Telephone Game & the First Christians

Remember playing the “telephone game” when you were little?   You know, someone comes up with a statement and whispers it in the ear of the person next to them, who then repeats what they heard to the next person down the line, and so on and so on.

Girlfriends+Border_Girls+whispering4And if you remember playing this game, then you remember how funny it was when the last person to get the message finally tells everyone else what strange sentence they heard at the end of the line.  Most of the time, the statement began as something like, “The baker made an apple pie” and ended up as “Your face makes me wanna cry.”   They rhyme, but they aren’t really the same thing.

And even as a 7-year-old, I learned something simple.  It’s best to get information right from the source, because over time and even through good intentions (except for that one kid in my class who was always trying to purposely screw up the telephone message), the information evolves into something possibly different than what was intended.

We are involved right now in a discussion about violence and whether or not Christians should ever engage in it, even to protect their own life.   And I know that many Christians today have some strong opinions on this 2ymvo2hmatter, but I would like to caution us to rethink our stance in light of the telephone game.

You see, I come from a church tradition that while honoring and learning from the history of church through the centuries, looks to the early church and The SOURCE (Jesus) as its primary ideal and guide.

As we approach this topic, however, we may have done a rather poor job of maintaining this approach.

I would like to suggest that many of the currently popular rationalizations of a “just war” or engagement in any sort of violence is due in large part to a long running game of church telephone, in which we’ve diverted a bit from the original SOURCE.  So far are we from the source, in fact, that we consider The SOURCE to be too radical and our modern, westernized ways to be more progressive and advanced.  Surely we must use violence sometimes?  Our cause is just!  How can we achieve the greatest peace for the most people if not by using violence to defeat the foes?

The message still sounds understandable and we can rationalize it, but maybe it isn’t at all what The SOURCE intended or what those who heard the message first understood.

Somewhere along the way, Jesus’ message of a different type of kingdom that did not rely on the power methods of this world has evolved all the way into our current and prevalent situation of syncretism between church and state (or national pride).

So, as we journey back to “the origins” we have already seen how The SOURCE (Jesus) consistently and regularly commanded us to forsake violence and how His life was the greatest testimony to a power absent of coercion and violence. (see previous post here)

Today, we will look at how the first 300 years of people in the telephone line behind him understood His message.  And although 300 years sounds like a long time, it is but a brief beginning in a movement that has stretch into its 3rd millennium.

Here is how violence was understood for the first followers of this Christ.

The Witness of the FIRST CHRISTIANS:

The Early Church position ruled out violence as an option, even in self-defense.  The evidence for this is overwhelming and includes the story of Stephen found in Acts 7:59-60.  In the story Stephen is stoned to death for his faith, but even at the moment before death, he forgives his assailants for their crime.

228A similar story is found later in the book of Acts when Paul is also violently attacked for his beliefs, and yet does not seek revenge:

The crowd stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said.
(Acts 14:19-22 NIV)

In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian Church, he writes of the importance of non-retaliation, even in the face of death:

It seems to me that God has put us on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe. To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. Yet when we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly.
(1 Corinthians 4:9-13 NIV
)

Beyond what we find in the New Testament, there is great consensus among the people that immediately followed in the next several hundred years.  As demonstrated by the following quotes, no Early Church father interpreted Jesus’ teachings as advocating anything but strict nonviolence:

—————————————————————————————————

The Lord, in disarming Peter, disarmed every soldier.
—Tertullian’s On Idolatry

origen

Origen

“Christians could never slay their enemies. For the more that kings, rulers, and peoples have persecuted them everywhere, the more Christians have increased in number and grown in strength.”
—Origen Contra Celsius Book VII

“Wherever arms have glittered, they must be banished and exterminated from thence.”
—Lactantius’ Divine Institutes IV

“As simple and quiet sisters, peace and love require no arms. For it is not in war, but in peace, that we are trained.”
—Clement of Alexandria Chapter 12 of Book 1

“In their wars, therefore, the Etruscans use the trumpet, the Arcadians the pipe, the Sicilians the pectides, the Cretans the lyre, the Lacedaemonians the flute, the Thracians the horn, the Egyptians the drum, and the Arabians the cymbal. The one instrument of peace, the Word alone by which we honor God, is what we employ.”
—Clement of Alexandria Chapter 4 of Book 2

“Above all, Christians are not allowed to correct with violence.”
—Clement of Alexandria

hippolytus

Hippolytus of Rome

“I do not wish to be a king; I am not anxious to be rich; I decline military command… Die to the world, repudiating the madness that is in it.”
—Tatian’s Address to the Greeks 11

“We who formerly used to murder one another now refrain from even making war upon our enemies.”
—The First Apology of Justin Martyr 39

“Whatever Christians would not wish others to do to them, they do not to others. And they comfort their oppressors and make them their friends; they do good to their enemies…. Through love towards their oppressors, they persuade them to become Christians.”
—The Apology of Aristides 15

“A soldier of the civil authority must be taught not to kill men and to refuse to do so if he is commanded, and to refuse to take an oath. If he is unwilling to comply, he must be rejected for baptism. A military commander or civic magistrate must resign or be rejected. If a believer seeks to become a soldier, he must be rejected, for he has despised God.”
—Hippolytus of Rome

“There is nothing better than peace, in which all warfare of things in heaven and things on earth is abolished.”
—Ignatius of Antioch to the Ephesians 13

saint_Irenaeus_Early_Church_Father

Irenaeus

“The new covenant that brings back peace and the law that gives life have gone forth over the whole earth, as the prophets said: “For out of Zion will go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem; and he will instruct many people; and they will break down their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks, and they will no longer learn to make war.” These people formed their swords and war lances into plowshares,” that is, into instruments used for peaceful purposes. So now, they are unaccustomed to fighting, so when they are struck, they offer also the other cheek.”
—Irenaeus

“We would rather shed our own blood than stain our hands and our conscience with that of another. As a result, an ungrateful world is now enjoying–and for a long period has enjoyed–a benefit from Christ. For by his means, the rage of savage ferocity has been softened and has begun to withhold hostile hands from the blood of a fellow creature. In fact, if all men without exception…would lend an ear for a while to his salutary and peaceful rules,…the whole world would be living in the most peaceful tranquility. The world would have turned the use of steel into more peaceful uses and would unite together in blessed harmony.”
—Arnobius

“Wars are scattered all over the earth with the bloody horror of camps. The whole world is wet with mutual blood. And murder–which is admitted to be a crime in the case of an individual–is called a virtue when it is committed wholesale. Impunity is claimed for the wicked deeds, not because they are guiltless, but because the cruelty is perpetrated on a grand scale!”
—Cyprian of Carthage

“Those soldiers were filled with wonder and admiration at the grandeur of the man’s piety and generosity and were struck with amazement. They felt the force of this example of pity. As a result, many of them were added to the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ and threw off the belt of military service.”
—Disputation of Archelaus and Manes

“We have rejected such spectacles as the Coliseum. How then, when we do not even look on killing lest we should contract guilt and pollution, can we put people to death?”
—Athenagoras of Athens’ A Plea for the Christians 35

———————————————————————————————-

Strong statements, huh?  Apparently the first Christians were pretty clear on what they heard from the life and words of Jesus regarding this topic.

Consider that for three entire centuries after Jesus’ death and resurrection, almost completely universally, Christians believed that even self-defense violence was inappropriate for followers of Christ.

So what changed?

Most notably, the Roman Emporer, Constantine.

constantinevision

Constantine's Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312 AD

Christian sources record that Constantine experienced a dramatic event in 312 at the Battle of Milvian Bridge, after which Constantine would claim the emperorship in the West. According to these sources, Constantine looked up to the sun before the battle and saw a cross of light above it, and with it the Greek words “Εν Τουτω Νικα” (“by this, conquer!”), Constantine commanded his troops to adorn their shields with a Christian symbol (the Chi-Ro), and thereafter they were victorious.

From this moment on, Christianity becomes the dominant religion of the Roman empire.   And whatever his motives (genuine spiritual conversion or political genius), Constantine changes the landscape of Christianity.  It is no longer a persecuted minority, but a powerful, state-supported, military-leading civic religion.

You can nearly draw a line in history with this event as the place the telephone message changed.

Violence was absent from the lives of the earliest followers of Christ and only by the military subversion of Christianity by the emperor, Constantine, did violence (for national purposes or any other) enter into Christianity.  The church following this event was culturally conditioned to accept the merger of empire and “Christianity” and found ways to rationalize this “new power” that soon became the “norm” at the expense of its previously radical stance on violence.  And it became a marked departure from what Christ and the original followers had taught and modeled.

Now, certainly God is mightier than a game of telephone and His message has been preserved in His church.  But, I suggest that rather significant components of this message are now held in minority in Western Christianity.

Anyway, lots more to think about.  I know for some of you this is a difficult thing to wrestle with.  It calls into a question a lot of your life and assumptions.  My heart goes out to those of you who have served or are currently serving in the military.  My goal is not to make you feel less “Christian”.   You are loved by God and by me regardless of where you come out on this issue.

However, the church must always be thinking and examining our message.  Where there have been compromises to our culture, we must return to THE SOURCE and reform.

So, though it is uncomfortable, keep thinking.   And I’ll be praying for you…

(for the complete series on “Jesus & Non-violence” see the right sidebar of this blog)

Advertisements

Did Jesus Contradict Himself?

Hope you all had a terrific “Memorial Day”!

Welcome back to work!  I had the privilege to read several of your beautiful stories of celebrating the holiday by honoring the value of ALL people who have been killed in the human disease of violence and warfare.  What creativity some of you have shown in bringing great honor to God and his children!  Thank you for sharing those stories.  And we stand in remembrance with those of you who have lost loved ones to these conflicts.

hagia_sophia_vestibule_christ_mosaicToday, we will continue our discussion on how a follower of Jesus should respond to violence and whether or not we are ever to involve ourselves in this type of activity.  We are building on several concepts here as we go along.  Here is what we have established so far:

1)    We may disagree on this issue, but we UNITE in prayer for those engaged in war  (click here for post)

2)    Jesus is the FULL EXPRESSION of God.  (click here for post)

3)    Jesus CONSISTENTLY condemns violence of any kind  (click here for post)

In this post we will be looking at the VERY FEW passages in the life of Jesus that some have suggested give us license to use physical violence if necessary.  However, it is my contention that these passages have been interpreted this way because people approach them with pre-conceived notions that violence MUST BE acceptable at some level.  These already held convictions, then, read into these texts what the mind already wants to see.

In contrast to this type of eisegesis (reading what we hope to find INTO the biblical text rather than allowing meaning to arise OUT of it), we will be seeking to make better sense of Jesus’ words and actions by fitting them into the broader context of His easily understood and consistent commands against violence.

Here are some thoughts on several of the passages in question:

Luke 22:36-38

In this scripture, Jesus is pictured as actually commanding his disciples to obtain weapons.  What does a pacifist make of this?  Let’s read it and then make a few comments…

lk22_4935 [Jesus] asked them [the eleven apostles], “When I sent you out without a purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?”

They said, “No, not a thing.”

36 He said to them, “But now the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one. 37 For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered among the lawless’; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled.”

38 They [the disciples] said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.”  “It is enough,” he replied. (NRSV)

1)    Jesus tells them to only buy TWO swords?  If Jesus really intends for them to use violence against a mob that is sure to approach them, would only TWO swords really be enough?  It seems as though Jesus has something else in mind rather than physical protection through violence as only two swords for twelve men is rather inadequate.

2)    Jesus directly rebukes Peter for actually using a sword just a few verses later.

jn18_1049 When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” 50 And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear.
51 But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.

In a similar telling of the story found in John 18:10-11, Jesus actually responds to Peter’s violence with a blatant rebuke.   Certainly Jesus wouldn’t contradict Himself this blatantly by arming his disciples for an impending battle and then just a few verses later when the conflict arises (apparently in the form of self-defense) condemning them for using the weapons!

3)    Jesus openly declares he is not leading a violent rebellion.  In the very next verse!

52 Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs?

jn18_11Jesus makes it very clear to the people around him that he is in fact doing the opposite of what many today assume that he is doing in this section!

4)    Jesus is likely referring only to the fulfillment of Scripture.

37 For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered among the lawless’; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled.”
38 They [the disciples] said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.”
“It is enough,” he replied. (NRSV)

Jesus quotes Isaiah 53:12 saying that he is destined to be arrested as a criminal.  In Jesus day, criminals carried weapons, and Jesus encourages the disciples to obtain these “props” in order to fulfill this prophecy.  Much like he has them obtain a donkey for his parade into Jerusalem to fulfill that prophecy.  Thus Jesus needs only TWO swords to satisfy this need.

This section is about the fulfillment of prophecy, not an empowerment of disciples to physical violence.   To suggest otherwise, makes Jesus out to be a rather incompetent military general.  =)

Matthew 10:34

Again, the greater context of this verse is key to understanding Jesus’ statement.

32 “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven. 34 Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn
a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household [Mic. 7:6]
37 Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

1)    Jesus is not talking about a literal sword.   Many times Jesus speaks in a non-literal fashion to add emphasis.  For instance, he tells us to “gouge out our eye” if it causes us to sin and “cut off our hand” if it causes us to sin (Matthew 5: 29-30).   Surely he doesn’t mean for us to actually DO these things!  He is speaking in hyperbole.

lk14_262)    Jesus means that he will bring DIVISION to even our most cherished relationships.   Jesus uses strong hyperbole to stress the reality that following Jesus has a cost.  That cost includes alienating us from friends and even family when we choose to follow him and they do not.

Or apparently from other believers who are offended that we would dare to suggest that Jesus was a pacifist!  (hahahaha, take it easy, it’s a joke!)

Luke records the same words this way: (Luke 12:49-53)

49 “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 But I have a baptism to undergo [my death], and how distressed I am until it is completed! 51 Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. 52 From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

The proper way to interpret Scripture is to let verses clarify other verses, particularly parallel passages. And now Luke 12:49-53 confirms the non-literal interpretation of Matt. 10:34. Jesus did not endorse physical violence against one’s own family, but he warns people about possible family division.

Matthew 21:12-15

And finally, the one that makes the very least sense to me in the context of this whole discussion…

12 Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 “It is written,” he said to them, ” ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’  but you are making it a den of robbers.'”
14 The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant..  (TNIV)

jn02_15bThis story is often quoted as an example of Jesus employing physical violence to achieve his goal.  And though I am of half-a-mind to not even mention it for the lack of credible support of this view, I suppose we may as well discuss it.

There is absolutely no reason to read this story with any understanding that Jesus performs physical violence on other humans.   Certainly he creates a commotion, but he is not endorsing or engaging in violence as a solution to anything.  Here are several better ways to understand this passage:

1)    Jesus as involved in civil disobedience.  Jim Consedine puts it this way,

“. . . . there is another way of looking at this episode that is more consistent with the rest of his teachings. Seen as an act of civil/religious disobedience, similar to that conducted by Te Whiti and Tohu, Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Ploughshares activists centuries later, it makes much more sense . . . . . . All of these people acted from religious outrage and disrupted civil processes, similar to the way Jesus acted. All are recognized internationally as leaders of non-violent direct action and role models of non-violent living.  So should Jesus be.”

Jesus neither harms people nor animals, but is creating a form of active protest toward the religious leaders.  This will be a great point of reference as well look into a future post on how Christians can be ACTIVE and not passive as we embrace a lifestyle of non-violence.

mk11_15b2)    Jesus as a Preacher.  Just as Hosea marries a prostitute to make a strong preaching illustration, Jesus overturns tables to show his disdain for the sham that the religious leaders have made of worship for God.   It is tantamount to a dramatic sermon illustration.  In the pattern of the prophets, he condemns the religious authorities.  In fact, this is a method of preaching that would have been understood and commonplace for His Jewish culture.

3)    The Jewish leaders are apparently not offended by any “violence” done against the moneychangers, but toward Jesus’ upsetting of their structures and His ministry to the blind, lame, and children.

Jesus has overturned the position of their tables and welcomed the less honorable (by their standards).   His act of civil disobedience is aimed at flipping the status quo.  Had he injured the moneychangers they would have had reason to arrest him, and yet instead despite their anger with him, they are unable to do so and he leaves unhindered.  In light of the religious leaders looking for any reason to arrest Him, the fact that Jesus leaves the scene “un-chained” is a strong indication that he does not “harm” anyone.

Now, if you are still hanging in there through this long post (certainly our longest of the series), then I commend you.   There are certainly many ways of understanding each of these stories that fit with the context of Jesus many other words of non-violence.

We’ll pick up next time on how the early church fathers and the Christians immediately following Christ interpreted and understood him on these issues.

Keep thinking!

(thank you to “The Brick Testament” for the great pictures!)

Memorial Day “Prayer for Peace”

Happy Memorial Day, everyone. I’m sure most of you will be enjoying BBQ’s and family and relaxation. Today marks the beginning of the summer season and a great day to rest from our normal activities and embrace life.

But, as you are eating burgers, playing cards and watching the matinee showing of “Terminator”, please join me in remembering all of those who have died in the wars and violence on this planet.

peace_symbol_1I know that “Memorial Day” is designed to honor the soldiers from the United States that have died in combat. However, I would like to suggest that as Christians this scope is too narrow. We have the opportunity to engage it in a much more profound and meaningful sense that embraces the kingdom of God not just the kingdom of this nation.

All people are created in the image of God. Soldiers on either side of any conflict are equally loved by their Creator. In fact, it is our proclamation that God became a human and Himself died for ALL people, whether Muslim, Jewish, Hindu or even Christian; whether Russian, Sudanese, Iraqi or even American; whether Al Qaida terrorists, Taliban oppressors, or even Coalition “freedom-fighters.”

Still today, the fabric of our world is torn by war and violence and our message as Christians is that there is a better way; Jesus’ way of peace, self-sacrifice, humility, understanding, and above all things: love.

So, fire up the grill, and sear the heck out of delicious steak. But, stop and reflect today on the many men and women who’s live were cut short because of humanity’s thirst for violence.

And pray for PEACE.

Also, I’d like to point you towards one of my very favorite groups today:

CHRISTIAN PEACEKEEPING TEAMS.

Spend some time on their website and take a few moments from your BBQ to see what “Active Pacifism” is all about. And read the words of one of the catalysts of this movement, Ron Sider, who gave these words as a challenge to the Mennonite World Conference in Strasbourg, France in 1984:

“Over the past 450 years of martyrdom, immigration and missionary proclamation, the God of shalom has been preparing us Anabaptists for a late twentieth-century rendezvous with history. The next twenty years will be the most dangerous—and perhaps the most vicious and violent—in human history. If we are ready to embrace the cross, God’s reconciling people will profoundly impact the course of world history . . . This could be our finest hour. Never has the world needed our message more. Never has it been more open. Now is the time to risk cpt_logoeverything for our belief that Jesus is the way to peace. If we still believe it, now is the time to live what we have spoken.

“We must take up our cross and follow Jesus to Golgotha. We must be prepared to die by the thousands. Those who believed in peace through the sword have not hesitated to die. Proudly, courageously, they gave their lives. Again and again, they sacrificed bright futures to the tragic illusion that one more righteous crusade would bring peace in their time, and they laid down their lives by the millions.

“Unless we . . . are ready to start to die by the thousands in dramatic vigorous new exploits for peace and justice, we should sadly confess that we never really meant what we said, and we dare never whisper another word about pacifism to our sisters and brothers in those desperate lands filled with injustice. Unless we are ready to die developing new nonviolent attempts to reduce conflict, we should confess that we never really meant that the cross was an alternative to the sword . . .”

CHRISTIAN PEACEMAKER TEAMS WEBSITE

In GRACE and for PEACE

Nick.

Waterboarding for Jesus?

waterboardingTaking another quick break from our discussion of non-violence, I thought I would throw in a recent survey done by the research of the PEW FORUM.   It is a survey that has been passed around a lot for the last two weeks, but is worth mentioning here in the context of our discussion.

If you haven’t seen it, then let me warn you… it isn’t pretty.  I mean, torture of course isn’t pretty (though I wonder if most people in this study have thoroughly thought about its appalling reality), but uglier still is the statistics on its acceptance among regular church-goers.

The survey shows that 62 percent of white evangelicals believe torture of suspected terrorists is “often” or “sometimes” justified.  A total of 79 percent of the same group were “okay” with torture if pushed far enough.

And, maybe most disturbing, those who attend church regularly were more likely to rationalize and justify torture than those who do not go to church.

SERIOUSLY?  Something is definitely perplexing when the “body of Christ” is the expert at the rationalization of torture, for any reason.  What’s next?  Waterboarding for Jesus?  An argument for a “just war” theology is one thing, but the use of torture (even on those who are guilty of atrocities) would surely seem to go far beyond even those guidelines.

I’d be interested to hear how other Christians in favor of these methods justify this “utilitarian ethic” in light of Jesus.  I would hope that the response would be something more Christ-like than a simple, “the ends justify the means.”  I welcome your comments with any rationalization that makes an attempt to address Scripture on this topic.

We’ll continue on with our discussion next post (though this topic is clearly related) but take a look at these statistics and see if they look anything like what the followers of the Christ, who was Himself tortured and killed, should endorse.  It appears to be a very sad commentary, I’m afraid, of American Christianity’s syncretism with national idolatry and military power.

For another good article on this study click on this short Christianity Today blog by Skye Jethani.

torture

For another good article on this study click on this Christianity Today blog by Skye Jethani.

Would Jesus Wear Kevlar?

Welcome back.  As we get closer to Memorial Day, we are continuing our discussion of violence and its place (or lack thereof) in the life of a follower of Jesus.

hagia_sophia_vestibule_christ_mosaicIn the last post, we discussed the importance of a Christocentric hermeneutic (or interpreting the Bible through the person of Jesus).  We determined that Jesus is the primary revelation of God and that whatever we learn about God through the rest of the Bible, it must be made sense of and consistent with this Jesus.  This reading of Jesus as the center of scripture is the church’s classic way of reading and understanding the Bible (starting with Jesus Himself and the first apostles).

So, today, let’s take a look at the actual words of Jesus—our STARTING POINT and the “Author and Perfecter” of our faith.  Here are just a few of his actual words regarding physical violence.  (Quoted from TNIV)

———————————————————————————————————–

Jesus said,  “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.   (Matthew 5.11)

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’  But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.   (Mt. 5.21-22)

Jesus said,  “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.  And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.  If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.  (Mt. 5.38-41)

Jesus said,  “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?”    (Mt. 5.43-46)

Jesus said,  “Everyone will hate you because of me, but those who stand firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another.   (Mt. 10.22-23)

Jesus said,  “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”   (Mt. 10.28)

Jesus said,   “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”   (Mt. 16.24-25)

Open Bible
Jesus said
, “You must love your neighbor as yourself.”   (Mt. 22.39)

Jesus said, “you know the commandments: you must not kill…”    (Mark 10.19)

Jesus said,  “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.  If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.  Do to others as you would have them do to you.”   (Lk. 6.27-31)

Jesus said,  “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.  And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that.  And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you?  Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.  But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.”   (Lk. 6.32-35)

Jesus said, ” Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.  Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”   (Lk 6.36-37)

Jesus (on the cross) said,  “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”   (Lk 23.34)

Jesus said,  “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”   (Jn. 16.33)

Jesus said,  “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”   (Jn. 18.36)

—————————————————————————————————————-

And though there are other statements that we could look at as well, it is also worth noting that Jesus not only speaks these words but also lives them out with the most powerful witness of non-violence in the face of the worst of humanity’s thirst for blood that history has ever seen.  Jesus backs up his words with his willingness to go without a fight to his ruthless and unimaginably violent death.

But, a few comments about his actual statements.

1)    THEY ARE RADICAL! It comes as no surprise that these words make us uncomfortable.  It is not shocking that we would try to explain them away as meaning something else other than what they plainly seem to mean.  To accept them as they are is unpalatable to our sense of entitlement.

jesuswashingfeetJesus is saying things here that go beyond our sense of what we feel like we should “reasonably” be called to do.  And as uncomfortable and even angry as these statements made the original hearers (they killed him for these types of things), it is understandable that it would be a difficult teaching for us as well.

These statements are not safe.  They are as radical a stance on human violence that the world has ever seen—addressing not only preemptive violence, but self-protection and even intention that is not acted upon.

Jesus is no doubt calling us to something far beyond the brokenness of normal humanity.  He is describing life in a totally different kingdom–His kingdom–and we should not be surprised that his calling is a radical diversion from life as we have known it.  He is choosing to live and asking us to be a part of something that seems ridiculous to the rest of the world and operates on a totally different set of values.

2)   THEY ARE CONSISTENT.   In our next post we will be looking at several glimpses into the life of Jesus that some would say illustrate his acceptance of violence to one degree or another and finding a better explanation.

However, before even beginning this process, it is important to notice the overwhelming non-violent context that these very few glimpses are immersed in.  Jesus consistently speaks of returning ONLY good toward evil.  To interpret these few other instances as anything other than coherent with the broader and more expansive context of non-violence that Jesus promotes here and demonstrates in his death seems an irresponsible interpretation at best.   Especially as we will find that they are easily understood as fitting into Jesus’ much more prevalent framework of non-violence.

(We also find that this is exclusively how the early church fathers read these statements and interpreted them as well.  But we’ll dig more into that in a further post.)

Where we have such a greater context of non-violence, the burden is on placing these few other instances within this context, not making the broader picture fit into several verses that are of difficult explanation.  Difficult passages should always be interpreted by the clarification of those passages that are easily understood.

3)   THEY ARE COMPREHENSIVE.   Though I personally would be much more comfortable with a tame Jesus that only calls me to not be a “first initiator” of violence, instead in the gospels I find a much more wild Jesus that makes a claim on all forms of violence.

Multiple times he says to “love your enemies”.  He assumes in several verses that I will be attacked, but says my response should be love of the person and trust in God.  This love apparently applies when people try to take what is rightfully mine, force me to do what I am not required to do, or even (as Jesus demonstrates from the cross) if my own life is in jeopardy.  I am even called to “take up my own cross.”  It seems as if there is no dimension of violence that Jesus does not speak into.  He is consistent and thorough.  We are to live only love in response to violence and trust everything to God.

So, what does this mean for us?  How do we actually live this way?  Does it mean that we are totally passive and never try to stop evil from happening?  We will jump into more of that in another post.

Up next, though, the difficult passages, then maybe a word about a government’s role in protection and violence and whether Christians should participate.  We have a long way to go here, but let’s keep building on these ideas!

Till then, happy thinking!

Sebastian’s Voodoo

We’ll take a quick break from our discussion on non-violence today and I’d like to show you a short film by Joaquin Baldwin that a good friend of mine shared with me the other day.  This film has won just about every award a short film can win.  It is a great story of self-sacrifice with tons of Jesus overtones.  Enjoy!

About:  A voodoo doll must find the courage to save his friends from being pinned to death. Created at the UCLA Animation Workshop, with music by Nick Fevola.  Short by Joaquin Baldwin.

Sebastian’s Voodoo website

God’s Character in Reverse

Welcome.  We are in a little discussion series on whether or not Christians should be involved in violence for any reason.  I’m assuming that most Christians believe that unprovoked violence is wrong, so we will be spending most our time thinking about national violence (military), self-defensive violence (fighting or killing only when your own life is in jeopardy), and protective violence (done to protect another person).

It is a discussion that, apparently, is controversial for many people, especially Christians.

pacifism1Which, I admit, is kind of strange to me.  I obviously expect that many Christians are pro-national violence (at least as it relates to their own country), however it somewhat surprises me that these people are so vehemently opposed to the suggestion that Christ calls us to a life of non-violence.  I understand the general disagreement.  But, were I just to read the Gospels (the story of Jesus), I would assume the controversial issue would be that any Christian might actually think that violence of any kind was okay.

All that to say, from everything we know about Jesus, it seems weird to me that the non-violent position is in the minority, at least in Western Christianity.  But, I suppose that is why we are having this discussion in the first place.  And as Memorial Day approaches, it is a good time for us to think through these issues more fully.

Now there are many Scriptures that are debated and scrutinized in this dialogue, and we will be looking at these texts over the next several days.  Many of these surround God’s involvement in the nation of Israel’s military violence in the Old Testament.   Also, there are many philosophical challenges to Jesus’ way of non-violence that are often mentioned and we will deal with those as well.

However, I’d like to have us start by laying a foundation for all of this discussion somewhere else, before we dig into the rest of the arguments.  So, put aside all of this anxiously awaited fodder and lets begin somewhere more broadly.

In this post, then, I’d like us to look at where we gather our primary pictures and assumptions of God’s character.  In other words, what is our main source for knowing what God is actually like?

Youth pastors, preachers, and well-meaning leaders have told me since I was very little that I get to know who God is best through the Bible.  And while I have found this to be quite true, I have also found that it was not quite specific enough.  Through the Bible, God gives his very specific direction on how to know who He is and what He is like.

Let’s take a look at this direction:

reading-bible-blueIn Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form”  (Colossians 2:9-10)

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?  (John 14:9)

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” (Colossians 1:15)

“No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only (Jesus), who is at the Father’s side, has made him known. (John 1:18)

In other words, God says, “you want to know who I am and what I am like?  Okay, here I am.  I am exactly like this.  Like Jesus.”   He even goes so far as to say that Jesus has made God known, as if until Jesus we didn’t fully know who God was.  Apparently, as good as the stories in the Old Testament are, they didn’t reveal God adequately.

Only the Incarnate Son is an appropriate full-picture of God.

The writer of Hebrews (whoever she was) put it most directly like this:

1In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. 3The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.  (Hebrews 1:1-3)

Did you catch that?  (I hope so; I underlined it and made it bold).  Jesus is the EXACT REPRESENTATION of God’s being.  Nothing defines God like Jesus.  He is not an approximate picture of God, or just one side or facet of God.  He is not the non-violent side of an otherwise “just war” God.  He is the EXACT REPRESENTATION.

hagia_sophia_vestibule_christ_mosaicNow, because Jesus is the fullest picture of God, when it comes to the Bible, I am compelled to read everything through the eyes of Jesus.   As this applies to our discussion at hand, it means that I must fit any violent stories of the Old Testament (which are problematic) into what I know of Jesus as revealed in the New Testament, not the other way around.

For instance, many people read stories in the Old Testament and glean what they perceive are “attributes” or “characteristics” of God from these stories and then apply them to their picture of Jesus.   In this case, since God involves himself in the violent battles of the Israelites, then we assume that this “necessary violence” is something Jesus would condone (even if it apparently includes mass infanticide and genocide).

However, when God directs us to know Him through Jesus most perfectly, we are called to learn His character backwards.  We learn what God is like by observing and studying Jesus and then read backward through the Old Testament through His lens.

Whatever these violent stories may mean (some are more confusing than others), through the primacy of Christ we regard them as an incomplete and inadequate picture.  Where they contradict what we see in Jesus (war, genocide, even self-defensive violence), we embrace Jesus’ way as the EXACT REPRESENTATION of God, and find some other way to make sense of them.

Interestingly, I believe this is why Jesus’ time on this earth was so long.   Certainly the death of Jesus was important in freeing us from the bondage of our brokenness, but his life was equally as important.  For in his life, and ultimately in his self-sacrificial manner of death (the final exclamation point to how we should respond to violence), God demonstrates his character and what he desires.  He lives and interacts with people and finally dies non-violent in the face of violence to show THE EXACT REPRESENTATION of God.

The problem of violence in the Old Testament is admittedly uncomfortable, but however these scenes are explained, as followers of Christ we are compelled to not use them to create pictures of God that are contradictory to what we plainly see in Jesus.

Ok.  That’s enough for today.  We’ll jump into some more tangible parts of the discussion in the next post.

Happy Thinking…