Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: truth

The kingdom of God

In the Old Testament God selected the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to create a model of His kingdom. This kingdom attained the height of its glory, and the fulfilment of all the prophecies pertaining to the earthly kingdom, in the reign of Solomon. Yet as we look at the how that kingdom degenerated, we see that the seeds of destruction were there from the beginning. Most of the people descended from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were earthly minded.

The New Testament tells of the founding of a new kingdom. The king is Jesus, like Solomon a descendant of David. The citizens are the spiritual descendants of Abraham. This kingdom is not limited to any territory, has no political presence in any country, has no military force to avenge itself on its enemies. This is the true kingdom, of which the kingdom of Solomon was merely a representation. We need look for no other kingdom but the present kingdom of God.

Jesus likened the kingdom of God to leaven that was placed in a lump of dough, permeating and growing in the lump. The kingdom of God grows in a hidden way, in the hearts of those who repent and surrender their lives to the lordship of Jesus. Christian people cannot grow the kingdom. We must sow the seed, add the leaven – or better said, be the leaven, but it is God who gives the increase.

Jesus did not just talk about the kingdom, He demonstrated it. His miracles, the healing of the sick and handicapped, the casting out of demons, raising the dead to life, were evidence that a new power had entered this world and was undoing the work of the powers of darkness. Christians today do not have the power to perform miracles. God does, and He still does work miracles. But there are other ways in which Christians can defeat the powers of darkness.

The miracles of Jesus were real and they had a purpose. But let’s look beyond the miracles to the kind of person Jesus was. He demonstrated the perfect unity of truth and righteousness, love and compassion.

He forgave the woman taken in adultery and reproved her self-righteous accusers. The only time the Bible tells us that Jesus was angry was when the Pharisees were ready to condemn Him for healing on the Sabbath. The hardness of their hearts, their lack of compassion, was the opposite of true righteousness.

Jews despised Samaritans, considered them to be an unclean people, would not touch anything that had been handled by a Samaritan for fear of defilement. Jesus asked a Samaritan woman to give Him a drink of water, then talked to her about true worship, about her life, told her that He was the Messiah. She believed, ran back into the city to call others to meet Him. As they were coming out to the well, Jesus told His disciples to lift up their eyes and see the fields ripe for harvest.

He ate with publicans, took time for little children, depended on women for material support in His ministry, inspired faith in a Roman soldier and a Syro-Phoenician woman. He told the self-righteous Pharisees that other people who knew they were sinners, people like publicans and prostitutes, would find it easier to enter the kingdom than they would.

Blaise Pascal said “We make an idol of the truth itself; for truth without love is not God, but His image. Still less should we love its opposite, the untruth.” We are poor witnesses of the kingdom of God if we hold firmly to the truth, yet cannot find it in ourselves to show love, mercy and compassion to those ensnared by the deceptions and depravities of the kingdom of darkness.

We need to also heed the last part of Pascal’s thought. In our day there are many who want to include Jesus with all the religious teachers and prophets of all faiths and say that the true hope of mankind is in enlightenment that reveals the divinity within oneself. That is the untruth that offers no hope, no salvation, not even compassion.

Two way communication

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God has spoken once, His words are written in the holy book and it is the whole duty of man to obey all that is taught in the holy book. Religious leaders help to understand parts of the holy book that may not be clear, but God does not speak to people today.

The religion which believes that is called Islam. There are more than a billion devout followers of this religion.

Christianity also teaches that God has spoken in the past and His words are collected in a holy book called the Bible. But Christianity teaches something more than that: God speaks to people today by His Holy Spirit and by His church. There is full agreement in what God says by these three means.

If there is discord in what we are hearing, we need to search for the problem. Perhaps we have been taught an interpretation of parts of the Bible and the Holy Spirit is saying something that does not fit with what we have been taught. Is the problem with the interpretation we have been taught, or are we listening to a spirit that is not the Holy Spirit?

Perhaps the church to which we belong is teaching something that doesn’t seem to agree with what we read in the Bible or what the Holy Spirit is telling us. We need to be very careful to not become one who believes that he alone has the correct understanding of truth. But when it is clear that the church to which we belong is faithful to neither the Spirit nor the Bible, it is time to search for a church that is.

If we find the Bible difficult to understand, the best answer may not be to look for a Bible that is easier to understand. The best way to increase our understanding of the Bible is to be obedient to the parts that we do understand.

Prayer should not be a one way conversation. God wants us to talk to Him; He also wants to speak to us. If we are hearing nothing, we should search our hearts to see if we have obeyed the instructions He has given us in the past.

To be in full communion with God, we must be obedient to the things He says to us, whether through the Bible, the church or the Holy Spirit. This connection with God will also connect us with other true believers. This is not a man-made unity, which is fragile, but the unity of the family of God, founded on the bedrock of God’s truth.

The pen of the wise

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Image by Pexels from Pixabay

I begin every day by meeting God, first in His Word, then in prayer. My French Bible is on a shelf just above the computer monitor. Most often I read and hear gentle reminders of things I know, but which are always in need of reinforcement. The strength I receive from this quiet time helps me through the day, even if the words I read seldom come to mind.

Some mornings are different. It’s afternoon now and the message of Proverbs 15:2 is still turning around in my mind, like a cat looking for the most comfortable position to settle down. I have three French Bibles on that shelf, all translations I believe to be trustworthy. One word is different in two of them, but the sense is still the same: The tongue of the wise makes knowledge attractive.

Well, of course. That’s so obvious. I knew that already. But did I really? Have I really got it yet? Why do I so naturally slip into teachy-preachy mode, reproaching others for not understanding things that seem so obvious to me?

That’s why people love to read C. S. Lewis. It’s like sitting down to visit with an old friend about everyday things. After the visit, you realize you have learned something important, without ever feeling like you were being taught. There is nothing bombastic about his writing style; no hint of: “You need to listen to what I say because I am important.”

Blaise Pascal was like that, too. He set out to write a defence of Christian faith, knowing how difficult it would be: “People despise Christian faith. They hate it and are afraid that it may be true.  The solution for this is to show them, first of all, that it is not unreasonable, that it is worthy of reverence and respect. Then show that it is attractive, making good men desire that it were true. Then show them that it really is true. It is worthy of reverence because it really understands the human condition. It is also attractive because it promises true goodness.”

Pascal died young, before he could complete the book he wanted to write. All he left behind was scraps of paper on which he had written his thoughts. His friends collected those thoughts into a book; Les Pensées has become a classic of French literature on the same level as Pilgrim’s Progress in English.

I have four copies of Les Pensées (the thoughts) of Blaise Pascal, in French and in English. Each editor had his own idea of the way Pascal wanted his thoughts ordered. None of them agree. It doesn’t matter. Each time I read a few of those scraps of paper Pascal left behind I am struck with how simple Christian truth appears from his hand, his mind—and how profound.

And Wow! This is how it’s done. This is how one makes truth attractive.

Is possible for me to learn this?

Winsomeness

More than 350 years ago, Blaise Pascal described what he hoped to achieve with his writing this way:

People despise Christian faith. They hate it and are afraid that it may be true.  The solution for this is to show them, first of all, that it is not unreasonable, that it is worthy of  reverence and respect. Then show that it is winsome, making good men desire that it were true. Then show them that it really is true. It is worthy of reverence because it really understands the human condition. It is also attractive because it promises true goodness.
-Blaise Pascal, Les Pensées

I have often read this passage, given mental assent to it, desired that the things I write could be winsome and attractive. Yet it dawns on me now how far I fall short of achieving that goal.

I don’t do New Year resolutions. I tried years ago. They were largely futile attempts to make me feel better about myself with minimal effort. I took comfort in having noble aspirations, then promptly forgot them. Real change is only possible by taking an honest look at the not so noble part of my character.

Pascal used the word aimable in French. The above English version translates aimable by winsome in one place and attractive in the other. Apologetics, giving an answer for the hope that lieth within me, is only effective if it makes that hope winsome and attractive.

Giving an answer that carries the slightest whiff of self-righteousness or arrogance renders that answer unattractive.  Truth is important, right doctrine is necessary, yet if truth and right doctrine seem repugnant to the reader, I am an abject failure.

Effective apologetics then must be the putting Christian faith into words that bring out the winsomeness of the faith. As a writer, I need to get myself out of the way and think of how to present different aspects of the faith in Jesus Christ to the reader, who probably looks at life in quite a different way than I do. It is not my job to prove him wrong; it is not my job to prove myself an authority to be trusted. It is my job to show that Jesus Christ is worthy of our trust.

© Bob Goodnough, January 03, 2020

Why I am a member of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite

I was looking for a home—a family. An inner longing was pushing me to search for a church where there would be truth and warmth. Sometimes in my mind I thought I had found it, but that inner longing told me—No, this isn’t what you need.

I met many good people along the way, picked up little pieces of truth that I hadn’t known before, but always the emptiness within remained unsatisfied. Sometimes I visited a church once, sometimes I stayed for a year or two, but each experience ended in disappointment.

I reached the end of my search, was almost ready to give up. I had never thought the picture in my mind of what the ideal church should be was a problem. Then God told me I needed to give up that picture and allow Him to show me what I needed and where I should look.

From there on it was easy. Well, at least it was easy to find the church that was exactly what I was looking for. I had known of this church for years, but never gave it serious consideration because it did not fit the picture in my mind. Once I had checked out all the alternatives, God led me to take another look at this church. This time I knew it was where I wanted to be, where God wanted me to be.

My mind was at rest, my heart was at peace. This was the home for which I had searched. The doctrines of the church were Biblical, solid and complete. Brotherly love was genuine, not an act. Ministers were untrained and unsalaried, yet better able to discern between the wisdom of the Holy Spirit and the wisdom of the world than any others I had met. All the members were born again. I did not meet any who thought they had just grown into salvation, or who thought showing the requisite level of enthusiasm, or wearing a certain unique cut of clothing, was evidence of the new birth.

God led me to my earthly spiritual home. But a spiritual family is much like a natural family. We are different people, with different tastes, different ways of doing things, different stresses in our life. Sometimes someone else steps on my toes, my feelings get hurt. I need to forgive; it wasn’t deliberate—I don’t know how many times I have stepped on someone else’s toes; I didn’t intend to, it just happens. I don’t know because they have forgiven me and got on with living.

Some are weak among us, they need help. Sometimes help comes in the way of correction, sometimes in practical help. We always offer help in kindness. Some are new in the faith, they need encouragement. Some make mistakes, they need forbearance. We are family, when one member is hurting, we all feel the pain.

Some members have come from different cultural backgrounds, some have not come from happy homes. Sometimes the help we offer is. Sometimes we don’t quite understand what is going on. But we are still family and we do our best to love and support one another as the Holy Spirit leads.

Silence like cancer

The fire, the wind, the earthquake beat upon the mountain like hammer blows. Elijah knew God did not speak like that. After all was silent, he heard a gentle voice. It was so soft that he could not discern the words; he went to the mouth of the cave to hear better. God spoke to him in a gentle tone, but did not beat around the bush. His first words were: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Jesus often wrapped the truth in a story. His purpose was not to conceal the truth, but to prompt the listeners to search for the meaning, and to make it stick. We should not take the example of Jesus as an excuse to wrap the truth in obscure words which conceal rather than reveal. No one should not have to guess what we are trying to say.

When a Pharisee asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbour?”, Jesus responded with the story we call “the good Samaritan.” The Pharisee nodded as Jesus told of the priests who had passed by without helping. That was how he saw the priests. He no doubt expected Jesus to tell how a Pharisee came along and saved the day.

Jesus shocked him to the depths of his being by making a Samaritan the hero of the story. Jews saw Samaritans as unclean people and avoided them. After telling the story, Jesus asked who had been a neighbour to the man in distress. The Pharisee could not even bring himself to pronounce the word Samaritan, but allowed that the one who helped had been the true neighbour.

Jesus’ final word, “go and do thou likewise,” was telling the Pharisee he needed to be more like the Samaritan in the story. The Pharisee got the parable’s message. We don’t know what he did with that understanding. The gospels say that most Pharisees hated Jesus, but some believed.

Our lives should be a witness of the hope that lies within us. But we cannot just be silent witnesses. If someone asks us a reason of that hope and all we can come up with is “That’s the way our church teaches,” or “That’s what it says somewhere in the Bible,” people are apt to conclude that we don’t know why we do things like we do. Could they be right?

We should be able to offer a clear testimony of the grounds of our faith. Important-sounding words are unnecessary, as is a round-about way of speaking. Simple words from the heart are more apt to touch the hearts of others.

Psalm 15:1-2 —LORD, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill? He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth [as it is] in his heart.

The words I have inserted in italics appear in the most reliable French translations and I believe are the true meaning. It is not enough to hide the truth in our heart. We need to learn how to express it in words others can understand.

If we think it’s enough to have the truth hidden in our hearts, yet remain silent about it, that silence becomes like a cancer eating away at the truth within us. The world hears the blows of the hammers wielded by multitudes who claim to be proclaiming truth, so many kinds of supposed truth. We can’t compete with the noise, we don’t need a bigger hammer to ensure people hear our message. The truth is best told in a warm, gentle way.

Do we need to learn how to speak the truth? Truth-speaking does not need heavy words or “Christian” fairy tales to support it. If we can wrap it in a story from our own life, or one we have observed, so much the better. Let’s start now, in our homes, with fellow believers, and with those who do not believe.

Uncharted Seas

Everything is changing and we must change with the times or be left behind. Nothing we knew yesterday will be of any value to us tomorrow. But tomorrow will be better than today and the day after that even better. This is the age of progress.

But where is this progress taking us? Hush! It is heresy to even talk of a destination. There is none, only endless change. And all change is for the better. Any thought that things might not be getting better dare not be uttered. That too is heresy.

Things that used to be accepted as self-evident reality have been swept away. Things like gender and procreation for example. Gender is now changed, manipulated at will. We are getting beyond even the dystopian vision of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

As if being adrift in this restless sea of modernity was not enough, I hear some Christians quoting Hegel: “The only thing we learn from history is that we do not learn from history.” Do they not understand how profoundly anti-Christian such a statement is?

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Image by Elias Sch. from Pixabay

In the turbulent waters of change there are no reference points to tell us where we are or in which direction we are moving. We have to look outside of the waters of change to find stable landmarks to orient ourselves in the journey of life.

All of the Bible is history. “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope” Romans 15:4. “Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come” 1 Corinthians 10:11. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” 2 Timothy 3:16.

The Bible is honest to God history, history that tells us that others have travelled through this life before us with a destination in mind, that God inspired them to believe that there was a destination and then guided them step by step through life to find that destination. This is history that we desperately need to read and learn from.

“But now they [we] desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their [our] God: for he hath prepared for them [usd] a city” Hebrews 11:16. “For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come” Hebrews 13:14.

We cannot see that city, but we have the Bible to show us the way. In addition there are the ancient landmarks set by our spiritual forefathers through their faith and experiences and their statements of faith.

Truth still stands, impervious to every attempt to deny it, dilute it, twist it, destroy it or pretend it never existed. Truth is not the popular choice, but if we look closely we will see that the impetuous waters of change destroy everything end everyone afloat on its surface.

Learning to see

Let us not forget that the greatest composers were also the greatest thieves. They stole from everyone and everywhere.
–Pablo Casals

Writers do much the same thing, though I do not believe it is proper to call it theft. We learn something from everything we read and everything we see. Often it is just a little impression that adds a small detail to our understanding of the things happening around us. Occasionally it is a profound thought that jars us out of the rut are thoughts have settled into.

These are the inputs into our mental processes. They all get jumbled up, then sorted out, and the output is our attempt to send out, via our writing, a glimmer of light to help someone else see something they might otherwise have missed.

Romans 12:2 warns us not to let our thinking be shaped by the zeitgeist, the prevailing attitudes in the world around us in the era in which we live. The danger for us, for me, is that I would tend to interpret that as meaning I need to remain entrenched in the zeitgeist that prevailed several generations ago when I was growing up. But the verse goes on to say that I need to be transformed by the renewing of my mind to prove the will of God for me, here and now in the era in which I am living.

The world is a place of dancing shadows. As I read, listen and observe, I become aware that everyone has a longing for truth and light. Many grasp a shadow and call it light, then are devastated when that shadow dissolves or changes shape.  Those who do not give up too soon are still finding true light. Reading, listening, observing helps me understand why other people are looking for light in places where there is no light.

As a Christian, I believe the Bible and the Holy Spirit are sources of light that reveal things as they truly are. Yet, if I see, then withdraw into the wilderness  I am shirking my responsibility to point others to the place where light is to be found.

Approaches to the Bible

All those who call themselves Christians say that their faith is built solely on Jesus Christ the solid rock and that they depend on the Bible for spiritual truth and for instruction in living a life that is pleasing to their Saviour. But how is it really?

Some folks base their faith on a set of proof texts garnered from here and there in the Bible and are endeavouring to build a Christian life using this material. They may be very earnest in expounding on these texts, but often don’t know the context in which these verses are found. In reality, they did not discover these proof texts for themselves, but learned them from various books, preachers and teachers. They were probably convinced of a particular interpretation of Scripture, then given verses to back up a view they had already been persuaded to accept as truth. This is not Bible-based faith and the assurance derived from the certainty of knowing the proof texts is often a false assurance. Such a second-hand belief system does not equip people to counter the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil.

Others begin with a desire to learn from the Bible, but as time goes on they begin to trust their imagination to interpret what the Bible is saying. This is often because they find a plain interpretation of the Bible too constraining. Perhaps they had a remarkable experience or two that was genuinely from the Lord, and begin to think that God has a special role for them in life. They search for confirmation of this in the Bible and begin to interpret all the events of their life in the light of what they imagine to be their special calling. By this time they are no longer searching the Bible to find God’s truth, but searching it to validate their remarkable new insights. They still claim to have a Bible-based faith, but are far from the heaven bound narrow way.

There are a few who hold up their thoughts, desires, imaginations and experiences to the light of the Bible and allow God to prove what is genuine and what is useless baggage. They will be blessed in reading the Bible. They will find direction for their lives, strength for the daily battles with the forces of evil, and assurance that God is leading. There is peace and rest when they have nothing to prove, but are willing to let God prove their inner thoughts and desires through His Word and the direction of the Holy Spirit.

Truth is tough

Truth is tough. It will not break like a bubble at a touch; nay, you may kick it around all day like a football, and it will be round and full at evening.

-Oliver Wendell Holmes

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