Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

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The brief career of a fervent preacher

Levi Young was born in Eastern Pennsylvania in 1841. The date of his conversion is not known, but he became a member of a small Mennonite denomination at the age of 21. Not long after, he became an itinerant minister and evangelist in that group. He never married.

He was on fire for the Lord, striving to do His will in all things and always ready to speak a word for the Lord. By the summer of 1865 he became troubled about the church to which he belonged and came to the conclusion that he needed to separate himself. In June he travelled to Wooster, Ohio to visit John Holdeman, the leader of another small Mennonite church. He spent several days visiting with Holdeman and other members of his church, then returned home.

Over the following months Levi Young exchanged letters with John Holdeman and received a visit from him. In December he returned to Wooster, Ohio and was baptized by John Holdeman.

From there he travelled with John Holdeman to Wakarusa, Indiana where there was a congregation of Holdeman’s church. They returned to Ohio and on the last day of the year left for Ontario.

It appears that this was at least the second visit of John Holdeman to the Baden, Ontario area as Levi Young identifies several people as brethren in his diary: Jacob Litwiller and wife, bro. Yutzy and bro. Schott. Meetings were held most evenings, often in homes, at least twice in a school house and once in Hamacher’s meeting house of the Evangelical Association. Several times Levi Young mentions that “I preached and brother Holdeman exhorted.”

Levi Young then returned home to Pennsylvania and continued preaching in homes when that opportunity would arise. It is evident from his diary that he was a sick man and growing weaker. He makes plans for the disposition of his goods after his death and the last entry in his diary is from July 13, 1868, breaking off in mid sentence. He died August 14 at the age of 26 and was buried near Coopersburg. It appears likely the cause of death was consumption, now known as tuberculosis.

It is interesting to me that John Holdeman encouraged a newly baptized brother to preach in his evangelical outreach in Ontario. That kind of does away with any picture I may have had of John Holdeman as a stern, authoritarian person. John Holdeman returned to Ontario another 25 times. The members in Ontario mostly moved to various locations in the USA in later years and have numerous descendants in the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite.

Another point of interest is that during the last two years of Levi Young’s life the two families he had the most to do with were Minningers and Stauffers. Thirty years later, in 1898, John Holdeman and another minister visited near Souderton, Pennsylvania and Hiram and Lottie Mininger were baptized, as well as Lottie’s parents, Isaiah and Lavina Stover. Stover is a spelling variant of Stauffer, and Souderton is not far south of the area where Levi Young lived. There were more baptisms in that area in later years; Hiram Mininger became a very active and well-known minister in the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite.

Meeting God in His Word

I grew up in a home where the Bible was read every day and we attended the Anglican Church every Sunday. I became a member of that church when I was 11; a few years later I became an altar boy and continued faithfully until I moved away from home to attend university.

There was a time when God seemed very near, yet never did it seem like a connection was made. After I left home, I lost connection with the church and with the Bible. It seemed to me that most churches talked a lot about God, but followed a path that didn’t have much to do with God. The Bible was suspect, too. Perhaps some of it was inspired by God, but it seemed to contradict itself, most of it must be the opinions of those who wrote it.

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When I was 24, I borrowed a well-worn Bible from my parents and began reading it again to try and sort out what was really the Word of God and what was man-made additions. After several years I knew that was an impossible task. This book, written by 40 different people over a period of 1,500 years, was only one book. Every part of the Bible was connected to every other part. It was either the Word of God from beginning to end, or entirely a man-made fraud.

The second option seemed less and less tenable as I saw how the Bible explained itself as I read the whole thing. The so-called contradictions disappeared as I began to discern a purpose in them and see how God had revealed Himself step by step to recalcitrant mankind.

Then came the day in 1970 when I was reading the Bible and God pointed His finger directly at me and told me I was a sinner. And I knew it was true. On my knees I admitted to God that all that had gone wrong in my life was my fault and no one else’s. That was the point where my relationship with God began.

That relationship has grown over the years. I have read the Bible through many times, in both French and English. I don’t follow any Bible reading plan that leads me skipping hither and yon through the pages of the Bible. It is only meaningful when I read a book of the Bible through and get the whole picture.

From time to time God still points His finger at me and tells me “You’ve been struggling with that temptation, that bad attitude, or that unwillingness, for long enough. It’s time to repent of it, to clean house.” And He gives the grace to do it. I am constantly amazed at His patience, with the people of Bible times and with me.

The purpose of daily reading and meditating on the Word of God is not to learn about God, or to learn how to please God. Our motivation for opening the Bible must be to meet with God, to deepen our acquaintance with Him whose actions and purposes appear on every page, who inspired those 40 men over a millennium and a half to write the things that are in the book. We will learn about God and about how to live a life that is pleasing to Him, but that has to be a result of first learning to know Him in a personal way. The teachings of the Bible will not stick if we do not know the Author.

Ever With Thee

No more in darkness, trials, and temptations,
No more a waif on trouble’s billowy sea,
How sweet will be the day of my abiding
Ever with Thee!

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Bright after darkness shines the summer morning,
Bright is the sunrise when the tempests flee;
But brighter far the home where dwell thy chosen
Ever with Thee.

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Dear are the hours when those we love are near us;
Dear, but how transient must their brightness be:
That one glad day will know no sadder morrow
Ever with Thee.

Love will be there: methinks all other glories
Nothing to those enraptured souls will be,
Filled with the transport of that one assurance,
Ever with Thee.

But long may be the way that we must travel,
And many a dark’ning storm we yet may see,
Dread sorrows may o’erwhelm us ere we’re sheltered
Ever with Thee.

Not so: Thy hand, extended through the darkness,
Leadeth us on the the way we cannot see,
And clasping that, e’en here we are in safety
Ever with Thee.

Annie Louisa (Walker) Coghill, 1836-1907

The need for fellowship

I recently read something written by a young lady whose parents are very conservative Christians. She spoke of how difficult it had been to find a church where she could feel at home because she didn’t want to get into anything that felt like the way she had grown up.

I feel compassion for her, yet I’m afraid she has misdiagnosed the problem. It doesn’t seem that her parents were ultra strict, but they had no fellowship with other Christians with similar convictions. They tried various churches, but always had good reasons why they had to break fellowship with them.

Our daughter would probably be making the same complaints today if we had not joined the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite forty years ago. Prior to that time, while she was very young, we had attended a variety of churches for a few months or a year or two.

Our daughter was six when we began regularly attending a congregation of this church, and seven when we were baptized and became members. From that time on, most of her friends were children of our friends. We attended church together, visited in each others homes and followed much the same principles in raising our children.

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Fast forward forty years and we have a Christian daughter, a fine Christian son-in-law and four grandchildren, one of whom is now also a Christian. This is the blessing of following the leading of the Holy Spirit. I can’t see how we could be enjoying these blessings today if we had continued church-hopping, or even withdrew from organized church altogether.

We have known families who remained with one church, but held their own children to a higher standard than other families of that church did for their children. Their children rebelled. The parents meant well, but didn’t understand that Christian fellowship is of more value than getting all the details right.

We cannot raise Christian children if we hold ourselves aloof from other Christians. Yes, we need to avoid worldliness. Yes, we need to uphold moral and spiritual purity.

But we also need to avoid self-righteousness and a critical attitude toward others. Those things poison the atmosphere in a home and will eventually cause our children to rebel against us and all we tried to teach them. Or it may lead them to become lonely social outcasts, unable to develop a meaningful relationship with others.

God has made us in such a way that none of us are complete in ourselves. We need others to supply what we lack. The New Testament epistles have much instruction to help us live in fellowship with other Christians. This is important for us and for our children.

Above all, let’s not call it Christian fellowship when we are in full agreement with someone else about the mistakes other people make. Forbearance and forgiveness are essential for true fellowship. The most important thing is to see Christ in one another, whatever our ethnic origin or economic status. The people around us make mistakes. Do we see only the mistakes, or do we see a fellow Christian trying in weakness to follow the Holy Spirit? That’s the way we want others to see us, isn’t it?

Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all. (1 Corinthians 3.11)

Snow

Snow – snow – fast falling snow!
Snow on the house-tops – snow in the street –
Snow overhead, and snow under feet –
Snow in the country – snow in the town,
Silently, silently sinking down;
Everywhere, everywhere fast falling snow,
Dazzling the eyes with its crystalline glow!

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Snow, snow – beautiful snow!
Hear the bells ringing o’er the fresh-fallen snow!
How the bells ring, as the sleighs come and go!
Happy heart voices peal out in the air,
Joy takes the reins from the dull hand of care,
Singing and laughter, and innocent mirth,
Seem from the beautiful snow to have birth.

Pure, pure, glittering snow!
Oh! to look at it and think of the woe
Hidden from sight neath the mantle of snow!
Oh! but to think of the tears that are shed
Over the snow-covered graves of the dead!
Aye, and the anguish more hopeless and keen,
That yearneth in silence over what might have been!

Snow – snow – chilling white snow!
Who, as he glides through the bustling street,
Would care to follow the hurrying feet,
Crushing beneath them the chilling white snow –
Bearing up fiercely their burden of woe,
Till, weary and hopeless they enter in,
Where food and fire are the wages of sin?

Snow – snow – wide-spreading snow!
No haunt is so cheerless, but there it can fall,
Like the mantle of charity, covering all.
Want, with its suffering, – sin with its shame,
In its purity breathing the thrice blessed name
Of One who, on earth, in sorrow could say –
“The sinning and poor are with you alway.”

Oh, brothers who stand secure in the right –
Oh, sisters, with fingers so dainty-white –
Think, as you look on the fast-falling snow –
Think, as you look at the beautiful snow,
Pure, pure, glittering snow – chilling white snow –
Think of the want, and the sin, and the woe,
Crouching tonight ‘neath the wide-spreading snow.

Give of your plenty to God’s suffering poor,
Turn not the lost one away from your door;
For His poor He prepareth blest mansions on high;
Rich in faith, they inherit bright mansions on high.
The lost ones, though sunken never so low.
Christ’s blood can make them all whiter than snow,
Pure, pure, glittering snow, beautiful snow.

Jennie E. Haight, 19th century

Happy 2019

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A friend was going from place to place, checking and re-filling displays of gospel tracts that had been placed in various businesses. He walked into a grocery store in a small town with some tracts in his hand. Seeing that he needed more, he left those on the counter and went back to his car. When he came back in, the clerk at the cash register was reading one of the tracts.

“Don’t read that!” he said, “— unless you want to change your life.”

She looked up at him and said “Doesn’t everybody want to change their life?”

I suppose that’s why the making of New Year’s resolutions appeals to so many. Even if they know they’ll never be able to keep them and it’s just an exercise in futility. Here is a better way:

Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.
(Proverbs 3:5-6)

May we trust in the Lord throughout the coming year and allow Him to direct us in all we do.

WISHING YOU A BLESSED YEAR IN 2019!

What do we live for?

What do we live for?
Is labour so lowly,
Toil so ignoble, we shrink from its stain?
Think it not – Labour
Is God-like and holy;
He that is idle is living in vain.

What do we live for?
Creation is groaning,
Her desolate places are yet to be built;
The voice of the years
Swells deeper the moaning,
As time rolls along the dark tide of guilt.

What do we live for?
The question is sounding
Low in the silence, and loud in the din,
And to each heart-ear
With warm pulses bounding,
Answers come thronging, without and within.

What do we live for?
We live to be waging
Battle, unceasing, with indwelling sin,
We live to fight on,
In conflict engaging
Temptations without, and passions within.

What do we live for?
To sow, by all waters,
Fruit-bearings seeds of deeds for all years,
To toil in the ranks
With earth’s sons and daughters,
Manfully striving with doubtings and fears.

What do we live for?
We live not to rust out,
Slothfully standing aloof from the strife;
A thousand times better,
More noble, to wear out
Battered and burned in the hot forge of life.

-Jennie E. Haight (Miss Haight was a 19th century school teacher in Montreal.)

Free will

We must believe in free will — we have no choice. Isaac Bashevis Singer.

Hmm. I wonder what he was getting at? Having nothing more to go on to discern a more complex meaning in Mr. Singer’s thought than this fragment, I will say that I agree.

When Moses told the people “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life;” and Joshua later said to the same people “ Choose you this day whom ye will serve,” we must assume that the people really were free to make the choices offered to them.

Yet many Christian denominations, probably most, teach that we do not have free will to choose our own destiny. They magnify the sovereignty of God to the point of saying that if humans can choose whether or not to answer God’s call then we are saying that God is less than almighty.

But if words mean anything, the Bible is offering us just such a choice, from Genesis to Revelation. Where then do people get the idea that the Bible doesn’t mean what it says?

Determinism, the belief that the gods, karma, fate, or whatever you want to call the ultimate power in the universe, have pre-determined every detail of one’s life, has always been part of Eastern religions. It entered Western thought through Zeno, founder of the Stoic school of philosophy.

It entered pseudo-Christian thought through Augustine, who laid the intellectual foundation for Roman Catholic policy. Augustine adapted Zeno’s thought, saying that God has predestined some people to be saved, and some to be damned. Since it is not given to mankind to know into which category they fall, the church has the right to compel all people within its territory to be members of the church and to turn the non-compliant over to the civil authorities. And since the church and the civil power were in complete unity, disobedience to the church was treason to the state and must be punished by death.

Since it could not be known who was predestined to salvation or damnation, then one could not discern that by the moral conduct of the person. In fact, those who led a pure and holy life were deemed to be deceived and the worst of heretics. This led to such aberrations in the Middle Ages as girls being led to the executioner because they refused the advances of the priests.

During the Protestant Reformation, John Calvin refined the doctrine of Augustine; the essence of Calvin’s doctrine is often described by the TULIP formula:
Total depravity – the depravity of mankind prevents them from choosing to answer God’s call.
Unconditional election – The conduct of the elect has no part in determining their salvation.
Limited atonement – Christ only died for the elect, those predestined to be saved.
Irresistible grace – the grace of God is imparted to the elect, who have no power to resist it.
Perseverance of the saints – The elect can never lose their salvation.

This is the explicit doctrine of the Presbyterian, Reformed and most Baptist churches. Other churches believe much of what Calvin taught, but may be a bit nebulous about the origin of their beliefs.

The problem with believing Calvin’s doctrine is that church pews are occupied by people who believe that they have been born again through the irresistible grace of the Holy Spirit, but show little evidence of leading a Christian life. The old Westminster Confession got around this by saying that a born again person may take many years to develop an assurance of salvation. The modern teaching is that the new birth and conversion are quite different things, the new birth being instantaneous and conversion being a slow, almost imperceptible process.

The Bible makes no such distinction, the words are used interchangeably. There was a transition period for the disciples who walked with Jesus but did not receive the Holy Spirit until the Day of Pentecost. Jesus told Peter “When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” It was only a few days later that Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost and 3,000 were baptized. After that, the Apostle Paul says “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.”

Some may be confused by Paul’s thoughts on predestination. Read the passages as a whole. He is saying that God had predestined that there should be no more division between Jews and Gentiles, but that all could be saved in the same way. He is not speaking of individuals being predestined to salvation. At the end of one long passage on predestination, he writes: “What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith. But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law.”

Paul, the master apologist

Being an apologist for the Christian faith may sound like expressing our regrets for being Christians. The true meaning is quite the opposite; it means being able to talk about our faith without fear or embarrassment, and to always be ready to “give an answer” (apologia) to those who ask about it.

The apostle Paul believed that the salvation that had been freely given to him made him a debtor to others. He owed it to the civilized and the uncivilized, the learned and the ignorant. (Romans 1:14) to tell them the good news of salvation . His faith in Jesus Christ empowered him to speak and write without shame or reticence (verses 15 & 16).

In order to fulfill this obligation he became all things to all people, able to relate to all people, no matter what their religion, ethnic origin or social status.

He used examples from the popular culture of the day to describe how a Christian should live. The Olympic Games had been held for over 800 years at the time of his ministry. So Paul spoke of Christian life as a foot race, an effort to reach the goal; and he spoke of the training, discipline and temperance that were required of an athlete.“They do it to obtain a temporal crown, we an eternal.”

He spoke of wrestling, explaining that our opponents in the wrestling match of life are not other people, but spirits and powers from the realm of darkness.

The Roman Empire extended over southern Europe, North Africa and Eastern Asia. Roman soldiers were seen everywhere, ready to maintain order. Paul spoke of the discipline required of a soldier and how he must not entangle himself with things that would hinder his service.

In Athens he was brought before the philosopher judges on suspicion of introducing a new god. Athens had many gods but the law forbade anyone trying to add more. Paul began by mentioning the altar to an unknown god and saying that he was just explaining who that unknown god was. He then proceeded to piece together ideas and quotations that were familiar to the Epicureans and Stoics, leading up to a declaration that God would judge the world by one who had been resurrected from the dead. The men sitting in judgement had followed his reasoning up to this point, but now some mocked and others wanted more time to think about what they had heard. One of the judges believed, along with a few other Athenians.

Paul did not try to tell Gentiles that they first needed to learn to think like Jews to understand the story of salvation. He made himself familiar with the Gentile culture and used everyday things to explain Christian faith and life.

We don’t have to immerse ourselves in pop culture in order to follow Paul’s example. Yet, if we hold ourselves completely aloof from the people around us, how are we going to be able to talk to them? A good place to start would be to ask them questions, show an interest in their lives, rather than hoping they will be interested in us.

Peter writes that we should be ready to answer everyone that asks us the reason of the hope that we have. (1 Peter 3:15). Often we will catch subtle hints that people want to know, but don’t quite know where to begin or how to ask. Most people have preconceived ideas about Christians and will try to fit us into the framework of what they think they know. Here is an opportunity, not to unload a long explanation, but to tell a story or make some allusion to how the longings expressed in popular culture are in fact groping towards answers that can only come from faith in Jesus Christ.

Apologetics is best done by building a relationship with others and treating them with respect. We are not teachers with all the answers, just ordinary people with insights gained from our relationship with Jesus and with fellow believers.

Telling about our failures and how we learned from them will put us on the same level as others and make them feel that the kind of Christian faith we have is not something beyond their reach.

Amazing grace

That saved a wretch like me
I am not wretched because of things others have done to me, even though those things may have been horribly wretched. I am wretched because of the things I have done, the choices I have made.

God is not a sadistic puppet master who made me do bad things, then condemned me to eternal punishment for doing them. There were always better choices available to me, but I always wanted to blame someone else for my wrong choices.

Eve did not force Adam to eat of the fruit. The serpent did not force Eve to pluck the fruit and bite into it. God did not force Satan to rebel against Him. None of these things were pre-determined. Neither were the bad choices that I made. I am wretched because I deliberately made those bad choices.

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
It was hard to see that it was grace that brought me face to face with my wretchedness, that made me feel the crushing weight of my guilt and fear the utter hopelessness of my situation. Yet without that I would never have made the next step.

I admitted to myself and to God that all my problems were of my own doing, nobody had pushed me, all my problems were caused by choices I had made.

And grace my fears relieved
Suddenly, unexpectedly, that crushing weight of guilt, and the fear of God’s judgement were gone. God’s grace had come down and I was forgiven and free.

That is why grace is so amazing.

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