Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

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Pure doctrine

Doctrine: a word of Latin origin meaning a teaching, or collectively, a set of teachings. Pure Christian doctrine then is a set of teachings whose sole source is the Bible.

In accepting the Bible is the Word of God, this means that its teachings come from our Creator, who has a full understanding of the nature and needs of mankind. Its teachings are universal, applying to all people, in all ages of time, of all ethnic, social and economic circumstances. This does not rule out the need to interpret the doctrine to make it readily understandable to the hearers. In fact, if we cannot do that, we probably don’t understand the doctrine ourselves.

Such pure doctrine must be a mark of the true Church of God. Any doctrine formed by interpreting one passage of the Bible in a manner that is not consistent with the rest of the Bible must be rejected. The same goes for any doctrine that has been crafted by chopping the Word of God into little pieces and rearranging them to create something hitherto unheard of. A doctrine that has a man’s name attached to it should be regarded with suspicion.

The Bible is an honest portrayal of human history and contains much that is shocking. But the reality of man’s sinfulness, brutality and treachery is never used to teach God’s will for us. The reign of Solomon was the greatest expression of God’s plan in a political kingdom; it’s failure reveals that God must have something far better in mind for those who would follow Him. The New Testament reveals what that plan was from the beginning of time. The teachings of Jesus, especially as condensed in the Sermon on the Mount are the key to understanding God’s plan.

Every person has a longing in the heart and mind to find something to hold on to that is solid and stable. The pure, unadulterated doctrine of the Bible meets that need. People may find temporary satisfaction in other teachings, but the inner craving is not satisfied. The simple, pure doctrine of the Word, without sweeteners or other additives, still has a powerful attraction for those who are truly seeking meaning, fulfilment and peace.

The armour of God

As best as I can understand it, the theme of the Old Testament is that God created mankind and placed us on this earth with a great purpose in mind. There are hints, but only hints, that part of that purpose was that we would be a testimony of His love and kindness to the angels that had rebelled. Many times God appeared on earth, in human or angelic form, and talked with those who were endeavouring to accomplish His purpose. He guided and supported them with many manifestations of His power and glory. But in the end it was evident that mankind was not strong enough, or wise enough, to do what God expects of us.

The theme of the New Testament is that God never expected us to do it in our own strength and wisdom. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught us a way of life that looks a lot like weakness. Jesus Himself submitted to the outrages of those who were powerful according to the measure of this world, and overthrew them by the power of love and forgiveness. The apostle Paul saw how the power of God could only work in us when we are weak, and said, “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”

We often speak of the armour of God as described by Paul in Ephesians chapter six. Do we realize that this armour is only effective when we lay down our own armour? Isn’t this the significance of David taking off Saul’s armour and laying it aside before he went out to meet the giant? He told Goliath, “Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied. This day will the LORD deliver thee into mine hand; and I will smite thee, and take thine head from thee; and I will give the carcases of the host of the Philistines this day unto the fowls of the air, and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel.”

Goliath saw nothing but a sling in David’s hand, but David was clad with the whole armour of God, invisible to human eyes, yet more powerful than any weapon of human warfare. We are powerless against the giants of our day if we face them in our own strength and expect God to provide a little supplementary force. The message of the New Testament is that we must put off every vestige of human strength and trust only in God’s strength.

Inherit the earth

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth

I guess by now it is evident that I have been meditating on the Beatitudes. The Sermon on the Mount is the cornerstone of Mennonite doctrine. Things like the right understanding of prophecy and the sacraments are important to us, too, but not nearly to the same extent as in many other church traditions.

God promised a land to Abraham and to his seed. Finally, during the reign of Solomon, the children of Israel possessed the full extent of the promised land, in peace. And that was it, that land has not had peace at any time since then.

What happened to God’s promise? The epistle to the Hebrews has this to say of Abraham: “For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” And a little later: “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. . . But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.”

The promised land will have its full accomplishment in heaven, where there will be no more wars, or rumours of wars. Yet there is even now a place of safety and stability for the children of God. Perhaps not always a place of physical security, but a place of peace and contentment, and of spiritual security, for those who truly are seeking that better country.

The meek will find that spiritual land and make it their home. Those who battle for their right to be left in peace, those who feel it their duty to defeat all who are hostile to their belief, make themselves incapable of recognizing that place of peace when they see it. It is the heritage of those who are strangers and pilgrims amidst the turmoil of this world.

The Politically Incorrect Messiah

The sceptre had truly departed from Judah. There was once more a king in Jerusalem who ruled over Judah, but he was not of the lineage of David, nor of Judah, not even of Jacob. Herod was an Edomite, a descendant of Esau. Surely the time was ripe for the coming of Messiah.

When Messiah came he would throw off the ignominy of this foreign king and all he stood for. For Herod had been appointed by Caesar and was really just a puppet of Rome. The shame of it all was fertile breeding ground for the Zealots, whose support seemed to increase daily. The Zealots considered it a sin to in any way acknowledge the rule of the uncircumcised, heathen Romans. Messiah would soon come and sweep away all the shame of Israel. He would establish his throne in Jerusalem and his reign would spread far and wide, as far as Rome. The Zealots were preparing to be Messiah’s conquering army.

Then Jesus was born, of the lineage of David, in the city of David, yet in the most obscure and humble circumstances possible. The Bible says “there was no room for them in the inn.” “Inn” in this verse simply means a guest chamber. Joseph and Mary will have travelled slowly, because of Mary’s condition. It is quite likely that when they arrived at their relatives the house was already full with other family who had come to Bethlehem to be properly counted on the tax rolls. There was no privacy to be found in such a crowded home for the birth of a baby. So Joseph and Mary were led to the stable, either adjoined to the house or in a cave adjacent to the house. Most likely the midwife was called and other women of the house would have helped. Nevertheless, baby Jesus’ first bed was a manger.

The visit of the shepherds, recounting their angelic visitation, should have erased any shame attached to the circumstances of Jesus’ birth. The visit of the magi will have further established his credentials as the promised Messiah. Yet all of this happened in an out of the way place, far from Jerusalem which was supposed to be the real seat of power.

When Jesus embarked on His ministry some thirty years later, disgust with Roman rule had increased, and with it the influence of the Zealots. Many people were ready to consider Jesus’ claim to be Messiah, if only He would come out and proclaim that He had come to set things right in Israel. That is just what He did, but in a way that was completely contrary to the peoples expectations.

When Jesus first taught about the nature of the kingdom of God, He spoke of the blessedness of being meek and merciful, of being peacemakers and of suffering persecution for righteousness’ sake. He told them they should rejoice if they were mocked and reviled because they believed in Him. He told them that the kingdom of God was for the pure in heart and for those who loved their enemies. In short, He told them that the Zealots completely misunderstood the nature of the kingdom of God.

Nearly two thousand years have passed and Jesus’ kingdom still stands. It is not a political kingdom where submission to Christ is enforced by a sword of steel, but a spiritual kingdom where the love of God rules in the hearts of born again people who submit to Christ of their own free will. How could a literal earthly reign of Christ, enforced by might and brawn, be any better than this? The true nature of the kingdom is fully described in the Sermon on the Mount.

Defenceless Christians

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.  Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.  Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.  (Matthew 5:9-12)

Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment:  But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.  (Matthew 5:21-22)

Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:  But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.  And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also.  And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.  Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.  Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.  But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.  For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?  And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?  (Matthew 5:38-47)

The words spoken by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount are understood by Anabaptists to be a guide for the conduct of anyone who claims to be a follower of the Lamb.  The verses quoted here are the basis of what is most often called the doctrine of nonresistance.  There are many who seem to think that nonresistance only means a refusal to take up arms and participate in war.  But these verses are saying much more than that — they say that a Christian should be peaceful and a peacemaker in all aspects of his or her life.  This includes our speech, our conduct, our business dealings, our attitude towards those who do not see things as we do.

It means that we must be truly defenceless.  If we are quick to take offense at the words or actions of someone else, then we cannot truly claim to be nonresistant.  If we believe that we are entitled to some measure of respect because of our faith, the good reputation of our family or the colour of our skin, that is not being nonresistant.

There have often been instances in history where Christians who lived a non-resistant faith have suffered severe persecution.  It would only have made circumstances much more difficult if they had tried to defend themselves.  The only thing that would have satisfied the persecutors was a complete renunciation of their faith.  However, more often than not, a peaceful person who does not pose a threat to others will avoid many of the difficulties that befall those who are contentious.

Anabaptists believe that no lasting betterment of society will ever be attained by force.  Therefore we will not be found in political or social protest movements.  We will be found endeavouring to help the wounded and broken-hearted people of this world, both by helping with their immediate needs and by sharing the gospel.  For we believe that all the hurts of this world have their root cause in rebellion against God and that the only worthwhile changes in society will come from changed hearts.

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