The Arrogance of Mutually Assured Destruction in the Church

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During the Cold War between the United States of America and the former Soviet Union, the build up of nuclear arms became a standard practice. If one side built a weapon of mass destruction the other side countered with ever increasing numbers of more powerful and destructive weapons. The idea behind this proliferation was simple: if both sides knew that the other had weapons that could ensure total destruction, it functioned as a deterrent to go to war. This became known as the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). As long as either side continued to equal or escalate armaments “peace” was maintained through “strength.”

Looking back on the Cold War, there was a kind of arrogance in this “peace.” Each side wanted to show that it was better and more powerful than the other, and if war would break out, victory would be assured in the destruction of the enemy. Ironically as long as victory over the other was the implicit goal, no peace was achieved!

How often in the church do we seem to practice an arrogant doctrine of MAD, seeking for personal or theological victory rather than peace and reconciliation? How often would we prefer a build up of arms rather than humility and grace? How often do we promote a Cold War between doctrinal camps, between rival theological perspectives, even between members of our own churches and families rather than make every effort to keep the victory of unity and peace already won in Jesus? (Eph. 4:3, Col. 2:15) The gospel calls us to unity and peace, but this can only be achieved when we put down our arms and in the humility demonstrated by God in Jesus Christ reach out to our “enemies.” This can only be done when we give up our own victory and arrogant plans and embrace the humility of Christ found in the gospel. Without this self-denial and sacrificial step, there is no chance of peace and unity. However, with the humility of Jesus we can put down our armaments, repent, forgive, and find peace.

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Breaking the Gospel to Keep It?

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In 1532 Niccolò Machiavelli first published his ground breaking book, The Prince.  In his book he laid down efficient principles for gaining power by focusing on the goal and that goal alone would justify the process, even if it was on the face of it inappropriate or unethical: the end justifies the means.  His little book pinpointed one of the major problems with how we relate to one another. Is it ethical to act in any way we wish as long as the result is good? Ironically most Christians throughout history would say emphatically “No!” and label this form of behavioral ethics as “evil.”  What we do, however, is often entirely different.  Why is it that so often we employ Machiavellian tactics in our own lives and justify it?

Why is it that if we think another Christian is in error, in how they have treated us, in their doctrine, or even in full time ministry, this gives us justification to do “whatever it takes” correct them?   We may speak harshly to them.  Why?   Because they must be stopped!   We may establish blogs to write against them and publicly destroy their reputation.  Why? Because we must stand up to doctrinal or personal error!  We may even remove them from ministry. Why? Because the cancer of their error must be expunged.   Is this the way of life God has called us to in Jesus Christ, or is this how Machiavelli would encourage us to regain power?

As Christians we are called to more than simply a “good end” but also to a method or way of life.  We are called to imitate God, Eph. 5:1-2, and the primary way we imitate Him is to live lives of sacrificial love.  This way of life can be exemplified in simple terms:

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Mat 7:12 ESV)

“For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Gal 5:14 ESV)

“speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Eph 4:15-16 ESV)

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”(Eph 4:32 ESV)

If we are commanded specifically to love, and told that the way of our lives determines the outcome, why do we excuse ourselves in how we act?  In truth, there is no excuse.  God has given us the gospel, and this is not just a doctrine but a way of life.  If we break the gospel to establish the gospel, or a good end – some doctrine, behavior etc., we have not kept it but rather broken it.  Our calling is to receive the gospel and live it out, specifically and especially when we are wronged or when a person we interact with or even have responsibility over is in error.  This would apply to interpersonal relationships of friends and family, husbands and wives, parents and children, church and ministry boards, and every conceivable interaction we could have with another human being!

If you break the gospel to keep the gospel all you have done is broken the gospel, but if you live out the gospel you keep it!