The following is a response about the question of Christian non-violence posed by friends at Beyond the Box.
Wow! There have been so many comments since I last said anything. I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to get back with you guys. First off, let me say that I really appreciate each of you and your tone throughout not only this conversation, but all of them! I love this community and I am so thankful to have people like you guys to talk these things through with.
There have been so many things said and questions asked that I don’t think I can address them all right now, but let me lay out a few points hopefully in an effort to clarify where I (and I think Steve) am coming from. Once again, please hear my tone here. My words here are not meant to “call anyone out” or “correct” anyone. I definitely don’t claim to have everything figured out. I simply want to be clear about WHAT I am saying and WHY I am saying it. Hopefully you guys can hear my heart here…
One of the first things that strikes me in this whole conversation is that there seems to be a disconnect between the material and spiritual realms. Let me explain. I think that Gnosticism has been and remains one of the greatest threats to the Body of Christ. Early Gnosticism clearly rejected the fusion of God and man in the person of Jesus. They could not believe that God could be united with something as evil as the material world. The Church has rejected this idea for almost 2000 years (in word anyway). I think one of the potential pitfalls of the Reformation (and simultaneously the Enlightenment) was a focus on the individual as opposed to society. Descartes’ “I think therefore I am” became for the Great Awakening “Jesus is my PERSONAL Savior”. Instead of seeing Jesus redemption as a shift in society at large (a new creation), Protestants began focusing on the salvation of individuals. This has been true on some level since Augustine’s “Just War Theory” (allowing one to love enemies while killing them), but I believe that it has possibly run amuck since the Reformation.
What does all of this have to do with anything? Well, I think when we talk about the ability to love one’s enemies, while (or after) shooting them, we are dipping a bit into Gnosticism and once again trying to separate the spiritual and material realms. The problem is we can’t do this without doing violence (pun intended) :) to both the Scriptures and Jesus Himself. I think that Jesus made it pretty clear that you can’t call Him “Lord” without doing the things He says. James also talks about faith and works as being two intertwined realities.
So the real question here becomes: “What did Jesus say?”. To answer this we have to appeal to more than our own experience, practicality, or common sense. Jesus not only gave the Sermon on the Mount, He LIVED it. It would be meaningless for Jesus to teach one thing and then live out a different reality. Jesus WORDS and ACTIONS were consistent and coherent. This means that we can actually discern from Jesus life what His teachings meant.
Shane, when you say that Jesus did not turn the other cheek before the Chief Priest, I have to disagree. Walter Wink explains, that in the culture of first century Palestine, a master would strike a slave with the back of his hand. This was his way of saying “You are beneath me; so much so that I will not even hit you as an equal.” Two men on equal footing would have struck each other with the front of the hand. By turning the other cheek, Jesus is telling His followers to subvert the cultural norm and “fight back” so to speak; only not with violence, but with service, love, and an alternative vision for the world. Jesus DID turn the other cheek. The fact that He said “I could call twelve legions of angels to deliver Me”, and yet didn’t, should mean something. Jesus, the most innocent of all victims refused to defend Himself using violence and instead entrusted Himself to the Father’s care in the midst of the greatest crime (deicide) in the history of humanity! Did He turn the other cheek? Absolutely! Did this mean that He was PASSIVE? Absolutely not!
Pacifism and passivity ARE NOT THE SAME THING! Passivity refuses to get involved in a dangerous situation. Christian love and peace-making refuses NOT TO GET INVOLVED. It’s not that I should stand idly by why helpless persons are being threatened. Rather, I should willfully stand between those who are victimized and their perpetrator. The difference between what I am saying and what you guys are advocating is that I don’t believe we are given space to fight violence with violence. Throughout the prophets the LORD continually reprimands Israel for seeking fleshly defense from enemies. “Some may trust in horses, some may trust in chariots, but we will trust in the name of the LORD our God”. (Psalm 20:7) He continually tells them that HE wants to be their Rock and Defense, but they do not trust and instead run to Egypt, etc. for help. Some may trust in Smith, others may trust in Wesson, but we will trust in the name of the LORD our God. :)
Here is the crux of the matter for me: I don’t believe that Jesus came only to “save our souls” or deliver us into heaven.
Throughout the prophets we are given promises and imagery from the coming Messianic kingdom. Isaiah, Joel, and Micah all talk about swords being “beat into plowshares” and spears being transformed into “pruning hooks”. When will this happen? During the Messianic age, right? I think we all agree that the fulfillment of God’s Kingdom will result in world-wide peace and an end to violence. “They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:9) When will destruction end? When God’s kingdom comes in fullness, right?
For me this is the heart of where I think some of the confusion comes from surrounding non-violence. Most Christians see God’s Kingdom and the Messianic Age as a future promise yet to be fulfilled. Yet, Jesus comes proclaiming “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven IS HERE”. Jesus says, “The Kingdom of God doesn’t come with observance. The Kingdom of God IS WITHIN YOU”. So, for the believer, when is the Kingdom of God coming? NOW. When will the Messianic Age arrive? NOW.
Paul says that we are RIGHT NOW “ambassadors” for Christ. “Ambassador” is a very political word. It means that we live our lives under the domain of another nation while we are in the midst of a foreign land. It means that we play by different rules—the rules of our homeland. I think this is what Peter meant when he said that we are “foreigners and exiles” in this world. Paul said that “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20). Again, citizenship is a very political word and this is a very political statement. The very phrase “Jesus is LORD” is a political statement. How so? Because for the early Christians to confess that Jesus is LORD meant that they were in the same breath confessing that Caesar ISN’T. With this confession came the idea that Caesar’s ways were not necessarily divinely sanctioned or inspired.
Much of early Christian terminology came straight from the heart of the Roman Empire. The word “Gospel” was taken from the heart of the empire. The “gospel” of Caesar was the “Pax Romana” –the “Peace of Rome”. How did Rome bring peace? By striking its enemies into submission until there were no more enemies to strike down, thus bringing peace. But Jesus said “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.” Jesus is saying “I don’t give you peace like the world gives it. My peace looks different.” The confession of Jesus as LORD meant that one ceased trusting in Caesar and his “good news” to set the world straight, and instead trusted in the counter-intuitive wisdom of Jesus; the wisdom of the Cross which is foolishness to the natural (practical) man.
So if the kingdom of God is NOW and HERE among us (believers), why do we continue to live as if nothing has yet changed? If Jesus is LORD NOW, and the Kingdom is HERE already, it would seem to me that we should act like it and demonstrate to the world what the fullness of this Kingdom will one day look like. We are the foretaste to the world of the coming Kingdom. We are the first-fruits of the new creation!
Chris, I actually DO believe that verses 38-42 are just as literal as the rest of the Sermon on the Mount. Is it practical? No. Did Jesus and the early disciples live this way? I think so. For starters, Jesus and His disciples seem to have had a community purse. It seems like Judas was their “treasurer” and responsible for the money that came into the community of disciples. However, this didn’t stop with Jesus. Acts 2:44-45 says “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” Here’s one that’s even more pointed: “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. “ (Acts 4:32-35) Whew! As a middle-class, consumerist, capitalist this kicks me in the teeth! I don’t think that Jesus or the early disciples would be tame enough for suburbia. Am I living this reality out? Not as much as I want to. But, with the help of the Holy Spirit I am learning…
To sum up, I think that we have been so affected by our westernized mind-set that we tame the words of the New Testament by internalizing them and making them about either an “inner” reality or something to look forward to when we die. This allows us to act differently in the material world than the beliefs or ideals that we profess.
So back to the initial question: What would you do if someone attacked your loved one? Actually I think there are a lot of possible options, but since I don’t live in the hypothetical future I am limited in the ability to give you point-blank (there’s another pun!) answers. Hypothetical situations are always set up by the questioner to maximize the potential for evil. (That is, it’s always the worst of all scenarios: ie. The questioner asks, “If you had a gun would you shoot the perpetrator?” I ask, “Am I a good shot?” “Yes” comes the reply. “Then I would shoot the gun right out of the perpetrators hand!” “No, you’re not THAT good of a shot!”…Do you see where I am going here?) I would rather focus on maximizing the potential for God’s love in ANY situation. (I am not trying to cop-out here—just speaking from my heart). I don’t think the choice in the future matters near as much as the choice I make right now. Will I make the decision to believe what Jesus says (even when it contradicts all of my logic), and thus be prepared for handling a future situation like the one you describe? I can’t tell you what I would do in that situation, but I can tell you what I HOPE I would do. I hope I would trust the Father to deliver me and my family by giving me a word or action in season, or by giving me the grace to witness to His love no matter the outcome knowing that death has no sting and that resurrection is my assured reality. Does this sound insane? Maybe. Do I believe its faithful to my confession of Jesus as LORD? Yes.
I know that you guys say that you see non-violence as a side issue that can distract from Jesus. I love you brothers, but I completely disagree. How can Jesus words distract from His person? Again, I think this is a case of separating the material and spiritual realm. I don’t need you guys to agree with me to love you or to be friends (I’m gonna do that anyway;)), but I genuinely believe that this is a vital part of the Gospel itself. I don’t see the Gospel as only a “spiritual” issue anymore. I believe that the Gospel is actually an alternative vision for God’s world that is to be proclaimed by word and deed through Jesus followers until the day when it is established in all its fullness.
Whew! Sorry for the LOONNNGGG reply. I just wanted to help you guys hear where I am coming from. I hope this help! I love you all!!!