Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: paganism

The love of God

[The following words were written 19 centuries ago, not long after the time of the apostles. It is part of what is known as The Letter to Diognetus. Neither the author of the letter, nor Diognetus, have ever been satisfactorily identified, but the letter breathes an authentic and dynamic faith. Shouldn’t those two qualities still go together?  Is it just me, or is it really so that those today who profess a dynamic faith are lacking in authenticity? And those who rigorously seek an authentic faith are lacking in dynamism (or vitality)?)

VII. For this is no earthly discovery, as I said, which was delivered into their charge; it is no mortal idea which they regard themselves bound so diligently to guard; it is no stewardship of merely human mysteries with which they have been entrusted.

2. But God Himself in very truth, the almighty and all-creating and invisible God, Himself from heaven planted among men and established in their hearts the Truth and the Word, the holy, incomprehensible Word, sending to men not a servant, as one might imagine, or an angel or ruler, or one of those who administer earthly things, or of those who have been entrusted with the ordering of things in heaven, but the very Artificer and Creator of the universe Himself, by whom He made the heavens, by whom He enclosed the sea within bounds of its own, whose mysteries all the elements faithfully observe, from whom the sun has received the measure of his daily courses to keep, whom the moon obeys as He bids her shine at night, whom the stars obey as they follow the course of the moon, by whom all things have been ordered and defined and placed in subjection, the heavens and things in the heavens, the earth and things in the earth, the sea and things in the sea, fire, air, abyss, things in the heights above, things in the depths beneath, things in the space between — He it was whom God sent to men.

3. Did He send Him, as a man might think, on a mission of domination and fear and terror?

4. Indeed He did not, but in gentleness and meekness He sent Him, as a king sending his own son who is himself a king; He sent Him as God, He sent Him as man to men, He sent Him with the idea of saving, of persuading, not of forcing; for force is no part of the nature of God.

5. He sent Him as inviting, not as pursuing man; He sent Him in love, not in judgment.

6. For He will send Him in judgment; and who shall stand before His presence? . . .

7. (Dost thou not see them) flung to the wild beasts, to make them deny their Lord, and yet unconquered?

8. Dost thou not see that the more of them are punished the more their numbers increase?

9. These things look not like the achievements of man; they are the power of God; they are the proofs of His presence.

VIII. Who among men understood at all what God is, before He came?

2. Or dost thou accept the vain and foolish theories of those famous philosophers, of whom some said that God was fire (giving the name of God to the element into which they themselves are destined to go), and others that He was water, and others again some other of the elements created by God?

3. And indeed if any one of these theories deserves acceptance, each of the remaining creatures might just as readily be proved to be God.

4. But these notions are but the trickery and imposture of magicians.

5. No man ever saw God or made Him known; God revealed Himself.
6. And He revealed Himself through faith, to which alone it has been granted to see God.

7. For God, the Lord and Creator of the universe, who made all things, and set them in order, proved to be not only loving unto man but also longsuffering.

8. Such indeed He ever was and is and will be, kind and good and dispassionate and true — in fact He alone is good.

9. But He conceived a great and unspeakable thought, and this He communicated to His Son alone.

10. While therefore He kept and guarded His wise counsel as a mystery, He seemed indeed to be negligent and careless of us.

11. But when He revealed it through His beloved Son, and made manifest what had been prepared from the beginning, then He bestowed upon us all things at once — to partake of His benefits, and to see and understand things which none of us could ever have expected.

IX. Having therefore planned the whole dispensation already in His own mind in union with the Son, He permitted us during the former time to be carried along by disorderly inclinations just as we wished, and led astray by pleasures and desires, not in any way taking delight in our. sins, but bearing with them, nor again assenting to that age of unrighteousness, but creating all the while the present age of righteousness, so that we, having then been by our own works convicted of our unworthiness of life, might now be rendered worthy by the goodness of God, and having plainly proved that we were unable of ourselves to enter into the kingdom of God, might be enabled so to enter by the power of God.

2. But when our unrighteousness had now been fulfilled, when it had been made completely manifest, that its retribution was awaited in chastisement and death, when the time came which God had ordained to manifest His own goodness and power (O the surpassing kindness and love of God for man!), He did not hate us or reject us or take vengeance upon us, but showed His longsuffering and forbearance; in His mercy He Himself took up the burden of our sins, He Himself gave His own Son as a ransom on our behalf, the holy for the lawless, the innocent for the guilty, the just for the unjust, the incorruptible for the corruptible, the immortal for the mortal.

3. What else could cover our sins but His righteousness?

4. In whom could we lawless and ungodly men be justified but in the Son of God alone?

5. O sweet exchange! O inscrutable operation! O unexpected blessings, that the lawlessness of many should be hidden in one righteous person, and the righteousness of one should justify the lawless many!

6. Having therefore proved in the former time the powerlessness of our nature to win life, and having now revealed a Saviour powerful to save even the powerless, in both these ways He wished us to believe His goodness, to regard Him as guardian, father, teacher, counsellor, physician, mind, light, honour, glory, strength, life, and not to be anxious about clothing and food.

X. If thou, too, desirest this faith, first obtain the knowledge of the Father.

2. For God loved men, for whose sake He made the world, to whom He subjected all things that are in the earth, to whom He gave reason and intelligence, to whom alone He granted to look upward to Him, whom He formed after His own image, to whom He sent His only-begotten Son, to whom He promised the kingdom that is in heaven, yea, and will give it to them that have loved Him.

3. And when thou hast attained this knowledge, with what joy, thinkest thou, wilt thou be filled? Or how wilt thou love Him who so first loved thee?

4. Loving Him, thou wilt be an imitator of His goodness. Wonder not that man can be an imitator of God; by the will of God he can.

5. For happiness consists not in exercising lordship over a neighbour, nor in wishing to have advantage of weaker men, nor in possessing wealth and using force against inferiors. Not in ways like these can a man imitate God; such ways are far removed from I lis majesty.

6. But whosoever takes up his neighbour’s burden, whosoever is willing to use his superiority as a means of benefiting another man who is in this respect his inferior, whosoever bestows upon the needy what he himself holds as a recipient of God’s bounty and so becomes a god to the recipients of his bounty, he is an imitator of God.

7. Then though thou art yet upon earth thou shalt behold that God ruleth in heaven, then shalt thou begin to speak the mysteries of God, then shalt thou love and admire them that are punished for their refusal to deny God, then shalt thou pass judgment upon the deception and delusion of the world, when thou hast learned to know the true life that is in heaven, to despise the seeming death here, and to fear the real death there, which is reserved for them that shall be condemned to the eternal fire which shall punish them that are delivered over unto it, even unto the end. Then shalt thou admire them that endure for righteousness’ sake the fire that lasteth but for a time, when thou hast learned to know that fire yonder. . . .

The God who loves us

People who trust in pagan religions believe there are many gods. These gods spend so much time squabbling among themselves that people need to make great efforts to get their attention.

The religions of the native peoples of North America are much like that, but many of them have a creation account that sounds remarkably like the one in the book of Genesis. In most cases these people believe the Creator is not much interested in their daily lives. The Great Spirit is the one that they pray to. Some tribes believe the Great Spirit is the same as the Creator and wants to help them. Others believe the Great Spirit is a powerful spirit who might do them good, but is just as likely to trick them.

Islam teaches that there is only one god. Allah sent his angel to Mohammed to dictate the words of their holy book. Their holy book is called the Koran, or Qur’an, which means recite. The whole duty of man is to submit to the teachings of the Koran. Islam means submission. Allah is far away and does not give personal answers to prayer.

Judaism believes in the God who is revealed in the Old Testament, the God who loves His people and performed many miracles for them in ages past. Now they are waiting for Messiah to come and restore them to their rightful place of glory in the world.

Christians believe in the same God as the Jews, but the New Testament reveals aspects of God that were only hinted at in the Old Testament. God loves all mankind and sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to suffer and die on the cross for the sins of all mankind. Now the way to heaven is open for anyone who will believe in Jesus. Not only that, but God has given the Holy Spirit to guide each believer through every day of his or her life.

The teaching that there is only one God, but He is three persons in order to better relate to us, is difficult to understand. Really, it is impossible for our human minds to understand just how it can be. But this is what the Bible teaches, and if we could understand everything about God, then we would think ourselves as great as He is.

The Trinity, the reality that God relates to us in three different ways, as three different persons, is what makes Christianity different than all other religions. It is what allows each one of us to know that God loves us personally, every day, wherever we are.

The challenge of Islam

[This post is my translation of a portion of Robert Dubarry’s commentary on the book of Revelation. I bought this book many years ago from a Montréal bookstore. It is undated, but I believe it was written about sixty years ago. M. Dubarry was a French Baptist pastor; I can find next to nothing about him on the internet, but I did come across one mention of an article on the history of the Baptists in France that he wrote in 1912. The following passage is part of his commentary on Revelation 9:1-12.]

The monstrous union of secular power with fallen Christianity since the time of Constantine had assured the domination of paganism disguised as the gospel. Savage doctrinal battles, the domineering and dissolute spirit of the clergy, absurd notions and idolatrous practices, all these things had transformed the holy and blessed piety brought by Jesus into a scandalous religion. Mohammed, faced with such a spectacle and priding himself on never having wanted to learn to read and write, was incapable of making contact with the revelation of true Christianity. Many who have studied his life are persuaded that if he had first known Jesus Christ by other means than these degenerate representatives, he would not have gone further in seeking an ideal alternative to the lamentable state of his epoch and his milieu.

He was born in 571 at Mecca in the desert of Arabia and experienced the harshness of life, yet was endowed with remarkable intelligence despite a mental imbalance probably due to epilepsy. Having an iron will and aware that there must exist a moral ideal superior to that of his time, yet devoid of scruples, he developed the ambition to reform the thinking of his people, which was at that time half pagan, half Christian.

He offered more than paganism by getting rid of the notion of many gods, he brought more than degenerate Christianity by reviving certain elementary principles of order, wisdom, morality, righteousness and piety, sadly lost from the view of the false disciples of Jesus Christ.

But he gave infinitely less than apostolic Christianity, by denying the Trinity, in ignoring redemption, in putting aside true spirituality and opening new avenues for the carnal nature of man through earthly advantages and by heavenly promises entirely contrary to the spirit of the gospel.

Mohamed has sometimes been considered as being in many ways an extremist of oriental Christianity. However that may be, over an immense territory and for more than a thousand years, Islam has become the most insurmountable obstacle ever encountered by the gospel. The simplicity of its doctrine and practices has gained the allegiance of many hearts. Instinctively moulded to man’s natural tendencies, it requires an insignificant minimum of sacrifice for a maximum of privileges. As a substitute for evangelical Christianity, the Enemy could not have done better. The religion of the least effort, Islam has immobilised the thinking, morality and spiritual aspirations of its followers to such an extent that those that it has gained from paganism are too satisfied by this easy gain to imagine that greater spiritual progress might be possible, or even desirable.

It would be inconceivable that in a prophecy of “things which must soon come to pass” there would be no mention of such a great upheaval, involving not only the province of the seven churches of Asia but the whole Orient and even our own nation. For we must not forget that in the eighth century all the south of France was ruled by the Crescent of Mohamed, as was all of Spain until the eleventh century. The charred stones at Nîmes remind us that after seventeen years of Saracen occupation this improvised fortress was liberated by Charles Martel in 737. Islam remains in our day the most difficult missionary problem of all, and for civilized nations the most troubling foreign problem in the political, social, cultural and moral areas.

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