Sunday, August 19, 2012

Should a Christian Harm Others In Self-Defense?

Whether a Christian should use violence in defense of one's nation or family is greatly debated.  While the Bible as a whole doesn't fall on one side or the other, the teaching of Jesus in the New Testament is very clear:

Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword. (Matt. 26:52)

If anyone is destined for captivity, to captivity he goes; if anyone kills with the sword, with the sword he must be killed. Here is the perseverance and the faith of the saints. (Rev. 13:10)

Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY," says the Lord.  "BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD."  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
 (Rom. 12:17-21)

But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
 (Luke 6:27-36)

For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another; not as Cain, who was of the evil one and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother's were righteous. Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death.
 (1John 3:11-14)

Though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses.
 (2 Cor. 10:3-4)

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." (John 18:36)

Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Eph. 6:12)

These verses teach us the following:
1. The one who has faith in God does not take up the sword (the ancient equivalent of a gun) to defend oneself, because to destroy with a weapon fates one to be destroyed violently-- it perpetuates the cycle of violence, instead of shalom which is the kingdom of God.

2. The principle of God's kingdom is to love everyone, without exception, even those who do you or the ones you love harm.  Jesus was Peter's first love, but Jesus said it wasn't appropriate to defend him with the sword.

3. To love everyone without exception means to harm no one.  Jesus makes harming/killing the opposite of doing good (Mark 3:4).  The child of God is to do good at all times, never to harm.  To do evil is to be evil.  To harm an evildoer is to be an evildoer.

4. The child of God is supposed to have exceptional love, not the normal everyday love.  To love and to consider the well-being of the one who harms you is the distinction of the child of God.  To only love those who consider your well-being is the way all people act, good or evil.

5. It is a distinction of God's kingdom that the only one who acts in defense of the Kingdom is God himself.  God takes vengeance, God does harm, God defends.  The child of God is to depend upon God alone for his  defense, and not take it up himself.

6. The child of God is a soldier: a soldier in the spiritual realm.  The child of God fights an enemy: Satan and his forces.  The child of God wields weapons: weapons of the spirit.  The citizen of God's kingdom is not to take up weapons of this world, nor to fight in wars of this world, but to act powerfully in the spirit world. 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Radical Politics of Jesus

The followers of Jesus follow Jesus as their political ruler (i.e., Lord), and the Kingdom of God as their nation. That doesn’t mean that we aren’t involved in the nations we are born in and live in. We are deeply concerned about them, and we recognize that our current welfare is tied to the welfare of the nation we live in. We want peace in our nation, and we want everyone around us to have well-being. This means that we are involved politically. Some of us, by our convictions in following Jesus, do not get involved in partisan politics, or even vote. This doesn’t mean, however, that we are passive. Rather, because we follow the way of Jesus, and that way is the way of political involvement.

Jesus was very involved in politics. He was so involved that the political rulers of his nation—the Sanhedrin of the Jewish nation—determined that he had to be killed. But Jesus never voted, nor did he gather up people to depose the existing rulers. Nor did he participate in making himself well-liked so that he would be declared ruler, nor did he gather an army together to take over the land he called his own. Yet he was very involved—he called himself the King and spoke of his kingdom deposing the evil rulers. In the same way Jesus was politically involved, so his followers are—to this very day.

Political Context: The Unheard Underdogs
Before we discuss the ways Jesus was (and we should be) politically involved, we need to understand the context of Jesus and of Jesus’ followers in the political world. Jesus came from a backwater of Israel, where no one of political significance hailed from. He proposed an unpopular, idealistic platform. He also gathered around him as his party a group of ne’er-do-wells, whom no one with any clout paid attention to. Jesus spoke for those who would never be listened to, and proposed changes that would bring the lowest of people to rule over the highest. Finally, his political strategy for victory was to be persecuted, and so win the favor of only one person—God himself. Although this political context was extremely unorthodox, it worked for him.

Over the centuries the true followers of Jesus obeyed the same context and followed the same political strategy. They were unknowns, representing the weak and helpless, with only God on their side. They had idealistic platforms—the same as Jesus’, actually—and remained unpopular to the majority of people. Nevertheless, they were significant enough to be persecuted by political leaders and to be hated. And in this way, they created political change. Some of the communities who enacted this strategy are known today—the Waldensians, the Franciscans, the Anabaptists, the American Civil Rights Movement. Their strategy was direct and effective—without voting, partisan politics or military might.

How can it be done?
How can such a strategy succeed? How can the unheard of nobodies, even with a charismatic leader, make political change? They follow the method of Jesus’ political involvement, as follows:

Kingdom teaching
Jesus began his ministry with this statement: "The kingdom of God is near—repent and believe in this message" (Mark 1:15) In saying this, Jesus was proclaiming to all current rulers and authorities, "A new nation is about ready to invade. The current rulers have been declared inadequate, and a new rule will start." This upset the rulers, but it also gave hope to the people that the oppression they were suffering under was about to end. And Jesus was offering this new, just, rule to anyone who repented from their injustice and believed in him. Even so, political change is right at the door—for whoever depends on God to believe in Jesus and to do righteousness.

Call to Personal Transformation
Jesus enacted his political change, not by creating a huge social movement, but by dealing with people one by one, calling them to a moral transformation by the power of God. Jesus called people to freedom and well-being, not by the salvations of the world—economics, authority or human laws—but salvation by the power of God (Zechariah 4:6). Jesus said that those who followed him would not only have lives pleasing to God, but also pleasing to themselves—they would have righteousness, peace and joy, all handed to them by God (John 16:20; Romans 14:17). Thus, those who follow Jesus could all truly say, "I am better off than before I followed Jesus."

Speaking against injustice
Jesus made it clear that the rulers of his age were oppressors of the needy, and opponents to those who do good. He pointed out again and again how their laws did nothing but support their personal interests, and cause difficulties for the poor and lowly (Matthew 22-23). This speech did little by itself—the rulers did not listen to Jesus and change their ways, rather it entrenched them in doing their evil. But it displayed them before the people and before God as evildoers, unwilling to change before the word of God.

Most people think of prayer as a religious act, but it is actually the most powerful political weapon that exists. God is the king of the universe, and the Bible says every ruler gains authority or loses authority on his say-so (Daniel 5:21). God is very involved in human politics, and those who can have God listen to them have the greatest political power on earth—greater than any vote, or army. Through prayer, rulers can be set aside, nations can be thwarted and political powers can be overthrown—all by the power of God.

Righteous suffering
The difficult question is: who does God listen to? Does he listen to presidents and prime ministers, or popes and cardinals? Not at all—rather he listens to the lowly who obey his commands. Those who are truly submitted to God and who chose to depend on him, although they have other options available to them—they are the ones God listens to (Matthew 11:25; I Corinthians 1:26-31). Those whom God listens to especially are those who suffer for the sake of following him—he will make changes more readily for them than anyone (Luke 6:22-23; Revelation 6:9-11). And so Jesus—and his true followers—will accept the way of suffering and death in order to make the world a better place for the lowly in God.

Healing and Deliverance
Again, most people understand healings and exorcisms by the power of God to be in the realm of religious power. However, in the ancient world, those who had power over spirits were seen to be politically powerful. For this reason, Jesus’ enemies tried to discredit him (Matthew 12:22-24). You see if Jesus had authority in the spirit realm, that meant that he deserved authority in the earthly realm and would gain it, eventually. Even so, today, as the followers of Jesus heal the physically and mentally ill by the authority of Jesus, it shows that Jesus has greater power than doctors and psychiatrists, and that the whole basis of the health care system is shown to be wrong. That is a powerful political statement—and one that is demonstrated, not just spoken about.

Community example
Finally, Jesus established a community as an alternative nation. Jesus created communities of the lowly, with leaders who seek humility instead of power, with a law of love displayed to all, with people doing good to their enemies instead of perpetuating hatred and everyone giving to the needy in their midst (Acts 2:42-47). He did this for two reasons—first of all, it would show the nations of the world how much better a society ruled by Jesus is than by the powers of the world. But also, he established the communities to take over leadership of the world when his kingdom arrived. When the power of God takes over the world, the lowly people of Jesus, living in peace and benefit to everyone, will take over leadership, while the corrupt rulers of the world are thrown out, forever. (Matthew 5:3-10; Luke 6:24-26)

Use Your Political Clout—
Be Like Jesus!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Just War

Who is a just war just for?
It isn't just for the soldiers who have to live with mental and physical handicaps for the rest of their lives.
It isn't just for the families of innocent civilians who were casualties of a just war.
It isn't just for the millions of homeless who are displaced in a just war.
It isn't just for the victims of famine, revolution and irrational hatred, which are natural results of a just war.
However, just wars make politicians, who have the power to begin a just war, look awfully good. 
Perhaps a just war just isn't just.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Loving Enemies, part 1: Nonresistance

This article is by William Higgins from his self-published booklet, The Cross or the Sword? 

The people of God in the Old Testament bore the sword.  They executed criminals and killed their enemies in war.  This was done based on the principle of returning harm for harm.  Yet Jesus teaches us in Matthew 3:38-48 that we are not to return harm for harm.  Rather we are to love our enemies.  Whatever loving enemies might mean, it certainly does not mean killing them with the power of the sword.

The central issue in Matthew 5:38-48 is reciprocity.  Reciprocity means giving back what you get.  You treat others in the way that they treat you.

If someone loves you, you love them in return
If someone harms you, you harm them in return

Jesus teaches us nonreciprocity.  This means we don't treat others based on how they treat us-- whether good or bafd.  We always give them what is good.

Verses 38-42 look at nonreciprocity in the context of an evildoer who is an authority over us.  Verses 43-48 look at nonreciprocity in the context of our equals who are our enemies.

I. Nonresistance Nonreciprocity

You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.'  But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer.  But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.  Give to everyone who demands from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

The principle of reciprocity

Jesus begins with the well known principle of an "eye for an eye."  This principle was central to Israel's legal code (and is to ours).  Personal vengeance was forbidden, but through the court system one could gain retribution against one who harmed you.  The principle is meant to make sure that each offense has an appropriate and equal response.  It restricts unlimited retribution.

The principle is found in Exodus 21:23-25; Deuteronomy 19:15-21, and Leviticus 24:17-21.  The last passage stipulates that the evildoer is to "suffer the same injury in return... the injury inflicted is the injury to be suffered."  In other words, the principle teaches that we can return evil for evil, harm for harm (here through the court system).  If someone hurts me, I can hurt them in the same way.

The command of Jesus

Jesus counters with his own command: "Do not resist an evildoer." The word "resist" means "to set oneself against" or "to oppose."  In the New Testament this word is used for opposing someone in an argument or a contest (Galatians 2:11; Acts 13:8; II Timothy 3:8, 4:15; Luke 21:15; Acts 6:10).

But it is also used in the New Testament and the Greek Old Testament for opposing a power higher or stronger than you: God (Romans 9:19); giants in the land (Deuteronomy 9:2); the people of the land (Deuteronomy 7:42, 11:25); the devil or spiritual authorities (I Peter 5:9; James 4:7; Ephesians 6:13); and finally, human authorities (Romans 13:2). In this last case the word can take on the sense of rebelling.  This word fits nicely with the examples that Jesus gives which, as we will see, relate to authorities who have power over us.

Authority enemies

It is important to recognize the context of these verses.  Jesus is not only dealing with not returning evil for evil, he is also dealing with this is a specific context- when the evildoer has authority over you.  That is, he is dealing with oppression.  The three examples that Jesus gives makes this clear:

1. The Cheek Example: "Whoever strikes you on the right cheek" (v. 39b).  In its cultural context this refers to an insult rather than an assault.  It is a backhanded slap done by someone in a position of authority to someone "under" them.  For instance, a master can strike a slave, or a Roman can strike a Jew.  It is a way of putting the person in their place and a reminder of who is in charge. In this context it is done unjustly-- by an evildoer.

2. The Garment Example: "To the one who like to sue you and take your undershirt" (v. 40).  Only the truly poor had only their clothes to give in pledge for a loan.  In this case the creditor is pursuing this poor debtor and forcing him to pay up by use of legal power.  The creditor has a right to have the loan repaid.  But according to Moses, it is oppressive to take away the poor person's clothing.

3. The Requisition Example: "Whoever compels you to go one mile" (v. 41).  This was the practice of the Roman army.  As victorious conquerors they had the right to requisision forced labor, among other things.  This is an example of military oppression.  The giving/loaning of v. 42 has to do with other requisition demands.  At times occupied peoples were required to feed and give other supplies to soldiers.  At times they were required to loan animals for government use, which were not always returned.

Jesus' point

The extreme actions, "turn the other cheek" and so forth are not meant literally.  Indeed, it was impossible to deliver a backhanded slap with your right hand to the left cheek (the proper way to do it).  When Jesus was struck by an unjust authority at his trial, he did not turn the other cheek.  But he did endure the suffering (John 18:22).  Jesus is teaching that one is to submit to and endure oppressive authorities to the extreme.  These examples teach submission, even to the point of absurditiy.  When an authority enemy harms you, don't resist or rebel.  Rather submit to their authority.  Yield to the oppressor.  This is how we return good for evil in this situation.

The same call to non-resistance can be seen in other texts that deal with authority enemies-- I Peter 2:18-23; James 5:1-6 and Romans 13:1-7.

What does nonresistance allow?

Nonresistance does not exclude other possible actions.  Jesus told his disciples they could flee oppressive authorities in Matthew 10:23.  There are also example of seeking relief from oppression through appealing to a higher authority (Acts 22:25; 25:10ff).  One can also speak out against oppression.  But in none of these instances are we to return rebellion for oppression.

Also, we only obey the human authority when this does not lead us to disobey God (Acts 5:29; Daniel 6).  But even here, we continue to submit to the authority by bearing the consequences of obeying God and not them.

Trust God for your vindication

There is another theme embedded in these verses.  Each example has a subtext in the Greek Old Testament that makes a reference to God vindicating those who continue to submit but look to him for help:

1. Cheek: "Turn the other cheek."  This connects with Isaiah 50:4-9.  In this passage a servant is hit on the cheek, but he trusts in God.  He does not resist, but endures and awaits God's vindication.

2. Garment: "Do not withhold your coat as well."  This connects with Exodus 22:26-27.  This passage states that if the rich lender takes away the clothes of the poor debtor, and the poor one calls out to God, God will act against the rich oppressor.

3. Requsition: "Go the second mile... give to the one who asks/demands of you and do not refuse the one who wants to borrow from you."  This example is connected to Psalm 37:21.  In this Psalm armed evildoers oppress the righteous.  Specifically in v. 21 they borrow but do not repay.  The oppressed are told not to fret (v.1), but to trust in the Lord, (v.3) and to continue giving (v. 21).  They are told repeatedly that they will be vindicated by God (v.6) and that they will inherit the land (v.11).  But the wicked will be judged.  In the same way, if Jesus' hearers give and loan to the Romans without resisting, God will act to give them justice.

So all of these examples point to the subtexts that give a clear message: the oppressed are to continue to submit to their oppressors, knowing that God will act to bring them to justice. 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

More Than Flowers Need The Rain

The Anabaptists began by reading their Bibles. Grebel and the others in their group were inspired by Luther, just as Zwingli was, but they didn’t just understand a new theology. They saw a new lifestyle that, at the center of it, was the reading of Scripture. When they determined to baptize each other, it was because they saw clearly in the text that which neither Luther and Zwingli saw. When they were exiled and died, it was not for love of peace, nor for love of martyrdom—it was because they loved the text better than life.

While they held the words of Jesus, their Lord, as higher than any other writings—especially in the Sattler tradition—this was not to demean their desire for the rest of the text. Rather, they saw Jesus’ words as bringing light to the rest of Scripture, the OT providing background for Jesus and the NT fulfilling Jesus. Anabaptism was community, but it was a communion of the Word. They would understand the Jewish tradition of dancing with Torah, for the Word of God is the source of life, the source of joy, the power of God. They needed God’s words more than flowers need the rain, more than they need air to breathe. Their passion for the truth of God had no limit.

Never would they have accepted our excuses to ignore the Bible. They would never have said, “The first century was a different culture,” for they wanted their society to be a culture of the Word, to imitate and to put flesh on it. They would never have said, “The Bible is full of contradictions,” for they would have embraced those contradictions, passed through them and come out the other side with God’s truth. They would never have left a passage saying, “There are many ways to understand this section,” but would have worked through it until they understood what the Spirit of God was saying through that passage to them, that day.

Why do we not reflect this passion? Why do we, the baton-holders of the Anabaptist tradition, give a nod to Scriptures as proof-texts or as the “basis” for our theological ideas, but we do not live in it as fish live in the sea? How can we be satisfied with Bible studies that are so filled with the prejudices and influences of this world’s politics, this world’s moralities, this world’s questions, not allowing the Bible itself to lead us into questions and for us to seek it as a parched traveler seeks water? Why do we leave the study of Scripture to “experts”, and just believe what they say?

Are we concerned about seeming too fanatical, too “fundamentalist”? Are we too concerned about drawing more people to the church who may not care for the radical views that may result if we actually drew the whole Word of Jesus into our hearts and lived it out? Or are we simply lazy, considering the analysis of text and impassioned stands to be the place of the schoolchild?

God save us from our lethargy! Lord, we pray with Anselm, “We ask that the words of the Scriptures may also be not just signs on a page, but channels of grace into our hearts.” Help us to love the Word more than we love life.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Quick Course on Shunning

What is “shunning”?
In conservative Mennonite practice, it is the exclusion of a member of the church due to sin. This would include eating with a member or conversing with them in some groups which have very strict interpretations of the passages involved. Biblically, this practice would be some form of separation, or lack of fellowship. Some of the biblical phrases associated with “shunning” or “excommunication” are: “Treat such a one as you would a tax collector or Gentile,” (Matt. 18:17) “do not associate with” (I Cor. 5:9), “do not eat with” (I Cor. 5:11), “drive out” (I Cor. 5:13),” have nothing to do with that one—do not treat him as an enemy but warn him as a brother” (II Thess. 3:14-15) or “do not allow such a one in your house.” (II John 9-11)

The general context
“Shunning” is the last step in a whole process that believers who are guided by the Spirit use in rebuking or correcting a believer who is involved in continual, unrepentant sin (Matt. 18: 15-17). “Shunning” should never be done to unbelievers, nor should the process even be begun by those who are unspiritual, or by those who are unrepentant of their own sins (Matt. 7:1-6; Gal. 6:1; I Cor. 5:12-13).

The Process of Judgment
1. Privately confront a believer in sin with gentleness. (Matt. 18:15-17; Gal. 6:1-2; Luke 17:2; James 5:19-20)

2. If the believer repents of his sin, then he is to be forgiven and the sin is wiped away. (Matt. 18:21-35; Luke 17:2-3)

3. If the believer in sin does not repent, speak to one or two other believers who are guided by the Spirit, and make sure the one confronting is doing so righteously. (Matt. 18:15-17; Gal. 6:1-2)

4. If the confronter is righteous in his judgment, then he or she takes the one or two believers along to confront the sinning believer, to witness either his or her repentance or lack of repentance. (Matt. 18:15-17)

5. If the sinning believer has not repented, the matter is to be brought to the church, who encourages the brother to repent.

6. If he still does not repent, then the sinning, unrepentant believer is to be treated as a “gentile and a tax-collector.” This is shunning—the final step in a process of confronting an unrepentant believer.

What does it mean to treat someone “as a gentile and a tax-collector”?
While Jesus treated those who were tax collectors and gentiles well, the typical Jewish pattern was to not eat with such a one, enter into their homes or to fellowship with them in any way. The rest of the NT seems to support the idea that when Jesus was speaking about treating the unrepentant as a tax-collector, it is to treat them as a normal Jew would treat such a one—not how Jesus did specifically.

Inside v. Outside
There is one thing we need to remember in this whole discussion: Biblically, there is a clear distinction made between those who are “inside” and those who are “outside” (See I Cor. 5:11-13). In Jesus’ day, he counted the religious Jews to be “inside” at that point, but that they would unpleasantly find themselves “outside” on the last day. While, on the other hand, those currently considered “outside” would in the end be “inside,” due to their repentance (See Matt. 21:23-43). But even though Jesus turned the definitions topsy-turvy, the distinction between those in the kingdom of God and those outside of it remained.

Even so, the church in the first century continued to understand that those inside the church were those who would inherit the kingdom of God. These are not “church attenders”, but “church fellowshipers” (so to speak). These fellowshipers are those who share in the church—do the work as well as reap the rewards of the church, those who participate in it. Those who are in the sidelines of the church aren’t necessarily among the fellowshipers (See James 2:2-7 and 5:1-6 for a description of the “rich” who seem to be attending the church and yet still not a part of it).

To eat with someone in the first century is to share some close association with them—a camaraderie. To “allow into the house” in II John probably means to invite them to attend (and possibly teach in) a church service. It is also possible that if a believer refuses to accept the church’s discipline or mandates, they will not receive the social services the church offers (I Tim. 5:11-14; II Thess. 3:10-11).

And those among the “fellowshipers” are those who continually repent of their sin. They may repent seven times in a day (Luke 17:3), but confess their sins, seeking to revoke them. Those who do not forsake their sin, especially when confronted by a loving brother or sister in the Lord, do not belong to be a part of the fellowship. To fellowship with God—to remain repentant before Him—is to share in the church; to not remain confessed, “walking in the light” is to not share in the Lord, and thus to not share in the church (I John 1:3-9).

And so it is necessary to cease fellowship with those who call themselves brothers—an “insider”—but are unrepentant in their sin, thus looking like an “outsider”.

So how far do we take this?
On the one hand, there needs to be a clear break with those who are unrepentant believers (or false teachers, such as in II John 9-11). There cannot be the fellowship/sharing as there would be for a normal believer. I believe that we can biblically support the following separations:
• No social help except that which is offered to anyone who walks in off the street.
• Not allowing participation in the Lord’s supper.
• No camaraderie or intense friendships.
• No inviting to fellowship meals or event specifically geared toward “believers only”.
• In severe cases, such as false teaching, not allowing to attend a service.
On the other hand, Paul says that a brother under discipline shouldn’t be treated as an enemy, but warned as a brother (II Thess. 3:14-15). I take this to mean that we shouldn’t treat such a one with hatred, but to remind them that this treatment is only temporary until their repentance. We ask, even plead for their repentance in order to save their souls from death (James 5:19-20).

And this is the other main point. Shunning is only temporary until repentance, which is the goal of the whole process. If we continue to separate from fellowship after repentance has taken place, then the Lord has some severe words to say to us (Matt. 6:14-15). The final step, we pray, in any process of discipline, is forgiveness and full acceptance of the believer back into the fellowship of God and the brethren.

Types of Christianity

Jewish Christianity
Determining that Christianity is best represented by the race or culture of Judaism. Salvation is found by being joined with the Israel of God.
Examples: Ebonites, Nazarenes, Messianic Judaism
Positive points: Jesus was Jewish and expressed his teaching and lived his life in a Jewish context. An understanding of that context is necessary to understand Jesus.
Critique: Jesus, although a Jew, can be expressed just as well in a non-Jewish setting. Also, modern Judaism is far removed from the various Judaisms of Jesus’ day, both culturally and in their values.

Nicean Christianity
"Christianity is best expressed by the earliest creeds—especially the Nicean and Apostolic. Salvation is found through faithfulness to the foundational truths about God and Jesus."
Examples: Christian Research Institute, as well as many other cross-Christian parachurches.
Positive points: The early creeds were and are well used to protect the Church against false teachers. These creeds express some important basic points of belief in all Christian beliefs.
Critique: Jesus expected not only to be believed in, but obeyed. The Spirit of God does more than the creed-based churches give him credit for. Some aspects of the creeds go beyond Scripture, but they are still expected to be the basis of salvation.

Byzantine Christianity
"Christianity is best expressed by the various Eastern Churches, which date themselves to the beginning of the Jerusalem church. Liturgical worship, Trinitarian theology and the writings of the church fathers are emphasized. Salvation is found through joining and remaining faithful to the Orthodox church."
Examples: Eastern Orthodox churches—Antiocian, Syrian, Greek, Russian Orthodox.
Positive points: The simplicity of worship and understanding is welcome to everyone, no matter what economic or education level. Their focus on human sinfulness and the necessity of humility is essential to Jesus’ teaching.
Critique: The Byzantine churches were influenced by cultural changes and Platonism long after the apostolic period. They best represent the Eastern church of the 8th century, not the church Jesus began.

Roman Christianity
"Christianity is best expressed by the traditions held by the Roman church, including honor and obedience to the Roman pontiff. Usually includes some form of honor and exaltation of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Salvation is found by joining and remaining faithful to the Roman Church."
Examples: The only example is the Roman Catholic Church—but that’s enough!
Positive points: The Roman Church has remained flexible enough in recent years to welcome many who want to “just follow Jesus.” The leadership of the Roman Church has exercised enormous humility in repenting from evil actions of the past.
Critique: The Roman Church’s tradition has strayed from focusing simply on Jesus’ teaching, to also welcoming various doctrines concerning Mary, the pontiff, the apostolic succession, liberation theology and other non-Biblical traditions.

Evangelical Christianity (Three types)
Christianity is best expressed by the attempts to find an apostolic tradition by emphasizing salvation by faith and grace alone, and each person’s obedience understanding and obedience of Scripture. Rooted in a religious reformation begun in 1519 by Martin Luther.

a. Lutheran Christianity
"Christianity is best expressed by retaining all Roman traditions except those that directly oppose a Lutheran interpretation of Scripture. Salvation is found in faith in Christ."
Examples: Lutherans, Anglicans, Episcopalians
Positive points: Simplicity in gospel message.
Critique: Not warning their congregations against greed and other sins that would keep them from God’s kingdom. Too much emphasis on the personal nature of religion, and so neglecting the necessity to evangelize or to be bold in one's faith.

b. Calvinist Christianity
"Christianity is best expressed by emphasizing a Calvinist interpretation of theology, especially predestination and God’s complete control over all events in the universe. Salvation is found by the choice of God, demonstrated by faith in Christ."
Examples: Presbyterians, Reformed
Positive points: Strong organization and emphasis on Christian education.
Critique: Having human theology, not the Bible, as the basis of their salvation. Teaching that obedience is responsibility, not mercy.

c. Anti-nomian Christianity
"Christianity is best expressed by faith in Jesus, with no manner of obedience to God being necessary (except perhaps a few cultural mandates, such as gainful employment and heterosexual impulses). Salvation is found through confessing Jesus as Savior alone."
Examples: Dallas Seminary, Campus Crusade for Christ. Anti-nomian sects existed before evangelicalism, but after the Reformation, almost all anti-nomian sects joined with evangelicalism.
Positive points: Simple, easily accepted presentation of some important points about Jesus. Good focus on evangelism.
Critique: Not actually teaching the gospel of Jesus. Jesus is salvation to those who obey him as well as those who believe some doctrinal points.

Heterodox Christianity
"Christianity is best expressed by an interpretation of Scripture other than the accepted, Orthodox position. Salvation is found by believing the non-Orthodox teaching."
Examples: Arians, Unitarians
Positive points: The Orthodox presentation of Christianity is weak at points when looking at the Scripture, especially in their philosophical explanations of the trinity and the nature of Jesus.
Critique: Just taking an alternative view from the Orthodox does not make one any more Scriptural. Sometimes the Scripture does not answer the questions we want to ask, and so we must limit ourselves to that.

Philosophical Christianity
"Christianity is best expressed by a human philosophical construct, such as Marxism or human reason, which is used to tie together all understanding about God and the spirit world found in the Bible."
Examples: Aquinan Theology, Marxist theology, Liberal theology. Jeffersonianism, most academia.
Positive points: Jesus does communicate to the various philosophical viewpoints, and philosophy often is a needed critique of various Christian positions.
Critique: Ultimately, these positions replace Jesus with human reason or a philosopher. Many of these also deny any real spirit world, which Jesus proclaimed as being very real, and effecting humanity.

American Christianity
"Christianity is best expressed by God’s recent focus is on the United States, which is chosen by God to represent his kingdom. Whatever failings that are in the United States—as determined by certain central values (such as heterosexuality and a pro-family focus)—will need to be corrected and then the United States will be blessed by God. Salvation is found by supporting and reviving the chosen nation."
Examples: Revival churches; Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, some Southern Baptist
Positive points: Certainly high divorce statistics, general acceptance of homosexuality and sexual immorality in general are indications of moral decay.
Critique: Causing those who sin to lose their rights or to be considered sub-human is not loving in Jesus’ teaching. Also, the United States cannot be a Christian nation, for there is and only will be one—the Kingdom of God.

Christendom Christianity
"Christianity is best expressed by the rule of an authoritative, Christian nation. Salvation is found through belonging to and being faithful to the Christian nation."
Examples: Some Greek Orthodox, some Roman Catholic, some American Christians.
Positive points: Attempt to improve morality in a nation.
Critique: Jesus is the only king of God and the kingdom of God is God’s only nation. True Christendom can only be found when Jesus returns to earth to rule himself. Everything else is just a sham, and the wars they declare are in opposition to Jesus’ law to love one’s enemy.

Pentecostal Christianity
"Christianity is best expressed by those who have faith in Christ and who display their baptism in God’s Spirit by speaking in tongues."
Examples: Assemblies of God, Foursquare, Youth With a Mission
Positive points: Good emphasis on Jesus, obedience and guidance by the Spirit.
Critique: Too much focus on tongues as being “the” gift. As Paul says, there are various gifts, and not everyone who is guided by the Spirit has the same gift.

Prophetic Christianity
"Christianity is best expressed by a modern prophet whom God has chosen to interpret the Scriptures, or to give a new Scripture. The prophetic witness determines what is significant to believe and obey. Salvation is found by obeying the prophetic witness."
Examples: Mormons, Christian Science, Jehovah’s Witness, Shakers, Seventh-Day Adventist (which is not a cult), some Charismatic.
Positive points: They are all attempting to speak the gospel anew in a new place and time.
Critique: Jesus as interpreter of the Scripture is replaced by a prophet. Jesus alone is our salvation, and no prophet can replace him, for there is no other teacher that has been risen from the dead.

Pluralistic Christianity
"Christianity is best expressed by a Spirit that communicates differently to different individuals and peoples. There are multiple ways to gain God’s favor, and Jesus is only one of them."
Examples: Conversations with God, Buddhist interpretations of Christianity, Bahaism.
Positive points: Emphasizes love for all people, no matter who they are.
Critique: The various religious authorities of the world contradict each other. Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, Krishna and others cannot all be right, nor can they all be obeyed. Most of the teachers also require exclusive faithfulness. To accept them all is to accept none of them.

Peace Christianity
"Christianity is best expressed by a moral position that includes: no violence, mutual aid, and simple living. Salvation is found in believing and obeying a peaceful interpretation of Jesus."
Examples: Mennonites, Quakers.
Positive points: Faithfulness to Jesus includes both commitment to him and obedience. Those who obey these moral positions will be living something very akin to the Christian life.
Critique: Violence in and of itself is not wrong, for God can, and does use it. Jesus’ teaching itself needs to be emphasized, not a politicized interpretation of it. A way of life is not, in an of itself, following Jesus—evangelism and endurance through suffering are also necessary to obey Jesus.

Holiness Christianity
"Christianity is best expressed by communities that have at its head those who have reached a state of “perfection”, where sin isn’t a concern for them any more."
Examples: Wesleyan church, Holiness churches.
Positive points: The Scriptures emphasize that their people need to be holy, pure of sin.
Critique: Those who think that they have no need to repent anymore are arrogant, and no longer listen to the Spirit who convicts the world of sin. The leadership of Jesus are humble enough to admit their sins and mistakes and to confess them and have them forgiven.

What is the Truest Christianity?

Jesus Christianity:
Christianity is best expressed by communities that are committed to Jesus as their only leader and teacher. They are willing to sacrifice themselves for Jesus, no matter what the cost to their relationships, finances or lives. They listen to the Spirit and are guided by him through visions, dreams, gifts and Bible interpretation to be like Jesus in all their ways. They hold allegiance to no nation or denomination, but honor God the Father above all, are fully committed to Jesus and live by the Spirit in all their lives. They are bold in their faith, loving all people, doing no one any harm, welcoming all, especially the needy and those seeking the Lord.

Communities like this can exist in almost any of the groups above, but they are often considered to be “strange”. These communities can never be accepted by the world, and ultimately—at one point or another—they will be rejected by the Christianities that care more for their traditions than for Jesus. But even in this, they are like the Lord.