Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: evangelical

Catholicism or catholicity?

I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic church, the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

This is the final clause of the ancient confession of faith which is commonly known as the Apostles’ Creed.  It is the earliest complete confession of the Christian faith, and is generally supposed to have originated with the questions asked at baptism: Do you believe in. . . ?

The word catholic in this final clause is a source of embarrassment and confusion to many sincere and devout Christians who do not wish to appear to be confessing a faith in the Roman Catholic Church.  This is not what the word means.  Catholic means to be universally applicable.  The Christian faith, in its pure and original form, is applicable and pertinent to people of every nation, kindred and tongue, in every age.  Thus, the early believers thought it fitting to describe it as catholic.

We know that in the course of time the Christian faith became the preferred religion of the Roman Empire, which led the bishop of Rome to claim preeminence over all Christian churches throughout the Empire and throughout the world.  Thus was born the Roman Catholic Church, a church that could claim to be catholic, but which was never very holy.  This was where our Anabaptist forefathers refused to take their orders from the bishop of Rome and his minions, and began to suffer persecution because of this refusal.

In recent generations Anabaptist and Mennonite people have developed an aversion to the term catholic.  For that reason the last clause of the Apostles’ Creed in the English translation of the Martyrs Mirror has the phrase “the holy general Christian church.”  Maybe I’m nitpicking, but I find the term general to be so general in meaning as to not give much clue as to what it might mean in this context.  I prefer catholic, so long as it is understood in its original meaning.

Catholic, when spelled with an upper case C, and Catholicism, are commonly understood to refer to the doctrine and practices of the Roman Catholic Church.  When spelled with a lower case c, catholic and catholicity refer to the quality of being universally applicable.

I suppose what I am getting at with all this, is to remind myself, and hopefully my readers, that the pure, unadulterated Christian faith is truly holy and catholic.  It appeared at a specific moment in history, among people of a unique ethnicity, culture and language, but it was never meant to remain a prisoner of that ethnicity, culture and language.  Or any other.  It is the only remedy for the very real spiritual needs and aspirations of all people, of every age, nation, culture and language.

And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent (Acts 17:30).

On second thought

I posted a couple of articles this week that would have benefited from some sober second thought before sending them out into the unsuspecting world.  It’s not that I think I shouldn’t have said what I said, but i think the articles needed to be turned inside out and upside down, with some things pruned out and more of myself added in.

What I mean by putting more of myself into the articles is that those thoughts have their origin in things I have experienced and observed in real life.  I think that needs to be my starting point, not some statement that comes out of the blue with no visible roots.

Searching for a church is a tricky thing.  Am I looking for a church that agrees with me, or a church that agrees with God?  That isn’t easy to discern.  Since I am a serious, committed Christian, of course the way I see things is the way God sees them.  I have gone down that road and found that it led me to a place where all I could see was the faults of others.

Other Christians do have faults, but are theirs any worse than mine?   I have discovered that if I stop looking at their faults, I can see that they have many attitudes that I would do well to emulate, and gifts that I just don’t have.  We are all doing battle with the same enemies within and without and we need each others help.

However, I have observed a number of disturbing events where pastors and churches did not help seeking souls find the right way.  A young lady began having dreams that the end of the world was coming and she was not ready.  She went to her pastor and he told her, “If you weren’t a Christian you wouldn’t be worried about the end of time.  Don’t let those dreams trouble you.”   But she was not saved, not until several years later.

An older lady had a recurring dream that led her to search the Bible and then led her to give her heart to the Lord.  She was baptized in an evangelical church and all went well for a couple of years.  Then the Lord tried to lead her into a deeper consecration and her pastor told her that she was all right and didn’t need to worry about such things.  A few years later she was back to where she had been before she was converted.

Then there was the pastor of a main line denomination who told me that he believed there were eight or nine real Christians in his congregation.  He was a man with a spiritual vision, but there was little that he could do about it.

These are the kind of things that leave people disappointed and disillusioned with churches.  Some think that God has let them down, others decide Christianity is an unrealistic fairy tale.

But it is not God who has let us down in these situations.  Neither can we become more spiritual by talking about the faults of others.   God’s plan for us does include worship and fellowship with other believers, but we can so easily be detoured by our own ideas of how that is supposed to work out.

What we need is humility, yet we tend to have an allergic reaction when we hear that word.  “What?  You expect me to be a doormat and let everyone else walk all over me?”  Well, a doormat who resents being walked on is not a humble doormat.   A person who is truly humble doesn’t feel like a doormat,.  He lets God direct his life and is continually amazed at the blessings he receives.

 

There is a famine – part two

Yesterday I wrote a little about the famine of hearing the words of the Lord.  Today I want to write about another kind of famine that is spreading over our land: a famine of community among those who would follow the Lord.  This kind of famine is just as deadly as the first, especially since it is more deceptive.

In all the cities of our land there are evangelical churches where the Word of God is being preached.  Yet there is usually something else added to the gospel, and it is all the more deceptive in that almost no one recognizes it as an additive.  I am talking about the pietistic belief that the only thing that really matters is to be born again and begin a relationship with God.  As long as all is right between God and me, nothing else matters.

But we are social creatures, created to have fellowship with others.  We need the community of fellow believers to share our struggles and our victories.  To weep with us when we weep, to rejoice with us when we rejoice.  To warn us when we begin to stray from the Way, to help us find our way back, to bear with us when we are weak and almost overcome by the trials and sorrows of the way.

But not much of this is available.  The big churches have ministries for every identifiable group in their midst, but this does not create a bond between individuals and families, it does not build a sense of community.  There may be considerable excitement for a time, a sense that God is really doing great things, but somehow the inner hunger for community is not being satisfied.

There is much concern in the churches today about “leavers,” those who live a vibrant, overcoming Christian life for years and then leave the faith, saying they cannot believe any more.  Where was the community?  Did no one notice the little signs that something was changing?  That this soul was starving?

It is possible to have a sense of Christian community in a big city.  But a big church with special ministries does not create community.  It takes a group of believers who are committed to the Lord and to each other.  A group of believers who make their spiritual community the focus of their social lives, who do not only gather together for worship and Bible study but find other times to visit together as families.  They may visit about many things of everyday life and it may seem that there was only a little said of spiritual things, but these everyday visits build trust and community, a sense of belonging to something bigger than myself and my family.  Bonds of fellowship and unity grow, forming a web of relationships that is not easily torn asunder.

There is yet another level to this sense of community.  There needs to be a larger community of congregations of the same faith, so that when one travels, or relocates, it is possible to find a congregation of the same faith where one can feel at home.  The bonds between congregations are as important as the bonds between individuals and families.

However, because of the inroads of individualistic pietism, many Christians do not realize their need of community.  And there is a difficulty that needs to be admitted.  I cannot be right all the time and feel myself part of a community.  It is not possible for us to disagree and yet each one be right.

The Apostle Peter admonishes us: “Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5).  We need to be willing to learn from one another, to bend a little when others do not see things as I see them.  I need to let my rough edges get worn smooth, yet be patient with the brother, or sister, whose rough edges are still very evident.

This is the work of the Holy Spirit.  The gift of the Holy Spirit is not given to exalt me above others, but to make it possible to recognize the same Spirit in my brothers and sisters.  The Spirit unites us in a common purpose, despite differences in background, social status and character.  It is the Spirit that binds us together and smooths the differences between us, allowing us to draw spiritual nourishment from the community of fellow believers.

Parents and contagious faith

In June 1953, at the age of eleven, I was confirmed and became a full member of the Anglican Church of Canada.  After the service, our local minister handed me a little red book, containing questions for self-examination before communion.  They were searching questions and I remember taking that little red book on a Saturday night, kneeling down and searching my life as I tried to honestly answer each question.  I believe that was the point when God first called me and a little spark was kindled in my heart.

But I did not follow through to allow that spark to be kindled into a living fire in my heart.  I did not make a conscious decision to abandon this weekly soul-searching; it just seemed to me that no one else felt the need to go that deep, so it gradually ceased to be important to me.  It took another seventeen years until that spark was rekindled and burst forth into a living faith.

In 2011 a study was conducted among a cross section of teens who had grown up in church-going families.  The results were published last fall in a report entitled Hemorrhaging Faith, revealing that 60% of youth from evangelical homes abandon their parents’ faith in early adulthood.  Among Catholics the number rises to 90%.

Some important points have been raised in the discussion following this report.  It appears that youth programs, youth ministries and youth pastors may be doing more harm than good.  Part of the problem is that they separate youth from the adults in the church, thus lessening the influence of older and more mature Christians.

However, the problem begins before youth age, among those eleven to fifteen years of age.  These are the transitional years, when children are just beginning to become aware of and explore the more important issues of life.  The influence of the home is paramount at this stage, far more important than church, school, or any influence outside the home.  Do the parents have a living faith?  Is their Bible reading routine, or a search for direction?  Are their prayers an earnest search for God’s guidance and grace?

Children know if it is real or not.  One boy passed by the door of a room and saw his father, his head bowed in prayer, with the Bible open on his lap.  At that moment, he knew that his father’s faith was real and he wanted the same faith for himself.  We cannot stage moments like that, we simply need to examine whether or not our faith is genuine.  If it is, it will be contagious.

If we are only going through the motions, our children will go through the motions with us, then quit as soon as they leave home.  If we scarcely ever talk of spiritual things, experiences that have had an impact on our life, verses from the Bible that have given us hope and inspiration, then our children will only have an outward form of Christianity to guide them in forming their impressions of the reality of Christian faith.

Children in this eleven to fifteen year old age group take their cues about the meaningfulness of worship, the preaching of the Word and the Christian fellowship of the church from their parents.  The greatest responsibility for the spiritual life of these children does not lie with the preacher, the deacon or the Sunday School teacher, it rests on the parents and the spiritual temperature of the home.

The instructions given by Moses in Deuteronomy 6:5-7 are as important today as they were then: Thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.  And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.
 

Separate from the world

The text which follows is a very much abridged excerpt from J. C. Ryle’s Practical Christianity, which was first published in 1867.  John Charles Ryle (1816-1900) was a leader of the evangelical wing of the Church of England, and bishop of Liverpool from 1880 to 1900.

The subject perhaps was never more important than it is at the present day.  There is a widely spread desire to make things pleasant in religion – to saw off the corners and the edges of the cross, and to avoid, as far as possible, self-denial.  On every side, we hear professing Christians declaring loudly that we must not be narrow and exclusive, and that there is no harm in many things which the honest saints of old thought bad for their souls.  We may go anywhere and do anything and keep company and plunge into anything, and all the while may be very good Christians – this is the maxim of thousands.  In a day like this, I think it good to raise a warning voice and invite attention to the teaching of God’s Word: “Come out and be separate.”

When I speak of the world, I mean those people who think only or chiefly of this world’s things, and neglect the world to come: the people who are always thinking more of earth than of heaven, more of time than of eternity, more of the body than of the soul, more of pleasing man than of pleasing God.  It is of them and their ways, habits, customs, opinions, practices, tastes, aims, spirit, and tone that I am speaking when I speak of the world.  This is the world from which Paul tell us to ‘come out and be separate.’

I shall try to show what true separation from the world really is.

1.  First and foremost, he that desires to ‘come out from the world and be separate’ must steadily and habitually refuse to to be guided by the world’s standard of right and wrong.

2.  He that desires to ‘come out from the world and be separate’ must be very careful of how he spends his leisure time.

3.  He that desires to ‘come out from the world and be separate’ must steadily and habitually determine not to be swallowed up and absorbed in the business of the world.

4.  He that desires to ‘come out from the world and be separate’ must steadily abstain from all amusements and recreations which are inseparably connected with sin.

5.  He that desires to ‘come out from the world and be separate’ must be moderate in the use of lawful and innocent recreations.

6.  Last, but not least, he that desires to ‘come out from the world and be separate’ must be careful how he allows himself in friendships, intimacies, and close relationships with worldly people.

I offer these six general hints to all who wish to follow Paul’s advice and come out from the world and be separate.  In all doubtful cases, we should first pray for wisdom and sound judgement.  In all doubtful cases, let us often try ourselves by recollecting the eye of God.  Would I really go to such and such a place, or do such and such a thing, if I really thought God was looking at me?  Finally, in all doubtful cases, let us find out what the conduct of the holiest and best Christians has been under similar circumstances.  We need not be ashamed to follow good examples.

Epistle from a Waldensian Barbe

[Barbe, meaning uncle, was the name given by the Waldensians to their ministers.]

An Epistle of the Barbe Bartolemi Tertian to the Evangelical churches of Pragela, circa 1420 AD.

Jesus be with us.

To all our faithful and beloved brethren in Jesus Christ.  I greet you all.  Amen.

This Epistle is to alert your brotherhood, acquitting myself of that trust which is committed to me by God concerning you for the salvation of your souls, according to the light of truth given to us by the Most High.  May every one of you maintain, increase and cherish to your utmost and by no means weaken or diminish those good principles, forms and customs given by those who have gone before us, of which we are not worthy.

For it would be but a very small and poor advantage for us to have been renewed by the fatherly persuasions and the light given to us by God, if we should now give ourselves up to a worldly, diabolical and fleshly conversation, forsaking the principal good, which is God, and the salvation of our souls for a short temporal life.  For the Lord has said in the gospel, What will it profit a man to gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?  And, It were better never to have known the way of righteousness, than having once known it, to walk contrary to it.

Yea, we shall be altogether inexcusable before the righteousness of God, and our condemnation more severe.  For more torment will be inflicted upon those who have had the greatest knowledge.  Wherefore I beseech you by the love of God not to diminish but to increase the love, fear and obedience which is due unto God, and to one another, and also to keep the good customs which you have seen and heard of God, by us and others.  And that you will purge out from among you all those faults and failings which disturb your peace, love and concord, and all that obstructs your liberty in the service of God, and your own salvation and the administration of truth, if you desire that God would prosper you in the temporal and spiritual goods.  For you can do nothing without Him.

If you desire to be heirs of His glory, do as He tells you, If you would enter into life, keep my commandments.  Moreover, let there be among you no vain sports, gluttony, whoredoms, balls or other debaucheries, nor questions, fraud, usury, envy or discord.  Neither support or uphold among you any persons of an evil life who could become a stumbling block or evil example to you.  Rather let love and faithfulness reign among you and all good examples, doing one to another as every one would that it should be done to him.  For otherwise it is not possible that any can be saved, or find grace and favour with God and man in this world, or glory in that which is to come.

And it is necessary that the leaders and those who govern among you see to maintaining these things.  For when the head is sick all the members suffer.  Wherefore, if you hope and desire to possess eternal life and to be held in esteem and favour and to prosper in the world in both spiritual and temporal things, cleanse yourselves from every disorderly way among you so that God may always be with you, Who never forsakes those who put their trust in Him.  But know for certain that God does not answer or dwell with sinners, nor with the soul who desire evil, nor with the man that is a slave to sin.  Wherefore let every one cleanse the way of his own heart and flee from dangers if he would not perish in them.  I shall not say more for the present, except that ye do all these things and the God of Peace be with you all.  Join with us in true, humble and devout prayer.  Greetings to all the faithful and beloved of Christ.  Amen

I am wholly yours, Bartholomeus Tertianus, ready to serve you in all things in our power, according to the will of God.

“They feared the LORD and served their own gods”

The title comes from 2 Kings 17:33 and describes the people of Samaria during the time of their subjection to the king of Assyria.  We shake our heads in disbelief, wondering how those long ago people could have been so blind.  What were they thinking?

Let’s take a closer look; who was the LORD and who were the other gods?  LORD (uppercase letters) in the AV is substituted for JHVH, the name of God, in the Hebrew text.  Early translators added vowels to make Jehovah; the preponderance of recent scholarship would be that Yahweh is more correct.  All agree that the name is derived from the “I AM” by which God identified Himself to Moses.  French Bibles translate JHVH as “l’Éternel,” (the Eternal) which is an entirely fitting name for the Creator God who has always been and will forever be.

Other gods went by many names, the most common in Canaan being Baal, which means “master” or “lord.”  Baal was the god whom they believed to give increase to family, field, flocks and herds.  He was believed to show himself in rain and thunderstorms.  The worship of Baal tended to licentiousness, making it in some ways more exciting and appealing than the staid worship and strict moral code of the LORD.

It appears that the people tried to reverence the LORD and maintain the outward forms of His worship, but feared to neglect also offering sacrifices to Baal for fear that their wives, fields and flocks would be infertile.  Does this begin to sound like what a lot of evangelical Christians are doing today?

We want to have an assurance that our eternal destiny is assured in the heavenly mansions.  Meanwhile, we want to prove to ourselves and our neighbours that we can be Christians and have it all in this world, too.  Fashion, music and entertainment are very important to our family, friends and neighbours and we don’t want to give the impression that we are being deprived of anything that is good.  In many cases, worship services are heavily infused with these influences and Christians call it good, despite their sensuous nature.

Providing for the needs of our families is a virtue clearly taught in the Scriptures.  Somehow that has become confused in our minds with the need to present an aura of prosperity.  In too many cases this is obtained at the cost of a heavy debt load.

Education is also useful in providing the tools for being an effective Christian witness.  We need to be articulate, literate and numerate.  It is good to have an understanding of history and how government works (it is much easier to be critical of those in government when one doesn’t really understand what’s going on).  Learning another language not only makes us able to communicate with more people, but opens our mind to the fact that other nations and other cultures don’t look at things the same way we do.  A good education is also necessary for making a living.

But what is a good education?  Much time and money is dedicated to obtaining a recognized diploma or degree from a college or university.  In many cases the intellectual atmosphere of these places is hostile to Christian faith.  But that official document is so highly regarded that many Christian parents see no alternative and anxiously labour to get their offspring accepted in a good university.  The losses may be twofold: young people who leave university with a seriously compromised faith; and all the time, money and effort spent to obtain an impressive piece of paper that may not represent skills that are actually needed in the marketplace.

Jesus said “Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Luke 6:24 and 16:13).  Mammon represents all the things mentioned here and much more.  Mammon is not just money, but all the stuff and transient pleasures that money can buy and all the schemes that promise to help us obtain more money.  There is a thrill in all this that appeals to the senses.  In fact, the love of Mammon engenders a sensuality that can lead to excusing immorality before and after marriage and the breakup of families.

Do evangelicals today “fear the LORD and serve mammon”?  Before we answer for other people, perhaps we should look at our own lives, the choices we have made, why we made them and the effects those choices have had on our life and the lives of our family members.

WWJD is the Wrong Question

In His Steps, first published in 1897, is Charles Sheldon’s tale of the transformation of the fictional town of Raymond when people began to ask “What would Jesus do?”  Many of us have read it.  It sounds inspiring, doesn’t it?  The Bible is read, powerful prayers are offered up, good things happen.

However, when answers come to the question “What would Jesus do?” they do not come from the Bible, nor from the Holy Spirit in answer to prayer, but from the imagination  and reasoning of the people asking the question.

If we look a little closer, we find that the main concern of the books is that the liquor business, and big business in general, have created a social environment where people cannot live a Christian life.  It is suggested that part of the remedy would be to form co-operative businesses, rather than allow businesses to be run for the profit of the owners.  There is no hint that the greatest need of rich and poor alike is to recognize the evil in their own heart and repent of it.  The sin of society must first be addressed.

This book played a large part in popularizing what became known as the Social Gospel.  Walter Rauschenbusch was another very influential voice in the social gospel movement of the early 1900’s.  In his books, Rauschenbusch quotes Scripture and uses the language of evangelical Christianity.  Yet he does not believe in the divine inspiration of the whole Bible, leaving him free to select certain Scriptures as authoritative, and to reject others.  The Scriptures he does use are interpreted according to social gospel theology.

The kingdom of God includes all of humanity.  Men are not inherently sinful, but live in a sinful environment which hinders them from living as God would have them to live.  Sin is not committed against God alone, but since God resides in every human being, every sin against our fellow man is indirectly a sin against God.  Jesus is not the incarnate Son of God, but simply a man who attained to a new level of understanding and living the kingdom of God.

Rauschenbusch names six sins that caused the death of Jesus: religious bigotry; graft and political power; corruption of justice; mob spirit and mob action; militarism; and class contempt.  There is no mention of a resurrection.  The devil, hell and heaven exist only in a figurative sense.  All people are somewhere in the unending process of growing closer to God and becoming more like him.

Rauschenbusch considered the production and marketing of alcoholic beverages to be a great evil.  Even worse was the oppression of mankind by privately owned businesses operated for the profit of the owners.  He called these businesses unsaved organizations.  Collectively owned businesses, such as co-operatives or government-owned businesses are saved organizations.  This is the Social Gospel and it is indeed a strange gospel.

Another common name for the doctrine of Charles Sheldon and Walter Rauschenbusch is Christian Socialism.  This is socialism clothed in language that appealed to the masses of the day, the language of evangelical Christianity.  One may search their writings in vain for a clear statement of a belief in a transcendent, omnipotent, Creator.  They used the name of God freely, but evidently believed that God was only a useful myth.

It may sound quite pious to ask: “What Would Jesus Do?”  But it is the wrong question.  We do not need to struggle to find the right response by a process of rational reasoning, or by our imagination.  We have the Bible and the Holy Spirit to give us answers to that question.

Someone once said that a fanatic is a man who does what he believes God would do if He really understood the facts of the situation.  Saul of Tarsus was such a man.  He was certain that he was doing God a service by hunting down the followers of Jesus.  Then one day, on the road to Damascus, Jesus stopped him in his tracks.  Then Saul asked: “Lord, wilt thou have me to do?”  That is the right question.  We all need to ask that question, not to ourselves but to God.

Benjamin Eby’s “Origin and Doctrine of the Mennonites” – Part 6

BIOGRAPHY OF MENNO SIMONS, continued

The following is an extract from Book 16 in the Downfall of the Tyrants, by Peter Jantsz Twisck, pages 1074-1075.

A daughter of Menno Simons, a praiseworthy woman, in our presence related the following incident: A certain traitor who had agreed, for a certain sum of money, to deliver without fail, Menno in person, or his head into the hands of his enemies, expected to apprehend him in one of their meetings; but it so happened that he was not able to accomplish his object, for when he arrived at the place where he sought to spy him out, Menno in a providential manner escaped.

At another time this same traitor, in company with an officer or police, as they were in search of Menno, unexpectedly met him as he was going along on a canal, in a small boat. The traitor kept silent until Menno had passed them some distance, and had leapt ashore in order to escape with less peril. Then the traitor cried out “behold the bird has escaped!” The officer chastised him—called him a villain and demanded why he did not tell of it in time; to which the traitor replied, “I could not speak; for my tongue was bound.” The lords were so displeased at this that the traitor according to his promise, had to forfeit his own head. It is worthy of consideration how wonderfully God, in this and in other like instances preserves his people, and especially how fearfully he punishes the tyrants.

Although Menno did not get discouraged, but endured for some time in his work, under constant danger of his life; however, under these unfriendly circumstances, he was finally bidden to leave his fatherland, the Netherlands, and to flee to the present Grand Duchy of Mecklenburg, to Wiesmar. But this stay was of short duration, for he was forced through frequent persecutions to again move from there. Menno, because of the persecutions still undaunted, but all the more strengthened in his resolutions, although now perplexed concerning fleeing further—travelled toward Denmark, in the duchy of Holstein, because he had learned that some of his co-religionists had found forbearance at Fresenburg, near Oldeslo. At Fresenburg, Menno and his followers were sheltered. There he found protection and shelter, and a place of rest. A rich nobleman of Fresenburg, who, at the time of the vehement persecution of the Baptists in the Netherlands was in active military service and had learned more of the foundation of faith of Menno, granted a permanent residence, unmolested worship of God, and a book printing establishment to the God fearing and zealous Menno Simon, at Fresenburg.

From then on Menno spread his teachings publicly, as the impartial government also saw the false accusations against him, and in time, the great persecutions ceased. The power of the truth opened the eyes of many, and a great reformation was brought about, through the grace of God, in many places, although Menno did not use sword and guns, nor the arm of a king or sovereign, but only and alone with the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Eph. 6:17) he withstood and conquered. Finally, after obtaining victory, in the village of Wusterfeld, not far from Lubeck, he lived in peace until his death, which occurred on January 31st, 1561, in the 66th year of his life, when it pleased the Almighty to take his bearer of the Cross from this troublesome world to eternal rest.

Those walking in uprightness shall rest in peace (Isaiah 57-2).

Beloved reader just consider if this true witness of the truth, at the end of his life, could not also say to his friends like the Apostle Paul: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord the righteous Judge shall give me at that day: not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” 2 Tim. 4, 7:8.

A Fading Faith

For twelve years we lived in a little village in Ontario.  Directly across the street from our home was the United Church manse.  The minister and his wife were a pleasant older couple, professional and polished.  There came a Christmas Day where we were all snowbound after a three-foot snowfall that began the day before.  Some people’s children couldn’t make it home for Christmas, family gatherings were cancelled.  In the evening, after the storm had ended, the minister and his wife invited their neighbours to gather in their home.  We appreciated the gesture, but this was about the only time we really had occasion to visit with them.

Eventually they moved on and were replaced by a young couple with small children.  These people were different — not much polish, but downright friendly.  We visited on our way to the corner store, while waiting for the mail, in their home, in our home, our daughter babysat their children, they sent their children to our congregation’s Vacation Bible School.

I began to realize there was something else different about this United Church minister: he appeared to be a man of genuine faith.  Over the course of our visiting his story came out.  He had been raised in a locale that was pretty solidly Roman Catholic.  In his youth he had searched for answers to his inner spiritual need and had met the Lord.  He no longer felt at home in the Catholic church and the only alternative in the area was the United Church.  He had joined that church, went to theological college and become a minister.

During that time a TV program did a show on the practice of excommunication.  One half dealt with the practice of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the other half with the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite.  They interviewed a few people who had been expelled from the church and who seemed to relish the opportunity to vocalize their bitterness.  The next time I talked with my neighbour from across the street, he mentioned seeing this program, then said, “I have only one question.  Is there a way for someone who has been excommunicated from your church to become a member again?”

I explained that it was indeed possible and that most of those who were excommunicated were later re-accepted into full fellowship in the church.  The church only excommunicated those who had somehow lost contact with God and it was our desire that their relationship with their Lord and Saviour could once again become real.  I also explained how that I had never observed that those who had been excommunicated and re-accepted carried any stigma among the brethren.  The re-acceptance was genuine and complete.

His response floored me: “I wish we could do that in the United Church of Canada.  I wish we could say to our people that this is what we believe and if you don’t believe it and live by it, you have no right to be members here.”

Another time this minister told me, “I believe there are nine real Christians in my congregation.”  I think I could have guessed the names of most of the ones he was thinking of.  Most of them were older, in their seventies, and I sensed something in them that closely resembled what I felt from this minister.  I think there must have been a lingering evangelical witness in parts of the United Church during their youth and they had caught something that carried on to the end of their lives.  There was also one younger couple who were born again during the time that our neighbour was ministering in the local United Church.

The years have gone by, the newly-converted young couple moved to a more evangelical church, the older true-hearted folks have passed on without passing their faith to their children.  The minister too died suddenly some years ago.  His wife was also our friend, but I don’t believe she ever shared his faith.

The United Church of Canada appears to be slowly dying.  One would be hard-pressed to find much remnant of spiritual life among the adherents.  Neither is there much social advantage to be found anymore in attending the United Church.  Rural churches have been closing and consolidating for several generations.  Urban churches are declining in membership and beginning to ask for help to maintain their magnificent buildings.

Sadly, I am seeing the same kind of rot developing in churches that were once considered evangelical.  People are transferring from church to church in search of one that will be more spiritual than the last one.  Whole congregations are transferring from one denomination to another for the same reason.  What is the answer?

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