Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

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Restless Christians

Throughout the Bible there is a promise of rest for the people of God, typified by the seventh day when God rested from His labours. The Bible tells us that after Joshua led the people of God into the promised land they had rest from all their enemies round about (Joshua 23:1).  However, the book of Hebrews tells us that this was only another type of the promised rest, not the real thing: ” For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day” (Hebrews 4:8).

(Just a note here for anyone who might be confused by that passage in Hebrews: Jesus is the Greek form of Joshua. The Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament was the Bible in common use during the time covered by the New Testament.)

The peace promised by God is peace of the heart which comes of knowing that one’s sins have been forgiven and there is no need to labour to earn salvation by works. When this peace is firmly established in the heart, it pervades all of one’s being – mind, body and soul.

The works that a Christian does are the result of being obedient to the voice of the shepherd. Jesus said “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:  and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (1 John 10: 27-28).

This rest is not a one day a week affair, rest from physical labour is necessary but God offers something far better: rest from the turmoil caused by guilt for the things we have done, and rest from the turmoil of wondering if we can ever measure up to what God expects of us.

Why then are there so many restless Christians?

One reason is unconfessed sin. Someone may recite the sinner’s prayer without ever really understanding the need to come clean before God and other people. Salvation is not a band aid applied over the festering wounds caused by sin, it is a deep cleansing of those wounds that allows them to heal. We must confess sin, forsake it and do our best to undo the wrongs we have done to others. If we hold anything back, we will not know rest.

Little children may be led to recite the sinner’s prayer long before they have reached the point where they can comprehend their accountability to God. Any time that such a prayer is made to please others – parents, friends, camp counsellors or pastors, the result will not be true rest.

Pride often leads us to want to prove that we are a cut above other Christians in some aspect of the faith, or to apply ourselves diligently to some work that will make us stand out from the crowd of our fellow believers. Such an attitude is not conducive to rest.

Another aspect of pride is to believe that the way I understand things is surely the way that God sees them and that anyone who differs from me is not fully enlightened. This is the source of many conflicts among believers.

Another cause of unrest is the unwillingness to forgive others. My toes are going to get stepped on from time to time. It’s not deliberate, but it will happen. I may be totally unaware of how many times I have stepped on other people’s toes and they have just forgiven me, but I remember clearly every single instance when someone has stepped on my toes and I cannot forgive.  Yet forgiving others is the only way to find rest for myself.

Sadly, there are church fellowships that are not restful places to be. Even if we find ourselves in such a situation and feel we need to look for another place to worship, it is well to ask ourselves what it is we are searching for. If we are  seeking to find a body of believers that truly knows the rest that God gives, He will lead us quietly to such a place. If we just don’t get along with the pastor, or his wife, or some of the other people in the church, we are not apt to find a restful place. Many have wandered in this way until they gave up on the idea of church altogether.

There is a famine – part two

Yesterday I wrote a little about the famine of hearing the words of the Lord.  Today I want to write about another kind of famine that is spreading over our land: a famine of community among those who would follow the Lord.  This kind of famine is just as deadly as the first, especially since it is more deceptive.

In all the cities of our land there are evangelical churches where the Word of God is being preached.  Yet there is usually something else added to the gospel, and it is all the more deceptive in that almost no one recognizes it as an additive.  I am talking about the pietistic belief that the only thing that really matters is to be born again and begin a relationship with God.  As long as all is right between God and me, nothing else matters.

But we are social creatures, created to have fellowship with others.  We need the community of fellow believers to share our struggles and our victories.  To weep with us when we weep, to rejoice with us when we rejoice.  To warn us when we begin to stray from the Way, to help us find our way back, to bear with us when we are weak and almost overcome by the trials and sorrows of the way.

But not much of this is available.  The big churches have ministries for every identifiable group in their midst, but this does not create a bond between individuals and families, it does not build a sense of community.  There may be considerable excitement for a time, a sense that God is really doing great things, but somehow the inner hunger for community is not being satisfied.

There is much concern in the churches today about “leavers,” those who live a vibrant, overcoming Christian life for years and then leave the faith, saying they cannot believe any more.  Where was the community?  Did no one notice the little signs that something was changing?  That this soul was starving?

It is possible to have a sense of Christian community in a big city.  But a big church with special ministries does not create community.  It takes a group of believers who are committed to the Lord and to each other.  A group of believers who make their spiritual community the focus of their social lives, who do not only gather together for worship and Bible study but find other times to visit together as families.  They may visit about many things of everyday life and it may seem that there was only a little said of spiritual things, but these everyday visits build trust and community, a sense of belonging to something bigger than myself and my family.  Bonds of fellowship and unity grow, forming a web of relationships that is not easily torn asunder.

There is yet another level to this sense of community.  There needs to be a larger community of congregations of the same faith, so that when one travels, or relocates, it is possible to find a congregation of the same faith where one can feel at home.  The bonds between congregations are as important as the bonds between individuals and families.

However, because of the inroads of individualistic pietism, many Christians do not realize their need of community.  And there is a difficulty that needs to be admitted.  I cannot be right all the time and feel myself part of a community.  It is not possible for us to disagree and yet each one be right.

The Apostle Peter admonishes us: “Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5).  We need to be willing to learn from one another, to bend a little when others do not see things as I see them.  I need to let my rough edges get worn smooth, yet be patient with the brother, or sister, whose rough edges are still very evident.

This is the work of the Holy Spirit.  The gift of the Holy Spirit is not given to exalt me above others, but to make it possible to recognize the same Spirit in my brothers and sisters.  The Spirit unites us in a common purpose, despite differences in background, social status and character.  It is the Spirit that binds us together and smooths the differences between us, allowing us to draw spiritual nourishment from the community of fellow believers.

The sabbath restored in Christ

When the Lord God had made all things he rested on the seventh day, and since man was made in the image of God and was adorned with the image of God, man was right and good, and without any sin.  If man had remained in this state, he would have rested with God.  But because man so soon transgressed God’s word, he at the same time was overtaken with unrest in body and soul.  Hence God commanded him to rest on the seventh day.  Man could not, however, return to his first or Edenic rest in body and soul, yet this rest day was to man a figure that a rest of both body and soul was awaiting mankind (Hebrews 4:4, 11).

But this sabbath or rest day for the soul had to be fulfilled by Jesus; and afterward also for the glorified body, when all things shall be fulfilled and restored.

Jesus went forth from the Father and came into the world, into the flesh, that he might by his flesh take away the enmity — the sin of the transgression of the law — and by his blood redeem man from the sin of Adam which had brought so much unrest to body and soul that man could not obtain rest (1 John 4:2; Ephesians 5:16).  He came and by the gospel proclaimed the peace of the kingdom of God; and by his suffering and death and resurrection, and by his gospel, rest was found for the soul (Matthew 11:29), and was obtained by coming to Jesus.   Jesus offered up sin, the enemy of the soul, by the sacrifice of his own body on the tree (Isaiah 53; 1 Peter 2:24).  In Jesus there is rest for the soul, the spiritual eternal sabbath that has no end; in Jesus this sabbath must be obtained.

By faith we receive Jesus, and by faith in Jesus we must make an end of the service of sin, our own sinful works, turn away from them and by faith in Jesus do the works meet for repentance; then the believer enters into the rest of the soul, the spiritual sabbath of the soul in Jesus, which Jesus has wrought in his own body on the tree.  Then the believer is in the day of salvation and the day of light (2 Corinthians 6:2; John 5:12; 11:9).  This is then the spiritual sabbath day for the soul of the believers, in which they shall rest and hallow in both soul and body from the works of sin.  This sabbath shall be hallowed by the praise of God in his word, by a holy life in the wedding garment of the Spirit (Revelation 19:7, 8; Jeremiah 17:21).  Then shall the believers not carry any burden of sin through the gates of Jerusalem, nor out of their houses on the holy sabbath.

The keeping of the sabbath by the believers in Israel consists in rest from the works of sin; and even if the believer through weakness or ignorance does a work of sin then comes in his sorrow and calls upon God through Christ, Jesus is the propitiation for sin (1 John 2:12).

The true believers shall hallow the fulfilled sabbath of the Lord and not knowingly or wilfully sin against the command of the Lord, either in the inward or the outward man.  The believers must strive to live holy in body and soul, that body and soul may obtain the future sabbath restored by Christ in the everlasting kingdom.  Consider well therefore the fulfillment of the sabbath by Christ and keep it as far as lies in your power.

[Excerpted from Restitution, written by Henry Funck, the first Mennonite bishop in North America.  Henry Funck died in 1760 and the book was first published in 1763 by his children.]

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