Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: non-conformity

Manufacturing the illusion of diversity

In the city that is an hour away from our home there are 2 synagogues, 2 mosques, 1 Buddhist temple, a few other religious groups and 150 churches, and probably an equal number of Christian charities, para-church organizations, schools, etc. It is true that the majority of the population never attend a worship service of any kind, but among those that do the overwhelming majority prefer something with a Christian flavour over any of the other options.

We were in a coffee shop in this city a few days ago and happened to meet an acquaintance who writes a weekly feature article for the religion page of the daily newspaper. She said the newspaper has told her that she is writing far too much about Christians and should look for things to write about other religions.

Now I grant that the newspaper has the right to do this. But it is just one more evidence that the media today are creating the news, not just reporting it. Most of the people involved in the media are committed believers in the “diversity” zeitgeist. “Diversity” in quotation marks for the simple reason that these people do not believe in the kind of diversity that presently exists, only in their fantasized wonderland which excludes everything that most people consider to be normal.

This is why the media have become cheerleaders for everything LGTB, reporting breathlessly on the great step forward this movement represents in the progress towards fulfillment of human potential. At the same time, if they ever report on anything Christian, the writing drips with disdain for the hopelessly backwards ideas of Christian people. Of course, the media simply represent the prevailing teaching in our universities and schools.

I consider it a hopeful sign that more and more people are opting out of the public education system, choosing either to send their children to a private Christian school or to home school them. Technology offers us the means to access other news sources and to share news on an individual level. Discernment is needed here as much as in reading the mass media, pretty well everyone has some sort of agenda in choosing what news to report or comment on.

And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God (Romans 12:2).

Here is part of Daniel Whedon’s commentary on the above verse: “To this world—The word for world here, αιων, signifies not the physical frame of the globe, (for which κοσμος is the more proper term,) but the living world or age of man. The nonconformity here does not consist of that cheap nonconformity which consists of a peculiar fashion of coat or bonnet. Christianity does not prescribe a certain fashion or costume, or a special grammar. Conformity to our age in things involving no sin or moral depravation is right. It is a waste of moral strength where there is so much real sin and ruin in the world to expend our efforts on incidental trifles. And it was a terribly heathen world in which these Romans lived and the apostle wrote. Christianity had not softened and shaded the world to its own likeness. Hence the external non-conformity of that age meant a wider contrast than is possible now between the Christian and his more immediate surrounding world. Yet in the receding background our present age darkens into a darkness almost as deep as heathenism itself. The age still largely lies in wickedness.

“Transformed… renewing… mind—The apostle strikes deeply. True perfected faith renews the mind, and changes it from the world’s fashion to the model of God’s will.

“Prove—That is, may test or ascertain by a full, rich actual experience. The will of God here is God’s wish or requirement from us. And the terms good, acceptable, and perfect are not, as in our translation, adjectives qualifying will, but adjective nouns in apposition with it. The real meaning, then, is, Ye may prove what God’s requirement of us is; namely, the good, the acceptable, and the perfect. Faith, therefore, is our self-commitment to God, and to all goodness, acceptability, and perfection.”

Perhaps Christianity did for a time “soften and shade the world to its own likeness,” but that is fast disappearing. A Christian’s survival in this present age depends on not permitting his mind to become conformed to the thought patterns of the surrounding world.

Be not conformed to the world (the present age)

And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.  Romans 12:2

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  1 John 2:15

These two verses are often quoted by those who call themselves Anabaptists in support of the doctrine of non-conformity to the world.  But there is a subtle difference in the meaning of these two verses that I fear is often missed.

Let me explain.  World in 1 John 2:15 is kosmos, the physical universe, the earth and its riches, the people of the world, especially those without God.  World in Romans 12:2 is aion, the age or period of time we live in, the spirit and values that are highly esteemed in a particular epoch.  Note that the verse says this world.  French translations say the present age.

1 John 2:15 is cautioning us not to fall in love with the things of the world.  Romans 12:2 is cautioning us not to allow our thoughts to be shaped by the spirit and values that are held dear by the world in the time and place that we live.  In other words, it is possible to identify certain things and actions as worldly, and scrupulously avoid them, yet be entirely worldly-minded.

Buttons were originally hand-made from clam shells, metal, porcelain and other materials.  These buttons were valued for their ornamental function and were priced beyond the reach of the common people.  Most buttons today are mass-produced out of plastic and cost only pennies, yet there are folks today who call themselves anabaptists who refuse to wear buttons because they were used for ornamental purposes three hundred years ago.

I don’t mean to ridicule such people, buttons are not essential to a happy and fulfilling life.  Yet there is a danger that in focussing on avoiding something that was a temptation to pride three centuries ago they may miss more immediate and pressing temptations.

In 1697, Gerrit Roosen, elder of the Mennonite church at Hamburg-Altona in Germany, wrote a letter to Mennonites in Alsace from which I will append some excerpts.  The advice he gives concerns clothing, but could be applied to many other areas of life.  He regards luxury, pride, high-mindedness, fleshly lusts, and stubbornness as being our greatest threats and points out that the objects of our pride and fleshly lusts will vary from country to country and epoch to epoch.

“Moreover, I am heartily sorry that you have been so disturbed by some that think highly of themselves and make laws about things that are not required in the Gospel.  Had the apostolic writings stated how and wherewith a believer should clothe himself, and a person travelling in other countries would find people living contrary to these rules, then this stand might be valid.  But to contradict the Gospel in binding the conscience to a certain form in hats, clothes, shoes, stockings or hair, which forms differ from country to country, and to take upon himself to bann those who will not accept such rules; also to cast out of the Church as leaven those who will not avoid such, is something that neither the Lord Jesus in the Gospels, nor the holy apostles have commanded, to be bound by these outward things, and have given neither laws nor rules in this matter . . .

“In all of Paul’s letters we do not find a single word that he has given commandments to believers what form or style of clothing they should have, but rather he admonishes to condescend to men of low estate in all humility.  I consider it to be proper and right to conduct oneself like the customs of the country in which you sojourn.  But it is reasonable and just that all luxury, pride, high-mindedness and fleshly lusts be avoided (1 John 2), and not quickly accept new styles of clothing nor alter them to conform to fashion.  That is something to be disciplined.  But where it has become common usage in a country it is honourable and proper to accept such usage, but to walk in humility.  Thanks be to God, I do not want lust of the eyes nor pride of this world, but have always worn nearly the same pattern of clothing; but if I put on another style, according to the common usage of the country, should I have been banned because of it?  That would have been unreasonable and contrary to Scripture.  The Lord has, of course, ordained that there should be discipline in the Church of God for stubborn members and such as resist the law of God in the Gospel.  Therein it must arise whether that which we intend to bind will also be bound there, or is commanded to be bound.

“The Holy Scriptures must be our measuring standard.  To them we must submit; not run ahead but follow them; not too rashly, but in carefulness, fear and affliction; for it is a perilous thing in the judgement of God, to bind that which is not bound in heaven.” (From a letter of Gerrit Roosen, dated December 21, 1697.)

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