Category: Christ & Culture (page 1 of 28)

Baptism: Identity in Christ

Ephesians 2 tells us who we used to be and, now that we’ve been baptized into Christ, who we are.

This is what you were: dead; this is what you are now: alive with Christ!

This is what you were: following the ways of the world; this is what you are now: raised up with Christ and seated with Christ at the right hand of God!

This is what you were: objects of divine wrath; this is what you are now: saved!

1 Corinthians 9 affirms that we are cleansed and made pure from our many sins, we are set apart and dedicated to the holy God as belonging to him, and we are declared righteous in God’s eyes “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

“Jesus is Lord.” Romans 10 tells us that’s the Christian confession. “Jesus is Lord.” 1 Corinthians 12 says that’s how we worship. Philippians 2 says on that last day every tongue in heaven and on earth will declare “Jesus is Lord!”

But we first say “Jesus is Lord” at our baptisms. And to say Jesus is Lord is to say Caesar is not. To say Jesus is Lord is to accept a brand new identity as his servant and to affirm that the shape and direction of my life now lays wholly within his power. I belong to him. I no longer live. The Lord Jesus lives in me and through me. Baptism is that moment of transfer. By faith, the waters of baptism move you from sin and separation from God to forgiveness and communion with God. By his love and grace, baptism transfers you from an outsider to the Kingdom of God to an insider with all the privileges and benefits. It’s a brand new way of life.

“He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” ~Colossians 1:13-14

A few verses later, Paul says all of you who have been baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. In baptism, there is an exclusive devotion to Christ Jesus as Lord. Our loyalties are not to the fading kingdoms of this world but to the eternal Kingdom of our Lord. Our priorities are not in the interests of this world’s structures and institutions but to the missions and goals of our God.

Our very identity is rooted in what God has done for us in Christ. And we’re given that new identity in baptism. But our increasingly fractured and polarized culture is exposing our primary identities. It seems that we identify with our nation and national politics, race and socio-economic groups first and then our Christian beliefs and practices are filtered through those identities instead of the other way around. We struggle to identify first with our Lord and his ways and then filter our national and political and race and group beliefs and practices through that.

Whatever the issue — immigration, race relations, tax reform, gun control, war, abortion, social security, gay rights, Obamacare, the environment, the construction on the bridge at I-40 and Bell — my first instinct is to view it and talk about it through the lens of my political affiliation or my race or gender. How should a Republican feel about that? How would a Democrat talk about that? How might a patriotic American deal with this? How does a white guy, how would a black woman, how does a conservative say this? How does a liberal view this?

Our priorities are out of whack. Our identities are compromised. We think first as Republicans or Democrats, as Texas Tech of OU, and not first as baptized disciples of Jesus. Our positions are solidified and our decisions are made through the lenses or our race or zip code or voter registration card and not first and foremost by our identity as baptized followers of the crucified and risen Christ.

“You have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority… having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead… God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins… And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross… Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules?” ~Colossians 2

Now, I think all Christians in America have dealt with this for 242 years — we’re no different. Our divided and polarized society is just exposing it in more obvious and disappointing ways. I do know our Christian impulses are good and holy. It’s deep inside us, it’s in our DNA to serve others, to sacrifice for the sake of others, to view the needs of others as more important than our own, to do things the Jesus way and not the world’s way. The impulse is there. So is the desire. But the follow-through is becoming more difficult because our culture is telling us to do the opposite.

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” ~Colossians 3:1-2

Remember your baptism, the Bible says. Remember where you were. Remember who was there. Remember how you felt when you came up out of the water. Remember the spiritual experience and claim all the spiritual resources you received that day.

“For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” ~Colossians 3:3-4

Baptism is a touchstone moment for followers of Christ Jesus. It’s an event that embodies the faith and participates in the Gospel. But it’s also a definitive moment in time that we can reflect on for strength. Dying and rising with Christ. Putting off and putting on. Living this life under his exclusive lordship. Putting off and putting on. Every day. Dying and rising. Romans 13 says clothe yourselves with Christ and stop making room for sin.

We have a new identity. We have a different worldview. We see things differently. We see people differently. We know God’s work is not complete in me or the world, but we know it’s begun. If anyone is in Christ: new creation! The old has gone, the new has come! Baptism doesn’t just symbolize new life, it actually gives us a new identity. It doesn’t just symbolize our washing, it actually empowers a new way of living by the Holy Spirit. It not only symbolizes a break with the fallen world of sin and death, it delivers us into a brand new creation and a new world view.

If you’ve been baptized, God wants you to see yourself as one with Christ and united with all his people. God wants you to consider yourself as under the lordship of Jesus with new priorities, new goals, new methods and practices, new Holy Spirit power to live for his Kingdom.

If you’ve never been baptized, let me ask you: Why not?



Silence Is Not Approval

I’ve been in more than a couple of conversations lately with Christian brothers and sisters who claim that Confederate flags and statues were never a problem for anybody until the national media began inflaming emotions and generally riling folks up. African-Americans didn’t care about the statues until only lately, black people weren’t bothered by the flags until recently.

How do they know?

Because they never heard anything different. Nobody ever said anything about it. Nobody complained. Nobody made any noise.

My response to that line of reasoning, that black people were not / are not bothered by the Confederate symbols because they did not/ do not complain, has been to attempt to persuade my brother or sister to see the situation from the viewpoint of the African-American.

How do we know unless we’ve been in their shoes? How do we really know?

What if a middle-aged black man walks past the Confederate statue in Elwood Park here in Amarillo every evening on his way home from a lousy job? Maybe his great-great grandfather was a slave in the South. Maybe his grandfather and his father spent their lives in and out of work, on and off welfare. Maybe none of them graduated high school, much less went to college. Maybe he feels the structures and systems in this country keep pushing him down. Maybe he feels oppressed by a government and by a society that has never given people like him a fair shot. He sees this statue every day, his kids attend Robert E. Lee Elementary School in their mostly black neighborhood, there are Confederate flags flying out the backs of pickups from Pullman Road to Soncy.

What are his options? Who’s he going to complain to? What’s this man’s recourse?

Just because he’s silent doesn’t mean he’s OK with everything.

Last week Justin Fairfax, the Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, quietly protested as his State Senate publicly and officially honored Confederate General “Stonewall” Jackson. Fairfax is the Senate’s presiding officer, but he temporarily handed off his duties so he wouldn’t be officially participating in the ceremony. His gesture, though, was so subtle, not very many people even realized it happened.

Isaac Bailey is a member of the Charlotte Observer’s editorial board. He wrote a column last week praising Fairfax’s stand and pointing out the irony and frustration most African-Americans experience in these situations:

“It’s long been a dilemma for black people in the South. If you protest and let your anger be known, you risk being called purveyors of hate or ‘outside agitators,’ and being accused of hardening racial divisions and stirring the pot. If you swallow your anger to get along with white counterparts who revere ancestors who raped and beat and enslaved your ancestors, you risk being accused of not really caring about symbols such as the Confederate flag and Confederate monuments. Your silence is used to suggest you are OK with how things are.”

That’s precisely how I’ve experienced it lately.

“I’ve lived here my whole life and black people have never had an issue with this statue. I know lots of African-Americans in this city and nobody’s ever complained about the name of that school.”

Minorities — by the very definition of the word in conjunction with the broken ways of our world — generally speaking, do not experience a status anywhere near the same level as others. In this country, because of the past history and the current structures and a thousand other very complicated factors, African-Americans do not have the same chances. The playing field is not level. In our city, African-Americans make up less than six-percent of the population. They are marginalized.

Where is the Church in all this? Where are the followers of Jesus?

In the past four or five months, I’ve heard Christians say things to my face, into my ears, about Charlottesville and statues and flags and minority peoples that are decidedly unChristian. Where are we?

I don’t have any advice for the school board or the city council on this. But I do have something to say to my brothers and sisters in Christ. Slippery slope arguments about erasing history and heritage are completely missing the point. The question for Christians is, will you identify with the city that’s fading away or with the enduring city that’s coming? Will you love your neighbor more than you love a flag or a statue? Will you love the African-American men and women of your city more than you love the history and heritage of the South?

My question for Christians who display that flag is this: if you know how African-Americans read that flag, if you know how that flag makes them feel vulnerable and oppressed, why would you continue flying it? Why would you insist? Why would you actually fight with your words and your good name for a statue that you know causes deep pain?

Scripture says be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. Romans 12. In this same context, live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position, people who don’t enjoy the same status or success. These are the very people chosen by Christ, remember? Not influential, not of noble birth, weak people, despised people, vulnerable and oppressed people. Have we forgotten who we are? That’s us!



Working Every Day

My brilliant brother Keith Stanglin has written a provocative post for the Christian Studies blog at Austin Graduate School of Theology on “Sexual Harassment and Hollywood’s Double Standard.” He expertly exposes the hypocrisy of an industry that sells sex as nothing more than a bodily function, a pleasurable thing to do with another person — sex whenever and with whomever you will — but then “occasionally wants to maintain that sex is an intimate matter, not for public consumption, not for objectification or merely for someone else’s pleasure.” He makes the point in this post that the entertainment industry’s very public outcry against the bad sexual behavior is counter to Hollywood’s core message and actually belongs to the mindset of a Christian worldview. The message characterized by #metoo and timesup and punctuated by black dresses at the Golden Globes is hard to arrive at without a Christian understanding of God and humans and sex. So, the whole thing is confused and it’s confusing. And, in Keith’s estimation, nothing will change in Hollywood or popular culture or in American society unless there’s some kind of honest evaluation of and commitment to the Christian ethic. In other words, don’t hold your breath. But do read his post.


Our God is putting people in front of you every day. He’s bringing people right into your presence all the time.  God is always at work, constantly drawing people to himself. And we get to decide each time whether to lean in or step back. You get to decide whether to say ‘yes’ or to ignore it.

How many times did Moses balk? For some reason, he thought he had to be somebody important for God to use him. Think about Joseph: his brothers hated him, they sold him into slavery, he winds up in the governor’s house, he gets thrown in prison, then he becomes second-in-command in the Egyptian Empire. At the end of the story Joseph says twice that God put him where he was in order to save many lives. That’s the reason God chose Moses, to save many lives. The same goes for Jonah and Esther and Samuel and Deborah and Peter and Paul. And you, too.

You were chosen by God in Christ for the saving of many lives. God is always working to save lives. And he usually uses the least likely people to do it.

In John 5, Jesus says, “My Father is at work every day and I, too, am working.” Don’t you love that?

“My Father is at work every day and I, too, am working.” Oh, I want that to be my attitude. I want to be taken over by that thought. Don’t you?

“My Father is at work every day and I, too, am working.” That’s Jesus. That’s the One who came, in his own words, not to be served, but to serve and to give his life to save many lives.

And on that last night before he willingly walked to the cross, just hours before his death that would take away the sin of the world and reconcile all of creation back to the Creator, he looked his followers in the eye and said, “Remember, you didn’t choose me; I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit — fruit that will last!”

May our eyes be open and our hearts in tune with what God has planned for us in 2018. May we embrace his vision and throw ourselves into his mission with everything we’ve got, to his eternal glory and praise!



Praying for Israel

I’m not concerned about the politics of the U.S. president’s speech yesterday related to moving the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and declaring that city the eternal capitol of that nation. Frankly, I don’t understand the politics. Why does the U.S. insist on being so tangled up with Israel? Is it oil interests in the Middle East? Is it the money from Jewish-Americans who bankroll the re-election campaigns of the politicians? I don’t get it and it’s not my concern.

I’m also not concerned about the distorted theologies out there claiming that if the U.S. looks out for Israel and protects Israel and pursues the political purposes of Israel, then somehow God above will smile on America and we’ll all prosper and maybe Jesus will return. I don’t get it. The promise in the Torah is clear, from Genesis 12 on, that God’s salvation is for all nations, that the Lord is interested in rescuing all peoples. The New Testament tells us over and over again that the Church is Israel, we’re grafted in. It’s bigger than man-made boundaries and worldly politics and armies. The Church is the political entity; our citizenship is in the Kingdom of God. Our Lord is gathering all people to himself in Christ Jesus. He doesn’t love or favor any one nation or people any more or any less than he does the people of Israel.

My concern today is with the people I know and love in that great land.

I emailed Anton Farah yesterday, a little ahead of the anticipated violence that has resulted from the U.S. government’s move. Anton is our faithful guide when we take our every-other-year trips to Israel. Anton led 15 of Bill Humble’s 20 trips to the Holy Land and blessed me by introducing me to his dear friend and guide. Anton was born and raised in Nazareth, a Palestinian and a Christian; a wise and humble man, full of grace and dry humor, brimming with knowledge and strength, full of God’s Holy Word and God’s Holy Spirit. I love Anton and his wife and sons.

I told him yesterday I was thinking about him and praying for him in advance of what’s going to be a rough few days. I was praying that God will bless him and the people he loves with peace and protection. I was praying that there would be no violence (D’oh!). I was praying that he and his family would be safe.

He emailed back that he’s in the middle of a seven day tour and is scheduled over the next four days to be in the West Bank, Jericho, Hebron, Arad, and Shechem. He expressed gratitude for the prayers and well wishes and told me he is also praying that there will be safety and no troubles. He’s not scared. He’s been through much worse. He thinks and reacts on a much higher plane.

I’ve been checking in on the violence and protests throughout the day. The pictures and videos of protestors starting fires and throwing rocks and the Israeli police answering with tear gas, rubber bullets, and stun grenades are unnerving. It’s so sad. And dark. I don’t have a full grasp of the complicated politics — I’m not sure anyone does. I don’t understand the misguided theology — it’s wrong. But I do know some of the people in Israel — people on both sides of the ancient conflict — and I love them. And God loves them. All of them.

We’re scheduled to take a group of 32 to Israel the first week of June this coming year, the largest group I’ve ever led to the Holy Land! My middle daughter, Valerie, is making her first trip with us to Israel and I can’t wait for her to meet Anton and Kando and Shipley and all the beautiful men and women and children of that country. I can’t wait for her to see and experience all that our God has done and is doing there.

I’m a little concerned that the date for the next signing of the waiver that keeps the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv is scheduled for that same June. Whether the American president signs the waiver at that time or chooses to actually move the embassy — either way — I’m worried that it’ll spark more violence and our trip will be in jeopardy. I hope not.

In the meantime, I would ask you to pray for the people of Israel. Don’t spend a lot of time praying and talking and tweeting and texting and forwarding emails about the politics or the theology of the current situation over there. Pray for the people. Think holy thoughts about the men, women, and children in Israel.

Pray for peace — not peace on U.S. terms, not peace according to your political party’s definition, not peace that’s brought about by threat and force. Pray for the eternal peace of Jesus Christ, his will, in his way, in his timing, to his glory.



Where He Leads

For the past several years it’s become clear that the word “evangelical” has very little, if anything, to do with Christianity or religion. It’s not a Christian term anymore. It’s been misused and redefined by the politicians and media in the United States for so long now that it’s become a purely secular word. A national political term.

One of the more obvious manifestations of this is in the way African Americans are left out. Have you noticed that the media will not refer to African Americans as “evangelicals?” Christians of color may have a high regard for the Bible, they may focus on the atonement of Christ through the cross, they may be committed to proclaiming the Gospel, they may believe the Gospel changes lives and changes the world — they may embody every facet of the classic definition of “evangelical.” But because African Americans vote heavily for Democratic candidates, the media will not call them “evangelicals.” The term is strictly political now. “Evangelical” means Republican. “Evangelical” means guns and lower taxes and immigration reform and repealing Obamacare.

There are a lot of reasons this matters so much. One of the main reasons is that our young people now identify traditional Christianity with right wing American politics. This development has been analyzed and discussed in every “unchristian” and “You Lost Me” type of book that’s been written in the past twenty years. Young people are not leaving the Church because they reject Christ Jesus as Lord, they’re leaving the Church because they reject the national politics that appear to go with it.

That’s a problem for all of us. Whatever our national political beliefs and practices — left or right, Democrat or Republican, conservative or liberal — they shouldn’t be wrapped up in God’s Church because they all eventually come into conflict with God’s ways. And our young people see right through it.

I was privileged to be in attendance at Hope Network’s Preacher Initiative in Dallas last month when Dr. Mallory Wyckoff delivered a powerful sermon on the disconnect between what we teach our young people in our churches and what they actually experience in and through us who do the teaching. Her sermon was gut-level honest and penetrating. Eye-opening. Inspiring. The language soared and the message cut straight to the heart of the Gospel.

Mallory has graciously provided me with a manuscript of her sermon, “Where You Lead I Will Follow” from Matthew 23. You can find the entire sermon posted to her website here. But I’d like to share a couple of excerpts in this space.

Mallory began by praising the church and the church people who raised her in the faith. She expressed her admiration and love for those men and women who shaped her as a child of God.

“To be sure, I was loved. I was loved really well. I was made to believe that I had worth, that I could pursue the dreams that surged within, that God would guide me as I took each clumsy step. I was nurtured in the Christian faith from the womb, loved and cared on by my community, educated in their schools, formed in their churches. I attended their youth groups and summer camps, wore their T-shirts and sang their songs. These people invested in me, gave of their time and resources to help me grow into the woman I am now. For all of this and for more, I am grateful.”

Mallory then moved to unashamedly hold the mirror up to the troubling inconsistencies she noticed when she actually began to read the Bible her church told her to read and follow the Christ her church told her to follow.

“[I] observed that Jesus seemed to care an awful lot about the poor and marginalized, giving them food and dignity, binding their wounds and healing their bodies. But when I named the gross inequities between the rich and poor in our country and asked what we might do to overcome this, they called me a socialist…

They told me about the cross of Christ and insisted this was a central feature of our faith. So I spent time reflecting on the cross and observed it as the culmination of Jesus’ consistent refusal to employ violent means. I took to heart his teachings that the swords we live by surely are the ones by which we will die, that we are to love our enemies and, perhaps, this might mean to not kill them. I wondered how I could follow this Christ with any integrity in my heart if I also carried a gun in my hand or on my hip. But when I asked my church about these things, they told me this was unrealistic, that Jesus’ teachings are for individuals but have nothing to say to nation-states, and that I should fear the nation-state taking from me the very weapons Jesus warned against.

They took me to the baptismal font and buried me with Christ beneath the waters, calling on me to live into the newness of life in Christ, proclaiming that my identity is found therein, and I swore my allegiance to Christ. But when I began asking about all of the myriad allegiances we seem to hold in conflict with the lordship of Christ, that perhaps nationalism is the most dangerous kind of idolatry, they told me I was not a good patriot.

They taught me about the early church, a marginalized sect seeking to live into the Kingdom in the midst of empire. They told me stories of the church’s courage, even in the face of persecution and death, and of their commitment to the way of Christ. But when I began wondering about how the empire in which we find ourselves dehumanizes black and brown bodies, they told me I didn’t show enough respect for the flag and for country and for every other symbol that bears Caesar’s image even while the body count for image bearers of God keeps climbing…”

Mallory’s critique comes straight out of Scripture, directly out of the prophets’ mouths and our Savior’s heart. She articulates so well what stirs my own soul and what burdens my shoulders and my mind, but what I have such difficulty describing. She perfectly says what I’m thinking.

Our priorities are out of whack. Our identities are compromised. We’re seeing issues to be argued instead of people to be loved. We think first as Republicans or Democrats, as political conservatives or liberals, and not first as disciples of Jesus. Our positions are solidified and our decisions are made through the lenses of our race, our zip code, our political affiliations, and not first and foremost by our identity as baptized followers of the Christ.

The younger generations coming up behind us see it. And they feel it.

You already know my position on all this. The United States is not going to be changed by votes or parties. It’s not going to be saved by force of numbers or force of rhetoric. It’s going to be saved, along with the rest of the world, by Christ Jesus. And his way is about love and forgiveness, sacrifice and service. And peace. Our Christianity should be defined by those things. Our congregations should be characterized by those things. Our young people need to see that in us first. And last. And every place in between.

Mallory ends her sermon with a genuine humility and grace that are sometimes missing from mine. She expresses her deep love for the ones who’ve gone before and she confesses that she is no better. She sees the hypocrisy and duplicity in her elders, but is self-aware enough to know she’s capable of the same missteps.

“I am neither different from nor better than the ones who taught me to follow Christ and dismissed the places he took me. Like them, I say one thing and do another, unaware of the ones who suffer because of my ignorance. I tell [my daughter] to follow Jesus no matter where he takes her, even and especially when it’s a path I reject or dismiss. I tell her that she will have to differentiate between the heart of God and the ways I do or do not reflect this God. I tell her to follow Christ, wherever he may lead. May we have the courage to follow him, too.”

Thank you, Mallory, for these challenging words. Thank you for your boldness and your grace. May our God bless us all to see more clearly and to follow more faithfully.



What If It Happened Here?

“My Kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my Kingdom is from another place.” ~Jesus

The headline on the front page of today’s Amarillo Globe-News asks the question in bold print: “What if it happened here?” with the subheading: “Local churches eye security measures in wake of massacre.”

The paper quotes a couple of local pastors who are considering changes to their church’s security plans in light of last Sunday’s horrible shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs. One of the pastors is hiring an armed Amarillo Police Department officer to be present during their worship services, claiming it will put the members of his church “at ease to see a uniformed officer” and that he wants his people to “feel safe and secure.” This pastor is also considering hosting an active shooter seminar for his congregation. Another pastor expresses the need for an active shooter seminar at his church “as soon as possible.” All of the pastors in the story have some type of armed security personnel in and around their buildings during services. We do, too, here at Central.

The headline asks a question the story never answers: What if it happened here? Maybe the reporter never asked the question and the headline writer was having a rough night. It’s a good question. What happens in your church building if — God forbid — an active shooter begins opening fire? What happens at Central?

If the Church of Jesus is established by God to serve as a light to the world, as an alternative community in contrast to the values and priorities of society, as a scandalous counter to the ways and means of our culture, then we would all keep our guns in our holsters. If God’s Church is established to witness to the “other” way, to proclaim and live out the teachings of Jesus, the true interpreter of God’s Law, then the shooter would not be shot — at least not by a Christian.

Which serves as the more powerful witness to the world: a Christian blowing away a non-Christian in the middle of a worship assembly inside a church building in the name of self defense or Christians praying for and forgiving the one who is shooting them, refusing to kill him, asking God to, instead, have mercy on him, in the name of Jesus? I know the world will laud the Christian who kills in the name of self defense. That same world will lament the misguided Christian sap who refused to meet violence with violence in the name of Jesus.

What if it happened here?

Nearly two years ago The Christian Chronicle published a front page story about church shootings, quoting a dozen ministers from a dozen different congregations in several states who believe and, apparently, teach that carrying a gun and being prepared to use it against another human being is a good thing to do.

Those preachers were asked the question, “What if it happened here?” A minister in Florida said, “walking in with the intent to harm our congregation would be like walking in to harm someone at an NRA rally or gun show.” A minister of another church told the Chronicle that lots of people in his congregation are packing and “someone would be sorry to try anything here.” Some of the preachers interviewed even attempted to say that shooting a criminal inside the church building is the “Christian” thing to do. One preacher from Houston said, “There is a world of difference in being ready to die for your faith than to die at the hands of a crazy man simply because he’s crazy. I believe God would permit me to protect myself and my family in cases such as that.”

A minister in Kentucky went so far as to claim that Christians are required to shoot when he said, “We believe theologically we have an obligation to protect and defend our church membership, especially children, against a stranger or angry member who was to come in and begin shooting.”

A preacher in Alabama who admits to bringing his own Ruger .380 to the church building on Sundays invoked the name of Jesus in justifying the use of deadly force by a Christian: “I do not believe that Jesus — or even the old law — taught members to cower in the face of danger. It was Jesus who told his apostles to take a sword in Luke 22.”

OK. Stop right there.

Two things.

One, you cannot use the name of our Lord to justify the killing of anyone under any circumstances. Ever. Yes, Jesus moves to protect those under attack, not by killing the attacker but by stepping in front of the bullet. And he would forgive the attacker and pray for him while he was dying. I’m always surprised to hear Christians say, “Jesus would not allow himself to be a victim.” Actually, our Lord willingly left his home in glory, put all of his trust in the One who judges justly, and purposefully submitted to being the worst kind of victim. He blessed those who attacked him, he loved those who hated him, he forgave those who killed him, and never lifted a finger against any of them in self defense. I’ve heard other Christians acknowledge that truth about our Lord and then add, “Well, Jesus wouldn’t shoot anybody, but I would.” That actually makes you, by definition, not a Christian.

Two, Jesus’ words in Luke 22 do not authorize the use of gun violence in any way. Jesus is telling his disciples that things have changed. The first time they went out, they were all welcomed with goodwill and hospitality. But now, when they are scattered, they are going to face opposition. They’re going to be ridiculed, rejected, and maybe even killed. Now, Jesus says, you’re on your own out there. Don’t count on other people to help you. You’re going to need a purse, a bag, a sword, whatever. He’s speaking figuratively. He doesn’t discount in this moment every word out of his mouth for the past three-plus years against violence. He’s not saying the opposite now of his every teaching against violence. He’s speaking symbolically. How do we know? Because when the disciples reply, “Look, Lord, we’ve got two swords right here,” Jesus rebukes them. “Enough, already! Stop!”

Yes, Jesus says, you’re going to face intense opposition to me and my message, your very lives are going to be endangered. But you don’t respond with self-defense and violence. Enough! You’re missing the point! Jesus will have nothing to do with swords, even for defense. How do we know? Because later in this same chapter, in the very next scene when Jesus is being arrested, one of the disciples asks him, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” And Jesus says emphatically, “No!”

One of the Christ-followers uses his sword to cut off the ear of the high priest’s slave. And Jesus sharply rebukes him. “No more of this! Stop!” And he heals the injured attacker. He ministers to and heals the one who came to harm him. In Luke 22, literal armed resistance as self-defense is exposed as a foolish misunderstanding of Jesus’ message.

Of all the ministers quoted in the Christian Chronicle article, only one expressed a theological and scriptural objection to the use of gun violence by Christians in self-defense. Tyler Jarvis, the student and family minister for the Oak Ridge Church of Christ in Willow Park, Texas, said, “I think that the church should trust in the protection and mercy of God, even if it means not being able to defend against an attacker or intruder. The church ought to be able to extend love and forgiveness to those who wish them harm, even if it costs them their lives in the process.”

There are many reasons Christians in the U.S. believe it’s OK to kill people in self-defense. Culture plays a role, society has something to do with it, fear informs our understandings, and there appears to be a general unwillingness to carefully think things through and reflect. Gun violence is normalized as if there’s no choice. We accept the culture’s position and then approve it for God’s Church. There’s no theological challenge, just an out-of-context proof text.

Since when is showing unconditional mercy and love and grace and forgiveness in the face of danger and death labeled as cowardly and weak? Since when is praying for our enemies and refusing to repay evil for evil and sacrificing self preservation for the sake of the sinner viewed as unrealistic? Our Lord was not cowardly in the Garden of Gethsemane that night. And he wasn’t weak when he willingly submitted to the cruelty of the cross. Neither are Christians who reject the use of violence to get their way. They are courageous and brave, faithful and true.

Christians, leave your guns at home this Sunday. Practice prayer. Practice forgiveness and mercy. Practice discipleship and obedience to The Way. Pray to God that nobody with violent intent ever attacks your church family in the sanctuary. But also pray to God for the courage and strength, should it ever happen, to respond in ways that will honor our Lord, the Prince of Peace.



Older posts