Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: transformed lives

Change is in the air

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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

Living faith

It appears that many Muslims in Syria and Iraq are beginning to realize that the Wahabi branch of Islam is not their friend. As long as Wahabi-inspired terrorism seemed to be mainly directed at Jews, Christians, and Western civilization in general, they could cheer for supposed Islamic victories and overlook attacks against other Muslims. But now ISIS is aimed solely at other Muslims and people are rethinking their admiration for the teachings of the Wahabi movement.

Muslims like to claim that Christians are divided into many conflicting denominations and Muslims are all one. This ignores the fundamental differences between Sunnis and Shiites that are behind many Middle East conflicts. Then there are the Alawis, Druzes, Ahmadiyas and other smaller groups, regarded as heretics by both Sunnis and Shiites. The Wahabis are the hardline ultra-orthodox wing of the Sunnites and consider all the others to be apostate. This doesn’t sound much like unity to me.

The confusion of so many differing conflicting voices, all claiming to speak for the Christian faith is not a strong argument for Christianity. We will not improve matters by trying to paper over those differences and pretending to all get along, which would mean agreeing to not believe much of anything.

Is the only alternative to try and prove everybody else wrong and stridently drown out their voices? How do we seek the truth, take a stand for the truth, without being curmudgeons? How did Jesus do it?

Jesus used many uncomplimentary terms to describe the pharisees, such as “blind leaders of the blind.” But he never stooped to using personal insults. He was pointing out the disconnect between what they professed to believe and the way they conducted their lives. The gospels report that many of the pharisees believed in Him.

In all He said and did, Jesus was uncompromising in His denunciation of sin, yet sinners still felt His love. As Christians, we often claim to “hate the sin but love the sinner,” but do people living in sin really feel that from us? Or do they experience scorn and rejection?

It is not within our human ability to produce a genuine Christ-like attitude. It is when our lives are animated by the presence of the Holy Spirit that we can reject sin in all its forms without rejecting the people captured in those sins.

All the squabbling over truth does nothing to prove the truth of the Christian faith. Yet truth is important, “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” Truth in the abstract form can never set us free. Truth that transforms our lives and makes us more like Christ is the only real evidence of the reality of Christian faith.

Homeopathic dilution of Christianity

To put it very briefly, homeopathy is a branch of alternative medicine that treats diseases with natural substances that are diluted well past the point where any trace of the original substance can be detected.  Some call it quackery, others say that it works where other methods fail.  It does have this much going for it, that it can be said with assurance that it causes no harmful side effects.   I do not believe the same can be said for watered down Christianity.

Very early in the history of Christianity, some folks found undiluted Christianity to be too strong a medicine for their liking and began to water it down, while still claiming that it lost none of its saving power.  Various levels of dilution are available in our day, all claiming to be good for what ails us, yet unable to show much evidence of its potency.

Martin Luther saw clearly the evils of the church to which he originally belonged and wanted to establish a church of earnest believers.  Yet by 1522 he realized that things were not working out as he had expected and expressed the rather forlorn hope that, “We who at present are well nigh heathen under a Christian name, may yet organize a Christian assembly.”  He began to think of forming an inner circle of earnest believers within the Lutheran Church who would confess the gospel with their lives as well as their tongues.  He eventually dropped that plan, realizing he could not find enough people for it.

Yet the Anabaptists had no trouble finding such people.  They preached, and lived, a rigorous, uncompromising and undiluted gospel that actually did transform lives.  The reputation of the Anabaptists was such that during the persecutions of the sixteenth century a person who led an honest and moral life, did not curse and was not quarrelsome might easily find himself accused of being an Anabaptist.

Baptism is the key point where Anabaptists differ from Catholics and Protestants.  We understand the Bible to teach that baptism can only be offered to those of sufficient age and understanding to make a voluntary covenant with God and the church.  It is the means of gathering a congregation of the redeemed.  To that end, the convert must be able to appear before the assembly with a testimony of repentance and new birth and the congregation must be able to testify that they have witnessed the fruit of repentance in a transformed life.  Baptism then is a symbol that the convert is no longer walking in the ways of the world but has united with the people of God.

I attended many churches in my earlier years, met many wonderful people.  I still meet some of them from time to time and count them as friends.  However, all those churches were a mixed assembly of true believers, those who were trying to make themselves believe they were believers and many who truly didn’t know what they believed.  There was little evidence of the power to transform lives.

I listened to a lot of different preachers, even attended some powerful revival campaigns.  Parts of the gospel were preached, some topics were carefully avoided so as not to cause offense.   Such tactics do not have power to gather a church of the redeemed.  The meaning of baptism and the conditions for baptism were watered down, resulting in a watered down gospel that did not offer clear directions for sin sick souls to find the source of healing.

Salvation comes from God, not the church.  Nevertheless, spiritual discernment is needed to gather only believers into the church and to clearly reveal the way of salvation to others.

“By their fruits ye shall know them.”  There is no such thing as an invisible Christian; if no visible fruits are apparent in a person’s life, there is no reason to suspect such a person of being a Christian.  There are weak Christians, but that is not the same thing.  In truth, we are all weak, but those who truly trust in God will be known by their fruits.

 

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