If it is a war, Jesus has given us our orders

“When you spend everyday fighting a war, you learn to demonize your attackers. To you they’re evil, they’re sub-human. Because if they weren’t, then what would that make you?” – General Vanessa Kimble, Red Vs Blue

So I’ve been attending a new church for a couple of weeks and I spend most of the time at the back reading a book on my Kindle and making notes on various things. One of the things I note down are anything that stands out to me during the sermon and this has been the case over the last couple of weeks. The passage that has been the subject has been the “armor of God” passage (Ephesians 6:10-17) which, just for ease of reference, is below:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Now, the way the vicar went with this passage was about Christians being in a war with the world. We are in a war with the world and it’s ways; we are either on the worlds side or God’s side, that we need to go on the attack for the best form of defence, all wrapped up in ‘Jesus took the punishment due to us for us on the cross’ and we need to be prepared. Sufficed to say this left me very uncomfortable and not because it was particularly challenging. It was the overall narrative of conflict of Christians should be effectively be raging a war. Now I kind of agree to a point, and I will hopefully elaborate more during this blog, but I think the vicar has the wrong target in their sights, not to mention very questionable tactics which when brought together, results in things that not only don’t seem to be of Jesus, but are actually creating more problems, if not create the very problem it’s trying to solve.

Let’s start with the target and for that, lets go right back to Genesis. God created this world and He declared it good. Then a serpent came in, convinced Adam and Eve to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the world went wrong. Now, the concept of original sin and what Genesis is about is a subject of lengthy debates, and admittedly God did seem to wipe it all out and start again, but God has never stopped loving the world. He hated what it had become, He hated what it was doing and He hated what caused it, but He never stopped loving it. Arguably one of the most famous passages, John 3:16, states “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” and Jesus was quite clear about the 2 greatest commands; Love God and love your neighbour. We are not called to hate the world, we are not called to be at war with it, we are called to care for the sick, the dying, and the poor (James 2:14-17), but I’m going to come back to this.

So, who is the enemy, who is the target? The one who came in and wreaked havoc, the one that Paul refers to in Ephesians; the devil. The devil doesn’t want the focus to be on God but on ourselves and serving our selves at the individual level. It’s easy to stand on a pedestal and say “yes, the world has adopted the devils ways”, and that would probably be true, but so have many churches and Christians which is why when you speak out for equality and peace, the biggest firestorm comes from Christians. It seems that the ways of the Church and the ways of the devil are now so closely entwined that they’re virtually indistinguishable from each other. We now see enemies at every corner that we fight ourselves more than we fight the devil. Paul is very explicit, our war is not against flesh and blood and our readiness comes from a gospel of peace. Yet from a pulpit I heard “Jesus wasn’t interested in/here for world peace but our relationship with God”. First off, there still seems to be the individual self serving nature (“our” relationship with God is meant as “mine”) but a relationship with God and world peace are not 2 mutually exclusive options. To follow God means to serve others because that’s what Jesus did, and serving others instead of fighting means world peace.

So we seem to have the wrong target, what about the tactics? Well, Jesus was not slow to go on the attack against the Pharisees regarding their attitude towards those who they deemed to be unworthy (a theme to which I will return), but he was also equally as quick to show love to people. His attack was against the ways of the devil the Pharisees adopted that resulted in people being hurt was love and healing. But people see attacking as that, an attack to hurt and defeat an opponent and the vicar used actual war examples where that was the aim to show “this works and is good and what we should do”. Peter showed though that when you adopt that strategy as an attack, people get very hurt. Jesus not only rebuked him for it though, he healed the soldier to repair the damage, (Matthew 26:51-52). Jesus used his ‘attacks’ to defend others, Peter used his ‘attacks’ to harm others and this distinction has got very lost and was missing from these sermons. It seems to be a very important distinction because passages like Ephesians get used to support Christians owning (and using) guns and authors like Ben Corey and Derek Flood do an excellent job in showing this distinction; Flood has written an entire book dedicated to this subject. I put some of my views in “Should I defend myself

When we bring these 2 together and add in “you can only be on God’s side or the worlds side”, that’s when things start getting really quite off track. Obviously any Christian would want to be on God’s side and the world is God’s enemy, so the world is therefore our enemy and we must defend ourselves and attack is the best form of defence. The end result is Christians attacking anyone who don’t deem to be on God’s side and that’s what we’re seeing today. People leaving church because they don’t feel welcome, people being asked to leave the church because they disagree with the church’s stance on a certain doctrine, countries saying they’d prefer Christian refugees, LGBT youth getting kicked out of their home and much worse. I started with a quote about what happens when you fight a war, what can be argued has to happen to fight a war and when you start using a war-like message, it’s the mindset that people will enter into. To wage a war against an enemy is not loving them and Jesus was extremely clear on how highly he rates that command (Mark 12:30-31).

This wasn’t meant to turn into another rant against the church. It should be said that this church does a lot of work with the homeless, particularly homeless young people and they should absolutely be applauded for that. I also know that my perspective does follow a very similar conflict model which in itself may be problematic. I’m also not saying this church is causing this harm directly, but the message that got preached certainly is. Preaching this kind of conflict narrative is only going to result in a tighter circling of the wagons to protect “our own” which is going to disconnect the church from the world more than it already is. Now, there are some Christians who believe it should be disconnected, “in the world but not of it”, but Jesus came to this world, made himself part of that worldly suffering. Even if we are in a war, it’s not against the world, it’s for it and Jesus has given us our orders; love your neighbour, care for the sick, feed the hungry, shelter the poor; that’s how you win. or as Ben Corey puts it:

Corey

Update: I sent this to the vicar in question and he responded by saying he didn’t say we were at war with the world, and has offered to chat about what he actually said/meant. When and if that happens, I will update further.

Advertisements

You know that Love your neighbour thing? I think He meant it

love_thy_neighbor-billboard

So this article appeared on my Facebook feed from Premier and it was jaw dropping for all the wrong reasons. But the comments on their Facebook page was even worse and Christians have been endorsing them. Given the level of comments on there when same-sex marriage is discussed, I can’t say I’m surprised but this has just pissed me off!

From quoting 2 Corinthians 8 to saying “would we help others if we can’t take care of our own?” (a popular response all round really) to “we can’t encourage worshiping other Gods“, the parable of the Good Samaritan has evidently been omitted from their Bibles. For those who are missing this passage, here’s the NIV translation:

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” In reply Jesus said: A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.  So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.  He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.  The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”  The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, Go and do likewise.”

Now, it’s evident from the passage the man was a Jew and they didn’t exactly like the Samaritans and vice versa. But a Samaritan risked his life to help this man and Jesus’s words don’t exactly have any wiggle room; “Go and do likewise” How much clearer can you get? If that’s not enough, let’s add in Jesus’s words from the Sermon on the Mount:

 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, (Matthew 5:43-44)

Now there are those who do back flips to show how ‘neighbour’ doesn’t mean everyone, but I don’t see how Jesus was referring to anyone but everyone. He spoke to a Samaritan woman who was outcast by her community, he had dinner with tax collectors and it was the Pharisees who were up in arms running around quoting scripture (the similarity to now is also lost on people). He also healed a Roman soldier who was there to arrest him. Seriously, how much clearer can he get?

Now Cyprus may have limited resources and Socratis Hasikos said:

“We would seek for them to be Orthodox Christians … it’s not an issue of being inhuman or not helping if we are called upon, but to be honest, yes, that’s what we would prefer.”

No, that’s exactly what it is. Are the other refugees somehow not worthy of your help? If they do have limited resources to spare, I doubt anyone would object to them putting a limit on the number they take in, but they’re setting up a filtering process based on who they think is worthy; and if this has echos of the past for people then Christians have seriously gone down the wrong path.

Some have concerns that Muslims may want to set up a mosque on site to pray. So what? No one would be forced to join in, and I doubt they’re trying to get into the country as part of a conspiracy to enforce Islam, they’re just scared people, in need of some safety, stability and shelter. As for 2 Corinthians 8, Jesus outranks Paul whatever the context.  I can just imagine the apocalyptic fit that Christians would get themselves into if Cyprus said they would only take Muslims or take anyone but Christians. Once again, it seems anything is permissible if it’s Christians doing it.

Some people will really stretch to find a way to exclude people, to not help them, to keep themselves pure yet completely ignoring that Jesus was doing the polar opposite. We are called Christians because we follow Christ, that’s the origins of the name Christian, isn’t it about time we acted like it?

P.S. I am very aware of the many Christians who don’t care about someones faith and are out there helping everyone they can who need it, and that I haven’t always been the greatest Christian in the world. But this really frickin annoyed me and I had to get it out.

Edit 8th September: Apparently Tory MP Sir Gerald Howarth is suggesting something similar by saying Britain should put Christians first. Once again Facebook Christians are all about protecting their own.

Rounding up what I missed

So having spent 10 days in a cottage on the east coast of England with little mobile signal and even less internet connection, I missed quite a few great articles written by some great people so have decided to post them into one blog as opposed to spamming my Twitter and Facebook feeds. It was for my honeymoon and my wife would be a very unhappy wife if I spent it all on the computer so it was worth it.

We kick off with Peter Enns who always writes great pieces and is really hammering them out since launching his new website (got to get that marketing done):

If John Piper taught the rulings of Rachel Held Evans

3 things about evolution and recalibrating your orthodoxy meter

Faith without expecting something in return

A blog post in which I ask myself 4 questions about Christianity and evolution

He also went on an epic rant on his Facebook page:

If I see one more authoritative evangelical voice saying that the idea of sources in the Pentateuch is academically dead and passé, I’m going to speed-dial S.H.I.E.L.D. and get the Avengers involved. It’s not dead. Wellhausen’s 19th c. original notion is passé but the idea of the existence of sources behind the Pentateuch is like, duh, obviously. It’s like evolution. The idea of common descent isn’t “dead” because science has moved beyond Darwin’s 19th c. explanation. Yes, there are those who think sources behind the Pentateuch and evolution are bunk. Fine. Live your life. Be happy. But don’t say the idea is “dead” and so Moses as author has new life. It doesn’t.

James McGrath, Unfundamentalist Christians and David Hayward have been swinging  in with some posts about religious rights and liberty in light of the clerk refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples even though the law requires her to:

Self-serving ideologies; The Kim Davis saga – James McGrath

What about my religious liberties – Unfundamentalist Christians

Kim Davis; beliefs and separation – David Hayward

James has also been weighing on the “Jesus is a myth” debate (spoiler; he doesn’t think Jesus mythics have a leg to stand on) and there are more links in the wrap up article “Finishing my mysticism article series. James’s varied work continues as he dives into Biblical inerrancy and literalism along with Daniel O. McClellan and Kyle Roberts:

Take the Bible literally – James McGrath

Did Jesus believe that scripture is inerrant? – Kyle Roberts

On the myth of scriptural literalism – Daniel O.McClellan

Whilst Derek Flood just straight up asks; “Why read the Bible?

Unfundamentalist Christians round off their work by asking “Is God in control?” and I would have been dissapointed had a post about what the Bible says about homosexuality not been written whilst I was away.  They dutifully obliged with “Clobbering the confusion about 1 Corinthians 6:9-10

Hell seemed to be talked about subject again as 2 Bens (Irwin and Corey) ask how do we talk about it; being burned alive for eternity is optional it seems:

How to talk to your kids about hell – Ben Irwin

A sincere question for my friends who believe in hell – Ben Corey

Ben Corey seems to have made it a series and has started another titled “What is Franklin Graham wrong about today?” Should be a short series and posts, the answer is “probably everything”

John Pavlovitz, who is becoming one of my favourite bloggers has written 2 crackers with “What to do when you think you’ve lost your faith” and “Christian, while you’ve been busy bothering gay people” To wind up the pieces, Nicola Menzie over at Christian Post asks “What is Americas largest protestant denomination doing to combat predatory prosperity preaching” whilst Upworthy posted who the Star Wars brilliantly posted a response to a sexist comment on their wall (“The Star Wars Facebook page just replied obviously and correctly to a sexist comment“)

I also discovered a new blog by Sophie (a close friend of ours) The tag is “painfully honest” and it really is as she details her battles with constant pain and her faith journey. Please, everyone go and check it out at SophieDora.

The internet is not just made up of insightful articles and porn, it’s also full of pictures that usually involve cats. In non-cat related pictures, there were some pretty good ones along with screen captures doing the rounds:

10341494_1160895503926778_7279561280747092013_n 11205585_1690176057865067_3646059745264672659_n FB_IMG_1438784646568 FB_IMG_1440280468333 FB_IMG_1440405827698 FB_IMG_1441198352497

 

Speaking of pictures, here’s one with me and Ronnie O’Sullivan:

Ronnie O'Sulivan2

 

And lets round off with some wedding photos why not (these are not the official ones) Doesn’t Sarah look stunning? The answer is yes, absolutely and I don’t look too bad either!

11953029_10153661104672664_2314155389334428129_n 11891995_10153668931913629_6993365163961652876_n 11951287_10153499784623150_5381601278879566392_n

 

And to top it all off, 343 Industries and Microsoft released this 3 and a half minutes of awesomeness (warning, contains lots of Nathan Fillion) I’m still calming down.

That concludes todays round up. Hopefully the next post will have something a bit more original. I’m also finalising some new stuff which I hope to share soon (nothing huge really but it’ll be fun; for me at least)