Tag Archives: sermon on the mount

the danger of anger and the law of love (Agnes Sanford)


The next text is taken from DSCF0083Agnes Sanfords ‘the healing light’ (1947), a book that I am wresting with and that I might blog about later. I’m not sure I agree with the way she frames some things and some of her conclusions at all, but from everything I know she is a woman of God with spiritual insight who lived what she taught.

Danger lurks in every form of energy. The flow of energy that we call the law of love is the rhythm for which our beings were created, the thought-vibration in which we live and move and have our being. Every thought of anger, therefore, throws a contrary and destructive counter-vibration into the body, and places us in danger. “Whosoever is angry with his brother—shall be in danger of the judgment.”

This judgment begins immediately. One of its first evidences is the failure of the prayer-power of the angry one. He will find that he cannot pray, no matter how hard he tries. He will also notice in his body the immediate results of anger. A fit of wrath destroys the appetite, upsets the digestion, weakens the muscles and confuses the mind. And the anger that solidifies into hate, resentment or hurt feelings deposits a continual sediment or poison in nerves, arteries, bones and mind, and prepares the body for death. Doctors tell us that anger tends to destroy the body. Jesus said that it also tends to destroy the soul. “But whosoever shall say ‘Thou fool,’ shall be in danger of hell fire.”

The words sound harsh, but they are true. For the forces of spirit, mind and body are synchronized and ordered by the same inner control center, and that which affects one affects the others. As long as the thinking of the conscious mind is in harmony with God the sub-conscious mind directs the functioning of the body in a marvelous way. But as soon as we turn the dial of our thoughts to hate, bitterness, hurt feelings, resentment and irritations we send a contrary order down to the engine room of the subconscious which responds with the general order, “Hurt! Destroy!” The protective and life-giving forces of the body are weakened so that one falls prey to germs and infections, to pain and weakness, to nervousness and ill temper, and to the spiritual dullness that results from the dimming of the life force. If one looks with an open mind upon the history of war and epidemics he will perceive this fact.

The One Who Knew, therefore, was neither harsh nor fantastic. He was only realistic as He stated, in His own blunt, straight-from-the-shoulder way, a fact that cannot e evaded; the one who is angry with his brother is in danger. Christians have tried so hard to avoid this unavoidable law! Their excuses for anger range from the “righteous indignation” that slew the unbeliever to the “righteous indignation” that thunders against modernist or fundamentalist or Catholic or Jew. But there is no way of side-stepping the law of God, because it is written in our own subconscious minds. And the subconscious mind cannot figure out the difference between “righteous” and “unrighteous” indignation. Its working is inexorable and absolute, founded on laws set in motion before the foundation of the world, and no puny excuse of man-made mind can change it from its course. A man might drink poison in ignorance, mistaking it for water. In so doing, he would be acting righteously. No blame could possibly be attached to him. But that would not prevent the poison from destroying him. Therefore the Teacher, who was a most profound psychologist, told us that the poison of hate is dangerous, no matter what the cause of the hate may be.

(…)

We would be wise to direct our lives as much as possible toward paths of peace. We would be wise to plan our food, rest, work and recreation in as healthful a way as possible in order to soothe and harmonize our beings. For much of our bad temper springs from no other cause than weariness and over-strain.
We would also be wise to take the wrath-provoking words and acts of other people as assignments from God, as spiritual exercises, or as helpful hint along the way of life rather than as excuses for anger.

(…)

Not all spiritual adventures, however, are without pain. There are those who would strike one upon the cheek or steal his coat or compel him to go a mile with him as a burden-bearer, as the Romans did to the Jews. There are those, in other words, who would insult, defraud or bully one. The human answer to this problem is self-defense. What did the Way-Shower have to say of that?

Alas! He showed a way that very few have learned. He instructed those who would follow him into that happy and powerful life, the Kingdom of Heaven, to practice forgiveness rather than revenge. They were not only to love those who deserved to be loved—their friends. That was easy. Even the heathen did that. They were also to practice love toward their enemies. He suggested that when struck upon one cheek, they turn the other cheek toward the angry one; that when defrauded, they give to the defrauder; that when bullied, they perform an extra service for the bully. Those who have taken these suggestions literally and tried them out have found them to be the most perfect methods of self-defense.
And we become perfected in love by trying to do it. The method is so simple that any child can learn it. It is merely to connect in spirit with the love of God, send that love to the other person, and see him re-created in goodness and joy and peace.

What do you think?

peace

Bram

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10 old traditional and/or biblical Christian ideas that are sometimes mistakenly seen as ‘progressive’…


Foto0067Before we close the year with some lists of the most-read stuff of 2014 and an evaluation of my project of demodernisation (and de-Americanisation, see also here) I will post this one last long and maybe to some controversial blogpost. This time we’ll talk about certain basic Christian ideas or at least ancient minority positions within Christianity that are sometimes regarded as new and ‘progressive’ ideas and thus tied to a new and ‘progressive’ form of Christianity which is incompatible with either the old-fashioned nonsense of the past or the true ‘conservative’ Christianity, depending on which side of the false dilemma one finds themselves. Which is very problematic actually…

I’ve seen the combination of the words ‘progressive Christianity’ gain more and more influence over the last years on the English-speaking internet. The term itself is like other words including ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ a term that I find utterly unhelpful and quite ambiguous .  I’ve also seen a lot of very different and sometimes quite contradictory interpretations of what ‘progressive Christianity’ is supposed to be, some of which were interesting to me, and others which weren’t at all… It seems that the expression became more popular (at least in the blogosphere) when the ’emergent’ brand lost its prominence, and that it also took over some of the content of that label, especially in the form of its ‘updated protestant theological liberalism’ (which frankly doesn’t interest me at all as a moderate anti-modernist).

(The main reason that I’ll never use the word ‘progressive’ to describe myself is that I completely reject the modernist myth of ‘progress’, which seems to be the root of the whole idea of contemporary progressiveness. But that’s another story that would only derail this post)

All of this does not mean that ‘progressive Christians’ don’t  have a lot of interesting things to say. A lot of the stuff that progressive Christians believe in and want us to talk about (but not all!) is very important to me too, or at least stuff I agree with… The problem here mostly the false dilemma that some see that I’ve mentioned already: the mistaken idea that ‘progressive Christianity’ (or ’emergentism’, or liberal protestantism, or…)  is a new and better and modern thing (or postmodern or contemporary or whatever word  is used to describe both their chronological snobbery and modern-Western cultural imperialism/neo-colonialism) , something completely distinct from what came before disconnected from it, and better than anything before it anyway.

While the opposite is true: most of the prophetic things that ‘progressives’ have to teach us are quite old, and they are important truths that have a long history within Christianity. Some as a minority-view, some as the majority-view in other times or other Christian traditions. Some normative outside of modernism even…

Let’s also talk here  the confusion of terms with some of the other words besides ‘progressive’ before we start. I’ve written before about the term ‘conservative’, which only means an impulse to conserve a certain tradition. For example the American use of the word ‘conservative’ has nothing to do with ‘conservative Christianity’ as some kind of ancient basic orthodoxy, but with some fairly recent (last 200 years mostly) forms of protestantism tied to the political old-school liberalism of the founding fathers and the American constitution (which has nothing to do with Christian orthodoxy at all!)

Fundamentalism as a Christian movement has not much to do with a basic Christian orthodoxy either. It’s more an early 20th century reactionary antithesis to liberalism, emphasizing not at all the core of historical Christianity but some areas in which they disagreed with liberal theology of that time, which gave a very unbalanced view of what the ‘fundamentals’ of Christianity were that did not follow basic Christian orthodoxy at all. So while fundamentalism might be a photo-negative of classical liberal theology, it still is thoroughly modern in a lot of ways.  (see also this post for my problem with the bad photo-negative copy of it in American anti-fundamentalism, which is itself tied completely to what it tries to escape from)

So let’s list some of the ideas that are rejected by some or all American conservatives and fundamentalists, while embraced by progressives and thus seen as ‘progressive’ (or ‘liberal’)  by a lot of people. Those ideas are not new nor progressive nonetheless but have been part of the rich and diverse history of Christianity from the early days and can be traced back to the bible itself.   Most of them can be solidly defended from a basic orthodox reading of the bible.

(Note also that some of the things that are very important to the current ‘progressives’ are absent from this list because they just don’t fit in the list. Some are new for the modern age or just repackaged old heresies or non-Christian philosophies adopted by liberal Christianity. Rejecting the supernatural -spirits, angels, the afterlife- for example is not a new idea that people  could only come up with after evolving to a new step and entering the modern age. The Sadducees, who were more conservative than the Pharisees, already taught this and Jesus and the NT writers could have easily followed them, but they rejected it in favour of the views of the Pharisees…
But my exclusion of certain progressive ideas from this list doesn’t have to mean that I either agree nor disagree with any of them, just that I did not include them. I probably have forgotten a lot of stuff that could fit in this list….)

1. pacifism and Christian non-violence
I always assumed that pacifism or at least a tendency to non-violence were part of basic Christianity from my reading of the gospels, and especially the sermon on the mount. (I say this as a pentecostal kid living in a post-Catholic Belgian culture btw.) I know that some see it as an ideal that doesn’t always work, but even then, with enemy-love as one of Jesus commandments I could not conceive of Christians who would completely dismiss the idea in favour of militarism.
Great was my shock when I explored the internet as a young twenty-something and discovered Christians (mainly from the US) who completely dismissed the idea of Christian non-violence as dangerous and naive and placed it under the category of ‘liberal nonsense’. Such a view is completely a-historical and completely ignorant of the words of Jesus himself.
Christian non-violence does have a long history. It was prominent in pre-Constantinian times and while it wasn’t the majority position in later times (Even with ‘just war’ doctrine most wars would be seen as illegitimate btw… You can’t defend any of the American wars of the last half century with just war theory for example!) it has popped up regularly in the history of Christianity among groups or people who wanted to take Christ seriously. We see it appear already with the first Christians -who rather died that killed for their faith- over St. Francis of assisi -who went to meet the Sultan unarmed to talk about Christ in the middle of a crusade- and the line goes all the way to the Quakers and Anabaptists, and the modern Christian peacekeeper teams.  Christian non-violence is a deeply biblical idea that has been held in different degrees by a lot of people who took the New Testament and the words of Christ very seriously!

2. Anticapitalism
Recently the pope said some things about capitalism that were not received well by some American evangelicals. But contrary to what some people thought he did not say anything new and did only reword catholic doctrine that was already popetrickleaffirmed by the popes before him. What he said was quite logical for most non-American Catholics and other Christians also. I’ve never understood why capitalism is such a holy cow to certain (mainly American) Christians. It is a very modernist economic idea that has not much to do with classical Christianity but is tied to historical liberalism, and it can devolve very easily into economical and social jungle-law Darwinism, which is the opposite of anything a Christian could ever defend. So while it cannot be linked to the bible being a modern invention, it also goes counter to some Biblical and historically Christian ideas. Look at this list of quotes from the church fathers for example.
I once wanted to write a series about Christianity and capitalism but never got further than this first post  I also have written a post called Abundance is the enemy of capitalism. starting from the biblical idea of abundance as a part of shalom, which is opposed to the capitalist basic principle of scarcity…

I can also add that there is nothing new or ‘liberal’ about vaguely ‘socialist’ ideas and ways of living. The church of Acts was quite ‘communist’, as well as most monastic orders.
And let’s not forget that the only false god that is called by name in the gospels is Mammon, of with Jesus says that he cannot be served together with God…

3. ‘Green’ lifestyles and ecological awareness
If God is Creator (which all Christians including all evolutionary Creationists affirm – as far as I know) , and we are to love God above all, some respect for His creation seems to be very logical to me. Taking care of creation is also a commandment in genesis (unless you see ‘ruling’ as a very oppressive dictatorship, but I would say that we aren’t to do anything to nature we wouldn’t want rulers to do with us…) It always was logical to me that Christians should have a lot of respect for nature as the work of Gods hands, although it might be that this impulse was fed more by my (almost post-)catholic teachers in school than in my pentecostal upbringing.

Premodern people did live a lot closer to nature. Jesus spent a lot of time in nature praying and meditating throughout the gospels. Our modern disconnect with nature is far removed from the world of the bible, but respect for nature as Christians is a tradition that goes back at least to (again) Francis of Assisi, and probably the Celtic Church.
There is no good reason for us to condone destruction of Gods creation in favour of our idols like ‘the economy’ or ‘progress’. None of these does have to have any of our allegiance as followers of Christ…

I could also refer to Pope Francis here, who is rumoured to write an ecological encyclical in 2015  and repeat that there’s nothing progressive at all about conserving nature. If there’s anything at all that deserves to be called ‘conservative’ if that word has any meaning at all, it’s conserving the creation in which God has put us…,
(The same is true for most of the other ‘progressive’ views of Pope Francis. They are -like most things in this list- not new at all and actually quite ‘conservative’ in that they have a long biblical and traditional history)

4. Not taking the first chapters of genesis as literal history
And then for something completely different: I can’t be the only one who has noticed that the debate about a literal reading of genesis does mainly live in fundamentalist and evangelical circles, while it is more of a non-issue in most other classical orthodox denominations, including the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Church. Which already should say something about how ‘progressive’ the idea of a  non-literal reading of the first chapters of the bible actually is I guess.
There have been a lot of readings of the Creation story throughout church history, some of which were literal while others were completely allegorical. Augustine for example, while writing about ‘the literal interpretation of genesis’ assumes that the seven days where metaphor and that the whole cosmos was created at the same moment…

Even Charles Darwin himself did not think that his ideas of evolution were incompatible with his Christian faith. He did lose it over the cruelness of  nature though.

5. Rejecting the idea of hell as eternal conscious torment for all non-Christians
Another debate that is as old as the history of the Church is the fate of those not in Christ. While universalism has always been a minority position, belief in hell of some sorts seems to be a majority position, the details vary a lot throughout church history. Some of the church fathers seem to tend to very generous inclusivism or even in the direction of hopeful universalism, with some like Origen even arriving at full universalism. (Which means that Christ in his death and resurrection was able to save all from hell, not at all that all religions are the same or so…)
Another part of the discussion is the nature of hell. C.S. Lewis seems (in line with more orthodox church fathers) to see hell as being cut of from God, the Source of all life. Other orthodox thinkers see hell as the same place as heaven, where the undiluted presence of God is unbearable to those who hate Him.

Another alternative idea about the fate of the wicked is Annihilationism (the wicked are just annihilated and cease to exist after the judgement), and old and in origin Jewish idea that has been made popular in more recent times by the seventh-day adventists (also followed by the Jehovah witnesses by the way) for mainly biblical reasons.

6. Rejection of an exclusively ‘penal substitution’ view of the atonement in Christ
And another important discussion, but here the evangelical default itself is historically a more recent minority position: penal substitution atonement as we know it (Jesus saved us by taking Gods wrath upon Himself on the cross) is only as old as protestantism. For the other 1500 years and in other traditions very different ideas existed about how Jesus saved us by his life, death and resurrection. We even see this in the famous Narnia story, where Lewis follows a classical ransom-version of Christus Victor atonement: the sinner (Edmund) is freed from slavery to death and sin (the witch) because Jesus (Aslan) took his place and defeated death and sin in the resurrection… Note that this still IS substitutionary atonement, but not at all penal substitution. (If I understand correctly the idea of penal substitution as some protestants teach it is regarded as abhorrent and even heresy by a lot of Eastern Orthodox thinkers)

I am of the opinion myself that no theory of atonement will ever explain everything that happened so we need a lot of them together to have a more complete picture. Some popular versions of penal substitution, especially when elevated to the level of ‘gospel’ do sound very troubling to me though…

7. Egalitarianism in marriage and women preachers
As a Charismatic I became convinced of egalitarianism between the sexes for biblical reasons. I don’t see how a couple can be ‘one flesh’ as genesis says and still have one who always have to lead and another who always has to follow. I also am convinced by the bible more than by Christian tradition  of the importance of women in every role in the church., Jesus is quite ‘feminist’ (anti-sexist might be a better word) himself compared to his culture, like in the story of Martha and Mary for example, and the early church had a lot of women in a lot of positions, up to the female apostle Junia and the businesswoman Lydia who had a house church in her house.

It’s nonsense to put this kind of egalitarianism away as ‘liberal’ or claim it as solely ‘progressive’. I’ve seen women preachers in African pentecostal churches, and you can say a lot about those, but ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’ did in no way apply to them. I’ve never had any interest in the liberal ‘we moderns know better than those dumb bronze-age desert people’ reasoning, and it still doesn’t convince me at all.
I do believe in the need of equality and mutual submission in marriage though for biblical reasons and from experience. I’ve met a lot of women who were used by the Holy Spirit through preaching, and denying that would feel quite a lot like blasphemy against the Holy spirit. God does use women in a lot of roles, and calls individuals for very different things, regardless of their sex.

(Let’s also repeat here that I don’t believe that any idea about ‘biblical manhood’ that does not fit with the fruits of the Spirit as described by Paul has any legitimacy at all. None of that stuff is biblical, it’s just unhealthy cultural stereotypes that are made legitimate by abusing bible verses.)

8. Rejection of the idea of the ‘rapture’ (and of dispensationalism as a whole)
Let’s be short here: the idea of ‘the rapture’ isn’t even 200 years old, so it’s from the same time as a lot of liberal theology. Traditionally most Christians have been amillenialist but there are more interpretations of biblical eschatology that make more sense than the dispensationalist one.
Nothing progressive about rejecting the rapture or dispensationalism, it’s just what every Christian before the 1800’s and most non-evangelicals since then did, whatever their eschatology was…
Some forms of dispensationalism do seem to border on heresy for completely different reasons too though.

9. ‘Mysticism’
Mysticism is a hot word in certain circles, and one that has a lot of different interpretations. The most basic meaning is to experience the presence of God yourself as a believer. It’s nothing new though, there runs a deep mystic tradition through both Eastern and Western Christianity which was already very important in the first centuries of Christianity with the desert fathers and mothers.
What does seem to be new and endemic to certain corners of contemporary progressive Christianity is that mysticism does in some way exclude the idea of supernatural beings. This is completely contrary to a lot of older Christian mystics who did encounter angels, demons and other ‘supernatural entities’ as if it were the most normal thing one could do…

10. Not framing the trustworthiness of the bible as ‘inerrancy’
The bible is very important for Christians for a lot of reasons, and it is one of the means through which we can encounter God. The bible is a library of books that are seen as inspired by God by Christians (‘God-breathed’ according to Paul in a very well-known verse) but the fundamentalist notion of ‘innerancy’ of the literal text of the bible goes further than how Christianity classically saw the bible. It did not by accident come into being around the same time  as the Catholics invented papal infallibility, a time when modernism eroded any faith in trustworthiness of the bible, the Christian tradition or Christian authorities.

This went further than the trustworthiness that premodern Christians ascribed to the bible, and gave rise to the modern ‘new atheist’ reading of the bible which is as far removed from the message of the bible as the fundamentalist one. (They are closely related anyway as purely modernist traditions)

So while I do affirm the trustworthiness of the bible (something that isn’t in the historical creeds btw!) I don’t think we should go looking for scientific or other details that are just not there. And we should not fear contradictions or paradoxes. God can speak truth through things that are not 100% historical as well. We have differences in the 4 gospels, and different theological agendas, even the church fathers knew that, but it wasn’t a problem until modern times (and it still if for the Orthodox and most Catholics…) so maybe we want the bible to be something that it isn’t meant to be.

In the end, the Word that became flesh is Jesus Christ, and the bible is here to point at Him, not at itself… It isn’t a paper pope and if it becomes an idol that distracts from God it’s really sad, not?  We should always seek God and Jesus in the bible, otherwise studying it won’t be of any worth, as Jesus says to the Pharisees somewhere…

So we come to the end of my list of things that are  not at all new to Christianity and can’t be claimed to be exclusively tied to ‘progressive Christianity’, whatever that even may be. Note again that the list is by no means exhaustive, and that I probably overlooked very important ones…

(I didn’t include much that goes against the republican ‘Americanist synchretism’ that some  American conservatives seem to believe in, with America as some holy entity that is more special for God than other countries or cultures. For non-Americans like me such things are too irrelevant and illogical to even address… Neither did I address double predestination for example, which is seen as heresy by the Eastern Orthodox and rejected by most non-protestants…)

So what do you think?

peace

Bram

Another side of the situation for Christians in Egypt


Vinoth Ramachandra shared this text coming from Egypt, which gives another view on the situation in Egypt. The source is the Bible society of Egypt here. Another contact in Egypt (an Anglican priest) commented ‘I agree with the content’.

Egypt has an encouraging story that is not being told in much of Western media!

When more than 85 Churches and institutions were viciously attacked and burned (a profound blow of disgrace and humiliation in this culture of “honour”), the non-retaliation of Christians was both unexpected and unprecedented.

Pope TawadrousImmediately following these attacks, the leader of the Coptic Church, Pope Tawadros II said that if the destruction of these properties was the price Christians in Egypt have to pay to get a free Egypt, then that sacrifice is worthwhile!  His – and all other Christian leaders’ messages – have helped the Christian spirit of forgiveness to be powerfully demonstrated in Egypt.

This practical application of Christ’s teaching by millions of Egyptian Christians should have made worldwide headline news!

Many Egyptian Christian leaders are reminding their flock that the Church consists of the people of God, Christ’s body, and not the buildings in which we worship. Thus the Church can never be destroyed!

Egypt is not on the verge of civil war! On the contrary, most Egyptian Muslims and Christians are more united than ever in their common vision for the future, as together they have rejected extremist “Political Islam,” and are working towards the noble task of establishing a civil society which recognizes all Egyptians as equal citizens.

Egypt, however, faces incredible social, economic, cultural and political challenges as it tries to rebuild after three years of radical change and confusion. As a result many Egyptians are weary and pessimistic about the present situation in their country.

One of our projects is a special edition of the Sermon on the Mount (in which Jesus presents principles of His Kingdom which reflect the aspirations of many Egyptians at this time), and a variety of tracts taken from it, for wide distribution.

Yes, in the face of war, oppression, destruction of their property and church buildings those people share the sermon on the mount, out of which come the golden rule, the ‘blessed are the peacemakers’ and other beatitudes, and the command to love enemies. Seems like those people are really taking Christ seriously…

I am impressed and praying for my brothers and sisters in Egypt!

Bram

Evangelicals don’t listen to Jesus enough?


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Sometimes when I read the gospels and then see myself and fellow Christians, I wonder about the difference between what I read and what is expected as ‘normative’ in contemporary Christianity.  As a non-American I do see a lot of weird Americanist synchronism hiding as ‘conservative Christianity’. Sometimes when I see the Christian subculture with all its distractions I really understand Ghandi who said ‘I like your Christ, but I don’t like your Christians, they are so unlike your Christ’

Today I read an article by what looks to me like a good oldfashioned American baptist preacher, that reminds me that evangelicals, that all christians who proclaim to be ‘followers of the bible’ can in no way be expected to sweep the words of Jesus under the mat. There is no alibi for that. Read 10 big things Jesus said which you and I keep conveniently forgetting by pastor Joe McKeever here.

I am quite sure we all need to be reminded of a lot of those, or even if you’d disagree with some of his conclusions, just take all his bible verses as a starting point, or start with the words of the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7) of the sermon on the plain in Luke 6 read every day and taken serious in all aspects of our lives are enough to shake and challenge a lot of our traditions and assumptions. And let’s not forget that both pieces of teaching  I’ve named are concluded by Jesus with :

Matthew 7:24 “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them is like a wise man who built his house on rock.25 The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, but it did not collapse because it had been founded on rock. 26 Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.27 The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, and it collapsed; it was utterly destroyed!

So would living according to the words of Christ maybe be a good idea for those who claim to follow Him? Is it not the only thing we should expect that anyone who claims to be a ‘bible-following Christian’ tries to do. Love our neighbour, love our enemies, bless those who persecute you (even rejoice when they persecute you for Christ’s sake!), take care for the poor and sick, etc…

And yes, I know I’m still nowhere with that either, but I wish we would see that as a real problem, more than a lot of problems we evangelicals like to see that might be quite irrelevant…

Bram

Why fear non-violence as a christian?


Scot McKnight, who himself self-identifies as an anabaptist, links on his blog to an article from the American spectator that poses the question if a ‘mennonite take-over’ is going on.

Now i’m still a european who doesn’t understand much of American politics, but after reading the American Spectator I sense a bit of fear of what they percieve as ‘mennonite’, even though most of the names they give are in fact not at all mennonites. What they seem to be affraid of is the growing influence of peace church thought and pacifism in christianity, which they for some reason see as agressive.

(I guess they are affraid of the other side of the american 2-party system, and of the ‘socialism’ monster of the cold war indoctrination, but what I see in both Shane Claibornes ‘Jesus for president’ and Greg Boyds ‘the myth of a Christian nation’ is rejecting both parties alike, and not putting much faith in governments at all, and it shows more a down-top grass-roots anarchism which does not wait on the State to do things…)

Most of the names they give, like Greg boyd and Shane Claiborne, are in fact not mennonites, but it surely can not be denied that they are gravely influenced by postmodern neo-anabaptist christian non-violence. Which is why I like them by the way. One of the things I like most about certain parts of the post-evangelical christianity and the emerging church dialogue is exactly that: a commitment to Jesus and His words, the sermon on the mount and to radical discipleship, even to enemy-love.

I do think this ‘neo-anabaptist’ emphasis in post(modern) evangelicalism is not only very important, but also a move of the Holy Spirit and a call to go back to the core of our faith. A call to first be a citizen of the Kingdom of God before being part of the systems of this world (or ’empire’) I’m not only thinking of Shane Claiborne, and Greg Boyd, but of Scot McKnight himself, and Rob Bell or even Brian McLaren.

Like Derek Webb sings:

my first allegiance is not to a flag, a country, or a man
my first allegiance is not to democracy or blood
it’s to a king & a kingdom

We as Christians need to be serious that our first commitment is not to any nation, but to Jesus, and to the ‘transnational church that transcends all artificial borders’, like Shane Claiborne says in his ‘litany of resistance‘, which the reporter of the American spectator finds “angry and defamatory“. The first Christians were known to be willing to die for their faith, but not to kill. This is a serious way of following Christ, even into a possible death, but it’s also very powerful. It trancends the so-called myth of redemptive violence.

Like Bonhoeffer said, “…when evil meets no opposition and encounters no obstacle but only patient endurance, its sting is drawn, and at last it meets an opponent which is more than its match.” (thanks to JoeyS) Or like Walter Wink says “Violent revolution fails because it is not revolutionary enough.”

These are the things that make me want to be a christian. But it seems that exactly these things scare some people, even some Christians… They are too far from our natural human way of thinking. But isn’t that exactly what Christianity is supposed to be. Jesus nor the Holy Spirit can be boxed or put before our cart, and neither can any genuine follower.

No we should not completely withdraw from the world, as some anabaptists tend to do (think about the Amish) Neither should we take over all the values of the world, we belong to Christ. We are to be in the world, but not of the world, like light and salt… We are not to take over with violence, but to love the hell out of this world…

Not by might,
Not by power
by my spirit
says the Lord

Shalom

Bram

Love your enemies, bless those who persecute you..


(This post is written for the ‘bless those who curse you campaign‘)

I’ve been a Christian all of my life… I grew up as a pentecostel kid in a post-catholic country that happened to be evolving into one of the final stages of the european dechristianisation. Looking back I learned a lot from both my pentecostel and evangelical (and later as a teenager vineyard) church , and the liberal-sliding-to-atheism catholicism that I encountered in the religion classes in my catholic school.

I learned a lot about the bible, the cross of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit in the pentecostel church. From my catholic school I didn’t always learn that much about those things, but what remained from Christianity was an emphasis on values that were distilled from Jesus words. An emphasis on loving our neibor, which lead to social justice issues and what I now would call creation care, which was not the most important subject for most people in the pentecostel church… (The world was gonna burn up soon, and Jesus would come to rapture us)

I know now that both sides are important. We canot claim to be Christians without believing in the cross and resurrection of Christ, and we miss a lot if we don’t believe that the Spirit works through us, and neither does it make sense to claim to be a Christian when you don’t care about our fellow humans, or Gods creation. So from those 2 sides I got parts of the puzzle. But still there might have been missing something.

The fundamentalists like to take everything in the bible, as long as it’s just something that need to intellectually believe, or something that can be useful to point out sin in other so we as real believers can separate us from them. But like Shane Claiborne says, most fundamentalism is ‘selective fundamentalism’, and some of the most imortant words seem to be not included in the list of bible verses that are important to believe litterally.

Saint Augustine said something like a bible interpretation that does not lead us to growing further into living out the double law of loving God and our neigbor is always wrong, and one who does, how misguided our ways of thinking might be, is fulfilling it’s purpose… But that’s not the way I’ve seen people read the bible. There are lots of ‘infallible truths’ that are straight from the bible, but it the end they are just interpretations, and someone else might look at the same verses in a totally different way… But one of the verses that I have not seen highlighted very much by fundamentalists and gatekeepers is ‘love your enemies, and bless for those who persecute you’ from Jesus himself in the sermon on the mount.

What is interesting is that if we do this, Jesus says in Matthew 5, we will be called Children of God. Earlier in the sermon on the mount this expression is used for the peacemakers. (Yes, he really did say peacemakers, and NOT cheesemakers!)

Ye have heard that it was said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy: but I say unto you, love your enemies, and pray for them that persecute you; that ye may be sons of your Father who is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust. For if ye love them that love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more? do not even the Gentiles the same?

What a different world it would be if we would indeed live differently as christians and if we all would really follow Christ in our lives, and not just try to have faith in the right orthodox statements of faith. I’m not at all goint to dismiss Christian orthodoxy; it’s important that we know what we believe in, and stuff. But that’s only half the story… We have to live it out.

Jesus never says to make believers of the one true orthodoxy out of the nations, he says us to go the nations, and make disciples. And if a rabbi talks about following him, that’s not just clicking ‘follow’ on a twitter account. It was following the rabbi wherever he went, and he could give you a valuable lesson out of every little thing that happened. It was following with your whole life!

And the core of Jesus message is that law of love. Paul even seems to say that Love is even more important than faith 1 Cor 13… He can not at all mean that faith and hope are not hugely important. No, they are, but love is even more important, and without it even the biggest faith doesn’t matter… And Then there is that little epistle of James, which tells us that a faith without works is dead. And what is the expample of those ‘works’? Taking care of our neigbor, living out the law of love. Works of love!

I has never been Gods will to just have a bunch of people who are just believing all the right Truth, and that’s it. The Truth is important just because it’ll transform us and the world around us when we live it out, because it advances His Kingdom. But if we don’t let it work inside of us, it won’t do a thing. It’s like believing that the sheet music of a symphony ‘is beautiful’ and ‘rightly composed’. If we don’t get together with instruments to play the symphony, we will miss everything, no matter how beautiful the sheet music is…

So Christianity is a way of life. The first Christians called it ‘the way’. And the main componet of the way is the law of love, the double law of love towards God and others. And this is not only restricted to those fellow humans who happen to like us. No, Jesus explicitly tells us to even ‘love our enemies, and pray for those who persecute you’. To repay evil with good, which might be the only way to stop the cylcle of violence…

This is one of the hardest things in the Christian faith to live out. But I do believe that it is of unmeasurable important to do this! Jesus didn’t just come to forgive us in a mystical way, but to transform Creation. It’s true that this world is still under the veil of evil and decay, but we as Kingdom people are called to already embody that reality that will be once true, when all evil will be banished…

So where are our seminars and conferences on enemy love? Where are the books with 30 days of learning pragmatically how to love our enemies the way Jesus told us? Where are the bible fundamentalist who take the words of Jesus litterally and rejoice loudly when they feel persecuted for their faith?

And before I get charismatic and/or calvinist objections, I’m not saying we have to do this all by ourselves. We need the Spirit of God guiding us. But that’s a symbiosis. When we take steps, God will help us, maybe even in a miraculous was… A good example of this is the famous story ofrry Ten Boom and the concentration camp guard. Her family had been hiding people who were running from the nazis in the second world war, and when they got caught they were deported to concentration camps. She and her sister were taken to Ravensbruck, where her sister dies, and she got a trauma…

A few years later she is preaching in germany, about forgiveness, and suddenly one of the guards, who had treated her cruelly, was there, asking to hear from her that he was forgiven. It seems impossible for a human to do such a thing. But the miracle of the love of God came only when she, knowing both that forgiving was the only optian for her,- and that she could only forgive as a act of will, accepted to shake his hand regardless of all feelings.

It’s nice and comfortable when we reduce the Christian faith to a system of beliefs and theological statements about how Jesus’ death will help us to not go to hell but to heaven after this life. But that’s not what Jesus came to do. Jesus came to proclaim the coming Kingdom of God! And the Kingdom of God requires us to live in a Kingdom way, and not in the ways of the world.

The way of the Kingdom life can be found in places like the sermon on the mount. Jesus’ sacrifice was a victory over evil, death, sin and hell, but it was also the ultimate example for us of how far the law of love can go! There is no reason at all to place those 2 aspects of Jesus death against each other, they are connected and should not be separated!

So, I already asked the question; how can we learn more how to love our enemies? When are we going to give ourselves for Jesus’ Kingdom, instead of ‘taking the country for God’.

Let us pray

Our  Father
who is in heaven
Let Your Kingdom come
Let Your will be done
in every aspect of our lives
as in heaven
teach us to listen to Your Spirit
fill us with self-giving love
not only for those who like us
but to our enemies
so that they can see the Kingdom in us
whether they like it or not
Make us light and salt
to live out your law of love
and bring on Your Kingdom
so that Your name, Father
will be glorified
Amen

shalom

Bram

This post is part of the Bless Those Who Curse You Campaign’s Synchroblog. Others blogging on this topic:

David Henson at Unorthodoxology: Can Anybody Find Me Somebody to Love?

George Elerick at The Love Revolution: Toxicity

Brian Ammons at Nekkid Ressurrection: Loving Those Who Curse Us

Tia Lynn Lecorchick at Loving Our Enemies: Where to Begin?

Mark Sandlin at The God Article: A Call to Political Authenticity for Christians

Danielle Shroyer: “A Prayer for our enemies….And for Us.”


fundamentalist dispensationalism


Some of the ideas circulating in evangelicalism really seem far off… The word ‘heresy’ may be much too strong (I sincerely hope it is) so is used only for the effect, but these thing would be the end of my faith if I’d buy into them, and the way I I’ve encountered them they lessen or they even make invalid the redical message of Jesus.

For the first one we go to the more fundamentalist camp and take a look at the so-called ‘dispensationalism’, a long and difficult word for a system of complicated schemes and weird detailed theologies… But some things that go under that name have crossed the line and may be far outside the lines of healthy christianity… And now I’m not even talking about the ‘left behind’ eschatology, I’m talking about something deeper and much more serious. (I do not at all believe in pre-trib rapture, maybe that’s for another time…)

so, what is dispensationalism? it’s a protestant theology from the last 2 centuries, mostly rooted in the ideas of John Nelson Darby, (1800 – 1882) in which the story of the bible bible is viewed as a chronology of different ‘dispensations’, in which God has a different covenant with people. I have no problem with that idea, in fact it may be quite similar to narrative postmodern theology if explained like that in one sentence. So God has different covenants with humans throughout history (which is, by the way, deterministicly written out from before the beginning of the world…) How much covenants there are throughout history is not agreed on, some say seven, but it can be more or less… And then you get something like all those complicated schemes you can find if you just google for pictures on the word dispensationalism. Mostly they don’t agree with each other, and if you look at the bible verses that are used for ‘prooftexting’ these schemes, sometimes you need a lot of imagination to even see the connection with the verse and the conclusions drawn from it… (which is also not exclusive to this movement, I had sometimes had the same when reading Rick Warren or John eldredge books…)

Anyway, according to most of the common schemes  we live now in the dispensation of the church, or the time of grace, or something like that. which means that the time of the apostles is long ago, so we don’t need any charismatic gifts, since they were only needed for starting up the church long ago. And what’s more important you have to see that the new testament in fact only begins by the death of Jesus, so everything before it (almost all of the four gospels) is irrelevant and it falls still under the time of the law. so the words of jesus as recorded in the 4 gospels were mostly just for the jews in the first century, and may be for the millenium somewhere in the future, but they are not for us to follow. I really had a discussion one time with a guy who tried to concvince me that we shouldn’t follow the gospels as christians, and that we shouldn’t pray the Lords prayer.  His theology was mostly based on Pauls epistles (minus eveything about charismatic gifts) and some of Johns gospel. I hope this is just a caricature, but I’ve seen same tendencies in more fundamentalist writings.

The bitter irony of this whole story is that some of those people will tell you how important it is to read the bible litterally, and then use their own weird logic and strange thought constructions to make some of the most important parts of the bibel invalid. when someone goes to far to say that the sermon of the mount and the Lords prayer are not meant for us christians, but for the jews of the first century, the line is crossed for me. This is no longer a healthy Christianity, au contraire. It has almost nothing left of Jesus, and maybe the word of heresy really could apply… But I’m not in a position to judge that. I believe that believing in Jesus cannot be separated from following Him and the red letters of the bible.

I believe in charismatic gifts (though some pentacostels can really exaggerate and be 100%  unbalanced about it) I believe discipelship and the following of jesus can not at all be separated from believing in Him and being saved. And I believe that we are still to preach the gospel of the kingdom, and that the sermon on the mount is something like our christian ‘constitution’  to live by…

God bless ya all

shalom

Bram