Thursday, September 20, 2012

Living like Christ

A few weeks ago, I had an argument with a good friend, about politics. Later, she apologized, I accepted, and I thought we were over it. But her question, "how can you be a Christian and vote for  -------?" is still reverberating in my head. I have always known about our political differences and accepted it without further thought. My Christian worldview is absolute and I don't expect others to be so. Now, the fundamentally different basic beliefs two devoted Christians can hold has me confused. We both love Jesus and try to to do what He wants. We're looking at the Presidential candidates through the same lens, our eyes on Christ. Yet, we see them differently. Why? You're probably thinking, come on, this is nothing new. After all wars have been fought and a lot of blood shed by people who claim to love Jesus! Doublethink is deeply embedded in the human psyche.

I now know that I have long carried a deep and buried anger about these discrepant Christian worldviews. I've hidden my anger well but that's being changed. This week I started on our church's small group study: Building Blocks for Disciples Making Disciples; "What are some of the things you have found yourself arguing about recently?" was one of the discussion questions.  I have also continued to work on writing about freedom in Christ; this is for my book based on my 2009 study of Galatians, a delicious irony given my  current housebound status! And, I finished reading Nancy Pearcey's Total Truth. All this is encouraging me to explore, openly and publicly. Thus, in this post, I am going to articulate one of the most important elements of the Christian worldview that drives my deepest beliefs and influences my  actions and decisions.

Excellent sermons on the Great Commandment abound and many writers far better than I, have explained the gospel of Christ and His message for daily living. We are to love God, love our neighbors as ourselves. I am to have the mind of Christ and grow Christ-like. What does this mean for Christians in practical terms?

I have just started to read it but one book, besides the New Testament, seems to answer this question. It is Leo Tolstoy's The Kingdom of God is Within You. I downloaded the Kindle version from Amazon. The book is also freely available online in several places, such as The Literature Network. The principle of non-violence that Gandhi used, almost miraculously, to liberate India from British rule is beautifully laid out here. And, wonder of wonders, it is a thoroughly Christian principle, straight from the mouth of our Lord, Savior and Master Jesus Christ. It takes its starting point from the Beatitudes (Matthew 5), v. 39: "But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also."

In chapter one, Tolstoy includes the Declaration of Non-Resistance by the Englishman William Lloyd Garrison who was responsible for getting slavery abolished in Britain way before the USA did. I didn't know though that Garrison had penned such a declaration and even founded a society for this purpose in Boston in 1838 (is my ignorance showing or what?)! The declaration of non-resistance clearly lays out what it meant for Garrison and those who joined him to follow Christ. Also, in chapter one, Tolstoy shares an excerpt from Helchitsky's Net of Faith. I've shared the excerpt and then, the first para of Tolstoy's own summary below.  
"Christ, by means of his disciples, would have caught all the world in his net of faith, but the greater fishes broke the net and escaped out of it, and all the rest have slipped through the holes made by the greater fishes, so that the net has remained quite empty. The greater fishes who broke the net are the rulers, emperors, popes, kings, who have not renounced power, and instead of true Christianity have put on what is simply a mask of it."
Helchitsky teaches precisely what has been and is taught in these days by the non-resistant Mennonites and Quakers, and in former tunes by the Bogomilites, Paulicians, and many others. He teaches that Christianity, expecting from its adherents gentleness,meekness, peaceableness, forgiveness of injuries, turning the other cheek when one is struck, and love for enemies, is inconsistent with the use of force, which is an indispensable condition of authority.
Both of these writings have much with which I can identify. As a Christian, like Garrison, I am a citizen of God's Kingdom first. My allegiance is to Jesus. Citizenship on earth, a temporary home, is secondary. Like Helchitsky, I believe that history does show, that the gospel of Jesus Christ has been diluted, especially with regard to non-violence. Both of these men are correct that God chose poverty (simplicity), not wealth or power: Jesus was born to a poor couple, lived a simple life, and died a shameful death for others. He could have come as a rich King with power and authority but He did not.

The Apostle Paul has given it to us in powerful language in Philippians 2: 5 but here's what I think it means to have the mind of Christ. Humility, simple living, one-on-one relationships (discipleship and mentoring friendships), small networks (old-fashioned neighborliness to the people right here in our face, in our lives, in our neighborhoods), charity (helping others, enemies included, near and far in our world), non-violence (not killing, hurting, or forcing others) and dying to self (sin, pride, longing for recognition, ambition, and so forth), are what Jesus, the God-Man role-modeled for us.

A few things before I close. One, I don't agree with everything in Garrison's declaration or Helchitsky's Net of Faith but that's going to have to wait for another post! Two, and this is important: I believe Christ called his followers to be non-violent and practice non-violence. What are the implications of Christ's non-violence for 21st century Americans today? Specifically, how does Christ's preaching about non-violence influence a truly Christian response to current hot-button national/public policy issues such as abortion, euthanasia, war, capital punishment, right to bear arms/gun control, and the free market economy?

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