Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: holiness

The pursuit of happiness

Times are tough for writers today. Every writers’ group and every writers’ conference tells us that no publisher will even look at a book manuscript unless the author has an impressive “writer’s platform.” That would consist of a blog with at least 10,000 followers and a similar presence on Facebook and Twitter. And then there are experts who will explain how to promote your book on Amazon.

I just don’t want to go there. If the underlying purpose of my writing is to exalt the One who said “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” how can I put that together with going on Facebook and Twitter every morning and finding some new way to call out “Hey everybody! Look at me!”?

I guess that means I’m not going to be rich or famous. I’m OK with that. But at least I can be happy. I don’t think our me-first world today even knows what happiness means. True happiness has no connection to hilarity and thrills, it comes from a holy life, lived in service to God and to our fellow men.

The beatitudes are a description of true happiness. The AV translation uses the word “blessed,” but the original Greek word means happy and is translated that way in other passages. The beatitudes tell us that true happiness is found in being poor in spirit, meek, merciful and pure in heart; to hunger and thirst after righteousness,to be peacemakers. Jesus ends the beatitudes with this astounding statement:

Happy are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

Jesus is not telling us to provoke people into reviling and persecuting us, but there is nothing anywhere in His teachings to indicate that we should carefully court the approval of the world. We should rather seek to serve others in whatever way we can, without expecting or begging their approval.

Writing is one way in which we can serve others. But no one will appreciate our attempts to serve if we come across as feeling superior, or try to impress by pompous words and a bombastic writing style. The apostle Paul wasn’t exalting himself when he said “Be ye followers of me, even as I am also of Christ.” We can say the same thing, but only if we can attain to his level of humility in following Christ. That is where we will find true happiness.

John Wycliffe, as seen by Geoffrey Chaucer

In 1367, when John Wycliffe taught at Canterbury Hall, Oxford, one of his students was Geoffrey Chaucer.  These two men had a great influence on the development of the English language.   In later years, John Wycliffe produced the first translation of the Bible into the English language, and Chaucer produced the first literary work in English, the Canterbury Tales. The following verses are the portion of the Canterbury Tales where Chaucer speaks of his mentor. This is very old English, and you might need to pause a moment here and there to get the meaning.

A good man was there of religioun,
And was a poure Persounn of a toun,             (poor parson)
But riche he was of hooly thoght and werk.
He was also a lerned man, a clerk                 (cleric)
That Cristes gospel trewly wolde preche;
His parisshens devoutly wolde he teche.
Benyne he was, and wonder diligent,
And in adversity ful pacient,
And such he was ypreved ofte sithes. . .

Wyde was his parisshe, and houses fer asunder,
But he ne lefte nat, for reyn ne thonder,
In sicknesse nor in meschiefe, to visite
The ferreste in his parish, much and lite,
Upon his feet, and in his hand a staf.
The noble ensample to his sheep he yaf. . .

He was a shepherde and noght a mercenarie,
And though he hooly were and vertuous,
He was to sinful men nat despitous,
Ne of his speche daungerous ne digne,
But hin is techying discreet and benygne.
To drawen folk to hevene by fairnesse,
By good ensample, was his bisynesse. . .

A bettere prest I trowe that nowthere noon ys.
He waited after no pompe and reverence,
Ne maked him a spiced conscience,
But Cristes loore, and his apostles twelve,
He taught, and first he folwed it  hymselve.

God’s purposes, not ours

The phrase crucifying the flesh is not exactly a friendly, appealing group of words. I think this is because God wants us to be clear on what we are getting into. He wants us to know that His gift of the Holy Spirit is really not for our own pleasure or purposes. The Spirit is meant to lead us toward holiness. The Spirit is here with us to accomplish God’s purposes, not ours.

-Francis Chan, from the book Forgotten God © 2009 by Francis Chan, published by David C Cook

Catholicism or catholicity?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contagious holiness

“True evangelism is the result of a contagious holiness. Untrue evangelism is simply marketing or recruiting.”
-Doug Wilson, from Blog & Mablog, http://www.dougwils.com

Doug Wilson writes from a Calvinist / Reformed point of view, therefore we differ on some very fundamental issues of the Christian faith.  Yet a lot of what he writes about the way Christian faith needs to be demonstrated in everyday life is very much on target.  The quote above provides the perfect segue from the quote from The Clockmaker that I posted last night to what I want to say today.  So I have borrowed his words and want to give credit where credit is due.

It is right and good to honour heroes of the faith from the past and to follow their example.  We owe much to those leaders and evangelists of ages past who have faithfully taught and led the people of God along the narrow way.  Some have left us writings that we would do well to read and meditate upon.  They are not as easy to read as much of the “Christian” literature of our day, but they are not meant to be read in a single setting, then more or less forgotten.  The fact that these writings are saturated with Scripture quotations gives us an insight into the extent that the writers relied on the light of God’s Word to pilot their lives.

Yet such men are a small part of the story.  The Anabaptist faith was propagated and preserved by a multitude of unknown believers who simply lived faithful and holy lives.  These were men and women who kept the faith in times of plenty and times of poverty, in times of peace and times of persecution.  They had answers for their neighbours who asked a reason of the hope that was in them.  It is to these humble, unknown saints that we owe the preservation of the faith until our day.

We are heirs of the salvation purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ on Calvary.  It is the gift of God, not of human origin.  Yet in some measure we are also heirs of those of past generations who have lived out this faith in real life, practical Christian living.  This is not a heritage that has been passed along certain family lines or ethnic lines.  It is not a heritage that merely consists of a certain lifestyle.  It is a heritage that is caught by contact with those who truly have a faith that is contagious.

The cross is a symbol of that faith.  The cross is not a fashion accessory, a badge that confers some distinction on us.  The cross is a rough, heavy, ugly instrument of death, yet it is absolutely essential to our Christian life.  We cannot truly live until all our selfish pride and selfish aspirations are nailed to the cross and allowed to bleed to death.  Jesus said we would need to do this daily.  Self-denial and cross-bearing are not pleasant, but they allow a contagious faith to grow within us.

Our Anabaptist forefathers had that kind of faith.  It was authentic and it was contagious.  May God grant us that same faith today.

The faith once delivered to the saints

Jude 1:3 — Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.

Jude felt that he needed to send this exhortation to the saints of his day.  Almost two thousand years have passed and the need for this exhortation has not diminished with time.  This is not some quaint statement from a time long ago that is not applicable to our day.  This verse came to my mind this afternoon and as I meditated on it, it seemed that each of the words that I have highlighted are vitally important for those of us who call ourselves believers.

earnestly contend — The faith is under attack from all sides today.  We dare not think that if we ignore the attacks they will not affect us.  We need to mount a sustained defense of  the gospel.  That means seriously searching the Scriptures, calling on the Holy Spirit to help us understand their message and how it applies to every need and situation.  A Christian who is half-hearted about Bible reading and prayer will not be of much use in this battle.  One who relies on pat answers and catch phrases that no one else understands will not be able to withstand the attacks of the enemy, much less advance the cause of Christ.

for the faith — Let us be clear that it is the faith that we are defending, not a lifestyle, not a human tradition.  It is a relationship with God, based on the truth of His Word, the saving power of the blood of Jesus Christ and the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit.  Many saints in times past have given their lives rather than deny this faith.  It is still happening in some areas of the world and we have no guarantee that it will not be our turn some day.

which was once — There is not a new version of the faith for the twenty-first century.  We are the same kind of people as those who first received the faith, men of like passions, our needs are no different than theirs and the answer to those needs has not changed.  The only faith is the old faith given so long ago.

delivered — The faith has been given to us.  It is not the invention or imagination of long ago men who thought they were wise.  It is the gift of God to those who know in their heart that they are not wise enough to solve the great problems of life.

unto the saints — The faith was not given to the saints because they were holy.  In other words, it is not a prerequisite that we become holy in order to merit the faith.  It is the faith that makes us holy, the prerequisite is to feel our need of God and His salvation.  This faith is given to us as a gift, something that we do not merit in any way.  Our thankfulness for this saving faith moves us to be obedient to the giver of the gift.  Our thankfulness and obedience then allows the Holy Spirit to transform our lives so that we no longer live in the unholy ways of this world.  The gift of God is not given to those who still love the ways of wickedness.  Nor is it given to those who think they are better than the common run of humanity.  It is the confession of our weakness and unworthiness that allows the Holy Spirit to lead us in the ways of holiness.

The saint of the neighbourhood

[This is an 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.]

April 12, 1897 – This is Good Friday, so we had no school today, and Monday will be a holiday, too.

Munroes had a party last night for Katharine, who is home for over Easter.  She is the saint of this neighbourhood.  When anyone is extra good or gentle, or doesn’t ever get mad or say anything mean about anybody, when everybody else is saying mean things, we say that person is almost as good as Kate Munro.  She never says any slang words, even when she gets excited, and that’s a pretty good sign there’s no slang in her.  Sometimes I wish she would forget and say “Gee whiz” or “Jiminy Cricket” or something like that, but she never does.  I guess she’s walking on a little higher ground than I am, and if I want to be right at home with her I’ll have to climb up, for she will not come down.  I think she really loves everybody the way the Bible says we should, for if anybody does anything wrong or improper, and people are talking about the one that did it and remembering all the other bad things that person did and seeing how much they can rake up against the person, and making things out as bad as they can, Kate Munro never says anything, but gets rather red and ashamed looking as if the people were talking about a real brother or sister of hers that she loved.

Some of the others around are good Christians in most every way.  They don’t use slang or do anything improper, and they go to church and testify and all, but they don’t act like Kate Munro does about the sins of other people.  They seem to like to publish them a little, and so I don’t think they really do love their neighbours as themselves, or love people the way Christ does.

I am that way myself, and so I know I’m not a very good Christian yet.  When I don’t like a person very well and I know something mean about them, and I’m with somebody else that doesn’t like them very well either, and we get talking about them, I’m almost sure to tell the mean things I know about them.  And then, like as not, I find out something nice about them and begin to like them better, but I feel as if I must act to them the way I talked about them or else be a sneak, and the only way out is to tell them what I said about them, and then if they still want to be friends it’s all right.

I don’t suppose Kate Munro ever gets into any fixes like that, because she talks nothing bad about anyone.  When anyone says anything mean about any of her friends, she never flares up the way I do, and gives that person a calling down and so makes them say things worse than ever when they are behind your back, but she explains things to them as if she liked them, too, and just thinks they don’t understand the situation, and that makes the person a friend of her friend instead of meaner about them than ever.

Ma says nobody’s wise enough to judge anybody else anyway, because if we were in their shoes and had been brought up in the way they were, we’d likely do no better ourselves, and the safest plan is to keep our mouths shut, when we start to talk about the sins of somebody else.

But some folks think the best way to boost themselves is to run down somebody else.

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