Are You Coming or Going?

Here are my thoughts for the 12th Sunday after Pentecost.  (edited on 19 March 2008; reedited on 16 August 2009)

Recently I posted two thoughts on war and the study of war. (“Study War No More” – 1 July 2006 and “Maybe We Should Study War More Often” – 11 July 2006 ) These two postings generated as many or more comments than any of the seventy-some postings that I have made since I began my blog.

Those comments finally led me to challenge “John the Methodist” and owner of the Locusts and Honey blog (now called the Zeray Gazette) to post his own thoughts about war and response. He did so and his posting (“On Christian Rhetoric and Christian Action” – 16 August 2006) generated more comments than I have ever seen on the Methodist Blog Roll. These comments seemed to be of two types; those who felt that pacifism was a natural outgrowth of Christianity and that pacifism was a viable alternative and those who felt that pacifism was a nice thought but in the end not a really workable idea.

These comments were interesting because, first of all, I never thought I was offering support for pacifism. I am not a pacifist by any stretch of the definition. But I am opposed to war, especially when the evidence of past wars shows us there have to be better alternatives than death and destruction.

I am not interested in discussing past wars and whether or not the solutions that others chose are appropriate. The wars have been fought and the results may or may not have been what we wanted them to be. What remains is that we know what causes wars (poverty, homelessness, sickness, disease, death, and oppression) and we still do not do enough to remove the causes of war.

I was also amazed at the number of postings in which pacifism was belittled or ridiculed. A number of persons felt that pacifism was a nice idea but it had no chance of working in a “real” world. It was as if the only solution to the problems that plague this world comes through victory in war. No matter what our political background, we as a society still agree with Chairman Mao who said, “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”

There clearly was a gulf between those who felt that Christianity can work through peaceful means and those who felt that power must be the expression that ultimately conquers.

Now, pacifism is not the sole province of Christianity nor is Christianity necessarily the precursor to pacifism. But if one says that they are Christian, then one must be willing to see the world through the eyes of Jesus and that is the way of peace. Christianity is not, as many assume, some sort of weasely niceness.

Still, some see Christianity only in terms of this niceness. They see being a Christian in terms of a couple of hours on Sunday morning and simply being nice. And churches today, fearful that they will lose members quite willingly present a version of the Gospel that can be best identified as “Gospel-lite” or “Gospel-nice”. People like to hear it because it doesn’t challenge them; it does not challenge them to hear Jesus’ words and put them into action.

But being a Christian is more than that. It is about talking about real issues of pain, evil, or incompetence. It is about acknowledging that there are differences between individuals on matters of policy, polity, and theology. (Adapted from the September issue of Connections and commentary by Anne C. Ewing (“Church-going Doesn’t Make a Christian”) in the August issue of United Methodist Nexus.)

We are not always willing to do this, to see the world in a different light; we still willing view the world from a world view and not from the view of Christ. We may be willing to say we are Christians at heart but we are not always willing to say that we will walk the way we have been showed. Like many who heard Jesus, at the first sign of difficulty, at the first sign that the path that we will walk is going to be rough, we leave.

There are those who read today’s Epistle reading (Ephesians 6: 10 – 20) as a tacit support for war. After all, Paul uses military sounding language of armor and breast plates and the like. But let’s read Paul’s writing in a different translation.

Lastly, be strong and courageous men for Christ. Put on God’s uniform so as to be able to withstand all the Devil’s tricks. For we’re not fighting against ordinary human beings, but against the leaders, politicians, and heads of state of this dark world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. So, put on God’s uniform so you’ll be able to put up a fight on the day of battle and, having tended to every detail, to make your stand. Therefore, take your position when you have put on the pants of truth, the shirt of righteousness, and the shoes of the good news of peace. Above all, take the bulletproof vest of faith, with which you’ll be able to stop the tracer bullets of the evil one. Also, wear the helmet of salvation, and the pistol of the Spirit, which is God’s word.

When you offer a prayer or a petition on any occasion, let it be truly spiritual. Along this same line, be on your toes as you encourage and pray for all the members. Pray especially for me, that when I speak, the right words will be put in my mouth, and that I may boldly expound the gospel’s secret, for which I am now a delegate in the clink. Pray too that I may lay it on the line whenever I have a chance to speak. (“The Letter to the Christians in Birmingham,” 6: 10 – 20, The Cotton Patch Gospels, Clarence Jordan’s translation of Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians)

This is Clarence Jordan’s Cotton Patch version of the letter to the Ephesians, written as “Letter to the Church in Birmingham.” It is not about armor or military bearing but about being in the uniform of God, of letting the world see you in a different light, wearing the clothes of God, not the armor. God’s clothes are our protection, our ability to face adversity when our own abilities may not be sufficient for the task.

Admittedly, none of us wishes to be a martyr for the faith. No one wakes up in the morning and says that they are willing to die for the faith. Those that do are only confusing themselves about the requirements of faith. But we are not always willing to let our faith be our guide; we are not always willing to take the path that faith shows us. We are not asked to die for the faith but to live the faith. If we should die because of the way we live, then we do so with the sure knowledge that our lives were not in vain.

Jesus puts that challenge before those who are following Him in the Gospel reading for today. (John 6: 56 – 69)  Shall we accept the cost of discipleship or shall we look for the easy way out? As Chris Roberts wrote,

Partial effort didn’t seem to exist in Jesus’ vocabulary. Partial faith was not an option. It is all or nothing for Jesus. (“Full Commitment to Jesus is Costly” by Chris Roberts)

Chris further writes

But Jesus just doesn’t seem to be satisfied with partial commitments. Jesus demands our all. It is all or nothing and there is no in-between. The fact of the matter is we are always moving closer to God or further away from God, there is not standing still. We can just settle down in the middle and say, “Well, I have faith and I do this or I do that. And that is good enough.” Or we can’t say, “I’ve paid my dues. I have served on this and that and done this and that. So I will just step back now.” It doesn’t work that way. We can’t stay in the middle because the spirit is always moving. If we stop and the Spirit keeps moving then we are falling behind. So we are either moving closer to God, by being in God’s presence, by praying for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, by getting involved in the church or other ministries, or we are not doing those things and falling behind. Commitment is key and commitment involves a steep price. (“Full Commitment to Jesus is Costly” by Chris Roberts)

We note in the Gospel reading for today that when Jesus gives the call to make the commitment, many of those who began the journey left. The commitment was too great, the cost far beyond reach. They were not willing, as Anne Ewing wrote, to acknowledge “that it is very hard to become a Christian”. But she also noted that when we accept the call from Jesus, when we decide that the cost is worth it and the effort is worth the commitment, then “the journey is our home” and we are likely to meet some very nice people along the way and we are going to have many wonderful times. (Adapted from the September issue of Connections and commentary by Anne C. Ewing (“Church-going Doesn’t Make a Christian”) in the August issue of United Methodist Nexus.)

The Old Testament reading for today (1 Kings 8: (1, 6, 10 – 11) 22 -30, 41 – 43)is about Solomon’s construction of the temple. It concludes by noting that many people, not just the Israelites, will hear the call and they will come because of the call. They will come because they know that what they hear brings hope and the promise of peace.

Now, my question today is very simple. Are you one that left and is going in the other direction? Or are you one who has heard the call and is coming?

4 thoughts on “Are You Coming or Going?

  1. I suppose that many comments ridiculed or belittled pacifism. I have a low regard for modern Christian pacifism because of the way that it is often expressed. It often seems less like a holiness movement than a holier-than-thou movement, such as the feigned outrage at my proposal that I buy a gun for home protection while living in a gang-ruled barrio. Or Hauerwas’s pompous condemnations of war without coming up with any alternatives. Or those of Dave Warnock, as I listed in my post.

    Christian pacifists would be able to be more persuasive if they were a little more humble.

  2. Let me give an example of what I’m talking about. A humble pacifist would say, “You know, if we adopt pacifism, we’ll likely be killed by thieves breaking into our houses. And if our country becomes pacifist, we’ll be conquered and overrun in a year, and massacred in the streets. But that’s what Jesus told us to do, so we’re going to do it.”

    If pacifists want to be taken seriously, they have to admit the consquences of their ideas being implemented into public policy. Or private, for that matter.

  3. John, I think that is Tony’s point.
    Tony wrote:
    “These comments were interesting because, first of all, I never thought I was offering support for pacifism. I am not a pacifist by any stretch of the definition. But I am opposed to war, especially when the evidence of past wars shows us there have to be better alternatives than death and destruction.”

    John, can you see that there is a difference between a pacifist and someone who supports non-violent resistance. I have been called a pacifist and for many people that is the best language to use to relate my thoughts and feelings about violence. Yet the issue is much deeper. You may call it rhetoric, but I call it theology.

    Now, I do think you are right about the consequences of a national pacifism. I stand by Romans 13 and understand the violence of the nation’s sword. that does not mean I support or condone the nation’s sword. And in the end I would rather live under the theocracy of a peaceful government who uses the sword to protect not to go half-way around the world to “liberate” another nation (as if that is the real motive).

    Finally Hauerwas does offer an alternative to warring nations… it is called the Church.

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