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Saturday, March 21, 2015

Christians Should Buy Swords

The Bible is filled with instances of violence and this leaves many Christians questioning what is appropriate for those who follow Christ today in relation to using violence. I recently asked folks about how they make sense of Jesus' use of a whip in his cleansing of the temple. Another passage that I've heard many brothers and sisters reference as a justification for the use of violence by Christians is Jesus' command for the disciples to buy swords. 

And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: 'And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough” (Luke 22:35-38).

I'm curious as to how, in the eyes of some, Jesus' command for the disciples promotes or gives permission for Christians today to use violence against other humans in self defense, defense of others, and/or war. Anyone who examines this passage and it's implications for Christian ethics regarding the use of violence would do well to ask the following questions:

1) What is reasonable to conclude about the reason for the command given by Jesus according to surrounding scriptures (specifically Luke 22:49-53, Matthew 26:51-56, Mark 14:46-50, John 18:10-11, Isaiah 53:12), church tradition, cultural context, etc.?

2) If any type of violent activity is promoted/approved by this passage, how is that action defined (what are it's limitations) and what type of violence does it allow for present day Christians to use? What does it not allow?

3) If Jesus is promoting the use of certain violent action for particular purposes then how does that promotion compliment the teachings by Jesus regarding peace, nonresistance, mercy, forgiveness, etc. and does that promotion compliment his work on the cross? 

If you believe Jesus' command for the disciples to buy swords contributes to the allowance of Christians to employ violence against other humans I'd be interested in hearing your answers to these questions. If you comment with your answer I will not meet it with hostility or argument. At most, I will ask follow-up questions for the sake of clarity or elaboration (if it is welcomed). 

Please share this with your friends so we can collect some great answers and perhaps start some edifying dialogues. For reading, commenting, sharing, thinking, thank you.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Whom Would Jesus Whip?

Throughout the years I've heard fellow Christians reference Jesus' "cleansing" of the temple as an approval for the use of violence. The basic argument I've heard is that "Jesus used a whip and that's violent therefore violence is permissible for righteous reasons." Usually these reasons are self defense, defense of others, or war.

I've read a lot about the gospels accounts of Jesus' action in the temple and I've yet to come across a notable scholar or theologian who sees the incident as an approval for violent behavior by Christians (but that doesn't mean they don't exist). My studies have left me wondering how we look at Jesus in the temple and come to the conclusion that violence against humans is acceptable for Christians. I used to believe it but I don't know that I ever had good reasoning for that belief. Maybe others do. I'd like to hear those reasons.

The main questions that I believe must be answered when examining Jesus' action in the temple are:

1) What is reasonable to assume about the use of the whip according to church tradition, cultural context, and scriptural evidence?
2) If any type of violent activity is promoted/approved by Jesus in his cleansing of the temple, how is that action defined (what are it's limitations) and what type of violence does it allow for present day Christians to use?
3) If Jesus is promoting the use of certain violent action for particular purposes then how does that promotion compliment the teachings by Jesus regarding peace, nonresistance, mercy, forgiveness, etc. and does that promotion compliment his work on the cross? 

I'm highly interested in hearing thoughts from folks who come to a different conclusion than me on the matter. For those willing to engage, I have a promise and a challenge.

If you comment, you will not be met with hostility or an attempt to be proven wrong. All comments that seek to contribute kindly to the discussion will be appreciated and respected. Some comments may be given follow up questions as an opportunity to offer a more in depth explanation but if those questions are not desired they will be removed.


If you believe Jesus' activity in the temple (as recorded in Mark 11, Matthew 21, Luke 19, and John 2) approves of or promotes the use of violence by Christians then please do your best to answer the 3 questions in this blog and, if possible, cite sources that have influenced you. 

Please share this with your friends so we can collect some great answers and perhaps start some edifying dialogues. For reading, commenting, sharing, thinking, thank you.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Leave Heaven Alone

A book was published detailing the experience of a young boy who went to heaven a few years back. More recently, reports have come out that show the young man who originally told this story made the whole thing up (though he shouldn't be held fully responsible due to the co-authoring of the father). For some, this is more proof of the falsehood of scripture's testimony and the charlatan nature of many Christians. For others it is a heartbreaking betrayal that disrupts their view of God's eternal will for humanity. It screws things up and makes a real mess.
Books like The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven or Heaven Is For Real (which now has it's own movie) are problematic for me as a Christian. I have trouble endorsing them, to be honest. I struggle with these types of books and movies because it is turning a profit on the (supposed) work of God and that is frowned upon in scripture. Beyond that, it goes against the example we have in scripture of those who follow Christ and lead the Church. The Apostle Paul wrote a letter to the Church in Corinth and at one point in the letter he talks about his inability to boast in himself but that he'd champion the stories of others and he'd boast in the work of God alone. He says, "I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter" (1 Corinthians 12:2-4).
What I like about Paul's words is that he believes the story but doesn't elaborate on it. He says "God knows." In other words, the details belong to God, not me. Paul can't speak to it. After all, man could not utter such things.
If we continue to read Paul's words he goes on to say he will boast on behalf of this man (without details) but he will not boast in himself except in his weakness. For Paul, it is not foolish to boast about truthful things but it is not good to boast if these boastings of truthful things bring about people thinking too highly of himself. He wants to guard against being conceited. It is here that Paul speaks of a messenger of Satan that was sent to harass him and keep him from becoming conceited. He pleads with God three times for this "thorn" to leave him but God says "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."
For this reason, Paul is "content in weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities." This is where Paul concludes his meditation. He leaves behind the talk of experiencing heaven and focuses on the hardship. That seems like poor marketing for the kingdom of heaven but it's what Paul does. The Apostle spends far more time in his letters speaking of weakness and sufferings that have come his way as a result of being faithful to Jesus than writing of the awesome, miraculous, heavenly type experiences. Does he affirm these good things? Absolutely! Does he preach the Good News and fill his letters with the greatest beauty in creation? Of course! However, in this passage and in his letters we see that Paul is wary of the stories that bring fame, conceit, and power. He would rather share about suffering. Prophets over profits.
So when people publish books and make movies detailing their story of experiencing heaven, I dismiss it to some degree. Perhaps the story is true. I believe God can do that with people. I don't immediately doubt the story but I don't concern myself with the publications because I want to leave those words to God. I don't know or need the details. Paul doesn't think it's worth focusing on so why should we? How much good comes from it? Paul worries about the inflation it brings to our egos. It doesn't help us to be content in weakness. It's a danger to our being content in God's grace which allows suffering. This feels backwards. Heaven seems like a great motivator to believe in God. Shouldn't we be pushing these stories? Paul doesn't think so. Jesus didn't operate that way. He chose a cross over a throne. He left heaven to be laid in the earth, to become dirty. That's where his glory is found. I'll let God know the details and I'll boast in him but at the end of the day, man can not utter these things so how can we publish them? Let us instead concern ourselves more with sufferings and boast of how God's power is made perfect in weakness. Charlatans will always exist. This story proves that. Let us not allow this to distract us from the true stories of God, the stories of him showing up in weakness, of showing grace where it looks invisible. Let us be unafraid of being humbled and in the dirt for it is in the dirt where glory lives.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Advent of A Son

Advent is a time of anticipation. We spend several weeks waiting and longing for that Christmas day when we celebrate the incarnation. During Advent, we do our best to live as fully as possible into the hopeful and yearning spirit that we imagine the people of God had before the arrival of Jesus Christ, the Messiah. 

Pastors preach about the coming of a child and all the anticipation that comes with birth. We sing festive songs about how all creation has need and groans for a messiah. Volunteers spend hundreds of hours building programs of all sorts to help us be intentional about looking forward to the Christ child. 

I’m about to become a father with my first child. We’re currently expecting a delivery to occur around Christmas. If ever there were a time to understand the depths and richness of Advent you would think it’s right now as I await the coming birth of my own son. After all, I’m actually living in Advent. 

You had told me this is the opportunity I’d receive then I’d also think I’d become a pro at anticipating Jesus and celebrating Advent. I mean, why wouldn’t God use the experience to make me a super-Christian? Right?

Unfortunately, that’s just not the case.

In fact, the biggest thing I’m grasping is the knowledge that I’m actually pretty terrible at anticipation. I’m down right wretched at Advent.  Sadly, when it comes to standing in awe at a coming miracle, I constantly get distracted.

I’ve spent a lot of time buying baby things like car seats, clothes, diapers, books, toys, monitors, and more. I’ve been reading on what to expect while I’m expecting. I go to doctor appointments and put ultrasound pictures in frames on my desk at work. I’m doing a lot to prepare for this little guy. 

Yet, for all my preparations I continually find myself thinking about myself. In my attempt to anticipate my son I actually lose sight of him and become focused on myself. I wonder what kind of father I will be, what kind of husband I’m currently being, how I’ll pay the bills, how my Father raised me, what I need to improve on, what I lack, what I don’t have, what I can’t do, and so on. I try to get my life in order so I can better order myself around my son but that’s not really working out. 

Funny enough, I’m realizing that when we orient ourselves around the Son we begin to find our life being put in order as he transforms us. We spend time and money on church programs, preach anticipation, sing songs of longing for a messiah, and yet in all of our preparations and busyness we often lose sight of Jesus and the miracle of his incarnation to the point where we are glad the trouble of Advent is behind us and we never rightly sat in the presence of the Christ child. We do so much to ensure we seek Jesus but end up blinding ourselves to him in those efforts. 

The closer I am to meeting my son the more I realize I simply want to be in his presence. I don’t want to miss a moment. I don’t want to look in the mirror more than his face and I don’t want to worry about my life more than I give thanks for his. Then I realize that I’m learning a lot about anticipation. Yeah, I’m bad at it, but we all are. It’s not our efforts at improving our ability to anticipate that will bring us closer to Jesus. It is Jesus’ very coming that will draw us near to him. 

I’m drawn closer to my son by his arrival not by my preparations or self-evaluations. In his arrival I’m brought to my knees and to the awe-filled gratefulness that I couldn’t muster with all my time and money. In the same way, Jesus, the Son of God,  draws us all close to him by simply arriving. We’ve never been able to muster the ability through programs, songs, or sermons to truly be with Jesus. It has only ever been by his work that we’ve been brought near and transformed. Only through Jesus’ work do I finally see my self-obsession, my preoccupations, and my shortcomings. Only in Jesus is all that also made right.

Preparations and self evaluations are wonderful but I’m finding that there comes a time to simply be still, unafraid, and in a posture of receiving so that I might truly experience the incarnation by being present with Jesus. I’ve always failed at Advent despite my intentions and efforts and Jesus has never failed at Advent despite our intentions and efforts. It is there that I rest for it is in this truth that I can trust Jesus to show up in my life just as I can trust him with preparing me for meeting my son Wesley. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Debate That Will Make You Change Your Political Allegiance

During the election season it seems that debate is the most popular activity. Politicians are doing it to get into office, friends are doing it online, and enemies are being created by the minute. Politics hit a sensitive spot for many people, and rightfully so. Our politics are important. For the Christian, the way we engage in worldly politics is a matter of much debate. However, the debate hasn't always been between Christian brothers and sisters. It used to be more often between Christians and those of other beliefs.

There was an early Church Father from Alexandria named Origen (184-254 AD). He is one of the most influential theologians in church history and he was considered an expert at textual criticism, biblical interpretation, and philosophical theology. He once entered into a debate with a Greek philosopher named Celsus.  One of the matters they debated dealt with politics and how Christians ought to engage in the political realm of this world. Here is a portion of that debate:
Celsus urges us “to help the king with all our might, and to work with him in the preservation of justice, to fight for him; and if he requires it, to fight under him, or lead an army along with him.” We reply to this saying that we do give help to kings. We give, so to speak, a divine help by “putting on the whole armor of God” (Eph. 6:11). We do this in obedience to the command of the apostle Paul, “I exhort, therefore, that first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority” (1 Ti. 2:1-2). The more someone excels in piety, the more effective help he provides to kings. Yes, it is even more help than that which is given by soldiers, who go forth to fight and kill as many of the enemy as they can. 
And since we by our prayers conquer all demons who stir up war, lead to the violation of oaths, and disturb the peace, we in this way are much more helpful to the kings than those who go into the field to fight for them. In this way we do take our part in public affairs, when along with righteous prayers we practice self-denial and meditations, which teach us to despise pleasures and not to be led away by them. And none fight better for the king than we do. We do not indeed fight under him, although he require it; but we fight on his behalf, forming a special army—an army of piety—by offering our prayers to God. 
Celsus also urges us to “take office in the government of the country, if that is required for the maintenance of the laws and the support of religion.” But we recognize in each kingdom the existence of another kingdom, founded by the Word of God, and we exhort those who are mighty in word and of blameless life to guide churches [instead of a civil office—ed.]. We reject those who are ambitious of ruling; rather in the church of God we constrain those who because of much modesty have little desire to take a public office. And those who rule over us well are under the constraining influence of the great King, whom we believe to be the Son of God, God the Word. And if those who govern in the church and are called rulers of the divine nation—that is, the church—rule well, they rule in accordance with the divine commands, and never allow themselves to be led astray by worldly politics. 
It is not for the purpose of escaping public duties that Christians decline public offices, but that they may reserve themselves for a diviner and more necessary service in the church of God—for the salvation of men. And this service is both necessary and right.
Christians in the U.S. might read this and say that the political atmosphere is so different from the time of these men that their debate has little application for us but I'd challenge us to consider Origen's claims as timeless and incredibly relevant. Origen is attempting to alter the perception of what "works" in this world and who rules over the reality we live in. 

For Christians, we say God, through Christ, rules the world and Origen suggests that we invest in that heavenly kingdom and allow that investment to be the way in which we politically engage the world. Not because we are fleeing the world and her politics but because that's the only true way to engage the world and her politics in a way that draws the world into the peace of God. It is God alone who heals the nations and give us hope. No president, senator, or legislation will do for us what God can do.

As you debate and engage in political activity this election season, I encourage you to consider the words of Origen and seek God's will for how to be faithful in this political haze. Invest in God's kingdom by seeking to pray, sing, and read scripture more than you watch political ads, discuss voting, or read articles about legislation. Give more of yourself to God's kingdom than the worldly one you reside in.