Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: lifestyle

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.

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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.

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