Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: confession

Sin

“Almighty and most merciful Father, We have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep,  We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts, We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders..”

“Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, Judge of all men: We acknowledge and confess our manifold sins and wickedness, Which we from time to time most grievously have committed, By thought, word, and deed, Against thy Divine Majesty. We do earnestly repent, And are heartily sorry for these our misdoings.”

These quotations come from the Book of Common Prayer of the Anglican Church of Canada. The first is part of the confession in the Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer services. The second is from the confession in the Communion Service. The capitalization is the way it was in the book. For ten years in my youth I, along with the whole congregation,  recited one or the other of these confessions aloud every Sunday.

These are only words printed in a book, readily memorized and often pronounced without giving much thought to them. Still, for those with ears to hear and hearts to consider, they were a constant reminder that we are miserable sinners and there is no health in us.

We can dismiss those words as meaningless rote recital. For many people that was all they were. But have we gained in spirituality when most churches today hardly talk of sin?

C.S. Lewis discovered 75 years ago that most people he talked to had no concept of sin. Many of the things that churches have always named as major sins did not seem to be sin at all to people. They had been educated out of that old-fashioned notion. Some way had to be found to deliver the diagnosis that all people are sinners before they would have any inclination to hear of a remedy for sin.

“I cannot offer you a water-tight technique for awakening the sense of sin. I can only say that, in my experience, if one begins from the sin that has been one’s own chief problem during the last week, one is very often surprised at the way the shaft goes home. But whatever method we use, our constant effort must be to get their mind away from public affairs and ‘crime’ and bring them down to brass tacks — to the whole network of spite, greed, envy, unfairness and conceit in the lives of ‘ordinary decent people’ like themselves (and ourselves).” (C.S. Lewis, from a talk given in 1945, reprinted in God in the Dock ©1970, published by Eerdmans.)

That is very much the challenge that faces us today. If we are not conscious of our own sin and sinfulness, we won’t get very far in trying to share the gospel with others. James admonishes us: “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed.” How often do we do that? How often do we talk about other people’s faults?

The Anglican Church of Canada, the Episcopal Church in the USA and most congregations of the Church of England no longer use the Book of Common Prayer. In Africa, Asia and Latin America, Anglican Churches are fast-growing evangelical bodies. They have broken fellowship with the Anglican and Episcopal churches in Canada and the USA.

Ten years ago the Anglican Church of Canada commissioned a study on their future. The conclusion was that if present trends continue, in 75 years the Anglican Church of Canada will consist of two members.The trend has continued, and will continue. A church that no longer acknowledges sin has no reason for its existence. The Anglican Church of  Nigeria is now planting congregations in North America, including one in Saskatoon.

I am an Anabaptist today, not an Anglican. I am just trying to point out a graphic illustration of what happens to a church that decides to drop the issue of sin. That is a danger for all of us. We are not apt to ever make a decision to drop it, we just let it fade away. In such a condition, we no longer have a gospel to present to our neighbours — or our children.

Disconnected

We don’t have a furnace in our mobile home. Where it once was, there is now a heat exchanger that takes heat from a hot water line that comes from our neighbour’s coal-fired boiler. A furnace fan mounted above the heat exchanger sends warm air through the duct work to heat the house.

A few evenings ago we heard strange noises from this apparatus. I took a look and found that an old stove pipe had worked its way down and was touching the electric motor of the fan. I turned the system off, worked that stove pipe out of the way, turned the switch back on and went to bed. The next morning the heat did not come on. I checked the programmable thermostat and it was calling for heat. Then I looked at the heating apparatus and at first all looked to be in order. Then I saw a little black wire dangling loose; there was a little connector on the end that looked like it might go with another connector on a switch box. I pushed the two together and we had heat.

I began wondering if there is sometimes a disconnect like this in my spiritual life. The warmth, the power, is right there, ready to be used. I want it, but nothing is happening. It must be that a connection is missing somewhere.

Perhaps I became frustrated and upset at someone, lost my temper and said words that I regret, but I haven’t been willing to apologize to this person.

Or perhaps someone did or said something that hurt my feelings and I am brooding over it. The other person probably has no idea that his action caused me any problem, but I just can’t forgive him and let it go.

Perhaps I felt the Spirit asking me to do something and I just wasn’t willing to do it.

All of these things, and many others, interrupt our connection to God and we find our spiritual life cooling off. We know there is a problem somewhere, but we are not able or willing to look where the problem really lies and make the correction needed. And when our spiritual life cools off because of disobedience in small things, we are more apt to give in to the bigger temptations, because there just doesn’t seem to be much benefit in trying to live a Christian life anyway.

That is why it is important to look after the small things as soon as we become aware that something isn’t working as it should in our Christian life.

 

That ye may be healed

My wife’s elderly cousin has been in Saskatoon a couple of days. This morning we went into the city and Chris spent a couple of hours with her. This cousin had two sons with her first husband, then divorced him. She married again, had four daughters, then divorced again. She loves her sons; she does not love her daughters. The sons do not get along with each other; the daughters are close — it seems they had a loving father. Neither of the sons is married, one of the daughters is a single Mom, the other three are happily married.

This is a brief portrait of a dysfunctional family. Even though the mother loves her sons, the relationships are often rocky. There are hurt feelings all around, between children and mother and mother and children, between the brothers and the sisters and between the two brothers. It seems that the mother had a cruel father and did not have a happy childhood. How many generations back does this go? How many more generations will be messed up by dysfunctional relationships.

Is there no balm in Gilead? I believe there is a healing balm, but only applying it on the surface will not bring about a reconciliation, it will need to penetrate through many layers to reach the deep wounds that cause the dysfunctional behaviour. First they will need to forgive each other. That would be the beginning, but only the beginning. Next they would need to admit how they have wronged and hurt each other. They are all victims, but they have also all inflicted wounds on each other. Finally, they would have to open up the deep-seated fears that cause them to lash out at one another and allow the balm to be applied so that they can begin to trust one another.

Of course, genuine, durable reconciliation is probably impossible as long as they continue to reject God’s call to repentance. (One of the daughters does make a profession of Christianity.) This led me to wondering how we are doing as Christians.

We say that we love everybody, that we have forgiven everybody. Wonderful. But how deep does the healing go? Why are so many among us struggling with hurt feelings?  “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed” (James 5:16). How deep are we willing to look in seeking a full healing?

“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love,
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved, as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

(This prayer is usually attributed to Francis of Assissi, though its present form cannot be traced back further than 1912 when it was published in Paris.)

The half-converted farmer

Years ago, there was a farmer in our neighbourhood who lived a simple life. He had no need of electricity, running water or a lawn mower. He didn’t seem to have a need for a wife either, though it was rumoured that once long ago there had been a lady of the house. Perhaps the rustic simplicity of the homestead soon lost its charm.

This rustic farmer had a simple approach to farming as well. In the spring he seeded his wheat and in the fall he harvested his wheat — as much as his equipment could capture. For you see, the fields produced a much greater crop of weeds than of wheat, in such a manner that the wheat that did grow was short in stature. What is more, there were many prominent rocks throughout the fields that needed to be avoided in seeding and in harvesting. As we passed by his fields after harvest we saw much wheat still standing, waiting to be gleaned by the birds, mice and gophers. The proximity of these heads of wheat to the rocks or to the surface of the ground had made them inaccessible to the harvesting machinery.

Then came a day when the farmer announced that he had seen the light, from henceforth things were going to be different. He purchased top quality seed and fertilizer, enough for all his fields. Nevertheless, he chose not to attempt to remove the rocks and the weeds. The good new seed, he said, with the help of the fertilizer, would produce such vigorous plants that they would choke out the weeds and grow so high the rocks would not be a problem.

Unfortunately, the bad seeds far outnumbered the good. With the help of the fertilizer, they grew taller that year than ever before. The wild mustard plants did indeed resemble small trees. I did not ascertain if the birds of the air built their nests in these great shrubs , but I did observe them flitting joyfully from branch to branch.

Harvest that year was neither better nor worse than in previous years. Whereupon the farmer declared that scientific farming was a fraud designed to separate gullible farmers from their money. He would never again believe a word of it. And the latter end of that farmer was worse than the first.

I have observed people who approached Christian life in like manner. They are convicted of the futility of their old ways and resolve to follow the way of Jesus. They begin to read the Bible and attend church, and verily their countenances are changed. They have hope.

Still, there are all the hurtful things they have said and done in the past, and perhaps dishonest things as well. These are great rocks in their life and the problem of removing them seems insurmountable. The cost and effort of confession and restitution is higher than they are willing to pay. Thus the rocks remain, ever a hindrance  to the trust they desire from others.

Worse yet, their tendencies to hurt feelings and flare ups of temper still remain and get in the way of the good they try to do. An apology would be too humiliating, better to wait and hope people forget. They are keenly aware of other people’s faults, and quite blind to their own. Such thorns in their personalities choke out their good intentions. After a time, they conclude that Christianity was only an illusion and return to their old ways.

It need not be that way. But too many well-meaning evangelists neglect to explain that one cannot live a fruitful and fulfilling Christian life without removing the rocks and the thorns.

Don’t be anxious for anything

We were going through self-examination before communion when a frail elderly brother stood and said “I want to say that I have peace with God, but it seems like I should do something to be able to claim that I have peace. I have prayed God to show me if there is anything I need to make right, but nothing comes to me. I don’t know where I’m at.”

One of the ministers called this brother aside and explained to him that if he had honestly prayed God to show him if there was anything in his way, and nothing came to him, that meant that he did have peace. There was nothing he needed to do. Whereupon the dear old brother was able to say “I believe by faith that I have peace with God.”

Jesus taught: “Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift” (Matthew 5:23-24). This is something we consider in self-examination — is there something that hinders me from coming to the communion altar with a clear conscience?

This is well and good, and Scriptural, but it can become a pattern. We expect that we need to find something to confess so that we can claim peace with God. And when we make that confession we feel a release of tension and believe we can now claim that our peace with God is unclouded by any transgression on our part.

Most of the time it is probably genuine, but perhaps there are more serious needs that we don’t want to deal with, yet we feel we have done what was expected of us and claim that all is well. Or, we may be like this old brother and feel we need to confess something, but their is nothing to confess.

What we are missing in both cases is that the peace of God cannot be purchased by our efforts, however sincere and earnest we may be. God does want us to keep our lives pure and uncluttered by things that would be a hindrance to ourselves or others. But all our efforts to maintain a pure and upright life do not earn peace with God. It is a gift. “When he giveth quietness, who then can make trouble?” (Job 34:29).

As I grow older the passage in Philippians 4:6-7 becomes more meaningful to me. (I have changed a few words to follow the French translation of these verses.)

Be anxious for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all intelligence, shall guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

The peace which God gives goes far beyond anything that we can attain to by our intellect. We may feel a certain relief by confessing a wrong, or making restitution for something we have done. We need to do those things, but that relief is not necessarily the peace of God. If we are simply doing things according to our own understanding and feeling satisfied in doing them, there is no keeping power in that. Only the peace of God can bring rest to our hearts and minds and guard them from intrusions of needless anxiety.

A gentle admonition

[Benjamin Eby was bishop of the Mennonite churches of Waterloo County. The other Mennonite churches in Ontario, in the Markham and Niagara areas, had their own bishops. Nevertheless, Benjamin Eby was highly regarded and he was often called upon by the others for counsel. This letter gives a hint of the reason for this respect. 

Berlin is now Kitchener; Canada West is now Ontario. John Reesor was a minister in the Markham area; Jacob Groff was the bishop.  A counsel meeting is a meeting of all church members to consider matters relating to the functioning of the church.]

Berlin, Canada West, October 17, 1849

Dear Brother,

Last Monday Jacob Weitman stopped here on his way home and told me that there is to be counsel meeting next Saturday regarding the matter about Jacob Burkholder.

Out of brotherly love, I feel impelled to write my opinion, yet with the limitation of whether I have understood the matter fully.

First, I have in mind that Burkholder was found guilty of a fault, whereupon he gave himself up to the church counsel, who laid the punishment of confession upon him. Now, I would ask whether he has done what the church required of him? If he has done so, then the counsel of the church should be upheld unalterably, since the church had acted according to their judgement.

It seems that some feel that the punishment of confession was not sufficient, which I can readily believe that the judgement might justifiably been sharper. However, when the majority of the church was so inclined, then the minority should yield to the majority, otherwise sad confusion can result, which seems to have happened in your case. Out of pure love and a true heart I give you my opinion. Hold fast to the original counsel of the church, firmly resolved, and lay the matter down quietly, embrace each other in love, forgive one another their faults, and be patient with each other, as Christ has patience with us.

Hold fast to brotherly love, for charity is the bond of perfectness. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

Finally, we greet you and yours heartily with greetings of peace and love, as well as all dear brothers and sisters in the Lord who receive this in hand.

Your loyal brother in the Lord, to John Reesor, Benjamin Eby.

N.B. When you have read this letter, and believe it to be useful, you may give it to brother Jacob Groff and hold counsel with him. However, if I did not fully understand the proceeding of the matter, and my counsel being therefore unreasonable, then keep this letter at home, so that I with my good intentions might not do harm. My love for Christ and His Word, and for the well-being of the church prompted me to write, so I hope you won’t be offended.

I commit you to God and the guidance of His Spirit.

Benjamin Eby

 

 

%d bloggers like this: