Sunday, January 25, 2009

The State Is Still The State

By David C from Young Anabaptist Radicals:

Yesterday was truly a big day in U.S. history. The inauguration of the first African-American President is truly a turning point for our nation, especially given our abysmal history on race. Moreover, it was encouraging to hear Senator Dianne Feinstein’s reflections on the nonviolence of Martin Luther King, President Obama’s message that we need not choose “between our safety and ideals” and his call to diplomacy and international aid over sheer violent force and military power, and Reverend Joseph Lowery’s prayer that one day we will “beat our tanks into tractors.”
Nevertheless, I had a difficult time getting too emotional or excited over this change of guard. For, while yesterday was historical from the perspective of the United States, it was a pretty small speck when history is viewed rightly. As John Howard Yoder tirelessly argued, the locus of history is not with the state but with God’s work through his church. The state is merely the context in which the real drama of history can unfold.

So, while the words and symbolism of the inauguration may be moving, the sobering fact is that the state is still the state. Yes, Obama seems more intent than Bush on using diplomatic tactics to secure peace, but his message to our “enemy” was still virtually the same: “We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.”

Not much room there for Jesus’s message to love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, and turn the other cheek. But this is as should be expected, because the state is still the state.

Ironically, with this change of guard many us open-minded, progressive Christians will begin to forget that the state is still the state. We will start to put our faith in the ideals of the state and our hope in its progress. As blogger Halden recently argued, now more than ever is it imperative (though difficult) to be resolute in our anti-empire polemics. It was far too easy to maintain a prophetic witness to the state when those in charge overtly sanctioned military aggression, torture, and seemingly unbridled increase of personal power. But when those in power seem to share many of our ideals, the temptation will be to give them a pass when they deem military violence necessary in this or that situation. And it will be difficult for us to make the unfashionable charge that those in power sanction the unjust extermination of the least of those among us. Indeed, to increase the irony still further, it may be the conservative Christians who begin to recognize with more clarity the separation between church and state (as many of my students, for example, ponder whether or not Obama is the anti-Christ!). They will now be the ones to speak prophetically, though their witness will be narrow and tainted by their continual use of political means to grasp for power.

It as at this time, perhaps more than any other, that we need to heed Yoder’s exhortation to what he calls “evangelical nonconformity,” quoted here at length:

When then Jesus said to His disciples, “In the world, kings lord it over their subjects . . . Not so with you”; He was not beckoning His followers to a legalistic withdrawal from society out of concern for moral purity. Rather, His call was to an active missionary presence within society, a source of healing and creativity because it would take the pattern of his own suffering servanthood.

Jesus thereby unmasks the pretension to use violence for the good as being a form of hypocrisy: these rulers call themselves “benefactors” but they are not servants. He who would claim to have the right to use violence, and especially legal violence, against another, places himself outside of the scope of Jesus’ mode of servanthood. This is not so much because he sins against the letter of the law from the Old Testament or the New but because he claims (with a pride intrinsic to his position) to have the right — (whether on the basis of official status, of superior insight, or of his moral qualities) — to determine in a definitive way the destiny of others. The older language in which the theme of “conformity to this world” was stated in Bible times had to do with “idols,” with those unworthy objects of devotion to whom men in their blindness sacrificed. Thus it is quite fitting to describe the use of violence as the outworking of an idolatry. If I take the life of another, I am saying that I am devoted to another value, one other than the neighbor himself, and other than Jesus Christ Himself, to which I sacrifice my neighbor. I have thereby made a given nation, social philosophy, or party my idol. To it I am ready to sacrifice not only something of my own, but also the lives of my fellow human beings for whom Christ gave His life.

- John Howard Yoder, “Christ, the Hope of the World” in The Original Revolution: Essays on Christian Pacifism, 174-75

In this time of celebration, may we not forget that the state is still the state. And we are still called to be the church.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Anawim: Radicals for Jesus

On Facebook, Anawim just began an Anabaptist "cause" called "Anawim: Radicals for Jesus".

These are the core priorities:
Living a Jesus lifestyle amidst a dying empire.

1. We believe in taking risks to serve Jesus. We don’t believe in church leadership as a profession, or in upward mobility.

2. We believe in setting aside our desires and resources for the sake of the needy. We don’t believe in the American dream or capitalism, nor in our own personal property or privacy.

3. We believe in accepting persecution for Jesus. We don’t believe in staying quiet or in remaining comfortable.

4. We believe in loving our enemies and accepting persecution. We don’t put any faith in violence, empires, or cultural prejudice.

5. We believe in Jesus’ community working together to create community. We don’t believe that any denomination or church has a monopoly on loving God.

6. We believe in Jesus’ return and rule over the earth. We don’t believe in preserving our life, but are holding out for the next one.

If you're on Facebook, check it out!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Bono The Mennonite

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What Is Community?

A community is a self-sustaining entity
A community is a collection of different ideals that coalesce into a whole
A community is an “us” that lives together
A community doesn’t always live in harmony, but issues are resolved for the sustaining of the whole
A community is usually recognized by other communities as being a unit—but even if it is not, it does not negate its viability.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Welcoming: Transfoming Culture 2

Jesus told the disciples another story: "God's utopia is like a mustard seed, a tiny seed compared to most other seeds. But a man took that insignificant thing and planted it in his land and he let it grow. And when it grew up fully, it became a sturdy tree so strong that the birds rested in the branches. Even so, you, my disciples, are insignificant and the least. But when the Father and the Spirit are done with you, you shall be strong enough that the nations of heaven will rest comfortably within you."

This alternative society of Jesus is not to be a separatist society, but an evangelistic one. In other words, the church doesn’t protect its purity, but opens up its purity to all the world. All are to be welcome to be a part of the church, no matter how corrupt, no matter what they have done in the past, no matter how far from the ideal they are. The great task of the church is welcoming all who desire to be transformed into God’s people, and then to help them to become part of that.

We accept people as they are, but we are not content with who they are. All of us, should we be a part of Jesus, must be transformed into the image of Jesus. This is not something that happens overnight, nor does it happen before conversion. Rather, this is the process we go through that conversion begins. We assist each other, allowing the Spirit to create diamonds out of coal.

Thus, the church does not remain completely separate from the church. Jesus places parts of the church within the world, commanding them to welcome the world into the church. Within the world, the church holds onto its unique purity, a purity based on love of God and neighbor, and opens itself up to be understood by the world. More and more people become a part of this community, embracing Jesus’ ideals.

In this way, the world becomes the church. Individual by individual, family by family, soon tribes and even nations become a part of the community of Jesus’ love. People flock to be a part of the alternative community because it works better than other communities, and it is led by Jesus, our example of patience, faithfulness and endurance.

Thursday, January 15, 2009



Tolerance is a difficult virtue, Biblically speaking. Should we tolerate all? Should we separate some from ourselves for purity's sake?

These issues are being addressed in the series "Transforming Culture".
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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Transforming Culture, Part 1

In his book, Christ and Culture, H. Richard Niebuhr wrote about how the church influences the world. He was right, that Jesus asks us—even demands—that we transform the world. However, he set up a false dichotomy between passivism and activism. As if those who do not act in the political manner in which he was used to, then they were not acting at all.

Jesus, on the other hand, presented a kind of transformationalism that is not necessarily politically active, but is powerfully active, nevertheless. He established the following principles:
a. Creating alternative communities
b. Being welcoming to all who desire transformation
c. Gently, patiently influencing without force
d. Attacking the forces behind the evil

1. The church as saltYou are salt—essential for the world. But if you lose the basic qualities that make you important, you cannot regain them. You will be useless, cast out of God’s kingdom and trampled.
You are light—God’s glory and truth in the world. You are the kingdom of God to come, and you cannot be hidden. Nor should you be hidden—God’s glory should be displayed, not hidden. So display the true righteousness of God before everyone, so that people will see your acts of God and so glorify the Father.
Matthew 5:13-15

The church is not a building, an organization or a political force. Rather, the church is, according to Jesus, an alternative society, a unique people, a separate nation which lives by God’s law of love. The church, in the form Jesus established it, is a group of people who are living according to Jesus’ principles of love. The church is made up of the outcast of society, engaged in community not to just improve ourselves, but to love all of those in need. And we strive to live out the principles of love found in Jesus’ law—we do not insult, we do good to those who persecute us, we do not look with lust, we keep our promises, we do our religious deeds before God, not for people’s being impressed, we do not judge others, but we are constantly repenting of our sin and forgiving those who repent. And we will strive not to be put in a situation—like the military or addiction to drugs—that will cause us to act in opposition to this way of life.

We will look and act different for all this. The world will see us as strange, as ignorant, as naïve or even as hateful because we will stand with Jesus, no matter what anyone else says or does to try to promote us or to try to oppose us. At times, we will act different from that which the world calls “the church” or “Christianity.” “And this is because a majority of the church is caught up in the ways of the world, and has become a part of the world—focusing on education, on politics, on judging, on intellectualism, on power and the manipulation of it. And so they, the façade church, looks at the church of Jesus, and thinks that they’ve missed the point.

The church of Jesus is a community, not a political party. It doesn’t seek to compromise its ideals so it can fit better into the world. It doesn’t seek to give a message less than the love of Jesus, ever. If it changes it’s ideal of love and mercy and hope in God’s future, then it is no longer the community of Jesus, but a part of the very empire it seeks so hopelessly to transform. The compromised church is in a place to be transformed, not to create transformation.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Jesus' Suicide Politicians

Relating to Distinctives #15 and #23:

Those who believe in a future kingdom of God to come and reign on earth are clearly dissatisfied with the system as it now exists. The innocent die, the righteous are punished, wars destroy mothers and children and the masses who have power are lulled into sleep—which is probably good as well, for the masses would only enact greater injustices than their leaders do. Yet many leaders of governmental powers are abusive, unjust and concerned only with their own position, not the good of the people or in doing what is right. God is not satisfied with injustice in the governments of the world and he has promised that injustice—especially against the poor and lowly—will be destroyed.

But there is a disagreement as to how God creates justice in the world. Some say that God is working through the wars, the court systems, and the unjust governments of the world. This is certainly true, to a degree, but Jesus was not satisfied with God working his justice through judgement and hated and killing. He established a new way of dealing with injustice, of dealing with corrupt governments. His way was based on two basic principles: 1. That God destroys rulers and governments that display injustice against the poor and lowly (Psalm 37, 82). 2. God will place in political power those who show themselves to be lowly and righteous before him (I Samuel 2:7-9; Matthew 5:3-12). Jesus summarizes it like this: Those who exalt themselves will be cast down, while those who lower themselves will be raised up (Luke 14:11). Jesus provided an example of enacting God’s justice through becoming lowly against the world’s injustice—through the cross.

Although Jesus’ example is the greatest, he also invited all of those who followed him to participate in the same upside-down justice. The way of the cross is open to all who wish to follow Jesus. But how does one cause the governments of the world to topple by sacrificing oneself?

Making oneself odious to the ruling class
Jesus made himself unacceptable to those who ruled by doing God’s will publicly, thus displaying the government to be unjust and oppressive. He healed those who were rejected by “acceptable” society—proving that they were accepted by God. He opposed some of the laws and rules placed upon the populace by political wannabes that were unmerciful to the hungry and needy (Mark 7:1-9; Matthew 12:1-13). Jesus also proclaimed that the government of the people of God was soon to pass away, and be replaced by God’s direct rule (Mark 12:1-9). Then Jesus made vague references to the destruction of the temple, the center of the government’s power (John 2:19). All of this together, made Jesus dangerous in the eyes of the government and to the ruling class in general.

Jesus also established his disciples to be people who would be on the government’s “most wanted” list. He told his disciples to go out to every town, declaring that the current government would be replaced by God’s righteous one (Luke 9:2). He taught them to accept those whom the government found unacceptable (Mark 2:17). And he laid out in detail the faults and injustices of the ruling class (Mark 7:1-9; Matthew 23). Jesus sent out his disciples prepared to be rejected by the world.

Response to Persecution
Jesus was hated by all the ruling political parties—Sadducees, priests, Pharisees and the intellegencia of the ruling governments—scribes and lawyers. They spoke publicly against him, attempted to make him look bad in the midst of those who he was teaching and made plots to kill him (Matthew 12:14, 24, 38). He was eventually arrested, tried, tortured, and killed for treason (Mark 14-15). But he knew ahead of time that all of this would happen, and he planned for it, even desired it (Mark 8:31-33; 9:31-32). And when it happened, he did not resist, but allowed the plot against him to unfold just as planned by his enemies.

Even so, Jesus promised his people that they would be hated and persecuted and killed, even as he was (Matthew 10:24-25; John 15:18-20). In the midst of this, he told them, respond as he responded. Don’t be afraid of the persecution or those who can torture you, but rather accept the fact that you will have to possibly die for the message of Jesus (Matthew 10:28; Mark 8:35-38). He told them not to fight against those who punish them unjustly, but to respond to them with good—blessings and prayers (Matthew 5:38-48). If persecuted in a town, the disciples may flee, but there will come a time when each of them will be killed for the message they carry (Matthew 10:23; Mark 10:39). In this way, the disciples remain innocent, and all evil done is on the side of the oppressor.

God’s response
Jesus cried out to God for deliverance from the oppression he was facing (Mark 14:32-39). He was willing to face the death and shame, but he saw it for the evil it was. But rather than taking action himself in vengeance for the crimes done against him, an innocent man, he relied on God, and God’s justice enacted by God’s hand alone (Matthew 26:52-53). And God came through—even though Jesus had to face shame, suffering and a horrendous death, after he was done with all that, God raised Jesus from the dead. This indicated not only Jesus’ innocence, but his authority over those who had oppressed him.

Even so, Jesus told his followers that if they suffer as he suffered, then they too would gain not only resurrection, but political authority over those who had oppressed them (Luke 6:20-26; Mark 8:35; Luke 22:28-30). But for the disciples to gain this justice, they have to cry out to God day and night, asking him for release from oppression (Luke 18:1-8). In this way, the foundation is laid and God is free to respond in his own way against true oppressors of the poor and lowly.

Successful politics
The way of the cross seems naïve and foolish to almost everyone involved in politics, whether Christian or not. But it must be remembered that some of the most successful politicians in the twentieth century accepted this same pattern of political thought—Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Stephen Beko. These followed the pattern of Jesus, and took him as their political guide. The only difference between Jesus and these politicians is that they were looking for deliverance from the world they lived in—their own people, their own governments. Jesus, on the other hand, looked for deliverance only from God—and because of this, he proved to be the most successful politician of all time.

Oppressors shall be cast down by God;
God will exalt those who sacrifice themselves for His sake.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

What Is Baptism About?

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Baptism is the act in the Bible to show your commitment to Jesus
“Make disciples of all men, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Matthew 28:19
To commit yourself to Jesus, you don’t pray a certain prayer, you don’t go up to the altar, you don’t raise your hand at the right time. In the Bible, there is only one action to show that Jesus is your Lord and Savior—baptism.

Baptism is for those who are willingly choose Jesus.
“Those who believe and are baptized will be saved.” Mark 16:15
Baptism is for those who are ready to give their lives over to Jesus, totally with no turning back. It isn’t for the faint of heart or for those who aren’t sure. Nor is it for infants or those who don’t know what they’re doing—we can bless them and they can participate in the church, but they are not yet willing followers of Jesus. Only the seriously committed need apply.

Baptism means to die.
“You will be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized.” Mark 10:39
Baptism is a symbol of dying. In ancient civilizations, Water is the great enemy of mankind, and to enter into the realm Water is persecution, suffering and death. To be baptized in the name of Jesus is to die with Jesus on the cross. Those who are baptized are giving up of their own life and they do not have it any more—they are unable to take it up again.

Baptism is all throughout the Old Testament
“All were baptized with Moses in the sea.” I Corinthians 10:2
Noah was baptized as he passed through the flood and emerged through the storm to a new life. Moses and the children of Israel were baptized through the Red Sea, from one side to another, to be delivered from slavery into a new life. Joshua and Israel were baptized as they passed through the Jordan River into the land God had promised them. Elijah was baptized. Namaan was baptized. Creation was a type of baptism.

Baptism shows that we are dead to the world, and alive in Jesus
“Do you not know that those of us who have been baptized have been baptized into his death?” Romans 6:3
Any of us who are baptized are now dead to our old lives, our old ways of thinking, our old patterns of living. God leads us instead to a new life—which is the life of Jesus. We will live in Jesus and live the life of Jesus. Jesus is our life and Jesus’ life is the pattern of our life.

Baptism means that we receive the Holy Spirit.
“Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Acts 2:38
To have the Holy Spirit is to have the power of the life of Jesus. Because the Holy Spirit now fills us, we will live the life of Jesus and receive gifts which we can use for other believers.

Baptism means “inundated with water”
“I baptize you with water, but one comes after me who will baptize you in the Holy Spirit.” Luke 3
To be baptized, in Scripture, means to be “drenched.” Baptism isn’t only for part of us—it requires our whole lives to be dead to us and then renewed in Jesus. We aren’t partly dead. We aren’t partly filled with the Spirit. This is why we get soaked when we are baptized.

Baptism means that you are accountable to the church you have been baptized in.
“By one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.” I Corinthians 12:13
Those who participated in and witnessed our baptism have the right to ask how we are doing in the Lord—and they have the right to receive an honest answer.


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A Purified Church: A Scriptural Guide

Colossians 3:1-8
Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth.

Ephesians 5:1-5
Be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

Matthew 18:15-17
If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

I Peter 2:9-12
You are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God's OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY. Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.

Revelation 2:19-25
'I know your deeds, and your love and faith and service and perseverance, and that your deeds of late are greater than at first. But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, and she does not want to repent of her immorality. Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds. And I will kill her children with pestilence, and all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds. But I say to you, the rest who are in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not known the deep things of Satan, as they call them-- I place no other burden on you. Nevertheless what you have, hold fast until I come.’

Matthew 13:47-50
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet cast into the sea, and gathering fish of every kind; and when it was filled, they drew it up on the beach; and they sat down and gathered the good fish into containers, but the bad they threw away. So it will be at the end of the age; the angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

II Peter 3:13-15
According to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.

Romans 11:29-31
The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. For just as you once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience, so these also now have been disobedient, that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy.