Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Myth Of A Christian Nation: Part 3 (The Kingdom of the Cross)

Last week I started a book review of Greg Boyd's book, The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest For Political Power Is Destroying The Church. I read the book earlier this year and it was one of the key influences in my journey From Soldier to Pacifist . If you'd like to catch up on the series you can find Part 1 and Part 2 in my humble (and still very small) book review page here , or by scrolling to the top of the page and clicking on the Book Reviews tab. Anyways, time for Part 3: The Kingdom of the Cross.

Myth of a Christian Nation, Chapter 2 - The Kingdom of the Cross:

       In the previous chapter (the kingdom of the sword) Greg spoke about the mode of operation that the kingdoms of the world run by. Greg called it the "power over" kingdom. In this kingdom fear, coercion, manipulation, laws, and power are all used to bring about the desired results. It is not so in the kingdom that Christ came to establish, The Kingdom of the Cross.
       Greg starts the chapter by stating this: " The heart of Jesus' teaching was the "kingdom of God". He spoke about that topic more frequently than any other, and it pervades all his actions as well."(page 29) This kingdom, as Greg explains, operates and advances by using "power under". He explains that this kingdom always looks like Jesus on the cross, dying for the very ones who put him there. Greg puts it this way, " the cross is the ultimate symbol of the kingdom of God, for it defines what the kingdom always looks like. It looks like Christ--self-sacrificial and loving. It looks like grace."(page 33) This is the way of life that we are called to in the kingdom of God. We are called to "walk just as he (Jesus) walked" (1 John 2:6). Greg says that "as we allow Christ's character to be formed in us-as we think and act like Jesus-others come under the loving influence of the kingdom and eventually their own hearts are won over to the King of Kings. The reign of God is thus established in their hearts, and the kingdom of God expands." (page
       Greg continues by explaining that the kingdom not only looks like Calvary, we can also see the kingdom and how it operates by looking at the life of Jesus. Greg says, " the kingdom of God is also displayed throughout Jesus' entire life and ministry, which all had a Calvary quality to it. Jesus embodied the kingdom of God; his very identity was about serving others-at cost to himself." (page 35) In the following pages Greg points us to 3 examples from the life of Jesus that embody the way of the kingdom.
       The first example is Jesus' treatment of and encouragement for us to emulate children. At one point in the gospel's children try to come and see Jesus. In typical kingdom of the world fashion, his disciples turn the children away. Jesus rebuked his disciples and beckoned the children to come to him. Jesus was trying to show that the kingdom of God is not only for those who are viewed as important (as adults were in that culture) but also for the children as well. Greg says, " children illustrate the nature of the kingdom of God because they have not yet been conditioned to believe they need power, money, and social respect to be great."(page 36) In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus says that we as adults must become "like little children" if we even wish to be in the kingdom. Greg says, " For adults to participate in the kingdom of God, Jesus is saying, we must become deconditioned from kingdom-of-the-world thinking and acting, return to the humility and innocence of little children." (page 37)
       The second example from the life of Jesus is when he washes his disciples' feet. John's gospel tells us that Jesus knew that "the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God" (John 13:3) So, having all the power in the world laid in his hands, what does Jesus proceed to do ? He " got up from the table, took off his outer robe, tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him" (John 13:4-5) Amazing !!! The one with the most power in the universe becomes a servant ! Greg puts it this way, " THIS is how power is wielded in the kingdom of God. If you have all power in heaven and earth, use it to wash the feet of someone you know will betray you!"(page 37) By doing this Jesus showed that he "would not rule by a sword, but by a towel".
       Finally Greg recounts the story of Jesus healing the ear of an enemy. When the temple guards came to arrest Jesus, one of his disciples pulled out his sword and cut off the ear of the high priest's servant. Jesus responded by rebuking Peter, and telling him to "put your sword back in its place". Jesus reminded Peter that "those who live by the sword will die by the sword"(Matthew 26:52). Then, Jesus turns and heals the servant with the cut off ear. Greg adds, "So, far from using his divine authority to fight back, calling legions of angels and forcefully controlling his enemy's behavior, Jesus used his diving authority to heal the ear of a man who came to arrest him. Though he could have exercised "power over" the servant, he displayed outrageous, unconditional love instead by coming under him, by serving him."(page 38) Greg explains that whenever we trust in and use this "power under" way of life, by serving at cost to ourselves, we are advancing the kingdom of God. Whenever we don't, we are merely participating in the kingdom of the world.
       To end the chapter Greg lists five ways that the kingdom of God contrasts with the kingdom of the world.

  • A contrast of trusts: " The kingdom of the world trusts the power of the sword, exercising "power over", the kingdom of God trusts the power of the cross, exercising "power under".
  • A contrast of Aims: " The kingdom of the world seeks to control behavior, while the kingdom of God seeks to transform lives from the inside out."
  • A contrast of Scopes: " The kingdom of the world is intrinsically tribal in nature.....defending and advancing, ones own people-group, nation, ethnicity, state, religion, ideologies, and political agendas. The kingdom of God, however, is intrinsically universal, for it is centered on simply loving as God loves."
  • A contrast of Responses: " The kingdom of the world is intrinsically a tit-for-tat kingdom; its motto is "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth". But kingdom-of-God participants carry the cross, not the sword. We, thus, aren't ever to return evil with evil, violence with violence. We are yet, to manifest the unique kingdom life of Christ."
  • A contrast of Battles: "The kingdom of the world has earthly enemies and, thus, fights earthly battles; the kingdom of God, however, by definition has no earthly enemies, for its disciples are committed to loving "their enemies", thereby treating them as friends, their "neighbors".

       As kingdom people we are called to manifest the way of Christ in all aspects of our lives. Greg explains that even if we win by "kingdom of the world" standards, we will have lost by "kingdom of God" standards if while in the process, we don't look like Christ carrying the cross to Golgotha in order to die for his enemies.

Greg asks this final question: In light of Paul's teaching (that everything we do must be rooted in love, 1Cor 13:1-3) how might our churches be different if we took it seriously ? What would happen if the ultimate criteria we used to assess how "successful" or "unsuccessful" our churches were was the question, are we loving as Jesus loved ?



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