Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: preachers

A church of nobodies

Historians appear to believe that wherever there was something important going on there must have been some big shots behind it. When they look at the history of Christianity, the Catholics and Protestants had all the big shots. Since they find no big shots on the side of those we call Anabaptists, they assume that nothing was happening.

But the very essence of Christianity is that there can be only one big shot, and that is God Himself. Even Jesus did not conduct Himself as a big shot. That was the problem the Scribes and Pharisees had with Him; they wanted a Messiah who would sweep away the Roman oppressors and rule the world from Jerusalem. Dispensationalists are in full agreement with that, and say that since His plan was foiled the first time the earthly kingdom will be established at His Second Coming. The problem with that line of thought is that it would make Jesus a fomenter of sedition and provide just cause for the Romans to execute Him. But Jesus said plainly “My kingdom is not of this world”, and the Roman governor found no fault in Him, going so far as to wash his hands of the whole affair.

So Jesus is not our big shot. He is the most important man in the history of the world, but a nobody in the eyes of the world. His followers, from the apostles to the present day, have also been nobodies.

We should not, however, read too much into the opinion of the Sanhedrin that the apostles were unlearned and ignorant men. The apostles were fluent in Aramaic and Greek, knew the Scriptures better than most of us do today, and were well acquainted with the Greek culture around them. But they were not learned in all the petty intricacies of rabbinic interpretations and regulations.

Once we stop looking for the big shots in the movement variously known as Donatist, Cathar, Anabaptist, Waldensian, etc, it becomes obvious that there was a whole lot going on. Thieleman van Braght scoured the ancient records and published his findings in the Martyrs Mirror.

A more recent book is The Anatomy of a Hybrid by Leonard Verduin. The hybrid in the title of the book refers to state churches which united secular authority with spiritual authority, beginning when the Roman Emperor Constantine professed Christianity and then assumed authority over the Roman Catholic Church. Verduin is a thorough scholar who shows clearly the evidences of a continuing alternate church movement from the time the hybrid first departed from the faith once delivered to the saints. He points out that the Mennonite movement began in locations where the Waldensians had recently flourished.

Another facet of looking for the big shots is evident in the attention church historians pay to councils of Roman Catholic bishops, called by a Roman Emperor, to decide matters of essential Christian doctrines. I believe those matters were decided long before the councils by the Holy Spirit working through a bunch of nobodies.

Let the world have its dynamic and charismatic preachers. We pray that they will do some good in making known the saving gospel of Jesus Christ. But we fear, as Menno Simons once wrote: “so long as the world donates such splendid houses and large incomes to their preachers, the false prophets and deceivers will be numerous.”

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The achilles heel of reference Bibles

An ancient Waldensian confession of faith states that their preachers were required, before being ordained, to memorize the gospels of Matthew and John, all the Epistles, and a good part of the writings of Solomon, David and the prophets. Of course that was necessary in their day, before the invention of the printing press. After all, a manuscript copy of the Scriptures was far too bulky to be carried about.

Nowadays we have reference Bibles and electronic Bibles that allow us to look up relevant verses on any topic that we are concerned about. With all that information about the Word of God at our fingertips, one would think that knowledge and understanding of the Word would be increasing at an exponential rate. Is it?

Not as far as I can see. The thing that is being missed in this reliance on search tools is that knowledge and understanding of the Bible is contextual and cumulative. If we do not understand the context in which one passage of Scripture was written, and how it is connected to all the rest of Scripture, we are pretty much Scripturally illiterate.

We need to read the whole Bible, and read it again and again. In doing that, we begin to see the whole picture; and we find that the Bible interprets itself. When we only read snatches here and there, we are reading Scriptures out of context all the time and then we need someone to tell us how it all fits together. Lots of people are quite willing to do that, but can we trust their interpretations? How can we even know if they are trustworthy if we don’t really know the Bible ourselves?

The Bible should not be treated as a black box that we can reach into and pull out a short passage of Scripture each morning to inspire us for that day. We are missing so much if we do not read a book of the Bible from beginning to end, reading a part each day. That is the way that our understanding will grow about what God has been doing in the world all these many years, and what He expects of us. The plan of salvation is implicit in the Old Testament, but we don’t really get it until we read the New. But we don’t really get what the New Testament is saying either if we haven’t read the Old.

All the Bible is interrelated and fits together in a way that reveals the hand of God at work over the many centuries it took to complete the book. It is a bottomless well of spiritual water, but we have to pump it up for ourselves. Let’s not drink from the stagnant pools that someone else has pumped and left behind.

Is Jesus’ “ground crew” the real problem?

Some folks have been heard to say that they love the Lord, but the don’t have much use for His ground crew. I confess that my first impulse is to be sympathetic to their point of view, having encountered a number of questionable representatives of that group. That impulse is tempered by the realization that I might be someone that such people wouldn’t want to be part of the ground crew.

What kind of a ground crew would gain the confidence of those people? To hear them tell it, they want to be introduced to a warm, friendly Jesus who will be their buddy and tell them the way they life is just fine with Him and everything is going to be all right in the end. Some preachers come pretty close to offering such a Jesus, but most everyone knows this Jesus is an imposter.There appears to be an irreconcilable gulf between the desire to live a meaningless life and the desire to be accepted by a meaningful Jesus.

Jesus Himself is the real problem. He says very divisive things like: ” I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me;” “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple;” ” If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.”

He demands our full, unconditional allegiance. He says that His way is the only way to find peace and happiness. That’s pretty exclusive thinking; there are all kinds of religions out there that promise peace, fulfilment, happiness. Don’t they all promise the same thing? Isn’t one just as good as another?

The thing that some people eventually figure out is that Jesus is the only one who can deliver what He promises. All the other ways leave people feeling alienated, angry, fearful, worthless. When we follow Jesus we learn that we are loved, that we are valuable in the sight of God. And we learn to love other people in a way we never could before.

That last point is tremendously important. Someone who claims to know Jesus but can’t get along with others, doesn’t really know Jesus. I can imagine that Jesus and I are in complete agreement and that anyone that does not see things as we see them is an enemy. That is deception; that’s just not how Christian faith works. ” If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”

Our job, if we are part of Jesus’ “ground crew”, is not to describe Jesus as we imagine Him to be, but to introduce people to the real Jesus. The more we become like Him, the better we should be at that introduction.

Remedy for the Indian problem

Starting in 1701, the government made treaties with the Indians living in Canada. The treaties were rather open-ended arrangements, promising schooling and health care, giving the Indians parcels of land for their exclusive use, but not limiting their right to hunt, fish, and trap wherever they wanted.

Left to their own devices, the Indians would have found a way to prosper in the new reality of a land dominated by other people. But the government considered them to be a problem. Rather than establishing schools where the people lived, they established residential schools far away. All the better to teach the children how to fit in the new society, so they said.

At the same time, Indian agents were established on every reserve to manage things. Indians were not allowed to leave the reserves without permission of the Indian agent. So the children finished their schooling, where they were taught to be ashamed of their Indian heritage, then sent back to the reserves and not allowed to leave. Here we see the genius that a bureaucracy has for taking a small problem that would have corrected itself and transforming it into a great big problem that will last for generations.

In the course of time, the Indians began to develop their own bureaucracy. On the national level it is called the Assembly of First Nations; in addition each province has its own Indian bureaucracy, here in Saskatchewan it is the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations.

Both bureaucracies have endeavoured for years to find a solution to the Indian problem, most of them involving the spending of large sums of money with little visible results. It is in the nature of bureaucracies to find ways to invent solutions to problems that just make the problem more complex. The Indian problem is money in the pocket for the people in both bureaucracies; if there ever was a genuine solution, a lot of people would be out of a job.

Twenty years ago a French language news magazine ran pictures of Cree Indian communities around James Bay. The communities in Ontario consisted of dilapidated housing and the text explained that in these communities most people were unemployed, there was rampant alcoholism and crime, and school attendance was sporadic at best. On the Québec side, the houses were neat, clean and well maintained, there was very little unemployment, crime or alcohol problem and the children were faithfully attending school. The article asked why there was such a difference, but offered no answer.

The difference is that on the Québec side evangelical missionaries had brought the gospel and it the people had received it. The majority of the people in those communities are now Christians. Once parents are converted, they stop drinking and begin to take responsibility for their homes and their children. They want to work and provide a living for their families. Those communities were transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ. The communities on the Ontario side were not.

Billy Diamond grew up in one of those Québec communities at a time of 100% alcoholism, 100% unemployment and 100% welfare (his description). He went away to university, came back and was elected chief at the age of 21. Shamanism was the people’s religion, until an Indian preacher came and began holding services. A few people went at first, then one of the most powerful shamans got converted. News spread like wildfire and more and more people came and got converted. Billy Diamond and the band council cut off the welfare of those who got converted. This only seemed to make them happier.

About this time Hydro Québec began planning the huge James Bay hydroelectric project that would flood a large area of their hunting grounds. Billy Diamond became Grand Chief of all the Cree in Northern Québec and negotiated a very good settlement with Hydro Québec. Suddenly he was national news; he travelled across the country, sometimes speaking three times a day, appearing on talk shows and lapping up all the attention.

Billy Diamond was a big man physically and he became a very big man in his own eyes. Too big for his backward little community. He went home to say good-bye and cut his ties. His wife had become a Christian; too bad, she could stay if she wished.

A friend came to tell him that he wasn’t running away from his family, he was running away from God. He began to think bitter thoughts: “How dare these preachers come into my community and take over my people? We were doing okay before without them.”

Then he remembered the 100% alcoholism, unemployment and welfare and how that had changed after the preachers came. He began to get curious and the next meeting he went to church for the first time in his life, sitting near the door to make his escape if things got too uncomfortable. He began to shake as soon as he sat down and as the preacher spoke, the tears began flowing down his face. That night he surrendered his life to Jesus Christ, asking forgiveness for his sins against God and for the way he had persecuted His people.

Billy Diamond says he walked into that meeting a drunk and walked out a sober man. He is still living with his wife in that community and manages a local business.

There is the remedy to the Indian problem, the same remedy that worked for me and everyone else who comes to Jesus. It is not something that can be done by bureaucracies. It is not something that starts at the top with a Grand Chief. It starts with the little people at the bottom, but as their lives are transformed by the blood of Jesus Christ, sometimes even a Grand Chief will abandon his pride and ambition to become one of God’s children.

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