Posted by: sean | April 7, 2009


The following untitled hymn was written by David Low Dodge, the founder and president of the first peace society, The New York Peace Society, and it was published in his 1815 book, War Inconsistent with the Religion of Jesus Christ.

Great Sun of glory, rise and shine,
Dispel the gloom of night;
Let the foul spirits stretch their wings,
And fly before thy light.

Rebuke the nations, stop their rage,
Destroy the warrior’s skill,
Hush all the tumults of the earth;
O speak! Say, “Peace, be still.”

Break, break the cruel warrior’s sword,
Asunder cut his bow,
Command him by thy sovereign word
To let the captives go.

No more let heroes’ glory sound,
No more their triumphs tell,
Bring all the pride of nations down –
Let war return to hell.

Then let thy blessed kingdom come,
With all its heavenly train,
And pour thy peaceful spirit down,
Like gentle showers of rain.

Then shall the prowling beasts of prey,
Like lambs be meek and mild;
Vipers and asps shall harmless twine
Around the weaned child.

The happy sons of Zion sit
Secure beneath their vines;
Or, shadowed by their fig-tree’s tops,
Shall drink their cheering wines.

The nations to thy scepter bow,
And own “thy gentle sway”;
Then all the wandering tribes of men
To thee their tribute pay.

Angelic hosts shall view the scene,
Delighted, spread their wings;
Down to the earth again they fly,
And strike their lofty strings.

The listening nations catch the sound,
And join the heavenly choir,
To swell aloud the song of praise,
And vie with sacred fire.

“Glory to God on high!” they sound,
In strains of angels’ mirth;
“Good will and peace” to men,they sing,
Since heaven is brought to earth.

Posted by: sean | March 29, 2009

The Only Weapon of the Church

The following was excerpted from Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008) pp. 286-287. Used with permission from Chris Haw.

What to Do with Kings Gone Wild?

excommunicate (eks-kuh-myoo-ni-keyt), v.
“to exclude a baptized Christian from taking part in communion because of doctrine or moral behavior that is adjudged to offend against God or the Christian community”

…Since one of the most precious treasures of the church is the gift of community, one of the most powerful disciplines of church is isolation from community, the denial of communion. Excommunication has a harsh ring to it. It conjures up visions of judgmentalism, exclusion, cultlike weirdness, and political incorrectness. It has been deeply distorted and abused in church history (even in recent church history–like when the Baptist congregation in the South tried to excommunicate church members who did not vote for Bush). But compared with preemptive bombings, state-sanctioned execution, and sending folks into lifelong exile in places where they’ll die alone, the church’s most extreme act of discipline–excommunication–seems quite tame and reasonable, even redemptive when properly understood. The need for some sort of restorative justice is particularly urgent when we consider the scandalous sins of leaders within the church in both recent and ancient history. This era of sloppy Christianity and timid politeness demands that we rediscover this hidden treasure, which has led to the restoration of even the worst backslider, the most dangerous heretic, or the most influential hypocrite who might otherwise threaten the health of Christ’s body in this world.

In 389 there was an uprising in Thessalonika that resulted in the death of the Roman army commander stationed there. Emperor Theodosius a practicing Christian, gave the brutal order for a general retaliation in which seven thousand Thessalonians were herded into the imperial games and slaughtered. Ambrose, who was the bishop of Milan and the emperor’s pastor, wrote a beautiful letter to Theodosius articulating a deep longing for reconcilliation and expressing the firm resolve to exclude him from communion. Ambrose expressed painfully his obligation to excommunicate Theodosius, for to allow him to participate in the liturgy and in communion without reconciliation would be a sign of contempt for God. Ambrose met Theodosius at the door of the church and forbade him to enter, saying, “Submit to the exclusion to which God, the Lord of all, wills to sentence you. God will be your physician, and God will give you health.” The emperor did penance for eight months, then offered a public confession before the people during the Christmas celebration of 390, whereupon he was reconciled to the community with a grand celebration.

One thing that became clear to me (Shane) when I was in Iraq is that what’s at stake today isn’t just America’s visibility and reputation but Christ’s reputation and the identity of the Christian disciple. I hear Iraqi people, even Iraqi Christians, call the leaders of the US “Christian extremists” in the same tone that we hear people in the US talk about “Muslim extremists.” One Iraqi woman said, with tears in her eyes, “Your government is declaring war and asking God’s blessing, and that is the exact same thing that my government is doing. My question is this: what kind of God would allow this?” She found herself quite distant from that God, and she went on to say that she had been to America and met so many beautiful Christians who had an incredible faith, much more healthy and vibrant that what Iraqis saw on the news. She knew that our Christianity has more to offer than the violence they saw, and she ended the conversation longing for that Christianity, saying, “What ever happened to the God of love and the Prince of Peace?”

So the public confrontation of public figures who have visibly misrepresented Jesus is an important practice of our faith. It is a way of saying, “When you do that, it’s not just your reputation that is at stake, but mine…and our God’s.”

Excommunication is never to be imposed on people outside the covenant of Christian faith, and it is never to be used to expose private sins. Scripture gives clear guidelines on how Christians are to restore someone who is living in ways that hurt themselves or others. We are to talk with them one on one. If that doesn’t work, we are to talk with them before a small group of caring friends. If that doesn’t work, we are to bring it before the community of grace to try to figure out how best to love and support the fellow struggler. However, for those in public positions whose acts affect an entire population, their confession and reconciliation should also be made public. More is expected, which is no doubt why Dr. King’s harshest words in his “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” were written to the clergy, of whom he expected much more, and likewise why Jesus reserved language like “brood of vipers” for the religious and political elite, not the folks who were floundering in their brokenness.

The excommunicated have already put themselves outside of the body. Excommunication is less of a forced isolation than a recognition that a member of the church has already isolated themselves from the community; they have stepped outside of the teaching of Christ. If a Quaker joins the army, she’s chosen not to be a Quaker anymore. And of course, in the case of the church, discipline is critical not only to protect the person “in sin” and others from the ill-effects, but also to protect the identity and credibility of the community. The beautiful thing about the church is that we are people of grace, and mercy triumphs over judgment. So excommunication is never the end we hope for.

Excommunication at least temporarily and provisionally makes clear what is and is not the body of Christ. It’s a quarantine of sorts, isolating a part that has grown sick to restore it to health and save the body from infection. This discipline has its roots in Old Testament concepts for maintaining the identity and purity of a people set apart as a visible sign of God’s salvation for the world. It’s helpful to see it as a way to quarantine someone whose unhealthy patterns endanger the health of the larger body, just as Jesus often described sin as an infection or as yeast that leavens the whole batch of dough. But the promise is that we have a Physician.

Repentance and confession safeguard the witness of the church. Paul warns that it is a desecration of the unity of the body when the well-fed come to the communion table with the hungry, or when the tortured and the torturer drink from the same cup. It’s no wonder Jesus prays that we would be one as God is one, right after warning that the world will hate us and the things we stand for.

Posted by: sean | March 7, 2009

Didache a.d. 80-120

Didache 1.1-6, perhaps the earliest post-biblical Christian teaching:

The Lord’s Teaching to the Heathen by the Twelve Apostles:

1 There are two ways, one of life and one of death; and between the two ways there is a great difference.

2 Now, this is the way of life: “First, you must love God who made you, and second, your neighbor as yourself.” And whatever you want people to refrain from doing to you, you must not do to them.

3 What these maxims teach is this: “Bless those who curse you,” and “pray for your enemies.” Moreover, fast “for those who persecute you.” For “what credit is it to you if you love those who love you? Is that not the way the heathen act?” But “you must love those who hate you,” and then you will make no enemies. 4 “Abstain from carnal passions.” If someone strikes you “on the right cheek, turn to him the other too, and you will be perfect.” If someone “forces you to go one mile with him, go along with him for two”; if someone robs you “of your overcoat, give him your suit as well.” If someone deprives you of “your property, do not ask for it back.” (You could not get it back anyway!)  5 “Give to everybody who begs from you, and ask for no return.” For the Father wants his own gifts to be universally shared. Happy is the man who gives as the commandment bids him, for he is guiltless! But alas for the man who receives! If he receives because he is in need, he will be guiltless. But if he is not in need he will have to stand trial why he received and for what purpose. He will be thrown into prison and have his action investigated; and “he will not get out until he has paid back the last cent.” 6 Indeed, there is a further saying that relates to this: “Let your donation sweat in your hands until you know to whom to give it.”

read the rest of the Didache

Posted by: sean | February 28, 2009

Violent men take the kingdom by force

Adolf Harnack, Militia Christi: The Christian Religion and the Military in the First Three Centuries, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1981), p. 29. [This is translation of Militia Christi: Die christliche Religion und der Soldatenstand in den ersten drei Jahrhunderten (Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1905).]

The saying that now men of violence take the kingdom of heaven by force (Matt. 11:12; cf. Luke 16:16) has been understood in different ways. Some say that Jesus speaks about this fact disapprovingly; others explain that what is happening has his approval. I do not doubt that the latter view is correct. (That is quite certain as soon as one translates v. 12a not “the kingdom of heaven suffers violence” but “the kingdom of heaven is coming with force.”) Given the context, the other explanation is too complicated. The meaning is that because the kingdom of heaven now breaks in with force one must forcibly take hold of it in order to win it for oneself and not let it go by. There is something warlike in the image but not in the reality.

Posted by: sean | February 21, 2009

I am not come to bring peace but a sword

Adolf Harnack, Militia Christi: The Christian Religion and the Military in the First Three Centuries, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1981), p. 29. [This is translation of Militia Christi: Die christliche Religion und der Soldatenstand in den ersten drei Jahrhunderten (Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1905).]

How is the saying (Matt. 10:34) “I am not come to bring peace but a sword” is to be understood we learn from the context and from Luke 12:49-53. What is meant is the division within families which results from the proclamation of the gospel. Peace in this context means peace in the household.

Posted by: sean | February 14, 2009

Why did Jesus tell his disciples to carry swords? (2)

The following was excerpted from Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw’s book, Jesus for President–from their online “Appendix 3: Subordination and Revolution: What about Romans 13?” which can be downloaded in its entirety from the JesusForPresident website or by clicking here.


Luke 22:35-38,
Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?”
“Nothing,” they answered.
He said to them, “But now if you have a purse take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell our cloak and buy one. It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”
The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.”
“That is enough,” he replied.

This is part of a larger conversation about power at the last supper. Jesus’ disciples had apparently been unable to understand the meaning of his discussions on suffering and nonviolence. Over the course of this dinner conversation, Jesus had been trying to tell them that the kingdoms of this world wield power and demand service, but his kingdom was about serving others and self-sacrifice. As in many cases where Jesus would draw out props to make a point (e.g. the coin in the fish’s mouth), Jesus here needs to draw out a dangerous prop: the sword.

To prove his point, Jesus helps his disciples remember that they don’t need anything—which they acknowledge. With that in mind, he will help them understand that they also do not need a sword.

Very explicitly, Jesus equates the carrying of a sword with being a “transgressor.” This phrase references the beautiful passage of Isaiah 53 on how God’s glory is best known through humiliation and suffering and not apparent strength or majesty. To teach one of his most radical lessons on nonviolence, Jesus will incur the embarrassing reputation of going down with terrorists and insurgents, and not the potentially meaningful status of a blameless martyr. “He will be numbered with the transgressors.” Jesus even stripped his self of the ennobling innocent appearance of nonviolence. While he could go down with his unblemished personal character intact, to teach a lesson he will risk the misguided and violent wills of his disciples marring his reputation. (His final healing miracle will then be to clean up after the mess of his disciples’ violence by healing an arrestor’s ear.) This makes radical, counter-intuitive claims about the very nature of God and even what we mean by the word “God.” Is not humiliation and suffering the very opposite of God? Now he will appear before court as being one of the insurgent terrorists who cut people’s ears off*.

If calling the sword the transgressor’s tool is not obvious enough, the outcome of the lesson is unequivocally clear. The very next scene is in Gethsemane where the disciple will use those swords. His disciples ask, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” As one disciple strikes an arrestor, Jesus yells, “No more of this!” and heals the wound. This is the commonly known time when Jesus also states, (in other gospels) “put your sword away,” and “those who live by the sword die by the sword.” After healing his arrestor, Luke’s gospel shows Jesus punctuating this lesson of nonviolence with a question, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs? Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour—when darkness reigns” (Luke 22:53).

Nowhere in all of the New Testament is a disciple of Jesus found carrying a sword again.

*When the disciples find the swords that will mark their very sinfulness, Jesus says “enough.” John Yoder comments: “ ‘Enough,’ cannot mean that two swords would be enough for the legitimate self-defense against bandits of twelve missionaries traveling two by two. He is (in direct parallel to Deut. 3:26, where YHWH tells Moses to change the subject, LXX hikanon estin) breaking off the conversation because they don’t understand anyway” (The Politics of Jesus, p. 45).

Posted by: jobelenus | February 9, 2009

Making it Practical

From Internet Monk:

1) There are massive amounts of talk. Constant, never ending talk on radio, blogs and television. But it’s not persuasive talk.

4) The civil rights struggle should be a great teacher for Christians who are pro-life, but I see little evidence of it. Dr. King and others had a sophisticated response to a deeply ingrained culture of hate: they out-loved, out-risked, and out-suffered them. Yes, there was rhetoric. Yes, there were speeches. But the civil rights struggle was a personal struggle won by people putting themselves on the line and saying “we will quietly, stubbornly, lovingly, sacrificially defeat this evil.” I don’t see leaders emulating or imitating this model. It’s just more and more and more outrage, and little conversion.

5) The Amish school tragedy has haunted many Christians. Are we prepared to respond to moral outrage and violence with greater love and greater forgiveness? Do we even have it in us? If such an act had happened in Christian schools, would there have been angry mobs outside the jails demanding a violent revenge? The lessons in the pro-life struggle are obvious: can we love those who perpetuate this evil? I can take you to blogs right now that will say we should not love them and that we have no responsibility to love them. Our response, according to these discernabloggers, should be hate and retaliation in the name of protecting the innocent.

I think these are some essential steps for making what we are talking about here practical.

Posted by: sean | February 6, 2009

MLK: Isn’t Love Impractical in the Real World?

Isn’t it the case that violence gets results whereas love is impotent, idealistic, and merely romantic? To this common question we reply with the tightly reasoned logic of Martin Luther King Jr.; a man who did not merely hypothesize but actually used nonviolent love to accomplish a great victory.

We must hasten to say that these are not the ultimate reasons why we should love our enemies. An even more basic reason why we are commanded to love is expressed explicitly in Jesus’ words, “Love your enemies…that ye may be children of your Father which is in heaven.” We are called to this difficult task in order to realize a unique relationship with God. We are potential sons of God. Through love that potentiality becomes actuality. We must love our enemies, because only by loving them can we know God and experience the beauty of his holiness.

The relevance of what I have said to the crisis in race relations should be readily apparent. There will be no permanent solution to the race problem until opressed men develop the capacity to love their enemies. The darkness of racial injustice will be dispelled only by the light of forgiving love. For more than three centuries American Negroes have been battered by the iron rod of oppression, frustrated by day and bewildered by night by unbearable injustice, and burdened with the ugly weight of discrimination. Forced to live with these shameful conditions, we are tempted to become bitter and to retaliate with a corresponding hate. But if this happens, the new order we seek will be little more than a duplicate of the old order. We must in strength and humility meet hate with love.

Of course, this is not practical. Life is a matter of getting even, of hitting back, of dog eat dog. Am I saying that Jesus commands us to love those who hurt and oppress us? Do I sound like most preachers–idealistic and impractical? Maybe in some distant Utopia, you say, that idea will work, but not in the hard, cold world in which we live.

My friends, we have followed the so-called practical way for too long a time now, and it has led inexorably to deeper confusion and chaos. Time is cluttered with the wreckage of communities which surrendered to hatred and violence. For the salvation of our nation and the salvation of mankind, we must follow another way. This does not mean that we abandon our righteous efforts. With every ounce of our energy we must continue to rid this nation of the incubus of segregation. But we shall not in the process relinquish our privilege and our obligation to love. While abhorring segregation, we shall love the segregationist. This is the only way to create the beloved community.

To our most bitter opponents we say: “We shall match your capactiy to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. We cannot in all good conscious obey your unjust laws, because noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. Throw us in jail, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.”

Love is the most durable power in the world. This creative force, so beautifully exemplified in the life of our Christ, is the most potent instrument available in mankind’s quest for peace and security…

Jesus is eternally right. History is replete with the bleached bones of nations that refused to listen to him. May we in the twentieth century hear and follow his words–before it is too late. May we solemnly realize that we shall never be true sons of our heavenly Father until we love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.

Source: Strength to Love by Martin Luther King (Published by Fortress Press, 1981) pages 55-57.

Posted by: sean | December 19, 2008

Christians Should Not Participate in War

A scathing and biblical critique of American aggression in the early 21st century. As Christians it is time to lay down our weapons and obey Jesus’ call to love our enemies rather than imbibe the narcotic of nationalism and its deadly side effect: violence.

On June 8, 2008, Laurence Vance gave the speech Christianity and Warat the Future of Freedom Foundation’s conference. The speech can viewed below in its entirety by clicking one of the videos below or by downloading the mp3 by clicking here.

Laurence M. Vance [send him mail] is a devout, conservative, Bible-believing Christian who writes from Pensacola, FL. His latest book is a new and greatly expanded edition of Christianity and War and Other Essays Against the Warfare State. Visit his website. Laurence is the author of 12 books all together and he holds degrees in history, accounting, and economics, Laurence is an adjunct instructor in accounting at Pensacola Junior College in Pensacola, Florida. He is a regular contributor to Lew and has written several articles for The Future of Freedom Foundation.

The videos and audio are Copyright © 2008 Future of Freedom Foundation.
Used by permission.

Posted by: sean | December 15, 2008

The Third Option

The Third Option: Creative Alternatives to Violence or Cowardliness

Christians are people of faith–the ones who trust in God and walk by the spirit not only in times of ease and comfort but also in times when there seems to be no way out. As followers of Jesus of Nazareth, we look to him for guidance–not only his words but also how he handled himself in the situations of his day. In fact, Jesus was often caught in situations where there seemed to be only two options and both of them would be deleterious. When our Lord found himself in these situations he depended on God and somehow discovered “the third option” in situations where there seemed to be only two.

For example, when he was asked if taxes should be paid to Caesar, only two options seemed to be available: (1) say “yes,” (2) or say “no.” However, if he replied in the affirmative he would have lost his credibility with the people and came out as a supporter of Roman oppression, something a faithful Jew could never do. If he said “no,” he would have been immediately reported to the authorities as an insurrectionist. So what did Jesus do? He listened to the voice of God in his moment of need and brilliantly neutralized the situation by saying “Render under Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s.” This is but one example of several we could point to in order to demonstrate how Jesus navigated through intense difficult and sometimes scary situations by depending on God for wisdom and choosing the third option.

Easily, the hardest question posed to Christians who believe in loving their enemies is, “What would you do if an intruder came into your house intent on doing harm to your children?” Typically the options presented are either to use violence or stand by and do nothing. However, two assumptions lie obscured just beneath the surface in this hypothetical. Assumption #1 is that there is no God. Assumption #2 is that there are only two options: (1) use violence or (2) do nothing. Obviously, Assumption #1 is bogus, there is a God, and if we glance through the pages of Scripture we see that God not only exists but delights in delivering his people from impossible situations when they resolve to trust in him not matter what the consequences. Assumption #2–that there are only two options is related to Assumption #1, but when we look at Jesus’ life and consider a few of the “impossible” circumstances he lived through we can see that he regularly walked by the Spirit to follow the third option–God’s wisdom in the situation. The third option is the one God sees from his vantage point but we would never think of on our own.

Here is another example of Jesus finding the third option in an extremely volatile situation. The night he was arrested, as he was being taken into custody Peter the impetuous apostle in a moment of boldness unsheathed his sword and swung at the nearest person. We should note that Peter was a fishermen not a soldier and this fact is embarrassingly confirmed by his aim. He cut the man’s ear off. No one actually tries to cut someones ear off in battle. Peter must have been going for the neck. Even so, if we pause the situation right here, what are Jesus’ options? Choice A: do nothing and allow Peter and possibly others to be killed or arrested. Choice B: let out the Braveheart war cry and start fighting. What does Jesus do? He chooses the third option: he picks up the man’s ear, and like Mr. Potato head, sticks it back on. That little action neutralized the whole incident and allowed the disciples to get away safely. Now who among us would have suggested that course of action? But, that’s just it, God’s wisdom is often paradoxical and abnormal. Do we have faith to trust in him like Jesus did?

We need to break our faith commitment to violence on the one side and cowardliness on the other. Once we resolve to neither take revenge ourselves nor run away we are at once free. We suddenly find ourselves open to hear God in the time of need. Perhaps God will lead us to say a word, sing a song, engage the person physically, call the police, restrain the intruder while our family escapes, or a million other possibilities…but we will never know so long as we limit ourselves and short-circuit God by keeping a gun under the pillow.

Should it look different when an intruder attacks a pagan’s house than when he attacks the house of a follower of Jesus?

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