Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: repentance

Turbulent waters

Our planned evangelistic services were imminent; a preacher and a men’s quartet would be arriving on Sunday. Our pastor didn’t want the disaster cleanup to distract from that effort, so he let people know that no more volunteers were needed.

He thought flowers for the church would be a nice touch so he sent one of the ladies to order flowers. All the flower shops in Moose Jaw were owned by one extended family. The basements of two family hames had flooded and volunteers had cleaned them. The pastor told the lady that if she casually mentioned that the flowers were for the church that had done the cleanup they might just offer to give the flowers at no charge. The strategy worked.

Really, all the members of the church had day jobs and all the work had been done by volunteers from out of town, but the news media gave all the credit to the church. The first night of the meetings, the mayor of Moose Jaw came to thank the church on behalf of the people of Moose Jaw.

I found all this a little disconcerting, but it would get worse. The men from Linden had left a bunch of tracts with us and we read most of them. Chris read one that taught about how a Christian woman should cover her head when praying. At a Bible study shortly after the evangelistic meetings, Chris innocently asked if that was still a requirement for Christian women. The unanimous answer was no. Many remembered that their mothers or grandmothers had worn head coverings, but didn’t know why and were happy the practice had stopped. One lady said “The Bible also says that a woman shouldn’t wear men’s clothing. As long as I wear pants I’m not going to worry about a head covering.”

I was working evenings at the Post Office and didn’t get in on that discussion. But I was in church to witness the aftermath the following Sunday. The pastor began his message by saying “The question has been raised about whether women should wear hats to church.” He went on from there to ridicule the idea of women wearing big flowery hats to church that would look ridiculous and hinder the view of people behind them in the pews. That wasn’t at all the question that Chris had raised and he never did address the teaching of the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians chapter 11.

When we got home, I told Chris “You hit a nerve.” The pastor’s desperate attempt to stifle any discussion of this topic would have been humorous if it hadn’t been so sad. Perhaps it did work for those who were already of that mind, but for us in our search it seemed like there might be a truth here that he was afraid to even look at.

Then we got a phone call from one of the men from Linden who had been to Moose Jaw. He told us that there were tent meetings being held at Osler, north of Saskatoon. That was almost a three-hour drive, but we decided to go Sunday evening when I didn’t have to work. The tent was set up on a vacant lot just off the highway. We had no trouble finding it and soon we were attending our first service of the Church of God in Christ Mennonite. We enjoyed the singing, the preaching was more straightforward than we had heard before, no beating around the bush.

There were a couple of travel trailers parked behind the tent and we stayed until 1:00 a.m. visiting with the ministers and got home at 4:00. That was fine, since my work shift didn’t start until 3:00 the next afternoon.

We went back to the Moose Jaw church the next Sunday and they were markedly uninterested in our trip to the tent meeting. Finally we decided that we were travelling a different path than the rest of the church and stopped going.

We made a trip to Linden on a long weekend that summer and thoroughly enjoyed it. There were two tiny congregations of that church in Saskatchewan, one at Hague and one at Bredenbury. Each one was a three-hour drive, but we visited each several times.

There was a stumbling block, though, that prevented us considering membership in this church. They believed that their church was the one that Jesus was building and that all others were man-made churches.

That fall the Sutera twins came to Moose Jaw to hold revival meetings, sponsored by all the evangelical churches in the city. We attended as many as we could, they went on for several weeks; the attendance outgrew the church where the meetings began and the meetings moved to a larger one.

The meetings were aimed at born-again Christian people and the messages all came down to the point that if you had sin in your life and were not willing to repent and forsake it, God could not bless or use you. The messages were good as far as they went.

We were well enough acquainted to know what was going on in most of the evangelical churches and knew there was some level of strife and dissension in each of them. That was never addressed, but I wondered if the theme of Ralph and Lou Sutera didn’t especially apply to churches. How could God bless or use a church that knew there was sin in its midst and saw no way to do anything about it?

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Our granddaughter becoms our sister

Friday evening two young ladies stood in turn before our congregation and told how God had called them, how they had felt troubled and fearful and how they had prayed and found forgiveness, happiness and freedom. A few questions were asked and the congregation found their testimonies genuine.

This morning they were baptized. One of those girls is our granddaughter Tami, the first of our grandchildren to become a born again child of God. Thus this 13 year old girl (she will be 14 this summer) is now our sister in the household of faith. (As is the other girl, of course.)

Blessed is every one that feareth the LORD . . .Yea, thou shalt see thy children’s children, and peace upon Israel. Psalm 128:1 & 6

Life takes some unexpected turns

Alcohol had once enabled me to admit my interest in some day becoming a Mennonite, but the three other people who heard that statement didn’t take it seriously and never again mentioned it. My two trips into Regina to attend a Mennonite church had gone completely unnoticed by those who knew me. I was quite content to leave it that way as I still at a stage where I had no desire to be identified as someone with any interest in Christianity.

Nevertheless, I wanted to have a Bible when I left for Manitoba. There was no way I was going to openly show that desire by going out and buying one. There was another way. My parents had a stack of worn out Bibles in a cupboard; they never threw one out. They would have gladly given me one if I had asked, but that would have been too embarrassing. Before I left, I went to that cupboard, found one that hadn’t quite fallen apart yet, and stashed it in my luggage.

The elevator at Sperling was much bigger and much busier than the one at Belle Plaine. The office was much bigger too. To start with I was provided with a roll away bed in the office for night and got my meals in the home of the former manager.

I settled into a routine, started to get to know the farmers and the people in town. The people in the community were of English, French, Danish, German and other backgrounds. Among the farmers there were members of four different Mennonite denominations. One was a group I had never heard of before, the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite. The men of this group wore beards.

I made monthly trips back to Saskatchewan to see my parents and Chris. Chris and I would often visit until midnight Sunday and then I would drive the 400 miles back to Sperling, open the elevator at eight o’clock in the morning. In the summer of 1969 Chris’s Uncle moved to Kelliher, Saskatchewan to run his sister’s café and Chris went with him. Her aunt stayed in Belle Plaine to run the café there. My once a month trips became more complicated.

After several months the former manager retired for health reasons. I was given the job and UGG rented a house in town and paid to move my belongings. The former manager and his family were given time to find a new home and then the UGG carpenter crew went to work on the house.

I had left all my drinking buddies behind in Saskatchewan and didn’t make any new ones in Manitoba. I often had beer in the refrigerator but no incentive for serious drinking by myself.

There was lots of time to read the Bible and I started randomly reading here and there. I began with the belief that the Bible was a man-made book that might contain parts that were inspired by a God that I didn’t know and hardly knew if I believed in. But I was convinced that most of the book was not to be believed or trusted. As I read, a different picture began to impress itself on me. This appeared to be one book, with every part of it connected to every other part. Many things that I didn’t want to believe were quoted by Jesus. It began to sink in to me that I could not choose to believe some parts and reject the rest; it was either all true, or all false.

Now that I was officially the elevator manager, I began looking through the records and found that a number of farmers had bills outstanding for farm supplies, so I sent out reminders. I soon had irate farmers showing up in my office with receipts showing that they had paid those bills. I accepted that, but UGG had never seen those payments. Those farmers seemed to suspect me of trying to pull a fast one and get paid twice, but the people in town understood the situation. The former manage had always seemed to be in need of more money for his family and different episodes were told me of how he had gotten into a bind and money had disappeared. No doubt he had intentions of making it all right, perhaps the stress of it all led to his heart attack.

Some of my farming customers were members of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, from the congregation at Rosenort, about 15 minutes away. They were friendly and often stayed to visit. One day, one of them came into my office to apologize for something he had said a few days earlier. He was afraid I might have misunderstood his remarks and taken offence at them. I was completely caught off guard. There had been no misunderstanding, no offence taken, but now I was almost offended at him for making a special effort to come and clear up such an insignificant thing. They way I looked at my life, I was leading as decent and upright a life as was possible under the circumstances and this guy had come along and kicked that support out from under me.

Early in 1970 Chris told me that she was getting cold feet and wasn’t sure that she wanted to get married. Life looked bleak, many of the farmers were looking at me with suspicion, I hadn’t made any close friends in this community and now my fiancée wanted to back out of our marriage plans.

By the spring of 1970 I had moved into the renovated house. The wall between the kitchen and dining room had been replaced by a counter and new cabinets installed. Flooding was happening around Carman to the west of us, with the threat of it coming our way. One Saturday I took a drive around to look at the situation, but my mind was churning with troubled thoughts. I wanted to just give up and disappear, but I had tried that once and it hadn’t turned out well.

I returned home and opened my Bible at random. My eyes fell on Revelation 3:16: “So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.” The picture was vivid and shocking – could it be that my life was so distasteful to God that He just had to get that taste out of His mouth? I had never thought of myself as a sinner, but now the weight of sin bore down on me.

I knelt down and admitted to God: “All this trouble I’m in, I did it all by myself, nobody helped me get into this mess.” I asked Him to forgive me and promised that if He would help me now I would serve Him the rest of my life. When I got up from that prayer I had a determination to do whatever I could to work my way through my problems.

Sin

“Almighty and most merciful Father, We have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep,  We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts, We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders..”

“Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, Judge of all men: We acknowledge and confess our manifold sins and wickedness, Which we from time to time most grievously have committed, By thought, word, and deed, Against thy Divine Majesty. We do earnestly repent, And are heartily sorry for these our misdoings.”

These quotations come from the Book of Common Prayer of the Anglican Church of Canada. The first is part of the confession in the Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer services. The second is from the confession in the Communion Service. The capitalization is the way it was in the book. For ten years in my youth I, along with the whole congregation,  recited one or the other of these confessions aloud every Sunday.

These are only words printed in a book, readily memorized and often pronounced without giving much thought to them. Still, for those with ears to hear and hearts to consider, they were a constant reminder that we are miserable sinners and there is no health in us.

We can dismiss those words as meaningless rote recital. For many people that was all they were. But have we gained in spirituality when most churches today hardly talk of sin?

C.S. Lewis discovered 75 years ago that most people he talked to had no concept of sin. Many of the things that churches have always named as major sins did not seem to be sin at all to people. They had been educated out of that old-fashioned notion. Some way had to be found to deliver the diagnosis that all people are sinners before they would have any inclination to hear of a remedy for sin.

“I cannot offer you a water-tight technique for awakening the sense of sin. I can only say that, in my experience, if one begins from the sin that has been one’s own chief problem during the last week, one is very often surprised at the way the shaft goes home. But whatever method we use, our constant effort must be to get their mind away from public affairs and ‘crime’ and bring them down to brass tacks — to the whole network of spite, greed, envy, unfairness and conceit in the lives of ‘ordinary decent people’ like themselves (and ourselves).” (C.S. Lewis, from a talk given in 1945, reprinted in God in the Dock ©1970, published by Eerdmans.)

That is very much the challenge that faces us today. If we are not conscious of our own sin and sinfulness, we won’t get very far in trying to share the gospel with others. James admonishes us: “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed.” How often do we do that? How often do we talk about other people’s faults?

The Anglican Church of Canada, the Episcopal Church in the USA and most congregations of the Church of England no longer use the Book of Common Prayer. In Africa, Asia and Latin America, Anglican Churches are fast-growing evangelical bodies. They have broken fellowship with the Anglican and Episcopal churches in Canada and the USA.

Ten years ago the Anglican Church of Canada commissioned a study on their future. The conclusion was that if present trends continue, in 75 years the Anglican Church of Canada will consist of two members.The trend has continued, and will continue. A church that no longer acknowledges sin has no reason for its existence. The Anglican Church of  Nigeria is now planting congregations in North America, including one in Saskatoon.

I am an Anabaptist today, not an Anglican. I am just trying to point out a graphic illustration of what happens to a church that decides to drop the issue of sin. That is a danger for all of us. We are not apt to ever make a decision to drop it, we just let it fade away. In such a condition, we no longer have a gospel to present to our neighbours — or our children.

Follow on to know the Lord

A teenage girl is convinced that she is pregnant and about to become the mother of baby Jesus, even though her mother, her doctor and an ultrasound all assure her that she is not pregnant at all. Why is this news? I suppose the media think this is one more way of poking fun at Christians, even though no real Christian would believe such a thing. Wouldn’t it be much better to pull a veil of respectful silence over the poor young lady and her delusion?

Granted, there are some credulous people who claim to see the face of Jesus in a blotch on the wall and are convinced it is a sign of something or other. Even if Jesus said He was not in the business of giving signs.

A lady of our acquaintance called us and ecstatically announced that she had been about to light a cigarette when she heard an almost audible voice saying “Stop!” She was convinced that our Lord had singled her out for a special touch of His grace. But she went ahead and lit that cigarette and many more after it.

A man had an unmistakable message from God in his younger years, calling him to repent. He never did repent, yet he went to his grave believing that he had a special relationship with God, because God had once spoken to him.

The missing element in all these accounts is the failure to follow on to know God. Visions, dreams and voices could be genuine attempts by God to get our attention. But they do us no good if we do not follow on to know Him.

God does not save us in our sins. He asks us to repent so He can forgive us and set us free from the clutch of our sins. He is not trying to take all the pleasures of life away from us, He wants us to exchange the pleasures that have painful consequences for everlasting joy. He promises to give us a more abundant life. But we have to follow on to truly know Him to experience that abundant life.

Did King Solomon hate women?

Behold, this have I found, saith the preacher, counting one by one, to find out the account:
which yet my soul seeketh, but I find not: one man among a thousand have I found; but a woman among all those have I not found. Ecclesiastes 7:27-28

This sounds like a pretty severe indictment of women, doesn’t it? Yet this is the same man who in another place wrote: “Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the LORD” (Proverbs 18:22), and also:  “Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in this life, and in thy labour which thou takest under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 9:9).

How could the same man write with such negativity about women in one place, and with such fulsome approval in other places?

The only way that I can make any sense of this is to remember that the book of Ecclesiastes is the memoir of a man who had accomplished great things in his life, and now looking back sees the vanity of it all. Then he comes to counting up his wives and concubines, there were a thousand all told, he realizes that not one is a bosom companion that he can safely trust. Here too he has missed the mark.

The book of Ecclesiastes should be read as a lengthy confession and repentance, leading up to this realization: ” Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.  For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)..

Don’t second guess your repentance

To repent is to rethink, or change your mind. In religious terms, repentance toward God means to reconsider the way you have been living, ask God to forgive you and resolve to live differently with the help of the Holy Spirit.

This is a complete change in a person’s way of thinking and is not something that one can decide to do upon a whim. The first step in repentance is to feel the need to repent and that must come from God Himself. People live the way they do because they believe this is the best way to get what they want out of life. It isn’t until the Holy Spirit opens their eyes to see that all the trouble they have encountered in life is the result of bad decisions they have made that it is even possible to consider living differently.

Feeling sorry for what you have done is not repentance. That is, it does not automatically lead to changing course and doing things differently. Yet feeling sorry for what you have done is the first step toward repentance. It is important to distinguish between feeling sorry for yourself and feeling sorry for what you have done.

There are a few places in the Bible which speak of repentance in the simpler sense of a change of mind. Esau sold his birthright to his younger brother for one meal, and doesn’t seem to have grasped the consequences until Jacob received from his father the blessing due to the firstborn son. The Bible says “For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears” (Hebrews 12:17). I believe the “place of repentance” spoken of here does not refer to repentance toward God. Esau just wanted his father to change his mind and give him the blessing he thought he deserved, but it was too late.

There are verses in the Old Testament that say that God repented. This does not mean that God was sorry for something He had done, or intended to do, but that God changed His mind because of changing circumstances, either the rebellion of mankind or the entreaties of one of His servants.

The apostle Paul speaks of “repentance not to be repented of.” When we have repented of a life of sin and turned around to follow God, it would be folly to once again change our mind and go back to our former life.

The inward and spiritual grace

The following are statements from the Catechism found in the Book of Common Prayer, which was used for centuries by Anglicans around the world.

Catechist. What do you mean by the word Sacrament?

Answer. I mean an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace, given to us by Christ himself, as a means whereby we receive this grace, and a pledge to assure us thereof.

Catechist. What is the inward and spiritual grace in Baptism?

Answer. A death unto sin and a new birth unto righteousness; for being by nature born into man’s sinful state, we are hereby made the children of grace by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Catechist, What is required of persons to be baptized?

Answer. Repentance; whereby they forsake sin, which separates them from God; and faith; whereby they steadfastly believe the promises of God made to them in that Sacrament.

Catechist. Why then are infants baptized?

Answer. Infants are baptized so that, being received into Christ’s Church, they may grow in grace and be trained in the household of faith.

There is much truth in these words written by Thomas Cranmer more than 500 years ago. And I do believe that many Anglicans down through the centuries did repent and were born again.

I also believe that a great many were not – including myself. And I do not believe that those who experienced a new birth did so as a result of the outward sign of baptism. There is much in Anglicanism that is good and beneficial, I remember especially the emphasis on reading the Scriptures in every service. But the teaching that the sacraments are a means of grace has let  many people down.

I agree fully that the sacraments are an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. But it is confusion to teach that these inward and spiritual graces are received by means of the sacraments. I was baptized, confirmed, became an altar boy, took communion often, and never experienced the inward and spiritual graces that the catechism promised.

I abandoned the Anglican Church and the whole idea of there being any meaning in church and Christianity. Some years later, not having found satisfactory answers to the questions of life elsewhere, I began again to read the Bible. Finally, the Holy Spirit let me see my sinfulness; I repented and was born again.

A few years later I was baptized and became a member of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, which teaches that the inward and spiritual grace is the qualification for baptism. Likewise, spiritual unity in a congregation is the qualification for communion. Outward signs can produce neither spiritual life nor spiritual unity.

This is the historic position of the Anabaptists. The inward and spiritual graces are essential to being a Christian and must precede the outward and visible signs.

That ye may be healed

My wife’s elderly cousin has been in Saskatoon a couple of days. This morning we went into the city and Chris spent a couple of hours with her. This cousin had two sons with her first husband, then divorced him. She married again, had four daughters, then divorced again. She loves her sons; she does not love her daughters. The sons do not get along with each other; the daughters are close — it seems they had a loving father. Neither of the sons is married, one of the daughters is a single Mom, the other three are happily married.

This is a brief portrait of a dysfunctional family. Even though the mother loves her sons, the relationships are often rocky. There are hurt feelings all around, between children and mother and mother and children, between the brothers and the sisters and between the two brothers. It seems that the mother had a cruel father and did not have a happy childhood. How many generations back does this go? How many more generations will be messed up by dysfunctional relationships.

Is there no balm in Gilead? I believe there is a healing balm, but only applying it on the surface will not bring about a reconciliation, it will need to penetrate through many layers to reach the deep wounds that cause the dysfunctional behaviour. First they will need to forgive each other. That would be the beginning, but only the beginning. Next they would need to admit how they have wronged and hurt each other. They are all victims, but they have also all inflicted wounds on each other. Finally, they would have to open up the deep-seated fears that cause them to lash out at one another and allow the balm to be applied so that they can begin to trust one another.

Of course, genuine, durable reconciliation is probably impossible as long as they continue to reject God’s call to repentance. (One of the daughters does make a profession of Christianity.) This led me to wondering how we are doing as Christians.

We say that we love everybody, that we have forgiven everybody. Wonderful. But how deep does the healing go? Why are so many among us struggling with hurt feelings?  “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed” (James 5:16). How deep are we willing to look in seeking a full healing?

“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love,
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved, as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

(This prayer is usually attributed to Francis of Assissi, though its present form cannot be traced back further than 1912 when it was published in Paris.)

The half-converted farmer

Years ago, there was a farmer in our neighbourhood who lived a simple life. He had no need of electricity, running water or a lawn mower. He didn’t seem to have a need for a wife either, though it was rumoured that once long ago there had been a lady of the house. Perhaps the rustic simplicity of the homestead soon lost its charm.

This rustic farmer had a simple approach to farming as well. In the spring he seeded his wheat and in the fall he harvested his wheat — as much as his equipment could capture. For you see, the fields produced a much greater crop of weeds than of wheat, in such a manner that the wheat that did grow was short in stature. What is more, there were many prominent rocks throughout the fields that needed to be avoided in seeding and in harvesting. As we passed by his fields after harvest we saw much wheat still standing, waiting to be gleaned by the birds, mice and gophers. The proximity of these heads of wheat to the rocks or to the surface of the ground had made them inaccessible to the harvesting machinery.

Then came a day when the farmer announced that he had seen the light, from henceforth things were going to be different. He purchased top quality seed and fertilizer, enough for all his fields. Nevertheless, he chose not to attempt to remove the rocks and the weeds. The good new seed, he said, with the help of the fertilizer, would produce such vigorous plants that they would choke out the weeds and grow so high the rocks would not be a problem.

Unfortunately, the bad seeds far outnumbered the good. With the help of the fertilizer, they grew taller that year than ever before. The wild mustard plants did indeed resemble small trees. I did not ascertain if the birds of the air built their nests in these great shrubs , but I did observe them flitting joyfully from branch to branch.

Harvest that year was neither better nor worse than in previous years. Whereupon the farmer declared that scientific farming was a fraud designed to separate gullible farmers from their money. He would never again believe a word of it. And the latter end of that farmer was worse than the first.

I have observed people who approached Christian life in like manner. They are convicted of the futility of their old ways and resolve to follow the way of Jesus. They begin to read the Bible and attend church, and verily their countenances are changed. They have hope.

Still, there are all the hurtful things they have said and done in the past, and perhaps dishonest things as well. These are great rocks in their life and the problem of removing them seems insurmountable. The cost and effort of confession and restitution is higher than they are willing to pay. Thus the rocks remain, ever a hindrance  to the trust they desire from others.

Worse yet, their tendencies to hurt feelings and flare ups of temper still remain and get in the way of the good they try to do. An apology would be too humiliating, better to wait and hope people forget. They are keenly aware of other people’s faults, and quite blind to their own. Such thorns in their personalities choke out their good intentions. After a time, they conclude that Christianity was only an illusion and return to their old ways.

It need not be that way. But too many well-meaning evangelists neglect to explain that one cannot live a fruitful and fulfilling Christian life without removing the rocks and the thorns.

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