Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: salvation

In Search of the Age of Gold

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Image by Jan Steiner from Pixabay

From postmillennialism
to the social gospel
to saving the world from weather

For lo!, the days are hastening on,
By prophet bards foretold,
When with the ever-circling years
Comes round the age of gold
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendours fling,
And the whole world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.

This is the fifth and final verse of It Came Upon the Midnight Clear, the Christmas carol written in 1849 by Edmund Hamilton Sears, pastor of the Unitarian Church in Wayland, Massachusetts.

This verse is an expression of the prevailing view of that day that the gospel would permeate all nations and all levels of society, eliminating strife and injustice, in preparation for the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. That view is called postmillennialism. There are still preachers, writers and churches that hold to that view.

The proponents of postmillennialism believed they had a duty to hasten the coming of the golden age which would lead to the return of the Lord. They engaged in many praiseworthy activities to help the poor and oppressed; they were the prime movers behind the movement to abolish slavery.

After the abolition of slavery in the USA, the movement move on to other targets. By now they had infiltrated political parties and began to influence them to use governments to achieve their objectives. They advocated for better working conditions for labourers, the right to vote for women, and the prohibition of the sale of alcoholic beverages.

In the 1890’s postmillennialism morphed into the social gospel. Leading writers of the movement saw the private ownership of business as a roadblock in the way of making the golden age a reality. The social gospel movement succeeded in attaining many of its goals, yet the golden age still seemed as far away as ever.

Strife between nations, strife between social and ethnic groups, has not diminished. By now the movement has become disconnected from its Christian roots, though many churches still want to believe that it is going to lead to a better world. There are new targets today, climate change, gender choice and so on.

Some Christians today think the best way to counter this movement is to strive for influence in political parties. But this whole problem was caused by Christians trying to use political means to make the world a better place. Satan is a cunning enemy, he encourages such tactics, then turns them against us.

The best choice for Christians today is to renounce politics and get back to being Christians. People, politicians and governments are not our enemies, attacking them is another of Satan’s ruses to keep us from seeing who our real enemy is.

People around us are dying for lack of a drink from the well of salvation. Most of them may not be aware that is what they need; we can’t force them to drink, but we can tell them about the soul refreshing water and offer it to them.

Instructions for parents from Menno Simons

The world desire for their children that which is earthly and perishable, such as money, honour, fame and wealth. From infancy they train them up to vice, pride, haughtiness and idolatry. But with you, who are born of God, this is not the case; for it behooves you to seek something else for your children ; namely, that which is heavenly and eternal, and hence it is your duty to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, as Paul teaches.

Moses commanded Israel to teach their children the law and commandments of the Lord, to talk of them when they sat down in their houses, and when they walked by the way, and when they lay down, and when they rose up. Now, since we are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people, that we should show forth the praises of him who hath called us out of darkness into his marvellous light; therefore it behooves us to show ourselves patterns and examples in all righteousness and blamelessness. And to appear unto the whole world as we are thereunto called; for if we do not keep a strict eye upon our own children, but permit them to follow their evil inclination, corrupt nature and disposition, not correcting and chastising them according to the word of the Lord, we may with the greatest propriety lay our hands upon our mouths, and remain silent. For why should we teach those not of our household, when we take no pains to preserve our own families in the love and fear of God? Paul says, “If any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel”.

My beloved brethren and sisters in Christ, who sincerely love the word of the Lord, thus instruct your children from youth up, and daily admonish them with the word of the Lord, setting a good example. Teach and admonish them, I say, in proportion to the development of their understanding; constrain and correct them with discretion and moderation, without anger or bitterness lest they be discouraged; spare not the rod, if reason and necessity require it.

Beloved brethren in Christ, if you rightly know God and his word, and believe that the end of the righteous is everlasting life, and the end of the wicked eternal death, endeavour to the utmost of your power, to conduct your children in the way of life, and divert them from the way of death, as far as in you lies. Pray to Almighty God for the gift of his grace, that in his great mercy, he may guide and preserve them in the right path, through the directing influence of his Holy Spirit. Watch over their salvation as for your own souls. Teach, instruct, admonish, threaten, correct and chastise them, as circumstances require. Keep them away from naughty, wicked children, among whom they hear and learn nothing but lying, cursing, swearing, fighting and knavery. Have them instructed in reading and writing, bring them up to habits of industry, and let them learn such trades as are suitable, expedient and adapted to their age and constitution. If you do this, you shall live to see much honour and joy of your children. But if you do it not, heaviness of heart shall consume you at last. For a child left to himself, without reproof, is not only the shame of his father, but he bringeth his mother to shame.

-Menno Simons, 1557

A time of testing

Now these are the nations which the LORD left, to prove Israel by them, even as many of Israel as had not known all the wars of Canaan; only that the generations of the children of Israel might know, to teach them war, at the least such as before knew nothing thereof; namely, five lords of the Philistines, and all the Canaanites, and the Sidonians, and the Hivites that dwelt in mount Lebanon, from mount Baalhermon unto the entering in of Hamath. And they were to prove Israel by them, to know whether they would hearken unto the commandments of the LORD, which he commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses. (Judges 3:1-4)

This has been the situation of Christians from the time of the apostles till today. We are living in enemy territory, there is spiritual warfare being waged against us every day.

Yet we are comfortable here, we see no danger. The LORD wants to teach us war; is it too late for us to learn? Do we know who our enemies are? Perhaps we are too much aware of those who are corrupt, dishonest, immoral, teachers of deception. Taking all such people out of the way would not solve the ills of this world. They are tools of the enemy and he would find others to do his bidding.

Is it possible that we can live moral and upright lives, praise God with our lips and at the same time the desires of our heart and the thoughts of our mind can be patterned after the world?

Here are a few things the Bible speaks of that may indicate whether we have identified the real enemy. Do we:

  • Suppose that gain is godliness?
  • Respect the rich and despise the poor?
  • Feel discontent with what we have?
  • Speak evil of others?
  • Find it difficult to speak of our relationship with the Saviour?
  • Have compassion for those who are weak in the faith?
  • Speak disrespectfully of people in authority?
  • Look down on people of different language, culture or skin colour?
  • Attribute our salvation to the faith of our parents?
  • Judge a person’s faith by his lifestyle?

Our enemy has no problem with people who are Bible-reading, church-going Christians, as long as they don’t get enthused about it. We can know and live by to all the principles and guidelines of the Christian faith, as long as we are comfortable being passive Christians. As soon as we become active he becomes alarmed and tries to sidetrack us or discourage us.

Jesus and Satan

Jesus and Satan were not strangers when they met before Jesus began His earthly ministry. They had known each other since before the world began. Each understood the other’s intentions and that it would be defeat for them if the other one could gain his goal.

Satan offered Jesus sovereignty over all the nations and peoples of the world, as a subordinate to himself. Jesus could enforce righteousness over all the world, but in the end all people would be doomed to hell.

He had already convinced the Jewish leadership of that day that this was a good plan. Messiah would come and rule the world with a rod of iron and the Jewish people could Lord it over all the people of the world.

He offered the same idea, just packaged a little differently to Karl Marx. There would be a time of struggle followed by an ideal society of equality and peace. He offered it to the Ayatollah’s of Iran, a strict enforcement of righteousness would bring peace. He offers an earthly utopia in many different ways, all have brought disappointment, and left people worse off than they were before.

The devil is even offering this dream of an earthly utopia to Christians today. He tells them that Christ will return and establish a 1,000 year reign of peace over all the world. But even those who describe this earthly reign of peace in alluring terms say it will end badly. At the end of the 1,000 years there will be a great rebellion ending in an unprecedented bloodbath.

This dream offered by Satan in many different forms is a means of distracting people’s attention from their greatest need. They are sinners, doomed to eternal damnation.

Jesus refused Satan’s offer. Satan’s only alternative then was to destroy Jesus, so that he could have uncontested sovereignty. That was going to be easy, because Satan already had control of the Jewish authorities.

Thus it happened that Jesus was condemned to death, scourged and nailed to a wooden cross. There He hung, broken, defeated; Satan’s total victory just minutes away.

Then Jesus spoke from the cross “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” and Satan’s expected became a crushing defeat. Satan had never anticipated that God would forgive the world of sinners who had rejected and mistreated His Son. How could He? Forgiveness is completely foreign to him.

Satan is defeated, doomed. He knows it; his hatred of God and his anger at God now moves him to capture as many people as possible and take them to hell with him.

God forgives us when we surrender completely to Him with all our being. He sets us free. But we won’t be free for long if we do not forgive others. If our feelings are hurt, if we are bitter over being mistreated or neglected, if we are angry, Satan already has us in his claws. The only way to get free is to forgive.

Even if we say, I forgive, but surely God will deal with that other person some day, Satan still has us in his claws. We must forgive completely to be completely free. God will judge all sin. He doesn’t need us to tell him who, or when or how. That is His domain, not ours.

We cannot outsmart Satan, we cannot overpower him. There is only one weapon that is effective against him. For that reason he does his utmost to prevent us from using it. Forgiveness is the weapon that is more powerful than anything in Satan’s arsenal.

Lord of All

By divine appointment, Peter was called to initiate the propagation of the gospel to the Gentiles. The divine nature of the appointment was unmistakable to both Peter and Cornelius.

Cornelius was the captain, or centurion of a band of 100 soldiers, a century. In the Roman army, six centuries made a cohort and ten cohorts made a legion. Caesarea was the headquarters of the Roman army in Judea. Thus Peter walked right into the heart of the Roman power structure to preach the gospel.

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Image by macrysstina from Pixabay

The heart of Peter’s message is found in Acts 10:36: “The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (he is Lord of all).” This message that God first sent to Israel, He now called Peter to bring to representatives of the Gentile forces who ruled in Judea.

“He is Lord of all.” At the trial of Jesus before Pontius Pilate the Jewish leaders had rejected that claim, saying “We have no king but Caesar.” But Cornelius, a representative of Caesar’s authority, now accepted the claim of Jesus Christ to be his true Sovereign. The result was evident to all who were there, including the six Jewish believers who accompanied Peter to the home of Cornelius in Caesarea.

When Peter asked, “Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?”, no objection was raised. The six who had accompanied Peter later testified convincingly to the church in Jerusalem that God had indeed granted repentance and salvation to these Gentiles.

How many people today would willingly accept the first half of Peter’s message, peace by Jesus Christ, but want no part of having Jesus as Lord of their life? May that not be the reason there are so many restless Christians today? It doesn’t work. True and durable peace is ours only when we willingly submit ourselves to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

The fulness of the time

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Solomon’s reign was the golden era of Israel. All the promises of God were fulfilled in the natural sense. The son of David built the glorious temple and God showed His acceptance by sending fire from heaven to consume the sacrifices. Solomon’s reign was a reign of peace over all the territory promised by God to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. News of the wisdom and wealth of Solomon spread everywhere.

Israel never again regained the glory it had known in Solomon’s time. The kingdom was divided, there followed good kings and bad kings, the people often tended to idolatry. Through it all there remained a belief that this land had been given them by God and the temple remained the spiritual focal point of the people of God.

Finally the accumulation of disobedience and sin was too much and God permitted the people to be taken into captivity and the temple to be destroyed. The prophets had foretold this devastation, but they also told of a time of restoration. Often these promises included the Gentiles in God’s plan.

The people returned from Babylon, rebuilt Jerusalem and rebuilt the temple. According to the Babylonian Talmud, the new temple lacked five things found in Solomon’s temple: the Ark of the Covenant; the sacred fire sent from God to consume the sacrifices; the Shekinah or pillar of smoke and fire showing God’s presence; the spirit of holiness (or prophecy); the Urim and Thummin by which God had made known His will. Yet the temptation to worship the gods of the heathen was gone and the true worship of God was restored.

Zerubbabel was the first governor after the return from Babylon. He was of the lineage of David, but could not be king because Judah was now a vassal state of Persia. The lineage of David’s descendants was faithfully recorded in expectation of the day when a son of David would again sit on the throne. Shortly after the return, the canon of Old Testament Scripture was completed with the inclusion of the histories recorded by Ezra and the prophecies of the last prophets.

The destruction of the temple had left a void in the worship system of the Jewish people. Synagogues appeared during or shortly after the Babylonian exile and have continued ever since. There is no command in the OT for weekly worship, nor instruction on how to organize or conduct such meetings. Synagogue is a Greek word that does not appear in the Old Testament, except in Psalm 74:8 of the AV where it is used to translate a Hebrew word. The synagogue was a place for weekly meetings on the Sabbath day when the Scriptures were read and expounded.

Other events happened on the world stage that caused great distress to the Jewish people. Alexander the Great conquered a territory extending from Greece and Macedonia south to Egypt and eastward to northern India and Afghanistan. He established many new cities in the conquered territories, all named Alexandria. Kandahar, Afghanistan was one of those cities and appears to retain some trace of his name. Trade throughout the empire was stimulated and Greek became the common language of trade. Upon Alexander’s death, his empire was divided in three and ongoing wars between the competing empires often involved battles for control of Judah.

During this time, Jewish leaders saw the need for a Bible in the Greek language and 70 scholars gathered in Alexandria, Egypt to make this translation. This is called the translation of the seventy, or Septuagint, and is the Bible quoted by Jesus and the apostles in the New Testament.

The next great empire to rise was Rome. Julius Caesar conquered southern Europe, including Greece, and extended the empire as far south as Egypt. The Greek language remained the international language of commerce throughout the Roman Empire. Rome added something new that enhanced trade and travel — a well-developed road system connecting all parts of the empire and rigorous law enforcement that made trade and travel much safer than ever before.

Now the “fulness of time” had come. The stage was set for the appearance of the Messiah, the true Son of David who would establish an eternal spiritual kingdom that would never end. This was not the Messiah the Jewish leadership was looking for, yet the evidence was all there in the OT prophecies for those who could see. Now was the time for the fulfilment of the salvation of which the OT sacrifices had only been a symbol and for the blood of the spotless Lamb of God to sprinkle the heavenly mercy seat.

When this was done and the earthly temple and kingdom had again been taken out of the way, the good news of salvation could be carried to people throughout the Roman Empire. A common language existed, there was a translation of the Old Testament Scriptures in that language and a protected road system to facilitate travel. A system of weekly meetings for reading and expounding the Scriptures in the synagogues became the familiar model for worship services of the early church.

So many events, which had seemed to be meaningless tragedies at the time, are now seen as the hand of God preparing the way for the coming of His Son into the world, the spread of the gospel and the establishment of the church.

(First posted in November of 2013)

What the Bible is all about

The Bible is not a story about good people versus bad people. It is a story of people that were created to be good and rather chose to be bad from the very beginning. From that point on it is a story of people who have been rescued from evil and those who still need to be rescued.

God created our first parents with the power to choose to obey Him or to choose to obey the temptation offered by the serpent. He knew the risk He was taking, but He never wanted us to be puppets, obeying Him only because we had no choice.

Satan and his dark angels have been at war with God since a time before the physical world was created. The first chapter of the book of Job shows the subtle way in which Satan works and God’s willingness to allow our devotion to Him to be tested. The end of the book shows how God bestows blessings upon us when we steadfastly resist everything that Satan uses to make us mistrust and deny God.

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The Old Testament is the history of God calling people to come apart from the wickedness of the world and follow Him. It is also a demonstration of how people were unable to maintain a life of faith. Step by step God was teaching how the things in which the ungodly trust will always lead to disaster. It was a lesson that usually didn’t stick from one generation to the next. The prophet Jeremiah described it well: “O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23).

There arose among the Jewish people a group who believed they had full understanding of the Word of God and of how God wanted people to live. They were considered to be experts in being faithful servants of God. They were called Pharisees, a name that denoted that they were separate from the ungodly and unbelieving.

When we come to the New Testament we see Satan and his forces using every weapon at their disposal to win mankind to their side. What does God offer to draw us to His side? A man who bled and died on a Roman cross 2,000 years ago.

Doesn’t sound like much of a contest does it? But that man was Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God. His death on the cross laid bare the evil intentions of the forces of darkness. When Jesus spoke from the cross and said “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do,” He won a victory over Satan. Forgiveness is not in Satan’s vocabulary, not something he comprehends. Rather than moving God to obliterate mankind for ever, Jesus’ death on the cross made forgiveness available to us all.

Jesus did not stay dead, He rose to life the third day and lives today. The distinctive mark of New Testament followers of God is that the Holy Spirit is now given to every believer, not only to a few prophets and spiritual leaders. We can now have the power of God within us to identify and defeat the ruses of Satan.

The Pharisees knew the Word of God and endeavoured to be obedient in the minutest details. It would seem that they should have been the first to recognize Jesus as the long-promised Messiah. But their status as experts blinded them to the truth. Jesus told them: “Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you” (Matthew 21:31).

It is still that way. Experts find it very difficult to be a Christian. They are too busy looking at how other people are doing everything wrong. Those who admit that they have been dishonest and immoral find they are welcome to come to Jesus. God wants sons and daughters who will trust Him in every aspect of their life. He wants to be obedient so He can lead us in a safe way and in the end bring us to be with Him in heaven.

The great lesson of the Bible is not just that through the blood of Jesus we can be forgiven, come away from the evil that is in the world and one day have a home in heaven. The part that we tend to miss, because we so much want to be experts, is that this is only possible on God’s terms, which we can only know by holding to His hand every step of the way.

Holy violence

And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force. (Matthew 11:12)

The tax gatherers and heathen, whom the scribes and Pharisees think have no right to the kingdom of the Messiah, filled with holy zeal and earnestness, seize at once on the proffered mercy of the gospel, and so take the kingdom as by force from those learned doctors who claimed for themselves the chiefest places in that kingdom. He that will take, get possession of, the kingdom of righteousness, peace, and spiritual joy must be in earnest. All hell will oppose him in every step he takes; and if a man be not absolutely determined to give up his sins and evil companions, and have his soul saved at all hazards, and at every expense, he will surely perish everlastingly. This requires a violent earnestness.

-Adam Clarke, Commentary on the Bible

Sometimes a light surprises

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Image by Piet van de Wiel from Pixabay

Sometimes a light surprises
The Christian while he sings;
It is the Lord who rises
With healing in His wings:
When comforts are declining,
He grants the soul again
A season of clear shining,
To clear it after rain.

In holy contemplation,
We sweetly then pursue
The theme of God’s salvation,
And find it ever new:
Set free from present sorrow,
We cheerfully can say,
Let the unknown tomorrow
Bring with it what it nay.

It can bring with it nothing,
But He will bring us through;
Who gives the lilies clothing,
Will clothe His people too:
Beneath the spreading heavens,
No creature but is fed;
And He who feeds the ravens,
Will give His children bread.

Though vine nor fig-tree neither,
Their wonted fruit should bear,
Though all the fields should wither,
Nor flocks, nor herds be there;
Yet God the same abiding,
His praise shall trill my voice,
For while in Him confiding,
I cannot but rejoice.

-William Cowper

Promises to Abraham

Abraham was a pilgrim and stranger in the promised land all his days. He believed the promise of God that his descendents would possess this land, even into old age when it seemed that all hope of having children was slipping away from him. God told him: “Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it unto thee” (Genesis 13:17).

When Abram decided that the only heir he would ever had would be the son of his servant who was born in his house, God spoke to him again. “ This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir. And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:4-6).

Sarah, Abraham’s wife, wanted him to have a son in fulfilment of God’s promise. She had no child and was past normal child-bearing age, so she gave her servant Hagar to Abraham as was the custom of the day. This worked, Ishmael was born and Abraham now had a son who was his own flesh and blood. But this was still not the heir that God had promised to Abram.

When Abram was 90 years old God renewed His promise and made a covenant with Abram, changing his name to Abraham, father of a multitude. “ And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee” (Genesis 17:7). It was at this point that circumcision was made the sign of the covenant.

Abraham was 100 years old and Sarah 90 or 91 when Isaac, the son of the promise was born. Their faith had been tested for many years, but now they could see the beginning of God’s promise of a multitude of nations as their direct descendents.
God had yet one more test for Abraham. He told him to go up to the top of Mount Moriah and there offer his son as a sacrifice to God. Isaac could not have been a small child by this time, probably more like 20. Josephus says 25. Isaac carried the wood for the sacrifice to Mount Moriah and up the mountain, not something a small child could have done. This leads us to believe that Isaac shared his father’s faith, for he must have fully cooperated when Abraham bound him and laid him on the altar.

Abraham took the knife in his hand and raised it. At this point God stopped his hand and said, “now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me” (Genesis 22:13). In the providence of God, now Abraham saw a ram caught in a thicket and offered him on the altar in place of his son.

“And the angel of the LORD called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time, and said, By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: that in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice” (Genesis 22:15-18).

There is so much for us bound up in the story of Abraham. Like him, we have been given an heritage. This heritage is revealed in the pages of the Bible and it is up to us to walk through the length and breadth of those pages to grasp all that God has is store for us.

Abraham believed God’s promise that he would have an abundance of heirs; that faith was counted to him for righteousness long before he received the covenant of circumcision. As the apostle Paul explains in Romans 4:9-14, this demonstrates that the promise to Abraham is to the uncircumcised as well as the circumcised. In another place the apostle explains that the circumcision that counts is the inward circumcision of the heart, not the outward form. All who are circumcised in heart by faith are then heirs of Abraham.

The New Testament also explains that the promise to Abraham is not for the children of the flesh, typified by Ishmael, but for the spiritual descendents of the son of promise.

Finally we have the picture of a father preparing to offer his only son as a sacrifice. In the New Testament we have the awful picture of the only Son of God dying on the cross as an offering for our sin. The ram that Abraham offered on the altar in place of his son is another piece of the great salvation story that God has provided a spotless Lamb to be sacrificed that He could forgive us and set us free.
Here, very early in Bible history, God has provided a complete picture of the whole salvation story through the events in the life of Abraham.

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