Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: spirituality

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

Change is in the air

snow-3116559_640

Image by Tovin Sannes-Venhuizen from Pixabay

A few days ago the days started to grow longer. I can’t tell the difference yet–the sun still rises at 9:15 AM and sets at 5:00 PM. The daily change so far is small: today is 25 seconds longer than yesterday, tomorrow will be 30 seconds longer than today. But I know that soon it will change by 3 minutes a day or more and in six months the sun will rise at 5:30 AM and set at 9:45 PM, giving us long, glorious summer days.

Winter has just begun, yet the change that will defeat winter has also begun. We will have snow storms and bitterly cold weather over the next few months, yet the inexorable force of the sun that will drive winter away has begun its campaign.

Today you see a little girl, carefree, careless, not paying much attention to the things her mother tries to teach her. If you watch her day after day you will not notice a change. But if you go away for a few years, then come back, you see this little girl transformed. Now she is a mother, trying to teach her own little girl all the things she learned from her mother. And almost despairing because the child doesn’t seem to be listening. But she is and the cycle will repeat. This is how growing up works. It is a natural process; it happens almost unseen until one day you take stock and realize how much is different.

Perhaps today you see a young man, a rebel, a wastrel, drifting farther into the dangerous allurements the world offers. People try to warn him, to help him. He ignores them, rejects their counsels. It seems hopeless. But just perhaps you may come back some day and find this same young man with a wife, a family, a home. He reads the Bible to his family, takes them to church, is always ready to speak of his love for God and for Jesus. It can happen, I’ve seen it happen, it happened to me.

This is not a natural change, it is supernatural. Yet the change did not happen overnight. There was a precise moment when there was a 180° turn in the direction his life was going. But people looking on didn’t notice a difference at first. Then a few changes appeared, one by one, a little at a time. He made mistakes, but now there was something within him that kept him from giving up. He made corrections and kept going. Today he does not seem at all like the person he used to be. Because he isn’t.

There are cycles that God set in order at Creation that continue to happen. We say it’s just part of nature. The movement of the celestial bodies, day and night, the cycle of the seasons, the growth of a child. We have no control over such things. There are other things, such as conversion, that will not happen unless we give God permission. He does not force us to be a Christian, we cannot make ourselves be a Christian by wisdom and determination. But if we hear God call our name, open the door of our heart, the Holy Spirit comes in and begins to transform us.

© Bob Goodnough, December 27, 2019

The power of little things

My mother was 10 when her family moved from south-east Manitoba to south-west Saskatchewan. Whenever she talked about that move she would say “The thing I missed was seeing the tees and the Indians.”

It wasn’t until I reached adulthood that I asked the obvious question: “Mon, I get the part about the trees, but what’s this about the Indians?”

“Well, whenever Indians travelled through our area, they would stop at our place for a rest and a drink of water.”

My grandfather was a Plautdietsch speaking Sommerfelder Mennonite, not very prosperous, blind, and the father of 14 children, of which my mother was number 6. Apparently he was blind in more ways than one.

Before he married, he had worked at Letellier, Manitoba. One of his coworkers was a black man who had made his way to Canada from the US South. My grandfather learned some old negro spirituals from him and then taught them to his children. My mother used to sing some of them.

My grandfather learned English while working there, and later said he wished he had learned French, too, as there were French-speaking people living there. Whenever my mother told about her father’s wish that he had learned French, she would add, “And if he had, I would have, too!”

I heard those little things when my mother talked about her earlier years. They made a lasting impression, and I believe enabled me to look at other people as being not a lot different from me.

In her late teens, my mother memorized the German catechism, and the bishop baptized her. I think the teachings in that catechism found a place deeper than just in her mind. The family spoke mostly Plautdietsch at home, and some English. The church was entirely German — Bible reading, hymns, sermons, prayers. My mother was the last of the children to learn German. As she grew older, she realized that in her church the language was more important than the teachings in the catechism; it had nothing to offer her 8 younger siblings who did not know German.

She left that church and expressed no nostalgia for it. Her mother, my grandmother, appeared to believe that I needed to learn German to be a Christian. She sent me a copy of the catechism and a German primer. I was curious and made a beginning in the primer. Mom would help me whenever I asked, but never prompted me to keep on trying to learn German. She had a large English dictionary that she had studied for years, learned to speak English with no trace of an accent, had a larger vocabulary than many whose mother tongue was English.

When Chris and I started to attend the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, some members got all excited when they found that Mom’s mother tongue had been Plautdietsch. She was polite and friendly, but did not share their enthusiasm. I have wondered if she didn’t have a little fear that I was getting into the sort of thing she had left behind.

I am my mother’s son. She said nothing negative about anyone, but the impression she left was that Plautdietsch and German had nothing to do with being a Christian and were not anything I needed to pursue.

My father was from the USA, his mother was Franco-American and it embarrassed him when she spoke French to their neighbours here in Saskatchewan. I got a lot more encouragement from my mother to learn French than from my father.

That’s my personal history. I could say more about my father, but I don’t think it’s necessary. I’ll just say that my mother’s positive remarks about others had more influence on me than my father’s negative remarks.

Are there negative things that Christians say today that can have a harmful effect on their children’s attitude toward others?

How do we look at ourselves? 

We can’t change our ethnic identity, or the family into which we were born. But if we think that our family, or our ethnic group, has some innate quality that makes us more apt to be Christian, or a better Christian, than others, we are contradicting the whole message of the New Testament. Any hint of pride or exclusivity undermines our gospel witness..

How do we look at others?

Sometimes I hear Christians say that the people around us aren’t interested in the gospel. That implants the thought in the younger generation that there is no point in trying to share the gospel in our home communities.

How do we talk about people of a different skin colour, or who speak with an accent? Nigger, negro, darkie and coloured are not polite or respectful terms to use for black people. Sometimes we complain about the immigrants in our communities. It enthuses us to send missionaries to the countries they came from, but when they arrive here, we have a different attitude.

There is no 8 step program to break the problem I am describing. It’s a matter of the heart. Little changes in our attitudes toward the surrounding people, little changes in our speech, could add up to a big change in the way others see us.

A refuge

A refuge, a place where I could escape the storms that beat around me; that’s what I needed. When one is young, many storms are more imagined than real. But my father’s anger was real. He was not violent, but when he lost his temper angry words rang throughout the house, seemed to be in the air I breathed. I needed a place of refuge where I could breathe and sort it all out.

When I was nine years old, my parents moved to a small farm that bordered the northwest edge of Craik, Saskatchewan. I discovered my place of refuge the day after we moved in. I found in a hollow, halfway up the bank at the far end of the coulee that ran through our pasture. In that hollow sat a rectangular granite boulder, shaped like a giant step or chair, worn smooth by thousands of buffalo trying to relieve their itch, over a thousand years or more.

First, I sat on the rock, then I sat in the hollow beside it and something wonderful happened—all evidence of the modern world disappeared. I was alone on the open prairie, no buildings, fences, roads or telephone lines were visible. Even the sounds did not penetrate this peaceful spot.

How long had the rock been here? Geologists say that when Lake Agassiz drained thousands of years ago, the rushing waters that carved the ravines, coulees and river valleys of Saskatchewan also swept rocks like this to new locations.  It had been here through the time the buffalo roamed the prairies and the hunters followed them. The time since the settlers had come was just a tiny blip in its history.

Through the rest of my growing-up years that rock became my refuge. When life seemed difficult, I would leave the house and find this spot, my place of refuge. In that quiet and secure place I would rest until the anxiety, the fear, and yes, my anger, had dissipated.

Eight years later I left home. Twice I moved back for a time and each time the ancient buffalo rubbing stone was there when I needed it. Later, in my twenties and on my own, I faced new anxieties and fears.  The rock of my childhood was far away, and no longer the hidden spot it once was. A four-lane highway now runs through the old pasture, the rock is visible from the highway.

It took years for me to find the rock of refuge spoken of in Psalm 94:22 “My God is the rock of my refuge.” I found the words of the Bible drawing me towards that rock. The eternal rock. I read in Malachi 3:6: “I am the Lord, I change not,” and in Hebrews 6:8: “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever.” I heard and responded to The Spirit’s call to build my life upon that rock. I found that rock to be a refuge of peace wherever I was, whatever the circumstances.

Now I wanted to find a church built upon that rock, where I could be in fellowship with people with a living faith and lives solidly anchored to the rock, Jesus Christ. I knew that wouldn’t be the church I had attended in my youth.

I read in history books of a people who had lived such a faith centuries ago. People for whom the kingdom of God was separate from the kingdoms of this world; people for whom their relationship with Jesus Christ was more important than this earthly life. Other people called them Anabaptists, Waldensians and Mennonites. Surely there would be Christians like that today in the Mennonite churches. I visited many churches, met many good people; most were unaware of the old-time faith.

My search finally led me to a church whose members believe and live the faith I had read about; I became a member of that church 40 years ago.

© Bob Goodnough, January 3, 2019

Questions of life and eternity

What is the most important factor in making a person want to be a Christian? Is it the fear of hell, or the longing for heaven?

Have you ever been in a discussion like that? What was the conclusion?

I think both factors have some motivational influence, but I do not believe that either is enough to empower someone to lead a victorious and happy Christian life.

For that, we need to find meaning for our life in an active relationship with the Creator and Saviour, and in serving Him and our neighbour. That relationship grows when we feed on the God’s Word and communicate with Him by both praying and listening.

That relationship must be the overriding guide in business, work, family and friendships. That does not mean that we talk of God all the time and try to force our views on others. All we need is to be ready to obey whenever the Holy Spirit prompts us to do or say some little thing. A victorious and joy filled life is built by those little things,

Some more thoughts on evangelism

OK, we need to strip the gospel message down to the pure Bible-based essentials and restore all those essentials that have been cast away. Now, when we come to sharing this vital message, we need to strip away all the verbiage and attitudes that hide the message rather than revealing it.

Here are some thoughts about how to share the Good News, as much for my benefit as anyone else’s.

1. Be curious —In the end, the gospel message is the same for everyone. But not all start at the same place. We need to get to know people, find out what are their greatest concerns. The best way to do that is to ask questions.

2. Hide the hammer — If someone doesn’t understand our message, or doesn’t want to listen to it, hammering away at the same point isn’t going to help. We may need to go back to step 1.

3. Stick a needle in the hot air balloon — Impressive words, adjectives, adverbs, a round about way of speaking and Christian jargon are not the stock in trade of a good communicator. A pompous speaking style pumps hot air into our balloon, we go floating away and lose contact with the person to whom we are speaking.

4. Get down off the pedestal — The message is important; we are not. A servant does not try to impress you with how important he is. Let’s take a lesson from the apostle Paul: “For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more,” (1 Corinthians 9:19).

6. Admit you don’t know everything — The Bible is the source of all truth; I am not. In evangelism, if I am always the teacher and the other person is always the student, I have failed. The goal of evangelism is to lead others to dependence on God. Jesus is the Master, we are all disciples (students), always learning from the Master and from one another.

Dorothy Sayers on the origin of evil

The orthodox Christian position is . . . [that] the light, and the light only is primary; creation and time and darkness are secondary and begin together. When you come to consider the matter, it is strictly meaningless to say that darkness could precede light in a time process. Where there is no light, there is no meaning for the word darkness, for darkness is merely a name for that which is without light. Light, by merely existing, creates darkness, or at any rate the possibility of darkness. In this sense, it is possible to understand that profound saying, “I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace and create evil: I the Lord do all these things” (Isaiah 45:7).

But it is at this point that it becomes possible for the evil and the darkness and the chaos to boast: “We are that which was before the light was, and the light is a usurpation upon our rights.” It is an illusion; evil and darkness and chaos are pure negation, and there is no such state as “before the light” because it is the primary light that creates the whole time process. It is an illusion, and that is the primary illusion inside which the devil lives and in which he deceives himself and others.

In the orthodox Christian position, therefore, the light is primary, the darkness secondary and derivative; and this is important for the whole theology of evil. In The Devil to Pay, I tried to make this point, and I remember being soundly rapped over the knuckles by a newspaper critic, who said in effect that after a great deal of unintelligible pother, I had worked up to the statement that God was light, which did not seem to be very novel or profound. Novel, it certainly is not, it is scarcely the business of Christian writers to introduce novelties into the fundamental Christian doctrines. But profundity is a different matter; Christian theology is profound, and since I did not invent it, I may have the right to say so.

The possibility of evil exists from the moment that a creature is made that can love and do good because it chooses and not because it is unable to do anything else. The actuality of evil exists from the moment that that choice is exercised in the wrong direction. Sin (moral evil) is the deliberate choice of the not-God. And pride, as the church has consistently pointed out, is the root of it, i.e., the refusal to accept the creaturely status; the making of the difference between self and God into an antagonism against God.

-Dorthy Sayers, Letters to a Diminished Church. [First posted on this blog September 14, 2014]

A pure faith

Catholic originally meant a faith accessible to all people, in all countries, in all eras. Early in the Christian era, imperial pretensions developed in the church at Rome toward other churches in the empire.

That process sped up when Constantine issued the Edict of Milan in 313, granting religious freedom in the Roman empire. Again it was a gradual process, but by the next century the only freedom left was to be a member of the Roman Catholic Church.

Augustine of Hippo aided that process (he died in 430). He borrowed the determinism of Greek philosophy, Stoicism in particular, and interpreted it to mean that God has predestined certain people to salvation. Since only God knew the identity of those predestined to salvation, the church should compel all people within reach to become church members. The church ceased to be a company of the redeemed, but the body which ministered the grace of God to believers and unbelievers alike through the sacraments.

As soon as the Church of Rome began to deviate from being a company of the redeemed, there were churches who stood aside and would have no fellowship with that body which they deemed to be corrupt. People gave them many names, one that stuck for centuries was Cathar, meaning pure.

The Roman Catholic Church tried to wipe out the Cathars. Sometimes local officials acted as a buffer between the Cathars and the demands of the imperial church.

That changed in the 11th century when Gregory VII became pope (1073 – 1085). He believed that God had entrusted the church with embracing all of human society, giving it supreme authority over all human structures. He concentrated all church authority in Rome. He decreed that all priests and members of religious orders must be celibate. This was not mandatory before Gregory. He also reinforced the teaching that when a priest consecrated the bread and wine of the mass, they became the real body and blood of Jesus.

The church grew stronger and the empire weaker. Pope Gregory asserted his authority over the monarch of the Holy Roman empire. The church instituted the Inquisition and the Crusades to eliminate all dissent from the catholic church within the empire.
There is little information for earlier years, but the records of the Inquisition bring to light a network of churches in Languedoc, a region of southern France. We know these churches as Albigensians, from one of the larger towns in Languedoc, or more often as Cathars.

The Roman Catholic Church accused Cathars of non-Christian beliefs and practices. French historian Anne Brenon has researched the documents of the Inquisition. Rather than accept the accusations of the persecutors, she has looked for the responses made by the Cathars. The picture that emerges reveals a people living peacefully among catholics and others who did not share their faith. Until the Inquisition this posed no problems to anyone.

The Bible was the foundation of the Cathar faith; they rejected all other writings, including of the Roman Catholic church fathers. They claimed to be the true successors of the apostolic church, recognized only two sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s Supper and were remarkable for the purity of their lives. When the catholic church launched a crusade against them, they did not take up arms to defend themselves. However, the local authorities, who were often close friends, or even family members, attempted to prevent the massacre of the Cathars by armed combat. The Cathars of Languedoc had links to the Waldensians, and some fled to them for refuge from the persecution.

Anne Brenon has spent decades researching the Cathars. I am reading Cathares, le contre-enquête. Anne Brenon writes that she is an unbeliever, disillusioned with contemporary manifestations of what passes for Christianity. Yet the genuine faith of the Cathar people of many centuries ago touches and inspires her.

Cathares, la contre-enquête,  Anne Brenon and Jean-Philippe de Tonnac, © Éditions Albin Michel, 2011

A faith worth dying for

Many of the Old Testament prophets died for the things they said. They were speaking the truth that God had revealed to them by His Spirit and the leaders of the people could not stand to hear that truth. So they killed the messengers of God thinking that would bring them peace.

The Jewish leaders in Jesus day did the same. Jesus was a threat to their positions and the respect the people had for them, so they killed the messenger. We should not be too harsh in blaming Pilate, he seems to have understood better what Jesus was up to than did the Jewish leaders.

Most of the apostles died as martyrs; people could not accept their message, so they killed the messengers. That has continued through history. The Roman Catholic church probably killed more Christians than pagan empires ever did. After the Reformation the Protestant churches continued the slaughter of Christians who would not accept their compromises.

Worth killing for

The reason for the killing of peaceful Christians has always been that other people saw them as a threat to their authority and position. Not that peace-loving Christians were ever a physical threat. Their offence was that they refused to mix the values of the world with the teachings of Jesus Christ; this was a stinging reproof to those who did. So they have tried to silence and eliminate the messengers.

Worth keeping quiet about

The German pietists thought they had found the solution. They would be outwardly members of the Lutheran church and inwardly born again believers in Jesus Christ. They would attend the Lutheran services, take communion, baptize their babies, get married in the church, then meet privately to share their faith. They called themselves “the quiet in the land.” Some Mennonite groups have also thought this was a good idea. Since they were no longer messengers, they were not in danger of persecution, or even ridicule, for the cause of Christ.

Light and salt

Light is what reveals both truth and error. To be quiet about our faith is to put our candle under a bushel and rob those around us of light.

Salt is what preserves from spoiling. In Old Testament times all sacrifices were salted in order not to offer to God something that was beginning to putrefy. If we feel free to indulge in the unfruitful practices of the world, where is the salt the world needs?

Be always ready

1 Peter 3:15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.

People wonder about us, form conclusions from our silence that impute the things that we do to factors other than a faith in Jesus Christ. When they ask questions, they often don’t know quite what to ask. Let’s not leave them in confusion. We don’t have to be pushy or difficult, but let’s be willing to talk about our faith, nor our culture or our lifestyle.

Perhaps some day that will put our lives at risk. If so, we are in the company of the prophets, apostles and saints of past generations.

© Bob Goodnough

The Works of Antichrist

[From a Waldensian writing dating from the year 1120. The historical belief of the Anabaptist-Waldensian-Mennonite faith is that Antichrist refers to a counterfeit of Christ.]

  • The first is that he perverts the worship properly due to God alone, by giving it to Antichrist himself and to his works, to the poor creature, rational or non rational, sensible or senseless; rational as to man, deceased male or female saints, golden images or relics. His works are the sacraments, especially the sacrament of the Eucharist, which he worships as God and as Jesus Christ, together with the things blessed and consecrated by him, and prohibits the worship of God alone.
  • The second work of Antichrist is that he robs and bereaves Christ of His merits, with all the sufficiency of grace, justification, regeneration, remission of sins, sanctification, confirmation and spiritual nourishment, by attributing them to his own authority, to a form of words, to his own works, to the intercession of saints and to the fire of purgatory,  and separates the people from Christ and leads them away to the things said above, that they may not seek those of Christ, nor by Christ, but only in the works of their own hands, and not by a living faith in God, nor in Jesus Christ, nor in the Holy Spirit, but by the will and works of Antichrist, according as he preaches that salvation consists in his works.
  • The third work of Antichrist is that he attributes the regeneration of the Holy Spirit to the dead outward work, baptizing children in that faith and teaching that regeneration must be had by baptism , and then he creates orders and other sacraments, and grounds them all in his Christianity, which is contrary to the Holy Spirit.
  • The fourth work of Antichrist is that he has constituted and built all religion and holiness of the people upon going to mass, and has patched together all manner of ceremonies, some Jewish, some Gentile, some Christian. He leads the congregations and the people to them, thereby depriving them of  spiritual and sacramental nourishment, leading them away from true religion, from the commandments of God, draws them away from works of compassion by his offerings. By such a mass he has captured the people in vain hopes.
  • The fifth work of Antichrist is that he does all his works to be seen, that he may feed his insatiable avarice, that he may make all things for sale and do nothing without simony.
  • The sixth work of Antichrist is that he allows open sin without any ecclesiastical censure and does not excommunicate the impenitent.
  • The seventh work of Antichrist is that he does not govern or maintain unity by the Holy Spirit, but by the secular power, and uses it to regulate spiritual matters.
  • The eighth work of Antichrist is that he hates, persecutes , searches out, robs and destroys the members of Christ.

These things are the principal works which he commits against the truth, they being otherwise numberless and past writing down.

%d bloggers like this: