Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: cross bearing

Are we still walking on the old paths?

“The believer, in his baptism, is baptized into the body of Christ, the church, 1 Cor. 12:13,27. And then he puts on Christ and unites himself to him to follow him truly and constantly, and bearing his cross after him. And should the believer be called on to suffer for the name of Christ and to lay down his life for his name, he should be willing to be baptized with the same baptism of suffering and shedding of blood wherewith his Lord and Master was baptized when he laid down his life to redeem man from death, and this is the allegiance of all the true disciples of Jesus Christ in this world. Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with, Matt. 20:23. If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you, John 15:18,20. They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service, John 16:2.”
-Henry Funk, A Mirror of Baptism, page 83

“Anabaptism was essentially a movement which insisted upon an earnest and uncompromising endeavour to live a life of a true discipleship of Christ, that is to give expression in fellowship and love to the deepest Christian faith, with full readiness to suffer in conflict with the evil world order. So long as this willingness to suffer was an expression of deepest faith, and this readiness to enter into a nonresistant struggle for salvation, was a living reality, just so long was Anabaptism a great and powerful movement.”
-Robert Friedman, Mennonite Piety through the Centuries, page 11

Must we only talk about Anabaptism in the past tense, as if it were a spent force? I don’t believe so, but I fear that we have reached a perilous point in our history.

Many of those who call themselves Anabaptist do not appear to have much understanding of what that implies. Over the past century, pietism has been creeping into Anabaptist/Mennonite circles, to the point that many of us now accept their definition of true Christian faith to be the authentic definition. But pietism was not the faith of our spiritual forefathers. They taught the need of the new birth, but for them the religious experience was the beginning of Christian life, not its essence. It was the starting line, not the finish line.

The way of the cross is not a quick first step, leading to a life of joy and peace, unruffled by opposition from the world. The Holy Spirit gives joy and peace within, but the cross is rough and heavy, speaking of blood, death and opposition from the world.

I am a Mennonite today because over 50 years ago I embarked on a search for a church fellowship that still lined up with the ancient Anabaptist faaith. In coming posts, I want to take another look at the old foundation, the old faith and the ancient landmarks.

A Mirror of Baptism, Henry Funk, Gospel Publishers, Moundridge, Kansas. Henry Funk,1697-1760, was the first Mennonite bishop in North America. The first English edition published 1851

Mennonite Piety Through the Centuries, Robert Friedman, copyright 1949 by the Mennonite Historical Society, Goshen College, Goshen, Indiana.

Slaying the beast within

A year and a half ago, a young man who had served a sentence for armed robbery appeared in court to explain that he had learned his lesson. He said that he had learned that he needed to stop and think before doing something and consider the consequences. “I have learned to tell the difference between good and evil,” he testified.

Two weeks ago, the fiancee of this young man, mother of his two young children, went missing. A few days later a sack containing her dismembered body was found under a bridge. The young man who had supposedly learned to tell the difference between good and evil has been charged with murder. What happened?

There is a beast within each one of us that cannot learn, cannot be tamed. Most often it shows itself in words, but sometimes far more horrible things happen. James writes:

And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: but the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.  James 3:6-10

The apostle Paul wrote: “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing” (Romans 7:18). No  anger management course, no behaviour modification therapy, can ever fully master this beast. It has to die.

That is why Jesus said: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” (Luke 9:23). That is, if we are to be followers of Jesus Christ, we must daily renounce the inclinations of that inner beast and nail it to the cross. Paul is saying the same thing when he writes: “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live” (Romans 8:13). “Mortify” is used here in its original French sense of “make to die.”

The new birth is the result of the death of this inner beast, to be replaced by a new life, one that is not animated, or in harmony with, the forces of hell, but one that is animated by the Holy Spirit and in harmony with the powers of heaven. Here are the words of Paul again: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

The beast within does not want to stay dead. That is why Jesus spoke of the daily need for self-denial and cross bearing. That does not mean a daily new birth; the Holy Spirit does not leave us so easily. A Christian may do and say things at times that indicate the influence of the inner beast; if someone else has been hurt the Holy Spirit will prompt him to make amends for the hurt he has caused. No one should ever have to wonder who has control of the life of someone who calls himself a Christian.

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.

Contagious holiness

“True evangelism is the result of a contagious holiness. Untrue evangelism is simply marketing or recruiting.”
-Doug Wilson, from Blog & Mablog, http://www.dougwils.com

Doug Wilson writes from a Calvinist / Reformed point of view, therefore we differ on some very fundamental issues of the Christian faith.  Yet a lot of what he writes about the way Christian faith needs to be demonstrated in everyday life is very much on target.  The quote above provides the perfect segue from the quote from The Clockmaker that I posted last night to what I want to say today.  So I have borrowed his words and want to give credit where credit is due.

It is right and good to honour heroes of the faith from the past and to follow their example.  We owe much to those leaders and evangelists of ages past who have faithfully taught and led the people of God along the narrow way.  Some have left us writings that we would do well to read and meditate upon.  They are not as easy to read as much of the “Christian” literature of our day, but they are not meant to be read in a single setting, then more or less forgotten.  The fact that these writings are saturated with Scripture quotations gives us an insight into the extent that the writers relied on the light of God’s Word to pilot their lives.

Yet such men are a small part of the story.  The Anabaptist faith was propagated and preserved by a multitude of unknown believers who simply lived faithful and holy lives.  These were men and women who kept the faith in times of plenty and times of poverty, in times of peace and times of persecution.  They had answers for their neighbours who asked a reason of the hope that was in them.  It is to these humble, unknown saints that we owe the preservation of the faith until our day.

We are heirs of the salvation purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ on Calvary.  It is the gift of God, not of human origin.  Yet in some measure we are also heirs of those of past generations who have lived out this faith in real life, practical Christian living.  This is not a heritage that has been passed along certain family lines or ethnic lines.  It is not a heritage that merely consists of a certain lifestyle.  It is a heritage that is caught by contact with those who truly have a faith that is contagious.

The cross is a symbol of that faith.  The cross is not a fashion accessory, a badge that confers some distinction on us.  The cross is a rough, heavy, ugly instrument of death, yet it is absolutely essential to our Christian life.  We cannot truly live until all our selfish pride and selfish aspirations are nailed to the cross and allowed to bleed to death.  Jesus said we would need to do this daily.  Self-denial and cross-bearing are not pleasant, but they allow a contagious faith to grow within us.

Our Anabaptist forefathers had that kind of faith.  It was authentic and it was contagious.  May God grant us that same faith today.

For without me ye can do nothing

O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps (Jeremiah 10:23).

Okay, if we don’t have it in us to conduct our lives in a way that will lead us to our ultimate destination of heaven, or even to live like a genuine child of God in the present, why do some Christians talk like they do have that ability?

I am thinking specifically of those who talk of self-discipline as though it was an essential quality of Christian life.  Funny that the Bible never speaks of such a thing.  Or maybe it’s not so funny.  What we are actually saying when we talk of self-discipline is that I can discipline my self by myself and my self takes the credit for it.  To which the apostle Paul says:

This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?  Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?  (Galatians 3:2-3)

If we live a consistent and orderly Christian life and then take credit to ourselves by claiming it is due to self-discipline, aren’t we contradicting the words of Jesus?

I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing (John 15:5).

Remarkably, when we speak often of self-discipline, we are also apt to speak often of humility.  Are we perhaps mistaking the appearance of humility for the real thing?  The apostle Paul has a warning for those who would choose an appearance of humility over the real thing:

Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind (Colossians 2:18).

And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me (Luke 9:23).

This is Jesus’ recipe for finding direction for our lives: self-denial, not self-discipline; cross bearing, not self-righteousness.  This is also the recipe for genuine humility, when we admit that we do not have it in us to direct our steps on the right pathway and depend on our Saviour to guide us each step of the way.

Many of those who speak of self-discipline are simply using the wrong word; their lives do give evidence of self-denial and cross bearing.  Yet there may be a snare here for the unwary.  Simply by substituting a word we may find ourselves tempted to take a little credit to ourselves, rather than thanking our Lord each day for the gift of His grace that has guided us through another day.

In praise of pilgrims and strangers

It is right and good to honour outstanding Christian leaders and missionaries of the past, and to follow their example.  However, they are a very small part of the story of Christianity.

Throughout the centuries since the time of the apostles, a vast number of unknown believers, led by the Holy Spirit, have kept the faith once delivered to the saints.  They were true pilgrims and strangers who carried on living and believing the faith in times of freedom and in times of persecution, in times of poverty and in times of plenty.  It is to these unknown humble saints that we owe the preservation of the faith to our day.

Some figures from the past who are renowned as great Christian teachers and leaders encouraged, aided and even commanded the persecution and execution of believers who did not accept their teaching and leadership.  We are more apt to find the true Christians among the victims of this shameful era of history than among their persecutors.  Indeed, my mind cannot comprehend how the persecutors could reconcile the teachings of Jesus Christ with their actions.

Jesus said: If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me (Luke 9:23).  The cross is not a fashion accessory, a badge that confers some distinction on us.  The cross is a heavy, rough, ugly instrument of death.  It is absolutely essential to our spiritual life.  We cannot truly live until all our selfish pride and all our selfish aspirations are nailed to the cross and allowed to bleed to death.  Paul said: I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me (Galatians 2:20).

It was self-denial and cross bearing that set people free in past generations to live for Christ, despite the ridicule, disapproval and persecution of the political and religious authorities.  Their faith was contagious, the spread of their faith frightened the authorities who thought that union of religion and government was essential for social stability.

True Christians have never looked to governments to support their faith, nor have they ever been a threat to governments.  When Christianity has spread as a leaven throughout a society, it has been a means of alleviating many social evils that otherwise undermined the stability of society.  The great weakness of 19th and 20th century Christianity was to see this social effect as the main purpose of Christianity.  That has undermined the true power of the gospel and many people lost the faith in trying to magnify its social effects.

In the 21st century we find ourselves in a setting highly reminiscent of the 1st century.  Now is not a time to wring our hands and bemoan what has gone wrong.  Now is the time to emulate the faith of the first Christians who “turned the world upside down.”  I am convinced that can happen again if Christians could be set free of all the selfish desires and fears that hinder us from truly knowing Jesus Christ and the power of His resurrection.

Are there people today who are willing to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Jesus, no matter the cost?

It is no secret

I confess that I avoid books that promise to reveal a “secret” about Christian life.  I’m afraid of them — afraid of being deceived — because I don’t read anything in the Bible that speaks of a “secret” to Christian life that is only revealed to an inner circle with special enlightenment.  In New Testament times this was called gnosticism and those who followed this path wandered off in many different paths of enlightenment that really led to darkness and confusion.

“And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein” (Isaiah 35:8).

“At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes” (Matthew 11:25).

Someone once said that Christianity has not been tried and found wanting: it has been found difficult and therefore not tried.  Solomon wrote: “Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions” (Ecclesiastes 7:29).  In other words we have a tendency to detour from the simplicity of the way that God has planned for us and invent a “secret” way that promises enlightenment and happiness, but avoids the cross.

The cross is central to Christian life.  We must flee evil, especially the evil within us, and the cross is the only way to do that.  “And he [Jesus] said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23).  This is not a secret, but it means abandoning pride, carnal ambitions, self-righteousness and honour-seeking.  But the result is love, joy, peace and all the other good things promised to those who believe, obey and trust God.

“For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it” (1 Peter 3:10-11).

It is no secret what God can do.
What He’s done for others, He’ll do for you.
With arms wide open, He’ll pardon you.
It is no secret what God can do.

© Stuart Hamblin, 1951

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