Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

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The 1260 days in prophecy

A number of vivid prophecies were given to Daniel, containing references to the abomination that maketh desolate and a period of three and one half years. The prophecies give details about the beginning and ending of this time period and the symbolic language contains clear information about the persons and nations involved.

The conquests of Alexander are clearly portrayed, his early death, the division of his kingdom into four parts and the rise of Antiochus Epiphanes who would conquer Jerusalem and cause the daily sacrifices to cease.

Daniel records the time period in various ways: a time and times and the dividing of times (three and one half years); 1260 days, 1290 days and 1335 days. It is said the the sanctuary would be trodden under foot for 2300 days until it be cleansed. It appears that this latter refers not to days but to the evening and morning sacrifices, or 1150 days.

Some four centuries after the prophecies were given, Antiochus conquered Jerusalem, caused the sacrifices to cease and desecrated the temple by offering pig’s blood. Maccabees 1 calls this the abomination of desolation. Josephus says it was three years from the time the sacrifices ceased until the temple was cleansed and they began to be offered again.

Some commentators feel that the variation in the numbers given may be a clue that they are not to be taken as precise definitions of the time period. The three years mentioned by Josephs might not be exact either, but both Josephus and the writer of Maccabees clearly understood those events as the fulfilment of the prophecies given to Daniel.

In the New Testament, Jesus mentions the abomination of desolation, a clear hint that Daniel’s prophecies will have a further fulfilment in the NT era. The period of  time of forty and two months or a thousand two hundred and threescore days is also found in Revelation.

There is one striking difference between this time period in Revelation and the similar one in Daniel: in the book of Revelation there are no dates or events to mark the beginning or end of this period. Unnumbered scholars and learned men have devoted whole careers to discerning the exact period of time to which these refer. Anyone who does not value his sanity is welcome to collect and attempt to reconcile the widely differing conclusions they have reached.

May I suggest that no anchoring dates or events are mentioned because they are not at all the point of the prophecies in Revelation. The real message is in the events that occur during this time period.

Those events are:
1) the holy city and the court outside the temple will be trodden underfoot of the Gentiles;
2) the two witnesses shall prophesy, clothed in sackcloth;
3) the woman clothed with the sun will find a refuge where she is fed by God;
4) the dragon will speak great things and blasphemies.

There, in a nutshell, is a description of conditions throughout the New Testament era. The church built by Jesus Christ will always be a minority, often threatened and oppressed, yet sustained and fed by God. The enemy will take many forms, but will never cease to boast, threaten and blaspheme.

The two witnesses, the candlesticks mentioned in Zechariah and Revelation, are giving light from pure olive oil, the Holy Spirit. These are the Word of God and the Church of God. The dragon has always made war against them, working through pagans, papists and protestants. At times he has almost succeeded in destroying them, they have appeared to be dead, causing great rejoicing among their enemies. Yet they have always risen up again and continued to shine the light of the gospel in this sin darkened world.

Do people make a church?

A church leader once told me “We have never seen it happen that a church would begin to drift away from the truth and then recover itself. When you see a church begin to drift, it’s time to get out and start over again.”

I have observed a lot of getting out and starting again over the years. Some people have given up on the whole idea of church and just meet at home with a few family or friends.

Where is Jesus in all of this? When Jesus said “upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it,” He meant it. Why are  many people today so ready to believe that the gates of hell have prevailed against the church?

The rock is Jesus Himself, not Peter, not the words that Peter spoke. This is made plain when we consider other verses:
1 Corinthians 3:11: For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
Isaiah 28:16: Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.
Acts 4:11: This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner.

The New Testament portrays the church as a building or temple with Jesus as the foundation or corner stone, or as a body, of which Jesus is the head.

Jesus is the architect, the foundation and the builder of the church. Nowhere in the Bible do we read that we mere mortals are called upon to build the church, nor that we are capable of doing so.

People are running to and fro today, trying to find a church that fits their concept of what the church should be. Time after time they are disappointed.

I have been there and done that. After many such disappointments, I began to understand that while I had been searching for a church that fit my design, Jesus had been searching for people like me that He could form and shape to fit into the church that He has designed.

A little humility is in order here. We may be born again and be doing our best to live a life that conforms to our idea of what a Christian should be. But is our idea the same as Jesus’ idea? Just being willing to ask that question might break through our pride and stubbornness and allow Jesus to lead us to something far better than we could attain by our own efforts.

Why charity is not what it used to be

The Greek word agape was used often by the New Testament writers. In the AV (KJV) Bible it is translated 86 times as love and 27 times as charity. In the Louis Segond French translation it is translated 60 times as amour and 55 times as charité. 

Agape, as used in the New Testament, is the quality of love that should be the defining characteristic of every genuine Christian. It is a pure, unselfish love that is known by the actions that it prompts. It is used to describe God’s love to mankind, our love to God, our love for our brethren and our love for our neighbour.

Agape is not an impulse prompted by feelings, emotions or natural inclinations; it may in fact be quite the opposite of our natural inclination. It desires the welfare of all and seeks opportunity to do good.

In French, the Petit Robert dictionary defines charité as:
1. the theological virtue in Christianity which consists of the love of God and of our neighbour for God’s sake;
2. love of our fellow man;
3. good works for the poor;
4. kindness.

This correlates very well with the Greek word agape and I suspect that 400 years ago charity still meant pretty much the same in English. Over time charity has been debased to to where it is now commonly understood only as giving help to the poor. Unfortunately, this often seems to carry the idea that the one receiving the help is inferior to the one who is giving.

Here is the current English definition of charity from the Canadian Oxford dictionary:
1. a) a voluntary giving to those in need; b) help or money so given;
2. a) an institution or organization for helping those in need; b) non-profit organization;
3. a) kindness, benevolence; b) balance in judging others; c) love of one’s fellow humans.

There is not much evidence of agape in such a definition. Perhaps that is why even our concept of charitable giving seems to have gone askew. 1 Corinthians 13:4 says “charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up.” 1 Corinthians 8:1 says “knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth,” and Romans 12:9 says “let charity be without hypocrisy,” (following the wording in the Louis Segond translation). In other words, the goal of charity should be to edify, or build up, the one receiving, not to allow the one giving to puff up with pride.

A few years ago some celebrities got the idea of raising money to eliminate malaria in Africa. The use of their names allowed large sums of money to be raised to buy mosquito nets to be sent to all countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

How has it worked? A few days ago I googled “mosquito nets for Africa” and came up with a long list of sites boasting of how many hundred million nets had been sent to Africa and how malaria would soon be vanquished. At the bottom of the list there was a news article from the Los Angeles Times which noted that many of those nets were not being used for their intended purpose. Some were poorly designed, some had mesh that was too tight for free air movement. Some folks had found that they made good room dividers, but many were simply stuck in a corner somewhere and not used.

I have also heard of instances where farmers have laid these nets out on the ground and spread their crops on them to dry and of local officials who try to supplement their incomes by selling these nets rather than giving them out free of charge.

But that is not the worst part. Dambisa Moyo, in her book Dead Aid, Why Aid is Not Working and How There is a Better Way for Africa, speaks of local African manufacturers of mosquito nets who have been forced out of business by the distribution of free nets, leaving labourers and their extended families without an income. In a few years the free nets will need to be replaced, the celebrities will have turned their attention elsewhere and there will be no locally made nets available.

It begins to look like this whole enterprise has had the effect of making the donors feel good about helping the poor people of Africa, while in fact the poor people of Africa are worse off than they were before the help came.

This is far too often the case. In reality the supposed charity has a decidedly uncharitable effect. It sounds like just one more case of Rudyard Kipling’s White Man’s Burden gone seriously awry.

 

In the world, but not of the world

With the launching of the New Testament vision a new idea was being launched; the world was being treated to a new and very revolutionary concept of society, namely that men can get along peacefully in the market place even though they do not worship at the same shrine. The New Testament conceives of humanity as a composite thing ̶ that is, composed of factions. It expects that some men will glory in the very same cross over which other men stumble. . . . And it assumes that such diversity on the plane of religion does not imply cacophony on the square. It thinks that even though men differ basically and radically at the shrine they need not clash in the market place.

In this novel view it is plainly implied that there are resources in the as yet not regenerated human heart . . . that are adequate for the affairs of the state, loyalties that are adequate for the political level.

In the New Testament vision, that which we today call the State and that which we now call the Church are agencies that cater to different loyalties. The state demands a loyalty that man can give, irrespective of their religious orientation, the Church demands a loyalty which only he can give that believes in Christ. The State has a sword with which it constrains men, coerces them if need be, The Church has a sword also, but it is the sword of the Word of God, a sword that goes no farther than moral suasion.

The New Testament envisions no trouble in the outworking of this division of labour – as long as both sides play to the register intended for them; it envisions trouble only if and when either of the two goes outside its province, as for instance when, as in Acts 4:18, men in the uniform of the State tell people whether they are to preach and what. The New Testament implies that as long as Church and State weed each in its own garden there will be a tolerable modus vivendi.

This was a novel insight, so novel as to be revolutionary. The world had never seen the like of it before. For all pre-Christian society is sacral. By the word sacral we mean bound together by a common religious loyalty. By sacral society we mean society held together by a religion to which all the members of that society are committed.

It was because the Jews of Jesus’ day were pre-Christian, and therefore sacralists in their conception of things, that the problem, “whether it is lawful to pay tribute to Caesar” seemed to them to be an insoluble problem. How could a man, they asked, be loyal to the political community by paying his taxes, without thereby being disloyal to the religious community, the Church. They, sacralists that they were, knew no answer to this question. It vexed them every time they tangled with it. And for that reason they confronted the Master with it, so that He too might be embarrassed by it and be hopelessly pinned in a corner. How great must have been their surprise at the ease with which Jesus, acting on the new insight He had come to convey, sailed through the dilemma with “Render unto Caesar the things that ae Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” In His way of thinking there wasn’t even any problem.

It is implied in the New Testament vision that Christianity is not a culture-creating thing but rather a culture-influencing one. Wherever the Gospel is preached society becomes composite; hence, since culture is the name given to the total spiritual heritage of an entire people, there can never be such a thing as a Christian culture; there can only be cultures in which the influence of Christianity is more or less apparent. The New Testament does not pit a “Christian culture” against a non-Christian culture; rather does it introduce a leaven into any existing culture into which it insinuates itself.

Early Christianity acted on the insight that Jesus had come to create “a people within a people”; it realized that it is by the act of faith that men become the Sons of God, with a sonship that is not simply continuous with the sonship that is by nature. . . Early Christianity’s world was peopled with folk who witness and folk who were witnessed to. It therefore conceived of a composite society, not a monolithic one.

Quotes from Leonard Verduin, The Reformers and Their Stepchildren. © 1964 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company

We don’t need better politicians, we need better Christians

Well, better politicians would be good, too. But we get what we deserve; and the present crop of politicians are doing the best they can with the information they have. Better Christians could be a means of making better information available to the politicians, as well as everyone else.

“But take heed to yourselves: for they shall deliver you up to councils; and in the synagogues ye shall be beaten: and ye shall be brought before rulers and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them” (the words of Jesus in Mark 13:9). Jesus didn’t teach that Christians should try to negotiate with the rulers to institute better practices of governance. His concern was that the testimony of the gospel should be heard in all places, despite the dangers.

There is no hint in the New Testament that governments will ever be favourable to Christians. Nevertheless, we are to pray for them that they might have wisdom to restrain evil-doers and maintain a modicum of order and freedom. That is the realm of governments, not of Christians, and we should give thanks to God for all that our governments are still doing in those areas.

But we have deceived ourselves into thinking that we live in a Christian nation and that we should rightfully have some influence on the governments. That has led to a laxity among Christians that leaves us feeling helpless when we realize the extent of our deception. The correct way to deal with that is to set our own house in order and not waste our breath trying to set the government house in order.

We need a revival of true faith and righteous living. We cannot tolerate lowered standards of honesty and moral purity in our own circles, then complain that the government has let us down.

Nineteen hundred years ago an unknown Christian wrote: “In a word, what the soul is in a body, this Christians are in the world. The soul is spread through all the members of the body, and Christians through the divers cities of the world. The soul hath its abode in the body, yet it is not of the body. So Christians have their abode in the world, and yet they are not of the world. The soul which is invisible is guarded in the body which is visible; so Christians are recognised as being in the world, and yet their religion remaineth invisible. The flesh hateth the soul and wageth war against it, though it receiveth no wrong, because it is forbidden to indulge in pleasures; so the world hateth Christians, because they set themselves against its  pleasures. The soul loveth the flesh which hateth it, and the members; so Christians love those that hate them. The soul is enclosed in the body, and yet itself holdeth the body together; so Christians are kept in the world as in a prison-house, and yet they themselves hold the world together. The soul though itself immortal dwelleth in a mortal tabernacle; so Christians sojourn amidst perishable things, while they look for the imperishability which is in the heavens. The soul when hardly treated in the matter of meat and drink is improved; and so Christians when punished increase more and more daily. So great is the office to which God has appointed them, and which it is not lawful for them to decline.” (The Epistle to Diognetus, circa AD 150).

Can the same be said of Christians today?

Christianity betrayed

In his book, The Reformers and Their Stepchildren*, Leonard Verduin points out that the New Testament church was a complete break with all of preceding human history: “the world was being treated to a new and very revolutionary concept of society, namely, that men can get along peacefully in the market place even though they do not worship at the same shrine.”

“It must not escape the reader that this was a novel insight, so novel as to be revolutionary. The world had never seen the like of it before. For all pre-Christian society is sacral. By the word ‘sacral,’ which we shall be using frequently and which we request the reader to impress on his mind, we mean ‘bound together by a common religious loyalty.’ By sacral society we mean society held together by a religion to which all the members of society are committed.”

The New Testament depicts the Christian church as being a voluntary assembly of believers who worshipped God and stood completely apart from the ceremonies consecrated to the deities of the cities and nations in which they lived. Nevertheless, they acknowledged the authority of the rulers of those lands as being authorized by God to rule in all areas of civil society.

The Constantinian change swept aside the worship of the old pagan deities and made the Roman Catholic church the only permitted form of worship in the whole empire. The Roman Empire once again became a sacral state and any deviation from the state religion was regarded as subversive of civil order.

It took Augustine to formulate a doctrine for such a return to pre-Christian customs. He introduced the concept of the invisible church – true believers are known only to God. Grace was not a matter of a personal relationship with God, but was transmitted through the sacraments of the church. Therefore it was best if all people in the empire were forced to be members of the state church, through infant baptism, and to attend the worship of this church. The faith, or lack thereof, of the priests had no bearing on the validity of the sacraments. Neither did their moral, or immoral, conduct.

Some Christians may have been relieved at the end of persecution. However, there were many who clearly saw that the Constantinian transformation of the church was a betrayal of all that was taught in the New Testament. And for them the persecution never ended.

*The Reformers and Their Stepchildren, by Leonard Verduin. © 1964 by Wm B Eerdmans Publishing Company

Steel-toed slippers

Non-resistance is one of the prime identification marks of a true Anabaptist.  Many folks take this to mean that we believe it is wrong to put on a uniform and take up arms to defend our country.  What it really means is that we believe in wearing figurative steel-toed slippers so that it never feels like someone is stepping on our toes.  Some jobs require workers to wear steel-toed safety shoes because of dangers in the workplace, but we also need to prevent hurt feelings from arising when we are with family, friends and neighbours.

If we never notice that someone has stepped on our toes, we never feel a need for vengeance.  That is the true essence of non-resistance.  We should have no feelings of bitterness and resentment at the events and circumstances that life brings our way.  The Apostle Paul writes: “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice” (Ephesians 4:31).

Jesus said that the meek will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5).  If we think that meek rhymes with weak, consider the word used in French: débonnaire.  Don’t be deceived by the English word debonair, the boat carrying it across the English Channel must have capsized, as it became quite a different word upon reaching the shores of England.  The French word means: “having a goodness, or kindness, pushed to the extreme, somewhat weak.”  That doesn’t sound very appealing at first, but consider the promise that is attached to it: such a person shall inherit the earth.

Those who try to stake out their little plot on this earth and defend it with all their might tend to have a miserable life, always on guard lest someone’s toe encroach upon their territory.  There is great peace when we  realize that we are heirs and leave the defending to God.  “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord” (Romans 12:19).

“ Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:10).  There is no escape clause here, such as: love worketh no premeditated ill to his neighbour; or love worketh no ill to his neighbour unless he is first inconvenienced by his neighbour.  It is unconditional love that the New Testament teaches, even to the unlovable.  This attitude of unconditional love is a characteristic of those who truly entrust everything they are and have into the hands of a loving and merciful God.

“Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.  But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.  This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.  For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.  But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.  And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace” (James 2:13-18).

A peace witness in time of war does not mean much if we are not known as peaceable people at other times.  If we claim to be born again and to have the peace of God in our heart, yet show a very touchy and defensive attitude to others, something is not quite right.  Time to put on those steel-toed slippers.

Should Christians tithe?

Some Christians firmly believe that the Old Testament 10% rule is still in force for Christians today.  They tell inspirational tales of someone who was struggling financially and could hardly find any spare change for the collection plate.  Then they began to give 10% off the top of their income and, as if by magic, all their financial needs were supplied.

There are quite convincing arguments against the 10% requirement for Christians in the new dispensation.  First, there is no command to tithe to be found anywhere in the New Testament.  Second, it is argued, the tribe of Levi was given no inheritance in the promised land, thus the tithe was a tax to support the Levitical priesthood and is not needed in the present dispensation.

I believe these are entirely valid arguments.  Does that leave Christians with no direction or guidelines on how much to give?  If we are looking for a hard and fast rule, I don’t believe we are going to find it.  What I read in the New Testament leads me to the gut-wrenching conclusion that God wants everything I have and everything I am.

The rich young ruler could not handle Jesus’ command to sell everything.  Most of the rest of us would like to squirm out of it, too.  We may blithely say, “Everything I have belongs to Jesus.”  Would an impartial bystander be likely to believe that from the way we use our time and the material things that come into our hands?

“For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?”  (1 Corinthians 4:7).  If everything that we have comes from God and is only a loan to us, can we then give 10% back to God, use the other 90% selfishly, and consider ourselves free?

Here is how it looks to me — the most important thing is that God wants us to trust Him completely, not only for our eternal destiny, but for all aspects of our earthly life.  He wants us to trust Him for our material needs, to trust Him to care for our family, our health, and to lead us in a way that will bring true happiness.  “O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23).

When faced with decisions regarding any aspect of our life, our prayer should be, “Lord, what couldst thou have me to do?”  Asking that question, and waiting for the answer, will save us many heartaches.

I hope this doesn’t sound hopelessly idealistic.  I believe it is eminently practical, but we make lots of mistakes in living it.  I like the British expression of “muddling through.”  I’m afraid that’s all that I am capable of, yet I believe that with God’s help I will be able to muddle through somehow.  “ For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14).

Back to the question in the title, I don’t believe that the New Testament Christian is obliged to give 10% of his income.  Many find it a useful guideline.  Some give much less, according to their circumstances and stage of life.  I know many who give several times 10%.  Is it OK to give 20% of our income and 0% of our time?  Perhaps the point is to never feel like we are doing God a favour by our giving.  It didn’t really belong to us in the first place.

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