Storms & Giants: Lectionary Readings for June 24, 2018

8789717f13169d2b6350faef1651ade5.jpgClick Here for Audio Recording

There are times when we are faced with something bigger than we can handle. And I know that statement runs opposite of the line “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle”…But sometimes that statement does not match our experience. Sometimes that statement feels like an encouraging bumper sticker on a car that is being towed to the junkyard.

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Sometimes, yes, sometimes…we are faced with things that we CANNOT handle. But hope can still give light to our existence when our past, present, and near future times still appear as dark and murky. This hope does not minimize the pain of our current struggle, but it gives us the strength and nourishment that we need to get through our struggles. 

I believe that God is on the side of those who struggle with things that they cannot handle (Psalm 9:9–20) because God has experienced human pain and emotion to the fullest extent. This then necessitates the belief that God stands against those who oppress others; those who intentionally do harm to children of God. 


1 Samuel 17:1–49

I remember sitting with my parents a few months ago at their place watching an old Christian movie about David and Goliath that was almost two hours long, and it was only and solely about the big fight. It was the cheesiest, most drawn-out movie I have ever seen. 

But Goliath was a bodybuilder. And David was a twig. 

The Philistines were an established nation and force. And the Hebrew people were just starting out. 

So when the Philistines offered to forgo the big battle in exchange for a champion vs. champion fight — the Hebrew people were tempted, but they remained silent. 

No one wanted to fight Goliath. They would rather die in a big battle than die at the hands of a man who probably had the most gruesome rumors spread about him. 

David stepped up to the plate, and those around him probably thought he was being sarcastic…but he wasn’t. This crazy shepherd boy who plays the harp actually wants to fight a bodybuilder who could have torn him limb from limb. 

David’s faith motivated him to overcome his fear, and it drove him to face his demons because he had the God of the underdogs and the oppressed with him. He knew that God was on his side. 

Goliath fell victim to an inexperienced and ill-equipped boy with a slingshot because of the power and compassion of a Mighty God who stepped into a situation that an entire nation could not handle.


2 Corinthians 6:1–13

Facing giants isn’t a new theme for Judaism or Christianity. It is riddled in our history as an integral part of our identity and our relation to God. 

We do not worship God because we want our best life now. We worship God because God is worthy of our praise, even when we are facing giants, or in the deepest of valleys. 

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The Judaic/Christian faith is an honest faith. The Psalms are full of celebrations and laments. It’s not all rainbows and smiles — and I like that. It is life-giving, hopeful, but it also lets us mourn, grieve, cry, and even get angry. Therefore, our faith cannot be reduced to an encouraging bumper sticker on a car headed to a junkyard — as if all hope is lost when life hits us hard— our faith is more like the family and friends who surround us and support us after the wreck.

The Apostle Paul is an important influencer on the Christian faith, but he can sometimes be an intimidating character to imagine. There are times when you’d want to invite him into your living room for a nice chat, and maybe so that he can encourage you, and there are times when you’d like to leave him at the door. He’s kind of like that family member who gives you some tough advice that you really don’t want to hear in the moment, but then later you realize how right they were in that advice, and how their roughness around the edges was motivated by their intense desire to see you succeed and grow.

Paul wasn’t like a TV preacher with a shiny suit, and a Mercedes. What he said to those who were suffering was born out of his own experiences as one who had previously caused much suffering, and as one who currently suffers for the very message that he was presenting to the church. 

In 2 Corinthians 6:1–13, Paul writes of all that he has gone through in his pursuit of God, and in the pursuit of spreading his message. He lists that he and his peers went through “beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, and hunger”, but he also maintains that unrelenting hope that we’ve been talking about. He writes, “We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.”

A beaten man who had been thrown into prison on multiple occasions continues to seek and follow God because hope was no longer a manufactured emotion, but an implanted sense of direction to lead him through his calamity.

God is on the side of the weak, the sick, the poor, and the oppressed. And God sends out others to wade into brokenness and to point to when all things will be made new. il_fullxfull.438193639_q47r.jpg


Mark 4:35–41

As a Christian, no figure brings me greater hope than Jesus Christ, as revealed in the Gospel accounts. So much of how we should treat one another, how we are to understand Gods love for all (including ourselves), and to what great depths God was willing to go in order to redeem a broken world, is found in the Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

The Gospel of Mark is an intriguing read. In it we find Jesus who is equally concerned about the people’s spiritual and physical needs — but Mark focuses on spiritual warfare and power, unlike any other Gospel account. 

In the first few chapters, you find story after story of Jesus performing exorcisms; literally casting out demons. In Mark 3:23–30, Jesus gives this INCREDIBLE explanation of why he is doing it; he said that when a person breaks into a house, he binds the strong person of the house so that he can gain control of the house, and take what he wants. He is saying that by casting out demons, by binding the devil, he is debilitating the effects that the powers of evil have — Christ is taking over control of the house. 

The people, who were formerly demon-possessed, used to be outcasts of society; their family disowned them, they could no longer go to the temple, and the religious folks gave up on trying to help them. But now they were free from the strong man that bound them, and they were free to escape their calamity and shame. Christ took over the house.

After this, Christ spends some time teaching parables — stories — that explain the importance of faith amongst, and despite of, the reality of turmoil and struggle. It is only fitting then, that the author of Mark places the next scene in the middle of a stormy sea. 

Image 06.jpgThe wind is howling, the waves are crashing, and water is beginning to get into the boat. The closest followers of Jesus on earth are scrambling to keep the boat afloat while Jesus is sleeping on a pillow — as if nothing was happening. 

Frustrated, they woke up the one person who may know what to do, and they asked him, in pure panic, “Don’t you care that we’re drowning??”

Jesus arose from his slumber and ordered the winds and the sea to be still.

All was calm. The boat remained afloat. And these followers of Jesus were left scratching their heads as they wondered who this man really was…the man who had control over the winds and the sea. 

Jesus demonstrated power and authority over the storms of people’s lives, and the storms that would cause them to lose their lives. Christ took over the house.


Application

There are times when we feel like those early followers of Jesus in the boat on the stormy sea — we cry out to God and we desperately ask: “Don’t you care what is happening to us?? Wake Up! Move! Do Something!”

And there are times when we observe others going through turmoil, shame, abuse, oppression, persecution, prejudice, and heartache, and we cry out to God with those same words.

But it is in times of destruction that renewal can most clearly begin to formulate in our vision — like a dead-looking tree in winter that begins to bud in anticipation of spring. We may see the leaves and the flowers, or maybe we won’t — but we now know that that tree is not dead. All Hope is Not lost. 

And when we realize this great hope that we had to have implanted within us, we are then called to share the source and the sustenance of that hope with those who need it most. 

In remembering the words at the beginning of this message:

God is a God who is “on the side of those who struggle with things that they cannot handle (Psalm 9:9–20) because God has experienced human pain and emotion to the fullest extent.” This calls us to stand with those who are hurting, broken, and oppressed.

 “This then necessitates the belief that God stands against those who oppress others; those who intentionally do harm to children of God.” This calls us to stand against the powers of evil in this world — to bind them and gain control for the Kingdom of God.

We may not be able to handle things on our own, but we have an ever-present God, and an ever-expanding support network to hold one another up.

“God is on the side of the weak, the sick, the poor, and the oppressed. And God sends out others to wade into brokenness and to point to when all things will be made new.”

Hope is already, and Hope is yet to come. Amen.

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Gospel Without Borders: Romans 13 & The Children

Those are the words of a friend who messaged me this past weekend, searching for an answer to the anger she felt over Jeff Session’s defense of separating immigrant families by using the bible, as well as the anger she felt towards the bible passage itself.

I responded to her later in a jesting manner by saying “Don’t let Jeff Sessions be your biblical interpreter”, but I knew that the problem was deeper than that.


 

This blog post is not a news article. I am not here to inform you of the topic any further than seeking to tap into our common morality that will hopefully bridge the gap between competing political opinions.

Regardless of when this policy started, or when some of the pictures are from, lets agree with this, no matter the side you are on:

Separating children from their parents, or anyone who would care for them, for an extended period of time is NOT okay

Agreed?

We know that illegal immigration is still a problem, we know that the immigration system is a broke system.

Let’s start the reform that is needed by figuring out what to do with these children, who regardless of what some may think of their parents, deserve our compassion AND action.

The compassion of the Gospel knows no national borders. 

 


Getting back to Romans 13

While we may accept that something isn’t right here, Jeff Sessions is sweeping morality under the rug of Romans 13.

Romans 13 has hidden many messes in the past, so I am not surprised that it is being used to hide this one.  What better way to shut up the religious folks than saying, “Hey, God appointed your leaders, and you are to do what they say and respect them!”.

Just recently, I saw a post on facebook from someone explaining that although they don’t like what is happening to the children, Romans 13 gives the government the authority to punish those who break the law.  Thus, any progression to help the children is halted by the crimes of their parents, and this individual cannot do anything because they are called to respect their government.

But Romans 13, if taken 100% literally, 100% of the time, would mean that Paul should have stopped preaching about Jesus when Nero said to stop.  It would mean that the early church should have ceased to exist when Roman rulers before Constantine outlawed it.  It would mean that the Nazi regime should have never been resisted by the confessing church in Germany.  It would mean that Christians should never resist evil, so long as evil is coming from the government.

Something is wrong then in how Jeff Sessions is interpreting Romans 13.  I am confident that Paul never meant for his writings to be applied like that.

Maybe Romans 12, and the rest of Romans 13 after verse 7, are meant to show the contrast that is supposed to be there between those who have come into the faith community of Jesus, and those who did not, including secular governments.

Perhaps Romans 12, which tells us how Christians are to act, is meant to be a way for us to interpret when the government is not following the will of God in their actions and laws…


When Paul wrote Romans 13, Nero was the emperor.

Nero was a known tyrant, and after this letter would have been written, there was a fire in Rome that was falsely blamed on the Christians, and Nero then started the state-sponsored persecution of Christians.

“But he was appointed by God.  We are to follow his authority and rule. ”

Yet, Paul, the author of Romans 13….didn’t follow the law of the land.

Paul did not live in a democratic republic like the United States.  He did not have a political voice. But he rebelled to the point of death when his higher authority superseded his earthly authority.


We have one authority that deserves our allegiance.

All other authorities in our lives are superseded by the authority of God.

If an authority on earth goes against our call to action from our supreme authority, we must not support the action of a lesser authority.

And in situations where we have a voice in the political sphere, we are called to speak up when we feel that a wrong is committed.

And that wrong is what is being done to the children. We agree on that.

For our God is concerned about the oppressed, and the broken, the foreigner, and the immigrant.

The book of Amos is full of God becoming angry at the arrogance and wealth of his people, while others starve.

Even Leviticus calls the people of God to care and welcome the stranger – Leviticus 19:33-34.

The bible cannot be held by a political party. And our politicians cannot be our pastors.

But what is being done should not require articles and podcasts that seek to get Christians to rally against it – we should be leading the resistance.

Let the church rise against the evils of the State, and be the example that we were always meant to be to the world.

The compassion of the Gospel knows no national borders.

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I thought this cartoon got a good point across.  Source Link – Click Here

 

 

 

The Passionate Kingdom – Reflections for Holy Week (Part 4)

After being sealed in the tomb, along with all of our questions and concerns for our world, Jesus rose again, and the stone was rolled away from His grave.

Our God Lives.

Everything that he had said before about His Father in heaven, the Kingdom of God, the temple being rebuilt, and all of his teachings were completely confirmed in his Resurrection.  He is who he said he was.

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So where does that leave our largest looming question from Part 3 – How did the Crucifixion and the Resurrection change our world for the better?

The crucifixion was God, The Son, going to the logical end of our suffering, which is death.  This was the day that the “Revolution Began” as N.T. Wright says. Christ’s initial followers were in mourning over the great loss of losing a God that was also a friend.

The Resurrection was God overcoming all of the suffering, evil, sin, and death in the world in order to breathe life into His people.  The initial followers of Jesus, who were mourning his death, rejoice to see that Christ, their King, is Alive!

The crippling bondage of our suffering is gone through the listening and guiding of a friend who’s been there, and through the decree of a King that there WILL BE a resurrection from our earthly calamity. 

In these things, we realize that we are not alone in our suffering and that there is hope for the future, even in the moments when we can only see darkness.

a9567b09e071dba7053c224794ce804b.jpgWhen we go through trials:

  • It is liberating to have someone to talk to who has experienced something similar to you. That is Jesus.
  • It is empowering to hear the words of an authoritative figure saying, “this too shall pass; this is not the end”, when we can’t see the end of our affliction. That is Jesus.

When others go through trials:

  • The bondage of Humanity’s suffering loosens when followers of Jesus live in this world as citizens in a Kingdom that washes the feet of those that the world rejects.
    • The Church has a real message of understanding, empowerment, and hope to provide, and that message is made tangible through the love, care, service that we show others, and in the words we teach.

But Christians are not always perfect. In fact, we never are perfect.

Terrible things have been done in the name of Christ on a grand scale.

Shameful things have been done by Christ followers when they believe the doors are shut.

Hypocrisy is an unavoidable side-effect of a religion that calls flawed people to follow a flawless God. And more than that, human sins have a way of replacing our devotion to God by convincing us that what we are doing is okay – greed, pride, anger, and other things can all be justified in some way.

 

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“God [is] with us”

That is why when we look back in human history, (which is cataloged by war, victory, and loss more than achievement, art, and compassionate acts) we find hypocrisy…

Hypocrisy makes it hard to see the good, and harder to see the Holy.


But Jesus Christ, through his life, teachings, death, and resurrection, shows us a consistency of character that is unparalleled; a character that is so completely devoted to the “other” that hypocrisy could have never been a charge made against Him.

We can’t be Jesus…but we can try to be more like Him each day, and part of this is through viewing the overlooked positive things about the past; it’s seeing the Christians fighting against Hitler and deciding, THEY are following the ways of Christ…the Nazis are just using the name. 

And we can also become more like Jesus when we begin to realize that a speck in another person’s eye doesn’t matter when we have a plank in our own…It’s harder to accuse others of sin when we realize our own sinfulness.

But when we view ourselves and others as equally in need of a God who redeems and restores, we are more willing to take part in that restoration by washing the feet of another.

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Theological Rabbit-Trail – Christians do not all agree as to what Christ dying actually accomplished:
  1. Some believe that Christ was the perfect sacrifice to the righteous Father for humanity’s sin (Penal Substitutionary Theory)
  2. Some believe that a payment had to be made to the powers of evil in order to free humanity from its grip which started after the Fall of Adam and Eve (Ransom Theory)
  3. Some believe his death and resurrection defeated the bondage of evil [sin, death, earthly governments, satan, demons] on the people of God (Christus Victor Theory)
  4. Some believe that Christ lived and died on this earth in order to restore humanity, and his death and resurrection are meant to be an inspiration for others to follow the ways of God (Moral Influence Theory)
The above popular theories of WHY Christ had to die, and WHAT that accomplished are called “Atonement Theories”, and not all of the atonement theories are present here.
I do not believe that ONE atonement theory, by itself, is completely satisfactory – I believe there is more nuance in the Bible than that in regards to these thoughts. Instead, I think that we should view the death and resurrection of Jesus with multiple theories in mind.
What do you think?

 

The Passionate Kingdom – Reflections for Holy Week (Part 1)

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Palm Sunday just happened.

Churches throughout the world preached on Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a Donkey, and on the people laying down Palm branches and coats on his path as they honored him as a King.

 

In our church, the Pastor speaking mentioned that as Jesus was marching into the city from one direction, Pontius Pilate was marching into the city from another direction (Click Here for an Article on that).

I’d like to walk through that story here, and maybe reflect on what happened the day after Jesus walked into the city.


A Tale of Two Kings

The religious season was Passover.

Jewish people flocked to Jerusalem in droves to celebrate the release of Hebrew slaves from the land of Egypt through the power of God.

lambThey remembered the plagues that Moses called down from heaven.  They remembered the blood of a lamb that had to be put on doorposts in order to save them from the justice of God that was coming for the people in power who kept refusing to release the people of God.

And as they prepared themselves for these reflections, and in the midst of this Passover season, they saw something odd…

 

A man named Jesus was marching into the city of Jerusalem on a donkey.  Rumors of Jesus got around – he healed the sick, cast out demons, knew the Torah well, and opinions on who he was were varied – was he a prophet, lunatic, agent of evil…or could he be their Messiah?

 

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Icon from Afon

 

Their attention focused in on the Donkey that he was riding – this was prophesied to be something that the Messiah would do!  And so, the Jewish crowds gathered in suspicious anticipation that this MAY be the King they had been praying for; the King who would free them from Oppression! They laid palm branches and their own cloaks before his feet as they thought…

“Maybe this is the Justice of God coming…Maybe we will be freed from our oppression…”


centurion.jpgOn the other end of the city, the most immediate source of that oppression marched in.  Swords, spears, helmets, and shields were glistening in the sun as this ruler made his grand entry in a show of force and power to meet the possible threats of crime and uprising as these rebellious Hebrew people flocked to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover.

This ruler was feared, and some of the Hebrew people were seeking to overthrow his power.  And yet, he marched into a city that was under his domain like a conquering war machine – demanding the people’s respect and allegiance.


The people gave Jesus the pomp and circumstance that Pilate desired.

The people chose to lay down their cloaks – their symbol of status, and protection from the elements – for a rebellious young teacher riding a farm animal.

The people wanted Jesus to overrule Pilate.

Their laying down of palm branches was an act of rebellion against the Empire of Rome!

So why did this crowd of people who shouted “Hosanna!” in an act of desire for deliverance…join the crowds of taunters to shout out “Crucify Him!” a few days later?


One King Knows Best

Jesus did not come to earth to overthrow earthly powers. He was not the great military leader that others expected him to be.  He did not satiate their blood-thirsty palates in carrying out God’s justice on Pontius Pilate and Rome itself.

He was a leader of a movement who did not resist arrest.

He turned the other cheek, and some viewed him as weak because of it.

He was a leader on a donkey with no army behind him.

They rejected Jesus because he wasn’t the King that they wanted.

Jesus was surely a Rebel, but he rebelled against Empire by demanding total allegiance to himself DESPITE earthly rulers; He didn’t need to overthrow an earthly ruler to demand complete allegiance, and have complete power.  And Mark’s Gospel makes it clear that he came to not only turn earthly powers on their heads but to bind the source of the powers of evil themselves – demons and Satan (Mark 3:22-27).

 

And so, Jesus really was the Messiah riding in on a Donkey – declaring that he was there to overthrow power…But his plans were longer lasting than what others expected.

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Questions for Reflections:

  1. Would we consider Jesus to be a weak leader to face today’s problems?
  2. When there is an injustice, how do we normally expect justice to be carried out?
    • How is this similar and different from the ways of Jesus?
  3. Did my line about Jesus demanding COMPLETE allegiance rub you the wrong way?
    • What would this mean politically?  What would this mean personally?

Subscribe to read Part 2 soon!

 

When taxes point to God

Context:   Ever since January, I have attempted to use the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) as a basis for my youth lessons, and for any preaching that I was asked to do during that time.  The RCL is a set list of scripture passages that is used by churches throughout the world as a basis for their messages on Sunday mornings.  I liked the idea because I like the “bigger picture” that it paints; I have always liked the idea of learning, saying, and doing things with Christians throughout the world, and throughout time.  I record most of these messages, and I put them out as a Podcast, which you can listen to by subscribing to the “Uncommon Lectionary Podcast” on your favorite podcast application, or by clicking here.  The following is one of those lessons put into “blog” form. 

Let’s read the following passage together:

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Matthew 22:15-22 – Common English Bible (CEB)

15 Then the Pharisees met together to find a way to trap Jesus in his words. 16 They sent their disciples, along with the supporters of Herod, to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are genuine and that you teach God’s way as it really is. We know that you are not swayed by people’s opinions, because you don’t show favoritism. 17 So tell us what you think: Does the Law allow people to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

18 Knowing their evil motives, Jesus replied, “Why do you test me, you hypocrites? 19  Show me the coin used to pay the tax.” And they brought him a denarion. 20 “Whose image and inscription is this?” he asked.

21 “Caesar’s,” they replied.

Then he said, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” 22 When they heard this they were astonished, and they departed.

A couple things to point out:

  • The Pharisees were strict adherents to the law of Moses, and they weren’t too keen on being ruled by the Romans who did not worship their God and charged high taxes.
  • The Supporters of Herod, called Herodians, were Jewish people who thought that being ruled by Rome wasn’t as bad as others thought, and they actively supported their local ruler (like a Governor) named Herod.
  • They went together to Jesus as two opposing opinions seeking to trap Jesus.  If he responds that people should pay their taxes, the Pharisees write him off as a heretic and his ministry is affected drastically.  If he responds that people should not pay their taxes, Jesus may be reported by the Herodians and be killed before his time.

And how does Jesus respond?

The empty-pocket celebrity asks to see a Denarion (a coin that equals a day’s wage) because he has none of his own.

He examines the coin and asks: “Who’s face is on here?”. The people respond that is it Caesar, and so Christ responds, “Okay, so give what is Caesar’s what is his, and give to God what is his”.

The people, confused and frustrated, walk away.

I have a hunch that Jesus responded this way to point out at least two things:

1) God is bigger than money, and money shouldn’t be something that distracts you from God (Speaking to the Pharisees).

2) God is greater and more powerful than any government on earth, even ones that demand complete allegiance from its citizens (Speaking to the Herodians).

And both of these two points relate to trusting in God: His rule, His provision, His truth.

Let’s take it a bit closer to home.  Let’s look at our US Dollar – think of a few things that stick out:

One-dollar-bill

We have George Washington’s face, 1, ONE, an odd Pyramid, the eagle, and of course we have “In God We Trust” written on our currency.

What does it mean to trust God?

What does it mean to trust and honor God with our money?

This dollar could be used for so many things that are not what we are called to do as Christians.  It could be used to buy drugs, buy CDs that degrade other people, and at a government level, it could be used to buy bombs and missiles, with no guarantee that those bombs would only kill “Bad people”.

So, while a dollar bill can never truly say “In God we trust” on it without being slightly ironic, you can, as individual Christians.

We trust in God when we use our dollars to help others who are needy, to go towards a church’s or other organization’s good deeds, or even to buy Christmas gifts for loved ones.

We trust in God when we start to see God as being more important than Money.

We trust in God we don’t let the pressures of this world…taxes, tension, war, heartache…cripple, or get in the way of, our belief in God. Sometimes, it may not make sense…but in those times, we still have to trust God.  Even in paying taxes, we are reminded that we, though we are citizens of our nation, are ultimately citizens of God.

So, the next time you see a Dollar, ask yourself….am I trusting in God? Or something else…

“There’s life after death…and taxes…” – Relient K (Link)

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Redeemed Natures: Appendix -Situational Ethics

(Click Here to Read my Redeemed Natures series from the start)

Situational Ethics: “What would you do if…”

“What would you do if someone broke into your house and threatened the lives of your spouse, children, parents, and what if they were going to rape them…what would you do??”

 

This question gets asked a lot.   It is an understandable, and important question.  Our natural tendency is to fight or flee a violent scenario, and when flight is not an option, we desire to defend ourselves and the ones we love, at whatever cost.

I am a married man, and I love my wife more than I love myself, and I would gladly lay down my life for her.  We do not have any kids yet, but I am sure that if we did, I would love them and desire to protect them from harm as well.  So when the question is asked, “What would you do if…”, it is a hard question to answer, but I will go over my general thought process when thinking about it:

  1. I love my wife, and I would love my kids when I have them
  2. I have no fear of dying if it meant saving their lives
  3. Jesus would desire for me to spare the life of the attacker (Link)
  4. On instinct, I cannot guarantee that I would be faithful to my religious beliefs
  5. If I take another life to protect my loved ones, that does not mean that I would be justified to do so under the Lord’s Will for my life, and even after being forgiven, I would still have to deal with the physiological effects of taking another life.
  6. I have a moral responsibility to advocate for nonviolence in all scenarios; hoping that that advocacy could translate into further commitment to nonviolence when a situation arises.

As you can see, I do not have a crystal clear answer to this question, and while I do not doubt that there are some pacifist-like folks who could answer clearly and honestly, I think that for those of us who know that we cannot guarantee our actions in the moment, it is better to be honest about our true struggles with this question.  We can avoid entering the military, we can avoid taking a job that may contradict our convictions, but we cannot avoid an intruder/attacker if they break into our house.  

That is why I put the sixth thinking point in there.  Even if I do not know what I would do in a real life scenario, I have a moral obligation to advocate for nonviolence so that hopefully I could remain committed to what I see as a commandment of Christ.  But advocating for nonviolence in this scenario not only could help my response in the moment, it could also help the way that myself and others think about those who we perceive to be a threat.

In other words, how much would I be thinking of a nonviolent way to address an intruder, when I keep a loaded pistol in my nightstand?  How could I possibly see their life as having value when I’ve already set up the booby traps before they would even break in?  I realise that many would respond to these questions with “I am only preparing for something in case it happens”, but in reality, by doing that, they have cut out the option for nonviolent solutions before giving them a chance.  And while some may have the strength to not pull the trigger, many will react in fear and instinct and kill an intruder, even if that intruder has not violently threatened them.

However, many people say that protecting your family is a biblical principle to follow.  I wanted to give this view justice because a fair amount of people believe it, but not many can provide a reference.  Based on what I could gather, the main passage that is used to support this idea is found in Exodus 22.   Let’s study it.

Exodus 22:2-3  – When an intruder breaks in

If a thief is found breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there shall be no bloodguilt for him, but if the sun has risen on him, there shall be bloodguilt for him. He shall surely pay. If he has nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft.” (ESV)

These verses are often used to justify lethal home defense, as well as the biblical right to keep a weapon ready to defend your family.  But I really don’t think it’s that simple.  These two verses describe two different scenarios.

The first scenario:

It’s dark, someone is found breaking into your house, and if you strike them fatally, you are not guilty of murder.  

Let’s imagine this scenario for a second:  You are laying in your bed, or on your mat, and you are startled awake by an unusual sound.  Someone is in your house, and your family is all asleep, and you did not invite anyone. Still drowsy, you stumble out of sleep, and as you meet the intruder, you have a confrontation, which ends up with you striking them in some way, or pushing them, or maybe they tripped, and that causes their death.

The second scenario:

It’s daylight, someone is found breaking into your house, and if you strike them fatally, you ARE guilty of murder.  If the thief is alive, they will surely have to give back what they stole, or if they don’t have it, they will be sold as a slave.

Now let’s imagine this scenario for a second:  It’s daylight, and you are up and about; possibly doing some household chores.  You hear someone break in, you rush toward them, and you strike them, and kill them.  You are now guilty of the blood you have shed.

So what’s the difference?

In both scenarios, the homeowner spilt the blood of the attacker, but they are only guilty of that if they did so when it is daylight.  That distinction is extremely important in talking about this passage.  Why is this?

I believe it comes down to a difference of consciousness.  In the daylight, you are alert, and aware of your surroundings.  You know exactly where your bat, bullet, sword point/edge, or other weapon, is going to land, and you have complete control over the force of that blow if you are not using a projectile weapon.  You are also thinking clearer than at night, and possibly could have found another means to make them leave.  In short, killing them in the daylight would be intentional.

Blogger and author, Benjamin Corey, writes the following on these verses:

“When people are scared in the dark and try to get away, bad things can happen even though the individual doesn’t intend it. For example, if you’re grabbed while walking on a dark path and shove the attacker to get away, but the attacker falls and dies, it would be disingenuous to say that lethality was an actual intent. This verse made room for those kinds of incidents when lethality was clearly not the intention.

However, the verse then switched to daylight– when you can actually see the intruder in your home. In this scenario, any kind of violent response that would lead to death is not only condemned, but considered murder. In these cases, the one who used lethal violence against a day-time intruder would themselves be put to death.

While often used by gun-slingers to justify shooting a home intruder, verse 3 actually backfires (see what I did there?) on the one making the argument.”

Therefore, being able to aim a gun and pull the trigger at night would not be justified.  Keeping a loaded gun near you, ready for a break in, and then using it, gives little to no room for a possible nonviolent solution to enter your mind.  A human life could be taken by your hands because a thief wanted your $200-1000 TV. I don’t think that that is worth it.

So…what am I to do?

It’s easy to say that you will stay committed to your nonviolent commitments, and it’s another thing to actually do it.  In the heat of the moment, no one knows for certain what they will do.  But one thing we can know is that if we don’t talk and think about nonviolence NOW in all circumstances, we likely won’t practice it later where it counts.   John Howard Yoder says the following in “What would you do?”:

I am less likely to look for another way out if I have told myself beforehand that there can be none or if I have made advance provision for an easy brutal defense. I am more likely to find a creative way out if I have already forbidden myself the easy violent answer. I am still more likely to find it if I have disciplined my impulsiveness and fostered my creativity by the study and practice of a nonviolent lifestyle”. (Kindle Locations 293-296)

Thinking about this stuff is a needed discipline for Christians.   Do you remember that story about the Amish forgiving the man and comforting the family of the man, who killed several amish school children?  Do you know how much that story has impacted the world?  If people see that our underserved grace is given to those at inconvenient times for us, the world would be absolutely Stunned by the Power and Love of Jesus in our lives.  Their images of hateful Christians would SHATTER at our feet as we are able to show them the God who loves, forgives, and serves, unconditionally.  It would show them that this love of God is so Extreme, so REAL, that it caused us to put the life of an enemy above our own.

Right now, the thing for us to do in times of peace is to pray, and to be active in our nonviolent commitment.  Pray for a change of your own heart towards those who are your “enemies”, pray for the hearts of your enemies, and pray that God shows them the transformative love that envelops you.  Pray for God to show you a nonviolent solution.  Advocate for nonviolence, defend it, and live it out in order to show this component of the Will of God for us to others.

My Biggest Frustration

In talking about this issue with my brothers and sisters in Christ, my biggest frustration is not that I get asked the question, “What would you do if…”; my biggest frustration is that when I explain to them my position, and that I hold my position because for my commitment to Jesus and His words…it’s not enough.

Direct quotes from Jesus, the one we claim as God, are not enough to make some of my brothers and sisters in Christ even consider this teaching of His.   When Jesus said, “Love your enemies”, there was no “But not if…” attached to that statement.  When Jesus said “Pray for your persecutors..”, there was no “that they may all die” attached to that statement.  When Jesus said “Turn the other cheek…”, there was no “as long as it matches what the Old Testament says” attached to it.  

I get it.  A Hippie God doesn’t seem to jive either, but please see my writings on the Old Testament in chapter two.  What God does is up to God.  He is the one who will carry out vengeance.  He is the one who will make the wrong right.  But WE are called to “not repay evil for evil”.  WE are called to be PeaceMakers.

My biggest frustration is that we let politics, anger, pride, and revenge, get in the way of following the way of the Cross, of BEING PeaceMakers.  A way that looks like a radical commitment to God, for the betterment of others, even if it costs us our life.

If an intruder intended harm, or was committing harm, upon my family, I cannot promise to you that I would remain faithful to my religious convictions.  But I pray that God would give me the ability to be able to if that time truly came, God forbid.

So…what would you do?


Works Referenced

Corey, Benjamin L. “Why Exodus 22:2 Doesn’t Work To Justify Armed Self-Defense.” The Official Blog of Benjamin L Corey. Patheos.com, 15 Jan. 2016. Web. 11 July 2016.
John Howard Yoder. What Would You Do? (John Howard Yoder Series) (Kindle Locations 293-296). Herald Press. Kindle Edition.

Redeemed Natures: Appendix – FAQ

(Click Here to Read my Redeemed Natures series from the start)

Frequently Asked Questions

What do you do with all of the War & Violence in the Old Testament?

This is one of the most common questions that is asked of me.  And for good reason. The Old Testament contains some pretty graphic scenes; some of which are said to have been approved and ordained by God.  A strict adherence to nonviolence seems to ignore these parts of the bible, especially when many who may hold to nonviolence fail to address these passages, or simply shoo them away as if they were a pest. I do not desire to do that, and though my answers will not be completely satisfying, what answers can be when there is so much violence in the Old Testament, and such peaceful teachings of Christ in the New?

In short, I believe that God has complete rights to kill those he wills to, for His purposes.  I believe that God worked through the Israelites, as well as the pagan nations that held them in captivity, to carry out His will.  However, there are specific instances in which the Israelites entered battle without the Lord’s blessing/command, and they were punished.   Even in their ancient tribal, and later civilized, society, violence against another was not permitted unless allowed by God.  Therefore, it is important to note that drawing a comparison between what was permitted for believers governed under the true Theocracy of Israel, and any modern government today, possibly using Romans 13 as a justifier, is a completely unfounded comparison.  

My question back to this question would be, “What do you do with the nonviolence as taught and exemplified by Christ?  When God himself teaches something directly, why not follow it?”

For more on the Old Testament, please refer to Chapter Two.  For more on the New Testament, please read chapters Three and Four.

What do you do with Romans 13, and Capital Punishment?

I’m not scared of Romans 13 because Romans 12 precedes it.  Romans 12 and 13 are meant to be read together with the overall theme of “How do we respond to those around us, on different levels”.  Romans 13 starts with what the Government is able to do, and how we are to view said government.  Romans 12 teaches Christians to love all, to never avenge yourselves, never repay evil for evil, to live peaceably with all men, and leave vengeance up to the Lord. I don’t think that those requirements to the believers are somehow made void when their government tells them to do something contrary to those requirements.  For more on this, please refer to Chapter Five.

How important is this issue, really?

Sometimes, this issue prompts some to ask me if this issue is really all that important to be unified on when there has been disagreements on this issue for hundreds, and thousands of years.

For those who believe that a Christian can kill if they are ordered by their government to do so, I understand this question.  Why should I make such a big deal about it – it’s just my opinion.

But it’s more than just an opinion to those on the nonviolent side of things.  To us, it’s literally a matter of life and death because we place equal value in all human life, and it’s also a matter of following the Lord’s will.  I don’t mean to say that I judge those who disagree with me – as they obviously do not believe nonviolence is a command of God, like I do…but I think that if people are unwilling to consider the argument of nonviolence, and jump to situational ethics questions as a first defense, I think something is wrong there.  We need to be seeking the Lord in ALL things…even when it is uncomfortable.  

If Christ taught nonviolence, or even if we can all agree that he preached that nonviolence is the IDEAL, why wouldn’t we strive for nonviolence and seek to avoid violence?  Why would be willfully enter a fight, or a position in government, that requires violence, when we can easily avoid these things?

If Church fathers before Constantine took such a bold stand against violence, and then after Constantine the Church was wrapped up with the State…why would we not look back to their understanding of this issue before the church and the state were One?

For more on this, please read Chapters Six and Seven.

How do you view those who serve in the military, or police? Do you judge them?

First, I respect all people, and second, no I do not judge them.  But I believe this is the hardest hurdle to get past in this discussion.  On a personal level, the Nonviolence advocating Christian is often placed in a box along with secular soldier-hating and police-hating hippies.  So sometimes, it’s even hard for us to know how to view soldiers and the police, especially when they are Christian, when our position would say that a Christian shouldn’t even become a soldier or join the police if they can help it because the role of the job may conflict with their faith. 

I do not judge non-christians in these positions because the morality of nonviolence is not a religious calling to them.  I do not judge Christians in these positions because the teaching of nonviolence was obviously not made known to them, or at least the argument was not made well; therefore, they are not willfully going against what I would see as the Will of God.  

But here’s the hard part…

Though I do not judge them for being in these positions, I would like for the teaching of nonviolence to lead them to either vowing to not kill in their positions, possibly requesting a change in role, or to not re-enlist when their time of service is complete. That is a LOT to ask, and I know that, but if I am being faithful to my convictions as if they mattered, this would be the desire of my heart for Christians in these positions.

I think it is always important for those on the Christian nonviolence side of things to always remember to respect ALL people.  I’ve always supported veterans by dropping a few dollars in the bucket at VFW drives outside of a walmart, and I’d never trash them, active duty soldiers, or the police.  Advocating for nonviolence necessitates a belief that all life is unconditionally valuable because it IS life. If men and women put their lives on hold, and/or put their lives at risk in a public service manner, no matter if we agree with the validity of the wars we are in, they deserve the people’s respect.  They deserve Our respect.

Therefore, the tension is holding a position that is potentially completely offensive to them, while at the same time making them aware that you still respect them.  And that respect is complicated – it’s a respect of the man or woman, your sibling in Christ, and not in what their position may require them to do.  Tension will be there, but love need to eclipse that tension.

What would you do if someone broke into your house and threatened your wife and/or family?

This question is asked so much that it deserves its own section.  Please follow this blog to see when the next section that will answer this question goes up.

Redeemed Natures: Appendix – Book Recommendations

(Click Here to Read my Redeemed Natures Series from the start)

Book Recommendations

There are a few books that I would recommend to you for different reasons and different purposes.  Some of these will be an easier read than others, but I think they will serve you well.  I have not read every book in the field, so please take that into consideration, but these are the books that I would recommend to you after reading them myself.  I don’t necessarily agree with these authors 100% in every area, but overall, I am thankful for their contribution to this field of study.


If my book was the first book that you have read on the subject, and you would like a second step in the direction of going through the Old Testament, I recommend:

Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence

-Preston Sprinkle, David C. Cook Publishing 2013.

Preston is an evangelical/reformed minister who came to Nonviolence later in life through his study of the Scriptures.  I really appreciate his contribution to the discussion because his approach to the bible is something that is needed.  He attacks the hard questions, and goes into more depth than I could in my own writing. Too many nonviolent writings and spokespeople stop at Jesus, but unfortunately, more people need more of a defense for a radical idea besides Christ’s words.

He might push you to think in new ways, and you may not agree with his approach in some things, but I truly appreciate his writings, transparency, and in standing for nonviolence in the evangelical area of the Church.

Preston also blogs at “Theology In The Raw” on Patheos, and has a podcast by the same name.


If my book was the first book you’ve read on the subject, and you’d like another book to read that hones in more on Christ’s teachings and example, and how that is in contrast with the world, I recommend:

A Farewell to Mars: An Evangelical Pastor’s Journey Toward the Biblical Gospel of Peace

-Brian Zahnd, David C. Cook Publishing 2014

Like Preston Sprinkle, Brian Zahnd is an evangelical pastor who also came to nonviolence later in life through his own study of the Scriptures.  Zahnd even writes about how he used to preach in favor of our nation’s wars, and told of how his nationalism/patriotism affected his theology.  I liked his contribution because it shows the contrast between this radical teaching of Christ, and the world’s ideas of justice.


For those who really want to dig deeper in this field of study on a more intellectual level, I would recommend the following books:

The War of the Lamb: The Ethics of Nonviolence and Peacemaking

John Howard Yoder, Brazos Press 2009

What Would You Do?

John Howard Yoder, Herald Press 2012

John Howard Yoder is a big name in the nonviolence field of study; particularly among Mennonites.  Yoder contributed well-thought out and well-backed up arguments to the discussion, and his legacy continues.  The first book is a good summary of his beliefs on nonviolence as it’s a collection of essays and other writings placed together in a coherent order.  The second book is the theologian’s response to the famous situational ethics question that so many raise.

A quick note for transparency’s sake:  John Howard Yoder was accused of sexually abusing, harassing, and assaulting women during his time as a professor.  He was never tried for his crimes, but was eventually placed under church discipline.  In short, I cannot recommend the Man to you, but I maintain that the writings which the flawed man produced are valuable.


For those who enjoyed the chapter on the early church and nonviolence, I completely recommend picking up a copy of the source book that I used:

The Early Church on Killing:

A Comprehensive Sourcebook on War, Abortion, and Capital Punishment

Ronald J. Sider, Baker Academic 2012

If you are looking for even more examples of how the early church viewed the issue of killing/military service, Sider’s book is truly a masterpiece that anyone studying the subject should pick up.  I also really appreciated the holistic scope of the book in also including early church father quotes on abortion and infanticide.


To learn more about religious Conscientious Objectors who refused to fight because of their faith, I would recommend:

Peace Was in Their Hearts: Conscientious Objectors in World War II

Richard C. Anderson, Correlan Publications 1994

As someone whose Grandfathers on both sides served in CPS out of a religious objection to war, I believe it is important to learn from these men who stood for nonviolence when everyone else told them that the needed to fight.


From a secular and historical perspective on the idea and movements of nonviolence, I would recommend:

Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea

Mark Kurlansky, Modern Library 2009

I appreciated that the author, a journalist who has written on a variety of subjects, took to writing about nonviolence; he showed how various faiths have accepted it, and his coverage on Christianity was good in that an outsider saw how a strict following of Jesus’ teachings would necessitate an abandon of violence.


There obviously other books to look at and read, but the ones I recommended here should be a good start to you if you would like to continue your own study.  I would also recommend steeping yourself in the Gospels, and studying how Christ interacted with others, what he taught, what he did, and how his followers followed him.  

Redeemed Natures: Chapter Eight – The Importance Of Nonviolence (Part 2 of 2)

(Click Here to read Part 1 first)

Chapter Eight

The Importance Of Nonviolence (Part 2 of 2)

“For nothing can be more abhorrent to the Christian man than wholesale slaughter. Nothing can be more desired by us than the promised era when men shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.”

Charles Spurgeon, from his sermon: “A Good Soldier Of Jesus Christ”, 1870

Take Action for Nonviolence

I started writing this book as a Christian College student, and I am currently a Youth Pastor in the suburbs.  I have no military training, I don’t live in a violent area, and I am free to write what I do without the fear of physical harm.  It’s easy to advocate for nonviolence in the suburbs of America.  

But it’s not easy everywhere…

That is one of the reasons why I gave the examples of the Anabaptists, and others who have proven their commitment to this idea amidst conflict and were willing to put their lives on the line for it.  Not because they were united in some humanitarian movement…but because they were devoted to follow Jesus Christ; even in the areas that get a little messy.

One inspiring example of this kind of devotion is the story of Dirk Willems.  Dirk was an anabaptist in the radical reformation of the 16th century.   As was common, he was imprisoned for his anabaptist beliefs inside of a palace converted into a prison, complete with a moat!  On one icy night, Dirk escaped and was able to navigate the thinly iced moat, but a guard who saw him escape and followed him fell through the ice behind him.  Faced with the choice between his own life, or saving another life, Dirk remained committed to his beliefs of radical love for his enemies and rescued his pursuer, only to be imprisoned again, and burned at the stake for his escape attempt on May 16, 1569.  He remains an example to us to follow, even when it may not be able to do so.

So you may be asking….what Business do I have in writing this book?

Honestly, the book was originally started as a smaller work because a former youth student told me that he was considering entering the military after graduation.   Since this youth was under my pastoral care, I  at least wanted to present by viewpoint because he likely would not have heard the argument from anyone else at the church, as the church was not a historic peace church (Like the Mennonites, Brethren, Quakers) where such topics are an intricate part of their understanding of God and others.

But ultimately,  I continued the smaller work that I gave him into this larger, more refined, work because I believe that God does not desire any man or woman to kill another human being created in the image of God.  So while I have the opportunity to speak freely, I am going to do so by advocating for peace, and in attempting to provide more material in this area of study.  But the process of studying, reading, and writing has not been easy.

In “Redeemed Natures”, I have laid out what I believe to be the Will of God over the Christian life in response to the question “Is a Christian ever permitted to kill?”.  My position and defense is largely centered on the commands of Christ to love our enemies, pray for our persecutors, turn the other cheek, and upon his example of nonviolent response to violent scenarios.  In my view, the argument should be able to rest there because Christ is the full revelation of God (Col. 2:9); however, if the argument could simply rest there for the majority of others, Christian Nonviolence would already be the predominant view held by Christians.  Because this is not the case, this work was written with that in mind by attempting to tackle the apparent contradictions in the Old Testament to these nonviolent words and examples of Christ.  And although this work is not meant to compete with the works of John Howard Yoder, Stanley Hauerwas, or other esteemed scholars in this field of study, I believe that I have laid out a foundation for your further study of Christian Nonviolence, should you chose to dig deeper.  

Talking about nonviolence while talking about the Old Testament can be quite challenging.  My view of those apparently contradicting passages may change with time, and I am open to that…but this is where I am at NOW, and I believe that what I have come up with is worth sharing.  Through my classes at Bible College, and through reading and studying the Bible apart from my classes, I learned more about these complicated passages, and their surrounding contexts.  While in college, I also took the opportunity to speak with fellow students and professors on the subject, who mostly did not agree with my view, which further strengthened my support of the Christian Nonviolent viewpoint that I hold today.  I also have engaged people all the way from Unitarian/Universalists, to conservative reformed folks, in conversation about this topic.  Still, I used this book as motivation to push me even further into study by forcing myself to engage these complicated texts, and reading from authors who both agreed and disagreed with my viewpoint, all in order to deepen my understanding , and to further grasp all of the complexities and the various perspectives that exist when dealing with this topic.  And although I do not believe that I am done learning, I believe that what I have learned up to this point is worth sharing.

The Call For YOU

As I wrote about earlier, the majority of us will not face a dramatic situation in which we will have to make a decision – to kill our enemy, or to let them live – whatever the cost.  Most of us will not go through that, or at least do not go through it on a daily basis.  

That is why I would love for you  to take a step with me, if you haven’t already, and see the call for nonviolence as what it is:  A calling of God over the Christian life that calls us to rise above our natural responses to evil around us.  Why NOT follow the option that, biblically, might be the safest (If nonviolence is true, all killing is murder) – when you likely will not face a violent scenario anyway?

Maybe you are not ready to say that you know another way to address a violent scenario other than violently retaliating…

Maybe you are not ready to say that, when the rubber meets the road, that you would remain committed to nonviolence…

But you don’t have to be there yet.  In fact, as I will go into in the Appendix, very few us us could honestly say how we would respond when our lives, or the lives of those we love, are threatened.

Right now, all I am asking is that you consider whether or not you believe that nonviolence is the Will of God.  And if you can’t come out with a good response on why it isn’t the will of God, I invite you to join me in praying to our God together, and to join me in the pursuit of nonviolence.  During these times of peace, you have the opportunity of being a true voice for peace, as opposed to letting violence go unchecked.

For if we never let ourselves think about possible nonviolent solutions to violent scenarios, we likely will never be able to respond to a scenario without violence.  And furthermore, if we never allow nonviolence to be a possibility, we are actually advocating for war, for violence…for death.  My calling upon you is to honestly wrestle with this issue, like I have, and intend to continue doing.  

For too long has the nonviolent message been muffled under the call for practicality; ignoring the very powerful nonviolent teachings and example of Christ.  

And Fairly, for too long have those who advocate for peace based on the words of Christ completely dismissed or ignored the complicated war passages of the Old Testament, instead of actually addressing them, and helping others see nonviolence as the Perfect Will of God as revealed throughout Scripture.  

So whether you believe Christians can kill in certain instances, or you believe that they cannot kill under any circumstance, my calling upon you is to wrestle with this topic honestly and thoroughly.  This topic is WAY too important to do otherwise.  And if proponents of peace continue to ignore the questions generated by Old Testament passages, they they can never formulate an argument for peace that will satisfy those with the questions.

For all,  to use an argument inspired by Pascal’s Wager that I alluded to earlier, if the Will of God is to never kill, and we allow for killing under certain circumstances, we are still responsible for those deaths; if the will of God allows for killing, and we advocate against killing while still working towards peaceful resolution, we are not being unfaithful to the will of God by doing so.  In short, advocating for peace in all circumstances is the safest road to take, spiritually; for if God desires justice on men, God will carry out that justice, regardless of our involvement.

If you have made it this far, and you did not hold to Christian Nonviolence at the start, I sincerely hope to have caused you to pause in thought, and to seriously consider if what I am advocating for is truly the Will of God over your life.  I am not ignorant of the fact that there are many other positions to hold, and that these positions also have a biblical argument, and so, I sincerely thank you for giving this work, and this view, a shot.  

If you need more of a substantial argument, please see my book recommendations after this chapter, and also try reading some of the additional material in the Appendix section that deals more so with the “What would you do if…” question, as well as a FAQ section that I felt would distract from the trust of my argument in the main body of this text.

May the love of Christ compel us to love others, regardless of difference.

May the mercy of God compel us to see that every person is deserving of His mercy, as well as our own.

May the justice of God compel us to be peaceful in our words, and actions; living sacrificially in service to Him. 

May we trust the Lord to rule the earth, as we open our fists, drop our swords, and take up the cross.

Works Referenced

Oyer, John S., and Robert Kreider. “Dirk Willems.” Compassion For The Enemy. Goshen.edu, 1995. Web. 19 May 2016. Website was referencing: John S. Oyer and Robert Kreider, Mirror of the Martyrs [Good Books, 1990], p. 36-37.

Snow, Michael (2011-10-01). Christian Pacifism: Fruit of the Narrow Way (Kindle Locations 612-613). mikesnow.org. Kindle Edition.

Spurgeon, Charles H. “Spurgeon’s Sermons Volume 16: 1870.” Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Ccel.org, 1 June 2005. Web. 18 May 2016.Sermon: “A Good Soldier Of Jesus Christ” JUNE 26, 1870
Yoder, John Howard (2009-12-01). The War of the Lamb: The Ethics of Nonviolence and Peacemaking (pp. 87-88, 95). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Redeemed Natures: Chapter Eight – The Importance of Nonviolence (Part 1 of 2)

Chapter Eight

The Importance Of Nonviolence (Part 1 of 2)

“For nothing can be more abhorrent to the Christian man than wholesale slaughter. Nothing can be more desired by us than the promised era when men shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.”

Charles Spurgeon, from his sermon: “A Good Soldier Of Jesus Christ”, 1870

The ethic of nonviolence is a good thing to ponder, and something that many accept in times of peace, but when the rubber hits the road, and bad things happen, questions like these start to enter our minds:

-What good is nonviolence in our imperfect world?

-When there is terrorism, when there are dictators, when someone breaks into your house…what good is nonviolence?

-If I do nothing…Innocent people will die.  What is the greater sin?

-Won’t God forgive me anyway if I go against His will?

-Why is it important for me to believe in nonviolence?

It is only natural to assume that violence must be met with violence.  As discussed before, we desire to respond against injustice where it is seen and found, and often, violence is the quickest solution that we can think of.  But often, when we respond to an aggressor with violence, it causes more violence; either immediately, or at a later date.  Like when we were children, and the “I’m gonna get you back!” game never ended.  We need a better way to respond to violence than the methods we learned on the playground.

Nonviolence, or Just War?

How Christians think about our imagined responses to violence is extremely important due to the reality that injury and death of another human being is a part of the manifestations of the hypothetical situations we consider and debate.  On a personal level, we are more emotionally involved in thinking about an intruder breaking into our house, than we are about thinking about who our military is fighting in wars.  But it is still important for the Christian to consider what involvement they play in their nation’s roles of foreign policy, defense, and security.  

As addressed before, I sincerely believe that the government has their responsibilities, and the Christian is not to interfere if it violates their commitment to the Will of God, but I do believe that a Christian is called to be a light in the darkness through advocating for, and working towards peace.  Nonviolence and Just War Theory are two positions which seek to respond to violence in ways that go against what is commonly done.

Nonviolence is a fundamentally different way in which to address problems that face us because it does away with the dehumanization that is a natural result of war and violence in placing value upon people who do not deserve value according to our culture.  However, in a fallen world, nonviolence is not a realistic political strategy.

Just War Theory is the idea that a country should only enter war if other means to resolve the conflict have already been tried.  Once a war has been entered, Ju7st War Theory also advocates against civilian casualties, inhumane torture, and other good humanitarian things. This way of doing things cares enough about the enemy to at least attempt several peaceful resolutions before going to war.

But both of these ways in which to respond to violence are fairly foreign to the American People. For while we shake our heads and clench our fists at Hitler, at Stalin, at Sadamn, we gloss over our own bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in our historical recollections as if they were any less grotesque.  Michael S. Snow captures this irony in the following quote from his book “Christian Pacifism: Fruit of the Narrow Way”:

““Blessed are the merciful…” – look at World War II and at the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki which resulted in hundreds of thousands of innocent deaths and untold suffering for children and aged alike, and then tell the Living God how merciful our nation has been.” (Kindle Locations 612-613)

You cannot control an Atom Bomb…You cannot control the bombs dropped by planes and drones over areas where the enemy is suspected to be.  You cannot control the outcome of “carpet bombing”.  Flawed logic will respond “The ends justify the means”…But how can a follower of Jesus Christ be okay with that?  How can such actions be categorized as following “Just War Theory”?  Instead, Nationalism tells us that we are justified in our actions because we are American, and our enemy is inferior to us.

But what happens when something BIGGER than nationalism united people?  In World War 1 & 2; Christians were killing Christians because of the differences between where they were born, and the country they were fighting for.   One could argue that those in Germany’s Nazi Party were not rightly following Christianity, but at the end of the day, they still claim to worship the same God that you do, and also keep in mind that German nationalism was an even stronger force than American nationalism.   John Howard Yoder writes of this terrible reality of brothers killing brothers by stating:

Whenever a war happens, and members of the same communion, who find themselves defined by their governments as enemies, accept killing each other at the behest of their respective rulers, it is a mockery to speak of them as being united by their faith. – Yoder, “The War of The Lamb: The Ethics of Nonviolence and Peacemaking”, p.95.

Yoder points to the irony in Christians called to be united, aiming their rifles at their brothers in Christ because of the uniform that they wear, or the leader they follow.

War is an extremely serious thing that should never be taken lightly, and solutions that could lessen the amount of casualties, even if Christians are not involved, should always be considered thoughtfully by the governments in power.  Therefore, with all things said, at very minimum, Christians should be advocating for Just War Theory; the idea that wars are only justified after attempting to resolve the scenario peacefully in different ways, and even then, Just War Theory prescribes ways in which to go about war in a way to reduce the number of civilian casualties and injuries.  How do bombings in residential areas fit into that?

However, even accepting Just War Theory as an ideal has failed Christians and nations alike because the process of trying other things before warfare rarely ever happens. Instead, since Just War theory allows for the possibility of war and violence if all else fails, more often than not, other solutions for resolving the issues a country faces are not even thoughtfully considered before they enter a war.  Just War theory looks great on paper for a nation to follow, but it is rarely followed because of the existence of a seemingly easier solution that is provided as an option from the start of the conversation.  It would be like a Christian Bride and Groom entering a marriage while both partners leave the possibility of divorce open as an option if all else fails, instead of believing that divorce is not an option, and only arriving to it upon MUCH effort working for resolution.  The effort of making things work is less appealing when you start the conversation believing that you know of an option of that would seemingly end a problem once and for all.  I believe that we need to call for a stricter commitment to Just War Theory as citizens and as Christians.

In the 1980s, Catholic and Methodist leaders wrote documents  (Catholic: “The Challenge of Peace”, Methodist: “In Defense of Creation”) that advocated for either true Just War Theory, or nonviolence, and though each of them advocated against total war, those documents and the thoughts laid out in them rarely play out in how nations conduct foreign policy, or even in how people of faith view these wars.  John Howard Yoder affirms this unfortunate truth in “The War of the Lamb”:

The actual rhetoric and the actual practice of modern nations, including Methodists and Catholics in positions of responsibility as citizens, statesmen, and soldiers, have in the vast majority of cases been neither just war nor pacifist. Total war has in fact characterized our culture.  Sometimes what broke through all restraints was simple national selfishness, which some call realism.  Sometimes what led to total war has been a transcendent religious or ideological claim, which some call holy.  Sometimes the cause for which blood has been shed is morally even less worthy than that; namely, the need of some ruler to reassure himself and his people of his masculinity. In each of these ways war was totalized, so that there was no effective restraint in most of the Western world’s experience of war. Just war theory has not been operational in any significant way in the military reality of the last centuries. (p. 87-88)

Just War Theory, as it has been implemented, fails the Christian utterly because it is rarely followed.  However, it is an ideal worth intelligently advocating for and thinking through at the political level.

Nonviolence is virtually impossible for a nation to follow due to the fallen nature of humanity across the globe; pride, jealousy, greed, and anger will always get in the way of peace until the day our Lord returns to earth and sets things right.  Still, for the Christian, I believe that nonviolence is the only ethic that we can faithfully affirm, as followers of Christ, as our personal committed ethic.  Therefore, a Christian is not to kill in any circumstance, regardless of what the government, or any other authority that is over them, calls them to do.  The Christian is called instead to actively work for peace in nonviolent ways in order to serve God, and serve others.   In relation to their government, a Christian abiding by nonviolence is to resist any clearly unjust violence of government using Just War Theory as a guideline (unjust warfare, torture, police or military brutality), and to speak and live out their message of peace in the pursuit of following the words and teachings of Christ.

Imagine if your local community’s Christians were of one mind on this matter regarding violence and personal living; so much so that if you were a Christian, you were assumed to believe in Nonviolence.  Imagine what great work for the Gospel could be done if your community saw your Christians as a peaceful and loving people who hold their convictions out of a strong commitment to their God, and are not to be feared.  Imagine how many stereotypes you could break in the minds of people whose opinions of Christians and Christianity have been made from years of seeing Christians being just as violent, if not more so, in their speech and action, as everyone else, while claiming to follow Jesus who said to “love our enemies”, and “Pray for your persecutors”.   Imagine these advocates of peace as not reacting to your community’s military personnel, or your veterans, in a way of protest, but rather loving them as people out of their compulsion to love others as themselves.  That is the difference between secular peace advocacy and Christ-centered peace work; The individual soldier is not lumped into your protests of wars and violence.

However, as much tangible good can be said of following Nonviolence, the main reason to follow it would be to be in submission to Christ.  Though that submission is not always without sacrifice;  in fact, in many cases, to strictly adhere to nonviolence requires a lot of sacrifice, whether socially, politically, or physically.  Nonetheless, it is a pursuit worth living.

So why is it so hard for me, for you, for others, who are Christ followers, to accept Nonviolence?

The Setbacks to Nonviolence

It’s Not Logical

Nonviolence is not humanly logical.  To refuse to fight back goes against everything we have been taught as children, and as said before, it goes against our very own natural response to fight fire with fire.  The very purpose of this project is to show how in order to accept Nonviolence, you have to abandon what you know as reason, and accept that which you are called to.

To accept nonviolence is to be stripped of all weapons in a room full of armed enemies, and to be left with a determination of following God above your own safety and security.  It is not logical.  It is dangerous.  It puts yourself, and possibly others, at risk.  

As stated before, it is unclear what any of us would do in a violent situation, particularly one that would harm our loved ones, or the life of an innocent…  But coming to that argument out of a hope for following the Lord’s will, is a lot different than coming to it out of a primal urge to protect those we love “at all costs”.  I will touch on this “situational ethics” question more so in the Appendix.

It Divides Allegiances

The Christian calling over our personal lives has been hijacked by many other things that demand our allegiance: money, status, our country, a political party, and a myriad of other labels.  If left unchecked, these other things that demand our allegiance, and that seek to define who we are, and what we stand for, will corrupt our understanding of God’s calling over our lives.

The Lord Jesus Christ demands our complete, undivided, allegiance; He is not willing to share us with anyone, or anything else.   When Christ calls for us to follow His will, we simply must follow Him, being willing to surrender all that we have, including our lives, if for the purpose of following His Will.

Allegiance to our country, to our status, to our wealth, and other things, can all get in the way of following Christ.  When we marry anything foreign to our faith, that foreign element can impact our faith.  If our faith is doing well when we are financially doing well, our faith will likely suffer when we are suffering financially.  If our faith is tied to our political beliefs, our political beliefs have the chance to impact and warp our religious beliefs to make it congruent with our political preference.  But the Gospel cannot be contained, or placed in a box;  Christ demands our FULL and utter allegiance.  And though, some influence will be nearly unavoidable, or go unnoticed, the Christian should at least be aware of the possibility that perhaps their opinions on certain religious topics are more influenced by their own culture, status, political identity, or even their own church, rather than seeking out the Scriptures.

As mentioned before, in the case of some conservative republicans, their political views against welfare programs could negatively impact their view of the people who receive such welfare, and that could lead them to be disgusted by poverty, instead of seeking to serve and help the poor in other ways out of a religious conviction.  In the same light, some on the pro-choice side of the abortion debate may see the side of pro-choice as politically good, but they may do nothing to advocate against abortion within their churches out of a religious conviction; helping those who find themselves in crisis pregnancies.

In the reluctance to accept nonviolence, both major political party’s positions and philosophies can negatively impact a follower of Christ’s stance on the matter.  A “For God and Country” mantra simply will not do.  The two cannot be joined in a Christian’s mind.  Jesus has to be the ONLY ruler of your heart, and the only receiver of your true allegiance.

The Fruits of Nonviolence

If we are to believe the message of John 3:16, that God loved the world so much that He gave his own son to save us, then we cannot view anyone as outside of possibility of salvation; we must view all people as possible recipients of the same undeserved grace which we have received, and that we continually receive.  To advocate for nonviolence not only out of faithfulness to God, but out of concern for your friend, as well as your enemy, is showcasing the crazy grace that we believe has saved us.  

That’s the fruit of nonviolence.  A commitment to following what you believe to be the Will of God, at all costs, as well as possibly being able to show His crazy grace to others through your commitment to nonviolence.  Nonviolence does not guarantee earthly success.  But neither does war.  In both, a commitment to nonviolent action, and in war, lives are sometimes put at risk when the odds of success are poor.  War commands us to kill or be killed, nonviolence commands us to love until death takes our last breath.  Both choices are messy, both require sacrifice, but only one remains unquestionably committed to the commands of Jesus. Note that action and nonviolence need to go together if nonviolence is ever going to accomplish anything, and if our nonviolence is ever going to be Christ-centered nonviolence.  

But not too many of us will actually be faced with a life or death scenario in which we have to choose to take up the sword, or take up the way of the cross which could lead to our death.  The average person doesn’t have to make international security decisions, and the average person likely won’t have to defend their home.  I am not saying that those things won’t happen, but it seems silly to dismiss the call of nonviolence because it’s impractical when we likely will never face the situations that would demand some form of action – violent or otherwise.

 

(The Works Referenced in part 1 will be given at the end of Part 2)

Click Here to Read Part Two