Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: humility

The problem of ethnic pride

I read a number of English language historical novels when I was young. The English heroes were brave, honest, noble and kind. The villains, often French or Spanish, were shifty-eyed, cowardly dishonest and cruel. I accepted this as truth, and, being of English ancestry, it felt good to be able to identify with the good guys.

Later in life I learned to read French and read some books of the same sort. Imagine my shock to find that in these books the French were honest, noble and brave, considerate of others, kind to the weak. The English were traitors, untrustworthy, dishonest, promise-breakers and capable of incredible cruelty.

Through reading a number of books of history in my adult years I discovered that the French had ample grounds to consider the English as perfidious, dishonest and villainous. Our school history books had been quite selective in the information they provided.

I concluded that every nation and ethnic group has this picture of themselves as possessing all the virtues and of other peoples as possessing all the vices.

Does becoming a Christian take care of these attitudes? When God calls us and we come face to face with the ugliness of our sinful nature, that is a humbling experience. If we repent and find peace with God, the reality of our sinfulness should ever be with us to prevent us from thinking too highly of ourselves. Thus, a Christian is a humble person, on a spiritual, personal level. But does that change our attitude about the inherent superiority of our ethnic group? Not necessarily.

This is why a congregation that is predominantly of one ethnic group is in a precarious position. We cannot lose all of the attitudes that we have soaked in since we were little children. There are rough edges that are a stumbling block to others that we will never be aware of until we mix with people of other ethnic origins who hold to the same faith.

We will be exposed to the rough edges that other people have. Through mutual apologies and forgiveness we will learn to appreciate one another, our fellowship will be enhanced and the gospel witness will grow stronger. People looking on will grasp that it is not a shared ethnic background that brought us together and holds us together, but a shared faith in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ..

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Book review: Humble Roots

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Hannah Anderson is the wife of a country pastor in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia who finds inspiration for her writing in her garden and other growing things.

This book helped me understand why I have always felt uncomfortable when Christians talk about their humility. She tells us that “Show, don’t tell,” one of the cardinal rules of effective writing, should also apply to humility. If we have to tell people that we are humble, we probably aren’t. If people cannot see evidence of humility in our lives, there’s no use telling them we are humble.

She quotes C.S. Lewis: “If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell them the first step. The first step is to realize that one is proud.” Pride can corrupt our attempts at humility. We talk about feeling unworthy, about how undeserving we are, and all the while what we are really doing is drawing attention to ourselves.

In the book, Hannah Anderson says:”Humility is not feeling a certain way about yourself, not feeling small or low or embarrassed or even humiliated. Theologically speaking, humility is a proper understanding of who God is and who we are as a result.”

I highly recommend this book; it confronts the realities of life in a gentle, down to earth, and often humorous manner and leaves you with an important message to chew on.

© 2016 by Hannah Anderson, published by Moody Publishers.

Keep it authentic

Love thy neighbour as thyself

This means to love your neighbour because God has given you a love for him. Don’t try to love your neighbour because you know you should and hope that pretending to love will cause genuine love to spring up in your heart. The better way is to get down on your knees and ask God to show you what is preventing you from truly loving your neighbour. Be prepared for Him to reveal some ugly baggage that you have been carrying and be willing to throw it overboard. This doesn’t guarantee that your neighbour will love you in return, but it removes the obstacles that you have placed in his way.

By love serve one another

We sing “They’ll know we are Christians by our love” and think we mean it. The words above are a test of whether we really do. Do we really want what is best for our brother or sister? No doubt we really want them to believe we do. But if we try to serve our brother or sister in the way that we think will be best for them without inconveniencing ourselves too much, it will be phony. And they will know that it is phony. The motivation for serving another must come from God – and it generally involves a sacrifice of some kind on our part. True God-given love makes that sacrifice seem totally worthwhile without giving us a feeling of pride for the good that we have done. It’s all about our brother or sister, not about us.

Let each esteem other better than themselves

Ooh. This one cuts pretty close. We know we need to be humble. We are humble. Then why do we find it so easy to notice how our brother or sister is not as humble as we are?  We need to admit that humility is not something that we can do. It is a condition of the heart that comes from God. True humility is the Christian’s steel-toed work boot: it allows our brother to step on our toes and we don’t even feel it. It allows us to see the Spirit of Christ in our brothers and sisters and to see their admirable qualities, many of which we know we lack.

Authentic Christian faith is a matter that is between me and God alone. I cannot obtain it from my parents, my forefathers, doctrines and teachings, even though all may be genuinely Christian and spiritual and an encouragement to us as we follow our Lord. But faith can only come from God.

Some folks find such statements scary. If we base our faith solely upon our relationship with God, won’t that leave room for a lot of individualistic variations?

Doesn’t such a fear betray a lack of trust in God? Can’t we trust that our Father will want to draw His children together?

I believe there is room in God’s family for variations due to circumstances. Variations due to personal preferences are another matter. They may well indicate a relationship with God that is not very secure or stable.

Relying on outward forms to compel unity among Christians lessens our dependence upon God, our Father, and will eventually break down. Let’s keep our faith authentic.

Gerhard Roosen and the Amish division

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

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

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

________________________________________________________

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

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

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

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

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

 

Intellectualism, reason and faith

Intellectualism is the idea that all truth can be discovered by reasoning. René Descartes started with “I think, therefore I am,” and proceeded down this line of reasoning to discover all that was worth knowing, to his own satisfaction at least.

The fatal flaw in this is that God is considered as irrelevant and thus the reasoning is based on the false premise that the human mind is able to comprehend the meaning of all things. Reason is not contrary to faith, but reasoning based on false premises does lead away from faith.

The rage against faith by many intellectuals of our day should be seen as an acknowledgement that they know they are on shaky ground. Their fine sounding reasoning has not brought the fulfillment and happiness they anticipated, but they are determined to never admit that. Hence the furious attempts to ridicule, vilify and silence anyone who has the temerity to point out the weaknesses in their reasoning.

There is nothing about Christian faith that is contrary to reason; there is no evidence in the way that things really are and how they work that contradicts the revelations given in the Bible. Christian faith puts us in harmony with the way things really are. That is to be expected if we are in harmony with the Creator of all things.

It is enough for Christians to patiently and humbly point out the reasonableness of Christian faith. We should never be the ones on the attack, with ridicule and harsh words. We should avoid all triumphalism and above all avoid all fables that purport to offer proof of Christian faith. The Bible is enough.

Is Christian humilty the same thing as stoicism or zen buddhism?

Consider the following:

“Humility is perfect quietness of heart. It is for me to feel no trouble, never be fretted, or vexed, or irritated, or sore, or disappointed. It is to expect nothing, to wonder at nothing that is done to me, to feel nothing done against me. It is to be at rest when nobody praises me and when I am blamed and despised. It is to have a blessed home in the Lord where I can go in and shut the door, and kneel to my Father in secret, and am at peace in a deep sea of calmness, when all around and above is trouble. It is the fruit of the Lord Jesus Christ’s redemptive work on Calvary’s cross, manifest in those of His own who are completely subjected to the Holy Spirit.” This is Andrew Murray’s concept of Christian humility.

Zeno of Citium, the founder of the Stoic school of philosophy, taught that true happiness was to be found in becoming insensitive to the four negative emotions: desire, fear, pleasure and pain. Epictetus, another Stoic philosopher, taught that “Freedom is secured not by the fulfilling of men’s desires, but by the removal of desire.”

“Stoicism teaches the development of self-control and fortitude as a means of overcoming destructive emotions; the philosophy holds that becoming a clear and unbiased thinker allows one to understand the universal reason (logos). A primary aspect of Stoicism involves improving the individual’s ethical and moral well-being: Virtue consists in a will that is in agreement with Nature.’ This principle also applies to the realm of interpersonal relationships; ‘to be free from anger, envy, and jealousy.'” (Wikipedia)

In Zen Buddhism, mushin “is a state of mind where mind is not fixed on or occupied by any thought or emotion, and is thus connected to the Cosmos. . . This pure state of mind, of pure mental clarity is produced by the absence of the ego or limited self.” (zen-buddhism.net)

It seems that when we try to make humility the chief virtue of Christian life, the temptation immediately presents itself to veer off into elements of pagan philosophy and mysticism. The definition of humility is the absence of pride, but when we make humility our goal, it becomes a self-centred thing and we circle back to feeling pride in our mastery of destructive emotions.

The antidote to this is love. Love is, after all, the chief virtue demanded of Christians and we dare not trade the positive virtue of love for the negative virtue of humility. If our life is genuinely motivated and empowered by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, of which love is the first mentioned, there will be precious little room for pride to take root.

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

“Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13:10)

“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:35)

Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

Notice that Jesus does not say: “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have humility.” 1 Corinthians chapter 13 is a beautiful description of humility, yet humility is not once mentioned. All the virtues described are attributed to the working of God’s love in our hearts and lives. Humility is the result of love, not the source of love and virtue, or something to be sought on its own.

Therefore give us love.

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.

The half-converted farmer

Years ago, there was a farmer in our neighbourhood who lived a simple life. He had no need of electricity, running water or a lawn mower. He didn’t seem to have a need for a wife either, though it was rumoured that once long ago there had been a lady of the house. Perhaps the rustic simplicity of the homestead soon lost its charm.

This rustic farmer had a simple approach to farming as well. In the spring he seeded his wheat and in the fall he harvested his wheat — as much as his equipment could capture. For you see, the fields produced a much greater crop of weeds than of wheat, in such a manner that the wheat that did grow was short in stature. What is more, there were many prominent rocks throughout the fields that needed to be avoided in seeding and in harvesting. As we passed by his fields after harvest we saw much wheat still standing, waiting to be gleaned by the birds, mice and gophers. The proximity of these heads of wheat to the rocks or to the surface of the ground had made them inaccessible to the harvesting machinery.

Then came a day when the farmer announced that he had seen the light, from henceforth things were going to be different. He purchased top quality seed and fertilizer, enough for all his fields. Nevertheless, he chose not to attempt to remove the rocks and the weeds. The good new seed, he said, with the help of the fertilizer, would produce such vigorous plants that they would choke out the weeds and grow so high the rocks would not be a problem.

Unfortunately, the bad seeds far outnumbered the good. With the help of the fertilizer, they grew taller that year than ever before. The wild mustard plants did indeed resemble small trees. I did not ascertain if the birds of the air built their nests in these great shrubs , but I did observe them flitting joyfully from branch to branch.

Harvest that year was neither better nor worse than in previous years. Whereupon the farmer declared that scientific farming was a fraud designed to separate gullible farmers from their money. He would never again believe a word of it. And the latter end of that farmer was worse than the first.

I have observed people who approached Christian life in like manner. They are convicted of the futility of their old ways and resolve to follow the way of Jesus. They begin to read the Bible and attend church, and verily their countenances are changed. They have hope.

Still, there are all the hurtful things they have said and done in the past, and perhaps dishonest things as well. These are great rocks in their life and the problem of removing them seems insurmountable. The cost and effort of confession and restitution is higher than they are willing to pay. Thus the rocks remain, ever a hindrance  to the trust they desire from others.

Worse yet, their tendencies to hurt feelings and flare ups of temper still remain and get in the way of the good they try to do. An apology would be too humiliating, better to wait and hope people forget. They are keenly aware of other people’s faults, and quite blind to their own. Such thorns in their personalities choke out their good intentions. After a time, they conclude that Christianity was only an illusion and return to their old ways.

It need not be that way. But too many well-meaning evangelists neglect to explain that one cannot live a fruitful and fulfilling Christian life without removing the rocks and the thorns.

The voice of God

How does God speak to you? Do you know His voice? Jesus said that his sheep would know his voice and would not follow the voice of a stranger. Are all the people who call themselves Christians listening to the same voice?

Sometimes God speaks to a person through circumstances or dreams in such a clear and striking way that it is unmistakable who is speaking. But God does not want to always have to use such dramatic means to get our attention. Elihu told Job that “God speaketh once, yea twice, yet man perceiveth it not” (Job 33:17). Elihu went on to describe how God speaks to us in dreams, but his words are equally applicable to the way God speaks to us in our waking hours. His voice comes to us in our mind in such a soft, gentle way that we can easily ignore it or push it aside.

Elijah knew God’s voice. When he heard all the noise and tumult outside the cave where he had taken refuge on Mount Horeb, he knew that was not God’s way of talking to him. But when he heard a soft murmur he recognized it as the voice of God and then he began to pay attention. If only we could be as alert to God’s voice and tune out all the distractions.

Many years ago, my wife and I were searching for a church home where we could worship God in spirit and in truth with fellow believers, and it had to be in a location where I could find work. After several disappointments when we tried to figure things out on our own, a thought came to me to move to a place several thousand miles away. We had never been there, did not know anyone there — it wasn’t at all clear to me why we should move there or how it would work. But it was the only direction we had and I went. Things fell into place one after another and that move was a tremendous blessing to all three of us.

God speaks to us often, are we hearing? My wife speaks to me with a pointed reproof and my immediate reaction is one of indignation at her unjust accusation. My feelings begin to boil, then a quiet thought comes to my mind, “She is right, you know.” That voice goes on to point out things beyond what my wife has said. That too is a life-changing experience. Perhaps no one else sees what has happened, but I know God has spoken to me and set me free.

Often that voice comes to me when I am contemplating the problems of someone else. As I analyze his attitude or conduct, I can clearly see where he has gone wrong. Then the thought comes into my mind, “That’s your problem, too.” God is not necessarily telling me that I am wrong in what I see in the other person, but He is telling me that I am no better and that I had better first see about removing the beam from my own eye.

As Elihu was telling Job how God spoke to mankiind, he included this thought: “Then he openeth the ears of men, and sealeth their instruction, that he may withdraw man from his purpose, and hide pride from man” (Job 33:16-17).

“Hide pride from man” — God needs to do that continually, I have such a tendency toward self-righteousness. When a thought comes into my mind and points out the subtle ways in which I have once again begum to think myself better than others, I know that voice. That is God speaking.

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