Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

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.

Is this why today’s society seems so childish?

To remain ignorant of things that happened before you were born is to remain a child.
- Marcus Tullius Cicero

Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.
- George Santayana

Did Jesus descend into hell?

The Apostles’ Creed says: “He descended into hell.” Or does it? This short little confession of the essentials of the faith is thought to have begun as questions that were asked of applicants for baptism: “Do you believe . . . ?” It was soon compiled into the form we have today – except for the clause “He descended into hell.” This clause was not added until the fourth century.

The Roman Catholic Church and many Protestant churches use the version containing this clause. Anabaptists have never accepted the “descended into hell” clause.

Doesn’t the Bible say that Jesus was in hell after His death on the cross? There are a few verses that might seem to give this idea, but does that impression stand up to a close examination?

Psalm 16:10 says “For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.” Peter quotes this verse in Acts 2:27, referring to it again in verse 31, and applies it to Christ. The original words translated as hell are sheol in Hebrew and hades in Greek, both words refer to the place of the departed spirits after death, where they wait for the resurrection of the body. The basic sense of the passage is that Jesus’ body would not lie in the tomb long enough to suffer decomposition.

1 Peter 3:19 is often cited as a basis for the descent into hell. Here is the whole passage from verse 18 to verse 20: “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: by which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.”

The Roman Catholic Church bases its doctrine of purgatory on verse 19, teaching that there will be a second chance for the lost after death. This verse does not offer any hint that the “spirits in prison” repented, nor does any other part of Scripture speak of a second chance after death. What then would have been the purpose of Jesus descending to the spirits of the lost to speak specifically to those who perished in the flood?

A simpler explanation is that Christ, “by the Spirit,” preached to them through Noah before the flood. The fact that Peter refers to Noah as a “preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5), lends considerable weight to this interpretation. The term “spirits in prison” is not used elsewhere to refer to souls in hades, the place of departed spirits, but to those who are bound in unbelief, as in Isaiah 61:1: “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.”

Whatever our interpretation of these verses, we dare not take them as referring to a descent of Jesus into the place of eternal torment, for on the cross He promised the dying thief: “Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” These are Jesus’ own words, testifying that He himself would be in Paradise after His death.

A tale of two nations

How Children Have Taken Power is the title of a book recently published by Swedish psychiatrist David Eberhard. I am going by a story in a French language newspaper so the title is my English translation of the French translation of the Swedish title of the book.  An English edition will be out later this year.

Sweden is the supposed earthly paradise for families: parents get lengthy maternity & paternity leaves, day care is available for all children, social benefits are such that Sweden has one of the highest bithrates in Europe. But they have extended their social democratic principles to the point of thinking of the family as a democracy, with children having equal rights with the parents. In effect, this gives them greater rights than the parents. Punishment is unheard of. One father sent his son to his room for twenty minutes – he was taken to court.

The result is a nation of rude, demanding and insolent children. The children decide what the family will eat for supper, where they will go on vacation, when they will go to bed, what they will wear.

Meanwhile, Pamela Druckerman reports that in France the children are respectful, well-behaved and eat whatever is set before them. Pamela Druckerman is an American, living in Paris with her English husband and their three children. Her latest book, Bébé Day by Day*, summarizes in 100 short notes the basic rules of the French parenting method. The French believe the best way to give children the resilience to cope with life is to teach them from the very first to acknowledge the existence of others and the needs of others.

French parents talk to their babies right from the first and explain things to them. When guests come into the home, they will greet the children, even the very young, and those who are old enough to talk are expected to say “bonjour” to the guests. When the guests leave, the children say “au revoir.” While the parents are visiting the children are expected to play by themselves and not interrupt, but both guests and children need to acknowledge each others existence whaen arriving and when leaving.

French mothers have complete control of the menu, the children are exposed to a wide variety of foods and are expected to taste everything on their plates. There is no pressure to clean off their plates. French mothers know a cild may need to try a new food a dozen or more times until they learn to enjoy it. So this new food will turn up on their plates every so often and they will eventually eat it all. Snack time is in mid-afternoon. No sweets are eaten at any other time. This is the French way and children do not beg and whine, because they know it will do no good.

French parents have no intention of raising an “enfant roi,” a child king. Children are cherished and respected, and they are taught to respect others. French parents say emphatically “c’est moi qui décide,” I am the one who decides. It is expected in France that parents will often have to say no to their children. Life is like that.

In Sweden, 54.9% of marriages end in divorce, the highest rate in the world. In France 38.3% of marriges end in divorce. Do you suppose it is easier for parents to live in harmony when theyare living in harmony with their children? Pamela Druckerman notes that French presidents have developed a reputation for cheating on their wives, but there is not much of this among ordinary french people.

Pamela Druckerman’s book is a book for adults, there is no off-colour langage or graphic details but she does speak frankly about the relationship between husband and wife. It is a small book; good parenting is not complicated. I think North American parents knew a lot more about parenting a few generations back, but we have lost it in all the conflicting psychological advice. This book might help some parents find their way out of the fog.

*Bébé Day by Day, © Pamela Druckerman, 2013. Published by The Penguin Press.

By faith, not by sight

“To be honest, I believe part of the desire to ‘know God’s will for my life’ is based on fear and results in paralysis. We are scared to make mistakes, so we fret over figuring out God’s will. We wonder what living according to His will would actually look and feel like, and we are scared to find out.  We forget that we were never promised a twenty-year plan of action; instead, God promises multiple times in Scripture never to leave or forsake us.”

-Francis Chan, from Forgotten God: reversing our tragic neglect of the Holy Spirit © 2009 Francis Chan, published by David C Cook

I’ve got to Start Somewhere

A few years ago I picked up a book entitled Start Somewhere: Losing What’s Weighing You Down Fom The Inside Out*. Written by Calvin Nowell, a Christian songwriter and recording artist, it is the story of how he got to be a young guy weighing 450 pounds, with a 60 inch waist, and how he found a way to  lose 215 of those pounds. I found the book inspiring, but not inspiring enough to follow his lead.

Last Sunday I decided that time had come. I wasn’t feeling twinges in my heart like Calvin felt, but I seem to get out of breath too easily,  it is difficult to bend in the middle or to get up from a kneeling position. I am much shorter than Calvin’s six feet and four inches, but 210 pounds is way to much for my frame. I weighed 150 when I was married almost 44 years ago. Is it unreasonable to think that I might eventually get back to that size?

Calvin does not offer a marvelous nutrition plan or exercise advice. His advice is simply to move more and eat less. That basically comes down to self-denial. And self-denial is the missing ingredient in about every other weight loss book on the market. Simply because denying our appetites, which have become powerful habits, is so difficult.

Here is one little quote from the book:

“If you’re on the edge of your seat waiting to see what amazing new miracle weight-loss fad I followed, you’re going to be disappointed. I lost my weight through old-fashioned diet and exercise. I made small changes in my behaviour that became habits (my emphasis).

I believe that last sentence is the key, Many weight loss plans will help you take off weight, but the loss is temporary, because you have not formed new habits that will last longer than the time it takes to lose the weight. Old habits have to be broken, new habits formed that will become just as much a part of your character as the old ones. That is where self denial comes in.

Anyway, I have begun by cutting out snacks between meals and dessert at supper. That has been a shock to my system and I was feeling it yesterday. Summer is coming and it won’t be hard to be more physically active. The test of my desire to keep up that level of physical activity will come next winter.

My goal is to lose ten pounds in the first thirty days, another ten in the following sixty days. I know the first few pounds will come off more quickly and it will take a dedication to my goal to keep going until the new habits are deeply ingrained.

Wish me well. Pray for me.

* Start Somewhere: Losing What’s Weighing You Down Fom The Inside Out, © 2009 by Calvin Nowell, published by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

The Lonely Ache of Popularity

Bill was tall, fair, handsome, sensitive. He was also the Eighth Grade football hero ‒ the one who scored the goals and carried the home team to victory. Girls in the top two grades were openly–or secretly–nuts about him.

Like Grace, the girl who lived down the street from him. She was a nobody, shy and plain, but she dreamed big. If only Bill would like her! She saw him taking her to the school dance and the looks on the other girls’ faces as she walked in the door on Bill’s arm. Their jaws would drop and their eyes would turn green with envy. Standing next to Bill she’d really shine; everyone would know that she must be something special if Bill liked her.

Alas for Grace. Debbie moved in and worked her way up the pecking order; by Grade Eight she was the head of our football team’s cheerleader group. Pretty, popular, pushy — she claimed Bill and grabbed every chance to be near him. Grace was left alone with her dreams and longings. Last I heard she was still single, but she went on to get her pilot’s license and live a life of adventure a lot of us never expected.

So how did Bill himself feel about all of this adoration? Do guys know when girls want them for an ornament, a trophy won in the cat fights? Do they sense that if they didn’t have the looks and status, the car and the cash, the popular girls wouldn’t give them a second thought? And does that tick them off, or are they just happy to be used for awhile–and to use? After all, don’t they see themselves looking good, too, with the prettiest girl on their arm?

The teachers wanted Bill as football star, the girls wanted him as a status symbol, likely his parents were proud of what their son had accomplished. But our thoughts were so ME-centred. Did any of us really CARE about HIM? A few years later Bill committed suicide.

The vicious rivalry in teen circles tears a lot of young people to shreds. Lesser lights want to stand beside the brighter ones, girl or boy, so the glow reflects well on them. But there’s only so much room in that glow, others are pushed aside. They often go off in a corner and seethe, knowing they’ll never be in the limelight.

I feel sympathy for girls who live with this torture. Then, to add to the mix, if there are abuse issues in your past, you grow up under that cloud – stamped as an UNDESIRABLE. Been there; done that.

I Just Don’t Fit In

Getting married and having a family don’t change the peer pressure, just redefine it. THEIR husbands have bigger salaries; THEY probably have cushy jobs, too; THEY have THEIR homes decked out by Martha Stewart; THEIR toddlers by Osh-Kosh; THEIR teens by Alfred Sung. THEIR kids are into everything culture &/or sports, rapidly being molded into the snobs and jocks of future high schools.

As long as you have one eye on THEM – the unidentifiable and ever-unmatchable THEM – you’ll always feel outclassed. THEY always have their act together; THEY are so far ahead in the game of Life because THEY know all the unspoken rules. YOU are the odd duck, the square peg in a round hole. The one with horrible secrets no one should ever find out.

But ask yourself, What if I really were popular? Would I really like being there as a prop in others’ productions? Would I be able to live with myself if I crushed others to get to the top? And what would I have to do to stay there? Some of the most talented people have admitted in later life how they lived with the dread someone would discover they were just a fake.

I believe every person on the planet at times thinks, “I just don’t fit in,” even on a level playing field. Then try changing cultures. For those like myself who have come from a “trailer trash” non-Christian upbringing and are now trying to fit into a conservative Christian circle, thoughts like “I’ll never be fit in” can overwhelm us and sink our ship. We need a solid rock to stand on.

Bonked By Another Diamond From Heaven

One time I was brooding over the way I was brought up and how my own family has such a different culture than my Christian brothers and sisters. I wanted so much to be like “everybody else” but I felt so different in the way I said and did things, the values I was taught, etc. The prospect of “fitting in” looked pretty bleak right at that moment ‒ and the devil was probably gloating as he tossed more jabs of “you’ll never make it here.”

Then the Lord spoke to me in this complete sentence: “The more you try to be like everybody else, the more you will realize how different you are. The more you try to be yourself, the more you will realize how much like everybody else you are.”

Can it really be that simple? I can just be myself? Like a shaft of Heaven’s purest light, this thought banished my dark musings, gave me direction and courage again. I was able to accept myself for what I was and trust that I could still fit in anywhere the Lord wanted me to be.

God is so good; He delights in setting us free from chains that drag us down. He showed me that there is MUCH more to life than becoming like — and liked by — Everyone. Actually the issue isn’t “fitting in”; it’s all about being an obedient and useful child of God. It’s putting OTHERS before our own ego.

Think of all the people in history who, single-handedly, have accomplished a lot of good in our world. Look around and you will see things you can do to ease someone else’s pain. There are people teetering on the brink of despair that could still be pulled back by a sincere friend – before they become another suicide statistic. You CAN make a difference. But not if you’re focussed on how “everyone else” looks at ME.

-Christine Goodnough

(This is a slightly revised version of an article Chris posted on “Christine’s Collection” about two years ago.)

 

The joys of English

Earlier this week, the sisters of our congregation had their last sewing day of the winter season. Why is sewing pronounced so-ing and not soo-ing? There is a word in the AV (KJV) Bible that is spelled shew. A lot of people pronounce it shoo, when it really should be sho; it’s just an old-fashioned way of writing show. A shoo is something that I wear on my feet, though to look at the way it is spelled (shoe) it seems like it should be pronounced sho.

These are the little things that trip us up in English. Since the language evolved from a mish-mash of five other languages (Celtic, Latin, Norse, German and French) there are frequent inconsistencies in spelling and pronunciation.

Some folks believe that this makes the learning of phonetics useless in learning to read English. However, 92% of the words in English conform to the rules of phonetics. It is much more effective to learn the rules of phonics for 92% of the words and memorize the remaining 8%, than to attempt to memorize 100% of the words in English. Yet that is the way our public schools teach reading.

The teaching of phonics was abandoned before I started school 66 years ago. Thankfully, my favourite toy was a set of alphabet blocks and through them , with minimal coaching from my mother, I learned to read almost by accident at the age of four.

It is said that roughly one third of children will pick up the sound-letter correlation very quickly, no matter how reading is taught. Another one third will take a year or two longer, but will eventually catch on. The reaming one third will be labelled as having a learning disability.

An article by Margaret Wente in the Globe and Mail five years ago described a private school in Toronto where children labelled with learning disabilities were quickly taught to read and gained confidence that helped them in other areas of their life. The head of this school says that the children were simply not taught to read in the public system.

There are enormous funds poured into dyslexia research and in developing methods to help dyslexic students learn to read. Some people doubt that there is such a thing as dyslexia; no visual or neurological cause has ever been discovered. This is not to deny that some physical or visual conditions may exist, but most dyslexic students experience dramatic recovery with the teaching of phonics. There is almost no dyslexia among people who speak completely phonetic languages, such as Hebrew or Korean. The massive increase in the diagnosis of dyslexia among English-speaking people occurred after schools stopped teaching phonics.

MRI studies show considerable activity in the left occipital lobe of people who are able to read quickly, smoothly and accurately. It appears that this is the area that stores information about the phonemes that make up language and make this information instantly available when reading. Those who struggle to read are shuttling information between different areas of the left and right hemispheres of the brain, but make very little use of the left occipital lobe. Approaches to reading which does not develop this phonemic awareness are the real cause of reading disabilities.

English has complex, puzzling, often hilarious inconsistencies. Yet learning it is child’s play.

Who were the “sons of God” in Genesis 6?

There are three lines of thought on this:

1. They were angels who took human wives.

2. They were kings exercising the “right of the first night” with any woman who was being given in marriage.

3. They were men from the godly lineage of Seth who took wives from the ungodly lineage of Cain.

Answer one has a magical, mystical appeal to it, but is such a thing even possible? Jesus said that the angels in heaven neither marry, nor are given in marriage (Matthew 22:30). Aree the fallen angels different? Would that mean that they are still capable of mating with human women? This answer appears completely improbable, even impossible.

The second answer has a little more going for it. Kings often claimed to be descended from the gods; the “right of the first night” was still being practised in parts of Europe in Medieval times and goes back to the earliest times (it is mentioned in the Gilgamish Epic). Still, it really isn’t clear that this would have been enough to cause God to destroy the world by a flood.

The third answer seems a better explanation for the fact that by the time of the flood, out of millions of people living at that time, only eight found grace in the eyes of the Lord. The warning given by Moses in Deuteronomy 7:3-4 is meant to avoid a recurrence of this: “Neither shalt thou make marriages with them [the ungodly people of the land of Canaan]; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son. For they will turn away thy son from following me, that they may serve other gods: so will the anger of the LORD be kindled against you, and destroy thee suddenly.”

Romans 8:14 states: “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” Was it any different in the antediluvian world? The sons (and daughters) of God are they who allow God to direct their lives. I see no need to imagine angelic beings in the passage in Genesis 6. Men who were of the godly lineage allowed themselves to be allured by women who did not share their faith in God and the children followed their mothers’ unfaithful lifestyle until only Noah and his family were left.

This is the position taken by most Bible expositors, it was certainly the position of our Anabaptist forefathers. The issue here is not some unearthly commingling of angelic and human persons, but the necessity of purity and a common faith in the marriage relationship.

Spring fever

In books, spring always seems to come in a rush. Homesteaders on the prairies, or trappers in the northern bush, endure a long harsh winter, their food  and their firewood have almost run out and the snow is so deep they can’t get out to replenish their supplies.. Then one day they notice something different in the air, a warm breeze begins to blow and the snow melts  away in a matter of a few days. Well folks, I have to tell you the awful truth — it just doesn’t happen like that in real life.

I have to admit though, that when we lived in Ontario my rose-tinted memories of prairie life went much like what I have read in books. In south-western Ontario spring comes early; around the beginning of March the snow melts, the rivers run free and everything is wonderful — until the next big snowfall. I learned the hard way to expect three big snows after I thought spring had arrived.

Our first spring in Ontario, one day at the end of March or the beginning of April, I was in the M&M convenience store in St. Marys. The street sweeping machine was going down the street, picking up the dust and gravel left by the snow which had been gone for several weeks already. A customer in the store remarked that it was about time to clean the streets. Dick McPherson, the owner of M&M, suggested that they had probably waited until they were sure there would be no more snow. Everbody had a good laugh at that. The next morning there was six inches of fresh snow on the ground.

Here in Saskatchewan spring began three weeks ago. We had lovely mild, sunny weather, above zero temperatures and the snow rapidly began to disappear. After a few days it turned cold again, with about half the snow left and several light snowfalls adding to it. Monday morning the temperature was -22° Celsius.

Now it seems that spring may be here to stay. The temperature was up to 4° yesterday and there were puddles in the yard again. The forecast is that by Tuesday the temperature will be up to 14°.

I have another memory from my childhood about the timing of spring. I’m not sure anymore how much to trust those memories, but as I recall, I could never ride my bike to school before the Easter holidays, but I always could when school began after Easter. It was that way whether Easter was early or late. This year, Good Friday is two weeks away and we still have lots of snow left, perhaps there is something to it.

Our cats definitely have spring fever. With the longer days they want to be outside a lot more, but it’s still too cold for them to stay out for very long. Have you ever noticed how a cat is always on the wrong side of a door? That’s definitely the case at this time of year. We are getting spring fever, too. Even though there’s not a hint of green on the lawn and our garden is still under a couple feet of snow, I am getting anxious to get things ready.

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