Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: repentance

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.

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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.

Don’t listen to them

Eight or nine years ago, Minister Isaac Akinyombo of Nigeria was in one of our Canadian congregations to assist in revival meetings. An invitation was given at the end of one of the meetings, and as brother Isaac was giving the invitation he added these words: “Be aware that there is someone right beside you, you can’t see him but he is there, and he is telling you that ‘Of course you need to repent and get right with God, but you don’t need to do it tonight. Tomorrow will be just as good, or next week. Take time to think it through clearly.'” He went on to warn that if someone was clearly hearing the call of the Spirit that night, there was no guarantee that the call would be as clear tomorrow, or that the person would even live until tomorrow.

The messengers of the enemy of our souls are very sly and speak to us in words that promise comfort, but leave us with our burden of sin. They are present in every worship service to point out the faults of the preacher and the inconsistencies of the people around us in the pews.

Yes, the people around us all have their flaws. But other people’s flaws don’t lessen my guilt. I am a sinner by nature and if the preacher is telling me that Jesus died for my sins I shouldn’t criticize him for not choosing exactly the right words, or the right tone of voice, to give me that message of hope.

The messengers from the realm of darkness want to entice us into the darkness where there is no hope. They want to convince us that everyone around us is in that darkness, that there is no hope. Yet when we step out into the light, we are able to see the light in so many of the people around us. Even though we are weak and sinful by nature, we can walk in the light and have fellowship with our Saviour and with others who are walking in the light.

Leaerning to recognize the tempter’s voice

[Another excerpt from When I Was Thirteen, the diary of a young girl in South-Western Ontario. The writer was Christina Young, but she used the pen-name of Mary McKenzie when the diary was published 20 years later in a weekly paper. As an incentive to keep writing in her diary, she had vowed to take castor oil if she ever forgot.]

June 15, 1897: It is queer how whenever you have to make a choice as to what you will do, you seem to be three people instead of one: yourself, and a jolly good friend who says, “Aw, take it easy and come on and have a good time,” and a sharp old scold who says, “Now don’t be a jelly fish again, be a real person for once and do what is right. Haven’t you any back bone?” And then if you do as a jolly friend says it seems to turn to a snake and stick out its tongue at you, and you hate it as it slithers away and leaves you feeling ashamed, and the sharp old scold seems your best friend, whose feelings you’ve badly hurt. But if you do as the old scold says, why she turns herself to a jolly good friend and you have a jolly good time in the end.

Sometimes as I’m walking along, I can feel one on each side as plainly as can be, and hear them lipping each other back, each trying to get me to go their way. Virginia says she can hear her two talking that way too, but they seem to be in her throat, instead of walking beside her.

It is queer how the jolly one can keep on fooling you though, if you sort of want to be fooled, though away down deep you are hating it all the time, knowing it will crawl away pretty soon not caring what happens to you after it’s got you into your trouble and the good time, that wasn’t a very good time after all, is past and gone and you are repenting in sackcloth and ashes.

But the scolding one stops scolding then and trudges along beside you feeling sad and hurt, yet still sticking to you and ready to put up a fight for you next time when the snake comes back as a jolly good friend and starts in to fool you again.

I expect they are really the spirit of goodness and the spirit of badness, striving to win your soul, and the bad one doesn’t really want your soul when he gets it, except just to laugh at your shame, but what he wants most is to hurt the spirit of goodness through spoiling something it loves.

August 2: I had to take castor oil last Monday as I forgot all about my diary on Saturday. I remembered it on Sunday just as I was eating a piece of apple pie, and I suppose I should have taken the oil right away, but I put it off though the thought of it spoiled my pie.

My bad one, which to myself I call Slop-Mouth, came popping up to my side and kept saying to put it off until Monday, as we were going to have a roasted rooster for supper, and I would not enjoy it if I took the oil then. I knew we were going to have the rooster because Ma had got it all ready on Saturday. For dinner on Sundays we just have lunch, but always have something extra for supper.

So I waited, not being sharp enough to see it was Slop-mouth talking to me. Then on Monday Slop-mouth said, how would it be to put off taking the oil till sometime I was sick and needed it anyway, as I hadn’t said in my vow just when I would take it. I was just deciding to do that when old Crusty, as I call my good one, who walks on my right, gave me one of her sharp digs and asked me if I didn’t know Slop-mouth yet when I saw him.

It is easy to get away from Slop-mouth, as soon as you let yourself see him, but it is queer how he can fool you into looking him straight in the face, and can get you to keep your eye off your good one at the same time.

As soon as Crusty said that, I jumped up and went to the pantry and got the oil bottle.

September 13: I always feel safer to let everyone know the worst things about me, and then I need never quake in my boots for fear they are going to find it out for themselves. And I notice that when you confess your sins yourself it takes away all the enjoyment anyone else might find in casting them up to you, if they happen to find out about them some other way. It is always safest, with nine in your family, to keep all your sins confessed up.

All the family knew about this anyway, because when I was the maddest I felt as though I must hear something smash, and I kicked a pane out of a window.

It wasn’t much to get mad at, and I knew I was in the wrong, which was what helped to make me so mad. I had left a little hair in the comb, and Jessie told me to go back and take it out. She said it in a rather bossy way, and I told her to do it herself. That was what started it, but it kept getting worse and worse, and when Ma made me take the hair out I was so mad that I walked up to the window and smashed the pane. And then I rushed upstairs and locked myself in my room and bawled.

I would have felt alright if Ma had given me a good licking, but nobody said a word. Pa put the pane in next day.

When I was mad like that old slopmouth didn’t seem like slopmouth at all, but like some powerful leaping snake that had suddenly somehow sprung into my body and was snapping and darting in every direction, and didn’t care where it bit. I hate putting it down in my diary, and I almost left it out, as I have been repenting ever since and don’t think I will ever lose my temper like that again, but I may have some descendants with very bad tempers, and this might be a lesson to them, supposing it does make them think less of me.

I will always be more afraid of slopmouth now, as I didn’t know he could act like that, and sort of take possession of me. I have changed his name to snake-eye. Writing it all down has made me feel so sort of dumpy that I don’t feel like writing anything else tonight.

Parents: Don’t run ahead of God!

I heard it again the other night — the failure of a childhood conversion.

The counsellor at a Christian summer camp had talked about Jesus and heaven and then asked the children if they wanted to go to be with Jesus in heaven when they died. A little girl was among those who said yes. The counsellor led her in a prayer and then told her that she was saved. She tried to do all the right things after that, but God didn’t seem very real and eventually she quit trying. After many twists and turns in her life she found herself a single mother in desperate need of help.  This time her prayer came from her heart and God was there to answer and has continued to guide and sustain her.

It’s not always the camp counsellor, most often it’s Mom and Dad. They want an assurance that their precious child will not be lost and so they begin at a tender age to prompt their child to give her heart to the Lord. Precious Child is happy to please Mom and Dad and recites the sinner’s prayer, often at the age of four, five or six. Mom and Dad rejoice that Precious Child is now a child of God. As soon as Precious Child grows up and leaves home, she drifts away from the church and her profession of Christianity.

One Canadian writer described these young people as the Goodbye Generation — those who appear outwardly to be faithful Christians during their youth. Yet when they say goodbye to Mom and Dad and face life on their own, they also say goodbye to faith and church. I think it is fair to ask if they ever really had a relationship with God. A survey a year or two ago found that young people who find meaning and direction in Bible reading and prayer while growing up, continued to live out their faith after they left home.

I know Moms and Dads, you love your children, you want them to be saved. But salvation is a personal relationship between your child and God. You cannot arrange, manage or force the beginning of that relationship. If you try, the results might be heart-breaking.

Wait for God to call your child. You are not the Holy Spirit, you cannot force God to do His part. Just trust that He will. Neither can you persuade or force your child to do his part. That is entirely between him and God.

I know that it can be painful to wait. While you are waiting, you might want to check your own relationship with God, ask Him if your life is all the He wants it to be. Don’t give your child a mixed message by calling yourself a Christian, yet living as though God has little place in your life.

So many of the things that are done to make church attractive to young people are a tragic waste of time and effort.  Churches should not be trying to convince young people that they can have Jesus plus all the worthless baubles that the world runs after. Tell them that it will cost something to be a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. Young people are searching for meaning in life, don’t try to sidetrack them with empty fun.

But most of all, let God do the God part. Let God do the calling, let your child make the choice to respond to that call and then let God do the adopting. God will not adopt your child as His own if all He sees is a forced or halfhearted repentance. But when the repentance is truly from the heart then God responds by wrapping your child in His love. This is what you really want, isn’t it? Then try not to get in God’s way.

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