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.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Practice of Shalom

Because of God’s tremendous compassion for everyone, I beg you, my dear family, to put your congregations on the altar, as a still living but holy sacrifice to God. This is what is acceptable to God, your sincere act of loving devotion among your congregation. Don’t be formed by the thinking of this era—that of stereotypes and judgment— but be re-created, having your minds rebooted to the will of God, and so proving by your actions what the good and pleasing and complete will of God is.
I was given a message from the Lord to share with all of you: Don’t consider yourself to be better than others in everything. Be sensible, and admit that each one of you has granted each one of you a measure of faith, even if that faith looks differently….Our congregations are to be characterized by sincere love for one another. We are all to be rid of the evil in our congregations, but to grasp onto the good.
We are to have affectionate love for each other. We are to be diligent without procrastination. We are to be enthusiastic in character. We serve the Lord. We rejoice in hope. We endure in suffering. We persist in prayer. We are to give to the needs of the saints. We are to practice hospitality. As the representatives of Jesus, you know already that we are to bless those who persecute us—we speak well of them and do not verbally destroy them. As Jesus, we rejoice with the joyful and mourn with the weeping.
Well, this is how we should behave to other groups of Christians, as well as those outside the faith. We aren’t to be arrogant over other Christians, but we are to associate with the lowly and the weak among us. Don’t be self-important. Just because you’ve got the money, don’t think that you can tell the others what to do. Just because you’ve got the word of God, that doesn’t mean that you can order others around. Just because you’ve proven your faith, it doesn’t mean that everyone has to listen to your opinions. Nor does it give anyone the right to attack others, no matter what they’ve done to you. If someone does something evil to you, don’t act immorally back to them. Instead, spend time thinking ahead of time about how you can do good to everyone. With all of your ability, live in peace and community with ALL people—even fellow Christians who disagree with you.
Romans 12:1-19

We Got to Start Somewhere, But There’s Just So Far To Go
What can we do? We live in a world rejecting shalom, pursuing materialism, sexual gratification and false philosophies and calling it happiness. In the midst of their self- authentication, self-actualization and self-gratification, the people of the world has destroyed well-being for others around them. The world ignores the needs of those around them, they avoid thinking of the harm they have caused others and they do all they can to shore up their hope that someday, somehow, their lives will be okay.

This wouldn’t be so bad if the church was really any different. Instead, we live in a church that has bought what the world had to say about truth and joy for 1800 years. The church flies on a pendulum which swings from a drive to punish all those irresponsible and filled with self-interest to being wholly accepting and supporting people even in their drive to destroy themselves and others.

The answer to this is the shalom of Jesus. Jesus calls us to communities of shalom—a disciplined grace which leads to peace on earth. But how can we—when all the governments and churches and non-profits in the world have failed—succeed in creating peace where only chaos and hatred has reigned?

Creating Shalom
1. Understand our baptism
First, we must understand what it means to be a follower of Jesus. To be baptized is to die, to have our old life, with its philosophies and materialism cast aside, no longer living in it. And we must live the principles of Jesus. Jesus is faithful, and we can live in that faithfulness. We must realize that being a follower of Jesus isn’t a matter of belief, but of lifestyle. So we must pursue Jesus—the real Jesus as presented in the gospels—surrender our lives and live for Him.

2. Live the principles of shalom
Then, as Jesus teaches us, we understand more and more the principles of peace that he taught us. We will learn his principles of purity, of faithfulness, of devotion to God and love of others. In all this, we will become more like the people who can create shalom in the world because we will embody shalom.

3. Accept the Anawim
As we learn Jesus’ way, we find that so many of the world’s categories no longer apply. Those which the world rejects—even for good reason!—we will welcome and offer God’s love and peace. Those who are blamed because of their poverty we will receive and share with. Those who are hated we will love and offer hope and community through Jesus.

4. Join a community of shalom
It is not enough for us to enact shalom as individuals, we must be in a community of shalom. This means participating in a group of baptized faithful in Jesus who are allowing God to transform them into shalom-makers. This must be a community welcoming to the outcast and a community ready to participate in koinonia.

5. Speak prophetically
As we live out Jesus’ life and community of shalom, then we must share with others the principles of shalom as we live them out. We cannot speak them if we do not live them, but we must share what Jesus has taught us and we do live out. We do not speak this in order to judge others, but in reality to warn them of Jesus’ judgment against those who oppose shalom.

6. Live in trust and patience
It is easy to get discouraged. We can look at the world and see what a big task it is to transform it. We can look at the church and see how faithless and fear-peddling it is. We can look at our failures to live out shalom, and throw up our hands in despair. But this is where the faith of Abraham (and of Jesus) comes in. Abraham, despite his own failures and weaknesses, despite the impossibilities of the promise God gave him, Abraham trusted that God could and would do it. He never forsook God, but continued in patience, even as he suffered for those who suffered due to their rejection of shalom. Even so, when it looks like all has failed and God is no where to be found, we need to be patient, and give room for God to work in His own time.

7. Pray for God’s shalom
Finally, Jesus tells us to pray for God’s kingdom to come, for the shalom to happen on earth. Ultimately, if peace and justice are to rule the earth, if shalom is to break into anyone’s life, it must be done by God’s work. If that is the case, then our main task is that of asking God to cause shalom to come. Pray for others, that they may experience God’s full shalom. Pray for the church, that they may understand and live out God’s full shalom. And pray for the world that it might be transformed into God’s kingdom.

The Principles of Shalom

So if there’s anyone listening, let me say this to you: Have compassion on the bad guys of your life. Be nice to the mean ones. Answer well those who cuss you out. Pray blessings on those who insult and abuse you. If a cop pushes you, give him the opportunity to beat you up. If a creditor steals money from you, offer him the rest of your account. If the government demands something from you, give it freely. And if a cop steals what is yours, don’t demand it back. In whatever good way you want people to treat you, treat them that way, no matter how badly treat you.
Look, if you only feel good about those who feel good about you, do you think God will bless you for that? Everyone, no matter how bad they are, love those who love them. If you do good things only to those who do good to you, do you think God will bless you for that? Everyone, no matter how evil, does the same. If you loan out money only to people who will pay you back, do you think God will bless you for that? Evil people loan out money for a return, plus interest.
You can do better than that. Love the people you find most unlovable. Act with compassion toward them and lend them money—yes, I know you won’t get the money back. Just do it, knowing that you won’t get anything back for it, not even a thanks. But you will get more back than you would ever expect, but that from God. If you do this, you will be acting like God, the Lord of the Universe—because He, too, does compassionate acts for those who never thank Him and who do the very worst acts on earth. So be compassionate to the same extent God is.
Don’t condemn others and you won’t be condemned by God. Don’t punish for punishment’s sake and you won’t be punished by God, either. If you release someone from a grudge, God will release you. Give freely to those in need—no matter who they are—and God will give freely to you. It’s kinda like a keg party. Take, let’s say a third of keg of beer and give it to your friends. They will take it, shake it up until it fills the keg and then pour it all over you—much more than you gave them! Even so, the amount of compassion you give to those who don’t deserve it will be poured right back on you!

Luke 6:25-38, SKV

Jesus IS the Prince of shalom, the emperor through which peace and justice comes. Not only does he bring it physically, among his people, but Jesus also has given some principles upon which shalom can be built among his people.

Jesus didn’t come to deliver individuals into shalom, but to create a nation of shalom. We cannot see the grace of God as only visiting individuals, but God is creating a community through Jesus who will be able to make a community of peace and justice among themselves.

Be ready
The people of God are to keep one eye on this world and one eye on the world that is to come. The meeting point between these two worlds is the judgment of God. Those who showed themselves faithful to Jesus and God will be delivered into God’s kingdom of shalom. So to be ready, we must follow the other principles of shalom to show that we are ready to be a part of God’s shalom.

The first principle of life is faithfulness to God. If we live with our eyes on God, always concerned with our faithfulness and devotion to Him in all aspects of our lives, then we will be ready to experience God’s shalom, instead of the shalom of the world. We also maintain faithfulness to others—our spouses, friends, family and all others. Whatever promises or commitments we have made to them, in our relationship with them, we keep.

Do not harm
We make a point not to do anything hateful to another, with a purpose to harm them. No matter what they have done to us, we do not do harm in return. This may put us in a position of vulnerability, but we must trust that God will care for us and avenge us when necessary, not taking such actions on ourselves.

Treating others with respect
Some we are obligated to respect—our betters, our leaders. But we are also to respect those whom the world does not respect, the outcast and shamed. If we provide respect to all, then all will receive welcome and hope and shalom.

Meeting other’s needs
We are not just to not give harm, but to offer respect to others, but we must also give compassion to others when they are in need. We need to feel their pain and seek to do what we can to help. Then, we should share what resources we have to help others. This empathy and open handedness is summarized in the Greek word, koinonia.

Equality of justice
Finally, Jesus emphasizes that these community principles—faithfulness, no harm, respect and koinonia—are not just for those like us, but for everyone, even if some fail, even if some are irritating, act hatefully occasionally and are occasionally faithless. Respect and assistance is to be granted to everyone without exception.

If we are in Jesus, we are to live out these principles, create communities that live these principles out and teach it to others. In this way, we are to accomplish God’s shalom for ourselves, our communities and, eventually, the entire world

The Progress of Shalom

Without exception, everyone has done wrong before God and become offensive to Him. But we all have been given the opportunity to be right before God through the deliverance from the slavery to sin and death which can be found in the Messiah Jesus. When the Father raised Jesus from an official execution, he showed him to be the path to be forgiven of our sins and to have a relationship with God. God proved his justice—which was called into question by him overlooking sins in the past and because of his patience—by making acceptable the one who enters into the devotion of Jesus, and so He proved his actions just….Jesus was given to the authorities to be punished because of our wrongs before God and Jesus was raised from his execution so that we could be made acceptable before God. Therefore, since we have been made acceptable by committed devotion, we have the shalom of God through our King, Messiah Jesus. It is because of Him that we have the right to speak to God and receive the blessings of God, on which we depend on for our very well-being. We boast in our confidence in being a part of God’s glory. You see, we can boast in the sufferings we receive—even as Jesus did—because we know that our suffering gives us the opportunity to stick with God. And sticking with God in the midst of suffering—even as Jesus did— is the test of our true devotion to God. And if our devotion is tested, then we have confidence—because if Jesus was raised by His enduring devotion, so will we. And this confidence will never be dashed because God’s love fills us through the Holy Spirit, given by God, to help us endure in the midst of our struggles. (Romans 3:23-26; 4:25-5:5)

Got World Peace?
Peace, according to the Bible is not just an absence of violence or a peaceful, easy feeling, but it is well-being in a community. When the Bible promises “peace on earth to those obtaining grace”, it is not speaking of a lack of war, but of a ruling principle and nation who would provide for all in need and offer justice and peace to everyone, without exclusion. This well-being and justice is called “shalom” in the Bible.

Stuck With Whirled Peas?
If there is one thing the world lacks, it is peace, meaning shalom. If shalom is a world-wide community in which everyone experiences well-being, acceptance, mutual assistance, and equal justice for all, then we have never experienced it. In every nation, in every era, the poor have been oppressed. The outcast have been thrown out because of arbitrary cultural mores. The religious have judged and rejected all people who did not accept their narrow guidelines. The non-religious have judged and rejected the religious because of their devotion to God. And all people purpose to harm all people who stand in the way of their culture controlling and manipulating all others.

Life on earth is not shalom. It is anti-peace.

Everyone wants peace. Most of us in the world recognize that we are all in trouble, that we don’t have peace, and all of us want to obtain it. Or create it. Or force it on others. To create shalom where there is no shalom is what the Bible calls “salvation.” Frankly, it is a utopian ideal, just like democracy is, just like capitalism is, just like communism. The difference is that the Bible claims that salvation—the creation of shalom in the world—is something that only God can do. Peace and justice cannot come simply from human effort or from anarchy. It must be a work of God that humans join with. But it is initiated by God.

Getting Better All The Time
The first step of God’s shalom-making was creation. God saw the chaos, the pointlessness of the world and made it again. And, according to Scripture, after God’s peace-making, He established humanity to rule over His creation and to keep it in shalom. This plan failed when humanity chose rebellion and chaos instead of God’s shalom.

Another step in God’s shalom-making was choosing Abraham. Abraham was not a perfect man, but he was a person who sought God alone, being faithful to Him, and trusting in Him when all else seemed chaotic. God chose Abraham because of his trust in God and said that whoever would obtain shalom, in all the world, they must be like Abraham and choose his path of trust. This plan failed because people thought that following the ritual of Abraham or being born into the family of Abraham obtained this shalom.

Another step in God’s shalom-making was to create a community of shalom with very specific rules. He chose for His people a nation in slavery—the outcast—so they would know how to treat those who were outcast. And He taught them His ways of love and shalom for all his people. This experiment failed in different ways, over the years. First, the people didn’t believe that God could really give them shalom. Then, they sought out other spiritual powers to grant them shalom. Then, they oppressed the poor, forgetting that they were once poor themselves. And finally, they took God’s rules and make them so burdensome that it became impossible to live them out.

Love Reign O’er Me
Finally, after all of these temporary experiments, God began his final plan for shalom. He sent his Son to be emperor of the world, ruler of his people. First, Jesus displayed shalom by setting people free from spiritual judgment, offering them freedom from diseases and mental illnesses and offering them a new life in God. Then he told the people the life of shalom in God, living by the principles of shalom. Then, finally, he allowed the rulers of God’s people—the priests and elders—to kill him, treating him as an outcast of God’s people. But God vindicated his Son as the only way to God’s shalom, the great Truth-teller. And a new people was created under Jesus, living Jesus’ shalom-principles and testing the world with their message of destruction of the anti-shalom and the establishment of God’s shalom.

Underground Revolution
Through Jesus, God is continually creating communities of shalom—some big and some small. These communities are made up of those who were rejected by the world and who are baptized in Jesus—namely, those who have committed themselves to being citizens of Jesus’ new nation of shalom. These baptized are committed to Jesus’ principles of peace and justice. But these principles are not enough in and of themselves, because we all are too weak, as humans, to maintain shalom. So the Emperor has allowed us to receive the Holy Spirit, who helps us in our weakness to maintain shalom, even when we do not have the strength to live it out.

Then God sent these Jesus communities out into the world. They preached the kingdom— the nation of shalom—and displayed the power of the Spirit. Communities were in this way tested—would they accept the good proclamation of shalom through Jesus, or would they reject God’s shalom? Would they practice shalom with the needy of Jesus, or would they reject them?

This time of testing continues on even today. Many communities of the world—even many who claim Jesus to be Lord—reject Jesus’ principles of shalom. Many in Jesus’ name harm and kill others. Many in Jesus’ name refuse to help the needy. Many in Jesus’ name even reject the true God and seek a distant Spirit who is unobtrusive and will never give anything, let alone shalom.

The Promise of Shalom

Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, And a branch from his roots will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him, The spirit of wisdom and understanding, The spirit of counsel and strength, The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. And He will delight in the fear of the LORD, And He will not judge by what His eyes see, Nor make a decision by what His ears hear; But with righteousness He will judge the poor, And decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth; And He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, And with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked. Also righteousness will be the belt about His loins, And faithfulness the belt about His waist. And the wolf will dwell with the lamb, And the leopard will lie down with the young goat, And the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; And a little boy will lead them. Also the cow and the bear will graze, Their young will lie down together, And the lion will eat straw like the ox. The nursing child will play by the hole of the cobra, And the weaned child will put his hand on the viper's den. They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain, For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD As the waters cover the sea. Then in that day The nations will resort to the root of Jesse, Who will stand as a signal for the peoples; And His resting place will be glorious. Then it will happen on that day that the Lord Will again recover the second time with His hand The remnant of His people, who will remain, From Assyria, Egypt, Pathros, Cush, Elam, Shinar, Hamath, And from the islands of the sea. And He will lift up a standard for the nations And assemble the banished ones of Israel, And will gather the dispersed of Judah From the four corners of the earth. Then the jealousy of Ephraim will depart, And those who harass Judah will be cut off; Ephraim will not be jealous of Judah, And Judah will not harass Ephraim. (Isaiah 11:1-13)

A Really BIG Idea
The Hebrew word for “peace” is “shalom”. Shalom is used most often as a greeting in Hebrew culture, even as its equivalent “salaam” is the greeting in Arabic. To express “peace” to someone is to express one’s intent to not do violence and to give peace of mind to another. However, “shalom” in the Hebrew sense is much more than what “peace” means in English.

“Shalom” in the Hebrew Bible is used for the well-being of all of one’s physical needs, such as having sufficient food, rest, shelter, health, longevity, and even a good death, without pain. Shalom also reflects one’s social needs, such as participating in a supportive community and being accepted by that community. Shalom also has to do with one’s relationship with God, such as God approving of one’s actions and of God forgiving our sins. Shalom also has to do with the well-being of a community, such as security, justice, a lack of disasters and reconciliation between those separated by anger. And lastly, shalom applies to the destruction of all those who want to destroy shalom. So when we speak of “peace” biblically, it means a complete well-being, physically, mentally, socially and spiritually and justice within one’s community.

And where does shalom come from? People can create some aspects of shalom, but ultimately, shalom comes from God. As it says in Judges 6:24: “Yahweh IS shalom”. In the New Testament, we find that the peace and justice of God is found through Jesus alone. God gives this shalom to his people, yet we must enact this peace in the world through these gifts of God:

• through the faith of Jesus (Romans 5:1)
• through the Spirit (John 14:26-27),
• through the word of Jesus (John 16:33),
• through prayer (Philippians 4:6-7),
• and through his people (I Thessalonians 5:13)

Promise of Shalom
Yet it seems that God has withheld his peace from the world. The world is filled with disease and destruction and mental illness and hatred. If the source of peace is God, why has he withheld it?
First of all, God did promise shalom very specifically:
Psalm 37:11-- the Anawim will inherit the land and will delight themselves in abundant shalom
Psalm 119:165-- Those who love the law have great shalom
Isaiah 9:6-7-- The coming king will be the Prince of Shalom, there will be no end of the shalom he brings
Isaiah 57:19-21-- Peace to him who is far and near, but no shalom for the wicked
Luke 2:14-- Glory to God in the highest and upon earth peace among men who are favored

From these verses we can see a few things: First, that God doesn’t provide peace immediately. He doesn’t wave a magic wand and amazingly peace appears. Rather, God’s people have to go through a period of waiting in trials without peace before He gives shalom. Secondly, God, in these promises, say that his peace will come through one individual—His emperor who will establish shalom among his people.

And lastly, we see that shalom is not offered to everyone in the world. We quote the passage, “Peace on earth” as God’s promise, yet that promise is not to everyone, but those who are given God’s grace. Frankly, not everyone is ready for God’s peace. The people who are opposed to peace for some of the world cannot have peace. Nor can the people who are opposed to God, since the Lord is central to God’s shalom. And those who are opposed to God’s king, the Prince of Shalom—Jesus— will also not be able to experience God’s peace, for they reject God’s means of bringing shalom.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Liberal Christian Worldview

There are a multitude of ways to understand Christianity. Each denomination has a distinctive sense of their focus, and every congregation has a different way of presenting their understanding of the basic truths of Christianity. In the United States, there are two foundational ways to understand the truth of Christianity, which, for convenience’s sake we will call “Conservative” and “Liberal”. The liberal understanding of Christianity has recently been called “the new Christian paradigm”, but it is at least one hundred years old, has its roots in the enlightenment of the eighteenth century and has it’s own set of traditions and theologies. Some of the basic features of the “new paradigm” are described below.

Denying supernaturalism
The liberal point of view is not that miracles don’t happen, but that miracles occur in the context of everyday, “historic” reality. This means that God is working, but he is working within the confines of material existence. For all practical purposes, the spirit world does not intersect with material reality, except in subtle, mostly unseen ways. They deny the reality of overt supernatural acts such as a six-day creation, fire from heaven and the physical resurrection of bodies.

Jesus as moral example
Jesus is seen in the liberal worldview primarily as a teacher and example of the exemplary way of life. God desires us to live a life of unconditional love and care for others, and Jesus displayed that love in the midst of a culture of rules and separation. Jesus died in a conflict with that culture, and his resurrection—which was spiritual, not physical—was God’s way of showing the superiority of that moral way of life.

Relationships as core responsibility
The central moral concept of liberal philosophy is the nurturance of relationships. To build and establish relationships, we need to display unconditional love, which is seen as full and joyful acceptance of all—no matter how one subverts the traditional moral paradigm— and assistance to those who are weak or marginal in society. Salvation is seen as receiving God’s grace to live according to this way of love, as Jesus himself displayed. To be saved is to live out the principle, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Sin as systemic
The liberal worldview acknowledges the Bible’s point of view of sin as personal acts in rebellion to God. However, the sins that need to be taken most seriously are those acts that support a system of oppression, in opposition to an ethic of unconditional love. They see the system of the world to be supporting a minority—whites, males, wealthy—while the rest are automatically placed in a secondary role, forced to submit to the oppressive paradigm. Sin, then, is supporting that system of oppression and acting in apathy to those in need. The serious sins are not those of adultery, homosexuality and rebellion, but oppression and its extreme form, violence. Submission to the dominant authority system is a sin, though less serious, for it supports the systemic sin.

Response to sin
Given this point of view of sin, personal sin is usually responded to with acceptance. If a sin is seen as just being in opposition to the primary paradigm, then there is joyful, full acceptance without a call to change. If one sins in a way in opposition to unconditional love, they are encouraged to repent and change, while still being accepted. However, every worldview has lines of acceptance and non-acceptance. Those who are not accepted are those who refuse to refrain from tearing the nurturing community down. Thus, prison is reserved for rapists and child molesters. And the liberal church has no place for those who reject the needy because they are “sinners” or “irresponsible.”

Love as Basis of Truth
The truth of the liberal paradigm is not strictly seen in the Bible as a whole. They recognize that the Old Testament does not teach this paradigm, and neither does Paul. However, they understand Jesus as teaching the basis of this paradigm, and the church is growing over time to accept this paradigm. The Bible is not the basis of morality, but unconditional love, which they see is the love of God. The Bible is not full of historic truth, but of deep metaphors that helps one understand God’s love. The Bible is simply a bridge leading from an older moral paradigm toward a new, perfect paradigm of God’s love. The locus of truth is God’s community of love, led by God’s spirit of love. This community may at times be in denial of the old paradigms, such as it was in the Jerusalem council in Acts 15, but the main focus is the display of God’s spirit, not any traditional standards of morality.

Continuity and Discontinuity with Society
They see themselves as being a part of society through tolerance. They hold as a central moral statement the acceptance and care for all people, no matter what religion they believe in or what their personal habits are. However, they also see themselves as subversive and as challenging the dominant authority system. Thus, in practical actions, the liberal church accepts homosexuals who act with unconditional love, for while they might act in opposition to standard morality, they have received God’s grace of love. They often accept abortion as a possible moral decision because a relationship has not been developed with a fetus, thus there is no moral obligation. And they typically support progressive politics which assists those who are marginalized by society.

An Anabaptist Critique of Liberal Christianity
Liberal Christianity focuses much on what has been missing from traditional Christianity. Like Jesus and Paul, they focus on the needs of the marginalized of society, and they accept those who are traditionally seen as “sinners” (Luke 15; Matthew 8:11-12) They also recognize that Jesus spoke of himself as a moral example, which is something much of the church has ignored in their focus on Jesus as the savior from sins and the Son of God (John 13:13-17).

However, there is much that the liberal approach to Christianity has missed in their understanding of Jesus. Liberal Christians deny the very worldview that Jesus held. Jesus did not just practice God’s love, but he practiced God’s love with God’s supernatural power, seeing the spirit world as a real force in everyday life (Mark 1:16-2:10). The NT as a whole recognizes Jesus’ resurrection as physical and historic—and, in fact, were it not, then it could not be called “resurrection” at all, but simply “death” for a spiritual life after death is what all ancient cultures understood as what death was. Resurrection meant the renewal of the body—anything else would have been called something else.

Liberal Christians also neglect that Jesus held to God’s standard of righteousness, which was not restricted to sins against unconditional love. Jesus spoke against sexual immorality, idolatry and those who did not believe in him—sins of which could be participated in while still being nurturing (Mark 7:20-23; John 58). Jesus said that the context of righteousness is love of others, but that was not the whole of God’s standard—we first and foremost must love God for who he is and obey him even though it may not seem like the kind of “love” we understand. Jesus welcomed sinners of his time, but he called them to repent, not just to be welcomed (Luke 5:32)
God’s love is unconditional, but the unconditional form of his love is limited, as well. God loves everyone by providing even those who hate him with their basic needs. However, his true blessings—his kingdom, his Spirit, his salvation from suffering—is not given to everyone, but only those who prove to be faithful to him, not only in love, but in the purity of heart and action that can only come through Jesus (Matthew 7:6, 17-27; John 15:5). Thus, followers of Jesus sympathize for those who do not believe in Jesus, but we cannot fully accept them as part of the community of God, even as others who sin against God without repentance (Romans 10:9; Matthew 18:15-17). Jesus affirms love, but also recognizes that his gospel causes deep relational ties to be severed dramatically (Luke 14:26-27)

Ultimately, liberal Christians, while drawing their ideals from the gospel, only accept half of it. They do not believe what Jesus believed or hold to what Jesus stood for. In the end, liberal Christianity is not a representation of Jesus, but just another form of the Enlightenment, denying both the Scriptures and the power of God. They want the morality of Jesus, but neglect the righteousness Jesus actually espoused.

Men will be... holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power. Avoid such men as these. II Timothy 3:5

Conservative Christian Worldview

There are a multitude of ways to understand Christianity. Each denomination has a distinctive sense of their focus, and every congregation has a different way of presenting their understanding of the basic truths of Christianity. In the United States, there are two foundational ways to understand the truth of Christianity, which, for convenience’s sake we will call “Conservative” and “Liberal”. The conservative approach to Christianity has been called “evangelical” and also “fundamentalist”. Although “evangelical” Christianity has existed since the early 1500s, the fundamentalist form of American evangelicalism has existed only since the beginning of the 20th century—although its roots do run deeper to the early reformation.

God as Creator
In the conservative Christian worldview, all things come from God, the spiritual entity that rightly rules all creation. There is a spiritual world that is greater than this one, and the principles of which determine our success in this world. God is the maker of all things, which he did in six 24-hour days at the beginning of creation.

Jesus as God
The conservative Christian boldly proclaims Jesus as God, by which he means a human who is equal with God in every way, including his essence. Jesus showed his authority over all things on earth, including the spirit world and nature, which indicated that he was the true maker of all these things. Many doubted Jesus proclamation of his true nature, and they eventually killed him. But the Father—the primary personage of God, along with Jesus and the Holy Spirit—rose Jesus from the dead, thus displaying Jesus’ true identity—God himself. One who wishes to receive God’s salvation—life in heaven—must believe that Jesus is God, attempt to live in the standards of God and be responsible to God’s church.

Jesus’ death as once-for-all sacrifice
Conservative Christians hold Jesus’ death to be the most significant event in all of history. They hold that God held all people under the judgment of death because of their sin, but Jesus provided a blood sacrifice through his death, which allowed God to offer forgiveness for sin instead of death. Anyone who believes in Jesus, then, is forgiven of all of their sins, no matter what they did.

Inerrant Bible
According to conservative Christians, the Old and New Testaments, sixty-six books, are the Bible. Although the Bible was written by human authors, God’s spirit directed every word in the Bible, and thus every single word is true. They understand the Bible to be interpreted literally, which means that everything in it must be understood as it would be understood by those who read it first, with allegorical sections interpreted as allegory and historical sections being taken as plain facts. The Bible expresses not only spiritual, moral and historic truth, but scientific truth as well.

The Moral Order
In the conservative worldview, it is held that God established an authoritative order. God established parents to rule over their families, governments to rule over their citizens, bosses to rule over their employees and God to rule over all. Some conservatives hold that men are also an authority over women. Bosses, parents and government leaders, therefore, are representatives of God to those under them. . This does not mean that human authorities cannot make mistakes, but the proper response to any authority over us is to submit and obey the authority. The authorities, on the other hand, are to offer proper moral guidance, punish those who disobey the proper authorities, and to provide the basic needs for those under their authority.

Family as Building Blocks of Society
Conservative Christians hold strongly to a conservative view of the family. This includes the authority of the husband over the family in the God-established moral order as well as the establishment and independence of the nuclear family. For this reason, they oppose homosexuality, abortion and secular education as things that break down the God-established order of the family.

Independence as maturity
In the conservative morality, the goal of the authority is to have every person under them be independent productive members of society. This requires the authority to provide training and punishment for each individual, until each of them are responsible in their own right. Responsibility, in this context, means that they are proper authorities over their own families, providing for them and needing no assistance from authorities to maintain their appropriate lifestyle; and that they are obedient to the requirements of their authorities without needing to be punished to correct them.

Sin as disobedience
For conservatives, sin has to do with one’s relation to the proper authority. Authorities establish law, which is an absolute standard and enforced by their authority. One sins if they disobey the authority above them, even if what the authority demands is unreasonable. Should one sin, the proper response of the sinner’s authority is to punish them, to train both them and everyone else under that authority that sin is unacceptable and will be punished.

Church as Upholder of Standard
The church, then, is the place where these conservative beliefs and morality are held as the standard and they constantly remind the people of God of these truths. This does not mean that the church in some way isn’t subversive. The conservatives hold that the world is constantly being led further and further into sin and subversive values. The church, in this case, is a beacon of light in the midst of darkness. One of the greatest purposes of the church, then, is to defend the people of God against the many forces attacking them—cults, secular humanism, communism, Islam and other religions.

An Anabaptist Critique of Conservative Christianity
The conservative evangelicals have much in their favor as a worldview. They uphold the Bible as the very highest standard, and Jesus as the very highest authority. They recognize that God’s standard may be different from the world’s in many ways and may not make sense to humans. They recognize that sin is very serious, and needs to be dealt with seriously.

However, for all of their proclamation of the Bible as God’s inerrant word, they typically have neglected what the Bible actually says quite seriously. Although they confess Jesus as their Lord, they will frequently disagree with Jesus and his teachings in the New Testament and maintain their own standards of morality instead. Jesus did not punish sin, although in the most extreme cases he did recommend separation from the church (John 8:1-11; Matthew 18:15-17). Rather Jesus showed mercy to the sinner and called them to repentance (John 12:47; Luke 5:32). Jesus recognized that authority came from God, but he also harshly criticized conservative authorities for not adhering to God’s standard and claimed that they should not be followed (Matthew 23:1-23).

Jesus actually came to earth to subvert the authorities of the world through the cross, and the “proper authorities” of this world are still acting in rebellion to Jesus’ way of the cross (Colossians 2:15; Acts 3:12-19; I Corinthians 2:6-8, 14). Jesus did not present submission as a way to uphold the authorities of this world, but as a way to subvert them and to establish God’s kingdom as the true authority over this world. In many ways, conservative Christianity is still holding to medieval feudal standards, and they see the church as being a part of this world. But the Bible says that God’s people are not of this world, but belong to a different nation, to live by a different standard, as established by Jesus, and to not just support the system as it stands (I Peter 2:4-12; Galatians 5:19-23).

Jesus death, while a sacrifice for our sins, is not limited to that. The cross isn’t something that happened a long time ago, and we can rely just on Jesus’ work. We are to continually be living out Jesus’ cross, and we are to be the people of the cross—the work of the cross is something the church continues to this very day (Colossians 1:14; John 12:24-26; Mark 8:34-38). It is through this work that we do with Jesus as our example that we gain the kingdom of God (Romans 8:16-17; Acts 14:22).

Ultimately, conservative Christianity, just like their theological forefathers, Luther and Calvin, is simply not biblical enough. For all their upholding of Jesus as the great authority, they do not give him enough authority as the One True Teacher, and we are servants of each other (Matthew 23:8-11). If one is truly going to enter God’s kingdom, we must be more righteous than the conservative evangelicals (Matthew 5:20; 23:22-23).
Jesus is not just God, but our Lord and example.

A Platonic Christian Worldview

Most people think that there is simply one church, under the one leader, Jesus Christ. Why, do these idealists say, doesn’t the church just get unified? Apart from the different governing bodies that distinguish one denomination from another, there is another significant issue—there is more than one Christian philosophy. Within each denomination there exists a variety of different philosophies—all claiming the name of Christ, but in many ways incompatible. In this series of articles, we will explore different Christianities and try to understand them from an Anabaptist viewpoint.

In the third and fourth centuries, Christianity was coming into its own as a force in the Roman empire. Paganism was beginning to wane as the primary belief system, and it was getting competition from the revised Hebrew religion. But there was another belief system that was gaining popularity as well—Platonism. Platonism was begun by the philosopher Plato in ancient Athens, and held that the spirit world was the prime reality on which all of our physical reality was based.

Some platonic philosophers of this time —such as Ignatius and Augustine— saw quite a bit of compatibility between Platonism and Christianity, and came to believe in Jesus as the human face behind the platonic philosophy. Then these teachers began defending their platonic form of Christianity against those whom they saw as “heretics” and “unbelievers.” These became the strongest defenders of Christianity of the third and fourth centuries. Their idea of Christianity became enormously influential and their concept of Christianity continues to this day. Below are some of the main beliefs of a Platonic form of Christianity:

Spirit World is the Real World
According to Plato, there is an alternative universe which holds all the reality of the physical universe we see and feel. It is the Spirit world, and it is not less real than the physical world, but more real. In the spiritual universe, there is the real, pure Apple and all apples of our world are just poor copies of the original. Even so, the real Human exists in that universe, and all of us are simply copies of the true Human—and we are only trying to become like that Real Human.

God is the Primary Cause—Pure Spirit
Aristotle, Plato’s student, followed in this logic concerning God. He said that all things have a source, a cause. If creation came from the earth, then the earth came from somewhere, as did the sun and all of our universe. However, at some point one must arrive at the First Cause, because if there is no origin of all things, then nothing could exist. The platonic Christians hold that the Prime Cause is God, who is pure spirit, being made up of nothing physical, of this universe. God is the perfect being, complete Spirit, completely good, and the originator of all good, pure, spiritual things.

Flesh is Corrupt, Spirit is Good
Because God and the Spirit world is where all good comes from, then spiritual things are the only things that are good. This also means that the physical universe we live in is automatically crippled, automatically prone toward weakness. This weakness is called by the platonic Christians the flesh. The flesh is corruptible, able to drift further and further from the Spirit, which is pure good. Fundamentally, the more physical—the flesh—the more corruption and evil. The more Spirit, the more purity and good.

Humanity is part spirit, part flesh
Every human born, according to the platonic Christian philosophers, is part spirit and part flesh. The flesh, they say, is the body, which is corruptible and imperfect. But every human also has a spirit, which is the human’s connection to God. Between the flesh and the spirit is the soul, which is the basis of the mind and will. The soul is the fundamental part of humanity—neither pure flesh nor pure spirit—which determines the moral direction of the person, whether toward the spirit or toward the flesh.

Morality is based on the control of the flesh and motivation
To be a good human, therefore, we must constantly choose the spirit as opposed to the flesh. The flesh leads us to physical desire, to sexuality, to gluttony, to greed, to anger—all of the seven deadly sins are sins of the flesh, created by the platonic Christians. However, ultimately, humans are judged not on their deeds, but their motivation—that which their souls determined. If a soul chose the good, even though it lead them to corruption, then the soul may be saved though the body is corrupt.

Jesus was God Incarnate
Platonic Christians speak of Jesus as the Son of God, the human who was God from birth. Since Jesus was born as God incarnate, thus he was not human as we are human. Yes, Jesus was human, he had flesh and he had spirit, but his soul was already committed to the spirit, and so he constantly rejected the corrupt flesh. Thus, he never sinned. In this way, he had perfect faith and lived perfectly before his Father. Because of this, Jesus’ life could not really provide us with a proper example, because he had a different make up than we. So if we fall short of Jesus, that is only because he was God and we are not. Jesus died to give humanity the opportunity to be pure spirit. All of humanity has been corrupted by their flesh, but Jesus died so that such corruption could be left behind with one’s body, while the spirit and soul rises to God.

The highest Christian act is spiritual contemplation
Those of us who are Christians are those who have entered into Jesus death through baptism and the Lord’s supper. As we partake with Jesus, according to platonic Christians, we find ourselves being led by Him to act in the Spirit, and to set aside the flesh. Thus, as we find gluttony, drunkenness and sexuality set aside, we will also partake more and more in the Spirit realm through contemplation of the Pure Spirit—God himself. We can focus on God through meditation, through praise, through singing or through quoting the Scripture. But the focus is to transport oneself out of this world and into God.

The Church is Invisible
Because morality is a completely internal process, we cannot know who is more spiritual than another. While it is true that the most fleshly people would not be spiritually minded, for the most part we cannot tell. Some are spiritually minded and some are not. But the true people of God are invisible—only God knows who they are. The rest of us cannot judge.

Heaven is Living in Spirit
The ultimate goal of every platonic Christian is, therefore, the stripping away of our bodies—our corrupt flesh—and living in spirit in the presence of God. This is heaven—a pure spiritual existence. In heaven God is the continuous focus, and all who enter heaven take full satisfaction and pleasure in adoring and contemplating God, the Pure Spirit, the Source of all Things.

An Anabaptist Critique of Platonic Christianity
Platonic Christianity has tried to walk a wall that borders Platonism and the Bible—and so there are many aspect of their philosophy that reflects the Bible. Jesus himself said that God is Spirit and that we are not to worship him based on the physical. Jesus also recognized that the Spirit world is more powerful than the universe we live in, and that he himself is from the Spirit world. Jesus did die in order to help us enter God’s kingdom. And the flesh can corrupt us into doing evil.

However, the Bible takes a more balanced view of the physical world than the Platonists do. The physical world is created by God who called it “good” not corrupt. The perfect humans, Adam and Eve, were both flesh and spirit, and completely pure that way. There is no evidence in the Scripture that Jesus was not fully human, even as we are, and pure and innocent in that humanity. While the flesh can corrupt, as Paul said, it is not the flesh alone that corrupts us, but our determination to live out of balance with the flesh—to be obedient to our corrupt desires instead of God. God created sex, he created grapes, he created food, and he wants us to live in pleasure with these things. God also created limits so that we can live in the flesh, but in purity—through marriage, sobriety and moderation.

The physical world is the source of our good acts, as well as evil. It is in the physical world that we give to the poor. It is in the physical world that we love our families. It is in the physical world that we bow down and worship God. But most of all, the paradise that Jesus promises us is not a world of pure spirit. Rather, the cornerstone of his future promise is that we will be resurrected from the dead—we will not remain spiritual, but we will become physical again in God’s perfect utopia. In that time, our bodies will be incorruptible, pure, holy and completely physical.

Jesus also made it clear that what our bodies do is a reflection of our spiritual life. Thus, our moral life is not just in our minds, but equally in our actions. It is not enough for us to have the right motivation, even if we do the wrong actions. Rather, our motivation is shown by our actions. Our morality is based on the life of Jesus. Jesus’ life is not just the pie-in-the-sky ideal, but it is the paradigm for our physical life. We can—and should—be as willing to obey God, as willing to trust in God, as willing to surrender ourselves for the needy as Jesus was. This is our goal, and the purpose of our lives.

Monday, October 18, 2010


A quote from Survival Guide To Homelessness:

Let me give you an example of a successful bloodless conflict. I was packing up a storage unit one day, and I had only that day to finish. In the same facility a man was screaming at his soon-to-be-ex-wife on a cell phone, and creating an atmosphere that I found intolerable. I decided to stop this guy from yelling. I yelled at him forcefully, Hey! Shut the hell up!

Well, predictably this brought the man's wrath toward me. He started yelling at me and making aggressive gestures, and at that moment I did something he could not have expected. I submitted. I wimped out. I apologized and said I should mind my own business. I backed down.

Now, the soon-to-be-ex-wife was no longer on the phone, so he couldn't yell at her. He had no way to yell at me, or continue to bring a fight to me, because I had backed down. He grumbled and muttered and hurled a few insults at me, but he stopped yelling and I got back to work in blissful quiet. Understanding the nature of winning, the precise goals I was trying to achieve, allowed me to give my opponent the illusion that he won while I got everything I wanted.

And no one got hurt. Always seek the scenario in which no one gets hurt.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

What Does It Mean To Be Anabaptist?

The Anabaptist tradition
In 1525 the reformation of the church in the West was just beginning. There was a lot of excitement about Luther’s reforms, not least of all in Zurich, Switzerland. Zwingli was leading the city leaders into a reform there based on Scripture alone, but many of the reformation’s supporters there didn’t think that Zwingli was going far enough. They noticed that when he spoke about certain issues, that he was more interested in his theological point, rather than actually brining the church back into obedience to Jesus. So they baptized themselves in the name of Jesus, making each other citizens of Jesus’ kingdom instead of any kingdom on earth. This movement grew, and they were called ana-baptists by their enemies, because it was claimed that they would re-baptize their members. But in reality, the Anabaptists affirmed that they were spreading the one true baptism—an entrance into God’s kingdom through true understanding and not just assent to the society of the church. This movement has continued to this day.

What Anabaptists Believe:

1. Jesus only
“No one knows the Father except the Son”
Anabaptists hold to no theology except that stated by Jesus himself. Even as Jesus supersedes the Old Testament law, Jesus also rules over all theology that the church itself created, whether that by Paul or by Calvin or by N.T. Wright. And the focus of our belief is not a Jesus we create—such as a glorified, theological Jesus or a model of a historical Jesus or a cultural Jesus—but the Jesus of the gospels. Thus, the four gospels lead us to interpret all things through the words and life of Jesus.

Since Anabaptists affirm the superiority of Jesus, we also recognize the weakness of all things human to achieve truth or justice. Thus, any particular denomination or creed is only in a process of getting closer to or further from Jesus, but no church could ever be complete in and of itself. Various governments may attempt to achieve justice, but they all fail. Schools attempt to teach truth, but no matter how precise they are, they fail to achieve the full truth that Jesus gives us.

2. Peace
“Have salt in yourselves and be at peace.”
Anabaptists are a peaceful people. We wish to make changes in the world, but not through violence or hate speech. Rather, we believe that we need to display the actions we want in others. If we want peace in the world, we cannot create peace through violence. Yes, dramatic change must happen for the world to have peace, but God can create the dramatic change—it is our responsibility to be the ideal community the world must become.

3. Community
“Love one another”
Following Jesus cannot be done separated from others. Jesus, again and again, commands us to “love” and love cannot be done in isolation. We must support each other in communities and our communities must reach out to others outside of our community to display our love. We must also support and provide hospitality so that no one within our community has need.

4. Believer’s Baptism
“Those who believe and are baptized are saved.”
Today, it may not seem as important as an issue, but the Anabaptist communities originally began as groups who baptized only those who could understand and be faithful to Jesus. Thus, Anabaptists don’t baptize infants or assume that everyone within a particular social group is a follower of Jesus. That is a personal commitment that each person must determine individually, and lives out in their own lives.

5. Love of Enemies
“Do good to those who despitefully use you.”
Because we will not cause others to be afraid of us, that makes us vulnerable to others. Jesus showed us that even if people do disrespectful, hateful or even violent acts, that does not mean that we should return such acts in kind. Rather, we are to display God’s love even—nay, especially—to those who do terrible things to us. In order to have security, we do not depend on our strength, but on God’s.

6. Communion with the outcast
“The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.”
Anabaptists know what it means to be outcast, because they have been rejected. But we are also to reach out to those who have been rejected by society. Rather than create another outcast group, the Anabaptists connect with those who are hated, and welcome them as Jesus would.

7. Assistance to the poor
“Sell your possessions and give to the poor.”
Jesus helped the poor with what resources he had, so also do Anabaptists. We see the needs of the poor, and rather than simply ignoring their basic needs, we meet them with love in relationship. We understand that it isn’t enough just to give to the poor, but to connect with them as well, because without relationship we cannot love.

What is the difference between Anabaptist and Mennonite?
Both Anabaptists and Mennonites have the same historical foundation, and much of their understanding of Jesus and life is similar. Historically, the Mennonites have a more complex life than Anabaptists, relating to particular ethnic groups, particular nationalities, forming denominations and mission groups and going through serious cultural changes over the last fifty years. Mennonites have often tried to follow Anabaptist ideals, but as a conglomerate of human institutions, they have often gotten caught up in the concerns of the cultures around them.

Anabaptists, however, are found not just in certain denominations or ethnic groups, nor are they limited to a certain historic line. Anabaptists are people who choose Jesus over any human institution, and choose to follow Jesus’ ethical pattern as a personal choice. They may gather in any denomination or create their own, separate communities. They aren’t bound to a particular theology or ideology, but are separate from them all. There are many Anabaptists within Mennonite groups, but they usually are a minority of them. There are also many Anabaptists outside of Mennonite groups, but count all people who follow Jesus, no matter what group they are a part of, as a part of their global family.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Peace Prayer

Gracious Lord, we dream of a world free of poverty and oppression, and we yearn for a world free of vengeance and violence. And we pray for your peace.

When our hearts ache for the victims of war and oppression, help us to remember that you healed people simply by touching them… , and give us faith in our ability to comfort and heal bodies and minds and spirits that have been broken by violence.

When the injustice of this world seems too much for us to handle, help us to remember that you fed five thousand people with only five loaves of bread and two fish… , and give us hope that what we have to offer will turn out to be enough, too.

When fear of the power and opinions of others tempts us not to speak up for the least among us, help us to remember that you dared to turn over the tables of money changers… , and give us the courage to risk following you without counting the cost.

When we feel ourselves fill with anger at those who are violent and oppressive, help us remember that you prayed for those who killed you… , and give us compassion for our enemies, too.

When we tell ourselves that we have given all we can to bring peace to this world, help us to remember your sacrifice… , and give us the miracle of losing a little more of ourselves in serving you and our neighbors.

Walk with us, Lord, as we answer your call to be peacemakers. Increase our compassion, our generosity and our hospitality for the least of your children. Give us the courage, the patience, the serenity, the self-honesty and the gentleness of spirit that are needed in a world filled with turmoil and terror.


Written by Jack Knox, pastor of Salem (OR) Mennonite Church.

Monday, May 17, 2010

"Love Your Enemy"

There is a great new blog giving the clearest teaching about what the Bible says concerning the command "love your enemies". Find it here:

It is by William Higgins, who I think is the best teacher of historically biblical Anabaptist doctrine alive today.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Joy of Discovering Homelessness!

Anawim Christian Community invites you to their first fundraiser, “Sweets for the Homeless”. This is a desert social, in which people are free to come, eat a variety of delicious homemade desserts, and to find out more about the homeless and the mentally ill. There will be opportunities to speak to people who have experienced homelessness and to find out what the homeless really need, as well as being able to help Anawim, a community church for the homeless in Portland and Gresham. Come for as long as you like and join the fun!

Host: Portland Mennonite Church, 1312 SE 35th Ave, Portland—just a block north of Hawthorne Blvd.
When: Saturday, April 24, 2010 from 6:30-8:30pm
Cost: Free, but please be prepared to bring donations!

Also, if you are unable to attend, please invite others in the Portland area to join in!

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Controversy at Goshen College

There is much being made in Mennonite circles about Goshen College allowing the national anthem to be played at sports events. It is thought that Mennonites are separate from nationalism, representatives of the Kingdom of God, and to play the national anthem is a display of worshiping the false idol of patriotism.

From my perspective, Goshen College has been a compromised institution from the beginning. Not because they have as many conservative evangelical students as Mennonites-- that's great. No, the Mennonite colleges are simply one sign of many that Mennonites are not "representatives of God's Kingdom", but simple Americans, acting in a usual American way.

In general, Mennonites are very partisan in their politics, being pretty easily divided along party lines. Jesus isn't partisan, but shows a new way of looking at all of politics.

The colleges aren't focused on the poor, as Jesus would be. How many scholarships are there for people who couldn't afford to go there otherwise? How many homeless or poor single mothers do they house in their many rooms? Who do they assist other than the cultural core of the upper middle class they focus on?

The colleges are a part of a semi-capitalistic system, where value is measured by money and position which is given to the education and popular, rather than in the kingdom of God where value is measured by the praise of humility and service.

The education that is given, for the most part, is the standard education given to Americans with a few classes concerning Mennonite distinctives. However, should the kingdom of God be in charge of education, almost everything would be distinctive-- there would be classes on alternative economics, classes on being poor as well as helping the poor, classes on the practice of devotion, classes on the surrender of power for another's good.

So, I guess what I'm saying is that I'm not going to get all up in arms about a song being played. I suppose it's a proper symbol of what has been happening all along.