Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: persecution

Meekness

Meekness rhymes with weakness; modern English dictionaries defines it with words that sound like weakness. That is not what the Bible means by meekness.

Meekness is a strength of character that is neither an inherited personality trait nor the work of the human will, but solely a gift of the Holy Spirit. It is an inner strength, founded on trust in God, which enables the child of God to face adversity, opposition and even persecution with assurance and joy rather than resistance or dispute.

The meek do not inherit the earth by strength of will, nor by timid and passive waiting. They proclaim their trust in God, their willingness to suffer injustice for His sake, their refusal to deny God for the sake of temporal safety. They make no counter accusations, but trust that in the end of all things God will judge them and others according to His perfect righteousness.

The Quiet in the Land

MennoSimons

Throughout Christian history, there has always been a united, visible body of believers who professed much the same faith regarding conversion and a personal relationship with God but who refused to conform to the state enforced form of worship of their day. The Martyrs’ Mirror catalogues the faith, and the persecution of these people because of their faith, from the time of the apostles up to the time the book was published in 1660.

Other people decided to live their faith in a way that would not bring persecution. They conformed to the outward practices of the state church, Reformed, Lutheran or Roman Catholic, but professed an inward piety and heartfelt devotion to God

The label of pietism first appeared in the seventeenth century. Some members of the Lutheran Church professed to have received forgiveness of sins through a conversion experience that warmed their hearts and led them to a deeper communion with God. They remained in outward fellowship with the Lutheran Church, attending worship services regularly, receiving communion, and baptizing their babies, but sought fellowship in private gatherings with like-minded people to testify of what God had done for them.

Sometimes the pietists called themselves “the quiet in the land”, from Psalm 35:20. That term, and pietism itself, appealed to large groups of Mennonites who had grown weary of persecution, and may even have forgotten why they had been persecuted. When Mennonites from Prussia settled on colonies in Ukraine 200 years ago they agreed not to proselytize the Russian people. Around them were other German colonies, Roman Catholic and Lutheran. The Mennonites absorbed pietist teachings from Lutheran pietists and called themselves “The Quiet in the Land.”

That term is not part of our Mennonite heritage. Indeed, I feel it marks the abandonment of that heritage. Menno Simons wrote a lengthy article in 1539 entitled Why I do not Cease Teaching and Writing. In other articles he wrote:

This is my only joy and the desire of my heart, that I may extend the borders of the kingdom of God, make known the truth, reprove sin, teach righteousness, feed the hungry souls with the Word of the Lord, lead the stray sheep to the right path, and so win many souls for the Lord, through His Spirit, power and grace,” and

We preach, therefore, as much as is in our power, both day and night, in houses and in the open air, in forests and in wildernesses, hither and thither, in this and in foreign lands, in prisons and in dungeons, in water and in fire, on the scaffold and on the wheel, before lords and princes, orally and by writings at the risk of possessions and blood, life and death; as we have done these many years.”

The reluctance of the pietists to unite with the persecuted church may have saved them much physical suffering. The result of this individualistic approach is the tendency to interpret the Bible in the light of one’s own experience, rather than subjecting one’s experiences to the light of Scripture. They are convinced that they have attained to a level of spiritually and communion with God that is not shared by the common run of professing Christians. Such a person may conform to the outward practices of a church for the sake of avoiding censure or persecution, but does not feel bound to give account of his faith and life to other Christians.

Scales of Justice Call for Balance

Majed El Shafie was born in Cairo, Egypt. After converting to Christianity he was arrested in 1998, tortured and sentenced to death. He managed to escape to Israel, where he was once again arrested. In 2002 he obtained political asylum in Canada and became a Canadian citizen in 2006. He lives in Toronto and is the founder of One Free World International (OFWI) an international human rights organisation which advocates for oppressed religious minorities.
Earlier today he posted an excellent article on the reaction to the murder of George Floyd. The article supports the need for change, but warns against forces that seek to destroy rather than to improve.
The article is entitled Scales of Justice Call for Balance. You can find it here.

Its shame and reproach gladly bear

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One hundred and forty years ago a young Englishman came to an Indian Reserve in Saskatchewan as a missionary. He learned the Cree language well enough to effectively share the gospel and some band members were converted. He returned to England to marry and then came back A church was established and began to grow, his family grew also. After a few more years the missionary had to leave his post on the reserve since there was no one for his children to play with. Not of the correct social class, anyway.

My father would often approach strangers and strike up a conversation by asking “What do you think of Jesus?” Yet he considered black people and “half-breeds” to be inferior people; he reproved his mother for speaking French to their neighbours; he persisted in mispronouncing names that sounded foreign to him.

Shouldn’t Christian faith trump attitudes like that? Why are Christian people so inclined to think themselves superior to others?

It seems that years of living prosperous, untroubled lives has led us to believe that this is the norm for Christians. We carefully select Bible passages that seem to emphasize the blessedness of Christian life. Yet these verses are closely linked to the message of suffering with Christ, with not thinking ourselves better than we are, with rejoicing in persecution. We cannot comprehend those parts, so we invent ways to interpret them as metaphors for minor difficulties in our lives.

Aren’t we missing the whole point of the New Testament? Jesus did not die to save us from suffering in this life. Jesus said: “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33) and “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake” (Matthew 5:11). Paul taught “that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Peter said: “ If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you” (1 Peter 4:14).

We can spiritualise these passages, and others like them, saying they mean something else than what they say. What shall we say then of Christian martyrs of ages past who gloried in these verses and took strength from God to face persecution, torture and death? Or Christians suffering today in other countries.

Are we not missing the essential part of identifying with Christ in His rejection and suffering? I believe we misunderstand what He meant by denying ourselves and taking up our cross daily. The cross is not a minor affliction like rheumatism, nor is it a fashion accessory. It is an instrument of torture and death.

If our faith is going to be without respect of persons, that means that we need to identify with those who are looked down upon by the world, not with those the world looks up to. We must seek the approval of Christ, not the approval of the world.

There is no point in comforting ourselves in the esteem of the world anyway. All signs point to the distinct possibility, or probability, of that being taken away from us. Let’s be true followers of Jesus Christ, whatever the consequences may be.

Mennonites: ethnic group, culture or faith?

In the first few centuries of the Christian era the faith spread far and wide through Asia, Europe and Africa. Then came the time when the Emperor Constantine professed to espouse the Christian faith. For a time persecution ceased.

But the church that made peace with the Imperial power became corrupted by peace and power. Many Christians refused to be part of such a church and maintained the original purity of the faith. So persecution began once more, this time by a church that had become earthly and pagan, yet still called itself Christian. From the records of the persecutions by the Imperial church it is evident that the network of pure churches still stretched across much of the known world.

By the late Middle Ages there was still a network of churches that stretched from Bulgaria to England. They were known as Cathars, Bogomils, Waldenses, Albigenses, Lollards and many other names, but there was communication between them all. The Inquisition, a major, systematic escalation of the persecution almost succeeded in destroying those churches.

In the 1500’s the remnant of the persecuted reorganized and are known to history as Mennonites, after the name of Menno Simons, one of their more prominent leaders. Churches were organized in Flanders, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the Palatinate. The members of these churches spoke Dutch or German. Some of the members in Flanders also spoke French.

Mennonites today are often thought of as a unique Dutch/German ethnic group. Many among them have lost the faith but held on to their Dutch/German culture, leading to confusion as to what it means to be a Mennonite.

I am a Mennonite by faith, but not by culture. I think that should be considered the norm. Our faith goes back to the Apostolic era, it did not begin with Menno Simons (he strongly denied being the founder of a church).

I am a member of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite. A large part of the membership of this church in North America is made up of people of Dutch/German ancestry. This causes confusion, within the church and without.

Yet when it comes to sharing the gospel in other lands, there is no confusion. It is the gospel we are endeavouring to share, not language or lifestyle. There are members of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite in 40 countries around the world. Some are indigenous, not under the tutelage of a mission organization, others are moving in that direction as quickly as local members are ready to take leadership positions, some are new missions.

Much of the international growth has come as a result of tract distribution. Gospel Tract and Bible Society, an agency of the church, distributes millions of tracts, in over 100 languages. In the last few years this has been accelerated by their website. You can find the website here. People can read tracts online, print them for reading at home, order copies for distribution, and ask questions. Some of those with questions may ask “Where is this church? Why isn’t it in my country?” Enough questions like that, ones that show a serious spiritual longing, and a visit is made and a mission may begin.

We are told that the website reaches a new demographic. Previously, many of those who ordered tracts were church leaders or evangelists, now it is more individuals who are searching to understand what Christianity is all about, what Jesus means for their personal life, their home.

Another change in recent years is a great increase of inquiries from French-speaking countries. There are members of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite in six French-speaking countries in Africa and a new mission in a seventh. Visits have been made with interested people in France and there are plans to place a family there for at least a few months.

I also have a French blog, on which I post articles about the Anabaptist faith in history and today. The readership isn’t all that big as yet, but so far this year there have been people from 51 countries who have taken a look at that blog. The top five countries were, in order, the USA, Morocco, Canada, Bénin and France. Do those first two countries surprise you? There are French-speaking people all over the world.

Francophone Anabaptists

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We may think of the Anabaptist faith as having originated among people who spoke German and Dutch. But before them most Anabaptists spoke French. Does that have any significance for us today?

Most of the original explorers and settlers of New France were Protestants. The Roman Catholic Church in France soon moved to prevent further Protestant emigration to New France and the sending of Protestant pastors. For hundreds of years, most Quebeckers have considered Catholicism as essential to their identity.

The Roman Catholic Church of Québec claimed to be the only defender of the French language, saying that if someone left this faith he would also abandon the French language. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy, as the church controlled schools, hospitals, and warned members not to employ a Protestant or buy from a Protestant-owned business.

Times have changed. Almost all denominations known in the rest of Canada are now established in Quebec, including the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite. Yet even in the 21st century, most Quebeckers consider other Christian denominations to be foreign intruders, even though only 6% of them regularly attend Roman Catholic services.

This historic dominance of the Roman Catholic church creates a dilemma in sharing the gospel in the French-speaking world. French is spoken and taught on every continent and virtually every country, but the penetration of the gospel remains much lower than in the English-speaking world. Interest in the gospel is growing; evangelical revival is happening in France; evangelical churches are growing rapidly in many French-speaking African countries.

However, evangelical Protestantism is not the faith once delivered to the saints. That statement may shock some readers, but Protestantism was originally a diluted version of the Anabaptist faith, created by people who feared persecution, and therefore made compromises with the civil authorities. The original Protestant settlers in Québec came from those areas of France where Anabaptists once thrived, but had been persecuted into oblivion.

We want to share the unadulterated old faith with the French-speaking world. To do this, we have to overcome their prejudice that it is a recent invention by North American Anglophones. We must not give the impression that people have to learn English to understand our faith and that the only reliable source documents are written in English. For those of us whose mother tongue is English, we can easily give that impression without realizing we are doing it.

Nine hundred years ago Anabaptist congregations, known as Albigenses and Waldenses, existed across the south of France and in the Alpine valleys France, Italy and Switzerland. Some writings from that period have survived and they teach the same faith that we hold today. The old French needs updating to be read today. I have tried to do that on my French blog, as I feel we should familiarize ourselves with this legacy and make it available to others in the French-speaking world.

Some early Mennonite leaders in the Low Countries spoke French as well as Dutch, such as Dietrich Philips, Jacques le Chandelier, Jacques d’Auchy and others. A book of their writings was published in French in 1626. This book could be a valuable resource for showing the antiquity of our faith, if it was updated to language more accessible to today’s readers.

Many languages are tools to maintain ethnic or tribal identity. French has been used in that way in the past, but now serves more as a bridge between ethnic groups. This is why so many people are learning it as a second language. It is reported that 100 million people are currently learning French.

There are French-speaking people all around us, but they slip below the radar of those who do not recognize French when they hear it spoken. There are eleven million people in the United States who speak French, as many as in Canada. There are 750,000 in western Canada.

The Church of God in Christ, Mennonite is present in seven French-speaking African countries. There are also French-speaking members in Haiti and Quebec and interest in France. We are working hard to make more French literature available, for church members and for those who are seeking. We are developing a presence on the internet, the most effective means of evangelism in the 21st Century.

A faith worth dying for

Many of the Old Testament prophets died for the things they said. They were speaking the truth that God had revealed to them by His Spirit and the leaders of the people could not stand to hear that truth. So they killed the messengers of God thinking that would bring them peace.

The Jewish leaders in Jesus day did the same. Jesus was a threat to their positions and the respect the people had for them, so they killed the messenger. We should not be too harsh in blaming Pilate, he seems to have understood better what Jesus was up to than did the Jewish leaders.

Most of the apostles died as martyrs; people could not accept their message, so they killed the messengers. That has continued through history. The Roman Catholic church probably killed more Christians than pagan empires ever did. After the Reformation the Protestant churches continued the slaughter of Christians who would not accept their compromises.

Worth killing for

The reason for the killing of peaceful Christians has always been that other people saw them as a threat to their authority and position. Not that peace-loving Christians were ever a physical threat. Their offence was that they refused to mix the values of the world with the teachings of Jesus Christ; this was a stinging reproof to those who did. So they have tried to silence and eliminate the messengers.

Worth keeping quiet about

The German pietists thought they had found the solution. They would be outwardly members of the Lutheran church and inwardly born again believers in Jesus Christ. They would attend the Lutheran services, take communion, baptize their babies, get married in the church, then meet privately to share their faith. They called themselves “the quiet in the land.” Some Mennonite groups have also thought this was a good idea. Since they were no longer messengers, they were not in danger of persecution, or even ridicule, for the cause of Christ.

Light and salt

Light is what reveals both truth and error. To be quiet about our faith is to put our candle under a bushel and rob those around us of light.

Salt is what preserves from spoiling. In Old Testament times all sacrifices were salted in order not to offer to God something that was beginning to putrefy. If we feel free to indulge in the unfruitful practices of the world, where is the salt the world needs?

Be always ready

1 Peter 3:15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.

People wonder about us, form conclusions from our silence that impute the things that we do to factors other than a faith in Jesus Christ. When they ask questions, they often don’t know quite what to ask. Let’s not leave them in confusion. We don’t have to be pushy or difficult, but let’s be willing to talk about our faith, nor our culture or our lifestyle.

Perhaps some day that will put our lives at risk. If so, we are in the company of the prophets, apostles and saints of past generations.

© Bob Goodnough

The origins of the Waldensians

One thing that is clear is that there were Waldenses before Peter Waldo, thus it cannot be said that he founded the Waldensian movement, or church. Waldenses, Vaudois in French, means “people of the valleys,” referring to the valleys in the Alps which form the border between France and Italy.

Peter Waldo, Pierre de Vaux in French, means “Peter of the valleys”. Research into his background has not turned up any trace that he originated from Lyon. The city of Lyon is near to the Alps and it is possible that he originated from among the Christians in the alpine valleys, then left to seek his fortune in the big city.

He made his fortune, but it appears his heart was not at rest. He heard the call of God to repentance and forsook all he had gained. Beginning around 1170, he held meetings in his home where he distributed both natural and spiritual food to the poor, having had the Word of God translated into their language. Then he went to Rome to seek approval of the Pope to continue this work of evangelism. The Pope refused to authorize what he was doing and at this point Peter Waldo appears to have realized there was no future for evangelical Christianity in the Roman church.

From here on the details get  murky. He sought the believers in the alpine valleys, but did not remain there long. Perhaps he rekindled the missionary fervour of the Christians in those valleys. Subsequent history mentions appearances of Peter Waldo in other parts of Europe and of itinerant Waldensian missionaries everywhere. Despite living in an era of persecution, Peter Waldo travelled and preached among the common people without being betrayed.  He died a natural death in Bohemia in 1217.

Wonderful as the story of Peter Waldo may be, it does not tell how the Waldensian church began. The excerpt from the article on Antichrist that I posted Saturday dates from at least 50 years before Peter Waldo and reveals a church already well established.
The Antichrist writing dates from the time of Pierre de Bruys; it is possible that he was the writer. Pierre de Bruys was a former Roman Catholic priest who became a very effective evangelist after his conversion. He was active from 1117 to 1131, when he was burned at the stake. There is a section of this writing which gives the “reasons for our separation from Antichrist.”

Another possibility would be Henri, a former Benedictine monk, who preached the same doctrine as Pierre de Bruys from 1116 to 1134. Henri died in prison in 1148. Or the writer may have been someone unknown to history. We mostly know Pierre and Henri to us through the records of their persecutors.

The Antichrist writing says the spirit of iniquity had been active for centuries in the Roman church, but lacked power to suppress all its opponents. It wasn’t until the 11th century that the Roman Catholic church controlled the secular authorities and could use them to eliminate their opponents. Persecution became much more acute, culminating in the Albigensian crusade (1209 to 1229) and the Inquisition in France which began in 1233.

The history of persecution by the Roman Catholic church began long before the year 1,000; it just wasn’t as thorough. The Roman church saw heretics everywhere. Some of them may well have been groups with non-Biblical beliefs and practices. Many of them, though, were genuine evangelical Christians, teaching and living the peaceful doctrine of Jesus Christ. It is from these Christians, in ways lost to history, that the Waldensian church had its origins.

© Bob Goodnough,

The Works of Antichrist

[From a Waldensian writing dating from the year 1120. The historical belief of the Anabaptist-Waldensian-Mennonite faith is that Antichrist refers to a counterfeit of Christ.]

  • The first is that he perverts the worship properly due to God alone, by giving it to Antichrist himself and to his works, to the poor creature, rational or non rational, sensible or senseless; rational as to man, deceased male or female saints, golden images or relics. His works are the sacraments, especially the sacrament of the Eucharist, which he worships as God and as Jesus Christ, together with the things blessed and consecrated by him, and prohibits the worship of God alone.
  • The second work of Antichrist is that he robs and bereaves Christ of His merits, with all the sufficiency of grace, justification, regeneration, remission of sins, sanctification, confirmation and spiritual nourishment, by attributing them to his own authority, to a form of words, to his own works, to the intercession of saints and to the fire of purgatory,  and separates the people from Christ and leads them away to the things said above, that they may not seek those of Christ, nor by Christ, but only in the works of their own hands, and not by a living faith in God, nor in Jesus Christ, nor in the Holy Spirit, but by the will and works of Antichrist, according as he preaches that salvation consists in his works.
  • The third work of Antichrist is that he attributes the regeneration of the Holy Spirit to the dead outward work, baptizing children in that faith and teaching that regeneration must be had by baptism , and then he creates orders and other sacraments, and grounds them all in his Christianity, which is contrary to the Holy Spirit.
  • The fourth work of Antichrist is that he has constituted and built all religion and holiness of the people upon going to mass, and has patched together all manner of ceremonies, some Jewish, some Gentile, some Christian. He leads the congregations and the people to them, thereby depriving them of  spiritual and sacramental nourishment, leading them away from true religion, from the commandments of God, draws them away from works of compassion by his offerings. By such a mass he has captured the people in vain hopes.
  • The fifth work of Antichrist is that he does all his works to be seen, that he may feed his insatiable avarice, that he may make all things for sale and do nothing without simony.
  • The sixth work of Antichrist is that he allows open sin without any ecclesiastical censure and does not excommunicate the impenitent.
  • The seventh work of Antichrist is that he does not govern or maintain unity by the Holy Spirit, but by the secular power, and uses it to regulate spiritual matters.
  • The eighth work of Antichrist is that he hates, persecutes , searches out, robs and destroys the members of Christ.

These things are the principal works which he commits against the truth, they being otherwise numberless and past writing down.

What does the future hold?

“We are now at a point where we must educate our children in what no one knew yesterday and prepare our schools for what no one knows yet.” – Margaret Mead

In a world that is changing in bewildering ways and at bewildering speed, a statement like the above appears at first glance to make good sense. But if we stop and think about it for more than five seconds, it begins to sound pretty scary. We need to get ready for something we don’t know anything about. How do we do that?

I suggest that those of us who believe in Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today and forever, need to be firmly rooted and grounded in our faith. That is not the thinking of people like Margaret Mead, they tell us that Jesus Christ and the values we learn from Him cannot help us in the modern world.

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I beg to differ. Eternal values will be valid for all eternity. We need to cling to them in order to keep our head above water in turbulent times.

The last 2,000 years have often been turbulent times. A study of history brings before us the shipwrecks of those who thought the safe way was to adapt their faith to the predominant thinking of their time. There are also the accounts of those who clung to Jesus, no matter what the cost, and testified of the joy of salvation even in persecution.

How do we prepare for the future? Whether we like it or not, the future is in God’s hands. He knows where the world is going, and how long it is going to last. The only safe way to live is in submission to God’s plan for our lives. Some people don’t like the word submission, I don’t want to risk the consequences of the alternative.

“I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty“ (Revelation 1:8). “I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20).

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