A New Kind of Christianity

Books have been boring lately. Well, maybe it’s not the books. But, it just seems like nothing has piqued my interest too much in things I’ve been reading. Until recently…

Author, Brian McLaren

I picked up Brian McLaren’s new book, “A New Kind of Christianity” last week.

And while I usually enjoy reading his books, I found that this new book has put excellent words to thoughts I have been thinking and even blogging about here for quite a while.

I’m still processing some of his thoughts, but i was especially drawn to McLaren’s focus on the supremacy and centrality of Christ in our understanding of God. This is something that I have argued for many times, especially in our discussion of non-violence.

(to read my related post–“God’s Character in Reverse”– click here)

Here is how McLaren explains it:

“The Quaker scholar Elton Trueblood approached the Bible this way. One of Trueblood’s students told me that he often heard his mentor say something like this: “The historic Christian doctrine of the divinity of Christ does not simply mean that Jesus is like God. It is far more radical than that. It means that God is like Jesus.”

"A New Kind of Christian" by Brian McLaren

In other words, the doctrines of the incarnation and deity of Christ are meant to tell us that we cannot start with a pre-determined, set-in-stone idea of God derived from the rest of the Bible, and then extend that to Jesus. Jesus is not intended merely to fit into those pre-determined categories; he is intended instead to explode them, transform them, alter them forever and bring us to a new evolutionary level in our understanding of God. An old definition of God does not define Jesus: the experience of God in Jesus requires a new brand definition or understanding of God.

Trueblood’s insight, in my opinion, is the best single reason to be identified as a believer in Jesus, and it is an unspeakably precious gift that can be offered to people of all faiths. The character of Jesus, we proclaim, provides humanity with a unique and indispensable guide for tracing the development of maturing images and concepts of God across human history and culture. It is the North Star, if you will, to aid all people, whatever their religious background, in their theological pilgrimage. The images of God that most resemble Jesus – whether they originate in the Bible or elsewhere – are the more mature and complete images, and the ones less similar to the character of Jesus would be the more embryonic and incomplete – even though they may be celebrated for being better than the less complete images they replaced.

This is why we cannot simply say that the highest revelation of God is given through the Bible (especially the Bible read as a constitution, or cut and pasted to fit in the Greco-Roman six-line narrative). Rather, we can say that, for Christians, the Bible’s highest value is in revealing Jesus, who gives us the highest, deepest, and most mature view of the character of the living God.”

A New Kind of Christianity, pages 114-115

Very well said. And I don’t think I can over-estimate the importance of this placing of Jesus as the central focus of the question: “what God is actually like.” It is maybe the most singularly critical aspect of our faith that I think we need restored today.

This is a very, very crucial discussion that has implications for all aspects of the Christian life. And, I’m glad to see other people chiming in on this most important component of how we see and understand God. I would highly encourage you to pick up this book today and give it a read. You may not agree with everything, but it will certainly challenge you to stretch your conception of God.

Happy thinking.

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Should Christians Participate in “Just War”?

Welcome back.  Hopefully all of you local Seattle dwellers survived the massive heat-wave this week.  Now that it has cooled off a bit, we’ll get back to our discussion on “Jesus & Non-violence”.

Today, I want to welcome another guest blogger.  His name is Dr. Gregory Boyd.

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Dr. Gregory Boyd

Greg Boyd received his Ph. D. from Princeton Theological Seminary (1988), his M.Div. from Yale Divinity School (1982) and his B.A. from the University of Minnesota (1979).

He was a professor of theology for 16 years at Bethel University (St. Paul, MN) and he is the founder and senior pastor of Woodland Hills Church, an evangelical mega-church in St. Paul, MN.  (for full bio, click here)

Greg is also the author of numerous books, my favorite of which are:

“The Myth of a Christian Nation”

“The Myth of a Christian Religion”

“Satan & the Problem of Evil”

“Letter from a Skeptic”

Dr. Boyd is one of my favorite “thinkers” and writers and though I have mentioned his books on this blog before, I cannot stress enough how highly I recommend the books listed above.   Boyd gives incredible “legs” and voice to this and many other conversations from a well-respected and scholarly perspective.

I asked Dr. Boyd to contribute to this discussion on non-violence and he gave me permission to share this essay that he wrote regarding the question: “Does following Jesus rule out serving in the military if a war is just?”

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Jesus and Military People

Some soldiers responded to the preaching of John the Baptist by asking him what they should do.  John gave them some ethical instruction, but, interestingly enough, he didn’t tell them to leave the army (Lk 3:12-13).  So too, Jesus praised the faith of a Centurion and healed his servant while not saying a word about the Centurion’s occupation (Mt 8:5-13; Lk 7:1-10).

Christian-Air-Force-eAnother Centurion acknowledged Christ as the Son of God at the cross (Mk 15:39) without any negative comment being made about his military involvement. And the first Gentile to receive the Good News of the Gospel was a centurion described as a God-fearing man (Acts 10:22, 34-35).  Clearly none of these texts endorse military involvement.  But just as clearly, they don’t condemn it.  For these and other reasons, most American Christians accept that the New Testament does not forbid serving in the military.

While I respect that people will have differing convictions about this, I must confess that I myself find it impossible to reconcile Jesus’ teaching (and the teaching of the whole New Testament) concerning our call to love our enemies and never return evil with evil with the choice to serve (or not resist being drafted) in the armed forces in a capacity that might require killing someone.

The above cited texts show that the Gospel can reach people who serve in the military.  They also reveal that John the Baptist, Jesus and the earliest Christians gave military personal “space,” as it were, to work out the implications of their faith vis-à-vis their military service.  But I don’t see that they warrant making military service, as a matter of principle, an exception to the New Testament’s teaching that kingdom people are to never return evil with evil.

What About “Just Wars”?

The traditional response to the tension between the New Testament’s teaching and taking up arms to defend one’s country is to argue that fighting in the military is permissible if one’s military is fighting a “just war.”  As time honored as this traditional position is, I’m not at all convinced it is adequate.

For one thing, why should kingdom people assume that considerations of whether violence is “justified” or not have any relevance to whether a kingdom person engages in violence?  Jesus is our Lord, not a human-constructed notion of justice.  And neither Jesus nor any other New Testament author ever qualified their prohibitions on the use of violence.  As George Zabelka remarked, the just war theory is “something that Christ never taught or even hinted at.” (1) We are not to resist evildoers or return evil with evil – period.  We are to love our enemies, turn the other cheek, bless those who persecute us, pray for themythofachristiannationpeople who mistreat us and return evil with good – period.  On what grounds can someone insert into this clear, unqualified teaching the massive exception clause – “unless violence is ‘justified’”?

Many have argued that such grounds are found in Romans 13.  Since Paul in this passage grants that the authority of government ultimately comes from God and that God uses it to punish wrongdoers (Rom. 13:1-5), it seems permissible for Christians to participate in this violent activity, they argue, at least when the Christian is sure it is “just.”  The argument is strained on several accounts, however.

First, while Paul encourages Christians to be subject to whatever sword-wielding authorities they find themselves under, nothing in this passage suggests the Christians should participate in the government’s sword wielding activity.

Second, Romans 13 must be read as a continuation of Romans 12 in which Paul tells disciples to (among other things) “bless those who persecute you”( vs. 14); “do not repay anyone evil for evil” (vs. 17); and especially “never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’” (vs. 19).  Leaving vengeance to God, we are to instead feed our enemies when they are hungry and give them water when they are thirsty (vs. 20).  Instead of being “overcome by evil,” we are to “overcome evil with good” (vs. 21).

Now, in the next several verses, Paul specifies that sword-wielding authorities are one means by which God executes vengeance (13:4).  Since this is the very same vengeance disciples were just forbidden to exercise (12:19, ekdikeo) it seems to follow, as Yoder argues, that the “vengeance” that is recognized as being within providential control when exercised by government is the same “vengeance” that Christians are told not to exercise. (2)

In other words, we may acknowledge that in certain circumstances authorities carry out a good function in wielding the sword against wrongdoers, but that doesn’t mean people who are committed to following Jesus should participate in it.  Rather, it seems we are to leave such matters to God, who uses sword-wielding authorities to carry out his will in society.

How do we know when a war “just”?

Thirdly, even if one concludes that a follower of Jesus may participate in violence if it is “just,” we have to wonder how a kingdom person could confidently determine whether a war is “just” or not.  Few battles have been fought in which both sides didn’t believe their violence was “justified.”  The reality is that the criteria one uses to determine what is and is not “just” is largely a function of where one is born and how one is raised. How much confidence should a kingdom of God citizen place in that?

can-we-talkFor example, unlike most other people groups throughout history and yet today, modern Americans tend to view personal and political freedom as an important criteria to help determine whether a war is “just” or not.  We kill and die for our freedom and the freedom of others.  But why should a kingdom person think killing for this reason is a legitimate exception to the New Testament’s command to love and bless enemies?  Can they be certain God holds this opinion?

Of course it seems obvious to most Americans that killing to defend and promote freedom is justified, but fundamental aspects of one’s culture always seem obviously right to people embedded in the culture.  This criterion certainly hasn’t been obvious to most people throughout history, including most Christians throughout history.  And it’s “obviously” wrong to many non-Americans — including Christians — around the globe today.  Even more importantly, it certainly isn’t obvious in Scripture.  In this light, kingdom people in all countries need to seriously examine the extent to which the ideal that leads them to think a war is or is not “just” is the result of their own cultural conditioning.

Assessing this is no easy matter.  It helps to be mindful of the fact that the person you may end up killing in war probably believes, as strongly as you, that they are also fighting for a “just” cause.  It also helps to consider the possibility that they are disciples of Jesus just like you, perhaps even mistakenly thinking their cause is a function of their discipleship just as some American soldiers believe.  You have to believe that all of their thinking is merely the result of their cultural conditioning — for you obviously believe they’re wrong to the point of being willing to kill them — while also being convinced that your own thinking is not the result of cultural conditioning.  Can you be absolutely sure of this?  Your fidelity to the kingdom of God, your life and the lives of others are on the line.

But suppose, for the sake of argument, we grant that political freedom is a just cause worth killing and dying for.  This doesn’t yet settle the matter for a kingdom person contemplating enlisting in war (or not resisting being drafted into war), for one has to further appreciate that there are many other variables alongside the central criterion of justice that affect whether or not a particular war is “just.”

Do you know – can you know – the myriad of personal, social, political and historical factors that have led to any particular conflict and that bear upon whether or not it is “justified?”

Misc+209For example, do you truly understand all the reasons your enemy gives for going to war against your nation, and are you certain they are altogether illegitimate?  Are you certain your government has sought out all possible non-violent means of resolving the conflict before deciding to take up arms?  Are you certain the information you’ve been given about a war is complete, accurate and objective?  Do you know the real motivation of the leaders who will be commanding you to kill or be killed for “the cause” (as opposed to what the national propaganda may have communicated)?  Are you certain that the ultimate motivation isn’t financial or political gain for certain people in high places?  Are you certain that the war isn’t in part motivated by personal grievances and/or isn’t being done simply to support or advance the already extravagant lifestyle of most Americans?

Given what we know about the corrupting influence of demonic powers in all nations, and given what we know about how the American government (like all other governments) has at times mislead the public about what was “really” going on in the past (e.g. the Vietnam war), these questions must be wrestled with seriously.

Yet, even these questions do not resolve the issue for a kingdom person, for a kingdom person must know not only that a war is “justified” but that each and every particular battle they fight, and the loss of each and every life they may snuff out, is justified.  However “justified” a war may be, commanders often make poor decisions about particular battles they engage in that are not “just” and that gratuitously waste innocent lives.  While militaries sometimes take actions against officers who have their troops engage in unnecessary violence, the possibility (and even inevitability) of such unjust activity is typically considered “acceptable risk” so long as the overall war is “just.”  But on what grounds should a person who places loyalty to Jesus over their commander accept this reasoning?

myth of a christian religion

"Myth of a Christian Religion"

The fact that a war was “justified” means nothing to the innocent lives that are wasted, and the question is: How can a kingdom person be certain in each instance that they are not participating in the unnecessary and unjust shedding of innocent blood?  It’s questionable enough that a follower of Jesus would kill their national enemy rather than bless them simply because it’s in the interest of their nation for them to do so.  But what are we to think of the possibility that a follower of Jesus would kill someone who is not an enemy simply because someone higher in rank told them to?

The tragic reality is that most people contemplating entering the armed forces (or contemplating not refusing the draft), whether they be American or (say) Iraqi, North Korean or Chinese, don’t seriously ask these sorts of questions.  Out of their cultural conditioning, most simply assume their authorities are trustworthy, that their cause is “justified,” and that each person they are told to kill is a justified killing.  They unquestioningly believe the propaganda and obey the commands they’re given.

Throughout history, soldiers have for the most part been the unquestioning pawns of ambitious, egotistical rulers and obedient executors of their superior’s commands.  They were hired assassins who killed because someone told them to and their cultural conditioning made it “obvious” to them that it was a good and noble thing to do.  So it has been for ages, and so it will be so long as people and nations operate out of their own self-interest.

The Kingdom Alternative

But there is an alternative to this ceaseless, bloody, merry-go-round: it is the kingdom of God.  To belong to this kingdom is to crucify the fleshly desire to live out of self-interest and tribal interest and to thus crucify the fallen impulse to protect these interests through violence.  To belong to this revolutionary kingdom is to purge your heart of “all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice” (Eph 4:31)—however “justified” and understandable these sentiments might be.

To belong to this counter-kingdom is to “live in love, as Christ loved you and gave his life for you” (Eph 5:1-2). It is to live the life of Jesus Christ, the life that manifests the truth that it is better to serve than to be served, and better to die than to kill.  It is, therefore, to opt out of the kingdom-of-the-world war machine and manifest a radically different, beautiful, loving way of life.  To refuse to kill for patriotic reasons is to show “we actually take our identity in Christ more seriously than our identity with the empire, the nation-state, or the ethnic terror cell whence we come,” as Lee Camp says.

Hence, while I respect the sincerity and courage of Christians who may disagree with me and feel it their duty to defend their country with violence, I myself honestly see no way to condone a Christian’s decision to kill on behalf of any country.

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Endnotes

(1) G. Zebelka, “I Was Told It Was Necessary,” [Interview] Sojourners, 9/8/80, p.14.

(2) J. Yoder, The Politics of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2nd ed. 1994 [1972]), 198. See also Hays, Moral Vision, 320-31.

Further Reading

Beller, K. H. Chase, Great Peacemakers (LTS 2008)

Brimlow, R. What About Hitler? (Brazos, 2006)

Eller, V. War & Peace (Wipf & Stock, 2003 [1981])

Roth, J. Choosing Against War (GoodBooks, 2002)

Trocme, A. Jesus and the NonViolent Revolution (Wipf & Stock, 2003 [1973])

Trznya, T. Blessed are the Pacifists (Herald, 2006)

What About Romans 13?

Welcome back!  I know it has been a while since my last entry.  The summer months get kinda hectic for a youth pastor.  However, we are going to jump right back into our discussion on “Jesus & Non-violence” today with another guest blog.

(If you are just joining us, please consider getting caught up on our conversation through the links to the right.)

Shane Claiborne

Shane Claiborne

Today, I am excited to introduce someone to you that many of you know or have heard of already.  His name is Shane Claiborne.  He has written several well known books:

“The Irresistible Revolution”

“Jesus for President”.

I would highly recommend both of these books.  Shane has quickly become one of my favorite authors on this topic and I think you will appreciate his insights as well.

I asked Shane to help address a question that many of you have asked from the beginning of this conversation, which is “what about Romans 13?”  He agreed to participate in our blogalogue and submitted this article that I believe he wrote in tandem with his co-writer for “Jesus for President”, Chris Haw.

Thank you, Shane and Chris, for sharing your thoughts with us here!

Oh, and make sure to read the “footnotes” on this one… especially #3!

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The popularly misquoted Romans 13 is surrounded by exhortations to not conform to the patterns of the world, love one’s enemies, and overcome evil with good. The passage in 1 Peter 2: 13ff on submitting to authority is woven into a larger tapestry about Christians living as aliens and strangers to the ways of the world. So before we hastily jump to the conclusion that these passages support Christian war or violence, we must understand what they actually say and their placement in overarching New Testament themes.

Because of space limitations, we’ll address only Romans 13.  So, let’s start by reading Paul.

“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good.

But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
(Romans 13:1–7)

Some talking points about this text. (1)

1.  To study any text with an appropriate sympathy, one must give it the benefit of the doubt before judging it.

"The Irresistible Revolution"

"The Irresistible Revolution"

One must allow the text to be “innocent until proven guilty.” This means we must assume that the author (in this case, Paul) is intelligent enough not to contradict himself or herself.  If there is coherence in Paul’s thought, then we can use his clear passages to illuminate passages that are harder to understand.  Granting this, we can assume that Paul’s point in Romans 13 harmonizes with the rest of his politics.  Without this initial sympathy, we might fail to understand a text.  The critical eye, squinting with distrust, cannot see clearly.

And it’s a disservice to an author to reconcile apparent contradictions in different texts by “balancing” them, concluding, for example, that “Christians need both a violent side and a peaceful side.”  Others simply write off Romans 13 as either a later compromise in Paul’s originally radical politics, or another author’s later addition to a largely nonconformist epistle.  But what if, instead of having two contradicting points, Paul had a single point?

Let’s assume that nowhere in Romans 13:1–7 is Paul saying anything that contradicts what he says at the end of the previous chapter:

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. … Live in harmony with one another. … Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’  says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
(Romans 12:14–21)

2.  Note that the text says God orders “all authority.”

As we asked before, what would this text sound like to a German Christian under Hitler’s rule or an Iraqi Christian under Saddam’s rule?  It is easy to blindly use this text to support some militaristic adventure of Constantine or the United States and assume its divine sanction, but this overlooks the fact that “all” must include all authorities: Nero, Domitian, Pilate, Mao Tse-tung, Saddam Hussein, Hitler’s Third Reich, and so on.

World_Greatest_Dictators_by_vherandAlso, there is no place in the text where these authorities, under the right conditions, are considered divinely inspired (therefore worthy of obedience) or, not meeting some criteria, are considered divinely condemned (therefore worthy of disobedience).  The text does not give ordination only to democratically elected governments, but includes dictators!

When certain governmental standards (which have been imported into this text from elsewhere) are not met, some Christians like to introduce an exception: “We must obey God rather than men.”  But this phrase was intended not to provide an exception to the rule but serve as a clue to the overarching politics of the people of God: they always obey God rather than men, and they always subordinate to all authorities.

That God establishes all authority does not mean that God approves of all authorities.  The point is rather that God is to be considered greater than, not equal to, all the powers of this world.  Even the best democracy in the world isn’t worthy of allegiance, for God is sovereign even over it.

trinity-college-library-dub

"God ordered authorities, like a librarian orders books..."

“Established” here means that God orders the powers, as a librarian orders books but doesn’t necessarily approve of their content.  After all, Paul speaks of a government that “rewards the just,” but he also has extensive experience with persecution under its rule, and John of Patmos later refers to the powers (in Revelation 13) as the great whore.

That God “ordered” pagan Assyria to chastise Israel (Isaiah 10) is similar to Paul’s point.  Isaiah made no hint that God approved Assyria or the violence it used, but Israel was to trust that, in their suffering, they were not outside of God’s sovereignty.

Jesus echoed this belief when he declared to Pilate, “You would have no power if it were not given to you from above,” while obviously acknowledging Pilate’s abuse of this power.

Or remember back to when Israel demanded a king despite God’s warnings of what kings would do to them, and “in God’s anger God gave them a king.”

And now we ask God to save us from ourselves and our kings and presidents.

3.  Because Paul gives no conditions for a disciple to be subordinate to the authorities, we see he is talking about something deeper than disobedience or obedience.

Paul, in fact, did not use the word obey (which would imply the sense of bending one’s will). He used the word subordinate, which means that you simply consider yourself under their order.  This word is not about patriotism, pledging allegiance, or any affection for the powers.  Paul isn’t trying to convince unpatriotic Christians to pledge better allegiance.   Rather, Paul’s problem is the opposite: he must convince Christians, who are not conforming to the patterns of this world, not to overthrow the government! (2)

"Jesus for President"

"Jesus for President"

Paul is helping disciples understand the futility of such endeavors, encouraging them to keep on the path described in Romans 12 (and all of Jesus’ life and teaching), and not fly off into a new and hopeless project of vying for power. As Paul makes clear in chapters 9 through 11, Gentiles need to see themselves not as participants in the political dramas of upheavals and revolutions but as part of the set-apart people of God which were begun through Abraham and Sarah.

Subordination is not simply a helpful spiritual caveat to remind the Christian to stay humble.  It’s a necessary safeguard against violence and power.  It’s difficult to find a time in history when the revolutionary, through violence and coercion, doesn’t become a new oppressor.  Jesus knew this was the case in his people’s recent history with the Maccabeans.  Thus Jesus rejected the Zealots’ goal to “take the power back” from Herod or Pilate.  Paul too is rejecting the Zealots’ impulse and opting for revolutionary subordination.  As with Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, the only thing that should be done with the ring of power is dissolve it in the fire, not put it in the hands of “a pious man.”

If this ever becomes confusing, one need simply look at the example of Jesus’ death at the hands of the powers to understand subordination.  The way Jesus interacted with the temple courts and with Pilate displays a subordinate yet revolutionary heart.  Jesus never obeyed their whims and wishes—indeed, his wild action in the temple precipitated his arrest—and yet he also nonviolently subordinated to arrest. (3) He understood the powers as fallen but lovingly navigated through their hands, speaking truth that their power had blinded them to.

To overcome evil, he would not resist it but suffered and absorbed it.

4.   The text does not sanction the Christian to take up arms or even try to become the one who “governs by the sword.”

Many warrior Christians like to refer to the “just war tradition.”  And apparently Romans 13 is at the heart of this theory’s constitution.  As you read through the text, you’ll notice there is no place where sanction is given to the Christian to take up arms or even try to become the one who “governs by the sword.”  Indeed, the Christian identity is upheld in this text, as it was a chapter before, as radically distinct from the powers.

For Paul, the powers and the state are clearly a “they,” because he pledges allegiance to another Lord.  Much just-war reflection fails not only in its logic and application but also in its preconception: their “we” is not the church but the state.  In response to the question, “What should we have done in World War II?” we must ask, “Who is we?”

faith-and-politicsIf you are a Christian and your citizenship is in Jesus’ kingdom, reflection begins not with the powers but with the church.  The church should not have religiously supported, fought for, and obeyed Hitler.  The church should have been enacting the teachings of Jesus.  The church should have been taking in Jews and others who were hunted.  In many instances the church was doing these things, but this is not the history we learn.  Each of these instances, as in the case of Schindler or in our Celestin story or with the midwives in Egypt, are acts of holy subversion and disobedience. We are blessed to learn the lessons of history through the small, faithful ones in the Church (instead of through gigantic military history).

Not only does Romans 13 make no mention of Christians and the sword, it also doesn’t talk about the state and war.  When the text refers to the sword (v. 4, machiara: “short dagger”), the Greek word used refers not to war but to the symbol of local policing—it is the sword Roman officers would carry while accompanying tax-collectors.  There are many Greek words that refer to war, but machiara is not one of them.

But if we must talk about the state and war, “just war” is the most identifiable tradition in the church.  If Christians actually held to this theory, they would never go off to war.  Just-war theory isn’t a “justify any war” theory.  It defines a just war by stringent criteria and was intended to criticize governments, minimize violence, and define several reasons wars were wrong.  It should not be used to encourage Christians to abandon Jesus’ teachings.

5.  Only when the state resists evil and rewards good can the state be considered God’s servant.

The conditional word “attending” (also “give their full” v. 6, proskarterountes) helps us read the verse to say “they are servants of God insofar as they busy themselves with governing (resisting evil and rewarding good).”  When this condition is met, it’s not as if the Christian would join in resisting evil—no, they are still called to overcome evil as agents of the gospel, not agents of wrath.  And as we said before, if this condition is not met, it’s not as if Christians are justified in overthrowing the government either! (4)

In a similar way, the fact that the prophets speak of what a good king should do doesn’t change the fact that kings were not part of God’s original plan but a breaking of God’s heart (1 Samuel 8).  The condition is simply to define for the Christian a broad conception of what the state is doing, which is not what the Christian is doing. (5) The act of resisting evil is what Paul and Jesus explicitly prohibited for Christians (Romans 12; Matthew 5).

carew6It may be argued that this reading of Romans 13 leaves the dirty work of violence to the state while Christians keep their hands clean. Paul, indeed, understands that the powers play a role.  (Paul had been protected from riot violence by this pagan government.  Doubtlessly he was grateful for this, but he also seemed to be indifferent to this protection when he declared, “To live is Christ and to die is gain.”)  The powers’ role is simply part of the old order that is passing away and crumbling.

It’s as if an old castle, deteriorating and full of holes in the walls from war, is being rebuilt.  The powers, partly responsible for creating the cycles of war, protect the castle from further bombing and set up scaffolds and girders to keep the building from crumbling on everyone’s heads.  They mitigate the mess they haven’t yet become convinced to stop making.  Meanwhile, those committed (the church) to the renewed castle make peace between the warriors who destroyed the castle, redesign its architecture, rework the plumbing, and so on.  But if the reworkers resort to constructing gun turrets on the walls, they simply assure the tightening of the cycle that destroyed everything.

This analogy, like any, falls short.  But the picture is that the old order plays a role, but it’s a limited and largely negative role.  Rather than trying to save a sinking ship, Christians are to be helping people get into lifeboats.  To the extent that people play a part in the old order of violence and power, they prolong and maintain it.

Put simply, “the most effective way to contribute to the preservation of society in the old aeon is to live in the new.” (6)

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footnotes:

(1)   It would be hard to cite all of the places where John Yoder has influenced these short observations. His remarks in The Politics of Jesus (especially the chapter “Let Every Soul Be Subject”) have thoroughly influenced our understanding. Readers would do well to go beyond our sketch and read his work and the works from which he draws.

(2)  A few years before this epistle Priscilla and Aquila had been expelled from Rome in connection with a tax revolt, and a new revolt was brewing under Nero. Paul’s point is that the insurrectionist motives behind this are missing the gospel’s methods of revolution. (See Klaus Wengst, The Pax Romana and the Peace of Jesus Christ (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987), 82.

(3)  “The conscientious objector who refuses to do what a government demands, but still remains under the sovereignty of that government and accepts the penalties which it imposes, or the Christian who refuses to worship Caesar but still permits Caesar to put him or her to death, is being subordinate even though not obeying” (John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994], 209).

(4)  “The conception of a ‘state properly so called,’ in the name of which one would reject and seek to overthrow the state which exists empirically, is totally absent in the passage. In the social context of the Jewish Christians in Rome, the whole point of the passage was to take out of their minds any concept of rebellion against or even emotional rejection of this corrupt pagan government” (Yoder, Politics of Jesus, 200).

(5)  “Christians are told (12:19) to never exercise vengeance but to leave it to God and to wrath. Then the authorities are recognized (13:14) as executing the particular function which the Christian was to leave to God … the function exercised by the government is not the function exercised by the Christians” (Yoder, Politics of Jesus, 198).

(6)  John Howard Yoder, The Original Revolution (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 2003), 83.

When My People Prey – (Part 2)

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Dr. Brad Cole & family

Welcome back!

Today we are continuing our conversation with friend and guest blogger, Dr. Brad Cole (click here for BIO info).  This is the second and final part of his essay on making sense of the “Gentle Jesus” we read about in the New Testament and the disturbing violence we find in the Old Testament.  I think you’ll find his thoughts very helpful.

Recap:  In the first post (which you should go back and read HERE if you haven’t already), Brad established:

1)  Jesus IS the God of the Old Testament
2)  God makes concessions to meet us where we are

And if you remember, the first post ended with God saying that though the Israelites involved themselves in things that were not God’s ideal that he would not abandon them but meet them where they were and give them “laws that are not good and commands that do not bring life” (Ezekiel 20:25) as a concession to their hard hearts.

So, today we pick up on these “laws that are not good” and the context for why God had to give them to his people.

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3.    The context for the “bad rules” to fight

There are many more examples of this foundational principle of God giving in to something less than the ideal, but now let’s specifically tackle the problem of fighting and wars in Old Testament times. I believe that we can say that God never wanted them to fight in the first place, but we can only take this position by understanding the context for these violent times.

It is quite remarkable to consider the violent lives, even of God’s friends in the Old Testament. Just to list a few examples! When Jacob’s daughter Dinah was raped, the men of this city were tricked by Simeon and Levi into getting circumcised.

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"...laws that are not good and commands that do not bring life” (Ezekiel 20:25)

“Three days later, when the men were still sore from their circumcision, two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, the brothers of Dinah, took their swords, went into the city without arousing suspicion, and killed all the men…”
(Genesis 34:25)

This was Levi, the father of the Levites!

Just a few verses later we read this about Reuben,

“While Jacob was living in that land, Reuben had sexual intercourse with Bilhah, one of his father’s concubines; Jacob heard about it and was furious.”
(Genesis 35:22)

Of course, these older brothers would then throw Joseph in a pit.

Judah later married a Canaanite woman and sometime later saw someone who he thought was a prostitute.

“When Judah saw her, he thought that she was a prostitute, because she had her face covered. He went over to her at the side of the road and said, ‘All right, how much do you charge?’ (He did not know that she was his daughter-in-law.)…About three months later someone told Judah, ‘Your daughter-in-law Tamar has been acting like a whore, and now she is pregnant.’ Judah ordered, ‘Take her out and burn her to death.’”
(Genesis 38:15,16,24-25)

It seems unthinkable that Jesus Christ descended from Judah and Tamar.

As the children of Israel traveled to Mount Sinai there was continual rebellion and mutiny against the authority of Moses. As evidence of the spiritual depravity, God had to tell them,

“Do not have sexual intercourse with any of your relatives. Do not disgrace your father by having intercourse with your mother. You must not disgrace your own mother…No man or woman is to have sexual relations with an animal; that perversion makes you ritually unclean.”
(Leviticus 18:7, 23)

Would God give rules like this if they were not needed, and if those kinds of rules were needed, what does that say about the people that were supposed to represent God to the world?

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Caananite god, Molech & infant sacrifice

These people were deeply attracted to a form of worship that I hope would make all of us recoil in horror.  To make this “real” lets imagine that the church next door to the one you attend is representative of the religions of the nations who occupied the Promised Land.  What do we know about those religions?  They were remarkably cruel – the church experience involved child sacrifice and meeting with temple prostitutes.  What is especially sad is that the children of Israel were continually drawn to and tempted by this violent form of worship.  Just consider for a moment that when you got up for church next week that you had a hard time deciding, “Hmmm…shall I go sacrifice my child to the god Molech and then meet with a temple prostitute, or should I go to my regular church?  Tough call!”  That would not say very good things about you but it does tell us where God’s people were at this time.  It’s unthinkable that even king Solomon fell into this trap and began to worship the cruel pagan gods.

If you have ever had a chance to quickly read through the account of the serious rebellion of the wilderness wanderings, it is a terrible story of distrust of God and continued mutiny against Moses. Even when they entered the Promised Land they were still a rebellious people and in Joshua’s final sermon he had to tell them,

“Get rid of the gods which your ancestors used to worship in Mesopotamia and in Egypt, and serve only the LORD.”
(Joshua 24:16)

Then Joshua died and . . .

“That whole generation also died, and the next generation forgot the LORD and what he had done for Israel.”
(Judges 2:10)

What follows then is the book of Judges, one of the most violent and depressing books in the entire Bible! The people

“…settled down among the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. They intermarried with them and worshiped their gods.”
(Judges 3:5,6)

Every once in a while they would turn to God and he would help them fight against their enemies, but they would soon return to worship the other gods once again. The book of Judges culminates with the story of the Levite and his concubine. This poor woman was raped all night by a mob in a Benjamite city. This heartless Levite then cut her body up into 12 pieces and had them delivered to the 12 tribes of Israel.

Even the brightest moments in the Old Testament, such as the life of David, are mixed in with cruelty and violence. David, of course, had an affair with Bathsheba and then plotted to have her husband murdered, and on and on and on. It is literally too depressing to continue with this violent history and we aren’t even to horrible events of the splitting of the kingdoms, Jezebel, and King Manasseh who killed so many people that the streets flowed with blood, and so on.

The point of all this is to say that this is the setting, the context, and the people that God is trying to work with. In the Old Testament, God is reaching out to stubborn mules and to do that he must interact with his people in ways that only a stubborn mule could understand.

“The people of Israel are as stubborn as mules. How can I feed them like lambs in a meadow?”
(Hosea 4:16)

4.    God did not want them to fight

Just as we have seen God “give in” to divorce laws, the monarchy, polygamy, and countless other examples in order to maintain contact with a rebellious people, the Bible also describes God as giving in to the violence and fighting. But this was never God’s plan! God’s dilemma was that he knew intermingling with the other nations who were involved in the worship of the cruel gods who demanded child sacrifice would be fatal. Coexistence was not an option:

“Do not worship their gods, for that would be fatal.”
(Deuteronomy 7:16)

“Make sure that you don’t follow their religious practices, because that would be fatal. Don’t try to find out how they worship their gods, so that you can worship in the same way. Do not worship the LORD your God in the way they worship their gods, for in the worship of their gods they do all the disgusting things that the LORD hates. They even sacrifice their children in the fires on their altars.”
(Deuteronomy 12:30-31)

UntitledGod’s warning was clear: “They will be your enemies, and you will be trapped by the worship of their gods.”  (Judges 2:3)

They had to stay away from these people and their gods, but yet God’s plan was not to have them fight and kill. Many times God suggested another way:

“Don’t be afraid of them, for the LORD your God will fight for you”
(Deuteronomy 3:22)

“I will send an angel ahead of you to protect you as you travel and to bring you to the place which I have prepared…For my angel will go before you, and bring you in to the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, and I will cut them off”
(Exodus 23:20,23)

The LORD your God will send hornets among them, until those who are left and hide themselves from you are destroyed. You shall not be in dread of them; for the LORD your God is in the midst of you, a great and terrible God. The LORD your God will clear away these nations before you little by little…the LORD your God will give them over to you, and throw them into great confusion, until they are destroyed”
(Deuteronomy 7:20-23)

But sadly the people did not trust God to take care of them and to bring them into the Promised Land in the way he wanted to do it. And so it would appear that God (once again as a concession to the hard-hearts of humanity) helped them fight, despite the repeated message that he really did not want them to fight at all.

God’s people did not trust him to take care of the problem. God could have left them, “I told you that I would take care of you, but since you don’t trust me to do it, you’re on your own!” Remarkably though, God did not abandon his children but rather condescended to help them fight. But even as he did this, he tried to teach them that instead of fighting what they really should do is to begin to put their trust in him.

For example, the first city they conquered was Jericho where the walls miraculously collapsed with a mere shout and some trumpets. Should not the people have realized, “You know what, it seems like it’s much more important that we stay connected to God than it is for us to have a large army?” There are countless examples of this. Gideon and his 300 men threw an army of Midianites that the Bible describes as so large they were like the sand on the seashore into a panic with nothing more than torches and God would many times summarize their conquests this way:

“As you advanced, I threw them into panic…Your swords and bows had nothing to do with it.”
(Joshua 24:12)

In every way possible God tried to lead the people away from fighting. When Joshua would conquer a people

“…he crippled their horses and burned their chariots.”
(Joshua 11:9)

This is cruel, but God was trying to tell the people in the only language they could understand, “Please, don’t have a large military and if you would just put your trust in me, you won’t be doing any of this fighting in the first place!”

david_and_goliath_zoomEven when David killed Goliath, we miss these words of David as he charged at the giant:

“You are coming against me with sword, spear, and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the Israelite armies, which you have defied. This very day the LORD will put you in my power…Then the whole world will know that Israel has a God, and everyone here will see that the LORD does not need swords or spears to save his people.”
(1 Samuel 17:45-47)

After watching a boy defeat a giant, did Israel get the message which was “Hey, God does not need swords or spears to save his people!” Fantasize with me for just one second that this event caused the people to have an epiphany. They turned to each other and instead of chasing after the Philistines they proclaimed, “From this day forward we will place our absolute trust in the Lord. The Almighty One will take care of us. Instead of killing our enemies let’s turn our swords into plows. Let’s become a great light to the world about the kind of Person that our mighty God is.”

Can you imagine how dramatically different the course of human history would have been? Of course, unfortunately, even David, the one who said those words to Goliath, spent most of his life fighting and killing. And so at the end of his life when David asked if he could build a temple for God, it’s almost as if God had to go on record and in print, that “I hate this fighting” and God did not allow David to build a temple for him,

“…he has forbidden me to do it, because I am a soldier and have shed too much blood.”
(1 Chronicles 28:3)

Rather than abandoning his rebellious people in Old Testament times, God stuck with them, but this came at a severe cost to his reputation. By stooping to stay in contact with a people who desired to do things contrary to his desire, God’s character was dragged through the mud:

“Wherever they went, they gave me a bad name. People said, ‘These are GOD’s people, but they got kicked off his land.’   I suffered much pain over my holy reputation, which the people of Israel blackened in every country they entered.  ‘Therefore, tell Israel…I’m not doing this for you, Israel. I’m doing it for me, to save my character, my holy name, which you’ve blackened in every country where you’ve gone.   I’m going to put my great and holy name on display, the name that has been ruined in so many countries, the name that you blackened wherever you went.”
(Ezekiel 36:20-23)

5.    The “Prince of Peace” to the rescue

The terrible Old Testament stories of fighting and violence reflect negatively on us (humanity), not God. We have ruined God’s reputation. It is in this context that we should consider the arrival of Jesus on the scene:

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Caravaggion "Supper at Emmaus" 1606

“No one has ever seen God.  But the unique One, who is Himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.”
(John 1:18)

The  people could not “see” God because He simply could not clearly reveal himself in Old Testament times – the rebellion and the chaos of his chosen people was so severe.

God came in human form to clear up any misconceptions as to what God is like as well as to show us what the real kingdom is like. Just the way he came should say so much to us about who our God is. The God of the Old Testament, the Creator of the Universe, moved into the neighborhood by transporting himself into the womb of one of his sinful creatures and then began the 9 month process of growing, cell by cell, into a baby boy.

Jesus’ mission was to reveal the truth about God’s character (John 17:3-6) and to establish a Kingdom of love and service. Everywhere he went he gave parables to describe, “The Kingdom of heaven is like this…” and his description of the real Kingdom never resembled an earthly kingdom of power, force, coercion or violence.

“My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.”
(John 18:38)

loveyourenemiesFor 3 and ½ years Jesus showed us what the King is like and what the Kingdom is like. Do we want to live in a Kingdom where the King lays down his life for enemies rather than killing them?

It was Jesus who opened our eyes to see that the principles of God’s Kingdom are love and service for others.  Jesus was God in human form. His every word and action put skin on what this Kingdom really looks like. (1)  Loving enemies and praying for them? That is the Kingdom!  Carrying the pack of your national enemy an extra mile?  That is the Kingdom.  Washing the feet of your betrayer?  That is the Kingdom.  Laying down your life for another?  That is the Kingdom!  The climax of Jesus’ life was his death where he absorbed all of our violence and hatred, but yet his response was to return this only with love and forgiveness. The Cross is the clearest picture we will ever see of what the Kingdom of God really looks like!

Jesus gave those of us who call ourselves Christian but one command:

“And now I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples.”
(John 13:34-35)

We are to love others in the same way that Jesus loved.  Our mission as a people is to esteem above everything else to replicate the love of Jesus as he died on a cross – tortured to death by his own children.

Kingdoms of the world do all kinds of things. They raise taxes, fight wars, enact laws, and occasionally achieve some good in the world, but they are all based on a power-over structure. This is not what the real Kingdom looks like! Listen to Jesus’ contrast between the kingdoms of the world and his Kingdom:

“You know that the rulers of the heathen have power over them, and the leaders have complete authority. This, however, is not the way it shall be among you. If one of you wants to be great, you must be the servant of the rest; and if one of you wants to be first, you must be the slave of the others— like the Son of Man, who did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life to redeem many people.’”
(Matthew 20:25-28)

Bumper-Sticker-When-Jesus-said-love-your-enemies-he-probably-meant-don't-kill-735355As Christians we belong to a Kingdom that is not of this world and when wars and violence are ever labeled as a “Christian” we misrepresent Christ who never commanded us to use violence for a “just” end. Wars can be discussed as to whether or not they are justified for this or that reason, but we should never in any way associate violence with a Christian endeavor. Our motto as Christians is to love, serve, and to present the truth about God as seen in Jesus Christ – period. This is what we do – this is all we do.

In conclusion, when we read about all the fighting in the Old Testament, let’s appreciate the fact that God stooped to an infinite degree to meet a violent people, but why would we ever want to return to something that is less than what we see in the Person of Jesus Christ?  Now that we have seen and experienced the ideal, there is no turning back.  Or should we loveosamago back to the “good old days” and initiate private vengeance but with provisionary cities of refuge?  Should we insist that it is a shameful thing for a woman to speak in church or make provisions for men who might choose to take a second wife?  Of course not, and as Christians we should go just as far to reject violence in any form as we would to distance ourselves from polygamy or the suppression of a woman’s right to speak in church.

Loving, serving, and praying for enemies is not “safe” – Jesus’ death on the Cross is evidence of that.  In fact, God’s best friends throughout human history often seem to have had the worst of it from a worldly perspective.  Just consider the persecution of Abel (killed), Job, Isaiah (sawed in half in a hollow log), Jeremiah (stoned to death in Egypt), John and Baptist (beheaded), Peter (crucified upside down), John (imprisoned on Patmos), and Paul – just to name a few!  We are not called to live “practical” or “safe” lives.

We are called to live out the radical love of Jesus Christ. The love of God as revealed on Calvary forever changed the world and whenever God’s people unite on their singular purpose to love and service others the world is brought closer to the real Kingdom and the real King – the “Prince of Peace”.

footnotes:

(1)  In this brief article I cannot begin to list the words and actions of Jesus that call Christians to a non-violent kingdom, but I would strongly recommend Greg Boyd’s book “The Myth of a Christian Nation”.

(pictures added by editor)

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To read more of Brad’s excellent work and see his lectures on video, please visit his website:

When My People Prey – (Part 1)

I’m really excited to introduce to you today an exceptional guest who will be helping us in our discussion on “Jesus and Non-violence”!!

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Dr. Brad Cole & family

This is Dr. Brad Cole and he is going to be assisting us in understanding how to make sense of all the violence we find in the Old Testament; a tough topic whether you are a pacifist or a “just-war” proponent.

Brad and his wife Dorothee are both neurologists and he is the course director for the 1st and 2nd year neuroscience medical students at Loma Linda University.  Brad has a weekly bible study with the medical students. The video and recordings of this can be found at www.godscharacter.com. You can read his full bio HERE.

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Check out Brad's website HERE!

Because this topic is such a vast one, Brad has put in a great deal of effort to be thorough and I think you will appreciate the result.  However, because of the length, we will be breaking his essay into TWO posts.  And though it is a bit of reading, I promise you will not be disappointed.  Brad has a lot of answers to the questions that many of you have asked.    Welcome to the conversation, Brad!

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“Come and see what the LORD has done. See what amazing things he has done on earth. He stops wars all over the world; he breaks bows, destroys spears, and sets shields on fire. ‘Stop fighting,’ he says, ‘and know that I am God, supreme among the nations, supreme over the world.’”
(Psalm 46:8-10)

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click here to see the full slideshow

Many read the Bible and conclude that there are legitimate situations that call for a violent response. In fact, many have quoted scripture to support violent actions and we don’t need to go back to the Crusades for examples of this. Just last month it was revealed that Donald Rumsfeld extensively used Bible quotes in his daily briefings to George Bush with regards to the Iraq war.

These included “rah-rah” photographs of American soldiers with captions such as “Therefore put on the full armor of God…” (Eph. 6:13)

Another photo depicted soldiers kneeling in prayer next to the words, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Here I am Lord, Send me. ”  (Isaiah 6:8)

And finally there was a picture of Saddam Hussein next to the verse, “It is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.”  (1 Peter 2:15)

At the same time, however, it seems to me that there is a recent ground swell of individuals who believe that the Kingdom of Christ should never use violent means, even against enemies. I am not referring to a group of politically motivated individuals, or an anti-Bush, anti-Iraq war crowd. Rather, it seems to me that there is a growing movement that is seeing with greater clarity that the Kingdom of Christ is nothing like any kingdom of the world.

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click here to see the full slideshow

The verses used by Rumsfeld were so radically taken out of context. Their use to support violence of any kind was nothing short of dishonest. It seems to me that he could have made a much better case for going to war in the name of God if he had wanted to, because of course the Bible does records times when God told his people to fight. Imagine if Rumsfeld had quoted these words of God:

“Go and attack the Amalekites and completely destroy everything they have. Don’t leave a thing; kill all the men, women, children, and babies; the cattle, sheep, camels, and donkeys.”
(1 Samuel 15:3)

Perhaps words like this were too strong – even for someone like Rumsfeld – and here is the real challenge for those who make the claim that Christians should advocate absolute nonviolence. If the Bible records God as commanding his people to fight and even to kill babies on occasion, how is it possible for anyone who holds the Bible to be the inspired word of God to take this position?

Most who advocate nonviolence have focused their arguments on the teaching of Christ who never killed or hit anyone. As Alden Thompson said, “When he cleansed the temple, he attacked the furniture, not the people.” (1)   The teachings of Christ really cannot be used to support violence of any kind, although some have tried. For example, Jesus’ words about the disciples needing 2 swords have been used as a point in favor of violence, but I love the quote that Nick Loyd found on this:

“Two swords for twelve Apostles? Truly they are dull scholars who thence infer he meant that they should literally buy two swords to fight with!” (2)

The real challenge to nonviolence lies in the Old Testament and so we must first spend a little time reviewing some violent history.

1.    Jesus: God of the Old Testament

The first option we need to dismiss immediately in trying to reconcile “Gentle Jesus and his violent Bible” (3)  is to split the Trinity in any way.  Many times Jesus referred to himself as the “I AM” – the same title God used when he spoke to Moses at the burning bush.

hagia_sophia_vestibule_christ_mosaicPaul said that the God who went with the children of Israel was Christ:

“All ate the same spiritual bread and drank the same spiritual drink. They drank from the spiritual rock that went with them; and that rock was Christ himself.”
(1 Corinthians 10:3-4)

And Jesus would explain that the entire Bible is the story of him – the Son of God:

“You have your heads in your Bibles constantly because you think you’ll find eternal life there. But you miss the forest for the trees. These Scriptures are all about me!”
(John 5:39)

But even if someone were to take the position that it was the Father who spoke and did all those things in the Old Testament, that shouldn’t change a thing. In Jesus we can say that the Father and Son are precisely the same in heart, mind, and character.

“For a long time I have been with you all; yet you do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. Why, then, do you say, ‘Show us the Father’?’”
(John 14:8-9)

Somehow we need to wrap our minds around the fact that Jesus was the God of the Old Testament. If that paradox doesn’t immediately fry our neurons, let’s try to think this through.

2.    God stoops to meet us where we are

We often view God as inflexible, changeless (“I change not!” — Mal. 3:6) and that his every word and action must reflect the absolute ideal. That is not the story of the Bible, however, which reveals countless examples of God “giving in” to something that was light years from the ideal. This was how Jesus explained the Old Testament. For example, after he seemed to contradict the Old Testament divorce laws,

Divorce“Some Pharisees came and tried to trap Him with this question: ‘Should a man be allowed to divorce his wife for just any reason?’ ‘Haven’t you read the Scriptures?’ Jesus replied. ‘They record that from the beginning ‘God made them male and female.’ And He said, ‘This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.’ Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together.’ ‘Then why did Moses say in the law that a man could give his wife a written notice of divorce and send her away?’ they asked.
(Matthew 19:3-7)

Please don’t miss Jesus’ spectacular reply – this is critically important to our question:

‘Moses permitted divorce only as a concession to your hard hearts, but it was not what God had originally intended.’”
(Matthew 19:8)

In the Old Testament, divorce was remarkably cruel. You don’t like your wife, get rid of her and bring a new one in the following week. You don’t like her, send her out on the streets and get another. It was the essentially the end of that woman’s life. Something had to be done and so we have Old Testament divorce rules. But notice, Jesus’ explanation of why the Old Testament divorce rules were given explains at least half of the hard to understand rules and stories in the Old Testament. Jesus admits in this explanation that his actions and rules in the Old Testament do not reflect the ideal – far from the ideal, in fact. What Jesus is saying is that “in your hard-hearted rebellion I had to say things and do things as a concession because it was the only way that I could reach you. It was not what I had intended.”

In the Old Testament we see God stooping to meet a rebellious people:

“I did his, because they had rejected my commands, broken my laws, profaned the Sabbath, and worshiped the same idols their ancestors had served. Then I gave them laws that are not good and commands that do not bring life.”
(Ezekiel 20:24-25)

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Good News Tour Conference

Rather than abandoning his people forever, God gave them laws and commands that were “not good” and that did not reflect the ideal of character or his kingdom. But yet, this was apparently the only way he could stay in contact with them.

Let’s briefly list some of the many examples of God “giving in” to something that was not the ideal and I will try to lay this as a foundation for all the fighting and violence as well:

A.    Polygamy:

The practice of polygamy was common in Old Testament times, even among “men of faith” like Abraham, David and Solomon. It seems that it would have been “too much, too fast” for God to go on record as saying “I forbid polygamy!” Instead, God condescended to allow for the practice, but with stipulations to move his people in the right direction,

“If a man takes a second wife, he must continue to give his first wife the same amount of food and clothing and the same rights that she had before.”
(Exodus 21:10)

Rather than bluntly laying down the law from the onset, “I forbid polygamy”, God tried to make this horrible practice more humane until he could finally lead his people away from it altogether.

B.    Private vengeance:

In Old Testament times, if you were chopping wood and the blade flew off your axe and killed someone walking by, under the accepted system of private vengeance it would be expected for the family of that man to hunt you down and kill you – even though everyone would acknowledge that it was an accident. And so God, rather than saying “I forbid private vengeance” (once again “too much, too fast”) created a safe place to flee. When the high priest died (which might be decades later), the obligation was fulfilled and finally the man could leave that city. Is this the ideal? No, this is the God patiently nudging the people in the right direction.

C.    The monarchy:

Did God approve of the monarchy? Instinctively we might say “yes” as we think of King David and that Jesus was a descendant of David, but yet this was not God’s plan. The people said, “We want a king” God said, “No you don’t. That’s a terrible idea. He will take your men to fight for him. He will take your women to join his harem? He’ll raise your taxes. Don’t do it!” The people said, “No, we want a king.” Remarkably, God’s reply, after telling them that it was a terrible idea was to say,

“Do what they want and give them a king.”
(1 Samuel 8:22)

Once again, God gave in to their desire, but it was not his plan.

D.    False conception of justice:

As the people entered the Promised Land, we discover that their conception of “justice” was distorted. This is revealed by their words to Joshua,

“Whoever question your authority or disobeys any of your orders will be put to death.”
(Joshua 1:18)

Had the disciples said this to Jesus we can be sure that his rebuke would have been severe and to the point. But when we understand that this is the standard of justice at this time, we realize that what Achan did just a few days later was to disobey God. If disobeying Joshua should result in death, then what should the penalty be for disobeying God? Do you see the dilemma God is in?

superstock_999-493_b~Achan-and-His-Family-Stoned-to-Death-Posters

Achan & family stoned to death

Tim Jennings has a very good illustration on this point (4).   A few years ago an Iraqi grocer and his family were killed and the grocery store was burned down because he had the audacity to place celery sticks next to tomatoes. What’s the problem with that, you ask? Some felt that this was highly offensive because it could be interpreted as an erect male and so he was killed.

Now, if you were appointed governor of this town and you were creating law, let’s say that you decided that drunk driving was serious and that you wanted a penalty that was sufficient to deter this behavior. Suppose that you chose a $500 fine and 5 days in jail. What would this imply to the people? If celery sticks next to tomatoes results in death, would this not suggest that drunk driving is far less serious? How do you effectively reach people when their sense of justice is entirely warped?

But, of course, the other difficult aspect of Achan’s story is that not only was Achan stoned to death, but also his wife, children…even the pets. Why? Once again, we are dealing with a culture, time, and a conception of justice that is so different from ours. In our time and society, we champion freedom and we are deeply individualistic, but this was not true in Achan’s time. During this time, one’s person and one’s personality extended to the entire family and so Achan’s sin, in the minds of the people, equally involved everyone in his family (5).  And so, once again, God condescended to work within a system of justice that we cannot identify with and that was far, far, from the ideal – and I think it made God sick.

E.    “Eye for an eye”:

Jesus didn’t deny that he gave the rule “An eye for an eye” during a chaotic and violent time, but he did forbid this practice for his followers, once again implying that this rule was given only to reach us in our heard hearted rebellion.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But now I tell you: do not take revenge on someone who wrongs you…You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your friends, hate your enemies.’ But now I tell you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may become the children of your Father in heaven.”
(Matthew 5:38-44)

mt05_38

"You have heard it said, "An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth..."

Despite these clear and cutting words of Jesus, Christians still generally practice “eye for an eye” methods in the world but yet we are commanded by Christ to “not take revenge on someone who wrongs you.” And so when one country A bombs country B because they have been wronged, call that violent response whatever you want, but do not call it a “Christian” action or associated it with the name “Christ” in any way! The words bear repeating: “Do not take revenge on someone who wrongs you…love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

In Jesus we can say that Gandhi was right, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”

F.    Women:

Examples of God giving in to something that is far less than the ideal come from the New Testament as well. When Paul was dealing with the church of Corinth which was coming out of idolatrous worship, he had to use these same methods. A man was sleeping with his step-mother, people were getting drunk at the Lord’s Supper, and the worship experience was chaotic. Just down the street in Corinth was the Temple of Apollo. According to legendary accounts, there may have been as many as 1,000 temple prostitutes who “served” at any given time in this temple. In order to lead these immature Christians away from this form of false worship and everything associated with it, Paul had to say this:

“…God does not want us to be in disorder but in harmony and peace. As in all the churches of God’s people, the women should keep quiet in the meetings. They are not allowed to speak…If they want to find out about something, they should ask their husbands at home. It is a disgraceful thing for a woman to speak in a church meeting.”
(1 Corinthians 14:33-35)

Is this the ideal or is Paul meeting these people where they are?

footnotes:

(1)  Good News Tour conference 2006
(2)  Alexander Campbell, “An Address on War”, Millenial Harbinger, 1848, pg. 375
(3)  A great sermon title by Alden Thompson
(4)  Good News Tour, 2007
(5)  This is known as “corporate justice”

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Okay, lots to chew on… Even though I’m totally impatient and excited to show you the rest of the essay, I’ll post PART 2 in a few days to give you some time to read all the way through it.

Keep thinking!

My Church and Non-Violence

What does my specific church history teach about non-violence?

As we pick up our discussion on “Jesus & Non-violence” again today I am going to say very little and allow several historical voices to share their understanding of obedience to Christ and renunciation of violence.

A little background will be helpful.

I belong to an independent and non-denominational Christian church.  I wrote about the roots and history of this movement in my last post (Restoring the Conversation).

And I have spent the last few weeks researching the position my church has historically taken on violence and war.  In this research, I discovered that nearly all of the founding visionaries of this movement were well known pacifists.

These leaders include Alexander Campbell, Barton W. Stone, Benjamin Franklin, J.W. McGarvey, Moses E. Lard, Robert Milligan, Tolbert Fanning, David Lipscomb and many, many others.

Apparently, the apple does not fall far from the tree!

By far the two most notable people in this list are Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone.  Campbell specifically has an amazing essay on the issue titled, “An Address on War.”  I wish I could print the entire thing here.   I may work on getting it online at some point.   But, lets just take a quick look at the statements of these two influential men, without whom my church would not exist today.

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Alexander Campbell

Alexander Campbell

“But as respects the works peculiar to a soldier, or the prosecution of a political war, they (have) no commandment.  On the contrary, they were to live peaceably with all men to the full extent of their power.  Their sovereign Lord, the King of nations, is called ‘The PRINCE OF PEACE.’  How, then, could a Christian soldier, whose ‘shield’ was faith, whose ‘helmet’ the hope of salvation, whose ‘breastplate’ was righteousness, whose ‘girdle’ was truth, whose ‘feet were shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace’ and whose ‘sword’ was that fabricated by the Holy Spirit, even ‘the Word of God.’  I say, how could such a one enlist to fight in the battle of a Cesar, a Hannibal, a Tamerlane, a Napoleaon, or even a Victoria?-!”

— Alexander Campbell (“An Address on War.”  Millennial Harbinger, 1848.  Pg. 374)

“Two swords for twelve Apostles?  Truly they are dull scholars who thence infer he meant that they should literally buy two swords to fight with!”
— Alexander Campbell (“An Address on War.”  Millennial Harbinger, 1848.  Pg. 375)

“Decidedly, then, the spirit of Christianity is essentially pacific.”
— Alexander Campbell (“An Address on War.”  Millennial Harbinger, 1848.  Pg. 375)

“That the genius and spirit of Christianity, as well as the letter of it, are admitted, on all hands, to be decidedly ‘peace on earth and good will among men,’ needs no proof to any one that has ever read the volume that contains it.”
–Alexander Campbell (“An Address on War.”  Millennial Harbinger, 1848.  Pg. 375)

tfanning

Tolbert Fanning

“Need we any other proof that a Christian people can, in no way whatever, countenance a war as a proper means of redressing wrongs, of deciding justice, or of settling controversies among nations?”
–Alexander Campbell (“An Address on War.”  Millennial Harbinger, 1848.  Pg. 377)

“The precepts of Christianity positively inhibit war—by showing that ‘wars and fighting come from men’s lusts and evil passions’, and by commanding Christians to follow ‘peace on earth and good will among men.’”
–Alexander Campbell (“An Address on War.”  Millennial Harbinger, 1848.  Pg. 383)

“We must create a public opinion on this subject.  We should inspire a pacific spirit, and show off on all proper occasions the chief objections to war.
–Alexander Campbell (“An Address on War.”  Millennial Harbinger, 1848.  Pg. 385)

“In the language of the eloquent Grimke, we must show that ‘the great objection to war is not so much the number of lives and the amount of property it destroys, as its moral influence on nations and individuals.  It creates and perpetuates national jealousy, fear, hatred, and envy.  It arrogates to itself the prerogative of the Creator alone, to involve the innocent multitude in the punishment of the guilty few.  It corrupts the moral taste, and hardens the heart; cherishes and strengthens the base and violent passions, destroys the distinguishing features of Christian charity, its universality and its love of enemies’; turns into mockery and contempt the best virtue of Christians—humility;  weakens the sense of moral obligation;  banishes the spirit of improvement, usefulness, and benevolence, and inculcates the horrible maxim that murder and robbery are matters of state expediency.’”
–Alexander Campbell (“An Address on War.”  Millennial Harbinger, 1848.  Pg. 385)

“The spirit of war is always a rebellious spirit.”
–Alexander Campbell (“The Spirit of War.”  Millennial Harbinger, 1861.  Pg. 338)

“The Christian is not permitted to redress his wrongs by taking vengeance upon the wrong-doer.  He is to commit his cause to Him who judges righteously, to whom vengeance belongs.”
–Alexander Campbell (“The Spirit of War.”  Millennial Harbinger, 1861.  Pg. 338)

“Now we trust that no Christian man who fears God and desires to be loyal to Messiah, the Prince of Peace, shall be found in the ranks of so unholy a warfare.”
–Alexander Campbell (“The Spirit of War.”  Millennial Harbinger, 1861.  Pg. 339)

David Lipscomb

David Lipscomb

“I freely expressed my views of war and other aberrations from the Christian religion.”
–Alexander Campbell (“War.”  Millennial Harbinger, 1846.  Pg. 638)

“But so long as any man admits the dying testimony of Jesus Christ to be true, he must, I contend, give up his ‘Christian wars’ ‘Christian armies,’  ‘Christian navies,’ ‘Christian victories,’ and military glory.
–Alexander Campbell (“War.”  Millennial Harbinger, 1846.  Pg. 640)

(speaking of Jesus’ claim that His kingdom is not of this world) “The conclusion of these words is inevitable.  My kingdom being not of this world, my servants cannot fight for me, not even in a defensive war.”
–Alexander Campbell (“War.”  Millennial Harbinger, 1846.  Pg. 640)

“If, then, the Messiah would not, in defense of his own life, have his servants to take the sword, for whose life ought it to be unsheathed?!”
–Alexander Campbell (“War.”  Millennial Harbinger, 1846.  Pg. 641)

“Indeed, the spirit of war and the spirit of Christ are as antipodal as light and darkness, as good and evil.”
— Alexander Campbell (“War.”  Millennial Harbinger, 1846.  Pg. 641)

“Christianity, (is) essentially pacific, conciliatory, and forgiving.  The Saviour of the world is the Prince of Peace, and all his true subjects are sons of peace and advocates of glory to God in the highest, peace on earth, and good will amongst men.”
–Alexander Campbell (“War and Christianity Antipodal.”  Millennial Harbinger, 1850.  Pg. 524)

Barton W. Stone

Barton W. Stone

“His laws are pacific, he is the Prince of Peace—his subjects are the children of peace.  Nothing appears so repugnant to the kingdom of heaven as war…”
–Barton W. Stone  (“Christians Holding Offices.”   The Christian Messenger, 1842.  Pg. 205)

(speaking of Christians and war), “If these things be true, the Christian world is truly in an awful state of apostacy!  It is surely high time to think seriously and reform.”
–Barton W. Stone  (“Christians Holding Offices.”   The Christian Messenger, 1842.  Pg. 205)

“The Gospel aims a death blow at the very root and principle of war”
— Barton W. Stone  (The Christian Messenger, July 1835)

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Wow, quite a body of work from just TWO of the leaders of this movement.  Much more could be quoted from David Lipscomb (a Christian anarchist) and Tolbert Fanning alone.  For purposes of space, however, I thought that these two provided an adequate representation of the many others.

Maybe most interesting are Alexander Campbell’s words at the end of his “Address on War.”  Not only does he lay out a great case for pacifism, he ends by pleading for all of us to promote the cause of the non-violent kingdom of God whenever possible…

“I must confess that I both wonder at myself and am ashamed to think that I have not spoken out my views, nor ever before written an essay  on this subject . . . I am sorry to think, very sorry indeed, to be only of the opinion, that probably even this much published by me some three years, or even two years ago, might have saved some lives that have been thrown away in the desert—some hot-brained youths.

“We must create a public opinion on this subject.  We should inspire a pacific spirit, and show off on all proper occasions the chief objections to war.
–Alexander Campbell (“An Address on War.”  Millennial Harbinger, 1848.  Pg. 385)

I presume Campbell would be pleased with this topic for our conversation.

Okay, next post we will have a guest blogger!  Very exciting!

Keep thinking and growing!

Bring Your Gun to Church Day!

We’ll continue with our discussion on “Jesus and Non-violence” in the next post, but a friend of mine mentioned this news story to me yesterday.  It was so appalling that I couldn’t help but share it with you.  I wanted to laugh (oh, Kentucky, you make me wanna laugh all the time), cry, and pull my eye balls out in frustration all at the same time.

If this isn’t the perfect example of the church confusing and blending the kingdom of God with the kingdoms of this world than I don’t know what is.

Please understand, at issue is not whether people should carry and use guns (a whole other discussion), but of what business this is for the church.  Why is the church’s message and mission being watered down to make political statements about bearing arms?

Just ask yourself this as you watch:

“Is it the church’s job to protect my American rights?”

“Did Jesus die for our right to bear arms?”

“Is protecting the 2nd amendment even close to part of the mission of the church?”

“We’re just going to celebrate the upcoming theme of the birth of our nation,” said pastor Ken Pagano. “And we’re not ashamed to say that there was a strong belief in God and firearms — without that this country wouldn’t be here.”

Wow, that quote alone is enough to make you wonder whether this guy worships America or God.  It seems that for him, the church exists to secure his American way of life.  Very close, if not completely overtly, a form of idolatry.

Think about it.

John 18:36
Jesus answered, “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.