Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

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An abiding church

As soon as we were married my wife and I set out on a search to find people who still believed and lived the faith once delivered to the saints. I firmly believed we would find that faith among the spiritual descendants of the Anabaptist & Mennonites of long ago. Time and again our search ran aground, and we would sadly move on to search somewhere else.

We met many fine, warm hearted people along the way, but their understanding of the faith always fell short. Some would say that wearing the style of clothes prescribed by their church was evidence of being born again. Others thought that the mere fact of wanting to be a Christian was evidence you were one. Some said that it was better to follow Billy Graham than Menno Simons. I mean no disrespect of Billy Graham, but I fear such a statement indicates a lack of a spiritual foundation and they would just as readily follow the next big name that came along, whatever kind of gospel he would preach.

Then there was this group that claimed to be the true church. I balked at that idea, which I took to be evidence of pride. But after encountering so many “wrong” churches, Mennonites and a variety of others, I began to reconsider. Doesn’t every church claim to be more on the right path than any other? Otherwise there would be no reason for them to continue to exist.

Finally I knelt in prayer and asked for help to understand what the Bible teaches about the church. I found there is nothing in the Bible that gives room to think that competing bodies, differing in doctrine, can all be churches of God. Neither did there seem to be any way to fit the idea of an invisible church into the New Testament teachings about the church.

Then I was led to Menno Simons list of signs by which the true church of God may be known:

Scriptural use of the sacramental signs – by that time I had seen the confusion in so many other churches and knew of only one that carefully proved those who requested baptism to see that they had indeed been born again and the congregation could testify of a Spirit-led life. This same church was the only one I knew of that would not have a communion service unless the congregation was fully united and any sins repented of and quarrels reconciled.

Unfeigned brotherly love – again we had seen many churches that tried to practice brotherly love, but didn’t really trust each other. Only one church seemed to have genuine brotherly love.

Unadulterated, pure doctrine – check

Obedience to the Word – check

Dietrich Philip added another sign – ministers that are faithful in word and deed. I had already noted that in this church there was the power to deal with ministers who crossed a line in doctrine or conduct without disturbing the unity of a congregation.

Thus, on February 11, 1979, Chris and I were baptized and became members of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, the same church that we had earlier vowed to avoid.

One last thought: the doctrine of the true church does not mean that we think no one else outside the church can be saved. Here I’ll quote Menno Simons again:

“Reader, understand what I mean ; we do not dispute about whether or not there are some of the chosen ones of God, in the before mentioned churches ; for this we, at all times, humbly leave to the just and gracious judgment of God, hoping there may be many thousands who are unknown to us, as they were to holy Elias ; but our dispute is in regard to what kind of Spirit, doctrine, sacraments, ordinances and life Christ has commanded us to gather unto him an abiding church, and how we should maintain it in his ways.”

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Collateral damage – or the real target?

I have been musing about the Islamist terrorist attacks in Europe and North America; who are these attacks really targeting? Is it the terrorists goal to make Western nations more favourable to the aspirations of Muslim people and nations around the world?  I think we can give them credit for being smart enough to know that isn’t going to work.

Our governments have shown admirable restraint in the comments they make about the supposed religious motivation of these attacks. The same cannot be said about all the citizens. There is a portion of the populace who have voiced suspicions about all the Muslims now present in our nations. Often it goes beyond mere suspicion to statements that no one if the Muslim faith can be trusted. Some of these statements are coming from people who self-identify as Christian.

Is this perhaps the real goal of the terrorists? To make Muslims in our countries feel marginalized, to fear that they will never be accepted and trusted? That makes fertile ground for Islamist propaganda among Muslim young people.

How are Muslims going to know that love permeates the foundation of the Christian faith,if supposedly Christian people are actively promoting distrust of Muslims?

Earlier this year, after a shooting at a mosque in Québec City, Philippe Couillard, Prime Minister of Québec told people that words matter and that we should endeavour to get our facts straight before we speak and write. He also spoke of the need to talk to each other and suggested: “The next time you walk past someone of the Muslim community, why don’t you stop and say hello?” That’s good advice.

Nabeel Qureshi, author of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus and Answering Jihad gives the same kind of advice. He advises Christians to reach out to the Muslims around us and develop friendships, but not to expect overnight conversions. It will probably take years for a Muslim to make the step of trusting Jesus rather that Allah. But many have done that, including Qureshi himself. First we have to convince them that Christians are not their enemies, even if we do not worship Allah.

Manchester and the Crusaders

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Islamic extremists are telling Muslim youths that it is their religious duty to strike back at Christian nations because they are descendants of the Crusaders who wreaked havoc upon Muslims many years ago. There are serious flaws in this simplistic approach:

1. The Crusades were efforts by the popes to expand their political influence. Religion was only a camouflage for their real purpose.

2. Crusades were directed against people who also called themselves Christians but were not Roman Catholics: The destruction of Constantinople, the seat of the Greek Orthodox faith; the Albigensian Crusade that soaked the south of France in blood.

3. The Crusades were manifestly contrary to the true faith in Jesus Christ, a fact recognized even by most Roman Catholics of our day.

4. It is absurd to label the nations of Europe and North America as Christian nations when the majority of people have no connection to a church.

5. The Crusades probably did as much harm to Christianity as they did to Islam. Besides the slaughter of innocent non Roman Catholic Christians, they have left a lasting stain on many people’s perception of Christianity.

In the same way, Islamic extremists of our day are doing more harm to their fellow Muslims than they are to Christians.

Leaving aside all thoughts about the nature of the Islamic faith, I believe most Muslim people want to live in peace. They don’t really want to be looked upon as accomplices or sympathizers of the extremists. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Muslim parents and Imams everywhere could find a way to teach their children that acts of brutality and the slaughter of innocent children are doing more harm to other Muslims than to anyone else?

Christ in you, the hope of glory

Jesus spoke the following words while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. The words were shocking, no doubt deliberately so.

Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever. (John 6:53-58)

Many who had been following Jesus turned away. These mysterious words didn’t sound at all like the Messiah they had been taught to expect. When Jesus asked the twelve if they would also turn away, Peter responded “Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.”

The apostle Paul explained the mystery like this in Colossians 1:26-27: “Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: to whom God would make known what [is] the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

The key to understanding Messiah’s kingdom is that the citizens of this kingdom are people who have Jesus Christ inside of them, ruling their lives from the heart. Every time a person is born again, the Lord Jesus Christ is incarnate within them.

This was Jesus’ promise to His disciples in John 14:16-18: “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.” He repeats the promise in His prayer in the 17th chapter of John: “I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.”

Paul explains the promise a little further in Romans chapter eight: “ But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.” (Verses 9-11).

The promise is that the believer will have both the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ dwelling in him or her. “He (the Holy Spirit) shall be in you / I (Jesus) will come to you.” “If so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you / And if Christ be in you.”

I believe this is what the apostle John is speaking of in the following verses: “Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: and every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world” (1 John 4:2-3). I don’t think he is saying that it is enough to believe that Jesus once walked this earth in human flesh. We must know that He is here right now, in my flesh and your flesh, if we are Christians.

“Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11). Christ is in every Christian, no matter our ethnic background, social or economic status. This is the identifying mark of the true Christian, recognizable only by other Christians.

Book Review: Dictionary of Biblical Imagery

At the ripe old age of 17 I believed I had outgrown any need for the Bible. It was almost ten years before I opened the book again. I was sceptical, but I thought there might be something worthwhile somewhere in this collection of writings. I guess I was looking for answers, but didn’t really expect to find any.

After a few months the connectedness of this “collection of writings” became harder and harder to ignore. There was no way I could pick and choose what I wanted to believe of its content, every part of it was connected to all the other parts. This was one book and I ether had to reject the whole thing, or believe the whole thing. This conviction was a major step leading up to my conversion a year later.

It is difficult for me to understand why so many Christians don’t seem to have caught on to this fact. Perhaps it is because they read here and there without ever reading through a whole book of the Bible. Perhaps it is because of outside helps that purport to explain the Bible. Reference books can be helpful, but one should never put too much confidence in them.

The Bible explains itself. There are symbols that have the same meaning whenever they appear. The more you read, the clearer the meaning becomes. There are threads of meaning that can be followed through the whole Bible. Many Bible stories are impressive and meaningful to a small child, yet there are depths to those stories that can never be fully plumbed in a lifetime of Bible study.

One of the workshop leaders at the Inscribe Christian Writers Conference recommended the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery. The editors of this book attempt to trace the continuity of images and themes throughout the Bible. I like the approach of this book, yet I’m not going to say that they got everything just right – none of us ever do. This is a good book for the serious student of the Bible, and for those who have never caught on to the idea of how the themes and images of the book are woven together so tightly from beginning to end.

This is a big book, over 1,000 pages. Beware of shipping costs if you try to buy it online. I ordered mine from Kennedy’s Parable in Saskatoon. The price was higher than buying it online, but there were no shipping costs.

Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, General Editors: Leland Ryken, James C Wilhoit, Tremper Longman III.  © 1998 InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

The community of believers

The New Testament depicts the church as a building which has Christ as its foundation, and as a body of which Christ is the head. In both of these illustrations it is evident that the church is much more than the sum of its members. The reputation of the church should be based upon the reputation of Jesus Christ, not on the reputation of its members or its pastors.

If the church is a building (a temple), then all the elements of the building must be linked to the foundation and joined together in such a way that each part helps to hold the building up. A ramshackle building with pieces falling off and holes in the walls would not give one much confidence that this is the church of the Living God.

If we view the church as a body, then to see this body with arms and legs flailing about because of a dysfunction in the nervous system that does not allow them to receive coordinated direction from the head would give a similarly dismaying picture.

Yet isn’t this pretty much the picture that is given by the so-called “invisible church”? It seems that every joint and sinew has a different doctrine of how the body should function. The result is frenetic activity, but very little forward movement. The world looks on bemusedly and wonders where God is in all this confusion, or if there even is a God.

Yet God is at work. Many good and wonderful things are happening through men and women who are earnestly serving God and their fellow men. May God be praised for His goodness and mercy.

There are others who have become sidetracked by the love of acclaim and financial rewards. Sometimes there are spectacular flame-outs that bring the whole Christian enterprise into disrepute. There are others zealously promoting man-made doctrines that cause confusion, discord and ridicule.

The New Testament pattern is of a close-knit community of true believers, where each one seeks the well-being of the others and none are motivated by a desire for praise or gain. The spiritual leaders are servants, not lords. Decisions are made by unitedly seeking direction from the Holy Spirit.

There are times when such a body may seem to have almost fallen asleep as it considers the circumstances before it and examines all angles and possibilities. When direction comes, the body can move quickly and God will bless and uphold the steps that are taken.

“Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19-22).

Perfection and humilty and servanthood and leadership

Is it possible to be perfect, humble, a servant and a leader all at the same time? According to the New Testament, God expects us to be all of the above. If that seems impossible, perhaps we have gotten hung up on a misunderstanding of the meaning of one or more of those words.

Many well-meaning Christians will insist that the only perfection that we can ever attain to is to be found in Jesus Christ and then His perfection becomes ours. I was going to say that this is a cop-out, but that would be too harsh. It is just a misunderstanding of what the Bible means when it calls us to be perfect. The basic meaning of the word is complete when referring to things, and fully grown or mature when speaking of people. It does not mean to be utterly without flaw or blemish. In the AV, the Greek word teleios is translated 17 times as perfect, once as men (“in understanding be men” 1 Corinthians 14:20) and once as of full age (“But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” Hebrews 5:14).

Thus, what the Bible is asking of us is maturity. A person who is mature does not think that he knows everything, that he never makes a mistake, never misunderstands. Someone who is mature is quick to own up to his mistakes, apologize where he has caused offence, and to fix what he has broken.

Looked at in this way, perfection begins to sound a lot like humility, doesn’t it? They really are like the two sides of the same coin. A person who is perfect and humble can be entrusted with responsibility. He will do his best to fulfil that responsibility, without running over anyone who might get in the way. In other words, he see himself as a servant. He is not simply trying to please himself, but whoever has entrusted him with this responsibility. Ultimately, he sees himself as a servant of God and of his fellow men.

Such a person is a leader. He does not see himself as lord over those whom he is leading, but rather as their servant. He goes ahead to show the way, to avoid dangers, to help all to reach their goal. We are all called to be leaders in some way, in the home, at work, even at play.

We will not always do everything just right, or say everything just right. We will be misunderstood; we will be criticized, sometimes justly, sometimes unjustly. Either way, if we respond to the criticism with kindness and respect we will grow and become more useful. This is the way of perfection. If we respond with impatience and anger, we will shrivel and become less useful.

The weakness of the law – any kind of law

The confederate flag is disappearing all over the US South. That should make black folks feel more like they belong, shouldn’t it?

At least it’s a symbolic act, one that shows that racism should not have any part in a society that calls itself civilized. Yet I fear that Mr. Roof is symbolic of a deep-rooted attitude in many people that will not so easily be changed. The laws have already been changed and black people should have all the rights and privileges of other citizens, yet  —

He who is convinced against his will
Remains of the same opinion still.

A long time ago, the apostle Paul wrote: “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:3). He is even more emphatic in Galatians 2: 20-21 — “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.”

The law, and this applies to any kind of law, cannot make people good. Laws, teaching, indoctrination, law enforcement, all have their place in maintaining order in society. But it is only the transforming power of the blood of Jesus Christ that can erase jealousy, hated, bitterness and replace them by love.

The very idea of racism is contrary to Christian faith — there is only one human race, we are all descended from a common ancestor, we are all made in the image of God. The idea of there being different races of mankind originates with Charles Darwin, who taught that the white race was the most-favoured race and would prevail and eventually replace the other races in the struggle for survival. Not many people like to remember that, but he did teach it quite explicitly.

God makes no distinctions between people, why should we? Christians should be a model of how all the world should live. Can we follow the model of the world in making a difference between people without compromising the faith?

Girl on a pilgrimage

I worked in Delisle today, sitting in a cubbyhole office in the vet clinic, hunched over a computer trying to get financial records up to date. About One o’clock my stomach finally got through to me that it was time to eat and I walked over to the nearby snack shack. The waitress soon brought me my usual meal of poutine, cookies and Diet Pepsi and I sat down to eat.

A young lady came in, ordered an ice cream cone, ate it while visiting with an older lady at another table. Then she decided she needed a little more to eat. I had overheard her talk about biking across Canada so I started asking questions. She sat down at my table and started answering.

She started out from Vancouver 15 days ago and is trying to average 120 km a day on her bicycle. Her destination is St. Johns, Newfoundland and she hopes to be there in another 2 months. The mountains were slower travelling, her best day so far was 140 km. She is travelling alone, sometimes camping for night, sometimes staying with friends. Tonight she plans to be with a friend of a friend in Saskatoon. At the end of her journey she will fly back to Vancouver and look for work in one of the smaller cities in the mountains of B.C. She is a nurse. I admire her courage and spirit of adventure and I believe she will make it.

Back in 1967, Canada’s centennial year, I was living in a small town beside the Trans-Canada Highway in Southern Saskatchewan. Many people making the cross Canada trek passed through our town that summer, some on foot, some on bicycle, some on roller skates, some on horseback.

A few years later Terry Fox attempted the trip from east to west running on an artificial leg. He had lost his leg from cancer and was raising money for cancer research. There is a monument to Terry Fox beside the highway at Thunder Bay where he had to abandon the trek because his cancer had returned. Rick Hanson made the trip by wheelchair a year or two later, raising money for spinal cord research. Both of these were being accompanied by a support crew of family or friends.

I had to wonder about an attractive young lady making this trip on her own. But don’t we all make our pilgrimage through this life on our own? As the song Jesus Walked This Lonesome Valley says “Nobody else can walk it for you, You’ve got to walk it by yourself.”

This young lady knows of others who are making the same trip this summer, she says there is one couple not far behind her. We have company on our Christian pilgrimage through life, they offer encouragement and help when they can, but we’ve got to make this pilgrimage on our own determination. There are people along the way who will offer us shelter, nourishment and a chance to recharge our inner batteries, but then we have to keep on going. We don’t know when our journey will end, but every morning we are one day closer to our destination and it will be worth all the troubles of the way.

Grace for daily life

We have gone hurtling through the sky in a series of hollow metal tubes and are now safely home. We left a week ago today, flying by WestJet from Saskatoon to Winnipeg and Winnipeg to Montréal and came home two days ago by the same airline, flying Montréal to Toronto and Toronto to Saskatoon. We were seven or eight miles up in the sky and saw nothing but fluffy white stuff below us, except over Saskatchewan. Both going and returning we could see the ground beneath us as we flew over our home province. It was nice to watch the ground below, but worrisome, too. Clouds would be welcome here; we need rain. There have been a couple of little showers since we got home, but serious rain is needed. Québec, on the other hand, is a lush, dark, green. We had forgotten how beautiful it is.

This trip, the planning and the trip itself, was a whole series of grace moments. I was invited to come to a meeting in Quebec of the Publication Board of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite and the French Editing and Proofreading Committee, of which I am a member. It had been many years since we had visited Quebec and I was enthused, but I wanted my wife to come, too. She was unwilling at first, fearing it would be too tiring (she is coping with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia). After a few days, Chris said she would come.

Then it was announced that there would be revival meetings in our congregation during the days we planned to be gone. The day before we left, it was announced that one of the ministers who planned to come to our congregation couldn’t make it and the meetings were postponed until further notice.

So we left, feeling the Lord was blessing our trip already. The meeting on Friday was a pleasant surprise, we found the Publication Board to be more enthusiastic about our work than we had expected. They are pushing for more books to be translated and prepared for publication. Perhaps pushing is too strong a word, we did not feel that they were being pushy, but they certainly weren’t wanting to apply the brakes. They see the need and said there was money available for more publications.

Then the visiting began. We had no definite plans before leaving home, but everything fell into place once we were there. There are congregations in Montréal and Roxton Falls. We last visited Roxton Falls 10 years ago and hadn’t been in Montreal for 18 years. We lived in Québec for five years and many of the members are old friends. Others we knew only by name. I had never met two of the members of our committee. Their voices were familiar from conference calls, and I had formed pictures of them in my mind. They didn’t look anything like I had imagined.

I considered it a special grace that this was the weekend when the Montreal congregation had an evening service and that we received an invitation to ride along with one of the Roxton Falls ministers and his family to that service. Thus we were in church at Roxton Falls in the morning and in Montréal in the evening and got to meet practically all the members. One couple is in the process of moving from Montréal to Roxton Falls and we missed seeing them.

Chris enjoyed the trip as much as I did and was no more tired than I was when we got home. It was altogether a blessed time, possibly more of a revival than if we had stayed home and the planned revivals had happened.

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