|"They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." - Isaiah 2:4|
My Story: "Beating Swords Into Ploughshares."
I never really gave much thought to the area of peace-theology during my life before post-secondary: And why should I? My cultural upbringing is such that I would never need to question the righteousness of violence. It was just assumed that violence is always an acceptable option. What really mattered was the 'good-guys' and the 'bad guys', the 'us' verses 'them'. It is narrative that has overshadowed much of what we label as history. The story that is told and re-told, since first murder by Cain, is the cycling and re-cycling of revenge and retaliation: an eye for an eye. Is there a better way? I think so.
What disturbs me most when I think back to my upbringing is that I grew in a church culture that never spoke of Jesus' peace teachings. The Gospel I received growing up did not contain a radical vision for a new humanity, in which the walls of hostility are broken by the work of reconciliation through Christ our Lord. There was no call to participate in the life of Christ as ministers of reconciliation on a transnational level. I had what Dr. Scot McKnight calls a 'Soterian Gospel', that is a Gospel that is reduced to 'how to get saved' rather than a call to a Kingdom life. The problem with a myopic, soterian, post-Constantinian church culture is that it has created "the decided" rather than "the discipled". We want Jesus for what he can do for us. We have created a culture, of what Dallas Willard calls, ‘vampire christians', who only want a little blood for their sins but nothing more to do with Jesus until heaven. I fear that our church culture does not want the LORD who calls us to love our enemies here in this life. I am also really concerned that we have created a culture that confesses ‘belief’ in Jesus, but not in Jesus’ ideas.
Everything changed for me when I made the decision to follow God's call to Horizon College and Seminary. Formal training for ministry began in me a journey of formation, transformation and maturity. I began my time at college-by default- as an advocate of the Just-War theory. I even wrote a paper titled "Pacifism: An inconsistency". I argued in the paper that:
(1) Jesus' teaching only applies to individuals
(2) Loving your enemy is more about 'the heart' and less about the actions
(3) Protection of 'my property', 'my family', and 'my nation' legitimized the use of force.
(4) Jesus was an idealist and dispensationalist
(5) 'Love of enemy' could include violence toward them because the most 'loving thing' to do is maintain 'justice'
(6) The 'violence' in the temple is evidence that Jesus did not really mean what he was teaching
(7) Pacifism meant: Do nothing.
I couldn't have been more wrong. The paper I wrote during my second year awarded me an ok grade, but it left me unsettled and questioning. I was haunted by Jesus' teachings and example. I was haunted by whispers of the Holy Spirit, who was preparing my heart and mind for a shift. It all reached a firestorm for me when I discovered that one of my professors that I really respected was a pacifist. My first response was to take every opportunity I had to disagree and mock my professor. (Yes, I had a long way to go in my journey) It just seemed ridiculous to me at the time that such an intellectual person could be caught up in what I thought was such idealism. My professor's response was to lovingly nudge me on the journey of study and reflection. Questions like "Did Jesus really teach that?" seemed to pierce me like a hot knife to butter. This lead to me reading a few pacifist authors, discovering Bruxy Cavey during the series 'Inglorious Pastors', praying about the topic and reading afresh the Sermon on the Mount. Everything culminated in the cry of "I need to re-examine my positions." I discovered that every single one of my assumptions and arguments against Pacifism was dead wrong. Here's a breakdown of what I discovered: (in correspondence to the list above)
(1) The Sermon on the Mount is not private instruction for individuals; it is the political platform for a new kingdom, a city on a hill.
(2) Jesus does not divorce action from emotion. This is sort of gnostic thinking is antithetical to the witness of scripture.
(3) Within the category of neighbour stands both the loved one and the attacking someone. The commandment to love the neighbour requires the unequivocal rejection of preferential love and its replacement by Christian love, which “means not to exclude a single one.”
(4) Jesus taught an inaugurated eschatology that is not idealism, but the restoration of the new humanity. Or in other words, the call of discipleship is to live according to the new 'aeon', even while the old is yet languishing but sure to be defeated. Jesus in his death set us “free from the present evil age”.
(5) Justice and mercy are not in conflict; rather to do acts of mercy that lead to redemption and restoration is the establishment of true justice.
(6)There is no evidence that Jesus was violent toward people in the temple. (see this blog post for an explanation)
(7) Pacifism means do EVERYTHING but violence. Peace making requires a Spirit inspired creativity that persuades by love, witness, spirit, reason, rhetoric, and if need be: martyrdom.
Recap: A Summary of the Peace Theology Series:
1) The way of enemy love (enemy kindness/serving/doing good for) is the heart of God. Matthew 5:44-45; Romans 5:8, 10
2) Jesus calls us to love the way he loves. John 15:12-14; 1 John 3:16; Philippians 2:5-8
3) The way of the cross is fundamental to Christian discipleship. Matthew 10:37-39; 16:24-26; Mark 8:34-38; Luke 9:23-24; 14:27
4)Jesus teaches enemy love in explicit and practical terms. Matthew 5 // Luke 6
5) Jesus models enemy love throughout his life and death.
6)The Apostles taught and modelled enemy love, to death.
7) The Apostles taught that, when it comes to violence, the role of Christians and the role
of government are distinct and that we should draw the line at paying our taxes. Romans 12:14-13:7
8) Early church leaders unanimously taught and modelled pacifism, enemy love, and non-involvement in institutions of violence.
9) Not until Constantine (4th Century) did the church embrace Christian participation in violence.
10) Biblical objections raised tend to be examples of non-Christocentric Bible reading, exegesis of desperation, (un)intentional misunderstandings, sound-bite theology, or
arguments from silence.
11) Experiential objections raised tend to follow the standard wisdom of our world rather than the counter-wisdom of God. They may qualify us to be decent citizens, but not obedient Christians. 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; 2:13-14; 3:18-20 The goal of a Christ-follower is not to be what the world calls a “good” person, but what is so off the charts of human moral categories that non-Christians would have no easy word to describe you (except maybe “crazy”). Jesus doesn’t want you to live a good life. He wants you to live a loving life.
An important last question from Bruxy Cavey.
A Check List for Practically Living Out Nonviolent Enemy Love:
Review the following checklist and formulate/ devise an action plans(s) to love an ‘enemy’ in your unique context.
WHEN SOMEONE HATES YOU.
1. Assess your own life first.
a. Remove planks before splinters.
b. Be humble in your disposition.
c. Apologize if possible.
d. Do this personally, racially, nationally, religiously, etc.
2. See them as God sees them.
a. Infinitely valuable – worth dying for.
b. Dearly loved.
c. Image of God is primary identity.
d. Broken in need of repair, sick in need of healing, enslaved in need of
rescue, sinful in need of salvation.
e. Relate to the good in them, while confronting the bad.
3. Serve their needs (not their wants).
a. Offer opportunities of enlightenment through practical deeds of loving service.
b. Let all actions arise out of your genuine Christ-like love, not your need for self-preservation or punishment (especially when you are in a position to defeat or shame or overpower that person).
c. Trust God to avenge injustice (directly or through the state).
WHEN SOMEONE HURTS YOU.
1. Don’t confuse love with sentimentality (which can lead to enabling).
2. Practice caring confrontation.
3. Remember love is an active commitment to help others become who they were made to be. (Matthew 18:15-17; Luke 17:3-4)
WHEN YOU HAVE HURT SOMEONE.
1. Put aside everything else, including your religious commitments, in order to prioritize reconciliation.
2. Don’t delay or you may get too comfortable merely thinking about what is right and not acting on it. We must fight against the human tendency to confuse good intentions and good ideas with good actions. (Matthew 5:23-26)
WHEN SOMEONE IS HURTING.
1. Never settle for being nice when you can be loving.
2. Initiate relationship with those on the fringe of social circles.
3. Volunteer with compassion organizations (Matthew 25:31-46; James 1:27)
WHEN SOMEONE IS HURTING SOMEONE ELSE.
1. Never use pacifism as an excuse to be passive.
2. Practice peaceful intervention.
3. Go to war...as an agent of reconciliation.
A prayer for peacekeepers:
Thank you so much for reading this blog series. Be sure to check out Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, and Part 9.