keep pressing forward no matter what

My soul clings to the dust;
revive me according to your word.
When I told of my ways, you answered me;
teach me your statutes.
Make me understand the way of your precepts,
and I will meditate on your wondrous works.
My soul melts away for sorrow;
strengthen me according to your word.
Put false ways far from me,
and graciously teach me your law.
I have chosen the way of faithfulness;
I set your ordinances before me.
I cling to your decrees, O LORD;
let me not be put to shame.
I run the way of your commandments,
for you enlarge my understanding.

Psalm 119:25-32

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day here in the United States. Martin Luther King Jr. seems to be celebrated across the board nowadays, though I’m sure that if he were still present, some would at best only grant him a grudging respect. Some of the same elements that he and the Civil Rights Movement were up against, have come to the fore today, saying and standing for some of the very same things which he was challenging. King was committed to nonviolent resistance to evil, always in love for enemies, grounded in the promise of shalom in the gospel of Christ.

Part of King’s story was the need to go on no matter what, whatever pressures were being faced internally or externally. This is something of the same lesson I have to keep going through, of course in my case, in much lesser matters. I find that I have to just keep pushing through, going through by faith. And one of the most important aspects for me to remember is to simply accept the heaviness, fear, whatever it may be I’m experiencing, and keep going through in faith.

If I resist those negative experiences, as a friend reminded me this morning, I’m resisting it in the power of the flesh which will get me nowhere. If I’m getting nowhere over time, that’s a sure sign that I’m going about it wrong. But going on in the Spirit, means I accept whatever I’m experiencing, that being a part of trusting God instead of thinking that somehow it’s up to me to get rid of it. At least this is something which has worked for me over and over. Though it seems like I still have to be reminded the hard way.

Martin Luther King Jr. was able to be triumphant through it all, because he did not try to escape reality, but was willing under the leadership of the Spirit, to confront it head on, along with others. Part of what Christ calls all of his followers to.

what is a Christian to do in the face of evil?

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them…. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says the Lord.” Instead, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink, for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:14, 17-21

Sometimes Paul gets a hard rap, understandably so given some of the interpretations of Paul, and perhaps the writings themselves. But when it comes to living a cross-formed life as followers of Christ, Paul along with the rest of the New Testament is on track with the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Those accounts were written after Paul’s letters and most of the rest of the New Testament, but the tradition following Jesus was in agreement about certain basic things.

One of them is just how followers of Christ face evil. As a follower of Christ, it’s not hard to understand what one is to do and not do. You love your enemies, pray for them, do good to them, you don’t resist them physically. And if you take the account of Jesus literally, and what follows, you don’t even defend yourself physically. In other words, you don’t own a gun for the sake of stopping someone breaking into your house, or even attacking you or your family. If you take the account of Jesus, his words and what follows as is.

One of the greatest scandals of the faith have been Christians abandoning the way of Christ in service of the state. If you read what follows the scripture quoted above (click the link), you’ll find Paul’s words on the state, at least on the best one can understand of the state, meaning of course, government. But in this passage there’s not a hint that the follower of Christ should or even can participate in “the sword” which the state wields. The follower of Christ can and if we accept Paul’s example should accept the benefits of citizenship in a nation-state. Proper submission to the state is also required, which includes submission to punishment for necessary civil disobedience when government mandates are contrary to God’s will. The proper relationship of the follower of Christ to the state is complicated if you consider the whole, but in relation to “the sword,” or violence wielded by the state, it is straightforward. The follower of Christ is to have no part in that.

Following Christ, we appeal to the authorities and do the best we can to live at peace with them as we carry on as “living sacrifices” (Romans 12:1-2). We don’t aspire to martyrdom, but if need be, will face that as well, honoring those who are martyrs as a witness of their faith.

This is part of the heart of our witness as followers of Christ.

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.

the way of violence is never the way of Christ

Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and arrested him. Suddenly one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it, and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place, for all who take the sword will die by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled, which say it must happen in this way?”

Matthew 26:50b-54

People look at this passage and attribute the nonviolence of Christ solely to the truth that scripture had to be fulfilled, and therefore that Christ had to suffer and die. That is true. But any reading of the gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John will tip us off to this: The way of violence is never the way of Christ.

I believe it’s a misreading of scripture to believe that violence is in God’s plan, that somehow God can express God’s love only through inflicting violence on something or someone. And for too many the heart of the gospel is something like this: God pours out God’s wrath on the Son at the cross, and therefore no longer has to pour out wrath on sinners, but can now forgive them, as long as they repent and believe. That is to some degree an understandable misreading and misunderstanding of scripture, but tragic, nonetheless.

Instead on the cross God is in Christ reconciling the world to God’s self, not counting people’s sins against them. And how did God do that? Through breaking the cycle of violence on the cross. Instead of God retaliating against the violence inflicted on God’s self on the cross in the person of Christ, God simply forgives all through that act, and takes all of creation into the baptism of death and through that into the resurrection of new life in the new creation in Christ.

This way of Christ is not only about salvation, but about all of life. We follow Christ by loving all, including our enemies. We never resist physically, never. But we do resist evil in a different way, in the way of the gospel, by good works, by proclaiming Christ’s victory to the oppressed, binding up the brokenhearted, releasing captives (Isaiah 61:1; Luke 4:18), setting ourselves in the way of Christ out of love for God and for our neighbor which includes everyone, even our enemies.

for followers of Christ no force of any kind, but only love

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Ephesians 5:1-2

I beseech and admonish you in love, but it behooves me not to force you, even if I could do so.

Menno Simons: CWMS, 452

Obviously for all who are part of the Anabaptist stream from Menno Simons, all physical violence is renounced as part of following Christ together and individually as his disciples. What can too easily be forgotten or even ignored and rationalized is any other kind of coercive action.

We might draw a strict line which we would never cross, against physical force of any kind with maybe the exception of a nonlethal stopping of some attacker. Yet at the same time we might engage in attitudes and actions which are somehow forceful, perhaps manipulative, seeking to let others know often in nonverbal ways and sometimes even verbally that they need to change.

But as scripture informs us and specifically all scripture giving us Christ and his example and teachings and all that follows, and as Menno reminds us, in the face of wrongdoing we’re to do one thing and one thing only: love.

That love will take on different actions. For most of us it will be silence and prayers and seeking to do good to the person. For a few it will be a kind listening, asking questions, and trying to help someone see the error of their way.

Unfortunately, even for the best of us it’s all too easy to throw our hands in the air in frustration and/or disgust and have attitudes that whether shown in actions or not, are clearly felt in spirit by those around us. We can read each other and people us far more than we often realize.

So the bottom line is that we love and keep loving regardless. We have to leave the outcome of everything to God, remembering that we too are in need given of patience, grace, even correction, and sometimes forgiveness given our own imperfections.

Never force of any kind. Only love. In and through Jesus.

reading the Bible through the revelation of Jesus

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[a] But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

Matthew 5:38-42

One of the problems Jesus followers have is Jesus’s fulfillment of the Old Testament. It’s not really a problem in itself, but it should end up impacting how we read the Old Testament, indeed how we read the entire Bible. If Jesus conquers in the way portrayed in the Old Testament, blasting his enemies, then that holds good today. We can justify such actions, and even try to Christianize them, put the name of Jesus somehow on them. But if Jesus’s way is the way of the cross involving loving our enemies, praying for them, and doing good to them, then we realize it just doesn’t work to engage in what is called a flat reading of the text, that is to think we can literally apply the Old Testament just the way it’s read. If Jesus didn’t, then as followers of Jesus, we shouldn’t do so either.

the war we’re in, the Christian and violence

There is the “culture war.” And we know of actual wars, right now honoring the last of the veterans of World War II. What about the Christian? What warfare can or even should we be part of?

Jesus taught the way of the cross, that we’re to love our enemies and pray for them, that we’re to bless those who curse us, and when struck, turn the other cheek, as well as go the extra mile. There’s no question that Jesus resolutely refused all physical warfare. The Messianic way fulfilled in him would not become embroiled either in the world’s wars, or in physical warfare at all.

2 Corinthians 10:3-5 and Ephesians 6:10-20 are the two passages which come to mind when speaking of spiritual warfare. One also thinks of Daniel’s praying, and the angelic and spiritual forces behind the scenes as he did. For the Christian the gospel meaning good news in Jesus is the armor and weapon we’re to use  in God’s mighty power to resist the enemy. And particularly for those called to proclaim, but for all of us as witnesses, we do indeed have authority in Christ to share the life changing word, above all in how we live, in word and deed. And this must be a part of what we’re about as Christians, regardless of anything else, certainly including all who serve in the state.

I know devout Christians have served in the military and police force. Of course that in itself does not prove the legitimacy of such. I was raised in a denomination that teaches Christians should not participate in such. And I am empathetic to that position, and to this day read a portion of the Sermon on the Mount (or the Sermon on the Plain) as part of my daily Bible reading.

One needs to step back and consider war in general, the just war theory proposed by Christians, actually derived from another thinker. And the evil in the world. It is said that peaceful efforts which refuse any violence actually change the tide, whereas using physical force only keeps the chain going of retaliation going, essentially taking vengeance when God tells us that we’re to leave that in his hands. And directly contradicting our Lord’s words when he said that an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is not what we’re to live by, but rather, love for our enemies.

There’s no question that we should love our enemies, and that we should be willing to give up our lives for Christ and the gospel. And that should be our heart and soul, that we love in the way of Jesus, even doing so in a way that might cost us our lives.

That said, my own position now is that as a last resort when there’s simply no other alternative, Christians can use weapons within the role of the state. I say this sadly, remembering the worthy witness and position of Martin Luther King, Jr. and believing that such a witness is not only needed, but indeed called for in the way of Christ and against evil. There’s no question that he faced death both as a threat to himself and his family. And of course in the end was assassinated.

For me it’s an open question with no answer which completely satisfies. But I have to side with Miroslav Volf, insofar as I actually understand his position, that given the brutal, incorrigible evil present in the world, which as a matter of course kills and rapes and brutalizes, that there is a place for force. And that such measures lie with the state (Romans 13), not that there’s a given outline of what the form of government is to be in Scripture. There isn’t.

For me there’s no easy answer to either defend Christians ever using violence as part of the state, or never using such under any circumstances. I just don’t know.

My position now is that we’re to take the way of the cross in following Jesus. That just like the Amish have received protection with thankfulness, we too can receive such from the state. And that we can serve in such positions in the state. But always with the hope to resolve all matters and conflicts peacefully, or with as minimal force as possible. And that where need be, we can and should conscientiously object when what the government is ordering us to do is unjust.

Above all, and always, we need to be those who are marked as belonging to Jesus, taking the way of the cross. That even if we do participate in the force of the state, that we do so with the same gentleness and meekness, that of the Lamb. Realizing that we’re in a broken existence within the already/not yet continuum when peace won’t occur until the Prince of Peace returns. In and through Jesus.

following the way of Christ in suffering?

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

“He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth.”

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.

1 Peter 2

I’m not sure this is in our Bibles. Well it is, but it seems to not make much headway into our teaching, and even less into our lives, I’m afraid. Yes, the Spirit is at work in our lives to help us become meek as the Lamb. And I’m not attempting to address the question of whether Christians can participate in the military or police force. I may have my own view on that, and I am empathetic with having to use restrained force as only a last resort against evil. But back to the question: Why has this teaching not only in the Sermon on the Mount, but all throughout the New Testament not made much headway into our hearts and lives, into the church? Or am I mistaken?

I’m not trying to share my limited observations and opinions on this. This blog post does come in part from that, but mainly from scripture, and is really based on scripture. We shouldn’t care what we think or anyone else thinks in comparison to what scripture says.

It is a growing concern for me. It seems like this teaching is either off the table, or not on it. I have hope for good Bible teaching churches like the one we’re a part of, that even though they are not in the pacifist tradition, they will take such passages from scripture seriously. But in doing so, we must beware of giving them “short shrift.”

I’m afraid culture, and an interpretation of history have penetrated our thoughts, into our hearts and lives far more than the words and life of Jesus and the apostles on this subject.

I write few posts anymore which might be considered rants. This is one expressing concern with questions. Any thoughts from a reader out there? Why is Jesus’s teaching along with the apostles on this not (more of) a staple in our understanding of the faith?

nonviolent love

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[i] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5

One of the great legacies of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is his call for nonviolent love. They practiced that amidst all the hate they encountered. They practiced a soul force as it was called, and regularly engaged in prayer and acted in love in the face of violence and hate. And in so doing, they followed the way of our Lord, who prayed for his enemies when he was nailed to the cross.

Do we know what it is to love in the face of evil? Like Dr. King said, it’s not an affectionate love, but rather a principled agape love, the love of God which is committed to the good of the enemy, for their redemption as one of God’s own into the family. So that they might become friends, and brothers and sisters.

Regardless of what anyone thinks about this, it’s true: we can utterly hate the deeds of someone, yet love that person. There is always hope in God, that somehow that person will come to repentance and faith and be delivered from their own evil through Jesus. But it’s not easy. Grace helps us, but doesn’t make the difficult places a cakewalk. But the same love from God which puts up with us, we’re to extend to others, to everyone, yes to our enemies. Following Jesus, in and through him.

 

a true undermining of the violence of our day

David E. Fitch originally tweeted this I think, and Facebooked it as well:

Anabaptists see violence in war/guns and urge resistance. I see it in the antagonisms of ideology and urge discernment in how we participate.

Along with this post: To Pastors Everywhere: Let’s Discern the Antagonisms.

This reminds me of the end of James 3:

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

Given today’s violence and accompanying violent rhetoric, it’s important as followers of Jesus to be known not only for our stand against all physical violence, but that we are not a people given to violence in any form. That doesn’t mean for a moment that we don’t speak up on issues or fail to proclaim the gospel. It does mean that we do so at appropriate times, and that we choose what to speak on and what to let go. And when we do speak to do so with a listening ear and a gentle, yet firm voice.

This requires a wisdom beyond us. A wisdom that results in peacemaking. But a peace in terms of the gospel. So that at certain junctures there may even be the need for civil disobedience. But that by and large we would be known for the alternative society we’re to be in Jesus, which includes an entirely different ethic in regard to our speech. Refusing to engage in a war of words, even while at times speaking truth to power, and majoring on the truth of the gospel.