Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: freedom

Safety systems that make life dangerous

Last month a semi hauling aviation fuel was travelling down the A-40 expressway in Montréal. The truck was equipped with a state of the art safety system that was designed to bring the truck to a safe stop if it detected any sign of a leak from a load of fuel. I’m not sure exactly how this was supposed to work, certainly what happened that day could not have been the way it was intended to function.

The truck was driving in heavy traffic down the freeway when the safety system malfunctioned and brought the truck to a sudden stop. The driver of the cube van directly behind him was able to stop, but the two semis following him did not see in time and all four trucks smashed together, the aviation fuel caught fire and all four trucks burned. The driver of the first truck died in the fire, despite desperate attempts by another driver to open his door and get him out.

The one who died was an experienced, careful driver with a clean record. Perhaps it would have been better to trust him than some wonder of modern technology.

Last week a young man appeared in court in Saskatoon for breach of probation. He was obviously high on drugs, could not walk or talk properly. His mother was there and pleaded for him to be taken into custody. It seems that our legal system is so hedged about with rulings and regulations to protect the rights of the accused that the mother’s pleas were of no avail.

The young man went home, took his girlfriend’s car and drove away. He sideswiped a parked car and kept going to the freeway. On the freeway, he drove erratically at a high speed, struck a piece of construction machinery working beside the freeway hard enough to take off a wheel, lost control, went through the median into oncoming traffic and collided head-on with another car. The driver of that car died, the young man escaped with hardly a scratch. Now he is in custody.

Do you think it might have been better if the police had a little more leeway to take someone into custody if there was reason to believe he was a danger to himself or others?

The Bible contains much instruction about how a person should live a Christian life. It is all good and true, that is how we should live. But if we reduce Christian life to just following the rules, sooner or later there is going to be a disaster. No set of rules can cover every possible contingency that we will encounter in life. This is why the Holy Spirit has been given to each believer to guide us safely through life. He is our safety.

Freedom of religion

From the time that mankind began to form separate nation states it was the custom of each to have its own gods and for each to believe that their gods were superior to the gods of other nations. Thus, if any individual or family in a nation would choose to worship another god, that was treason and was usually punished by death. When one nation conquered another, that was taken as evidence of the superiority of its gods and the conquered people were required to abandon their old gods and worship the gods of those who had conquered them.

In theory, Israel and Judah were no different in this than other nations, except that their God commanded them not to make any visual representations of Him. But it was difficult for people to grasp how Yahweh, the unseen God, could be more powerful than a god that they could see. For hundreds of years they often succumbed to the desire make themselves gods that they could see, to the point of offering hideous sacrifices to these gods, even their own children.

Finally Yahweh allowed Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, to conquer Judah and remove many of the people to Babylon. At first he took this as evidence that his god was greater than Yahweh. Then strange things began to happen; Nebuchadnezzar had a succession of vivid dreams, with dramatic consequences.

After the first dream was revealed and interpreted by Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar’s response was: “Of a truth that your God is a God of gods, and a Lord of lords.” After the dramatic results following the second dream, the king said: “Therefore I make a decree, That every people, nation, and language, which speak anything amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall ne made a dunghill: because there is no other God that can deliver after this sort.”

Thus Yahweh intervened in the affairs of a pagan nation to establish freedom of religion for His people. But He still wasn’t finished with the king of Babylon: after a third dream and a period of insanity, Nebuchadnezzar went beyond acknowledging Yahweh as the God of Daniel and his friends and said:”I thought it good to show the signs and wonders that the high God hath wrought towards me. How great are his signs! and how mighty are his wonders! his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion is from generation to generation.”

Most of the Jewish captives in Babylon eventually returned to their homeland. They rebuilt the temple and seemed to have no more desire for visible gods. But they were never again a fully independent nation. There were pockets of Jews who stayed in Babylon, Egypt and other nations and were granted freedom of worship.

Christianity was never intended to be a religion confined to a single nation. The faith first spread among the people of the Jewish diaspora, but soon went far beyond them to include Gentiles of all description. The Christians were never a rival to the political power of nations, yet there was often persecution as nations struggled to maintain the primacy of their national gods.

It was not a step forward when Christianity was made the official religion of the Holy Roman Empire: it was a return to the bad old days. People who would not worship in the prescribed form in the prescribed places became enemies of the state. This included Christians who believed that state Christianity was no Christianity at all, plus Jews and later Muslims.

Someone who is forced to worship a state sponsored religion is not a true believer. Freedom of religion must include the freedom to change your religion. None of us want to see one of our own forsake our religion for something else. But forcing him to stay does not make him a believer. And if their is no freedom to leave, is there truly freedom for someone else to choose to unite with us?

This freedom is the cornerstone of all other freedoms, but it is under threat today from within and without.  Many people in our society feel pressured to acquiesce to the beliefs that are seen to be politically correct. Universities were supposed to be places for the free exchange of ideas; today it seems there is only one right way to think on most campuses.

Islam has never had a theology of freedom of religion. The fierce conflicts that are happening in Islamic nations are largely attempts by different Islamic factions to eliminate other factions that they deem heretical. We are inviting refugees from these horrors to come and settle in our country. Most of them simply want to escape the violence and live in peace. Yet it’s still not likely that the majority really get the concept of freedom of religion. It needs to be impressed upon them that Canada is a land of freedom in all ways, and that we will not look kindly on those who deem it necessary to kill someone who leaves their faith. Can Islam really adapt to living in such freedom?

What is wrong with the world?

“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him”(1 John 2:15). The Bible has a lot to say about the world and the danger there is if Christians become worldly. Why? What is there about the world that is so dangerous for the Christian?

What I say here will not be a complete answer to those questions, just a few thoughts on the subject of worldliness. First of all, the danger in worldliness did not originate with things and it does not consist primarily of things. There is a spirit of the world that is always opposed to Christian faith, but which manifests itself in ever changing ways. We can avoid most all of the things that some people label as worldly, yet still be pretty much completely worldly minded.

The apostle John went on to write: ” For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever” verses 16 & 17).

I believe it is fair to conclude from this that when we feel that we have a right to do all the things that we want to do, and have all the things that we want, that is the spirit of the world. On the other hand, the Bible teaches that a Christian should always consider the good of others.

We may wonder if God doesn’t want us to do or have the things that will make us happy. But a selfish person is never happy. There is always something more that is needed to make such a person happy.

This lack of happiness is just the beginning, it often leads to envy, jealousy and anger. Then comes the belief that other people are to blame for our lack of happiness. This can even be made to sound unselfish: the people who are running things are being unjust, trampling upon the needs of the weak. Something must be done to set things to right. Media, politicians and social activists all have long lists of things that are wrong in the world and have many proposals on how to set things right.

As a result the world is a seething, tempestuous sea of unfulfilled desires, bruised emotions, anger and even hatred. Ideas of right and wrong, of what makes for a good life, are constantly changing. Every time something is done to set things right, more people are hurt and new ideas come to the surface.

True peace, freedom and happiness can only be found when there is a solid, unchanging foundation. It may seem to be almost within our reach when we are immersed in the restless sea of the world, yet it always eludes us. Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is that sure and changeless foundation.

I’m on my way to the freedom land

As a slave, Josiah Henson received no formal education and did not learn to read and write. As is typical of people from oral cultures, he had a prodigious memory and could remember every Bible verse he ever heard. He was ordained to the ministry in the Methodist Church while still a slave, serving mostly his fellow slaves.

Twice he was able to raise the money to purchase his freedom, but due to Josiah’s illiteracy, his master found a way each time to cheat him of his freedom. After the incident mentioned in a previous post where he had been tempted to murder his young master, his master fell deathly ill and Josiah nursed him back to health. This bought him a little time, but before long he learned that his master had plans to sell him, his wife and their children separately. Up to this time, Josiah had considered himself honour bound to remain with his master, but now he finally became willing to take his family and attempt to escape to Canada.

It was on a Saturday night in September of 1830 that Josiah, his wife and their four children set out to walk to Canada. Josiah knew that it would be several days before they were missed and determined to get as far away as they could in that time. They travelled at night and hid by day, eventually making it to Ohio where they encountered people who helped them make the rest of the journey.

There never was a plantation system in Canada such as the one in the U.S. south, but slavery was not officially abolished in Canada until 1833. Still, Canada was the land of hope to those bound in the oppressive slavery of the south. Some of the songs they sang had a double meaning, such as “I’m on my way to the freedom land.” Canada was a safer place for black people, not because Canadians were better people, but because the laws were better. An escaped slave was not safe anywhere in the USA. If found, he could be captured and returned to his master. There were even cases of free blacks being captured and sold into slavery. Few white judges and juries would take the word of a black man against the word of a white. Slave hunters did venture into Canada, but were arrested, hustled back across the border and warned not to return.

The underground railway was just beginning in 1830 and the Henson family avoided human contact as much as possible until they neared the lake that stood between them and Canada. Here they encountered some sympathetic Indians who fed them, gave shelter for the night and directed them on their way the next morning. Then Josiah met a ship’s captain at Sandusky, Ohio who sent a boat for the family after dark, took them to Buffalo and paid the ferry to take them across the river into Canada.

” When I got on the Canada side, on the morning of the 28th of October, 1830, my first impulse was to throw myself on the ground, and giving way to the riotous exultation of my feelings, to execute sundry antics which excited the astonishment of those who were looking on. A gentleman of the neighbourhood, Colonel Warren, who happened to be present, thought I was in a fit, and as he inquired what was the matter with the poor fellow, I jumped up and told him I was free. “O,” said he, with a hearty laugh, “is that it? I never knew freedom make a man roll in the sand before.” It is not much to be wondered at, that my certainty of being free was not quite a sober one at the first moment; and I hugged and kissed my wife and children all round, with a vivacity which made them laugh as well as myself. There was not much time to be lost, though, in frolic, even at this extraordinary moment. I was a stranger, in a strange land, and had to look about me at once, for refuge and resource. I found a lodging for the night; and the next morning set about exploring the interior for the means of support.”

Our Muslim neighbours

In our worship service yesterday evening, a minister told us about a young couple living in an apartment building in New York City. There was a Muslim family living in the same building, with children the same age as the children of this couple. The children played together, became friends, and the parents also became friends, often visiting each other. The young man in this account had been feeling under the weather for a few days when the Muslim couple dropped in for a visit one evening. His Muslim friend advised him to just take the next day off work and he decided to do that. This man worked in an office in the twin towers and the next day was September 11, 2001. The point of this little story was that taking the day off saved his life.

As for the Muslim friends, they were never seen again. They left quietly and quickly with no forwarding address. This raises two possibilities: either the husband knew what was going to happen on 9/11 and wanted to warn his friend; or, he knew nothing at all about what was going to happen and was overcome by the fear that his friendly advice might bring him under suspicion.

This brings us to the present day where our Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, refers to ISIS and other groups and individuals involved in terrorist activity as jihadists.  Muslim organizations are objecting quite strongly, saying the original meaning of jihad has nothing to do with terrorism and that all Muslims should not be stigmatized by referring to terrorists in this way. President Obama, on the other hand, will not make a connection between Islam and terrorism for fear of radicalizing all Muslims.

Who has it right? I don’t want to get political here, but the fact is that the terrorists refer to themselves as jihadists, and the stated goal of ISIS is to establish a Muslim Caliphate. I am quite willing to admit that most Muslims in our country are not in sympathy with the terrorists. Most have come here because they preferred the tolerance and stability of Canada to conditions in Islamic nations. I am happy to hear their leaders taking pains to dissociate themselves from the radicals and making real efforts to reach their young people with teachings of moderation and respect for others.

I also realize that the victims of these terrorist movements are mostly other Muslims. That brings up a point that needs to be made. Much of the hatred of radical Muslims toward Western society is based on memories of the Crusades, when supposedly Christian armies were sent out to drive back and subjugate the forces of Islam. There is no doubt that many atrocities against Muslims were perpetrated by the Crusaders. But were the Crusaders true representatives of Christianity?

I call myself an Anabaptist, a spiritual heir of a Christian movement that was also the victim of numerous Crusades, and the Inquisition. The plain fact of history is that for hundreds of years the same Roman Catholic Church that was responsible for the Crusades against Muslims also systematically hunted down, tortured and killed many thousands of Christians whose sole offense was that they did not want to be Roman Catholic.

There is nothing sinister about the word catholic, it was originally used to describe the Christian faith as being applicable to all people, of all nations, of all eras. But the Roman Catholic Church appropriated that word for themselves and in the minds of many brought such disrepute upon it that they refuse to use it today. That is not the fault of the word.

It seems to me that Muslims will have to get used to the fact that jihad has been appropriated by the terrorists and it is probably no longer possible to dissociate it from that in the public mind. I am quite willing to believe that most Muslims in our country have as much horror of terrorism as I do. I wish them well in their efforts to make a clear distinction between themselves and the extremists, in the minds of their own young people and in the minds of the general public.

The circle of God’s love

Ma says the greatest mistake in the world is the notion some people get that outside of God’s laws there is freedom.  She says that the only real freedom to be found on the earth is within the circle of His laws, and as soon as one steps outside of that circle, he finds himself in another circle that gradually closes in upon him, closer and closer till all the joy is squeezed out of his life and out of the thing he went outside to enjoy.  But God’s circle widens and widens to hold all your happy times, and add happy times unto them, and keep them for you forever.

[This is a repeat of a post from February 6, 2013, excerpted from When I Was Thirteen, copyright the estate of Christina Young Plumb.  It is the diary of a thirteen year old girl in south-western Ontario at the end of the nineteenth century.]

Universal public confusion

If an educated electorate is the best defence against arbitrary government, the survival of political freedom appears uncertain at best. Large numbers of Americans now believe that the Constitution sanctions arbitrary executive power, and recent political history, with its steady growth of presidential power, can only have reinforced such an assumption. What happened to the early republican dream? Universal public education, instead of creating a community of self-governing citizens, has contributed to the spread of intellectual torpor and political passivity.  (The Culture of Narcissism, © 1979 by Christopher Lasch)

Submission = Freedom

I realize this is a counter-cultural statement in the present day and age where liberty is prized above all other virtues. But are people more free today than they were in ages past?

Consider the example of a shepherd and his flock. The shepherd watches over the needs of the flock, guards them from enemies, treats their wounds and sicknesses. Is this freedom or bondage? If an independent minded sheep leaves to seek his freedom, is he then free when the wolves are picking over his bones?

If an unwed woman wishes to abort her baby, she is free to do so; she will find much support and encouragement for this decision. Will she find as much support and encouragement if she makes a different choice? Or does the prevailing mood of our society push in one direction only? How can this be called freedom of choice?

People are fleeing repressive regimes in some countries and seeking a safe haven in nations that are more free. Most of them are willing to submit to the laws and mores of their new country and make it their new homeland. Others appear to want to re-create the laws and mores of the countries from which they have fled. It appears that they have carried with them a bondage of the mind.

Christianity promises freedom and demands submission. This sounds contradictory, but true freedom can only be found in submission to God. All the other forms of submission of which the Bible speaks – in the home, in the church, towards civil authorities – are simply means of working out our submission to God’s authority in all areas of our life.

There are many people who want to claim Jesus as their Saviour, but are not willing to acknowledge His as Lord of their life. It is a great fallacy to believe that such a thing is possible. Many people find Christian life burdensome and frustrating precisely because they believe that submission is an infringement of their liberty. They follow the path that they believe will bring liberty and happiness and find themselves deeper and deeper in bondage and more and more unhappy.

We are like sheep – we need a shepherd. When we can submit to the Good Shepherd and permit Him to lead us in all areas of our life, we find it a truly liberating experience.

One more point must be clearly established – in the Christian church everyone is called to submit, no one is called to lord it over the faith and life of others. God has an order that makes homes and congregations into havens of peace and love if each one can submit to his or her place in that order. Knowing that those to whom I submit are themselves submitted to authority, ultimately the authority of God, brings the assurance that there will be no abuse of the confidence I place in them. Those who are in authority over me are those who must watch for my soul. that cannot work if they try to do it in an overbearing and lordly way.

 

Outside the box

We are being influenced every day by  authoritative voices telling us how to think, and what to think — about education, about tolerance of minorities, about justice, about the environment, about religion, about science, about most everything we do or want to do.   Some years ago we spoke of political correctness, often with derision.  A better word to describe this phenomenon is zeitgeist.

Zeitgeist is a  word adopted into the English language from German.  The literal meaning is “the spirit of the times,” and it denotes the prevailing pattern of thought or feeling during a particular period of time.   It feels like we are in a time of a particularly rigid zeitgeist where there is little tolerance for those who dissent from the prevailing beliefs of our society.  Do you feel boxed in?

Those of us who are older have seen a dramatic shift of the zeitgeist in our lifetime.  Ideas about what is right and wrong seem to have been turned upside down.  Were the old days better than these?  Was the old box more comfortable than the one we find ourselves in today?

“Do not conform yourself to the present age, but be transformed by the renewal of you understanding, so that you may discern what is the will of God, that which is good, acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2, my translation from the Louis Segond French Bible).

“The present age” is just another term for zeitgeist.  The apostle Paul is telling us not to let ourselves be boxed in by the prevailing attitudes, but that we should allow God to renew our understanding so that we can think outside the box.

This is freedom, even though those who are fully in the zeitgeist box will try to tell us it is bondage.  There are even some Christians who have built a comfortable little box for themselves and are afraid to step outside into the full light of the gospel.  The gospel demands obedience to the Word and to the Holy Spirit and it is a hard life when one has one foot in the zeitgeist box and the other in the kingdom of God.

The renewing of the mind will set us free from fear, anger, hatred, envy, jealousy and pride and offers us a fellowship with others who are likewise renewed in their heart and mind.  This kind of freedom and fellowship is only found on a narrow pathway, but it is genuine freedom and fellowship.  If we stray from this narrow way, we find ourselves once again ensnared by the zeitgeist. The love, joy and peace of the narrow way will slowly be squeezed out of us and replaced by suspicion, anger and a desire to find someone else to blame for our problems.

 

God’s circle

Ma says the greatest mistake in the world is the notion some people get that outside of God’s laws there is freedom.  She says that the only real freedom to be found on the earth is within the circle of His laws, and as soon as one steps outside of that circle, he finds himself in another circle that gradually closes in upon him, closer and closer till all the joy is squeezed out of his life and out of the thing he went outside to enjoy.  But God’s circle widens and widens to hold all your happy times, and add happy times unto them, and keep them for you forever.

[This is another excerpt from When I Was Thirteen, copyright the estate of Christina Young Plumb.  It is the diary of a thirteen year old girl in south-western Ontario at the end of the nineteenth century.]

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