Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: purity

Free will

We must believe in free will — we have no choice. Isaac Bashevis Singer.

Hmm. I wonder what he was getting at? Having nothing more to go on to discern a more complex meaning in Mr. Singer’s thought than this fragment, I will say that I agree.

When Moses told the people “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life;” and Joshua later said to the same people “ Choose you this day whom ye will serve,” we must assume that the people really were free to make the choices offered to them.

Yet many Christian denominations, probably most, teach that we do not have free will to choose our own destiny. They magnify the sovereignty of God to the point of saying that if humans can choose whether or not to answer God’s call then we are saying that God is less than almighty.

But if words mean anything, the Bible is offering us just such a choice, from Genesis to Revelation. Where then do people get the idea that the Bible doesn’t mean what it says?

Determinism, the belief that the gods, karma, fate, or whatever you want to call the ultimate power in the universe, have pre-determined every detail of one’s life, has always been part of Eastern religions. It entered Western thought through Zeno, founder of the Stoic school of philosophy.

It entered pseudo-Christian thought through Augustine, who laid the intellectual foundation for Roman Catholic policy. Augustine adapted Zeno’s thought, saying that God has predestined some people to be saved, and some to be damned. Since it is not given to mankind to know into which category they fall, the church has the right to compel all people within its territory to be members of the church and to turn the non-compliant over to the civil authorities. And since the church and the civil power were in complete unity, disobedience to the church was treason to the state and must be punished by death.

Since it could not be known who was predestined to salvation or damnation, then one could not discern that by the moral conduct of the person. In fact, those who led a pure and holy life were deemed to be deceived and the worst of heretics. This led to such aberrations in the Middle Ages as girls being led to the executioner because they refused the advances of the priests.

During the Protestant Reformation, John Calvin refined the doctrine of Augustine; the essence of Calvin’s doctrine is often described by the TULIP formula:
Total depravity – the depravity of mankind prevents them from choosing to answer God’s call.
Unconditional election – The conduct of the elect has no part in determining their salvation.
Limited atonement – Christ only died for the elect, those predestined to be saved.
Irresistible grace – the grace of God is imparted to the elect, who have no power to resist it.
Perseverance of the saints – The elect can never lose their salvation.

This is the explicit doctrine of the Presbyterian, Reformed and most Baptist churches. Other churches believe much of what Calvin taught, but may be a bit nebulous about the origin of their beliefs.

The problem with believing Calvin’s doctrine is that church pews are occupied by people who believe that they have been born again through the irresistible grace of the Holy Spirit, but show little evidence of leading a Christian life. The old Westminster Confession got around this by saying that a born again person may take many years to develop an assurance of salvation. The modern teaching is that the new birth and conversion are quite different things, the new birth being instantaneous and conversion being a slow, almost imperceptible process.

The Bible makes no such distinction, the words are used interchangeably. There was a transition period for the disciples who walked with Jesus but did not receive the Holy Spirit until the Day of Pentecost. Jesus told Peter “When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” It was only a few days later that Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost and 3,000 were baptized. After that, the Apostle Paul says “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.”

Some may be confused by Paul’s thoughts on predestination. Read the passages as a whole. He is saying that God had predestined that there should be no more division between Jews and Gentiles, but that all could be saved in the same way. He is not speaking of individuals being predestined to salvation. At the end of one long passage on predestination, he writes: “What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith. But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law.”

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Winter – month five

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Snow is such beautiful stuff, so sparkly bright and clean, a symbol of purity. We just got another 30 cm of it over the weekend to mark the beginning of month 5 of winter.

Perhaps you can tell that my enthusiasm is somewhat less than it would have been when I was a seven year old boy. So I try to remind myself of the benefits of snow. When there is snow on the ground we don’t have a bug problem and I don’t have to cut grass or weed flower beds. Plus, this fresh blanket of snow should be thick enough to muffle the mumblings and grumblings about drought – for a few weeks at least.

Honestly, though, I won’t be disappointed when it leaves. Our cats are getting cabin fever, and so are we.

Blessed are the pure in heart

Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.

Well, I have tried to keep myself pure. I read the Bible every day and hardly ever miss a church service. I have been married to the same woman for almost 47 years; it’s been at least 45 years since the last time I got drunk; I quit living in a cloud of cigar smoke about the same time – do you suppose there might be some connection between those three things?

But – Jesus was talking about the pure in heart. Do good things that I do prove that the thoughts and intents of my heart are pure?  Solomon asked: Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin? The prophet Jeremiah said: The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?

So here I am: I want to be pure in heart, but I can’t make it happen. Jeremiah described my predicament many years ago:  O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.

The answer is found in the New Testament, but it is also there in the Old. David prayed: Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.

The path to preparing my heart so that I can see God must begin with God. The Apostle Paul described it this way: For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.

The Holy Spirit dwelling in us will do what we are otherwise incapable of doing. It is being spiritually minded that makes us pure in heart.

Elections

All is quiet on the election front where I live – Canada had a federal election last fall and Saskatchewan had a provincial election just a moth ago. But the media that I read are full of angst and bewilderment about the upcoming presidential elections in the USA and France (this fall in the USA, early 2017 in France). It looks more and more like Donald Trump and Marine LePen have got a real shot at becoming leaders of their respective countries. Based on your political point of view either event could be the beginning of a better way of doing things, or an unmitigated disaster.

What is a Christian to do?

Just about everybody in every country of the Western World es ready to admit that something is seriously amiss. There is no agreement, however, on just what has gone amiss, how it happened, or what can be done to fix it. Does a Christian really want to wade into this mess and get himself befouled in trying to fix it by political means?

As I see it, politicians didn’t get us into this place, and they aren’t going to get us out of it. We live in an era of Big Government, Big Business, Big Education, Big Entertainment and Big Foundations. They have all grown too big to be controlled by anything else than their self-perpetuating Big Bureaucracies. What can a politician do?

Christianity has been known as a movement that could turn the world upside down. We forfeit that influence when we get involved in politics and try to change the world from the top down. Has that ever had good results? It may seem that way for a moment or two, but ultimately power corrupts even those with the purest of good intentions.

So, what is a Christian to do? We will do the most good by living as genuine Christians, keeping ourselves pure and unspotted from the world, praying for all those in positions of authority, being good neighbours, and being ready to give an answer for the hope that lieth within us.

 

Is the salt losing its savour?

“But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints;
neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks. For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience” (Ephesians 5:3-5).

The intention here should not be hard to understand: there should not be the slightest hint of these things among saints, because the wrath of God will be visited upon the disobedient. Have you noticed any of these things coming to a church near you? Isn’t that evidence that the salt is losing its savour?

Salt is the original food preservative. In Old Testament times it was the only means available to prevent food from spoiling. The sacrifices offered at the tabernacle or in the temple had to be pure, so they were salted. This is the inference when Jesus calls His followers the salt of the earth. He wants us to be pure from all defilement and to have salt in ourselves so that we can preserve others around us from defilement.

Of course we are human and even at our best our saltiness is mingled with something of our human imperfection. In like manner, the salt in Old Testament times that was dug from the shores of the Dead Sea was never 100% pure, yet it was effective. There were lower grades of salt with higher levels of other substances, sometimes to the point of there not being enough actual salt in this supposed salt to be of any use.

Jesus warned us not to be like that. If we allow little bits of the impurities of the world around us to infiltrate our lives, pretty soon we will not have enough salt in ourselves to preserve ourselves from the judgment to come. “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men” (Matthew 5:13).

Before we complain too much about the putrefaction of the world around us, perhaps we should ask ourselves if we are salty enough to be of any help.

Don’t be anxious for anything

We were going through self-examination before communion when a frail elderly brother stood and said “I want to say that I have peace with God, but it seems like I should do something to be able to claim that I have peace. I have prayed God to show me if there is anything I need to make right, but nothing comes to me. I don’t know where I’m at.”

One of the ministers called this brother aside and explained to him that if he had honestly prayed God to show him if there was anything in his way, and nothing came to him, that meant that he did have peace. There was nothing he needed to do. Whereupon the dear old brother was able to say “I believe by faith that I have peace with God.”

Jesus taught: “Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift” (Matthew 5:23-24). This is something we consider in self-examination — is there something that hinders me from coming to the communion altar with a clear conscience?

This is well and good, and Scriptural, but it can become a pattern. We expect that we need to find something to confess so that we can claim peace with God. And when we make that confession we feel a release of tension and believe we can now claim that our peace with God is unclouded by any transgression on our part.

Most of the time it is probably genuine, but perhaps there are more serious needs that we don’t want to deal with, yet we feel we have done what was expected of us and claim that all is well. Or, we may be like this old brother and feel we need to confess something, but their is nothing to confess.

What we are missing in both cases is that the peace of God cannot be purchased by our efforts, however sincere and earnest we may be. God does want us to keep our lives pure and uncluttered by things that would be a hindrance to ourselves or others. But all our efforts to maintain a pure and upright life do not earn peace with God. It is a gift. “When he giveth quietness, who then can make trouble?” (Job 34:29).

As I grow older the passage in Philippians 4:6-7 becomes more meaningful to me. (I have changed a few words to follow the French translation of these verses.)

Be anxious for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all intelligence, shall guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

The peace which God gives goes far beyond anything that we can attain to by our intellect. We may feel a certain relief by confessing a wrong, or making restitution for something we have done. We need to do those things, but that relief is not necessarily the peace of God. If we are simply doing things according to our own understanding and feeling satisfied in doing them, there is no keeping power in that. Only the peace of God can bring rest to our hearts and minds and guard them from intrusions of needless anxiety.

Menno Simons: Why I do not cease teaching and writing

“For Zion’s sake I will not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness and the salvation thereof as as a lamp that burneth; and the Gentiles shall see thy righteousness, and all kings thy glory” Isaiah 62:1; 2.

Therefore for the sake of the chosen ones of Zion and of Jerusalem, I can no longer hold my tongue, the truth must be told, so that righteousness may go forth as a light and its salvation burn as a torch, and that all men may know the righteousness of the Lord and all tongues, generations, and people confess His glory. I have sometimes with Jeremiah thought not to teach any more in the name of the Lord, because so many seek my life. Yet, I can no longer hold my tongue, for I am with the prophet very much troubled at heart; my heart trembles in me; all my joints shake and quake when I consider that the whole world, lords, princes, learned and unlearned people, men and women, bond and free are so estranged from Christ Jesus and from evangelical truth and from life eternal.

My good reader, the whole wide world, all tongues, races, and people have in the righteous judgment of God deserted the one God-pleasing position as to doctrine, sacraments, and life. For they have desired the lie more than the truth, and evil more than good. . . The learned ones and the preachers who should reprove such things are themselves committed to such false doctrine, unbelief, and even more abominable idolatry and hellish life. Yes, these learned people diligently lead and drive all men to idolatry, unbelief, transgression, and accursed life, both by their teaching and their example, as most of the learned have from the beginning. They are usually earthy, carnal, and devilish, and they always reject the spiritual and heavenly wisdom and will of Jesus Christ in their life, which restrains carnal lusts as loathsome and fearful. Therefore, since I clearly see this awful despising of the Word of God, and the condemnation of innumerable thousands of souls whom Christ Jesus has so dearly bought and ransomed by His crimson blood, there being no salvation outside of the obedience to the divine Word, therefore I cannot be silent because of the honour and praise of my Lord and God and the salvation of our poor, erring brother, even though it might cost me my life.

Who knows, perhaps through me and through my beloved brethren who are and who shall be, God has chosen a means thereto and provided in His grace that some of those who now unwittingly err may yet acknowledge and confess the right way, doctrine, truth, and life, and walk unblamably in Christ before God and before all the world all the days of their lives. O Lord, let it be so. Amen.

For this reason I am not ashamed to write down, publish, and proclaim loudly, my faith, doctrine, intention, and desire before all men who will hear, no matter who they are. Yes, I do not doubt but if those could see my innermost heart who now assiduously seek my life, then their hatred against me and my brethren would change into love and friendliness.

In the first place, we desire according to the Word of God that no bishop, pastor, or minister should be admitted into the church of the Lord, to teach and administer the sacraments of the Lord, other than those who are comprised in the doctrine, ordinance, and life of our Lord Jesus Christ, and unblamable in all things. 1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6; Leviticus 21:7; Ezekiel 44:21. For the Word of the Lord is truth; it is Spirit and life. These things cannot be administered by the carnally minded, by children of death, nor by liars; but by the truthful, by the spiritually minded, and by those who rightfully confess Christ Jesus, who feel surely the life eternal in their hearts and who live unblamably before God and walk in Christ Jesus, so that they may truthfully say with Paul, Be ye followers of me, even as I am also of Christ.

In the second place, we desire with ardent hearts even at the cost of life and blood that the Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ and His apostles, which only is the true doctrine and will remain so until Jesus Christ comes again upon the clouds, may be taught and preached through all the world as the Lord Jesus commanded His disciples as a last word to them while He was on the earth. Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15.

First published in 1539.

The threefold purpose of the church

As I see it, there is a threefold purpose for the existence of the church of God. Each of these purposes is connected to and dependent upon the other two. Perhaps we could call this a three-legged stool and whenever one of the legs is shorter than the others it creates an unstable situation.

The first purpose is to glorify God. “After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; and cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen” (Revelation 7:9-12). This passage is set around the throne of God in heaven, but we must begin glorifying God here and now in order to be able to continue in eternity.

The second purpose is to provide a sheepfold for the God’s flock – a place where they can be fed, have their wounds cared for and be protected from the enemies seeking to harm them. “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:13-16).

The third purpose is to proclaim the saving gospel of Jesus Christ to others. “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matthew 28:18-20). “And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).

I don’t know that any one of these three purposes has preeminence over the others. If we are truly led of the Holy Spirit, we will accomplish all three.

The fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace and all the rest, must be evident in the church. The church should be a place where the wounded and weary can find true brotherly love that will be a balm to their wounds and speed their recovery. Yet the church must also be pure. Weak members should feel welcome, those who live in wilful disobedience must be reproved and if they do not repent they must not be retained in the sheepfold lest their disobedience be a snare to others. Joy should not be muted in the name of humility, or forced, out of a sense of duty. Peace must be genuine, based on thankfulness for God’s forgiveness and readiness to forgive others. If we let the Spirit do His perfect work in us, there will be no wobbliness in the way the church is perceived by others.

Salt of the earth

“Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men” (Matthew 5:13).

“Not only did the Hebrews make general use of salt in the food of both man and beast, but they used it in their religious services as an accompaniment to the various offerings presented on the altar. . . The meaning which the salt, with its power to strengthen food and preserve it from putrefaction and corruption, imparted to the sacrifice was the unbending truthfulness of that self-surrender to the Lord embodied in the sacrifice, by which all impurity and hypocrisy were repelled.” Unger’s Bible Dictionary

“Mankind, lying in ignorance and wickedness, were as a vast heap, ready to putrefy; but Christ sent forth his disciples, by their lives and doctrines to season it with knowledge and grace. If they are not such as they should be, they are as salt that has lost its savour. If a man can take up the profession of Christ, and yet remain graceless, no other doctrine, no other means, can make him profitable. Our light must shine, by doing such good works as men may see. What is between God and our souls, must be kept to ourselves; but that which is of itself open to the sight of men, we must study to make suitable to our profession, and praiseworthy. We must aim at the glory of God.” – Matthew Henry

According to this explanation, which I consider to be the right one, Jesus was referring to the use of salt as a preservative. It was the only substance in Bible times that could prevent food from putrefying. Jesus applied this metaphorically to Christians as the only ones who could preserve members of the society around them from going rotten, falling into sin and condemnation.

OK. So now, according to Matthew Henry’s metaphor, we have this great heap of humanity beginning to putrefy. Somewhere else, no doubt upwind, we have this heap of salt. How does this fit with Jesus’ parable? Is the salt doing any good if it is not applied where the problem exists?

It isn’t going to do any good to that putrefying mass either if we apply a little of the putrefaction to ourselves and to our message in an attempt to gain a hearing. The Bible tells us we need to keep ourselves unspotted from the world. If that means anything at all, it means that any hint of pride or a holier-than-thou attitude will cause our saltiness to lose its savour.

The truth is that we are just as prone to putrefaction as any other human and our saltiness is only the product of the grace of God in our lives as we submit ourselves to the leading of His Holy Spirit. Then in humility we can mingle with the people of the world and the salt within us will here and there bring purification and healing to others.

“Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his saltness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another” (Mark 9:50).

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