Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: conversion

Journeying on

We were having Vacation Bible School and for crafts we were doing a manger scene with Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus. I started calling Mary’s husband Joe. I glimpsed a hint of a smile on Miss Parker’s face, just before Miss Napier let me know that I was not to be so flippant and disrespectful. I don’t suppose that Miss Parker was any more likely to encourage disrespect than Miss Napier, but she allowed herself to be amused by my childishness and seemed much more human to this twelve-year-old boy.

Miss Napier and Miss Parker were Bishop’s Messengers who had come to Craik to fill in until we could get another minister. They could not baptize or serve communion, but led the other types of worship service in the Book of Common Prayer: Morning Worship, Evening Worship and the Litany.

Miss Napier was British and the guardian of proper form and tradition. Miss Parker was Indian. Over the years that ethnic definition has gone from Indian to Native to Aboriginal to First Nations and recently to Indigenous. I must be getting old that seems like one change too far. I want to be respectful, but by the time I can get my head around Indigenous the nomenclature will no doubt have changed again. Miss Parker was a bit shy, definitely not pushy, and was liked by everyone. Miss Napier was not disliked, it just wasn’t easy to warm up to her.

After a year the Reverend Kenneth Vickers came to be our minister, along with his wife, daughter and son. Mister Vickers was the ideal country preacher. He was not afraid to get his hands dirty helping a farmer or maintaining the vicarage and yard. Just a regular down to earth guy that everyone liked. His daughter was nine days younger than me. I was horribly girl shy during the years I was in school, but I remember four girls with whom I could occasionally carry on a conversation. For some reason they were all named Joan and one of them was Joan Vickers.

It was while Mr Vickers was at Craik that I became an altar boy, assisting in communion services. The Craik parish included churches in three other towns and Sunday mornings found us travelling to services in two of those churches. When I turned sixteen and got a driver’s license he even let me drive his car, a Hillman Minx. Driving that car left me with the lifelong conviction that British technology is an oxymoron.

There were two other ministers at Craik before I ventured off into the big wide world, but all I remember of them are their foibles. I did try attending church again while living in Toronto, but there just wasn’t any pull to keep going back.

The worldwide Anglican Church has always been a big tent movement, where high church and low church Anglicans were able to function in harmony. The churches in Saskatchewan were pretty strongly high church where the liturgy was of utmost importance. Yet there were occasional hints of low church, or evangelical, tendencies. A discerning eye would have noted that the Anglican Church of Canada was already in it’s declining years when I was a boy. Today it has reached doddering old age.

Some congregations have withdrawn, reorganized and continue as outposts of the Anglican faith such as is found in Africa, Asia and South America. The Anglican churches of those countries no longer recognize the Canadian church as being of the same faith. The Anglican Church of Nigeria has sent a missionary couple to Saskatoon to start a new congregation.

I have moved on in my spiritual journey, yet when I look back it is clear that my journey began in the Anglican Church. After confirmation I was given a little red book of questions for self examination before communion. That little book almost led to my conversion. There is still a warm place in my memory where I believe God came very close to me, and I to Him. Then I looked away and saw that no one else seemed to take this seriously.

The services were permeated with readings and recitations from the Bible, way more Scripture than any other church I have ever attended. I was constantly reminded tin those services that I was a sinner who needed to repent and be forgiven. I learned that the outward forms of baptism and communion were only signs of an inward and spiritual grace. I didn’t find those spiritual realities in the Anglican Church, but it was the Anglican Church that set me to searching for them.

I learned in the Anglican Church that it was important that there was a continuity between the church of the apostolic era and the church of today. I still believe that, I just don’t believe that the original faith has necessarily been passed on through a continuous lineage of laying on of hands in ordination. I also learned that people of a great variety of ethnic backgrounds could worship together.

Eleven years after I left Craik I wanted to get married and neither I nor my fiancée knew a minister of any kind. My mother knew where to find Ken Vickers and he came to Moose Jaw to do some counselling before the wedding and to marry us, thus starting us on another journey.

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Adopted

I remember the last time my father blew up at me. He was 80, I was 30 and it was the same tirade that I had heard so many times before during my 30 years. I knew there was no use trying to argue, change the subject or yell back at him. He was not in control of himself at moments like this and any resistance would just aggravate him further. I just waited patiently for the storm to blow itself out.

I had become a Christian two years earlier and when the blast was over I found a quiet place to pray. “Oh God,” I asked, “why couldn’t I have had a better father?”

The answer was immediate: “But you do, you have a perfect father.” I have clung to that ever since.

This is what the apostle Paul meant when he wrote in Romans 8:15: “ For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.”

My father sank into dementia not long after that, and soon he didn’t even know me. He was 50 when I was born, after all. I really think he meant well, but he simply didn’t know how to cope with starting a family at that age. Our heavenly Father does not have that problem. Even when we stray from Him and suffer the consequences, He does not drive us farther away, but calls us back.

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.

The fisherman’s net

fishing-net-1526496_1280

By the time I started reading the Bible for myself I had abandoned all belief in the Christianity that I had been taught at home and in the church of my youth. I had read books on philosophy and on esoteric religions. It was interesting to consider all the permutations and combinations of their explanations of the meaning of life, but not very satisfying for one looking for some clues about how to find something meaningful in the life he was living.  I began to feel there might be something in this Christianity stuff after all, but I was quite sure that I could not trust most of the Bible.

Thus I began to read the Bible, hoping to find that there were some nuggets of truth in it that I could use to realign my life. I don’t know how long it took – weeks, months – but a shocking realization began to dawn on me. The things I didn’t want to believe were linked to the things I did want to believe. Things I wanted to dismiss as mythology and the brutality of some of the Old Testament accounts, were picked up by the prophets, the apostles and Jesus Himself and shown to be part of a great cosmic story of the battle between good and evil.

I could no longer imagine that some elements of the Bible were worthy of belief and others were not. I could not separate the strands, each one was linked to others in a way that meant that everything in the Bible was linked to everything else. I was facing a decision – either the whole Bible was false and I should reject it and never open it again, or it was all true and was pointing me to a life of fulfillment that would one day lead to an eternity in heaven.

By this time I was inside the net, although I could have made my escape if I had wished. Soon after I came to the point of repentance and the surrender of my will and became a new born child of God. I have spent much time since then surveying all the strands that make up this net and the way they are tied and bound together.

Jesus told a group of fishermen “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” As we read the New Testament, we see how expertly they used the net of God’s Word, expounding  the Law and the Prophets to show how the old writings all pointed to Jesus Christ and His spiritual kingdom. This net was the primary tool that led to the explosive growth of the early church. It was used by many down through history, including our Anabaptist forefathers.

Nowadays, there are too many preachers who don’t have time for the study it takes to know the net and how to use it. Reference Bibles seem to offer an easy alternative, giving lists of supposedly related verses on a variety of topics. But how can one trust those references without a personal study of the context? Far too many people today think they are using the net when all they have is a handful of loose strings. Is it any wonder they don’t catch many fish?

Really Simple Theology

Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure,
having this seal,
The Lord knoweth them that are his.
And,
Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.

Here in 2 Timothy 2:19 the Apostle Paul gives the ground rules for discerning whether or not I am a Christian.

The first rule is that salvation is not a one-sided transaction – it is not enough to say that I know God and that from now on I will be a Chriustian. The real question is “Does God know me?” Jesus warned that at the judgment there will be many who claim that they know Him and did many wonderful things in service to Him, yet He will reply “I never knew you.”

God calls, I respond, and if God sees that I have responded with all my heart, no reservations, he adopts me as His child. We will know when this happens. “For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15). “And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us” (1 John 3:24).

The second rule is that I cannot go on living as I did before. “And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them” (Ezekiel 36:27). “He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him” (1 John 2:9-10) .

Theology can quickly become very complex, and sometimes it is merely an intellectual exercise that offers no real help in showing us how to truly live as a Christian. But if I have the Holy Spirit within me and love my neighnour as myself, I will not want to steal, lie, cheat or hurt anyone. Why make it more complicated than that?

Useful idiots

Russian Communism always had a throng of loyal and vocal supporters in the Western World. These were progressively minded people who endorsed the social experiment being carried out in Russia and who were blind to the brutality of the regime and the fact that conditions were not improving for the common man. They wanted so badly to believe that they were witnessing the dawn of a new age for mankind that they blithely explained away all news reports of what was actually going on.

Vladimir Lenin is said to have called them “useful idiots.” There is no documentary evidence that he actually used that term. Well, he wouldn’t have wanted those people to hear what he really thought of them, would he? There is no doubt that he found those supporters useful and kept them supplied with idealistic propaganda and financial support.

Looking at the present day propaganda wars, I am bemused by the seeming affinity between secular humanism and Islam. Could it be that each group regards the other as useful idiots?

Secular humanist governments welcome Muslim immigrants and use them as an excuse to suppress public manifestations of Judaism and Christianity. They claim that they have no anti-Jewish or anti-Christian agenda, but it just won’t do to offend Muslims by open manifestations of the Jewish or Christian faiths.

It’s highly unlikely that Muslims ever anticipated such co-operation on the part of the authorities, but they are taking advantage of it to promote their own faith and to invite people to convert to Islam.

The ultimate goals of each group are totally antithetical to each other, but for the moment they are feeding off each other to marginalize their common enemies: Christians and Jews. Which brings me to the main question: Why are these two groups so hostile to Judaism and Christianity? I believe there are two reasons.

First, while it is probably quite true that most people in both groups just want to go about their lives in peace, the leading elements in both groups cannot settle for anything less than unreserved endorsement of their principles by the general public. For the secular humanists these would be free access to abortion and euthanasia, endorsement of the LGBT lifestyle, and the belief that the state is primarily responsible for all children. For Muslims, it is unacceptable that any hint of satire or criticism should ever be voiced about Muhammad or the Qur’an, or that anyone should speak of God as having a Son.

Second, the Jewish and Christian concept of sin is anathema to both groups. While there is some difference between Jewish and Christian concepts of sin, both religions hold that sin is primarily and most importantly against God, and will be punished by God. For secular humanists and Islam alike, sin is primarily wrongs people do to other people. People will be judged by the balance of good and evil they have done in life. Both groups seem to have serious doubts whether people who do not endorse their beliefs are fit to inhabit this planet.

Now suppose that secular humanism and Islam were able to work together long enough to banish Christianity and Judaism from one country. Then the glaring differences between their beliefs would lead to total war between them. Anyone caret to predict who would win?

I’m starting to get all apocalyptic here. It’s highly unlikely we’ll ever get to that point. I’m just trying to point out what is happening in our world, and why it is happening Appeasement won’t work. May we beware of the temptation to buy peace through becoming useful idiots for either group.

The real answer is to unleash the power of the Christian faith. Jesus said “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.” This is a power that transcends all political and military power. It is a power that works quietly and powerfully within the hearts of people to transform their lives. At this moment there are Muslims all over the world who are turning to faith in Jesus without the intermediary of organized missions.

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

Inhumanity in the name of God

Anyone who pays attention to the news these days cannot help but be appalled by the brazen, boastful brutality of ISIS, skilfully orchestrated for the maximum in publicity value. If a belief in progress and the advance of civilization had led us to think that such things could never happen again, this should be a rude awakening to the evil of which mankind is capable.

It has always been the tendency of every tribe and nation to believe that their god, or their ideology, was superior to all others and destined to triumph over all others. Therefore, it was surely a good thing to use every means available to hasten that triumph.

The teaching of Jesus Christ of Nazareth was a dramatic break with that kind of thinking. He taught His followers not to resist evil done against them, not to seek revenge, but rather to love their enemies and do good to them. The New Testament church is founded upon those principles, yet very early in church history there were those who professed to hold to those principles, yet yielded to the old imperialist impulses. They thought it was a good thing when Constantine made Christianity the state religion. That meant the end of persecution.

Or did it? Within a few years, Augustine of Hippo introduced the doctrine that the grace of God was so beneficial that it was necessary to bring people into the church by brute force. This was totally contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ, but it led to 1,000 years of brutal persecution all over Europe by the Roman Catholic Church. Christians who did not believe that salvation could be found in the rites and superstitions of the Roman Catholic Church were tortured and killed in all the ways used by ISIS, and more besides. The Roman Catholic church defends itself by saying they did no such thing, it was the governments who carried out ll these acts of brutality. But this was the era where that great city, Rome, reigned over the kings of the earth and required and rewarded such actions by the civil powers.

Karl Marx dreamed of a better world that would be created by class warfare that would eliminate the oppressing classes and lead to the millennium — the dictatorship of the proletariat. That belief led to many years of tribulation in many countries, with unspeakable brutality and untold millions slaughtered — and the millennium did not come. It is a particularly twisted kind of thinking that believes a better world can be created if we kill all the people who stand in the way of that better world.

This all points to the basic need of every human — a new heart. There cannot be peace on earth when there is jealousy, envy, anger and hatred within the hearts of men. Such a change of heart cannot be forced upon anyone, thus compulsion in the name of God must be anathema to Christians.

Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace. (James 3:13-18)

Am I a uniter or a divider?

During a recent visit in the home of a young couple in another congregation, the wife talked about the church her parents had attended when she was a child. The membership of that church is now down to the pastor and a few women; no man has been able to abide the pastor’s controlling ways. That pastor may well have a sound grasp of the Christian faith and how it should be lived, but he is a divider, not a uniter.

My spell-checker doesn’t like the word uniter, and I don’t much care for it either. I would prefer to use the French word rassembleur, as that carries the implication not just of drawing people together, but of drawing them together for a common purpose. However, rassembleur would not be understood by most English-speaking people, so I will stick with uniter.

Can a revival have an enduring effect if it does not instill in believers a united vision of the purpose of Christian life? I am thinking of the Western Canadian Revival of 40 years ago. It swept through city after city, bringing together people from the whole spectrum of evangelical Christianity to hear messages calling on them to deal with sin in their lives. I believe many people were genuinely touched and their faith renewed or restored. But were they united? I don’t think so; the churches remained as before with all their internal and external frictions and divisions.

The church of God is often in need of revival. Anything that involves people will tend to get messy. Many people do not see the problems, they need to be stirred and awakened. A revival that only seeks to restore the purity of practice as it was formerly will not be durable as there is no vision of the purpose of that purity of practice. Some people see needs in the church, but have no patience for the slowness of others to see. If they attempt to impose their vision on others, some may abandon the faith. Or they themselves will abandon the assembly of the saints and wander here and there seeking others who see things as they do. These people are dividers.

Menno Simons was a true rassembleur (or uniter if you prefer). He was a priest at Witmarsum in Friesland who was converted almost 400 years ago through studying the Bible. While still in the Roman Catholic church he taught against the zealous and misguided people who took over the city of Muenster, expecting the Lord to return and establish His kingdom there. When 300 people took over an old monastery near where he lived and were killed in the ensuing siege, the burden of his conscience became almost unbearable. He felt that some had left the Roman Catholic church because he had revealed its errors, but he had not led them further in the truth.

“I thought to myself — I, miserable man, what am I doing?” “I began in the name of the Lord to preach publicly from the pulpit the true repentance, to point people to the narrow path, and in the power of the Scripture to openly to reprove all sin and wickedness. . . to the extent that I had at that time received from God the grace.”

Nine months later he left the Roman Catholic church, abandoning his reputation and easy life. “In my weakness I feared God; I sought out the pious and though they were few in number I found some who were zealous and maintained the truth. I dealt with the erring, and through the help and power of God with His Word, reclaimed them from the snares of damnation and gained them to Christ. The hardened and rebellious I left to the Lord.”

A year later , a group of brethren came to him and urged him to put use the talents he had received from the Lord to build up the church of God. “I was sensible of my limited talents, my unlearnedness, my weak nature and the timidity of my spirit, the exceeding great wickedness . . . of the world, the great and powerful sects, . . . and the woefully heavy cross that should weigh on me should I comply. On the other hand I saw the pitiful great hunger and need of these God-fearing, pious, children, for I saw that they erred as do harmless sheep which have no shepherd.”

He accepted the plea of the brethren to be ordained as an elder of the church and could later say: “The great and mighty God has made known the word of true repentance . . .through our humble service, doctrine, and unlearned writings, together with the diligent service and help of our faithful brethren in many towns and countries. It has been made known to such an extent that He has bestowed upon His churches such unconquerable power that many proud and lofty hearts have become humble; the impure, chaste; the drunken, sober; the avaricious, benevolent; the cruel, kind; and the ungodly, pious; but they also left their possessions and blood, life and limb with the blessed testimony they had, as it may be seen daily still. These are not the fruit of false doctrine. Neither could these people endure so long under such dire distress and cross were it not the power and word of the Almighty which moves them.”

In the 16th Century, church and state were closely bound together and any deviation from the state church was considered subversive, even the peaceable Anabaptists. There were many other sects at the time, due to widespread dissatisfaction with the state church. The Anabaptists taught and lived a Biblical faith that answered the cry in the hearts of many people. Attempts to destroy this faith by persecution only drew more attention to it and it continued to grow. There were many other leaders, but Menno Simons was the one who was best known to those outside the church. Thus, the members of the church came to be known as Menno-nites.

Is Jesus’ “ground crew” the real problem?

Some folks have been heard to say that they love the Lord, but the don’t have much use for His ground crew. I confess that my first impulse is to be sympathetic to their point of view, having encountered a number of questionable representatives of that group. That impulse is tempered by the realization that I might be someone that such people wouldn’t want to be part of the ground crew.

What kind of a ground crew would gain the confidence of those people? To hear them tell it, they want to be introduced to a warm, friendly Jesus who will be their buddy and tell them the way they life is just fine with Him and everything is going to be all right in the end. Some preachers come pretty close to offering such a Jesus, but most everyone knows this Jesus is an imposter.There appears to be an irreconcilable gulf between the desire to live a meaningless life and the desire to be accepted by a meaningful Jesus.

Jesus Himself is the real problem. He says very divisive things like: ” I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me;” “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple;” ” If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.”

He demands our full, unconditional allegiance. He says that His way is the only way to find peace and happiness. That’s pretty exclusive thinking; there are all kinds of religions out there that promise peace, fulfilment, happiness. Don’t they all promise the same thing? Isn’t one just as good as another?

The thing that some people eventually figure out is that Jesus is the only one who can deliver what He promises. All the other ways leave people feeling alienated, angry, fearful, worthless. When we follow Jesus we learn that we are loved, that we are valuable in the sight of God. And we learn to love other people in a way we never could before.

That last point is tremendously important. Someone who claims to know Jesus but can’t get along with others, doesn’t really know Jesus. I can imagine that Jesus and I are in complete agreement and that anyone that does not see things as we see them is an enemy. That is deception; that’s just not how Christian faith works. ” If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”

Our job, if we are part of Jesus’ “ground crew”, is not to describe Jesus as we imagine Him to be, but to introduce people to the real Jesus. The more we become like Him, the better we should be at that introduction.

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