Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

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Faith vs Entertainment

There once was a day when people were able to listen to, or read, lengthy discourses on problems of the day. They understood what was being said or written and knew the difference between statements that were logical and coherent and those that were self-contradictory. Most people in North America have lost that capability.

Today we are bombarded with sound bites and visual images, most of which have no relevance to our lives. News has become entertainment, giving us the impression of being informed without giving us any useful information. Events in distant corners of the world are made known to us as soon as they happen, but no context is given to understand why or what it may mean. Local events are reported with the same lack of context or coherence, leaving us more and more estranged from our neighbours.

This is the thesis of Neil Postman’s book Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. It was first published in 1985 and is still as illuminating as it was then.

Something similar has happened in Christian circles. Many people take a hop, skip and jump approach to Bible reading, trying to get to all the interesting bits without bothering to have to figure out the context. Reference Bibles reinforce that approach, making it easier for people to find those interesting bits. Most of them subtly offer their own analysis of what those bits mean, which is often not quite what you will find if you actually read the whole book.

Bible Story books for children do much the same thing, picking out the events that make the best stories. The lessons they draw from those stories don’t always coincide with what you will discover if you read the whole story in the Bible.

Expository preaching seems to have largely fallen out of favour, people’s attention spans having grown shorter than they used to be.

What can be done? May I suggest that we abandon all the so-called helps and go back to reading the Bible, the whole Bible. I realize that to most people that may seem like a recommendation to tedious drudgery. But people in past generations found the Bible interesting, engrossing, hard to put down.

Some of us still do. So, I guess our task is to talk about the Bible and how interesting and meaningful we find it to be.

Simplicity of the church

It was a fine summer day in 1627 and I was strolling through Plimoth Plantation when deacon Samuel Fuller fell in step beside me. “The church officials back in England are saying that we have no business calling ourselves a church here in Massachusetts, because we have no minister,” he said.  “But a church is made up of Christian people. They don’t even have a church. Who made them ministers and bishops?”

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Well, OK, the year was actually 1990, the man beside me was an actor playing the role of Samuel Fuller and we were in a recreated Plimoth Plantation, meticulously designed to look and feel like 1627. But I have no doubt that the real Samuel Fuller actually spoke those words.

Later that day, at a family reunion supper, I asked a young lady (a distant cousin) who also worked at Plimoth Plantation, if the modern Samuel Fuller really believed what he was saying. She hesitated a moment, then said “I think he has it in his head, but not in his heart.”

There you have the essential requirement of a church: Christian people. Not people motivated by tradition, emotion, social connection or intellect, but genuine, from the heart, born again Christians.

How can we do that? The short answer is we can’t. Jesus said He would build His church, The real question is how can we discern if a church is being built by Jesus or by people?

The New Testament speaks of believers meeting for worship, but there are no instructions as to what the meeting place should look like. Being as I live in Saskatchewan and it is bitterly cold outside right now, I am thankful for a warm building to use when we meet to worship. But I am wary when buildings become large and elaborate and are regarded with more reverence than the meeting going on inside.

The New Testament speaks of preaching, but never hints that the preacher needs special training, or that he should be paid a salary. The word minister means servant, yet a minister also has a responsibility to watch over the spiritual welfare of his congregation. But if he begins to think of himself as a lord over the congregation, he has crossed a line according to 1 Peter 5:3.

The New Testament speaks of singing, but never hints at the use of musical instruments. Entertainment is not an enhancement of worship, but rather a distraction.

The New Testament also shows that a close relationship between churches or congregations in different places and different countries. One of the warning signs that a congregation is not being built by Jesus is when it is totally independent of any other group.

I have known people who do church at home or who belong to small independent congregations. They appear to have good convictions but they are alone in their faith, there is no one else with whom they can have fellowship. And I have seen what happens to children from these tiny, self-isolated groups. They rebel. Some forsake Christian faith altogether, some find a home in a much more liberal church. They all blame their parents for their strict, legalistic attitude.

But they are missing something. A church does not become more spiritual, closer to Jesus, by ignoring most of His teachings, saying they were for a different era. The real problem was that their parents trusted no one but themselves. That is perhaps the greatest deception of all, to believe that I, and only I, am walking with the Lord.

This brings us back to the beginning. The Church built by Jesus Christ is a church made up of genuine, from the heart, born again Christians. A church where “Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11).  Part of being a genuine Christian is the grace to see Christ in others, in spite of our outward differences.

Spectator or participant?

Canadian politics just became much more interesting. Maxime Bernier has withdrawn from the Conservative Party, of which he almost became leader, to found a new political party. He is speaking up about issues that others want to avoid talking about and this has raised a storm of criticism. Perhaps he is starting a movement at just the opportune moment to bring the country back to the principles that unite us. Or perhaps his movement will fizzle out and just be a footnote in history. In either case the next few months promise to be interesting for political observers.

However, for those of us who are Christians, we must remember one thing: in politics we must remain spectators, not participants. Politics is a dirty business and no one who engages in politics, however pure his intentions, can avoid becoming soiled. Politics is he art of the compromise, but a compromise is seldom reached before a lot of grime and slime is slung about. Christians cannot win at such a game, unless they cease speaking and acting like Christians.

In the church we must be participants, not mere spectators. If we think the purpose of the church is to provide spiritual entertainment, we will be disappointed. But if we are looking for something to do that is meaningful and fulfilling, the church has a place for us. It may not be highly visible, but if that’s what we want we should ask ourselves if we understand what truly matters in life. There are people in the church who see things differently than we do. Listen to them, perhaps we have missed something. We should speak freely about the things that matter to us that they may have missed. We need to love them, and be lovable. Above all, follow the promoting of the Holy Spirit and trust that they are doing that too. When we are all led by the Holy Spirit the work we are doing will result in something far better than any one of us could have planned.

Having fun is not the purpose of our life.

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Happiness is often confused with having fun. But ask yourself, isn’t the root of your desire for fun a wish to have your attention diverted from your problems, at least for a moment? To feel a constant need for amusement, entertainment, or recreation is self-defeating and even self-destructive.

If our happiness is dependent on what other people do, or on other people leaving us alone to do our own thing, they will always disappoint us and spoil our fun.

What is happiness? Isn’t it a feeling of contentment, a sense that things are going well? That’s what we really long for, isn’t it? It is not popularity, or a belief that everybody admires me, or envies me. “Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain.”

To paraphrase Solomon: “He that loveth fun shall not be satisfied with fun; nor he that loveth excitement with extreme thrills.” Fun will always disappoint us, we can never get enough to satisfy us.

The only reasonable thing to do then is to abandon all attempts to make ourselves happy and do our utmost to make others happy. Even then, happiness does not depend on the thankfulness of the other person, though that is sometimes an added benefit. It is quite alright if our kindness goes unnoticed, unseen by others.

Neither does happiness lie in slapping a band aid on someone’s wound, going my way and congratulating myself on what a good fellow I am. Helping someone else starts with listening. That may become painful and messy, but they need someone to listen. Sometimes that is all we can do. Sometimes that is enough.

True happiness lies in knowing that we have done something to make life a little better, a little less painful, for someone else. It is the feeling that we have done what we could.

The difference between worship and entertainment

Worship is an act of homage, reverence and devotion paid to a deity. Entertainment is something that offers us amusement, excitement and a diversion from the mundane problems of our life.

Worship is something we do; it implies an active participation in the act of worship. Entertainment is an activity where we are merely spectators. Our emotions may be thoroughly aroused, but we have no active role in the activity being presented.

These concepts seem to have become all muddled up in our day. Many people regard church as a spectator activity; they go to church expecting an experience, lively music, an attention grabbing message, eloquent prayers. At the same time, there appears to be a very real adoration and worship of singers, musicians, actors and athletes.

But none of these popular gods can do anything to help us with the real problems of our life. The best they can do is divert our attention from our real needs for a moment and allow us to participate vicariously in their seemingly glamorous and thrilling lives. That will eventually grow old and leave us deflated.

True worship of God the Creator does not need to be embellished by ornate buildings, loud music or human eloquence. Our need is to meet our maker in heartfelt adoration, make our pleas known to Him and to hear what He might have to say to us. This may come through the words of a song, the reading of Scriptures, the words that are spoken and the prayers that are made in the service, but the ultimate source of what we receive is not in the outward things, but in the inward working of the Holy Spirit.

Meaningful worship does not depend so much on the performance of the preacher, or of others who take an active part in the service, but in an attitude of the heart that feels a need to commune with God through worshipping together with those who are bound together in the same faith.

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