Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Holy Spirit

The Church of God is not racist

But members sometimes do and say inappropriate things

Several weeks ago the French news magazine Le Point carried an interview with a man who had come to France in his youth from Togo. The title of the article was France is not racist, a point of view staunchly upheld by the man being interviewed, although he did talk of incidents when the colour of his skin had caused difficulties.

This man had come to France to attend university, then stayed and made himself at home. He applied for citizenship and in due time received a brown envelope in the mail with a paper inside that told him, “You are now a Frenchman.” He wondered about the  impersonal nature of that notice. Many years later he became Minister of Citizenship in the government of François Mitterand and used the opportunity to establish a public ceremony for welcoming new citizens.

Being born in France, or born elsewhere to French parents, is not the only way to become French. France has always welcomed people from all parts of the world, believing that anyone can become French. But that means that you must become French, become at home with the language, the culture and the French values of liberty, equality and brotherhood.

Within this framework there is room for a great deal of diversity. One example is that education has been compulsory in France for 140 years, but the law has never made school attendance compulsory. Home schooling is legal, as long as it includes the essential subjects, which includes achieving fluency in French and one other language.

In the same way, the Church of God is not racist, even if there are sometimes misunderstandings between people of different ethnic backgrounds. Membership is never by birth, but only by choice, in choosing to answer the call of God to salvation and sanctification. Anyone can become a member, on those conditions.

We can be united in faith, yet not think and act in identical ways. That is perfectly all right, we can all learn from the ways that people of a different ethnic background see things.

However, when most members of a congregation are of the same ethnic background it is easy to assume that we do things in a certain way because that is the way that a Christian should do things. Some of those things are deeply rooted ethnic traditions. They are not wrong, but we cannot expect that people of other ethnic backgrounds will conform to those things that are passed on through our culture.

Problems arise when ethnic traditions harden into a belief that there is only one right way to think or act. This is being carnally minded, not spiritually minded. Another way to describe such an attitude is ethnocentrism. Such an attitude hinders us from seeing the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of people with different cultural values. It may hinder Christians of other backgrounds from feeling at home among us.

That is not racism. There is nothing deliberate about ethnocentrism, it is learned in childhood and one is unaware of even having such an attitude. I believe the time has come for us to name it as a problem. That does not mean we need to change our culture, such a thing is pretty much impossible. All we need to do is learn to value and love people of other cultures just the way they are.

Two way communication

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God has spoken once, His words are written in the holy book and it is the whole duty of man to obey all that is taught in the holy book. Religious leaders help to understand parts of the holy book that may not be clear, but God does not speak to people today.

The religion which believes that is called Islam. There are more than a billion devout followers of this religion.

Christianity also teaches that God has spoken in the past and His words are collected in a holy book called the Bible. But Christianity teaches something more than that: God speaks to people today by His Holy Spirit and by His church. There is full agreement in what God says by these three means.

If there is discord in what we are hearing, we need to search for the problem. Perhaps we have been taught an interpretation of parts of the Bible and the Holy Spirit is saying something that does not fit with what we have been taught. Is the problem with the interpretation we have been taught, or are we listening to a spirit that is not the Holy Spirit?

Perhaps the church to which we belong is teaching something that doesn’t seem to agree with what we read in the Bible or what the Holy Spirit is telling us. We need to be very careful to not become one who believes that he alone has the correct understanding of truth. But when it is clear that the church to which we belong is faithful to neither the Spirit nor the Bible, it is time to search for a church that is.

If we find the Bible difficult to understand, the best answer may not be to look for a Bible that is easier to understand. The best way to increase our understanding of the Bible is to be obedient to the parts that we do understand.

Prayer should not be a one way conversation. God wants us to talk to Him; He also wants to speak to us. If we are hearing nothing, we should search our hearts to see if we have obeyed the instructions He has given us in the past.

To be in full communion with God, we must be obedient to the things He says to us, whether through the Bible, the church or the Holy Spirit. This connection with God will also connect us with other true believers. This is not a man-made unity, which is fragile, but the unity of the family of God, founded on the bedrock of God’s truth.

Getting from survival to revival

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I trust that most of us have coped well during this time of enforced hibernation. Now spring has come, nature is alive once more and we want to be too.

What now? Do we go back to the way things were before our hibernation? Is that even possible? What is normal going to look like a few months from now? What should it look like?

So many questions, so few answers. For we who are Christians the best place to find answers is by reading the Bible and spending time in prayer. This has been a good time to do more of that, but anytime is a good time to start.

Last week I read through the book of Hebrews in a single sitting. I did that three times, on different days; one of those times I read it aloud. That has given me a whole new perspective on what that letter is about. I spoke about it in our virtual worship service yesterday, I will write about it some day soon.

I am convinced that this is how the Bible is meant to be read. We find the Bible to be a mysterious, almost impenetrable, book if we read it any other way. Always flitting from one short passage to another somewhere else in the Bible is a good way to make the Bible boring. To treat each verse or short passage as an independent saying and then attempt to discern its meaning by our own intellect or imagination can lead to deception. The writers, inspired by the Holy Spirit, expected us to read the whole story.

This is the road to revival. We cannot have a revival that springs from our own will, it has to be prompted by the will of God. The more we immerse ourselves in His Word, the more He is able to reveal His will to us.

This hibernation season has been a good time to reach out to others. At least, it should heave been. We can’t meet in person, but we have so many ways to connect – telephone, text, email, even an old-fashioned letter.

I confess that I have done a little more of that, but not nearly as much as I thought I was going to do. It seems that even in a quiet time there is so much happening that I can be busy without ever planning to be busy. If I want to reach out to others, I have to make it happen.

It feels good when I receive an encouraging note, or a bit of news. I can do that too, I want to do it, but it doesn’t just happen. I need to be connected to fellow Christians, to family members, There are acquaintances who are lonely, hurting, afraid. A word of comfort, cheer or hope could make their day just a bit better. When the Spirit prompts me to reach out, I need to obey promptly. That too is the road to revival.

Desperately wicked

Try to put yourself in the position of a slave owner in the antebellum south. a slave owner whose livelihood and position in society hinged on your ability to get the maximum amount of work out of your slaves at a minimum cost. You considered yourself to be a Christian, but, like everyone around you, you believed that these black-skinned creatures who worked in your fields were more like domestic livestock than human beings. Some even said that they had no souls. Therefore you were justified in driving them to work harder, whipping them if they could not or would not work, killing them if they rebelled or tried to escape. Could you be that person?

Or could you be a guard in a Nazi death camp? For years you have been bombarded with information in the media, in movies, in schools, books and pamphlets that revealed how Jews were the cause of all that had ever gone wrong in Germany. The future of Germany depended on ridding itself of such degraded people. Could you order them to do meaningless, repetitive tasks, beat them when they stumbled under the load, herd them into the gas ovens?

Maybe you could have been a member of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge. The future of Cambodia depended on it becoming an egalitarian agricultural society. Could you have herded people out of the cities, young and old, men and women, healthy or sick, and forced them to march for days into the jungle, caring nothing for those who perished along the way?

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9). Do we know the depravity of our heart? The people I have described were no different than you and me. Under the same circumstances we would have been capable of doing the same things, with never a twinge of conscience.

We would like to think otherwise, to think that we are better than that. We are not. Those were intelligent, civilized people, capable of showing much kindness in other areas of their life. But their hearts deceived them into believing that some people were not worthy of kindness, respect or compassion.

We are all good people until we are put to the test. The only thing that will make the outcome different when we are tested is to listen to the gentle prompts of the Holy Spirit of God.

Instructions for parents from Menno Simons

The world desire for their children that which is earthly and perishable, such as money, honour, fame and wealth. From infancy they train them up to vice, pride, haughtiness and idolatry. But with you, who are born of God, this is not the case; for it behooves you to seek something else for your children ; namely, that which is heavenly and eternal, and hence it is your duty to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, as Paul teaches.

Moses commanded Israel to teach their children the law and commandments of the Lord, to talk of them when they sat down in their houses, and when they walked by the way, and when they lay down, and when they rose up. Now, since we are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people, that we should show forth the praises of him who hath called us out of darkness into his marvellous light; therefore it behooves us to show ourselves patterns and examples in all righteousness and blamelessness. And to appear unto the whole world as we are thereunto called; for if we do not keep a strict eye upon our own children, but permit them to follow their evil inclination, corrupt nature and disposition, not correcting and chastising them according to the word of the Lord, we may with the greatest propriety lay our hands upon our mouths, and remain silent. For why should we teach those not of our household, when we take no pains to preserve our own families in the love and fear of God? Paul says, “If any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel”.

My beloved brethren and sisters in Christ, who sincerely love the word of the Lord, thus instruct your children from youth up, and daily admonish them with the word of the Lord, setting a good example. Teach and admonish them, I say, in proportion to the development of their understanding; constrain and correct them with discretion and moderation, without anger or bitterness lest they be discouraged; spare not the rod, if reason and necessity require it.

Beloved brethren in Christ, if you rightly know God and his word, and believe that the end of the righteous is everlasting life, and the end of the wicked eternal death, endeavour to the utmost of your power, to conduct your children in the way of life, and divert them from the way of death, as far as in you lies. Pray to Almighty God for the gift of his grace, that in his great mercy, he may guide and preserve them in the right path, through the directing influence of his Holy Spirit. Watch over their salvation as for your own souls. Teach, instruct, admonish, threaten, correct and chastise them, as circumstances require. Keep them away from naughty, wicked children, among whom they hear and learn nothing but lying, cursing, swearing, fighting and knavery. Have them instructed in reading and writing, bring them up to habits of industry, and let them learn such trades as are suitable, expedient and adapted to their age and constitution. If you do this, you shall live to see much honour and joy of your children. But if you do it not, heaviness of heart shall consume you at last. For a child left to himself, without reproof, is not only the shame of his father, but he bringeth his mother to shame.

-Menno Simons, 1557

Spiritual radar

On Dec. 7, 1941 Lt. Kermit Tyler was the supervisor for a series of radar stations. In the early morning a radar operator who was a private called about a large blip on his scope. Lt. Tyler told him not to worry about it. Not long after, he went outside and witnessed the beginning of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor.

An investigation concluded that Lt. Tyler couldn’t have been expected to do any better. Radar was a new technology, there were no procedures in place to tell what to do even if the radar blip had been correctly interpreted. This was only Lt. Tyler’s second shift as supervisor, he had been given no training or instructions as to what his duties were.

Two months ago, when COVID-19 was still thought to be something only happening in Asia, doctors around Seattle noticed a rise in flu-like illnesses causing fevers, sore throats and respiratory distress, yet tests for the influenza virus came back negative. That area now has the highest concentration of COVID-19 cases in the USA.

Did doctors and the Centers for Disease Control misread the blips on the radar? Would it have made any difference if they had recognized them for what they were? Probably not, these were still early days for that virus and no one understood how it worked or what to do about it. We are still learning.

There is a lesson there for Christians if we feel secure in our understanding of how to live a life pleasing to God and of the dangers that might trip us up. The serpent always has something new to put in our way, something we have never before encountered and have no idea how to handle. Most often it will seem innocent and harmless at first, until we realize that we have been bitten and the poison is already eating at our Christian life.

Christians have something far better than radar to warn us of such dangers. We have the Holy Spirit. “And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left” (Isaiah 30:21). That voice will always show us the way that is safe. Are we paying attention?

A life-giving faith

We Christians have a lot to say about heaven and how we long to be there. Is anticipation enough to get us there? If we are not experiencing joy in the journey, will we make it?

Many Christians are experiencing a joyous and happy life, filled with joy far more abundant than they ever knew before they abandoned the way of the world. Others are burdened with care, wanting to always do the right thing and avoid doing the wrong thing. Their eyes are so fixed upon the ground, ever fearful of dangers that may lie on their path, that they forget to look up and see the glory of the Lord.

We don’t have to live like that. We don’t want to look for pleasure in things the world around us calls fun; but living with the dread of making a misstep is not the way Jesus wants us to live. He has given us the Holy Spirit to guide us on our way, to comfort us when we are on the right path and warn us if we are in danger of stepping off that path.

The fear of the Lord is an honest awareness of the seriousness of life, the seriousness of the choices we make every day. That kind of fear leads not to dread but to trust and joy.

May I offer this paraphrase of Romans 12:2;

“Don’t pattern your thinking after the things that are highly esteemed in today’s world, but let the Holy Spirit renew your thinking to understand the complete will of God so that your life can be transformed into what He wants it to be.”

A Christ-centred faith

The Anabaptist/Mennonite faith is Christ-centred in a way that differs significantly from other Christian traditions. We believe in the virgin birth, the sacrificial death on the cross, the resurrection and the second coming of Christ. But what is most important to us is the life of Jesus between his birth and the cross.

There are six ways in which this matters:

1. Jesus is God in human form, therefore He is the clearest revelation of what God is like.

2. Jesus is the clearest revelation of what God intends human beings to be like. Jesus tells us many times in the gospels to “follow me.” The new birth is just the beginning of being a Christian, it is what enables us to follow Jesus.

3. Jesus reveals how God works in history. The Old Testament accounts of Abraham, Moses and Israel are incomplete without Jesus. His life reveals what Old Testament history was all about.

4. For Jesus to be central to our life we must be united with His church. It is not a viable option to be united with Jesus and stand apart from His body, the Church.

5. The work of the Holy Spirit is experienced through Jesus. Any claim for the work of the Spirit that is not in harmony with the life and teaching of Jesus must be judged false.

6. To make Jesus central to our life is to be concerned for the salvation of the world. If there is only one God, and He is revealed in Jesus, then those who know Jesus have an obligation to introduce the rest of humanity to Him.

-adapted from A Third Way, Paul M Lederach © 1980 Herald Press, Scottdale PA

Their citizenship is in heaven

The Kingdom of God is the only kingdom or nation that is rightfully called Christian. The citizens of this kingdom are on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven. They do not treasure things that are highly esteemed in this world, which are an abomination to their heavenly King. Their treasure is in heaven, where they long to be when their earthly time and duties are done.

The values that govern their lives do not conform to the prevailing value system of the world, but their minds have been transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit so they understand the will of their heavenly King.

They are also citizens of the nation or kingdom where they live and are subject to all the laws of that kingdom or nation. They are loyal citizens and thankful for the benefits conferred by their earthly citizenship. But their first loyalty is to their heavenly King and His Kingdom.

It is folly for citizens of the kingdom of God to think an earthly kingdom can be a Christian nation. The principles of the kingdom of God don’t work in earthly nations because too many people follow the enemy of the heavenly King.

It is necessary for earthly kingdoms to use some measure of force to maintain order, sometimes lethal force. The kingdom of God is governed by the Holy Spirit working in the heart of those people whose hearts have been transformed to value peace and love above all other things. Those whose hearts are hardened and cannot hear the voice of the Holy Spirit must be governed by other means.

The heavenly King gives us the freedom to choose between good and evil, therefore He allows the enemy to work. There is a day coming when He will destroy the enemy and all earthly kingdoms; today He calls people the world over to come into His kingdom and find peace.

The methods of the enemy of God will never result in peace. When citizens of the heavenly kingdom take part in the government of an earthly kingdom, they must abandon some values of the heavenly kingdom. They will have more power to transform the world if they pray to their King and implore Him to overrule the plans of the enemy, to protect His people, and soften hard hearts.

Baby steps

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Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

“God will provide.” We say those words glibly, so certain of their truth that we may appear to have no compassion for people in distress. That isn’t what they are experiencing day after day. Life seems to be stacked against them. Perhaps they don’t have the skills to find a job that will pay a living wage. So they eke out a meagre existence on welfare.

If they take part time work, the income is deducted from their welfare cheque. The government offers financial aid to get the training needed for a better paying job. But if they accept that offer, they no longer qualify for subsidized housing and they are worse off than before. What are they to do?

Some do escape from the welfare trap. That possibility exists for many more, but it looks hopeless who are caught there.

If they could just win the lottery that would give them a way out. Except it doesn’t; the lottery is just another trap. Those who win big are usually back where they started within two years.

The real problem is not a lack of education or a lack of money. Those problems are real, but the underlying problem is a lack of hope. Well-meaning people can’t inspire hope in the poor by telling them that there is work for anyone who really wants to work. All the listener feels from that is condemnation. Neither does it help to label them as lazy or stupid.

A baby watches big people walk around on two legs. Eventually she gets the courage to try it for herself, and she falls. The next day she tries again, and falls again. But she sees the big people doing it and wants so badly to do it herself that she keeps trying. Soon she can stand by herself. Then she takes a step or two, and falls once more. But she keeps trying and pretty soon she can walk; before long she is running.

That is the way life works. Winning the lottery does not instantly make one capable of walking, in whatever metaphorical context one may wish to apply it. None of the people who appear to be so successful in life got there without a shaky start. Everyone began with baby steps.

That is the way that God works in the life of a newborn Christian. Jesus told the disciples “ I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth” (John 16:12-13). The Holy Spirit does not dump the whole load on us and tell us the shape up; he gently guides us step by step, allowing us to concentrate on making the next step and giving us a gentle assurance that we are moving in the right direction.

This is the kind of help needed by those who feel trapped in a dead-end street. First, they need to grasp the hope that it is possible to get out of there. Then they need the courage to take just one step. Even if that step doesn’t get them very far, they need to feel that they have accomplished one little thing and that will give them the courage to take one more step. In time their steps become more confident, leading to possibilities they thought were forever beyond their grasp.

As Christians we have a reputation for thinking that the misfortunes of the poor are entirely their own fault, for lacking compassion. I’m afraid many of us have earned that reputation. Perhaps we need to begin making baby steps toward an attitude that inspires hope in others.

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