Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: liberty

I will be true to Thee, Lord

“Fully surrendered, Lord divine, I will be true to Thee.” It’s an old hymn, expressing noble aspirations. I have sung it often and believed that I meant every word.

Lately, I’ve been wondering, though. “Though it may cost me friends and home.” It’s easy to believe I mean that when there appears to be no possibility of it ever happening. I read about the Anabaptist martyr brethren of years ago with great admiration. They were driven from their homes, betrayed by those they thought were friends. That was long ago and far away, it’s never going to happen here is it?

“Now to the world I bid farewell; Broken forever its deep spell.” Is it possible the world has cast a spell on me, making me feel at ease, unable to see the danger that I am in? That was not merely a theoretical question to those we claim as our spiritual forefathers. They saw only two possibilities: the way of the cross or the way of compromise with the world. Today we seem to have so many options. Yet as I look more closely I see that most of them are compromises with the world. They are cleverly camouflaged to look like Christian spirituality, but they avoid the cross.

In 1774 Henry Funk, the first Mennonite bishop in North America, wrote a little book called A Mirror of Baptism. He explains that the Bible speaks of three types of baptism: baptism of the Holy Ghost; baptism of water and baptism of blood. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is the first, the most important and the foundation for the other two, but each one is essential.

The baptism of blood is the commitment to be faithful whatever it may cost, including dying as a martyr if it would come to that. Our spiritual forefathers found that liberating. Once they came to the point of being willing to give their life for their faith nothing could frighten them anymore. They did not live recklessly, endangering their families and brothers and sisters in the faith. But they live boldly, speaking freely of a relationship with Jesus Christ that was more meaningful and more important than life itself.

I want to have what they had.

A Christian admonition from 600 years ago

[Barbe means beard. It came to be applied to the person wearing the beard, becoming a term of affection for an uncle and then became the term which Anabaptists in France and Italy used for their ministers. Pragela, a valley in the Alps west of Turin and near the French border was home to a large number of Waldensians.]

An Epistle of the Barbe Bartolemi Tertian to the Evangelical churches of Pragela, circa 1420 AD.

Jesus be with us.

To all our faithful and beloved brethren in Jesus Christ.  I greet you all.  Amen.

This Epistle is to alert your brotherhood, acquitting myself of that trust which is committed to me by God concerning you for the salvation of your souls, according to the light of truth given to us by the Most High.  May every one of you maintain, increase and cherish to your utmost and by no means weaken or diminish those good principles, forms and customs given by those who have gone before us, of which we are not worthy.

For it would be but a very small and poor advantage for us to have been renewed by the fatherly persuasions and the light given to us by God, if we should now give ourselves up to a worldly, diabolical and fleshly conversation, forsaking the principal good, which is God, and the salvation of our souls for a short temporal life.  For the Lord has said in the gospel, What will it profit a man to gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?  And, It were better never to have known the way of righteousness, than having once known it, to walk contrary to it.

Yea, we shall be altogether inexcusable before the righteousness of God, and our condemnation more severe.  For more torment will be inflicted upon those who have had the greatest knowledge.  Wherefore I beseech you by the love of God not to diminish but to increase the love, fear and obedience which is due unto God, and to one another, and also to keep the good customs which you have seen and heard of God, by us and others.  And that you will purge out from among you all those faults and failings which disturb your peace, love and concord, and all that obstructs your liberty in the service of God, and your own salvation and the administration of truth, if you desire that God would prosper you in the temporal and spiritual goods.  For you can do nothing without Him.

If you desire to be heirs of His glory, do as He tells you, If you would enter into life, keep my commandments.  Moreover, let there be among you no vain sports, gluttony, whoredoms, balls or other debaucheries, nor questions, fraud, usury, envy or discord.  Neither support or uphold among you any persons of an evil life who could become a stumbling block or evil example to you.  Rather let love and faithfulness reign among you and all good examples, doing one to another as every one would that it should be done to him.  For otherwise it is not possible that any can be saved, or find grace and favour with God and man in this world, or glory in that which is to come.

And it is necessary that the leaders and those who govern among you see to maintaining these things.  For when the head is sick all the members suffer.  Wherefore, if you hope and desire to possess eternal life and to be held in esteem and favour and to prosper in the world in both spiritual and temporal things, cleanse yourselves from every disorderly way among you so that God may always be with you, Who never forsakes those who put their trust in Him.  But know for certain that God does not answer or dwell with sinners, nor with the soul who desire evil, nor with the man that is a slave to sin.  Wherefore let every one cleanse the way of his own heart and flee from dangers if he would not perish in them.  I shall not say more for the present, except that ye do all these things and the God of Peace be with you all.  Join with us in true, humble and devout prayer.  Greetings to all the faithful and beloved of Christ.  Amen

I am wholly yours, Bartholomeus Tertianus, ready to serve you in all things in our power, according to the will of God.

The law does not teach us how to be a Christian

But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. (Galatians 3:23-25).

Schoolmaster = Paiadagogos = a guardian, or guide, of boys. A trustworthy slave who was charged with supervising the life and morals of the son of a well-to-do family. The boy was not allowed to step out of the house without him before arriving at the age of manhood.

The Law and the Prophets point us to Christ, but they do not teach us how to be a Christian. The Law and the Prophets can keep us out of trouble until we come to Christ. The Old Testament still has this value of revealing the futility of trying to live a godly life by our own efforts and thus pointing us to our need of Christ. But Christ is the true teacher who empowers us to live his teachings.

Worthy of contemplation

While eating breakfast this morning, I worked at deciphering a page of cryptograms. It seemed to me that the these short thoughts were worth sharing. So, without further comment, here they are.

History will see advertising as one of the real evil things of our time. It is stimulating people constantly to want things, want this, want that.
-Malcolm Muggeridge

Liberty will not descend to a people; a people must raise themselves to liberty. It is a blessing that must be earned before it can be enjoyed.
-Charles Colson

One of the annoying things about believing in free will and individual responsibility is the difficulty of finding somebody to blame your problems on.
-P. J. O.Rourke

Freedom of the will

Freedom of choice means that I am at liberty to do as I please. Nevertheless, I learn every day in small ways that the choices I make have consequences; and the choices that other people make often have consequences that affect me. Why then should I not expect that consequences might not only be immediate, but long-term, even eternal?

God is not to blame when bad things happen, He has given us the liberty to choose freely. Often those choices have unanticipated consequences. The unpleasant consequences of our bad choices should lead us to pause a moment to consider whether God might not have a better way for us.

God does not protect us from the negative consequences of the choices we and other people make. Neither does he force us to choose His way.

Yet God does speak to us, quietly and often, asking us to reconsider the direction we are travelling in life. Some time in our life He will tell us that the bad things happening to us are the result of our bad choices which make us sinners.

It doesn’t work to decide that we will live the way God wants us to live by our own will and strength. But we do have the ability to accept God’s judgment on our sin and ask Him to help us. That is called repentance and when God sees that our repentance is genuine, He forgives us because of the sacrifice Jesus has made for our sin, He adopts us as His child and gives us His Holy Spirit to enable us to make right choices.

That is called the new birth, conversion, regeneration. Those words all mean a change in the way we think and a u-turn in the direction of our life. When we live to please God and to love and help the people around us, we will be far happier than when we were only trying to please ourselves.

This is the beginning of Christian life. Some people stop as soon as they reach this point, thinking this is all there is to Christian life. God wants us to keep on going, learning a little more each day about our own weakness and about God’s will and the blessings that He has for those who really consecrate their lives to Him.

The liberation of men

A young lady who worked in a doughnut shop found that she was pregnant. She was only 19, living on her own, working to support herself. She had already had an abortion at 15, her parents pressured her into it because she was too young for the responsibility of motherhood. That memory was painful and she did not want to have another abortion. But she didn’t have enough education for a better job, how could she support herself and a child? She finally chose to have a second abortion.

A young lady came in to register at the food bank one day when I was volunteering there. She was attractive, neatly dressed, well spoken – probably better educated than the first young lady. She had moved in with her boyfriend, expecting it to be a long term arrangement, but when they found a baby was on the way the young man disappeared. She was raising the child on her own and could hardly make ends meet.

The contraceptive pill and easy access to abortion were heralded as means of setting women free. Have they really? But it does certainly seem that men have been liberated — set free from worrying about the responsibilities of being husbands or fathers.

Doesn’t it seem that since our society has separated sex from responsibility, men’s attitudes towards women have become more and more degraded? Women may get more respect in the working world and in politics, but in personal relationships it seems there is much less. Violence against women continues to increase.

Homeless children, children who don’t dare go home, and children who are part-timers in two different homes, are increasing in number. Most of the troubled youth in our society have never really had a father. Schools and social service agencies are trying to cope with the problem, but they can never accomplish what a real father could do.

The nuclear family, with both a father and mother, is the ideal natural setting for children to grow up into responsible, mature adults. Of course, there have always been homes that were less than ideal, some were quite awful in fact. That is not an argument for the abolition of the family. It is an argument for better parents.

It is also an argument for the Christian faith and the church. It is a wonderful thing when the parents of the friends of your children are your friends and you can trust that they have the same hopes and ideals as you have for their children. Children grow up knowing they are loved and respected. They feel secure, they learn better in school, they trust there will be answers for their problems. They learn to be responsible, and responsive to the needs of others.

Far too many young adults today have no experience of a stable, trusting home life. In all probability, none of their friends do either. Is this really liberty? Does it look like they are happy?

The world today is beginning to look a lot like the world in which the Christian church was first born. Acts 1:19 give the number of believers before Pentecost as about 120. If it was possible for that small group to grow and “turn the world upside down,” is it impossible to think that it could happen again? For that to happen we will have to trade in our liberty for responsibility.

Submission = Freedom

I realize this is a counter-cultural statement in the present day and age where liberty is prized above all other virtues. But are people more free today than they were in ages past?

Consider the example of a shepherd and his flock. The shepherd watches over the needs of the flock, guards them from enemies, treats their wounds and sicknesses. Is this freedom or bondage? If an independent minded sheep leaves to seek his freedom, is he then free when the wolves are picking over his bones?

If an unwed woman wishes to abort her baby, she is free to do so; she will find much support and encouragement for this decision. Will she find as much support and encouragement if she makes a different choice? Or does the prevailing mood of our society push in one direction only? How can this be called freedom of choice?

People are fleeing repressive regimes in some countries and seeking a safe haven in nations that are more free. Most of them are willing to submit to the laws and mores of their new country and make it their new homeland. Others appear to want to re-create the laws and mores of the countries from which they have fled. It appears that they have carried with them a bondage of the mind.

Christianity promises freedom and demands submission. This sounds contradictory, but true freedom can only be found in submission to God. All the other forms of submission of which the Bible speaks – in the home, in the church, towards civil authorities – are simply means of working out our submission to God’s authority in all areas of our life.

There are many people who want to claim Jesus as their Saviour, but are not willing to acknowledge His as Lord of their life. It is a great fallacy to believe that such a thing is possible. Many people find Christian life burdensome and frustrating precisely because they believe that submission is an infringement of their liberty. They follow the path that they believe will bring liberty and happiness and find themselves deeper and deeper in bondage and more and more unhappy.

We are like sheep – we need a shepherd. When we can submit to the Good Shepherd and permit Him to lead us in all areas of our life, we find it a truly liberating experience.

One more point must be clearly established – in the Christian church everyone is called to submit, no one is called to lord it over the faith and life of others. God has an order that makes homes and congregations into havens of peace and love if each one can submit to his or her place in that order. Knowing that those to whom I submit are themselves submitted to authority, ultimately the authority of God, brings the assurance that there will be no abuse of the confidence I place in them. Those who are in authority over me are those who must watch for my soul. that cannot work if they try to do it in an overbearing and lordly way.


A tactless conversation starter

There was a Bible College in the city where I was living forty years ago.  At that particular time, there was an emphasis in this school on overcoming the inhibitions that would prevent one from freely following the leading of the Holy Spirit.  At least that was the intention.  A lady in the church my wife and I attended at the time talked about how this emphasis of the college was leading her young brother to act in a rude and pushy way, without much consideration of others.

I was working the afternoon shift in the Post Office, sorting the mail that came in on trucks from the city, rural towns and on semis from across the country.  The Assistant Postmaster’s son was a student at this college and had been hired as a temporary summer worker.

One evening, I went to the lunchroom as the same time as a lady who was another recent hire.  All I knew about her was her name and that she was Roman Catholic.  There was no one else in the lunchroom as we sat down and opened our lunches.

“He told me I looked like a horse!”

“Huh?” was the most intelligent response I could come up with.

“That young man.  He looked at me and he said ‘You look like a horse.'”

She was obviously hurt.  This time I couldn’t come up with any response, intelligent or otherwise.  Tact had evidently become a casualty of the college’s quest for spiritual liberty.

“He’s going to Bible College.  What are they teaching him there?  Why is he going to Bible College?  Does he want to be a missionary or something?”

We talked a little about what had happened and agreed that it did not appear that this young man was learning any skills that would be useful on a mission field.

I hope she was somewhat comforted by my sympathy, because this lady had been hurt by a young man who really had no clue of how a Christian should relate to others.  Saying the first stupid thing that pops into one’s head is not the same as the free leading of the Holy Spirit.


The law of liberty

From time to time, there are folks who propose that in order to achieve true liberty and happiness we need to do away with all laws and governments.  This belief is called anarchy and a little more than 100 years ago it was quite popular.  After anarchists assassinated King Umberto of Italy, King Carlos of Portugal and President McKinley of the USA, most people were able to see the dangers inherent in anarchy.

Nevertheless, I suspect that many people’s dream of an ideal world would be one in which all other people were governed by the law, but they were free to do as they pleased.  This fails to account for what can be called natural laws.  If we throw a ball in the air, it will come down again, on our head if we happen to be standing in its path.  If a man drives his car down the left side of the road when oncoming traffic is driving on the right side, someone is going to be hurt.  If a man is known to tell lies, he will probably not be believed when he tells the truth.  If parents feel that their children are a nuisance when they are small, the children are apt to feel their parents are a nuisance when they become old.  If men and women change partners frequently, have children that they never take the responsibility to raise, they may never know the joys of having grandchildren crawl up on their laps.  The purpose of civil and moral laws is to protect us from the consequences of transgressing the natural laws.

Businesses make rules for the same reason.  Years ago I worked in an auto parts factory.  Production continued round the clock, requiring three crews and three foremen.  Two of the foremen were easy-going, likeable men who allowed their crew members more freedom than was good for them.  The third foreman, Lawrence by name, ran a very tight operation which was not appreciated by all who worked for him.  Some called him Larry, some called him Law.  Since the company had an incentive pay plan based on production numbers, the workers on two of the shifts would often tinker with the settings on their equipment to try to increase production.  If their tinkering didn’t turn out as expected, their foremen didn’t really have the expertise to make the proper corrections.  At the beginning of his shift, Law would go from machine to machine and set them to the optimum settings.  Production figures showed that his shift consistently outproduced the others.

All the foremen were required to have regular safety meetings.  This tended to consist of a five minute reading from the safety manual and 25 minutes of telling jokes.  But not with Law.  I remember one safety meeting after there had been some practical joking happening on the factory floor.  “Do you know how long this horseplay is fun?” Law asked, then answered his own question, “It’s only fun until somebody gets hurt.”  The workers knew he was right, but resented being told.

At one point there was a problem with one of the products being made, requiring the sorting of all production of that part and the scrapping of quantities of defective parts.  At first we suspected a problem with the raw material, or a malfunction of the equipment.  When we found that none of the defective parts were produced on Law’s shift, using the same material and the same equipment, it was obvious we had a problem with careless operators.  Even then, it wasn’t all that easy to correct the problem as those workers had grown accustomed to not taking their foremen very seriously.  It took the suggestion that their jobs could be at stake to remedy the situation.  During all of this time, Law was a protection to his workers, their performance was not in question.

If the law is good, why do we resent it?  Is it a lack of understanding, a lack of experience, our emotions, wrong priorities, or some other flaw in our character?  Beneath all of these reasons, or excuses, is the fact of our self-willed heart.  With our minds we acknowledge that the law is good and right, but deep within us there is a hatred of the authority of the law.  There is in fact a war within our very being.

The prophet Ezekiel revealed 2500 years ago that God would provide a solution to this problem.  “ A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.  And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them” (Ezekiel 36:26-27).  It’s really very simple, the problem never was with the law, it has always been in the heart of man.

We can define liberty as being able to do as we please without suffering any undesirable consequences.  The natural man can never experience such liberty because his desires will always bring him into conflict with the natural laws which govern our existence.  “But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.” (James 1:25).  “ For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).  When our heart is changed and God’s good pleasure becomes our good pleasure, we are completely liberated.  Whatever we do, we can do it with all our might “ heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men” (Colossians 3:23), with enthusiasm and without fear.

%d bloggers like this: