I’ll start this off by saying that you need to at least read the opening to this article, just so you have a frame of reference as to what I am saying. Otherwise this is going to start abruptly.
There is a choice. Do you want the man who offers you the opportunity to change the world, or the man who says that it’s already been changed? This is an oversimplification, but it’s the decision that I see many Christians NOT struggle with. They pick power over promise every time.
They could take Barabbas, the man who offered a rapid solution through seizing control; or they could take Jesus, who claimed to be already a king. They chose Barabbas; but the early church chose Jesus. Thus the early Christians’ paradigm of virtue was not the soldier embodying the love of power but the martyr embodying the power of love.
Improvisation: The Drama of Christian Ethics (p. 2)
We would like to think that the Western church is free from this choice to seize control, but it takes me a single glance at “Christian” Politicians and those who are heavily involved with politics to see that we still love to be the ones in control.
To the powerful Roman Empire, citizens who would not take up arms to defend the state were more insidious than revolutionaries who took up arms to destroy it. (p. 2)
This is the same argument I get when I say that I’m not going to vote in a competition between two bad candidates. In some people’s eyes, that makes me the worst kind of person: one who won’t stand up for what they believe in; one who fight for justice; one who throws away everyone has given me the freedom to choose. So, I’m worse than an enemy, because I’m not only an enemy to their party, but to their entire system.
But what happens when Christianity was in the seat of power? What happened in the fourth century when the Roman Empire finally embraced Christianity?
Christianity was made synonymous with the Empire, and their life of non-violence was tested.
Loyalty to the empire became the test of loyalty to Christ. One could hardly be loyal to the empire if one was not prepared to fight on its behalf; and in any case the struggles of the empire were in the service of Christ. Thus whereas for the early church faith in God’s sovereignty was expressed by nonviolence, for the church under the Christian empire faith in God’s sovereignty required fighting God’s battles. (p. 3)
Most Christians will say that if someone slaps you on one cheek, Christ clearly states to that you should turn the other cheek. But, if you slap the Empire on the cheek, what then? It’s a sign of weakness, and it will not go without repercussions.
Baptism became synonymous with Citizenship; and the Church became synonymous with Truth and Justice. Not only synonymous with it, but dictated it. The Church was no longer a group of individuals asking questions, but a state-entity doling out the answers. It was no longer about seeking God’s will, but acting on the Empire’s.
Thus the paradigm of the Christian moved from martyr to soldier or magistrate, and the beginning of Christian life moved from baptism to birth. (p. 3)
The Church used to center itself on the everyday practices of those who followed in the teachings of Christ Jesus, but now it has been shifted to changing the world, not through the individual’s love and community, but through the power to control the community. We want to make people love properly. It’s a setup to make sure that the governing authority is governed by a higher governing authority.
It’s Matthew 4:8, where the Devil takes Jesus up high, showing him all the kingdoms, and says that he would grant Jesus control over them, as long as he bows down the Devil. We would like to say that we will say no every time, but every time we put ourselves in the seat of power, we forget that Jesus’ seat was at the table of the outcast, under the heel of those in power.
If you are a Christian, and you do believe that Christianity’s place is to be seated in political power, then what are you basing that on? What makes that the right thing to do? Where are you basing your ethics?
…ethics is about making good people who live faithfully, rather than about guiding actions so that any person can act rightly. Ethics is about forming lives of commitment, rather than informing lives without commitment.
Ethics is not about using power, restoring former glory, or fulfilling individual freedom: it is about imitating God, following Christ, being formed by the Spirit to become friends with God. (pp. 8-10)
What is your end goal? Too often Christians make the mistake of confusing the Church for the World, or their Flags for their Crosses. They want to usher in God’s kingdom, but they fail to realize that the kingdom is already at hand.
There is this overwhelming sense of self-righteous superiority if you believe that your belief in Christ makes you better than a faithless pagan. At that point you’ve become no better than a class system determined by the amount of holy writ you know and the intensity by which you perform religious practices.
But we believe that we have adopted the full armor of God, ready to fight in His army, and further His empire that we have created on earth. We are no longer martyrs in rags, but fully-suited soldiers.
The soldier faces death in battle; the martyr faces death by not going to battle. The soldier’s heroism is its own reward: it makes sense in any language that respects nobility and aspires to greatness. The martyr’s sanctity makes no sense unless rewarded by God: it has no place in any story except that of Christ’s redeeming sacrifice and the martyr’s heavenly crown. (p. 21)
Anyone can look at a soldier’s death and go “Well of course he died to save his brother-in-arms.” It makes sense, and he is honored by those who bear witness to his sacrifice.
But for a martyr, there is no such conclusion or finality. The ghost of the martyr haunts all of those who bared witness to his death. It just doesn’t make sense as to why someone would die for their enemy, so everyone is left with the question of why? Is there a reward? Not for a true martyr. A true martyr does it out of love; for God, and his fellow man.
And that’s the secret. Its not a heroic death that cries out to others to rise and rally, but a subtle croon that bids others come and die. It’s a mystery that doesn’t have an answer that makes sense unless you are a martyr.
When I burn at the stake, I take my seat of power.
P.S.- The next in the series on this book is riiiiiight here.