Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: religion

The fisherman’s net

fishing-net-1526496_1280

By the time I started reading the Bible for myself I had abandoned all belief in the Christianity that I had been taught at home and in the church of my youth. I had read books on philosophy and on esoteric religions. It was interesting to consider all the permutations and combinations of their explanations of the meaning of life, but not very satisfying for one looking for some clues about how to find something meaningful in the life he was living.  I began to feel there might be something in this Christianity stuff after all, but I was quite sure that I could not trust most of the Bible.

Thus I began to read the Bible, hoping to find that there were some nuggets of truth in it that I could use to realign my life. I don’t know how long it took – weeks, months – but a shocking realization began to dawn on me. The things I didn’t want to believe were linked to the things I did want to believe. Things I wanted to dismiss as mythology and the brutality of some of the Old Testament accounts, were picked up by the prophets, the apostles and Jesus Himself and shown to be part of a great cosmic story of the battle between good and evil.

I could no longer imagine that some elements of the Bible were worthy of belief and others were not. I could not separate the strands, each one was linked to others in a way that meant that everything in the Bible was linked to everything else. I was facing a decision – either the whole Bible was false and I should reject it and never open it again, or it was all true and was pointing me to a life of fulfillment that would one day lead to an eternity in heaven.

By this time I was inside the net, although I could have made my escape if I had wished. Soon after I came to the point of repentance and the surrender of my will and became a new born child of God. I have spent much time since then surveying all the strands that make up this net and the way they are tied and bound together.

Jesus told a group of fishermen “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” As we read the New Testament, we see how expertly they used the net of God’s Word, expounding  the Law and the Prophets to show how the old writings all pointed to Jesus Christ and His spiritual kingdom. This net was the primary tool that led to the explosive growth of the early church. It was used by many down through history, including our Anabaptist forefathers.

Nowadays, there are too many preachers who don’t have time for the study it takes to know the net and how to use it. Reference Bibles seem to offer an easy alternative, giving lists of supposedly related verses on a variety of topics. But how can one trust those references without a personal study of the context? Far too many people today think they are using the net when all they have is a handful of loose strings. Is it any wonder they don’t catch many fish?

Advertisements

Darkness was upon the face of the deep

When first created the earth was tohu and bohu  – “without form and void,” as the AV translation has it. The words could also be translated “confusion and emptiness.” And there was darkness over all this chaotic mass – not a physical darkness, which would be meaningless before the vision of the Creator – but spiritual darkness was present here from the very beginning and would soon begin to manifest its subversive presence in God’s creation.

“And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” I much prefer the “moved” of the AV to the “hovered” found in many newer translations. “Moved” indicates a purposeful surveying of the chaos below with a plan for what it would become. The first indication of that purpose was shown when He said “Let there be light,” and instantly there was light, and a clear demarcation between light and darkness.

Not much later, God caused the dry land to rise up out of the water, then proceeded to populate the land with vegetation, animal and bird life and finally humanity. The sequence of the events in the days of creation are significant. The conflict between light and darkness, between the sea and the dry land, are themes that play out all through the narrative of the Bible, and these conflicts existed before man made his appearance on the earth.

I will not say much about darkness and light, for I suspect the concept of the powers of darkness and the God who brings light are at least somewhat familiar to most people.  Water and the sea are often used in the Bible as symbols of the  unstable state in which most of the people of the world exist. Consider the following verses:

Revelation 17:15 – And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.
Psalms 18:4  – The sorrows of death compassed me, and the floods of ungodly men made me afraid.
Psalms 65:7 –  Which stilleth the noise of the seas, the noise of their waves, and the tumult of the people.
Isaiah 8:7  – Now therefore, behold, the Lord bringeth up upon them the waters of the river, strong and many, even the king of Assyria, and all his glory: and he shall come up over all his channels, and go over all his banks.
James 1:6  – But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.

There are fearsome creatures in this water, of which leviathan appears to be the chief. The description of leviathan in the book of Job led many commentators in past years to identify leviathan as a crocodile. Fearsome though a crocodile may be, the turmoil and devastation caused by leviathan goes far beyond the powers of a crocodile. More recent writers conjecture that leviathan was a water-dwelling dinosaur. Perhaps that gets us a little closer to the physical description, but the Biblical passages describing leviathan go beyond even that. They appear to describe a mighty spiritual power that is behind the stirring of the waters and the tossing of the waves of this world – Satan himself.

Isaiah 27:1  – In that day the LORD with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea.

The dry land – eretz – is meant to be a place of safety and stability for those who put their trust in God. Nevertheless, the book of Revelation shows us the prototypes of two forms of false religions. One arises out of the sea of confused humanity that does not know God and its power comes from the dragon, or Leviathan. This is paganism and all forms of false religion. The other arises out of the earth, has the appearance of a lamb, yet speaks as the dragon. This is counterfeit Christianity and is as dangerous as the first.

God promised a land to His Old Testament people – eretz Israel. They did possess it in peace for a short time. The teaching that some near day God will once again rule from eretz Israel is fantasy and delusion. He has something much better in store for his people. The description of the new Jerusalem shows a land where there is no more darkness and the sea is now a solid and safe sea of crystal . There are no more monsters; there is no evil, no sorrow. The redeemed of all the ages shall dwell there in peace and joy in the presence of their Lord and Redeemer.

 

Is it really that bad?

This world is a horrible place. There are environmental catastrophes, threats of international terrorism, dangers in the streets. The danger of religious persecution threatens us even here in North America. There is sexual exploitation of women and children. There is abuse of power by those in positions of trust: police officers, preachers, teachers and parents. There are dangers on the internet. It seems that you can’t trust anyone anymore.

Um . . . let’s back up a little bit here and see if we’re getting the whole picture. Yes, all these things are going on; and yes, these are the things the media wants to tell us about. But is that really what most of us are experiencing in our daily life?

My grandchildren are blissfully unaware of any threats to their well-being. I am not experiencing any harassment because of my religious beliefs. I encounter friendly and helpful people wherever I go.

I started using a cane about six weeks ago and I am amazed how that triggers acts of kindness from others. I have even had young ladies hold a door open for me. A few days ago I bought my fast food lunch at Tim Horton’s and the lady behind the counter offered to carry my tray to a table. I declined, but not without a hearty thank  you. Someday I may need her assistance.

Today I was in my favourite coffee shop – the one where the young ladies behind the counter don’t need to be told that I want a cappuccino with amaretto syrup. This time I asked the young lady who served me if she  had ever heard an old, old song that has her name in the title. Her response floored me: “You remembered my name!” I have known her name for a long time, she has served my coffee countless times, we have talked about other things than coffee, but I had never called her by name. This is something I have encouraged others to do, and here I wasn’t even doing it myself.

That seems such a small thing, but it was a reality check. When I begin thinking that the world is such a cold heartless place, perhaps the first question I need to ask is “Am I the problem?”

By the way, she was all too familiar with the song. Her music teacher used to sing it every time she went for a lesson.

Newspeak at work

There is an article in Montréal la Presse today about the horrified reaction of some women to the Dico des filles 2014 (2014 Girls dictionary). This is a book, published in France, written to help girls aged 12 and older face questions of conduct and morality. What is it that some women find so inappropriate? Here is a free translation of a few quotes from the book:

On the subject of abortion: “Although this is permitted by law, that does not make it just and moral. Abortion is a serious act which brings into question the value of human life.  . . .  An abortion always causes a wound that takes a long time to heal.” And: “Moral authorities and the major religious families all have something to say [on the subject of abortion] because it is their role to set out the priniples for guiding human activities. . . . . It is true that abortion is a serious act. But it is possible to condemn the act without condemning the person who had an abortion.”

On the subject of homosexuality: “It is true that some stable homosexual couples do exist. But the relationships are often ephemeral and unstable.” And: “Life is not simple for homosexuals and the road to happiness is full of pitfalls.”

Such words as these, which seem so mild and tolerant to me, are judged as being hideously intolerant by certain women’s groups.  They want the books removed from public libraries and anywhere that girls might have access to such retrograde ideas of right and wrong.

George Orwell coined the word “newspeak” in his dystopian novel 1984.  He foresaw a world where the thought police would take a word and make it mean the the direct opposite of what it originally meant. Are we there yet? It seems that we are getting close when some people  label as intolerant any hint of a view that is different than their own and try to prevent it from being heard, then say that they are the tolerant ones.

Nevertheless, the Dico pour filles appears to be selling well, bookstores are sold out of the 2014 edition and awaiting the arrival of the 2015 edition in a few weeks.

Seek peace, find happiness

And it did for one wild moment cross my mind that, perhaps those might not be the very best judges of the relation of religion to happiness who, by their own account, had neither one nor the other.

-G. K. Chesterton

Doctrines of the humanist religion – conclusion

Almost everything that a man does is governed by his religious beliefs, even when he professes to have no religion at all! There is within each human a hunger that compels him to seek for answers about his existence. Why am I here? Where did I come from? Where am I going? He needs to find some kind of answer to these questions to make sense out of his life and those answers, whatever they may be, are his religion.  This religion becomes the reference point for the choices and decisions that guide his life.

There are a few in this world with a genuinely God centred religion. They are the ones who, from the depths of their being, acknowledge God as Creator, Saviour and Lord. All others, whether they call themselves Christians, Muslims, Hindus, pagans, atheists, philosophers, or whatever, are adherents of a man centred religion. The two are mutually exclusive, No one is neutral.

God centred religion is a narrow way – all must enter through the same gate of repentance and self-denial, accept the same truth, be led of the same Spirit, have the same love, the same hope. The man centred religion offers a way that is broad enough to accommodate everyone else, even seeming at times to lead its adherents in opposite directions, yet eventually bringing all to the same destination.

This is the humanist religion. Its foundation is self. On this foundation there is found an such an amazing variety of colourful and dazzling structures that we must admit ts powerful appeal to our human nature. Almost everyone we meet is a missionary of this religion. The businesses and banks we deal with, the newspapers, magazines and advertisements that we read, all try to entice us to join this religion. It is the natural religion of man. Yet this whole magnificent structure is built over the pit of hell and its foundation is rotten.

How different the foundation of the God centred religion – the safe, solid, eternal Rock of Ages, Jesus Christ. How flimsy those dazzling structures appear beside the true Christian religion, the faith once delivered to the saints, coming down from God in heaven to every one who truly repents and surrenders all he has to  the loving Father.

May we like Elisha be able to see the armies of heaven and know that “they that be with us are more than they that be with them.” If we are on the Rock, all the hosts of heaven are on our side.

Doctrines of the humanist religion

1.  Nothing is real that cannot be understood by the human mind.

People choose to believe in spirits, magic, witchcraft, astrology, scientific theories or various “holy books.” These are merely attempts to fit all things seen and experienced into a framework that appears to give a logical explanation for every detail and event. I may call myself a lover of the truth, when in reality I am unwilling to believe anything unless I can explain it to suit my own intellect.

But the God who is really there does not fit man’s measure, He is a revelation, not an explanation.

2. Man is inherently good – all his failures are due to a lack of knowledge. He will make better decisions if he is better informed.

We may think we need a better understanding of how to appease the pagan gods or spirits, psychological counselling in order to understand the root causes of our emotions, or a university education to give us advanced mental tools to cope with the world we live in. How often have we said “If I had known then what I know now, I would never have done what I did,” when the real problem was not a lack of understanding, but the real problem was that we found the temptation overwhelmingly attractive?

 

Knowledge cannot give us the strength to withstand the seductive power of sin. A true knowledge of God will both open our eyes to the danger and give us the spiritual fortitude to choose not to yield.

3. It is a great evil for a man to be deprived of the things that bring him pleasure.

The things might be material goods, recognition, pride, bodily comforts, the right kind of work, or the right amount of leisure time. Is not the good life a sign of the favour of the gods, or of God’s blessing? Why can’t I have work that is ideally suited to my nature and expectations? Why can’t my wife, husband, parents, friends or boss treat me better? If only I had a little more money, a better job, or if only I lived somewhere else, things would go better.

How happy are the people who have the things that we think we need?

There is a widespread belief in our day that we have a right to physical health. We may base this belief on our faith in modern medical research, in the idea that physical healing was provided for in Christ’s atonement on the cross, or in natural healing, herbs, psychic healing, or in some form of shamanism. In each case, when one who holds to such a belief is faced with an incurable sickness it brings about a crisis of faith. Some believe that admitting they are sick would be a lack of faith, thus they resolutely refuse to face reality, living and dying in unreasonable fear. Others spend all their substance in search of healing, travelling over land and sea in search of a doctor or healer that has the secret to make them well. Then they die, leaving their families destitute.

4. The evil that men do is produced by their natural instinct for survival in a faulty environment. Man will only be truly happy and good when all sources of trouble and worry are removed.

Life insurance, property insurance, health insurance, unemployment insurance, social welfare programs, labour movements, peace movements, liberation movements, revolutionary movements, eternal security, reincarnation, the millennium, the social gospel – all have their origin in the premise that the basic goodness of man will show itself once all the external hindrances are removed. Some of the things mentioned have worked for the material betterment of people, but is there any evidence that they have helped produce happier, kinder, better people?

All of these thing are only vain attempts to hack away at the branches of sin, none of them attack the root of sin.

All four of these doctrines come into play in our society’s ideas about child-rearing. We are told that a child can only develop her true potential for good if she is given maximum access to information and allowed freedom to choose what she shall believe and do. Is it any wonder that many parents speak of their children as a burden? Is it any wonder that when parents grow old and come to their declining years, their children consider them a burden?

(to be continued)

 

Problematic behaviours in children and adolescents

Georges  P Vanier was a distinguished Canadian military officer in the  First World War, being decorated by both Great Britain and France .  He was seriously injured near the end of the war, losing a leg as a result.  He eventually attained the rank of Major-General.  Later he served as Canada’s ambassador to  France.  He was Governor General of Canada from 1959 until his death in 1967.  In 1964 he and his wife Pauline established the Vanier Institute of the Family as a means of strengthening families.   The following is excerpted from a study done by Anne-Marie Ambert Ph.D. of that Institute and published in 2007.  The full text can be found at: http://www.vanierinstitute.ca/include/get.php?nodeid=1363

INTRODUCTION

Why do more children and adolescents exhibit problematic behaviours than in the past? What has changed? By the “past,” I am not referring to bygone centuries for which little documentation exists, but to the period covering the decades of the 1930s through the 1950s. For instance, the rates for juvenile delinquency increased spectacularly from the 1960s and have peaked in the mid 1990s. Although they subsequently declined, these rates as well as those for most problematic behaviours have remained at a high level among boys and have continued to rise among girls.

These high rates mean that many children and adolescents lead a troubled life and fail according to the norms of our society. As a result, their families suffer, schools are negatively impacted, and some neighbourhoods become less livable. As well, very aggressive behaviours are costly to society. For instance, it is estimated that a criminal career which begins in adolescence costs society over 2 million dollars (Cohen, 1998). Above all, high rates of problematic behaviours negatively affect “good” or prosocial children–who remain in the majority. Prosocial children often become victims, their school environment is less civil, and, as a consequence, their own behaviours may deteriorate.

In this paper, as we examine various factors related to the development of problematic behaviours, we ask: What has changed to explain the increase in such behaviours? While there is broad agreement concerning the personal and familial correlates of problematic behaviours, there is much less consensus and very little research regarding the larger sociocultural factors and, especially, the causes behind the increase itself. I am proposing that, since the 1950s, our society has facilitated the evolution of an environment, herein called the enabling environment, which favours the development of problematic rather than prosocial behaviours.

What has changed? The enabling environment

The increase in the rates and seriousness of children’s negative behaviours in the past decades cannot be explained by genetic causes (Rutter et al., 2001). The gene pool of a population needs more than a few decades to change. Therefore, one can only conclude that, in the recent past, negative genetic predispositions were counterbalanced. Indeed, the causes of problematic behaviours are multiple and interlocking. The following social elements, among others, have combined in recent decades to prevent children from getting the dose of structure, stability, and values needed for normal development. They are:

• less parental or adult presence at home to anchor children’s lives;

• fewer family rituals that attach youth to a regulating calendar of events;

• schools and neighbourhoods that no longer serve as effective communities, hence providing inadequate collective supervision;

• reduced importance of religion as a life-structuring element and agency of social control; and,

• access to media products and programming of a materialistic, individualistic, and violent nature.

In turn, all of these have been influenced by historical trends toward individualism, parental goals of independence and self-sufficiency for their children, a general emphasis on self-fulfilment, and the predominance of materialistic values within a consumerist market economy.

Considering all these elements, it may not be surprising that problematic behaviours have increased (Garbarino, 1999). Our society, especially for some groups, may present too many opportunities for the emergence of problematic behaviours and too few opportunities for the optimal development of children’s abilities and prosocial tendencies. Indeed, there are many opportunities and even encouragements for individuals to adopt problematic behaviours in large and heterogeneous societies such as ours, where social change is rapid, value consensus relatively low, and community social control weak. In the past, when neighbourhoods were more cohesive, children were more openly censured for their negative behaviours. The current environment too often enables the emergence of problematic behaviours even when no genetic predispositions exist.

Memories of Clarence

I hadn’t seen Clarence for several years, but I recognized his voice as soon as I stepped into the room.  I could tell from the cadence of his sonorous voice that Clarence was in full storytelling mode.  Clarence was a fixture at our family gatherings.  He was my Aunt Lottie’s son, thus my cousin, though he was 36 years my elder.

My father once told me that Uncle Maurice had introduced Clarence to the bottle when he was 17 and he had not experienced many sober days in the years that followed.  He never married, lived in a small house on his nephew’s yard and made a decent living off his farm despite his constant need of liquid refreshment.  He had lived in the Mossbank area all his life and could tell you just about everything that had ever happened around there.

After our family moved away, Clarence would make the two-hour trip to visit us once or twice a year.  It was usually after the beer parlour in Mossbank closed that he would feel this pressing urge to visit his Uncle Walter and he would arrive at our door about three o’clock in the morning.  My parents would invite him in and sit down in the living room to visit the night away.

On one of these occasions, Clarence carried a twelve-pack of beer in with him, set it down in front of the easy chair and opened a bottle.  When he got up to go to the bathroom, my father moved the box to the side of the chair where it was hidden from view by the padded arm rest.  When Clarence came back, he looked puzzled and remarked that he thought he had brought more beer.  Then he sat down, finished the bottle he had started and carried on visiting.  My parents shooed me back to bed about then and I never did find out what happened to that box of beer.

Another time, he told of how his nephew’s little children had come into his house one day while he was gone and started turning the dials on his gas kitchen stove, thinking it was a TV.  Disappointed at never getting a picture, they had given up and returned home.  Clarence returned home late and the first thing he did when he got in was light a cigarette.  The only reason he was still around to tell the story was that it was a hot summer day and he had left the windows open.  When he saw the dials on the stove, he realized how close he had been to becoming part of a giant fireball and told the story again and again.

Now in his late sixties he had quit drinking, but he was still happy to be with family and to have an audience for his stories.  The cause of his sudden sobriety was another story.  He had just moved into Mossbank and one cold winter night he left the beer parlour and couldn’t remember where he lived.  When he was found and taken to the hospital a couple of fingers were so badly frostbitten that they eventually had to be amputated.  He had no more longing for intoxicating beverages after that.

Clarence was a friendly, honest, caring man who did no harm to anyone but himself.  I don’t think he ever carried a grudge or had a problem with anger.  When he died, the Lutheran minister told us “all of Clarence’s problems are over, he is in heaven now.”  Did that minister know something the rest of us didn’t?  If so, I wish he had shared it with us.  I never knew Clarence to show any interest in religion.  Maybe he did meet the Lord in some quiet time alone, but if so, I don’t think he told anyone about it.

What can one say about Clarence and the life he lived?  It seems that he could have made so much better use of the admirable qualities that he possessed.  His family and friends truly mourned his passing, a unique part of our lives was gone.  I think the greatest impact on my life has been the realization that people like Clarence do not start with any evil intention.  They are simply well meaning people who have allowed themselves to become ensnared in an addiction.  The need to feed that addiction has prevented them from being the person they could have, and should have, been.

Prophetic words from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

(Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn, whose writings revealed the sordid underside of the communist system, was expelled from the USSR in 1974.  In June, 1978 he was asked to give the commencement address at Harvard University.  I don’t know what they expected to hear, but here are some excerpts from what they did hear.)

Harvard’s motto is “Veritas.”  Many of you have already found out and others will find out in the course of their lives that truth eludes us if we do not concentrate with total attention on its pursuit.  And even while it eludes us, the illusion still lingers of knowing it and leads to many misunderstandings.  Also, truth is seldom pleasant; it is almost invariably bitter.  There is some bitterness in my speech today, too.  But I want to stress that it comes not from an adversary but from a friend.

Without any censorship, in the West fashionable trends of thought and ideas are carefully separated from those which are not fashionable; nothing is forbidden, but what is not fashionable will hardly ever find its way into periodicals or books or be heard in colleges.  Legally your researchers are free, but they are conditioned by the fashion of the day.  There is no open violence such as in the East; however, a selection dictated by fashion and the need to match mass standards frequently prevent independent-minded people from giving their contribution to public life.  There is a dangerous tendency to form a herd, shutting off successful development.  I have received letters in America from highly intelligent persons, maybe a teacher in a faraway small college who could do much for the renewal and salvation of his country, but his country cannot hear him because the media are not interested in him.  This gives birth to strong mass prejudices, blindness, which is most dangerous in our dynamic era.  There is, for instance, a self-deluding interpretation of the contemporary world situation.  It works as a sort of petrified armour around people’s minds.

However, in early democracies, as in American democracy at the time of its birth, all individual human rights were granted because man is God’s creature.  That is, freedom was given to the individual conditionally, in the assumption of his constant religious responsibility.  Such was the heritage of the preceding thousand years.  Two hundred or even fifty years ago, it would have seemed quite impossible, in America, that an individual could be granted boundless freedom simply for the satisfaction of his instincts or whims.  Subsequently, however, all such limitations were discarded everywhere in the West; a total liberation occurred from the moral heritage of Christian centuries with their great reserves of mercy and sacrifice.  State systems were becoming increasingly and totally materialistic.  The West ended up by truly enforcing human rights, sometimes even excessively, but man’s sense of responsibility to God and society grew dimmer and dimmer.  In the past decades, the legalistically selfish aspect of Western approach and thinking has reached its final dimension and the world wound up in a harsh spiritual crisis and a political impasse.  All the glorified technological achievements of Progress, including the conquest of outer space, do not redeem the Twentieth century’s moral poverty which no one could imagine even as late as in the Nineteenth Century.

I am not examining here the case of a world war disaster and the changes which it would produce in society.  As long as we wake up every morning under a peaceful sun, we have to lead an everyday life.  There is a disaster, however, which has already been under way for quite some time.  I am referring to the calamity of a de-spiritualised and irreligious humanistic consciousness.

To such consciousness, man is the touchstone in judging and evaluating everything on earth.  Imperfect man, who is never free of pride, self-interest, envy, vanity, and dozens of other defects.  We are now experiencing the consequences of mistakes which had not been noticed at the beginning of the journey.  On the way from the Renaissance to our days we have enriched our experience, but we have lost the concept of a Supreme Complete Entity which used to restrain our passions and our irresponsibility.  We have placed too much hope in political and social reforms, only to find out that we were being deprived of our most precious possession: our spiritual life.

Even if we are spared destruction by war, our lives will have to change if we want to save life from self-destruction.  We cannot avoid revising the fundamental definitions of human life and human society.  Is it true that man is above everything?  Is there no Superior Spirit above him?  Is it right that man’s life and society’s activities have to be determined by material expansion in the first place?  Is it permissible to promote such expansion to the detriment of our spiritual integrity?

If the world has not come to its end, it has approached a major turn in history, equal in importance to the turn from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance.  It will exact from us a spiritual upsurge, we shall have to rise to a new height of vision, to a new level of life where our physical nature will not be cursed as in the Middle Ages, but, even more importantly, our spiritual being will not be trampled upon as in the Modern era.

%d bloggers like this: