On the Fatal Flaw of Christian Arguments for Non-violence

In his blog post on non-violence Preston Sprinkle ends with the following great statement. A statement which, while excellent, also reveals the fatal flaw of his argument for non-violence.

Faithfulness, folks. Jesus calls us to faithfulness, not perceived effectiveness. When I face my Savior, I want him to know that I tried my hardest to live a faithful life which sought to replicate his own life on earth.

I read that paragraph and wanted to cheer, because it confronts the pagan philosophy of pragmatism with a biblical call to the pursuit of principled action.

“A person who is a Christian is called of God to live by biblical principles.” – R.C. Sproul

The problem with Sprinkle’s quote is in the last phrase, “…which sought to replicate his own life on earth” (emphasis mine). You see, we need to imitate Christ, indeed we are commanded to do so in Ephesians 5:1, but we are not to imitate just his life on earth, which was an example of applying the character of God in a specific time, place and culture, but to imitate His character as understood by the demonstration of that character across the pages of Scripture: from Genesis to Revelation.

All Christian arguments for non-violence that I am familiar with rest upon seeing a dichotomy between the actions of God in the Old Testament and the words and actions of Jesus in the New Testament. The problem is that Jesus was God-incarnate, and there will be no disparity between His character as displayed in the Old Testament and His character as displayed in the New Testament. Any attempt to interpret Scripture in a manner that does not maintain the general continuity of the Old and New Testaments is fatally flawed because the character of God is immutable (as the entire Church throughout all of history has everywhere and always maintained).

This is another post, but I believe in the necessity of a general continuity with a specific discontinuity between the Old and New Testaments, or between Judaism and Christianity. In other words, while proper interpretation requires a general continuity, there is a specific discontinuity which sent the 12 Apostles across the world and to their deaths in the grip of this newly revealed and life-altering truth of the Mystery of the Gospel and the Name of Messiah.

Religion or Relationship?

Many today attack religion thinking Christianity is a relationship, and it certainly is! But this is like saying government is bad because our government is bad, but government is a gift of God. The same is true of religion. To say, “Jesus trumps religion,” uses the word “religion” differently than does the New Testament. All other religions disappoint because they are idolatrous and twist the worshipper into the shape of the created rather than the Creator.

James 1:26-27 mentions both vain and true religion. We ought to oppose vain religion, and embrace true religion. Only the life-encompassing pattern of worship prescribed by God will fulfill.

The religion vs. relationship choice, just as the love vs. law choice, is false because all relationships require structure. True religion is the prescribed form of a relationship with God, and an essential part of His plan for the transformation of sin-sickened souls. True religion is not self-defined, but follows a pattern outlined by Scripture.

Imagine, for example, attempting to sustain your marriage without submitting to its form(s). “Honey, it’s okay that I’m going out to dinner with this other lady, because I don’t actually have a relationship with her; it’s you I love.” Well, you won’t have a relationship for long! It’s the same way with God. “God, I’m going to approach you with yoga and marijuana; I’m sure you’ll be okay with it, because it’s still you I’m pursuing.” Sorry, that’s the ways and means of idolatrous worship.

The habits of a religion reveal and affirm what we believe and whom we serve. It is “the binding tendency in every man to dedicate himself with his whole heart to the true God or an idol” (F. Nigel Lee). Religion inaugurates, declares, represents, and rehearses covenantal bonds. We submit to or cooperate with the terms of a religion in our way of life—consciously or unconsciously—because we cannot escape having been made in the image of God: created to worship and serve. We will therefore, either worship God according to the pattern of His character, or worship any number of alternatives (including ourselves) according to the pattern of their emphases.

The word “religion” comes from the Latin word religare which means “to bind” or “to tie.” The root of the word is lig-, from which we get our words “ligament” and “ligature.” Though light and easy there is a yoke for Christ followers: a binding tie which serves to guide us. There is a reason we are servants; we are not free but a doulos (bondservant). We are not our own; we were bought with a price.

The relationship we have with Christ is founded upon a covenantal/judicial word-act (not incidentally compared to marriage in Eph 5:31-32), and as a covenant it comes with terms. Terms we cannot satisfy on our own, therefore they were satisfied for us, in order that “the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

Assuredly, Christianity is a relationship with Christ. But there is no relationship with Christ outside of his covenant promises and action. A covenant is, by definition, a relationship established upon certain bonds, and each covenantal relationship has behaviors that are required for participants. Our covenant with God depends upon His faithfulness alone, but our covenantal obligations are in no way thus diminished. We now pursue them with freedom rather than condemnation, but our release from condemnation does not remove the goodness of the way prescribed by our Suzerain (see http://www.fivesolas.com/suzerain.htm).

“I am the way, the truth, and the life” indicates that in the worship of Jesus one gets true religion: a container for your worship, attitudes, thoughts, and practices that will produce blessing if it is followed and cursing if it is thwarted. Even though it is good for image-bearers to follow this religion, they cannot thus earn their salvation. However, on the other side of having been justified, the religion of the Jesus Way (described from Genesis to Revelation) is a good and perfect gift that we embrace to our benefit, and as a necessary part of the abundant life God has designed and described. Grace is opposed to earning but not to effort and the variety of efforts God prescribes to us as containing life is true religion: the only one that will satisfy.

There are only two religions: Christianity or Paganism. Paganism comes in many forms, but they all boil down to a rejection of the Sovereign Authority of God and a rejection of His religion: a covenantal tie to Him that acknowledges His all-encompassing Rule, and enjoins upon us a way of relating to and serving Him. To reject religion as bad is to deny one of God’s gifts, and to inescapably embrace a syncretistic blend of His way and our preferences: a new gnosticism which inevitably devolves into idolatry.

Singing within Worship

In a recent conversation about Colossians 2:16-17 I used an illustration of how to properly understand the passage that brought to mind another topic: worship and singing within it.

I cannot over emphasize the effectiveness and importance of spreading the singing portion of corporate worship across the worship service, rather than 4 – 6 songs blocked together. This is not to say that a large block of songs is never appropriate; there are times when it is very much so—celebrations come to mind. Spread throughout the worship gathering, however, songs take on a context and significance that is immediate and evident, while it is almost impossible for them to carry a similar import when used together in a single set.

Furthermore, human nature is far more capable of lending kavannah (the intentional directing of one’s heart) to a single song, and then to something different, back to a song, etc. then to a large mass of songs. When used as a long set, the singing almost irresistibly becomes the pursuit of an emotion rather than an aid to uniting one’s mind/body/spirit on a truth. Similarly, in a culture of constant concerts it is difficult to resist becoming a consumer rather than an offerer when music is used as a single, lengthy set in an environment so reminiscent of a concert rather than of the Temple.

Music by its nature connects the mind with the emotions, and especially in our culture where music is so ubiquitous and over-utilized, it is enormously healthy to add the context of place, purpose and content to the musical offerings within the arc of a worship service.

P.S.

Here is the illustration I used regarding understanding Colossians 2:16-17.

… imagine if I wrote a letter to churches today saying, “let no one judge you in regard to worship.” It would be obvious from our context (and from biblical instruction) that I was referring to worship styles, and was not saying, “don’t let anyone judge you if you decide not to practice worship.” The idea is preposterous, and the misreading of Col 2:16-17 should be equally preposterous to us if we simply read it in the context of history and Scripture.