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.

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God’s salvation door is wide open

I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.

2 Corinthians 6:2b

There’s no question that it’s a difficult time to live, especially in some parts of the world.  Of course all of that is relative, depending on what you mean. But no matter which way you turn, there are tremendous difficulties and challenges. In many places it’s dangerous to be a Christian, but it’s interesting how in some of those very places the church is growing faster than in “the free world.” And there are the cultural sea changes, with the strong reactions against them. Terrorists groups in the name of religion, the steady spread and increase of Islam. Other world religions continuing their traditions.

And there’s the awful bloodletting that continues on earth. Abortion being one prime example. Nuclear weapons are still a threat, and all the more so in the hands of brutal dictatorships. And we can go on and on with the problems. God’s judgment in letting humans reap what they sow is indeed present. And yet Jesus came with a different message, a message for all. The good news in him is that all can be saved simply by believing in him and so receiving the gift of eternal life. Through his death for the forgiveness of our sins, and his resurrection for our new life in him.

Paul’s words above, of course God’s written word, is in harmony with John’s words in his gospel account:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

John 3:16-17

And Jesus says the same close to the time of his crucifixion and death:

…I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.

John 12:47b

While there’s plenty else going on in the world, and God is active, this seems to be the main point of the present: God’s salvation in Jesus is now offered, free to all.

And this is said by Peter to be precisely the reason the end is not yet coming, at least in part:

Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

2 Peter 3:3-13

God’s salvation door is now open wide. Hopefully through our prayers, and others seeing God’s salvation beginning in us, they too might walk through and join us. In and through Jesus.

 

 

living with our differences

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.

Colossians 3:15a

In the real world there are stark differences of opinion, and that includes the church. When we say church, we should include the entire church also, and not only our local assembly. How do we learn to live together with our differences?

The word translated “peace” hearkens back, when considering Scripture, to the shalom of God’s kingdom. It’s not just an absence of strife, though often that’s where we need to begin. It’s the presence of a love that includes everyone, and therefore accepts each person, regardless of their view on anything. And it’s a gospel kind of love, intent in all of us finding our way in Jesus. Together yes, but as individuals. We each have to find that for ourselves. But we live it out together as members of one body in Christ, the church.

I think that means that we need to side step what might harm that. And a large part of understanding what that might be would be to consider what Christ would be about in the world. We after all are members of Christ.

When it comes to issues on which we disagree, it’s best to err on the side of love. Drop whatever violates love. If there’s something important enough to work through, do so, but also agree to disagree, so that we’re willing to drop it. There’s actually more strength in not having the last word, than having it. But our heart should not be in winning an argument, but love: God’s love in Christ by the Spirit. We are taking the way of the cross, the way of Christ, if we are willing to look like the losers. And acknowledge when we are wrong. And pray.

“Let the peace of Christ rule.” That’s a watchword for us as individuals, especially important in our relationships with each other, in the church. In and through Jesus.

 

our struggle is not against people

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Ephesians 6:10-20

If there’s anyone who struggled with people besides our Lord, it was surely the Apostle Paul. When you read the account in Scripture, it’s remarkable what all he went through especially from his own people, but sometimes from others as well. His life, like our Lord had previously indicated, was marked with suffering. And Paul did warn people about certain characters who were resisting the gospel and its messengers.

But in Ephesians we read something that is remarkable in itself and yet given the message of Scripture and what is more and more revealed along the way is arguably not all that surprising. There are underlying spiritual entities at work both to resist us and resist our witness. They are active and at work in usually the most subtle ways, though sometimes not so subtle. C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters is a remarkable read that lifts the veil off what they’ve been doing the past few centuries right through to the present day, even with anticipation of what’s beyond. Without getting into that, which I’m not prepared to do anyhow, I want to insist that what Paul calls us to here is nothing short than living in the truth of the gospel, as we share that gospel as a witness to others.

What do we tend to do instead? We fall right into the enemy’s trap by doing something different. We might fight fire with fire. We might enter into the struggle as if it’s against other humans, perhaps a political or philosophical battle rather than a spiritual one. That doesn’t mean that something of philosophy or politics might not find its way into what is going on, though the gospel should always be front and center. The point is that we’re no less than in a spiritual battle, with the Holy Spirit at our side to help us through prayer and our attempt to do in the Lord’s strength, what God calls us to do here.

With these things in mind, we want to beware entering into the enemy’s turf by stooping to something less than what we’re called to do. Yes, there’s always grace for us in Christ, but that doesn’t mean we’re doing what’s best or most pleasing to the Lord. So we want to avoid insofar as possible partisan politics, like siding either against or for some particular politician or government official. This seems to be a major way in which the enemy is either tripping us up, or our witness. That said, we also need to be willing to take some controversial stands which will be considered political. The gospel is not just about one’s personal relationship with God and their salvation. It includes so much more, at the very least in its impact on all of life. If we fail to take that into account, then we’re not following Paul’s example or heeding what Scripture says. But we want to do so as those who are “as wise as serpents, yet harmless as doves.”

This really all begins with our own walk. We should not imagine that God has something “great” for us to do day after day. The great God wants done is that we see to ourselves, as the text above says, and pray. God will let us in on other things along the way, but it must always be first things first, the basics in place. We must seek to live in the strength and provision from God, realizing that we are in a battle, a spiritual one. In and through Jesus.

the moral fabric of society and the Christian witness

Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Philippians 2:14-16a; 4:8-9

Philippians is a great (short) book to read and meditate on. Interestingly, Philippi was a Roman military outpost, so at least in that respect, it was quite what we would call today, nationalistic. It surely had the normalcy of cities with city life and its own culture. Paul’s letter is written in that backdrop.

Fast-forward to today, and while we see stark differences, I think we can find more similarities than not. For Christians to live in a kind of exile on earth as ultimately citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20-21) had its precedent in Jeremiah 29 where the people of God were to settle down and live as witnesses of God, hopeful for the true good of the nation where they lived.

Paul’s words on what we’re to think on involve terms that were quite embedded in the culture of his day. What is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, yes- excellent or praiseworthy. Our thoughts are to be on such things. If we embrace politicians and systems that violate these ideals, are we really adhering to what Paul is getting at here? I would argue that we’re not.

Christians can advocate for the unborn, for the protection of minorities, etc., while not lining up with what is untruthful and ugly. We should never have any part in that, or at least hold it at arm’s length. Someone once told me something we all more or less take for granted: “Politics is dirty.” Okay. But that doesn’t mean Christians should get in that dirt, nor look the other way, thus unwittingly participating in it.

And that gets to Paul’s words quoted above, that we’re to conduct ourselves in keeping with being God’s children: in a manner, first with our tongues, in which we’re blameless and pure, without fault in a warped and crooked generation, as we hold on to the word of life: the gospel or good news of Christ, and Scripture in that context. That we’re to be witnesses of the light of the world, Jesus, and not dim the light we are in him is central to what Paul is getting at.

If we care about society, then we can’t accept something less than that. Our main concern by far is our witness, and being faithful to Christ. We hope and pray for the best in this world, and acknowledge its limitations, while pressing for better. And we realize that the one true life is found only in the church through the one good news in and through Jesus.

when our witness is more or less linked to an American (or any other) political identity (of this world)

At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”

He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Luke 13:31-35

There’s a crisis in my nation among evangelicals concerning our witness. And we have no clue, because we’re doing what we’ve always done, at least what I’ve witnessed my entire life. The same mistake Billy Graham made, and acknowledged as a mistake later. We’re taking sides politically, and I mean in terms of this world. We’re already in the one politic that will last forever, that of God’s kingdom and grace come in King Jesus. But that’s evidently not good enough for us, or not enough.

I believe we’re harming our witness. Consider this article in National Review, a conservative publication. It’s one thing to hold your nose and vote one way or another. It’s another thing to embrace any politician or party as our own. Yes, we are concerned about issues, with our different perspectives. And we want to pray for our leaders, for their governing, and for their own temporal and eternal good.

When people think of us they shouldn’t think about any political party or politician. They should think something like: “Oh, those are the people, or that’s a person who follows Jesus, whom they consider a king, bringing into this world a different life, which ultimately some day is to bring in nothing short of a new world order when he is supposed to return.” Instead, what do they think?

It’s not that we should be worrying about what the world thinks. It’s all about a concern for our witness, and what our Lord thinks. That must be our passion, and nothing else in comparison. In and through Jesus.

Let me add this belated statement. This is not a blanket condemnation or rejection of high profile evangelical leaders who have erred in my view. Not at all. Surely they have all done much good. But we’re to support accountability among ourselves in our churches and in the church at large, which I’m attempting to do here.

 

the Christian relation to the state within the politics of Jesus (now in the era of Obama/Trump)

[Jesus] replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’

Luke 13:32

I am amazed at how Christians where I live, in the United States line up with political parties and candidates. I’m not referring at all here to how one votes one way or another. Only how easily enamored or at enmity Christians can be toward political figures. We live in the era of Obama/Trump, and the polarization in the United States is probably greater than any time since the Civil War.

Sadly, I think we Christians are contributing to this mess. We ought to be those who speak truth to power. I personally liked Obama, but didn’t like all his policies, such as the use of drones. And I think what’s to be expected in a nation state is not at all the same as what is required in the church. Too often people conflate that, thinking somehow that America should be Christian through and through. But that’s never really been the case. While there’s been a strong Christian influence present, many other factors figure into the United States right from its outset, not the least of which is the Modernist Enlightenment.

I think white nationalism awakened when Obama was elected, and continues to grow in influence during the time of Trump. Just judged on Trump’s words alone, he is narcissist to a strong degree. It always seems all about him and loyalty to him. If you’re concerned for the good of the United States and what it’s supposed to stand for, you ought to go back and study George Washington, then compare that to Donald Trump. I can understand why Christians vote for Trump based on policy while disliking much that is evident in his character. After all, it’s not like other politicians haven’t had serious faults. But it’s another matter when Christians defend Trump and his character, seeing him as a great champion who they defend, glossing over his faults with excuses, or simply seemingly ignoring them altogether. I like Roger Olson’s point (see link later) that since he’s a “fallibilist,” he may be altogether mistaken, that his similar view of Trump (along with many others) may be mistaken, though he doesn’t think so. I will add that we need to pray for Trump and all in positions of government authority, and hope for the better.

As Christians we should not be in lock step with any politician or political party. We are of one Lord: Jesus, and thus to be committed to one political party only: that of God’s kingdom come and now present in Jesus. That politics should impact how we see the politics of the world. And when it does, Christians should be wary of any party, and never defend everything any one politician says or thinks.

Where are our core commitments? I am for the United States, really for all nations, but particularly for the US of which I’m a citizen. But my complete loyalty is only to our Lord Jesus, and God’s kingdom in him. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be a good citizen of the United States. It only means that my earthly citizenship is transcended by my heavenly citizenship which therefore impacts how I think about all of life, including the politics down here.

God’s kingdom in Jesus is now present in the church, and awaits it’s full unveiling and rule when heaven and earth become one at Christ’s return. Until then as those in Christ we’re called to be humbly faithful as witnesses to the one good news in Jesus. And seeing everything else in light of that. In and through Jesus.

(A number of theologians have influenced me over the years. Roger Olson’s recent post is probably echoed here more than I might realize. I never write meaning to state something as if it originated from me when it didn’t. And to the extent I’ve ever unwittingly done that in past years I’m genuinely repentant and want to be more careful while at the same time recognizing I only write what I truly believe, my own convictions even if under the direct influence of someone else. David C. Cramer’s recent post as well which is echoed at least in the Scripture passage, another scholar whose work I consider valuable. Add to that the recent talk I heard from Khary Bridgewater which influenced this post.

I’m reluctant to get into politics at all, and I don’t care to get into partisan politics. I believe partisan politics should never become a priority with believers. We can talk about issues and often agree to disagree. What has to remain central to us is our calling to live in and be witnesses to God’s good news in Jesus.)