Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

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An exposition of First Corinthians chapter three

An older brother, a minister, once suggested to me that I should write about one portion of this chapter. He didn’t tell me what I should write, but appeared to have confidence that I would be able to cut through the misinterpretations of the apostle Paul’s words that are often repeated in our day and make plain what he was really saying.

Twenty years have passed, the brother no longer walks this earth. But that suggestion and the confidence implicit in it have continued to echo in the recesses of my mind. Today it is time to sit down and make it happen. I will discuss the whole chapter because I don’t believe we can understand any one part of it if we do not understand the whole.

1 Corinthians 3:1 ¶ And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.
2 I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.
3 For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?
4 For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?

The brethren at Corinth did not have confidence in one another, or in the church. They had been converted, yet they were still set in the pagan pattern of following a teacher, rather than being followers of Christ. For this reason Paul told them they were still babies, at the very beginning of the life of faith, still feeding on only the simplest spiritual nourishment.

5 ¶ Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?
6 I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.
7 So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth;but God that giveth the increase.
8 Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.
9 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building.
10 According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.

Paul is telling the Corinthians that the new spiritual life they have found came from God, he and Apollos are only servants. He begins with the metaphor of a vine that they have planted and watered, but the life in the vine came from God, not Paul or Apollos. Then he switches to the metaphor of a building, saying that all together they are one building. The foundation has been laid and many are building upon it, but they must be careful how they build.

11 ¶ For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;
13 Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.
14 If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.
15 If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

The only possible foundation for the building of God, the church, is Jesus Christ. As there is only one foundation, there is only one building. The verses that follow are not meant to be understood in an individualistic way. They speak of the materials used to build the church, some are precious metals and stones that come from God and cannot burn. But ministers, parents, all of us really, will sometimes use our own reasoning to try and build the church, but these materials tend to weaken the structure, rather than strengthen it.

Yet there is grace for those who are building upon the true foundation, even if some if their efforts will not stand the test of fire. Paul is not saying that our personal salvation is at risk when in ignorance we use inferior materials, his words should lead us to sanctification, to let burn what will burn so that we may continue to build with the materials that are durable.

16 ¶ Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?
17 If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.

English-speaking readers of today find these verses difficult to understand. Our language has dropped the singular pronouns thee and thou, and even the plural pronoun ye, replacing all three with the plural you. Those pronouns had a purpose and we need to understand them to grasp what is being said in passages such as this.

When Paul uses the plural pronouns ye and you in these verses he is addressing the church as a whole, all members. But the temple of God is singular. He does not say “thou art the temple of God,” or “ye are the temples of God.” He is saying that altogether we are part of one temple, or church. This distinction is not something created by stuffy old translators 400 years ago, this is exactly the way Paul wrote in Greek.

Other passages that speak of the church as a single building or temple are found in 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Timothy 3:15; 1 Peter 2:5-7 and Revelation 3:15.

There is one passage which says something a little different: “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?” (1 Corinthians 6:19 ). Some people want to take this verse as the key to understanding all the others just cited. But that is to make those verses contradict what they so clearly state. Perhaps the best way to understand this verse is to read it in the light of the passage from 1 Peter which speaks of living stones. The temple of God is not built with stones that have no life in them. Just as in the case of Solomon’s temple, they must be prepared to fit before they are added to the temple.

When we interpret 1 Corinthians 3:16 as referring to each believer as an individual temple then it is easy to interpret verse 17 to refer to things that defile our own body, such as smoking, drug use, and immorality. Those are serious concerns, and they are addressed in 1 Corinthians 6:18-20). But this verse goes deeper than that.

Think of Achan in Joshua chapter 7. Achan took things that he knew he should not have and hid them in his tent, thinking that what others didn’t know could not harm him. But his action defiled the whole company of God’s people and God did not help them fight against their enemy, leading to much loss of life. When Achan’s sin was punished, then God once more gave the people victory over their enemies.

We are tempted to think as Achan did: “Nobody sees or knows what goes on in my private world. What harm can it do? ” It does great harm, not just to me but to all the church, even if no one knows the source of that harm. A living stone in the wall of God’s temple who permits himself such defilement causes the whole temple to be defiled. That stone no longer has the life of God within and must be removed and cast aside.

The difference between such a person and Achan is that in the gospel era there is opportunity for the defiled stone to have the fire of the Holy Spirit rekindled within and then be returned to a place in the wall of the temple.

18 ¶ Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise.
19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness.
20 And again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain.

The wisdom of this world tells us that once a person has given his heart to God it is impossible for him to once again be lost. We have an enemy who delights in feeding us that kind of wisdom because it hinders us from hearing God’s call to repent and re-consecrate our lives to Him. It is better to think of ourselves as fools and ask God to direct us in the way that will safely bring us to our eternal home in heaven.

21 ¶ Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours;
22 Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours;
23 And ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.

God has given servants to the church to preach the gospel, to teach and to guide His people. Let us honour and respect such men; but we must not glorify them or compare them with one another. Each one has gifts to help in building the walls of Zion. Those gifts are given to help us and to glorify Jesus Christ and God.

The threefold purpose of the church

As I read the New Testament, the evidence accumulates that there is a threefold purpose for the existence of the church. Each of these purposes is connected to, and dependent upon, the other two. Perhaps we could call this a three-legged stool and whenever one of the legs is shorter than the others it creates an unstable situation.

stool-147823_1280

1. To Glorify God
The first purpose is to glorify God. “After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; and cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen” (Revelation 7:9-12). This passage is set around the throne of God in heaven, but we must begin glorifying God here and now in order to be able to continue in eternity.

The fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace and all the rest, must be evident in the church. Joy should not be muted in the name of humility, or forced, out of a sense of duty. Peace must be genuine, based on thankfulness for God’s forgiveness and readiness to forgive others.

2. To be a safe place for God’s people
The second purpose is to provide a sheepfold for the God’s flock – a place where they can be fed, have their wounds cared for and be protected from the enemies seeking to harm them. “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:13-16).

The church should be a place where the wounded and weary can find true brotherly love that will be a balm to their wounds and speed their recovery. Yet the church must also be pure. Weak members should feel welcome, those who live in wilful disobedience must be reproved and if they do not repent they must not be retained in the sheepfold lest their disobedience be a snare to others.

3. To make new disciples in our home communities and in all the world
The third purpose is to proclaim the saving gospel of Jesus Christ to others. “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matthew 28:18-20). “And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).

The Great Commission says to teach, make disciples of, all nations. Proclaiming the gospel is only the beginning. When those who here are converted, that is still the preliminary stage of fulfilling the mission Jesus has given to us. New converts need the help of seasoned Christians to discern if a new life has sprung up within them, or merely a desire for a new life. They need teaching, support and encouragement as they forsake their old pathways and learn to walk with Jesus. We all need the support of genuine believers all through our Christian life.

I don’t know that any one of these three purposes has preeminence over the others. If we are truly led of the Holy Spirit, we will accomplish all three. If we let the Spirit do His perfect work in us, there will be no wobbliness in the way the church is perceived by others.

Built upon the rock

mont-st-michel-1022830_1280

Mont St Michel, France

THE ROCK
“Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” There need be no mystery or speculation about what rock Jesus meant in this verse, He was simply referring to Isaiah 28:16, “Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.” Jesus is the rock upon which He is building the church.

THE CHURCH
What is it? The word Jesus used was ekklesia, which means called out. The church is the fellowship of those who have been called out of the world to a new relationship with Jesus and with other followers of Jesus.

Why is it necessary? The values and the goal of those who follow Jesus are different from the values and goals that we formerly had and of those who still do not know Jesus. We need to gather together to help and encourage one another and to be in a place where Jesus can continue to teach us His ways.

THE MISSION
“Go ye therefore, and teach (make disciples of ) all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”

The mission given to the apostles, and to the church, is not simply to make converts, but to make disciples. A disciple is a learner, one who is willing to be taught. We are taught by the Word, by the Holy Spirit and by the church.

Jesus is building the church because we need to be in a place where we can be discipled and disciplined so that we do not lose our way and wind up back where we came from before we met Jesus. That place is where we are all united on the foundation of Jesus Christ and building upon that foundation.

The 1260 days in prophecy

A number of vivid prophecies were given to Daniel, containing references to the abomination that maketh desolate and a period of three and one half years. The prophecies give details about the beginning and ending of this time period and the symbolic language contains clear information about the persons and nations involved.

The conquests of Alexander are clearly portrayed, his early death, the division of his kingdom into four parts and the rise of Antiochus Epiphanes who would conquer Jerusalem and cause the daily sacrifices to cease.

Daniel records the time period in various ways: a time and times and the dividing of times (three and one half years); 1260 days, 1290 days and 1335 days. It is said the the sanctuary would be trodden under foot for 2300 days until it be cleansed. It appears that this latter refers not to days but to the evening and morning sacrifices, or 1150 days.

Some four centuries after the prophecies were given, Antiochus conquered Jerusalem, caused the sacrifices to cease and desecrated the temple by offering pig’s blood. Maccabees 1 calls this the abomination of desolation. Josephus says it was three years from the time the sacrifices ceased until the temple was cleansed and they began to be offered again.

Some commentators feel that the variation in the numbers given may be a clue that they are not to be taken as precise definitions of the time period. The three years mentioned by Josephs might not be exact either, but both Josephus and the writer of Maccabees clearly understood those events as the fulfilment of the prophecies given to Daniel.

In the New Testament, Jesus mentions the abomination of desolation, a clear hint that Daniel’s prophecies will have a further fulfilment in the NT era. The period of  time of forty and two months or a thousand two hundred and threescore days is also found in Revelation.

There is one striking difference between this time period in Revelation and the similar one in Daniel: in the book of Revelation there are no dates or events to mark the beginning or end of this period. Unnumbered scholars and learned men have devoted whole careers to discerning the exact period of time to which these refer. Anyone who does not value his sanity is welcome to collect and attempt to reconcile the widely differing conclusions they have reached.

May I suggest that no anchoring dates or events are mentioned because they are not at all the point of the prophecies in Revelation. The real message is in the events that occur during this time period.

Those events are:
1) the holy city and the court outside the temple will be trodden underfoot of the Gentiles;
2) the two witnesses shall prophesy, clothed in sackcloth;
3) the woman clothed with the sun will find a refuge where she is fed by God;
4) the dragon will speak great things and blasphemies.

There, in a nutshell, is a description of conditions throughout the New Testament era. The church built by Jesus Christ will always be a minority, often threatened and oppressed, yet sustained and fed by God. The enemy will take many forms, but will never cease to boast, threaten and blaspheme.

The two witnesses, the candlesticks mentioned in Zechariah and Revelation, are giving light from pure olive oil, the Holy Spirit. These are the Word of God and the Church of God. The dragon has always made war against them, working through pagans, papists and protestants. At times he has almost succeeded in destroying them, they have appeared to be dead, causing great rejoicing among their enemies. Yet they have always risen up again and continued to shine the light of the gospel in this sin darkened world.

The following reasons are therefore the cause of our separation.

May it be known to everyone that the cause of our separation has been such; for the essential truth of faith, and the interior knowledge of a true God in three persons in a unity of essence, a knowledge that neither flesh nor blood gives; the proper worship due to God alone, the love which belongs to him above all things, the sanctification, the honor which is due to him above all things and all that is called the living hope that is through Christ in God; regeneration and inner renewal by faith, hope and charity; the merit of Christ in all sufficiency of grace and justice; the communion of all the elect; the remission of sins, the sanctity of life, and the faithful fulfillment of all commandments by faith in Jesus Christ; true repentance, perseverance to the end and eternal life.

The truths which concern the ministry are these: the external assemblies of the ministers with the people who are subject to them, in suitable place and time, to instruct them in the truth through the ministry; in the truth mentioned above, bringing it there, strengthening it, and maintaining it there by faithful and frequent assemblies; the good ministers being, as to faith and conduct, an example of obedience, and following with vigilance the practice and example of the Lord to the flock.

The things that ministers are bound to do to serve the people are these: to preach to them the word of the gospel and the word of reconciliation, or the law of grace, according to the purpose and intention of Christ. For they are to announce the word of the Gospel, and the sacrament is joined to the word, confirms its intention and significance, and strengthens the hope in Christ in the faithful. Communion administered by the minister contains everything of the essential truth. And if there are some other things that concern the ministry, they can all be included in what has been said.

Now, of these particular truths, some are essentially necessary to the salvation of the humans, the others are conditionally necessary. They are contained in twelve articles, with the addition of several words of the apostles.

Six Iniquities of Antichrist
1. The errors and impediments presupposed by the Lord, concerning the Antichrist, are the following: varied and innumerable idolatrous service, granted against the commandment of God and of Christ, not made to the Creator, but to the creature seen or unseen, corporeal or spiritual, intelligent and sensible, produced naturally, or by any art, or under any name whatsoever, as of Christ and saints, and, relics, and persons in authority, to which creatures is rendered a service accompanied by faith, hope, actions, prayers, pilgrimages, alms, offerings, sacrifices, very expensive. They serve such creatures, they worship them, honor them in many ways, by singing, by panegyrics, by solemnities, by celebrations of masses, by vespers, by compliments to these creatures, by hours, by vigils, by feasts, to acquire grace, acquisition which is essentially in God alone, and meritoriously in Jesus Christ, and which is obtained only by faith by the help of the Holy Ghost.

For there is no other source of idolatry but a false opinion concerning grace, touching the truth, touching authority, invocation, intercession, which the Antichrist removes from God to assign to the ministries and works of his hands, the saints and purgatory. And this iniquity of the Antichrist is directly contrary to the first commandment of the law.

Similarly, the unrestrained love of Antichrist for the world is the source from which all the evils and sins of leaders, directors, and officers proceed in the Church; sins which remain without correction, and which are contrary to the truths of faith and to the knowledge of God the Father, according to the testimony of John, who says: He who sinneth neither knows God nor has seen him. For if anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

2. The second iniquity of the Antichrist is that he places the hope of forgiveness, grace, justice, truth, and eternal life, not in Christ, nor in God by Christ, but in men living and dead, in authority, in ecclesiastical ceremonies, in blessings, in sacrifices, in prayers and in other similar things mentioned above, and not in a true faith which produces repentance, with charity, the removal of evil and the advancement of good.

So the Antichrist teaches not to hope firmly for regeneration, strengthening, spiritual renewal or communion, the forgiveness of sins, sanctification in eternal life: but by the sacraments and by his perverse simony, means by which the people are deceived, and having all things for sale, he has imagined old and new ordinances to obtain money, allowing that if someone said or did this or whatever, he wants him to acquire grace and life. And this double iniquity is, properly called, in the Scriptures, adultery and fornication. Therefore, such ministers, who lead the rude people into such errors, are called whores of the Apocalypse. This iniquity is contrary to the second article, and also contrary to the second and third commandments of the law.

3. The third iniquity of the Antichrist is that, besides what has been said, he has invented false religious orders, rules, monasteries, churches, as means of acquiring hope. Similarly, they affirm, against all truth, that it is a duty for everyone to hear masses often and devoutly, to receive the sacraments, to confess (but rarely with contrition), to fast or to empty his purse, to be a member of the Roman Church, to indulge in or deliver to rule or hood. And this iniquity of the Antichrist is directly contrary to the eighth article of the symbol: I believe in the Holy Ghost.

4. The fourth iniquity of the Antichrist is that, being himself the fourth beast formerly described by Daniel, and the whore of the Apocalypse, he attributes to himself names, authority, power, the dignities, the ministries, the offices, the writings, to the point of equalizing and comparing themselves to the true and holy mother Church, in which there is ministerially, and not otherwise, salvation and truth, as to the life, doctrine and the sacraments. For if it were not that she covers herself and her ministers with error and manifest sinners, she would be abandoned by all if she were known.

But because the emperors and kings, and the princes, judged that she was like the true Holy Mother Church, they loved her herself and endowed her against the commandment of God. This iniquity of the ministers, of the subjects, of those ordained in error and in sin, is directly against the ninth article: I believe the holy Church. These things belong to the first part of the article.

In the second place, in fact, by participating in only the external forms, according to the humanly ordered and invented usages, they believe and hope to have their part in the truth of the offices of pastors and the cure of souls, as if those who would be shorn like lambs, who would be anointed in the manner of a wall, and who would receive the blessing by touching the book and the chalice, could claim to be rightly ordained priests.

It is the same with the subjugated people, if, because he has his share in the words, the signs, the external exercises, and in their various ceremonies, often repeated, he persuaded himself that he had part in the truth which is covered with them. And this is contrary to the other part of the eighth article: I believe the communion of saints.

One thing is to be done, it is necessary to move away from the very evil communion of the monks who, to bring carnal men to themselves, make them hope, by means of things of nothing and avarice, that they will make them share in their poverty and chastity, whoever they may be, or whether they are lustful or avaricious, provided they give gifts to them..

5. The fifth iniquity of the Antichrist is that he promises, by deception, forgiveness and remission of sins to sinners not truly contrite and who have not firmly renounced evil deeds. And he first makes this promise of the remission of sins by means of auricular confession and the absolution given by men, by means of pilgrimages dictated by greed.

This iniquity is contrary to the eleventh article of the Creed: I believe the remission of sins. For this forgiveness depends on the authority of God and the ministry of Jesus Christ, by partaking in faith, hope, repentance, charity, and obedience which, according to the Word of God, is in man.

6. There is yet a sixth iniquity, that they prolong the hope of forgiveness until the end of life, by means of the hidden iniquities already mentioned for the manifest sinners, and especially by means of the extreme unction and purgatory dream, so that the unlearned men, who do not know the truth, persevere in error and are absolved of sins from which they have never moved away from by free will so that they could hope for it. coming remission and eternal life. This iniquity is directly contrary to the eleventh and twelfth articles of the faith.

What are the works of the Antichrist?

The first work of Antichrist is to banish the truth and turn it into a lie, an error, and a heresy.

The second work of the Antichrist is to hide the lie under the guise of  truth, and to prove it and confirm it by the name of faith and by miracles, to mix falsehood with spiritual things in the eyes of the people submitted to him, either with the help of his ministers or ministries, or in relation to the Church.

Now these two works contain a perfect and accomplished wickedness, such as no tyrant or potentate in the world could do until the time of the Antichrist.

Before him, Christ never had such an enemy who could thus pervert the path of truth into falsehood, and falsehood in truth, and pervert the proponents of both truths. and lies.

In such a way that the holy Mother, the Church with her true children is trampled under foots, especially in the truth and in that concerning the true worship in truth, and the ministry and the manner in which they are discharged and the part that they take in them. their children ; she weeps, lamenting, repeating the words and complaints of Jeremiah, saying:

How is the city of the pagan and uncircumcised people seated alone? She became a widow, that is to say, destitute of the truth of her husband. Princess of the peoples, by their submission to errors and sins; princess of the provinces, by partaking with the world and things that are in the world, weep and look, and now you will find all things accomplished at this time.

For the Holy Church must be held for a synagogue of evildoers. And the synagogue of the wicked is esteemed the mother  of them who have good faith in the Word. Falsehood is preached for truth, iniquity instead of equity, injustice is preached and is held for righteousness, error for faith, sin for virtue, falsehood for the truth.

Which works stem from the first?
These: The first work is that it perverts the worship proper to God alone, to Antichrist and to his works, to the poor creature reasonable or unreasonable, sensible and senseless: to holy men who are deceased, and to images, bones and relics.

His works are the sacraments, especially the sacrament of the Eucharist which he worships as God and as Jesus Christ; he serves things he has blessed and consecrated , and forbids worshiping God alone.

The second work of Antichrist is that he takes away and robs Christ of his merits, with all the sufficiency of grace, justification, regeneration, remission of sins, sanctification, confirmation, and spiritual food; and he imputes and attributes it to his own authority, to a form of works, to saints, and to their intercession, and to the fire of Purgatory; and he turns away the people of Christ and brings them to the things just said, so that they do not seek those of Christ or through Christ, but only in the works of their own hands, and not by living faith in God, neither in Jesus Christ, nor in the Holy Spirit, but according to the will and the works of the Antichrist, as he teaches that all salvation consists in his works.

The third work of Antichrist is that he attributes the regeneration given by the Holy Spirit to the dead and outward work,baptizing children in this faith, teaching that it is through it that baptism and regeneration are obtained; it is in the same faith that he confers and bestows  orders and other sacraments, and grounds them all in his Christianity; which is against the Holy Spirit.

The fourth work of Antichrist is that by which he constitutes in the Mass all the religion and holiness of the people, having patched together a fabric of Jewish, pagan and Christian ceremonies. And leading the congregation and the people to hear it, he deprives them of spiritual and sacramental food, and removes it from the true religion and the commandments of God, and removes them from the works of mercy by his offertories; and by this Mass he lodges the people in vain hope.

The fifth work of Antichrist is that he does all his works, so that he may be seen and satisfy his insatiable greed, as well as so that he may put all things on sale and do nothing without simony.

The sixth work of Antichrist is that he gives rise to manifest sins, without ecclesiastical censure, and that he does not excommunicate the unrepentant.

The seventh work of Antichrist is that he neither directs nor maintains his unity by the Holy Spirit, but with the help of secular power, and that he also calls him to his help for spiritual things.

The eighth work of the Antichrist is that he hates, persecutes, accuses, plunders, and kills the members of Christ.

These are the main works he does against the truth, and no one can count them all or write them. But it is sufficient for the present to have pointed out these things as the most general by which this iniquity is covered and concealed.

Free will

We must believe in free will — we have no choice. Isaac Bashevis Singer.

Hmm. I wonder what he was getting at? Having nothing more to go on to discern a more complex meaning in Mr. Singer’s thought than this fragment, I will say that I agree.

When Moses told the people “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life;” and Joshua later said to the same people “ Choose you this day whom ye will serve,” we must assume that the people really were free to make the choices offered to them.

Yet many Christian denominations, probably most, teach that we do not have free will to choose our own destiny. They magnify the sovereignty of God to the point of saying that if humans can choose whether or not to answer God’s call then we are saying that God is less than almighty.

But if words mean anything, the Bible is offering us just such a choice, from Genesis to Revelation. Where then do people get the idea that the Bible doesn’t mean what it says?

Determinism, the belief that the gods, karma, fate, or whatever you want to call the ultimate power in the universe, have pre-determined every detail of one’s life, has always been part of Eastern religions. It entered Western thought through Zeno, founder of the Stoic school of philosophy.

It entered pseudo-Christian thought through Augustine, who laid the intellectual foundation for Roman Catholic policy. Augustine adapted Zeno’s thought, saying that God has predestined some people to be saved, and some to be damned. Since it is not given to mankind to know into which category they fall, the church has the right to compel all people within its territory to be members of the church and to turn the non-compliant over to the civil authorities. And since the church and the civil power were in complete unity, disobedience to the church was treason to the state and must be punished by death.

Since it could not be known who was predestined to salvation or damnation, then one could not discern that by the moral conduct of the person. In fact, those who led a pure and holy life were deemed to be deceived and the worst of heretics. This led to such aberrations in the Middle Ages as girls being led to the executioner because they refused the advances of the priests.

During the Protestant Reformation, John Calvin refined the doctrine of Augustine; the essence of Calvin’s doctrine is often described by the TULIP formula:
Total depravity – the depravity of mankind prevents them from choosing to answer God’s call.
Unconditional election – The conduct of the elect has no part in determining their salvation.
Limited atonement – Christ only died for the elect, those predestined to be saved.
Irresistible grace – the grace of God is imparted to the elect, who have no power to resist it.
Perseverance of the saints – The elect can never lose their salvation.

This is the explicit doctrine of the Presbyterian, Reformed and most Baptist churches. Other churches believe much of what Calvin taught, but may be a bit nebulous about the origin of their beliefs.

The problem with believing Calvin’s doctrine is that church pews are occupied by people who believe that they have been born again through the irresistible grace of the Holy Spirit, but show little evidence of leading a Christian life. The old Westminster Confession got around this by saying that a born again person may take many years to develop an assurance of salvation. The modern teaching is that the new birth and conversion are quite different things, the new birth being instantaneous and conversion being a slow, almost imperceptible process.

The Bible makes no such distinction, the words are used interchangeably. There was a transition period for the disciples who walked with Jesus but did not receive the Holy Spirit until the Day of Pentecost. Jesus told Peter “When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” It was only a few days later that Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost and 3,000 were baptized. After that, the Apostle Paul says “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.”

Some may be confused by Paul’s thoughts on predestination. Read the passages as a whole. He is saying that God had predestined that there should be no more division between Jews and Gentiles, but that all could be saved in the same way. He is not speaking of individuals being predestined to salvation. At the end of one long passage on predestination, he writes: “What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith. But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law.”

Spectator or participant?

Canadian politics just became much more interesting. Maxime Bernier has withdrawn from the Conservative Party, of which he almost became leader, to found a new political party. He is speaking up about issues that others want to avoid talking about and this has raised a storm of criticism. Perhaps he is starting a movement at just the opportune moment to bring the country back to the principles that unite us. Or perhaps his movement will fizzle out and just be a footnote in history. In either case the next few months promise to be interesting for political observers.

However, for those of us who are Christians, we must remember one thing: in politics we must remain spectators, not participants. Politics is a dirty business and no one who engages in politics, however pure his intentions, can avoid becoming soiled. Politics is he art of the compromise, but a compromise is seldom reached before a lot of grime and slime is slung about. Christians cannot win at such a game, unless they cease speaking and acting like Christians.

In the church we must be participants, not mere spectators. If we think the purpose of the church is to provide spiritual entertainment, we will be disappointed. But if we are looking for something to do that is meaningful and fulfilling, the church has a place for us. It may not be highly visible, but if that’s what we want we should ask ourselves if we understand what truly matters in life. There are people in the church who see things differently than we do. Listen to them, perhaps we have missed something. We should speak freely about the things that matter to us that they may have missed. We need to love them, and be lovable. Above all, follow the promoting of the Holy Spirit and trust that they are doing that too. When we are all led by the Holy Spirit the work we are doing will result in something far better than any one of us could have planned.

Finding home

The factory where I found work made engineered rubber parts for the automobile industry. I was started on the press line, where rows of hydraulic presses produced vast quantities of rubber parts. The moulds were maintained at tempertures above 300° F to cure the rubber. I started when the weather was already hot and humid and it was even hotter and more humid working over those moulds. It was a shock to the body of this prairie boy, but soon I was acclimatized.

While I was being trained I could not help but be aware of Howie. He was operating several presses and every once in a while parts would not release from the moulds as they should. There would be loud yells and banging sounds coming from Howie’s direction. I decided I would do well to keep my distance from him.

The second week I was given presses to run by myself. The first time I had parts stick to the underside of the top part of the mould and began trying awkwardly to get them down, Howie appeared beside me and took the bar from my hands. He got the parts down and then showed me once again how much mould release to spray on that part of the mould. Then he was back to his own work leaving me to meditate on how mistaken a first impression can be. Howie was a loudmouth, but turned out to be a good guy, easy to get alnog with.

Chris began making arrangements to move as soon as she knew I had work. It took me a couple more weeks to find a place to live but before the month was over we were together again.Chris packed everything that could be put in boxes, sold the rest and shipped the boxes by train. Then she and Michelle rode the train from Moose Jaw to Toronto where I picked them up.

It was the last Sunday in June when we drove into the St Marys churchyard as a family for the first time. As we got out of the car, a young lad, almost eight years old, walked up to us and said “Welcome to St Marys.” And we did feel welcomed by everybody.

In September Michelle started Grade One in the Mapleview Christian School. She enjoyed school and we felt assurance in knowing that her friends were the children of our friends.

At first we had invitations to the members’ homes every Sunday, but after several months that tapered off. One Sunday the brother whom I had first met asked me how things were going. I replied that life was working out well for us, but we weren’t getting invited out much anymore. He pondered that for a moment, then asked if we had invited anyone to our home. Bingo! Immediately I felt reproved and knew what we had to do. We started inviting others for meals, most often Sunday dinners, and that warmed and strengthened our fellowship with the congregation.

We had several visits with the ministers and deacons and were asked to tell our experiences to the congregation one Sunday evening. The congregation voted their acceptance that we had truly met the Lord, were born again and were living as Christians by the leading of the Holy Spirit. Sunday morning, February 11, 1979, we  were baptized by minister Robert Toews.

The day after our baptism, a vivid memory of a time long ago flashed into my mind. Just after being confirmed in the Anglican Church as an eleven year old boy I had knelt and gone through the questions in the little red book of self-examination before communion. Now God was telling me: “That was when I first called you to come to me. During all your wanderings I have continued to call you and now you are part of my family.”

And I was finally a Mennonite who wore a beard.

Trying to swim upstream

Duyring the winter of 1973-74 our pastor spent several weeks in California taking in a seminar on church growth. Upon his return to Moose Jaw, he called  a meeting at church to talk about what he had learned. He began the meeting by asking “What makes a church grow?”

One lady responded with what seemed to her the obvious answer: “The Holy Spirit.” This was the lady whose mother had recently been converted. Evidently this was not the answer the pastor had anticipated: “Well, yes, but, er, um.”

When he could get back to his train of thought, he expounded to us the principles of the church growth movement. To succeed at evangelizing a community you had to divide it into demographic groups with a natural affinity for each other, based on ethnicity, occupation or other criteria. Then you designed a congregation and a message thart would appeal to each of these homogeneous groups.

I agreed with the lady who thought the Holy Spirit was the key. I also thought that the gospel was supposed to bring people together, not separate them. But no, mass marketing advertisers had proved this approach worked and now it was time to use it to expand the market for the Christian faith.

The congregation began planning evangelistic meetings for spring. A committee was formed to plan and I was elected to it. Everybody was mobilized, the women got together weekly to discuss and pray for the outreach.

Meanwhile, there had been record snowfall in the winter and when spring came there was unprecedented flooding in low-lying parts of the city. As the waters began to abate we began to talk of what could be done to help. Mennonite Disaster Service is an inter-Mennonite organisation that could call out voluteers to come and help. At one of our evangelism planning meetings one member talked of how he had contacted city hall to offer help from MDS. He was told that someone from the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite at Linden, Alberta had already called city hall and said a group of men would be coming.

No one in our group had ever heard of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite. Except me. I got as far as explaining that the men wore beards when the pastor rushed to the phone, called city hall to get the number of the man from Linden and called him. “Everything is being taken care of, we have a lot of volunteers coming already. You don’t need to go to the trouble of coming all that way.”

The man on the other end decided they would come anyway. The last thing the pastor wanted before this great effort of evangelism was a group of bearded Mennonites being seen about the city. But he made the best of it and offered that they could bring sleeping bags and stay in the church basement.

Before any out of town help arrived we men went out one evening to remove furniture and other belongings from a house that had been flooded to the eaves. That was the end of any cleanup work for me. That night I had an allergic reaction to the mould inside that house that left me incapacitated for almost two weeks.

But I could man the phone at church. Insurance adjusters had to do their investigation before anything could be done to a house. They would inform city hall when a house was ready to be cleaned out, city hall would phone me with the address and when a group of volunteers was finished with one house they would call me for directions to the next one.

That put me in place to visit with the men from Linden when they came in from their day of work. A dozen men came for a week and went home for the weekend. Three others came the next week. Chris came in the evenings after work and our discussions helped us get a better idea of where we wanted to go.

This was when it dawned on me that the churches we had been attending were all happily flowing downstream toward the gulf of diluted Christianity, while we were trying to swim upstream to find the source of living water.

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