Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: church

Spiritual mourning

Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

There is an obvious way of understanding these words. We encounter sorrow and loss during our lives that are cause for mourning, and we can find comfort in Jesus that is not available anywhere else.

  • But these seemingly simple words also contain a far deeper meaning:We need to mourn for our own sins, like David: “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.” (Psalm 51)We need to mourn for conditions in the church: “For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it” (The apostle Paul to the church at Corinth). “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love” (The message in the book of Revelations to the church at Ephesus). Jesus wept over Jerusalem.
  • We should grieve for Christians who are separated from a truly spiritual church fellowship. “Woe to them that are at ease in Zion, and trust in the mountain of Samaria. . . but they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph” (Amos 6:1-6). We often hear the first part of verse one and think that is the message. But God gave Amos a burden for those in the apostate kingdom of Israel, led by the tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim, sons of Joseph, because they were separated from the true worship of God in the temple at Jerusalem. God sent Hosea to Israel with the message that God sorrowed for wayward Israel just as Hosea sorrowed for his wayward wife.
  • We should grieve for conditions in the world we live in, not only for those in faraway lands, but also for the people who are our near neighbours. “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Galatians 5:14). “ But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” (1 John 3:17).
  • The apostle Paul said “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing.” This leaves us no ground to think of ourselves as better than others. We cannot serve the Lord with that kind of thought in our minds. First, we must grieve for our sinfulness, weakness and inadequacy. Then we see others as being the same as we are. We are in a world ruled by hostile spiritual forces and we have no strength in ourselves to overcome those forces. Our only hope is Jesus Christ.

“The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit” (Psalm 34:18). Isn’t that the meaning of the beatitude quoted above?

“They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him” (Psalm 126:5-6).

No room for boasting

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

For we brought nothing into this world” (1 Timothy 6:7). The Apostle was talking about material things, but I don’t think it does his words any violence to say that no one of us came into this world with any pre-qualifications for salvation. In that respect, we are all equally impoverished.

Perhaps we had parents who were genuine Christians in word and in life, and grandparents and great-grandparents. And they all belonged to a church that was firmly grounded on the unadulterated gospel of Jesus-Christ. That’s wonderful. It’s something for which to be thankful.

But it’s not something to boast about. Their faith is not transferable. I get no credit for the faith of someone else; my salvation is solely based on my relationship with Jesus Christ.

I was not saved because I was “raised in the church.” That gave me an opportunity to hear the gospel. But many others have had the same advantage and spurned it. There are many who grew up with the light of the gospel shining all around them who are now walking in darkness.

Others who grew up in the darkness of this world are now walking in the light. And are probably much more thankful for it than those for whom the light has been an everyday reality as far back as they can remember.

It is well and good for those who have been raised in Christian homes to be thankful. But there is only a fine line between thankfulness and boastfulness. When we talk much about our Christian heritage and think that it sets us apart from the common run of humanity, we are no longer poor in spirit. And to those around us who may be seeking for spiritual light, we are apt to be more of a hindrance than a help.

For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7).

The spiritual riches that we enjoy are not our own. We did not inherit them. We did not acquire them by wisdom, by doing the right things, or by any other means at our disposal. These riches came from admitting that we were impoverished, blind and unable to help ourselves. Let us rejoice and be glad in them. But let’s forget the boasting.

Pietists, Quietists & Anabaptists

I have been reading some of the writings of François Fénelon and find some moving passages. I plan to post some excerpts in coming days.

Fénelon was a Quietist, that is a Roman Catholic who believed that salvation had to come through a personal relationship with God, rather than through the forms of liturgical worship. So far, so good. Yet, there is a niggling little thought that troubles me – Fénélon appears to have had a genuine faith, but was that faith passed on to following generations? He remained a Roman Catholic all his life. The same question applies to those who were Pietists within the Lutheran Church.

The Anabaptists took a different approach. They believed that Scripture and Spirit called them to remain outside the established state churches and maintain a pure church. This often led to persecution and they accepted that as a necessary consequence of their commitment to God.  Menno Simons wrote:

“Reader, understand what I mean. We do not dispute whether or not there are some of God’s elect in the before-mentioned churches; for this we, at all times, humbly leave to the  just and gracious judgment of God, hoping that he has many thousands unknown to us, as they were to holy Elijah. But our dispute is in regard to what kind of Spirit, doctrine, sacraments, ordinance and life it is with which Christ has commanded us to gather unto Him an abiding church, and how to keep it in His ways.”

It is my conviction that Menno’s faith has more fully endured and been passed on to subsequent generations than has the faith of Fénelon.

A series of coincidences?

We wanted to have children – and definitely more than one. I was an only child and my wife had been raised as an only child by her aunt and uncle. We didn’t think that was the ideal way to grow up.

We had been married less than a year when another young couple from the church we were attending mentioned that they were planning to adopt. We had never thought of adopting before, but the idea became more and more interesting as we talked about it. We contacted the agency and were invited to take part in a series of evening meetings for those preparing for adoption.

In my mind, adoption was about finding a child who would match the parents who wanted to adopt. I was wrong. We were told that it is natural for children in a family to differ considerably in looks and personalities. We were also told that the less we knew about the background of a child the better things would work. If we know too much about the personalities of parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, we would look for signs of that in the adoptive child. “This is your child,” we were told.

We have seen the wisdom of that in later years. Some mothers knew way too much about the background of their adoptive children and never tired of talking about it.  I could see in the eyes of the children that it was not healthy to hear constant reminders that they were misfits in this family. That was never the mother’s intention, of course, but it had that effect.

After the series of meetings, we were given the application form to complete. Most of it was straightforward questions about ourselves and our ability to provide for a child. But one question gave us pause. “Are you willing to accept a child of another race?” Several options were given, other races, mixed-race, pure white, no preference. We talked about it, prayed about it, and the only thing that felt right was to check the no preference box.

The application was accepted, a social worker came to visit our home, we began to gather the things we would need, thinking we had lots of time to get ready.  We never guessed that checking the no preference box moved us to the top of the waiting list. A call came just two weeks after the home visit saying that a baby girl was available.

We drove to the city where the agency office was located, were led into a private room and soon left alone with a 15-day old girl. She slept, we looked at her, took turns holding her, and when the worker came back she would have had to pry that baby away from us.

We signed some more papers and drove home with the baby sleeping peacefully on the seat between us. This was long before child car seats; cars back then didn’t even have seatbelts for the adults. Cars had bench seats, not bucket seats. We used a clothes hamper, they were smaller then than they are now, put a blanket on the bottom for a cushion, placed the baby on top of that, another blanket on top, and drove home.

That was almost 45 years ago. We never had any other children. Our daughter had an advantage that we did not have – we were part of a close-knit church family with many other children her age.I’m sure the influence of her friends’ parents had a tremendous impact on her becoming the fine young woman that she became.

Now, we don’t just have a daughter, we also have a fine Christian son-in-law and four wonderful grandchildren. Was it all a series of coincidences, chance happenings and pure dumb luck? I don’t believe that. I believe God was there every step of the way, opening doors and nudging us toward them.

The key to success or failure in missions

This is from a book first published in the 1920’s.  I first posted this excerpt in 2013 and believe it deserves a repeat.

“From what has already been said it is manifest that St. Paul did not go about as a missionary preacher merely to convert individuals: he went to establish churches from which the light might radiate throughout the whole country round. The secret of success in this work lies in beginning at the very beginning. It is the training of the first converts which sets the type for the future. If the first converts are taught to depend on the missionary, if all work, evangelistic, educational, social is concentrated in his hands, the infant community learns to rest passively upon the man from whom they receive their first insight into the gospel. Their faith having no sphere for its growth and development lies dormant. A tradition very rapidly grows up that nothing can be done without the authority and guidance of the missionary, the people wait for him to move, and, the longer they do so, the more incapable they become of any independent action. Thus the leader is confirmed in the habit of gathering all authority into his own hands, and of despising the powers of his people, until he makes their inactivity an excuse for denying their capacity. The fatal mistake has been made of teaching the converts to rely upon the wrong source of strength. Instead of seeking it in the working of the Holy Spirit in themselves, they seek it in the missionary. They put him in the place of Christ, they depend upon him.”

(Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours?  page 81.  Roland Allen, U.S. edition © 1962.)

Two shall become one

– But it’s easier said than done.

On Sunday, before God and 500 witnesses in our country church, a young man and a young woman said their vows, joined hands and were declared husband and wife. Our little church could not possibly hold 500 people, even with chairs in the aisles and all the way back to the doors. The rest of us sat outside in a large tent where we could peer at the open doors and get a small idea of what was going on inside. There was a speaker in the tent and the sound quality was excellent, except when it cut out for short periods of time for no discernible reason.  No matter, they are now married and embarked on a whole new adventure in life.

Marriage has unexpected consequences. It shows up things in our spouse, and ourself, that we were not aware of before. My wife found that the cool, laid back guy she married was pretty much a slob around the house. Dirty clothes were left wherever they landed when they came off. That was no problem in my single days, I would just sweep through the house on laundry day, gather them all up, sort them and wash them. That wasn’t so cool when there were two people in the house. As a bachelor, washing dishes was a once a week event. I had just enough dishes that there was no need to do it more often.

On the other hand, it seemed to me that when we planned to go somewhere my wife would start to get ready about the time I wanted to walk out the door. Then I would find something else to do while she was getting ready and when she was all set, she had to wait on me to do some last minute thing.

Before we married, we were both independent, with our own way of doing things. We found that it can’t be business as usual when two people are trying to build a life together. Things have to change. And change is not something that happens smoothly, naturally and effortlessly, even if you are very much in love. Sooner or later, you fall back into the old routine. How soon that happens often comes as a shock to your spouse.

We each had our mental picture of what our ideal wife or husband would be like. So when we found that the person we married didn’t really match that picture, we set about to help them change to better match our ideal. That is not the recipe for a peaceful and happy home. It took a long, long time, but eventually it dawned on me that the only person I could ever hope to change was myself.

Sometimes we learn from a bad example. At meal time during my childhood I occasionally heard my father say: “That doesn’t taste like mother used to make it.” I resolved that when I got married I would never say that.

Little by little, I have learned some of the things that my parents never taught me and I never heard in the churches I attended in my youth. There were things the preacher said at the wedding on Sunday that I wish I could have heard before I got married. But we were in a totally different setting; neither of us came from a home where we had the example this young couple had in their homes. Yet our marriage has survived for 46 years and we have the joy of being grandparents. There is so much joy that we would have forfeited if we had thrown in the towel during the rough spots.

 

What makes a church attractive?

Church attendance across Canada has been declining for years. Yes, there are new churches being built, some quite large. Many more are being torn down, or re-purposed. I suspect the majority of the people in our country have never set foot in a church. Nowadays, most weddings and funerals do not take place in a church. What would it take to change this decline?

Christian churches have always been engaged in helping widows and orphans, the poor and neglected. They called it charity, which means love, and most of it was genuinely motivated by love. A new idea came along – charity is demeaning to the poor. Churches could make themselves more meaningful by advocating for the government to take care of the poor, the sick, the needy. So now we have the nanny state, a security net to catch all those who fall, or are pushed, from the ranks of those who can care for themselves. But government agencies operate by rules and regulations and there is precious little love involved.

Meanwhile, people in droves have bailed out of the churches that advocated this system, feeling that if social reform is the important thing they can accomplish more through politics and other secular means. What these churches are really preaching is the gospel of money; and money can’t buy love, can’t buy happiness, can’t hold a church together.

More recently, many churches have re-jigged the way they do church in order to become more seeker friendly. This manifests itself in many ways – small, very informal groups with unstructured worship forms, all the way to mega churches with lots of pizzazz. Very often there will be coffee available before, during or after the service. New and different intrigues people for a while, eventually they weary of being fed only dessert, never a substantial meal. Is the gospel of new and different still the gospel of Jesus Christ?

The core of the gospel of Jesus Christ is: ” Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.”

Isn’t this what people are longing for? How do we make our church more like this? The answer is that we can’t. The essence of a real, live, dynamic church is not in doing, but in being. We can try to persuade our church people to be more friendly, more welcoming, to care more about the people around them. These are all things they should do. But if the doing doesn’t come from a real love kindled in their heart by the Holy Spirit, their actions will cry out hypocrisy to all who see.

The ideal is a church where every member is keenly aware of God’s goodness, loves God with all his/her being and isn’t embarrassed to let others see that love. That means I need to start with myself and stop prodding others to do what I know I should do. None of us ever do things quite right, so we need to discern the working of the Holy Spirit in the lives of our brothers and sisters and not judge them by their awkwardness and clumsiness in following the Spirit. We need to love our neighbours enough to want them to know the same love and peace that we have.

If we try to do the things a real Christian should do, without being a real Christian, it will not work. If our goal is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and strength, we will find endless opportunities to do and say things that will demonstrate that love to others. The more of us who do that, the more attractive the church will be.

The devaluation of women

Here in Canada the media has paid considerable attention to a sordid case where a well-known media personality was charged with sexual assault. The charges outlined incidents of kinky and violent sex involving several women. Unfortunately things unravelled at the trial. Emails and other evidence indicated that the women were willing participants and that their initial statements to police were not fully truthful and had omitted many details. The accused could not be found guilty on such untrustworthy evidence, even though most of what was described undoubtedly did happen.

Why would seemingly successful young women willingly subject themselves to such degrading experiences? A story from California helps to explain where this begins. It tells about young teen girls who post nude photos of themselves on Facebook. Many of them admit they find it degrading, but the social pressures are so enormous that they dare not refuse to participate. Such refusal would cause them to be rejected and ostracized by their friends.

It seems to me that this is how the devaluing of women begins in our society. Surely a girl, and a woman, is more than the sum of her body parts. She is a person worthy of respect, she has a brain, and is a soul of such value in the eyes of God that she is worthy of the death of His Son to redeem her.

But who is telling girls and women about this? The schools take no such responsibility. Many churches have veered off on causes that seemed more important, and thus these churches became irrelevant to the real needs of people.

Eventually though, the devaluation of women in our society points to a catastrophic failure of the home. Not all homes, thankfully, but so many that the behaviour I have described seems to many young girls to be the norm. (Boys and men are being devalued too, but I want to focus on the girls in this post.)

The well-being of our society depends on having parents who believe they have the ability, the freedom and the duty to provide a safe haven for their children.  A place where girls are respected as persons of value, where they can talk freely of their fears, their struggles and the pressures they face outside the home. Parents that do not push their children to get out there and compete for attention, but help them think through what is really important in life. Parents who encourage their children to be kind and caring toward others and to develop the abilities and qualities that will make them useful citizens.

I’m afraid that being a Christian does not automatically make us superior parents. It is good and right to teach our children to love God and to understand the way of salvation so that they may respond when the Spirit calls. It is good to teach honesty and sound moral principles. But all that is not enough. We need to be examples of all that we teach and above all we need to listen to our children with patience and sympathy and let them know that we love them no matter what happens to them.

Problem or blessing?

At 10 a.m. last Sunday morning half of our congregation was seated in the pews. The song leader rose, walked to the mike and announced the first song. Then he stood there patiently as the other half of the congregation walked in and were shown to their seats.

(We don’t use musical instruments in our churches. Congregational singing is a capella in four part harmony. The song leader sets the pitch and starts the hymn.)

This is quite a common scenario in congregations of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite. People walk in the door of the church, see their friends, share greetings, ask what’s new and start to visit; soon it’s time for the service to start and they are still visiting in the foyer. I remember much the same thing happening the very first time we attended a service in this church, 41 years ago at Linden, Alberta.

Is this a problem? Every once in a while someone will ask why we can’t be like other churches where people walk in, find a set and wait quietly for the service to begin. That seems much more solemn and reverent.

I’m not so sure, having visited and even been a member of churches like that. Often the people don’t know each other very well and don’t really have anything to say to their neighbour in the pew.

In one church that my wife and I visited many years ago, at the beginning of the service the pastor asked everyone to stand up, shake hands with the people on ether side and in front and behind and introduce themselves. It seemed genuinely warm – until the end of the service. When the last amen was said everyone got up, turned around and headed for the door without another glance at those around them. We didn’t go back for a second visit.

The problem we have, if problem it be, is that we actually like each other and we want to visit, before the service and after the service. And when there are visitors in church we want to meet them and get to know them. Is there something wrong with that? I thin it’s a blessing.

“Behold how pleasant and how good it is for brethren to dwell together in unity” (Psalm 133:1).

It would be difficult to maintain this level of fellowship if our congregations became too large. Our North American congregations average 100 baptized members. The largest has 300 members. When a congregation becomes too large for the members to know each other well, they will often decide to build a new church a few miles away and part of the membership will choose to make this their new spiritual home.

At the same time, there are always families moving out of these larger congregations and establishing new congregations in new areas. There is a special kind of fellowship that develops as brethren from different areas unite to establish a new congregation in a new location. An additional benefit is that as the local folks become acquainted with these newcomers they might allow their curiosity to be used by the Holy Spirit to investigate the faith and be drawn into the fellowship.

 

Would God that all the LORD’s people were prophets

The words of the title are taken from the eleventh chapter of Numbers. Moses had complained that he was not able to bear the load of leading and caring for all the people who were with him in the wilderness. God instructed him to bring seventy elders of the people to the tabernacle and there He would give each of them a portion of the spirit which He had given to Moses. Moses and the elders did as God had commanded and when the spirit was given to the elders they began to prophesy and could not stop.

However, two of the seventy did not come to the tabernacle. No reason is given but we must assume that it was not because they rebelled against God’s command,for the Spirit was given to them also and they began to prophesy.

When Joshua, Moses’ servant, heard of this, his immediate reaction was that this was disorderly and must not be allowed. “My lord Moses, forbid them,” he said. The answer given by Moses reveals the greatness of his love for the people of God:

“Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the LORD’s people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit upon them” (verse 29).

Moses’ wish is fulfilled in the gospel dispensation. Ever since Pentecost, every born again child of God, young or old, man or woman,  has received the Holy Spirit. The Spirit has been given to guide us personally in the way of truth, but also to empower us to share this truth with others, unbelievers, those new in the faith, the confused and discouraged. Even those who may be considered spiritually mature need the spiritual admonition and counsel of their brethren.

God has ordained that ministers and deacons should be ordained in each congregation for the orderly functioning of the church. But most congregations do not start out that way. I have been involved in three young congregations that did not have any ordained leadership. Two of those groups have grown into fully functioning congregations, with two ministers and a deacon in each place. In the third one, we all gave up and moved away. The problem seemed to be a feeling that without an ordained minister we couldn’t do anything. I don’t think such hand wringing is pleasing to God, who has given to each of us a portion of His Spirit.

Even in well-established congregations, with one or two or three or more ministers, if everything is left to the ministers the congregation will not prosper spiritually. Christian life is not meant to be a passive activity. God has given His Spirit to each of us to be used in some way for the benefit of the whole body.

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