Culture

A Fight for Nonviolent People

We are in a fight. I hate fighting, and wish it wasn’t so, but it is.

I’ve only ever been in one fist fight in my entire life, and I only threw one punch. I was nine years old and I had just traded in my rusted, spray-painted, Western Flyer bicycle for a brand-new, chrome BMX racing bike. Some friends and I were riding our bikes on a dirt trail on the outskirts of town, when three middle school kids jumped out from behind some bushes, grabbed our bikes, and slowed us down. As our bikes came to a sudden halt, they shouted for us to get off.

To my nine-year-old eyes, the guy who had grabbed my bike looked like a professional football player, towering over me with fiery eyes and a commanding voice. It sent chills of fear down my spine.

He punched me a couple of times in the side of my head, but I refused to get off my bike. He walked away for a second and when he turned to walk back towards me, fear turned to courage and I threw my bike down and yelled, “If you want my bike, come and get it!” As he moved towards me, I stood my ground. Little did he know, that I’d been taking Jiu-Jitsu and I knew how to punch.

Luckily for me, the guy was taller than I was, and my shoulders were right at his stomach-level. When he got close enough, and without warning, I struck with a front punch and shrill “Kiyaaah!” I don’t know who was more surprised, my attacker or me. He doubled over with a shocked moan and I jumped on my bike, hollered at my friends who had wrestled their bikes free, and off we rode.

I don’t advocate solving problems with your fists, but in that moment I did what I had to do.

A Nonviolent People in a Fight

As followers of Jesus, we are in a fight, but not one of physical force. We are followers of the Lamb who did not slay his enemies, but was slain.

Nonviolence is not an ideological position we choose or a pragmatic plan we have come up with in order to make the world more peaceful. Rather it is an integral part of Christian discipleship. “Faithful followers of Christ in a world of war,” according to Stanley Hauerwas, “cannot imagine being anything else than nonviolent.” (Click here for full article).

We are a nonviolent people in a fight, but our fight is not with people. Our enemies are real, but ‘we wrestle not against flesh and blood.’ Our most urgent fight is with ideas, worldviews, and ways of thinking contrary to the ways of Jesus. We are, after all, fighting the good fight of faith.

Our most urgent fight is with ways of thinking contrary to the ways of Jesus. Click To Tweet

Paul writes, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5 ESV).

We do not fight with the weapons connected to our sinful nature: anger, bitterness, malice, revenge, hate, and the like.

We do not fight like the bitter, polarized culture we find ourselves in. Furthermore our fight is not with political agendas either progressive or alt-right, liberal or conservative.

Our fight is with those “lofty opinions” raised up against the knowledge of God. At the heart of the fight we’re in, I see three easily identifiable enemies: Secularism, Individualism, Nationalism – a helpful acronym if you are into those sorts of things.

Enemy #1: Secularism

Western civilization has moved into a thoroughly post-Christian and secular culture. We fight in utter futility if we attempt to throw a rhetorical punch in the so-called “culture wars.” The war for the conscience of Western culture is over and Christians have lost.

We are now missionaries in a culture that has left God behind. Secularism is nothing more than an attempt to do life without God.

How do we fight secularism? We start with prayer. Don’t ask me to join your culture war. I beat my sword into a plowshare years ago. Rather ask me to pray.

Prayer is the least secular thing we can do, because in prayer we carve out space in our day to become aware of the presence of God. Prayer forms us into the people of God living with Christ at the center of all we do. We do not tell a secular world to stop being secular. Rather we tell a secular world about the kingdom of God and we demonstrate what living in a sacred world looks like.

Don’t ask me to join your culture war. I beat my sword into a plowshare years ago. Click To Tweet

Enemy #2: Individualism

The very center of the fight we are in is “I,” that is individualism. We have bought into Decartes’ lie and we have promoted the autonomous thinking self to the highest authority in the land. We have valued “my rights,” “my desires,” and “my value” over the value of the other. In this regard, our fight is not with whether or not immigrants fleeing war-torn countries should be allowed into our country. Our fight is with a worldview that cannot think past one’s self-interests.

Our fight with individualism is the fight against putting ourselves first. There is a place for individual, personal faith in Jesus. We have individual responsibility in the Christian life, but individualism has completely corrupted Evangelical faith.

We read Scripture as individuals, forgetting the Bible was written by a community to a community for a community. We “ask Jesus into our hearts” instead of entering the life of Christ and joining his community in following him as disciples. We fight individualism by pouring ourselves into the life of the local church, giving our time, attention, money, energy, and effort in loving and serving the Christian community as we are being formed into a people of worship and justice.

Enemy #3: Nationalism

The final enemy we are squaring up against is nationalism, that is a sense of national devotion exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests. While this enemy may surprise some Christians, we only have to look at the most recent presidential election season to see how some followers of Jesus can lose their sense of self and propriety when it comes to the subject of politics.

Nationalism is allegiance to your nation above your allegiance to God. As the wise barber Jayber Crow observes in Wendell Berry’s novel by the same name, “A nation is an idea, and Port William is not. Maybe there is no live connection between a little place and a big idea. I think there is not.”

We do love our neighbors, like the people in Port William, or the people who live in our neighborhoods. But loving a nation is much more like loving an idea and ideas come and go; the kingdom of God lasts forever. We are free to love the idea of the nation in which we live, but not more than God.

And So We Fight

We understand that our enemies have been defeated even though they keep fighting. They are defeated, they just don’t know it yet. They have been defeated, but we still have to contend with them.

And so we fight. We resist. We take captive every thought rising up against the knowledge of Christ and most importantly we live as people lead by a distinctly different way of thinking. We live as sacred people. We live as communal people. We live as Christian people.

We live as sacred people. We live as communal people. We live as Christian people. Click To Tweet
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