Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: works

Two sisters

Two sisters from a dysfunctional home. Both married at 15, now in their sixties. Let’s call them Kathleen and Karen to keep things straight.

Kathleen’s husband was prone to drunken rages and she bore the brunt of those rages. She finally left, feeling her life was in danger, and took their children with her. She was divorced at 21, lived with several other men, had one more child.

One of those men sexually abused her daughter. The daughter died of cancer at the age of sixteen, her oldest brother came to the funeral handcuffed to a police officer. All the boys had scrapes with the law. None of them ever married, but all have children. Kathleen is unable to have any contact with the children of one of her sons. Neither is he.

Kathleen has lived on welfare most of her life. Her life is a shambles, yet she talks freely of how God has sustained her and occasionally goes to church. She feels she has done the best she could under the circumstances. Her only friends are people in the same circumstances as she is, or worse.

Karen is still married; her husband has provided well for them. They have two daughters, both happily married. Not long ago Karen was diagnosed with lung cancer. Her daughters and sons-in-law rallied around, providing rides to all her appointments and supporting her in every way. She is cancer free, now, but her husband is undergoing cancer treatment. Once again the family is there for them.

Karen never talks about God, but somewhere she got the idea that her life could be different from the life of her parents. Kathleen seemingly never did.

We wonder what made the difference. Could it be the three years that Karen spent in the home of her aunt and uncle before she started school? That wasn’t perhaps the best of homes, but it was light years better than her parents home. The acceptance she felt from her husband’s family must have helped, too.

Still, it is one thing to see that your life can be better than the life of the family you grew up in, It is quite another thing to make that difference happen. Karen was determined, she did what she could to make it happen.

We look at people like Kathleen and say “Don’t they know any better?” I don’t believe they do. I’m sure they have an inkling that things should be different, they wish things could be different, but they have no support, no one to turn to, if they would want to change. What are we to do?

Telling them about faith in the saving power of Jesus Christ is an important part of the answer. But is faith enough? Let’s paraphrase James:

“If a neighbour be forsaken, and destitute of love and affection, and one of you say unto them, depart in peace, be ye encouraged and filled with love; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to emotional wholeness; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.” (Adapted from James 2:15-17).

Mennonites are not Protestants

I applaud the sincerity and courage of Martin Luther when he nailed his 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg 500 years ago. I am appalled by the savagery of his address to the armies fighting the peasants’ revolt, when he called on them to “slash, stab, kill as many as you can,” and promised them a sure entrance to heaven if they died in the battle. He found a way to use Scripture to show that this killing would be an act of mercy, as he did later when he called for the extermination of Anabaptists and Jews.

I’m afraid that Martin Luther took a wrong turn when he decided to rely on the secular power to establish his reformation of the church. He was able to effect a reformation of some of the more egregious practices that were characteristic of the Roman Catholic Church of his day, but even Luther did not believe his reformation had produced people who were more Christian.

Anabaptists and Mennonites have always held to the concept that only Christian people should be members of the Christian church. That is, people who have been born again and whose life bears evidence of an inner transformation. We have never taught that salvation can be earned by works, as the Roman Catholics did in Luther’s day. But neither do we believe that a person whose life is devoid of all evidence of regeneration can be a Christian, as Luther seemed to say with his emphasis on Sola Fides.

When a person is born again a new life begins. Works are the life signs. If there are no works, the faith is dead, or nonexistent. A born again Christian is never fully aware of how much his life has changed. He is simply thankful for the peace God has given and tries to maintain his connection with God. His works are not done to obtain the approval of others, nor is his assurance dependent on what other people think. There are simply the effects of an inner transformation.

The Protestant reformers believed that the survival of their reformed churches was worth killing for; Anabaptists believed that the survival of their peace with God was worth dying for.

Trust and obey

We must not interpret trust and obey mean that we trust in our obedience. That is works, and we will probably choose to obey that which we think we understand. Rather, we obey because we trust that God has a purpose in what He asks of us, even if we don’t understand it. That is faith.

Are we down or up?

Twenty-some years ago, Paul Carnegie, a realtor from Stratford, Ontario, was telling us about houses that he had thought would be difficult to sell. In one case, he drove out to a small village in response to a call from the owner and located the house. He walked up to the living room window and looked in through a missing window pane, then went up to the door and knocked. An older man let him in and showed him around the house. There was a hole in the kitchen floor large enough to look down into the murky darkness of the dirt basement. Beside the hole was a pump powered by a small gas engine to draw water from an open well in the basement.

“I can’t understand it,” the man said. “All this luxury, and she left me.”

Paul offered some sympathetic words about the incomprehensibility of women and wrote up the listing. He never expected to get an offer on the house, yet it did sell.

Lee Hazelwood once wrote a song entitled “I’ve been down so long it looks like up to me.” That seems to have been the case with this homeowner. Evidently the picture looked different to his wife.

What shall we say about ourselves then? Are we comfortable, at ease, content that God is pleased with us? Do we dare ask what our life looks like to God?

Consider the message to the leader, and the members, of the church at Laodicea:

“I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:15-17).

They were lukewarm, comfortable, feeling that conditions were just right and nothing better could justifiably be expected of them. Yet the message from heaven told them they were:

wretched: They imagined themselves to be among the blessed and free and could not see that they had become slaves to sin and unbelief.

miserable: deceived and pitiable.

poor: lacking the true spiritual riches.

blind: both to their own condition and to the needs of those around them.

naked: lacking the wedding garment and the garment of praise, no more covering for their sin.

We are often tempted to become complacent and self-satisfied in our Christian life, thinking that all is well. Yet here we have the Lord Jesus telling us how distasteful this is to Him. He finds those who are lukewarm so disgusting that He will spew them out of His mouth.

Yet there is hope. Hear the conclusion of the message to the church at Laodicea: “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:19-20).

Where is Paradise?

The first paradise was the Garden of Eden. In the Septuagint “garden” in Genesis 2:8 appears as “paradise,” the paradise of Eden. The Hebrew word in the original refers to a walled garden of pleasure and delight, where sin cannot enter. It appears that all peoples of the earth have in their traditions a memory of a time when the original inhabitants of the earth lived in some such earthly paradise. There is a longing in all of us to return to this paradise.

When Jesus told the dying thief “Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise,” was He speaking of heaven? Where then would be the judgment of which the Scriptures speak? “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:10); “for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” (Romans 14:10). This judgment comes at the end of time, after the bodily resurrection. In another place, the apostle Paul warns about those “Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some” (2 Timothy 2:18).

The sequence in the Scriptures is the bodily resurrection, then the final judgment and then the final separation to eternal torment or eternal joy. “When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: and before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats . . . And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal” (Matthew 25:31-46).

It would appear then that when Jesus spoke of paradise He meant the abode of the spirits of the dead before the resurrection. Paradise and “Abraham’s bosom” were both terms used by the Jews to describe the abode of the departed spirits of the righteous. Revelation 6:9 uses the term “under the altar” to describe this place. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:20-25) demonstrates that even here there is a division between the saved and the lost. Yet here it appears that communication is possible between the two parts of the abode of the dead, even though the conditions are quite different. I believe we can infer from the Scripture that in heaven the separation will be of such a magnitude that those in one place will not be aware of those in the other.

Those that have died are thus in an intermediate state and place, awaiting the resurrection and final judgment. Some are in a place of beauty and joy, some in a very unpleasant place, yet not the torments of eternal fire. It would appear from this that those in Matthew 7:22 who came before the judgment throne complaining: “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?” would be those who found themselves shut out of paradise and felt that a horrible injustice had been done. Jesus’ answer is horrible to contemplate: “I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (verse 23).

If we are to enter paradise, and eventually heaven, our works must be the outworking of the Holy Spirit in our lives, not works that are done in an attempt to earn the favour of God or our fellow men.

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