7:12 AM At the end of his biography, Malcolm Muggeridge writes something truly profound. He’s talking about the British government but his words, I think, apply to the current political situation in the U.S.
The Apostle Paul, as usual, was right when he told the early Christians that all earthly authority must be accepted since it could only exist to the degree that it was acceptable to God — that is to say, appropriate. When it ceased to be so, it would collapse.
Think about this. Instead of inviting the polarizing ambiguity of politics into our kingdom fellowships and fighting over what we think Caesar should do (and, of course, our side knows better than your side what government should do), we could stop blaming government for what it is or isn’t doing and partner with whatever other churches are willing to mimic Jesus, forsake privilege and power, and advance the Jesus-looking kingdom. In the spiritual realm, it seems to me that we’re spending a lot of time treating symptoms instead of the disease. An aspirin may remove the symptom but there may well be a more serious cause of the headache. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t call attention to symptoms. But the basic trouble is the old self-life that doesn’t consent to identification with Christ.
A lot more could be said (and needs to be said — see my aforementioned book if you’re interested), but this post is already longer than I wanted it to be.
(2/16/2019) 9:15 AM In one of my talks at Phoenix Seminary I quoted the Scottish proverb that says, “Greek, Hebrew, and Latin all have their proper place, but it’s not at the head of the cross, where Pilate put them, but at the foot of the cross in humble service to Jesus.” Oh, I do hope the message came through loud and clear. Seminaries do not exist for scholarship. Yes, we need to study the Bible, and study it carefully. But the goal of the careful study of the Bible is not the careful study of the Bible. The goal is to become obedient Jesus-followers who feed the poor and open our homes to strangers and share Jesus with the lost and live lives characterized by scandalous love for our enemies. Show me a New Testament teacher off mission, and I’ll show you somebody who has no concept of what the New Testament is all about.
6:42 AM If you’re a follower of Jesus, God has hard-wired you to serve others in His name. Here’s a picture of a team from Lifepoint Church in Fredericksburg. In accordance with Scripture, they were passing out cups of *gummy bears* in Jesus’ name during yesterday’s race.
They had a corner on the market too, since there were plenty of other volunteers blessing us with cups of cold water. Believe me, at mile 8, these bearers of energy were just what the doctor ordered. But I have to ask myself: In all of my running, this is the first time I’ve seen an evangelical church out on a race course. It can only be done when we begin to realize that the gathering exists for the going. I have a special empathy for people trying to find their place in the body of Christ. But let’s not forget to consider simple, towel-and-basin ministries such as this one. Simply put, serving others in Jesus’ name is what you do with who you are in Christ. Every believer has been called to serve in the kingdom of God. Markus Barth reminds us that the entire church “is the clergy appointed by God for a ministry to and for the world” (Ephesians, p. 479). This is the highest calling possible. Paul says that the body grows into the Head through every joint or connection point. How different it would be to runners if they saw church after church doing such simple acts of service. They would welcome the God-given concern being expressed. This is why, significantly, the goal of leadership in the church is to get every member of the body relating to the Head for himself or herself. The leading servants will do this primarily in the context of exercising their own spiritual gifts. The church needs these specially gifted leaders, but the call of God also comes to every believer who has ears to hear — even if this means that they stand in the oppressive heat and humidity passing out jelly beans in the name of their King.
Church, I believe we can do better. Can I tell you the dream for my life and teaching? I hope you get to the end of your life and breathe a huge sigh of relief and thanksgiving. You discovered that God is good at being God. You discovered that He was willing to use you in normal, everyday circumstances to be a blessing to others in His name. We don’t have to be superstars. We’re probably better at just being normal folk anyway.
(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission. Dave is author of The Jesus Paradigm and many other books.)
[02/05/2017 09:22 AM} Well, it’s been quite a week, eh???!!! Swastikas on New York trains, a smashed synagogue window in Houston, a swastika on an iconic statue at Rice University, bone-chilling tweets, the federal judiciary standing up to the executive branch. Yikes. Of all the things, of all the thousands of things that could have stood out to me in this week’s news, I was drawn to a story about a mother’s instinct to save the life of her child. (Cue sermonette.) The older I get, folks, the more I realize why millions of people are going to hell without ever hearing the Gospel. Nothing is more indicative that America is fast becoming a post-Christian nation than Christians who have lost their basic purpose for living in this world. In recent days I’ve looked back on three years of running/hiking/climbing/biking as one of the greatest learning experiences of my life. Exercise involves commitment, self-discipline, and most of all keeping your eye on the goal. So what is the goal for the follower of Jesus? How silly of me to ask you that question! You know the answer as well as I do. The only question to be answered is: How will I, Dave Black, live TODAY as God’s agent to redeem and transform the lives of people? That’s what I find so disturbing about well-meaning efforts to “keep America safe.” A ban on immigration may or may not be a good first step in this direction, politically. People can debate that until hell freezes over. But there’s one thing I’m absolutely sure about:
The nations have already come to America!!!!!
And unless we followers of Jesus abandon the racism implied in our unwritten definition of “security,” we will never see the world reached for Christ. Foreign governments (like Iran) may close the doors to U.S. Christians, but they can’t close them to their own people. John 20:21 — “As the Father sent Me, even so I am now sending you” — reveals the reason God left us on this earth. Reaching those around us with the Gospel is the main activity of the church until Jesus Himself returns as King of kings. So then, the purpose of my life as a follower of Jesus must be to “Go everywhere and tell everyone” (Mark 16:15). (Yes, I just quoted from the last twelve verses of Mark. Deal with it.)
Listen. If my only concerns are about my own life — my security from terrorism, a healthy body, a prestigious education, marriage, a good-paying job — then how I am any different from the lost all around me? Regrettably, too few of us think of ourselves as fulltime missionaries to the world, including our own nation. That’s why I wrote a little book called Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions? The red-hot political issues of the day need to be kept in their proper perspective. It’s human nature to be driven by our egos always to be right. The opposite is to have the mind of Christ — that is, a spirit of servanthood and humility. It’s the same attitude of other-centeredness that caused a young mother to place the safety of her baby’s life above her own. She didn’t care a whit about anything else. It was another life over her own. Friends, we can’t follow Jesus very long without being confronted by our ego and greed. It’s His way of demonstrating His presence in our lives. This week in our “Jesus and the Gospels” class we’re looking at the Gospels and asking, “Why four — no fewer and no more?” I believe we’ll see that each Gospel points us to the church’s primary task: to complete the task of world evangelization. My prayer? For students with the spiritual sensitivity to hear what the Lord Jesus is saying today to the North American church. We who are called by Christ are called to serve and not to be served. We are called not to gain our lives but the lose them. We have the keys, you guys! We have the word and the Spirit and a cheering section in heaven. But we’re not promised a secure life!!!!!
Love the lost.
Do these simple things, and the church will hit a home run.
6:35 PM In Greek class today we discussed words and how they take on meaning. It’s part of my effort to make class practical and motivational. At the same time, there’s nothing easy about lexical analysis. Much of it is undoing damage. Take the well-known and much-discussed fallacy of etymologizing — determining a word’s meaning by its constituent parts (morphemes). For example, some insist that a New Testament church is “called out” from the world — separate, if you will — based on the etymology of the Greek word ekklesia, which is comprised of two parts — ek, “out of,” and kaleo, “I call.” Hence the church is a “called out” organism. It is to be different from the world. And believers are to separate themselves from the world.
In New Testament usage, however, it seems that the word ekklesia never quite had this meaning of “called out ones.” Normally it was used to describe a group of people that had something in common. At times this group met, and then it was an ekklesia. At other times it wasn’t meeting per se, but even then it was an ekklesia. This term was used in contrast to ochlos — a term that describes a group of people that have come together and yet have nothing really in common. Ochlos is often glossed as “crowd” in English, and that is indeed a very good rendering. How, then, should we translate ekklesia into English? When I posed this question to my class today, I got several excellent responses: “gathering,” “assembly,” “congregation,” and the like. All of these are fine, but none of them in my opinion captures the essence of what a New Testament ekklesia is. I prefer the term “community.” Church is not simply a group of just any people, and it is most certainly not a building. Instead, I like to think of a church as a space in which all of us are ministering, praying, preaching, teaching, singing, caring, loving — a family if you will. Our motto might be: “We’re all in this together. So let’s do it together.” This is the community to which we, as followers of Jesus, are giving ourselves with our whole hearts. This is our “church” — a diverse, global, caring paean of praise to our Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, Lord, Master, and only true Senior Pastor.
Recently I became part of a similar community, a community known simply as the “runners’ community.” The similarities between this community and the “church” are legion. As soon as I began running competitively I knew I had joined the ranks of hundreds and thousands of other runners. From my very first race this sense of community became instilled deep within my psyche. Even as a novice runner, I knew I was not alone. Every experienced runner remembers when they were a beginner just like you, and so they are eager to reach out to the newbies among them. You soon have a group of running friends you look to for advice — where to buy the best running shoes, how to train properly, how to avoid injuries, how to handle anxiety before a big race. Being part of this community helps each of us to become a better runner. As runners, we value what we can become and not simply what we look like. We are not defined by our age, our t-shirt size, our weight, or our medallions (or lack of them). We are all fiercely independent and pursue individual goals, and yet paradoxically we truly believe that we are all in this together, and it shows. Just show up to any race and observe the runners. We are a celebration of men and women, boys and girls, who are striving to be the best and healthiest versions of ourselves through running and fitness. We are forever occupied with growth, with exposing and developing what is latent with us. Each race is an enactment of a lifelong struggle for advancement and perfection.
I am not in the least surprised, therefore, to find similarities between a running community and a community that defines itself on the basis of the traditional creedal values of faith, hope, and love. Both runners and Christians have a lot in common. For one thing, we both ask silly questions. A Christian in a bookstore asks the salesperson: “I’m looking for a Bible for my mother but I’m not sure who the author is.” A non-runner asks you, “How far is your next 5K race?” As you can see, both novice runners and novice Christians have a lot to learn! We are people who pursue excellence and who seek to be dedicated to something wholeheartedly and to give ourselves to some project without any reservations whatsoever. Our actions are always impelled by some good we want to attain. And to achieve our goals, we often have to endure suffering and pain. An athletic race is a place where we discover strength and faith and courage we never knew we possessed. We are runners. It doesn’t matter how fast we run or or how far we run. It doesn’t whether we are running in our very first race or have been running for fifty years. During a 5K race this past weekend I met an athletic-looking young man who was pushing his infant child in a stroller. We had finished the race at about the same time. I knew he could have run much faster had he not been pushing a baby carriage. He told me something I’ll never forget. He said, “Sometimes having the best time at a race has nothing to do with how fast you ran.” I will remember that until the day I die. I wish I could have given him “The World’s Greatest Runner Award” that day.
Running metaphors occur all over the place in the New Testament. Think Heb. 12:1; Phil. 2:16; Gal. 2:2; 2 Tim. 4:7; and 1 Cor. 9:24-26. Remember: this is a race we run together. It’s no different in the running community. “Hey guys. I’ve got a hip labral tear. Anybody had any experience with this?” Or (in the church), “As a mom, I have a tremendous sense of responsibility to teach my children about truth and grace and God. Should I make my children read the Bible? What do you think?” The point is: We are there for each other.
At one time I was really struggling going uphill in 5K races. So I asked the winner of a race how I could improve. His simple answer caught me off guard. “You learn to run uphill by running uphill.” Yet another reminder that “we’re all in this together.” Need more proof? Watch this.
12:10 PM In light of Bibi’s speech before Congress, I can’t help but reflect on where things stand in the U.S. today. My words are especially directed toward any Twenty- and Thirty-Somethings who might be reading my blog. My parents’ generation has been called “The Greatest Generation” because they fought the Nazis and mobilized for the Cold War. What we forget is the fiscal burden they placed on their posterity, producing an American political system that seems utterly incapable of tackling any big multigenerational problems, including our national debt or even something as basic as national security. America has entered an irreversible downward spiral. We had better understand this new era we’re entering. The American spirit — “We are entitled to whatever we want” — demands growth and consumption. We want the appetizers, the entrees, and the desserts, all at once, and we are eager to ask government to provide it for us. Today each follower of Jesus stands at the crossroads on the question of personal priorities. Will we surrender to the spirit of this age, or will we resist and join the downward movement of Jesus, making a conscious choice to deny the normal comforts and conveniences of life for the sake of others? We rightly honor those who die in military service, we celebrate the accomplishments of our nation’s athletes, we honor fire fighters who perish in public service, but the minute a Christian young person refuses to accept the American Dream and voluntarily takes on an assignment that involves suffering we spend hours trying to talk him or her out of “going overboard.” I am not saying that every Christian must become a professional missionary. But I am saying that if you are really sincere about following Christ, you will not be at peace with yourself until the whole world knows of Him, and you will be intentional about using whatever He has given you — your time, your energy, your wealth, your vocation, your vacations even — to serve the expansion of His kingdom.
“What good is knowledge unapplied?” asked one of my elders recently. What good is an education unless we place it at the feet of King Jesus? Students, my parents’ generation, and my own as well, have failed you because we have catered to the rotten spot in the soul of our nation. We have taught you to expect instant gratification, that the “good life” is the only life there is, that extravagance and waste are the normal patterns of our human existence, that security and liberty are our natural “rights.” We have clenched our fists at our “enemies”– not all of us, but many of us — and have refused to receive the nail prints of the cross, unwilling to make even small sacrifices to reach the millions of lost souls in our world. How different this is from the self-sacrifice of our spiritual forefathers in the book of Acts. Something is desperately wrong, and it is up to your generation to turn it around. The only way Christ will be incarnated to a lost world is through you. As the Father sent Him, so He is sending you so that others can taste and feel and see His presence.
If you are willing to make this commitment, I have a book for you. It is free for the asking. Just send me an email with your snail mail address I will see that you receive a copy of Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions?
8:32 AM Are you a cessasionist or a continualist? I want to go on record and affirm that I am a passionate continualist.
I believe we ought to continue the pattern of simple, radical, life-style evangelism begun in the book of Acts. After all, it worked for the early church.
I believe we ought to continue bearing a humble, faithful, and consistent testimony to Christ, as the early believers did. Let moderns appeal to the sensational and spectacular; even the early church knew of signs and wonders. But the greatest work of the church has not been the spectacular but rather the faithful day-in and day-out living of normal everyday Christians.
I believe we ought to continue the pattern of church discipline as practiced by the early church and call out “play Christians” that only go through the motions thinking they are Christians but unaware they are only pretending. When the secular press begins to mock our inflated membership statistics, isn’t it time we did something about it?
I believe we ought to get out of our cozy churches and put Christ on display in the world’s darkness where we are needed. For the early Christians, the field was the world, and the corn of wheat had to die if it was to please God and bear fruit. Why, then, do we sit around debating theological puzzles when we ought to plant our lives in the ugly soil of the world?
I believe we ought to continue the emphasis of the New Testament upon every-member ministry, since we are all priests – every one of us – of the Most High God. No church in the New Testament had a single pastor who did all the work. If you have such a leader in your church, fire him – and then hire him back immediately as your CEO, “Chief Equipping Officer” (Eph. 4:12).
I believe we ought to continue the early church’s rejection of blind patriotism. The only Christian nation the Bible knows is the blood-bought, born-again purchased people of God.
I believe we ought to follow the example of the apostle Paul and eschew the excellence of human oratory and any appeal to human wisdom. Nothing about the Gospel pleases this world – nothing! – and we are never so foolish as when we try to dress it up in the garish garments of this age.
I believe we ought to continue the example of the early church and reject position and power as the measuring sticks of success. Why should we seek prominent seats in the kingdom when our Lord promised us not seats but suffering? Obedience cost John the Baptist his head and Jonathan Edwards his pulpit. What has it cost us?
9:06 AM My good friend Craig Bennett is back from a transforming retreat. He tells all in his latest post called Stripped away. Craig notes:
I have to say that at this point in time, I am ruined for the lifestyle of traditional church. Our modern churches are too safe. They are too “ME” centered. While its true, most churches proclaim Christ and him crucified – it seems to me that most neglect the important part of living out Christ and him resurrected within the midst of our communities. There is little sense of the importance of mission in the midst of our community. There is little sense of the importance of those who we walk on by.
This is so right on! In recent years I have come to view church in a vastly different way than I used to view it when I was a younger teacher. I have, in fact, adopted a new set of theological assumptions that color my theological world and the way in which I view church and missions. My former worldview was deeply shaped by twentieth-century evangelicalism. In my experience, to be an evangelical Christian was to be a good church goer. Christianity was fundamentally about us. What was lost in this view was both the missional dimension of the church and the cruciform nature of Christianity. Today my definition of discipleship has shifted considerably from that of being “a good church goer.” Discipleship means following Christ in obedience. It means participating in God’s mission in the world in the power of the Holy Spirit. Discipleship is exercised primarily in the broader culture rather than within the church. Missional theology, understood through the framework of the book of Acts, invites us to express our discipleship not only in doctrinal formulations (though these are vitally important) but also in missional practices and concrete acts of service.
For this reason, like Craig, I can’t be content any longer to talk about a missional theology without at least exploring its implications for its transformation potential. God’s concerns are much bigger than the typical church’s concerns. Take worship for example. Understood biblically, worship is not a gathering of individual Christians seeking an intimate experience with God. Rather, worship is the offering of our lives sacrificially to Him daily (see Rom. 12:1-2). Worship is not merely an occasional activity of the believer. Instead, it defines the core of Christian discipleship: We are called to be worshippers in every sphere of life by participating in the Triune God’s mission in the world. This can take place only through intentional “neighboring” practices and in relationship with non-Christians. The key is for ordinary Christians (like you and me) to develop their capacity to serve their neighbors in love. The work of the Spirit is crucial to this renewed participation in society. Christians are to embody the ethics of Jesus before a watching world, providing it with a limited but powerful glimpse of what it means to be a bearer of God’s image. The Gospels clearly present Jesus as constantly moving into unfamiliar territory across cultural barriers and social lines. And at the heart of it all is the cross – the profound need for reconciliation through Jesus Christ, in whom God has acted to overcome the enmity of human sin. True Christian discipleship always means taking part in Christ’s ministry in the world in a dynamic yet concrete fashion.
Thus, when we speak of worship today, a much wider definition is needed. The church does not gather in order to worship. Believers gather as worshippers who have found their vocation in sharing in the community of Christ as He sends them like sheep among wolves to minister to the needs of others. This, as I said, represents a major paradigm shift in my own understanding of Christian worship. As I see it, too much of what passes as Christian worship today is unaffected by the world. It stands aloof, isolated, and ingrown. The incarnation and crucifixion are sung about but the realties behind these truths are rarely put into practice. Rather than participating deeply in the life of the world, the church holds itself apart from the world. This leads, in turn, to a highly individualistic conception of discipleship – a kind of anthropocentricism focused solely on an individual relationship with Jesus that fails to take into account the wider fabric of the Christian community, not to mention the Triune God’s life and activity with all creation. What remains is a watered-down, emasculated version of worship in which the vocation of the church as a missional, worshiping Body is severely diminished.
One of the key trends in the world of seminary training today is the struggle to understand what a “missional” church looks like. I would suggest that a good place to start might be our understanding of New Testament worship. Such an understanding may well open up new possibilities of thought in matters such as congregational polity, leadership, and even missional theology.
8:37 AM Good morning folks! Got time for a “missions moment”?
I’ve been teaching fulltime now for some 36 years, beginning with my alma mater, Biola University in Southern California. But for the past several years I’ve also been a fulltime “missionary.” This is not merely a matter of semantics. By mediating scholarship and service, I’m trying to cope with the incessant tug-of-war between the classroom and directly facilitating the Great Commission.
“Are you going abroad again?” is a question I’m often asked by students and colleagues. As part of my equipping ministry, I spend most of my so-called vacation time each year taking the Gospel to the nations as a tentmaker. My “scholarship,” no doubt, has suffered as a result. I should not want you to feel sorry for me in the least because of this, however: there is no sacrifice involved. Strangely enough I feel a bit like the apostle Paul who said, “I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16). Because I have been entrusted with this commission, and since there is really no choice for me in the matter, there is no sacrifice.
What is it, you may wonder, that led to this shift in perspective in my life? (I am often asked this question.) It is simply this. The more I study the New Testament, the more I am faced with this reality: If we are truly Jesus-followers, we cannot refrain from giving our lives for the world. Tertullian’s oft-quoted testimony shows how the church’s essential function is practical service in Jesus’ name: “It is our care for the helpless, our practice of lovingkindness, that brands us in the eyes of many of our opponents. ‘Only look,’ they say, ‘look how they love one another…. Look how they are prepared to die for one another.'”
I claim, then, that service in the world is the apex of Christian living; it is the center, not the circumference. One sad aspect of the professoriate is that scholarship and missions are sometimes divorced. (Not in my seminary, of course – wink.) Truth is disconnected from life. But the church’s mission to give itself for the world – the world that God loves – belongs to the academicians and theologians among us as well as to the accountants and salesmen. After all, the point of teaching Greek and Hebrew and church history and theology is not to make our students dependent on their teachers but dependent on the Head, so that each of them, and all of them together, might allow Jesus to live among them and in them and through them.
In other words, a seminary is designed to help Christians be Christians. Not just to talk “Christianese.”
It would be fascinating to comb through the entire Bible to discover how many commandments it gives us. Yet two commands sum up all the Bible’s demands on believers: Love God, and love others. To return, then, to my point: Every Christian is called to share in the evangelization of the world. I see no reason why academics should be given a pass. How foolish to think that we are exempt from living for the Gospel. I am not against attending academic conferences or writing books or giving lectures – I have done all of them – but much current scholarship, I feel, is a laid-back, pleasure-oriented, “hot tub” pursuit (apologies to J. I. Packer). I recall Kierkegaard’s warning that there is nothing quite as dangerous as the abuse of Christian scholarship (Provocations, p. 201):
The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand it, we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.
No, my friends, we cannot evade our responsibility. Missions is the work of the church. That work is for all believers. It is for all the regions of the world. Only as a missionary agency does the church justify its existence.
6:04 AMMuch is being written in the blogosphere these days about American exceptionalism, voting, military service, the pledge of allegiance, etc. The discussion reminds me of another conversation that took place between the 16th century Anabaptists and their Reformed forebears. (History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.) Perhaps I should tell you where I stand.
Claiming God’s special blessing for our nation (or race, or class, or group) is nothing but hubris. We co-opt God for our political agenda whenever it suits us. As Lincoln put it in his Second Inaugural:
Neither party [North or South] expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained…. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other….
Radical Christianity pursues a different path. Rather than trying to get God to be on our side, it tries to be on God’s side. This means, among other things, putting God’s purposes ahead of our own group or nation’s self-interest. This is the original NT message called the Gospel. It is a practical vision that creates a people who transfer their human identities from national loyalties to a new identity as the global people of God. Their mission is both to proclaim and live the kingdom of God, in contrast to the selfish kingdoms of this world. This “new nation” of Christ-followers does more than preach the Gospel. It lives it. Wherever you see Christians welcoming Muslims into their community and befriending them for the sake of the Gospel, wherever you see pro-life churches going beyond mere words of protest and actively supporting pregnant women financially so that they can carry their children to birth, wherever you see believers offering hope where nobody else does – there you will see kingdom of God in practice.
In his book, Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction, David Kuo, former deputy director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, reveals how the Republicans in the Bush administration sought the votes of evangelicals but had no real interest in leading a new Great Awakening. “This [is the] message that has been sent out to Christians for a long time now: that Jesus came primarily for a political agenda, and recently primarily a right-wing political agenda – as if this culture war is a war for God. And it’s not a war for God, it’s a war for politics. And that’s a huge difference,” said Kuo in an interview on 60 Minutes. His point? Mixing evangelical faith and Washington politics-as-usual is antithetical to the Gospel.
Herein lies one of the greatest challenges of modern American evangelicalism. Today God and conservatism have practically merged into one. The “wonder-working power” of politics now drives a large segment of the Christian right. But sin is our trouble, not liberalism in government. To treat cancer by temporary measures is to endanger the victim still worse. David Kuo will probably be considered a neurotic pessimist by his cheery fellow-preachers, but he is right and they are wrong, even if he learned his lesson the hard way. Modern political machinations – whether by the right wing or the left wing of evangelicalism – are nothing more than fads that work up mere optimism and positive thinking. Whenever government tries to make men good without being righteous – something the devil would love more than anything in this fallen world – the professing church becomes cluttered with hosts of superficial saints who never sell out to Christ.
Anyone who reads the New Testament will see that Jesus refused to identify Himself with any of the politico-religious parties of His day, whether they were called Pharisees, Herodians, Sadducees, or Zealots. Likewise, Christians today must maintain an ultimate commitment to Christ and eschew loyalty to a political party – any political party. It is indeed a decadent citizenry that rejects sound doctrine and heaps to itself politicians to tickle its itching ears. Yet who will deny that this is happening? Mr. Kuo is undoubtedly aware of the risks he is taking in airing his criticisms. When Alexander Solzhenitsyn delivered the 1978 commencement speech at Harvard, one newspaper said, “Prophets are not popular. They are uncomfortable people; they make poor house guests. Not only are they not honored in their own countries but sometimes not even in their own times. The greatest of them have been labeled as arrogant, self-righteous, presumptuous, unpatriotic.” Mr. Kuo’s experience is a reminder of how easy it is for well-meaning Christians to substitute political activism for genuine compassion. As long as good people try to remedy conditions with temporary palliatives there will be a need for prophets like David Kuo. That’s because lostness – not liberalism, not libertarianism, not “compassionate conservatism” – is our problem. We are sinners, blind, even lepers, and to try to make people religious without making them righteous only makes them harder to reach with what they need most.
If there is to be today a new politics of faith based on the cross of Christ, it will have to meet critically these issues. This means for me personally that it is not enough to question the just war tradition or to condemn the Constantinian compromise in the abstract. Nor is it enough to rail against the Christ-washed militarism being offered in His name by our politicians. Nor can I merely exegete Jesus’ mandate in the Sermon on the Mount disinterestedly. The only responsible Christian ethic is for me to become an active participant in service and sacrifice for the sake of the Prince of Peace. I must discover what it means to rid myself completely of the baggage of self-will and to plunge into the tranquil sea of God’s will where alone I will find joy. There are countless situations in my life in which I must decide to put the interests of others above my own life-interests. The power of nonviolence is an important step on the downward path of Jesus, but only if I deliberately chose such a path can “peace on earth” begin to be realized. At the very least, this means for me:
rejecting the mindset of Western imperialism
refusing to support the notion that Christian missions benefits from the spread of empire
preaching the cross instead of the protection of the sword
placing love of enemy at the heart of the Gospel rather than at its periphery
affirming an allegiance to Christ that transcends national boundaries or roles
bearing witness of sacrificial service in the name of Christ
helping to move peace toward the center of the church’s witness in the world
teaching about the alternative model provided by the historic peace churches
living a life of radical discipleship
being willing to suffer in the spirit of the cross and to undergo a literal baptism unto death if need be
focusing on the cross as the center of my faith and life
manifesting the firstfruits of the kingdom of peace in mutual aid and love with the community of faith
repudiating any coercion or manipulation of faith by the state
praying constantly that God would move to ameliorate the hatred and pride that provide the occasion for war
struggling to perfect my life by the Holy Spirit in the confidence that the Lord is at work
being nonconformist yet involved in attempts at reconciliation worldwide
preaching the Gospel persuasively and powerfully in deed as well as in word
maintaining warm Christian fellowship with all who sincerely follow the guidance of conscience with regard to military service, including those who feel obliged to render such service
In the end, while I cannot say that I am currently a peace church pacifist, this is irrelevant since pacifism, unlike the just war tradition, is not as much a dogma to be believed as a lifestyle to be practiced. The work of a genuine peacemaker must be to call civil governments to account and to help limit the violence when conflict is actually in progress. At the very least there is never any reason to glorify revolution or war or to utter blatantly warmongering statements such as were made by candidate John McCain in the run-up to the 2008 presidential election. The downward path of Jesus to which the Gospel calls us requires both peacefulness and peacemaking, and the history of the church shows our urgent need to be reminded of these twin emphases again and again in view of the church’s compliance with violence.