Christ’s Love, My Rights, and a Free Society

The Human Problem

Our world is a messy place. The Christian worldview sees the human problem through the lenses of a great catastrophe and a great cost-at-the-cross. The catastrophe ripped humanity from their deep satisfaction found only in the communion of God-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The by-products of this fellowship were innocence, honour, and trust. But on the other side of the great catastrophe human relationships separate from the communion of God deteriorated into schemes to manage guilt, shame, and fear. (I am indebted to Roland Muller for his work on harmartiology in The Messager, The Message, and The Community.)

The great cost is death and it is ultimately seen at the cross of Jesus Christ as God enters into the catastrophe in fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel. Jesus shared the Father’s will to ignite a spiritual rebirth in the hearts, minds, and souls of people who will gracefully receive His redemption, the forgiveness of sins, accomplished through His body on the cross. Now, the Holy Spirit sent to all who receive Jesus, will give them a new heart and a new spirit.

When I read the news and listen to people affected by violence and the competing pulls on freedom—license and legalism, I try to listen through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our yearning for honour is satisfied through the death of Jesus Christ. Our cries for justice are  satisfied through the death of Jesus Christ. Our seduction to power is satisfied through the death of Jesus Christ. For at the Cross, we believe, Jesus through weakness becomes the source and object of our faith, hope, and love. And in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, the Heavenly Father validates the life and work of Jesus Christ. Through the resurrection He establishes our hope for His full redemptive work in all Creation.


Roman Problems

This hope is tested by complexities of the human heart and the diversity of people. For example,  when Jewish Christians returned to Rome after the Emperor Claudius’ death, they returned to  the fellowship of Gentile Christians in the city. Apparently there where conflicts as some may have felt disrespected and shamed by the Gentiles who had created patterns and circles of comfort that did not consider their needs. Its into this conflict of honour and respect that Paul writes the book of Romans contained in our Scripture. Gentile Christians who had no qualms buying, eating, and serving meat from the local butcher were offending the Jewish Christians who took issue with the source. The local butcher on the corner probably received his meat from the priests of local temples dedicated to the Roman gods. This “meat sacrificed to idols” offended the Jewish Christians. (See Romans 14 and 15.)

Paul writes that as believers under the grace of God in Christ Jesus, they are all free to receive with thanksgiving any meat. But if the “weaker” of faith is offended, the “stronger” of faith out love can choose to go without meat or to seek to satisfy their brothers and sisters who need the care at this point in their journey with Jesus. Love is the capacity to suspend what I want or need in order to meet the needs of another. And on the other side of the problem, when I don’t get what I want, love is nurtured in the community by choosing to forgive the offence.

Such restraint in the fullness of their freedom, is a demonstration of the love of Christ in the fellowship of believers. And it must be said, even as followers of Jesus, redeemed by Him, we do not do “this” easily or even automatically. It might not be automatic for some to accept the pluralism and diversity that Christ allows. It comes with struggle. People long for respect and honour. People long for freedom. These two longings clash when there are competing visions of rightness. The dignity and sanctity of life cherished in the Gospel will be cast aside when offence and the longing for power are mixed in the crucible of greed. Under the cloak of justice people imagine that if they have their way or have their vengeance, things may be set right and people will learn their lessons. That’s a deception.


Rights Restrained by Love

The struggle then, is to enter into the love of Christ and extend it to those who believe and even to those who do not believe. What love might constrain me to limit my rights? What love would compel me to lift up those who are alienated in my society? What love would govern me and compel me to enter into the tension of religious liberty for all? Jesus never required His followers to defend His honour or His kingdom with violence. In fact, Jesus teaches us that we are blessed in the face of such opposition to Him, His Gospel, and to righteousness. He says,

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”  Matthew 5:9-12

Jesus goes on to command His followers to the most extraordinary application of the virtue of love. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Matthew 5:44 This is so hard, as enemies ultimately believe their world would be better without you.


Questions for a Free Society

It is my conviction that the pattern of love in the church can be extended to others. You might be tempted to call it the secularization of love. But the desire to extend this love is actually a fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham to create a people who will be a blessing to all the nations. Now the church shares the vision of being a blessing to the societies in which it resides.

Our “free” society in the West, is not the starting place for Christian thought. Christ is and the church is our starting place for understanding the leaven of the Kingdom of God. When I get to our “free” society in my thinking I get there with a recognition of our common longings. And its because of the restraints of love in the fellowship of Jesus’ Church, that I see challenges for us all in a pluralistic and “free” society. These questions are not new. But they are always current.

How shall we govern our rights with love?

What posture shall we take in society towards each other as we hold competing systems of truth?

How do we turn enemies into friends?

How do we protect each other from the lawlessness of blood-thirst?
How will we grieve with those who grieve and celebrate with those who rejoice?
How will we include outsiders in such a way that they become insiders?
How do find agreed upon values and a narrative of the future to move towards together?

How do we treat tension and conflict as a good symptom of two or more high quality but competing demands without desiring the annihilation of a people because “they are the problem” or abandoning our most ideal values?


liberty, human rights, & the Gospel

“This understanding of the equal and inalienable value of people has steadily made its way into people’s thinking wherever Christianity has spread, so much so that every ethical theory by Western philosophers, however much they differ from each other, assumes and is based upon the absolute value of every human being.  Since this teaching of Jesus took hold in Western civilization, our legal systems, our understanding of human rights, the slow and gradual rise of democracy, and the emancipation of women and slaves–all rest on and are inspired by such simple parables as that of a Lost Sheep, a Lost Coin, a Lost Son, because they teach us that every person must be taken with ultimate seriousness.  These stories encapsulate the core of the gospel:  each and every person so matters to God that God the Son became a human being to seek us.  Nothing can give us the value and worth that underlies our civilization’s conviction concerning human rights, which is spreading to the rest of the world today–nothing except the love of God.  To reject God, to ignore God, or to neglect God is at the same time to reject, to ignore, or to neglect our irreplaceable value.”  Diogenes Allen, Theology for a Troubled Believer, xxii

american myths and the real pilgrims

Happy Thanksgiving America.

Apparently, the first Pilgrims on the Mayflower were both devout and tolerant.  Great characteristics to possess and from which flow genuine liberty.

The Pilgrims – unlike British Puritans who wanted to turn Massachusetts into a theocracy – sharply advocated church-state separation. They heretically believed that women should be allowed to speak in church. They were far more tolerant of other faiths and open to the idea that their theology, like all human dogma, might contain errors.

Pilgrim experiences “in the cosmopolitan Netherlands are a reason they are less rigid or dogmatic in their views about what people must and must not do,” argues Jeremy Bangs, curator of the American Pilgrim Museum in Leiden and author of “Saints and Pilgrims,” a 900-page reappraisal published this year on the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims’ arrival in Leiden.

“The pilgrims didn’t have witchcraft hysteria, they didn’t kill Quakers. These are big differences!” notes Mr. Bangs, a former curator of Plimoth Plantation whose work draws heavily from untapped Dutch and New England archives. “Pilgrim leaders were less prone to persecute…. The possibility that others may be right and they may be wrong is something influenced by their time living in an extraordinary community of other exiles in Holland.”

Read the whole article in the Christian Science Monitor.

Personal Thoughts on Dalai Lama Center, Peace Summit, Vancouver 2009

In a few days Vancouver will be inundated with people who have demonstrated with their life a commitment to improving the lives of others and building a life of peace.  The Peace Summit, Vancouver 2009, sponsored by the Dalai Lama Center in Vancouver has drawn together an extraordinary group of people for dialogue in both public and private conversations. The Epoch times has an informative article listing and describing the participants which include the Dalai Lama, and Noble Peace Prize Laureates, Desmond Tutu, Jody Williams, and Mairead Maguire.

I was recently asked what I thought about the event.  Here are a few personal observations and the perspectives that shape them–just looking in before it gets started:

1.  The Summit is a remarkable celebration of LIBERTY.  As a philosophical construct informed from a Christian worldview, liberty demands that people be free to hold exclusive and divergent positions or truth claims while maintaining the dignity and high value of all humanity in respectful interactions.  Where liberty is most graciously practiced tension abounds–especially for those who observe people with divergent truth-claims getting along and planning to do good together.

2.  The Summit promotes the difficult task of PEACEMAKING.  The values and competencies required to make peace in a world of hostility will be discussed and made available through the event.  Relational reconciliation begins in our own neighbourhoods and cities.  To break dividing walls of hostility is not an easy task and requires “wisdom from heaven.”  Jesus calls his followers to respond to His grace with lives that promote peace; he said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”  And James writes,

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.  NIV (James 3:13-18)

3.  The Summit is a reflection of COMMON GRACE.  From the perspective of a Christian worldview I see the Peace Summit as a possibility only because of God’s gracious kindness toward all humanity who desires that all would come to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.  Notice the gift of peace for people that Christians are to seek in prayer as described in 1 Timothy 2:1-6

2:1 I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone- 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all men-the testimony given in its proper time.  (NIV)

2:1 I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone- 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all men-the testimony given in its proper time.

4.  The Summit is a RELIGIOUS event.  Participants, including the Dalai Lama come to the Summit from their own worldview and construct of faith either in themselves, or a set of principles greater themselves, or in a god.  If we understand spirituality as the pursuit required to integrate what we see with what we don’t see then one could say this is a SPIRITUAL event as well.  James, the half-brother of Jesus, writes to the churches that “Religion God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this:  to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27)  Religion though is most often an exercise in self-justification, self-righteousness, and self-awareness.  When either of these selves is threatened it turns quickly to the desires for power and control in order to maintain this idolatry or balance of a self-satisfied life.  A spirituality flowing out of the Gospel of Jesus Christ will be categorically different in its realization that justification, righteousness and awareness are secured in Christ.  As a resident of a City (Vancouver) that has many who long to be good, I can observe with the Apostle Paul that God has worked in the hearts of humanity a record of His Law or way:  “Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing , now even defending them.”  (Romans 2:14-15)  One of the stated goals of the Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education is the “education of the heart;” participants will be encouraged to explore and develop personal peace from which will hopefully flow compassion for others; that’s religion at its best.  Not a GOSPEL event but a RELIGIOUS event.

5.  The Peace Summit reminds me of the SUPREMACY OF CHRIST.  The followers of Jesus even from the first century have entered into the real and sometimes figurative Areopagus (See Acts 17:16-34)  in order to proclaim the reality and the meaning of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The exchange of ideas in the marketplace is exciting and sometimes costly.  Love and Truth do mix.  Our Vancouver- Canadian apprehension of conflict will be challenged by the public exchange of ideas that the Peace Summit elicits.  From the Christian worldview, Christians live their lives in response to Jesus Christ because of His “work” on the cross and His resurrection that confirmed and completed His work.  Jesus is our Prince of Peace.  He brings a peace that the world cannot give.  He brings a peace with God that transcends all other realities.  I don’t want to pretend about the realities of conflict like those who say, “Peace, Peace, where there is no peace.”  (See Jeremiah 6:14)  The claims of Christ are in direct conflict with the dominant messages of spiritual self-sufficiency.  The Apostles who functioned in a world of diverse ideas and claims to truth show us how to live as followers of Jesus Christ:  test the spirits, discern the truth, act in love.    See 1 John 4:1-21 below.

4:1 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

4 You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. 5 They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.

7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

13 We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. 17 In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.  NIV

Recent articles:

Vancouver Sun writer Douglas Todd explores the three goals of the Peace Summit.

ilinktoit, 16 October 2008