Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

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Practical Christianity

For the past two months my head has been occupied with number crunching to the point that there was little opportunity for wordsmithing. Income tax season officially ends tomorrow and I think I have finished anything pertaining to that for this year. Now I can try to capture and organize the thoughts that have been hiding in the corners of my mind.

Christian news media report that 26 million Americans stopped reading the Bible regularly during COVID19 and that thousands of pastors are nearing burnout. What has gone wrong? Is God letting us down?

I wonder if much of the problem might be an impractical view of how Christianity should work. Some 800 years ago Petr Chelćickỳ lamented that the collusion of emperor and pope had created a situation where there was no discernable difference between the people within the church and those without. How common is such a situation in our day?

Some years ago, a friend who was a pastor in one of Canada’s most liberal denominations told me he thought there were seven or eight real Christians in his congregation. He didn’t name them, but I thought a few of the older people in his church still had spiritual life. How does one pastor a church like that without burning out?

Whie visitng Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts thirty years ago, the man playing the role of Samuel Fuller told me. “The church hierarchy in England says that we are not a legitimate church, because we have no ministers. A church is made up of Christian people; they don’t even have a church. Who made them ministers and bishops?” The Congregational churches of my New England forefathers soon declined to much the same state.

What would practical Christianity look like? Firstly, and most importantly, a church could not be a mixed multitude of saved and unsaved. The unsaved should feel welcome to attend. They should feel drawn to come and find out what this is all about, but to include them in the membership undermines the very foundation of the church.

Secondly, and as a corollary of the first point, the functioning of the church would not be totally dependent upon the ordained ministry. If all members are born-again Christians, then all share responsibility for the life of the church.

Thirdly, pastors are necessary. But what kind of pastors? A tentmaker like Paul is better than someone who views a costly lifestyle as evidence of his success. The biblical qualifications for the ministry are heavy on faithfulness in doctrine, in lifestyle, in family life and in hospitality. Such a pastor will no doubt face opposition and difficulties at times, but will also feel the love, respect and support of those he serves.

Does that sound like an impractical dream? I believe it is highly practical and to to attempt to do church in any other way is doomed to dissension, decline and eventual failure.

Timidity in the pulpit

If spiritual pastors are to refrain from saying anything that might ever, by any possibility, be misunderstood by anybody, they will end – as in fact many of them do – by never saying anything worth hearing. Incidentally, this particular brand of timidity is the besetting sin of the good churchmen.

Dorothy Sayers

On second thought

I posted a couple of articles this week that would have benefited from some sober second thought before sending them out into the unsuspecting world.  It’s not that I think I shouldn’t have said what I said, but i think the articles needed to be turned inside out and upside down, with some things pruned out and more of myself added in.

What I mean by putting more of myself into the articles is that those thoughts have their origin in things I have experienced and observed in real life.  I think that needs to be my starting point, not some statement that comes out of the blue with no visible roots.

Searching for a church is a tricky thing.  Am I looking for a church that agrees with me, or a church that agrees with God?  That isn’t easy to discern.  Since I am a serious, committed Christian, of course the way I see things is the way God sees them.  I have gone down that road and found that it led me to a place where all I could see was the faults of others.

Other Christians do have faults, but are theirs any worse than mine?   I have discovered that if I stop looking at their faults, I can see that they have many attitudes that I would do well to emulate, and gifts that I just don’t have.  We are all doing battle with the same enemies within and without and we need each others help.

However, I have observed a number of disturbing events where pastors and churches did not help seeking souls find the right way.  A young lady began having dreams that the end of the world was coming and she was not ready.  She went to her pastor and he told her, “If you weren’t a Christian you wouldn’t be worried about the end of time.  Don’t let those dreams trouble you.”   But she was not saved, not until several years later.

An older lady had a recurring dream that led her to search the Bible and then led her to give her heart to the Lord.  She was baptized in an evangelical church and all went well for a couple of years.  Then the Lord tried to lead her into a deeper consecration and her pastor told her that she was all right and didn’t need to worry about such things.  A few years later she was back to where she had been before she was converted.

Then there was the pastor of a main line denomination who told me that he believed there were eight or nine real Christians in his congregation.  He was a man with a spiritual vision, but there was little that he could do about it.

These are the kind of things that leave people disappointed and disillusioned with churches.  Some think that God has let them down, others decide Christianity is an unrealistic fairy tale.

But it is not God who has let us down in these situations.  Neither can we become more spiritual by talking about the faults of others.   God’s plan for us does include worship and fellowship with other believers, but we can so easily be detoured by our own ideas of how that is supposed to work out.

What we need is humility, yet we tend to have an allergic reaction when we hear that word.  “What?  You expect me to be a doormat and let everyone else walk all over me?”  Well, a doormat who resents being walked on is not a humble doormat.   A person who is truly humble doesn’t feel like a doormat,.  He lets God direct his life and is continually amazed at the blessings he receives.

 

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