Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

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The body of Christ

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Let me begin with a confession: I am absent-minded. Worse yet, I often read or do a Cryptogram while eating. That has led to many a spilled glass of water. My mouth and throat tell my brain that I am thirsty, my brain tells my arm and hand to reach out, pick up the glass of water and bring it to my mouth. But if my eyes are focussed on something else, my hand reaches to where my brain thinks the glass should be, and – bump! Just like a little child.

I have found one solution to that; I replaced our tall water glasses with wide, stubby ones with thick bottoms. I would have to bump one of those rather aggressively to spill the water. Of course, the real answer is to engage my eyes in the process. I’m still working on that, old habits don’t change quickly.

As a rule, I do a good job of coordinating hand and eye. Last Thursday I bought a foot long sub in a nearby town, then unwrapped and ate it on the way home. The car didn’t wander and I wasn’t wearing any of the sub when I got home.

The New Testament describes the church as a body, with Christ as the head and individual members as parts of the body. All are connected to the head and receive instructions from it. Each one is also connected to the others, so that the body is able to function to edify itself – to eat and drink and do all the other things that are needed for the life and growth of the body.

The most complete description of this is in the 12th chapter of 1 Corinthians. The apostle Paul tells us that no member can say he has no need of the others and that when one member is injured the whole body feels the pain.

A body does no consist of scattered body parts, each one alive and connected to the head, but having no connection to each other. We need to be knit together (Colossians 2:19) into one coordinated body.

Many things we do are almost automatic, like walking. I do not make a conscious decision for every step I take. However, if I ignore the help of my eyes and ears I might step into a hole in the sidewalk, walk into a parking metre or into the path of an oncoming vehicle. In order to avoid such mishaps, each part of the body needs the help of the other parts, plus the guidance of the Head.

And, since I am clumsy at times, spilling the water from my glass over things that should not get wet, I should not expect other members of the body to do things just right. If we blame each other every time a little water is spilled, the body soon becomes crippled, unable to function as it should. The thing to do is mop up the water, put things back in order and get on with the meal, or whatever it was that we were doing.

That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. 1 Corinthians 12:25

Two way communication

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God has spoken once, His words are written in the holy book and it is the whole duty of man to obey all that is taught in the holy book. Religious leaders help to understand parts of the holy book that may not be clear, but God does not speak to people today.

The religion which believes that is called Islam. There are more than a billion devout followers of this religion.

Christianity also teaches that God has spoken in the past and His words are collected in a holy book called the Bible. But Christianity teaches something more than that: God speaks to people today by His Holy Spirit and by His church. There is full agreement in what God says by these three means.

If there is discord in what we are hearing, we need to search for the problem. Perhaps we have been taught an interpretation of parts of the Bible and the Holy Spirit is saying something that does not fit with what we have been taught. Is the problem with the interpretation we have been taught, or are we listening to a spirit that is not the Holy Spirit?

Perhaps the church to which we belong is teaching something that doesn’t seem to agree with what we read in the Bible or what the Holy Spirit is telling us. We need to be very careful to not become one who believes that he alone has the correct understanding of truth. But when it is clear that the church to which we belong is faithful to neither the Spirit nor the Bible, it is time to search for a church that is.

If we find the Bible difficult to understand, the best answer may not be to look for a Bible that is easier to understand. The best way to increase our understanding of the Bible is to be obedient to the parts that we do understand.

Prayer should not be a one way conversation. God wants us to talk to Him; He also wants to speak to us. If we are hearing nothing, we should search our hearts to see if we have obeyed the instructions He has given us in the past.

To be in full communion with God, we must be obedient to the things He says to us, whether through the Bible, the church or the Holy Spirit. This connection with God will also connect us with other true believers. This is not a man-made unity, which is fragile, but the unity of the family of God, founded on the bedrock of God’s truth.

A time of testing

Now these are the nations which the LORD left, to prove Israel by them, even as many of Israel as had not known all the wars of Canaan; only that the generations of the children of Israel might know, to teach them war, at the least such as before knew nothing thereof; namely, five lords of the Philistines, and all the Canaanites, and the Sidonians, and the Hivites that dwelt in mount Lebanon, from mount Baalhermon unto the entering in of Hamath. And they were to prove Israel by them, to know whether they would hearken unto the commandments of the LORD, which he commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses. (Judges 3:1-4)

This has been the situation of Christians from the time of the apostles till today. We are living in enemy territory, there is spiritual warfare being waged against us every day.

Yet we are comfortable here, we see no danger. The LORD wants to teach us war; is it too late for us to learn? Do we know who our enemies are? Perhaps we are too much aware of those who are corrupt, dishonest, immoral, teachers of deception. Taking all such people out of the way would not solve the ills of this world. They are tools of the enemy and he would find others to do his bidding.

Is it possible that we can live moral and upright lives, praise God with our lips and at the same time the desires of our heart and the thoughts of our mind can be patterned after the world?

Here are a few things the Bible speaks of that may indicate whether we have identified the real enemy. Do we:

  • Suppose that gain is godliness?
  • Respect the rich and despise the poor?
  • Feel discontent with what we have?
  • Speak evil of others?
  • Find it difficult to speak of our relationship with the Saviour?
  • Have compassion for those who are weak in the faith?
  • Speak disrespectfully of people in authority?
  • Look down on people of different language, culture or skin colour?
  • Attribute our salvation to the faith of our parents?
  • Judge a person’s faith by his lifestyle?

Our enemy has no problem with people who are Bible-reading, church-going Christians, as long as they don’t get enthused about it. We can know and live by to all the principles and guidelines of the Christian faith, as long as we are comfortable being passive Christians. As soon as we become active he becomes alarmed and tries to sidetrack us or discourage us.

Where will the puck be?

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“I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been.” Wayne Gretzky

That’s a great quote. One element of Grtzky’s success as a hockey player was his ability to read how the action around him was going to unfold and put himself in position to take control of the puck.

With that in mind, here are my best guesses of how the COVID-19 pandemic will play out in Canada, and where the puck will be a month from now. Remember, I am not a prophet, I claim no divine inspiration for these predictions, and even Gretzky wasn’t always right.

  • This week will see the peak in the number of infections. There will still be some deaths of those already infected in coming weeks, but new infections will hit zero by the end of the month.
  • People will be cautious at first when restrictions are lifted, but the pent-up desire to get out, walk the malls and go to a coffee shop or restaurant with friends will make those places busy again.
  • The rush to reschedule everything that has been postponed: medical appointments, surgeries, meetings and events will keep everybody scrambling to catch up.
  • Farmers will be seeding, construction projects pushing to meet deadlines, factories and distribution centres going full out to keep up with demand. Unemployment will drop to low levels.
  • Globalism has been wounded. We are going to rethink the advisability of having essential goods manufactured so far away, especially medical goods. This will lead to more jobs here in Canada.
  • The tools for teleconferencing already existed but their implementation in the medical and educational fields has expanded at breakneck speed during the pandemic, especially in Quebec and Ontario. These changes will remain and spread. Online medical consultations and online teaching will make specialized services available anywhere.
  • I hope that we will lose our taste for electronic church when this is all over and rejoice in being able to physically gather together to unite in worship.

Electronic church today

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Five weeks ago 2,500 members of an evangelical denomination in France gathered at Mulhouse for five days of prayer and fasting. This was before any alarms had been raised about COVID-19, but it was present. It is estimated that 2,000 of those who gathered caught the virus, then took it back to their home communities all over France.

Around that same time there was a convention of dentists in Vancouver, where 2,500 were gathered and many were infected. Then there was a curling bonspiel in Edmonton for doctors and medical personnel. It was not a big gathering, but half of those who were there went home with the virus and some saw patients before they realized they were infected. More recently there was a snowmobile rally in Northern Saskatchewan where many of the participants were infected with the virus, not while on their snowmobiles but at the dinner that followed.

Someone has estimated that 39,000 people could be infected with the virus, beginning from a single infected person. Young people are not in great danger from the virus, but that is not reason to take it lightly. Their grandparents might not survive a bout with the virus.

For that reason we will be having electronic church again this morning, and every Sunday until we are given the all clear to gather once more in church. Electronic church is definitely second best, yet let’s rejoice that we have the technology available to connect and listen to the preaching of the gospel.

A Christ-centred faith

The Anabaptist/Mennonite faith is Christ-centred in a way that differs significantly from other Christian traditions. We believe in the virgin birth, the sacrificial death on the cross, the resurrection and the second coming of Christ. But what is most important to us is the life of Jesus between his birth and the cross.

There are six ways in which this matters:

1. Jesus is God in human form, therefore He is the clearest revelation of what God is like.

2. Jesus is the clearest revelation of what God intends human beings to be like. Jesus tells us many times in the gospels to “follow me.” The new birth is just the beginning of being a Christian, it is what enables us to follow Jesus.

3. Jesus reveals how God works in history. The Old Testament accounts of Abraham, Moses and Israel are incomplete without Jesus. His life reveals what Old Testament history was all about.

4. For Jesus to be central to our life we must be united with His church. It is not a viable option to be united with Jesus and stand apart from His body, the Church.

5. The work of the Holy Spirit is experienced through Jesus. Any claim for the work of the Spirit that is not in harmony with the life and teaching of Jesus must be judged false.

6. To make Jesus central to our life is to be concerned for the salvation of the world. If there is only one God, and He is revealed in Jesus, then those who know Jesus have an obligation to introduce the rest of humanity to Him.

-adapted from A Third Way, Paul M Lederach © 1980 Herald Press, Scottdale PA

Coming to the light

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Satan has been able to use the ethnic uniformity of our congregations to place a veil over the eyes of seeking souls, convincing them that what they see is the idiosyncrasies of a little German ethnic group. There may yet be some confusion on that point among many church members,.

But the ethnic makeup of our congregations is changing. It is happening quietly, not as a result of organized missions, but in our existing congregations. Every time a family of a different background is added to the church it makes the path a little clearer for others to follow. This robs Satan of a very effective tool that he has used to turn seeking souls away from the church If we can lift up our eyes and see what the Lord is doing, and let our light shine, I feel there is a possibility for a much greater ingathering here in North America.

Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon thee. For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the LORD shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising. Lift up thine eyes round about, and see: all they gather themselves together, they come to thee: thy sons shall come from far, and thy daughters shall be nursed at thy side. Then thou shalt see, and flow together, and thine heart shall fear, and be enlarged; because the abundance of the sea shall be converted unto thee, the forces of the Gentiles shall come unto thee (Isaiah 60:1-5).

Christ is in all

The following question came in my email this morning and I decided to post it and give my thoughts.  Feel free to join the conversation.

I enjoy many of your inspiring blogs and this morning read “A matter of the heart, not the head.” You wrote: “ …and there did not seem to be a closeness, a genuine trust and fellowship among the members.”

I understand the line and have noticed or experienced this too; but my question is: what specifically brings us to “closeness, genuine trust and fellowship” ? Not to downplay faith in Christ, I am thinking that a common practiced tradition and custom also play a part of the closeness you refer to. Can such closeness and fellowship exist without a common tradition ? What do you think ? H. W.

I believe that “a common practiced tradition and custom” can lead to a form of closeness.  Just not the kind we were looking for. Some of the churches we visited did have the form of unity produced by a common ethnic and religious heritage, but as I wrote “it was never clear to us how many of them might actually have a relationship with the Shepherd.”

The apostle Paul described the church this way in Colossians 3:11: “Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond [nor] free: but Christ [is] all, and in all.” Let me unpack that statement. Jews were those people who believed themselves to be God’s people by virtue of their family heritage. Greeks were everybody else in the parts of Asia and Europe mentioned in the New Testament. The circumcised were the adherents to the Jewish traditions, the uncircumcised were those for whom those traditions had no meaning. Barbarians were people who spoke an unfamiliar language. Scythians were people whose culture and customs seemed bizarre to the Jews and Greeks. Bond and free refers to social status. Paul is saying that none of those things mattered; the one thing that matters is whether one has a relationship with Jesus Christ.  “Christ in you, the hope of glory” Colossians 1:27.

That must still be the grounds of Christian fellowship. My wife and I have belonged to the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite for 41 years. A majority of the members are of one ethnic heritage. We are not. It doesn’t matter. Mennonite in our day has been relegated in many people’s minds to an ethnic culture. I am not part of that culture, much of it is incomprehensible to me, but I am a Mennonite by faith.

By culture and tradition I still feel like a boy out of a W. O. Mitchell story. I listened to Jake and the Kid on radio when I was young, a few years later I read Who Has Seen the Wind. I felt like I was the kid in  those stories, I identified fully with this boy  experiencing the wind in the grass, watching people around him cope with life, feeling part of the prairie.

God has called me, I have embraced the faith once delivered to the saints, I enjoy fellowship with brothers and sisters of this faith, whatever their background. But I am not a Mennonite by birth, language, culture or tradition. In those things I am a kid from the prairie, this is my land, these are my people.

Qualifications of a minister of the gospel

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Many words are used in the New Testament to describe spiritual leaders in the church. Bishop, or overseer (episkipos); elder (presbuteros); pastor; minister (diakonos); evangelist; prophet; teacher; apostle (one sent out). All of these, except perhaps the last, are used interchangeably and appear to be but different functions or gifts of the same office.

An overseer watches for the spiritual well-being of the members of the church. Pastor, or shepherd, is identical in meaning. Elder means much the same, but also implies experienced, but not necessarily aged. A prophet is someone who speaks for God, a preacher. An evangelist is one who brings good news. A teacher gives instruction in the ways of God and the duties of His people. None of these titles should be interpreted to establish a person as a lord over the church.

Apostle is used sparingly in the New Testament, first of all to describe the twelve who were the inner circle of Jesus’ followers. It is also used of Jesus Himself, and of Paul, Barnabas, Timothy and Silas, but does not seem appropriate for any modern day servant of Jesus Christ.

No academic or seminary training is needed to become a minister of the gospel. Indeed, such training is more apt to be a hindrance, introducing psychological and doctrinal concepts that are not in accord with the Bible.

Neither should a minister expect to earn his living by preaching the gospel. A congregation has a duty to support a minister where needed, when he incurs expenses related to the work of the ministry. The congregation also has a duty to the minister’s family when he is absent in the work of the ministry. But he should have an income that does leave him dependent on cultivating the approval of others for his livelihood.

Hundreds of years ago Menno Simons wrote: O my faithful reader, ponder this. As long as the world distributes splendid houses and such large incomes to their preachers, the false prophets and deceivers will be there by droves; and: Therefore this is my brief conclusion and Christian admonition to all preachers and teachers. Brethren, humble yourselves and become unblamable disciples, that you may hereafter become called ministers. Try your spirit, love, and life before you commence to shepherd and to teach. Do not so on your own account, but wait until you are called of the Lord’s church; I say, of the Lord’s church, of the Spirit of God, and are constrained by urging love. If this takes place, brethren, then pastor diligently, preach and teach valiantly, cast from you all filthy lucre and booty; rent a farm, milk cows, learn a trade if possible, do manual labour as did Paul, and all that which you then fall short of will doubtlessly be given and provided you by pious brethren, by the grace of God, not in superfluity, but as necessity requires.

Here then are the qualifications for a minister given by the Apostle Paul in chapter 3 of 1 Timothy.
1. Blameless (above reproach, not derelict in any Christian duty)
2 The husband of one wife (He should be married, but to only one wife at a time. It is certainly permitted for a minister to marry again if his first wife dies, but he must not have any marital entanglement that will be a reproach to his message.)
3. Vigilant (watchful)
4. Sober (prudent)
5. Of good behaviour (orderly and decent)
6. Given to hospitality(literally, a lover of strangers, that is, ready to welcome visitors into his home)
7. Apt to teach (not only wise, but able to make wisdom appealing to others)
8. Not given to wine (does not drink wine to excess, is not domineering or abusive)
9. No striker (not quarrelsome, not a persecutor of those who disagree with him)
10. Not greedy of filthy lucre (not using dishonourable means to increase his income)
11. Patient (gentle)
12. Not a brawler (not contentious)
13. Not covetous (does not seek to be a minister in the hope of material gain)
14. One that ruleth well his own house (has an orderly and respectful family, but not by severity or tyranny)
15. Not a novice (not newly converted but has been a Christian long enough for others to discern the qualities listed here)
16. Have a good report of them which are without (has given no cause for offense or scandal to those outside the church).

One who meets all these qualifications and is called to the ministry by God and the church, is worthy of the respect and support of his fellow believers as he endeavours to serve God in the ministry.

A matter of the heart, not the head

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By Swampyank at en.wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18002690

As I walked the dusty streets of Plimoth, Massachusetts, Samuel Fuller fell into step beside me. “The church hierarchy in England says that we are not a legitimate church, because we have no ministers. A church is made up of Christian people; they don’t even have a church. Who made them ministers and bishops?”

On my father’s side I am descended from English Puritans who arrived in Massachusetts in 1638, just 18 years after the Mayflower. We have attended two family reunions in Massachusetts and each time we have gone to Plymouth to visit the historical reconstructions. Plimoth Plantation is a reconstruction of the village established by those who came on the Mayflower, as it would have been seven years after they arrived. The people who populate the village speak in the accents of the areas in England where the character they are playing originated from. They are very thoroughly trained and absolutely unaware of anything that has happened since 1627.

Samuel Fuller was the colony’s doctor and deacon, the only spiritual leader the church at Plimoth had in its early days. I wondered if the convictions he expressed with seeming sincerity came off along with the costume at the end of the day, or if they went deeper At a family supper that evening I had an opportunity to ask a cousin  who also played a character at Plimoth Plantation. She hesitated just a bit, then said “I think he has it in his head, but not in his heart.”

The two statements I have quoted hit the nail on the head. A Christian church must be made up of Christian people. That means people who have the truth in their heart, not only in their head.

That explains why my wife and I went from church to church during the first few years of our marriage. We met many fine people, we would be happy to call them friends today. But something didn’t seem right; it was never clear to us how many of them might actually have a relationship with the Shepherd. They all claimed to be following the Shepherd, but it often seemed like they wee receiving direction for their lives from other sources and there did not seem to be a closeness, a genuine trust and fellowship among the members.

We have been members of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite for 41 years. We are not better people than the people in all those other churches we used to visit. We don’t all see things exactly the same way, we don’t always do things just right. But I believe that we all know the Shepherd and that allows us to trust one another. When problems and misunderstandings arise, and they do, we trust the Shepherd to help us sort things out, and He does.

That is what we were missing in all those other churches, that is what kept us searching, even though we might not have been able to put into words just what we were looking for. I believe the Shepherd was leading us, telling us that He had something better planned for us.

Jesus, speaking of Himself as the Good Shepherd, said: “And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.” John 10:4-5.

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