Culture

A Fight for Nonviolent People

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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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8 responses to “Sentness Extends Authority: Exploring what it means to be sent.

  1. Good observations. I have had the same uneasiness about “joining God in what God is already doing.” Surely God was in Macedonia already working, but that did not minimize the call to Paul & company to come over and work with them.
    Also the presumption that anything happening is of God is naive. We are just as likely to meet Satan in the street as Christ. Discernment is essential.

  2. Dave,
    I’ve learned by experience that having an agenda really affects how you see yourself as “sent” and what authority means to you. Many agendas, even as well and good as they may be, can blur your vision as to what God is already doing in a neighborhood or someone’s life. It says “I’ve never met you before, but I know what you need. I have it and you don’t.” In doing this many times, I have failed to listen and empathize and, unfortunately, I’ve come across to people like I have it all figured out. Or that I’m “above” them and that I’m stooping down to let them hear what I have to say. Like you said, the kingdom becomes something that I try to control or wield like the Force.

    Another thought- when I read this I was reminded of the other part of Luke 10 and people of peace. Not only do we come to listen, but we come as people who are also in need, whether it be a place to sleep, a drink of water or in my case, a lawn mower.

    1. J.yes, I resonate with what you’re saying. The key part of this new authority breaking in, Jesus rule as the lamb, is that this authority is not ours to control or wield, only submit to and particpate in and it is always healing, reconciling, renewing. It is received in a humble and hospitable posture. This is the way of the rule of the Lamb. Once we become possessors of it, it is gone, and our witness turns violent.

  3. Dwight, I have never heard anyone in the context of missional praxis state that “anything” happening in a given context is “of God.” However, I have heard, many times, the axiom that anything “good” happening in a given context is of God. So, to clarify, have you actually heard the former statement or did you intend to indict the latter statement.
    If the former, well, I agree – that would be worse than naive, it might even qualify as so willfully blind it is an evil sentiment. But if the latter, well then I have to ask you in all seriousness, do you really believe the devil is doing good work in the neighborhood? Is that even possible?

  4. Jason,I don’t think that’s the problem. It’s more like how do we discern/recognize the good, rather than Satan being the author of good.
    Here’s an excerpt from Ben Myers blog on Bonhoeffer and the German problem and the fillioque clause. I think it’s (granted excessive) an illustration of how difficult this can be. ‘
    ————–
    The notes from a 1933 German pastors’ conference records a discussion between Bonhoeffer and others … he said in National Socialism, it is “first nature’s grace, then Christ’s grace. First creation, then redemption. This goes back to liberal theology. What is decisive is that the filioque is missing. The filioque means that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. The German Christians want to introduce a nature spirit, a folk [Volk] spirit, into the church, which is not judged by Christ but rather justifies itself.” This is “German paganism” (Bonhoeffer, London, 1933-1935, p. 48).
    The German volk spirit was deemed good and needed to be discerned by the church through Christ.
    Does this help?
    DF

  5. Something I’m learning from the guy who is discipling me is how to sincerely affirm and bless those I’m discipling. When I report to him the kingdom work God is going through me as I step out in authority, something comes over him. He gets emotional, his facial expressions change. He pauses and speaks deliberately from his heart sincere words of affirmation, thanksgiving, and blessing.
    I notice in Luke 10 that when the disciples return to Jesus, his response is no wooden, “I told you so.” Jesus seems to connect very emotionally with them and with the Father in that moment. I see his response in vv. 18-24, as one of his most vulnerable moments in the Gospels. I can imagine Jesus pausing, speaking deliberately, probably tearing up, as he affirms what he sees in them. Then his passionate response turns to the Father in thanksgiving, and then back to his disciples with a blessing.

    To me, it’s that deep emotional connection Jesus has with his disciples and his Father, his readiness to speak sincerely from his heart to them, affirming, giving thanks, and blessing them, that empowers them to be sent out in his authority to do even greater things than he did.

    Just a thought.

  6. I jave recently joined up with the lk10 community at lk10.com. Their take on the above topic is we must join in conversation with God and Jesus in listening prayer and with our community to be certain that God wants us to join wit Him in specific endevours. The scripture for this is Jn 5 where Jesus states He can do nothing he does not see the Father doing and later that He can do nothong apart from the Father. The inference is we must get our mission directly from the Father. The backdrop of the story is Jesus healed only one person around the pool when the passage states there were many more waiting to be healed. The urge for Missional communities would have been to heal everyone, to complete the mission. Perhaps we need to rethink our concept of what it means to be missional?

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