Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: spirituality

Adopted

I remember the last time my father blew up at me. He was 80, I was 30 and it was the same tirade that I had heard so many times before during my 30 years. I knew there was no use trying to argue, change the subject or yell back at him. He was not in control of himself at moments like this and any resistance would just aggravate him further. I just waited patiently for the storm to blow itself out.

I had become a Christian two years earlier and when the blast was over I found a quiet place to pray. “Oh God,” I asked, “why couldn’t I have had a better father?”

The answer was immediate: “But you do, you have a perfect father.” I have clung to that ever since.

This is what the apostle Paul meant when he wrote in Romans 8:15: “ For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.”

My father sank into dementia not long after that, and soon he didn’t even know me. He was 50 when I was born, after all. I really think he meant well, but he simply didn’t know how to cope with starting a family at that age. Our heavenly Father does not have that problem. Even when we stray from Him and suffer the consequences, He does not drive us farther away, but calls us back.

Bravo, Mr Farron

To be a political leader – especially of a progressive, liberal party in 2017 – and to live as a committed Christian, to hold faithfully to the Bible’s teaching, has felt impossible for me.”

I seem to be the subject of suspicion because of what I believe and who my faith is in. In which case we are kidding ourselves if we think we yet live in a tolerant, liberal society. And that is why I have chosen to step down as leader of the Liberal Democrats.”

– publicly reported quotes from Tim Farron who resigned today from the leadership of the Liberal  Democrat party in the UK  (a small party with 12 seats in the current parliament).

Sin

“Almighty and most merciful Father, We have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep,  We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts, We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders..”

“Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, Judge of all men: We acknowledge and confess our manifold sins and wickedness, Which we from time to time most grievously have committed, By thought, word, and deed, Against thy Divine Majesty. We do earnestly repent, And are heartily sorry for these our misdoings.”

These quotations come from the Book of Common Prayer of the Anglican Church of Canada. The first is part of the confession in the Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer services. The second is from the confession in the Communion Service. The capitalization is the way it was in the book. For ten years in my youth I, along with the whole congregation,  recited one or the other of these confessions aloud every Sunday.

These are only words printed in a book, readily memorized and often pronounced without giving much thought to them. Still, for those with ears to hear and hearts to consider, they were a constant reminder that we are miserable sinners and there is no health in us.

We can dismiss those words as meaningless rote recital. For many people that was all they were. But have we gained in spirituality when most churches today hardly talk of sin?

C.S. Lewis discovered 75 years ago that most people he talked to had no concept of sin. Many of the things that churches have always named as major sins did not seem to be sin at all to people. They had been educated out of that old-fashioned notion. Some way had to be found to deliver the diagnosis that all people are sinners before they would have any inclination to hear of a remedy for sin.

“I cannot offer you a water-tight technique for awakening the sense of sin. I can only say that, in my experience, if one begins from the sin that has been one’s own chief problem during the last week, one is very often surprised at the way the shaft goes home. But whatever method we use, our constant effort must be to get their mind away from public affairs and ‘crime’ and bring them down to brass tacks — to the whole network of spite, greed, envy, unfairness and conceit in the lives of ‘ordinary decent people’ like themselves (and ourselves).” (C.S. Lewis, from a talk given in 1945, reprinted in God in the Dock ©1970, published by Eerdmans.)

That is very much the challenge that faces us today. If we are not conscious of our own sin and sinfulness, we won’t get very far in trying to share the gospel with others. James admonishes us: “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed.” How often do we do that? How often do we talk about other people’s faults?

The Anglican Church of Canada, the Episcopal Church in the USA and most congregations of the Church of England no longer use the Book of Common Prayer. In Africa, Asia and Latin America, Anglican Churches are fast-growing evangelical bodies. They have broken fellowship with the Anglican and Episcopal churches in Canada and the USA.

Ten years ago the Anglican Church of Canada commissioned a study on their future. The conclusion was that if present trends continue, in 75 years the Anglican Church of Canada will consist of two members.The trend has continued, and will continue. A church that no longer acknowledges sin has no reason for its existence. The Anglican Church of  Nigeria is now planting congregations in North America, including one in Saskatoon.

I am an Anabaptist today, not an Anglican. I am just trying to point out a graphic illustration of what happens to a church that decides to drop the issue of sin. That is a danger for all of us. We are not apt to ever make a decision to drop it, we just let it fade away. In such a condition, we no longer have a gospel to present to our neighbours — or our children.

The empowerment of women

For as long as most people now alive can remember, abortion has been considered a means of empowering women. The inconvenience of an unexpected pregnancy can be quickly eliminated and the woman can carry on with life as she pleases.

But it is precisely the motherly trait of womankind that men stand in awe of, because we are not capable of it. We do not have the tenderness and warmth that draws a child to a motherly woman and makes that child want to please her. I am not speaking merely of the biological function of carrying a baby to birth and nourishing it, though both aspects are part of being a woman.

But when an unborn baby can be treated as some kind of horrible internal carbuncle to be removed and discarded, women also discard that motherly mystique. Abortion diminishes, rather than empowers, a woman.

Henceforth, a certain type of man regards a woman as merely a sex toy to be used at his whim and discarded with no regrets. The number of men of that type seems to have increased in proportion to the supposed empowerment of women.

All men are not savages. Most of us treat a woman with respect, no matter how she presents herself. Neither do we blame the victim when a scantily clad woman is sexually assaulted. Girls and women of our day live in an atmosphere where that type of dress is the only norm that they know. Those of us who are Christian men appreciate modesty in the appearance and bearing of our wives, sisters and daughters, but we believe all women are worthy of respect.

Some years ago, during Vacation Bible School, an emotionally troubled child fell and skinned his knee. He was in pain but wouldn’t let anyone touch him. One of the teachers, barely out of her teens, scooped him up, held him tight on her knees with one arm while cleaning and bandaging his knee with the other. It was over quickly and the boy hardly knew what had happened to him, except that now he felt better. I stood in awe of the young lady who seemed to instinctively have the right combination of firmness and tenderness to take charge of the situation.

That feminine aptitude is what empowers a woman. It will be apparent in whatever type of work she does, as long as she is at peace with her true nature.

The conversion of Josiah Henson

I was born, June 15, 1789, in Charles County, Maryland, on a farm belonging to Mr. Francis N., about a mile from Port Tobacco. My mother was the property of Dr. Josiah McP., but was hired by Mr. N., to whom my father belonged. The only incident I can remember, which occurred while my mother continued on N.’s farm, was the appearance of my father one day, with his head bloody and his back lacerated.  Though it was all a mystery to me at the age of three or four years, it was explained at a later period that he had been suffering the cruel penalty of the Maryland law for beating a white man. His right ear had been cut off close to his head, and he had received a hundred lashes on his back. He had beaten the overseer for a brutal assault on my mother, and this was his punishment.

When I was 18 an incident occurred that deserves especial notice. There was at Georgetown, a few miles from R’s plantation, a baker who was an upright, benevolent, Christian man. He was noted for his detestation of slavery, and his avoidance of the employment of slave labour in his business.  His reputation was high, not only for this almost singular abstinence from what no one about him thought wrong, but for his general probity and excellence.

This man occasionally served as a minister of the Gospel. One Sunday when he was to officiate at a place three or four miles distant, my mother persuaded me to ask master’s leave to go and hear him; and although such permission was not given freely or often, yet his favour to me was shown for this once by allowing me to go, without much scolding, but not without a pretty distinct intimation of what would befall me, if I did not return immediately after the close of the service.

I hurried off, pleased with the opportunity, but without any definite expectations of benefit; for up to this period of my life I had never heard a sermon, nor any conversation whatever, upon religious topics, except what had been impressed upon me by my mother, of the responsibility of all to a Supreme Being. When I arrived at the place of meeting, the speaker was just beginning his discourse, from the text, Hebrews 2:9; “That he, by the grace of God, should taste of death for every man.” This was the first text of the Bible to which I had ever listened, knowing it to be such. I have never forgotten it, and scarce a day has passed since, in which I have not recalled it, and the sermon that was preached from it. The divine character of Jesus Christ, his life and teachings, his sacrifice of himself for others, his death and resurrection were all alluded to, and some of the points were dwelt upon with great power,–great, at least, to me, who heard of these things for the first time in my life.

I was wonderfully impressed, too, with the use which the preacher made of the last words of the text, “for every man.” He said the death of Christ was not designed for the benefit of a select few only, but for the salvation of the world, for the bond as well as the free; and he dwelt on the glad tidings of the Gospel to the poor, the persecuted, and the distressed, its deliverance to the captive, and the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free, till my heart burned within me, and I was in a state of the greatest excitement at the thought that such a being as Jesus Christ had been described should have died for me–for me among the rest, a poor, despised, abused slave, who was thought by his fellow creatures fit for nothing but unrequited toil and ignorance, for mental and bodily degradation.

I immediately determined to find out something more about “Christ and him crucified;” and revolving the things which I had heard in my mind as I went home, I became so excited that I turned aside from the road into the woods, and prayed to God for light and for aid with an earnestness, which, however unenlightened, was at least sincere and heartfelt; and which the subsequent course of my life has led me to imagine might not have been unacceptable to Him who heareth prayer. At all events, I date my conversion, and my awakening to a new life from this day, so memorable to me.

I used every means and opportunity of inquiry into religious matters; and so deep was my conviction of their superior importance to every thing else, so clear my perception of my own faults, and so undoubting my observation of the darkness and sin that surrounded me, that I could not help talking much on these subjects with those about me; and it was not long before I began to pray with them, and exhort them, and to impart to the poor slaves those little glimmerings of light from another world, which had reached my own eye. In a few years I became quite an esteemed preacher among them, and I will not believe it is vanity which leads me to think I was useful to some.

-an excerpt from The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, first published in 1849.

Realities

‘Tis what we are, not what we seem;
‘Tis the work we do, not the dreams we dream;
Not what we have, but what we give;
Not the words we speak, but the life that we live;
Not the things we teach, but what we learn;
Not the wrong we do, but the sin we spurn;
Not the valiant deed on the King’s highway;
But the gentle deeds from day to day;
The things which help to cheer and bless,
That make the sum of our happiness.

                                                   Author Unknown

Builders

Isn’t it strange that princes and kings,
And clowns that caper in sawdust rings,
And common folks, you and me,
Are buildings of eternity?

To each is given a bag of tools,
A shapeless mass, and a book of rules;
And each must make, ere life is flown,
A stumbling block, or a stepping stone.

                                    Author Unknown

Riding a tricycle to church

This is a story about someone we met 25 years ago. I wish the details were a little clearer in my mind, but I will tell what I remember.

It looked like a beautiful day outside. Cindy got herself dressed, ate a bowl of cereal and ran outside to ride her tricycle. Her Dad and her older brother and sister were still sleeping. Her Mom had gone away and wasn’t coming back.

There was a faint sound of singing coming from somewhere. Cindy pedalled her tricycle in the direction of the sound. She crossed onto the next block, she saw a brick building with an open door and that was where the singing was coming from. She got off her tricycle and walked closer, then walked right in the door. Just then people got up and separated into groups. A lady saw her and asked, “Do you want to go to Sunday School?”

Cindy had no idea what kind of school this could be on a Sunday morning, but the lady seemed so kind that she went along with her. She heard a story like nothing she had heard before. When Sunday School was over she rode her tricycle home and told her Dad where she had been. Dad was surprised, but probably thought that wasn’t the worst thing she could have done that morning.

She went again the next Sunday, and the one after that and soon all the family knew that when Sunday came Cindy would be going to Sunday School. She started to get to know the people in the little church and one day realized the others didn’t go home when Sunday School was over. She decided to stay and see what happened next.

There was even more singing and then a man talked about God and about Jesus and about a place called heaven. Cindy decided church was just as good as Sunday School. She found out that the man who talked about God was the husband of her Sunday School teacher. Sometimes they would invite her to their home.

Dad didn’t quite know what to think about all this, but he saw that it made Cindy happy, so he allowed her to keep going. She was learning to be helpful at home, too. After a few years, Cindy announced to her Dad that she had become a Christian and wanted to be baptized. This was going farther than Dad had ever expected, but how could he refuse?

Thus it happened one day that Cindy made a public profession of faith, was baptized and became a member of the little church. And it all started with riding her tricycle to church one morning.

In defence of doubt

As Christians, we tend to have this utopian belief that a true believer will never have any doubts about matters of faith. Thus, when a brother or sister has the courage to admit to doubt, we react with something akin to panic.

Why do we react like this? Isn’t it because deep down we ourselves doubt whether there is a satisfactory answer for the doubt expressed by our brother or sister. So we label the doubt as unbelief and tell the doubting person to repent of that unbelief.

In most cases doubt is simply a feeling of uncertainty, a longing for answers and not a refusal to believe. We all have doubts at times and it is not healthy to suppress them. If we go on for too long simply stifling our doubts, they are apt to erupt one day into a major crisis of faith.

We need to look for answers to our doubts, and to the doubts of others. Right here we often encounter the biggest doubt of all: are there really answers to our doubts? How can we even know that God exists?

We should be wary of answers that assume that faith and reason are mutually exclusive realms and that we just need to have faith. Sometimes Christians use a variant of this type of answer by coming up with stories that supposedly prove Creation, the existence of heaven or hell, or some other tenet of the faith and say we have a different kind of knowledge than the world has. Most of these stories do not stand up under close scrutiny and have the effect of confirming the world’s perception that Christian’s aren’t very bright.

Blaise Pascal said “The heart has its reasons, which reason cannot know.” Yet he went on to develop arguments to show the reasonableness of Christian faith. There is no contradiction here — Christian faith does provide the best explanation for things as they really are. Those who rely on reason alone and deny the very possibility of God have created well thought out explanations for the existence of the world and all natural phenomena, including the workings of the human mind. The problem is that new evidence keeps cropping up that does not fit these explanations, so new explanations need to be developed.

There is no absolute proof for any aspect of Christian faith; on the other hand, there is no evidence that contradicts the faith. When looked at objectively, without the blinders created by a refusal to admit any possibility of the existence of God, it becomes clear that God is the explanation that best fits all the available evidence.

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Faith then is really all we need, faith in God and faith in what He has revealed to us in His Word. But questions and doubts will arise, and we need not fear them.

The world has developed supposedly scientific ideas about what is best for the mental and emotional well-being of mankind. Here too, an unblinkered look at the evidence shows that they don’t really work. Having confidence that there really is a God who created the world and everything in it, including us, should give us confidence to trust that His plan for the church and the home are exactly designed to meet our real needs. Let’s not panic when someone expresses doubts. Consider that an opportunity to examine the evidence and have our faith renewed.

The importance of being doers

The men who had been with Jesus were of a dismal mood that first Easter morning. They had believed everything He had told them, except for the really strange parts. Now this. Wasn’t Messiah supposed to cast out their uncircumcised overlords and restore the kingdom? They came together to discuss what to do next, or if there was anything left to do.

The women had something to do. They had gathered all the supplies needed for their task and they left for the tomb early in the morning to prepare their Master’s body for a proper burial. They were just as disheartened as the men, but this one thing they had to do.

Thus it was the women, the doers, who came to the tomb, found the stone rolled away and the tomb empty, saw the angels, heard their message. One of them, Mary Magdalene, heard Jesus speak her name.

The women raced back to where the men were to tell them the wonderful news that the Master was alive. The men didn’t believe them. Nevertheless, Peter and John went to the tomb to find out for themselves just what had happened.

It all rings true, doesn’t it? If the men had wanted to invent a story about a man who had died on a cross, then came back to life, wouldn’t they have written in a more heroic role for themselves? All the details of the story bear the unmistakable stamp of truth. Their highest hopes crushed by the death on the cross, their bewilderment and feelings of hopelessness.

The only thing that could have turned their despair into joy and invincible courage must have actually happened. They met the Master whom they had seen perish on the cross, had seen the blood and water pour from his side, and He was alive again. They could touch Him, feel His wounds. He walked with them, talked with them, cooked them a meal.

Now all the really strange parts of His teachings made sense. His kingdom was something much greater than they had been able to imagine, and He commissioned them to carry the good news of the kingdom into all the world. They became doers, many of them died because people didn’t want to hear their message. Other people took their place and the message is still being told and still changing lives.

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