Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: John Wesley

Should we aspire to be poor?

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When there are so many warnings and examples in the Bible of the dangers of being rich, why does it seem that many Christians think it is desirable to be rich?

Luke 18:25 For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. / 1 Timothy 6:9-10 But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. / James 5:1-2 Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten. / Matthew 6:24 No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

Luke 6:20 And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God. / James 2:5 Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?

So, it is well nigh impossible for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven, but God has chosen the poor to be heirs of the kingdom. Have we got our priorities wrong?

Some Christians interpret these verses as referring to those who are poor in spirit. Hmmm. Honestly now: does it really seem like those who make that interpretation are poor in spirit? Or are they trying to justify their riches, in their own eyes at least?

The middle class was created by Christians who were honest and diligent in work and business and not wasteful and self-indulgent in their spending. That kind of living is right and good and inevitably leads to a measure of prosperity. Therein lies a snare. People who were converted under the preaching of John Wesley quit spending money and drink and rather took it home to feed and clothe their families. Their children grew up never having known poverty, many of them forgot God.

This is the danger when Christians grow smug in their prosperity and forget that their prosperity has more to do with the grace of God than with their devotion to their work. When we despise the poor, say that their poverty is their own fault, they should be wise and have a work ethic like we have, we have become too rich.

Most Christians are not hypocrites, hungry for money and status. A few may be, but there is far too much good being done in little and big ways to say that all is lost. But perhaps most of us would benefit by examining ourselves to see if we have the right balance between the spiritual and material aspects of our lives.

How much time do we take for Bible reading and prayer? Something more than a few verses of the Bible and a one minute prayer? How much time do we make to help a neighbour in distress? How much time do we have for a friend who wants to talk? How much time do we have for our family? Our Lord is probably much more interested in these things than in the state of our bank account, we should be, too.

Matthew 6:31-33 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

It’s not that we are doing everything wrong. But it is worth taking stock every once in a while and honestly asking ourselves if the kingdom of God is our first priority. We should not aspire to be rich, or poor, but to be faithful citizens of the eternal kingdom.

Home

We had a wonderful weekend, except for the last 80 km.

Saturday was sunny and mild.  We arrived at the home of my cousin in time for supper and spent the night there.  Kara and her husband have four children, aged 9 to 18.  Their oldest son is an enthusiastic lad of 16, almost six feet tall and possesses a deep powerful voice which doesn’t seem to have much of a volume control.  If anyone wonders how John Wesley could preach to thousands of people in outdoor settings, I believe Jordan would be able to demonstrate that it is indeed possible.  In fact, I believe that Jesus, the prophets, and preachers in the days before sound systems, must all have had voices like this.

Sunday morning we joined around 200 other people at the Sinclair congregation of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, just inside Manitoba, about 45 minutes from our cousins.  After the Sunday School and worship service, and much visiting in church, making new acquaintances and renewing old ones, we had dinner in the home of one of the ministers, who had also invited several other couples.   All in all it was a day of spiritual refreshing.

We left for home at 4:00 PM.  Our daughter called around 6:00 to inform us that there was a snowstorm at home.  We continued on our way, hoping to get most of the way home before encountering the storm.  Most of our travelling was on four lane highways with a 110 km/h speed limit.  We encountered rain on the last 10 km before we turned off the major highway.  The moment we turned off, the rain turned to snow.  For the first while there was no snow on the highway but the visibility was poor in the driving snow.  Then slush and snow began to build up on the highway, slowing us down even more.  We finally came to the end of this lonely 50 km stretch and made the turn north toward home.  The visibility in the storm became even worse on this stretch, including a couple of whiteouts where I could just barely see the road.

But finally we saw the lights of home.  As we drove into our yard, we saw a pile of snow by the garage, evidence that our son-in-law had been there and cleared the snow away from  the garage door.

Coming home is the best part of any journey.  Being welcomed by our three cats and being able to sleep in our own bed brought our day to a comforting close.

My wife says we need to make this trip again, but not until May.  I expect that winter is here to stay, which makes the comforts of home even more appealing than at other times.

English Christianity – Part 7

SO WHAT’S THE POINT?
What is there to learn from this tracing of the tangled threads of church history? First, that God is able to work in wonderful and mysterious ways to bring the Gospel to people. This would accord with our Saviour’s statement in Luke 9:50 that “he that is not against us is for us”. Wherever the Gospel is preached and souls are saved, this is the work of God. Secondly, that often the work of God at a particular time and place lasts but one generation. This bears witness to Jesus’ statement in Luke 11:23 that “He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth.”  Often both verses could apply to the same individual. They are preaching the Gospel and souls are being saved, but at the same time they are not gathering believers together, but rather dividing them from one another.

Whenever a leader is not willing to subject himself to fellow believers, it divides the children of God. Whenever a group of believers unite on the basis of culture or social status rather than Gospel, it divides them from fellow believers. When ceremonies or outward forms become the basis of church affiliation, church members can only fellowship with one another on the basis of those practices, anything else would be subversive of their unity. When converted and unconverted are baptised alike, the true Christians are deprived of spiritual fellowship. When personal experiences give new light on the Scriptures, rather than allowing the Scriptures to shed light on the experiences, it divides believers from one another. God is not the author of confusion. The Spirit of God can be trusted to draw believers together, if they are willing to forsake all teachings and traditions of men.

One does not have to doubt the authenticity of various revival movements of the past and present. But it can be noted that these movements have little staying power. John Wesley’s followers came from the poorly educated and desperately poor working class of his day. The Gospel literally transformed their lives, and as they cast off the vices to which they had previously looked for solace in their misery, they began to prosper. Wesley looked at the results in alarm as he saw that their children, raised in a more prosperous setting than their parents, were more interested in the things of this world than in spiritual things.

Two individuals stand out in my mind in this whole happy and sad account. Petr Chelčický who told people to dig and search for the old foundation rather than taking some piece of rubble to be the foundation. And John Smyth who sometimes appeared to act rashly on the light he had, but always remained willing to obey when further light was revealed to him. This is the way that God can gather believers together.

Almost forty years ago my wife and I attended a series of revival meetings sponsored by all the evangelical churches in the medium sized city where we then lived. The messages that we heard night after night emphasized the need of personal cleansing. A Christian cannot prosper or effectively serve God if he neglects to deal with the sin in his own life. Our hearts were touched by the messages. But we looked around us and wondered what would happen to us and to others who were revived? I was acquainted with people from many of these churches and knew that every one had serious internal controversies and dissensions.  Not to mention the doctrinal differences between denominations.  At that time there were eleven different denominations in that city which could be classed as evangelical.  Today that number would stand closer to twenty.  Why didn’t the evangelists address the same message to the churches that they did to individuals?  How long will a revived Christian be able to stand in an unrevived church?  Was there any hope for a genuine revival in these churches?  Sadly I had to conclude that the answer was no. From their very beginning they had been founded on some piece of overgrowth, not on the true foundation.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Broadbent, Edmund Hamer. The Pilgrim Church. Glasgow, Scotland: Pickering & Inglis, 1931.

Coggins, James Robert. John Smyth’s Congregation. Waterloo, Ontario: Herald Press, 1991.

Morgan, Edmund S. The Puritan Dilemma. Boston, Mass.: Little, Brown and Company, 1958.

Morgan, Edmund S. Visible Saints. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1963.

Powell, Sumner Chilton. Puritan Village. Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 1963.

The Mennonite Encyclopedia. Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Mennonite Publishing House, 1956. (Articles on England and John Smyth.)

Trevelyan, George Macaulay. England in the Age of Wycliffe. London: Longmans, Green and Company, 4th edition, 1909.

Van Braght, Thieleman J. The Martyrs Mirror. Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Herald Press.

Verduin, Leonard. The Reformers and Their Stepchildren. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1964.

Verduin, Leonard. The Anatomy of a Hybrid. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1976.

Wagner, Murray L. Petr Chelčický. Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Herald Press, 1983.

Willison, George F. Saints and Strangers. New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1945.

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