Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Jesus Christ

The presence of God

The funeral was in the church that was the city’s most famous landmark. Inside, there were vaulted ceilings, stained glass windows on each side and tiered rows of seating. The music from the Casavant Frères organ that filled the east wall, its largest pipes stretching from floor to ceiling, completed the atmosphere of reverence.

The minister entered at the lower level, wearing a cassock. He walked up the spiral staircase to the pulpit and said, “Let us pray.” Then he recited a poem. There was no “Our Father” at the beginning, no “In Jesus’ name, Amen” at the end. Just a poem. Later, in his homily, he told us that eternal life was the memories that we retained of our dear departed.

That was it. Behind all the man-made magnificence there was only emptiness.

The tabernacle in the wilderness had great beauty inside. But only the priests were allowed to enter and see that beauty. From the outside, its waterproof covering gave it a gray, drab appearance. The onlooker could see nothing striking or appealing about the tabernacle. Except for that inexplicable column of cloud that was always there, and as the day became dark that column became light. It was the evidence of God’s presence in the midst of His people.

When Christians gather for worship, we should not be in awe of the magnificence of the building, the excitement in the music or the eloquence in the preaching. We should be asking ourselves, “Is this a place where I can meet with God?”

In Colossians 3:11 the apostle Paul speaks of Christians who are of different ethnic and social identities, then says “but Christ is all, and in all.” We may be worshipping among plain and rather drab people. But if we see glimpses of the presence of Jesus Christ in each of those around us, then we are in the place where God can speak to us and bless us.

What is baptism all about?

Folks talk about baptism as a public profession of faith in Jesus Christ. That it is, but when I was baptized I was asked to go a step further. I was asked if I would be willing to accept reproof from members of this faith community and if I would be willing to give reproof to other members. This is asked of all candidates for baptism.

What is that all about? It is saying that I want these people to be my people; I want them to care enough about me that they will talk to me when something doesn’t seem quite right. I want to care enough about them that I feel I can do the same to them.

God does not want us to just be Christians at large; he wants us to be Christians with a home, a spiritual family.

When a church has a group and a program for every imaginable need, that does not mean that those needs are being met.

A church does not function well as a top-down organization. It was never meant to. A church is meant to function as a community of ordinary people who don’t feel like they’ve got it all together as individuals, but who care about each other, bear with each other and help each other.

The temple of God

In the Old Testament the unity of worship was clearly God’s plan. That worship was to be centred on the temple in Jerusalem. While God prophesied the division of the kingdom because of sin, it was His intention that this should only be a political division, not a spiritual division. Two kingdoms were OK, two churches were not. That is why, when Jeroboam built a second temple at Bethel and another in Dan, he is forever after referred to as “Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin.”

Is it any different in the New Testament era? Let me begin with a statement that might shock some readers: Almost all the mentions of the temple of God in the New Testament refer not to individual Christians as temples, but to the collective body of Christians known as the church. Lets go through the applicable verses, one by one.

Revelation 3:12: Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God,
The promise is that the overcomer will be part of the temple, not the whole temple.

1 Peter 2:5-7 Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner,
Believers are called living stones who are built together into one spiritual house (temple) with Jesus as the corner stone.

Ephesians 2:19-22 Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.
This is very similar to Peter’s words, believers are the household of God built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets and Jesus the corner stone to become one holy temple.

1 Corinthians 3:9-11 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building. 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. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
The temple is God’s building with the help of true ministers of the gospel, the foundation is Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 3:16-17 Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.
Ye is plural, these verses are addressed to Christians, as a group they are one temple. Paul does not say ye are temples of God, or thou art the temple. There is only one temple in view here., thus to defile the temple does not refer to the sins of an individual defiling his own body, rather those sins defile the whole body, the temple. Think of Achan, he thought it was harmless to take the things he did, no one knew about it, it would not bother anyone else. Yet the army of God was defeated in battle because of his sin.

2 Corinthians 6:16 And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Again, ye is plural, temple is singular.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body. 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? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.
This is the one verse that does speak of the body of an individual believer as the temple of God. This verse must not be taken as the key to understanding other verses which speack unequivocally of the temple as the collective body, the church. But one must first be spiritually alive, a living stone, to be added to the holy temple. “Ye are not your own,” – we have no liberty here to think independently or to think we have no need of our fellow believers.

Quotations from Anabaptist/Mennonite leaders of the past:

“For jus as there was but one Adam and one Eve; one Noah and one ark, one Isaac and one Rebecca, so there is but one church of Christ, which is the body, city, temple, house and bride of Christ, having but a single gospel, faith, baptism, Supper, and service; travelling on the same road and leading a pious, unblamable life, as the Scriptures teach.”
Menno Simons, 1539, Complete Writings, page 191

“Paul teaches us in his epistle to the Ephesians, concerning the true church, which Christ has presented to Himself, that it is glorious, holy and without blemish, without spot or wrinkle; that they are baptized together into one Spirit, and into one body, the head of which is Christ, and are joined together as members of His body. These have one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father, of us all, who is through us all, and in us all. This is the true temple of God, in which dwells the Spirit of God. This church Christ has bought and redeemed with His blood.”
Claes de Praet, 1556, Martyrs Mirror, page 558

Recipe for poverty

A home with a revolving set of parents

A home where parents scream at each other and at the children

A home where parents throw things at each other and at the children

A home where parents have no interest in what children are learning in school, or whether they are learning anything at all

A home with no books

A home where relatives, neighbours and friends all have that kind of home.

Such a home is a breeding ground for emotional, spiritual, intellectual and economic poverty. Government programs that provide economic help offer only palliative care.

Saving faith in Jesus Christ offers hope that things can be different, peace in the midst of turmoil, joy in a relationship with a loving heavenly Father, patience when things go wrong, perseverance to keep trying, compassion and love for those near and dear who are still trapped in poverty. This is the escape route from poverty in all its forms.

The kingdom of God

The kingdom of God is a spiritual kingdom with spiritual citizens and a spiritual king. When a person repents of living in the ways of the world and is born again by the power of the Holy Spirit, that person becomes part of the kingdom of God.

Such a person, though still living in this physical world and needing to use the infrastructure of the physical world, is no longer governed by the spirit that prevails among the citizens of the physical world. He now owes his allegiance to the lord of lords and king of kings, Jesus Christ.

Emotions and impulses that are characteristic of the physical world: jealousy, envy, hatred, lust, fear, pride and malice, have no value in the spiritual kingdom. The Holy Spirit empowers people to love, to forgive, to be patient, to be peaceful and to rejoice in the little things that bless each day of their lives.

Citizens of the heavenly kingdom differ from one another in many ways. They are male and female, rich and poor, speak different languages, have different physical appearances. It is the presence of the Holy Spirit in their hearts, unseen to the natural eye, that causes them to feel an affinity with one another.

All earthly kingdoms are ruled by the same unseen lord: the old serpent, called the devil and Satan. He shows himself as an angel of light, promising an earthly paradise. Yet he is always working to divide people from one another. He leads people to mistrust one another, within a country, a home, and even in a church. Wherever one finds a spirit of division, that is the work of this enemy.

Citizens of the heavenly kingdom need to be aware of this undercover warfare and beware when thoughts of distrust, fear and anger present themselves. This way leads to spiritual death. We must choose to trust our sovereign Lord, to walk in peace and love. We must choose life.

Without me ye can do nothing

The words of Jesus are blunt; unless we submit our lives, our being, to His control, we are not capable of being a Christian. We can pretend, we may think we are doing a great job on our own, but sooner or later something will happen and whatever is really in our heart will show up.

To take just one example: we read exhortations in the Bible about being humble and set about to make ourselves humble. It goes well; soon we think we have this down pat, we’re doing a much better job of being humble than most of the people around us. . .

Whoa! See the problem? We’ve become proud of our humility.

To become a Christian, we must admit that we have hopelessly messed up our life and cannot clean up the mess by ourselves. It’s pretty humbling isn’t it? That’s a good start in Christian life, the right start. However, as time goes on, we start thinking that we’ve got this figured out, we can complete the task of making ourselves Christian by our own understanding and will. When that doesn’t seem to be working out some folks wonder what the problem is. Others see that they have messed up again and turn to Jesus to make a new start.

Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. He has sent the Holy Spirit to help us do what we cannot do. We all know that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy and peace. But we don’t always remember the other qualities, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance. Aren’t they a good description of humility?

It is the work of the Holy Spirit in our heart that makes us humble. Our own work on the outer man can’t do it. Our own work can’t do anything at all that will count in eternity.

Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen. (Jude 24-25)

A little history, and a little mystery

Levi Young was a young man on fire for the Lord. He couldn’t have been more than 21 when he was ordained a minister in the Evangelical Mennonite Association. This was a small group with a few congregations in Montgomery county, Pennsylvania. Levi Young served as an itinerant evangelist, but soon began to feel that it was not the spiritual home that he longed for: a church that lived the old faith as portrayed in the writings of Menno Simons, Dietrich Philips and in the Martyrs’ Mirror. He read through those old writings and corresponded with leaders in other Mennonite groups.

One of those he contacted was John Holdeman of Wayne County, Ohio, who had left the old Mennonite church after the same longing and search and now led a small group with members in Ohio, Indiana and Ontario. Levi Young began to come under conviction that he should withdraw from the Evangelical Mennonite Association and finally did so in May of 1866. In December of that year he made another visit to John Holdeman in Ohio and on December 12 John Holdeman baptized Levi Young.

On December 31 Holdeman and Young left for Wilmot township of Waterloo County, Ontario. Here they spent two weeks, holding meetings almost every evening in people’s homes. Levi Young’s diary provides precious historical information. He names a few who were already members of Holdeman’s church, indicating that this was not Holdeman’s first visit. He names a number of others who later became members. Another interesting point is that several times he says “I preached and brother Holdeman exhorted.”

After Levi Young returned home to Pennsylvania, he continued his itinerant preaching, sometimes in the company of ministers from Holdeman’s church. It is evident from his diary that he is an increasingly sick man. In July of 1868 he writes of giving instruction for disposing of his goods. The diary ends in mid-sentence on Monday, July 13. He died two or three days later, three months short of his 27th birthday. The cause of death appears to have been what was in those days called consumption, nowadays known as tuberculosis.

I promised a mystery, and here it is. Levi Young, despite the precarious state of his health, endeavoured to preach the saving grace of Jesus Christ as long as he had breath. Many people gave him hearing, among them in the last months of his life were families named Mininger and Stauffer.

Thirty years after Levi Young died, a young man of Montgomery County by the name of Hiram Mininger made contact with John Holdeman. He too had been searching the old writings and had come to the conclusion that the Mennonite church to which he belonged had departed from the faith. In 1899 Hiram Mininger and his wife, plus Isaiah Stover (Stover is a variant spelling of Stauffer) and his wife, were baptized by John Holdeman. Thus began a small congregation at Souderton, Pennsylvania. Is there some link from Levi Young to Hiram Mininger? I have no idea and no idea how to find out.

Hiram Mininger was later ordained to the ministry and was for many years one of the nmost active ministers and evangelists in the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite.

The Myth of the Good Christian

To all my fellow believers in the saving blood of Jesus Christ. I believe we have a problem. At least most of us do. For sure I do.

The problem is that we want to be good Christians. So we mine the Scriptures for clues about how we should conduct ourselves. What we should do; what we should not do. Maybe that’s not a bad idea, but how does it work out in real life? We try to do things the way we should, and while we’re doing that a little voice tells us that we should go and visit someone. But we’re busy doing something good and important. And we’re pretty sure that person isn’t impressed with how good we are. We don’t know how to talk about God to someone who doesn’t want to hear.

We are trying so hard to be good and we think that should be enough to point people to God. We think even God should be impressed with how good we are. Do you see what is happening here? We have become self-conscious. And we should be God-conscious.

When we read the Bible we see all the mistakes that people have made, all the way through the Bible. We wonder why they were so foolish. But have you noticed that God continued to speak to those people and they went on to accomplish some pretty marvellous things? Maybe we could actually have an impact on the people around us if we stopped trying to be good and just listened to what God is trying to tell us.

We are not good people. We’re never going to be. Even Jesus objected when someone called him Good Master. “Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God,” is what He said.

So let’s stop trying to run our own lives and rather ask “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” Sometimes we will have trouble discerning the Lord’s voice because we are hearing so much other noise. We will make mistakes, just like the men of God of the past. He is ready to forgive. Are we ready to try again?

Let’s remember: we are not good, but God is. No one is ever going to turn to God because they see what a good person I am. But if they can see that God is helping this clumsy fool find his way in life, they might want to trust Him too.

The old path is narrow

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Image by Jan Alexander from Pixabay

Jeremiah 6:16 Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein.

I am – Christian, born-again, evangelical, Anabaptist, Mennonite – all those terms can be used to describe my faith in Jesus Christ. Yet, so many people of our time have only a fuzzy notion of what those terms mean.

We have arrived at a decisive moment in history, and most people have no notion of how we got here or where we should go from here. We are not at a crossroads; there are multiple roads leading on from here, each one promising to bring us to paradise – some kind of paradise. How can we know which is the good way?

Menno Simons listed six signs of the true way: unadulterated, pure doctrine; scriptural practice of baptism and the Lord’s Supper (baptism only of those truly born again, not observing the Lord’s Supper when there is conflict and lack of unity in a congregation); obedience to the Word; unfeigned brotherly love; open confession of God and Christ; oppression and hatred for the sake of the Word of the Lord. Times may have changed, but those signs are as valid now as they were 450 years ago.

Unfortunately, we sometimes pick up teachings from the other paths that sound pious and good. Here are some ideas that don’t belong on the old pathway:

– The world was in much better shape when it was run by Christians.
There never was such a time; if we think there was we are averting our eyes from the dark underside of those supposed Christians.

– There is a lifestyle that is synonymous with Christian faith.
Such a lifestyle does not necessarily indicate spiritual life. The Bible teaches purity, modesty, honesty, etc., but we can deceive ourselves by adopting an outward show of those things and we can be mistaken in our judgment of others if we look only at the outward form.

– The people around us are not interested in our faith.
Are we sure it’s not the other way around: we’re not interested in talking to others about our faith?

– People from other ethnic groups are not compatible with the true faith.
Perhaps our attachment to our own ethnic group is not compatible with living a genuine Christian faith.

– People who live in rural areas have much higher moral standards than those who live in cities.
Street missions in our cities report that the majority of prostitutes are girls who were sexually abused in rural areas, and the majority of their clientele comes from rural areas and small towns.

– The death and suffering of our country’s soldiers on foreign battlefields are no concern of ours. We are a separate people and do not participate in war.
This aloof, holier than thou attitude will come back to bite us some day. If we care nothing for the grief and suffering of our neighbours, why should they care when persecution comes upon us?

– Our faith is a heritage from our parents and ancestors.
Our Christian heritage comes from God alone.

Flotsam and jetsam

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At the beginning of Creation, God separated earth and sky from the primordial sea. The sea remains as a constant threat to the earth and those that dwell upon it. The sea is chaos, unpredictable, ever changing, ever threatening to overflow the boundaries that God set for it.

The Bible depicts the multitudes of mankind who do not put their trust in God as the sea. There is the same disorder and tumult in the masses of mankind where ideas of right and wrong are built upon the changeable fashions of human reasoning, where the ebb and flow of quests for wealth and power create continuous instability.

Here are some examples of what the Bible says about that sea:
Ephesians 4:14 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;
James 1:6 But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.
Jude 1:13 Raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever.
Revelation 17:1 And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, Come hither; I will shew unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters:
Revelation 17:15 And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.

Christians who think that they, or other well-meaning people, are capable of bringing order to the sea, are not seeing things as they really are. The shipwrecks of previous attempts to set the sea in order now make the sea an even more dangerous place.

When Jesus stilled the storm on Galilee, He demonstrated his authority over the raging of the sea, both the natural sea and the primordial sea that is driven by winds from the realm of darkness. Christians must cease to entertain dreams of creating a refuge in the chaotic sea of this world and build our refuge on the rock, Jesus Himself.

Psalm 65:7 Which stilleth the noise of the seas, the noise of their waves, and the tumult of the people.
James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.
Luke 6:48 He is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock.
Malachi 3:6 For I am the LORD, I change not.
Hebrews 13:8 Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.

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