Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: truth

Is your church a theology-free zone?

I became aware of the declining interest in theology on the part of most churches shortly after my conversion and marriage. Both happened in 1970 and I mention my marriage because it was only after we were married that my wife and I began to attend church and look for spiritual fellowship.

There was the Western Canada Revival that swept through the prairies in the early’70’s, uniting all evangelical denominations in sponsoring city-wide meetings where revival was preached in bigger and bigger venues. This co-operation was achieved by a tacit agreement to avoid denominational distinctives in doctrine.

A few years later there was the “I Found It!” outreach, which included an even wider group of churches to encourage the people around us to seek some kind of meaningful encounter with Jesus Christ. The nature and significance of this encounter was purposely left vague in order to involve as wide a range of professing Christians as possible.

I’m sure that many lives were touched and changed by both of these movements. Nevertheless, they did something else – they sowed the seeds of a belief that theology is divisive and a hindrance to reaching unbelievers with the gospel.

What are we then left with? A belief in a benevolent Deity who wants us all to get along and who wants to help us when we are in trouble. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s not enough. Does anyone really believe there is power in moralistic, therapeutic deism to rescue us from our sins? Does anyone believe in sin anymore?

What happened to truth? Where is it to be found?

No doubt some of the old denominational distinctives were somewhat off the mark. But there was a day when people believed fervently in them, and quoted chapter and verse of the Bible to support them. Were they worse off spiritually than the bland, theology-free folks of today?

Do we search the Bible for truth today? Or do we search for encouraging, heart-warming verses that don’t ask too much of us? I believe that God had more than that in mind when He gave us the Bible. and the Holy Spirit, to guide us into all truth. I believe that truth is necessary for our salvation in the present time and for eternity.

Any church, preacher, or book that doesn’t in some way encourage my search for the truth is subtly deceiving.

Could this be idolatry?

Aaron, an elderly brother from the congregation whee we used to live, had been driving down a lonely highway in Texas. After an hour or two he saw a young man hitchhiking and offered him a ride. The young man got into the back seat and they chatted a little. All was silent for a while, then the hitchhiker said “Jesus is returning soon.” Aaron looked back, but the back seat was empty. He had not stopped the car, but the hitchhiker had vanished.

Or so I was told. When I asked brother Aaron about this he said it had never happened. This story was heard often about 35 years ago, always about a friend of a friend, never a first hand account. Perhaps it is still being told. What makes people want to believe stories like this?

A few years later thee was a story going around in Amish and Mennonite communities about an Old Order Amish family with eleven sets of twin boys. Pretty soon the number was up to an even dozen. Then they were reported to be moving to Tennessee, to join a Church of God in Christ, Mennonite congregation. Brother Rodney from our congregation was travelling in Pennsylvania with his family at this time and news came back that he had met this family. I asked him about them when he returned home. He had never seen them. It appears that nobody else ever did, either.

A few years after that, there were news articles in the local daily newspaper about a young father with incurable cancer. The family heard about a clinic, in Texas again if I remember rightly, with a promising new therapy. They would take the patients urine, extract antibodies from it and inject them into the cancer patient. There were glowing testimonials of the success of this therapy. But it was prohibitively expensive.

The young couple sold their home, there were community fundraisers to help cover their costs, and they set out with high hopes. There were a few early reports in the paper telling how he was beginning to feel better already.  Then nothing.

Two months later there was a tiny item in the back of the paper reporting the death of this young man. He left a wife and several small children who were now completely destitute. However, the clinic in Texas was probably doing quite well financially. (I believe they were later shut down by the authorities.)

Why are people tempted to believe such stories? Why are so few motivated to seek out the truth? When people choose to believe a lie, either because it is interesting or because it offers hope in a hopeless situation, is this not a form of idolatry?

Intellectualism, reason and faith

Intellectualism is the idea that all truth can be discovered by reasoning. René Descartes started with “I think, therefore I am,” and proceeded down this line of reasoning to discover all that was worth knowing, to his own satisfaction at least.

The fatal flaw in this is that God is considered as irrelevant and thus the reasoning is based on the false premise that the human mind is able to comprehend the meaning of all things. Reason is not contrary to faith, but reasoning based on false premises does lead away from faith.

The rage against faith by many intellectuals of our day should be seen as an acknowledgement that they know they are on shaky ground. Their fine sounding reasoning has not brought the fulfillment and happiness they anticipated, but they are determined to never admit that. Hence the furious attempts to ridicule, vilify and silence anyone who has the temerity to point out the weaknesses in their reasoning.

There is nothing about Christian faith that is contrary to reason; there is no evidence in the way that things really are and how they work that contradicts the revelations given in the Bible. Christian faith puts us in harmony with the way things really are. That is to be expected if we are in harmony with the Creator of all things.

It is enough for Christians to patiently and humbly point out the reasonableness of Christian faith. We should never be the ones on the attack, with ridicule and harsh words. We should avoid all triumphalism and above all avoid all fables that purport to offer proof of Christian faith. The Bible is enough.

The need for Christian apologetics

According to Nancy Pearsey, when young people who have abandoned the Christian faith are asked why, the most common answer is that they could not get answers to their questions about the faith. Thus they assumed that there were no answers and that the stories hey had been taught were just so many fairy tales.

This brings us right up against Peter’s command: “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” (1 Peter 3:15). “Give an answer” is the English translation of apologia, the Greek word that Peter used. Thus apologetics simply means always being ready to give an answer when questions arise about our faith.

This does not mean that we need to be prepared with arguments that will overwhelm and overpower the skeptics — notice that Peter says “with meekness and fear.” But we should never avoid an honest question, even if we don’t know the answer. We simply need the confidence that answers do exist and to be willing to help the questioner search for those answers. If we are afraid to even do that, what hope is there for the future of Christianity?

Is Jesus’ “ground crew” the real problem?

Some folks have been heard to say that they love the Lord, but the don’t have much use for His ground crew. I confess that my first impulse is to be sympathetic to their point of view, having encountered a number of questionable representatives of that group. That impulse is tempered by the realization that I might be someone that such people wouldn’t want to be part of the ground crew.

What kind of a ground crew would gain the confidence of those people? To hear them tell it, they want to be introduced to a warm, friendly Jesus who will be their buddy and tell them the way they life is just fine with Him and everything is going to be all right in the end. Some preachers come pretty close to offering such a Jesus, but most everyone knows this Jesus is an imposter.There appears to be an irreconcilable gulf between the desire to live a meaningless life and the desire to be accepted by a meaningful Jesus.

Jesus Himself is the real problem. He says very divisive things like: ” I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me;” “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple;” ” If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.”

He demands our full, unconditional allegiance. He says that His way is the only way to find peace and happiness. That’s pretty exclusive thinking; there are all kinds of religions out there that promise peace, fulfilment, happiness. Don’t they all promise the same thing? Isn’t one just as good as another?

The thing that some people eventually figure out is that Jesus is the only one who can deliver what He promises. All the other ways leave people feeling alienated, angry, fearful, worthless. When we follow Jesus we learn that we are loved, that we are valuable in the sight of God. And we learn to love other people in a way we never could before.

That last point is tremendously important. Someone who claims to know Jesus but can’t get along with others, doesn’t really know Jesus. I can imagine that Jesus and I are in complete agreement and that anyone that does not see things as we see them is an enemy. That is deception; that’s just not how Christian faith works. ” If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”

Our job, if we are part of Jesus’ “ground crew”, is not to describe Jesus as we imagine Him to be, but to introduce people to the real Jesus. The more we become like Him, the better we should be at that introduction.

The Universalist and the Quaker

A Universalist preacher, who believed that no one would be excluded from heaven, held a series of meetings in a rural town. He was a gifted speaker and many people came to hear him. At the close of the meetings he announced, ” Now if you would desire, I would like to come each Sabbath evening and preach to you. I would like a response from this audience.”

No one responded. Finally he asked anyone who objected to speak.

Again there was a long silence. Finally an aged Quaker arose and said, “Friend, I have been listening to thee and thought I would say nothing, but thou hast insisted that someone speak. We don’t want thee because, if thy theory is correct, we have no need of preaching for all will be saved. And if thy theory is not correct we don’t want thee, because it is then a lie and we don’t want thee to preach lies to us.”

-Source unknown

What is truth?

Another way that people hide from God is through idea systems. Let me tell you about one idea system that Christians need to address. It is the idea that we just have faith in the church, but we don’t know anything. It’s the idea that knowledge is opposed to faith. People know things over in the shopping center, they know things at the bank, and they know things at school. But when you come to church, there is no knowledge, just faith

You may have a hard time believing that, but if you want to understand why the Christian gospel is being treated in this country as it is now by those running the legal and school systems, you have to realize that they have been trained by a system of ideas to believe that Christianity is just another superstition — one, moreover, that has had a legal advantage in this country and should now be dispossessed of that legal advantage. This is very deeply ingrained in the idea system that governs life around us.

-Dallas Willard. Excerpted from: The Allure of Gentleness, defending the faith in the manner of Jesus, © 2015 by Dallas Willard

Truth and reality

In simple terms, truth is something that we trust in and base our lives upon. Reality is what others see from the way we live. Is there a gap between what we say we believe to be true and what is revealed by the choices we make in life?

We say we are saved by faith, not by works — would others say we that we seem to be afraid that something terrible will happen of we don’t do things just right?

We say that we love our neighbours as ourselves — are there people that we just can’t seem to stand?

We say that we trust in the Lord to look after our material needs and we don’t have treasures here on earth — does it look like that to other people?

We say that we are humble people — how do we react when people criticize something we have said or done?

We say that we respect those in authority — how often are we heard making critical remarks or telling jokes about them?

What does our reality show say about what we really believe to be truth?

The same question applies to those who say that they believe there is no meaning to life, that we are just random blobs of protoplasm that appeared by chance and there is no purpose or consequences to what we do. Do they live like there is no meaning or purpose for the choices they make? What about the things that other people do that affect them?

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.

Somewhere a forest is burning

Somewhere a forest is burning
A blue smoky haze blurs the horizon.
Acrid fumes affect our breathing
Causing eyes to sting, tears begin to run.

Somewhere a forest is burning
A forest of churches now redundant;
Made weak and sickly from learning
To accommodate half-true new doctrine.

New interpretations of truth
Weakened those who once were mighty and tall.
Rottenness took hold of the roots
One by one the branches began to fall.

Places where once the Word of God
Shone over the pathway for young and old.
Who will weep for all that is gone?
Who recalls the truths that once here were told?

Fire consumes twisted undergrowth
Heavenly light touches the hidden seeds.
Out of ashes appears the truth
Growing the forest this world so much needs.

All that man builds the fire will try
That alone which came from God will remain.
Then may we forever rely
On the Word of truth that He has proclaimed.

Copyright © August 16, 2014 by Bob Goodnough

[Another poem? I think this is all for awhile. Friday I sat in Scott’s Parable Christian Store in Saskatoon with a cappuccino and a notebook and scribbled down some notes. After considerably more scribbling, crossing out and shifting things around I came up with these two poems. The smoke was pretty noticeable on Friday, from forest fires a thousand miles away in British Columbia and the Northwest Territories.].

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