Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: gospel

Sin

“Almighty and most merciful Father, We have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep,  We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts, We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders..”

“Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, Judge of all men: We acknowledge and confess our manifold sins and wickedness, Which we from time to time most grievously have committed, By thought, word, and deed, Against thy Divine Majesty. We do earnestly repent, And are heartily sorry for these our misdoings.”

These quotations come from the Book of Common Prayer of the Anglican Church of Canada. The first is part of the confession in the Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer services. The second is from the confession in the Communion Service. The capitalization is the way it was in the book. For ten years in my youth I, along with the whole congregation,  recited one or the other of these confessions aloud every Sunday.

These are only words printed in a book, readily memorized and often pronounced without giving much thought to them. Still, for those with ears to hear and hearts to consider, they were a constant reminder that we are miserable sinners and there is no health in us.

We can dismiss those words as meaningless rote recital. For many people that was all they were. But have we gained in spirituality when most churches today hardly talk of sin?

C.S. Lewis discovered 75 years ago that most people he talked to had no concept of sin. Many of the things that churches have always named as major sins did not seem to be sin at all to people. They had been educated out of that old-fashioned notion. Some way had to be found to deliver the diagnosis that all people are sinners before they would have any inclination to hear of a remedy for sin.

“I cannot offer you a water-tight technique for awakening the sense of sin. I can only say that, in my experience, if one begins from the sin that has been one’s own chief problem during the last week, one is very often surprised at the way the shaft goes home. But whatever method we use, our constant effort must be to get their mind away from public affairs and ‘crime’ and bring them down to brass tacks — to the whole network of spite, greed, envy, unfairness and conceit in the lives of ‘ordinary decent people’ like themselves (and ourselves).” (C.S. Lewis, from a talk given in 1945, reprinted in God in the Dock ©1970, published by Eerdmans.)

That is very much the challenge that faces us today. If we are not conscious of our own sin and sinfulness, we won’t get very far in trying to share the gospel with others. James admonishes us: “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed.” How often do we do that? How often do we talk about other people’s faults?

The Anglican Church of Canada, the Episcopal Church in the USA and most congregations of the Church of England no longer use the Book of Common Prayer. In Africa, Asia and Latin America, Anglican Churches are fast-growing evangelical bodies. They have broken fellowship with the Anglican and Episcopal churches in Canada and the USA.

Ten years ago the Anglican Church of Canada commissioned a study on their future. The conclusion was that if present trends continue, in 75 years the Anglican Church of Canada will consist of two members.The trend has continued, and will continue. A church that no longer acknowledges sin has no reason for its existence. The Anglican Church of  Nigeria is now planting congregations in North America, including one in Saskatoon.

I am an Anabaptist today, not an Anglican. I am just trying to point out a graphic illustration of what happens to a church that decides to drop the issue of sin. That is a danger for all of us. We are not apt to ever make a decision to drop it, we just let it fade away. In such a condition, we no longer have a gospel to present to our neighbours — or our children.

Have we misdiagnosed the problem?

It is at least 50 years since C.S. Lewis wrote: “The greatest barrier I have met is the almost total absence from the minds of my audience of any sense of sin . . . We have to convince our hearers of the unwelcome diagnosis before we can expect then to welcome the news of the remedy.” (from God in the Dock, published by Eerdmans.)

The evangelism methods of 100 years ago still work quite well in many places in third world countries. Not so well in North America and Europe. In fact, hardly at all. Why, they don’t even seem to have a lot of impact on children raised in Christian homes.

Evangelicals have responded in various ways: We have to try harder; We have to make our approach more seeker-friendly; We have to avoid those parts of the gospel message that people find offensive.

Have we misdiagnosed the problem? People have been told for the last 100 years, by people calling themselves Christian, that it is the society around us that needs fixing; people aren’t sinners, the world we live in is sinful. Fix the world and we can all live like Christ wants us to live.

There is now a continual hubbub around us of people trying to save the world. And it seems that they are in a constant state of outrage towards those who don’t wholeheartedly endorse their project for fixing the world. If one steps back a moment to observe, it all goes to prove that people are indeed sinners. The anger, hatred, harassment and violence that comes forth from attempts to save the world actually prove the need for the message of the gospel.

Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.  But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace. (James 3:13-18)

A holy appetite

Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness:
for they shall be filled

Here is something more than mere vacuity, or penitence, or tranquil readiness. It is an ardent longing — a holy appetite for all that is right and good.
Filled — The Gospel can fill the largest desire for the true good.

-Daniel Whedon

No room for boasting

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

For we brought nothing into this world” (1 Timothy 6:7). The Apostle was talking about material things, but I don’t think it does his words any violence to say that no one of us came into this world with any pre-qualifications for salvation. In that respect, we are all equally impoverished.

Perhaps we had parents who were genuine Christians in word and in life, and grandparents and great-grandparents. And they all belonged to a church that was firmly grounded on the unadulterated gospel of Jesus-Christ. That’s wonderful. It’s something for which to be thankful.

But it’s not something to boast about. Their faith is not transferable. I get no credit for the faith of someone else; my salvation is solely based on my relationship with Jesus Christ.

I was not saved because I was “raised in the church.” That gave me an opportunity to hear the gospel. But many others have had the same advantage and spurned it. There are many who grew up with the light of the gospel shining all around them who are now walking in darkness.

Others who grew up in the darkness of this world are now walking in the light. And are probably much more thankful for it than those for whom the light has been an everyday reality as far back as they can remember.

It is well and good for those who have been raised in Christian homes to be thankful. But there is only a fine line between thankfulness and boastfulness. When we talk much about our Christian heritage and think that it sets us apart from the common run of humanity, we are no longer poor in spirit. And to those around us who may be seeking for spiritual light, we are apt to be more of a hindrance than a help.

For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7).

The spiritual riches that we enjoy are not our own. We did not inherit them. We did not acquire them by wisdom, by doing the right things, or by any other means at our disposal. These riches came from admitting that we were impoverished, blind and unable to help ourselves. Let us rejoice and be glad in them. But let’s forget the boasting.

What makes a church attractive?

Church attendance across Canada has been declining for years. Yes, there are new churches being built, some quite large. Many more are being torn down, or re-purposed. I suspect the majority of the people in our country have never set foot in a church. Nowadays, most weddings and funerals do not take place in a church. What would it take to change this decline?

Christian churches have always been engaged in helping widows and orphans, the poor and neglected. They called it charity, which means love, and most of it was genuinely motivated by love. A new idea came along – charity is demeaning to the poor. Churches could make themselves more meaningful by advocating for the government to take care of the poor, the sick, the needy. So now we have the nanny state, a security net to catch all those who fall, or are pushed, from the ranks of those who can care for themselves. But government agencies operate by rules and regulations and there is precious little love involved.

Meanwhile, people in droves have bailed out of the churches that advocated this system, feeling that if social reform is the important thing they can accomplish more through politics and other secular means. What these churches are really preaching is the gospel of money; and money can’t buy love, can’t buy happiness, can’t hold a church together.

More recently, many churches have re-jigged the way they do church in order to become more seeker friendly. This manifests itself in many ways – small, very informal groups with unstructured worship forms, all the way to mega churches with lots of pizzazz. Very often there will be coffee available before, during or after the service. New and different intrigues people for a while, eventually they weary of being fed only dessert, never a substantial meal. Is the gospel of new and different still the gospel of Jesus Christ?

The core of the gospel of Jesus Christ is: ” Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.”

Isn’t this what people are longing for? How do we make our church more like this? The answer is that we can’t. The essence of a real, live, dynamic church is not in doing, but in being. We can try to persuade our church people to be more friendly, more welcoming, to care more about the people around them. These are all things they should do. But if the doing doesn’t come from a real love kindled in their heart by the Holy Spirit, their actions will cry out hypocrisy to all who see.

The ideal is a church where every member is keenly aware of God’s goodness, loves God with all his/her being and isn’t embarrassed to let others see that love. That means I need to start with myself and stop prodding others to do what I know I should do. None of us ever do things quite right, so we need to discern the working of the Holy Spirit in the lives of our brothers and sisters and not judge them by their awkwardness and clumsiness in following the Spirit. We need to love our neighbours enough to want them to know the same love and peace that we have.

If we try to do the things a real Christian should do, without being a real Christian, it will not work. If our goal is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and strength, we will find endless opportunities to do and say things that will demonstrate that love to others. The more of us who do that, the more attractive the church will be.

Gerhard Roosen and the Amish division

The year was 1697. Mennonites fleeing persecution in Switzerland had been living in Alsace for some time. There was danger without because Louis XIV had sent his troops to annex Alsace to France. There was trouble within because Jacob Amman, one of the Mennonite ministers, accused the church of apostasy and worldliness. He demanded a strict conformity to a certain form of clothing and other outward things. Jacob Amman excommunicated all the Mennonites in Alsace, Switzerland and the Palatinate who did not see things his way. He and his followers were in turn excommunicated by the Mennonites. The followers of Jacob Amman came to be known as Amish.

In the midst of all this confusion, someone wrote to the aged elder Gerhard Roosen of Hamburg. The paragraphs below are excerpts from his reply. Roosen was 85 years old when he wrote this and remained active until his death in 1711 at the age of 99.

It should be noted that the original Mennonite settlers in Pennsylvania had fled from Switzerland to Holland before the division and later emigrated to America. Thus they had no part in this unedifying affair.

________________________________________________________

I am heartily sorry that you have been disturbed by some that think highly of themselves and make laws about things that are not required in the Gospel. Had the apostolic writings stated how and wherewith a believer should clothe himself, and a person travelling in other countries would find people living contrary to these rules, then this stand might be valid. But to contradict the Gospel in binding the conscience to a certain form in hats, clothes, shoes, stockings or hair, which forms differ from country to country, and to take upon himself to ban those that  who will not accept such rules; also to cast out of the church as leaven those who will not avoid such, is something that neither the Lord Jesus in the Gospels, nor the holy apostles have commanded, to be bound by these outward things, and have given neither law nor rule in this matter.

In all of Paul’s letters we do not find a single word that he has given commandments to believers what form or style of clothing they should have, but rather he admonishes to condescend to them of low state, in all humility. I consider it to be proper and right to conduct oneself like the customs of the country in which you sojourn. But it is reasonable and just that all luxury, pride, highmindedness and fleshly lust be avoided (1 John 2), and not quickly accept new styles of clothing nor alter them to conform to fashion. That is something to be disciplined. But where it has become common usage in a country it is honourable and proper to accept such usage, but to walk in humility.

Thanks be to God, I do not want lust of the eyes nor pride of this world, but have always worn nearly the same pattern of clothing. But if I put on another style, according to the usage of the country, should I have been banned because of it? That would have been unreasonable and contrary to Scripture.

The Lord has ordained, of course, that there should be discipline in the Church of God for stubborn members and such as resist the law of God in the Gospel. Therefore it must arise whether that which we intend to bind will also be bound there, or is commanded to be bound.

The Holy Scriptures must be our measuring standard. To them we must submit; not run ahead but follow them, not too rashly, but in carefulness, fear and affliction; for it is a perilous thing in the judgment of God to bind that which is not bound in heaven.

 

Would God that all the LORD’s people were prophets

The words of the title are taken from the eleventh chapter of Numbers. Moses had complained that he was not able to bear the load of leading and caring for all the people who were with him in the wilderness. God instructed him to bring seventy elders of the people to the tabernacle and there He would give each of them a portion of the spirit which He had given to Moses. Moses and the elders did as God had commanded and when the spirit was given to the elders they began to prophesy and could not stop.

However, two of the seventy did not come to the tabernacle. No reason is given but we must assume that it was not because they rebelled against God’s command,for the Spirit was given to them also and they began to prophesy.

When Joshua, Moses’ servant, heard of this, his immediate reaction was that this was disorderly and must not be allowed. “My lord Moses, forbid them,” he said. The answer given by Moses reveals the greatness of his love for the people of God:

“Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the LORD’s people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit upon them” (verse 29).

Moses’ wish is fulfilled in the gospel dispensation. Ever since Pentecost, every born again child of God, young or old, man or woman,  has received the Holy Spirit. The Spirit has been given to guide us personally in the way of truth, but also to empower us to share this truth with others, unbelievers, those new in the faith, the confused and discouraged. Even those who may be considered spiritually mature need the spiritual admonition and counsel of their brethren.

God has ordained that ministers and deacons should be ordained in each congregation for the orderly functioning of the church. But most congregations do not start out that way. I have been involved in three young congregations that did not have any ordained leadership. Two of those groups have grown into fully functioning congregations, with two ministers and a deacon in each place. In the third one, we all gave up and moved away. The problem seemed to be a feeling that without an ordained minister we couldn’t do anything. I don’t think such hand wringing is pleasing to God, who has given to each of us a portion of His Spirit.

Even in well-established congregations, with one or two or three or more ministers, if everything is left to the ministers the congregation will not prosper spiritually. Christian life is not meant to be a passive activity. God has given His Spirit to each of us to be used in some way for the benefit of the whole body.

Cultural amnesia

One hundred years ago, when the Social Gospel was well on the way to infiltrating and taking control of many of the major Christian denominations of North America, my father was already 24 years old. It has lately dawned on me that because I was born when he was 50 I have a window on that long-ago era that most people today know nothing about.

My father was a Methodist, but the social gospel changed that denomination into something he no longer recognized. He told of visiting Edmonton in 1925, and attending a Methodist church there. The minister had much to say about the social responsibility of Christians, but it became evident as he spoke that the Bible’s accounts of creation, the miracles, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus were just mythology, allegories meant to teach moral lessons. My father walked out into the street after the service and wept.

A few years later the Methodists, Congregationalists and half the Presbyterians merged to form the United Church of Canada. This was by far the largest protestant denomination in Canada and it was dedicated to ministering to the social and materiel needs of all those oppressed by the evils of our society. The belief that the greatest need of each person was to find forgiveness of sins and peace with God was dismissed as a childish amusement that diverted people’s attention from more important concerns.

In subsequent years, the Anglican Church of Canada and some Baptist, Mennonite and Lutheran churches have also embraced the Social Gospel. It is worthy of note that the social gospel churches have all experienced precipitous declines in membership. People are either turned off by the social gospel or decide that the battles can be more effectively fought outside the churches.

The social gospel movement was the main impetus behind the co-operative movement. People were taught that the private ownership of business was a great injustice that deprived them of the fruits of their labour. They formed co-operatives to buy grain from farmers and to provide the supplies they needed, co-operative retail stores and co-operative banks (credit unions).

For many years the grain co-ops were the dominant agricultural businesses in Western Canada. They calculated patronage dividends for their farmer-owners, based on the amount of business they did with them, but retained the money to provide working capital. Farmers were able to withdraw their patronage dividends upon retirement. Then difficult times came and the co-ops suffered financial reverses. All the prairies grain co-ops merged into one, reorganized as a shareholder owned corporation, then sold out to a Swiss investment company. In the process, the patronage dividends evaporated into thin air. There is no evidence that farmers have suffered from losing the opportunity to sell to the co-operatives.

The Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) was a political party born of the social gospel. It promised to bring about a more just society by limiting the depredations of privately owned businesses, so that resources were more evenly shared between all people. This party (now known as the NDP) formed the government of my home province for the best part of 60 years. They did many good things, but the social gospel ideals of economic equality created an atmospherics of suspicion of anyone who appeared to prosper more than the average. The result was economic stagnation, leading to an increase in unemployment and poverty – very much the opposite of the promised result.

My father saw the fatal flaw in the social gospel long before I was born. Time has proved him right – in church, in business and in politics.  But the social gospel message still has power to seduce well-meaning people into expending great efforts on activities that will not produce the promised results.

Now we hear people who once were evangelical Christians proclaiming that our highest duty is to reach out to the suffering members of society. There is an element of truth in this, but if one listens closely it becomes evident that the social, emotional and economic needs are their sole concern and the spiritual needs of people are forgotten. This is simply the social gospel warmed over for a new generation who are not aware of history and are not aware that the promises of the social gospel are doomed to fail.

I am not trying to say that we need to forget everything else and just preach the gospel. After all, James said “If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?” If we are blind to the material, emotional and social needs of others, we are not going to present a complete gospel. But the spiritual distress of people around us cannot be relieved by only ministering to their outward needs.

My concern is that if we trim our sails to catch the latest wind of doctrine and ride the wave of what is highly thought of in the world, we will end up far from where we thought we were going.

Activating the gospel leaven

[I am posting this again for the benefit of the email subscribers who received only half of the original post because  I accidentally hit a button before I was finished.]

Matthew 13:33  Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.

In this parable the woman is the symbol of the divine agency, the meal is the humabread-417801_1280n heart, the leaven is the Gospel. As leaven diffuses itself through the meal until the whole lump is leavened, so the grace of God and the power of the Gospel are a diffusive power, which impregnates the whole heart and transforms its character. As the parable of the mustard tree describes the external, so this parable describes the internal prevalence of the Gospel power. It describes the internal influence not upon the individual alone, but upon the masses of humanity. (Daniel Whedon, Whedon’s Commentary)

loaf-of-bread-529237_1280When my mother baked bread, she kneaded the dough three times: first when she mixed it; then after it rose the first time she would punch it down and knead it again; after the second rise she would punch it down and knead it again, then form it into loaves and allow them to rise once more before baking. The purpose of all that kneading was to distribute the yeast evenly through the whole lump. The result was a light loaf, with no big holes in the middle.

Leaven, or yeast, is a living thing and needs warmth to grow. So does the gospel. It is obvious to believers and unbelievers alike that the cold, hard confrontationalism of the Westboro Baptist Church does not make the gospel grow and spread.

But how are the rest of us doing? Are we expending too much of our time and resources worrying about conditions in the world over which we have no control? And not enough spreading the warmth of Christian love in situations near at hand where it might make a little difference?

God’s hatred of sin is real. But the good news of the gospel is that God loves sinners and wants to rescue them from the bondage and consequences of their sin. We can become so wrapped up in a constant striving to be good, that we hardly have time to do good to those who are hurting. Where then is the warmth of the gospel?

Can people feel the warmth of genuine Christian love when they meet us, visit in our homes, visit our churches? If they can, then surely the leaven of the gospel will grow and spread.

Inhumanity in the name of God

Anyone who pays attention to the news these days cannot help but be appalled by the brazen, boastful brutality of ISIS, skilfully orchestrated for the maximum in publicity value. If a belief in progress and the advance of civilization had led us to think that such things could never happen again, this should be a rude awakening to the evil of which mankind is capable.

It has always been the tendency of every tribe and nation to believe that their god, or their ideology, was superior to all others and destined to triumph over all others. Therefore, it was surely a good thing to use every means available to hasten that triumph.

The teaching of Jesus Christ of Nazareth was a dramatic break with that kind of thinking. He taught His followers not to resist evil done against them, not to seek revenge, but rather to love their enemies and do good to them. The New Testament church is founded upon those principles, yet very early in church history there were those who professed to hold to those principles, yet yielded to the old imperialist impulses. They thought it was a good thing when Constantine made Christianity the state religion. That meant the end of persecution.

Or did it? Within a few years, Augustine of Hippo introduced the doctrine that the grace of God was so beneficial that it was necessary to bring people into the church by brute force. This was totally contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ, but it led to 1,000 years of brutal persecution all over Europe by the Roman Catholic Church. Christians who did not believe that salvation could be found in the rites and superstitions of the Roman Catholic Church were tortured and killed in all the ways used by ISIS, and more besides. The Roman Catholic church defends itself by saying they did no such thing, it was the governments who carried out ll these acts of brutality. But this was the era where that great city, Rome, reigned over the kings of the earth and required and rewarded such actions by the civil powers.

Karl Marx dreamed of a better world that would be created by class warfare that would eliminate the oppressing classes and lead to the millennium — the dictatorship of the proletariat. That belief led to many years of tribulation in many countries, with unspeakable brutality and untold millions slaughtered — and the millennium did not come. It is a particularly twisted kind of thinking that believes a better world can be created if we kill all the people who stand in the way of that better world.

This all points to the basic need of every human — a new heart. There cannot be peace on earth when there is jealousy, envy, anger and hatred within the hearts of men. Such a change of heart cannot be forced upon anyone, thus compulsion in the name of God must be anathema to Christians.

Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace. (James 3:13-18)

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