Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Europe

Missionary hymns

I think the old missionary hymns leave many of us feeling a little uneasy. Those references to carrying the gospel to every dark land  – was there a deliberate inference that lands where white people dwell are more enlightened and the lands where darker skinned people dwell are in spiritual darkness? I fear that idea seemed self-evident to white people 100 to 200 years ago.

It’s not so evident today and I think we should stop singing those hymns. I don’t believe that we should stop missionary activity, but perhaps the greater need in our day is right under our noses. While Christianity has taken root on other continents, it is in danger of being uprooted in Europe and North America.

That leads me to the other concern I have with the old missionary hymns – many of them take it for granted that missionary activity can only happen in lands that are across the ocean waves.

Churches in Nigeria have taken note of the increase of unbelief, paganism and idolatry in Europe and North America and are sending out missionaries to do what we seem to have forgotten how to do. In our nearest city, Saskatoon, three Nigerian denominations have placed missionaries and are establishing congregations.

I wonder what kind of missionary hymns they sing in Nigeria?

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Primitive Christianity and the Celts

As far as archeologists can determine, the Celtic peoples originated near the Danube River and spread east, south and west from there. Today, the only identifiable Celtic populations are found in France (Brittany) and the British Isles (Ireland, Scotland and Wales). Two thousand years ago they were all over southern Europe.

They lived along the Po River in northern Italy, in Switzerland, Belgium, France, Spain, all over the British Isles, into Bosnia and as far as Asia Minor (present day Turkey). The Greek form of Celts is Galatai. In France they were known as Gauls, in Asia Minor they were Galatians.

The Apostle Paul brought the gospel to the Galatians. Believers from there took it to the Gauls in southern France and from there it spread into the British Isles. It may have been Celtic missionaries from Scotland that carried the gospel to northern Italy, Bohemia and Switzerland. In time the gospel spread from the Celts to the people around them.

The Celts never organized into nation states, they were more a loose association of clans. As long as they were able to maintain their independent existence, the gospel that took root among them was of a purer form than the syncretistic gospel that was imposed in the Roman Empire after Constantine.

As Germanic peoples moved into the territories occupied by the Celts and the Roman Empire extended its reach, the Celtic peoples were absorbed into the majority culture. Nevertheless, evidence remained of their purer gospel among the faith groups known as Waldenses in the Alps, Albigenses in southern France and Bogomils in Bosnia. There is historical evidence of links between these groups, preachers from Bosnia appearing in the south of France, in Italy, Bohemia and other places.

These old evangelical brethren believed that Christians were citizens of the kingdom of God and were not to take part in governing earthly kingdoms. The Roman Catholic church accused them of being dualists, of believing that the God of the Old Testament was not the same as the God revealed in the New Testament. There is historical evidence of that belief in many of the same areas, but the faith groups named above did not hold such a belief. It was merely a handy accusation to justify using political power to persecute rivals to the Roman Catholic church and taint all evidence of the purity of their faith.

Eventually these churches appeared to have been persecuted into oblivion. Yet the faith proved to be more resilient than the persecutors. New churches sprang up in Switzerland, south Germany and the Low Countries, professing the same old faith. They came to be known as Mennonites. There is one intriguing last glimpse of the old churches in eastern Europe. In the 16th century, three men from the region of Thessalonika travelled to Germany because they had heard there were fellow believers there. They met with a Mennonite congregation, found they were united in all points of their faith and held communion together.

Why isn’t this happening today?

A.D. 1199.— It is stated that at this time the Albigenses, who were one church with the Waldenses, had so increased in the earldom of Toulouse, that, as the papists complained, “almost a thousand cities were polluted with them.”

With this the lord of St. Aldegonde concurs, when he says: “That notwithstanding Peter de Bruis was burnt as a heretic at St. Gilles, near Nimes, the doctrine nevertheless was spread throughout the province of  Gascony, into the earldom of Fois, Querci, Agenois, Bourdeloicx, and almost throughout all Languedoc, and the earldom of Jugrane, now called Venice. In Provence also this doctrine was almost universally accepted, and the cities, Cahors, Narbonne, Carcasonne, Rhodes, Aix la Chapelle, Mesieres, Toulouse, Avignon, Mantauban, S. Antonin, Puflarens, and the country of Bigorre were filled with it, together with many other cities which were favourable to them, as Tarascon, Marseilles, Perces, Agenois, Marmande, and Bordeaux; whereby this doctrine spred still further, from the one side into Spain and England, from the other into Germany, Bohemia, Hungary, Moravia, Dalmatia, and even into Italy.

“Indeed, in such a manner did this doctrine spread that however sedulously the popes and all their minions exerted themselves, aided by the princes and secular magistrates, to exterminate them, first by disputations, then by banishment and papal excommunication and anathemas, proclaiming of crusades, indulgences and pardons to all who would commit violence upon them, and finally by all manner of tortures, fires, gallows, and cruel bloodshedding, yea, in such a manner that the whole world was in commotion on account of it; yet they (the papists) could not prevent the ashes from flying abroad, and becoming scattered far and wide, almost even to all the ends of the earth.”

The above seems marvellous, but it is not marvellous with regard to the Lord God, with whom nothing is wonderful or impossible. In the meantime, we see how God permitted this grain of mustard seed of the Waldenses, or Poor Men of Lyons, to grow up a large tree, and this in the midst of their persecutions. Oh, the great power, wisdom, and love of God, who never forsakes His people!

-The Martyrs Mirror, page 290

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