Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: non-resistance

Inhumanity in the name of God

Anyone who pays attention to the news these days cannot help but be appalled by the brazen, boastful brutality of ISIS, skilfully orchestrated for the maximum in publicity value. If a belief in progress and the advance of civilization had led us to think that such things could never happen again, this should be a rude awakening to the evil of which mankind is capable.

It has always been the tendency of every tribe and nation to believe that their god, or their ideology, was superior to all others and destined to triumph over all others. Therefore, it was surely a good thing to use every means available to hasten that triumph.

The teaching of Jesus Christ of Nazareth was a dramatic break with that kind of thinking. He taught His followers not to resist evil done against them, not to seek revenge, but rather to love their enemies and do good to them. The New Testament church is founded upon those principles, yet very early in church history there were those who professed to hold to those principles, yet yielded to the old imperialist impulses. They thought it was a good thing when Constantine made Christianity the state religion. That meant the end of persecution.

Or did it? Within a few years, Augustine of Hippo introduced the doctrine that the grace of God was so beneficial that it was necessary to bring people into the church by brute force. This was totally contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ, but it led to 1,000 years of brutal persecution all over Europe by the Roman Catholic Church. Christians who did not believe that salvation could be found in the rites and superstitions of the Roman Catholic Church were tortured and killed in all the ways used by ISIS, and more besides. The Roman Catholic church defends itself by saying they did no such thing, it was the governments who carried out ll these acts of brutality. But this was the era where that great city, Rome, reigned over the kings of the earth and required and rewarded such actions by the civil powers.

Karl Marx dreamed of a better world that would be created by class warfare that would eliminate the oppressing classes and lead to the millennium — the dictatorship of the proletariat. That belief led to many years of tribulation in many countries, with unspeakable brutality and untold millions slaughtered — and the millennium did not come. It is a particularly twisted kind of thinking that believes a better world can be created if we kill all the people who stand in the way of that better world.

This all points to the basic need of every human — a new heart. There cannot be peace on earth when there is jealousy, envy, anger and hatred within the hearts of men. Such a change of heart cannot be forced upon anyone, thus compulsion in the name of God must be anathema to Christians.

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 3:13-18)

No compulsion in matters of religion

Around 204 AD, Tertullian wrote: “As the religion of others does not concern us, and neither profits nor harms us; therefore it does not become any one religion to force itself upon another; since it must be accepted voluntarily, and not by coercion, for what is required is the offering of a willing mind.”

In 320 AD Lactantius Firmianus wrote these words to the Emperor Constantine:

“The more the religion of God is suppressed, the more it breaks forth and grows; hence they should employ reasoning and admonition, it is not necessary to proceed with violence. For religion admits of no compulsion; persuasive words can do more to promote the cause than blows.”

In another place he wrote: “We Christians do not desire that any one should serve God, the Creator of all, against his will; neither are we angry if he does not serve Him; for we trust His Majesty, who can easily avenge Himself against those who despise Him, as He does the vexations and injuries inflicted upon His servants. Therefore, when we suffer such shameful things, we say not one word against it, but commit all vengeance to God; not doing as those who would be regarded protectors of their gods; and very cruelly assail those who do not worship them.”

In 1554 Menno Simons wrote: “Faith is a gift of God, therefore it cannot be forced upon any one by worldly authorities or by the sword; alone through the pure doctrine of the Holy Word and with humble ardent prayer it must be obtained of the Holy Ghost as a gift of grace. Moreover, it is not the will of the Master of the house that the tares be rooted up as long as the day of reaping is not at hand, as the Scriptural parable shows with great clearness.

“Now if our persecutors are Christians, as they think, and accept the Word of God, why do they not heed and follow the word and commandment of Christ? Why do they root up the tares before the time? Why do they not fear, lest they root up the good wheat, and not the tares?  Why do they undertake to do the duty of angels who, at the proper time, shall bind the tares in bundles and cast them into the furnace of everlasting fire?”

Kindness does more than violence

Here is another story that was told to Ruben Saillens.

An Anabaptist and his wife were sleeping peacefully in their hut at the edge of the road, when some young men returning from a party in a neighbouring village passed by.

“Look. Here’s the home of the old Anabaptist. Why don’t we play a trick on him?” said one of them.

“Yes, but what?”

“I have an idea,” said the leader, “we will uncover his roof without waking him. He will have the pleasure of sleeping under the stars without knowing it. Can’t you see their surprise in the morning in not seeing a roof over their heads?”

The young men immediately agreed and mounting on the thatched roof, they removed sheaf after sheaf with suppressed chuckles.

But the man was only half asleep. He heard some noise, awoke fully, looked up and saw the stars shining through a large hole above him. He heard voices whispering; he understood what was happening.

“Wake up,” he said to his sleeping wife, “get up quickly and prepare coffee.”

The woman obeyed, and both quickly dressed. Then the Anabaptist opened his door and shouted to the young men:

“My friends, you are doing tiring work. When you have finished, I hope that you will give us the pleasure to come in and drink some hot coffee, that will refresh you.”

Thunder falling among them would not have produced more shock in the group than the appearance and the simple language of the man.

All our young people, crestfallen, came down from the roof without saying a word, and pressed by the Christian and his wife entered their home.

The coffee was ready; they drank it. The old man spoke to his young guests in a Christian and affectionate way; many were touched. Finally, the leader exclaimed:

“This was all fine, my friends. But now that we uncovered the roof, it must be put back in place.”

This was done. Some sheaves of fresh straw replaced the rotten thatch and the hut was better than before. “Kindness does more than violence.”

A different kind of heroism

Ruben Saillens, 1855-1942, was the best-known Baptist preacher of his day in France. In 1895 he visited an Anabaptist community in Switzerland and then published  a couple of historical incidents that he heard from them. Here is one of them.

One day, during the Thirty Years War in Europe, a group of soldiers stopped at the door of an Anabaptist.

“Hey, fellow,” said the squad leader, “show us a clover field where we can pasture the horses of our detachment!”

“Willingly,” replied the old man, “follow me, gentlemen .”

He led the soldiers along a path that bordered superb fields: “It is not necessary to go further , my friend,” said the officer; “the pasture here will suit us very well.”

But the Anabaptist continued to walk, “Do me the favour,” he said almost pleadingly, “to come a little further; I’ll show you a field where you will have all the grass you need.”

The officer, assuming that the man wanted to give them the best fodder in the country continued to follow. Finally they came to piece of land that was large enough, but where the clover was no better than in the fields they had passed.

“Here gentlemen, make yourselves at home!”

“But why,” cried the officer angrily, “have we gone so far, since you are not giving us anything better than what we could have gotten before?”

“I’ll tell you why,” replied the good man. “The fields we have seen are those of my neighbours, this one is mine. If someone has to suffer loss, I’d rather it be me.”

The officer was surprised at this sublime simplicity, this heroism that was so simple, yet much greater than his!

The power of turning the other cheekl

I had devotions at our school this morning. Part of what I told the chlidren and their teachers was the following story from the life of Albert Tait.

Albert Tait lived on a Saulteaux Indian Reservation in North-Western Ontario. The Saulteaux (pronounced Soto) are one of the most widespread First Nations groups in Canada, called Saulteaux because French fur traders first encountered them near Sault Ste. Marie. They are also known as Ojibway, and in South-Western Ontario they are known as Chippewa.

In his younger years Albert was a drinker, a gambler and a fighter. He was a real loser, he always lost at gambling, when he started a fight he always got beat up.  He never had any joy or peace, his life was miserable.

One day Albert became a Christian. That is not the story I want to tell here, but it is the foundation for the one I do want to tell.  After his conversion Albert was no longer a loser, he settled down, married and tried to help others. Eventually he became pastor of an evangelical church in his home village.

One evening his phone rang. It was a man in his village asking Albert to come over and help him. When Albert got to the house there was a group of people gathered, the man and wife were seated on the bed and the wife was crying. Albert asked them what the trouble was, but no one would answer.

Albert opened his Bible and began to read. The man stood up, grabbed the Bible, threw it on the floor and told Albert to leave. He grabbed Albert, started pushing him across the room and finally threw him into a big empty box.  Albert got out of the box, picked up his Bible and read some verses, then left.

A week later the same man called and asked Albert to come . He apologized for fighting with him and said he needed to talk. Albert went, not knowing quite what to expect this time.

The rest of this story is quoted from The Lonely Search, the story of Albert Tait:

“Albert, I’ve wandered away from the Lord,” he said. “I want to get right with God again.”

It was a joy to lead him back to the Lord. Maybe if I had gotten mad when he was trying to throw me out of the house, he might not have asked me to help him. You have to turn the other cheek, like the Bible says. This man follwed the Lord after that.

(Taken from the book, The Lonely Search © 1990 by Owen Salway, published by Indian Life Books, Winnipeg.)

The way of peace

Forty-five years ago I was picking up my mail in a village post office when I heard two older men reminiscing about the war. Somehow the subject of Mennonites came up. “Mennonites!” one of them said angrily, “They should all be lined up against a wall and shot!” The other agreed.

This was at a time when I was just beginning to think about becoming a Mennonite and neither of these men would have been aware of that. They had both served in World War II and were well-respected members of the community. What aroused such feelings of animosity?

I can’t really speak for them, yet those feelings could have been based on several factors.  At the time of the war, Mennonites generally held themselves aloof from the rest of society, to the point of believing there was something almost holy about speaking a Germanic dialect rather than English. As a result, they were not well known or well understood by other Canadians. Some Mennonites seemed to have a sense of entitlement about exemption from military service. Many Canadians may not have been aware that Mennonite boys were serving in alternate service camps during the war, or if they knew, still felt they were being given an unfair advantage.

Peace has always been the central belief of the Anabaptists, Waldensians and Mennonites. Peace with God first of all, then through that peace with our fellow men. Unfortunately, we may sometimes make it seem that the main point of our peace doctrine is non-participation in war. If that is all it amounts to, we are missing the whole foundation of Christian life and the reason why we believe we cannot participate in the shedding of blood.

Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, taught that we should be peacemakers, suffer persecution if need be and turn the other cheek. James wrote that God gives His children a wisdom that is “peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy”; then goes on to say that “the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.”

This is all part of loving our neighbour as ourself. Yet it is very natural and human to think of ourselves first. We are naturally prone to feelings of envy, of being left out, of not being appreciated at our just value. James tells us that these feelings are not heaven-sent, but are earthly, sensual and devilish.

If we take offence at every imagined slight, the peace of God is not reigning in our hearts. We are to esteem others as better than ourselves. Experience should tell us that those who make the greatest efforts to impress others with their own importance are the least appreciated. Yet our concern for others should never be motivated by thoughts of personal advantage.

Canada enacted conscription laws during the two World Wars, but granted exemptions to young men who were members of churches who taught a doctrine of peace. Young men from these churches who were eligible to be conscripted were allowed to join alternative service programs, such as working in forestry camps for the duration of the war.

We understand that if conscription is ever enacted again there will be no automatic exemption based solely upon church membership. Young men and women will be individually examined as to the reality of their personal convictions and whether they have lived according to those convictions.

This is as it should be. Not only our young people, but all of us, should live in such a way that our neighbours know us as peace-loving people, who are always ready to lend a helping hand to a neighbour in need. We should not have a lot to say about the faults of those who govern us; neither should we disdain the poor who have not the courage to believe that anything will ever turn out right for them in life. May we rather be people who can feel the hurts, the sorrows and the joys of others.

I remember my Dad picking me up after school one day when I was nine years old and telling me that my mother was sorrowing that day. She had just received news that her youngest brother, to whom she felt very close, had been killed in Korea. I remember when her last two letters to my uncle were returned unopened and how she kept those letters for years. We need to understand the sorrow of those who have lost loved ones in war.

As Christians, we should never have a sense of entitlement. We are called to serve, not to be served.

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.

A peaceful farmer

This is a story I heard many years ago.  It was told as an actual happening, I think the location may have been in Ontario and the time at least 100 years ago.

A Mennonite farmer, we’ll call him Samuel,  one day noticed a large quantity of grain was missing from one of his bins.  Being a peaceful man, he told no one about it, not even his wife.

Months passed, then one day a neighbour dropped by to pass the time of day with Samuel.  During the conversation, he casually remarked, “Say, I heard you had some grain stolen a while back.”

Samuel replied, just as calmly: “Well, if I were you I wouldn’t tell anybody about it, because you and I are the only two people who know it happened.”

I never heard what the neighbour did next, but evidently his troubled conscience had pushed him into revealing his guilt.

 

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