To continue with the life plan as provided in the Lord’s Prayer, we next look at the line, “Thy Kingdom Come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
For much of humanity, the concept of doing someone else’s will is repugnant. A deeper understanding and ability to not feel threatened at the notion of surrendering our will lies in the acceptance of God’s Kingdom being a present and tangible place. God’s kingdom is more than just a mysterious heaven full of gold and glory. God’s kingdom is here and now. We invite more of the kingdom when we invite God’s presence into our lives and live a lifestyle some have dubbed, “Kingdom Living.” This type of living entails living as God’s ambassadors in the here and now. We are to work daily to introduce God to others. We are gospel with skin on as Dr Sondra Wheeler says. We work to exemplify God’s grace and love in this world. We may struggle daily minute to minute to not do as we want but to do as God wants. Paul said it wonderfully in his writings when he bemoaned the fact that he did do as he didn’t want to and failed to do as he did want to do. This will ever be the struggle of humanity. This will ever be the victory of God’s grace.
God has invested in humanity and is not willing to lose us. God teaches us to live and encourages us to be more because God knows we can do more and be better.
The topic of military service and self-defense is a touchy one among Christians in America. It is deeply ingrained in our culture that if someone threatens you, you have the right and in fact the obligation to defend yourself by any and all means necessary. I always think of Sean Connery and his horrible accent in The Untouchables….
As Christians living under Christ’a Archy, I don’t think we can afford to simply go along with the culture on this one. Is it right for a Christian to use violence, whether in defense of self or property or at the behest of the nation he lives in? I wrote a four part series on this topic last year and I have copied over the intro post. If you are interested in reading the rest, you can read the other three posts here:
This is one that makes me cringe a bit. I am a big military supporter. I recognize the heroism of our men and women in uniform. I still remember Pearl Harbor. On several occasions I got deep into the process of going to officer candidate school in the Armed Forces. I like military history. I love guns. My all time favorite movie is Patton with George C. Scott. Like most Americans of my era, growing up in the aftermath of Vietnam and in the midst of the Cold War, I was inculcated with the understanding that I should be prepared to defend my country and our way of life, by dying for my country or better yet (in the immortal words of George C. Scott) by making some other guy die for hiscountry. “God, guns and guts made America great” was the slogan and we have no qualms about using all three to defend the American way of life.I am disquieted by this stance.
I am not asking if the state can use the sword. Clearly it can and just as clearly the state is distinct and different from the church, so it will naturally act in its own perceived self-interest. The state rarely wages war where the self-interest of the state is not at least perceived to be served. I can make a rock solid argument in favor of the United States having a powerful standing military, including a modern and credible nuclear deterrent. None of that has anything to do with the question at hand: can a Christian take up the sword?
Let me take a stab at defining that a bit, since most of us don’t own actual swords. When I ask this question, I am asking if Christians can serve in a capacity where either directly or indirectly they are engaged in actions or have the potential to be engaged in actions that will lead to the intentional death of one human at the hands of another.
This has broad implications. It would apply to Christians serving in the military and to Christians defending themselves or their property or another person by force. I don’t think it has direct application to capital punishment (see Romans 13) or to paying taxes that are legally required even if they support the military (this would be a render unto Caesar question). This is a serious question and one that get short shrift among the body of Christ. Plenty of people have no problem defending Christians wielding the sword but I am not at all certain that most Christians (including myself) have thought this question through. It is a question that has been hijacked on one side by the “Religious Right” that not only has no qualms about the sword but in many ways is awfully enthusiastic about wielding it. On the other side is the broader secular peace movement which leads to all forms of pacifism being lumped under the same big tent.
The idea of pacifism or non-resistance (not necessarily the same thing. I think based on the definitions, non-resistance is a more Biblical term.) is not an invention of the 1960’s peace movement. It runs through streams of Christian movements and sects from present day groups like the Mennonites, Amish and Hutterites through the radical Reformation all the way to the earliest days of the church and the New Testament itself.
In fact, I would argue that outside of the pacifistic aspect, Christian non-resistance and the farcical “peace movement” of the Vietnam era are philosophically and foundationally worlds apart. As the Global Menonnite Encylcopedia states in its article on non-resistance: Certain forms of pacifism or nonviolence, however, being based more upon humanitarian, philosophical, or political considerations than upon New Testament ethics, are not to be confused with nonresistance as here defined. It is my belief that the Vietnam era peace movement (and the resulting modern spawn of that same political movement) was a combination of a narcissistic cult of self gratification and the frightened reaction of a pampered and overindulged generation being faced with the notion of real sacrifice. It is the greatest of ironies that the Vietnam era peace movement has degenerated into an angry political movement that most often manifests itself in violent anarchist protests. At its root, and where it makes it gravest error, it assumes that people are basically good and rational and that they will react to peaceful overtures with peace. If we just give love a chance, bad people will become good people and everyone will live happily ever after.
Biblical non-resistance makes no such claim, not viewing humanity through rose colored glasses but the stark reality of man’s sinful state. Christians ought not make the error of assuming that reacting to violence with peace will lead to peace. In fact, just the opposite is true. Reacting to violence with peace may encourage the problem but in spite of that non-resistance is foundational to the Christian life. When we refuse to resist evil people, we don’t do so in the expectation that they will leave us alone. When the Apostles were brought before the council, falsely accused and even beaten, they did not plot their revenge. Instead…
Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. (Acts 5: 41)
We are not called to not resist evil in the hope that this will lead to world peace. We are called to not resist evil and indeed to return evil with good with no expectation of receiving good in return.
There is a real danger here when so-called “peace churches” lose focus on the meek, non-resistant nature of Christian life and start to focus instead on political activism. Many of the liberal “mainstream” churches have lumped concern for the poor and non-resistance in with a laundry list of liberal “social justice” causes like “climate change”, normalization of immorality within the church, anti-capitalist/globalization stances, various and sundry environmental and animal rights movements and eventually an abandonment of the Biblical Gospel to be replaced with a “social gospel” that preaches politics instead of repentance. In other words focusing on the here and now instead of the hereafter, making the world a better place to go to hell from. In this liberal “social gospel” Christians are every bit as in error as the flag waving, red, white and blue cross bearing religious Right that seeks to legislate conservative social agenda items under the guise of “making America a Christian nation again”.
Christian non-resistance is not based on advancing the workers revolution or fighting economic globalization. It is based on the Biblical teaching of not resisting the evil doer, of returning good in the face of evil. In the next two posts on this topic, I want to look at Scriptural evidence to support a, um, non-non-resistance stance and then look at some evidence in favor of non-resistance. In both cases I am talking about non-resistance in practice, not just in theory. It is easy to talk about community, fellowship, peacemaking, loving your brothers, etc. as a theological position but it is far more difficult to deal with it as a practical matter. So I will try to confine myself to what Scripture says and what it doesn’t say.
I was struggling with exactly what to write about on this site when a friend reminded me that I have a sermon written and preached that is all about living under Christ’s archy. I will not write the entire sermon in one blog because it will be long and tedious for all of us. I will take it a section at a time.
We have a detailed life plan for how to live under Christ’s archy provided for us in what we call The Lord’s Prayer. It is a doable way to live a full life. This prayer is found in Matthew 6:9-13. While the KJV is not my favorite version of Scripture, I am aware that a great number of Christians use KJV language to pray this prayer so I am going to use KJV language here as well.
We begin with, “Our Father, who art in heaven.”
I often wonder if many of us have ever truly grasped what we are saying here…..and have the right to say! We are addressing God and not being punished for it! We are talking to God with the understanding that God not only allows humanity to speak but also listens and encourages us to speak. More than that we get to call God a parent. We can approach God with the assumption that God cares enough to listen, protect, and guide us.
I believe it is important to remember that God is different to everyone. There are people who have been deeply hurt by fathers and men so God is female. There are others for whom GOd is definitely male. There are people for whom God is both male and female or neither male not female. For some God is Comforter, for others God is Protector, and for others God is best friend. I have learned not to destroy someone’s image of God whether good or bad, correct or incorrect. God will meet each of us however we need to be met and as we grow, mature, heal, and discover God, our image of God changes with us. God is more than any one of us can label and about the time we think we have it figured out and nailed down, we will be wrong!
However we view God doesn’t change or limit the fact that we have been given the right to call on God, to speak with God, to confide in God, and to claim the promises of God. So, we say, “Our Father, who art in heaven.”
God’s location is important to our understanding of this life. When we state that God is in heaven we are claiming a belief and a promise that this life is not all there is. Whether you believe in a physical Heaven and Hell or not, the ultimate definition of Heaven is to be in the presence of God and the ultimate definition of Hell is to be separated from the presence of God – permanently. Experiencing the presence of God begins in this life. We get to see glimpses of heaven every time we deliberately place ourselves in the presence of God. This is the place where we can be transformed, offered hope, experience healing, and know that we are truly heard and loved by God.
“Hallowed is Thy name.” What is hallowed? That word doesn’t mean much to folks anymore. For that matter, we have slowly lost a sense for the holy and the sacred over time. In a world in which we are encouraged to live our lives with ourselves at the center of it (and the world) we have lost the realization that there is something bigger than us. God is holy, without the human trappings of mistakes, sin, troubles, etc. God and God alone is worthy of worship. Even if God does not sign autographs, make millions of dollars throwing a ball, or appears on the Red Carpet, God is what is hallowed and holy.
Many people believe in God, fewer people worship God, even fewer people love God, and even fewer deliberately place themselves into the presence of God in order to worship and be transformed.
Two aspects of living under Christ’s archy is to:
1. Enter into the presence of God by calling on God’s name.
2. Worship and be willing to be transformed by what is truly holy.
Paul’s admonition in Romans 13: 1-7 is quite familiar to most Christians…
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. (Romans 13:1-7 ESV)
While many Christians are familiar with this passage, at least in concept, there is far from a universal understanding of how we should apply it. I believe that this passage is a crucial one for understanding living under Christ’s Archy because it is one of the most extensive and explicit dealing with the relationship between Christians and the world’s government structures we all live under to one extent or another (see also 1 Peter 2: 13-17). We also need to be very cautious when using these passages to form our understanding of living under Christ’s archy and this certainly is a place where the community hermeneutic is crucial.
I have found that the most important thing I needed to wrap my arms around when interpreting and applying Romans 13: 1-7 is the context in which it was written. I think we tend, at least those of us who are Western Christians living in America or the former strongholds of Christendom in Europe, to read Romans 13 in the context we live in. I have never lived with even a hint of persecution. I have freely voted in just about every election I could since I turned 18. My idea of “governing authorities” are the elected officials in America. Many of them are scoundrels or incompetent but they are hardly tyrants. When Paul wrote these words? The world was the kind of place few of us can imagine. It was a world under the rule of Rome and the governing authorities were the conquering and occupying Romans and their cronies. When Jesus was sentenced to the cross there was no reading of His Miranda rights, no public defender, no decades long appeals process. He was arrested, tried, sentenced and cruelly executed in a matter of hours. The governing authorities Paul was referring to in Romans 13: 1-7 were some of the most unjust, cruel and tyrannical to have ever lived. When examined in light of the Roman Empire, Paul’s words get a lot more sobering.
Having established that, the question becomes one of application. What does it mean for us to be subject to the governing authorities? To what extent? If we are commanded to render unto Caesar and those tax dollars go to paying for abortions, should we pay our taxes? If a Christian is drafted and ordered to fight and kill for their country should they dutifully march off to war? What if the government doing the drafting is not the United States but instead is Nazi Germany? If the government is confiscating your property and taxing you without representation, should a Christian still submit quietly or rise up and overthrow that government by force? These are hard questions but important ones that need to be considered. We need to move beyond cultural expectations and our traditional assumptions and examine closely what it means as followers of Christ to submit to governing authorities.
There are some times when Romans 13 is obviously trumped. When the governing authorities try to demand that we do something that violates what God has commanded, Christians cannot submit. When charged by the Jewish council to stop preaching Christ, Peter and the apostles replied that they “must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:27-33). I would put “going to war” in this category although many others would disagree. I am interested in your thoughts here. Living under Christ’s Archy, what are the limits or the applications for Romans 13: 1-7 in our lives, our churches and our families?
Not sure this fits here but given the prominence of Pat Robertson in the “Christian media” and in political discourse I thought this might be of interest….originally posted on my blog here.
Russell Moore wrote a great essay today, Christ, the Church, and Pat Robertson that was tragically made necessary because of yet another crazy statement from Pat Robertson, this time saying that a man should feel free to divorce his wife to marry another if his current wife is suffering from Alzheimer and “no longer there”.
Pat Robertson’s cruel marriage statement is no anomaly. He and his cohorts have given us for years a prosperity gospel with more in common with an Asherah pole than a cross. They have given us a politicized Christianity that uses churches to “mobilize” voters rather than to stand prophetically outside the power structures as a witness for the gospel.
But Jesus didn’t die for a Christian Coalition; he died for a church. And the church, across the ages, isn’t significant because of her size or influence. She is weak, helpless, and spattered in blood. He is faithful to us anyway.
If our churches are to survive, we must repudiate this Canaanite mammonocracy that so often speaks for us. But, beyond that, we must train up a new generation to see the gospel embedded in fidelity, a fidelity that is cruciform.
Virtually every time Pat Robertson opens his mouth, claiming to speak as a Christian, he makes a fool of himself and shames the Gospel to the unbelieving world that is laughing at him. I especially appreciated this line, that Christians are to “stand prophetically outside the power structures as a witness for the gospel“. What a great statement. The church has no use for power or acclaim or status. When we try to mirror the way the world operates, our witness suffers. We have seen this again and again as the church has sought to take hold of the sword, to claim earthly crowns, to build new and improved temples and to gather and consolidate power.
The world may agree with Pat Robertson although even many unbelievers know that what he is suggesting is just wrong and runs contrary to our deepest held moral convictions. If we are to reflect Christ in our marriages as a Gospel witness to the world we must keep in the front of our mind the love shown by Christ for His Bride in spite of the uselessness and unfaithfulness of those He chose and called to Himself.
Dr. Moore’s essay is both a wonderful word and a tragic necessity.
Therefore, however you wish that people would treat you, this is how you should treat them, because this is the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 7:12 Author’s Translation).
The ethical manifesto of Jesus Christ ends with a final moral exhortation before Jesus reminds his audience that his way is the ultimate, even the only way. The teaching is that God’s law is essentially that the disciple of Jesus Christ determine how a person needs to be treated, as they are, and then to treat them that way.
It is easy for any Christian to become enamored of good preaching, awesome bible studies, sweet music, intentional communities, foreign missions, and great theology. So much so that we forget that Jesus summarizes the whole Old Testament, which he claims to fulfill (Matthew 5:17-20) with this one sentence.*
Our adherence to Jesus’ teaching is largely related to how we treat the people who are right around us. This includes those in our household, in our schools, at our jobs, on our streets, and at our places of commerce and hanging out. It even means in our churches or when we drive (I get upset in traffic).
Jesus’ archy means that he is king of us in our individual lives. We must treat others as we would wish to be treated. Kind words, appropriate material assistance, prayer for them, encouraging correction, and showing honor and respect to them. The main place most will find to obey Jesus is in their workplace, which is one of the main places where Christians don’t act like Jesus Christ. The time to be the light of the world is literally right now, because Jesus tells his disciples that they are light right now. This means that you can do good works that lead to God exalting praise, even if you aren’t doing them right now.
This kind of life is available to those who seek Jesus’ power to live it. He is with us always, even until the end of the age.
I do recommend some spiritual disciplines for learning to actually accomplish this command:
Meditate on what is good about other people (Philippians 4:1-9).
Memorize this passage of Jesus’ teachings (see Psalm 119 about memorizing God’s word).
Make a list of things which anger you, depress you, irritate you, make you feel disrespected, and then modify how you treat people accordingly.
Leave early for work every morning, you won’t be stressed and irritable when you’re there. I’m certain you wish your co-workers did the same.
Call the teachings, example, and grace of Jesus Christ to your mind as often as possible at work.
Meditate on how quickly grudges, arguments, and passive aggressive behavior ends when somebody breaks the cycle by thinking of the other person as more significant than themselves.
*The fulfillment happens in his teachings, actions, death, resurrection, sending of the Spirit, present reign, etc.
Something happened this week that caused me to stop and reflect a little. I have gotten somewhat immune to the reactions I get as a female preacher. I have been argued with, informed that hell was my future (as well as all my congregants), I have been banned from places, barred from associations, and even physically attacked all beause I have dared to trod where apparently only men are allowed (in some opinions). I have stepped aside on three occassions for weddings/funerals because someone in the family did not approve of my gender. There are some who do not think that a wedding is legitimate if a woman performs it. What if a female judge performed the wedding? Marriages are civil unions and the minister/judge/whomever… is licensed by the state so it is legit. The hang up seems to be whether or not it is legit in the eyes of God.
For the first time, a bride told her family that she was having me officiate and that was that. Her sacrifice is that there won’t be certain family members in the wedding and maybe not even attending the wedding. What really got me though was the wording the family used when speaking with the bride. You see they told her that they were trying to raise their children right and that they didn’t want them to see a woman pastor because it wasn’t right. My first reaction was amazament and my first thought was, “Well! It’s not like I will be doing a pole dance!” I guess I need to zip my robe all the way up so there is no cleavage showing in the LAYERS of clothing that UMC clergy have on anyway.
The bride’s refusal to give in to the family made me stop. First, I was humbled and awed because Ihave gotten used to just stepping aside. It is the pastoral thing to do in order to try to help a family keep peace and have a truly blessed wedding day. It does grate on the nerves, I will admit. What I am supposed to do – have gender reassignment surgery? Then I am in trouble for that as well.
Second, I have to look at what Christ did. He never addresses the issue. What he did do was actually speak to women as though they were human and not sofas. He raised them up, let them be effective, healed them, and in general was a decent guy. He wasn’t threatened and didn’t feel the need to exert any kind of power or authority. He went even further and he touched lepers, ate with tax collectors, and went into all the wrong parts of town.
What does it mean in today’s world to be under Christ’s archy? For one thing, I believe we need to quit having turf wars. A woman was the very first to proclaim the gospel and the men didn’t believe her even then! Next, we need to be greatful for any who feel they are called and step up and out to try to show the love and grace of God to others. This world is bruised and battered. It is time for us to focus on that part not on who gets to do the nursing. There was a time when women weren’t allowed to do that either……
There is a complete lack of bias and judgement in the way in which Christ ministered, healed, and taught. The only folks that he called out and was forceful with were the pious, judgemental, religious folk of the day who were more about being right and important than they were about being Godly.
I was raised that women were to know their place and not be in ministry. I have changed and so has my father. I have true compassion for folks who believe that. I had to come a long way to be who I am. There is more than enough work to do for everyone. It is all right that I go off to Africa by myself to be a missionary and preach the gospel and minister to folks. It is not all right that I preach the gospel and minister to folks in the pulpits of America. Double standard much? Seriously, it is time for the debate to end. I am tired. I do not do what I do to be a bra burning rebellious woman who needs to dominate men. I don’t tell them they are going to hell because they are daring to put words in God’s mouth and daring to put stumbling blocks in the way of those who are called. I do what I do because God has called me. Since God does the calling, I am coming to understand that I do not need to justify my actions to humanity. God trumps. Thank God!
Being under Christ’s archy means letting go of certain ideas. Jesus did all the wrong things in order to do all the right things. What right things will you do?
On my blog, I’ve shared some thoughts and reflections of September 11, 2001, that day ten years ago when Muslim terrorists flew airplanes into the twin towers of the World Trade Center complex and into the Pentagon. The post is called “9/11, American Patriotism, and the Kingdom of God.”
In many ways, our reactions to these kinds of events may demonstrate our relationship to Christ’s archy and the kingdom of God.
This was my post last year on September 11. What do you think? How should Christians respond to this anniversary, especially those who live in America where this memory is so visceral and raw?
Where were you? What were you thinking on that day? How has your thinking changed over the course of the last ten years?
—– Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Rom 12:17-21)
We should never forget what happened on 09/11/2001 but neither should we set ourselves to seek vengeance for those events. The Gospel is never proclaimed faithfully by someone with a sword in their hand or screaming in hatred or burning books. Our first and highest duty is to Christ and His Kingdom, not the national security of America. We as a family will remember 9/11 today, not as a call to vengeance but repentance. We will pray today for Muslims, that Christ will be shown to them in all His glory by the humble and meek witness of His followers. We will also pray for the repentance of those who call for the death of unbelievers and seek to supplant God as the dispenser of justice.
Winning the war on terror will not win a single soul for Jesus Christ.