PART 12 OF 12
Taking Up The Cross
BY HERB MONTGOMERY
Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for you to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit your very self? If any of you are ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of you when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God” (i.e. the Cross). (Luke 9.23-27)
This is it! This is the last installment of our 11 part series on the Active Non-violence of Jesus. I’m quite sure there is so much more that could be said, but I’m quite confident that for now, at bare minimum, enough has been said. Over the course of this series, I have watched many come on board to partner with RHM in the Picture of the Father we are endeavoring to proclaim and demonstrate to the world. (Sadly, I’ve seen a few walk away too.) We’ve had such positive feedback from so many of you.
This week, let’s begin by taking a moment to define some terms, as we wrap things up. So many of you have shared the wonderful paradigm shift you have encountered by seeing your “enemies” as someone Christ died for too. Some of you have embraced Jesus’ teachings on “non-violence” through this series for the very first time. Non-violence, at ground level, means non-LETHAL force. Please don’t think for a moment that, through this series, we have defined non-violence as also including other forms of “force” that preserve the value, worth, and life of the assailant. This is why I have gone to great lengths to define Christian pacifism as still doing SOMETHING (it’s NOT passive!). But we must also allow the fact that Jesus died for all parties involved to govern HOW I stop whatever violence I encounter. Do I respond to violence with more violence, or do I, as a Christ follower, endeavor to overcome evil with good (See Romans 12). My goal, again as a Christ follower, is twofold—not just to stop the violence, but to do so in a way that leaves open the redemption of the one who is committing the violence as well.
Now, that doesn’t absolutely leave us in the clear yet. What types of non-lethal force are appropriate for a Jesus follower? As you read authors on this topic, you will find a whole gamut of opinions out there on what sincere Christian pacifists believe is acceptable. I’m going to be very transparent with you—I’m not saying that I’m right, I’m simply saying that I’m in the process of finding out what forms of non-lethal violence are acceptable and what are not. I’m convinced that the answers are still out there. These are the very questions that we need to be asking as followers of Jesus.
What forms of “non-lethal” force are acceptable to a Christ follower and what forms are not? To say we believe in non-violence is only saying that we don’t believe LETHAL force is acceptable for a Christ follower. But what forms of NON-LETHAL force are acceptable? And this is where we can agree, disagree, discuss, argue, and go back and forth. (While I personally have no problem with a Taser, in certain situations, I do have significant issues with a gun. More times than not, guns lead to lethal force, even when not intended.) I have no problem with restraint or Aikido, but (and this is just me personally) I do have a problem with physically striking someone, and I would be quick to say that you and I are perfectly fine to disagree on what forms of non-lethal force we deem to be appropriate.
Yet, even if we disagree on some of the finer details, please be careful to note where our disagreement actually lies. It’s on what TYPES of NON-LETHAL force is acceptable for a Christ Follower! I’m ecstatic that we have even gotten to the place where THIS is the question that we are wrestling with! This is exactly why I did this series. Until we, as Christ followers, reject LETHAL force, we don’t even move to ask the questions of which forms of non-lethal force are acceptable or not. If “Christians” would truly embrace just this (stop killing each other), there would have to be deep repentance to the world for YEARS of “killing others” in Jesus’ name. Untold damage has been done to the world’s picture of God (producing atheism, agnosticism, etc.) much more through Christianity’s ethics than through its theology (although I do believe one produces the other and vice versa). But, this is the point of the series.
Christ’s teachings in Matthew 5 (see part 3 and part 10) clearly illustrated nonviolent ways of “forcing” the assailant in each example to come to terms with what they were doing. Therefore, Christian pacifism is NOT about never “forcing” a situation. No, no! It is about doing so in a way that leaves open the chance to redeem the assailant too! Therefore, Christian pacifism IS most definitely about non-LETHAL force. So, if your opinion about “killing” has changed through this series—and so many of you have freely admitted that it has—I’m stoked! Whether you actually like the term or not, each of you have, like me, become a Christian pacifist (which can be different from other forms of pacifism). You have become a Christian pacifist who, like other Christian pacifists (including me), is now in the process of answering the questions revolving around “what forms of non-lethal force is acceptable and what forms are not?” (The fact that we are even wrestling with this question, rather than whether it is ok to kill or not, IS THE POINT!) So let’s wrestle on!
It doesn’t matter whether we all agree on what forms of NON-LETHAL force are acceptable or not. Those who reject LETHAL FORCE (i.e. pacifists) have NEVER agreed on the fine details of how to apply NON-LETHAL force (and I have no desire to split hairs on that one now). My burden is simply to get those who claim to follow Jesus to stop killing others in Jesus’ name, including other Christians and, hopefully, even their enemies. Then maybe, just maybe, we can rediscover what it actually means to LOVE our enemies. I know that goes far beyond not killing (I cannot kill someone and still hate their guts), but I don’t see how we can love our enemies while still feeling that it’s ok to end their life. We have to start somewhere. I believe that just getting followers of Jesus to say that “killing someone is never acceptable” to a Christ follower (and that we would rather suffer death than inflict it) is where the early church was and where we must return.
Again, if you, through this series, have come to embrace the reality that, for a Jesus follower, killing our enemies is opposed to what Jesus’ kingdom is all about, then whether we like the term or not, you have embraced Jesus’ teachings on pacifism. Now, we can move forward to wrestling with determining which forms of non-lethal force are acceptable and which forms are not. You know, we may never agree on that one (we’d be the first in history to, if we did). I will be perfectly open and honest that I, too, am in the process on this, just as many of you are, and I’m ok with that.
If you would like to purse this topic further, then let me share with you some great material that I believe you will find helpful:
The Politics of Jesus—John Howard Yoder (Not an easy read.)
A Faith Not Worth Fighting For—Various Authors (A much easier read.)
The Myth of a Christian Nation—Gregory Boyd (Excellent!)
Non-Violent Atonement by Denny Weaver (Profoundly challenging.)
There are others, but these are a great place to start.
Let me also address just a few other comments that have come in regarding this series. Some have responded with, “Usually the love of God has been your thing; why are you now talking about non-violence?” I want you each to know that I hear you loud and clear. Please let me explain what is taking place. It’s not that I “usually” focus on the love of God and now I’m talking about something else. I have been over this ground before. What you may be used to from me is a focus on Jesus’ revelation of God’s character of love and how that revolutionizes our “theology.” In this series, I have simply sought to focus on Jesus’ revelation of God’s character of love and how that revolutionizes our “ethics.” The picture of God that Jesus gives us radically affects BOTH.
I remember the strong objections by some that I received years ago when I began truly allowing what Jesus reveals about the Father (on the Cross) to be embraced and fleshed out “theologically” among us. I remember many people saying, “We are so used to you presenting God’s love; why are you trying to apply that to our other beliefs?” (They were quite upset.) Some of you today have experienced profound blessings through our efforts to stick with it and truly flesh out what the Cross is saying about other theological beliefs.
What I want you understand, and hopefully see, is that we are traversing that same, exact ground in this series too, but not with how Jesus’ revelation of God turns our “theology” on its head. What we are dealing with in this series is how the truth about God’s love, as revealed in the person of Jesus, also turns our “ethics” on their head too. And really, theology is important, but our actions speak way louder about the God we believe in than our words and ideas ever will. When Jesus spoke the loudest about God’s character, it was not in a Bible study or a sermon. It was when He was actually hanging on a cross, being put to death by His enemies. This is how Jesus won back humanity’s dominion from the devil and gave us back dominion of this Earth. God’s plan for humanity has never been translation, but redemption, restoration, and transformation.
I want you to each know that, on a deeply relational level, I’m truly sorry that some (and, I emphasize, only some) feel the subject of the truth of God’s character and the ethics of non-violence are unrelated, or at minimum, separate topics. This is fruit, or evidence, if you will, once again of the changes that took place in the fourth century. Just as a person’s picture of God and their theology cannot be separated, as they are intimately related to each other, so too are a person’s picture of God and their ethics. The subjects of God’s love and non-violence are more interconnected and intimately related than, I’m afraid, many have yet to realize. The Cross was God’s nonviolent act of defeating His enemy in the great cosmic conflict (see the podcast series entitled Christus Victor and the new book coming out next fall entitled Whom Do You See?). God’s love, when one truly encounters it, doesn’t just revolutionize our beliefs (our theology); it also revolutionizes how we live (our ethics).
I know it’s way more comfortable to just sit around and debate theology, but at some point, the world has to SEE that we have a different picture of God, not because of how we preach, but because of how we live. The early church did not grow through multiple evangelistic series, but through simply loving their enemies. Again, we are all in process. None of us have all the answers. But, if I have simply challenged someone to think about and begin living in a way that reflects the Jesus we claim to be following, I feel it’s all worth it. At some point in Christian history, those who bear the name of Christ have to not only “believe” like their Jesus, but actually live as he did too (1 John 2.6).
Let’s wrap things up with a look at a few of Jesus’ statements, which I believe really demonstrate that Christian pacifism is more central to communicating the truth about God’s character than many have yet realized.
Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
“He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.
(Again, Jesus was not passive. He continually went around “saving others,” but not by violence; He always interposed His own safety and well-being. See John 8. It’s pacifism, NOT passive-ism.)
Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for you to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit your very self? If any of you are ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of you when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God” (i.e. the Cross).
And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.
Remember the word that I said to you, “Servants are not greater than their master.” If they persecuted me, they will persecute you.
What does it mean for you to want to be like Jesus?
What does it mean for you to, in your own everyday life, take up the cross as not just your message, but also your way of life, as your method of relating to others?
What does it look like for you to choose to be mentored (be a disciple) by the one you want to be like?
Isim: A distinctive practice, system of belief, philosophy, or ideology.
Ismatic: Someone who thinks according to, and lives by, a certain “-ism.”
Crucsim: The only “-ism” worth dying for (Christianity and the world has been victim of too many other “-isms”).
Crucismatic: Someone who lives by the practice, system of belief, philosophy and ideology of the cross.
A Crucismatic movement: A group of 2 to 12 people placed all over the world who seeks to influence society, not through wielding a sword, but through the practice, the system of belief, the philosophy, and the ideology of a cross instead.
What both the world and the church need today is a decidedly Crucismatic movement. May it start with me! May it start with you! Who’s with me?
I have a HUGE announcement to make soon in October! This is going to be BIG. We, at RHM, have been praying and working out all the details. Please pray that God will give us wisdom as we endeavor to know how to move forward into what it really means to follow Jesus and proclaim and demonstrate God’s radical, other-centered, self-sacrificial love.
Keep living in love; keep enlarging the Kingdom. Vive la Révolution! Lift high the Cross!
I love you guys.