Sometimes all kinds of seemingly disparate thoughts come together…
I’ve been reflecting on (regretting?) the latest series of posts I did (We are all antinomians now), spurred on by Shane Rosenthal (of the White Horse Inn) talking a bit about the Sermon on the Mount in this program (where he discussed Bill O’Reilly’s and Stephen Colbert’s use of the Bible).
To say that the Christian lives in accordance with the Sermon on the Mount is not incorrect. This is not a situation where Jesus shared a very particular word needed by a particular person – as He did when, for example, He told the rich young ruler to “sell all he has” and “give it to the poor”. The Sermon on the Mount is for His disciples then, as well as each of us now. In addition, although if may be true that one of the sermon’s main purposes is to drive the law home to us (law to the nth degree – it’s unkeepable!) so that we might see our sin (Rom. 3:20) and flee to Christ in whom there is forgiveness, the sermon also has been (and needs to be) taken seriously as a description of what the Christian life – our life lived in Christ – looks like. In other words, it is the life that God gives us in Christ as a gift, in which we live not to effect but reflect our relationship with Him (we are the light of the world to!)
I re-read it yesterday morning. It is very jarring stuff. For example, the hyperbolic passages about cutting off one’s hand to avoid sin! Even more so the part about not resisting an evil person: turning the other cheek when hit, giving them your cloak (in addition to the tunic they take by suing you), walking 2 miles when forced to walk 1, etc. Of course, then it goes right on to talk about being perfect – by loving one’s enemies as God does (and He did not resist…)! Then it talks about how if we do not forgive, we will not be forgiven – basically the postscript to the Lord’s prayer!
Wow. Tough stuff – stuff none of us can do but are yet called to do.
There’s much more of course, including the part about taking the plank out of one’s own eye… This one really is critical to the series of posts I linked to above – am I eager to do this? Probably not like I should be… Therefore again: repent! I do want my life to be built on the rock of these teachings, even as ultimately, He Himself is the Rock of Ages in which I hide (cleft for me!) In, with, and through Him, even these difficult Words are Spirit and life.
I also experienced a bit of a stream of consciousness as I listening to the show… we modern Christians of the West mostly believe (rightly, I think) that it is not good for Christian rulers to impose the full Law of God on their subjects (even if they are voted in by a majority). Of course, there will be general prohibitions rulers make that are in line with and reflect the Law of God (like vs killing, stealing, protection of property, etc. – this is the Law as a “curb”), but we see the main function of the state as preserving earthly peace, order, and justice (for the weak) for all people, as Paul says in Romans 13.
Can you imagine what a truly Christian nation would look like (well, I guess we had these a 1000-some years ago)? Really, could you imagine a Christian ruler saying “we must not resist the evil persons who are trying to take us over – we must ‘kill them with kindness’, and ‘heap burning coals on their heads’… lay down your arms and give them more than what they want!” Just like Jesus says, right? Obviously, a truly Christian nation would not last very long if it ever really existed, right?
But then again, would this be the truly Christian thing to do? Think about this also: children are to obey their parents and wives to submit to their husbands. So, what about the father who insists that he and his family not defend themselves? It’s conceivable that in some court cases for example (Paul: why not allow yourselves to be cheated?), this may not be terrible. But what about that father who, in the name of Christ, does not fight the intruder in his home who means to harm, even kill, his family – but rather insists none of them resist – even when he has the power to put up a good fight? This may not necessarily be cowardice, but is this really Christian? (likewise, obviously a father of young children who was eager to be martyred – and actually sought it out – [not a problem these days, but in the past it may well have been, as many, wrongly, sought out martyrdom] would need to be confronted as well)
It seems to me that, in a sense, all of this really does need to come down to the importance of God’s work in each individual person – Jesus saying to each one of us, “Don’t worry about them – you, follow me”. Instead of forcing people to abide by God’s amazing (incomprehensible?) commands like these, it would be better for the Christian fathers (and mothers) to try to form people with the Word who would be eager to speak the Word of the Gospel while giving of their possessions, making personal sacrifices, and even freely giving their *own* lives – even as they are willing to fight to the death (physically) to defend the lives of their neighbors (think soldiers). But certainly, it takes time for Christians to mature into people like these: there is a time when children must only be defended.
But now: what are the implications of this kind of sacrificial behavior? Indeed, for those who feel this call to not resist in the Name of Christ – the Church needs to be willing to stand by to help! Not easy. Or do we, nervous of monasticism, “works”, and legalism, deny that this is really what Christians have been called to?
(In which case, Read more about antinomianism)
Postscript on “Christian Nations”:
So, all this said, this does not mean Christians should be eager to create “Christian nations”. Still, I think there is something to be said about nations that are built largely according to Christian principles, that derive from the Christian consciousness (even as the Church does well to keep distinct from the state!). Part of this consciousness involves the idea that God respects individual persons’ freedom to resist Him (we get what we want), and it only seems right and fair that Christians should be able to resist other religions as well. Hence, to be fair, people should be free to resist all particular religions, even as, when it comes to general matters of personal freedom and sensible governance (including justice), we try to persuade them (civilly) through Natural Law argumentation (while making it clear we are, in fact, Christians), which does not preclude talking about the very real felt human consensus about a general Deity(s)/Divine Nature that inhabits (and is responsible for!) the cosmos.