Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: heaven

Inherit the earth

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth

I guess by now it is evident that I have been meditating on the Beatitudes. The Sermon on the Mount is the cornerstone of Mennonite doctrine. Things like the right understanding of prophecy and the sacraments are important to us, too, but not nearly to the same extent as in many other church traditions.

God promised a land to Abraham and to his seed. Finally, during the reign of Solomon, the children of Israel possessed the full extent of the promised land, in peace. And that was it, that land has not had peace at any time since then.

What happened to God’s promise? The epistle to the Hebrews has this to say of Abraham: “For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” And a little later: “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. . . But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.”

The promised land will have its full accomplishment in heaven, where there will be no more wars, or rumours of wars. Yet there is even now a place of safety and stability for the children of God. Perhaps not always a place of physical security, but a place of peace and contentment, and of spiritual security, for those who truly are seeking that better country.

The meek will find that spiritual land and make it their home. Those who battle for their right to be left in peace, those who feel it their duty to defeat all who are hostile to their belief, make themselves incapable of recognizing that place of peace when they see it. It is the heritage of those who are strangers and pilgrims amidst the turmoil of this world.

Slaying the beast within

A year and a half ago, a young man who had served a sentence for armed robbery appeared in court to explain that he had learned his lesson. He said that he had learned that he needed to stop and think before doing something and consider the consequences. “I have learned to tell the difference between good and evil,” he testified.

Two weeks ago, the fiancee of this young man, mother of his two young children, went missing. A few days later a sack containing her dismembered body was found under a bridge. The young man who had supposedly learned to tell the difference between good and evil has been charged with murder. What happened?

There is a beast within each one of us that cannot learn, cannot be tamed. Most often it shows itself in words, but sometimes far more horrible things happen. James writes:

And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: but the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.  James 3:6-10

The apostle Paul wrote: “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing” (Romans 7:18). No  anger management course, no behaviour modification therapy, can ever fully master this beast. It has to die.

That is why Jesus said: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” (Luke 9:23). That is, if we are to be followers of Jesus Christ, we must daily renounce the inclinations of that inner beast and nail it to the cross. Paul is saying the same thing when he writes: “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live” (Romans 8:13). “Mortify” is used here in its original French sense of “make to die.”

The new birth is the result of the death of this inner beast, to be replaced by a new life, one that is not animated, or in harmony with, the forces of hell, but one that is animated by the Holy Spirit and in harmony with the powers of heaven. Here are the words of Paul again: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

The beast within does not want to stay dead. That is why Jesus spoke of the daily need for self-denial and cross bearing. That does not mean a daily new birth; the Holy Spirit does not leave us so easily. A Christian may do and say things at times that indicate the influence of the inner beast; if someone else has been hurt the Holy Spirit will prompt him to make amends for the hurt he has caused. No one should ever have to wonder who has control of the life of someone who calls himself a Christian.

The Universalist and the Quaker

A Universalist preacher, who believed that no one would be excluded from heaven, held a series of meetings in a rural town. He was a gifted speaker and many people came to hear him. At the close of the meetings he announced, ” Now if you would desire, I would like to come each Sabbath evening and preach to you. I would like a response from this audience.”

No one responded. Finally he asked anyone who objected to speak.

Again there was a long silence. Finally an aged Quaker arose and said, “Friend, I have been listening to thee and thought I would say nothing, but thou hast insisted that someone speak. We don’t want thee because, if thy theory is correct, we have no need of preaching for all will be saved. And if thy theory is not correct we don’t want thee, because it is then a lie and we don’t want thee to preach lies to us.”

-Source unknown

The battles of life

Ah, simple boy! – well had it been for thee
Had thy ambitious longing been confined
To objects wisely placed beyond thy grasp.
But years stole on – thy ardent spirit broke
Its childish trammels, and with eager joy
Explored the warlike annals of the past,
And called up spirits of the mighty dead,
To set their hostile armies in array,
And fight for thee their sanguine battles o’er.
Oh, while such visions burst on thy sight,
While shouts of victory and dying groans
Rang on thine ear – time backward rolled his tide,
Rome in her ancient splendour proudly rose,
And murdered Caesar lived again in thee!

Young fiery soldier – let us trace thy steps
Through danger’s stormy paths, to win the goal
Of all thy lofty and ambitious hopes.
Wedded to glory, thy brave heart springs forth
To win thy bride from valour’s armed hand,
And pluck the laurel from the brow of death.
A novice in the camp and new to arms,
The bugle lulls thee to repose, the trumpet
Thrills on thy sleeping ear and bids thee dream
Of deathless fields in fancy fought and won.
At length the day of trial comes – the day
Which puts thy boasted courage to the proof –
Thy first in battle, and perchance thy last.
The camp is broken up, the air is rent
With strains of martial music, the loud neigh
Of prancing steeds, impatient for the strife,
With clang of arms, and oft-repeated shouts
Of warriors who impatiently leap forth
with reckless hardihood to meet their doom.

With beating heart, firm step, and flashing eye,
The young recruit of glory proudly grasps
The standard he must only yeild with life.
The march commences – deep excitement grows
To fiery expectation – he forgets
Amid the hurried interest of the scene,
The crown he fights for only can be won
Through seas of slaughter and the waste of life.
Alas! How few devoted hearts like his
Survive their first engagement with the foe.
Death strikes the hero to the dust. He falls
In honour’s mantle, the triumphant cry
Of victory on his pallid lips expires!

But what are conquests of the bow and spear,
And Alexander’s victories compared
With the stern warfare which the soul maintains
Against the subtle tempter of mankind –
The base corruption of a sinful world –
An evil conscience and a callous heart?
Oh, vanquish these – and through the gates of death
Triumphant pass and win a heavenly crown!

– Susanna Moodie, an excerpt from Enthusiasm

Memories of future bliss

“In speaking of this desire for our own far off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter. Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering. The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”

– C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

I was probably about five years old, it was a hot summer’s day with only the slightest breeze. I had found the shade of a spreading maple tree near where my mother was working in the garden. Wafted on that gentle breeze came a scent that I had never noticed before, a scent sweeter than anything I had ever known. I searched for the source of that scent and found it in patch of delicate, exquisitely beautiful flowers. When I asked my mother, she told me they were Sweet Williams. That instant in time, the scent, the beauty, has lingered in the deep recesses of my memory all these years. Sweet Williams still bring back memories of that moment, yet never quite the fullness of the transcendent beauty of that moment.

Isn’t this what C. S. Lewis meant by “images of what we really desire”? These instants when natural beauty and events take on a character beyond their earthly nature are given to remind us that this earth is not really our home. They feed a longing within us for something unknown, something beyond knowing. That something is what the Bible calls heaven.

To paraphrase C. S. Lewis, our physical hunger indicates that there must somewhere be something that we can eat to satisfy that hunger. In the same way, our hunger for paradise indicates that there must somewhere exist a real paradise that we can hope to someday reach. Many will scoff at that, say it is far too simplistic, we must work to make this earth a paradise. To which I will simply ask: when have men ever succeeded in making an earthly paradise that satisfied that inner longing for paradise?

The Bible is enough

Many years ago, when Hal Lindsey’s book, The Late Great Planet Earth was the “Christian” publishing sensation, the pastor of the church we were attending chose to use that book as the basis for weekly Bible study through the winter. I won’t name the city, church or pastor. Spring came, we finished the book, and then during a private visit the pastor told me he didn’t believe anything in the book, he just thought of it as a way to get some people interested in Bible study.

I was shocked that he didn’t believe the book, which at the time I considered to be gospel truth. I was equally shocked that he would lead a Bible study that taught something he did not believe was Biblical. As time went on, I read more and more books by highly regarded authors expounding the same subject matter as Hal Lindsey’s book and I began to grow disenchanted. Henry Walvoord, Dwight Pentecost, Lewis Sperry Chafer and many others , presented the dispensational, pre-millenial doctrine as unquestionable, Bible-based truth. Yet each one presented this supposedly foundational truth in a way that differed from all the others. The disillusionment was furthered by reading a book by Chafer that was written around 1940 and identified Benito Mussolini as the Antichrst who was at that very time setting up his end time kingdom.

The pre-millenial doctrine continues to generate endless speculation and has enabled writers to sell millions of books, tapes and even movies. In recent years, we are seeing a lot of books tying events in the Middle East to Bible prophecy and producing many fanciful scenarios of how this will all play out.

Another theme that has sold a lot of books in recent years is stories of visits to heaven, particularly by little children. I haven’t read any of these books, but I gather that some of the details don’t bear much resemblance to what the Bible tells us about heaven.

Now, one of the boys who was credited with multiple visits to heaven has denied the whole story. Alex Malarkey was in a serious automobile accident when he was six years old, was in a coma for several months and is left with a spinal cord injury causing major physical impairment. A book, The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven, was written about his supposed heavenly experiences in the months following the accident. His mother. Beth, has suggested for years that the book was not to be trusted, but did not want to put words into her son’s mouth. Alex is now 16 and recently wrote the following letter:

Please excuse the brevity, but because of my limitations I have to keep this short.

I did not die. I did not go to heaven.

I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention. When I made the claims that I did, I had never read the Bible. People have profited from lies, and continue to. They should read the Bible, which is enough. The Bible is the only source of truth. Anything written by man cannot be infallible.

It is only through repentance of your sins and a belief in Jesus as the Son of God, who died for your sins (even though he committed none of his own) so that you can be forgiven may you learn of heaven outside of what is written in the Bible . . . not by reading a work of man. I want the whole world to know that the Bible is sufficient. Those who market these materials must be called to repent and hold the Bible as enough.

In Christ,

Alex Malarkey

The book names Alex Malarkey as co-author with his father. The parents are no longer together and the mother, Beth Malarkey is the primary care giver for Alex and his three younger siblings. She states that Alex has received no money from the book, nor much support for his medical needs. The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven has now been withdrawn from the market.

Books like this are not what you want to give to your unbelieving friends. When the illusion is shattered and the story is revealed to be bunk, they are apt to think that means all of Christianity is bunk. Alex and his mother are right, we do not need colourful stories of doubtful veracity to prove the Christian way,  the Bible is enough.

The Father himself loveth you

Who do we pray to? And in whose name? I often hear people begin their prayers with “Our Father,” “Dear Lord,” or “Dear Jesus,” and then end  with “in thy name.”   Whose name do they mean? This practice, by the way, is not limited to members of any particular denomination.

Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full. At that day ye shall ask in my name: and I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you: for the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God (John 16:24, 26, 27).

These are Jesus parting instructions to His apostles and have generally been accepted by Christian believers as guidance in how we should make our petitions known: God himself loves us and is pleased to hear our prayers, yet those prayers should be wrapped with the name of Jesus, whose blood was shed for us and who is our advocate with the Father.

Thirty years ago, elderly deacon Lloyd Wohlgemuth (long since departed to his reward), made the introduction to a worship service in the congregation where we then lived. He asked whether those who ended their prayers with “in thy name” were ashamed to speak the name of Jesus. He said he did not believe that to be the case, yet someone could possibly make that inference if we do not clearly say whose name we mean.

Let me be clear, I do not believe that heaven has some heavy-handed bureaucracy that will reject our prayers if they are not submitted in the officially mandated format. God hears all our prayers, however they are formulated. I do wonder, though, if we are a little fearful of approaching the Father with our petitions, somehow fearing His disapproval. That could lead to a confusion as to whom it is that we are actually addressing our prayers. Perhaps there is some thought that it would be best for Jesus to receive our prayers and then pass them on to the Father.

Yet Jesus constantly reiterated the truth of God’s love. The love of Jesus does not stand as a buffer between us and the stern anger of God, it is a demonstration of how much God loves us.

Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews  4:16).

We don’t need better politicians, we need better Christians

Well, better politicians would be good, too. But we get what we deserve; and the present crop of politicians are doing the best they can with the information they have. Better Christians could be a means of making better information available to the politicians, as well as everyone else.

“But take heed to yourselves: for they shall deliver you up to councils; and in the synagogues ye shall be beaten: and ye shall be brought before rulers and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them” (the words of Jesus in Mark 13:9). Jesus didn’t teach that Christians should try to negotiate with the rulers to institute better practices of governance. His concern was that the testimony of the gospel should be heard in all places, despite the dangers.

There is no hint in the New Testament that governments will ever be favourable to Christians. Nevertheless, we are to pray for them that they might have wisdom to restrain evil-doers and maintain a modicum of order and freedom. That is the realm of governments, not of Christians, and we should give thanks to God for all that our governments are still doing in those areas.

But we have deceived ourselves into thinking that we live in a Christian nation and that we should rightfully have some influence on the governments. That has led to a laxity among Christians that leaves us feeling helpless when we realize the extent of our deception. The correct way to deal with that is to set our own house in order and not waste our breath trying to set the government house in order.

We need a revival of true faith and righteous living. We cannot tolerate lowered standards of honesty and moral purity in our own circles, then complain that the government has let us down.

Nineteen hundred years ago an unknown Christian wrote: “In a word, what the soul is in a body, this Christians are in the world. The soul is spread through all the members of the body, and Christians through the divers cities of the world. The soul hath its abode in the body, yet it is not of the body. So Christians have their abode in the world, and yet they are not of the world. The soul which is invisible is guarded in the body which is visible; so Christians are recognised as being in the world, and yet their religion remaineth invisible. The flesh hateth the soul and wageth war against it, though it receiveth no wrong, because it is forbidden to indulge in pleasures; so the world hateth Christians, because they set themselves against its  pleasures. The soul loveth the flesh which hateth it, and the members; so Christians love those that hate them. The soul is enclosed in the body, and yet itself holdeth the body together; so Christians are kept in the world as in a prison-house, and yet they themselves hold the world together. The soul though itself immortal dwelleth in a mortal tabernacle; so Christians sojourn amidst perishable things, while they look for the imperishability which is in the heavens. The soul when hardly treated in the matter of meat and drink is improved; and so Christians when punished increase more and more daily. So great is the office to which God has appointed them, and which it is not lawful for them to decline.” (The Epistle to Diognetus, circa AD 150).

Can the same be said of Christians today?

The baptism of suffering

So soon as the believer has the witness of the spiritual baptism and has received the baptism with water, he should yield himself willingly to receive the baptism of the shedding of his blood for the name of Christ, if required, and take on him the witness of blood, according to 1 John 5:8: “And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree in one.

The believer, in his baptism, is baptized into the body of Christ, the church (1 Corinthians 12:13. 27). And then he puts on Christ and unites himself to him to follow him truly and constantly, and bearing his cross after him. And should the believer be called on to suffer for the name of Christ, and to lay down his life for his name, he should be willing to be baptized with the same baptism of suffering and shedding of blood wherewith his Lord and Master was baptized when he laid down his life to redeem man from death, and this is the allegiance of all the true disciples of Jesus Christ in this world. “ye shall drink indeed of my cup and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with (Matthew 20:23). “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. The servant is not greater than his lord, if they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you (John 15:18. 20). “They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea the time cometh that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service (John 16:2).

“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16). And verses 22 & 25: “Ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household?” “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26-27).

For it is evident that when believers, as members of Christ, will enter heaven with Christ the heavenly bridegroom to the marriage supper of the Lamb, and drink of the new and sweet wine in heaven (which is manifested in John 2:10 and Matthew 26:29), that they must first drink with him the bitter wine of affliction and tribulation, and be baptized with his baptism (Matthew 20:22-23). But the drinking of this cup and being baptized with this baptism must be done and endured for the sake of Jesus Christ and for his name alone.

Henry Funk, A Mirror of Baptism

Paradise

MJfountnThis is Crescent Park in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. Not really paradise, just a pretty nice spot to find smack dab in the downtown of a city on the arid prairies.

The first home of mankind was in a true earthly paradise, the Garden of Eden. As a consequence of their sin, Adam and Eve were driven from the garden, and ever since there has been a gnawing desire in the heart of each of their descendants to find their way back to that garden.

The paradise envisioned by many cultures was an enclosed garden, with trees, flowers, birds and animals, in which one could find peace and rest from all the evils of this life. The Jewish rabbis of antiquity wrote of such a garden and pictured Abraham at the gate to welcome all his spiritual descendants.

This traditional understanding was the background for Jesus’ mention of Abraham’s bosom in the account of the rich man and Lazarus. Later on, the dying thief would have readily understood the meaning of Jesus’ promise “Today thou shalt be with me in paradise” to mean such a place.

But this is not heaven. Our minds want to skip over the period of time between death and the judgement. The Bible gives only sketchy glimpses of this, but clearly states that the dead will not rise again before Jesus’ return. At that time there will be a bodily resurrection followed by the judgement.

Yet it is clear that there is already a separation between the saved and the lost at the time of death. Paradise for the redeemed and a place of torment for the lost. If this is so, why is there a need for the Last Judgement? It seems from the judgement account in Matthew 25 that many of those who found themselves in the place of torment will harbour a conviction that a horrible mistake has been made, that they have been punished unjustly. And those who found themselves in Paradise will have had misgivings about whether they were worthy of such a place. It will be made plain for all to see that each one’s placement was just and their destiny will be sealed for eternity.

If Paradise is such a place of beauty and peace, what will heaven be like? “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). We just don’t know, but surely it will be a Paradise beyond our ability to fathom while we live in our earth-bound bodies. It will not be a place of sensuous pleasures, such as imagined by the Qu’ran, but neither will it be a place of sterile, utilitarian beauty. Will there be birds and animals there? We havbe no word either way, but surely there is no harm in imagining heaven in terms of the things we find beautiful and heart-warming today, since heaven will surely not be less than what we can imagine.

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