Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: peace

Looking for real Mennonites

All I learned about Mennonites while I was growing up was that my mother had been one and had left because the German language was more important than the faith and that my grandma, a dear sweet old lady, was one and wanted me to learn German so I could be a Christian.

Perhaps there was one more thing. My mother, though no longer member of a Mennonite church, seemed to have carried some of the faith in her baggage when she left. There was something about her that was more peaceful and attractive than the argumentative faith of my father.

In my mid twenties I decided I wanted to know more about Mennonites. This was half a century ago, long before you could go to your computer and ask google to find the information you wanted. Encyclopedias offered a little information, but I wasn’t sure they were getting it right. So I bought a book, probably more than one, I forget.

As I read Mennonite history I discovered a group of people who truly believed in God, who loved God, knew they were loved by God, and believed God wanted them to love everyone else. For some reason the state churches believed such a faith was subversive and persecuted the Mennonites. The Mennonites treasured their faith more than their homes, material possessions, even their lives. They were burnt at the stake and kept telling the bystanders about the love of God as long as they had breath.

I read about a time when soldiers seized a stock of books written by Menno Simons and were about to burn them in the town square. Several daring men began grabbing books from the pile and passing them to the bystanders, who immediately fled. It all happened so quickly that the few soldiers present were unable to prevent it and were left with almost nothing to burn.

There had been a power in that faith that I longed for. I knew there were many kinds of Mennonites in our province and hoped that somewhere I could find that old faith sill living.

I got up early one Sunday morning, dressed in my best clothes and drove into a nearby city to attend a Mennonite service. I was impressed by the simplicity of the non-liturgical service, don’t remember anything about the sermon, but hoped to learn more about this church. However, it appeared that I was an invisible person. One or two people nodded to me as we left that service, but none appeared interested in the stranger in their midst. I tried again several weeks later, with the same result.

I still thought that the faith I had read about must surely exist somewhere, but I gave up looking until after I was married. We experienced more disappointments and came to realize that most churches that called themselves Mennonite had no idea what the name meant. But we still kept looking.

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Manchester and the Crusaders

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Islamic extremists are telling Muslim youths that it is their religious duty to strike back at Christian nations because they are descendants of the Crusaders who wreaked havoc upon Muslims many years ago. There are serious flaws in this simplistic approach:

1. The Crusades were efforts by the popes to expand their political influence. Religion was only a camouflage for their real purpose.

2. Crusades were directed against people who also called themselves Christians but were not Roman Catholics: The destruction of Constantinople, the seat of the Greek Orthodox faith; the Albigensian Crusade that soaked the south of France in blood.

3. The Crusades were manifestly contrary to the true faith in Jesus Christ, a fact recognized even by most Roman Catholics of our day.

4. It is absurd to label the nations of Europe and North America as Christian nations when the majority of people have no connection to a church.

5. The Crusades probably did as much harm to Christianity as they did to Islam. Besides the slaughter of innocent non Roman Catholic Christians, they have left a lasting stain on many people’s perception of Christianity.

In the same way, Islamic extremists of our day are doing more harm to their fellow Muslims than they are to Christians.

Leaving aside all thoughts about the nature of the Islamic faith, I believe most Muslim people want to live in peace. They don’t really want to be looked upon as accomplices or sympathizers of the extremists. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Muslim parents and Imams everywhere could find a way to teach their children that acts of brutality and the slaughter of innocent children are doing more harm to other Muslims than to anyone else?

Have we misdiagnosed the problem?

It is at least 50 years since C.S. Lewis wrote: “The greatest barrier I have met is the almost total absence from the minds of my audience of any sense of sin . . . We have to convince our hearers of the unwelcome diagnosis before we can expect then to welcome the news of the remedy.” (from God in the Dock, published by Eerdmans.)

The evangelism methods of 100 years ago still work quite well in many places in third world countries. Not so well in North America and Europe. In fact, hardly at all. Why, they don’t even seem to have a lot of impact on children raised in Christian homes.

Evangelicals have responded in various ways: We have to try harder; We have to make our approach more seeker-friendly; We have to avoid those parts of the gospel message that people find offensive.

Have we misdiagnosed the problem? People have been told for the last 100 years, by people calling themselves Christian, that it is the society around us that needs fixing; people aren’t sinners, the world we live in is sinful. Fix the world and we can all live like Christ wants us to live.

There is now a continual hubbub around us of people trying to save the world. And it seems that they are in a constant state of outrage towards those who don’t wholeheartedly endorse their project for fixing the world. If one steps back a moment to observe, it all goes to prove that people are indeed sinners. The anger, hatred, harassment and violence that comes forth from attempts to save the world actually prove the need for the message of the gospel.

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)

Inherit the earth

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth

I guess by now it is evident that I have been meditating on the Beatitudes. The Sermon on the Mount is the cornerstone of Mennonite doctrine. Things like the right understanding of prophecy and the sacraments are important to us, too, but not nearly to the same extent as in many other church traditions.

God promised a land to Abraham and to his seed. Finally, during the reign of Solomon, the children of Israel possessed the full extent of the promised land, in peace. And that was it, that land has not had peace at any time since then.

What happened to God’s promise? The epistle to the Hebrews has this to say of Abraham: “For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” And a little later: “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. . . But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.”

The promised land will have its full accomplishment in heaven, where there will be no more wars, or rumours of wars. Yet there is even now a place of safety and stability for the children of God. Perhaps not always a place of physical security, but a place of peace and contentment, and of spiritual security, for those who truly are seeking that better country.

The meek will find that spiritual land and make it their home. Those who battle for their right to be left in peace, those who feel it their duty to defeat all who are hostile to their belief, make themselves incapable of recognizing that place of peace when they see it. It is the heritage of those who are strangers and pilgrims amidst the turmoil of this world.

Finding peace in time of sickness

Most of us, at least in Canada, have heard the sad story of the young couple convicted of failing to provide the necessaries of life to their child. The boy was sick for 2½ weeks, a friend told them it was probably meningitis, but they never took him to a doctor until he stopped breathing.

They were loving parents and did their best, according to their understanding, to help their little boy. Their understanding was that natural remedies were superior to anything the medical profession might have to offer.

These parents have lost their little boy and have been convicted of a criminal offense. I think they have suffered enough – a prison term would serve no purpose. But perhaps there needs to be a conversation about the limits of alternative medicine.

Some folks are of the opinion that herbal remedies are inherently superior to prescription medicines, and have no side effects because they are natural substances derived from plants. The situation is more complex than that. Many prescription meds are derived from plants; some “natural” remedies are useful, some are worthless and others are downright dangerous. I cannot take ginseng because it is too hard on my heart. Tobacco and heroin are derived from plants.

Friends recently told of a child that was born some years ago with congenital hip dysplasia, a condition where the hip socket does not form. If this condition is discovered in a newborn the remedy is simple – keep the legs spread apart for some months and the hip socket will form naturally. In this case the condition was not discovered until the girl started to walk, when it was seen that one leg would turn at odd angles. Well meaning friends advised the parents to take the little girl to a chiropractor. There is nothing a chiropractor can do by manipulation to manufacture a hip socket. By this time the little girl needed surgery, and she got it.

I am particularly troubled by the many Christian people who are prone to trust alternative medicine and therapies more than the medical profession. Many alternative therapies are based on a belief system that is not compatible with Christian faith.

A sister who was dying of cancer about 35 years ago faced the future with unwavering faith. The thing that troubled her the most was the Christian brothers and sisters who would press her to try some natural remedy or other, with such urgency that it appeared they thought that if she didn’t use their proposed remedy it would be her fault if she died.

As Christians we believe in miracles and there are instances of remarkable recoveries after a prayer for healing. I have also known cases where someone claimed to have been miraculously healed, only to die a year or so later from the disease they were healed from. It seems to me that cases of healing as a result of prayer are more common in places where medical help is not available.

Some people put far too much faith in doctors, expect them to have a remedy for every little ache, discomfort or worry. But is it pleasing to God if we go to the opposite extreme and mistrust the people around us who are most able to help in case of serious health conditions?

Such mistrust is often expressed in the name of God, claiming that He has a better way – a natural way. Yet there is often little evidence of a calm and peaceful trust in God. It seems to me that the best way is to trust God to lead us, and most often that will mean also trusting the guidance of our family doctor and whoever he refers us to. If God is truly leading us, we will have peace and quietness within.

Visit from a government auditor

One of my bookkeeping clients missed a few payments to the CRA (Canada Revenue Agency). Since the relevant financial records are stored on my computer I received a call from a lady at the CRA about two weeks ago  wanting to make an appointment for an audit. That visit took place two days ago.

The auditor had talked to my client, who explained the circumstances that caused him to get behind. He promised that he would be able to keep up to date with payments from now on and pay off the arrears if given enough time. When she came to see me, I was able to present her with all the relevant records and she was satisfied that all was in order and that we weren’t trying to conceal anything.

An upcoming visit from a CRA auditor sends shivers up some people’s spines. It doesn’t have to be a scary event if we are completely open, with nothing to hide. In this case, the lady and I spent a good part of the time visiting about our families and she left with the assurance that she had found everything in order.

One day, we are all going to be audited by the Ruler of the universe. If we are trying to cover something up it will be glaringly evident in that day. Wouldn’t it be best to allow Him to search our hearts today to see if there is anything that is not in order?

Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts:
And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
Psalm 139:23-24

Why I wear a poppy

One hundred years ago Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae wrote the poem, In Flanders Fields.  McCrae was a surgeon with a Canadian artillery regiment in the First World War and a day earlier had buried a close friend on the battlefield near Ypres, Belgium. Poppy seeds lie dormant in the ground until the soil is disturbed by cultivation or some other cause.  The soil at Ypres had been thoroughly disturbed by the digging of trenches and graves.  As McCrae wrote, the area where his friend and many other soldiers lay buried was covered with red poppy flowers.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

This poem is the reason that so many people in Canada wear a red poppy pin on Remembrance Day and the days leading up to it. It is our way of showing respect for those who have suffered n war.

The last verse of the poem speaks of taking up the quarrel with the foe.  This militaristic sentiment might raise the question of whether a non-resistant Christian should wear a poppy.

I was four years old when I first saw my uncle Garry after the Second World War.  The scar on his chin was very striking to a young lad; he had been struck by shrapnel and part of his chin blown away.  When he was found and carried back to the hospital tent, they placed him on a board laid across two barrels and the wound was cleaned and sewn up without benefit of anaesthetic.

Uncle Norman was my mother’s youngest brother, born when she was 18.  She claimed that she was the one who raised him; her mother was busy with all the other responsibilities of caring for her large family.  One day when I was nine years old my father was waiting for me when I got out of school.  On the way home, he told me that they had received news that Uncle Norman had been killed in Korea.  A few weeks later my mother’s last letters to him were returned unopened.

Not many people who have been involved in war ever glory about what they have done.  The memories are too painful.  It is not unusual to hear stories of children going through a trunk of their father’s effects after his death and finding medals and citations for bravery in battle.  Dad had never mentioned them; he had been a hero in the war, but when the war was over he just wanted to forget what he had seen.

I have no desire to appear to be unmoved by the suffering of war. That is why I wear a poppy.

(This is a slightly edited repeat of a post from two years ago.)

A refuge from the storm

Abner slipped out of his bedroom and into the spare bedroom. Even there the angry voice of Papa Zedner disturbed his attempts to read. Abner knew that his father wasn’t angry with him, but he knew from experience it was best to avoid giving opportunity for it to be directed at him. Papa Zedner’s anger was like the prairie winds, all one could do was give it time to blow itself out.

The best thing would be to explore the new farm. Abner slipped out the door and walked to the barn and the gate to the corral. He was going to open the wooden gate, then saw that one side of the gate was fastened to a heavy post, leaving a gap between the post and the corner of the barn just big enough for an eleven-year-old boy to slip through if he turned sideways.

Abner walked through the corral and the open gate that led to the pasture. He hadn’t gone far when a tiny bird appeared in front of him; it’s wings a blur. Abner stopped; the bird stopped. For a moment they eyed each other, almost nose to nose, then the bird zipped away. The storm of the house vanished with the bird and Abner stepped forward to discover what wonders might lie before him.

He had been walking beside the ravine that ran through their yard and now that ravine merged with another that came from the town. Buffalo berry bushes grew on the hill sides of the ravines, with wild roses scattered among them. He walked across the bottom of the ravine and up the steep slope on the other side. The shrill whistle of a gopher alerted him to the gopher mounds at the top of the hill. The gophers were gone, warned by the whistle that an intruder was present.

A little farther along on the flat pasture land above the ravine he saw a group of circular depressions in the ground. Tipi rings! What else could they be? He had noticed that part of the ravine bank was almost vertical.  That hadn’t seemed significant before, but now it became a buffalo jump and scenes of the buffalo hunt appeared in his imagination.

He walked further along the top of the ravine, seeing how it turned first one way and then the other. Just ahead of him the ravine turned again and the hill on the inside of the turn was the highest point in the pasture. Then he saw the rock. Halfway down the hillside there was a hollow in the side of the hill and at the bottom of this hollow was a huge rock.

As Abner ran to get a closer look, he felt as though this rock was the reason he had come out to the pasture. He knew it was a buffalo rubbing stone, even if he had never seen one before. Worn smooth by thousands, no millions, of buffalo rubbing their itching sides on it, the ground around it eroded by the hooves of the buffalo, it had once served to remove their winter coats. There were still brown hairs caught in the crevices of the rock. Abner knew they must be cattle hairs, the buffalo had been gone too long. But still . . .

The rock was oblong, the sides and corners almost squared off, with a step up about halfway along the top, like giant steps, or a chair for a giant. Abner tried sitting on it, but it felt best to sit on the ground beside it. When he did so, he looked around and there were no fences, power lines, roads or buildings to be seen. There were not even any sounds to betray the impression that he was back in the time before the settlers came. Perhaps even now the hunters were camping not far away, preparing the buffalo hides and pemmican from their hunt.

The rock had stood here for ages, a friend to the buffalo, perhaps a landmark for the hunters. It has survived summer heat and winter cold, prairie fires, droughts, floods. And for a young boy it had now become a refuge from the storms at home. It was time for Abner to go, but he felt peaceful now and knew he would return.

What is wrong with the world?

“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). The Bible has a lot to say about the world and the danger there is if Christians become worldly. Why? What is there about the world that is so dangerous for the Christian?

What I say here will not be a complete answer to those questions, just a few thoughts on the subject of worldliness. First of all, the danger in worldliness did not originate with things and it does not consist primarily of things. There is a spirit of the world that is always opposed to Christian faith, but which manifests itself in ever changing ways. We can avoid most all of the things that some people label as worldly, yet still be pretty much completely worldly minded.

The apostle John went on to write: ” For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever” verses 16 & 17).

I believe it is fair to conclude from this that when we feel that we have a right to do all the things that we want to do, and have all the things that we want, that is the spirit of the world. On the other hand, the Bible teaches that a Christian should always consider the good of others.

We may wonder if God doesn’t want us to do or have the things that will make us happy. But a selfish person is never happy. There is always something more that is needed to make such a person happy.

This lack of happiness is just the beginning, it often leads to envy, jealousy and anger. Then comes the belief that other people are to blame for our lack of happiness. This can even be made to sound unselfish: the people who are running things are being unjust, trampling upon the needs of the weak. Something must be done to set things to right. Media, politicians and social activists all have long lists of things that are wrong in the world and have many proposals on how to set things right.

As a result the world is a seething, tempestuous sea of unfulfilled desires, bruised emotions, anger and even hatred. Ideas of right and wrong, of what makes for a good life, are constantly changing. Every time something is done to set things right, more people are hurt and new ideas come to the surface.

True peace, freedom and happiness can only be found when there is a solid, unchanging foundation. It may seem to be almost within our reach when we are immersed in the restless sea of the world, yet it always eludes us. Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is that sure and changeless foundation.

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)

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