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?

given the violence in the world, what is a church/a Christian to do?

It is a short jump from accepting full participation of a Christian in a state/government function, specifically in bearing the short sword, or today, weaponry as in guns from Romans 13 (which does not ascribe that function to Christians, but in part, for Christians), to advocating protection with guns in both public and private places, such as at church, and at home. I can see that such logic is hardly a stretch at all.

The only problem is Romans 13 and its context (the end of Romans 12). And more than that, but better put, along with it, our Lord’s teaching and example carried to its climax in the gospel accounts at the cross, by his death on the cross. Particularly Matthew 5 puts in question, and at last gives the lie, I think, to the supposed right, or option for a Christian to bear arms for self-defense at all, a truly radical position, but one that is in step with our Lord.

And so there are churches which are training people for security,some with weapons in hand, ready to stop any would be assailant. And there are Christians who have a gun loaded and ready to retrieve and possibly fire at any unwelcomed intruder.

There is no question that the state is in place according to Romans 13 in significant part to protect its citizenry, and specifically in the passage, for the good of God’s people. But in the way of Jesus there is no place for guns and their use against other humans. If a Christian can serve in the role of the state, then in that sphere there surely is a time and place to use weaponry as a last resort. I don’t see scripture opening up that door, but if it does, it would be relegated to that. For us in Jesus, there is only one way, the way of the cross, the way of death and resurrection, which alone is a witness to Jesus and the gospel. Taking up guns for the possibility of self-defense and even protection of others in a worst case scenario, even if never used at all is a compromise, and a tacit denial of the gospel.

We are not only to proclaim the gospel as the church, but to live it out as witnesses, through and through. By what we do and refuse to do, we either witness to it, or we don’t, in fact, we may very well be denying it. If you question this, begin to read through the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Read beyond that, the rest of the New/Final Testament, and see whether or not this is true. A straightforward reading of it, I think will at least put into question our dependence on guns.

the broken human penchant for violence

First of all, it is not human to be violent. We would say not humane, at least as a rule we would believe that, but we live in both a violent world and society. Check out our movies, which are full of violence. And how about the video games, known for that? And the church used to make soldiers who came back from the war do penance, since such an undertaking was considered inherently sinful.

This was one of the key reasons for God’s judgment in the time of Noah, “the earth [was] filled with violence because of them” (Genesis 6). God was going to put an end to violence by bringing judgment. This reminds me of how the story ends in the book of the Revelation. God brings judgment to clean up the mess: the violence and the evil, and finally bring in a salvation of justice and peace, the shalom of the kingdom of God in and through King Jesus, one in which the good will of the Triune God will hold full sway.

Jesus took the full violence of sinful humanity upon himself at the cross to do away with human violence once and for all. That doesn’t mean that the state/government existent today can’t use violence when need be to restrain evil (Romans 13), although that should be a limited, last resort option, and the language in Romans suggests a police kind of presence, and not a military one. It certainly is risky in a society where too many people think shoot first and ask questions later.

For the follower of Jesus, we in him are to reflect the way of Jesus, the way of the cross, loving our enemies, turning the other cheek when struck, refusing to answer fire with fire. Instead we are to break the chain of violence in and through Jesus, by showing love to our enemies, even if we end up losing our lives in the process. It’s not like we don’t look for creative ways to deal with the violence, and those who are violent, nor that we don’t try to preserve our lives, and most certainly the lives of our loved ones and neighbors. We certainly do. But it’s even more important never to return evil with evil, which for us in Jesus means we don’t threaten violence over those who might be threatening violence on us.

Not an easy road, but the way of Jesus. People have taken that road publicly, such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and others. We need to show the world the better way, in and through Jesus, and his cross. The way of death and resurrection. The way of peace in the good will of God’s grace and kingdom in Jesus.

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.

Miroslav Volf on violence done with the false backing of faith, and its cure

At least when it comes to Christianity, the cure against religiously induced or legitimized violence is not less religion, but, in a carefully qualified sense, more religion. What I mean is this: Strip religious commitments of all cognitive and moral content and reduce faith to a cultural resource endowed with a diffuse aura of the sacred, and you are likely to get religiously inspired or legitimized violence. Nurture people in the tradition and educate them about it, and if you get militants, they will be militants for peace.

Karl Barth offers good guidance on what to do in the face of the undeniable misuse of the Christian faith to foster violence. First, we need an unflinching critique of Christianity. It deserves critique and it can withstand critique. Attempts at damage control by theological spin doctors and ecclesiastical document shredders are not only counterproductive but also deeply offensive to the spirit of the very faith being defended. Second, we need authentic and imaginative retrieval of the faith. Barth’s critique of Christianity as religion was in the service of rediscovering Christianity as a living faith. Ultimately, it will take such living and embodied Christian faith to show that love and not terror is on the mind of its God.

Miroslav Volf, Against the Tide: Love in a Time of Petty Dreams and Persisting Enmities, 159-160.