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Why is it that discernment ministries are afraid to address the topic of nonresistance even though I believe that some of them are nonresistant, at least in principle?

During the Reformation there were three things that caused great distress to the Reformers Zwingli, Luther, and Calvin, and they were:

1) The separation of Church and state,

2) Believer’s baptism, and

3) Non-resistance.

Theocracy was the norm in those days as was infant baptism, even among the Protestants, but today, except if you are a Catholic, we believe that there should be a separation of Church from the state. We also generally accept Believer’s (adult) baptism, unless you are Catholic or Lutheran. But, number three causes many problems for Protestants, then, as well as today.

The odd thing about nonresistance is that in the early stages of the Reformation both Zwingli and Luther agreed with the Anabaptist that nonresistance should be practiced. Martin Luther, who is called the father of Protestantism, defended a peculiar view on this question, a view which is even today held by many Protestant theologians. He taught that a Christian is to be strictly nonresistant and that no one can as a Christian have a part in violence and bloodshed, be it in self-defense or in war. No one can do so as a Christian. But a Christian, he says, is also a “world person,” or a citizen, and as such he is under a duty to use violence in the service of the government, as a magistrate, officer, or soldier. When in such capacity he acts contrary to the precept and example of Christ, it is not a sin to him but is his duty. He does this as a citizen, not as a Christian. Luther divided the Christian into two kingdoms, the duty of the one is opposite to that of the other. The fact is that he, in theory, defended the principle of strict nonresistance of the Christian. Zwingli, who was the founder of the Reformed Church, wrote in 1522: “Considered from the Christian point of view it is by no means right to have a part in war. According to Christ’s teaching, we should pray for those who despitefully use us and persecute us, and if an aggressor smites us on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Again, in one of his largest books, published in 1523, Zwingli says: “Christ commands that we should not go to law nor engage in carnal strife, but if one takes away our coat, let him have our cloke also, and He has taught this by His own example as well. He also forbids all oaths.” Nine years after making this statement Zwingli would die with a sword in his hand. What prompted the radical change in their attitudes? After studying their history I detected in both of these men a proud and determined spirit.

With the spirit of humility and meekness comes great faith and trust in God as our strength and provider. With a faith which lacks humility and meekness comes fear, pride, and compromise. Both Zwingli and Luther produced great movements that necessitated the use of authority much like the Catholic Church they had come out of. Both of these men allowed their excessive abilities to think, reason, and self-promote take precedence over their trust in God, leading them to link arms with the state to advance their movement. God’s ways are not man’s ways and we see clearly the difference in the other Reformation initiated by the Radical Reformers Conrad Grebel, Felix Mannz, and George Blurock. These men refused to compromise and held tightly to their Lord and as a consequence was persecuted, as Jesus and the Apostles said they would be.

Today, this fear of rejection and failure, the fear of smallness, the fear of not being taken seriously, still chokes and blocks the way for nearly all Christians. To be counted as one of those weirdos who will not defend themselves, their country, or family is the last straw and they simply will not bow to this doctrine of our Lord who Himself practiced nonresistance; this doctrine has become the last stumbling stone of which many will be crushed. The Catholic Church stumbled, Zwingli stumbled, Luther stumbled, Calvin Stumbled, and those who have followed these men and their false doctrine have, and will, stumble. But, from the beginning there has existed a small, weak, persecuted flock, called the ecclesia, the called out ones, who have refused to follow the lead of men and have discovered that true peace which comes through mercy, forgiveness, and even forgiving those who would kill and torment our friends and family, and nation.

It is a sad tale that the one who started a movement, the Reformed Movement, and now has many millions of followers, who at his start firmly embraced the nonresistant doctrine, would finish his race killing and being killed. Luther and Calvin were also unashamed murderers of their supposed enemies, their brothers. Yet, these are the men who have by their deeds built mighty fortresses to their leader, the spirit of this world.

It is obvious that discernment ministries stay away from the topic of nonresistance because it cannot be found and is totally missing from any of their communications. I have to assume that they do so because of the fear of alienating their readership and audience and the risk of losing customers because of a doctrine that is controversial. If it were just controversy for controversy’s sake then I would agree with them but this issue is fundamental in our understanding the heart of our Savior, the Lamb of God. How can we follow and imitate the Lamb in His death while at the same time preparing to kill? It is impossible. We cannot bring forth both bitter and sweet water. We cannot both love our enemy and kill him. We cannot both forgive and sit in a jury box to judge, and we cannot hold a gun in one hand and an olive branch in the other. Discernment ministries stay away from this topic because it is costly, and to put your foot down in this ring will bring you only scorn, disrespect, persecution, and possibly death. But, this too is Christianity. This doctrine is not hidden in esoteric and obscure language, it is right there in the BOOK. Shame on those who are afraid to step into the ring. Christ was not afraid and neither was His Apostles, and thousands upon thousands of martyrs followed, and the trail of blood has never ceased from that time to this. The Anabaptists were a shining light that has dimmed but I can assure you that that light will burn ever so brightly one more time. Many are seeing it even now, and the voices of those saints whose souls rest beneath the altar of God can almost be heard; “How much longer Lord, how long.”

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased

to give you the kingdom.”

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What does it mean to be in the world but not of it? I know it means different things to different Christian people, and that it has become the “Get Out of Jail Free Card” for all those who love the world and use this verse of Scripture to justify all of their dirty little deeds.

It has become difficult for Christians to think Biblically concerning issues like this. Their minds are stuck in the world and therefore they see things through the lens of their former life and give meaning to spiritual things that should not be. Their vision is distorted because their pastors and teachers have skewed vision also, and so goes the tale of our generational blindness.

Let’s consider a couple of things. First of all, our humanity has a fatal flaw because of our inherited sin nature; we are all sinners, and we all live in the world. Therefore, we must give up any idea that we can completely get rid of sin in our fleshly nature by any amount of virtue. We must also give up the idea that we can improve the world or make mankind better. Secondly, we have been given a mission. As concerned Christians, we must never say, “We can’t do anything about it,” we must try and stop the suicidal bent of society. When we talk or act like we are helpless we are playing into the hands of the enemy, Satan. It would appear that the Christian, the Biblically thinking Christian, is caught between two opposing thoughts. We cannot make the world less sinful, yet, we cannot just leave it where it is, we cannot and will not accept the world as it is. If we say, “I can’t accept this line of reasoning,” then we reject the very position in which God has placed us. The tension between these two positions is not without a purpose. The involvement in this tension was the exact situation of Jesus and His incarnation. From the beginning of creation, there has been this tension between sin and grace, between two kingdoms, and between two natures. We are in the world, just as Christ was in the world, with all of the stress and tension of a spiritual tug-of-war. Our life is a life of contradicting demands, very painful, very uncomfortable, yet it is the only situation which will bear the fruit required by our Father. The field is the world and the work of the Christian is in this field, with all the poison, all the viciousness, all the falseness and lying, and all the TENSION between the two worlds. We are in the world yet we are not of this world and must keep the things of this world at arm’s length.

What are we to do? Many have chosen to retreat into the world and hide, to ease the conflict and to wait for further orders. The answer is obvious if we keep our eyes on our Commander in Chief. First, we must accept that the tension and conflict are normal for the Christ follower and in the midst of tension is where we live and where our work is done. Secondly, we must accept – in humility and repentance – that our life in this world is scandalous and shameful, how can it be otherwise? We are both sinners and saints. If we know our true position in the world and its situation then we can also see correctly the big problem the world faces. Every day we need to see with a renewed vision where we stand in relation to those in the world and live honestly with that knowledge that we are weak having been placed in the world without having recourse to its ways and means. On the other hand, we Christians need to realize that to achieve our mission our weapons are mighty for the simple reason that we are weak and harmless and that God Himself is our Savior.

It is characteristic of the world and Satan to tempt Christians to use the resources that are available to them and to discard their show of meekness and humility. Of himself, the natural man is unable to see the spiritual reality of his own struggle or the real strength of the true Christian. The man of the world only sees those things which float to the surface of life: social, political, and economic problems and his ways and means of worldly morals, machinery, and the technology of his present set of circumstances.

What part should the Christian play in the problems of the world? Firstly, it is not the Christian’s job to try and define each and every problem and communicate that to the unbeliever. Christians should not mess around with futile attempts at moral dialogue, politics, or technology which have never solved any long term problems yet. The Christian’s job is to discover the real spiritual difficulties which all of these things contain. As far as the solution is concerned it is not on the level of the rational mind at all. The solution can only occur in terms of life through the acceptance of forgiveness through Jesus Christ offered in humility and peace.

So, what have I said? Christians are not of this world although they are in this world. We are Kingdom citizens, clothed in flesh, thrust into the world, confronted with conflict and tension, weak, humiliated, forgiven, holding out an olive branch of peace to wolves, in a world of evil, governed by EVIL. It is receiving and in living out the Gospel of Peace in this environment that all political, economic, and any other questions are solved. It is the acceptance of this tension which we hold within our bodies that alone allows us to discover and realize what the true social situation really is, it is a warfare.

To embrace this tension as normal will, if we allow it, help us to respond to the conflict with the heart of Christ. The tension we experience is not an illusion, it is a real warfare, and we must acknowledge and use the weapons at our disposal, peace, forgiveness, humility, love, and sacrifice.

We must be in the world . . . but we must not represent this world.

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An idol in the Bible is always a representation of something real that people replace for God. They may offer it love, worship, prayers, and offerings; they may even pray to God in its behalf for answers to prayer for its protection. In other words, idolatry is the tendency in humanity to assign a religious, spiritual, or sacred value and power to something that is of the nature of this world.

It is not wrong to make a statue of a person or an animal any more than it is wrong to have a love for things, or for animals, or for nature. What is evil, the Bible tells us, is the confusion two different realities. Isaiah tells us that an idol is only a piece of wood. But, for the one who worships it, an idol is not valued as only wood, it is rather symbolical of a spiritual reality, of a god or power, a power that can be transferred to the worshiper.

People of today are generally of the opinion that these idolatrous pagan cults are gone from our lives. No longer do we worship animal images or wood, and in the Catholic Church, they are careful to draw a distinction (a false distinction) between what is offered to a saint or to the Virgin and the worship given to God.

Yet, without being aware of it, our highly developed world is filled to the brim with idols. They are not the same as those in, say, African religions. We have our own. A text from the Bible may be a pointer to what they are. Paul writes that covetousness is idolatry. In other words, love of money, the desire to have more and more of it, trust in money and what it can do–this is idolatry.

Ultimate Security

We need to ask some precise questions:

· In whom, or in what, do we place our trust, on what does our faith rest?

· Where do we look for peace and safety?

· Whom do we expect to guarantee our future?

· What do we think can guard our liberty?

· Whom do we believe on the subject of truth?

· How do we explain where we came from?

If we are honest we will see very quickly that, even if we are Christians, even if we pray, in reality, we are looking to other certainties and other truths, and this is where our idolatry lies.

We believe that money along with insurance is our best warranty against the future. It is this that gives us hope and the promise of a golden finale to our years.

We believe that the state is the agent of our security, and from it, we expect justice, unity, and even truthfulness.

We make an idol of science. It is here that we believe the road to truth and the future lie. We like to think that science will solve all of our problems and open up the path to the promise land. It will explain our origins and our destiny, and everything in between. This is the assertiveness of the everyday man and it replaces the love of God and of Christ.

Money, the state, and science are not evil in and of themselves any more than were the bulls of ancient idolatry. Idolatry happens in our hearts and defines how we approach those things and it forms our attitudes, and places them in direct opposition to God, and renders them profoundly evil.

Don’t think that these three stand alone, they are only chief among many other idols. People idolize race, nationalism, entertainment/entertainers, social class, abilities, and even books, even the Bible itself.

Finally, we must include some popular modern beliefs: we put faith in the guru, the psychic, the modern Christian myth-maker, all mushrooming in an amazing way. All of these are condemned as idolatry and false religion. There is no room in the human heart for both the God of Jesus Christ and for the love and adoration of any of these other influences and powers.

We are a flawed humanity and unless we continually, daily, die to the desire for any of these things we have no rights to the Kingdom promised to us by God, because God will have no rival or rebellion either now or forever. AMEN

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Some Background

I was not brought up in a Christian home. My parents did not go to Church, read the Bible, or consciously teach us children Biblical truths. They accepted Christian teachings and the Ten Commandments as generally true because those things were dominant in our culture at that time; the general consensus of America was Christian so we were Christian by default. Christianity, as I knew it, was divided primarily into Catholic and Protestant and in grade school, we were sent once a week to the local United Methodist Church for Bible training, so we were categorized as Protestant and my military dog tags said Methodist.

At the age of 26, after five years of marriage, my wife and I gave our lives to Christ. Generally speaking I was Protestant but at this point, I was not protesting anything, on the contrary, my protest and rebellion had ended, and I started consuming the mysterious book which had escaped my interest for so many years. What I read there confused me from the very beginning. The pastor of the first Church we attended, a Full Gospel Church, after several meetings in his office and many questions, frankly said that I was reading too much and that I should just relax in the Spirit and follow the lead of the others, i.e. jumping, yelling, speaking in tongues, prophesying, laying hands on the sick, etc. I am not a highly emotional person so the Full Gospel venue lost its appeal. Over the next several years, and a number of denominations, the study of this book continued to trouble me, but eventually, due to mostly canned responces, the questions lessened and we began to settle into the routine of just attending Church; this stalemate lasted many years but the unease persisted.

Being from a non-religious environment my experience was unbiased and I was free to question and discover Christian truth virtually unhindered by religious indoctrination. With my initial study of the Bible I quickly picked up the deep and disturbing dissimilarities between Protestantism and Catholicism and equally disturbing was the tension between different Protestant denominations, and it was troubling that they all professed to be the Church described in the New Testament. What I also found out was that all of these groups had established beachheads to protect their own real-estate and their own belief systems. Once again trouble lifted its head. I was beginning to vocally disagree with much of what I was witnessing and had imbibed from the Protestants I associated with that contradicted what I read.

Things You Learn From Studying History

The early reformers were all Catholics who had fled the Catholic Church because they had uncovered truth that was being purposely covered up. These Catholic expatriates were the early Protestants. Now, if I find myself in disagreement with both these groups because of other clear Biblical truths that were being held back and a different organizational system being advanced instead of New Testament truth could I rightly identify myself with that Protestant movement? For that reason I no longer called myself a Protestant; I concluded that a Protestant or Catholic is only someone who has signed onto a particular religious system created and propagated by men in the 16th century and earlier that has survived into our time.

Before there ever was a Protestant or a Catholic there existed simply Christians. Before the Catholic Church drove the actual Body of Christ underground, for more than a thousand years of darkness, there existed openly small clusters of those who understood the mind and heart of Jesus, who chose to risk life, limb, and property, rather than to blindly follow the wishes of mere men, and this is the group we read about in Scriptures as “the elect of God,” or Christ’s little flock.” These small cells went underground and were called by different names throughout history, but their common link was the fact that they desired to follow the dictates of the Bible over the mandates of men; and this commonality was also the mark and provocation that brought to their doorstep the horrendous persecutions they had to endure at the hands of the Catholics, Protestants, and the magistracy.

The Radical Reformation, so named to differentiate it from the Protestant Reformation and to focus on the extent of its goal to re-discover primitive Christianity, was the response to the gross corruption of both the Roman Catholic Church and the expanding Magisterial Protestant movement being pushed by Ulrich Zwingli, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and others. Beginning in Germany and Switzerland in the early 16th century the Radical Reformation gave birth to several drastic groups throughout Europe that had a negative impact on the movement as a whole. The group I refer to are the original peaceful Anabaptist groups that sprung from the brave founders Conrad Grebel, Felix Manz, and George Blaurock and not those who sought something other than the purity of following Christ.

In parts of Germany, Switzerland, and Austria there was much sympathy for the Radical Reformers despite intense persecution. While they were given some protection by the state they refused to align themselves with the state and to be brought under the state’s umbrella of protection and consequently, in many cases, the state turned on the Anabaptist because of their idea of separation.

While the magisterial reformers of the Protestant Reformation, Zwingli, and Luther, wanted to substitute their own learned elite for the learned elite of the Catholic Church, the radical reformers rejected the authority and elitism of the institutional church organization almost entirely as being unbiblical. It was unavoidable that as the search for original Christianity was carried forward the radicals would have to acknowledge that the tension between the church and the Roman Empire in the first centuries of Christianity was normal, that the church is not to pledge allegiance to any government, that a true church is always subject to be persecuted, and that the supposed conversion of politicians is, therefore, signs of apostasy that mark a departure from pure Christianity.

Reality Check

Clear prophesies from the Bible indicate that we are in the last of the last days. World events continue to point to the soon return of Christ, and there is much work to do.

Although there is the indication that some are beginning to see that there is trouble in the organized Church there is as yet no great migration or evacuation from the leading Christian institutions.

Many within the Protestant Church see the Catholic Church as the Harlot who rides the Beast in chapters 17 and 18 of the book of Revelations, I am more inclined to see that Harlot as the mixture, ecumenism, or unification, of both the Catholic and Protestant Churches, and possibly all religions. After all, the Harlot is called the “mother of harlots” and the Protestant Church was birthed from the Catholic Church, was she not? If that is the case then we need to heed the instructions of Christ to “Come out of her, my people,’ so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues.” Revelation 18:4. The Anabaptist radicals who were the true reformers were rejected, property and goods taken away, and hunted down and killed just as the New Testament said it would be. The Church is in a miserable condition and we need, again, a movement of radicals who will stand on Biblical truth, live pure and holy lives, be unafraid to confront the darkness that plagues those trapped in the institutional quagmire of Americanized Christianity, and to suffer persecution.

There are many who have declared that they know the truth and that except this truth be interpreted or explained by them it cannot be understood. It is not true! The truth was delivered to us in the form of a person. Jesus, says of Himself, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” John 14:6. That truth is available to every living person and understood through the revelation of the Spirit to the heart of man. John 7:17; Hebrews 1:1; 2 Timothy 3:16; John 8:32, et al. When a person or group makes the declaration that the Bible cannot be understood apart from their secret fallaciousness or esoteric obscurities you can be assured you are being conned. The Holy Spirit is the key to making all the pieces of the spiritual puzzle fit.

Human weakness is such that to have access to someone or something with the claim of inside information, through mysticism, esoteric knowledge, new age spirit guide, or the like, gives a sense of personal power and inclusion into the secrets of life. It is this weakness that is exploited by all kinds of men seeking power. To harvest this crop of the need for inclusiveness and personal power is the goal of every marketer, salesman, conman, Hollywood director, and religious organization built by men. The minds and hearts of men are the true trophies of those seeking power, fame, and money. Every salesman (and most priest and pastors) know that the true value of their product means little or nothing; it is the perceived value they focus on. It is the emotional commitment to their product that is important and not the true value.

Lost in the Deep Dark Woods

True truth in a world saturated with lies, subterfuge, stratagem, innuendos, insinuations, ploys, schemes, and fifty shades of gray is harder to find than a needle in a hay stack. Is it any wonder that all men are declared to be blind and deaf and in need of a savior? Most of us have felt it at one time or another, lost in the deep dark woods of life where evil lurks around every corner, vulnerable, alone, weak, and facedown against misfortune. All the positive thinking and mysticism in the world cannot save us; we are hopeless. With these varieties of typical life experiences, people become, for the religious huckster, marketer, or the salesman, targets of opportunity. People want to be helped, they are predisposed to deception, they only want to add to their life the perception of safety or salvation. It is the feeling that many get by owning a gun or having their house wired with cameras and alarms. The military gives the nation this sense of security. Neighborhoods get angry because they feel they have no safety from the police while the other side is angry because that perception is discredited and weakened.

When Truth stepped onto the stage there were no bells, no whistles, no flowing gowns and revered titles, no steeples or stained-glass windows, no bands or beautiful voices, no glossy covers or bill-boards, no far-out promises of big buildings and assurances of wealth. Truth says simply, Follow Me. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Many things like this Jesus has spoken, but we listen to salesmen instead with their worldly wares offering the safety of organizations, systems, governments, denominations, parties, machines, weapons, alarms, gases, etc. All the devises offered by the world, including the religious world, are but the wares and merchandise of men buying and selling the souls of men.

This is why truth is so hard to find.

This is why the old lies of the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Church need to be exposed.

This is why the wizard behind the curtain of deception who uses all of his ancient tricks of vanity, pride, and filthiness needs to be brought into the daylight.

And, this is why Christ, the Apostles, the Martyrs of antiquity, the Donatist, the Waldenses, the Anabaptist, and sheep from every period of Church history were persecuted, because they were the,

“City on a hill that cannot be hidden.”

Dead to this World but Alive in the Next

Finding Christ in Christianity was like finding a great treasure hidden in plain sight or like stumbling over a box of precious jewels. I think we will all have a similar experience where “truth” flashes upon us and we get a momentary glance behind the veil. For me, it was a light that revealed a narrow path in a world of highways and personal struggles encouraging me to step across a threshold, guarded on the one side by sirens and devils and on the other by angels with flaming swords spinning. In the midst of the clamoring devils, all of them threatening and warning of foulness and a tyrannical Prince, and the temptress with her seductive lures, the bright preciousness of the Treasure compelled me to cross over. With Satan’s last warning still ringing in my ears the bond was severed and I embraced death.

Just as religion was the great deceiver of the Jews when Jesus arrived so it is today that religion is again deceiving those who seek only to experience religion. Christianity is still a little flock. It is the Christian professionals who dictate what it is that Christ demands, the same as it has always been, but, it is the few who find Christ, or rather are found by Him doing the work of the Kingdom, serving in the trenches, binding up the wounded soul, feeding the hungry, forgiving, showing mercy, and choosing to die rather than doing harm.

Finding Christ in Christianity is the new birth, it is seeing persecution where others see peace and safety, it is a sorrowing heart when others sing loudly, and it is embracing death when the others beg for their lives. The question is, “Do you really want to find Christ?” then you need to look outside what Christianity has become. Christ is still the great Treasure hidden in plain sight.

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The demonic spirit of war is in direct opposition to that of Christianity. War and violence destroy what Christ creates, and creates what Christ destroys. Misery and woe to the peaceful and gentle religion of Jesus when the demon of war, hatred, and violence rides through the land on his inflamed stallion. It is unknown to history that Christianity has ever prospered through the violence of any kind. The noise and turmoil of discontentment and upheaval have drowned out the voice of conscience and of God. Eternity has been eclipsed and forgotten; all are thirsty for the blood of his brother man.

reformation

 

This paper is a little long but I think that you will be edified and learn information that commercial Christianity does not teach or want you to know.

We are taught that the Reformation was the restoration of the Church which had been polluted by the Catholics and revitalized by Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin; this is the picture that has been passed down for 500 years, a picture that very few have ever questioned and fewer still have investigated. Many have said we need another Reformation but what we really need is another Radical Reformation; let me explain.

While studying Church history awhile back, especially the Reformation period, I was dumbfounded to discover that the founders of the movement essentially declared the Reformation to be a failure. The success that has been attributed to the movement was in truth the product of men who had aligned themselves with the world of politics and bloodshed. Protestant Christianity was a success, as commonly taught, but not according to its founders. Equally amazing is that, concurrent with the Reformation, which every eye was watching, there existed another movement, the Radical Reformation. The Reformation, which was a decided failure, as acknowledged by its founders, was nevertheless, recognized worldwide and praised as a great success, while the Radical Reformation, a small thing, which was less known but greatly persecuted beyond measure, was deemed a failure from its inception.

Definition of Radical

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What do you think of when you hear the word “radical”? The word has many negative connotations. Words like trouble, extreme, revolutionary, Marxist, nihilist, rebel, terrorist, and subversive come readily to mind for most people. But, for others, the word radical is positive and means: root, beginning, source, fundamental, essential, and to go to the origin, or the essential basis of a thing. It is in this positive sense that we understand the Radical Reformers. What the Reformers preached the Radicals actually accomplished by returning, as Christ commanded, to fundamental obedience and starting all over again.

Biblically speaking the Church is a “little flock” (Luke 12:32). That “little flock” image of the Church is said to be “few” by Christ in Matthew 7:14 “Because strait, (i.e. difficult) is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. The true Christian has always gone the way of the few and the radical and separated themselves from the world. Today’s commercial church is all about bigness, flamboyance, prestige, gaudiness, inclusiveness, and money, which parallels Christ’s other words, of the same passage above, “For wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat.” So, which vision of the Church should we be seeking to understand and model, the way of the many or the way of the few and radical? Christ said that He would birth a Church and, “The gates of Hell will not prevail against it.” We see the Church Christ spoke of in the second passage, big and on every corner up and down Main Street, but that is not the little flock referred to by Christ; then where is that Church?

The Reformers

zwingliZwingli, the head pastor of the city of Zurich Switzerland, started preaching against the abuses of the Catholic Church in 1518. The City Council of Zurich was favorable toward Zwingli’s preaching, but at a federal level, he had opposition. For political expediency, the motivation of the Council took an attitude of compromise forbidding, for the time being, all actual deviation from Roman doctrine and practice. Consequently, Zwingli was permitted to preach his reformed message but was denied the ability to actually abandon Roman practices.

 

Luther, in response to the preaching of Johann Tetzel who had RNS-LUTHER-CHURCHbeen commissioned to sell papal indulgences in certain parts of Germany, nailed his famous 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg condemning the abuses of Romanism. After being excommunicated by the pope in 1520 Elector Frederick of Saxony swept Luther away secretly and hid him in the Wartburg Castle near Eisenach. The Elector favored the Reformation movement but at the same time had some scruples about totally tossing out the Roman belief system. His advice to Luther was to slow down and to postpone for a short time any plans he had for reformation. Luther, under the care and safety of the state, spent the next year at the Wartburg Castle and as a consequence made the important decision that the Mass (the most vital Roman Catholic practice) should be continued until it could be rejected with the blessings of the civil authorities. In 1525, after the death of Elector Frederick, the Mass, as practiced by the Catholics, was abolished in Wittenberg. With the blessing of Government, the Lutheran Church was made the state church in Saxony, and eventually in all provinces of Germany and the Scandinavian countries while Zwinglian or the Reformed Church was made the state church of certain cantons of Switzerland.

While Luther and Zwingli were not in total agreement on the Lord’s Supper and baptism: Luther holding onto the belief of the actual “Real Presence” of the Lord in the wafer and wine, and in infant regeneration through baptism; Zwingli believed the wine and wafer to be symbolic only, and through debates with the Anabaptist Swiss Brethren also came to accept “believer baptism.” The number of Protestant “state” Churches grew rapidly, as can be expected since the state required the membership of everyone. The form of these Churches consisted of the whole population because the rulers of these states tolerated no opposition from the masses; the state had the last word in all church policies and practice and controlled much of the wealth. The princes of these provinces and states wanted to be recognized as supreme bishops, Luther would only refer to them as emergency bishops, but it was apparent that the state did control the church. The important thing here is that the people had no say so, they readily consented to the new Protestant faith. So, now in the place of one pope, they had many popes, but they didn’t care.

Sabastian Franck in 1534 wrote, “Everyone fashions his faith to please the crowd and the authorities; one must not open his mouth but to worship the god of the country.” “No one is willing to bear persecution for his faith.”

It was a known fact that the people did not take their faith with sufficient seriousness to be willing to endure persecution for it. In some locations, the state religion shifted between Romanism and Protestantism up to seven times within a few decades. Martyrs amongst the new Protestant Churches were nearly unheard of. Many of these same Protestants ridiculed the Anabaptist for their willingness to suffer persecution for their faith.

Menno Simons, an influential Anabaptist religious leader wrote, “The foundation of the faith and religion of the preachers of the state churches are the mandates of the emperors, kings, princes, and magistrates. Whatever the governments order, the ministers teach; what they forbid they leave undone. . . . It is demanded that one must disregard the teachings of Christ and His holy Apostles, and give ear to the princes and official theologians and believe their word–all on pain of being executed on the wheel, or burned at the stake, or killed and murdered in some other tyrannical way, just as if the preachers were to be guided by the orders of princes instead of following Jesus Christ.”

From the writings of both Luther and Zwingli it is clear that they both initially believed in free and voluntary church membership, the need of church discipline, and the independence of the church from state control. Nevertheless, through compromise they gave their consent to the intermingling of church and state, resulting in failure as described in their own words. Luther in his writings recognized that the promiscuous behavior of the populous church was not a church in the New Testament sense. The words “rabble” and “the multitude” were used often to describe the people instead of “the church.” The general condition of the people was described as “deplorable” and he had abandoned any hope for their Christianization. In the year 1522, he expressed the hope that, “We who at present are well-nigh heathen under a Christian name may yet organize a Christian assembly.” He had a wish of taking from the multitudes a dedicated selection to form a real church, but regrettably, he couldn’t find enough true believers and voluntary cooperation to accomplish the task.

In December 1525, Luther had a conversation with fellow reformer Casper Schwenckfeld concerning the establishing of a Christian congregation with true consecrated believers. Schwenckfeld called to his attention that the establishment of the state churches had failed to produce any spiritual or moral improvement in the people. When questioned about church discipline Luther did not even answer him. We can assume that Luther acknowledged that discipline among those who really cared little about spiritual things would be useless, and therefore remained silent. In conclusion to Schwenckfeld, Luther admitted that he did not have enough people to make any kind of real church plan work. Schwenckfeld’s main reason for pressing church discipline was because he understood that discipline is an essential step toward the separation of the church from the world.

In the Spring of 1527, Luther expressed again the hope of establishing the church that he had imagined but had yet found enough people to fulfill his dream. Obviously, in his opinion, there were comparatively few who would be ready to unite and to live out the kind of church he envisioned. In Luther’s mind and heart, the Reformation was a failure. He stated frequently that the people had become more and more indifferent toward religion, and that their moral condition was more deplorable than ever. Melanchthon, Luther’s assistant, wrote, “The common people adhere to Luther only because they think that no further duty will be laid upon them. . . . Many believe themselves very pious and holy when they upbraid priest and monks, or eat meat on Friday.” The Lutheran church historian Professor Karl Mueller says, “The aggressive, conquering power, which Lutheranism manifested in its first period, was lost everywhere at the moment when the governments took matters in hand and established the Lutheran creed.” I would have worded this differently. The government did not take what was given to them freely, and the Radicals understood this perfectly and paid the price in the coin of the Kingdom.

The light of reformation burnt brightly for a short while but soon flickered and went out. In order to avoid the cross of persecution, these leaders soon joined hands with secular governments and relied on the force of human power more than they did on God. Therefore their work resulted in failure. A change of life could not be detected in those who filled the churches, so the little light that was in them became darkness.

This model of failure has endured to our time and lives on in darkness. All the symbols of that religion still exist, all the aggrandizing of government and state patriotism still exist, all of the forms still exist, all the rebellion still exist, and still, the church birthed by the Reformation is in a deplorable condition.

Another Version of the Same Story

imageBut, the story does not end here. We have yet to survey the other Reformation, the Radical Reformation. While Zwingli and Luther were cozying up to the state two of Zwingli’s students, Conrad Grebel and Felix Manz had become discouraged with Zwingli’s see-saw wavering between truth and error concerning state influence in church matters. Such a union implied a far reaching modification of his earlier doctrinal position and his disapproval of certain Romish Biblical practices. Ultimately, at the second disputation with the Council, in which the abolition of the Mass and images was discussed, a difference became distinctly noticeable between Grebel and Zwingli in their attitudes toward reformation. Another of the radicals, Simon Stumpf, in his address to Zwingli, after Zwingli had left to the state a decision concerning the Mass, said, “Master Ulrich (Zwingli), you have not the right to leave the decision of this question to the Council. The matter is already decided; the Spirit of God decides it.” Because of this stand for truth against the state Simon was ordered to leave Zurich. The difference between the Reformers and the Radical Reformers is this, the Radicals would not compromise the truth for the sake of convenience.

From this point on Zwingli began to deviate in various respects from his former reformation position. Scarcely six months earlier Zwingli was on the same page as the Radicals, but now all was different. What Zwingli was ready to compromise for political expediency the Radicals were not, and so the polarization was unavoidable. Zwingli and Luther were safe and secure in the hands of the state and if there ever was a blessing on their work it was now gone and the corruption of a little leaven infiltrated the whole lump. While in theory, Luther and Zwingli continued to defend the doctrine of the absolute authority of the Scriptures, they, in reality, took the position that in matters of practical reformation the state was the real authority to be heeded.

To read the literature of the Radicals, i.e. the Anabaptist, is to witness for the first time, for the better part of a thousand years of darkness, hearts unveiled and the revelation of truth and light breaking forth. The language of these Radicals reveals a dedication to separation and devotion, as vessels consecrated to God for His use, whether it be in life or in death. Consecration meant no compromise.

The Anabaptist, having made their stand against state involvement at any level, had in effect marked themselves for sacrifice. Christ said to His Apostles, “In this world, you shall have tribulation,” and again, “You shall be hated of all men for My name’s sake,” and, “The time will come when whosoever kills you will believe he has rendered God a service.” Those who act in the name of Jesus will be your greatest persecutors. The question is, are you striving for worldly glory, or for the glory of Christ? Frankly speaking, I believe that as the church came into existence by blood, so can it be renewed only by blood. Let us be reminded that, “If I please men, I will not be a servant of Christ.”

The Old Testament Prelude

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The Old Testament is a declaration that the misfortunes of the Jewish people were the effect of their believing in false gods and not in the true God. First Samuel chapters 8 and 12, told the people that to all their former disobedience they had added a new one. Instead of God who had been their King they had chosen a man-king, whom they thought would save them. Do not believe in “vain things”, says Samuel to the people (12:21). It cannot help you or save you because it is “vain”—useless. That you may not perish together with your king, cling to the one God.

And, it was trust in that “vain thing” that hid the truth from Zwingli, Luther, and Calvin, and many others. On the path to reformation, God, having hidden His light from them, stood those “vain things” which they did not have the strength to resist.

Zwingli, at first, agreed with Grebel and Manz, that he would reject the influence of government but later compromised the truth for the sake of a movement. Luther very quickly accepted the help of the Prince and his fortification. Later, when called upon to take part in the struggle against those who the state considered to be evil men the state Churches agreed to judge and condemn them. When it became imperative for them to decide wherein lies the service of God, and wherein the service of “the vain thing” they, all three, chose the vain thing. They obeyed commands to “judge” and swore to inflict punishment against the Anabaptist. What were they to do? They had chosen the law of man over the law of God. No one can escape the question, all must make a choice; there is not a single solitary person, however humble, who has not to choose between serving God by obeying His commands, or serving the “vain thing”—state institutions. The reformers personal lives had become entangled with the common life of the state which demanded un-Christian things of them, activities directly contrary to the law of Christ.

The Radicals

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Conrad Grebel and Felix Manz, co-founders of the Swiss Brethren, chose to obey Christ and not the commands of men. Grebel, after being cruelly imprisoned for five months managed to escape but died sometime later at the age of 28, a true witness of the cross. Manz became the first casualty of the new law against rebaptism, and the first Swiss Anabaptist to be martyred at the hands of other Protestants, specifically Ulrich Zwingli. On 5 January 1527, after Zwingli and the council had accused him of obstinately refusing “to recede from his error and caprice,” at 3:00 p.m., was led from his prison cell to a boat, praising God and preaching to the people. A Reformed minister went along, seeking to silence him, and hoping to give him an opportunity to recant. Manz’s brother and mother encouraged him to stand firm and suffer for Jesus’ sake. He was taken by boat onto the River Limmat. His hands were bound and pulled behind his knees and a pole was placed between them. He was executed by drowning in Lake Zürich on the Limmat, he was 29 years old.

Zwingli

Zwingli was a renowned and celebrated founder of the Reformation in Switzerland. In 1531 Zwingli’s allies applied an unsuccessful food blockade on the Catholic cantons. The cantons responded with an attack at a moment when Zurich was ill prepared. Zwingli was killed in battle at the age of 47 with a sword in his hand, fulfilling the words of Jesus that those who live by the sword will die by the sword. His legacy lives on in the confessions, liturgy, and church orders of the Reformed churches of today, he was 47 years old.

Luther

Luther was a seminal figure in the Protestant Reformation. On 18 April 1521, Luther appeared as ordered before the Diet of Worms because of the enforcement of the ban against publishing and distributing his Ninety-five Theses. This was a general assembly of the estates of the Holy Roman Empire that took place in Worms, a town on the Rhine. It was conducted from 28 January to 25 May 1521, with Emperor Charles V presiding. Prince Frederick III, Elector of Saxony, obtained a safe conduct for Luther to and from the meeting.

Luther, having made a good start, with his response to questions concerning authorship of some books said, “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.” Unfortunately, his start did not finish well. His Reformation, like Zwingli, was secured and compromised by the state.

Sola fide, by faith alone, being the hallmark of Protestantism did not result in the effect that Luther had imagined and he had decidedly concluded that the Reformation was a failure. In his words to the peasantry to forgo the growing violence, he hammered home the primacy of core Christian values such as love, patience, charity, and freedom, and reminded the citizens to trust God’s word rather than violence to bring about necessary change. His words rang empty both due to his compromise with Catholic dogma and with the state. By working alongside the authorities to restore public order, he signaled his compromise as a force within the Reformation. After banishing his opposition, the Zwickau prophets, the name given to three men influenced by Thomas Müntzer, a Lutheran preacher in Zwickau, he now focused his battle against the established Roman Church and the Anabaptist radical reformers, who would not compromise on the truth of Scripture. It was said later that the Catholics were an easy fight compared to the Anabaptist who were pious and nonresistant but could still not be defeated.

Luther’s mixed message tainted with compromise and liberalism helped fuel the massive Peasant Uprising, in which he sided with the nobles, i.e. the state, to put down the rebels like mad dogs, many of which were members of the Protestant Church. He later regretted the following words, “Therefore let everyone who can, smite, slay, and stab, secretly or openly, remembering that nothing can be more poisonous, hurtful, or devilish than a rebel. . . .” Although Luther justified his actions on several levels, he was not acting the part of a Christian. Thereafter, Luther’s Reformation outwardly flourished under the wing of the secular powers. He worked closely with the elector, John the Steadfast, to whom he turned (rather than Christ) for secular leadership and funds on behalf of the church. Martin Brecht, Luther’s biographer, said, this partnership “was the beginning of a questionable and originally unintended development towards a church government under the temporal sovereign.”

We could mention Luther’s involvement with the bigamy of Philip of Hessenough and his gross antisemitism but the idea is that the Protestant Reformation which has come down to us as the great apex of Christian reform was a failure, except in the eyes of the compromised. What has been so ignored and ridiculed and placed in the garbage heap of Christian heresy, the Radical Reformation, was the real working of the Holy Spirit during this period of history. Our eyes and heart are easily diverted when confusion, fear, ignorance, and power are used to promote truth.

Conclusion

I made the statement at the beginning that what we needed was another Radical Reformation. At the beginning of the book of the Revelation, Jesus instructs the Church at Ephesus to “Remember therefore from where thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works over.” In every age of the Church, those words of our Lord need to be repeated and obeyed. It has always been a returning to our first efforts that initiate revival or reformation. When the Jews returned from their Babylonian captivity they had to start from scratch with the building of the Temple and the walls. All of that first work came at great cost and sacrifice, and persecution. When help was offered by the world it was rejected and those doing the offering were offended and took political measures to stop the work, but God was with them. The advice given to these Jews, when many remembered the greatness of the former Temple, was to, “Despise not the days of small beginnings.” The Radicals understood that true success depended upon going back, all the way back to smallness and dependence on God alone. Today, at the end of the age, we, again, need to go back and start over. As hard as it may seem, that is where we are being called back to.

When the Lord returns He will be looking for something small and new, something fresh and alive, something pure and holy, something humble and meek and defenseless, whose trust is in their God. If we will be part of any reformation we too must remember the great height from which we have fallen and go back and do our first works over again.

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It started with Jesus.

The Devil offered Jesus power and authority, splendor and glory, fame and prestige, and gaudy costumes, and special collars, gold rings, and recognition with people bowing, and acknowledgement in public places, and names with initials, and he said, “It has been given to me, and I can give it to whomever I please.” Can you imagine what Jesus could have done had He not been so impulsive, had He not been so Christian? He could have ended all war. He could have stopped all oppression. He could have enacted wise and just laws. He could have ceased world hunger, and He could have been the last Caesar.

Jesus came to conquer, defeat, and overcome, but not by these means. So, He resisted the grab for the golden ring, He resisted the temptation, and chose instead a cross and obedience to His Father. By all appearances and reason He chose incorrectly. He indeed came to conquer, but His way did not agree with the world, and His weapons were not carnal. His method was absolute with no deviation or concessions. His enemy was alien and so too were the weapons of His warfare, and not understood by those He came to deliver, at least not initially.

The Devil, a seasoned soldier, made a similar offer to another man. In AD 312 the emperor Constantine saw a vision which he believed to be from God. He, too, was offered prestige and glory and an important victory, if he would bow and wage his war under the banner of the Cross and in the name of Christ, who had previously declined his offer; Constantine accepted the proposal and so wed the Church with the state. In the history of the Cross this is the first time that the name of Christ is appealed to for the cause of violence and death. Constantine won that important battle and became a “Christian.” Christians, still bearing the scars of past persecution, now ascended the steps to places of honor and authority. Before the end of that century Christianity had firmly established itself as the religion of the Roman Empire. The god of the state entered the front door of the sanctuary and death was coronated in the place of sacrifice.

With the temptation of glory and prestige, the Devil’s weapons of choice, Eusebius and Augustine were likewise recruited into the ranks of the state praising God but bowing to Constantine. With this new freedom and insight Augustine reasoned that he now had the gifted ability and responsibility to use the power of the state in the cause of righteousness, Just War, and Church growth.

The Church had now entered a new age.

What was once evil, was now good, and what was good, was now evil. What once persecuted the flesh now satisfied it. What once escaped reason now made sense. What once was interpreted correctly through the Spirit was now interpreted creatively by “intelligent” men with flowing gowns, gold chains, and seats of prestige in places of government and authority. Once the Church acquired power, everything changed. Thanks, to theological training, what was once viewed as satanic, i.e. political and military power, was now seen as the blessing of God. Christ, who refused to destroy men’s lives but rather chose to die for His enemies, was now enlisted and placed at the head of the military to conquer and destroy. Likewise, that power that once led the faithful to pick up their cross and follow Jesus now inspired them to pick up swords. Those who had once chosen to serve the world now set out to dominate and rule it. Christians, pointing to Christ for their rules of engagement, once chose to die rather than do violence. Those, who once refused to be associated with nationalism and the ideology of the world, were now defined by it. The virgin Christianity of the previous three hundred years was now prostituted and her appearance was no different than the pagan religions which Constantine also embraced. Christianity had now become a means to an end rather than an end in itself.

Satan’s words, “It has been given to me, and I can give it to whomever I please,” has become the underlying theme of every new doctrine that has come along for the past 1700 years, not least of which is personal protection and national defense, if only a person would just swear a little allegiance. That little snowball that started downhill in AD 312, collecting debris with every inch of progress, has become a megalithic monument to corruption and evil , nowhere resembling its founder.

All the warnings to the contrary have gone unheeded, the watchmen all muted, faithful saints castigated and expelled, and the rules rewritten. And, What started as a temptation has now become a lifestyle.

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darkness

 

After struggling for some time with the meaning of Christ’s words in Matthew 5:39, “Resist not an evil man” I finally came to realize that they meant, “Resist not an evil man.” I had always understood the words but now I was shocked at the way I had understood them. It is no mystery that at the very core of Christ’s message is love toward all men, to turn the other cheek, and to avoid judging your neighbor. Why the obscurity? Why was I searching for a meaning when it was so simple? With these words the essence of Christ’s Gospel is laid bare and made simple. They mean never do violence to any man, never do anything contrary to love, even to your enemies.

The obscurity and darkness come in when we are taught that fulfilling this command is impossible and that we cannot do it in our own strength. If I were to ask one of my employees to go and do a difficult job and he replied that he could not do it in his own strength or that he would need some supernatural assistance I would assume one of two things, either he did not believe me and take my words seriously, or that he did not want to do the thing I ask. Consider, that God has given us commands which we are to perform and of these commands He says that “Whoso ever does these and teaches men to do them shall be called great” –– of which He said that only those who do it shall receive eternal life. This command He expressed so clearly and simply, of which there is no doubt to its meaning. This “obscure” command I had never even tried to obey I said was too hard and even impossible to keep in my own strength. Christ came down and gave commands for us to obey, commands of which He says, “My yoke is easy and My burden light.” Christ obeyed these commands Himself and says, “Follow Me.”

The strength of our faith comes from obedience, do what I say He commands, then you will know about the strength necessary to accomplish My words. Our faith is contingent upon our will to obey. John 7:17 says, Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.” So, how could I say that it was too hard for me to “Resist not an evil person”? Either, I have no trust in the Master’s words or I just don’t want to obey this command. As soon as the command is mentioned all the commentators come forth with their volumes to itemize the plethora of details explaining why the keeping of this command is impossible, when none of them has even tried to keep it.

This command to resist not an evil person is at the very core of the command to love unreservedly all of mankind, including our enemies.

With the understanding of this command my whole theology was exploded and when the pieces began to fall a new picture of Jesus emerged and a beautiful tapestry of love, mercy, and forgiveness was brought forth. The effect of Jesus forgiving those who had tortured and murdered Him while in the throes of agony and great pain, is peace, light, and love. What should have been so easy to see was obscured by selfishness, love of the world, and the faulty teaching of the Church. Christ’s command to the Church to go back and do its “first works” over again was the solution that got my attention, and it is your solution also; it was a real eye opener.

I have had the opportunity to speak on the topic of violence the last couple of Sundays. I endeavored to communicate that as far as the listeners sympathized with the spirit of violence that there exist a fault in their understanding of Christ’s mission and spirit. Violence is the same as committing murder. This idea of linking our thought life with the actual deed, although Biblical, will win very few friends and not a few stares. I look with astonishment on good men who are apathetic toward the violence of warfare or self-defense but I understand completely why a world, without Christ, would trust in violence to solve their problems, for them, it is a matter of necessity. In essence, there is no difference; Christians lacking faith are driven by necessity also. We hear a lot about the violence against Christians but not a word about the violence of Christians. Christianity has formed a massive fraternity of believers who promote and justify violence. Time is running out, we must get our theology correct. Are we really supposed to follow a sacrificial Lamb?

 

Violence

 A View From the Wall

Introduction

Can anyone read the news and not come across a headline that announces some act of violence somewhere in the world. Whether conflict between nations, civil wars, terrorism, or some mixture of both, the twenty-first century has seen no decrease in war, terrorism, and bloodshed. Why is this?

While some philosophers and academics have proclaimed that today’s world is actually more peaceful and less violent than in ages past, it would be difficult to argue against the numerous acts of sensational and purposeful violence.

Logic based on Biblical truth should provoke, and compel us to think more intensely about the human condition as we find it today, submerged in violence, both Christian and otherwise.

What we see passing for intelligent debate today is often just academic drivel. The Biblical boundaries of dialogue have collapsed to such a degree that we often find it difficult to entertain ideas that do not meet our presupposed conditions. Today’s discussions begin and end with symptoms and never identify the underlying root cause.

Attitudes

The militaristic and violent attitudes of many Christians today are shocking, to say the least. The words embarrassing, dangerous, ignorant, faithless, and worldly are some of the other terms that come to mind. But it is not only other “religious” people who have exhibited inclinations toward violence, it is Christian people also; but aren’t we supposed to have a deeper understanding and truth concerning the use of violence?

What I am trying to do is to bring a message, from outside of this world that can illuminate something that has gone missing and overlooked in our studies. My goal is to upset and challenge established assertions, and assumptions, and our customary ways of thinking and seeing. I want to be somewhat abnormal and make you uncomfortable and expose some hidden tension. I am not being systematic or constructive in my approach here, but more like a troubling critic, a little like the prophets of old who intentionally got underneath the skin of their listeners.

We Christians understand reality by accepting the simultaneous truths of seeming opposites and contradictions, paradoxes, and incongruities. This is a fundamental truth of the Bible and of the world. Jesus is divine and human, God is three and one, the state is Babylon and Jerusalem, you must become poor to be rich, die to live, and violence is necessary yet unacceptable.

These tensions do not resonate intellectually or rationally—the resolution or synchronizing has to happen in life, in being and in acting on the level of the spirit. In other words, we can live with the tensions of violence, theology, etc., but we cannot make them connect in the reality of our theories and explanations apart from the Spirit. I don’t care much about complex solutions and theories, but I do care about things pertaining to this present life at this moment in the context of these contradictions and paradoxes because there are simple answers. All of this will be unsatisfying to those who want something other than the simplicity Christ has to give. What I want to offer is a gift to your way of thinking and communicating; not as a last-word on the subject of violence, but as a valuable waypoint and boundary marker identifying God’s ways-and-means as distinctively His.

A Little Background History

The Church has a history, it moved from being pacifistic and non-resistant to evil during its first three hundred years, when Christianity was excluded from all worldly power and position to the period of the 4th to the 16th century of Augustine to Martin Luther, when the theologians approved the “just” use of force and violence to punish their own people, and “just wars,” against its enemies. We then move to the post-Reformation world which includes the supporters of both complete pacifism and non-violent resistance on the one hand, to the theology of revolution on the other, and everything in between.

Those who are looking for a Christian guide to support their use of violence try to balance a compromise between the demands of Christ and the necessity of violence in the world, to work out an agreeable resolve, and to stabilize all the conflicting factors that will hopefully produce a comfortable harmonious result. They relish the hope that the various elements involved can be brought into harmony. They conveniently forget that this is the world that has absolutely rejected Jesus Christ, that there can be no harmony between the values, the constitutions, or the peace efforts of this world and Christ.

The Reality of Disharmony

Now, here is the stumbling stone. The attempt to embrace and to integrate world and faith to each other is one mistake, but the attempt to separate them radically is another. If Christmas, the Incarnation, has any significance it can only be that God came into a most violent and disgusting place and that He did not, by his coming, either validate or change that place.

So, we too must stand at a distance, as Jesus did, from our society, its predispositions, susceptibilities, inclinations, and activities, but we must never break with it, because Christmas, the Incarnation, has taken place. We are instead invited by Christ to take part in an interaction, to be in the world but not of it, and thus to seek out a particular, a specifically Christian position. It is from this separated point of view that we must consider the problem of violence in our own lives and in the world, which is so evident today.

Violence

We need much more soundness in our understanding of violence. Violence is common to human history; it is found everywhere and at all times. This is the state of life outside Eden. Scripturally, biblical revelation shows the same thing: violence is of the order of the fall; from Cain killing Abel, to the world crucifying Jesus, to the apocalyptic conflict of Armageddon, violence is the common condition of all human history. Politically, all conditions are based on violence and there is no fundamental difference between the use of violence or force, they are both the leaven of the loaf called humanity.

Even as moral and Christian-influenced a nation as we suppose the USA to be, even our free market competition can represent a kind of economic violence and compulsion.

Violence is about forcing and attacking others, forcing their submission, dominating and imposing our will upon others. This can be done physically, of course, but it is still violence if the oppression is psychological, economic, ideological, or otherwise. It is the opposite of Biblical freedom.

Necessity of Violence

Violence is the natural condition of humanity; it is part of the nature of the fall. Violence in its various forms has nothing to do with freedom or its maintenance, but much to do with necessity. In other words, violence is a kind of trap that draws us into its snare and imposes itself on our lives, that pressures us to participate in it and continue it; this is not freedom, this is slavery.

But as hopeless and pessimistic as all of that sounds, the necessity of violence for the Christian individual is not the last word; we are not absolutely destined to be a fatality. It is possible to resist violence. It cannot be eliminated from a fallen world but it is possible to eliminate it from our lives. It is important to try to lessen its impacts, address and improve where possible, the conditions that generate it, and to heal and comfort those suffering from it. The world of violence will exist even if we do everything to resist it, but still, we are to overcome evil with good.

 The views on violence can basically be summarized by the following main points:

1. Continuity: once you start using violence you get ensnared. It is like inertia, it will continue unless the opposing force of the Holy Spirit repels it.

2. Reciprocity: those who live by the sword will die by the sword; using violence against an enemy produces enemies intent on retaliation. You can’t put out fire with fire. We have killed enough of humanity in wars for peace to people fourteen of our planets yet there is no peace.

3. Sameness: all violence is the same, cut from the same cloth; it is impossible to distinguish justified and unjustified or liberating and enslaving violence; one kind leads to the others and involves the others.

4. Violence begets only violence and violence-corrupted ends: the means affect the character of the end. Violent means do not and cannot produce a peaceful end. At best the result is a kind of détente based on violence.

5. Justification: all users of violence try to justify it and themselves; but it is always a sign of the incapacitating ability of fear, and the inability to imagine or follow an alternative path, always from mixed motives that may include hatred, greed, etc.; in the life of a Christian it is hypocrisy.

If we get involved in any violence or coercion, we had better do so with our eyes open. If we don’t resist violence, violence is all we are left with.

Violence in the world of necessity is inescapable in any total sense. We are caught in it and there is no total escape from its impact. In practice most will find themselves in situations where they are cornered and cannot find another way out than violence, whether that is killing or injuring an attacker, trying to assassinate a tyrant, joining an army to hold back an invading force, or laying off some loyal employees before our company winds up in bankruptcy. We can’t find another way so we act in a violent/forceful way. It is understandable and even “condonable” in some cases. Violence can even have its own virtues within this world of necessity: it can bring about disorder, crush the lie, reveal a true situation, and expose the lie. So we can condone the violent revolts of at least some oppressed groups. But this is not holy or Christian nor is it just violence-for-violence-sake (which cannot be condoned)—but rather is an example of lost mankind yielding to necessity in a fallen world. The appropriate response is not “God sanctioned my killing him” but rather, “I just couldn’t find another way out so I had to kill him.”

But for Christians, we must not assume that what is natural is what is good or that what is necessary is legitimate. Christ came to shatter the false world of necessity and to introduce real freedom. Christ makes us free to struggle against the necessity for violence, to resist being defined by necessity. We must remember that where death is the final necessity, Christ broke the curse with His resurrection. Where society is stratified along rigid ethnic lines, Christ breaks that curse and exposes the lie by reconciliation. So it is the calling of Christians to resist and refuse violence and to introduce the Kingdom alternative, the way of real peace and freedom.

We must never sprinkle our wars and violence with holy water or blame what we do on God, or rely on the just-war tradition to explain why we acted as we did. Instead, we must confess that we are sinners caught up in a sinful world that dictates to us what is necessary.

What we need is “Christian radicalism” and the “violence of love.” In a world of necessity, the Christian calls for freedom. In a material world, the Christian calls for a spiritual warfare. In a world of realism, the Christian calls for the radical obedience of faith. In an unloving violent generation, he calls for the violence of love toward all men.

What Christ does for us is above all to make us free. But to have true freedom is to escape necessity or rather to be free to strive against necessity. Therefore, Christ’s prescription is to have only one line of action. He must oppose violence precisely because apart from Christ violence is the form that human relations normally and necessarily take. Either we accept the order of necessity, submit to and obey it . . . or else we accept the order of Christ, but then we must reject violence root and branch.

And mind, this means all kinds and ways of violence: psychological manipulation, economic imperialism, the venomous warfare of free competition and marketing, as well as torture, terrorism, police action and war. The business owner who abuses and exploits his workers is just as violent as the guerilla or terrorist; he must absolutely not boast of a Christian heritage, because what he is doing is of the nature of necessity, of sin, of separation from Christ; and even if he is a faithful churchgoer and a highly educated man there is no freedom in him. For him, it is “just business.”

What We Need

We need a renewed “Christian radicalism”: If the Christian is to resist violence he will have to be absolutely inflexible and narrow-minded, he will have to refuse to be appeased . . . Christian faith is radical, absolute like the very word of God, or else it is nothing. This does not mean withdrawal from the world or inaction or indifference but rather a full, living presence in a violent world, but with something specific and unique to offer. Because Christianity is the revelation of God in Christ, that action must be different, specific, and unique when seen alongside of political or corporate ways and means. It does not mean simply counseling the poor and the oppressed to be submissive, but it counsels us to be their voice, to make known their plight, and to stand for justice, not the progressive justice of the “social justice” advocates, but the justice of Love.

The Watchman

A basic theme of Scripture is the importance of the “watchman on the wall” who foresees distant, approaching events and warns the city. In an era absorbed in a storm of “breaking news” and current events, who will fill that role and watch with a greater depth of understanding for the approaching enemies? All too often it is when we are in the middle of a war or other conflict that people demand a vision, answers, and solutions; but by that time situations solidify and resistance is difficult. By that time the necessities of the flesh and the laws of violence have taken over completely. So one of the ways Christians can fulfill their role in society is to try to serve as the watchman on the wall to speak and act while situations and individuals are still pliable.

Rather than just providing news, analyses, and justifications for violent acts, followers of Christ should provide creative, constructive alternatives. Radical Christians should be playing the role of ambassador from Christ’s kingdom with its distinctive values displayed in their own lives. Helping their community to understand and see the humanity of the rival and enemy, even becoming the enemy’s voice and protector if our side somehow wins.

In the end, what can we make of this approach to violence? These things certainly challenge us to think again, more deeply and carefully, about our world and its violence and oppression. These points are important considerations in today’s world of violence committed on behalf of values that are claimed to be rooted in religious faith.

Theological reflection demands that we listen to the Word of God in obedience—without doctrinal presuppositions or systematic techniques. The Word of God has a voice if we have ears to hear and are willing to stand apart from religion hobbyist.

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