Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Report: The way of the cross is not the American way

This is a repost of my post-Memorial day thoughts from last year. I am glad to see this year more brothers who are willing to speak out against wars of violence that lead to the death of naive Americans who are little more than children as well as the countless deaths of others around the world, combatant and non-combatant alike. We still have a long way to go but as the church loses the approval of Caesar we might start to see an awakening that the way of the world is not the way of the cross.

This past weekend was a constant stream of pictures of soldiers, flags and military graveyards with references to John 15:13 and the "ultimate sacrifice". One after another on Facebook, blogs, twitter, Google+. More troubling was that many of those postings came from the same people who post verses of Scripture and talk about Jesus. I wanted to ask them, do you think Jesus wants you to honor the system that leads to the deaths of so many people? I tried to be restrained through Memorial Day out of respect for those who have served, serve currently or have loved those who serve or have died but I can be silent no longer.

How can any follower of Jesus speak of dying in battle while trying to kill others as the "ultimate sacrifice"? The ultimate sacrifice came when God became man, lived a perfect life and gave His life on a cross to redeem those who were His enemies.  I don't expect unbelievers to get that but I would hope that those who claim to be believers would understand this. Based on what I saw I am not so sure that many of us do. The way of the cross at its core is loving enemies, Jesus loving even unto death those who were His enemies and His followers loving their enemies as shown to us by our Lord. We cannot love our enemies while killing them or just as bad encouraging others to kill them on our behalf. More and more I see that the atoning sacrifice of Christ has as a central motivation love of enemy. Yet we have perverted the notion of enemy love, self-sacrifice, humble submission on the pagan altar of individual liberty, economic and political freedom and jingoistic nationalism. Why are we surprised that the church is so astray and powerless in America when it has by and large ceased to be anything resembling the church that Jesus established and when we have abandoned so many of the core teachings of Christ? Recovering the Gospel of justification by faith alone and defending the doctrines of grace is great and all but if we fail to follow Christ all of our high highfalutin' theology is nothing more than an empty intellectual exercise.

Soldiers, whether American or Iranian or Chinese or Canadian, are paid to kill those who threaten the interests of that particular nation. Dressing up that reality in flowery language and cloaking it in nobility doesn't change that reality. That is not intended as a statement to disparage those who sign up for that task, many of whom think they are doing the right thing and quite a few that believe that what they do is compatible with their faith. My beef is not with the individual young men and women who serve in the military. They are doing what our society tells them is a noble task and often they pay for that with their lives while most of the society that tells them how noble they are sits back and enjoys the "freedom" they kill and die to maintain. No, my issue is not with soldiers and sailors and airmen but with those who callously send them off to kill in our "national interest" and even more so with those in the church that glorify and encourage the senseless bloodshed.

Look back at the wars this country has engaged in: an armed rebellion against the authority of the king placed in a position of authority over the colonies in violation of Romans 13: 1-7, creating what many people call a "Christian nation". A silly and pointless rematch war with the English over borders between the U.S. and Canada. Several other wars of territorial expansion. A vicious war between Americans over the right to enslave other human beings that still scars our national conscience today. A war in Europe that was none of our business that took human slaughter to unthinkable new levels. A rematch in Europe to put down a mad dog who rose as a result of our intervention in the prior war and left hundreds of millions of people under the iron fist of Communist dictators who were our "allies", with a second front in Asia where human depravity was on display in a new and previously unthinkable way, a war ended when the "good guys" bombed a civilian population into submission with the one and only use of nuclear weapons. A war in Korea that ended in a stalemate that lasts to this day. A half-hearted war in Vietnam where civilian casualties were horrific and the damage to our national identity we have never recovered from. A couple of wars in Iraq that, let's be honest, were mostly about American economic interests. Tons of little engagements around the world. Finally the longest lasting war in American history in Afghanistan where our "allies" are a greater threat to our troops than the enemy, where we are negotiating with the Taliban terrorists while they are attacking us and murdering civilians and on a regular basis we accidentally bomb masses of civilians. Not quite as noble as the shots of the flag waving in the breeze with patriotic music playing softly in the background make it seem.

We are supposed to be grateful for the freedoms won and defended by those in the military. It is part of our religious culture that we exalt those who died, often in terror and in the earliest years of their life, after having been trained and deployed by the men who run things in this country to kill others. We memorialize them, lay wreaths at the monument to soldiers too badly mangled to identify and sing songs in praise of America in gatherings of the church.

To those who served and are serving, I appreciate and understand your zeal and your commitment but I do not wish you to kill to preserve my "right" to vote for the same people who send you to kill and be killed, to accumulate wealth, to have a Starbucks and McDonalds on every corner so I don't have to put forth any effort to feed myself, to send my kids to $35,000/year universities while the children of other Christians around the world cannot even read, to throw away cheap mass produced food after gorging myself while orphans starve, to have endless entertainment to stupefy the mind, to put on a religious show on Sunday and to live my life however I see fit regardless of how that impacts others. Those "rights" have no real value and are actual in direct opposition to the values of the Kingdom of God. Too many of us, myself included, see the values of the Kingdom as something for the eschaton, something to be enjoyed in eternity. Those values will certainly see their fulfillment and culmination after the Judgment but as followers of Christ we are to model those values here and now as a witness to the world. Instead we often live like the world with a religious veneer of cultural piety and cheer on those who kill on our behalf so we can keep playing church while pursuing those things that are in direct opposition to what Jesus taught.

To those who feel compelled to serve in the military: Please do not kill even one more person so that I can live my life in direct opposition to what my Lord modeled and commanded. I would rather live under persecution and in poverty than to enjoy what the world has to offer that has been secured by the blood of another.

I don't hate America, although a few years ago I would have made that charge to anyone who wrote something like what I wrote above. I do hate what America often stands for and I am grieved that the church in America embraces it so wholeheartedly. If American Christians had half as much zeal for evangelism and serving others that we do for living and pursuing the American Dream we would have a far different church and we would likely see real persecution from the world. God has placed me here in this country and here I will stay until He sends me somewhere else but being born within the artificial boundaries that define one country as opposed to another does not and cannot define who I am in Christ. Nor do I see any of the "liberty", "freedom" or "rights" of America having anything to do with the way of the cross.

We should not hate anyone, not the soldier who fights for America nor for those they are sent to kill. Following Jesus is about denying self and loving others, even and especially our enemies. The world will never have its fill of wealth, of sin, of bloodshed so we must demonstrate a different way. It will never be popular and no one will wave a flag in our honor but it is the life we are called to.


Neil Braithwaite said...

For you and all those who would be conscientious objectors and never bear the sword against anyone - even the enemies of God, these words from both Christ Jesus and Paul are not hard to understand. You either believe them and adhere to them or you choose not to do so. As for myself, if called upon, I will lay down my life in defense of my family and fellow saints. And that doesn't mean stand in front of them and do nothing and take the sword, it means fighting to save them at ALL COSTS. As for the phrase "ultimate sacrifice," ultimate in this case means death, not the "greatest" sacrifice ever made.

13 Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. 3 For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; 4 for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. 5 Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing.

“This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.

Arthur Sido said...

Neil, I am puzzled. You interpret laying down your life as equivalent to being killed while trying to kill someone else? I can understand why you would try to shoehorn violence into that passage as there really are no other options.

You likewise interpret Romans 13 as obligating a Christian to serve in the armies of Caesar? Would that same logic apply to German Christians living in the Third Reich?

I also must admit puzzlement at the idea of bearing teh sword against "even the enemies of God" because those enemies, a group I was once part of as an unbeliever, are precisely the people we are called to love and reach with the Gospel, something that seems singularly difficult to do while simultaneously trying to kill them.

I would encourage you to go back and revisit your argument.

Neil Braithwaite said...

You state: "my issue is not with soldiers and sailors and airmen but with those who callously send them off to kill in our "national interest" and even more so with those in the church that glorify and encourage the senseless bloodshed."

Based on the scripture I posted in my original comment, you openly question the "authority" of God. The scripture clearly says we "pay taxes" to support our "rulers" who devote themselves to the very thing you oppose. Is it their authority you oppose or Gods?

Neil Braithwaite said...

Arthur - I find it interesting that you choose not to post my rebuttal of your remarks to my comment?

Arthur Sido said...


"Arthur - I find it interesting that you choose not to post my rebuttal of your remarks to my comment?"

I haven't been on to check comments so please don't attempt to paint that as somehow ducking or suppressing your comment. I often only check for comments once a week or less and as soon as I saw both of your comment I posted them.

As I said before...So based on your argument anything the government does with our tax money is legitimate. Based on that the taxes collected by Caesar to support his legions which then were used to crucify Christians was something that other Christians should have participated in? Taxes collected by the Nazi would have legitimated Christian service in the Third Reich? Or does that only apply to Americans?

You further didn't respond to the idea of our call to love our enemies being at odds with your eagerness to kill your perceived enemies.

I will note that you didn't attempt to interact or respond to my comments.

When you try to take Romans 13 in a vacuum, without applying it based on the preceding verses you end up with a very slippery slope like "I am told to pay taxes, taxes are used to pay for armies therefore killing in the name of the state is OK". Romans 12 is part of the same line of thought from Paul and completely undermines your idea of righteous redemptive violence. As does the teaching of Christ on rendering unto Caesar. I pay taxes to Caesar because that belongs to Caesar but nowhere does paying taxes to Caesar trump my call to obedience to God, including the commands to not murder and to love my enemies.

Neil Braithwaite said...

My argument isn’t that we should not love our brothers, neighbors and yes, even our enemies, my argument is that the One who puts in place and controls ALL governments, regardless of their goals and actions, is God. And regardless of what you or I think is either horrific or beautiful about the way they govern, there is purpose to everything that transpires on this earth.

During His trial, it is interesting that Jesus noted that all power comes from above. He also iterated that He could call on that power (His Father) to change the course of events if He so wished. But he DID NOT. He set aside his “right” to destroy His enemies in order to perpetuate God's plan for His kingdom. God allowed His innocent Son to die a horrific death. He also allowed most of the Apostles and many thousands to be martyred without lifting a finger - why?

Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels? How then will the Scriptures be fulfilled, which say that it must happen this way?”

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.”

Pilate said to Him, “You do not speak to me? Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?” Jesus answered, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.”

I guess my feelings are that you have every right to choose to be a pacifist and call-out those who would choose the way of the sword. But sometimes, as scripture clearly records, God needs those who will fight and kill the enemy - even when that enemy was God’s own people. Israel was seen as an enemy by their adversaries and was punished many times by the sword by them for their unfaithfulness and disobedience. The book of Revelation paints a future picture of more war to come. Would it be expedient if you are there in those coming days to stand by as a pacifist if called upon by God to fight? Will you stand before God and shout the command to His army in the final battle to "stand down" because we are to love our enemy?

Arthur Sido said...

Neil since you pointedly are refusing to answer specific questions I have raised let me answer for you. God raises up all governments, the good ole US of A and the Third Reich, Canada and the Roman Empire. The argument you are trying to make is that it is Ok to smite the enemies of America as a submission to government via Romans 13 but that same logic would apply for a man wearing the swastika.

Your new argument appeals to God ordaining warfare in the Old Testament to chasten His people under a national covenant that is no longer in force as an excuse for New Covenant Christians to fight in wars for a secular nation-state against another. The second part seems to think that America going to war is somehow on the same level as the eschatalogical fulfillment of God's judgement. Unless you have some new Scriptural revelation where God ordered America to invade Iraq or for Europe to tear itself apart twice in the 20th century or Napoleon to try to create an empire or....well you get the point...then it is clear you aren't speaking of God commanding war.

You asked:

Would it be expedient if you are there in those coming days to stand by as a pacifist if called upon by God to fight? Will you stand before God and shout the command to His army in the final battle to "stand down" because we are to love our enemy?

Since God has not called any Christian to go to war ever at any time I would prefer to deal with what God has commanded us, namely to love our enemies. You seem to think that a hypothetical call to war, which somehow is equivalent to American or other secular nations going to war for self-serving reasons, is a calling of God. I am saying that Scripture commands, without exception or escape clause, that we love our enemies even to the point of death. I am confident that in letting myself be killed I am not disobeying God and that killing someone else because nation A is at war with nation B is condemned by God and forbidden to the Christian.

Neil Braithwaite said...

Jesus meet a Roman centurion--an army officer who was most likely skilled at battle. After talking with this soldier for a few minutes, Jesus did not tell him to put down his sword and retire from the military. Instead, Jesus praised the man's faith, saying that he had more faith than anyone He had met! Matthew 8:5-10

And if you are a trinitarian - and believe Hebrews 13:8, that God is the same yesterday, today and forever, then Jesus, as a part of the trinity, was responsible for much war and slaughter by the hands of His chosen people.

I assume you believe that Jesus, your pacifist mentor, will be the one who shouts "stand down" at the last battle. Or is He not the one leading the battle. Jesus is NOT a pacifist? No indeed. "He will rule them with a rod of iron and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty."

11 And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. 13 He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. 14 And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. 15 From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. 16 And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.” Revelation 19:11-16

Arthur Sido said...

Neil, did Jesus tell and teach the centurion everything about the Christian faith in the brief conversation they had? If He did the rest of the New Testament seems kind of superfluous. He didn't say anything about caring for the poor or loving his neighbor or anything else about the Christian faith. In fact the cneturion has faith that Jesus can heal his servant but that doesn't make him a Christian, just someone who believed what the crowds had said, namely that this Jesus guy can heal the ill. Lots of people believed that and didn't follow Christ.

At this point you seem to be repeating yourself. Let me ask you a question, please respond to this one because your argument is based on your understanding. Is there a difference between warfare specifically commanded and ordained by God and warfare waged by the unbelieving nations?

Neil Braithwaite said...

"And He said to them, “When I sent you out without money belt and bag and sandals, you did not lack anything, did you?” They said, “No, nothing.” And He said to them, “But now, whoever has a money belt is to take it along, likewise also a bag, and whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one." Luke 22:35-36

Sell your coat and buy a what?
Why would Jesus tell his disciples who are going out into the world to buy a sword? Is not a sword an offensive weapon? Could it have been that Jesus expected them to defend themselves? Sounds logical, now that they carry both money and a bag. Or maybe it's just to clean fish?

Which is more of a sin - to kill the attacker, or allow them to rape and murder your family?

Arthur Sido said...


First you are studiously ignoring my question, please respond.

Second, why did Jesus tell them to buy swords when He rebukes Peter just a short while later for using that sword? Clearly He didn't mean "buy swords to kill people". I mean you cut Jesus off in mid-stream. Let me fill in the blanks for you.

For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: 'And he was numbered with the transgressors.' For what is written about me has its fulfillment." And they said, "Look, Lord, here are two swords." And he said to them, "It is enough." (Luk 22:37-38)

He told them to buy swords to fulfill prophecy that He would be numbered with the transgressors, not as some sort of vague advocacy of violence. This isn't my interpretation, Jesus specifically says why He wanted them to have swords and it had nothing to do with using them. That "two swords argument" is one of the weakest you can employ and it is easily refuted.

Third, personal self-defense or family self-defense isn't the same thing as participation in national wars of aggression. However the principle of enemy love still holds. The problem with the hypothetical "what if someone was going to hurt your family" argument is that it presumes all sorts of stuff and assumes only two options, either let your family get hurt or pull out your 9 and pop a cap in someone. I prefer to deal with what Jesus actually said and taught and of course modeled than deal in far-fetched hypotheticals.