Isaiah 2:4, Luke 22:36-38, No Choice?, Put your sword back!, The 10/40 Window, The Babylon Brigade, The place of violence in our times, The two thirds world, Warmongering?
I don’t know what it’s like to be hunted down – to have my family in constant threat. I don’t know what choices and decisions have to be made to maintain a future.
I know from examples like the Mennonites, and the early church, that Christians did not form militias or create armies until… Constantine in the 4th century. And to be a little fair, the armies pre-existed the “conversion” of Constantine. But yes, wars and terrors in the name of Christ has blighted the pocked-mark history of Christendom. I would argue these are blights because they contradict both the person and teaching of Jesus Christ, and whenever war in His name has erupted, it is fair to question the source and goals this.
(For more, see “A Nonviolent Atonement“.)
What we learn from the Powerless:
I have been watching how powerless Christians in the “two/thirds world” have been responding – quite in contrast to the powerful west. For fear of repeating myself, I liken the west to possessing a hammer and imagining everything looking like a nail.
But what do you do if you are a minority; if you don’t have a hammer/gun? What if you have a better biblical theology for peace? Then, I contend, you see what you have been seeing of Christians in the 10/40 Window: Christians being annihilated and genocided.
“A group of Christians in Iraq have formed their own militia to protect people from the so-called Islamic State group. The leader of the Babylon Brigade says they were left with no choice but to take up arms when IS fighters targeted Christians.”
Owen Bennett-Jones with the BBC writes: “We are in the Baghdad headquarters of the Iraq Christian Resistance, Babylon Brigade. They are a militia, although they prefer the phrase popular mobilisation unit. Whatever the language, about 30 of these outfits have sprung up in the past couple of years and between them they have 100,000 armed volunteers. They were formed to block the advance of the so-called Islamic State group when it swept through north and west Iraq in 2014, even threatening Baghdad. When the Iraqi national army collapsed the militias stood firm.” (Source: bbc.com).
How did the Babylon Brigade Justify forming thier militia?
Bennett-Jones interviewed Rayan al-Kildani, the leader of the Babylon Brigade:
“We fight side by side with the Muslim militias,” he says, claiming: “We are the first Christian power in Iraqi history.”
And then: “I know the Bible says that if you get hit on one cheek you should offer the other. But we have really good defence forces now. No-one is going to do anything bad to the Christians. Some Christians had their homes taken over. I have personally been to those houses to tell the new people living there to get out. Christian suffering is over…
Kildani turns to me again: “We have to fight. We have to defend ourselves.”
And then, to my surprise, he adds: “Jesus himself told us that if you don’t have a sword you should go out and buy one.”
I cast my mind back to my schooldays of Bible study but can’t remember Jesus telling people to arm themselves.
“Did he really say that?”
“It’s in the Bible,” Kildani insists.”
The Curious use of Luke 22:36-38
He said to them, ‘But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’ ; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.’ The disciples said, ‘See, Lord, here are two swords.’ ‘That is enough,’ he replied.
Robin A. Brace writes that this was a symbolic reference to the opposition which the disciples (and all later Christians) would sometimes meet.
“But – as so often – when Jesus makes a symbolic or a spiritual point, the disciples quickly misunderstand, thinking that He meant a literal sword. So in verse 38 they tell Jesus that they already had two swords. But Jesus retorts: ‘That is enough!’ [Here’s a case of something being lost in translation].
Shortly afterwards a crowd come to arrest Jesus and because Peter had misunderstood Jesus’ reference to swords, he struck a servant of the high priest with his sword, cutting off his right ear! But Jesus immediately heals the man and tells the disciples, ‘No more of this!’ (Luke 22:51). We get more information on this incident in Matthew 26:47-54. Notice verse 52:
“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.”
So here Jesus makes it very plain that His reference to the need for a sword was certainly not meant to be taken literally but a reference to the future opposition…”
(For more, see James M. Arlandson’s explanation – or even wikipedia’s account.)
Aside from the confusion over this symbolic reference, one can scarcely find another “proof text” to support the breezy warmongering that passes as acceptable brutality in our day. I believe our inclination toward violence in response to violence needs to be checked at the feet of the One we claim to follow.
For more, see “Put your Sword back!“
For the record:
To those who dismiss me for being naive and “not living in the real world” – untested and indefensible in the face of actual aggression: of course you’re right (sort of). Am I suggesting they not defend themselves or their families? Not exactly:
The difference between defending one’s family and forming a militia isn’t just a matter of scale – it is a matter of intent and infrastructure. If/when this terror ends, will the militia be able to self-disband; will it be able let go of the violent force it now possesses?
I know the implications of what I am saying – after all – I follow a Lord who walked to His own crucifixion. I am convinced that our death is not the worst thing for us – it is the worst thing for our enemies. For more on this idea, see “Thoughts on War and Peace.”
That’s interesting. I agree with you. I’ve never been threatened with death or have had to deal with this kind of fear. I also wonder about all the wars and fighting in the OT. What purpose did God have for all of that? Jesus definitely didn’t live by the sword but God did direct the Israelites to fight with their enemies. I don’t think we are to form militias in the name of Christ. I think of Nate Saint & Jim Elliot who were murdered sharing their faith. They had guns to protect themselves but never used it. The 5 men sent to Ecuador died, leaving behind wives and children. Years later that village of killing men would all know Christ. Nate Saint’s son, Steve Saint and his family would live among them for a time and be the light of Christ. This story was told in the “edge of the spear” movie and when I first saw it, it bothered me that those men didn’t fight. But it was that love that seeped through time and cultures to bring them all to the Lord. We are to fight with love and grace, not militias. That’s what I believe but it is very hard to live that out.
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R.H. (Rusty) Foerger said:
Yes, I have a copy of “Edge of the Spear”. And Jim Elliot’s story has been with me since my early spiritual formation. When it comes to the realm of trying to justify violence – I try not to conflate OT prophetic directives with clear NT teaching and Jesus’ own example. As you pointed out in the Elliot/Saint example, and as I have written, “our death is not the worst thing for us… it is the worst thing for our enemies” – for to kill us to is deprive them of our gift as “ambassadors of reconciliation.” I know it is not fair to reduce complex world events to something simplistic; and as I confess, I have not had to endure physical attack, but so much wickedness, so much violence is self-justified in “taking” an eye for an eye – rather than in “giving” an eye for an eye.
As the metaphor goes, may we be the “edge of the spear” in the sense of that ancient text from “The Cloud of Unknowing”:
“And you must step above it stoutly but deftly, with a devout and delightful stirring of love, and struggle to pierce that darkness above you; and beat on that thick cloud of unknowing with a sharp dart of longing love, and do not give up, whatever happens.”
Here’s to being a sharp dart of longing love…”
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