Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

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The inward and spiritual grace

What was it that I was looking for half a century ago? The Anglican Church had taught me that the sacraments were an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. In time I began to see that I was not receiving any inward and spiritual grace from the sacraments. Nor did I see any evidence of inward and spiritual grace in people that I knew from other churches.

What was the inward and spiritual grace? Would I know it if I saw it? My reading in history eventually led me to the Mennonites and Anabaptists of long ago. Those people seemed to actually know God. They were persecuted, tortured, executed and continued to testify that God gave them strength to bear it all. Their lives also demonstrated a real love for one another and hatred for no one.

So then the inward and spiritual grace must be the reality of Jesus summary of the commandments: “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31).

What must this look like in practice? Where might I find it? This was the era of the Jesus people movement, young people sang “We are one in the Spirit, We are one in the Lord . . . And they’ll know we are Christians bu our love.” It felt good at times, I’m sure that many of those young people really meant what they sang. But the movement didn’t last.

That brought another thought. Shouldn’t the inward grace bring together people of all ages in a genuine, enduring brotherhood?

I believe that I have found such a brotherhood. The outward evidence might not always be as it should: I’m afraid that anything that involves people is going to get messy at times. But there is a genuine connection to God and to one another that may stretch at times, but always draws us back together. I believe this is the inward and spiritual grace.

I have come to know many other Christian people as I go through life. Some are trying mightily to conform to what they believe the inward and spiritual grace should look like from the outside, and it just doesn’t even look right. Others appear to have the inward and spiritual grace, they are genuinely warmhearted people who love the Lord, but they find so few who believe just like they do.

I guess I need to add an unconditional love of the truth to my description of the inward and spiritual grace. A love for the truth that allows one to let go of his own picture of what the truth should look like and accept God’s picture.

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.

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