Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: new birth

Introduction to the New Testament – 1

The Gospels
Matthew – The writer calls himself Levi; the other gospels call him Matthew, perhaps a name given to him when he became a disciple of Jesus. He was a publican before his call, a man who collected taxes on all merchandise transported along the road where he was stationed near Capernaum. This was the first gospel, written while Matthew was in Jerusalem, probably between A.D. 60 and 66. He wrote for Jewish readers, mentioning throughout his gospel all the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah and how they were fulfilled in Jesus’ life and ministry.

Matthew gives the most complete version of the Sermon on the Mount in chapters five to seven. These three chapters are the key to understanding the transition from the old covenant of the law to the new covenant of the gospel. Righteousness is not outward conformity to the law, but a heartfelt love of God that leads to a life of purity and allows us to mirror His love for all people.

The gospel of Matthew is the only one to mention the Gentile women in the genealogy of Jesus and the only one to mention the Gentile Magi who came searching the newborn king of the Jews.

The most complete wording of the great commission is found at the end of Matthew’s gospel, instructing the followers of Jesus to go into all the world and make disciples from every nation.

After writing the gospel Matthew went as missionary to Persia and Ethiopia, where he died as a martyr for the faith.

Mark – The author is John Mark, cousin of Barnabas, close friend of Peter and mission companion of Paul. This gospel was likely written shortly after Matthew’s and before the fall of Jerusalem.

The early church fathers stated that Mark’s gospel was written at Rome for Gentile believers and based on the memories of the apostle Peter. It is the shortest of the gospels and the most vivid, as would befit the recording of Peter’s eyewitness accounts. It is not concerned with the fulfilment of messianic prophecies, but with showing Jesus to be the incarnate Son of God living among men and women and by His death and resurrection making salvation available to all mankind.

It is generally believed that after writing the gospel Mark travelled to Egypt, founded the church at Alexandria and died there as a martyr.

Luke was born at Antioch, not of Jewish parents, and studied medicine. Little is known of his early life and conversion, but he appears in Acts as a companion of Paul.

He was not an eye-witness of the life of Jesus, but consulted those who were. One of those may have been Mary, the mother of our Lord. Luke includes her genealogy, the visit of Gabriel, Mary’s trip to her cousin Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist, the visit of the shepherds, the meeting with Simeon and Anna in the temple and many other details of which she would have been the only surviving eyewitness.

Luke was a Gentile, and addressed his account to a Gentile. He compiled a history of the life of Jesus from the very first angelic messages of His birth. He strove for historical accuracy, linking events to the time of specific government officials. Luke differentiates himself from the other Gospels by putting events in chronological order, and from secular Greek histories by recording only reliable historical facts.

John – The gospel of John was the last one written. It is not really a history, dealing mostly with the last six months of Jesus’ life. Nor is it meant as a tool for evangelism, but rather for strengthening the faith of the church which already existed by that time. He supplies details missing in the earlier gospels and much teaching to cultivate the spiritual life of Christians.

John was possibly the youngest of the apostles and the only one who did not die a martyr. This gospel was probably written at Ephesus, where John lived and ministered for many years.

The opening passage of John’s gospel is a masterful statement of the Old Testament concept of the Word as being eternal and the active principle in Creation and can also be understood to take in the Greek concept of the Logos which gives coherence to all the universe. John goes on to state that this Word, or Logos, is God who made all things, who is life and light and who came to earth in the form of man and dwelt among men as one of them. This gospel contains the most explicit teaching on the new birth and on the Holy Spirit and demonstrates how it is only by knowing Jesus, the Creator, Lord and Saviour, that the created world makes any sense.

Blood lines

I received my DNA test results yesterday, then signed up for a 14 day free trial  with ancestry.ca. I spent the rest of the day filling in the gaps in my family tree with the information they already have on file from kinfolk near and far.

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It’s a fascinating exercise. I am a mix of English, French, Dutch and German, which the DNA test corroborates, but doesn’t quite know how to differentiate. They peg my background as 61% England, Wales and Northwestern Europe, 36% Germanic Europe, 2% French and 1% Baltic states. The map shows considerable overlap of the first three groups. In fact, the circle that they identify as the source of French ancestry does not include northern and western France at all, but the next two groups do. My great-great-grandfather came from Lorraine in the north of France.

My Dad thought he was part Scottish, but I have found that the Kelloggs came from the county of Kent, just below the Scottish border. The name was given to a pig butcher: “kill hog” morphed into Kellogg. Really romantic that, eh?

My great-great-grandfather was a swordsman in Napoleon’s army. Does that sound romantic? He didn’t seem to think so. Almost 200 years ago he and his children left France and settled in upstate New York, not far from some people named Goodnough. In the course of time there was a wedding which is how he got into my family tree.

This is all quite interesting, but not very significant. Mostly it’s interesting to me and my daughter.  I don’t plan to put other people to sleep by expounding on my ancestry at the Sunday dinner table.

There are extensive genealogical records in the Bible. Some people find them boring, but they are there for a reason. First of all, they show that the Bible is talking about real people, who lived, married, begat children and eventually died. Secondly, and most importantly, they show God’s faithfulness in fulfilling the promises He made.

The New Testament has only two genealogical records, both leading to the birth of Jesus Christ, the long-promised son of David, the Messiah.

The record in Matthew begins with Abraham, the father of all faithful, to whom the promise was made that in his seed all nations would be blessed. Matthew’s gospel was written for Jewish believers to record the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies. He includes four women in his genealogy of Jesus, three were Gentiles and are named. The fourth was Bathsheba, an Israelite, who is not named but her first husband, a Gentile, is named. It would seem that Matthew wanted to make it clear that Jesus belonged to all people, not just one small ethnic group.

Matthew’s genealogy traces the lineage of Joseph, who was the earthly father of the heavenly child. It shows his descent from David to whom the promise of the Messiah was first made. It is generally accepted that Luke’s genealogy shows the lineage of Mary, to establish that she was also an heir of David. The two lines diverge after David, to Solomon in Joseph’s line and Nathan in Mary’s line. Both were sons of David and Bathsheba, but Solomon was king.

They come together again with Zerubabbel, who was of the kingly line and governor of Judah after the return from Babylon. Then they diverge again.

These are the last genealogies that are of any real importance. They establish that Jesus was the promised seed of Abraham and the son of David who would rule forever over spiritual Israel.

After the time of Jesus there is still a blood line that identifies those who are heirs of Abraham, having the promise of the eternal mansions. That is the blood of Jesus, not something we can inherit from our earthly fathers and mothers, but only from Jesus Himself, through the new birth.

Two kingdoms, two churches

Reuben was the firstborn of Jacob and should have been in every way the leader of the tribes of Israel. He was a man who meant well, but seemed more apt to follow his carnal lusts than his good intentions. His father described him as “unstable as water.” The double portion of his father’s inheritance which by right was Reuben’s, went instead to Joseph, his second youngest brother. The headship of the tribes went to Judah and the spiritual leadership to Levi. Reuben was a loser on all counts.

Before he died Jacob prophesied that Judah should be the ruler of the tribes of Israel, “until Shiloh comes” which we understand to mean the Messiah. He also foretold that Simeon and Levi would not inherit with their brethren. Many years later, when Joshua divided the land, he allotted to Simeon lands that were within the boundaries of the inheritance of Judah. The Levites by this time had become the priests and they were given cities scattered through all the tribes. They were able to have gardens and goats for milk, but the bilk of their livelihood would come from the tithes given to the tabernacle, and later the temple.

Later yet, David, of the tribe of Judah, became king and God promised an everlasting throne for his sons. The kingdom of God of the Old Testament was both a political kingdom and a spiritual kingdom. This kingdom reached its highest point during the reign of Solomon. He reigned over all the land that had been promised to Israel and his reign was peaceful and glorious. He built the temple, the place which was God’s earthly habitation, to which all the peoples of the earth could come to worship and be blessed.

This glorious kingdom of the son of David was just a foretaste of what God had planned for His people. Such an earthly kingdom could not last among people who were for the most part only natural descendents of Abraham and not spiritual descendents. God foretold that the kingdom would be split in two after the death of Solomon.

The division of the kingdom was God’s plan. His perfect will would have been for all the tribes of Israel to continue to worship at Jerusalem, even though they were divided in their earthly citizenship. But Jeroboam, the first king of the breakaway kingdom feared that such an arrangement would undermine his political authority. He built a new temple at Bethel and another one in the north on his kingdom and appointed a new priesthood. It was for this division of the church of God that Jeroboam is forever after referred to as “Jeroboam the son of Neat who made Israel to sin.”

Thereupon all the Levites living among the northern tribes moved south to the kingdom of Judah. People often speak of the “ten lost tribes.” That does not add up. The southern kingdom now included Judah, Simeon, Benjamin and Levi, leaving nine tribes in the north (counting Joseph as two tribes: Ephraim and Manasseh).

Immediately, God began sending missionaries to the northern kingdom. The entire ministry of both Elijah and Elisha was to the people of the apostate northern kingdom of Israel. The ministry of Hosea and Amos was also exclusively to the people of Israel. We read of the schools of the prophets, some are explicitly linked to Elisha, probably they all were under his leadership. Thus men were continually being trained and sent out to preach the Word of God to the people in this apostate setting.

What were the results of this great mission effort? Even after Jezebel had made the worship in the temple at Bethel openly idolatrous, God told Elijah that there were still 7,000 people, “even in Israel” who had not bowed down to Baal. Seven is a complete number, a symbolic number, it could well mean many thousands.

It is recorded in 2 Chronicles 11 that after Jeroboam set up new temples in Israel people from all the tribes came to Jerusalem to sacrifice unto God and they strengthened the kingdom of Rehoboam. Chapter 15 tells that during the reign of Asa there were some from Ephraim and Manasseh who came to Jerusalem to worship and renew their covenant with God. Much later, both Hezekiah and Josiah sent invitations to the tribes of Israel to come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.

It would seem that by the time of the Babylonian captivity the kingdom of Judah included a godly remnant from all the tribes. We tend to assume that all those from the northern tribes had vanished by the time of Jesus. We read much about the Levites, Joseph and Mary were of the tribe of Judah, Paul of the tribe of Benjamin, but where were the others? Just when we think we have it all figured out, we discover that the Bible has dropped a little hint that our assumptions may not be true. Luke 2:36 tells us that Anna the prophetess was of the tribe of Asher. If there was one person who could be identified as coming from one of the formerly apostate tribes might there not have been many more?

The New Testament speaks of the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Who were they? It is evident that God’s heart yearned after those who were of the natural seed of Abraham, but were separated from the true worship of God. Before the captivity that meant all those from the northern kingdom where the only form of worship available was in the apostate temples. Yet even in such a situation there were many whose heart was still attached to God and not turned away to idolatry. By Jesus’ time it would seem that all those in Judea and Galilee were considered lost sheep, since the worship in the temple at Jerusalem had descended into mere form and pharisaism.

Who are the lost sheep today? Wouldn’t they be those who are the true spiritual children of Abraham, born-again children of God, alone in their faith or worshipping in a setting where some are true Christians, others are not, and most are unable to tell the difference? There are some who do see. Years ago a minster told me he thought there were seven or eight real Christians in his congregation. Someone told me recently of a minister who thought that perhaps 20% of his congregation were born-again. There are many kinds of mission fields, is this one that we are missing?

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.

Simplicity of the church

It was a fine summer day in 1627 and I was strolling through Plimoth Plantation when deacon Samuel Fuller fell in step beside me. “The church officials back in England are saying that we have no business calling ourselves a church here in Massachusetts, because we have no minister,” he said.  “But a church is made up of Christian people. They don’t even have a church. Who made them ministers and bishops?”

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Image by OpenClipart-Vectors on Pixabay

Well, OK, the year was actually 1990, the man beside me was an actor playing the role of Samuel Fuller and we were in a recreated Plimoth Plantation, meticulously designed to look and feel like 1627. But I have no doubt that the real Samuel Fuller actually spoke those words.

Later that day, at a family reunion supper, I asked a young lady (a distant cousin) who also worked at Plimoth Plantation, if the modern Samuel Fuller really believed what he was saying. She hesitated a moment, then said “I think he has it in his head, but not in his heart.”

There you have the essential requirement of a church: Christian people. Not people motivated by tradition, emotion, social connection or intellect, but genuine, from the heart, born again Christians.

How can we do that? The short answer is we can’t. Jesus said He would build His church, The real question is how can we discern if a church is being built by Jesus or by people?

The New Testament speaks of believers meeting for worship, but there are no instructions as to what the meeting place should look like. Being as I live in Saskatchewan and it is bitterly cold outside right now, I am thankful for a warm building to use when we meet to worship. But I am wary when buildings become large and elaborate and are regarded with more reverence than the meeting going on inside.

The New Testament speaks of preaching, but never hints that the preacher needs special training, or that he should be paid a salary. The word minister means servant, yet a minister also has a responsibility to watch over the spiritual welfare of his congregation. But if he begins to think of himself as a lord over the congregation, he has crossed a line according to 1 Peter 5:3.

The New Testament speaks of singing, but never hints at the use of musical instruments. Entertainment is not an enhancement of worship, but rather a distraction.

The New Testament also shows that a close relationship between churches or congregations in different places and different countries. One of the warning signs that a congregation is not being built by Jesus is when it is totally independent of any other group.

I have known people who do church at home or who belong to small independent congregations. They appear to have good convictions but they are alone in their faith, there is no one else with whom they can have fellowship. And I have seen what happens to children from these tiny, self-isolated groups. They rebel. Some forsake Christian faith altogether, some find a home in a much more liberal church. They all blame their parents for their strict, legalistic attitude.

But they are missing something. A church does not become more spiritual, closer to Jesus, by ignoring most of His teachings, saying they were for a different era. The real problem was that their parents trusted no one but themselves. That is perhaps the greatest deception of all, to believe that I, and only I, am walking with the Lord.

This brings us back to the beginning. The Church built by Jesus Christ is a church made up of genuine, from the heart, born again Christians. A church where “Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11).  Part of being a genuine Christian is the grace to see Christ in others, in spite of our outward differences.

The Sabbath

God instituted a day of rest per week, because, after six days of toil the human body and brain need rest. That’s makes good sense, doesn’t it? Except that the Bible says nothing like that.

What we find in the Bible is that God completed all the work of creation in six days and then rested on the seventh day. There is no hint that on the first day of the following week God picked up his lunch bucket, punched the time clock, and began another week of work. His work was finished from the foundation of the world (Hebrews 4:3).

The seventh day was the beginning of a never ending rest for God and the promise to us is that we can enter into that rest. The once a week Sabbath was commanded as a memorial and as a foretaste of the spiritual rest that would become available through the Messiah.

Unfortunately, the human mind finds it much easier to grasp the idea of physical rest than of spiritual rest. We have been aided in this by the reasoning of Greek philosophers and their followers in the churches.

The fourth commandment decrees that all labour cease on the Sabbath, but it gives no hint that this was because of the need of our bodies for physical and mental rest. The purpose of the Sabbath was to separate people from earthly cares so they could contemplate eternal realities. The New Testament makes it clear that the labour that must cease is our futile attempts to earn salvation.

In Matthew 11:28-29, Jesus invites us to cease our labours, lay down our burdens and He will give us rest for our souls. Hebrews 11:1-10 is an invitation to cease from our labours and enter into God’s rest, the Sabbath. “For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his” (Hebrews 4:10).

We enter into that rest when we are born again. We know God as our Father and we are assured that He knows us as His child. He fills us with love, joy, peace and all the fruit of the spirit. He guides us, comforts us and helps us in all the troubles we face in life.

We are no longer anxious about food, clothing, or the health of our body. Our Father knows what we need and He will provide (Matthew 6:25-34). We should not take that as meaning we are now exempt from physical labour, that is still necessary and good for us. But we need no longer be burdened by worry and care as to how it will all turn out.

We have entered into the Sabbath, not a day on our earthly calendars, but a time that will continue to the end of time and into eternity. Spiritual realities now take priority over material realities. We need not worry about our status in the eyes of other people, what matters is that we are a child of God, surrounded by His love.

Living in the Sabbath also requires us to forgive others, hold no grudges, not to favour one person above another, but to see others as God sees them. Some are God’s children, God wants them all to be His children and so should we.

God gave the prophet Isaiah a beautiful picture of the right way to fast and to observe the Sabbath. Does any of this sound like something that one ought to do on certain occasions only, or one day a week? Doesn’t it rather portray the New Testament kingdom of God when God’s children will live the Sabbath every day?

“Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh? Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the LORD shall be thy rereward. Then shalt thou call, and the LORD shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity; And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday: and the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not. And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, the repairer of the breach, the restorer of paths to dwell in. If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it. (Isaiah 58:6-14).

The fourth commandment does not give any instruction for gathering for worship one day a week. In the Old Testament era there were only three annual festivals when all adult males should assemble for worship in Jerusalem.

Neither is there instruction in the Old Testament for establishing synagogues and holding one day a week worship services. It was a tradition that appears to have begun during the Babylonian captivity, and it was a good tradition. Christians have adopted that tradition and the weekly worship has become the primary source of sustaining our spiritual life. It is not a law written on tablets of stone, but it should be a law written on our hearts that we would want to gather where and when spiritual nourishment is being served.

Fifty years ago

It is 50 years since the Jesus people movement began in California. It followed close on the heels of the Summer of Love, that brief period in time when disillusioned young people believed they had found the solution to all the world’s problems. “All you need is love” by the Beatles was their theme. They gathered in San Francisco, wearing tie-dyed clothes and flowers in their hair, smoking pot and dropping acid, strumming guitars and loving everybody. This was the dawning of a new age of peace and love.

Somehow it didn’t quite work out. A lot of girls soon discovered they were pregnant with no means of support. There was an explosion of std’s, money ran out, a few had their minds truly blown, love began to come apart at the seams.

Amidst the crushing disillusion, some began to discover Jesus and found Him to be what they had been looking for all along. Suddenly there were young people everywhere, still looking like hippies, but toting Bibles and ready to talk to anyone about Jesus. And they were serious, the Bible had the answers to life, sin was real and needed to be repented of. That was how you found genuine love for everyone around you.

The movement spread like wildfire. In 1970 a rebellious young man from a small town in Manitoba found Jesus in the streets of Vancouver. Now he was troubled about the things he had done back home, acts of vandalism, stealing gas from farm yards and disrespect for parents and elders. His new Jesus people friends told him he had to go home and make those things right. So he did.

As he went through the community confessing the wrongs he had done and doing his best to make them right, all the while talking of his new found faith in Jesus, it caused quite a stir. He was back attending the church he had grown up in and other young people began to find Jesus and set about making right the wrongs they had done.

The pastor welcomed this enthusiasm for gospel truth and did his best to encourage it. He had Bible studies with the young people and they began to hold Wednesday night coffee house meetings in town, open to young people from near and far, where they sang the songs that were coming out of the Jesus people movement and shared their testimonies.

I was born again in the spring of 1970 and married that summer. In the summer of 1971 my wife and I began to attend this church. We were enthused by the love of Jesus and the Bible shown by these youth and the genuine changes taking place in their lives. I was a little older, but also a new believer and felt a kindred spirit in most of them.

There was just one little niggling doubt. Not about the whole movement, but about a few who seemed to go along just because this was the big thing, not because they had a genuine personal faith. The pastor didn’t seem to be able to discern the difference. Nothing that couldn’t have been corrected with the help of more seasoned older Christians.

Instead of that, the congregation fired the pastor. The enthusiasm of the youth was too frightening for them. The pastor moved on to a church a few miles away, the youth followed and so did we. The lack of discernment became more evident.

I have no doubt that the Jesus People movement as a whole was a genuine work of the Holy Spirit. But churches were woefully unprepared to welcome and guide the new believers. Some were appalled, some were willing to accept everyone without discernment. An untold number of people truly met Jesus through this movement, some fell away but the majority went on to live sanctified Christian lives.

Churches today are back where they were 50 years ago. Young people are disillusioned, leaving the churches in droves to seek fulfilment elsewhere. Is it possible that history might repeat itself? Why is it so hard to transmit faith from one generation to the next?

Jesus made two statements that seem contradictory, but really are not. In Luke 9:49-50 we read: “And John answered and said, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us. And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.” Evidently Jesus has no problem with people outside of His immediate circle working in his name. Then we shouldn’t either.

But a little later He said: “ He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth” (Luke 11:23). The New Testament picture of the church is a functioning body of which Jesus is the head. Scattered body parts, each interpreting the directions from the head according to their own understanding, cannot be the church.

The immediate baptism of all who professed faith in Jesus was a fundamental weakness among the Jesus people, leading to the fragmentation of the movement. The New Testament pattern is that new believers need to be taught before they are baptized, to ensure that they have genuinely met Jesus and are following the leading of the Holy Spirit.

The pattern in Anabaptist churches has been that new believers need to tell their experience to a congregation of believers. When the congregation can say “Yes, we believe this person has truly met the Lord and we have seen the evidence that he or she is walking with Him daily,” then baptism means something. The acceptance and care of fellow believers is essential to maintaining genuine Christian faith and life.

A recent Canadian study shows that young people are more apt to maintain their faith after they leave home if they had had a meaningful relationship with adult believers other than their parents. Where else is this possible but in a congregation of true believers?

Free will

We must believe in free will — we have no choice. Isaac Bashevis Singer.

Hmm. I wonder what he was getting at? Having nothing more to go on to discern a more complex meaning in Mr. Singer’s thought than this fragment, I will say that I agree.

When Moses told the people “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life;” and Joshua later said to the same people “ Choose you this day whom ye will serve,” we must assume that the people really were free to make the choices offered to them.

Yet many Christian denominations, probably most, teach that we do not have free will to choose our own destiny. They magnify the sovereignty of God to the point of saying that if humans can choose whether or not to answer God’s call then we are saying that God is less than almighty.

But if words mean anything, the Bible is offering us just such a choice, from Genesis to Revelation. Where then do people get the idea that the Bible doesn’t mean what it says?

Determinism, the belief that the gods, karma, fate, or whatever you want to call the ultimate power in the universe, have pre-determined every detail of one’s life, has always been part of Eastern religions. It entered Western thought through Zeno, founder of the Stoic school of philosophy.

It entered pseudo-Christian thought through Augustine, who laid the intellectual foundation for Roman Catholic policy. Augustine adapted Zeno’s thought, saying that God has predestined some people to be saved, and some to be damned. Since it is not given to mankind to know into which category they fall, the church has the right to compel all people within its territory to be members of the church and to turn the non-compliant over to the civil authorities. And since the church and the civil power were in complete unity, disobedience to the church was treason to the state and must be punished by death.

Since it could not be known who was predestined to salvation or damnation, then one could not discern that by the moral conduct of the person. In fact, those who led a pure and holy life were deemed to be deceived and the worst of heretics. This led to such aberrations in the Middle Ages as girls being led to the executioner because they refused the advances of the priests.

During the Protestant Reformation, John Calvin refined the doctrine of Augustine; the essence of Calvin’s doctrine is often described by the TULIP formula:
Total depravity – the depravity of mankind prevents them from choosing to answer God’s call.
Unconditional election – The conduct of the elect has no part in determining their salvation.
Limited atonement – Christ only died for the elect, those predestined to be saved.
Irresistible grace – the grace of God is imparted to the elect, who have no power to resist it.
Perseverance of the saints – The elect can never lose their salvation.

This is the explicit doctrine of the Presbyterian, Reformed and most Baptist churches. Other churches believe much of what Calvin taught, but may be a bit nebulous about the origin of their beliefs.

The problem with believing Calvin’s doctrine is that church pews are occupied by people who believe that they have been born again through the irresistible grace of the Holy Spirit, but show little evidence of leading a Christian life. The old Westminster Confession got around this by saying that a born again person may take many years to develop an assurance of salvation. The modern teaching is that the new birth and conversion are quite different things, the new birth being instantaneous and conversion being a slow, almost imperceptible process.

The Bible makes no such distinction, the words are used interchangeably. There was a transition period for the disciples who walked with Jesus but did not receive the Holy Spirit until the Day of Pentecost. Jesus told Peter “When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” It was only a few days later that Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost and 3,000 were baptized. After that, the Apostle Paul says “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.”

Some may be confused by Paul’s thoughts on predestination. Read the passages as a whole. He is saying that God had predestined that there should be no more division between Jews and Gentiles, but that all could be saved in the same way. He is not speaking of individuals being predestined to salvation. At the end of one long passage on predestination, he writes: “What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith. But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law.”

Epilogue

That is the end of the story I set out to write, but not the end of the journey. We spent 15 years in Ontario, 5 in Québec and have been back in Saskatchewan for 20 years. We are living in the Swanson congregation, where I saw no hope of finding work 40 years ogo. Times have changed, there are many small businesses run by members of the congregation and other employment opportunities in the area. I work part time as a bookkeper now.

Michelle experienced a new birth at the age of 12 and was baptized December 6, 1984. In her late teens and into her twenties she worked several years in nursing homes, then as a teacher in the schools of congregations of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite. She was an eastern girl, having spent most of her growing up years and her early working life in Eastern Canada.

She was teaching at Dumas, Arkansas when we moved back to Saskatchewan. We fully expected that her permanent home would be far away from us, but a young man at Swanson took note of her and proposed a year after we moved. We are very grateful to Ken Klassen, not only for bringing our daughter back to Saskatchewan, but for his kind and gentle ways as her husband and as father to their four children.

Tami Klassen, our oldest granddaughter was baptized earlier this year. The decisions we made many years ago are bearing fruit unto the third generation.

My mother visited us every year while we lived in the east, usually spending several weeks or a month at a time. She turned 90 in January of 1998 and we knew it was time to come back home to Saskatchewan. She lived with us for a few years and then spent her last years in a nursing home in Rosthern. She passed away December 31, 2006, just 18 days short of her 99th birthday.

Chris has had two bouts with cancer and is healthy and cancer free at this time. We will celebrate our 48th wedding anniversary this summer. Over the last few years we have both been working at developing writing skills to be able to share what God ha done for us and what He has taught us.

To know God without knowing our own wretchedness only makes for pride. Knowing our own wretchedness without knowing God makes only for despair. Knowing Jesus Christ provides the balance, because he shows us both God and our own wretchedness. – Blaise Pascal

Finding home

The factory where I found work made engineered rubber parts for the automobile industry. I was started on the press line, where rows of hydraulic presses produced vast quantities of rubber parts. The moulds were maintained at tempertures above 300° F to cure the rubber. I started when the weather was already hot and humid and it was even hotter and more humid working over those moulds. It was a shock to the body of this prairie boy, but soon I was acclimatized.

While I was being trained I could not help but be aware of Howie. He was operating several presses and every once in a while parts would not release from the moulds as they should. There would be loud yells and banging sounds coming from Howie’s direction. I decided I would do well to keep my distance from him.

The second week I was given presses to run by myself. The first time I had parts stick to the underside of the top part of the mould and began trying awkwardly to get them down, Howie appeared beside me and took the bar from my hands. He got the parts down and then showed me once again how much mould release to spray on that part of the mould. Then he was back to his own work leaving me to meditate on how mistaken a first impression can be. Howie was a loudmouth, but turned out to be a good guy, easy to get alnog with.

Chris began making arrangements to move as soon as she knew I had work. It took me a couple more weeks to find a place to live but before the month was over we were together again.Chris packed everything that could be put in boxes, sold the rest and shipped the boxes by train. Then she and Michelle rode the train from Moose Jaw to Toronto where I picked them up.

It was the last Sunday in June when we drove into the St Marys churchyard as a family for the first time. As we got out of the car, a young lad, almost eight years old, walked up to us and said “Welcome to St Marys.” And we did feel welcomed by everybody.

In September Michelle started Grade One in the Mapleview Christian School. She enjoyed school and we felt assurance in knowing that her friends were the children of our friends.

At first we had invitations to the members’ homes every Sunday, but after several months that tapered off. One Sunday the brother whom I had first met asked me how things were going. I replied that life was working out well for us, but we weren’t getting invited out much anymore. He pondered that for a moment, then asked if we had invited anyone to our home. Bingo! Immediately I felt reproved and knew what we had to do. We started inviting others for meals, most often Sunday dinners, and that warmed and strengthened our fellowship with the congregation.

We had several visits with the ministers and deacons and were asked to tell our experiences to the congregation one Sunday evening. The congregation voted their acceptance that we had truly met the Lord, were born again and were living as Christians by the leading of the Holy Spirit. Sunday morning, February 11, 1979, we  were baptized by minister Robert Toews.

The day after our baptism, a vivid memory of a time long ago flashed into my mind. Just after being confirmed in the Anglican Church as an eleven year old boy I had knelt and gone through the questions in the little red book of self-examination before communion. Now God was telling me: “That was when I first called you to come to me. During all your wanderings I have continued to call you and now you are part of my family.”

And I was finally a Mennonite who wore a beard.

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