Adventism and Activism

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Nothing annoys me more in the context of activism than Christian activists who send a message of hate to the culture around them. You know what I am talking about: Picketers at LGBT events that hold up signs about how God hates homosexuals (though they usually use much more offensive terms), or crowds who come out from the local evangelical churches to yell hateful slurs at pregnant women as they enter abortion clinics. This type of activism may make us feel like we are doing God a favor. It makes us feel like we are standing up for him and doing the right thing. But the more I read the Bible the more difficult I find it to picture the God who constantly rebuked the “religious” while hanging out with the “others” at one of these events.

However, I do believe Christians should be activists. This is something I have come to really embrace recently. For example, I am a Seventh-day Adventist. As a Seventh-day Adventist many of my beliefs actually encourage activism. Here are some examples:

Creation: The belief that we were created by a loving God, in his image, for the purpose of relationship shows that all of human life is valuable and precious. As a result Adventists should stand for human rights and equality among all of humanity including equality of women and children. We should also be active in the fight against slavery (surprisingly prevalent in the world today especially in the context of sexual slavery), child labor, abortion, human trafficking, domestic and workplace abuse, bullying, racism etc. We should be deeply involved in supporting ministries for the homeless, the abused, the battered women shelters, and should sound a loud cry against genocides, war crimes (such as what we see in Syria right now), and the mistreatment of any human being whether they be an illegal immigrant, an atheist, a Muslim, a criminal, a homosexual, or anything else.* According to the creation model, all humanity is God’s creation and regardless of our choices we all deserve basic human rights. This also calls us to be stewards of our environment and stand against Corporate Climate Silence, support the EPA, and join the Going Green movement.

Sabbath: The Sabbath is a memorial of Creation. As a result, everything said above applies. However, the Sabbath commandment also highlights the value of foreigners and animals. As a result, Adventists should stand for the fair treatment of immigrants and animal rights. While we may be polarized as to how we deal with the whole “immigration problem” we should not be polarized as to how we deal with immigrants. They, as much as anyone else, are human beings and deserve to be treated with love and respect. Servants were not allowed to work on the Sabbath in Israel either. This calls us to stand for the fair treatment of workers including fair wages, hours, and time off. Growing up, it seems like the only thing the Sabbath got Adventists involved in was the fight for Religious Liberty. And that’s awesome! We totally need that and have done pretty well at it. But religious liberty only benefits the religious. We need to take a stand that will make this world a better place and the Sabbath calls us to much more than just religious liberty. The Sabbath is all about rest. Part of it is a call to rest in Gods finished work of creation. This calls us to stand up for environmental issues and the conservation of wildlife, parks, and endangered species. The Sabbath is also a day God set apart for us. We don’t do God a favor when we keep the Sabbath, he does us a favor. The Sabbath is a day that God connects with humanity on a deeper level than throughout the week without the distractions of work and bills. This highlights the fact that God loves to mingle with people. The ultimate revelation of that is the incarnation of Christ who “dwelt among us” and calls us to be likewise incarnational. Incarnational ministry follows Jesus model of becoming a man and dwelling among us. Adventists are known more by their attempt to get away from every one than for their attempt to mingle. But the Sabbath calls us to be incarnational. To live in the cities, the suburbs, the mountains, the country and to mingle with those around us and seek intimacy with them. This calls us once again to stand for the equality of humanity by standing against exclusivism, elitism, racism, prejudice, feminism, chauvinism, sexism, discrimination and bigotry.

Christs Ministry in the Heavenly Sanctuary and the Second Coming: The teaching that Christ began his final work for humanity in 1844 and whose second coming is now at hand has serious implications for our culture. Firstly, it is a huge call to missions and gospel centered humanitarian work of which Adventists do very well at internationally. However, looking at the churches around me here in America I would never even come close to guessing that we have such an urgent message for the world as 1844, the investigative judgment, and the second coming. As a matter of fact, it would seem that the rest of the evangelical world is the one that has that package simply by the way many of them do church. Many of our churches are dead. Many of them are not preparing anyone for the judgment or the second coming. On the flip side, many evangelical churches are community centers that reach out and heal the broken through divorce ministries, addiction recovery, teen outreach, friendship evangelism, health evangelism, etc. while many SDA churches are simply Sabbath morning clubs. 1844, the investigative judgment, and the second coming call us to step out of our spiritual myopia and become actively involved in helping the addicted, the broken, the lonely. It is a call to reach out to this lost world with more urgency than ever before that they may come to know Christ and his cleansing blood. However, we don’t just do that by going into a city and hosting an evangelistic series at a church no one wants to go to. We do this by making our churches centers of healing and hope and by going out into the community and meeting their needs, supporting their children’s education and schools, teaming up with agencies like the food bank and providing food for the hungry and help for the poor. In doing so we will open the doors to prepare people to face the judgment with joy and meet Jesus with dancing.

Christian Behavior: This doctrine calls Christians to live lives that honor God. This includes choosing amusement, entertainment, dress, and foods that honor God. Herein is so much we can stand for. While the rest of the evangelical world is making leaps and bounds in creating high-quality Christian entertainment including movies and music Adventists seem to be lagging way behind. How about creating an Adventist fashion line that makes modest but trendy clothes (it seems like most modest clothes was pulled out of grandmas closet)? Ever heard of Modest is Hottest? It is a Christian ministry that takes a stand against the objectification of women and seeks to help young girls find their true value in Christ. Adventists should be active in the fight against the adult industry which breeds objectification and is linked to crimes such as rape and sexual slavery. And what about food? Adventists have been preaching the health message for decades now, but we have dropped the ball on it. For many of us the health message consists of “don’t eat unclean meats, drink, or smoke and you are healthy” while nothing could be further from the truth. Many vegetarian and vegan Adventists are just as obese and unhealthy as meat eaters. In addition, many who are healthy are not really healthy. This is because health is not only physical but social, mental, spiritual, and sexual. In addition, Adventists should have been leading the way in health evangelism, however, a recent article in Christianity Today shows that it is the rest of the evangelical world that is doing so.** They are publishing best sellers and some churches are even building fitness facilities. One such church built a fitness facility for the community and went from 200 members to 8,000 in six years. Now, I am not suggesting that this is a competition and that everyone else is beating us at it so we need to run faster. I am simply suggesting that we have had this message all along and have not done what we could with it. And its not just our brothers and sisters from other denominations doing this, its the secular world as well. Our culture is enamored with preventative medicine right now. Awesome documentaries about health, longevity, the food industry, and the benefits of vegetarianism are all being made by agencies who have no burden for Christ and his salvation. We need to take a more active stand against obesity and sugar, the unethical practices of the food industry, and better nutrition and fitness programs for public schools.

So the question now is, how can we take a stand on all of these issues and at the same time not become those hate spewing activists that I mentioned at the beginning of this article? The answer is found in the following Adventist doctrine:

Great Controversy: The belief that humanity is deeply involved in a war between Christ and Satan should influence the way we interact with our culture. Every ounce of wickedness in this world is a symptom of this horrendous war. And at the center of this war is a distortion of the character of God. It is this distortion that keeps so many people away from God and causes the culture to despise God. As a result, while Adventists should be activists and take a stand on many relevant issues we must always do it with the Great Controversy in mind – remembering that our enemy is not sinners but sin, not humans but demons. Our responsibility in being activists is not to show the world what we are against but to show them what we are for. To show them the love of God in a way that has never been seen before. This is what Jesus did. While he hated sin he always showed love to the sinner. The character of God has been so maligned over the centuries that being an activist with a hateful “me vs. you” attitude will only hurt more than it will heal. God is calling us to reveal his character of love to the world. This must be our main priority. No matter what cause we choose to engage in and support the people on the “other side” must never get the impression that we hate them. In addition, the Great Controversy helps us to remember what is really important. Many people involved in activism become obsessed with their cause. Christians cannot afford to do this. Jesus and his saving grace should be the our theme and song. It is not healthy to approach any of these causes with an obsessive legalistic attitude that breeds elitism, bigotry, and conspiracy theorizing which leads to the demonization of everything and everyone in our culture. Jesus. His love. His grace. His power. His love. This is to be the heart beat of our activism. If it is, I believe we can engage in these causes in a way that will promote healing, kindness, and love. That would be awesome.

So there you have it. The pillars of Adventism are more than cute doctrines for us to debate over Sabbath lunch at grandmas house. Instead, believing in them places upon us the responsibility to live them out in our daily lives. While activism will never fix the problems of this world we are nevertheless called to not just believe but do something with what we believe. I’d like to begin. Will you join me?

Note: This article was originally published at pomopastor.com

* For the sake of clarity, let it be known that I am in no way shape or form equating any of the practices and lifestyles mentioned in this statement with one another.

** http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2013/june/fitness-driven-church.html

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I Have a Dream…Realized!

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In the parable of Luke 19 there is a man who goes off to a foreign country to receive a kingdom. He leaves others in charge while he is gone. They are to rule over the finances that he has given them with wisdom and shrewdness. At the end of the parable, the man returns to receive those who he left behind and their increase. As a result of their care, they are put as rulers over cities in the man’s kingdom.

 

This parable is about Jesus. Jesus has come to earth, given His people a commission, then returned to heaven to receive a kingdom. Our commission is to win people’s hearts to Christ’s kingdom. Think of yourself as an exile or ambassador in a foreign land. “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” 1 Corinthians 5:20

 

This is why Christ was focused on changing people’s hearts in a spiritual way. This is why He didn’t set up a kingdom on earth. He told Pilate when He was being accused of insurrection, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” John 18:36 The only place that Christ’s kingdom exists on earth is in our hearts, our minds, and our relationships, “And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” Luke 17:20, 21

 

It is becoming popular to be an activist in our world today. People want to make a difference in other’s lives…physically. They see injustice and they seek to fix the injustice by compassion on the person and a zealous pursuit of legislation that will change the situation permanently. Believe it or not, a lot of this culture has risen as the result of an intense evangelical effort to push the establishment of the kingdom of God on earth. The idea that you can begin living heaven on earth now is as easy to find as a google search for “books about the kingdom of heaven on earth”.

 

“But today in the religious world there are multitudes who, as they believe, are working for the establishment of the kingdom of Christ as an earthly and temporal dominion. They desire to make our Lord the ruler of the kingdoms of this world, the ruler in its courts and camps, its legislative halls, its palaces and market places. They expect Him to rule through legal enactments, enforced by human authority. Since Christ is not now here in person, they themselves will undertake to act in His stead, to execute the laws of His kingdom. The establishment of such a kingdom is what the Jews desired in the days of Christ. They would have received Jesus, had He been willing to establish a temporal dominion, to enforce what they regarded as the laws of God, and to make them the expositors of His will and the agents of His authority. But He said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” John 18:36. He would not accept the earthly throne.” (Desire of Ages see below)

 

Here is my question to you: Are you trying to make America (or whatever nation you are from) Christ’s kingdom?

 

Peter and Daniel tell us that this earth and the kingdoms of this world will be destroyed. This is good news considering that America in Revelation 13 is a dragon under cover of the lamb. The idea of heaven on earth may sound nice, but it wasn’t at all the example of Christ, and it is only nice for those that aren’t suffering from extreme poverty, illness, disease, rape, murder, distress, etc. Those people need the hope of Christ and His Kingdom IN Heaven where all of that will be wiped away and people will be healed and renewed.

 

“The government under which Jesus lived was corrupt and oppressive; on every hand were crying abuses,—extortion, intolerance, and grinding cruelty. Yet the Saviour attempted no civil reforms. He attacked no national abuses, nor condemned the national enemies. He did not interfere with the authority or administration of those in power. He who was our example kept aloof from earthly governments. Not because He was indifferent to the woes of men, but because the remedy did not lie in merely human and external measures. To be efficient, the cure must reach men individually, and must regenerate the heart.” (Desire of Ages see below)

 

The activism that Christ is calling men to is to spread the legislation that is already in place in the heavenly kingdom. We must be active in our implementation of that legislation and directing hopeless eyes toward the hope of Christ and a future. Be compassionate upon those who are in need and neglected, but then point them to heaven where Freedom Rings! Point them to the city that is never dark and whose light blazes with the light of the lamb and God himself.

 

This is actually what made the experiences of the most faithful people of scripture unique. They didn’t identify themselves as being citizens of some earthly kingdom, but they saw themselves as pilgrims passing through. They believed in a heavenly city, and they found their calling as ambassadors or exiles in enemy territory. Their mission was to faithfully point people to God’s kingdom where He will wipe away every tear, and heal all illnesses and disease, and put right all the wrongs that have been committed. (Hebrews 11 and Revelation 21-22)

 

So what does that mean for how we choose to be political activists while here on earth? Should we try to make a difference in the legislative halls in the countries that we live in? Are we called to ignore the methods of democracy and focus on comforting people in their distress, rather than permanently fixing their needs legislatively? Does Christ’s example of being aloof from earthly governments demonstrate to us how we should act? Was Christ actually a political activist in some way? Are we not supposed to take political offices? If that is the case, where do we draw the line? Defendant but not lawyer? Lawyer but not judge? Judge but not politician? And what are the implications for rallies and marches? What about demonstrations? Occupy Washington? Or how about the way we use Facebook?

 

Sam and I were wrestling with these very things last night. We couldn’t agree about where to draw the line… too many questions. What we both were very certain about is that the reason or purpose for what you are doing matters the most. If you are being an activist for recognition, then its wrong. If you are doing something because its popular, then its wrong. Even if you are doing something that is right but not for the purpose of building up the Kingdom of God, then you are doing it wrong.

 

That is without a doubt the message that Christ preached, and the message that we want to preach at The Haystack. Become an activist building up the Kingdom of God! In your actions draw your brothers and sisters and family and friends (both real and spiritual) together. Think about how you can speak out about injustices while simultaneously building relationships even with your enemies. When Christ delivered His list of woes to the Pharisees, it was with tears in His eyes and a desire to draw them back to Him through those words. Christ was even pursuing the heart of Pilate while He was on trial. Jesus didn’t treat the rich young ruler, or Zacchaeus with rudeness. He wanted to unite their hearts with His.

 

I can tell you this. When I think of Dr. King, I really, truly, honestly believe that he would have accepted me through and through. I believe that he really did want to sit together enjoying a Sabbath afternoon while our children played in the yard. I hear through his words a uniting voice that draws races together while pointing people toward God’s ideal. His voice builds up the kingdom of God! In all areas of activism, this should be our hearts desire – draw all mens hearts to Christ in unity. That’s what happens when Christ is lifted up.

 

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once delivered a famous speech. It is known, by most people, as his “I have a Dream” speech. Here are some brilliant lines:

 

“And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification” — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

 

And this will be the day — this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning:

My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.

Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride,

From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

 

But not only that:

 

Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

 

And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

 

Free at last! Free at last!

Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

I must tell you Dr. King that your dream of unity and freedom will be realized! In fact, it is guaranteed. But it probably won’t be in Mississippi, nor will it be in Georgia, nor will it be in New York. In fact, it seems that it won’t ever be fully realized in this “great” nation of America. Our problems of racism in the hearts of humanity lie too deeply rooted for any kingdom of this world to fix. Our nature is too broken to be mended by our great nation, or any great earthly nation for that matter. However, there is a kingdom where this cry will be heard echoing throughout the universe… it is the Kingdom of God! I promise you this… when that day finally comes, I will stand on the sea of glass knowing that racism has been beat. I will take up your offer to sing right next to you, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

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The Desire of Ages: Not With Outward Show

http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkihaveadream.htm

http://www.archives.gov/press/exhibits/dream-speech.pdf

Jesus Says #illridewithyou

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When my wife told me about the Sydney cafe siege I found myself glued to the news for the remainder of the day. Candice and I prayed for the outcome hoping that everything would work out fine. Sadly, 2 innocent hostages were killed along with the troubled Islamic extremist who held them captive for over 15 hours.

I was at work when the siege ended. The doctor I was working with, a Muslim man from Pakistan, was receiving calls and texts from his family who were worried about his safety. They had heard about the hate crimes that often follow terrorist acts and were hoping that he would be safe from any anti-Islamic retaliations. Their concerns were not unfounded. The terrorist act perpetrated by this man was sure to spark anger and hatred among certain segments of the population who would attempt to lash out against all Muslims as a way of “getting back”.

And it happened. A Muslim woman riding the train was harrased by a male passenger. Another Muslim woman riding the train was reported to have removed her hijab fearing her safety. “Within hours of the attack… a Muslim group reported that women wearing the hijab had been spat on and the right-wing Australian Defence League [ADL] called on followers to protest at two major mosques.”[1]

However, something remarkable happened. The woman harrassed on the train was defended by the rest of the passengers resulting in the mans arrest. The woman who removed her hijab was approached by a local named Rachel who told her “put it back on, I’ll walk with you.” Rachel said “She started to cry and hugged me for about a minute – then walked off alone.”[2] And the protests called by the ADL never materialized. But that wasn’t all. Twitter soon became inundated with the hashtag #illridewithyou. “The Twitter hash tag… express[es] support for Muslims who felt vulnerable on public transport in the wake of the siege.”[2] Yahoo News reports, “within hours it had been used in almost 120,000 tweets.”[3]

And the trend continues to grow as Australians rise to the occasion, responding to the Muslim community with love instead of hatred. Of course, not everyone is supportive but I have to say, I am totally blown away by how beautiful this response has been. During the last 3 months I have had the opportunity to work with a handful of Muslims from Pakistan, Malaysia and even Iran. It has been amazing to hear them tell their side of the story – how they hated Sadam Hussein, Osama Binladen, and the insanity of Islamic State. They have spoken to me of love, tolerance, respect for fellow human beings, and a desire to live at peace. These wonderful Muslims are haunted by the actions of fanatics whose inhumanity leaves them shaking their heads and at times, fearing for their safety.

Jesus calls us to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us, and to treat each other as we would like to be treated. He calls us to embrace the foreigner and to treat every man as our neighbor. He calls us to reflect his character to this world by living, not for our own self-interests, but for the well being of others.[5] In effect, Jesus says #illridewithyou and I want his words to be exemplified in my life.

Now I don’t use public transport. This limits my ability to truly “ride” with a fellow Muslim. But what I can do is support the cause by refusing to embrace intolerance, hatred, anger, and enmity against Muslims, by standing up for them when they are mistreated, and by spreading the message of acceptance and kindness that is desperately needed in this hate-filled world.

In short: Jesus says #illridewithyou and so do I.

Note: This article was originally published on pomopastor.com

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[1] http://www.calgarysun.com/2014/12/15/illridewithyou-emerges-as-muslims-fear-sydney-siege-backlash
[2] http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2014/dec/15/illridewithyou-hashtag-offers-solidarity-to-sydneys-muslims-after-cafe-siege
[3] http://www.calgarysun.com/2014/12/15/illridewithyou-emerges-as-muslims-fear-sydney-siege-backlash
[4] https://au.news.yahoo.com/nsw/a/25780011/illridewithyou-support-for-muslim-australians-takes-off-following-sydney-siege/
[5] Matthew 5:43-48, Luke 10:25-37, Luke 9:54-56, Galatians 3:28

photo credit: thedescrier via photopin cc

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Why Christians Should Not Justify Torture

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“You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” —Caiaphas (John 11.50)

Substitute the word “tortured” in place of the word “die” in the above passage and you’ve got quite a provocative story.

I’m presently alarmed at hearing how many Christians are justifying America’s use of torture, saying things like, “They did what they had to do to protect the American nation.”

The first time I heard those words, the words of Caiaphas rang in my ears. This mentality, this logic, this philosophy, this way of reasoning should be the last for any follower of Jesus, for it was this way of reasoning that led to the death of our Lord. It’s this reasoning that killed Jesus.

It’s thi line of reasoning that led to the torturing of your Jesus. It’s this line of reasoning that led to your Jesus being bound and “blindfolded,” made to stand within a circle of men and guards who “spat in his face,” “slapped him” repeatedly, “struck” him, shouting “insults,” tauntingly endeavoring to intimidate him by asking him over and over to tell them, “Who struck you?”[i] And this was only by the ecclesiastical structure.

Jesus was charged with suspicion of insurrection[ii] against the Roman Empire and then turned over to a group of Roman soldiers who had no knowledge of the preceding case. The soldiers didn’t know Pilate believed he was innocent. If Jesus was standing before them he must have been guilty, and they were required to follow orders. After all, the peace of Rome (the Pax Romana, Rome’s national interests) was at stake!

So the military soldiers of the Roman Empire did to Jesus what they did to all suspected insurgents. (Remember that torture and crucifixion was reserved for the political enemies of Rome.)

The whole cohort of military soldiers was gathered around Jesus. They “stripped” him and made him stand naked in front of them all. After they chained him to a post and tortured him, they dressed this insurgent in the royal garb of an opposing empire. Then they taunted him, spat in his face and struck him repeatedly upon his wounds. [iii]

Then they led him away to be torturously executed.

Yes, it’s ugly to consider—but this, the torture of your Jesus, is where your philosophy that torture is necessary to protect national interests leads.

“In case Christians need reminding, we worship a suspected Middle Eastern insurgent who was tortured.”

The resurrection of Jesus is God’s critique of Caiaphas’ justification of using violence, including torture, for the purpose of protecting national interests (“Better for one man to die than the whole nation destroyed”—John 11.50). When Jesus died as a result of Caiaphas’ methodology, the entire philosophy of justifying violence for national preservation was unmasked. By God resurrecting Jesus, God is, once and for all, unequivocally critiquing the way of the empire, torturing suspected threats included. The resurrection locates God within the narrative. God was not with Caiaphas, protecting Jewish national interests. God was not with Herod, protecting economic interests of the wealthy. God was not with Pilate, protecting Roman empirical interests. The resurrection reveals that God was in the one shamefully tortured and suspended on a tree at the orders of superiors and at the hands of those who were simply following the chain of command. The resurrection is God’s action over and against the torture and death of Jesus as a necessary evil for national security. In the resurrection, God undoes and reverses the torture and death of Jesus and makes known for all to acknowledge, “I’m in solidarity with this one whom you tortured.”[iv]

The narrative of the death and resurrection of Jesus is saying to us that this entire philosophy is flawed, for if even God were to show up and be perceived as potential threat, a suspected insurgent, even with due process, the system would torture and murder God, too.

As Mark Van Steenwyk recently stated, “In case Christians need reminding, we worship a suspected Middle Eastern insurgent who was tortured.”

It is always the fear of a foreign threat that drives the methodology of violence, including torture. In the 16th century, it was fear of the Turks taking over Europe that led to the torture and murder of the Anabaptists who spoke out against violence in the name of national interest. In Jesus’ day, it was fear of the Romans that caused Jesus’ Jewish audience to reject his critique of violence. In our time, Martin Luther King Jr. was quickly assassinated when he added a critique of the use of violence for the protection of national interests in Vietnam to his platform of racial equality. Gandhi, too, was murdered when his nonviolence was seen as no longer a tool for national interest, but as a threat. It was this fear of foreign threat that has also radically changed the face of Christianity for the last 1,700 years.

Let me tell you a story. For the first 300 years of Christianity, Jesus’ followers were a nonviolent people who felt it was better to have their own blood shed than to have their hands stained with the blood of another. As Christianity began to exponentially grow, this became a problem to the Roman Empire in the fourth century—for if everyone became a Jesus follower and embraced Jesus’ teachings on nonviolence, who, then, would protect the national interests of Rome against foreign threats? Everyone would become a noncombatant.

Thus began the long and much disputed history of the Constantinian shift within Christianity, where Christianity simply became the tool of the empire.

But let’s imagine for a moment that the national interests of Rome in the fourth century had never compromised Christianity. As Christianity continued to grow, more and more Roman citizens would have embraced Jesus’ teachings on nonviolence.  Rome would have eventually fallen to foreign invaders. But the Christians would still have been present, and they would have continued to grow exponentially. Eventually, the new foreign empire would be facing the same challenges to its national interests that Rome had faced and would fall to its foreign threat. But, again, the Christians would still be present and still continue to grow. The third empire coming in contact with these Christians would eventually, too, be facing the same dilemmas.  This history would be repeated over and over, until, eventually, you would run out of empires, and Jesus’ new world would have been the last one standing.  All empires and national interests (beasts and dragons; see the book of Revelation) would have been overcome by a Lamb—not by a sword, but by a cross.

Would many Christians have died in the process? Absolutely. Yet they would have died with the hope of a resurrection into this new world once it became unobstructed. This is why Jesus emphatically said that the way we are going to change the world is through crosses not swords. Remember, crosses were only used by Rome for those suspected of being a threat to her nation interests.

“Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’” (Matthew 16.24, emphasis added.)

“Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14.27, emphasis added.)

What does this all mean to American Christians today?

What if America, like Rome, has to fail for Jesus’ New World to succeed? Which allegiance would you choose? Would you remain a Jesus follower, or would your American patriotism and the protection of America’s national interests be of greater value? In other words, would you give up being an American to follow the ethical teachings of Jesus?

As Jesus followers, we are to call the nations to embrace the new world that has been founded by this Jesus.[v] When his followers historically have genuinely followed Jesus’ teachings, they have always been seen as a threat to the national interests of whichever empire they were living amidst. They were accused of turning society “upside down, ” as acting “contrary” to the interests of the Roman “empire.”[vi] Rather than calling Caesar “Lord,” they proclaimed Jesus was “Lord.” (Acts 16.31.) Rather than calling Caesar “King” and “Son of God,” they proclaimed Jesus as “King” and “Son of God.” (Acts 17.5–7, 9.20.) Rather than justifying actions for the perseverance of the “Pax Romana” (Peace through Rome), they proclaimed the “Pax Jesus Christo” (Peace through Jesus Christ). (Acts 10.36.) The refused to subscribe to Rome’s propaganda as being the “Savior of the World,” but instead proclaimed Jesus as the “Savior of the World.” (1 John 4.14.)

For all of these reasons, Jesus followers should be the last to justify the use of torture by any nation to protect that nation’s national interests. Not only was our Lord tortured and killed as a result of this way of reasoning, but Jesus also said we, as those who announce the new world founded by Jesus, we would also be seen as threats to our respective national interests, and tortured and killed as well.

“Then they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name.” (Matthew 24.9, emphasis added.)

Please, my fellow Christians here in America, stop justifying America’s use of torture.

“Love your enemies.”—Jesus, The Gospel of Matthew

“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you.”—Jesus, The Gospel of Matthew

Till the only world that remains is a world where love reigns …

 

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[i] “Then they spat in his face and struck him; and some slapped him, saying, ‘Prophesy to us, you Messiah! Who is it that struck you?’” (Matthew 26. 67–68.)

“Some began to spit on him, to blindfold him, and to strike him, saying to him, ‘Prophesy!’ The guards also took him over and beat him.” (Mark 14.64–65.)

“Now the men who were holding Jesus began to mock him and beat him; they also blindfolded him and kept asking him, ‘Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?’ They kept heaping many other insults on him.” (Luke 22.63–65.)

“When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, ‘Is that how you answer the high priest?’” (John 18.22.)

[ii] “But they were insistent and said, ‘He stirs up the people by teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to this place.’” (Luke 23.5.)

[iii] “Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.” (Matthew 27.27–31.)

“Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort. And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. And they began saluting him, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.” (Mark 15.16–20.)”

“And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ and striking him on the face.” (John 19.2–3.)

[iv] “Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know—this man, given to you according to the definite plan and purpose of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.” (Acts 2.22–24.)

“This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear.” (Acts 2.32–33.)

“Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2.36.)

“The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors, has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, but God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.” (Acts 3.12–16.)

“Let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, but whom God raised from the dead. This Jesus is ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.’” (Acts 4.10–11.)

“The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Founder and Savior.” (Acts 5.30–32.)

“You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day.” (Acts 10.36–43.)

“Even though they found no cause for a sentence of death, they asked Pilate to have him killed. When they had carried out everything that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead; and for many days he appeared to those who came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, and they are now his witnesses to the people. And we bring you the good news that what God promised to our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising Jesus.” (Acts 13.23–38.)

[v] “Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.’” (Matthew 28.18–17, emphasis added.)

“That night the Lord stood near him and said, ‘Keep up your courage! For just as you have testified for me in Jerusalem, so you must bear witness also in Rome.’” (Acts 23.11, emphasis added.)

“Then I saw another angel flying in midheaven, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation and tribe and language and people.” (Revelation 14.6, emphasis added.)

“Great and amazing are your deeds, Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, King of the nations! Lord, who will not fear and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All the nations will come and worship before you, for your judgments have been revealed.” (Revelation 15.3–4, emphasis added.)

“To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all the peoples, the nations, and the languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.” (Daniel 7.13–14, emphasis added.)

“I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb … the nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. … On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” (Revelation 21.22–22.2, emphasis added.)

[vi] “While they were searching for Paul and Silas to bring them out to the assembly, they attacked Jason’s house. When they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some believers before the city authorities, shouting, ‘These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has entertained them as guests. They are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying that there is another king named Jesus.’” (Acts 17.5–7, emphasis added.)

photo credit: Davi Ozolin via photopin cc

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Herb Montgomery is a Jesus-follower, husband, and father whose passion is to share who God really is with everyone he meets. Though his faith-journey began as a fear-based, performance oriented experience he soon encountered the teachings of Jesus and his life has never been the same. Herb has little interest in most things religious and believes that Christianity is  “about a person, not a religion”. He is speaker and director of Renewed Heart Ministries. You can check it out at renewedheartministries.com 

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