Thursday, 23 May 2013

Loving Your Enemy: Part 1: Examining Our Lenses

I wear glasses. 

I have worn glasses since I was eleven years old.  The first time I ever wore a pair of glasses I was struck by the clarity of the world around me. The world looked sharper and more in focus than I had ever experienced before in my short life. I even said to my mother, “has the world always been this clear?"  

I am now twenty-six years old and without my trusty pair of glasses I am practically blind. The corrective lenses built around my ‘hipsterish’ thick black frames help me daily to see the world around me. I don’t leave the house without them. I can’t drive or shave or look at facebook without wearing my glasses. 

Theology is a lot like a pair of glasses. The right prescription can give you clarity of sight. You will see as you have never seen before. The wrong prescription can give you a headache or worse cause you to stumble around and never truly see. 

A huge ‘lens’ for me is the Jesus lens. I read the entire scope of scripture as culminating in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. Jesus is my hermeneutic. I believe that the Bible comes with its own instructions on how to use it, if we have eyes to see them.  The Bible records Jesus teaching that all of Scripture functions as a pointer to him.  Take Jesus’ rebuke of the Pharisees as an example: “You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!  Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life. “ (John 5:39-40, NLT) Jesus accuses the Pharisees of using the Bible as their endpoint destination rather than as a stepping stone to Jesus.  They studied the word of God in print, and they followed the word of God in print.  If they had a summary slogan it might be, “The Bible says it; that settles it; I believe it; let’s do it.”  But Jesus says to all of us, “Follow me.”  When reading the Bible, I believe we too need to need to make that next step to Jesus. 

I admit that it is possible to read Jesus from different perspectives. Having a ‘Jesus lens’ is not a magical way of solving all theological issues and interpretations. But I bring up the 'Jesus lens' as an example that we all choose wear lenses in the way we approach scripture. This is why when I begin a blog series on 'loving your enemy', I believe it is crucially important to talk about how we read Jesus. The phrase 'love your enemy' can be interpreted, as we will discover, in any number of ways.  

I am going to focus in on the different lenses Christianity has used to view the Sermon on the Mount/Sermon on the Plain in conjunction with the question: Is it appropriate for those who follow Jesus to take up lethal force against an enemy? 

Theological Lens 
How do you read the Sermon on the Mount?
Is it appropriate for those who follow Jesus to take up lethal force against an enemy? 
Jesus’ teachings are for a select kind of super-Christians called “priests”,“disciples”, or “saints”.

Yes and no. Catholic laity can engage in justified war, whereas priests and nuns are to forsake the use of the sword.

Jesus’ teaching is designed to function like the Old Testament law – to show us we can never be good enough and to prepare us for grace 
Yes. “Christians may without sin occupy civil offices to punish evildoers with the sword, engage in just wars, and serve as soldiers.” Augsburg Confession. Luther.

Jesus’ teaching was right for his day, but not meant for ours 
Yes and no.
Evangelicals & Augustine 
Jesus’ teaching was right in principle, but not meant to be put into practice in literally. 
Yes. “Loving your enemies is an inward disposition, although it is not exhibited in bodily action or in words".- Augustine 
Anabaptists, Eastern Orthodox, Early Pentecostals and the Early Church. 
Jesus’ teaching is meant to be lived out today, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Christ followers are meant to imitate Jesus and his ‘way of the Cross’, by loving, forgiving, extending mercy to enemies, even  to the point of death. 
No. A Christ follower cannot take a life. The Kingdom is without coercion. We persuade by love, witness, spirit, reason, rhetoric, and if need be: martyrdom.  

“The Sermon on the Mount stands in Matthew’s narrative scheme as Jesus’ programmatic disclosure of the kingdom of God and the life to which the community of disciples is called”. -Dr. Richard Hays

Jesus’ teaching will be enacted in the future establishment of the Kingdom. 
Yes. Jesus’ Kingdom ethic of enemy love will come one day, but today we fight. 

Do you notice anything? 

Which lens do you identify with the most?  


I self identify within the "Anabaptist/ Orthodox/Pentecostal" lens of interpreting the Sermon(s). I didn't always believe in nonviolence. I didn't always have the 'lenses' that I do now. But here are a few reasons why I am at this 'perscription': 

  • I believe that the interpretative principal should be derived from the text.
    • Jesus ends his body of teaching on the Mount/ Plain with the example of the wise and foolish builders. The wise builder is the one who "hears Jesus' words (meaning the previous body of teaching) puts them into practice". 
        • Jesus expects his disciples obey and to enact the teaching of the Sermon(s).
        • Jesus does not appear to regard the discipleship of the Sermon(s) as an impossible ideal 
    • Jesus last words in the Gospel according to Matthew are a reiteration of the Sermon on the Mount. 
        • "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you."
  • I believe that Matthew is teaching an 'inaugurated eschatology.'
    • Matthew is writing at least fifty years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. He is well aware that history is continuing and that the church must reckon with an extended period of time , ‘until the end of age’.  During that time, he (Matthew) envisions the church’s mission as one of discipling all nations to obey Jesus’ commands, including the command of nonviolent enemy love."  - Dr. Richard Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament
    • “Inaugurated eschatology, or the presence and the future of God’s kingdom, was a hallmark of Jesus’ public career. To pray “your kingdom come” at Jesus’ bidding, therefore, meant to align oneself with his kingdom movement and to seek God’s power in furthering its ultimate fulfillment.  It meant adding one’s own prayer to the total performance of Jesus’ agenda.  It meant celebrating in the presence of God the fact that the kingdom was already breaking in, and looking eagerly for its consummation.” - N.T. Wright, The Lord’s Prayer as a Paradigm of Christian Prayer
  • I believe that the New Testament teaches the 'priesthood of all believers"
    • "The suggestions that the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount is intended for a special class of supersanctified Christians is discredited by the Great Commision at the conclusion of the Gospel (according to Matthew). All baptized believers are to be taught to obeserve all that Jesus commanded." - Dr. Richard Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament
  • The Gospel(s) appear to  have a consistent prohibition of violence beyond the Sermon(s). 
    • In the temptation narrative (Mt 4.1-11) Jesus renounces the option of wielding power the kingdoms of the world, choosing instead to worship and serve God alone
    • In the three passion predictions (Mt 16:21-23, 17:22-23, 20:-17-19) Jesus foretells his fate as one who will be ‘persecuted for righteousness sake’; and he intimates that those who follow him will suffer the same fate
    • In Gethsemane,(Mt. 26.36) Jesus chooses to bear the cup of suffering, the way of obedience instead of the way of violence.
    • Jesus rebukes his disciple who uses the sword saying, “Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” (Mt 26:52) 
    • Jesus imposes an order of silence to keep his disciples from proclaiming him as Messiah until he as redefined the time in terms of the Cross. He instructs his disciples that their vocation must be the same as his. (Mk 8:27-9:1) 
    • Jesus withdraws from the crowd that wants to ‘take him by force to make him king’. (Jn 6.15)
    • Jesus openly renounces violence as a strategy for promoting God’s kingdom. (Lk 9:51-56)
    • Jesus’ death is fully consistent with his teaching: he refuses to lift a finger, rejects calling a legion of angels (Mt 26:53), and intercedes for his enemies. (Lk 23:34a) 
    • Jesus tells Pilate that his ““My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight” (Jn 18:36)

Reflection Questions- (feel free to post answers in comment section) 

1. Which traditon of interpretation (lens) do you most identify with? (see chart above) Why do you most identify with this lens? 

2. What has been your experience (or lack thereof) of peace teaching in the church? 

3. If you became convinced that Jesus calls us to absolute non-violent, active enemy love, no matter what... would you submit to his call? If you’re not convinced, what issue will this blog series need to address before you would be convinced? 

4. Can you think of any serious objections to the 'lens' that I am currently looking through? 

(Click here to go to Part 2)


  1. My position is between the Evangelical & Anabaptist, Early Church. We must always read Scripture in context and take into account the historical setting in which it was written as we apply it to today.

    I believe there are cases where regrettably force must be used with great care. The 2nd. World War is one case. There have been other cases since. We cannot always stand back while other human beings are slaughtered.

    In the Old Testament there are cases of God using secular leaders and states for His purposes.

  2. Hey David,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I would love to hear your comments as we continue the series.