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.