Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: martyrs

Its shame and reproach gladly bear

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One hundred and forty years ago a young Englishman came to an Indian Reserve in Saskatchewan as a missionary. He learned the Cree language well enough to effectively share the gospel and some band members were converted. He returned to England to marry and then came back A church was established and began to grow, his family grew also. After a few more years the missionary had to leave his post on the reserve since there was no one for his children to play with. Not of the correct social class, anyway.

My father would often approach strangers and strike up a conversation by asking “What do you think of Jesus?” Yet he considered black people and “half-breeds” to be inferior people; he reproved his mother for speaking French to their neighbours; he persisted in mispronouncing names that sounded foreign to him.

Shouldn’t Christian faith trump attitudes like that? Why are Christian people so inclined to think themselves superior to others?

It seems that years of living prosperous, untroubled lives has led us to believe that this is the norm for Christians. We carefully select Bible passages that seem to emphasize the blessedness of Christian life. Yet these verses are closely linked to the message of suffering with Christ, with not thinking ourselves better than we are, with rejoicing in persecution. We cannot comprehend those parts, so we invent ways to interpret them as metaphors for minor difficulties in our lives.

Aren’t we missing the whole point of the New Testament? Jesus did not die to save us from suffering in this life. Jesus said: “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33) and “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake” (Matthew 5:11). Paul taught “that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Peter said: “ If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you” (1 Peter 4:14).

We can spiritualise these passages, and others like them, saying they mean something else than what they say. What shall we say then of Christian martyrs of ages past who gloried in these verses and took strength from God to face persecution, torture and death? Or Christians suffering today in other countries.

Are we not missing the essential part of identifying with Christ in His rejection and suffering? I believe we misunderstand what He meant by denying ourselves and taking up our cross daily. The cross is not a minor affliction like rheumatism, nor is it a fashion accessory. It is an instrument of torture and death.

If our faith is going to be without respect of persons, that means that we need to identify with those who are looked down upon by the world, not with those the world looks up to. We must seek the approval of Christ, not the approval of the world.

There is no point in comforting ourselves in the esteem of the world anyway. All signs point to the distinct possibility, or probability, of that being taken away from us. Let’s be true followers of Jesus Christ, whatever the consequences may be.

A faith worth dying for

Many of the Old Testament prophets died for the things they said. They were speaking the truth that God had revealed to them by His Spirit and the leaders of the people could not stand to hear that truth. So they killed the messengers of God thinking that would bring them peace.

The Jewish leaders in Jesus day did the same. Jesus was a threat to their positions and the respect the people had for them, so they killed the messenger. We should not be too harsh in blaming Pilate, he seems to have understood better what Jesus was up to than did the Jewish leaders.

Most of the apostles died as martyrs; people could not accept their message, so they killed the messengers. That has continued through history. The Roman Catholic church probably killed more Christians than pagan empires ever did. After the Reformation the Protestant churches continued the slaughter of Christians who would not accept their compromises.

Worth killing for

The reason for the killing of peaceful Christians has always been that other people saw them as a threat to their authority and position. Not that peace-loving Christians were ever a physical threat. Their offence was that they refused to mix the values of the world with the teachings of Jesus Christ; this was a stinging reproof to those who did. So they have tried to silence and eliminate the messengers.

Worth keeping quiet about

The German pietists thought they had found the solution. They would be outwardly members of the Lutheran church and inwardly born again believers in Jesus Christ. They would attend the Lutheran services, take communion, baptize their babies, get married in the church, then meet privately to share their faith. They called themselves “the quiet in the land.” Some Mennonite groups have also thought this was a good idea. Since they were no longer messengers, they were not in danger of persecution, or even ridicule, for the cause of Christ.

Light and salt

Light is what reveals both truth and error. To be quiet about our faith is to put our candle under a bushel and rob those around us of light.

Salt is what preserves from spoiling. In Old Testament times all sacrifices were salted in order not to offer to God something that was beginning to putrefy. If we feel free to indulge in the unfruitful practices of the world, where is the salt the world needs?

Be always ready

1 Peter 3:15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.

People wonder about us, form conclusions from our silence that impute the things that we do to factors other than a faith in Jesus Christ. When they ask questions, they often don’t know quite what to ask. Let’s not leave them in confusion. We don’t have to be pushy or difficult, but let’s be willing to talk about our faith, nor our culture or our lifestyle.

Perhaps some day that will put our lives at risk. If so, we are in the company of the prophets, apostles and saints of past generations.

© Bob Goodnough

Persecution of Menno Simons

Saturday I posted excerpts from an article by Menno Simons. He mentions several times in this article that his life was in danger. The danger was very real, there was a price on his head for teaching contrary to the official state church. In 1542, Emperor Charles V upped the reward for Menno’s capture to 100 gold guilders. Nevertheless Menno continued to go from place to place in Holland, preaching the gospel, baptizing converts, strengthening the congregations. This all had to be done in secrecy, because of the danger. In 1543 Menno moved his family to northwest Germany, where the local nobility were less antagonistic. He died there in 1561. Here are two examples of the dangers he faced, taken from his own writings.

“About the year 1539, a householder who was a very pious man, named Tjaert Reynerdson, was seized in my stead, because out of compassion and love he had received me in his house secretly. He was a few days later put on the wheel after  a free confession of faith, as  a valiant knight of Christ, after the example of his Lord, although even his enemies testified that he was a pious man without reproach.” (The wheel, or rack, was a medieval form of torture.)

“Also, in 1546, at a place where they boast of the Word, a four room house was confiscated, because the owner had rented one of the rooms, unknown to anybody, to my poor sick wife and her children.”

Peter Janz Twisck, whose wife was a grand-daughter of Menno Simons,  gave the following accounts:

“Menno Simons’ daughter in our presence related the following incident: A man who attended the meetings of the brethren agreed that he would betray him to the authorities for a certain sum of money. He pledged himself that he would deliver Menno into their hands or would forfeit his life. However, this he could not accomplish, for whenever he watched for him in the places where the meetings were to be held, Menno escaped through the providence of God. And at one time when this traitor, accompanied by an officer, undertook to find and apprehend him, Menno unexpectedly passed before them in a small boat on the canal, but the traitor kept silent until Menno had passed them some distance and had leaped ashore on the other side. Then the traitor said: ‘Behold, the bird has escaped.’ The officer was enraged and demanded why he did not speak in time, to which the traitor replied: ‘I could not speak, for my tongue was bound.’ The magistrates were angry and the betrayer had to give his head because he let Menno escape.”

“From a reliable source I have heard that Menno at Eenighenburg, a village in North Holland, at one time went into a church after the priest had completed the services for that day, and with great boldness, readiness of speech and learning he conversed with him in Latin about various Papistic superstitions. The priest was greatly surprised and after he had resigned his office, he related at length his conversation with Menno. Not infrequently Menno conversed with priests. A certain cloister he entered without disclosing his identity and spoke to the prior with great boldness, admonishing him earnestly and pointing out their great errors. Although a decree containing his name, description of his clothing, person, etc., was nailed to the church doors, with the promise of hundred or a few hundred guilders to any one who would cause his arrest, yet God preserved him from all the designs and cunning devices of the persecutors.”

The faith once delivered to the saints

Jude 1:3 — Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.

Jude felt that he needed to send this exhortation to the saints of his day.  Almost two thousand years have passed and the need for this exhortation has not diminished with time.  This is not some quaint statement from a time long ago that is not applicable to our day.  This verse came to my mind this afternoon and as I meditated on it, it seemed that each of the words that I have highlighted are vitally important for those of us who call ourselves believers.

earnestly contend — The faith is under attack from all sides today.  We dare not think that if we ignore the attacks they will not affect us.  We need to mount a sustained defense of  the gospel.  That means seriously searching the Scriptures, calling on the Holy Spirit to help us understand their message and how it applies to every need and situation.  A Christian who is half-hearted about Bible reading and prayer will not be of much use in this battle.  One who relies on pat answers and catch phrases that no one else understands will not be able to withstand the attacks of the enemy, much less advance the cause of Christ.

for the faith — Let us be clear that it is the faith that we are defending, not a lifestyle, not a human tradition.  It is a relationship with God, based on the truth of His Word, the saving power of the blood of Jesus Christ and the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit.  Many saints in times past have given their lives rather than deny this faith.  It is still happening in some areas of the world and we have no guarantee that it will not be our turn some day.

which was once — There is not a new version of the faith for the twenty-first century.  We are the same kind of people as those who first received the faith, men of like passions, our needs are no different than theirs and the answer to those needs has not changed.  The only faith is the old faith given so long ago.

delivered — The faith has been given to us.  It is not the invention or imagination of long ago men who thought they were wise.  It is the gift of God to those who know in their heart that they are not wise enough to solve the great problems of life.

unto the saints — The faith was not given to the saints because they were holy.  In other words, it is not a prerequisite that we become holy in order to merit the faith.  It is the faith that makes us holy, the prerequisite is to feel our need of God and His salvation.  This faith is given to us as a gift, something that we do not merit in any way.  Our thankfulness for this saving faith moves us to be obedient to the giver of the gift.  Our thankfulness and obedience then allows the Holy Spirit to transform our lives so that we no longer live in the unholy ways of this world.  The gift of God is not given to those who still love the ways of wickedness.  Nor is it given to those who think they are better than the common run of humanity.  It is the confession of our weakness and unworthiness that allows the Holy Spirit to lead us in the ways of holiness.

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