The New Christians

The New Christians

Comment of the Day 2

More on the Sermon on the Mount, now from Mark Van Steewyk:

Hrmpfh. I could write volumes in response to the different
assumptions and assertions already popping up here. But I’ll try to
keep it brief. :)

First of all, the silly “knife to my child and wife” thing is such a tired counter-response. I recommend John Howard Yoder’s “What Would You Do
as an excellent, thoughtful, short response (that even includes an
article from Janis Joplin). If you are seriously interested in how the
nonviolent person responds to the issue of the lone knifeman, please
check it out. If you are interested, but don’t want to shell out the 10
bucks, please email me at mark [at] and I’ll actually
pay for it myself and ship it to you. Seriously. I want to do my small
part to get people to stop using that argument. :)


Regarding the passage where Jesus tells his disciples to carry
swords: Jesus tells his disciples to each have a sword…they feebly
respond that they have two already…Jesus gets frustrated. And later,
when he’s arrested, Jesus rebukes Peter for using one of the two swords
that they already had.

What’s the point? Why does Jesus tell them to have swords? Given the
context and Jesus’ larger teachings on nonviolence he was trying to
make a larger point that his disciples were too obtuse to get. Which is
why he told them “Enough of this!”

Jesus is being ironic. It is the only thing that makes sense of the
passage. Jesus, on his way to being arrested, knows that the time of
trial has come. And in order to prepare them for the hostility that is
to come, tells them, in effect, to posture themselves for war.


But they take Jesus literally, still unable to interpret the words
of their Master in a way that fits with his overall teaching on the
Kingdom of God. Jesus’ words mustn’t be taken as justification for
armed resistance or self defense. Rather, he is calling his disciples
to face the coming confrontation boldly, doing revolution in the way he
taught them. Jesus taught them a peaceful way to resist the Enemy.
Paul’s teachings on resisting the powers (rather than flesh and blood)
aren’t his innovation–they flow out of the teaching of Christ. Yet
here, in this passage, at this point in the story, the disciples still
don’t get that.

At any rate…it seems clear to me (whether you read this as simply
Jesus fulfilling prophecy so that he can fulfill Isaiah 53 or you see
Jesus as being ironic) that this passage simply cannot be used to
legitimize self-defense. That isn’t the point…and the context actually
refutes that point.

Comments read comments(6)
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posted March 5, 2009 at 9:17 am

I think what you are seeing, Tony, is a reflection of how Christianity in the US has become something that seldom interprets Scripture in a way that convicts the self of sin, and instead finds a way to convict someone else of sin.
In reading the Church Fathers we read of men (and women) who scour the Scriptures daily looking for ways they can improve THEIR walk before God. They look first for SELF-CONVICTION, and those of us reading them benefit from the sometimes harsh manner in which they apply the Scripture first to their own lives.
Unfortunately much of today’s Christianity here in the US is all about convicting someone else, and Scripture is interpreted in light of our individual preferences and prejudices. We, as a culture, like guns. Therefore we look for ways to interpret Jesus’ words so that we can keep our guns, and those who question our interpretation are branded is “effeminate” or “weak”.
Scripture was given to us first and foremost as a mirror in which to evaluate our own lives. Thus we have the admonition to remove the log from our own eye before we try to remove the splinter from someone else’s eye. If only we would return to that standard as a church, as believers, once again.

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posted March 5, 2009 at 9:35 am

This is beautifully stated. Thanks.

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Ian Eastman

posted March 5, 2009 at 9:51 am

“…what you are seeing…is a reflection of how Christianity in the US has become something that seldom interprets Scripture in a way that convicts the self of sin, and instead finds a way to convict someone else of sin.”
RJohnson, I think you deserve the quote of the week. What do you say, Tony?

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Kimberly Ervin Alexander

posted March 5, 2009 at 10:43 am

Well said…all of you! As a Pentecostal, I am appalled at the uncritical endorsement of all things war-like by “my own kind” and other Christians in this nation (though it is nertainly not so in other parts of the world). Last year, while doing some research in early Pentecostalism, I read accounts of Pentecostal evangelist Frank Bartleman traveling in Europe at the beginning of WW1, reflecting on German Pentecostal “brethren” who had been conscripted. And he was absolutely certain that, when and if it came down to it, they would not take another life but would rather lay down their own lives first. His language was startling in that he just assumed a Pentecostal would never take another person’s life! How far we have moved from that assumption!! There is now the assumption that an enemy of America is an enemy of God and the Church, even using the language of “Holy War”! Bartleman decried the notion “Holy War”, saying there would be “Holy War” when there was a “Holy Hell”!

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Jonathan Stegall

posted March 5, 2009 at 12:02 pm

Kimberly, thank you for bringing up the early Pentecostals. I find it interesting that there appears to be a link between nonviolence and movements that (in their beginning, at least) experience phenomena that we now associate with Pentecostals (whether they are specific things, like glossolalia, or more general things). I see the presence of this link in the first/second century church (with its expectance that soldiers would not kill, which has come up in these conversations), various monastic movements, the Quakers, the early Anabaptists, and as you mention it is also present in the early Pentecostals.
As a Pentecostal like yourself, I’ve seen present day people blessing war to the point that they “march” around sanctuaries chanting “War, War, War” while referring to specific goals or actions of America. I think this conversation desperately needs to be had in our movement, and am thankful that you brought it up.

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posted March 5, 2009 at 3:05 pm

What we are seeing is a reflection on how Christianity in the USA has become something that seldom interprets Scripture in a way that convicts national/systemic sins, and instead finds a way to only convict personal/individual sins. We need to remember that Scripture suggests that God cares deeply what we do as communities and nations.
Micah 4:3 says: “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”
Psalm 46:9-10 says: “God makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. ‘Be still, and know that I am God’!”
Matthew 25:31-36 says: ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
The list could go on and on. The need to repent on a national/systemic level is clear.

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