Recently I was approached by a friend who shares an opposite viewpoint on violence than I do and he was expressing some concerns about my steadfast belief that violence in all its forms is outside the reality of the kingdom of God.
And as he shared his concerns, he made one statement that has propelled me to greater research: “That (viewpoint) isn’t what we teach here (at this church).”
Now, to give you some context, I am a part of a non-denominational Christian church that has “no creed but Christ” and is a link in a long chain of churches that has held to the ideal that “we are Christians only, but not the only Christians.”
We are a movement that has held certain things we have considered essential to faith in Christ fiercely, but made allowance and grace for various other viewpoints on the periphery of these things to exist and be discussed in the life of the body.
It is, in my mind, a beautiful ideal and a marvelous history. And though I believe we have not been totally (or in some cases even mostly) successful in achieving this ideal, it is a goal that I think is noble and reflects Jesus’ desire that we “be one” as a unified body made up of diverse and unique individuals.
Now these “Restoration churches,” as we call them, have tried to achieve this ideal by “restoring” the things we find in the early church. The basic idea is that Christians can find unity together from various ecclesial backgrounds by escaping (as much as possible) the telephone game diversions in church history through returning to the “ancient order of things” or The SOURCE (Jesus) and the early church.
It is an attempt to “restore” or “reset” to the biblical origins of church and abandon the many other traditions, creeds and theological constraints that people have evolved throughout history to designate people as either “in” or “out” of their particular brand of church club.
The forefathers of this movement believed that the body of Christ could exist in unity, despite different views of end times, atonement, predestination/free-will and many other tests of membership that groups throughout history have employed, by uniting around one simple statement, “Jesus is Lord.”
In short, these “restoration pioneers” made great sacrifice and dedicated their lives to allowing the conversation that we are having today. I believe it was their intent and belief that the body of Christ is best when it talks, stretches, converses and grows in difficult issues, but always while maintaining the “spirit of unity”.
Now, some today would say that conversations like this one do harm to the church by causing division. But, in response, I believe my church tradition would say that it is this very diversity that when approached in love and mutual respect is what makes the body of Christ so unique in this world; that it is one of the defining characteristics of the true kingdom of God.
Yes, unity is the ideal. But unity is not achieved by taking a single theological cookie-cutter to clone the individuals of our body or by refusing to challenge each other to better model the life and teaching of Jesus. Unity is not preserved in “turning off our brains” and skirting difficult issues. Unity is what we commit to and fight for as we share the burden of stretching and growing in the likeness of Christ.
In this regard, the enemy of true unity is not discussions like these, but a spirit-of-disunity within these discussions and a loyalty to any human rationalization or construct that takes priority over what we find in Jesus and the early church.
Most historically, this is what “my” church teaches. And seemingly, it is as relevant today as it was in the 1800’s on the American frontier.
So, as we continue to think about this difficult topic and submit ourselves to God who is constantly working to move us to greater depth of understanding and participation in His kingdom, keep in mind that it may be discussions like this that help move us closer in that direction. May the voice of God arise out of the murmur and discussion of His people!
Here’s what is coming next:
1) What the “Restoration” church fathers thought about violence
2) What to make of the nation of Israel’s war and violence in the Old Testament
3) What is a Christian’s responsibility to government?
4) So what? Why is this particular discussion important?
The middle two topics will be addressed by two phenomenal guest bloggers (I can’t wait to tell you who they are!), so make sure and check back on their excellent insights!
In grace and for peace…
Is that similar to how the founding fathers set things up for our country as well?
I actually think that the churches of the past created the mess that the church is in today. I don’t think following their opinions of who Christ was is the best way to go and are we talking about the Corinthians or churches after that? are we talking about churches with 34 people or churches with 100 or even 500. I think that is part of the current issue with the church is that you have so many people. I think differing views in churches really show Christs light as it shows tolerance our biggest issue is we seem to go to far (denying or not defending our faith) or no far enough (attacking people for their opinions or alienating them to the point they don’t want to talk about their beliefs and leave the church.) could it be that or goal of numbers and quantity are creating issues with our quality or accountability of the people we already have in the church? is less more and more less?
Mark: I think you misunderstand the post. I agree that some things have been messed up over time. And that was the reason the pioneers of this movement wanted to point back to the beginning of the church and Jesus to avoid these problems. In regards to the size and structure of churches, there may be validity to what you say, but it isn’t really in the scope of this particular discussion. And at any rate, the ideals of this movement can (and should, I think) be expressed in many different kinds of church “structures”.
hey Nick– a very worthy topic that is always relevant, and always with it’s difficulties as well— not always as “clean” as we wish it would be. No doubt in my mind that Jesus was non-violent, and taught His followers that message. I went as a consciensious objector when young for that very reason. On the other hand as I have gotten older and had to digest many issues in life, war is a very often complex issue that people get involved in for a laundry list of reasons (there were guys that enlisted in both armies during the civil war simply to draw a paycheck) Even as a C.O. and “pacifist” it annoys me to be surrounded in a culture that dishonors service and sacrifices that have given us our liberties. I had a grandfather and uncles that served in WW2, and when I see bumper stickers that say “war is terrorism”, I think it insults all who served or died for their country (and by extension their families) So there is a conflict/tension regarding the issue– when it comes to me PERSONALLY, I would be non-violent, but when SOMEONE ELSE is threatened, what then? I would hope I would lay my life down to save someone else who is being attacked, generally speaking.
Anyway, keep writing, not enough dialog about it in today’s church when there is plenty of scripture regarding it!
Those same early restoration leaders believed that God was present in our Revolutionary War on our side. They saw the establishment of this nation as an act of God which provides freedom for the Church.
What you have written about the Church Father’s pacificism is correct. They, however, lived under what we’d call a totalitarian state. No one stood for election or voted for their leaders. Their advice was pre-eminently sensible and true to Jesus. But what happens when one has citizens instead of subjects? When the citizen is also responsible for justice in society the problem becomes more interestingly difficult.
Pingback: My Church and Non-Violence « nickloyd.com
Hmm . . . this post (and some previous ones) seems heavy on NT references and not easily reconciled with the OT. Do you really believe you have a pacifist God in the Old Testament?
These posts are definitely HEAVY on NT references, but for a very specific reason. It is classic church understanding that Jesus is the “full expression” of God. He is our primary source of knowing what God is like. Anything we learn from the OT must either fit with this picture of Jesus or be explained otherwise.
This series is building off of multiple concepts as we go. It might be helpful to start at the 1st post and work your way thru if you have missed some. The post that specifically addressed some of what you are inquiring about in your comment is: https://nickloyd.com/2009/05/18/gods-character-in-reverse/
And yes, the OT has a lot of violence, but yes, I also honestly believe that in spite of it God calls me to a life of non-violence. It isn’t so much about believing in a “pacifist God” but in the reality that God calls ME to be non-violent. Whether you believe that God operates thru non-violence is secondary and dabatable. That God calls PEOPLE to non-violence seems to be a pretty cut-and-dry, clear teaching by Jesus.
However, the OT is tricky (not even less tricky for those that hold a “just-war” theology) and we are gonna deal with it in the next several posts and how to make sense of all that violence in light of the full and complete revelation of God’s character in the “power-under” person of Jesus. Actually, a friend of mine is going to guest blog about it. And trust me, you are gonna wanna read his stuff. Very smart guy.
Also, I have one more mystery guest blogger coming up, and I can’t wait to tell you who that one is!!!
Anyway, thanks for the comment. Good for discussion. Many people have been asking the same stuff… but come on, patience people, we’ll get there… hahahaha…
Hope things are going well.
Actually its not “cut and dry” that Jesus taught non-violence. It is “cut and dry” that he said to love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, etc../// Instead of trying to interpret what you think scripture says.. just quote it. The other point is that the violence in the OT IS constistant with the NT if you understand it properly. God says plainly throughout scripture that He HATES sin and that we should too. The OT was a “type and shadow” of the clearer revelation that God gave us in Jesus….. and what is it that Jesus said he came to do???? Mt. 10:34 (read it pls) I am an advocate for being at peace(with God and my brothers). But the world…. I am not of it and according to my Bible… im at WAR with it!
Welcome to our discussion! Really glad that you stopped by and entered the conversation. This has been a fun place to explore faith and the mysteries of God for myself and many friends, and i’m honored that you have joined us.
I agree with much of what you commented. I agree that the OT is consistent (and even complimentary) to the NT. Some people choose to just pitch the OT out the window, but I don’t think that is honest. I’m guessing that the two of us might have diverging understandings of “how” the two testaments are “consistent”, but nevertheless I see a seamless story unfolding in the word of God and believe that God is the same in both the Old and New Testament.
Also, I agree that the OT is a “type and shadow of the clearer (actually the clearest) revelation that God gave us in Jesus.” In fact, this is much of the basis for my argument against violence; namely that the OT picture is only a “type or shadow” and not the complete picture that we see in Jesus.
Also, I agree that God is quite clear in scripture that he detests sin, and having seen the consequences of sin in this world, I find that I completely agree with His assessment! hahahaha…. Sin destroys, kills and separates people from God and people from other people. You are right in saying that we should “hate” sin.
In regard to what Jesus actually says, I have a whole entry on that particular topic where I comment very little and just list NT evidence of his perspective. If you haven’t been reading through the whole series, you can read it here: https://nickloyd.com/2009/05/21/would-jesus-wear-kevlar/
With respect to Matthew 10:34, I dealt with this text in yet another blog entry: https://nickloyd.com/2009/05/26/did-jesus-contradict-himself/
Anyway, nice to have you reading along. If you haven’t started at the beginning of the series, it might be helpful to start with the first one. I’m trying to build on concepts as we go along.
Have a great weekend!
Ok… ill clarify a few things then….. of course mt 10:34 is hyperbole. But as we look at the reason Christ came we can all agree it was to set sinners free and redeem His chosen(eph 1). But we must continue looking at the “rest of the story”. He did that on the cross but the real goal is our eternity with Him.. AND the eternity of those without Him. That is the complete meaning of the use of the sword in this verse. The war started when Satan wanted to be God and will end when Jesus casts Satan and those associated with him in the fire! I dont really know of another way to describe this than as a “violent epic savage battle of Life and Death” that has gone on since sin entered the earth! So savage that destroying all inhabitants on the earth in a Violent flood (but Noah) was initiated. That only postponed Gods wrath awhile. The only way to subside the wrath eternally was to take it out upon His only son! (and later to separate others in Hell).
A second important misconception often used by the most extreme proponants of non-violence is the Mt parable of “if someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other”. This passage has been uber misunderstood! Example: if I write in a journal that someone gave me the Bird today comming home. We would all understand that I meant someone gave me a derogetory gesture. But if my journal was unearthed a 1000 yrs from now they would find a 100 ways to interpret this hard passage unless they understood some of the customs at the time. In the same way Jesus was not in any way asking you to let someone physically hurt you… thats outrageous!!!!!! (unless for His cause and glory such as martyrdom). If that were true men that battered their wifes could use the Bible to justify their sin. In fact when Jesus said this.. “everyone” he was talking to immediately understood the hyperbole. You see it was a well know custom for the pharasees and other pious men to backhand either subordinates or someone NOT following the full letter of “their” law. So they would make themselves appear more pious by degrading another. That is why Jesus said “if someone strikes you on your RIGHT cheek”! The only way your right hand can strike someones right cheek is a backhand. So is what Jesus way conveying to the crowd was not a precurser to self mutilation(monks) or to not defend yourself, but he was saying if someone slanders you,degrades you, bullies you, verbally abuses you, gossips about you,etc… then do not try to repay that evil for the same evil but rather submit and be humble! This is what his audience at the time would have immediately understood.
Lastly, Christocentric hermeneutics as far as I understand the early church, didnt exist. Is what im trying to say is you said…. Christ is the “primary” revelation of God. Im anal sometimes about minute details such as people saying revelations 1 or psalms 1 instead of revelation 1 and psalm 1. So by saying Jesus is the primary revelation of God I must interpose. John 1 tells us that Jesus IS the Word. So that means He is Gen 1:1 thru Rev 22:21. AND the Truth is in “every” part of it. So we cannot take the words of Jesus as more important or superceeding any other parts because they all are truth and they all are Him. A more accurate statement would be that Jesus is the “fullness” of God(col 2:9). But I dont recall the verse that says “ignore everything else I said before and listen to Jesus only”.
ops… actually one last thing… you said when Peter cut off the servants ear in the garden that Jesus “rebuked” him….??? Look closer, and more importantly look at the whole context. The Mt. version tells us more… Jesus told Peter to put his sword back (not because he acted anti-Jesus) but because the scriptures say it must happen a certain way!
In conclusion, you are very acurate to conclude that God wants us to show peace and love to our fellow man.. in fact the Bible says thats what sets us apart(Jn 13:35) I would only caution you on attempting to use the Bible to claim that God would not want us to protect ourselves or anyone else… for this appears to contradict the first institution of Gods creation and that is that Life is sacred and as Gods chosen we are to protect life. Jesus says in Lk 12:11 “dont worry how you will defend yourself” but he didnt say “dont” defend yourself. About 60 yrs ago an aging single female missionary was being persecuted by villagers after some were fianlly saved after years of work there. One night a large group of men came to her house to do her harm. She met them at the door with broom in hand; weilding it mightily all the men ran in fear. After she retired and returned stateside, one of those men got saved and visited her in the states. She said she was always perplexed why all the men ran that night. He said, well, we were shocked wondering where those men in white came from that were packed in your house! God is always by our side and can handle any situation, but he tells us in (1 cor 16:16) Be on guard, stand firm, have courage and be strong….. but do it in love! So even tho I hate violence I believe the contraversy is only in the “meaning” of how we define violence. There was a war in heaven and Satan cast down.. sounds violent to me. We will rule and reign with Christ… also the ending in Revelation sounds pretty violent and we will have a part in it. So I will remain watchful listening to my masters commands in this epic battle for life eternal with our maker and be ready to obey “whatever” He commands.