Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: lifestyle

The old path is narrow

lost-1605501_640

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.

A time of testing

Now these are the nations which the LORD left, to prove Israel by them, even as many of Israel as had not known all the wars of Canaan; only that the generations of the children of Israel might know, to teach them war, at the least such as before knew nothing thereof; namely, five lords of the Philistines, and all the Canaanites, and the Sidonians, and the Hivites that dwelt in mount Lebanon, from mount Baalhermon unto the entering in of Hamath. And they were to prove Israel by them, to know whether they would hearken unto the commandments of the LORD, which he commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses. (Judges 3:1-4)

This has been the situation of Christians from the time of the apostles till today. We are living in enemy territory, there is spiritual warfare being waged against us every day.

Yet we are comfortable here, we see no danger. The LORD wants to teach us war; is it too late for us to learn? Do we know who our enemies are? Perhaps we are too much aware of those who are corrupt, dishonest, immoral, teachers of deception. Taking all such people out of the way would not solve the ills of this world. They are tools of the enemy and he would find others to do his bidding.

Is it possible that we can live moral and upright lives, praise God with our lips and at the same time the desires of our heart and the thoughts of our mind can be patterned after the world?

Here are a few things the Bible speaks of that may indicate whether we have identified the real enemy. Do we:

  • Suppose that gain is godliness?
  • Respect the rich and despise the poor?
  • Feel discontent with what we have?
  • Speak evil of others?
  • Find it difficult to speak of our relationship with the Saviour?
  • Have compassion for those who are weak in the faith?
  • Speak disrespectfully of people in authority?
  • Look down on people of different language, culture or skin colour?
  • Attribute our salvation to the faith of our parents?
  • Judge a person’s faith by his lifestyle?

Our enemy has no problem with people who are Bible-reading, church-going Christians, as long as they don’t get enthused about it. We can know and live by to all the principles and guidelines of the Christian faith, as long as we are comfortable being passive Christians. As soon as we become active he becomes alarmed and tries to sidetrack us or discourage us.

An answered prayer

We had talked over our situation that night, prayed for direction and believed we had been shown a direction that we should pursue. There still remained the question of whether Dennis would need or want my help.

It didn’t take long for the answer to come. The phone rang the next morning before we had time to eat breakfast. It was Dennis. He started out as he always does: “How are you doing? How is Chris? How is Michelle?” Then he started talking about the ranch land that he and Ted were buying south of Moose Jaw and wondered if I wanted to come in as a partner. Well, maybe I wanted, but we had no money laying around for such an investment.

Then he said that looking after the pasture land would give him even less time for field work and wondered if I was available for that. “And the house on the half section is empty. It would make a nice little house for the three of you if you were interested.”

We were definitely interested. And so it happened that the spring of 1973 found us on our way back to Moose Jaw. We settled into the house and soon I was putting in long hours helping to get the machinery ready and then seeding.  Later in summer there was work like tilling the summerfallow and hauling grain to the elevator.

The main farm was 2½ sections, a mile wide and 2½ miles long, 1600 acres. The soil  started out light and stoney on the south end and got heavier as we went north. The north half section, where we lived, was Regina Plains heavy clay gumbo. There was another ¼ section a few miles further north and ½ section of cultivated land with the ranch land, 2,080 acres in total. At that time the practice was to seed 2/3 of the land each year. That meant seeding 1,380 acres, with older, smaller equipment.

To give an idea of how heavy clay gumbo soil behaves I’ll describe how we drove away from our home when it rained. Field work stopped when it was wet, so we would want to go into Moose Jaw. The east-west road south of our yard was not gravelled, therefore impassible when wet. The road north was gravelled, yet there was a slight uphill grade. As soon as we ventured up that incline the tires became coated with greasy clay. The road was greasy, despite the gravel, and it was impossible to steer in a straight line. I would let Chris drive and I would walk beside to push the car straight when it began to slip sideways. The road was that greasy that it didn’t take a lot of effort. Once we got to level ground we were OK.

The yard should have been a great place for our almost two year old daughter to play. But by midsummer we were plagued with grasshoppers. We found them annoying, Michelle found them terrifying. The grasshoppers became more than annoying when they harvested Chris’s garden.

As soon as we moved back to Saskatchewan we began to attend the one church in Moose Jaw that called itself Mennonite. I don’t wish to name any of the churches we attended over the first years of our marriage, nor their pastors or other people in the churches. I hold no animosity towards them and don’t wish to hold them up to ridicule. We met a lot of fine people and enjoyed the time we spent with them, but we were looking for a genuine Anabaptist-Mennonite church and weren’t finding it in any of these places.

I eventually began to understand what was going on. When the apostle Paul wrote: “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1), his intention was that we would follow him in acquiring the same faith that he had.

A true living faith will cause us to live a life that is patterned after Christ, not after the zeitgeist of the era in which we live. There is an ever present danger that Christian faith will grow lukewarm, or even cold, yet a lifestyle pattern has been established that people will follow without comprehending that this lifestyle pattern is not the faith. It is faith that creates a lifestyle, but a lifestyle has no power to create faith.

This seems to have happened to many Mennonites in past generations. The faith gradually died out, yet the lifestyle was maintained for a time, sometimes a long time. Eventually their descendants became alarmed and sought a renewing of faith, but instead of returning to the faith of their forefathers, which by now was unknown to them, they turned to pietistic protestantism. Some of them gained a genuine saving faith, but now there was no reason to retain the old patterns and they began to run as hard as they could to avoid any hint that they were living by some external rule.

Then the pietistic faith itself became a pattern that their descendants tried to maintain. By now many of the current generation has little idea of what constitutes genuine Christianity. This was where we came in and it wasn’t at all what we were looking for.

What is our heritage?

One day, about twenty-five years ago, my wife and I were visiting in the home of an Old Order Amish couple. The husband was not ordained at the time, but is now the bishop of his Old Order Amish community. He is a fine man with many admirable qualities, kind, warmhearted, industrious, knowledgeable about many things.

Most Amish today are descended from Anabaptists who lived many years ago in the canton of Berne, Switzerland. During the course of the visit, our friend volunteered the thought that there must have been something special in the character of the old Bernese Anabaptists that has enabled their descendants to keep the faith for so many generations.

I don’t think I responded to that thought, but wished afterwards that I had enquired into how he would define faith. The Old Order Amish have indeed maintained many outward forms from centuries ago, but is that the faith that their forefathers had? It seems to me that the essence of the faith is missing.

The Swiss Anabaptists were concerned about the salvation of their neighbours, to the point of risking property and life. The Old Order Amish tend to look with suspicion on anyone who wants to join them. The maintenance of precise standards of clothing and lifestyle requires that the Amish watch each other closely for any deviation from those standards. Slight variations in these standards from one Amish settlement to another make it difficult for people to fellowship freely with each other. There is not one Old Order Amish church, but an innumerable number of churches and in most cases ministers from one church are not allowed to preach in another because of the small differences in outward standards.

What it boils down to is that the Old Order Amish have tried to maintain spiritual life by human effort, rather than by the leading of the Holy Spirit. They have failed in this; not many among them can tell of being born again or of knowing that the Holy Spirit is giving direction for their lives. They have succeeded only in preserving a lifestyle that from the outside looks something like the old Anabaptist faith.

We must never confuse our ethnic heritage with our spiritual heritage. Seeking to maintain a semblance of the faith of our ancestors may cause others to look upon us with admiration in this life, but carries no promise for eternity. Those who seek salvation through the blood of Jesus and live solely to please their Saviour will often be misunderstood in this life but they have the promise of a home with the redeemed in the world to come. This is the true spiritual heritage.

Anabaptism is not a lifestyle

The bishop got up to preach one Sunday morning and proclaimed to us that when a person wore plain clothes, that was proof that he or she was born again.  An unconverted person could not get himself to wear such clothes.  By “plain clothes” he meant the form of clothes that was mandated in his congregation’s little book of standards.

We were contemplating joining this bishop’s church.  This sermon, on top of others in a similar vein, was enough to convince my wife and I that this was not what we were looking for.

It seemed to me that the poor man did not know what the new birth was.  People naturally want to dress in a way that identifies them with the group they associate with.  This can be a sports team, a street gang, the boy scouts, whatever.  It does not require a change of heart to put on a police uniform, an army uniform, or a lab coat.  A standard of dress and conduct that is specified in a book does not make one a Christian.

Some years ago, we often had occasion to travel on Autoroute 10 in Québec and would take note of a tall, barren oak tree close to St-Jean.  Then an artist cut out hundreds of oak leaves from green plastic and hung them on the tree.  The leaves did improve the look of the tree, but they were not evidence of life in the tree.  After a month or two, a strong wind blew the tree down.

When a person who has no spiritual life within himself tries to decorate his life by putting on clothes and conduct that he believes to be evidence of Christian life, that does not produce spiritual life with him.  He is still in the same condition as that oak tree.

When a person is truly born again and listens to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, there will be a change in the way that person dresses and in the way he or she conducts his or her life.  A Spirit-filled Christian should look different than the non-Christians around him, not because he is obeying a set of rules but because he is obeying the Holy Spirit.  This does not mean that there will be a uniformity of dress among believers, but if they are truly following the Spirit there will be a resemblance.  The Spirit does not give drastically different direction to each believer.

%d bloggers like this: