Category Archives: Further In and Higher Up

Layton Friesen: Distracted in Two Directions

by Layton Friesen

Christmas is upon us and with it all the distractions that so quickly encumber and the busyness that so thoroughly wears. That’s a bleak midwinter way of starting off, but here we go a drearily. I have noticed two ways the Devil diverts our attention from the birth of Jesus. The first distraction is familiar to us: all the parties, the decorations, the family kerfluffles, and the ho, ho, ho that gobble our time and drain the bank, leaving little of our lives as gifts for the Saviour.

But the second distraction is trickier simply because it comes more sanctified. It’s the December-long war against distractions, which has now become its own cottage industry. We can spend the entire Christmas season scolding the world about how they are abusing Christmas. We preach sermons against the busyness of Christmas, or against the evils of Santa. We write blogs against the consumerism of Christmas, haranguing shoppers for being in malls. We put on Sunday School musicals in which distracted, annoyed revelers have last-minute conversion experiences and finally realize “the reason for the season.”

We get involved in political campaigns to “save” Christmas, tallying references to Christmas at our public school “holiday concert,” relieved that once again our secularist world has given us something to be angry about. We stage “buy nothing” Christmases and make sure everyone knows.

I don’t think the Devil cares much whether we forget Jesus via the first distraction or the second. He might even prefer the second one since the more holy he can make people feel in their neglect of Jesus the better for him. The devil has always had to rely on the imitation of holiness since naked evil is pretty hard to swallow even for the worst of us.

The point is, whether we forget Jesus because we are so wrapped in tinsel, or because we spend our time condemning people for being wrapped in tinsel, either way we forget Jesus.

Remember the parable about fitting rocks and sand into a jar? He puts the sand in first and now he can’t fit the rocks. Then he starts with the rocks and all the sand fits in fine.

Take some time to read the story of the birth of Jesus. “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Attend church and sing aloud with the carols of the season. Give a gift you can’t afford to a local charity that helps the poor in the name of the homeless Christ. Say a prayer of thanks to God “that those who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Isa. 9:2).

Thank God for not forgetting us in this dark, cold world, for loving us so much as to send his only begotten Son. In short, worship Jesus with your heart, voice, mind, and bank account.

Layton Friesen
Layton Friesen

And then party like it’s AD 1. Cook good food. Surprise your uncle with a gift too late in the season for him to return the favour. Go to the mall and be amazed that all these thousands of harried, tired people are buying expensive gifts for other people! It’s all a vast expensive, convulsion of love that’s good news for the economy. Go carolling at your neighbours in the hope that they invite you in for drinks.

Get the main thing right, and then relax and enjoy the lights.

Layton Friesen: Who’s Afraid of Liberals?

by Layton Friesen

Many people in the EMC are worried about “liberalism” in the Church. It’s hard to explain exactly what liberalism is, but we all seem to know what we mean. To go “liberal,” we believe, is to drive the “welcome, include, and affirm everyone” instinct so one-sidedly that we compromise the Gospel revealed in Scripture.

Let me try to explain where this “liberal” instinct comes from and why it arose in the first place. After the Reformation in the 1500’s, a huge problem hung over the freshly wounded bodies (!) of Christ. Have the severed “churches” (Protestant, Anabaptist, Catholic) any Gospel-based way for all these new factions to co-exist peacefully within society?

Prior to the Reformation, the Church provided the glue holding society together, sort of. But with the Church now existing in mutual damnation of itself in mutual excommunications, was there still a Gospel-based way for people to love one another across boundaries? Could Jesus still bring us together in love, overcoming our differences, or would we now need to find secular ways to live out the Bible’s command to love?

Attempts were made. The first swing-and-a-miss was the theological killing of the Reformation age resulting in thousands of martyrs from all churches lined up against each other. Another swing-and-a-miss was the Thirty-Years War, a devastating 17th century war between the new “churches” in which a quarter of Europe’s population died. The last swing-and-you’re-out was World War I, when the churches of the west goaded the world to a bloodshed never before seen. 

Much went on in the meantime, but the divided churches found no Gospel-based way to love across their differences. The Church never figured out how to come to theological agreement in love. Was it really impossible, using biblical resources, to overcome deep differences regarding baptism, salvation by grace, ordination, and so on? Apparently.

Finally, western society said, “Fine, you’ve had your chance. If that’s what the Gospel amounts to, we’ll just have to find another way to get along.” And that is where liberalism in the Church and in the world arose.

In all its different forms, liberalism tempers doctrinal truth, looking for better ways to approximate what was supposed to be the love of the body of Christ. It’s what the world came up with in response to un-resolvable disunity in the church. If the Church doesn’t like it, it has no one to blame but itself. We simply have not shown that genuine Christian truth leads people to costlier love across painful boundaries. All we have shown is that a commitment to Scriptural truth leads to division.

And so, if we want to resist liberalism, it does not help to just shout louder about “truth” or “purity” or “sin.” We have to show the world that the gospel enables us to love our enemies, our theological enemies. We have to show that in the Spirit, guided by Scripture we are able to overcome our differences with Catholics, Lutherans, and other Mennonites.

But I see recent signs that things may be changing and that the Church is getting genuinely tired of its division. Churches are partnering in mission like never before. Martyrdom is exposing our common blood as believers across traditions. Reformation divisions over baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and justification are looking less interesting to the Church today.

Layton Friesen
Layton Friesen

When Jesus finally reigns in the Church and his love prevails, liberalism will be shown as the pale impotence it is. “On earth as it is in heaven. . . .”