Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Roman Catholic

Worship styles – what is essential?

I was reading articles about the history of church pews and it seems most writers feel that pews became important at the time of the Reformation. In Roman Catholic worship the focus was on the communion and provisions for congregational seating were not of major importance. With the Reformation, the focus switched to the sermon where the congregation remained seated for a lengthy period of time and where and how they sat became more important.

That may be true, but I was raised in the Anglican tradition which did not fit neatly into either category. There were two Bible readings in every service, one from the Old Testament and one from the New. In addition there were a few significant passages of Scripture that were spoken aloud, either in unison or as responsive readings. There was a sermon, usually not lengthy, and often there was communion, but the real emphasis seemed to be on the Bible.

Contemporary worship music seems to have come front and centre in most evangelical churches today. Thus the worship leader who leads and directs this aspect of the worship service seems to be as important as the preacher.

Early Christian worship took place in places like private homes, forests, or the catacombs of Rome. This type of worship did not require a special church building, nor did it require pews or musical instruments. This was worship stripped to its bare essentials: Bible reading, prayer, and exhortation to faithfulness. And people risked their lives to be at these worship services.

Anabaptists retained that simple style of worship throughout most of their history. One could question whether the many persecutions they suffered made that the only feasible style of worship, or whether they were persecuted because they chose to avoid the worship style of the official churches. Both were probably factors.

Today, we of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite consider ourselves to be linear descendants of the Anabaptists. Bible reading, prayer, hymns and a sermon all have a place in our worship services. The sermon usually consists of some combination of exposition of a Bible passage, teaching, testimony and exhortation to faithfulness. It is not a prepared, scholarly discourse, but flows from a heart inspired by the Holy Spirit.

We sing both old and new hymns, without musical accompaniment. The message of a song remains with us much longer when we all sing together, rather than just listening. Many have testified of times of difficulty or crisis when part of a song has popped into their mind with words that brought comfort and direction.

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Manchester and the Crusaders

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Islamic extremists are telling Muslim youths that it is their religious duty to strike back at Christian nations because they are descendants of the Crusaders who wreaked havoc upon Muslims many years ago. There are serious flaws in this simplistic approach:

1. The Crusades were efforts by the popes to expand their political influence. Religion was only a camouflage for their real purpose.

2. Crusades were directed against people who also called themselves Christians but were not Roman Catholics: The destruction of Constantinople, the seat of the Greek Orthodox faith; the Albigensian Crusade that soaked the south of France in blood.

3. The Crusades were manifestly contrary to the true faith in Jesus Christ, a fact recognized even by most Roman Catholics of our day.

4. It is absurd to label the nations of Europe and North America as Christian nations when the majority of people have no connection to a church.

5. The Crusades probably did as much harm to Christianity as they did to Islam. Besides the slaughter of innocent non Roman Catholic Christians, they have left a lasting stain on many people’s perception of Christianity.

In the same way, Islamic extremists of our day are doing more harm to their fellow Muslims than they are to Christians.

Leaving aside all thoughts about the nature of the Islamic faith, I believe most Muslim people want to live in peace. They don’t really want to be looked upon as accomplices or sympathizers of the extremists. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Muslim parents and Imams everywhere could find a way to teach their children that acts of brutality and the slaughter of innocent children are doing more harm to other Muslims than to anyone else?

Pietists, Quietists & Anabaptists

I have been reading some of the writings of François Fénelon and find some moving passages. I plan to post some excerpts in coming days.

Fénelon was a Quietist, that is a Roman Catholic who believed that salvation had to come through a personal relationship with God, rather than through the forms of liturgical worship. So far, so good. Yet, there is a niggling little thought that troubles me – Fénélon appears to have had a genuine faith, but was that faith passed on to following generations? He remained a Roman Catholic all his life. The same question applies to those who were Pietists within the Lutheran Church.

The Anabaptists took a different approach. They believed that Scripture and Spirit called them to remain outside the established state churches and maintain a pure church. This often led to persecution and they accepted that as a necessary consequence of their commitment to God.  Menno Simons wrote:

“Reader, understand what I mean. We do not dispute whether or not there are some of God’s elect in the before-mentioned churches; for this we, at all times, humbly leave to the  just and gracious judgment of God, hoping that he has many thousands unknown to us, as they were to holy Elijah. But our dispute is in regard to what kind of Spirit, doctrine, sacraments, ordinance and life it is with which Christ has commanded us to gather unto Him an abiding church, and how to keep it in His ways.”

It is my conviction that Menno’s faith has more fully endured and been passed on to subsequent generations than has the faith of Fénelon.

Business and Church

I grew up in a small Saskatchewan town with four grocery stores and three churches. One store was owned by a cousin and another by an old friend of the family. Another was owned by a Catholic family and the fourth was the local Co-op.

The three churches were the United Church of Canada, the Roman Catholic and the Anglican. The United Church was the largest and the Anglican the smallest. My family was Anglican. Sixty years ago there were enough mouths to feed in the town and the surrounding farms to support all four stores. Cut-throat competition was unheard of.

As the years went by things began to change. Gravel highways were paved, and travel to the city became more common. Young people went to the cities to further their education and stayed to work. Small farmers sold out to their neighbours and moved to the cities. Families had fewer children. As the population of the town and the surrounding countryside slowly shrank, the owners of the grocery stores began to feel pressure on their profit margins.

One day a fire started at one store. The bell on the town hall was rung, the town’s fire engine and water wagon rushed to the scene, and in true small town neighbourliness every able bodied man and youth converged on the scene to fight the fire. In their zeal to help, they got the fire hoses tangled up. By the time they got them straightened out and were able to pour water on the fire the store was past saving. It was not rebuilt.

The other stores could breathe easier for a time, but the trend toward a shrinking local market continued. One day a lady came to my cousin’s store to ask him to buy an ad in a Catholic periodical. He was not interested. She told him that if he did not buy an ad the Catholic people would be told to stop buying at his store. He didn’t take it very seriously, but one by one his Catholic customers stopped coming into his store. Some of them were among his best friends, and they remained friends, but the priest had told them they should support the business owned by a Catholic and they felt pressed to do so.

The United Church and the Co-op were both products of the social gospel movement, resulting in a similar commitment from the United Church people to support the Co-op. That left my cousin with the Anglicans and the people who were of other religious persuasions, or none at all. He began to reduce the shelf space devoted to groceries and to stock clothing and dry goods, items where he had no competition from the Catholic or social gospel people. This provided a livelihood for a number of years. I believe the town is now down to two churches and one store, the Co-op.

Thinking over this little bit of history has raised a question in my mind. When I go into business, should I feel that my brethren are obligated to do business with me? Should I expect the deacons to drop a few gentle hints that brethren should support my business rather than a “worldly” competitor?

Having a captive market may sound like a sure road to success in business. But does it work that way in real life? I think I know myself well enough to admit that the quality of service to my customers would tend to go downhill if I could take it for granted that most of them would deal with me even if I made no special effort to see that their needs were being met. A captive market begets mediocrity.

We operate a business to earn a livelihood for our family. In most cases, we could not make a living by serving only the members of our own church community. This is a good thing. Our neighbours are predisposed to see us as closed, inward-looking people. Operating a business in the community can give people a better picture of what we are like. Our business is not a mission, but the way we run it shows what is important to us. When we are open, honest, friendly and fair to all, that is a witness of what our faith is. When we and our employees work together harmoniously, when there is no foul language, and no racy pictures on the walls, that is a witness. When we patiently and kindly attempt to meet the needs of customers who are old, frail and a little confused, and customers who are angry and demanding, that is a witness. When we show no evidence of prejudice or favouritism, that is a witness. Honesty in our dealings with governments is also a witness.

The purpose of a business is to serve our customers and support our families, not to bring salvation to our neighbours. Yet we should remember that as these neighbours observe us, they will form impressions about the church to which we belong, the faith we profess and the God we serve.

Anabaptists and their persecutors

The following statement was made in 1538 by an unnamed Anabaptist leader during a meeting between  the Swiss Reformed and Anabaptists in Berne:

“While yet in the national church we obtained much instruction from the writings of Luther, Zwingli, and others, concerning the mass and other papal ceremonies, that they are vain. Yet we recognized a great lack as regards repentance, conversion, and the true Christian life. Upon these things my mind was bent. I waited and hoped for a year or two, since the minister had much to say of amendment of life, of giving to the poor, loving one another, and refraining from evil. But I could not close my eyes to the fact that the doctrie which was preached and which was based on the Word of God, was not carried out. No beginning was made toward true Christian living, and there was no unison in the teaching concerning the things which were necessary. And although the mass and the images were finally abolished, true repentance and Christian love were not in evidence. Changes were made only as concerned external things. This gave me occasion to enquire further into these matters. Then God sent His messengers, Conrad Grebel and others, with whom I conferred about  the fundamental teachings of the apostles and the Christian life and practice. I found them men who had surrendered themselves to the doctrine of Christ by ‘Busfertigkeit’ [repentance evidenced by fruits]. With their assistance we established a congregation in which repentance was evidenced by newness of life in Christ.”

Roman Catholics, Lutherans and Reformed all witnessed the purity of life of the Anabaptists and considered it to be evidence of their great perversion:

Heinrich Bullinger (Swiss Reformed) wrote:

“Those who unite with them will by their ministers be received into their church by rebaptism and repentance and newness of life. They henceforth lead their lives under a semblance of a quiet spiritual conduct. They denounce covetousness, pride, profanity, the lewd conversation and immorality of the world, drinking and gluttony. In short, their hypocrisy is great and manifold.”

Franz Agricola (Roman Catholic) wrote:

“Among the existing heretical sects there is none which in appearance leads a more modest or pious life than the Anabaptist. As concerns their outward public life, they are irreproachable. No lying, deception, swearing, strife, harsh language, no intemperate eating and drinking, no outward personal display, is found among them, but humility, patience, uprightness, neatness, honesty, temperance, straightforwardness in such measure that one would suppose that they had the Holy Spirit of God.”

Bullinger, Agricola, and most other leaders in the state churches in the 1500’s felt themselves so threatened by the Christ-like lives of the Anabaptists that they felt the only solution was to kill the whole lot of them.

We have lived through several centuries of tolerance since then. As we consider the events of the world around us today, it seems that a time may be approaching when those who lead a pure, Christian life and will not compromise with the world could be once more the object of such hatred from the self-righteous compromisers of the world.

Business and Church

I grew up on the edge of a small Saskatchewan town.  There were four grocery stores and three churches.  One store was owned by a cousin quite a few years older than myself, another by an old friend of my family, another was owned by a Catholic family and the fourth was the local Co-op.

The three churches were the United Church of Canada, the Roman Catholic and the Anglican.  The United Church was by far the largest and the Anglican the smallest.  My family was Anglican.  Fifty to sixty years ago there were enough mouths to feed in the town and the surrounding farms to support all four stores.  It would be too much to say that relations between the stores were always cordial, but cut-throat competition was unheard of.

Slowly things began to change.  Gravel highways were paved, and travel to the city became more common.  Young people from the farms went to the cities to further their education and stayed to work.  Small farmers sold out to their neighbours and moved to the cities.  Families had fewer children.  As the population of the surrounding countryside slowly shrank, the owners of the grocery stores began to feel pressure on their profit margins.

One day there was an electrical short circuit at our friend’s store, starting a fire.  The bell on the town hall was rung, the town’s fire engine and water wagon were rushed to the scene, and in true small town neighbourliness every able bodied man and youth converged on the scene to fight this fire.  In their zeal to help, they got the fire hoses tangled up.  By the time they got them untangled the store was past saving.  It was not rebuilt.

The other stores breathed a little easier, but the local market continued to shrink.  One day a lady came to my cousin’s store to ask him to place an ad in a Catholic periodical.  He was not interested.  She told him that if he did not buy an ad the Catholic people would be told to stop buying at his store.  He didn’t take it seriously, but one by one his 23 Catholic customers stopped coming into his store.  Some were among his best friends, and they remained friends, but the priest had told them they should support the business owned by a Catholic and they felt pressed to do so.

The United Church and the Co-op were both products of the social gospel movement, resulting in a similar commitment from the United Church people to support the Co-op.  That left my cousin with the Anglicans and a few people of other religious persuasions, or none at all.  He reduced the shelf space devoted to groceries and stocked clothing and dry goods, items where he had no competition from the Catholic or social gospel people.  This provided a livelihood for a number of years.  My cousin retired years ago, as did the Catholic store owner.  Today, the town has the same three churches, but only one grocery store, the Co-op.

Thirty years ago I was manager of a grain elevator in another prairie town.  There was one other elevator in this town, a Pool (a grain handling co-op).  It happened one summer that the Pool manager was incapacitated by health problems, leaving the elevator closed at a time when farmers wanted to deliver grain.  Many of the Pool customers hauled their grain to my elevator.  One of those farmers watched closely as I sampled and tested his grain, and then remarked: “I know I’m being cheated on every bushel of grain I haul to the Pool.  But I can’t help it, I believe in the Pool!”

This man was typical of a large number of prairie people who were strong believers in the co-operative principle.  There was a time when Co-op’s knew that people would deal with them no matter what kind of service they got.  Consequently, Co-op employees had no incentive to make any special efforts to serve their customers.  Times have changed, realism has triumphed over idealism.  Co-op stores have discovered customer service.  The Pool elevators are no more, the elevators now belong to a stock exchange listed company.

Thinking over this little bit of history has raised a question in my mind.  When I go into business, should members of my church feel obligated to do business with me?  Should I expect the deacons to drop a few gentle hints that brethren should support my business rather than a competitor?

Having a captive market may sound like a sure road to success.  But I think I know myself well enough to admit that the quality of service to my customers would tend to go downhill if I could take it for granted that most of them would deal with me even if I made no special effort to see that their needs were being met.  A captive market begets mediocrity.

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