Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: salvation

What does an angel look like?

This question was prompted by my search for an image to illustrate the words of John Milton which I posted a few days ago. I found all kinds of images, but not one that I would fell comfortable using.

The question may seem frivolous, as the Bible does not give a clear description of an angel. There are descriptions of seraphim, cheubim, living creatures in Ezekiel, and living beasts before the throne of God in Revelation. I don’t know if anyone has really succeeded in drawing a picture that accurately represents those descriptions. These beings have some role in God’s kingdom, but just what it is isn’t exactly clear, except that they are continually praising God.

Angels are something a little different. The name means messenger and is used in Revelation to describe the human messenger, or minister, of each of the seven churches of Asia. The celestial angels appear to have the specific responsibility of being God’s messengers to mankind and also protectors of mankind.

In the few mentions we have of an angel appearing to individuals in the Bible, he is usually described as appearing to be a man. That is, the angel appeared to be human. That would preclude wings. Though the other beings are usually described as having wings and flying, angels appear to simply step from the unseen celestial realm into the terrestrial.

Angels appear to have no gender, “neither marry, nor are given in marriage,” thus depictions of angels in sensuous feminine form are clearly false. For the same reason, it is probably correct that angels are never depicted with a beard.

Thus, the best I can do to describe an angel is to describe what is probably not part of his appearance: no wings, not distinctly masculine or feminine. Sometimes an angelic appearance is glorious, often there is nothing startling about the appearance of the angel.

The ministry and purpose of angels is more important than their appearance, for that reason I will quote Hebrews 1:14 as the conclusion:

Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?

Meeting God in His Word

I grew up in a home where the Bible was read every day and we attended the Anglican Church every Sunday. I became a member of that church when I was 11; a few years later I became an altar boy and continued faithfully until I moved away from home to attend university.

There was a time when God seemed very near, yet never did it seem like a connection was made. After I left home, I lost connection with the church and with the Bible. It seemed to me that most churches talked a lot about God, but followed a path that didn’t have much to do with God. The Bible was suspect, too. Perhaps some of it was inspired by God, but it seemed to contradict itself, most of it must be the opinions of those who wrote it.

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When I was 24, I borrowed a well-worn Bible from my parents and began reading it again to try and sort out what was really the Word of God and what was man-made additions. After several years I knew that was an impossible task. This book, written by 40 different people over a period of 1,500 years, was only one book. Every part of the Bible was connected to every other part. It was either the Word of God from beginning to end, or entirely a man-made fraud.

The second option seemed less and less tenable as I saw how the Bible explained itself as I read the whole thing. The so-called contradictions disappeared as I began to discern a purpose in them and see how God had revealed Himself step by step to recalcitrant mankind.

Then came the day in 1970 when I was reading the Bible and God pointed His finger directly at me and told me I was a sinner. And I knew it was true. On my knees I admitted to God that all that had gone wrong in my life was my fault and no one else’s. That was the point where my relationship with God began.

That relationship has grown over the years. I have read the Bible through many times, in both French and English. I don’t follow any Bible reading plan that leads me skipping hither and yon through the pages of the Bible. It is only meaningful when I read a book of the Bible through and get the whole picture.

From time to time God still points His finger at me and tells me “You’ve been struggling with that temptation, that bad attitude, or that unwillingness, for long enough. It’s time to repent of it, to clean house.” And He gives the grace to do it. I am constantly amazed at His patience, with the people of Bible times and with me.

The purpose of daily reading and meditating on the Word of God is not to learn about God, or to learn how to please God. Our motivation for opening the Bible must be to meet with God, to deepen our acquaintance with Him whose actions and purposes appear on every page, who inspired those 40 men over a millennium and a half to write the things that are in the book. We will learn about God and about how to live a life that is pleasing to Him, but that has to be a result of first learning to know Him in a personal way. The teachings of the Bible will not stick if we do not know the Author.

The Only Man with “All Power”

“All power Is given unto ME In Heaven and in earth.”

These seem to me to be the most audacious, the most astonishing words that ever fell from the lips of man. We are told that the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. And when they saw Him they worshipped Him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and spoke unto them saying:

“All power is given unto Me in Heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matt. 28.18).

Who said these words? A Jewish peasant, a Jewish carpenter. You know what carpenters are. You have seen a great many carpenters. This man was a carpenter—a poor man, had never been educated in the schools. He was educated in the carpenter’s shop. He made yokes and ploughs, I suppose, and helped build houses, and made boxes and chests and doors. And then He took up preaching, and went about among the common people, and some said He was a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners—a man who did not keep good company. Some said He was crazy, and one said He had a demon and some said He was a mover of sedition, and some said one thing and some said another; but the general conclusion among people who were anybody—the Scribes and Pharisees, the prominent men and the chief priests—was that He did not amount to very much anyway.

There were a few people who followed Him—fishermen and tax-gatherers and common people; but here this Man, who we are sometimes told was just like any other man, who has been called an impostor and deceiver— who was finally hung up on a Cross between two thieves, dying for these men—says, “All power is given unto Me in Heaven and in earth.”

Just think of it, a carpenter says that! A poor preacher, without a pulpit, without a salary, without a parish; a man whom they tried to kill; a man who did not stand well among the better classes of the community. Such a man as that says, “All power is given unto Me”—all authority, all ability, all efficiency, all power!

Did you ever think how much power there is on earth?
There is the power of the wind. Do you know of anyone who can control that? There is the power of the waves. Do you know of anybody who can control or master them? There are the powers of nature; the heaving of the tides; the swelling of the seeds in the earth, the mighty upspringing that clothes the fields with grass. There is the power of the clouds. There is the power of heat in which the strongest iron that ever was forged will melt. There is the power which pours down floods from on high. Why, a centimetre of water falling on one hectare of land amounts to one hundred tonnes and all that power poured out so gently that we do not notice it. We do not understand what is going on. We call it a shower. Think of the millions of glowing orbs that flame through the skies. Think of this world rolling in its mighty orbit. Think of the sun, sweeping on in its eternal pathway. Think of the power that moves these things. Some people do not understand how the sun could be made to stand still. Well, if you will tell me what keeps it going, I will tell you how it was made to stand still. All power in the universe. All power over men; all power over demons; all power over everything.

He did have power to Make Himself Remembered on the earth.
There were hundreds of millions of people living on the earth then—how many of them could you name? There were kings and princes, emperors, philosophers, poets. I do not believe a man here could name twelve persons who lived then. What has become of them? You remember Him? He did have power to keep His Name before the public. The world has never forgotten that. They have tried to persecute it out of sight; but there is no continent where His Name is not known; He is more widely known than Caesar. He is more widely known than Alexander. He is known more widely than Nebuchadnezzar. He is known more widely than Washington. He is known more widely than any man that ever lived since God made this world. He had power enough for that. How many people will know anything about you a hundred years after you are dead?

Curious, isn’t it, that this dead Jew is so remembered? There have been thousands of Jews who have lived and died and the world has forgotten them. He had power to be remembered.

He had Power to be Obeyed
Nebuchadnezzar was a great king. Do you know anybody who cares what Nebuchadnezzar said? Alexander was a great conqueror. Do you know anybody who cares what he commanded? Napoleon was a great conqueror. Do you know anybody who cares what Napoleon did? He changed the map of Europe and the face of the world’s governments—who cares for his commands now? Who cares today for the commands of Jesus Christ? How is it that He who was hung on a Roman Cross two thousand years ago, He who, our skeptical friends tell us, is nothing but a dead Jew and a dead carpenter—how is it that He is obeyed today? There is not a king on earth who has such a sway as He has. There is not an emperor who ever lived that had such a host to bow to His commands.

He had Power to Make Friends
You have been living in this world, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, sixty years. How many friends have you made? I don’t mean how many would come and eat a big dinner if you would pay for it. I don’t mean how many would drink as long as your money lasted—but friends. I mean people who would go with you if a policeman walked on the other side. I mean people who would lend you money when you were hard up, and they did not believe they would get it back again? How many would go across the Atlantic to please you if you couldn’t pay their fare? How many people would die for you? It is two thousand years since any man has seen Jesus Christ. Not a man on earth ever heard His voice. Not a man on earth ever clasped His hand. Nobody has His autograph. Nobody ever saw His handwriting. Nobody ever heard Him speak, yet how many friends He has. How many friends have you got?

Friends of every nation, of every clime, of every colour. Friends of every condition—in palaces and huts; in cottages and caves of the earth. Friends delving in mines; friends drying their nets in the fishing boats; friends tilling the soil; friends riding in high places; friends everywhere. Hundreds, thousands, millions, tens of millions. How does He get so many friends? How is it that He who hung between two thieves two thousand years ago has so many friends who never saw Him, who never heard Him, and yet who know Him and love Him; who would lay down their lives for Him; who would go to the ends of the earth for Him; who would give the last dollar they have; who count nothing dear when He calls for them?

You say that He is a dead Jew, do you? I never saw a live Jew who could do that. I never saw a live Gentile who could do that. What does this all mean? It means that “all power is given unto Him.” It means that He has power over the hearts of men; that He grasps them and holds them by a bond which earth can never break.

He had Power to Make His Words Live
Millions of people are talking, talking, talking until they tire everybody out, but nobody remembers a word that they have said. Books have been written and perished. Poems have been written, orators have been recorded, but they have perished; but He said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away.”

He never had a reporter for the Jerusalem Journal or the Galilee Gazette, taking down what He said to print in the next morning’s paper, but His words remain.

He spoke to a little company of disciples on the Mount, and the world still listens to what He said. He told Nicodemus one night how “God so loved the world,” and those words have been ringing through the world for two thousand years. He talked to a few disciples on board ship, and His words have been echoing ever since. Today, in seven hundred different languages, men read the words of Christ. Many of the inhabitants of the earth this day can read in their own tongues the story of Christ and His Cross. The infidel can never root this out. He can scoff and sneer and burn up Bibles, but the “Word of the Lord endureth forever.”

“All Power!”
You have no power over the winds, but He could speak to the winds and they obeyed Him. You have no power over the waves, but He could say, “Peace, be still,” and there was a great calm. You have no power over “all manner of diseases,” but when He spoke to the sick, He healed them. You have no power over evil spirits, but He cast out demons with His word. You have no power over the dead but He called them from the silence of the tomb and bade them live.

And these were only the specimen of what He could do. He raised one dead brother; He is going to raise your dead brother. “All that are in the graves shall hear His voice and shall come forth,” for He says, “I am He that liveth and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of Hell and of death” (John 5. 28, 29; Rev. 1. 18).

“Go ye into all the world
Suppose you had a message you wanted to send into all the world. You couldn’t get it out of town without paying somebody for it; and when your money stopped, the message would stop. He said, “I send you forth as sheep among wolves.” He promised them nothing but a cross. “Go,” you have imperial Rome against you. “Go,” you have idolaters against you. “Go,” you have Gentiles and Jews against you. What have you got? A story about a man hung up between two thieves. What do we care about them? To the Jews it is a stumbling-block and to the Greeks foolishness. Christ says, “You go and tell it.” And all through these vast empires where men bowed the knee to heathen gods, today there is not a knee bowed to Jupiter or Mars or Venus, or any of these deities. Their temples are in ruins. Their oracles are dumb. Their priests have perished in the corruption of ages. But this foolishness of preaching that saves them who believe still marches on. Today the words of Christ have gone out to the ends of the earth.

That carpenter who died without a friend, except a few poor, weeping women, forsaken by those whom He had taught, is today acknowledged as Lord by countless numbers among all nations.

Every bank note that you have in your books has a date upon it, and it dates from the birth of that Man. Every cheque you draw has that Man’s birth date upon it. The deed you own your farm by has His birth on it. The note you give, the bond you hold, the contract you make, is not worth the paper you write on until it has that date.

Two thousand years ago A Little Company of a Dozen Persons
sat in an upper room around a table, ate some bread and drank from a cup, and the Master said, “Do this in remembrance of Me.” If you had been looking on, and knowing that their leader would be betrayed, denied, forsaken by all, had you been asked, “How often will they observe this?” you would have said, “They will never meet again.” Two thousand years have passed since then, and there has never been a year that some one has not obeyed that command; and today in different lands, in different quarters of the earth, people gather, and with tearful eyes and tender hearts take the cup and break the bread in memory of Him who died on Calvary’s Cross. “All power is given unto Me in Heaven and in earth.”

You Want to be on the Strongest Side!
Then be on the side of Christ. You want to be on the winning side; you want to be with the noble, the godly, and the good; this is the company you want to be with.

Today we may testify to His goodness; today we may glorify His Name. And it will be something to say in the day of His glory, when the angels shall glorify Him, when all Heaven shall adore Him—it will be something to say then, that in the day when He was dishonoured we stood by Him; in the day when He was rejected we suffered with Him.

-Author Unknown

[Forty years ago a cousin of mine had a printing press in a little building in his back yard in Saskatoon. One of the things he printed was this tract. The name of the writer was not given and I have been unable to find any trace of it elsewhere. I suspect the writer was British, but that is really only a guess. I hope others appreciate it as much as I have.]

Four kinds of Christians?

In musing over the many directions taken by Christians I have encountered over my lifetime, it seems that they fall into four basic categories: ritualists; activists; survivalists and disciples. I don’t pretend that this is the nec plus ultra of analyses, but it is something that has helped me sort things out in my own mind.

Hmm, nec plus ultra, that says exactly what I am trying to say, but I wonder now if it helps anyone else understand what I am trying to say. It is Latin and means “nothing more beyond.” I think it would be understood if I were writing in French, which I’m not. What I wanted to say back there is that this explanation works for me but somebody else might be able to do a better job.

I’m not sure that I’ve found the best word to typify each category either, but here is what they mean to me;

  1. Ritualist. I would include here all those who feel the need to regularly sit in on a worship service at a certain day and time. This includes those who are strongly attached to a liturgical form of worship, but I would include all those who feel the important thing is to be there. They are not specifically drawn by the preaching or the fellowship, they just want to be part of what’s happening. Perhaps the best way to describe them is as consumers of spiritual food, rather than contributors.
  2. Activist. This includes all who feel they are called to change the world. this might include the Christian ecologist, the one who feels a burning call to enlighten the world about him about the need to prepare for the sounding of the sixth trumpet of the Apocalypse, or one who feels he has to share the message of salvation with every person he encounters, on the street, in stores, at football games.
  3. Survivalist. The opposite of category two. They have given up on the world and all their efforts are focused on just hanging on. They see danger everywhere, are suspicious of everyone. Sometimes they gather in  communities and protect themselves from outside influence by restricting social contact, sometimes even speaking a different language.
  4.  Disciples. To disciple means to teach. To be a disciple means to be a learner. This is a life-long process where one never gets to the point where he has nothing left to learn and no need of others. One cannot really be a disciple in isolation from others, or according to one’s own plan or schedule. Discipleship includes the idea of being part of a disciplined and orderly group where learning is possible.

Lest I be misunderstood, I want to emphasize that I have encountered true Christian believers in all four groups and I can recognize all of those tendencies within myself. Left to our own devices we all tend to go off on some tangent. As an elderly neighbour was wont to say “There is no moderation in the human race.”

The Great Commission is a call to make disciples of all peoples, including those next door if they are willing to listen. It is not enough to lead someone to salvation and then leave them to carry on as best they can by their own devices. The Great Commission is not fulfilled until there is a disciplined body able to function as a body, not merely a collection of disconnected body parts.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to paint a picture of a group of mindless zombies led by a dominating leader. Jesus Christ is the only Lord and Shepherd of the church. Yet He has called for the establishment of a servant leadership to watch over the spiritual health and growth of each assembly.

I mentioned moderation. It is listed as part of the fruit of the Spirit and is not something that can be taught. Yet it seems that we need to be taught the need for moderation. Part of the whole life of discipleship is learning how to relate to one another in a way that is supportive and encouraging for all and will maintain a purity of faith and life. This is what our Lord and Shepherd expects of us and the better we come to know Him, the better we will be able to relate to one another.

The following reasons are therefore the cause of our separation.

May it be known to everyone that the cause of our separation has been such; for the essential truth of faith, and the interior knowledge of a true God in three persons in a unity of essence, a knowledge that neither flesh nor blood gives; the proper worship due to God alone, the love which belongs to him above all things, the sanctification, the honor which is due to him above all things and all that is called the living hope that is through Christ in God; regeneration and inner renewal by faith, hope and charity; the merit of Christ in all sufficiency of grace and justice; the communion of all the elect; the remission of sins, the sanctity of life, and the faithful fulfillment of all commandments by faith in Jesus Christ; true repentance, perseverance to the end and eternal life.

The truths which concern the ministry are these: the external assemblies of the ministers with the people who are subject to them, in suitable place and time, to instruct them in the truth through the ministry; in the truth mentioned above, bringing it there, strengthening it, and maintaining it there by faithful and frequent assemblies; the good ministers being, as to faith and conduct, an example of obedience, and following with vigilance the practice and example of the Lord to the flock.

The things that ministers are bound to do to serve the people are these: to preach to them the word of the gospel and the word of reconciliation, or the law of grace, according to the purpose and intention of Christ. For they are to announce the word of the Gospel, and the sacrament is joined to the word, confirms its intention and significance, and strengthens the hope in Christ in the faithful. Communion administered by the minister contains everything of the essential truth. And if there are some other things that concern the ministry, they can all be included in what has been said.

Now, of these particular truths, some are essentially necessary to the salvation of the humans, the others are conditionally necessary. They are contained in twelve articles, with the addition of several words of the apostles.

Six Iniquities of Antichrist
1. The errors and impediments presupposed by the Lord, concerning the Antichrist, are the following: varied and innumerable idolatrous service, granted against the commandment of God and of Christ, not made to the Creator, but to the creature seen or unseen, corporeal or spiritual, intelligent and sensible, produced naturally, or by any art, or under any name whatsoever, as of Christ and saints, and, relics, and persons in authority, to which creatures is rendered a service accompanied by faith, hope, actions, prayers, pilgrimages, alms, offerings, sacrifices, very expensive. They serve such creatures, they worship them, honor them in many ways, by singing, by panegyrics, by solemnities, by celebrations of masses, by vespers, by compliments to these creatures, by hours, by vigils, by feasts, to acquire grace, acquisition which is essentially in God alone, and meritoriously in Jesus Christ, and which is obtained only by faith by the help of the Holy Ghost.

For there is no other source of idolatry but a false opinion concerning grace, touching the truth, touching authority, invocation, intercession, which the Antichrist removes from God to assign to the ministries and works of his hands, the saints and purgatory. And this iniquity of the Antichrist is directly contrary to the first commandment of the law.

Similarly, the unrestrained love of Antichrist for the world is the source from which all the evils and sins of leaders, directors, and officers proceed in the Church; sins which remain without correction, and which are contrary to the truths of faith and to the knowledge of God the Father, according to the testimony of John, who says: He who sinneth neither knows God nor has seen him. For if anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

2. The second iniquity of the Antichrist is that he places the hope of forgiveness, grace, justice, truth, and eternal life, not in Christ, nor in God by Christ, but in men living and dead, in authority, in ecclesiastical ceremonies, in blessings, in sacrifices, in prayers and in other similar things mentioned above, and not in a true faith which produces repentance, with charity, the removal of evil and the advancement of good.

So the Antichrist teaches not to hope firmly for regeneration, strengthening, spiritual renewal or communion, the forgiveness of sins, sanctification in eternal life: but by the sacraments and by his perverse simony, means by which the people are deceived, and having all things for sale, he has imagined old and new ordinances to obtain money, allowing that if someone said or did this or whatever, he wants him to acquire grace and life. And this double iniquity is, properly called, in the Scriptures, adultery and fornication. Therefore, such ministers, who lead the rude people into such errors, are called whores of the Apocalypse. This iniquity is contrary to the second article, and also contrary to the second and third commandments of the law.

3. The third iniquity of the Antichrist is that, besides what has been said, he has invented false religious orders, rules, monasteries, churches, as means of acquiring hope. Similarly, they affirm, against all truth, that it is a duty for everyone to hear masses often and devoutly, to receive the sacraments, to confess (but rarely with contrition), to fast or to empty his purse, to be a member of the Roman Church, to indulge in or deliver to rule or hood. And this iniquity of the Antichrist is directly contrary to the eighth article of the symbol: I believe in the Holy Ghost.

4. The fourth iniquity of the Antichrist is that, being himself the fourth beast formerly described by Daniel, and the whore of the Apocalypse, he attributes to himself names, authority, power, the dignities, the ministries, the offices, the writings, to the point of equalizing and comparing themselves to the true and holy mother Church, in which there is ministerially, and not otherwise, salvation and truth, as to the life, doctrine and the sacraments. For if it were not that she covers herself and her ministers with error and manifest sinners, she would be abandoned by all if she were known.

But because the emperors and kings, and the princes, judged that she was like the true Holy Mother Church, they loved her herself and endowed her against the commandment of God. This iniquity of the ministers, of the subjects, of those ordained in error and in sin, is directly against the ninth article: I believe the holy Church. These things belong to the first part of the article.

In the second place, in fact, by participating in only the external forms, according to the humanly ordered and invented usages, they believe and hope to have their part in the truth of the offices of pastors and the cure of souls, as if those who would be shorn like lambs, who would be anointed in the manner of a wall, and who would receive the blessing by touching the book and the chalice, could claim to be rightly ordained priests.

It is the same with the subjugated people, if, because he has his share in the words, the signs, the external exercises, and in their various ceremonies, often repeated, he persuaded himself that he had part in the truth which is covered with them. And this is contrary to the other part of the eighth article: I believe the communion of saints.

One thing is to be done, it is necessary to move away from the very evil communion of the monks who, to bring carnal men to themselves, make them hope, by means of things of nothing and avarice, that they will make them share in their poverty and chastity, whoever they may be, or whether they are lustful or avaricious, provided they give gifts to them..

5. The fifth iniquity of the Antichrist is that he promises, by deception, forgiveness and remission of sins to sinners not truly contrite and who have not firmly renounced evil deeds. And he first makes this promise of the remission of sins by means of auricular confession and the absolution given by men, by means of pilgrimages dictated by greed.

This iniquity is contrary to the eleventh article of the Creed: I believe the remission of sins. For this forgiveness depends on the authority of God and the ministry of Jesus Christ, by partaking in faith, hope, repentance, charity, and obedience which, according to the Word of God, is in man.

6. There is yet a sixth iniquity, that they prolong the hope of forgiveness until the end of life, by means of the hidden iniquities already mentioned for the manifest sinners, and especially by means of the extreme unction and purgatory dream, so that the unlearned men, who do not know the truth, persevere in error and are absolved of sins from which they have never moved away from by free will so that they could hope for it. coming remission and eternal life. This iniquity is directly contrary to the eleventh and twelfth articles of the faith.

Duty of separation of the Christian

That the Christian is commanded to separate himself from the Antichrist, is said and proved by the Old and the New Testament:

For the Lord says, Isaiah fifty-two: Depart ye, depart ye; get out of here, do not touch anything unclean, get out of it; purify yourself, you who carry the vessels of the Lord. For you will not go out in haste, nor will you walk away.

And Jeremiah fifty: Flee from Babylon, come out of the land of the Chaldeans, and be like goats at the head of the flock. For behold, I will stir up and set up against Babylon a multitude of great nations in the land of the north; they will fight against it, and will seize it.

Numbers, sixteen: Separate yourself from the midst of this assembly, and I will consume them in a moment. And then: Depart from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing of theirs, lest you perish at the same time that they will be punished for all their sins.

Leviticus: I am the LORD your God, who has separated you from the peoples. You will observe the distinction between clean and unclean animals, between pure and unclean birds, so as not to make your people abominable by animals, by birds, by all the reptiles of the earth, which I have taught you to distinguish as unclean.

Exodus, Thirty-four: Be careful not to make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land where you are to enter, lest they be a snare for you.

And then: Be careful not to make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, lest they prostitute themselves to their gods and offer them sacrifices, and invite you, and eat none of their victims; lest you take their daughters for your sons, and their daughters, prostitute themselves to their gods, do not lead your sons to prostitute themselves to their gods.

Leviticus, fifteen, 31: And ye shall drive the children of Israel away from their uncleanness, lest they die because of their uncleanness, if they defile my tabernacle that is in their midst.

Ezekiel, eleven, 21: But for those whose heart is pleased with their idols and with their abominations, I will make their works fall on their heads, says the Lord, the Eternal.

Deuteronomy, eighteen: When you have entered the land which the LORD your God gives you, you will not learn to imitate the abominations of those nations. For whoever does these things is an abomination to Jehovah; and it is because of these abominations that the LORD your God will drive out these nations before you. You will be wholly to the Lord your God. For those nations that you are hunting will listen to astrologers and soothsayers; but to you the LORD your God does not allow it.

In the New Testament, too, it is manifest, John, eleven: That the Lord should die, that he should gather in one the children of God.

For it is for these truths of unity and separation from one another that he says, Matthew ten: For I came to put the division between man and his father, between the daughter and her mother between the daughter-in-law and her mother-in-law; and the man will have for enemies the people of his house. And he commanded to part, when he said: He who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, & c.

Similarly – Beware false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, etc.

So also: Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees.

In the same way: Take care that no one deceives you. For many will come under my name, saying; It’s me. And, they will deceive many people. If anyone says to you then: Christ is here, or: He is there, do not believe him. ; do not go after them.

And, in the book of Revelation, he admonishes in his own voice and commands his people to come out of Babylon, saying: And I heard another voice from heaven saying, Come out of her, my people, that you do not participate in her sins, and have no part in her plagues. For her sins accumulated to the heavens, and God remembered her iniquities.

The Apostle says this very same: Do not put yourself with the unbelievers under a unequal yoke. For what connection is there between justice and iniquity? or what is there in common between light and darkness? What agreement is there between Christ and Belial? or what part has the faithful with the unfaithful? What connection is there between the temple of God and the idols? Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord; do not touch the unclean, and I will welcome you. I will be a father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.

Ephesians five: So have no part with them. Formerly you were darkness, and now you are light in the Lord.

1 Corinthians ten: I do not want you to be in communion with the demons. You can not participate in the Lord’s table, and at the table of demons.

2 Thessalonians three – We recommend you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to depart from every brother who lives in disorder, and not according to the instructions that you have received from us.You know yourselves How then must we be imitated? And then: And if any man obey not what we say by this letter, note it, and have no communication with him, that he may be ashamed. Ephesians five: Do not take part in the unfruitful works of darkness.

Similarly, 2 Timothy 3: Know that in the last days there will be hard times .. And lower: Having the appearance of godliness, but denying what makes it strong. Keep away from these men.

Of the above-mentioned things, the evil deeds of Antichrist and his perversity are clearly demonstrated. And as it is ordained by the Lord to separate from him internally and externally, and to unite in Jerusalem the holy city. Thus, knowing these things which the Lord reveals to us through his servants, and believing in this revelation, according to the holy Scriptures, and being at the same time admonished by the commandments of the Lord, we separate ourselves internally and externally from what we believe to be Antichrist, and we stand together with one another, united in goodwill and righteous intentions, with the pure and simple foundation of pleasing the Lord and being saved, with the help of the Lord, as much as the truth of Christ and his Bride, as well as our weak intelligence, may permit it.

We therefore point out the causes of our separation, as well as of our congregation, so that if the Lord gives others the same truth, they may love Him at the same time as us. And so that if they are not well enlightened, they will be helped by this blessed ministry sprinkled by the Lord. And if it happens that more has been granted to someone, and more abundantly, we humbly desire to be taught, to know better about Him and to be corrected in what we lack.

Paul, the master apologist

Being an apologist for the Christian faith may sound like expressing our regrets for being Christians. The true meaning is quite the opposite; it means being able to talk about our faith without fear or embarrassment, and to always be ready to “give an answer” (apologia) to those who ask about it.

The apostle Paul believed that the salvation that had been freely given to him made him a debtor to others. He owed it to the civilized and the uncivilized, the learned and the ignorant. (Romans 1:14) to tell them the good news of salvation . His faith in Jesus Christ empowered him to speak and write without shame or reticence (verses 15 & 16).

In order to fulfill this obligation he became all things to all people, able to relate to all people, no matter what their religion, ethnic origin or social status.

He used examples from the popular culture of the day to describe how a Christian should live. The Olympic Games had been held for over 800 years at the time of his ministry. So Paul spoke of Christian life as a foot race, an effort to reach the goal; and he spoke of the training, discipline and temperance that were required of an athlete.“They do it to obtain a temporal crown, we an eternal.”

He spoke of wrestling, explaining that our opponents in the wrestling match of life are not other people, but spirits and powers from the realm of darkness.

The Roman Empire extended over southern Europe, North Africa and Eastern Asia. Roman soldiers were seen everywhere, ready to maintain order. Paul spoke of the discipline required of a soldier and how he must not entangle himself with things that would hinder his service.

In Athens he was brought before the philosopher judges on suspicion of introducing a new god. Athens had many gods but the law forbade anyone trying to add more. Paul began by mentioning the altar to an unknown god and saying that he was just explaining who that unknown god was. He then proceeded to piece together ideas and quotations that were familiar to the Epicureans and Stoics, leading up to a declaration that God would judge the world by one who had been resurrected from the dead. The men sitting in judgement had followed his reasoning up to this point, but now some mocked and others wanted more time to think about what they had heard. One of the judges believed, along with a few other Athenians.

Paul did not try to tell Gentiles that they first needed to learn to think like Jews to understand the story of salvation. He made himself familiar with the Gentile culture and used everyday things to explain Christian faith and life.

We don’t have to immerse ourselves in pop culture in order to follow Paul’s example. Yet, if we hold ourselves completely aloof from the people around us, how are we going to be able to talk to them? A good place to start would be to ask them questions, show an interest in their lives, rather than hoping they will be interested in us.

Peter writes that we should be ready to answer everyone that asks us the reason of the hope that we have. (1 Peter 3:15). Often we will catch subtle hints that people want to know, but don’t quite know where to begin or how to ask. Most people have preconceived ideas about Christians and will try to fit us into the framework of what they think they know. Here is an opportunity, not to unload a long explanation, but to tell a story or make some allusion to how the longings expressed in popular culture are in fact groping towards answers that can only come from faith in Jesus Christ.

Apologetics is best done by building a relationship with others and treating them with respect. We are not teachers with all the answers, just ordinary people with insights gained from our relationship with Jesus and with fellow believers.

Telling about our failures and how we learned from them will put us on the same level as others and make them feel that the kind of Christian faith we have is not something beyond their reach.

What is a miracle?

canola-field-3436417_640A few weeks ago farmers in our area seeded many fields with tiny, round, black Canola seeds. Before long green leaves appeared and grew large. Then flower spikes grew upwards and little yellow flowers appeared. Now we are seeing golden yellow fields like the one in the picture above.

That little black seed contained coding that enabled it to take nutrients and moisture from the soil and turn them into a plant many times larger than itself. Each flower will form a seed that is an exact copy of the seed from which the plant grew.

Is that a miracle? No; it is a predictable result of putting that seed in the ground. Do I  comprehend how the seed is able to do that? I can explain what happens, the why is beyond me. Only God could build a seed with life in itself and the ability to reproduce itself.

Have you ever thought about how much rain must fall from the sky to produce a crop? One centimetre of rain on one hectare of land amounts to 100 tonnes of water. Canola plants need 20 cm of rain between seeding and harvest to make a good crop. That is 2,000 tonnes of water per hectare. All that water is held in clouds in the sky and delivered to where it is needed.

Is that a miracle? No, it is simply another of the wonders of cration. Solomon described the cycle of water several thousand years ago: “All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again” (Ecclesiastes 1:7).

bread-1281053_640

Jesus fed thousands of people with just a few loaves of bread. I expect the loaves looked much like the ones in the picture above, as housewives in Israel weren’t using bread pans back then.

I expect that it was done so simply as to be almost imperceptable. Jesus broke a large piece off a loaf and gave it to one of the disciples. When he went to break off another pece to give to another disciple the loaf in his hand was about as big as before he tore anything from it. The disciples had the same experience. They kept breaking smaller pieces off the large piece in their hands and there was always more to break off. After everyone had eaten there was more bread left than there had been at the beginning. Now that was a miracle.

Jesus could have asked for a thousand loaves of bread to appear in the midst of the crowd. Think of the tumult as each one tried to grab some for himself. That was not His way. He blessed the bread and broke it to give to the people and it was clear to all that He was the giver. Most miracles occur quietly, almost unseen.

A few years ago Doctor Kevin Dautremont wrote in his blog of such a miracle. A young man had been a Christian, but became angry and bitter when he developed cancer and had to have one of his legs amputated. He turned away from God and from his family.

He was in palliative care and near the end when Doctor Kevin was called to see him. The young man’s voice had previously been almost inaudible, now he asked in a clear strong voice for help to stand. He stood on his remaining leg, looked at his mother, smiled and said “I’ve been with Jesus. And we were running.” Then he laid back on the bed, closed his eyes, and died.

Doctor Kevin asked: “Is there a greater miracle than a heart changed? A soul saved? A prodigal returned to the loving arms of His Father?”

You can read the full text of Doctor Kevin’s blog article here.

Truth or heresy?

The Roman Catholic Church endeavoured to destroy all evidence of the faith of those whom they persecuted. Nevertheless, much can be learned from their accusations against those they called heretics.

For instance, here is the accusation of Peter of Cluny against Peter de Bruys: “They deny that infants who have not yet attained the years of understanding can be saved by the baptism of Christ; and say that the faith of another cannot help those who cannot use their own faith; for, according to their view, not the faith of another, but one’s own faithsaves with baptism, because the Lord says: He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”

What shall we say of one who considers such a statement to be heresy?

Spiritual mourning

Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

There is an obvious way of understanding these words. We encounter sorrow and loss during our lives that are cause for mourning, and we can find comfort in Jesus that is not available anywhere else.

  • But these seemingly simple words also contain a far deeper meaning:We need to mourn for our own sins, like David: “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.” (Psalm 51)We need to mourn for conditions in the church: “For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it” (The apostle Paul to the church at Corinth). “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love” (The message in the book of Revelations to the church at Ephesus). Jesus wept over Jerusalem.
  • We should grieve for Christians who are separated from a truly spiritual church fellowship. “Woe to them that are at ease in Zion, and trust in the mountain of Samaria. . . but they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph” (Amos 6:1-6). We often hear the first part of verse one and think that is the message. But God gave Amos a burden for those in the apostate kingdom of Israel, led by the tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim, sons of Joseph, because they were separated from the true worship of God in the temple at Jerusalem. God sent Hosea to Israel with the message that God sorrowed for wayward Israel just as Hosea sorrowed for his wayward wife.
  • We should grieve for conditions in the world we live in, not only for those in faraway lands, but also for the people who are our near neighbours. “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Galatians 5:14). “ But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” (1 John 3:17).
  • The apostle Paul said “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing.” This leaves us no ground to think of ourselves as better than others. We cannot serve the Lord with that kind of thought in our minds. First, we must grieve for our sinfulness, weakness and inadequacy. Then we see others as being the same as we are. We are in a world ruled by hostile spiritual forces and we have no strength in ourselves to overcome those forces. Our only hope is Jesus Christ.

“The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit” (Psalm 34:18). Isn’t that the meaning of the beatitude quoted above?

“They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him” (Psalm 126:5-6).

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