the church and war

The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

In days to come
the mountain of the LORD’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
Many peoples shall come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction
and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation;
neither shall they learn war any more.
O house of Jacob,
come, let us walk
in the light of the LORD!

Isaiah 2:1-5

It used to be that after Christians returned from war the church made them do penance. There was an understanding that there is something intrinsically wrong, sinful about the enterprise, and that no one could participate in it without somehow being sullied. Or at least the idea that in fulfilling such responsibilities, sin is inescapable. In the early centuries Christians rarely participated in the military not only because the Roman Empire was at least averse to Christians participating, but because the early church fathers were univocal in their opposition to Christian participation in killing and war.

All of that has been long lost. Nowadays participation in war and preparation for such is more or less celebrated in all churches except for “peace churches.” It is one thing to respect and honor those who have served, but it’s quite another to see war as a necessary evil. To some extent given the world in which we live there has to be a forceful stopping of violence at times. But I think Christ followers should advocate for the end of war even now, for a worldwide commitment to settling disputes in any number of ways, as well as for understanding and addressing the problems which underlie violence in our communities. In our world in which cycles of violence are very present and seem to be held back only by force, this may not make sense and may even be resisted by some in power, though I think most governments would welcome such efforts. A regular answer to this problem is that such an ideal will occur only when Christ returns. Granted there’s some important truth in that. But followers of Christ ought to be committed to and be known as advocates for a peace which takes justice seriously in the path toward reconciliation.

The world hasn’t gone mad, it has lived that way for century after century, although violence has abated in some places. It doesn’t help when a renowned Christian writer and theologian sees war as not only inevitable, but pictures Christians on opposite sides shooting each other and then meeting in an embrace in heaven. Christians killing other Christians and non-Christians makes no sense. But neither does letting violence go make any sense. Following Christ which means taking the way of the cross, and loving enemies is never going to make sense in the world. But if we’re to take the witness of the gospel in scripture seriously, especially the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John with the rest of the New Testament including a correct reading and interpretation of Revelation, then it seems to me that we’re left with no choice but to so follow and show the world the better way. At least that will be a true witness of Christ.

I honor veterans myself, remembering that my own father was in harm’s way in a tank in WWII. Many good Christians and good people have served honorably in the military. But what if we Christ-followers would honor conscientious objectors who served their country honorably? And we need to be advocates for peaceful means of ending conflicts. Mennonites have been among those at the forefront of helping groups work through conflict resolution in a way that addresses wrongdoing and works to end the cycle of violence.

Peacemaking in this world will always involve struggle. It is macro and micro. Our witness to peace through Christ means little if we don’t live at peace in our families and church communities. And that will involve working through disagreement and conflicts, learning to live together in peace. And learning to extend that peace to others whose hearts may be full of war. Always in the way of Christ, not physically resisting evildoers, but resisting the evil itself through love with acts to bring healing, and good works. In and through Jesus.

looking for opportunities

…whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all and especially for those of the family of faith.

Galatians 6:10

Too often we’re caught between a rock and a hard place, not only not looking for opportunities to help others, but caught up in our own problems and situations. That’s understandable, but we have to avoid the treadmill in which we’re tending only to ourselves. While life can often seem not much more than a struggle to survive, God wants something more for and then from us.

We’re to develop an eager eagle eye to see just how we might help someone else. Yes, beginning in our own families to be sure. But not stopping there, out from that to extended family, the family of faith, and all of our neighbors, whoever they may be. Through prayer and good works. Helping others and accepting help as well.

what is religion supposed to be (to be worth its salt)?

…one of them, an expert in the law, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 22:35-40

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

James 1:27

I wonder when it seems to me that so much of what we’re concerned about in our faith has to do with our own benefit. It can be the idea of being right with God by simple faith in Christ so that one has assurance of eternal life. Or for others, the idea that God wants them to be healthy and wealthy. And much of what church can be about is to help everyone in their own personal lives. And then for those who are helped to get others into the same church attendance that they too may be helped.

But if it stops there, isn’t that self-centered? I’m sure protests will arise, pointing out that the best of such church activity will be to help people faithfully seek to apply all of scripture. Okay, some truth in that, but it still seems to me that overall the goal or overriding motive is for one’s own good rather than for the good of all.

We do need something like what is called proper self-care. Indeed we’re called to love others as we love ourselves. That thought is not about an unhealthy self-love, otherwise the thought that we’re to love others in the same way would make no sense. No, we’re to accept God’s full, unflagging love for us so that in turn we can properly love ourselves. So yes, we definitely need to take care of ourselves. We need the help of others as well. “It’s me, it’s me O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.”

But the goal of all of this is love, and love as Jesus said is to be directed to God and to our neighbor which includes everyone, even our enemies. In a true sense we are blessed as we bless others. Or as it tells us in Proverbs, those who refresh others, are themselves refreshed (Proverbs 11:25).

For religion to be worth its salt, to be religion in the biblical good sense is to know that we participate in a love which knows no bounds, and is to be active in the world. Of course with wisdom according to the relationship and circumstance. But love nevertheless to one and to all. The love of God in and through Jesus.

opportunities to do good

…whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all and especially for those of the family of faith.

Galatians 6:10

Opportunities come and go. Doing good or working for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith should be a prime consideration in how we direct our lives. There is plenty of need and plenty of opportunities. And yet there’s often only a limited window to fulfill it.

When the opportunity is present we need to be in prayer and ready to help. I think it’s not only good to pray about everything, but to be in an attitude and in the practice of prayer all the time. But sometimes I wonder why we think we have to pray about certain things. Jesus already tells us that if someone asks for something, we’re to give it to them (Matthew 5:42).

That said it can be a step of faith, giving up something that has value to us, is even helpful to us, but giving that to someone who is often in much greater need than ourselves, who actually does need it, whereas we can get by without it.

As Paul puts it, it’s a part of our sowing to the Spirit, and hopefully helping others experience something of the same blessing we’re receiving in doing so. In and through Jesus.

an open, visible witness to all

Jesus answered, “I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret.

John 18:20

Indeed, the king knows about these things, and to him I speak freely, for I am certain that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this was not done in a corner.

Acts 26:26

Do all things without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world, holding forth the word of life so that I can boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.

Philippians 2:14-16

We live in a day and age when it seems more and more prudent to keep one’s convictions to one’s self. It’s like all our differences are offensive. This is nothing new, but seems especially acute today. It’s easy to retreat, to try to keep one’s children insulated, into a cocoon, even a fortress, not only oblivious to the world, but on guard against it.

But what are we called to in Christ? Something entirely different, quite the opposite in one sense. We’re to let our light shine before others, not that they might see we believe correctly or differently, but so that they might see our good works, and glorify our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).

Will there be some danger in this? Of course. We’re to be as wise as serpents, yet as harmless as doves (Matthew 10:16). After all the good news we proclaim is simply bad news to those in the power of the world system in which the principalities and powers are entrenched.

But if we’re to follow Jesus, that means we’ll be led into the dark places in which our light in Jesus will shine. A light of life, love and hope, ultimately for all, and especially for the poor, marginalized and oppressed. All of this out in the open, in and through Jesus.

love covers over each other’s faults

Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins.

1 Peter 4:8

This New English Translation footnote on “love covers a multitude of sins” seems to me to be helpful in getting at the meaning here. This has nothing to do with not taking sin seriously like in sweeping it under the rug. We’re told by John that if we see a brother or sister sinning, we should pray, and God will give them life. We have to realize that we all fall short, and people have to look past some things about us along the way. Rather than putting up with each other, we should bear with one another, out of love.

Yes, there are certain things that it might be well for us to address, after first of all praying. For example if a friend has a drinking problem, or maybe an addiction to pornography, or perhaps can’t quit gossiping or speaking ill of others, maybe God will give us the wisdom to speak a word that gently and even upliftingly might help those who need and perhaps would even like help.

Love is what it’s about here, the motive. Do we really love? If we do, then we’ll be willing to look past so much, and be patient. While hoping and praying for better. But love doesn’t give up or throw in the towel, but bears all things (1 Corinthians 13).

Love, love, love. The love that makes all the difference for us. That same love we’re to show to others. In and through Jesus.

The love we’re to have for our enemies as Jesus tells us, is a different topic. Some correlation, and it is to remain constant. Again, there’s overlap, yet there are crucial differences as well. Something I might try to think about on another post. Peter here was not referring to enemies, but to the fellowship.

love God with all you’ve got, and love your neighbor as yourself

One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; and ‘to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself’—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.

Mark 12:28-34

What should mark us as followers of Jesus? Loving God with all our being and doing and loving our neighbor as ourselves. And committed love to each other.

Love for God should be in every ounce of heart, mind and strength we have. And an essential part of that is to love our neighbor as ourselves. And remember that Jesus includes love for enemies in that mix. That should be the heart of who we are as people, and thus of course in all we do. And the measure by which we acknowledge our shortcomings and sins.

That’s it. Whatever else is important is under those categories. In and through Jesus.

calling fear’s bluff

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us, and his love is perfected in us.

By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.

God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate a brother or sister are liars, for those who do not love a brother or sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

1 John 4:7-21

Fear is no stranger to the human race collectively or individually. And often in history as well as in too many places today, and really to some extent understandably, everywhere. We can fear a whole host of things, and a nagging fear can grip us, causing us to lose sleep until its grip is gone for the time, or until the issue is resolved.

The fear spoken of in the passage is the fear of God’s judgment. And the setting is to place that concern within the context and reality of God’s love demonstrated in giving the Son, Jesus and all that is involved and follows from that.

At the heart of this within the passage is not only God’s love for us, but our love for God and for one another. The prevailing idea seems to be of God’s love, that love manifested, and we living in that love. When we do so, we realize that we should and therefore can give the lie to the bluff of fear. As the passage says, if we reach perfection in love, we will not fear. What might perfection in love mean?

It certainly doesn’t have anything to do with sinless perfection as this relatively short letter (1 John) makes clear. It is all about living in and in accordance with God’s love. There is certainly a mystical quality to that, as well as the intellectual and volitional. On the mystical side, we look for the sense and feeling of a love which casts out fear. Something which may make no sense in our own minds with our lack of understanding and many misunderstandings or wrong, even harmful lies we’ve somehow imbibed and accepted.

John’s writings are thematic on love and hate, light and darkness, truth and lies. If it’s not one we live in, then it’s the other, though often in our experience there seems to be some experience of both at the same time. But John seems to want us to learn to live solely in the experience, yes the experience of God’s love in contrast to the experience of fear. Fear can certainly be a wrong notion in our head about God or reality, but it is also certainly a lived-out experience.

Regardless of what we’re feeling, because we know we can’t live according to feelings, we’re to love one another, our neighbor, as part of living in the love God has for us and for them. In that way we can learn to call fear’s bluff, not just through an individual head knowledge, but through acting in faith in love for each other.

We know that because of God’s act of love in Christ that God’s love is active by the Spirit for the world, and manifestly among those who are believers in God’s word concerning Christ. This is not just an individual matter, but collective, the love of God meant for all of us to live in together.

God’s light, love and truth will break through all the darkness, hate, and lies. And we get to experience that love ourselves in communion with each other, as well as in expression of love for all. In and through Jesus.

above all: love

Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins.

1 Peter 4:8

Scripture, indeed Jesus tells us that there’s a good number of things we need to do, and not do. But both Scripture and Jesus in Scripture also tells us that love is to be paramount in it all. Love, love, and love some more.

This doesn’t mean we won’t have to take hard stands, and certainly doesn’t mean we’re called to make everyone happy. Love will do the difficult things, while hopefully being a kind of cushion for those who will be offended, if only they’re open to the truth inspired by such love.

Peter tells us to do this within the fellowship of believers, just as Jesus told his disciples to love one another, even as he had loved them, and that by such love the world would know that they are Jesus’s followers. We may not be very good at it. I don’t consider myself good at it. But we’re called to do it, just the same. We keep doing it, be it imperfect as it will be.

We’re to maintain such love as a constant. And that means we’ll have to look over quite a few things. Which of course includes people looking over things in ourselves as well. We should want to be held accountable, but it’s within a fellowship in which love is the measure, indeed the air we breathe. So we’ll be willing to look past many things we don’t like, and will pray about anything we might see as possibly more serious.

Love, love and more love. A love that never ends. That is what characterizes Christ, and what is to characterize the body of Christ, the church in this life. A love for all, and a family love for each other. In and through Jesus.

what does love look like?

…the fruit of the Spirit is love…

Galatians 5:22

Let all that you do be done in love.

1 Corinthians 16:14

For the follower and followers of Christ, the fruit of the Spirit is love. The special love of God in and through Jesus is given to us by the Spirit. That’s all good, but it has to be worked out where we live. And there’s something else key to keep in mind here.

Owe no one anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; you shall not murder; you shall not steal; you shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

Romans 13:8-10

Maybe a good question we can ask ourselves is something like this: What does love look like in this situation? Really in anything at all. What does love look like?

It doesn’t matter what other good we’re doing. It’s actually not good if love doesn’t accompany it, yes, if it’s not motivated by love (1 Corinthians 13). Love has to be down to earth. Love in the heart will work it’s way out. But often we don’t feel that love. But the Spirit of God in us followers of Christ will help us begin to know what to do, and just as important, what not to do.

Of course we’ll stumble along the way. We’ll catch ourselves falling back into our old ways, but hopefully before we violate love.

It’s good to keep in mind what the Biblical vision of active love is: To help the poor and the stranger, to care for the widow and the orphan. And in Jesus’s teaching it includes loving even our enemies. And loving each other.

I have to ask myself, is what I’m about to do an act of love or not? If I have any doubts at all, I shouldn’t do it. And the difficult matters that we have to deal with maybe have to be dealt in entirely different ways than we’ve done it in the past right up to the present times. Maybe we’re going to have to lean on God to help us find creative ways to deal with such problems in a way that at least is a sincere attempt to do it in love.

The love we’re talking about here is not the idea of “anything goes.” It’s instead God’s love that is for the true and highest good of all. It is love through and through. Regardless, whatever else people may think, if they consider our actions or words something other than love, than for the most part we’re going to have to stop dead in our tracks, take it all back, apologize, and start over. It’s better to be still and pray.

Love is active. Thoughts and prayers are not enough. Love must show up into the lives of others. Yes, in the hardest places where we don’t want to go, where our own thoughts and attitudes contradict this. Love must win there. The love that ultimately does win out for us all. In and through Jesus.