Tuesday, June 19, 2012

What Would You Do If...Pruning Hooks & Plowshares

It's been along time between posts here...

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!!!

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Good Books from 2009

I thought that I would share with you some of the books that have been speaking to me over the last year. So without further adieu...

Mere Discipleship

This might be the best book I read all year (and maybe top ten all-time). Lee Camp points us to the fact that discipleship is not something that simply consists of reading your Bible, praying, etc. Rather, discipleship is a radical stance of nonviolent resistance that believers take toward a world lost in rebellion. With a large emphasis on the nonviolent nature of the Kingdom, Mr. Camp talks about Christian discipleship as a life of revealing God's coming Kingdom in the now. Mr. Camp studied under John Howard Yoder at the University of Notre Dame. This book is sort of an overview and expansion of John Howard Yoder's teachings. After reading this book I have bought a copy of The Politics of Jesus by Mr. Yoder that I intend to read in the new year. I believe that Mere Discipleship is a must read.

Jesus for President

This is probably the most enjoyable read I had all year. The layout of this book is an artistic creation in itself. Shane Claiborne & Chris Haw speak in this book of the radical subversive nature of the Kingdom. Once again with a large chunk of the book dedicated to understanding the call of Jesus to a life of nonviolence, the authors talk about the Kingdom of God's upside down nature when compared to the empires of our world. One of the things I appreciate so much about Shane is his radical life that demonstrates the message he shares. There are some radical examples of Kingdom living shared in this book and I believe that it does well to shake us into seeing just how topsy-turvy God's Kingdom really is...or is it this fallen world which is topsy-turvy...Hmmm. I loved this book and recommend it highly.

The Myth of a Christian Religion

If you have discussed theology with me in the last year, you probably have heard me mention Greg Boyd's name. I love Greg Boyd's take on things. His book The Myth of a Christian Nation is one of my favorite books of all time. It was the first book that I read that really addressed the call of Jesus to nonviolence. Well as a sequel to that book, this one doesn't disappoint. In this book Mr. Boyd talks about how, as believers, we are called to rebel against all of the things in this world which are not in line with God's Kingdom. For example, we rebel against greed by sharing with those in need. We rebel against racism by viewing people of all ethnicities as fellow members of God's House. We rebel against a world of violence by choosing intentionally to love our enemies. This is a great book on understanding what our true spiritual warfare is to look like. We don't fight people; instead we fight systems and corruption that hurts those for whom Jesus died.

The Divine Commodity

This is an eye-opening book about how our consumer culture has conditioned us both in our day to day lives and our faith. Mr. Jethani uses the life of Vincent VanGogh and his art to teach about faith as uncluttered from greed. He shows how not only our individual lives have been negatively impacted by consumerism, but also how the Western Church as a whole has bought into the lie of bigger is better. This book should be required reading for any believer living in the western hemisphere. The chapter that talks about Christmas is worth reading the whole book for.

What Would You Do?

This is the first John Howard Yoder book that I have read. Mr. Yoder was a Mennonite theologian who is best known for his teachings on Jesus' call to nonviolence. In this book Mr. Yoder attempts to answer the hypothetical question that is often asked of pacifists "What would you do if someone were to attack you, your spouse, or your children?" This book is broken up into three parts. In the first Mr. Yoder makes his case for why one should respond to such a situation in a nonviolent way. In the second section he uses the writings of others (everyone from Joan Baez to Leo Tolstoy) to show the rationality of a nonviolent response especially for those who believe in Jesus. The last section of the book is composed of 10 retellings of actual situations where someone who was threatened responded in a nonviolent way. This is a great book for those who are interested in Christian nonviolence or pacifism.

Well, this helps me to remember some of the books that have impacted me over the last year. Hopefully you will be ministered to by some of these as well. Some of the books on my list to read are: The Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder, ReJesus by Michael Frost & Alan Hirsch, The Subversion of Christianity by Jacques Ellul, and The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. What are some books that God is using in your life?

Friday, June 05, 2009

Quotes and Thoughts Being Used to Shape Me

Well, as you can see I don't tend to use this blog near as much as I once did. Maybe that is about to change though. For a while now I have thought about heading in a new direction (if only temporary) with this blog. Instead of just discussing topics that are running through my mind (which I am sure to continue to do), I would like to bring you quotes that have or are stimulating me. Many of these quotes are thoughts that I continue to wrestle with. Usually these will be quotes that, I believe, are being used by the Spirit to shape me. I'm not exactly sure how this is going to work. With some of these quotes I will probably give my own commentary and others I will simply leave alone. So here goes with quote no. NumBer # 1 oNe:

"In the kingdom of God, we descend into greatness."*
To me, this means that the Kingdom of God seems to be isradically different than any of the kingdoms that this world has ever seen. In this kingdom the King doesn't rule with a sword or an iron fist. Instead, Jesus rules with a towel and self-sacrificial love. To be a citizen of this Kingdom means that we imitate His example. Instead of trying to seek power over people through legislation or coercive influence, we come under them and serve them, living before them and for them the change that we want to see in them.

What does this quote mean to you?

*(Shane Claiborne & Chris Haw, Jesus for President(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 123.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Resurrection Response (Continued Discussion About the Resurrection of Jesus)

Wow, it's been a long time since I used the blog! My comments were getting kinda long, so I decided to blow the dust off and post my thoughts here. These are my thoughts related to a response by sidfaiwu on his blog regarding a recent episode Steve Sensenig and I recorded over at our podcast, Beyond the Box. I would recommend that you listen to the episode before reading all of the dialog that has happened since.

Hi Sid! I have really enjoyed following the conversation on your blog. I hope that this lengthy post can give you more of an idea of where I am coming from. I don’t like to look at this as a debate, but rather as a discussion. In a debate, there are only winners and losers and usually, everyone goes out of their way to make sure they are on the winning team. In a discussion, everyone can contribute something valuable and the point is simply to further our understanding of each other while possibly giving some food for thought. I would like to ask for your forgiveness in advance if my passionate tone in this discussion ever sounds preachy, etc. It is hard to express in written form what is in my heart regarding this subject. Well, I don’t know the best place to start, so I’m just gonna give it a go!

As we stated in the podcast, historical events are not repeatable and therefore, as you stated, first-hand accounts are one of the single greatest evidences we have to verify that something actually happened. As you noted, multiple sources are preferable as well in that they add weight to the claim that an event happened. I believe that you are incorrect Sid in saying that we have second-hand sources at best. Not only do we have first-hand eyewitness accounts contained within the Bible, but we have multiple eyewitnesses who attest to the same story (ie. Peter & John). As to an antagonistic witness testifying to the same events, we have the account of Saul of Tarsus later known as Paul the apostle after encountering the risen Christ on his way to arrest followers of Jesus in Damascus. Now, some would say that these accounts can only be seen as a singular, monolithic witness to the resurrection, but this is where our modernistic view of the Bible needs to be challenged.

The 21st century concept of the Bible as a single book written by a single author is simply not correct. Instead, the New Testament alone contains 27 different eyewitness accounts and letters written by multiple authors over a period of 40-50 years. As to the veracity of these books I believe that we need to apply the same level of criticism that we do to any work of antiquity. However, it seems that the Bible has a tendency to be the most scrutinized book in human history. For example, we only know of 643 manuscripts of Homer’s “the Iliad” which is among the most famous of Greek works. In addition, we only know of 10 copies of Juluis Caesar’s “Gallic Wars” and the earliest copy we know of is from 1,000 years after it was written. In comparison, we now have over 5,300 manuscripts of the New Testament in Greek alone which date back as early as the second century. Why is it that we are so easily convinced of the preservation of Homer’s words and yet so quick to dismiss the writings of the disciples in the first-century?

As stated in an earlier comment, it is true that written history is subjective and people do have a tendency to spin events in the direction that they choose. But, to get to the heart of an historical happening, we endeavor to separate the actual events from the author’s own private interpretation. I believe that we can also do this with the biblical record. Setting aside the notion of inspiration and simply looking at the gospel accounts at face value, I believe that we can still arrive at many of the same conclusions. For instance, there are several points on which most, if not all, historians and scholars would agree.
1. Jesus really died the death of a crucified criminal.
2. The tomb really was empty.
3. The disciples actually believed that Jesus had been raised from the dead.
4. Female followers of Jesus were the first of His disciples to discover the empty tomb.
5. The apostle Paul had at one time been a Pharisee within the Jewish religion who was bent on the destruction of the new “Jesus movement”.

I will try to speak briefly about each point. 1. Jesus really did die as a crucified criminal; of this there is little doubt. Not only do all four gospel writers tell us this, but so does the Jewish historian Josephus. 2. The tomb really was empty. This is pretty easy to accept given that, had it not been, the display of Jesus’ body would have been more than enough evidence for the Jewish leaders to squelch this new movement. 3. Jesus’ disciples actually believed that Jesus had been raised from the dead. If they had stolen/hidden the body, why would they be willing to give up their earthly lives in spreading and ultimately dying for this message? This was the point I was trying to make in the podcast. I don’t believe that martyrdom alone brings any veracity to a truth claim. As Snurp stated earlier, martyrdom is simply proof of devotion, not of truth. However, what makes the martyrdom of the disciples unique is that they died not just for a belief, but for a claim that they had seen the empty tomb AND the resurrected Jesus. If this was not true, then we would have to say that they either died for something that they knew was not true (if they stole the body for instance), or that they had simply been deceived in masse into believing. For me, the second explanation is as problematic as the first. For the disciples to have all been deceived would mean that each of them were first of all lying, for they had not after all seen the resurrected Christ. This is highly unlikely given that each of these men/women went on to spread a movement which held at it’s foundation the highest ethical and moral standards. Wouldn’t at least one of them crack under the pressure? Also, if the disciples were deceived, what happened to the body? If the Jewish authorities did, why didn’t they produce the body when they wanted to stamp out the Jesus-movement? It is highly doubtful that the Romans would have stole the body. What would they stand to gain? 4. Female followers of Jesus were the first of His disciples to discover the empty tomb. This fact to me is simply brilliant! There is something known in biblical study as the “criterion of embarrassment”. This is the idea that if something occurs in the document in question that would be embarrassing to the author, or case that the author proposes, it’s probably true. In the first century women were not even considered as credible witnesses. From what I have heard, a woman’s testimony would not have been admissible in a court during this time. If the disciples were fabricating a legend of Jesus’ resurrection, why would they report that the first witnesses of the empty tomb and subsequently the resurrection of Jesus, were women, unless it were true? This would hardly have been preferable to a Gospel author who was trying to concoct a myth of Jesus’ resurrection. 5. The apostle Paul had at one time been a Pharisee within the Jewish religion who was bent on the destruction of the new Jesus-movement. Why would a man who was out to destroy the fledgling Jesus-movement have given up his identity, life, and the comfort of being a respected Jewish leader to wander around the Roman empire as a persecuted preacher of the resurrection of Jesus? He says it was because he encountered the resurrected Christ on the road to Damascus. What did he or any of the disciples stand to gain by living and dying for a myth that they had invented?

I believe that these statements, taken together, produce a convincing case for the resurrection of Jesus. I understand why you disagreed with my statement in the podcast that skepticism is a position of faith just like Christianity. However, I still believe that this is true. Snurp asked what, then, this faith would be in. I believe that it is an expression of undying devotion to human reason as the only mediator of truth. I believe that human reason is a valuable tool, but it is only one fallible tool at our disposal to help us determine what is or is not true. I like what Snurp said, “I am also very much of the belief that there are untranslatable parts of the human experience”. I believe that this gets to the heart of the difference in our conclusions. I try to use reason to arrive at the most logical conclusion, but as far as it can take me, I always find myself arriving at a precipice at which point I must make a decision. Either I step out, not against but beyond where my reasoning has led me, or I continually remain skeptical, always looking for that one definitive piece of evidence that always seems to elude me. I believe that my faith is not illogical, but rather alogical—that is, not against, but beyond logic.

Finally, as to Sagan’s Balance, I don’t believe that this is a full-proof idea; not that I think you do either though. How did Sagan determine this? After all, if something supernatural happens, wouldn’t it be beyond our ability to apply the laws of reason and therefore beyond our ability to make the rules for? If God did something beyond our natural ability to comprehend, is He then obligated to leave us definitive, sensory evidence? However, I would like to introduce what, for me, has been an interesting idea in regard to Sagan’s Balance. Have you heard of the "Shroud of Turin"? It is believed by many that this is the actual burial cloth of Jesus. After decades of scientific study we still do not know how the image on the shroud got there or how to replicate it. What if the shroud is authentic, and therefore a supernatural “proof” of the resurrection of Jesus? My faith neither rises or falls on the shroud’s authenticity, but I have enjoyed watching multiple documentaries and reading articles on the internet about this enigmatic object, and am personally convinced of it’s authenticity. Could it be that we have had what Sagan demanded all along right under our noses? Food for thought?!?

Anyway, thank you everyone for putting up with my lengthy ramblings. One thing that I have never been accused of is being at a loss for words! Sid and everyone---I am grateful for your interaction and look forward to our continued dialog!

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Theology: Defense For or From the Bible?

I am reading a book right now entitled "The Irresistible Revolution" by Shane Claiborne. In it he had a very interesting quote that has both stirred and convicted me. Here it is:

"The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church's prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament."

--Soren Kierkegaard--

What do you think?

Sunday, July 15, 2007


Well, I finally did it! After about 4-5 years of enjoying it's sound, I finally gave in to the mandolin bug! I just bought a mandolin within the last few weeks and am excited about learning to play it. So far I have taken it a couple of different places with a little group that my wife's father has put together. Last weekend we played at an old fashioned wagon train and a birthday party. I have been looking alot on-line at YouTube, etc. to find free lessons and tips on playing. I ran across this site called "Music Moose" which offers free on-line video lessons for learning different folk instruments. I have been very impressed with the video lessons so far, and so I wanted to let everyone know about the site. You will find a "Music Moose" link on the side of the blog that will take you there. If you ever wanted to learn to play one of these instruments, but have put off trying because of time or money, this just might be for you. I love the fact that I can rewind any part of a lesson, and also that I can watch them at 1 o'clock in the morning(not many instructors keep those hours!). Hope you enjoy!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

"Christian Nation" = Oil & Water

I have noticed several blogging conversations lately taking place discussing whether or not the United States is a Christian nation. I, myself, have been thinking alot on this subject and would like to take some time to talk about it here.

Sometimes I believe we ask the wrong questions. For instance, who would ask what color the number 4 is, or what is the nationality of the letter H? To me, this question belongs in the same category.

Is the United States a "Christian nation"? Can any country be a "Christian nation"? I don't think so. Someone might ask, "What about Israel? Were they not God's chosen nation?" Yes, at one time. But, I don't believe that the continuity of this line of reasoning is valid. Let's retrace a bit of history...

After the fall, and years of adverse effects thereafter, God made a covenant with a man named Abraham. God promised him that "all peoples on earth will be blessed through you". God's intention for Abraham was to bless him and, through him, to bless everyone else. This was the beginning of a distinction known as "God's chosen people".

God chose to bless and redeem the world through a vehicle known as the nation of Israel. God Himself would guide her and she would show His love and blessing to the world. Israel was never to be an end in herself. She was a means to an end; that is the redemption of the whole world. However, the problem manifested itself when Israel began to take pride in her election. Rather than using her blessing to bless others, she began to aspire to be like, and even superior to, every other nation on earth. Rather than allowing God to manifest His Lordship through Israel, the nation chose to be led by human kingship. Israel's pride and political aspirations continued for years.

Enter Jesus.

Jesus didn't fit into the Israelite mold that had been developed by His ancestors. He did not concern Himself with the interests of the Herodians, the Zealots, the Pharisees or the Saduccees. Instead, Jesus came to embody Israel's hitherto unfulfilled mission; the redemption of the world. Jesus spoke parables, such as that of the vineyard, indicating God's intention to replace the political entity Israel had become with one new humanity, consisting of people from every nation, summed up in Himself. He told the religious leaders

"Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit."
Matthew 21:43-44 NIV

The importance of this quote cannot be overstated. I believe that Jesus was here prophesying the cessation of national Israel as God's chosen people.

God, Himself, fulfilled Israel's comission in the person of Jesus. Then, he gave that same comission to His now elected people; the Church. The things that Jesus "began to do and to teach" were now entrusted to believers "from every tribe and language and people and nation".

Paul went on to say that, in the person of Jesus, God tore down the wall that once divided Jew from Gentile. God's election was not to be based on ethnic, cultural, or nationalistic boundaries. God's chosen people no longer consisted of those who were born into the right family, but instead of those who have been born-again from above.

So what does all of this have to do with the question of whether or not the United States is (or even should strive to be) a Christian nation? Everything. If God's people are no longer defined by national borders but instead by those who are "in Christ", how can we go on believing that God favors the United States any more than Iraq, or even Israel over Palestine?

I believe that America as a "Christian nation" really just ends up being a distraction. Rather than seeking to bless, serve, and redeem the people for whom Jesus died and rose again, we try to legislate unbelievers into the Kingdom of God. Thinking that God has comissioned the United States as His vehicle of blessing and redemption we wrongly expect the government to uphold Christian ethics, enforce morality, and oh yeah, take care of the orphans, the widows, and the poor. We fight to keep God on our money, the Ten Commandments in our courthouses (which still baffles me), and prayer in our schools, all the while failing to realize that these are things that only give us a form of godliness without delivering the power we long to experience. Maybe we should stop trying to coerce Christian character out of unbelievers and instead start exhibiting some ourselves (me included!). Would this actually result in our acting like the children of God that we were really recreated to be? Would that in turn result in the fulfillment of the Great Comission, therein fulfilling God's promise to bless the entire world? What do you think?