Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: world

Is there any hope?

So many people want to save humanity. What do we need to be saved from? Who really knows? Is it the one who talks the loudest? Why does that person tell us it is a crime to allow those who disagrees with him to talk about their ideas? Is there any hope?

The Bible tells us that if we bite and devour each other, we will all be devoured. We cannot save humanity by fighting with each other. That is the devil’s game.

It is the devil who is behind every attempt to make us distrust and hate each other. If we want to make the world a better place, we must start by refusing to listen to the devil.

Jesus offers a better way. He came to help the sick, the suffering, the sorrowing and the brokenhearted and to offer hope to everyone. He says that we should love everyone and count no one as an enemy. Our true enemies are the devil and his dark angels.

Study the teachings of Jesus in the Bible. He wants us to forsake the ways of hatred and of doing things that hurt others. If we ask Him, He will give us a transformed heart and a new way of looking at life and at the people around us.

We can’t change the whole world, even governments have much less power to do that than we think. But we can do little things to help and encourage others. We can pray to God and ask Him to help others in need and to help our governments do what is best for all mankind. Those things will do more good than to defeat a government that isn’t doing what we think it should do.

We are able to do much more good than we think. Instead of saying “somebody really should do something,” why not be that somebody whenever we have the opportunity? If Jesus is directing our lives, He will show us little things to be done that will make a difference to someone. We shouldn’t keep a record of the good things we have done or boast of them to others. By doing these things we are laying up treasures in heaven, not working for an earthly reward.

It’s not hard to see that the world would be a better place if everyone would live the way that Jesus taught. Most people don’t. The only way to change that is to start with you and me. That is the only, and the best, hope for the world.

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A Christian’s greatest enemy is inside of him

The apostle Paul knew it: “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.”

John Newton knew it: “In defiance of my best judgment and best wishes, I find something within me which cherishes and cleaves to those evils, from which I ought to start and flee, as I should if I found a toad or a serpent was put in my food or on my bed.”

A Christian today may constantly fret over the evils in the world around him, all the while doing his best to ignore that there is something inside of him, part of his very being, that is in alliance with the external powers of evil. We may try to flee from the external evils, but wherever we flee to, the internal evil is still with us.

It is altogether vain to seek within ourselves the strength to overcome this evil. That strength cannot be found within, we must look beyond ourselves to find that power.

Paul knew where to find it: “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” and ” But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.”

So did John Newton: “But though my disease is grievous, it is not desperate; I have a gracious and infallible Physician. I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.”

What is “the world”?

In 1 John 2:15-17, the apostle delivers a clear warning to Christians about loving the world and the things of the world: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.  And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.”

This makes it very tempting for well-meaning believers to compile a list of things that are “worldly” and to exercise great care to avoid such things. Much like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. And just like the Pharisees we can scrupulously avoid things and still be motivated by lust and pride. We may be able to hide that from ourselves, but not from others.

The many repetitions of “world” in the above passage all translate the Greek word “kosmos”, which refers to the physical world and the physical things in it. There are many other passages in the New Testament that speak of the “world” where the Greek word is “aion.” This word has a wide range of meaning, but when it is translated “world” it refers not to physical things, but to spirits and attitudes that prevail at a certain era and place. French Bibles usually use a word that means “age” or “this present age”.

This brings us much closer to the root of what we call worldliness. There is no inherent evil in a physical object, but many of the ideas that seem to be in the air we breathe convey attitudes that are directly contrary to the way of Christ.

Romans 12:2 is an example of such Scripture passages and the inference to our way of thinking is often missed.  “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” “This world” is translated “the present age” in French Bibles. Even in English, the meaning should be clear if we would stop and consider the whole verse. We are not to pattern our way of thinking after the prevailing ideas of the age we live in, but allow the Holy Spirit to renew our minds to know what is truly meaningful and important.

There are many other verses where aion is translated world in English and age or present age in French. Here are a few: Matthew 13:22  – “He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world  and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful.” 1 Corinthians 2:6 – “Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought.” 2 Corinthians 4:4 – “In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.” Galatians 1:4 – “Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father.”

I think zeitgeist might be better understood than world in these passages.” Zeitgeist: a pattern of thought or feeling characteristic of a particular period of time.” It comes from German words meaning spirit of the times. This is the “world” that is most dangerous and deceptive for one who wants to follow Christ.

Manufacturing the illusion of diversity

In the city that is an hour away from our home there are 2 synagogues, 2 mosques, 1 Buddhist temple, a few other religious groups and 150 churches, and probably an equal number of Christian charities, para-church organizations, schools, etc. It is true that the majority of the population never attend a worship service of any kind, but among those that do the overwhelming majority prefer something with a Christian flavour over any of the other options.

We were in a coffee shop in this city a few days ago and happened to meet an acquaintance who writes a weekly feature article for the religion page of the daily newspaper. She said the newspaper has told her that she is writing far too much about Christians and should look for things to write about other religions.

Now I grant that the newspaper has the right to do this. But it is just one more evidence that the media today are creating the news, not just reporting it. Most of the people involved in the media are committed believers in the “diversity” zeitgeist. “Diversity” in quotation marks for the simple reason that these people do not believe in the kind of diversity that presently exists, only in their fantasized wonderland which excludes everything that most people consider to be normal.

This is why the media have become cheerleaders for everything LGTB, reporting breathlessly on the great step forward this movement represents in the progress towards fulfillment of human potential. At the same time, if they ever report on anything Christian, the writing drips with disdain for the hopelessly backwards ideas of Christian people. Of course, the media simply represent the prevailing teaching in our universities and schools.

I consider it a hopeful sign that more and more people are opting out of the public education system, choosing either to send their children to a private Christian school or to home school them. Technology offers us the means to access other news sources and to share news on an individual level. Discernment is needed here as much as in reading the mass media, pretty well everyone has some sort of agenda in choosing what news to report or comment on.

And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God (Romans 12:2).

Here is part of Daniel Whedon’s commentary on the above verse: “To this world—The word for world here, αιων, signifies not the physical frame of the globe, (for which κοσμος is the more proper term,) but the living world or age of man. The nonconformity here does not consist of that cheap nonconformity which consists of a peculiar fashion of coat or bonnet. Christianity does not prescribe a certain fashion or costume, or a special grammar. Conformity to our age in things involving no sin or moral depravation is right. It is a waste of moral strength where there is so much real sin and ruin in the world to expend our efforts on incidental trifles. And it was a terribly heathen world in which these Romans lived and the apostle wrote. Christianity had not softened and shaded the world to its own likeness. Hence the external non-conformity of that age meant a wider contrast than is possible now between the Christian and his more immediate surrounding world. Yet in the receding background our present age darkens into a darkness almost as deep as heathenism itself. The age still largely lies in wickedness.

“Transformed… renewing… mind—The apostle strikes deeply. True perfected faith renews the mind, and changes it from the world’s fashion to the model of God’s will.

“Prove—That is, may test or ascertain by a full, rich actual experience. The will of God here is God’s wish or requirement from us. And the terms good, acceptable, and perfect are not, as in our translation, adjectives qualifying will, but adjective nouns in apposition with it. The real meaning, then, is, Ye may prove what God’s requirement of us is; namely, the good, the acceptable, and the perfect. Faith, therefore, is our self-commitment to God, and to all goodness, acceptability, and perfection.”

Perhaps Christianity did for a time “soften and shade the world to its own likeness,” but that is fast disappearing. A Christian’s survival in this present age depends on not permitting his mind to become conformed to the thought patterns of the surrounding world.

What is wrong with the world?

Yesterday at the Walmart checkout there was a lady with three children ahead of me. The oldest child, a boy of about eight, was sitting in the shopping cart. The mother kept asking him what happened to a small toy that he had picked up, and he denied knowing anything about it. Finally she wrestled him up and pulled it out from under him and placed it with the other items on the checkout belt. The boy wailed his frustration.

A little later, while I was eating supper at Tim Horton’s, a mother and a boy of about ten were standing in the lineup to order. She gave him some money and he immediately barged up in front of others who were waiting to order and ordered a hot chocolate. He repeatedly called his mother to join him, but she refused and waited her turn. I noticed the design and printing on the back of the boy’s jacket: “bad boy,” ” bow to no one,” “warrior.”

There are children in our cities who dare not go home at night for fear of drug and alcohol fuelled violence. Many children are removed from homes where they are not properly cared for and placed in foster homes. At the first hint of trouble they are moved to another foster home. Many who would make good foster parents are afraid to try because of the heavy hand of the social service agencies.

Violence against women is increasing, there are many unsolved disappearances and murders. Violence against police is increasing. Police officers are more heavily armed than ever before and occasionally they overstep their authority, yet instances of assault and even murder of police officers far outnumber instances of assault by police officers.

Where can we look for answers to set aright the things that are going wrong in our society? To the schools? It is the schools that are teaching children that all ideas of right and wrong are only someone’s opinion. That is the source of the problem, not the cure.

What about the news media? They have succumbed to following every turn of the wind  of political correctness.

Politicians? They rule by public opinion polls and the polls reflect what the schools and media teach.

The churches? There was a time when the churches stood for something, now most are like the politicians: they stand for what they think the people want to hear.

Yet if there is any hope for our society, it will have to come from those who have convictions based on reality. The Bible understands us better than we understand ourselves, because it was inspired by our Maker who understands what we really need in order to experience peace and happiness.

But we cannot help the world by continually pointing out what people are doing wrong. People already know that things aren’t working out quite like they hoped, yet they continue to hope that the same “experts” who got them into the current mess can lead them to happiness.

The Bible has better answers for people’s needs. They are not easy answers, but they work. Let us be clear though that we do not have the answers. If we talk and act like Pharisees we will not be any more useful that they were.

What the world needs from Christians is compassion, understanding and a conviction to teach and live the basics of the faith which we claim. Simplistic answers and pep talks will not help. We need to steadfastly refuse to be swept along with the madness of the world and we need to have the courage to explain why. Many will consider our explanations scandalous, but some will listen.

We don’t need better politicians, we need better Christians

Well, better politicians would be good, too. But we get what we deserve; and the present crop of politicians are doing the best they can with the information they have. Better Christians could be a means of making better information available to the politicians, as well as everyone else.

“But take heed to yourselves: for they shall deliver you up to councils; and in the synagogues ye shall be beaten: and ye shall be brought before rulers and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them” (the words of Jesus in Mark 13:9). Jesus didn’t teach that Christians should try to negotiate with the rulers to institute better practices of governance. His concern was that the testimony of the gospel should be heard in all places, despite the dangers.

There is no hint in the New Testament that governments will ever be favourable to Christians. Nevertheless, we are to pray for them that they might have wisdom to restrain evil-doers and maintain a modicum of order and freedom. That is the realm of governments, not of Christians, and we should give thanks to God for all that our governments are still doing in those areas.

But we have deceived ourselves into thinking that we live in a Christian nation and that we should rightfully have some influence on the governments. That has led to a laxity among Christians that leaves us feeling helpless when we realize the extent of our deception. The correct way to deal with that is to set our own house in order and not waste our breath trying to set the government house in order.

We need a revival of true faith and righteous living. We cannot tolerate lowered standards of honesty and moral purity in our own circles, then complain that the government has let us down.

Nineteen hundred years ago an unknown Christian wrote: “In a word, what the soul is in a body, this Christians are in the world. The soul is spread through all the members of the body, and Christians through the divers cities of the world. The soul hath its abode in the body, yet it is not of the body. So Christians have their abode in the world, and yet they are not of the world. The soul which is invisible is guarded in the body which is visible; so Christians are recognised as being in the world, and yet their religion remaineth invisible. The flesh hateth the soul and wageth war against it, though it receiveth no wrong, because it is forbidden to indulge in pleasures; so the world hateth Christians, because they set themselves against its  pleasures. The soul loveth the flesh which hateth it, and the members; so Christians love those that hate them. The soul is enclosed in the body, and yet itself holdeth the body together; so Christians are kept in the world as in a prison-house, and yet they themselves hold the world together. The soul though itself immortal dwelleth in a mortal tabernacle; so Christians sojourn amidst perishable things, while they look for the imperishability which is in the heavens. The soul when hardly treated in the matter of meat and drink is improved; and so Christians when punished increase more and more daily. So great is the office to which God has appointed them, and which it is not lawful for them to decline.” (The Epistle to Diognetus, circa AD 150).

Can the same be said of Christians today?

The transformed mind

And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. Romans 12:2

The first phrase of this verse is often quoted by Mennonites; many words have been spoken over the pulpit and written in books about the doctrine of non-conformity to the world. However, after hearing this for many years we have the unfortunate tendency to focus on avoiding certain things that we identify as worldly, keeping some distance between ourselves and “worldly” people, and therewith comforting ourselves that we are not conformed to the world.

When that happens, we are missing the true import of Paul’s message. First off, “this world” is a translation of the Greek word aion, which refers to an age, or period of time. If we consider the verse as a whole, it should be evident that the antithesis of conformed and transformed is referring to the way we think. The apostle is warning us not to allow our thinking to conform to the prevailing spirit, attitudes and feelings of the era in which we live (the zeitgeist), but to allow our thought patterns to be transformed and patterned after the will of God which does not change from era to era.

Secondly, this verse is the introduction to a wealth of instruction about what it means to have our minds transformed. This instruction continues up to the first few verses of chapter 15. I will not quote what the apostle says, you can read it for yourself, I will just give a brief exposition of several main points.

Brotherly love
Paul exhorts us to love without dissimulation, that is with no hint of hypocrisy. Neither should we hold back our expression of love and appreciation for our brothers and sisters. We have all been given different gifts to be used for the benefit of the brotherhood, let us be fervent in exercising those gifts, and in encouraging others to exercise their gifts for the benefit of others.

Enemies
We should live peaceably with all men, not seeking vengeance when we are wronged, but rather doing good to those who have mistreated us.

Government
It should be a matter of conscience with us to be respectful and obedient to those in authority, except in those rare instances where they attempt to compel us to do something that is contrary to the faith. Governments are faced with conflicting demands from many powerful groups in our land. They cannot satisfy everyone, nor can they make the kind of sweeping changes that some Christians seem to expect. Politics is the art of compromise, it is really no place for a Christian. Yet we should pray for all those in government, at all levels, and appreciate it when our governments make small steps that protect our freedoms. Critical and derogatory remarks about the makes of our laws, and the enforcers of those laws, should never be heard from the mouth of a Christian.

Those who are weak in the faith
We should not criticize, much less ridicule, those who are weak in the faith. Rather, we should love them and be careful that our actions and attitudes are not a stumbling block for them.

None of these instructions are telling us that we should be people pleasers, afraid to say or do anything that would be a little different from the attitudes and actions of our peers. A transformed mind is a mind that is tuned to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, leading to a transformed way of life. As we individually follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, we find ourselves walking side by side with fellow believers. Attempting to achieve this unity by our own attempts to conform to what we perceive to be the values and priorities of our peers leads only to disappointment, hurt feelings, jealousy and discouragement.

Here is how Paul concludes his instructions on being transformed by the renewing of our mind:

Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God. Romans 15:5-7

Soul and body

[This is another excerpt from the Epistle to Diognetus, written circa 129 AD, translated by J.B. Lightfoot, © 1936.]

In a word, what the soul is in a body, this the Christians are in the world. The soul is spread through all the members of the body, and Christians through the divers cities of the world. The soul hath its abode in the body, and yet it is not of the body. So Christians have their abode in the world, and yet they are not of the world.

The soul which is invisible is guarded in the body which is visible: so Christians are recognised as being in the world, and yet their religion remaineth invisible. The flesh hateth the soul and wageth war with it, though it receiveth no wrong, because it is forbidden to indulge in pleasures; so the world hateth Christians, though it receiveth no wrong from them, because they set themselves against its pleasures.  The soul loveth the flesh which hateth it, and the members; so Christians love those that hate them.

The soul is enclosed in the body, and yet itself holdeth the body together; so Christians are kept in the world as in a prison-house, and yet they themselves hold the world together. The soul though itself immortal dwelleth in a mortal tabernacle; so Christians sojourn amidst perishable things, while they look for the imperishability which is in the heavens.

The soul when hardly treated in the matter of meals and drinks is improved; and so Christians when punished increase more and more daily. So great is the office for which God hath appointed them, and which it is not lawful for them to decline.

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