Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: spiritual heritage

I will be true to Thee, Lord

“Fully surrendered, Lord divine, I will be true to Thee.” It’s an old hymn, expressing noble aspirations. I have sung it often and believed that I meant every word.

Lately, I’ve been wondering, though. “Though it may cost me friends and home.” It’s easy to believe I mean that when there appears to be no possibility of it ever happening. I read about the Anabaptist martyr brethren of years ago with great admiration. They were driven from their homes, betrayed by those they thought were friends. That was long ago and far away, it’s never going to happen here is it?

“Now to the world I bid farewell; Broken forever its deep spell.” Is it possible the world has cast a spell on me, making me feel at ease, unable to see the danger that I am in? That was not merely a theoretical question to those we claim as our spiritual forefathers. They saw only two possibilities: the way of the cross or the way of compromise with the world. Today we seem to have so many options. Yet as I look more closely I see that most of them are compromises with the world. They are cleverly camouflaged to look like Christian spirituality, but they avoid the cross.

In 1774 Henry Funk, the first Mennonite bishop in North America, wrote a little book called A Mirror of Baptism. He explains that the Bible speaks of three types of baptism: baptism of the Holy Ghost; baptism of water and baptism of blood. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is the first, the most important and the foundation for the other two, but each one is essential.

The baptism of blood is the commitment to be faithful whatever it may cost, including dying as a martyr if it would come to that. Our spiritual forefathers found that liberating. Once they came to the point of being willing to give their life for their faith nothing could frighten them anymore. They did not live recklessly, endangering their families and brothers and sisters in the faith. But they live boldly, speaking freely of a relationship with Jesus Christ that was more meaningful and more important than life itself.

I want to have what they had.

Are we trusting in the wrong DNA?

Doesn’t it almost seem that the church we belong to is determined by our DNA? Mom and Dad were Anglican, so were Grandma and Grandpa, so were my my great-grandparents, so I become Anglican too. For others it would be Baptist, Catholic, Lutheran, Mennonite and so on. But it is part of our heredity. With that heredity comes a whole package of tradition, myth, custom and ideas of right and wrong behaviour.

As we are growing up that feels comfortable and natural. I know where I fit and we do things right, not like all those other denominations. But sooner or later we begin to wonder about those comfortable assumptions. Questions arise for which my cultural faith has no answers. At this point an alarming number of young people bail out, not just out of their parents denomination, but out of Christianity altogether.

What has gone wrong? I have been part of that exodus from a form of Christianity that seemed empty and meaningless. The problem is that we had mistaken the outward packaging of Christianity for the redemption and the relationship with Jesus Christ that is the essence of Christianity. Maybe those who handed that package down to us believed the packaging was what was most important, but when we looked inside the package we found it was empty.

The apostle Peter wrote: “Ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ,” (1 Peter 1:18-19). Vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers means the meaningless manner of living handed down from your ancestors.

I looked at other belief systems and practices that claimed to be the way to a truly meaningful life. I found them just as disappointing. Eventually that search brought me back to Christianity, not the outward packaging, but a transformed life through the blood of Jesus Christ. It is the blood of Jesus that brings redemption, a meaningful way of living and a new relationship with Jesus, the giver of life. Our natural bloodlines, culture or even an intellectual knowledge of the truth, will not do that for us.

For some of us, our parents did have that real, living faith, but they did not pass it on to us. It is a spiritual heritage, not a family heritage. We can only obtain it from Jesus, by His blood. What believing parents can do for their children it to demonstrate what a living faith looks life, by reading the Bible and praying as a family, by belonging to a church which preaches and practices a living faith, by living out their faith in all areas of life, especially in their relationships with others.

The people around us who scorn and reject Christianity do not do so because they lack intelligence, or because faith was not part of the DNA received from their parents. For many of them it may simply be that they have never seen models of true faith in the people they know. Perhaps if we lift up our eyes we will see fields ripe for the harvest in places where we never expected that to be possible.

Ten easy ways to squander our spiritual heritage

down-the-drain-4708734_640
1. Speak often about our goodly heritage but remain tongue tied when asked to explain what it is.
2. Say we believe everything in the Bible, but never read it from beginning to end.
3. Consider a worship service to be a spectator activity.
4. Never volunteer for any task in the congregation.
5. Be quick to notice every mistake made by the minister.
6. Talk often about the foolishness of neighbours, government officials and police officers.
7. Visit only with the brothers and sisters most apt to see things the same way we do.
8. Repeat stories we hear about brothers and sisters without trying to find out if they are true.
9. Take offence when brothers and sisters appear to neglect us.
10. Never talk about our faith to our neighbours, they aren’t interested anyway.

© Bob Goodnough, December 28, 2019

A disinherited generation

This week I read a book that I feel to be tremendously important. Many people are disturbed by the disorder in the world today, but we have very different ideas about the cause and an even sharper difference in our ideas about a remedy. This book shines a clear light on the roots of the problem and the remedy.

The book is Les déshérités, by Francois-Xavier Bellamy. Unfortunately there is no English translation available. The title means The disinherited and is a reply Les héritiers (The Inheritors) by Pierre Bourdieu, a book published 50 years ago which has had a profound impact on education in France.

Les Déshérités ou l'urgence de transmettre - FRANÇOIS-XAVIER BELLAMY

Francois-Xavier Bellamy is young, only 28 when this book appeared in 2014, a professor of philosophy, and possibly the leading conservative thinker in France.
M. Bellamy identifies the ideas of Pierre Bourdieu as being an important part of the problem, but finds the root of Bourdieu’s thinking in the philosophies of René Descartes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In the English-speaking world, each country has had its own Bourdieu, but Descartes and Rousseau laid the foundation for the philosophy that is prevalent in most of the world.

René Descartes (1596-1650) believed that all knowledge could be attained by deduction. The human mind has the capacity to discover all truth, solely through reasoning with no outside input.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1798) went a step further. He believed that we are all born pure and all the problems of mankind are the result of impure ideas taught by our society. Therefore it would be best to let a child grow with the least restraints and the least teaching possible. In the purity of his simplicity he would be able to discover all that he needed for a fruitful and happy life.

In France, Pierre Bourdieu taught that the inequities in society were a result of the things inherited from the past. If we could avoid passing on the antiquated ideas of civil society, morality and religion, those inequities would disappear.

Teachers in France today are told that they have nothing to pass on, their job is simply to help students discover for themselves how to read and write, how to do math and science, and to determine for themselves what is right and wrong.

As I said earlier, those ideas are not unique to France. Wherever we live, we can see the evidence all around us of that kind of thinking and what it has led to.

M. Bellamy writes that we have finally come to the era that Rousseau dreamed of. People today have been disinherited of all the values of the past, and the result is not the benign bliss imagined by Rousseau. He dreamed of the noble savage (le bon sauvage in French), an outsider who has not been corrupted by civilization and thus symbolizes the innate goodness of mankind.

What we have wound up with is a generation of savages who are not very noble. The inequities in society have not disappeared, but rather seem to have become worse. The thinking of our day goes so far as to say that it is wrong for gender identity to be imposed on children. They must be free to choose their own gender. This is not liberating them, it is setting them loose in a labyrinth with no exit.

Bellamy says we urgently need to resume teaching our intellectual, moral and religious heritage. It does not liberate children to leave them free to discover math, grammar and spelling on their own. In fact, it tends to perpetuate divisions in society. Children of more prosperous parents will get help at home to make up for the shortcomings of the education system, while children from poorer families, or immigrant families, will not be taught the skills they need to escape poverty.

When one has been taught a value system which they believe to be liberating, they are blind even to such self-evident truths. Beyond that, they are blind to the values of history, culture and religion which enabled society to function in a mor or less orderly fashion in past generations.

I found this book illuminating. It explains so much that is happening around us today. It explains why those who graduate from university with a bachelor of education degree have not been taught anything about the subjects they are to teach, or how to teach them. That’s not their job. Their job is to stand back and facilitate “discovery learning” in the children in their classes.

There are hopeful signs. Last fall the ministry of education in France called for a return to teaching grammar and spelling, recognizing that to not do so was simply perpetuating the poverty of those from poorer homes. The popularity of this book is another hopeful sign. As is the immense popularity of Jordan Peterson’s book Twelve Rules For Living. That book also teaches the usefulness of the values held by past generations. It was the publishing sensation of 2018 in Canada, selling over a million copies.

Just one parting thought. Francois-Xavier Bellamy mentions religion several times, but does not have much to say about it. He is a philosopher, not a theologian. But for those of us who believe the Bible is the foundation of all truth, how well have we been doing at passing on our spiritual heritage?

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.

What is our heritage?

One day, about twenty-five years ago, my wife and I were visiting in the home of an Old Order Amish couple. The husband was not ordained at the time, but is now the bishop of his Old Order Amish community. He is a fine man with many admirable qualities, kind, warmhearted, industrious, knowledgeable about many things.

Most Amish today are descended from Anabaptists who lived many years ago in the canton of Berne, Switzerland. During the course of the visit, our friend volunteered the thought that there must have been something special in the character of the old Bernese Anabaptists that has enabled their descendants to keep the faith for so many generations.

I don’t think I responded to that thought, but wished afterwards that I had enquired into how he would define faith. The Old Order Amish have indeed maintained many outward forms from centuries ago, but is that the faith that their forefathers had? It seems to me that the essence of the faith is missing.

The Swiss Anabaptists were concerned about the salvation of their neighbours, to the point of risking property and life. The Old Order Amish tend to look with suspicion on anyone who wants to join them. The maintenance of precise standards of clothing and lifestyle requires that the Amish watch each other closely for any deviation from those standards. Slight variations in these standards from one Amish settlement to another make it difficult for people to fellowship freely with each other. There is not one Old Order Amish church, but an innumerable number of churches and in most cases ministers from one church are not allowed to preach in another because of the small differences in outward standards.

What it boils down to is that the Old Order Amish have tried to maintain spiritual life by human effort, rather than by the leading of the Holy Spirit. They have failed in this; not many among them can tell of being born again or of knowing that the Holy Spirit is giving direction for their lives. They have succeeded only in preserving a lifestyle that from the outside looks something like the old Anabaptist faith.

We must never confuse our ethnic heritage with our spiritual heritage. Seeking to maintain a semblance of the faith of our ancestors may cause others to look upon us with admiration in this life, but carries no promise for eternity. Those who seek salvation through the blood of Jesus and live solely to please their Saviour will often be misunderstood in this life but they have the promise of a home with the redeemed in the world to come. This is the true spiritual heritage.

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