Saturday, May 3, 2008

Love Your Enemies

I am weeping uncontrollably as I write this, as I listen to "Mockingbird" by Derek Webb.

For some reason, today, as I listen to this CD that I already know by heart, every word pierces me deeply, and I weep for how far the church in America has sold its soul to American ideals and principles at the cost of the principles of the gospel.

Don’t teach me about moderation and liberty
I prefer a shot of grape juice
Don’t teach me about loving my enemies
Don’t teach me how to listen to the Spirit
Just give me a new law

"How can I kill the ones i’m supposed to love/ My enemies are men like me..."

"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"

I have never experienced something this overwhelming before. I have never grieved like this before: for a church which has forgotten how to love its enemies, which has sought earthly power rather building a heavenly kingdom, which has little regard for the poor.

We have swallowed, hook, line and sinker, the myth of the Christian nation. We believe that wars can be just, and that American ideals are Christian ideals, and that our lives are worth giving to protect this earthly empire. We "support the troops," but not the ones the troops fight against. We place American flags in our churches, include patriotic songs in our hymnals, equating them with songs of worship to our Creator. And we think there's nothing wrong with this.

We have idolized our nation. We have made it as important as our God. And we demonize those who cry out against this.

We are called to be separate, to live by different ideals and different standards. We have allegiance to one only: our Lord Jesus Christ, and none comes second to Him. We cannot believe in the government's legitimacy or ability to legislate morality. We cannot waste our precious breath trying to change earthly power structures. We cannot believe that it is possible for Christians to serve as presidents or soldiers without betraying their allegiance to the gospel.

We must remember the early church, who firmly believed in the necessity for Christians to divorce themselves from the earthly powers, who called into question the ability for a person to be both soldier and Christian, who believed it impossible for an emperor to serve Christ and execute his job, who did not resist when their enemies threatened them. We must remember men like Tertullian and Origen, who made statements like these:

Now inquiry is made about the point whether a believer may enter into military service. The question is also asked whether those in the military may be admitted into the faith - even the rank and file (or any inferior grade), who are not required to take part in sacrifices or capital punishments…A man cannot give his allegiance to two masters - God and Caesar…How will a Christian man participate in war? In fact, how will he serve even in peace without a sword? For the Lord has taken the sword away. It is also true that soldiers came to John [the Baptist] and received the instructions for their conduct. It is also true that a centurion believed. Nevertheless, the Lord afterward, in disarming Peter, disarmed every soldier.

I think we must first inquire whether warfare is proper at all for Christians ... Do we believe it is lawful for a human oath to be added to one that is divine? Is it lawful for a man to come to be pledged to another master after Christ has become his Master? Is it lawful to renounce father, mother, and all nearest kinsfolk, whom even the Law has commanded us to honor and love next to God himself?…Is it lawful to make an occupation of the sword, when the Lord proclaims that he who uses the sword will perish by the sword? Will the son of peace take part in the battle when it does not become him even to sue at law? Will he who is not the avenger even of his own wrongs, apply the chain, the prison, the torture, and the punishment?

Christians were taught not to avenge themselves upon their enemies…They would not have made war (although capable) even if they had received authority to do so. For they have obtained this reward from God: that he has always warred on their behalf. On certain occasions, he has restrained those who rose up against them and desired to destroy them…On special occasions, some have endured death for the sake of Christianity, and those individuals can be easily numbered. However, God has not permitted the whole nation [of Christians] to be exterminated.


How is it that we have forgotten these early Christians, these ones responsible for the rapid expansion of Christianity through their example of peace and non-violence and radical generosity? How can we now think that the gospel will be served by electing "Christian" leaders and "defending American ideals" in the world? The gospel, as history has witnessed time and again, spreads the farthest when it is the most different from the world. That's why it is exploding in China and Sudan and other places where it is persecuted: because the radical difference between the world and the church can be clearly seen.

We as a church have legitimized ourselves in America. In order to see revival and renewal, we must de-legitimize ourselves, divorce ourselves from our marriage to the United States and marry once again our Bridegroom. We must come out of the military and the government, those earthly powers, and establish ourselves once more as those who love: both each other and their neighbors. We must cease to pledge allegiance to a flag and pledge allegiance to our Savior alone. If we're married to an earthly power, we cannot freely serve God.

Why did the Puritan movement that began the United States die out? For all its focus on the Scriptures and its understanding of what the Word taught, they tried to create an earthly power structure to enforce its practice. It created, as Constantine did when he made Christianity the official religion of Rome, a group of those who claimed faith as a way of gaining power and control. But it was the Puritans who, with their "Christian" government, began the genocide against their neighbors the Indians, (Only Roger Williams, the man who purchased Rhode Island from the Indians and made it a place of religious freedom and community, got it right.) And it was the popes - pseudo-religious emperors - who began the Crusades against their Muslim neighbors. And now, it is a "Christian" president who has begun a war on terror (as if killing those willing to give their lives for their cause will somehow deter them from contuing to kill). Since Constantine, the seduction of seeking influence through worldly means has strangled the church's power in the world. This is not the way of Jesus. This is not how He meant to have us live. By buying into the world's system, we have compromised ourselves mightily.

Christianity is the way of upside-down thinking: to gain our lives, we must lose them. To become the greatest, we must become the least. And in order to gain influence in the world, we must give it up. Our duty is to love God and our neighbors. Our duty is to sell all our possessions, give to the poor, and follow Jesus. If we do these things, we will see an unprecedented revival.


  1. I completely agree that religious governments are historically intolerant and repressive. Although, i don't think Christians should be apolitical, i believe their politics should be areligious. I guess i don't see the church being hurt by politics so much as i see our government being hurt by religious people. Bush is not a christian president, he is a fiscal and politically conservative president who, like all republicans, passes as a social conservative to appeal to religious voters because Bush knows he can get people to vote against their interest as long as he is the candidate that doesn't like gays and abortion. Apolitical christians only exacerbates the situation because they'll vote for the 'christian' candidate. Politics would be an ideal venue for reaching poor and needy peoples if christians really cared about them, but clearly they are more concerned with legislating morality.

    I agree that there are some serious issues with the church in america, but I think this speaks to the much larger issue of the church's inability to function in a free and open society. The church has to either adapt or confront governments that do not reflect the same the same viewpoints; it seems to always be the latter.

    All religions and social groups thrive under persicutuion; look at the state of israel, the islamic extremists in iraq; and christians in repressive societies. I think today christians like to pretend they are persecutued by scientists or liberals because it's the only way they can legitamize their movement. I have often wondered why the church seems unable to function in a world that doesn't hate them. If the church were to try and separate itself in order to grow, what would success look like? If everyone accepted the religion would it not be reflected in the government of those people? It seems as if rome very well may have become christianized one way or another. I guess I see the underlying issue being the church's inability to view the 'world' as anything else other than an enemy. I know that's not where you were going with your post and you may not agree or even care, but I thought I would sympathize with a different take.

  2. I read this some time ago, but I didn't leave a comment because I didn't have much to say. I agree with much of what you wrote, disagree with some of it, and am undecided on the rest. I whole-heartedly agree with your assessment that the church has way too closely equated Christianity and our country, and that the gospel spreads most when it is most different from the world. I don't think withdrawing from or ignoring politics/government is the solution - but rather, as Tyler mentioned, treating it with an "areligious" attitude. I think it would be our responsibility regardless of what country or government we lived with to take part in the political process - whether that be simply by voting, or by serving in an office - BUT with the understanding that it is not for the purpose of advancing the gospel. For example, I can't help but vote for the candidate that gives me the best chance to provide for my family, (i.e. lowers my taxes) and for the candidate who's morals are at least closest to mine, but I don't in any way expect that candidate to do the work of the church. And this is admittedly something I've struggled with a little since reading this post. Because I want to see laws in place against abortion for instance. Call it "legislating morality" if you will, but that's what any law against murder is. But I have to recognize that the government doesn't have any sort of obligation to make or uphold any such laws. Another example - I don't think gays are any worse than any of us other sinners, and I don't think there should be laws against homosexuality - however, I don't think they should be getting married. Why? Because marriage is an institution created by God between man and woman. But precisely because of that definition, the government really shouldn't have anything to do with marriage. But since we've given them control of that institution so to speak, we can't expect them to uphold it with God's standards. They have no obligation to. All this to say...I agree that we, as Christians, need to make a clear distinction between human government and Christianity. Stop acting like the government has a responsibility to uphold our values. Stop lamenting that we've come so far from our roots. Stop acting like there is such thing as a "Christian Nation." But at the same time, I don't think there is a need to completely stop trying to affect things through the political sphere - just know that we can't control it. So before we try to make the government outlaw abortion, we need to make sure we are ministering to the distressed and desparate people who feel they need the abortion - who have no where else to turn. As a church, we should be firstly concerned with fulfilling God's commandment to love - regardless of the political/social environment around us - and secondly concerned with changing that environment.

  3. way of application, where do we start?

  4. Holly, I think we start in the church. Our church's do not fulfill their Biblical role anymore when it comes to ministering to the poor, widowed and hurting. We leave that up to the government. Since when did it become their job? Our church's need to start getting involved in their communities again, and stop worrying about being so above it all. We need to get to work and get our hands dirty. Does that make sense? I do believe that we as christians have abdicated our responsibility to our fellow man.

    Jesse, While I disagree with your pacifist viewpoints, I definitely agree with yours, Jerry and Tyler's opinion that politics should be a-religious.
    The most recent observation of this was everyone in the "christian" movement acting like we were all morally obligated to vote for Mike Huckabee because he was a "christian". Give me a break. While I believe that we have to legislate morality to a point, eg. we have to have laws against things that would tear down our society, I agree that the government isn't a "christian" government and it shouldn't take the place of the church, or have anything to do with spreading the gospel of Christ.

    But when it comes to completely removing oneself from the "earthly powers", we disagree. I do not believe in separatism. In 1 Peter 2:13 it says to "Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of god, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor."
    I believe that we have an obligation to take part in some way in the political process, if for no other reason than out of thankfulness that we live in this free country, and out of respect for those who have fought and died to maintain our freedom. Because with our religious freedom, guaranteed to us by a "human" institution, we are able to further the gospel of Christ. We should do what we can to elect those who will help us retain our freedoms.

    I also believe that as christians we are called to defend those who cannot defend themselves against evil, and I don't think that that precludes violence. I think you will agree that violence is sometimes necessary. If someone were to break into your home with the intent of killing your wife or kids, would you hesitate to use violence to stop them?

    I believe it is incorrect to view Bush as a "christian" president, or to assume that he does anything out of any sort of religious obligation- although it's true that the "christian" movement as a whole does. Just listen to any christian radio station and you'll hear examples of this.

    We've put our faith in our government, instead of in Christ. That's why I don't freak out at the thought of a Democrat becoming president, because while I agree that it wouldn't be good for the country, God is sovereign above all and the Bible says that He has set all earthly leaders in place.

    Anyway, enough rambling. If any of this doesn't make sense I'll blame it on the fact that I have 4 kids screaming in the background. :>P

  5. Tyler, I think if the church were to act as it should, the world would consequently hate it. As to politics being areligious, I don't know what that means. One cannot make political decisions in a vacuum devoid of religious and spiritual convictions, so if being areligious means to do so, it can't happen. If politics being areligious means that it doesn't interfere in affairs of the church and religion, then yes, I'd say it's possible.

    My objection is really that the church has once again decided that the means by which society and the world will be changed is the path of the state. Politics can be a useful tool for certain things - like, for instance, abolishing the slave trade, banning abortion, regulating commerce and pollution, etc - but should not be used as a way to further the kingdom. And my main objection to it as it stands today is simply this premise which I wholly believe to be true: One cannot survive in today's federal government without succumbing to corruption. If an honorable, honest person were to make it into Congress by some miracle with minimal compromise with their conscience, they would only stay in Congress by compromising their honesty and honor. And the presidency is even worse. You look at Barack Obama, at McCain, who, at the outset, appear to be honest, honorable men with sincere convictions and intentions. Yet the process of campaigning requires them to say things they don't mean, to hold back their true ideas and ideals, and to spout parts of party platform that they probably, if they had the freedom of deciding, wouldn't truly believe in. If they didn't do these things, thy would not become president. The press and the public would savage them to pieces for daring to remain honest and honorable.

    But I'm veering off course. Bottom line is this: power corrupts, and Christians aren't called to seek it, anyway. If we follow the example of Jesus, we recognize the government as being a legitimate authority in some things, but we give ourselves only minimal contact with it. We vote, we peacefully protest its practices, but we do not seek office within it, and we do not seek to use it to spread the kingdom.

    Jerry: Good thoughts. I can't think of a thing you said that I'd disagree with.

    Holly: The application lies in informing ourselves about what's going on in the world, and serving. We need to be involved in mercy ministries in some capacity, and I don't think any one of us is exempt. Even if it's serving food at a homeless shelter once or twice a month, I think we ought to be doing something to cultivate into ourselves the idea that we're here, as Jesus was, to be servants to our neighbors and to each other.

    Secondly, I think we need to think hard about how we involve ourselves in the world and its systems. Do we even think twice about buying clothes that were produced in sweatshops? Do we consider the fact that buying mass-produced, government-subsidized crops ultimately contributes to the starvation of people in the third world? We need to live moderately, and consider how much we ourselves are culpable for not engaging in practices that could help eliminate or reduce the evil that happens in this world. There are many places online that one can find fair-trade clothing, or one can get involved in buying local produce from family farms or through a CSA (community-supported agriculture).

    Lani: I'm not really advocating a total withdrawal from political systems, but like I've said earlier, I do think that holding political office, at least at the federal level, will almost assuredly cause one to compromise conscience in order to get or stay there. If that's truly the case, why would a Christian seek it out?

    You have an excellent point about taking advantage of the freedoms in this country. I do believe we should exercise those, but I also believe we've been given freedoms the government hasn't granted, and should exercise those as well. Like Peter says in the passage you cited, "Live as people who are free." I don't think Peter's saying to live strictly within the bounds of the freedoms that Rome granted, but rather telling Christians to live out their faith regardless of whether it contradicted the law or not. We are indeed a free people, and we can live free from fear of retribution knowing that our God looks out for us, and nothing will happen to us that He does not want to happen.

    And as far as my pacifism goes, if someone threatened my family, I would gladly offer my life in their stead, but I would ( I hope) not react violently to them. They're lost, and what better opportunity to show them the all-surpassing, unconditional love of Christ than to respond to them in love when they come to rob me of what I love best in the world? My family and I can lose our lives, but "to live is Christ, and to die is gain." But the assailant doesn't have that conviction or that hope, and if they were to be confronted with the stark contrast between their emptiness and our fullness, that might be the thing God uses to bring them to Himself. So I guess I'd say, no, I don't think violence is sometimes necessary. I think we forget we've got a God who told us that vengeance belongs to Him, and that we should "repay no one evil for evil" but rather "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink, for by doing so you will heap burning coals on his head" (Rom. 12:17, 20).

  6. Hey Jesse

    Yes, I'll put myself in the category of people who read this a long time ago and have waited to post. I don't have to say anything for you to know that I think you are mistaken.

    First of all, I am the last person in the world to advocate for a "Christian nation" type of idea. My sister, who has worked closely with may conservative activists in the political sphere could tell you how often I hyperventilate when I hear any mention of "us doing the will of God" or even sometimes "we were meant to be a Christian nation."

    A few random thoughts since I don't have time to organize them right now....

    You said: "The gospel, as history has witnessed time and again, spreads the farthest when it is the most different from the world."

    This is a problematic statement because, 1) the "gospel's" success is determined by the work of the Holy Spirit. The church preaches in all ages the same gospel. The gospel is intrinsically different from the world without our help. It is not the gospel if it is not different. However, you seem to be approaching its presentation as if there is something you can do to make it more different. 2) There is a problem with making a generalization like this because there are many times where revival and renewal was not hindered by civil forces and the gospel flourished. Think of Calvin in Geneva and find one of the most stunning examples of civil power being completely saturated by the church. It's not that the church controlled government, it's just that those in the government were also in the church. It was almost impossible to separate the two. Then you also have the "revivals" in America. Also, looking at the big picture, the church has (relatively speaking) flourished in America given how many opportunities it has been given to commit suicide in every arena. It is literally a miracle that the gospel is still preached in many thousands of pulpits in this country.

    Christianity does not save anyone. Christian culture does not save anyone. The church does not save anyone. The ten commandments does not save anyone.

    Christ saves.

    And yet -- He also has the authority to destroy. He even created "the wicked for the day of doom." He alone is the source of ANY AND ALL authority in heaven and earth -- whether those humans exercising it acknowledge it or not. Why then, if Paul has said so explicitly in Romans that the state bears the SWORD as God's minister, can you not accept this but instead cherry-pick extra-scriptural statements and examples for your argument.

    Scripture has no examples or exhortation to withdraw from civil affairs be they government or military.

    I think you have fabricated an idea in your references to "earthly powers" by putting them outside of God's sovereign control. This is wrong.

    Does that mean I believe we are supposed to use these institutions as a means to advance the gospel? Absolutely not! The mistakes of men in history are readily apparent. The church suffered greatly during Europe religious wars of Protestant vs Catholic.

    I think that's as far as I'm going to go for now. I haven't really covered some of the other issues, such as my positive reasons for being involved with civil institutions.


  7. Lani:

    I should have read you post first -- because I agree with you 100 percent.

    And I'm going to continue now by saying that we work through, and recognize practical human institutions out of love for our neighbor. We cannot be living grateful, Christ-like lives without seeking the good of our neighbor such as what Christ explained as the summery of the law. This includes protecting his life against the unjust.

    You seem to be against capital punishment Jesse -- at least that's what I assume even though you didn't mention it explicitly. Do you have a justification for this? Is this something you have thought about? Would you basically leave the entirety of "earthly" justice in the hands of the unjust?

  8. Mark,

    1) I would obviously not dispute that the Holy Spirit is what works in the hearts of people to bring them to Himself. And I would make an amendment to my statement which seemed to equate the gospel with how it is lived out. What I meant by the statement you quoted was, "The gospel spreads most effectively when it is lived out most fully." And, when it is lived out fully, it will be very different from the world around it. And I don't think that making such a statement counteracts or countermands the Holy Spirit's role in any way. I think He works, also, most actively, through the lives of people who live out the gospel to its fullest extent. Truly He can use whatever means He wishes, but most often it is those who love and obey that become His tools. That's all I was trying to convey.

    2)As to my beliefs about the authority of the government, its authority only goes so far as it is doing its job of rewarding good and deterring evil, of meting out justice. When justice is not meted, when good is punished and evil rewarded, then the government is not fulfilling the function which God has created it to do. I do not believe that this includes capital punishment. I take Paul's use of the word sword as one of two things: 1) it's figurative, meaning the power to enforce law, not necessarily take life, or 2) it's a literal description of how God uses government as a tool to take out His wrath on earth. Just as He used Israel to enforce His judgment on the Canaanites, and just as He used Babylon and Assyria to judge Israel. This does not necessarily mean that the use of force is one that is right or good, it's simply something akin to what Joseph's brothers did to him, a situation where their actions were in themselves evil, but God used them for His own good purposes. In the case of Israel, they had direct word from God to commit the acts, a situation that I don't believe has been duplicated since then. And I fully realize you'll murder me for that interpretation, but whatever. That's all I got.

    To sum up (and I feel like my response is getting unnecessarily lengthy), we are living within a period of time where Jesus is seeking and saving the lost. The example Jesus gives us is one of forgiveness and mercy toward all, including those who perpetrate the ultimate violence of slaying God. If this is indeed the case, then the government should be focused on reconciliation and restoration, not retribution and judgment. The government should be focused on eliminating the inequalities that contribute to crime, rather than simply punishing those who react to the environment they were born into. And, if the government were going to continue its practice of capital punishment (which, as far as a deterrent goes, its effectiveness is debatable at best), it would have to be applied to all violators equally; as it currently exists in the US, minority offenders are given the death sentence extremely disproportionately to white offenders for identical offenses. However, my objection goes deeper than that: capital punishment cheapens life, and says that some sins are so bad that no reconciliation is possible. The gospel adamantly says the opposite: that reconciliation and redemption is possible for anyone, regardless what the sin is. What, then, should be the position of the Christian? How can we support government-sanctioned killing, when in essence all it is is vengeance, and does nothing really to help the community? It doesn't make sense in this era of redemption.

    3)To your statement that I have put earthly powers outside God's sovereign control, I'd say “Ridiculous.” I have no idea what I've said that might make you think that I believe government functions outside God's control. Just because I think it's corrupt and unjust and we as Christians should divorce ourselves from it as a result does not mean that I believe God does not control it. I do think that we ought to condemn the system for not doing the job God created it to do, and I think we ought to create systems within the Christian community that model what government ought to do, but I think that to try to change the government that exists currently through seeking power within is completely pointless. It will steal the soul of whoever seeks it.

    4) As a final statement, I'd just like to say that I've probably in some cases overstated our responsibility to withdraw from government, although I do think, to a very large degree, we ought to seek to disinvolve ourselves, at least as far as holding federal office, volunteering on campaigns, and tying ourselves to parties goes. I think we have deceived ourselves into believing that it's not as bad as all that. But the truth is, if one wants to hold office in this land, one has to buy into an entire party platform, and if one indicates that one has doubts about any plank in that platform, then one can forget about being elected. I have become very convinced that a person of integrity would almost assuredly never be elected and maintain their integrity. McCain, whom I believe to be a man who follows his convictions, has swung away from many of his stated beliefs in the course of his running for office in such a way that coincides with the party platform. Obama has just resigned his membership from Trinity United in an effort to distance himself from the media target that his now former church has become in the course of this race. Ms. Clinton has never had any integrity to begin with, or she lost it long ago in her quest for power. The stains of corruption are spreading over them. Like the One Ring, despite their intentions to use it for good, the corruption is eating away at them. It can't be used for good, for a good man could never attain such heights of power and maintain his goodness.

    So our job becomes that of watchmen of sorts, who decry the corruption of the power structure and seek to model alternatives to it. We should indeed observe and be involved, but not through selling ourselves to the power structure, but as prophets, who point out the errors in the system and seek to change the structure.