Archive for the 'bible' Category

I think I’m turning into a pacifist…

February 18, 2009

Yesterday’s church history class opened up with our professor telling us that we would be covering all that was wrong with the Medieval period of Christianity. We then trudged through the inquisition, rival popes, and the crusades.

There is no need to talk about how bad the crusades were. It did, however, encourage me to think a little bit more about what I think about violence.

I don’t think it is hard to come up with a Biblical argument for non aggression. Personal aggression, that is. There seems to be little or no interpretation room to think that we ought to be a bunch of bullies, pushing each other around. Feel free to prove me otherwise, but I am not sure that citing Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek is proof-texting. I think it is pretty clear that the way of Christ is not one laden with physical attacks.

In fact, even the cross (often used to cite that the Christian God is an angry, violent God) is an argument for personal non aggression. God, in his infinite wisdom, chose for the path to salvation for many to be sacrifice rather than siege. Christ’s victory is found in his submitting to his assailants instead of destroying them, and then raising from the dead showing their physical attacks to have been in vain.

So, enough preface, on to being a peacenik.

So where do we get a justification for war at all?

It is clear that God does not condemn the idea of war. The New Testament seems to allow for soldiers to remain in their occupation (although you could make the case that some Roman soldiers were just meant to keep internal peace rather than external, but I don’t think that argument holds up), and in the Old Testament God calls the people of Israel to war.

Luther made the argument for a just war based on the idea that governments have the right to protect their people – and have been given that charge from God. Romans 13 (among many other passages in the Epistles) makes it pretty clear that Christians are not supposed to try and overthrow the government, because God has given rulers their authority (we can talk about how that works with oppressive dictators another time). Therefore, as just war advocates say, governments have authority to use their power for governing their people, including their protection.

Other may dispute this, but practically it seems unthinkable that any country would not have an army or any system of defense. And whether or not you agree with the current war being waged, the logic of strike first is not completely flawed, nor is the idea that the big kid on the playground has a duty to look out for the little guy (a concept that would not be hard to draw out of the sundry commands in the OT prophets for Israel to watch out for the oppressed). You know, Uncle Ben “With great power comes great responsibility” business.

So what is my problem?

My problem is that when I over simplify the situation, I believe that killing someone else to stop them from killing you is not right. It is more than possible that this has different implications in a war setting, (God did not allow murder in Israel, but did allow for war), but it is still a mental, ethical hurdle that I struggle with.

My problem is the fact that when I became a citizen of the United States, I pledged to take up arms to protect Constitution if necessary. And I have no idea if I could do that with singleness of mind. I understand that there are many brave, and honourable Christians who are part of the armed forces, and by no means do I think that what they do is wrong.

I do think that Christians (particularly Evangelicals) support sending missionaries to the 10/40 window and sending more troops to the middle east without ever thinking that there might be a contradiction in those efforts. This is an over simplification, but the internal struggle should be there.

I don’t have answers to this one. This is my personal, ethical gordian knot that I am working through. War may be a necessary evil, a product of a fallen world that still needs to be redeemed by Christ, an unfortunate last option when peace is not an option, but none of that changes the undeniable fact:

War is bad.


how much judging can we really do?

July 7, 2008

I am all over the place on this topic. I have seen many people in the blogosphere roast every last quotation of Rob Bell – dissecting what they believe he MUST mean when he says things, and on the other side I was criticized for mocking the Universal Life Church over at my internet junk blog.

Well, here are my thoughts (why else would you be here?):

1. I am a big fan of giving people the benefit of the doubt. I mean, to a fault. If I were an atractive girl, I would totally always go back to the jerk who cheated on me.  When it comes to theological writing, I feel like we should really assume that there is something good that we could extract from what people write. Romans 1 seems to suggests that everyone has a generic understanding of God hard-wired into them, and I think that can provide some insight. This, unfortunately, leads me to…

2. Human writers are going to be, in some way, wrong. Some, much more than others (see: my potshots at the ULC) but no one has everything nailed down. Not only does the Bible affirm that we have the image of God, but we also, deep down, are crappy people. Until Jesus returns in glory, we are all going to do some egregiously bad things. We might not all be arsonists and murderers, but that doesn’t mean we won’t yell at the McDonald’s worker for no good reason every now and again. That badness that plagues us affects everything, including our understanding of God.

So, how much judging can one really do? On one hand, you should really be kind and assume that everyone is really trying to speak truth about God. On the other hand, people suck and we better watch out because there is bound to be some sort of lie just waiting to infect my already sin plagued psyche.

Here is my proposal. And by my proposal, I mean a proposal already stated somewhere else that I like. Everything really should go through the same filter – whether it is my best friend or the kid who beat me up in elementary school, everyone deserves to be heard out for what they have to say. When you come to any piece of media (books, video, blog-o-net) with a personal vendetta against the author, you are just setting yourself up to miss something good. But to remain in accordance with point 2, we really have to scrutinize what we intake. There is lots of crap out there, and I ought not just take everything in. Some stuff is really wrong.

For example – the universal life church website offers their online absolution. They confirm the idea that it is good to try and lead a good life. I can read this and reaffirm the fact that my faith is not about thinking right things alone, but about also acting on those convictions. They also affirm forgiving others, which is something that Jesus commands us to do.

But then we get to the part where my filter kicks in. The lack of mention of Christ on their ‘Instant Absolution’ site destroys the idea of forgiveness. We can’t just forgive ourselves, and a javascript form just doesn’t have the authority to proclaim that I am forgiven. No, that power belongs alone to God. And then it goes on from there.

The point is this: in Philippians Paul talks about not caring the motive behind some preaching the gospel as long as Christ is preached. Since everyone has the ability to say something true, we should give them a chance. But, since everyone makes more mistakes than not, we shouldn’t ingest what they say without thinking.

P.S. ULC offers a ‘Doctor of the Universe’ diploma. If I ever meet someone with said credentials, I refuse to refer to them with the title ‘doctor.’ Just not gonna do it.

degrees of sanctification

September 24, 2007

The Christian life is one of constant change. We are always trying to take more steps away from self and towards Christ. Repentance is a daily need, and we can all agree that there is no person who has no room for improvement.

Where my new problems lie is in where I mentally place myself along this scale. About a month ago at our church’s men’s group the question came up of whether we think of ourselves as sinners or saints. Do we act in life as if we are fallen humans, constantly making mistakes, or do we assume that we are positionally justified and think in terms of how we are positively affecting the world around us?

It seems like an innocuous difference, one that will only bother philosophers and people who over think details. But in reality how we view ourselves will greatly affect our lives, especially our lives in Christ.

When we think of ourselves more in the camp of a depraved, fallen human who is unable to please God with our actions (which we are), we will be quick to accept our mistakes. “I couldn’t help but sin because I am just a sinner,” we lament, all the while justifying our sins because we have accepted our fate as sinners.

At the same time, however, if we think of ourselves too much in the realm of saints (which we are), as holy ones, we can falsely think too highly of ourselves. It is possible to then go through much mental strain when we inevitably fall into sin because we have assumed that we will not sin. At the same time, that bar is set high because of Christ who was tempted as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15).

What I think we have to keep in mind, is first off, we are a new creation. The old self is gone and a new has come so that we are able to live free from the bondage of sin (Romans 6:4-7). In my recent dialogues with people on a wide number of blogs I am finding more people who accept sin and throw their hands in the air. That beliefe seems pretty incongruent with Paul’s teaching on the matter.

Secondly, I think that the Bible does not encourage us to think of ourselves as completely changed. In 1st John we read that anyone who claims to be without sin lies (1 John 1:8). We will not be perfect until the day of the Lord and we are give our glorified bodies.

What I think is the right way to think about personal sanctification is to never give the old self any foothold in our thinking, while recognizing that we are fallible. We must never recommit our minds to thinking that we are still part of the kingdom of darkness, who no longer has power over us. We are under a new kingdom. There has to be striving and real commitment to living as close to perfect lives as we can – for (as Peter Akinola said this Sunday) there is no alternative to obedience. Any part of our lives that is not changed into conformity with God’s commands is still to be changed. But our identity, at its core, has to lie with Christ and his kingdom. We are not of this world anymore.

So wherever you find yourself on the sliding scale of sanctification, do not allow yourself to think that you are still a hopeless sinner, because if you are in Christ you no longer answer to your former master. You are part of the body, and we all ought strive to make that identity more and more prominent in our lives.