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Hospitality: MennoNerds Synchroblog

Hospitality. Today is the second contribution to the MennoNerds Synchro-Blog on Missional Spirituality. My topic for today is Hospitality. This is mentioned seven times in the New Testament in the NET version. (Acts 28.7, Romans 12.13, 1 Timothy 3.2, 1 Timothy 5.10, Titus 1.8, 1 Peter 4.9) One clear theme is that this trait is expected of those trusted with leadership. What does it mean? What doesn’t it mean?

I look at hospitality as welcoming the “other” into our midst. There are two ways that we might do this that are not, in my view, hospitality. Highlighting these departures may help to illustrate what I think this term should mean to a follower of our Messiah, Jesus.

Mistake 1: Openness in Name Only

One way that I have seen hospitality interpreted within the Church is to have an “open door” policy. That is, we say that others are certainly welcome, and we would never tell anyone to leave. However, we make no attempt to actually connect with any guests. We don’t ask to hear their story, or attempt to provide context for ours. If a visitor is to come, they are welcomed to fit into our style and practice, but we make it clear in subtle, and not so subtle, ways that we like who we are and how things work around here. If our style doesn’t work for you, we really don’t want to hear about it. We’ll be happy to simply suggest that maybe we aren’t the church for you, and you ought to try out Church X across town where the style, theology, ethnic makeup, or such might be more to your liking and you might fit in better. That is, of course, if we even notice that you aren’t happy here and have a conversation with you about why that might be.

How this might seem to us to be hospitable is a mystery to me. Too often, however, this is what I’ve found among a large number of Christians. Let me provide an example or two from personal experience.

  • I have a friend who is a gay Christian. He would like a church where the words of Christ, and scripture in general are taken seriously. He would also like to be valued as a person within the church he attends. While I disagree with him on some issues of biblical interpretation, he is my brother. Sadly, many of the churches he has contacted that value scripture and the example of Christ have taken the approach to hospitality mentioned here. You are “welcome” to come worship with us, but if you aren’t willing to change to “fit in”, you won’t be truly included as one of us.
  • Another church I am familiar with has taken something of this approach with race. Looking around on a Sunday morning would provide a view of almost entirely white faces. In conversations with staff, a friend of mine was told that of course anyone, of any race, was welcome to worship at this church. However, no space was intentionally made to acknowledge the difference in experience of various racial groups in our culture. In hiring, promoting from within is was valued, and bringing in diverse staff voices to create an atmosphere of true welcome for racial minorities in this congregation didn’t seem to be on their radar.

These churches would have said they were hospitable, but were they? It is my view that hospitality is better judged from the perspective of the other, and how they would feel, rather than how we can justify ourselves as hospitable, yet maintain our comfort. These churches don’t really make the “other” feel welcomed or valued. They may go away thinking that we were nice to them, but they won’t feel like they’ve been included. They will walk away with a clear sense of the “other-ness” to us, and unlikely to want to come back.

Mistake 2: Openness with No Identity

The other extreme is to be so open as to simply accept anyone and anything as able to be included in our family. In this model, we don’t want to offend anyone else who might come into our Church, so we decide to water down any evidence of claim to unique belief or level of certainty. Some might call this “seeker centered”, but I’ve seen evidence of it outside of that particular context. Strong statements of belief will naturally divide, so this type of church tries to avoid that. Mission statements and sermons steer clear of exclusive claims to truth and end up sounding a lot like general “self-help” type advice. How does this look from the other?

  • This is the other extreme that my gay Christian friend has found frustrating. Churches that will happily welcome him, and his partner, into their midst and include them in ministry proved to stand for very little. My friend lamented the lack of challenge he felt when attending these congregations. The messages didn’t challenge him to take the call of Christ seriously. He wasn’t challenged to be more like Christ, more loving, more sacrificial, more devoted to others. He wished for a church that was willing to take scripture seriously, challenge him to live his faith, and be willing to engage on the disagreements that made him “other” to them.
  • Other churches I’ve seen like this can become great at welcoming non-Christians into their midst. They have a coffee-shop in the lobby. Everyone dresses down and comfortably. Things are set up not to present a hindrance to accepting Christ. None of this is bad, in itself. The problem is when this carries over to the message. The message may mention Jesus, but certainly not in a way that makes it seem like you’ll have to sacrifice anything should you choose to accept Him as savior. This phrase is telling, in itself. The emphasis is on what Christ can do for you, never what He might ask you to give up and do for the Kingdom of God. He’ll help you break bad habits, perhaps, but not to give up the habits you like.

These churches would also claim to be hospitable. Are they? I’ve heard from friends who went to churches like these and left thinking “why bother?” If we just accommodate whatever they believe when they come in, what value do we add to their lives? Why take the time to come to church, other than to hang out with friends? Surely there is something we can add between sending them away without ever engaging with them and the opposite pole of welcoming them so openly that we add nothing of value to their lives. In the first case, they might get the impression that our Messiah might not be for them, since they are not one of us. In the second, they may get the impression that they don’t need our Messiah, because He doesn’t really say anything.

A Better Way: Christ-like Hospitality

A see the example of Christ as a model for us. Somehow he lived in a way that welcomed the “tax collectors and sinners” without ever compromising the difficulty of the message He was sharing and the sacrifice to which He called His followers. How can we look at this model and take a message for the Church? What we see is that Jesus clearly loved people, even those He disagreed with. No, He didn’t water down His message, and even told people at times not to come unless they had fully counted the cost. Somehow, despite this focus on the cost of joining the Kingdom effort, Jesus drew the “other” to Himself. Even those who disagreed couldn’t resist engaging Him in debate and conversation. While they were often shut down by Jesus, they kept coming back. What can we learn?

We need to make space to hear the “other”. By default, we as hosts have the power and authority. A truly Christian approach makes space to say welcome by inviting the other to have space to share. Yes, we can offer background on who we are and have been, but it is more work (and more important) that we make space for the voices of others to be heard. This is risky business. We might actually learn from them, and find we need to change. This challenge is healthy, and I would claim necessary. True hospitality involves vulnerability. If we are not willing to listen and learn, we have not really opened up anything to our guest.

However, this is not intended to say that we should predetermine that we will change to accommodate the other, regardless of view. We should suppose that we might have something to offer the other, just as they may have something to offer us. True hospitality is to offer the other the chance to teach and change us as we offer them the chance to be changed by us. Notice, these are offers. We must not use our power as host to insist that the other must change to accommodate to us, any more than we tell them that we will blindly accommodate them.

Defining Other

This applies to all sorts of “others”, not just race or sexuality.

  • Do we make space to listen to women, not just men? I’ve experienced too many churches where only male perspectives are given the stamp of authority. We as men need to learn from feminine perspectives if we are truly to understand the fullness of the image of God that is found in both male and female.
  • Do we value the input of all generations? Some value the old at the expense of the young, while others reverse this. It ought to be true that anyone can share and teach the rest of us. I need to hear from the experienced voices in our congregation, but I also need to learn from younger adults, and even teens and young children. One of the times of greatest growth in my faith was when “leading” a youth small group of guys. The guys in my group taught me at least as much as I taught them. Receiving communion from one of these teens in our main worship service one Sunday was meaningful on many levels for me, as it reminded me of all this young man, and others in our group, had taught me before he even graduated from high school.
  • Do we value those who are single? Those who are single, whether never married or single again because of divorce or death, are often given the impression that they are less valued in their singleness than they would be married. This can be subtle, but it is still insidious. I’ve seen churches that will not allow a single adult to minister to youth, as if their singleness makes them more likely to be tempted to inappropriate behavior. In a previous church I sat in on discussions of what we were looking for in a new pastor, and it was clearly assumed that the pastor would be male and married. This was never directly mentioned, but all of the comments were about what “his family” would expect of us and what we wanted him and his family to be like. Childless couples are often not much better off after the first few years of marriage or if they have made it clear they do not intend to have children. Many churches naturally favor families. It is as if we believe that a married pastor can speak to anyone, but a single adult can only minister to other singles. I believe this is a lie of the enemy to keep us from learning from and valuing these brothers and sisters.
  • Do we who are the racial majority in this country realize how little we understand about being a minority in the US? We need to provide space to truly listen and learn from minority voices. Jesus was not white. He may have been in the majority in his area, but His race was not in power. The white, European Romans were in charge, and Jesus was a member of a group that was oppressed and controlled by others. How are we making room in our white churches to hear from racial minorities?
  • Do we make space in our comfortable middle-class and above churches to hear from the poor? Jesus wasn’t wealthy, by any account. He didn’t often hang out with the wealthy, and often warned of the dangers of wealth. Still, my experience is that it is easy to view the poor either as at fault for their own condition, or as a charity case to be given handouts. Neither of these value the poor as a person, or give them the impression that “us” could include “them”. (The racial minority and poor groups overlap way too much to be coincidence in the US.)
  • Do we realize that those with differing views on sexuality may still read and value scripture? Are we willing to engage in dialog to understand them and their views? Too often, we are not. My own experience thankfully gave me the opportunity to do this with the friend I mentioned above. We say down to talk statistics one night (we both hold PhDs in the field), and the conversation somehow (I think it was God who helped us get there) turned to faith and his sexuality. He opened up about his experience and his struggles. I listened. I learned a lot. While we still disagree on many things with regard to faith and practice, he is my brother in the family of God, and I needed to hear from him. I’m sure we will talk again and I want to learn more from him. I pray that he will find a congregation which will allow him to learn from them and will be willing to learn from him.
  • Do we welcome those with disabilities and insure that they have full access to participation in our community life? I’ve seen too many churches who use their old buildings as an excuse to allow those with physical disabilities to feel unvalued. Can we create ways for them to function fully in ministry and life within our church? What about mental disabilities? Are those with mental delays allowed to minister to others or simply looked at as someone to be ministered to? We ought to value and respect these people. Whether the disability is physical or mental, there is much those of us who are “abled” can and should learn from these brothers and sisters. When we allow our ability to prevent us from learning from others, we disable ourselves.
  • Do we welcome those whose views on origins, predestination, peace, etc. make them an “other” in our church? In my church, my openness to evolutionary science is a minority view. While I am accepted and included, I do not bring it up much because I have felt at times like this would result in a fracture of my relationship with certain other members of the congregation. I’m sure that there are those who would disagree without a break in relationship, but I also know that is not universally true. I also know that while we as a church do not believe in predestination (also known as Calvinism or Reformed Theology), there are those who worship with us, and have for a long time, who would at least endorse parts of that theology. Peace theology can be a harder line to walk. How do you invite those in law enforcement or the military into your midst if your congregation feels compelled by the peace teaching of Christ? A tough question, but a necessary one. Hopefully, one that can be answered without changing or hiding the stance on issues of correct practice, but also without losing the ethic of love that would still make the “other” in this case feel welcomed and valued in spite of the difference in opinion about the choice of career. Other issues would similarly need to walk the line of balancing faithfulness to our beliefs with flexibility to work with those in the family of God with whom we disagree.
  • One last area I will mention, but not discuss: Do those of us in churches where the congregation is mostly from the same minority group in the larger culture extend this hospitality to someone from the majority group joining them? I can’t speak to this much, since I don’t have the experience of being a minority or having attended such a church. I am looking forward to reading Christena Cleveland’s Disunity in Christ, in which I believe that she addresses this issue. It is near the top of my to-read list.

I’ll stop there, though there are many others I could mention. I have already added more than the two or three examples I had planned, simply because it is so easy to think of people I’ve seen slighted by churches.

In short, we do not want to be so rigid in our confidence in our theology that we exclude others with whom we differ. Nor do we desire to simply accept all with no call to commitment and acknowledgement of the cost and necessity of discipleship. We must walk the walk, but with love, so that we may attract those who are to us “other”, and build relationships. This must value the “other”, without devaluing ourselves. We must see the value in relationship with others outside our own church if the body of Christ is to be built up through the hospitality that we see modeled by our Lord.


I’d love to turn this into a dialog with my readers. Feel free to use the comments to respond to the following questions:

  • Have ideas that have helped your congregation practice hospitality? I’d love to hear them in the comments!
  • Have experiences where your congregation has learned from doing something wrong? I’d love to hear that as well so we can learn from each other.
  • For those who have been the “other”, where has the church gotten it right? Where have we gotten it wrong? Where do you resonate with my points above, or what have I missed or overstated?

Comments from those who have not commented before will be delayed briefly until they are approved, but I assure you that I will only filter inappropriate/hateful comments and spam. Honest reflections on the question, even in disagreement with my themes, will be approved and appear as soon as I can clear them through.


This article is part of a MennoNerds Synchro-Blog on Missional Spirituality for the month of February.  MennoNerds is exploring through this event Spirituality through an Anabaptist lens and what it means concerning participation in the mission of God. My previous contribution on Family can be found here.

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A Mathematical Love Story

Here is the obligatory love post on Valentines Day. It is a bit ironic that this day is named after a celibate man who was beheaded for his faith. I’ll leave that alone, and share this “love story” with a mathematical flare. If you make it through to the end, there is a math pun in it for you. Enjoy!


For more serious posts, keep tracking with the cool stuff going on over at MennoNerds.com, especially with our Missional Spirituality series!


So What Is an Anabaptist?

Click to learn about Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight (from Jesus Creed)

I have clearly identified myself as an Anabaptist on this blog, most recently on Monday as I posted a blog in the MennoNerds Synchro-blog series on Missional Spirituality in the Anabaptist tradition. That might lead some to ask what an Anabaptist is. I found an interesting answer today from Scot McKnight at his Jesus Creed blog. He gives some background on the development of Anabaptism, and how the tradition has benefited even those outside this strand of Christianity. Then he gives three basic traits, which I’ll copy here in his words. He bases his work on Harold Bender’s The Anabaptist Vision.

1. The essence of Christianity, or the Christian life, is discipleship — a committed following of Christ in all areas of life. The word on the street in the 16th Century, and this word repeated often enough by bitter enemies of the Anabaptists, was that they were consistent and devout Christians. If Luther’s word was “faith,” the word for the Anabaptists was “follow.” The inner conversion was to lead to external transformation.

2. A new conception of the church as a brotherhood of fellowship. The ruling image of a church among the Catholics and Reformers was more national and institutional and sacramental, while the ruling image for the Anabaptists was fellowship or family. Joining was voluntary; the requirement was conversion; the commitment was to holy living and fellowship with one another. Thus, the Anabaptist separated from the “world” to form a society of the faithful. This view of the church led to economic availability and liability for one another.

3. A new ethic of love and peaceful nonresistance. Apart from rare exceptions like Balthasar Hubmaier and the nutcases around Thomas Müntzer, the Anabaptists lived a life shaped by love and nonviolence. They refused to coerce anyone.

Surely there are others who would define Anabaptism differently, or at least highlight different aspects of the tradition. I think that this, at least for me, well defines the main aspects of Anabaptism. I have increasingly realized the importance of these concepts in Scripture, and thus they have become crucial to my own walk with God.

Fellow Anabaptists, which do you think is most important to the tradition? What would you add to McKnight’s list? Do you think one of his three are not as important to the tradition as he claims? To those from outside the Anabaptist stream, what do you think of these? How are these represented in your faith tradition? For things that are not in your tradition, why do you think that your tradition doesn’t value these?



The Three Oldest Wilcock Kids (Youngest to Oldest)

The Three Oldest Wilcock Kids (Youngest to Oldest)

Family. What comes to mind when you hear this word and contemplate what it means? For me, as I assume is true with most of my readers, there are multiple layers of meaning. Of course, I first think of my wife and our kids. I then think back and remember growing up with my parents and my sister. My mind also expands to my extended family: aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, etc. Now this includes in-laws, both my wife’s family and my sister’s in-laws.

In 2009 we added another layer to this mental image. We (my wife, daughter Abby, and myself) adopted two children into our family. For us, this has gone further than “just” adding two more children. Our children came to live with us in the summer of 2008 as foster children. During the 15 months that they lived with us, we grew to know some members of their birth family. This relationship has continued, and now means that we include some of these members as a part of our image of family. Legally, they are not related to us, or our kids. Biologically and emotionally, they are a part of the story that led two of our children into our home. I cannot imagine the process without them, and all that they added in helping us adjust and understand the two young children we were suddenly trying to parent. Ironically, I could not have imagined life with a third set of “grandparents” for our kids before this process. We did not go into the adoption process planning to long-term foster first, or hoping for the added complexity of dealing with a birth-family. Still, that complexity has led to real beauty as well.

There is another layer to family, our family of close friends. Our best friends often take on something of true brother-hood (or sister-hood) in our lives. I have several friends who I look at as true brothers and sisters. I don’t mean this simply in the sense that we sometimes use as Christians (more on that later), but in the sense that I know that they are there for me no matter what the situation and whether we’ve just had an argument about some area of disagreement. I know full well that some of my friends would drop everything to be there for my family if there were a need, just as my parents and in-laws would be.

In the larger context of the Church, we are supposed to be just that kind of family. In fact, whether we feel the connection or not, we are brothers and sisters. In a story captured by Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus radically redefines His own family. His mother and brothers come to see Him but cannot get to Him. He is informed that they are present and looking to speak with Him. He turns to those within the sound of His voice and says “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” (using Luke’s gospel from the NET translation) Here Jesus radically redefines a family based on faith, not blood; a family based on the Spirit, not the flesh.

This idea of a “family of faith” is also found in the epistles. Paul writes to the Galatians: “So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who belong to the family of faith.” (Galatians 6.10 NET) So we do good to all, but “especially” those in the broad Church. Also, Peter writes: “Honor all people, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the king.” (1 Peter 2:17 NET) Both of these apostles use the term family to refer to believers, or those in the faith. This predates denominations and the schism common in the time of the reformation and beyond, but I think that we should read this to include all those who call Jesus their Messiah and King.

How does this impact life as a follower of Jesus? I think it has some major implications that are often overlooked. I have explored some of these themes before, but not specifically with this motivation. I think it comes down to a question of allegiance and who we are most bound to support and defend. If my primary focus is on family based on biology, I will likely align with nations based on geography and ethnicity. This is so common in many Evangelical circles that we see a close alignment of groups like the Religious Right, the Moral Majority and the like. The mainline churches tend to align with the left side of the political divide. Both sides have bought into the lie, I believe, that family is defined for us the way the Powers would want us to define it: according to the flesh or the physical world.

Our Messiah calls us to a different, higher, definition. We are to define our family according to the Spirit. This means that a believer in China, Burkina Faso, France, or Brazil is a member of my family in a way that is more real than anyone outside the faith who lives on my block. Thus, when I see my earthly country of residence making decisions that hurt my brothers or sisters in other parts of this world, I should be grieved. When the United States bombs civilians in a Muslim country, and claims to be a Christian nation, I grieve. This gives the impression that Jesus would bomb them, and makes life so much worse for whatever Christians may be present in that country. The plight of Christians in Iraq since the war that removed Saddam Hussein from power has been horrific. My family members in Iraq have suffered greatly because of the actions of the US. Which side should I support? For too many Christians down through history, this question has been easy to answer, but for the wrong reasons. We have assumed that since our country is largely populated by people who identify themselves with Jesus, God must be on the side of our country and thus our actions are probably right. There may be some sentiment to feel bad for the Christians in Iraq, and to offer them asylum within our borders, but there is not much real remorse for the effects on these sisters and brothers of ours.

I submit that this is a sign of not being aligned with our King. While I applaud the good that the US, or any other country, may do in the name of Jesus, I cannot blindly endorse any activity. The struggle between nations is not my primary focus. These struggles, and the debates among Christians in how to wage them, often miss the real point. The true battle is between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world which scripture refers to as the Powers, or principalities of the air. We are a part of a Kingdom based on family, the Kingdom of God. All of the members are family, sisters and brothers, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters. This is the image to which we are called. I pray that as we follow Christ in His self-sacrificial love and refusal to stoop to the use of violence which comes so easily to us, we will rediscover how to be family with all of those fellow believers.

This has other implications on a more interpersonal level. Within any family there will likely be squabbles. Unfortunately, those sometimes happen in public. While we can at times air our differences, we should be careful of our tone when we do this. I may disagree publicly with you, but I must be careful to make sure that anyone who hears about the difference, also knows that I still consider you family. I am an Anabaptist. If you follow Christ and disagree, I think you are wrong, but you are still a member of my family. I disagree strongly with much of Calvinist theology on many points, but still count Calvinists as members of my family. I’m not Catholic, but if you are, you are still my brother or sister. Hearing and doing the will of God is the key, according to Jesus. If you are endeavoring to follow the way of our Messiah as best you can understand right now, I count you as one of “mine”. We are a part of each other, like it or not. Now, let’s be family together and start working together to accomplish our Father’s mission. Along the way we’ll talk, and probably disagree, but together we are God’s workers to change the world and awaken people to His love for them and invite them into the family.

Coming full circle, that’s what God’s family is all about. Adoption into the family, just as it was for our family, is life changing. There is no such thing as an adoption where no one is changed. Our adoption changed life for my wife, for our biological daughter, and for me. It also changed life for two precious children who were without parents to guide them and help them grow. Adoption is complicated, messy, and life-altering. It is also life-giving, both to the adopted and the adopters. This is especially true as we recall that we are also adopted. We love because He first loved us.


For more on our adoption and my thoughts about adoption, check out posts tagged foster/adoption or  categorized as adoption. For my previous discussions of allegiance, you can check out this post.


This article is part of a MennoNerds Synchro-Blog on Missional Spirituality for the month of February.  MennoNerds is exploring through this event Spirituality through an Anabaptist lens and what it means concerning participation in the mission of God.

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A Day to Listen

As I recover from a busy late summer and fall, I expect to be back to blogging regularly in February. Today, I wanted to take some time as we as a country, and Messiah College as a campus, stop to remember the life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to provide space for those of us who are part of the dominant white culture to listen to and learn from minority voices. I’ve decided to highlight three pieces today that I think provide food for thought.

Drew Hart
(image from article linked here)

First, my friend Drew Hart offers a reminder that King’s legacy has been co-opted by both sides of the political debates, and that this has cost us much and poisoned our ability to really understand his prophetic voice, which still has much to speak with us today. A taste (read the whole thing here):

“Our” Dr. King that we celebrate each year has been completely co-opted by the right and the left to further the shallow partisan ideological work in American society. Dr. King’s legacy has been thoroughly domesticated, like a house cat after being de-clawed and neutered. He is now safe. Safe to mold into our projections of who we want him to be. Dr. King is no longer a radical prophetic voice of a Christian preacher crying out in the wilderness. Instead, after he died, we built him a monument to adore, after our liking, and gave it a seat at the emperor’s table. However, the prophet never sits and fellowships at the table with an imperial ruler. The prophet is not accepted by the social order it speaks life into because he is always seen as a threat.

Dr. King, in actuality, was a great threat. As a devout Christian leader shaped by a prophetic imagination and the life and teachings of Jesus, he dared to speak untimely truths that were always seen as a nuisance. …

While it is not easy to hear what Drew has to say about the role that even northern whites played in the demonizing of Dr. King, it is a reminder to those of us who like to hide behind being on the “right side” of the Mason Dixon Line. While slavery died here first, racism has not died, even here.

Blog Gravatar of “h00die R”
(image from article linked here)

Next I would like to point to another voice minority voice calling out to all of us to remember what Dr. King’s call was, and to not be so quick to assume that a minority president means that King’s “I Have a Dream” speech has been fulfilled. Once again, I offer a taste, but you should read the whole piece here.

In a recent lecture and subsequent q & a session with students at the University of Rochester, political studies professor and MSNBC analyst Melissa Harris-Perry talked about how a more human, less divinized, messier approach to King Jr.’s legacy should be the key to winning a more progressive future. Ideas are what matters, they are what last and change the world.

MLK Jr. wasn’t shot down for his beliefs. MLK Jr.’s and the women, the other adult men, and children who marched with him, their bodies were not tortured because of their abstract notions of equality, their patriotic love for the U.S. Constitution, or their religious fervor. Bodily encounters are what change the world through praxis. Liberating Praxis changes things. Battles of ideas are waged through the mediation of human anatomy.

In the full piece, Rod reminds us that Dr. King’s, and indeed the main thrust of the civil rights movement, practice involved nonviolence. This was a core value and commitment that was woven throughout the movement.

Bishop Woodie W. White
(image from original post, Courtesy of Emory University)

Finally, I want to point my readers to a letter written from one of King’s friends and allies in the civil rights movement. Each year, United Methodist Bishop Woodie W. White writes a letter to his friend Dr. King about the progress, or lack thereof, in the fight for equality. This years letter reflects poignantly the mixed feelings Rev. White has about the year just past. Again, I’ll share a bit here, but you should read the whole piece.

Dear Martin:

I write this year with mixed emotions. I am mostly saddened by the number of public acts of racial bigotry in the United States and a seeming numbing of racial sensitivity and commitment to continue a journey toward equal justice for all. I have been utterly disappointed by political efforts to disenfranchise African-American voters and others by many state legislatures and the lack of outrage by the citizenry in general and the media in particular. Further, Martin, there is the emergence of what author Michelle Alexander calls The New Jim Crow. (I call it the last plantation in America.) Her book reveals the consequences of what she describes as “mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness.” It is a growing national shame, largely ignored!

These and other events mar our landscape of racial progress and promise. They have pushed me from my usual hope and optimism to unusual discouragement.

I hope that this will draw out attention today to the real Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The version of King that we are shown through the media and our social networking feeds is too often a distorted view that doesn’t sound anything like the real man. I would suggest that after listening to the modern voices I’ve offered here, we should make time to periodically listen to the voice of the man himself, in his own words. Fortunately, many recordings of King’s speeches exist, and can be found for purchase or borrowed from your local library’s collection. Please take the time to get to know this modern day prophet. After taking some time last summer to do so for myself, I am convinced that King still has much to say to us … if only we will listen.


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Was 4 July Really Independence Day?

Did this document bring independence to all in the United States of America?

Set aside for a second when the Declaration was first drafted (2 July), when it was signed (August, I believe) or when it was finalized (reportedly as late as November). None of these have anything to do with the question in the title. The question is about the word independence, but not whether the United States really became independent that day, or with the Declaration at all. My bigger issue is the fact that we are expected to celebrate an independence that certainly wasn’t for everyone.

Set aside for now the fact that true freedom from the tyranny of all governments can only come from abandoning them for the Kingdom of God (see previous posts about the Kingdom vs. nationalism). My issue is that even if you believe that the independence that eventually came to these United States was important and just*, the independence won in the war didn’t even apply to most of the people who lived in the United States at that time.

To begin, if you were a Native American, sorry. Yeah, really, you were here first, and the colonists for the most part swindled you out of your land, killed you for it, or just waited for you to move on and squatted on your land. After all, the King of England (or some other country) had given them the rights to your land. (No one seems to have been greatly concerned that it wasn’t theirs to give.) This new independence didn’t really pertain to you. You were “free” to keep moving west until we wanted that land as well. Congrats, you can vote now, but we’ve done so much damage to your ways of life and your heritage as a people that you are unlikely to ever recover without a miracle, which I pray God grants you.

Moving on, if you were a slave, this independence really didn’t help you either. Maybe it helped your owner, but I doubt you would have noticed a difference. You were property, and made his way of life economically profitable. Thanks, but it would be almost one hundred years before another war would be fought over whether states had the right to decide whether it was legal to own other people. Even after that, we Americans were pretty reluctant to give you votes, and actually act like “all men are created equal” applied to men with colored skin. This hits close to home for me. Two of my children are bi-racial with an African-American father. I doubt either of them would have benefited from the independence of our country.

While we’re talking about my kids, my girls, white or mixed, wouldn’t have been helped much either. Sure, all white men are created equal, but women? Well, not really. Sure, a white woman’s way of life might have been affected by the war and its results, but mostly through their husband. If your husband supported the English, good luck! Did he die in the war? Hope you remarried well and thanks for his sacrifice, but I’m pretty sure life would have gotten much, much harder. If your husband survived and returned healthy, he might have benefited from the result which would make your life a bit better, perhaps. All in all, though, the lot of the women predominantly fell with how the men fared. They were no “freer” after the war than before in any real sense unless they indirectly benefitted.

What about white men? At least all of them benefitted, right? Well, those who owned land, perhaps. They now had a say in the government, but I suspect that many of the poor who rented land or worked for others still found life hard and saw little real benefit from the new government established on a democracy that favored those who could read, write, and vote. Instead of being ruled by a relatively benign government they rarely saw and governors in their state, they were now ruled by a government elected from among their own neighbors, but generally the ones with land and assets, and the most interest in protecting people like themselves, rather than the poor renters or laborers.

All in all, I think it is fair to say that the Declaration of Independence really brought little freedom of any sort to the vast majority of the people. Even today, many people are lacking any real sense of freedom. Many work in jobs they can only justify because of the paycheck. The work itself is not rewarding or interesting to them. Many of us find ourselves in mountains of debt wondering if we’ll be able to make it to the next paycheck without sacrificing the lifestyle we are accustomed to. Minorities of all types face discrimination and racism every day, while many of us in the white majority don’t even see how the system is rigged against their success. (Having biracial kids has been a real eye opener for me, and made me more aware of my own advantages.) Women still fight for the same opportunities as men. This is sadly true as much in churches as anywhere else. Immigrants, legal and illegal, often find challenges from those of us who easily forget that all but the Native Americans had ancestors who once were immigrants here. There are real issues here, I understand, but do we approach these issues as those whose families once chose to come here for one reason or another?

In short, it is easy to celebrate as if we all have experienced this same “independence”, but the reality is that only in Christ is there true freedom, and only in His Kingdom are we empowered to live the truth that all of mankind is really created equal, as Paul states that in Christ there is no longer slave or free, Jew or Greek, male or female. These are no longer the qualifiers for admission to the Kingdom. All of the socio-economic, racial and ethnic, and gender differences don’t help you to get into the Kingdom. In fact, those differences add to the beauty of the Kingdom.

This week I am reminded and saddened by a celebration that seems to me to pretend that something had been accomplished. The truth is that only in the Kingdom will the ideal be worked out. Perhaps it is time to live out our prayer that God’s Kingdom would come (from the poorly named The Lord’s Prayer), and start to do our part to bring about that Kingdom, first in our own churches, and then in the world around us as we live our lives. It seems to me that the Kingdom can and should be made real here! Let’s get started, shall we?

*Don’t get me started, but I honestly don’t see any reasonable way to argue that the American Revolution could be justified even if I believed in Just War Theory.

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A Disembodied Head? Part 11: Unity

One Body from Many Nations

20 “I am not praying only on their behalf, but also on behalf of those who believe in me through their testimony, 21 that they will all be one, just as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. I pray that they will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me. 22 The glory you gave to me I have given to them, that they may be one just as we are one – 23 I in them and you in me – that they may be completely one, so that the world will know that you sent me, and you have loved them just as you have loved me. (John 17.20-23)

Let me be perfectly clear: I do not believe that Jesus intended for the splintering of His Body. How, then, can we reconcile this passage with the multitude of denominations and theologies that exist in the world today within Christianity? I think that there are some good reasons and some bad reasons for the variety of denominations.


In many ways, we work best in community. Clearly, Jesus intended for this kind of unity and commitment to the mission. We can likely agree that there is much for the Church to do. Bonding together with others focused on the same mission and call to advance the cause of the Kingdom of God. Some denominations arose from a desire to band together on a mission to reach a certain type of people or address a certain need. While this does not require the creation of a new denomination, it does provide a good reason for a group of people to move off from the main body in a direction. At McBIC (Mechanicsburg Brethren in Christ, my church), we have several groups that have banded together in this “missional” sense with a definite goal that is their passion. However, these folks have not left our congregation, nor has their passion been a cause of division. In fact, we celebrate their calling and seek as a church to support and empower them to achieve their purpose. In other settings the mission may require a “break” of sorts, but while there may be a new direction, there should be room to call each other family through this.


As we read Scripture and study the life of our Messiah, we may come to various conclusions about the issues of doctrine that may not be completely and clearly laid out in the Bible. At times, this may be due to seeming contradictions in the text. At other times this may be due to different readings of how the original languages should be translated into English. At other times, we may debate whether the admonitions in the Old Testament or the Epistles are intended for all time, or simply for the people to whom they were originally written. We debate in what ways the coming of the Messiah alters our reading of the Old Covenant and how it applies to the Church. Were some of the teachings of Jesus intended only for the disciples while He walked this earth, but not for us in our day?

I believe that there are correct answers to each of these questions, but that we in our limited human nature must admit that “now we see through a glass darkly”. None of us can know that our theology is perfect. While we must hold this humility in mind, we also should wrestle with these questions and come to our own conclusions. From these thoughts, it is logical that we will tend to band with those we find who come to similar conclusions to these questions. I don’t believe that this “clustering” with like-minded believers is necessarily evil, but it certainly can be used for evil by our Enemy.

As an example, I wouldn’t feel comfortable worshiping in a Reformed church. The image that reformed theology casts of God is inconsistent with my reading of Scripture and looking at the words, life, death, and resurrection of Christ. I think it is perfectly healthy for the body to have a church for people who see that in Scripture, but for there to be other options for Christians, like me, who see the Scriptural image of God differently. Issues like baptism, eschatology, non-violence, and the like provide some explanation for the dividing of the body into many sub-parts.

On these issues, it is understandable, and perhaps healthy, for us to gather with others like us. Then it is even understandable that we would want our gathering (church?)  to connect with other gatherings of like-minded individuals in other areas, leading to denominations. This can be healthy and wholesome, but not all schisms are as healthy.

Unhealthy Schism

Where this turns into an unhealthy division is when we begin to look at others in the Body of Christ as less Christian, or even un-Christian. There are good reasons to think that some who call themselves Christian don’t have any right to associate with the Name of Christ (Westboro Baptist comes to mind), but this is the exception, not the rule. I don’t agree with reformed theology. In fact, I find it a major turn-off. Still, I consider those who hold this view to still be my brothers and sisters in the Body, and those with whom I should have fellowship in the Kingdom.

If we use our own grouping (church) to define others as outside the church, we are on dangerous ground. If we further attempt to suggest that being outside of our church/denomination necessarily implies being outside of the Kingdom of God, we are making decisions that are God’s purview. I can acknowledge that others with whom I disagree, have something to teach me, even if I never accept their theology. We are all a part of Christ’s Body, and therefore we must work together, in spite of or through, our differences to advance the Kingdom. If we turn our attention, as we are so often tempted to do, to attacking each other in front of the world, we will never accomplish our mission.

Growing as Family

Within the Body, there is room for disagreement and discussion. We must be able to listen to those outside of our particular denomination if we are to see our own blind spots. This does not mean that we all need to become theological clones. Nor should we deny that there is Truth, which we are all striving towards. I can tell you that you are wrong without condemning you as outside the family. Likewise, you can point out my flaws or holes in my theology without condemning me to hell. I have this funny feeling that we’re all going to find our notions pretty funny when the Kingdom does come in its fullness in the new heaven and earth. As I said earlier, none of us are God, thus it is exceedingly unlikely that any one person has flawless theology. I also think that it is safe to say that all of us have plenty of work just to live out the theology we have, without worrying about how well others are living out theirs (or worse, judging how well they are living out ours!). We do, rightly speak to each other on the theological level. However, none of this is worth anything if we don’t then go out and serve the Kingdom together as family!

Hmmmm…. maybe there’s another post in the series embedded there.


As a side note for those interested: Bruxy Cavey and The Meeting House (BIC Church in Toronto, ON, Canada) had a wonderful series during the summer of 2011 where Christians from other faith traditions were invited into their service to explain their theology from the stage, and then offer a short sermon. The differences were clear, but The Meeting House took it as an opportunity to learn from others. Their core theology remained unchanged, but what a great way to model for us all that we are truly one Body. The sermons in the series can be found in audio or video format in their teaching archives and a podcast interacting with the differences in the faith tradition can be found in their podcast archives (this link was correct at the time of this post, as podcasts are added this might become outdated). I’m personally addicted to The Meeting House podcasts, as well as podcasts from Greg Boyd’s church Woodland Hills.


For the whole A Disembodied Head? series, check out this page.


A Disembodied Head? Part 10: The Spirit

What Role Does the Spirit Play?

10 “Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you, I do not speak on my own initiative, but the Father residing in me performs his miraculous deeds. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me, but if you do not believe me, believe because of the miraculous deeds themselves. 12 I tell you the solemn truth, the person who believes in me will perform the miraculous deeds that I am doing, and will perform greater deeds than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. 15 If you love me, you will obey my commandments. 16 Then I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever – 17 the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it does not see him or know him. But you know him, because he resides with you and will be in you.” (John 14.10-17)

I don’t know about you, my readers, but I’m pretty sure that I’ve never thought of myself in terms of doing even greater deeds than the miraculous deeds of Christ. I’ve never raised the dead, or walked on water, or anything that seems nearly as spectacular as all of that. How do we as the Body of Christ live up to this?! There seems to be only a few possible ways of dealing with this passage, and the totality of Christ’s teaching on the subject:

  1. Christ was mistaken, and we were never intended to do greater deeds than He did, either individually or collectively. (I think we can pretty safely toss this out if we take the words of Christ to be an important guide to Christian life.)
  2. Christ was referring only to His disciples, that is, those in the room with Him while He was talking.
  3. Christ was referring simply to the volume of our deeds, not to any one person doing greater things than he did. That is, if we were to total all of the miracles everywhere in the church, especially the miracles of rebirth through salvation and bringing people into relationship with Christ, the sum total would be greater than the impact Christ had during His short earthly ministry. This is especially true if we sum over all of Church history, rather than at any one time.
  4. Christ meant what He said literally, and intended for it to apply individually to each person. We should all be raising the dead, healing the sick, blind, deaf, mute and lame. The fact that most never do those things is a sign of weak faith, or no faith at all.
  5. Some combination of 3 and 4 might be intended. Christ was thinking collectively, at least to some extent, but even then we should be seeing all of these types of miracles (in addition to life change, not instead of) in the Body, even if individuals have their own unique gifts and calling within that Body.

I think that 5. is probably the closest to what I think Christ had in mind, but I would have to admit I have generally lived as if I expect that the truth is somewhere between 2. and 3. I rarely exhibit, or even attempt to believe for, the physical healing and clearly miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit. In this respect, I do believe that I have something to learn from the Charismatic movement. Before you wonder how far off “the deep end” I’m heading, I do not believe that God has promised healing and wholeness physically in this life for all of the redeemed. It is possible that we might be miraculously saved, but this is not guaranteed. In fact, Christ’s miracles were most often used to draw in those seeking for more of God, not used particularly for those within the Body already! Most of the disciples died horrible deaths, and we have no record in Church history of a disciple being raised from the dead (at least that I am aware of). Peter’s mother is healed. A centurion’s servant is healed. Jairus’ daughter is raised.

Personally, I think a balanced view is appropriate. It is easy to hear the “health and wealth” or prosperity gospel and be turned off to the whole area and head for the opposite extreme. I don’t think, however, that this is healthy for the Church. We need the miraculous, not as a side-show, but as a manifestation of the power of God that is still at work today. Yes, the Spirit can transform our lives, but He can also work physical miracles. The key is that the Spirit will always point us back to Christ. If a miracle is performed that draws attention to the person working the miracle instead of the power of Christ, then we have gone off course. Even if that is not our initial intent, we must be honest about the reasons we want a miracle. If I want a miracle to glorify God, and it will also get me what I want that is unrelated to the Kingdom purposes, then I should be very wary of toying with the power of God.

Does this view make sense in light of the totality of Scripture? Does this mesh with what we see in Acts and the epistles? I claim that it does. There are times when someone in the Church is miraculously healed or saved (e.g. Peter saved from prison in Acts 12). While I am far from a NT scholar, such instances seem like the exception. Examples of the healing of those outside of the Church are more common. Peter and John in Acts 4 heal a blind man at the temple gates. Paul’s handkerchief is used to heal the sick in Acts 19. No indication is given that these individuals were within the Church family. When the young man named Eutychus falls asleep and falls out of a window while Paul is preaching through the night, Paul raises him back to life. I’m not sure whether he counts as a member of the Body, but he certainly is not a core apostle.

Paul’s letters also discuss at great length the gifts of the Spirit. Three things become clear to me through the myriad passages.

  1. Paul expects the gifts of the Spirit to be operating in the Body if it is to be healthy.
  2. Some gifts are vital for all to have, others are fine for some to have, but not needed in all members. The totality of the Body should include all of the gifts.
  3. The purpose of all of the gifts is to build up the Body of Christ, both by encouraging the growth of current disciples and by drawing those outside the Church into the Body. (e.g. Ephesians 4.11-13)

This seems perfectly consistent with the teachings and words of Jesus. The question that this causes me to ask is where are these gifts now? I don’t think that either Jesus or Paul would have envisioned a structure where some of the gifts of the Spirit would be “partitioned” off into one (or a few) denominations. In some ways this seems to be what is happening right now. There are charismatic denominations that use all of the gifts, but most denominations will only use those that seem less controversial.

As someone who now finds my theology most comfortably at home in Anabaptism, I am aware that this is an area of lack in much of what I’ve encountered of Anabaptist thought. A good friend who grew up in this type of church raised this issue with me while I was lauding the strengths of this stream of Christian thought. He rightly pointed out to me that this is an area where we could do better. Since he brought this up to me, I’ve been challenged to consider how Christ might want me to be more open to the moving of the Spirit.

Some closing thoughts:

  • Is anyone in the Anabaptist tradition aware of streams within our tradition that are more open to the more miraculous workings of the Spirit?
  • For those from other non-charismatic traditions, how has your tradition dealt with these issues?
  • For those from charismatic traditions, are there ways to emphasize the gifts of the Spirit without losing focus on the other things I’ve discussed in this series, such as non-violence, allegiance only to Christ, etc.?


For the whole series, check out this page.


A Disembodied Head? Part 9: Romans 13

What does the Bible say about violence and the sword?

1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except by God’s appointment, and the authorities that exist have been instituted by God. 2 So the person who resists such authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will incur judgment 3 (for rulers cause no fear for good conduct but for bad). Do you desire not to fear authority? Do good and you will receive its commendation, 4 for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be in fear, for it does not bear the sword in vain. It is God’s servant to administer retribution on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of the wrath of the authorities but also because of your conscience. 6 For this reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants devoted to governing. 7 Pay everyone what is owed: taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due. (Romans 13.1-7)

At first blush, this passage seems to run counter to yesterday’s post about the exclusion of violence. I’ve often heard this passage used as a counter to the Sermon on the Mount. (I used to use it that way myself at times!) But a closer look at the passage itself, and the words before and after, reveal that this is a tragic misunderstanding of what Paul seems to be trying to say if we look at this holistically. First, some quick notes about this passage:

  • The instructions to Christians are to be subject, pay taxes, and obey the law as much as conscience allows as we follow Christ.
  • There is a clear lack of instructions for how to exercise power if you are in the government/political world.
  • The power of the sword is clearly given to the state, but there is no encouragement for Christians to be involved in that, at all! While the authorities are called “God’s servants”, they are “devoted to governing”, not God; Christians are called to be devoted to Christ.
  • God can use the state, and its authority comes from God. This is not meant to imply that we need to redeem it.

But now, let us set the context to be sure we don’t read too much or too little into these seven verses. Romans 12 begins by talking about presenting ourselves as living sacrifices (verses 1-2), then moves into a discussion of humility and service within the Body of Christ (verses 3-8). Finally, Chapter 12 ends with verses 9-21 which I will quote here:

9 Love must be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil, cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another with mutual love, showing eagerness in honoring one another. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be enthusiastic in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, endure in suffering, persist in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints, pursue hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly. Do not be conceited. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil; consider what is good before all people. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all people. 19 Do not avenge yourselves, dear friends, but give place to God’s wrath, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 Rather, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing this you will be heaping burning coals on his head. 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Clearly, verse 14 sounds quite like the passages quoted in yesterday’s post. Note that the idea of vengeance (repayment) is addressed in verses 17-21. This further clarifies and reiterates what the Church in Rome would already have heard about the teachings of Christ. What I find pertinent to our discussion is that Paul seems to see a thought that might come up in the minds of his readers after this. Well, if vengeance is God’s job, then how do I know that the wrong will be righted? This, to me explains the seeming abrupt shift when we get into Chapter 13 in the verses quoted above. Paul says that we are to leave the “revenge” up to God and trust His judgement. If needed, He may use the state to exact this judgement, but it is not our duty to worry about that and allow evil to overcome us. We overcome evil with good.
While this view may seem like a stretch at first (it did to me when I first heard it from non-violent friends), consider the verses that follow the passage quoted above, Romans 13.8-14:
8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, “Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not covet,” (and if there is any other commandment) are summed up in this, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. 11 And do this because we know the time, that it is already the hour for us to awake from sleep, for our salvation is now nearer than when we became believers. 12 The night has advanced toward dawn; the day is near. So then we must lay aside the works of darkness, and put on the weapons of light. 13 Let us live decently as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in discord and jealousy. 14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to arouse its desires.
After the discussion of how we interact with the state (apparently submission but not involvement) Paul returns to admonitions to love each other and our neighbors. We are to conduct ourselves without discord and jealousy (which could be the source of thoughts of getting even). We are to put on the Lord Jesus Christ, our head.
Simply put, the thirst for violence and Christian participation in violent justice through the state are not supported by this passage, as I used to think. In fact, this passage seems to be intended to pull Christians away from this distraction from the life of the Christian. If my life is a holy, living sacrifice to God, then injustice done to me is God’s problem to deal with. I am His possession. If He chooses to use the government to mete out His justice, that is His right. If He chooses not to avenge me in any way that I can see, that is of no concern to me. I am to focus on loving, feeding, and praying for my enemy. Violence then, is excluded.
In response to a perceptive question from loyal reader Rob Martin, I thought I’d add a quick note about one other passage that I had decided not to comment on yesterday. What about the passage in Luke 22 (verses 36-38) where Jesus seems to instruct the disciples that they should sell their possessions and buy swords. The disciples respond that they already have two. Jesus simply says “It is enough.” Later, as Jesus is being arrested, the disciples ask if this is the time to use their swords. Peter, without waiting for an answer, pulls out one of the swords and cuts off the ear of the high priest’s servant. At this Jesus stops them with the words quoted (from Matthews version of the story) at the beginning of yesterday’s post and tells them all to put away their swords. (The NET translates this in Luke as “Enough of this!”) Clearly, the disciples thought Christ was endorsing violence, but it seems they were wrong. We should be wise enough to avoid this mistake given that we can read the whole text.
I’m planning to move on Monday to another topic in the series. If there is some argument for violence that you would like me to address, please comment below! If you disagree with my conclusions that violence is excluded, maybe it is why you come to that conclusion. If you agree with me, maybe it is a common argument you’ve encountered. Either way, I’d be happy to look into it and let you know how I would respond.

A Disembodied Head? Part 8: Violence

What does the Bible say about violence and the sword?

52 Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back in its place! For all who take hold of the sword will die by the sword. 53 Or do you think that I cannot call on my Father, and that he would send me more than twelve legions of angels right now? (Matthew 26.52-53)

The story here might easily be tossed aside as a lonely example, pertinent only because of Christ’s call to die for our sins, rather than a general principle. However, a careful view of Christ’s teaching show this to be totally consistent with the whole of his thought. In the beatitudes Christ lists the peacemakers among those who are blessed. He then goes on in both the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5, 6, & 7, esp. 5.38-48), and in the somewhat parallel Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6.17-49, esp. 6.27-36), to talk about the proper reaction to persecutors and enemies.

It is crucial to note that violence is specifically excluded. We are to turn the other cheek, to go the second mile, etc. There are specific actions mentioned that exclude violence. If you are turning the other cheek, the precludes the revenge of striking back. If you are to go the second mile, you must go the first. Hence, violent revolt against the unjust command is impossible if we are to respond as Christ instructs.

If you are like me, your mind now runs to Romans 13 and other passages that discuss the state and the power of the sword. What of these? If the state is authorized to use violence (the sword), when I’ve already argued that the state is imperfect. If the imperfect State is allowed the use of violence, then why can’t we as Christians use it? The simple answer is, because Christ commanded us not to use violence to advance His kingdom. My view of what Romans 13 is really saying is coming tomorrow. (Hint: it involves a careful reading of Romans 12.)

Before I leave the discussion of Christ’s teaching, I do want to point out something that is glaring by its absence, if you think about it. There is only one event in which Christ can be accused of anything neighboring on violence. That is the clearing of the Temple money-changers and offering-sellers. In the New English Translation (NET) which has lots of footnotes about translation decisions, only mentions a whip only in John, though the story is in all four Gospels. (Matthew 21.12-13; Mark 11.15-17; Luke 19.45-46; John 2.14-17) Clearly there is some level of violence here, but I have several reactions to this passage as it pertains to our justification of violence:

  • The text suggests the whip of cords is made, but we don’t know for sure how it is used. Saying that Christ threatened people with it is just as speculative as saying that Christ made it but never used it. We simply are not told what Christ does with it. He could have driven out the people violently with it, He could have driven the animals with it and this chased the people out among the stampede, or He might have done nothing with it.
  • Christ does not follow any of the passages with instructions to His disciples that they should look at this behavior as a model. The passages in Matthew and Luke above clearly contain instructions that we are to follow these teachings, while the clearing incident does not. To use this passage to trump the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain is poor exegesis.
  • Christ is fully divine and fully human. In short, the Temple was His house. His zeal in this case may reasonably be explained as His divine zeal for His house being expressed through action. Surely, we have the Spirit inside of us, but this does not give us the right to act as if we are allowed to use this divine mandate for justice through violence ourselves. (See the previous point.) That is, for Christ as God to use limited violence (if that is what happened) is not to imply that we have authorization to do so. Christ was using His rightful power. Violence is always about power. I’ve discussed power previously in this series here.

Tomorrow, I plan to come back with a look at Romans 12 and 13 and what this implies about the view of violence in the New Testament Church.