churches who called themselves Christian.

The purpose of the slogan was to prompt people to ask “What did you find?” To which the answer was “New life in Jesus Christ.” This answer encompassed a wide range of possibilities of what the new life could be or how it could be attained.

The campaign was ambitious, including billboards, bumper stickers, radio and TV spots, mail outs and a newspaper supplement with testimonials from the whole Christian spectrum. Members of all denominations made a door to door campaign to distribute New Testaments to every home. They were ready to answer people’s questions and to ask them if they had found it or were interested in hearing more about finding it.

The whole effort was so vague, like a gray fog over the city, whose origin or meaning could not be discerned. The slogan was deliberately vague to get past the resistance of the populace and the media to all things Christian. So vague that we couldn’t clearly articulate what we were trying to get past their resistance.

“I’ve found it!” just didn’t resonate with people like another well-known slogan of the day: “Things go better with Coke!” We knew it was all over the day we saw a bumper sticker that read: “I stepped in it!” and laughed. We had tried so hard to appeal to everyone that there was no message left.

Evangelism that talks about Jesus but doesn’t try to make disciples, what good does it do? Discipleship means discipline. People willingly discipline themselves for a sport or a cause that they believe in. If Christian faith is not worth self-denial and discipline, why should anyone be interested?

If we are so afraid that people will find Christianity offensive that we try to water it down, it has no power to change people’s lives. Perhaps we should consider the success of Buckley’s Mixture cough syrup. W. K. Buckley freely admitted that it tasted awful, but said it worked. They have used advertisments that showed a bottle of Buckley’s Mixture and proclaimed: “You’d have to be really sick to take that stuff!”, followed by the question “Are you sick?” That is effective advertising.

Jesus didn’t try to sugar coat his message. He was gentle to the sinner who repented, yet blunt with the self-righteous. He seemed to look for ways to confront the scribes and Pharisees with the emptiness of their law, it’s lack of power to make a difference in the lives of sinners.

The result of wimpy evangelism is not wimpy Christians, it is make-believe Christians or outright atheists.

About my last post

Earlier today I re-blogged an article entitled 14 things you (probably) don’t know about Christianity, but really should. The article came from the British magazine Premier Christianity and I decided to pass it on, for two reasons.

The first reason was that it illustrated a non-confrontational way of responding to the ideas that people have about Christianity. We are living in a post-Christian era where most people really do not know much at all about the faith we hold dear. Rather than writing them off as stupid we need to learn to talk about our faith in language they will understand.

The second was that the article demonstrates that clear-headed thinking by Christians does not only occur on this side of the pond (in North America).

Are we trusting in the wrong DNA?

Doesn’t it almost seem that the church we belong to is determined by our DNA? Mom and Dad were Anglican, so were Grandma and Grandpa, so were my my great-grandparents, so I become Anglican too. For others it would be Baptist, Catholic, Lutheran, Mennonite and so on. But it is part of our heredity. With that heredity comes a whole package of tradition, myth, custom and ideas of right and wrong behaviour.

As we are growing up that feels comfortable and natural. I know where I fit and we do things right, not like all those other denominations. But sooner or later we begin to wonder about those comfortable assumptions. Questions arise for which my cultural faith has no answers. At this point an alarming number of young people bail out, not just out of their parents denomination, but out of Christianity altogether.

What has gone wrong? I have been part of that exodus from a form of Christianity that seemed empty and meaningless. The problem is that we had mistaken the outward packaging of Christianity for the redemption and the relationship with Jesus Christ that is the essence of Christianity. Maybe those who handed that package down to us believed the packaging was what was most important, but when we looked inside the package we found it was empty.

The apostle Peter wrote: “Ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ,” (1 Peter 1:18-19). Vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers means the meaningless manner of living handed down from your ancestors.

I looked at other belief systems and practices that claimed to be the way to a truly meaningful life. I found them just as disappointing. Eventually that search brought me back to Christianity, not the outward packaging, but a transformed life through the blood of Jesus Christ. It is the blood of Jesus that brings redemption, a meaningful way of living and a new relationship with Jesus, the giver of life. Our natural bloodlines, culture or even an intellectual knowledge of the truth, will not do that for us.

For some of us, our parents did have that real, living faith, but they did not pass it on to us. It is a spiritual heritage, not a family heritage. We can only obtain it from Jesus, by His blood. What believing parents can do for their children it to demonstrate what a living faith looks life, by reading the Bible and praying as a family, by belonging to a church which preaches and practices a living faith, by living out their faith in all areas of life, especially in their relationships with others.

The people around us who scorn and reject Christianity do not do so because they lack intelligence, or because faith was not part of the DNA received from their parents. For many of them it may simply be that they have never seen models of true faith in the people they know. Perhaps if we lift up our eyes we will see fields ripe for the harvest in places where we never expected that to be possible.

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