Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Christians

A faith worth dying for

Many of the Old Testament prophets died for the things they said. They were speaking the truth that God had revealed to them by His Spirit and the leaders of the people could not stand to hear that truth. So they killed the messengers of God thinking that would bring them peace.

The Jewish leaders in Jesus day did the same. Jesus was a threat to their positions and the respect the people had for them, so they killed the messenger. We should not be too harsh in blaming Pilate, he seems to have understood better what Jesus was up to than did the Jewish leaders.

Most of the apostles died as martyrs; people could not accept their message, so they killed the messengers. That has continued through history. The Roman Catholic church probably killed more Christians than pagan empires ever did. After the Reformation the Protestant churches continued the slaughter of Christians who would not accept their compromises.

Worth killing for

The reason for the killing of peaceful Christians has always been that other people saw them as a threat to their authority and position. Not that peace-loving Christians were ever a physical threat. Their offence was that they refused to mix the values of the world with the teachings of Jesus Christ; this was a stinging reproof to those who did. So they have tried to silence and eliminate the messengers.

Worth keeping quiet about

The German pietists thought they had found the solution. They would be outwardly members of the Lutheran church and inwardly born again believers in Jesus Christ. They would attend the Lutheran services, take communion, baptize their babies, get married in the church, then meet privately to share their faith. They called themselves “the quiet in the land.” Some Mennonite groups have also thought this was a good idea. Since they were no longer messengers, they were not in danger of persecution, or even ridicule, for the cause of Christ.

Light and salt

Light is what reveals both truth and error. To be quiet about our faith is to put our candle under a bushel and rob those around us of light.

Salt is what preserves from spoiling. In Old Testament times all sacrifices were salted in order not to offer to God something that was beginning to putrefy. If we feel free to indulge in the unfruitful practices of the world, where is the salt the world needs?

Be always ready

1 Peter 3:15 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.

People wonder about us, form conclusions from our silence that impute the things that we do to factors other than a faith in Jesus Christ. When they ask questions, they often don’t know quite what to ask. Let’s not leave them in confusion. We don’t have to be pushy or difficult, but let’s be willing to talk about our faith, nor our culture or our lifestyle.

Perhaps some day that will put our lives at risk. If so, we are in the company of the prophets, apostles and saints of past generations.

© Bob Goodnough

My home and native land

I am Canadian by birth. I am part of this country and its people; this country and its people are part of me. The history and culture of Canada are an integral part of who I am. I have lived and worked in five of Canada’s ten provinces and visited three more; I am at home anywhere in our land; I speak both official languages.

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Being a citizen by birth is much like being part of a family. We may not always agree, but our roots go deep, our histories have intertwined so we cannot escape the fact that we are family. People from other countries, other cultures, have married into our family and become part of who we are as a family. So it is with our country. We used to have a family doctor who came here from the Democratic Republic of Congo, had received his medical training there. He told me once that he sometimes thought of going back, but his children were Canadian, their roots were here.

I love the land of my birth, my home and native land. I love her people. And yet. . .

By the new birth I am a citizen of another country, the kingdom of God. Specifically, I am a member of one special part of this kingdom, the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite. Not by natural birth, my parents and my wife’s parents were not members of this church. The natural birth does not make anyone a citizen of the kingdom of God.

At the beginning, we had no roots here. They soon grew and twined together with our brothers and sisters so that we cannot imagine being spiritually at home elsewhere. We love our brothers and sisters. Like us, they are sometimes weak, sometimes clumsy, we all make mistakes but we are family.

We are citizens of two kingdoms, but our first allegiance is to the kingdom of God. Our Canadian citizenship is only for this life, our heavenly citizenship is for eternity. As the second century writer of the Epistle to Diognetus so eloquently described the life of Christians:

For Christians are not distinguished from the rest of mankind either in locality or in speech or in customs. For they dwell not somewhere in cities of their own, neither do they use some different language, nor practise an extraordinary kind of life.. . They dwell in their own countries, but only as sojourners; they bear their share in all things as citizens, and they endure all hardships as strangers. Every foreign country is a fatherland to them, and every fatherland is foreign. . . Their existence is on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven.

There is an election in Canada on Monday. I will not vote. However, I will continue to pray for the members of our government, for they are ministers of God for the matters of this life. I will pray that God will bless them with wisdom and vision to exercise their ministry for the good of all the people of our land, so we can live in peace, order and safety. Above all, that we may be at liberty to worship and serve God according to His will.

What does the future hold?

“We are now at a point where we must educate our children in what no one knew yesterday and prepare our schools for what no one knows yet.” – Margaret Mead

In a world that is changing in bewildering ways and at bewildering speed, a statement like the above appears at first glance to make good sense. But if we stop and think about it for more than five seconds, it begins to sound pretty scary. We need to get ready for something we don’t know anything about. How do we do that?

I suggest that those of us who believe in Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today and forever, need to be firmly rooted and grounded in our faith. That is not the thinking of people like Margaret Mead, they tell us that Jesus Christ and the values we learn from Him cannot help us in the modern world.

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I beg to differ. Eternal values will be valid for all eternity. We need to cling to them in order to keep our head above water in turbulent times.

The last 2,000 years have often been turbulent times. A study of history brings before us the shipwrecks of those who thought the safe way was to adapt their faith to the predominant thinking of their time. There are also the accounts of those who clung to Jesus, no matter what the cost, and testified of the joy of salvation even in persecution.

How do we prepare for the future? Whether we like it or not, the future is in God’s hands. He knows where the world is going, and how long it is going to last. The only safe way to live is in submission to God’s plan for our lives. Some people don’t like the word submission, I don’t want to risk the consequences of the alternative.

“I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty“ (Revelation 1:8). “I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20).

The Christian nation heresy

Time was that most Canadians attended a church where Christian values were taught and claimed to govern their lives by those teachings. In such circumstances governments found it expedient to pay lip service at least to Christian principles and to legislate accordingly.

Times have changed. A survey several years ago found that 16% of Canadians attend church each week and only 5% of us read the Bible daily. 55% have never in their life opened a Bible and read a few words in it.

The few of us who still read, believe and endeavour to live by the Bible are left in disarray by this shifting of the ground beneath our feet. It’s all the fault of the government, we say. This was once a Christian country, but it doesn’t feel like it anymore.

We are avoiding reality when we say such things. The government did not create the situation we find ourselves in and has no ability to remedy it. Political activism is a snare for the Christian, a means of diverting us into fruitless activity while the world around us pursues its downward course.

Another danger for Christians is to draw apart from the troubles of the world and concentrate on being ready for our Lord’s return. But this is just the self-centred attitude that has allowed the society we live in to drift into its present situation.

For as Christians we have a responsibility to our fellow citizens. Jesus said we are the salt of the earth. He was talking of salt as a preservative, the only means available in those times to prevent food from spoiling. What good is salt if it is deposited in little piles that have no contact with what it is supposed to preserve?

He also said we are the light of the world and warned us not to hide our light under a bushel. If we cannot talk about our Christian faith in terms that are readily understood by others, isn’t that hiding our light under a bushel? Worse still is to think we don’t have to say anything, people will observe us and be drawn to enquire about our faith. Really? When we don’t even know how to articulate that faith?

When the people of God were taken captives to Babylon, the Holy Spirit inspired Jeremiah to tell them to “seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the LORD for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.”

Paul told Timothy: “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”

Can we say that we love God with all our being and our neighbour as ourselves if we decide the best thing for us to do is live in peace and quietness and let the world go on its merry way to destruction?

That wasn’t the way the early Christians thought, nor the Anabaptist martyrs whom we call our forefathers. There is no such thing as a Christian country. Never has been. There used to be Christian people. Do they still exist today? Do our neighbours know anything about them?

The dinosaur question

In 1991 an archaeological research team discovered dinosaur bones in the Frenchman River Valley of south-western Saskatchewan. Over 20 years of painstaking work by hand uncovered the almost complete fossilized skeleton of a T. Rex and then removed it from the rock in which it was embedded.

Named Scotty, the massive reconstructed skeleton is now on display at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in Regina. Scotty is the largest T. Rex ever discovered, 50 cm longer and 400 kg heavier than the Chicago Field Museum’s Sue.

The R.S.M., formerly known as the Saskatchewan Natural History Museum, displays 3-dimensional scenes of Saskatchewan flora and fauna, both of the present day and of the past. This includes lifelike re-creations of smaller land-dwelling and water-dwelling dinosaurs.

I know there are Christians who recoil at the subject of dinosaurs. “The Bible never mentions dinosaurs, so I don’t see why I should believe they ever existed,” some say “It’s just a story made up by evolutionists.”

People who say, or think, things like that aren’t as common as they once used to be. But if you are one of those who still has qualms about the dinosaur question, here are a few points that might calm your fears.

  1. It’s hard to argue with a pretty much complete fossil skeleton. Fossils are being found all over the world. Those as complete as Scotty are uncommon, and it’s possible that sometimes bones have been assembled incorrectly, but that isn’t enough to explain away all the evidence that has been discovered.
  2. Richard Owen coined the word dinosaur in 1842 after bones were discovered in various places that did not match any creature now living. It combines two Greek words and means “terrible lizard.”
  3. The Bible speaks of dragons, sea monsters, behemoth and leviathan. These could well be descriptions of the beasts we now label dinosaurs. Bible commentators in the past thought the description of behemoth in Job 405-24 sounded like a hippopotamus. They were doing their best to match it to some animal that they knew existed. Does it really match? I don’t think so. The hippopotamus is a fearsome beast, but this sounds like something even bigger and more fearsome. “He moveth his tail like a cedar,” cannot describe a hippopotamus which has a tail like a rope that is less than 20 inches long. Leviathan also sound like something bigger and more fearsome than a crocodile. 
  4. Many folktales about dragons are too fantastic to be believable. Yet the great number of such stories, and the fact that the dragons they describe are a lot like dinosaurs, leads one to believe there is some underlying truth. It’s not necessary to believe every detail of these stories, but neither is it wise to dismiss them altogether.   
  5. The book of Job appears to have originated as oral history some centuries before the development of a phonetic writing system. Behemoth, leviathan and the unicorn (not a cute cousin of the horse, more likely something like a humongous rhinoceros), likely describe animals which later became extinct and whose bones we have been digging up over the past two centuries. 

Approaches to the Bible

All those who call themselves Christians say that their faith is built solely on Jesus Christ the solid rock and that they depend on the Bible for spiritual truth and for instruction in living a life that is pleasing to their Saviour. But how is it really?

Some folks base their faith on a set of proof texts garnered from here and there in the Bible and are endeavouring to build a Christian life using this material. They may be very earnest in expounding on these texts, but often don’t know the context in which these verses are found. In reality, they did not discover these proof texts for themselves, but learned them from various books, preachers and teachers. They were probably convinced of a particular interpretation of Scripture, then given verses to back up a view they had already been persuaded to accept as truth. This is not Bible-based faith and the assurance derived from the certainty of knowing the proof texts is often a false assurance. Such a second-hand belief system does not equip people to counter the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil.

Others begin with a desire to learn from the Bible, but as time goes on they begin to trust their imagination to interpret what the Bible is saying. This is often because they find a plain interpretation of the Bible too constraining. Perhaps they had a remarkable experience or two that was genuinely from the Lord, and begin to think that God has a special role for them in life. They search for confirmation of this in the Bible and begin to interpret all the events of their life in the light of what they imagine to be their special calling. By this time they are no longer searching the Bible to find God’s truth, but searching it to validate their remarkable new insights. They still claim to have a Bible-based faith, but are far from the heaven bound narrow way.

There are a few who hold up their thoughts, desires, imaginations and experiences to the light of the Bible and allow God to prove what is genuine and what is useless baggage. They will be blessed in reading the Bible. They will find direction for their lives, strength for the daily battles with the forces of evil, and assurance that God is leading. There is peace and rest when they have nothing to prove, but are willing to let God prove their inner thoughts and desires through His Word and the direction of the Holy Spirit.

How can killing make the world a better place?

It’s not that long since I posted the following item. It seems fitting to repeat it after the killings in New Zealand. The target this time was not Jews but the Muslim community. The shooter made no profession of Christianity, but events like this should cause us examine ourselves as Christians. How can we make it known to our Muslim neighbours that we are followers of Jesus Christ who told us to love our neighbours as ourselves?

It’s in all the news media  today. A man in Pittsburgh believed the world would be a better place without Jews and this morning he did his part to make it happen.

This seems to be a time-honoured tradition; if you can’t handle your own problems then blame them on somebody else and try to eliminate that somebody else.

Yeah, I said time-honoured; that doesn’t mean I think it’s honorable. It’s a sign of a troubled mind and it’s been going on far too long. The world cannot be made better by hatred and killing. No individual’s life can be made better by acting out his hatred and killing people.

There is an example in the Old Testament that doesn’t involve hatred, just the muddled idea that killing can make things better. Benjamin was a captive in Egypt; Reuben told his father “Trust me. I’ll bring back my little brother. And if I don’t, you can kill my two sons.”

I’m a grandfather, will someone please explain to me how I could be comforted for the loss of a child by the loss of two of my grandchildren? Does that make sense to anyone? Jacob didn’t seem to be impressed either.

Hatred and killing don’t make things better, they only lead to more hatred and killing. Jesus said “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” He didn’t invent that teaching, He was quoting from the Law given to Moses; the original is found in Leviticus 19:18.

There are two things we can do as individuals to make this world a better place. First is to face our own problems, take responsibility for them and take charge of our own life. The second is to love others, not only in our thoughts but in our actions.

My sympathy to all those who have been hurt by the events in New Zealand.

Antichrist

The word antichrist appears in only four verses of the Bible, three in 1 John and one in 2 John. In the Authorized Version it is never preceded by the definite article.  There are mentions of “the spirit of antichrist”, “an antichrist” and “many antichrists”.

Rather than being an individual who appears at the end of time, the Bible tells us that antichrist has been present since the apostolic age. It is a spirit which promotes belief systems that counterfeit true Christian doctrine, offers counterfeit salvation or a counterfeit path to knowing God.

The beast rising from the sea in Revelation 13 is a picture of how the spirit of antichrist works. The beast is a counterfeit of Christ with crowns, titles, power, death and resurrection and demand to be worshipped.

John, who wrote to warn Christians against the blasphemous powers wielded by the empire, identifies the beast as Rome (“the city on seven hills,” c.f. Rev. 17:9). But his images reveal that the power of antichrist residing in the beast is far bigger than Rome. It lives on beyond the first century, to the present and the eschaton, wherever the nature and message of Christ are refuted in the service of fraudulent demands for absolute loyalty.
– Dictionary of Bible Imagery

Simplicity of the church

It was a fine summer day in 1627 and I was strolling through Plimoth Plantation when deacon Samuel Fuller fell in step beside me. “The church officials back in England are saying that we have no business calling ourselves a church here in Massachusetts, because we have no minister,” he said.  “But a church is made up of Christian people. They don’t even have a church. Who made them ministers and bishops?”

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Well, OK, the year was actually 1990, the man beside me was an actor playing the role of Samuel Fuller and we were in a recreated Plimoth Plantation, meticulously designed to look and feel like 1627. But I have no doubt that the real Samuel Fuller actually spoke those words.

Later that day, at a family reunion supper, I asked a young lady (a distant cousin) who also worked at Plimoth Plantation, if the modern Samuel Fuller really believed what he was saying. She hesitated a moment, then said “I think he has it in his head, but not in his heart.”

There you have the essential requirement of a church: Christian people. Not people motivated by tradition, emotion, social connection or intellect, but genuine, from the heart, born again Christians.

How can we do that? The short answer is we can’t. Jesus said He would build His church, The real question is how can we discern if a church is being built by Jesus or by people?

The New Testament speaks of believers meeting for worship, but there are no instructions as to what the meeting place should look like. Being as I live in Saskatchewan and it is bitterly cold outside right now, I am thankful for a warm building to use when we meet to worship. But I am wary when buildings become large and elaborate and are regarded with more reverence than the meeting going on inside.

The New Testament speaks of preaching, but never hints that the preacher needs special training, or that he should be paid a salary. The word minister means servant, yet a minister also has a responsibility to watch over the spiritual welfare of his congregation. But if he begins to think of himself as a lord over the congregation, he has crossed a line according to 1 Peter 5:3.

The New Testament speaks of singing, but never hints at the use of musical instruments. Entertainment is not an enhancement of worship, but rather a distraction.

The New Testament also shows that a close relationship between churches or congregations in different places and different countries. One of the warning signs that a congregation is not being built by Jesus is when it is totally independent of any other group.

I have known people who do church at home or who belong to small independent congregations. They appear to have good convictions but they are alone in their faith, there is no one else with whom they can have fellowship. And I have seen what happens to children from these tiny, self-isolated groups. They rebel. Some forsake Christian faith altogether, some find a home in a much more liberal church. They all blame their parents for their strict, legalistic attitude.

But they are missing something. A church does not become more spiritual, closer to Jesus, by ignoring most of His teachings, saying they were for a different era. The real problem was that their parents trusted no one but themselves. That is perhaps the greatest deception of all, to believe that I, and only I, am walking with the Lord.

This brings us back to the beginning. The Church built by Jesus Christ is a church made up of genuine, from the heart, born again Christians. A church where “Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11).  Part of being a genuine Christian is the grace to see Christ in others, in spite of our outward differences.

Who is our master?

And he said also unto his disciples, There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods. And he called him, and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward. Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed. I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses. So he called every one of his lord’s debtors unto him, and said unto the first, How much owest thou unto my lord? And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty. Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, An hundred measures of wheat. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and write fourscore. (Luke 16:1-7)

And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light. And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations. He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much. If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man’s, who shall give you that which is your own? (Verses 7-12)

No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. (Verse 13)

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The parable of the unjust steward seems to mystify many of Christians. The conduct of this steward, in asking people to pay less than the original contract, seems contrary to our notion of good stewardship.

Our problem is a misunderstanding of the role of a steward. The owner of a large domain had many responsibilities and did not want to be troubled with arranging for the farming of his agricultural land. So he engaged a steward to handle that, on the proviso that the steward would provide the lord with his needs from the land. The steward would be remunerated by adding enough to each tenant’s payment to cover the needs of his own household. On a large estate, the second largest house was usually be the home of the steward.

In this parable, it appears that in some cases the steward was taking as much for himself as for his lord. The waste that he was accused of was in placing a burden on the tenant farmers that they could hardly bear. He is called unjust, not because of unfaithfulness to Mammon, but because of his close alliance with mammon, which itself is unrighteous (verses 9 and 11). As eventually happens to all who trust in Mammon, he finds himself betrayed.

The light now dawns and he turns around. Before, he had oppressed others in demanding payment to the maximum of their ability. Now, he administers grace to his master’s debtors in releasing them from a portion of their debts. It is within his power while still a steward to do this and it appears that he erased the portion that he was taking for himself. He now sees that in the long term it will be in his best interest to do what he can to lighten the burdens of others.

Verse 8 says “And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely”. Jesus instructs us to take the conduct of the steward for our example. This interpretation may be problematic for Christians who see stewardship as being principally concerned with the gain and care of material wealth. We say that it is God’s will that we exercise good stewardship of our material possessions in order to be able to share with others and support mission programs. Is it possible that at times we are motivated more by the portion that we want for themselves than by the portion that we plan to give to God?

What place do the needs of others have in the minds of Christians who are  trying to be good stewards? How much room is there for compassion in this type of stewardship? It is convenient to decide that the poor are poor because they don’t want to work and don’t take care of what they do have. We make a distinction between the “deserving” poor and those not so “deserving”, which provides a neat way out when faced with those whose needs are very real, though self-inflicted.

The conclusion of this parable is found in verse 13: “No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” This is integral to the explanation of the parable of the unjust steward. To separate it is to find the parable confusing and perhaps meaningless.

It seems to me that in order to be “good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Peter 2:10) we need to consider the needs of others, not only in material things but also in the use of our time and talents.

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