Fighting Christians

canstockphoto18017628There was a lot of fighting going on when Jesus was alive. Not war, necessarily, although it was always bubbling just under the surface crust, ready to erupt at any time. The absence of war, however, doesn’t mean that there wasn’t other kinds of fighting going on.

It is common to talk about 1st century Judaism, as if it was just one big unified religion, but in the first century Judaism was no more monolithic and unified than Christianity is today. N.T. Wright says that we shouldn’t speak of 1st century Judaism but of 1st century Judaisms, plural.

If you know much about the New Testament you already now about the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and may have picked up that there was little they agreed on.

Since the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls we know a lot more about the Essenes, who disagreed with everyone so much that they pulled out completely and lived separately in the caves around the Dead Sea, waiting self-righteously for God to judge all the apostate forms of Judaism and recognize them as the pure branch.

And there were the revolutionaries, who really did want to go to war against Rome. They didn’t want to just kill Romans, they pledged to kill also any Jews who did not support them in their fight against Rome. And these are just the major groups.

It was a volatile mix of religion, politics, ideology, nationalism, and economic rivalry, a powder keg that would erupt twice within a hundred years of Jesus’s crucifixion—an event that was caused by this volatility—resulting in the complete destruction of ancient Israel.

It was a destruction that Jesus warned them about and tried to prevent. Stop fighting, he warned. It never ends well. If you live by the sword, you will die by it, whether that sword is literal or metaphorical.

Make peace with your enemy. Pray for your enemy. Love your enemy.

Better to be persecuted, he warned, than to get caught up in the fighting. Blessed are you when you are persecuted. Blessed are the peacemakers.

Put your swords away.

Sounds like the kind of capitulation to Rome that the Sadducees advocated, a go-along-to-get-along message. That’s not what Jesus advocated, however; it was much worse than that.

Don’t surrender, he said, just don’t fight.

“But,” a normal, rational person would say, “if we do that, we’ll end up defeated. Dead. We’ll end up on a Roman cross!”

Jesus’ crucifixion proved them right on that point.

And three days later, Jesus proved them all wrong. He proved that his way of no-swords confrontation, of loving enemies rather than killing them, ultimately wins out.

Victory was declared. “I have conquered the world!” he declared. (John 16:33 NRS). Not future tense—”I will conquer the world”—but past tense. “It’s over. I won.”

In the pre-modern world, news of victory and surrender could take months to reach all of the armies, with the result that fighting continued after the victory had been won.

That’s tragic, but understandable. What doesn’t make sense are those who continue to fight after they have learned that the victory has been won.

It’s sadly ironic, therefore, that throughout our history Christians have continued to fight. The Judaism of Jesus’s day was a Kumbayah-singing lovefest compared to Christianity.

Think about all the fussing and fighting that has gone on in our history. I won’t get into “minor” squabbles between what ultimately emerged as orthodox Christianity and the Gnostics, Marcionites, Monophysites, Docetists and numerous other Christian or semi-Christian groups.

We can just look at the big fights that resulted in large schisms: the split with Coptic Christianity in 451; the big schism between Eastern Christianity (the Orthodox Church) and Western Christianity (Roman Catholicism) in 1054; and the split between Protestants and Rome in the early 1500’s, which immediately led to even more splintering among the Protestant groups. (And if you read the history of the Protestant Reformation there was a lot of violence that occurred—Christians killing Christians in the name of Christian purity.)

Did I forget to mention the Crusades?

We are still fighting. Evangelicals vs. Modernists, Fundamentalists against…well, pretty much everyone including other Fundamentalists; Calvinists vs. Arminians, Calvinists vs. Neo-Calvinists, Young-Earth Creationists vs. Old-Earth Creationists vs. Theistic Evolutionists, Faith vs. Science, Pentecostals vs. Charismatics, Pro-Life vs. Pro-Choice Christians, Sand Creek worship vs. Charleston worship vs. Contemporary worship….

I literally could go on and on and on, because we keep going on and on and on.

I’m going to throw this one out there, but maybe, just maybe, when Jesus said that he had conquered and the victory was already won, maybe among the things he meant was that we could finally stop fighting.

It’s over! Stop!

Look, I like a good discussion, even a good heated discussion. I’m in a small group Bible study, and when we all agree it is boring, boring, booooooooring. I like it when we get a little riled up, pushing back against one another, sometimes even raising our voices.

But we never fight. We’re brothers, friends, colleagues.

For some reason, a lot of Christians feel the need to identify an enemy, rally others against that enemy, and go to war. And you know what I’ve noticed? A lot of times that makes us feel good, that we’ve fought the good fight.

But nobody ever wins. Minds are rarely changed and hearts are rarely converted.

Wait, that’s not quite true. Our opponents minds are rarely changed and their hearts are rarely converted. Point a gun at my head, literally or figuratively, and you might change my behavior, but you won’t change my mind or convert my heart. Just the opposite, likely.

But our minds and hearts are changed. They become hardened, fixed, fixated, self-righteous.

It’s kind of hard to go into battle humbly. There’s a certain hubris needed for battle.

We aren’t called to be warriors for Jesus. We’re called to be his witnesses. The Greek word for which is martyr.

We stand up for what is right, we stand in for the victims of injustice, we even confront the perpetrators of injustice, but we don’t fight. We keep our swords in their sheaths, or back home in our closets. (Here’s an idea: we beat them into plowshares.)

And if that gets us killed, whether literally or metaphorically, that is our witness.

We stand for righteousness, and we do so steeped in uncompromising love, uncommon grace, and unnatural forgiveness.

Because when Christians fight, whether with the secular world, other religions, or each other, Christianity loses.

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