“Shall Christians Go to War” by J. W. McGarvey (1861)

The August 1861 edition of the British Millennial Harbinger was themed “The American Civil War”, and contains the following article, as well as a very interesting reply from Alexander Campbell. The entire edition is available online here.

Our Heavenly Father has ever governed the world according to this maxim, “He that humbleth himself shall be exalted; and he that exalteth himself shall be abased.” A few months ago, the citizens of the American Republic were the proudest people under heaven. They boasted of a present grandeur, a historic renown, and a future glory, such as had not fallen to the lot of any nation. Christians shared in this pride, forgetting that a love of country is but a refinement upon self-love. The God of heaven has never been pleased with such pride, and when it has swelled itself too high, he determined to abase it. It was while King Nebuchadnezzar was in the very act of looking from his palace upon the lofty walls, the splendid buildings, and hanging gardens of Babylon, and saying to himself, “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of my kingdom, by the might of my power and for the honor of my majesty?” that the hand of the Lord smote him with an insanity that made him think himself a beast, so that he herded with cattle, and ate grass like an ox, thill his hair was like eagles’ feathers, and his nails like birds’ claws. So it was in the midst of our national pride and glory, that the Lord has smitten the people with a similar madness, and like ferocious beasts, they have fallen into butchering one another. God grant that when their understanding is returned to them, they may be able to adopt the language of that unfortunate monarch, at the close of his dreadful aberration:

I blessed the Most High and I praised and honored him that liveth for ever and ever; whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom from generation to generation… I praise and extol, and honour the King of heaven, all whose ways are truth, and his works judgment; and those that walk in pride, he is able to abase.

Daniel 4:34, 37

I think I will never feel proud of my country again. If so, I shall be better able to sympathize with Paul when he exclaims: “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world is crucified to me, and I unto the world.”

He who uses famine, and pestilence, and war, to scourge the nations, is now scourging us. The call for soldiers is sounding through the land, and Christians are urged, like others, to join the red ranks of war. The pulpits, presses, and prayers of sectarian churches are strangely mingling with the strains of martial music, and the turbulent eloquence of partisan leaders and recruiting officers, to heat up the blood of the people and drive them to the battlefield. The din of preparation and the whirl of passion are surging so wildly around us, that the coolest head grows dizzy, and we scarcely know where we stand. In such an hour the heart of the true disciple instinctively turns back to the Great Teacher, and seeks repose under the yoke of his authority. Shall no we, who have discarded all human traditions, and assumed before heaven and earth that the New Testament is our only and all-sufficient guide, be true to it in this trying hour? If we do not, then we deny the Lord who has bought us, and he will certainly deny us.

When we ask the question, “Shall Christians from either of the contending sections go into this war?” remember the question is not, “Which section is in the right?” With that question, as religious teachers, we have nothing to do. Neither do we ask whether it would be justifiable, according to the honor and the law of nations. Nations and mere men of honor are governed by this code, but Christians by one far different. It is not even a question as to whether a Christian may, under extreme circumstances – such as the immediate protection of the lives of his wife and children – use deadly weapons. But the question is the one right before us, “Shall Christians take part in the war that is now raging? Will we be justifiable in so doing by that Book which is to judge us in the day of eternity?”

One thing is absolutely certain, and that is, that nothing short of a precept or precedent from Christ or the Apostles, can give us the warrant which the case demands. If we go into this war contrary to the will and word of Christ, the blood of the slain will cry out against us, and the curse of heaven will fall upon us. Do the will and word of Christ, then, justify it? I presume that there is no more decisive method of determining what Christ would have us do under given circumstances, than to inquire what he himself would do if he occupied our place. If he were alive and among us now, as he was in Judea, and teaching in either section of the country, what would be his conduct and advice? To ask this question is to answer it. No man who knows his history – who knows that at his birth exulting angels shouted, “Peace on earth, good will among men” – that his name is the Prince of Peace – that “when he was reviled, he reviled not again – when he suffered, he threatened not” – can for a moment doubt that, if here now, he would once more say, “Put up thy sword, for they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.” It were not less that blasphemous to suppose that he who taught us to love our enemies, and to forgive as we would hope to be forgiven, would now tell us to butcher our kindred, or urge us to battle with his prayers. But he is our example, and if we take not up our cross and follow him, we cannot be his disciples.

But the inspired Apostles are also our example, for they followed the footsteps of their Master. Suppose, then, that the twelve were all alive today, and here in our country – six of them in the South, and six in the North. Would they, like the hosts of sectarian preachers on both sides, be urging their brethren to the war? How degrading is the thought! And yet the men who claim to be the successors of the Apostles, are openly, before heaven and earth, exulting in this impiety. The soul of one who has been taught by Paul and Peter sickens at such a scene, and well does he know that he who wrote to the Christians in the city of Rome, who were groaning under the cruelty of Nero, “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath. If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink” – would now say to us, “Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” He knows that, unless Peter has greatly changed for the worse since he left the body, he would still urge us to:

Be pitiful, be courteous – not rendering evil for evil, nor railing for railing, but contrariwise blessing, knowing that you are thereunto called that you might inherit a blessing. For he that would love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile. Let him eschew evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open to their cries; but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.

1 Peter 3:8-12

May the “very God of peace” be with us all, and the “peace of God, that passeth all understanding, keep our minds and hearts through Jesus Christ.”

“God’s Provisions of Authority” by David Lipscomb

The Gospel Advocate; January 23, 1866

We propose investigating, at this time, the relationship of the church to the political institutions of earth. In the investigation of this subject, we shall use certain terms, very common in themselves, but hardly with a sufficient definiteness of meaning to permit a use of them in this investigation, without first defining them. We shall use the adjectives, civil and political, when connected with the institutions of earth, as indicating those of human origin, in contradiction to those of divine origin. Civil government then, is a government founded by man for the well-being of the human family, in contradiction from a government founded of God for man’s well-being. With this definition, it will at a glance be seen that no civil or human institutions can exist in a government exclusively of God. Hence we never hear of a civil policy in the Church of God. God alone is the law-giver to his church. It also behooves us in determining definitely what relationship now exists between the Church of Christ and the political governments of the world, to inquire into the origin of each, whence did they originate, how stood they with reference to each other in the beginning, too, the successive changes that have taken place in each, with reference to the other, and how these changes have been regarded by God, the great arbiter of right and wrong. By pursuing this course we feel sure that a definite and clear appreciation of the relationship of church and state, may be arrived at, which will be of benefit to both, if acted upon.

Commencing then with the first creation of man the subject of both the human and divine governments, we find that God, in proposing to create him in his own image, declared that,

he shall have dominion over the fish of the sea, the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping think that creepeth upon the face of the earth.

Genesis 1:26

Man, having been created, receives his commission to live and act. In that he is empowered to,

subdue the earth, and to have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

Genesis 1:28

All authority is of God and from God. He, the maker of all things, alone had the right to assign to every created thing its position, functions, and powers.

There is no person or thing then in the universe that can rightfully occupy any particular position or exercise any especial authority or power, save by appointment directly from God. All other exercise of authority must be in rebellion against the Creator. God here directly delegates to man the right to subdue and control the whole lower creation. He is assigned the position of head of this under creation, and has the unquestioned right to hold it subservient to his own will and to command it to the accomplishment of his own purposes.

But who governs and directs man? Has God empowered him to control and direct himself? We find no such power delegated to him, but on the contrary He says, “that it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps aright.” But in contrast with his delegating this authority to man to control the brute creation, the inspired historian says in Genesis 11:16, “The Lord God commanded the man.” In other words, I have given you, man, the right and power to control and use under creation, but I reserve to myself the right, the sole right to govern and control you.

It is noteworthy, that when God once delegated authority to an under agent, he never himself interfered with the exercise of that authority, or reassumed it to himself. Hence, having once delegated to man the right to control the under creation, he never interfered with the exercise of that right. So we find him nowhere issuing commands to the under portion of creation. Still less, we may safely conclude, will he tolerate interference upon the part of man, with what he has reserved to himself as his peculiar prerogative. Then God reserved to himself the sole right to govern and control man, the assumption to govern himself or to govern his fellow man was an interference with God’s prerogative.

In accordance with this reserved right or prerogative of God, we find that he has always made provision for its exercise, by keeping continually a government of his own, in which he proposes to direct man. In the Garden of Eden he governed Adam, to provided for his government, by commands given directly to him in person. When he chose to try his own capacity to direct his steps aright, death, with its untold horrors, resulted. When Adam refused to obey his Maker’s law, as thus given, was driven from the garden of Eden, God still provided a government for all who were disposed to submit to his authority, though the patriarchal institution. In this the father was law-giver and law executor of God to his family.

When the family, that recognized God’s authority, had grown in numbers and proportions to the strength of a nation, God changed his institution from a family to a national government. Under this establishment Moses was not the law-maker, but the law-giver to the Jewish nation. God, himself alone, was the law-maker. We wish it observed that there was no human or civil polity in the Jewish government as it came from its maker. God gave the law through Moses. Through the Prophets and Judges, God applied his own law to the difficulties and differences that arose among his people, and himself through his Urim and Thummim decided every dispute that was brought to His judgment seat. There was here no human legislative, judicial, or executive authority, save as it was under the direct guidance of God.

This institution having superceded and supplanted the Patriarchal dispensation, continued until perverted by the introduction of a human polity, it corrupted the people it had been established to keep pure. When this people, as a whole, had rejected God’s government, and had substituted instead thereof, a human one, God rejected them as his people. Howbeit a few of that nation had, in spite of the influence of the perverted government, maintained their integrity to God. Under the providential workings of God with the other nations of the earth, the minds of some individuals of other nations had also been prepared for the reception of God’s government. He then introduced a new dispensation suited to embrace individuals, many or few, under any and all the nationalities of earth and for all time. This new dispensation, universal in its nature, superceded and supplanted the Jewish national dispensation, as it had done the patriarchal, but this is to stand forever.

God then, in accordance with his design of governing man, has at no time left himself without a government. These governments have been at all times complete and perfect in themselves, needing no interpolation or addition from human hands. To the Jews he said,

What thing soever I command you, observe to do it, you shall not add thereto nor diminish from it.

Deuteronomy 12:32

In the universal or Christian dispensation, he said,

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect thoroughly furnished unto every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16

For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, if any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book, and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and out of the things that are written in this book.

Revelation 22:18-19

So God has always provided an institution for man’s government, free from the defilement of human hands. In his government then there can be no civil or human polity.

“The Cholera and the Christian Religion” by David Lipscomb

David Lipscomb, “The Cholera and the Christian Religion,” Gospel Advocate 15.28 (17 July 1873) 649-653

The object of giving to man the Christian religion is to educate him up to the full observance of the will of God, as Christ observed it.  Christ came to do his will even unto death that we might live according to the will of God. The great object of all God’s dealings with man is to induce him to give himself up unreservedly to do the will of God, to submit to his laws. Christ’s life was a perfect submission to the will of his Father in Heaven. The religion of Jesus Christ, then, proposes to reproduce in our lives the life of Christ, both in spirit and active labor. The reproduction in our lives of the life of Christ is the end before us, for our attainment. To this work, we pledge ourselves when we profess to become his followers. We say, we will, with the help of God, strive to live according to his precepts. His life was the practical exemplification of his precepts. He practiced the precepts he gave for the government of the world. He gave in percept for the government of his followers the rules of his own life.

To the extent that we follow his example, and thus practice his precepts, we form within us the living Christ. Paul to the Galatians, 4, 15, says,

My little children of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you.

Again Colos. 1, 27,

To whom God would make know what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you the hope of glory, whom we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.

We are not only brought into Christ, but Christ is also formed in us by a learning and compliance with his will. The unification between Christ and the disciples progresses from two different directions. The attainment of that unity with Christ is the Christian’s work in life.

Man is baptized out of himself, out of the world and its institutions, and is baptized into Christ that he may walk in him, obey him, enter into his spirit and that Christ may be formed in him. He thus becomes one with Christ, he is in him, he acts through him. The pledge that we solemnly make in our profession of faith in Christ and of our baptism into him is, that we will strive to reproduce his life before the world in our own lives. Hence we are epistles of Christ to the world, to be read of all men.

To reproduce the life of Christ in our own lives is to act as Christ would act, were he in our places. We thus become Christ’s representatives to the world. The solemn pledge of our lives is to act to the best of our ability in the various relationships that we occupy in the world, and in the exigencies and circumstances in which we are placed as Christ would act, were he here situated as we are.

A man with talent and social position confesses Christ, puts him on in baptism. He pledges to God most sacredly, before the world, he will use that talent or ability as Christ would use it. A man with one, two, ten or a hundred thousand dollars, as baptized out of himself into Christ, he pledges as a servant of Christ to try to act as Christ would, were he here on earth situated as this individual is, with his one, ten, or one hundred thousand dollars. That is the obligation, nothing less. (I have no utopian idea that Christ in such circumstances would divide his ten or one hundred thousand dollars among a set of lazy thriftless vagrants or spendthrifts, that would be no better off with it, than without it. But he would so use it as to relieve the pressing necessities of the suffering and to help the helpless, and teach all the way of industry, righteousness, goodness and thrift).

We came into the church with this pledge. We speak and act for Christ, to the world, in the place or stead of Christ. How do we act for him? We stand as Christ to the world. We are the body of Christ. In us he dwells. How do we represent him?

Recently the Cholera made a fearful visitation upon our people. It fell with especial severity upon the poor. It often first attacked the strong arm, the stay and reliance of the family. If not his, it struck down other members of his family so that he must needs cease to labor, in order to nurse them. Again all business ceased, and he could not get work, to support his family. In one family of industrious people, consisting of a father, mother and six industrious boys and girls, every one died save the mother, and she was prostrated. Another, a family—a nice, well-refined, well-raised family—consisted of a father, a carpenter by trade, a mother feeble with consumption, two daughters about grown, who sewed in a millinery establishment, a daughter and niece, about 12 each.

The father was taken ill and died within a few hours. The eldest daughter followed soon. The youngest daughter and niece lingered days between life and death. Only one daughter, a delicate girl was up, and she continually threatened with an attack; they too at times without a morsel of food, for sick or well.  Another case, among the colored people. The family in one house consisted of a father, mother, a married son with wife and infant, and two small children. The father, mother, son and son’s wife were all taken ill. The two males were buried. The son’s wife died on Friday night. The mother in bed sick, with the infant grandchild and one of her own small children sick. The body remained uncoffined in that house until Monday morning about ten o’clock. No one was present, able to go and report the death to the proper authorities. What think you of a cholera corpse, lying in a small room with three other sick persons in the sultry, hot weather from Friday June 20th to Monday, June 23rd?

This occurred a little out of the corporation, but in a thickly populated negro village. We mention these as specimen cases. They are extreme cases, but there were many approximations to them.

Now in view of these things and the wild panic that seized the population, what would Christ have done in the emergency? Had he been a resident of Nashville with ten, twenty or a hundred thousand dollars, what would he have done? What did he do in the person of his representatives here?

Would he have become panic stricken with fear—fear of death, and have used his means to get himself and family, with their fashionable and luxurious appendages out of danger, to some place of fashionable resort and pleasure, and left his poor brethren and neighbors to suffer and perish from neglect and want?

That is just what he did do in the person of many of his professed representatives. In the person of others he retired to the cool shades of his own luxurious and spacious city mansion elevated above the noxious miasms that destroyed the poor and unfortunate and left them to die, in want and neglect, without attention from him. Did you who so acted bear true testimony to the world for him for whom you profess to act? Was not your course a libel upon him and his character? How can those who so acted again profess to be his children?

The religion of our Savior was intended to make us like Christ, not only in our labor of love—of our self sacrifice for the good of others, but also in raising us above a timid, quaking fear of death. If it does not make us willing to brave death and spend out time and money for the good of our suffering fellow-creatures, offcast and sinners though they be, it does not raise us above a mere empty profession that leaves us scarcely less than hypocrites. The religion that does not induce us to do this essential work of a true Christian cannot save us. The rich often think that they cannot condescend to do the work of nursing and caring for the poor. It is degrading. It is hard I know, just precisely as hard as it is to enter the kingdom of heaven, not a whit more difficult to do the one than the other.

These fatal scourges, under God, become opportunities to show the superior excellence of the Christian religion, in giving true courage, love and self-sacrifice to its votaries. Alas what is it judged by the course of a majority of its professors? What do we better than others, in these days of sorrowful visitation?

Christian men and women should be prudent, and cautious in such surroundings. It is proper, we think, to send women and children, who are incapable of service to the sick, and are liable to the disease beyond its reach, when possible. Bur for able bodied Christian men and women to be flying from the city when their brethren and neighbors and fellow-creatures are suffering and dying for lack of attention and help, is such a contradiction in ideas, we know of no means of reconciling them. We think true Christians would come from the surrounding country and towns to the smitten community to aid the needy. I believe they would bear charmed lives in such a course. God would protect them. We heard Dr. Bowling remark during the greatest fatality, that men doing such a work never took disease and died. But if they did, the feeling and spirit out to be that of the three Hebrew children, when threatened with the fiery furnace, if they did not disobey God. The response was, If God will he can deliver. But whether he will or not, we will not disobey God.

Those who did quietly and calmly do their duty although in the midst of pestilence, want, suffering and death, found these the happiest days of their life. Days to which they can always look back with a feeling of true satisfaction. We trust we may all learn that Christian men and women must be possessed of true and calm courage—that they must be able to face death and find true happiness here, as well as a crown of joy hereafter, in doing their duty in all circumstances.

Barton W. Stone’s Lecture on Matthew 5:38-48

The Christian Messenger; July 1844

Ye have heard that it hath been said, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil; but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
– Matthew 5.38

The law of Moses admitted of, yea, enjoined strict retaliation on its subjects; the reverse of which our great Lawgiver Christ Jesus enjoins on his subjects with equal strictness. “But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil.” The word evil is an adjective, and doubtless agrees with person understood, resist not an evil or injurious person – if he smite thee on thy right cheek, retaliate not by smiting him also, rather meekly offer the other cheek. By doing thus you may overcome the injurious person, and bring him to submission to the truth. Christ himself, set the example. When he was reviled he reviled not again, when he suffered (more than a stroke on the cheek) he neither retaliated, nor threatened the injurious, but counted himself to him that judgeth righteously. If this precept of Jesus be binding on one of his followers, it is binding on all, and his example sanctions the obligation. “Surely these people will learn war no more,” neither the art nor the practice of it. If genuine Christianity were to overspread the earth, wars would cease, and the world would be bound together in the bonds of peace. This is Christ’s kingdom – the kingdom of peace. A nation professing Christianity, yet teaching, learning and practicing the arts of war cannot be of the kingdom of Christ, nor do they live in obedience to the laws of Christ – the government is anti-Christian, and must reap the fruits of her infidelity at some future day.

But what shall be said of the nation which seeks to injure another, and in face make a trade of it? Yet professing Christianity? The answer is easy. They are leagued with the powers of darkness, and shall share of all their pains.

So far has the Christian world fallen from Christianity, and so long lost sight of it, that its professed advocates have in many instances amalgamated with paganism, and push Christianity into the back grounds. War, so contrary to the kingdom of peace, is taught as a science at military academies, and that too at the expense of the nation. Legislators condemn dueling, and impose severe penalties, and yet these same legislators will justify the same principle on a larger scale – a war between two nations. Their principle is to resist the injurious – but our legislator says, resist not the injurious. Whom shall we obey? God or man?

And if any man sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.
– Matthew 5.40

This man who sues you is an injurious person. If he takes away your coat resist not the injurious, rather let him take thy cloak also. Show what a low estimate you place on worldly possession, that your treasure is above. This course may save your enemy. The same principle is continued. Rather than resist the other person,

And whosoever shall compel you to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee, turn not away.
– Matthew 5.41-42

These precepts are in as plain language as can be expressed. I pretend not to make them plainer. This will, or should satisfy those who say the scriptures mean what they say, and say what they mean. They are certainly against avarice, selfishness and unkindness, and plainly express the contrary. We must make God our example. If we admit one exception to the rules laid down, we may admit others for a similar reason, and know not where to stop; one may explain them away, and act as is generally done, as if such a law was not in existence, and yet profess the Bible to be the sole rule of our practice.

Ye hath heard that it hath been said, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy: but I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you, and persecute you.
– Matthew 5.43-44

The rule of conduct, by which the ancients were regulated, was to love their neighbor and hate their enemy. – It is necessary to inquire with one of old, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus gave the inquirer a practical definition in the Samaritan, doing good to an unknown man in great distress, who had been abandoned by the priest and the Levite of his own nation. The Jews were martial enemies to the Samaritans, yet this Samaritan shewed mercy to a Jew in great distress, when he well knew he was his enemy. He was the neighbor, not the enemy. They are set in contrast. An enemy is described in the next verse, as one that curses you – hates you – and despitefully uses and persecutes you. A neighbor is described as one that loves, blesses and does good to them that curse and hate him, and prays for them who despitefully use and persecute him. This definition of a neighbor, is the same as that given above in the case of the Samaritan. How lovely – how divine is the portrait! If all who confess Jesus were of this character, what a body of light and glory would shine upon our world! They, the world, would have to shut their eyes against the light or yield to its power and become neighbors too! This character, drawn in miniature, is the very character of the Father of the universe, and manifested in his son, and in providence to the fallen world. Christians are thus enjoined to act towards their enemies – to all mankind, for the purpose stated in the next.

That ye may be the children of your father who is in heaven; for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust.
– Matthew 5.45

Now, who are the children of our heavenly Father? Those who labor to be, and to do, like him – those who are neighbors in heart and practice. None else will acknowledge by the Savior of sinners – none else will be admitted into heaven. Such a society on earth would resemble heaven itself. “In such a society as this my weary soul would rest.” Such a society as this can only profit the world, and without it the world would be lost. The wrangling of the carnal bands of nominal Christians in hostile array against each other, spending their strength in vain disputing about opinions, do they profit the world? Are they not a stumbling block to them? Keep your heavenly father always before your eyes as your pattern. This you will do by keeping in constant view Jesus, the image – the express image of his person, for in seeing him you see the Father, – the mercy, grace, and love of the Father flowing from the lips, the hands, the eyes, and wounds of Jesus for a rebel world. Such a compassionate, tender spirit should we possess, and such a love in deed and in truth, should we exhibit to the world, not only to our neighbors, or those that love us, but also to our enemies that hate us.

For if ye love them that love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the Publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the Publicans so?
– Matthew 5:46

By cultivating and cherishing such a spirit as recommended above, and by such conduct towards our enemies, is the pain line drawn by the divine hand between the Christian an the world – it is in fact the discrimination between them. If the present generation of professed Christians were judged according to these rules, who could stand?

Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father who is in heaven is perfect.
– Matthew 5:48

O let us labor after this perfection! Let the preachers set the example to their flocks, that they may present them spotless and blameless to their Lord. Their reward shall be great, not in this world’s goods, but in heaven. They that go forth weeping, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless return again, bearing their sheaves with them. O Christians, be diligent to make your calling and election sure. Look up, help is at hand, your redemption is nigh.

B. W. S.

Love Your Enemies

If we are to call ourselves Christ-ians, we must love our enemies like Christ does. For the early church, loving enemies was not just a minor feature of their faith – it was one of the most distinguishing features of the early church.

Jesus’s command to love enemies must never be reduced to simply “be nice to your grumpy neighbors.” It must be a love that is as radical as Jesus’s love on the cross, and it must be at the very heart of who we are as Christians. If we are serious about our commitment to restoring New Testament Christianity in our own day, we must wrestle with the teachings and examples of Jesus and His apostles, even when it challenges us to step outside our comfort zones.

This is not to suggest that we can’t raise tough questions about the implications Jesus’s teachings. We are allowed to ask questions like “did Jesus really mean what I think he means?” and “did Jesus really intend for his teachings to be applied in this particular way in this particular situation?” And Christians may not always draw the same conclusions from their studies. We are allowed to wrestle with Jesus’ teachings.

But we must never simply ignore or dismiss Jesus’ teachings simply because we think of them as impractical or nonsensical. If we have given Jesus our faithful allegiance, we cannot and must not decide to disagree with his teachings.

But I Say To You…

You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect. – Matthew 5.38-48

Jesus quotes from Exodus 21:24, “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.” Jesus read this law not as God’s endorsement for just violence, but as a text designed to limit violence. Jesus teaches the fulfillment of this law by saying “But I say to you, do not resist an evil person.

“Do not resist an evil person”? On the surface, such a command sounds very strange. Wasn’t the entire life and mission of Jesus one of resisting evil? Aren’t Christians supposed to resist evil and worldly ways?

What did Jesus mean when he said “do not resist an evil person”? The best explanation is the one Jesus gives with four examples.

  • “Whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also”
  • “If anyone wants to sue you and take away your shirt, let him have your coat also”
  • “Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two”
  • “Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you”

This is a form of resisting evil. Instead of responding with the “slap for slap, punch for punch, bullet for bullet” same kind of evil, Jesus commanded his disciples to resist the urge to respond in kind, thus putting an end to the cycle of violence. Jesus didn’t simply forbid unjust retaliation. The law did that. Jesus took it a step further by commanding his disciples not even to resist in kind.

How do Jesus’s disciples resist evil? By letting evil people win. That almost feels strange to put it that way. It’s backwards. It’s counterintuitive. But go back and read the four examples. In all four examples, Jesus instructs us to let the bad guy gain the upper hand.

What’s more, this is what Jesus showed us to do when he practiced what he preached. Jesus allowed his enemies to “win” by nailing him to the cross.

It should be noted that following this command is not weakness. Jesus was not “weak” when he hung on the cross. He could have easily commanded an army to ten thousand angels to judge the world and set him free. He was commanding us to let the bad guys win, even when we have the strength and power to defeat them.

Radical Enemy Love

Jesus commands us to love our enemies. He didn’t just command us to love some of our enemies. He didn’t just command us to love our enemies when it makes sense to so. He commanded us to love our enemies the way God, “who sends rain on the just and unjust”, loves them. We are to love the way God does by refusing to make a distinction between which enemies we are to love. He commanded us to love our enemies even in those times when it wouldn’t make sense to your average Gentile or tax collector.

Consider also this parallel passage from Luke:

But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But love you enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is Merciful.” – Luke 6:27-36

Could Jesus have been any clearer? The type of love Christians are to have is supposed to be more than the “common sense” love shown by the world around us. Also note that Jesus commands us to do good to our enemies, lest we think that we can somehow “love” our enemies while doing harm to them.

Not Just a Minor Feature of Christianity

Lest we think that this is just a somewhat strange, one-off command of Jesus, when we read our New Testament, it doesn’t take long to see this teaching repeated time and time again.

When Jesus was arrested in the garden, he commanded Peter to “Put your sword back into its place” (Mt. 26:52). Here Peter was drawing his sword against an enemy in defense of an innocent person, yet Jesus rebuked Peter.

Jesus cites the fact that his disciples were not fighting in his self-defense as proof that his kingdom was not of this world.

My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, then my servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this world. – John 18.36

When Jesus was hanging on the cross, he prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk. 23.34). Without a doubt, Jesus loved his enemies.

“Yeah, but Jesus had to do that…”

“Sure, but Jesus’s death was different. He was the Messiah. That was the sacrifice for sins. Jesus had to let himself be killed. It had to happen as part of God’s plan.”

Without a doubt, Jesus was unique and His death was unique.

But even so, when Peter looked to the cross, he viewed Jesus’s response to evil as an example given for all of us to follow.

For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in his mouth, and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously. – 1 Peter 2.21-23

In Romans 12, Paul instructs the disciples to “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay” says the Lord” (v. 19) Rather than judging them, Christians are to love and serve their enemies, attending to their needs (vs. 20-21).

In Hebrews 10:34 we read about how the early disciples joyfully accepted the plundering of their possessions, knowing that they possessed a better and more lasting possession.

In Acts we read about the disciple Stephen, who with his dying breath, prayed for his enemies as they were stoning him (Acts 7.60).

And then there’s the book of Revelation. Not only does Revelation ascribe our victory to the “slain lamb” (Rev. 5.6-14), but apparently Jesus was not the only one to gain victory through death.

Revelation 12 is filled with encouraging words, describing the victory of the saints:

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation , and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night. – Revelation 12:10

Salvation! Power! Kingdom! Authority! The enemy is destroyed! This is all great news!

But then in the very next verse, we are told how Jesus’ disciples gained this great victory.

And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death. – Revelation 12:11

Yes, we must overcome evil. But the way we overcome evil is by resisting the strong urge to gain the upper hand when our enemies mistreat us. Or as Paul puts it,

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. – Romans 12:21

Are We Really Expected To Believe Such Nonsense?

The idea of “letting others win” will always be mocked at by some. It will always be dismissed by others in exchange for resisting evil with a little more “common sense.”

But the earliest Christians believed Jesus actually meant what he said. They believed that they were supposed to love their enemies, even to the point of death. They actually believed that their death was a more powerful proof of the gospel than their life. The 2nd century Christian, Tertullian, is famously quoted as saying:

The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. As often as we are mown down by you, the more we grow in numbers; the blood of Christians is the seed.

For the first couple of centuries immediately following the close of the New Testament, “Love your enemies” (Mt. 5.44) was quoted by 10 different authors in 26 places, making it the most cited verse from the New Testament. “Love your enemies” was to the early church what verses like “Acts 2:38” or “John 3:16” are for the church today. It was the very heartbeat of early Christianity. It is the teaching for which they were most known. It is what separated them from everyone else.

Those Hard Questions

“But what if someone attacks my family in the middle of the night?”

“But what if a Christian is a policeman or in the military?”

“But what about Hitler? Surely Christians shouldn’t have just let him win?”

Questions like these aren’t easy. They need to be wrestled with (with lots of love for one another in the process). If after wrestling with all the teachings of Jesus, you are convinced that you would be justified in killing an enemy as a very last resort, fine. Buy a gun if you want. Join the military if your conscience compels you. Maybe you’re right. Maybe there is an argument that can be made to justify violence in some extreme situations.

But that’s not the point.

The point is, when it’s all said and done, and those questions have been asked, and those discussions have been had, “loving your enemies” must still be at the very heart of who we are as Christians. When other people hear “Oh, you’re a Christian”, do they think “You’re one of those crazy people who loves their enemies no matter what”? If we’re not known for loving enemies in a way that seems strange to the world around us, we’re not following the teachings and example of Jesus.

Beloved, Jesus expects us to love our enemies. We must love our enemies.

What Is the “Church of Christ”?

Whenever someone asks me “Are you a member of the church of Christ?” I almost always hesitate before I answer.  This has nothing to do with me being ashamed of Christ or His church. Quite the opposite! I hesitate because I love the church, and I want to communicate clearly and biblically. I’ve found that the phrase “church of Christ” has come to mean different things to different people. I hesitate because a simple “yes” or “no” answer often leads to confusion or even encourages unbiblical ideas about the church.

As an illustration, consider three different ways the phrase “Church of Christ” is understood.

The Denominational Understanding

For many, the phrase “Church of Christ” is understood to refer to those churches which wear the name “Church of Christ” and associate with one another as a branch of the American Restoration Movement. Together, these “Churches of Christ” represent one branch, or one denomination of the universal body of Christ.

This is perhaps the most common understanding of the phrase in our culture. Whether we like it or not, we live in a denominational world. We have Catholics, Baptists, Methodist, Presbyterians and so on. According to this understanding, the “Church of Christ” fits right in this list of denominations. Among those who think of themselves as belonging to one denomination or another, it is natural for them to assume that when we use the phrase “Church of Christ” we are talking about our denomination.

Even many who attend Churches of Christ (i.e. those congregations with the name “Church of Christ”) use the phrase in this way. “Church of Christ” is viewed as the name of our group. We have “Church of Christ” schools, “Church of Christ” preachers, and “Church of Christ” traditions. If you ever hear someone say “I grew up Church of Christ, but then I switched to _______” , they are using the phrase as a denominational title.

Sometimes you will hear Christian scholars or preachers speak of “our heritage”, “our tribe” or “our little corner of the kingdom”. These are ways of describing the “Church of Christ” as one group among many. This is especially common among those who have been highly exposed to the “sectarian” view of the church (see below). This usage confronts the arrogance and closed mindedness of the sectarian view and challenges it with a much needed dose of humility to recognize that we are not uniquely smarter or more capable of discerning truth than anyone else.

In a religious environment where denominationalism is the default position for almost everyone, many have given up on using the phrase to describe anything other than another denomination.

The Sectarian Understanding

In my opinion, the best definition of sectarianism was given by David Lipscomb in his 1907 article “A Sectarian and a Truth Seeker”.  (It would be worth your time to read this excellent article here).

A sectarian is one who defends everything his party holds or that will help his party, and opposes all that his party does not hold or that will injure the strength and popularity of his party. The partisan takes for granted everything his party holds is right, and everything the other part holds is wrong and to be opposed. Hence the party lines define his faith and teaching. He sees no good in the other party. He sees no wrong in his own party, unless someone in his party should love truth and oppose an error of his party or defend a truth of the other party.

Sectarians understand that biblically speaking, there is only one church, the church of Christ (Eph. 1.22-23; Eph. 4.4). They know and use all the same scriptures about the “church of Christ” as those who use the phrase biblically (see below). Yet despite sounding like those who use the phrase “church of Christ” biblically, their understanding of the church is actually much more closely aligned with the denominational understanding of the church.

Similar to the denominational understanding, sectarians understand the phrase “Church of Christ” to refer to those churches which wear the name “Church of Christ” and associate with one another as a branch of the American Restoration Movement. But rather than thinking of themselves as one denomination of the universal church, they think that their party, the “Church of Christ”, constitutes the entirety of the body of Christ. In their minds, people in other parties cannot possibly be members of the one true church.

This view is not to be confused with the scriptural view. They do share the scriptural concept of “only one church” which was built by and belongs to Christ. But rather than understanding the boundaries of Christ’s church as “those who have been baptized and are faithful to Christ” (Gal. 3.26-27), they identify the church as “those who are faithful to my party”. In other words, they identify the body of Christ as synonymous with the modern day association of churches which wear the name “Church of Christ.”

This view is common among those who have been fed a steady diet of proof texts about the “one church”, but have not studied enough to grasp a distinction between how the phrase “churches of Christ” is used in scripture (Rom. 16.16) and how denominational titles are used in our culture.

A sectarian understanding is often present when:

  • The phrase “Church of Christ” is used as the official name for the church, and as the exclusive phrase used to describe the church
  • Party lines and traditions are more important than scripture (or worse, when adherence to written “statements of faith” are made the test of fellowship rather than adherence to Scripture)
  • Someone who has obeyed the gospel is forced to submit to “rebaptism” if they did not learn the gospel directly from a Church of Christ member
  • Someone refuses to question any traditions, practices, or beliefs of the Church of Christ, even when Scriptural objections are raised

This view is often held by those who recognize the problem of denominationalism, but instead of seeking to destroy denominationalism with unity in Christ, they seek to build up and strengthen their distinct sect.

The Biblical Understanding

I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hades will not overpower it. – Matthew 16.18

Jesus built His church. There is one church (cf .Eph. 1.22-23; Eph. 4.4) which belongs to Christ. This one church is the universal body of Christ which is made up of all those who are saved (Heb. 12.22-24).

Congregations of these believers can rightly be described as “churches of Christ” (Rom. 16.16). However, it should be noted that we could just as rightly refer to the church as the church of God, the body, the kingdom, etc. (1 Cor. 10.32; Eph. 1.22-23; Col. 1.13).

When we use the phrase “church of Christ” in this biblical sense, we are not referring to any sect or denomination you could choose to join.  Biblically speaking, only the Lord can add you to His church, and He does this when you are saved (Acts 2.41, 47). There are no saved people outside His one church (Heb. 12.22-24). Regardless of how many sects or denominations that may come and go throughout the years, there is and always will be only “one body” of Christ (Eph. 4.4).

Ultimately, it is the Lord who knows who is “in” and who is “out” of His church (Heb. 12.23; 2 Tim. 2.19). If we have clothed ourselves with Christ in baptism and give our faithful allegiance to Jesus, we can know that we are numbered among His children (Gal. 3.26-27).

There are still many who strive to use the phrase in the same way it was used in Romans 16.16, to simply refer to a congregation of Christians. There are still those who desire use the phrase to call for nondenominational and nonsectarian Christianity.

The Importance of Speaking Clearly

  • Please remember that not everyone who uses the phrase “church of Christ” to refer to Christ’s one church is a sectarian.

When you hear things like “Christ only established one church, and if you aren’t a part of that church you can’t go to heaven” this is not necessarily sectarianism. It could be, but it depends on what body they have in mind when they speak of the one church. They might simply be upholding a sect, but they could simply be trying to encourage someone to become a Christian. If you aren’t sure what they mean, ask them. Give them a chance to explain themselves more clearly before drawing your conclusion.

  • If you are going to use the phrase “church of Christ” in the biblical sense, make sure you are using the phrase properly.

“Church of Christ” is not the official name of the church. It is not the exclusive (or even the primary) description of the church. When we use it as such, we are encouraging an unbiblical understanding of the church. I am not “Church of Christ”. And I am certainly not a “CofC’er”. I am a Christian.

  • If you are committed to using the phrase “Church of Christ” as a sectarian or denominational title, please don’t give that sect or denomination your loyalty.

It drives me crazy whenever I hear someone refer to the “Church of Christ” as simply “our heritage” or “our tribe” or “our little corner of the kingdom”, and then proceed to express how much they love the Churches of Christ and want to see them succeed. If what we have in mind is a sect or a denomination, why would we give it one ounce of our loyalty? Let the Church of Christ denomination die! Let the Church of Christ sect die! But let Christ’s church live eternally! Let’s give our loyalty to Christ, not to any denomination or sect.

  • If you are going to use the phrase “church of Christ”, please take extra care to make sure your listeners know what you are talking about.

When terms are understood differently by different people it only breeds confusion. If you are going to use the phrase in a denominational or sectarian sense, please make sure others know that you are not using it to refer to the one body of Christ. If you are going to use the phrase to refer to the one universal body of Christ, please make sure others understand that you are not referring to a sect or a denomination.

Our aim is to simply be Christians. We want to be faithful, loyal, disciples of Christ. We want to give our allegiance to Him as part of His one church, without encouraging denominationalism or sectarianism. Let’s not use the name of Christ in vain by misusing His name.

Let’s be careful how we talk about the “church of Christ.”

Restoration: A Biblical Principle

There was only one time in the history of the universe that restoration was not needed. That time was between Genesis 1:31 and Genesis 3:6, when sin was nonexistent.

God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. Genesis 1:31.

When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. Genesis 3:6

All of creation was affected by the sin of Eve and Adam. Of course, that does not mean that all of creation was guilty of the sin. But even we, though not guilty of Adam’s sin, are affected by it.

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned. Romans 5:12

For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. 1 Corinthians 15:21

Death reigns over this world, so long as sin is in it. The serpent’s goal was to deceive the woman, and through her disobedience, introduce death into the world. The beauty is this: God had a plan all along. To the serpent, God said,

And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel. Genesis 3:15.

Though Satan’s goal is to reign over mankind through death, God’s plan is hostile toward death. The key words in this passage are “I will…” Before turning to the woman and the man and detailing their individual punishments, before they had a chance and beg on their knees for redemption, God revealed His will to redeem, to restore, mankind.

Since that moment in the Garden, mankind has known God as the God of Restoration. When creation is separated from its Creator, it is God’s mission to restore. In that moment in the Garden, God revealed that His instrument of restoration would be the “seed” of the woman (i.e., Christ).

Many centuries passed between that moment in in the Garden and Jesus’ atoning sacrifice. But even while creation waited for the “fullness of time” (Gal. 4:4), God continued to reveal Himself as the God of Restoration. When mankind had tainted all of creation with continual sinfulness, God restored the world through a flood and the salvation of one family. When God’s people were held captive by pagan Egyptians, God restored their place of prominence in His plans. When the nation of Israel was corrupted by bad kings and false gods, the true God sent prophets to restore the nation to their first love. When the city of God was in ruins, God sent Nehemiah to begin the long process of restoration. Nehemiah is best known for his work to restore the wall in Jerusalem (Neh. 3; 6:15-19). In addition, however, Nehemiah (and Ezra), speaking for God, also called for the restoration of:

  • Confidence in the Lord (Neh. 4:11-23)
  • Fairness in trade and care for the poor (Neh. 5:1-13)
  • Understanding of the Law (Neh. 8:1-8)
  • Holy days and feasts (Neh. 8:9-18)
  • Repentance and forgiveness (Neh. 9:1-4)
  • Acceptable worship (Neh. 9:5-37)
  • National purity (Neh. 13:1-3)
  • Tithes (Neh. 13:10-14)
  • Sabbath-keeping (Neh. 13:15-22)
  • Family purity (Neh. 13:23-29)

A reading through the book of Nehemiah quickly demonstrates that God is the God of Restoration. God sets out a plan, and when His people forget it or are otherwise unable to live out that plan, He provides the admonishment and means necessary for restoration. What is the lesson for us today? God continues to provide a way for and demand restoration when His plans are forsaken.

To build is difficult. To destroy is simple. To rebuild is often the most difficult. In all of the cases that God’s servants called for restoration, pain and sacrifice were required. Money, selfishness, time, personal possessions, friends, and even marriages had to be surrendered. Was it easy? No. Was it painful? Yes. Was it worth it? Absolutely.

Today, many of God’s plans have been forsaken. Marriages are treated as disposable. Godly parenting is replaced by worldly philosophies and the workplace. The question of salvation is the most confusing question in the religious world. The body of Christ has been chopped, sliced, distorted, and forgotten. Worship has turned inward, where the heart and mind of people are most important. Allegiance has been placed into the establishments of men. Restoration is needed just as badly today as it was in Nehemiah’s time. Is there hope?

We might be tempted to look at Nehemiah and Ezra as privileged, since it seems they were commissioned specifically to the task of restoration. They had “direction” from God. Do we not? What did Nehemiah and Ezra use to call the people to restoration? They brought no new revelation. Instead, they used the Law of Moses, which had already been revealed centuries before.

We have acted very corruptly against You and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses. Nehemiah 1:7.

They found written in the law how the Lord had commanded through Moses that the sons of Israel should live in booths during the feast of the seventh month. So they proclaimed and circulated a proclamation in all their cities and in Jerusalem… Nehemiah 8:14-15.

Now the rest of the people… are taking on themselves a curse and an oath to walk in God’s law, which was given through Moses, God’s servant, and to keep and to observe all the commandments of God our Lord, and His ordinances and His statutes. Nehemiah 10:28-29

It did not take long after Jesus established His church for selfishness to creep into the body of Christ (Acts 5:1-4). As time went on, the influence of false teachers increased. Many of the epistles of the New Testament were written to Christians who were either already under the influence of falsehood or were at risk. Over and over, the Lord’s disciples were called to go back to what they had first received.

I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! Galatians 1:6-8.

Just as in the Garden, where falsehood has influence, restoration is required. People need to return to the original blueprints.

  • For marriage, let us return to God’s plan from the beginning (Matt. 19:1-9)
  • For parenting, let us return to the simplicity of love and admonition (Eph. 6:4)
  • For salvation, let us return to the “pattern of teaching” (Rom. 6:17)
  • For unity, let us return to the one body (Eph. 4:4-6)
  • For worship, let us return to what God seeks (John 4:23-24)
  • For allegiance, let us return to the sovereignty of Christ (1 Tim. 6:13-16)

All of this will require sacrifice. But isn’t that the call of discipleship?

And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” Luke 9:23-26.

When people of the 21st century destroy the home, forsake the Lordship of Christ, and denominate the church, God’s word remains the same. The opportunity for restoration is now. Hear the call, heed the call, and then begin to call others.

But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent. Revelation 2:4-5.

Restoring the Mission

The church was created for a mission. However, it seems that there is much disagreement among Christians as to what that mission is.

Some place the emphasis on the church’s responsibility to change the world now, while others place the emphasis on the church’s responsibility to prepare themselves and others for a future in eternity. Among those who emphasize the importance of solving social problems there is too often a de-emphasis on doctrines of sin, salvation, heaven and hell, and eternal life in heaven. Likewise, those who focus solely on meeting spiritual needs sometimes get the idea that the only hope for social justice and the end of poverty and war is to die and go away to heaven, where justice will be restored at last and peace and love will finally abound forever. Neither side accurately reflects the teachings of Scripture.

The mission of the church cannot be separated from the resurrection of Christ.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures… But if there is not resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain, your faith also is in vain…. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. – 1 Cor. 15.3-4, 13-14, 19

Did you hear that? Paul said that Christ’s death for our sins and His resurrection is “of first importance”; not political or social reform. Yes, Jesus showed deep compassion for the poor, the sick, the dispossessed and the outcasts in society. And as important as these things are, “first importance” is the forgiveness of sins at the cross.

Paul goes on to state that if Christ had not been raised then our faith would be in vain. Any “mission” that would not require the resurrection of Christ is NOT the mission of the church. Developing social programs to alleviate poverty, increase education, and end drug abuse could be implemented by any organization of men, with or without the resurrection of Christ. Any group of men could call for positive political change, with or without the resurrection of Christ. If the mission of the church was simply to alleviate social ills, why did Jesus have to die on the cross?

The mission of the church is not just “going away to heaven.”

At the conclusion of Paul’s famous discussion of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul did not conclude by saying “Therefore, make sure your sins are forgiven so you can lift up your eyes to heaven and wait for that glorious day when you finally get to come into My Kingdom, and receive a brand new body, never again to suffer pain or poverty, but rather to finally enjoy perfect justice and peace and love.”

Notice carefully Paul’s conclusion:

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord. – 1 Cor. 15.58

Your toil is not in vain. What work you do in the kingdom of the Lord is not wasted. When you fully submit your life to Christ, doing works of justice and peace and love, and help others to do the same, you can know that your labor will be worth it! The resurrection not only gives us hope of a better future, it also means that whatever work for God we do today is not wasted!

The Mission of the Messiah

To better understand the mission of the church, it is helpful to first understand the mission of Jesus Christ. If you were to ask the average person why Jesus came to earth, you would probably get an answer like “To seek and save the lost” (Luke 19.10), or perhaps “To die on the cross so that we might have the hope of heaven”. While both of these are absolutely true, to state either of these answers alone would be incomplete. To fully understand the mission of the Jesus, we have to first understand His role as the promised Jewish Messiah.

For hundreds of years before Christ came to earth, the prophets had foretold the coming “Kingdom of God.” As Isaiah foretold, this coming Kingdom would be a “light of the nations” so that His salvation “may reach to the end of the earth” (Isa. 49.6). In this coming Kingdom, once more it would be said that “God reigns” (Isa. 52.7). The coming Messiah would be one who would bear our griefs, carry our sorrows, be pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, and chastised for our well-being. “And by His scourging we are healed” (Isa. 53.3-5) from the consequences of our sins.

Someday God would reign again, through His coming Messiah. In this Kingdom, the effects of sin would be reversed, and man would once again submit themselves to God and His Anointed King!

Shortly before Jesus began His ministry, John the Baptist preached the gospel of God, saying “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3.2). In other words, the time was finally here! Someone was finally coming to who “brings good news of happiness, Who announces salvation, And says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” (Isa. 52.7).

By viewing the role of Jesus from the perspective of God’s Kingdom as promised in the Old Testament, we can sum up the mission of the Messiah in three ways:

  1. The Messiah came to proclaim the good news of His kingdom. When Jesus began to preach, Matthew summed up his message by saying, “From that time Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Matt. 4.17). Notice that Jesus didn’t simply go forth preaching about himself, but rather he went forth preaching about the coming of the prophesied kingdom of God! The kingdom he preached wasn’t one that was somewhere up in the sky. Nor was it some kingdom that we would only experience after death. Rather it was God’s reign! His Kingdom was coming now! He prayed and proclaimed that God’s will was to be done “on earth as it is in heaven.”
  2. The Messiah came to enact the good news. Jesus practiced what he preached. Not only did Jesus proclaim the release of captives, sight to the blind, and freedom to the oppressed, He literally backed up those proclamations with action! He released those who were captive to sin! He made the blind to see! He gave freedom to those who were oppressed! Not only did Jesus teach that we should turn the other cheek and love our enemies, but He “when He was reviled, did not revile in return; while he was suffering, He uttered no threats.” (1 Pet. 2.23). Not only did Jesus proclaim that God’s kingdom was at hand, but He lived in submission to the Father’s authority in all that He said and did. (John 14.31).
  3. The Messiah brought the gospel through His suffering and resurrection. It was not enough to simply come and proclaim that “God reigns”. As long as man still bore his sins, he would continue to be separated from God. For this reason, Jesus “Did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10.45). He was sent to fulfill the mission that was prophesied by Isaiah, as one who would be “crushed for our iniquities” upon whom the LORD would cause “the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.” Sin and death destroyed our relationship with God. Of all the things that Jesus did while He was on earth, this was the work that Paul described as being of “first importance.”

The Mission of the Church

Jesus fully and perfectly accomplished His mission. And yet there is still work to do. Shortly before His death Jesus said to his disciples “As the Father sent Me, I also send you.” (John 20:21). There was still work to be done.

In 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, Paul spoke of Christ having “reconciled the world to Himself”, and yet, Paul recognized that He himself had been entrusted with the “word of reconciliation” as an “ambassador for Christ.” There was still work to be done.

Luke began His second letter to Theophilus by speaking of the works that “Jesus began to do and teach”. The rest of the book of Acts is about the work of Jesus that the apostles and the early church continued to do and to teach. There was still work to be done.

The mission of the church is to continue the mission of Jesus and to call others to follow Him in His mission as well. Consider carefully the words of the great commission:

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. – Matt. 28.18-20

  1. Our mission is to proclaim the good news of His Kingdom.  Notice that our mission is not to proclaim simply that Jesus reigns in heaven, and one day we can go away and enjoy His Kingdom there. Jesus said that all authority has been given to Him in heaven and on earth. Jesus is Lord already. Right now, Jesus reigns, over the earth. (Rom 6.23; 10.0; 2 Cor. 4.5; Phil. 2.9). It is our mission to proclaim the gospel of His kingdom, thus bringing new disciples into His kingdom.
  2. Our mission is to enact the good news through total submission. The message of the gospel has, from the very beginning, been a message about God’s reign, His Kingdom, and our submission to His Kingdom. It is a message of His authority, our discipleship, and our obedience to what He has commanded. Since King Jesus reigns today, we must live like He is in charge! Whether it be visiting the widows and orphans, or loving our enemies, or feeding the hungry, we must strive to submit ourselves to His authority. Failure to stand up for justice, peace, and love is not just  overlooking a small detail (Matt. 23.23); it is denying our discipleship; it is denying that we believe Christ reigns; it is refusal to live as His Kingdom.
  3. Our Mission is to suffer and be raised with Christ. 

For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, “Who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth”; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.” – 1 Pet. 2.21-24.

As long as we are here on earth, we are called to suffer along with Christ. Jesus Himself said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matt. 16.24). We were called for this purpose. And since we know that Jesus reigns as Lord, our suffering in the Lord is not in vain.


Your Toil Is Not In Vain

“For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus “every knee will bow,” of those who are in heave and on earth and under the earth.” – Phil. 2:9-10

Have you ever imagined what it would look like if God literally was in charge of the earth right now? What if the entire earth was His Kingdom, filled with His disciples, who submitted their lives to Him? What would that look like?

As of yet, not every knee has bowed. But Christ is already King. The mission of the church is not to establish some sort of “utopian” kingdom of God on earth. But as the church, we are commanded to be a colony of heaven on earth (Philippians 3.20-21). We know that Christ already reigns over the earth. It is our job to live like it. We are God’s kingdom on earth, proclaiming to and showing the world that God already reigns. The Christian mission is to declare to all nations that Jesus is Lord, He has been exalted, and He currently has the name which is above every name, in anticipation for the day when every knee shall bow.

Christians don’t have to patiently wait around for the day when God will reign and make everything right. Neither is it is not our job revolutionize earth through social and political reforms. Although we are not called to build a heaven on earth, we must not forget that we do have a mission to do the work of heaven while on earth.

Healthy Parts, Healthy Body

Healthy: A Flexible Word

When it comes to our bodies, the definition of “healthy” is often a moving target that changes with each person you ask because people use different standards and reference points when comparing a given body to an imaginary “ideal” body. Does healthy mean there are no aches or pains right now or does it also include having none of the chronic disorders such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and elevated inflammation markers (with all of their ranges of progression)? Is a person with two previous heart attacks and slightly reduced heart function, but who feels great, has a sharp mind, and still has the ability to be “active” (another word that’s tough to pin down) considered healthy even though he is now at higher risk of future heart issues? What about age? Is an 85 year old who is able to keep up with the young guns who are just now turning 60 deemed healthy, even though his strength is no where close to the average 25 year old?

A growing approach to assessing health is to also consider the “whole person” rather than just the surface point of symptoms. Modern science is growing in understanding how the body’s incredibly complex organ systems, with each of their hierarchy of functions from the organs down through the tissues, cells, proteins, DNA, and necessary nutrients, impact and are affected by the other organ systems and their constituent parts. I.e., the digestive system sends signals through the nervous system that affect the blood supply via the cardiovascular symptom that intricately maneuver the muscular system in its proper functioning to digest food. And the effects are not all local to what we might consider its “primary” purpose. Eating a meal and the functions needed for it affect the brain, heart rate, respiratory rate, hormonal regulation, kidneys, etc.

Every function of the body, each with its own complex inter-workings, communicates with other parts so as to maintain homeostasis, which is the proper and effective functions and composition of the body. And when just one part is not functioning effectively, its effects can cause a chain of dysfunctional events that may or may not be apparent to the individual. The complexity I’ve briefly described has not even included the vast interconnections between the “hardware” of organ systems and the emotional status of the individual.

At the risk of pushing a biblical analogy further than its intended purpose, I believe the common image of God’s New Covenant people as the Body, of which Christ is the Head (Eph. 2:22,23; 3:11-16), itself made up of unique, yet unified, parts (Rom. 12:4,5) is such a good illustration for assessing our spiritual health both as a single unit and as individual members. What better way to illustrate the unity, maturity, unique tasks, mutual effects, and common purposes of the Church than to compare it to the chief object of creation, that which was made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). But qualified as being not under the headship of Adam, but of Christ, who himself is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Col. 1:15-20). He is the model of submission and yet effectively exercises God-given dominion over all things (Ps. 8), even death.

Jesus: A “Healthy Template” for the Church

Here we can have our standard, our reference point for what can be deemed “healthy.”

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. Ephesians 4:11-16

Here we have a standard for what it looks like for the Church to be healthy. A healthy mature Church looks like Christ in every way. The unity of faith and the unity of the knowledge of the Son of God is a picture of maturity and stature. A healthy thinking, healthy functioning Body does not chase the trends of human societies, is not swayed by arguments based on faulty human reasoning, or deceived by outright lies. Rather the mature Church boldly reflects the love and will of God into the world as we imitate God himself (Eph. 5:1,2). Much of Ephesians is a detailed description of what that looks like. Where God created man in His own image and subsequently gives him dominion to be the agents of God’s authority over the lower creation, the Church lives it out by ruling our bodies and properties in a God-glorifying way and serving and loving one another.

It is not 100% accurate to say that the Church ought to restore the 1st century church (is it desirable to imitate 1st century Corinth?). Rather, our goal is to restore it to the model of health and maturity revealed to us by Christ himself and the Spirit of God through the apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:19-22).

Healthy From Every Angle

Consider the complexity of the human body once more. The body cannot be said to be restored to full health if all of the organ systems are sound but the vascular system is hardened. In fact, atherosclerosis will prevent the other organ systems themselves from remaining healthy. The body is not healthy if muscles are strong but the digestive tract is swollen and inflamed. In fact, decreased nutrient intake will eventually weaken the muscles. The church is not restored to Biblical health if beliefs about judgment and eternity are Scriptural but they neglect the poor and oppressed. In fact, Biblical hope and anticipation for the age to come shapes our motivation to implement the effects of God’s current reign in the “now time” (Matt. 25:31-46). A church who strives for the true and authorized ways to offer worship to God on a weekly basis but neglects opportunities to express brotherly love to one another will have not restored the characteristic of God’s church being a family. In fact, worship in an environment that is void of mutual love for one another will quickly deteriorate away from being worship done in spirit and in truth.

Just as restoring the health of the church must address the “whole person” and not neglect different “organ systems” (as if they can so easily be pulled apart from one another without destroying the person), a healthy body also relies on healthy organs within it. A person is not healthy if the liver hardened. Cirrhosis of the liver will in fact destroy the other organs and their functions. A person is not healthy if the thyroid is unregulated. In fact, a dysfunctional thyroid can destroy the bones, metabolism, hair growth, temperature regulation, and memory of a person.

The church is not restored to full health if its people thrive in benevolence, offers scripturally consistent worship, shares the gospel with many but whose members are giving up fights against addiction, are being swayed by the mindsets and powers of the world, scratching whatever itch comes around, or silently drifting off unnoticed. This aspect of the restoration ought to remind us that there should never be a feeling of “We have arrived.” A healthy church is evangelistic, bringing in younger generations, and growing in Biblical wisdom and knowledge at every level. All of these present opportunities for growth and maturity at every moment in time.

A Healthy Church is Full of Healthy Christians

If the church is to be restored to health, we must commit ourselves to being restored to health as individuals, which will include healthy attitudes and behaviors towards one another corporately (Rom. 12:3). Having spiritual health as individuals will result in looking different than the world. A collection of individuals that are different than the world will be a nation that looks different than the nations of the world. Ephesians 3 goes on to say in verse 22 that we are to “lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” Healthy is good. Healthy is effective. We have a picture of what healthy looks like, but it is a conscious effort.


“The Church of Christ and World-Powers” by David Lipscomb

The Gospel Advocate; January 9, 1866

In the Prospectus for the present volume of the Gospel Advocate, we announced our intention of examining the relation which the Church of Jesus Christ sustains to the World-powers – civil, military, and religious, by which it is surrounded and with which it often comes in contact. On this, as on many other subjects, we are apt to imbibe the ideas and adopt the habits of those by whom we are surrounded in childhood, without ever questioning ourselves as to whether those ideas and customs and correct – are they in accordance with the teachings of the great Master? Now Jesus Christ gave rules that will guide his children, safely and securely according to his will, if they will only diligently hearken to those teachings. All scripture given by inspiration of God, is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction is righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. God has given us direction, how we should conduct ourselves in all the relationships of life, as parent and child, husband and wife, master and servant, friend, enemy, neighbor and stranger, he has certainly not left indefinite our duty in that relation – which is so liable to be used to control the whole man, soul and body, time, talent and energy as the world organizations under which we live.

We ask you then, courteous reader, to calmly investigate with us the connection that Christ has established between His kingdom and the World-Powers, or institutions, that we may learn our duties with reference to them, and be prepared ever in this, as other matters to be found walking according to the will of the Master. But for the present we will content ourselves with merely stating the three leading positions of the religious world in reference to this subject.

The 1st and most popular idea, taking the whole professed Christian world into consideration, is that the church should form alliances with the world institutions, for the purpose of controlling and using those institutions for the advancement of its own interest. The member of the Church according to this idea, enter into these organizations not for the intrinsic value of these institutions, but that the interests of the Church may be advanced. With this idea, when the interests of the Church demand it, the identical institution will by the same power be destroyed. This idea we denominate the Roman Catholic idea. It is the ruling principle with the Roman Catholic Church. She approves no special form of human government, but allies herself with every form, as her interest may demand, or her influence thereby be extended. Her votaries worship at every political shrine, and espouse antagonistic causes, yet never disturb the unity of their mother church. The same motive prompts the French Catholics to sustain the cause of France against Austria, that prompts the Austrian Catholics to uphold the cause of Austria against France. The one object that moves each is the advancement of the interests of mother Rome, the augmentation of her interests by giving her control of each government. She in a sense peculiarly of her own, thus becomes all things to all men, Austrian to Austria, French to France, that she may gain both Austria and France to her support. This idea holds that there is nothing good or desirable in political institutions, farther than they may used for the advancement of the Church.

The next idea that we present, holds that political governments are of Divine origin, as such must be supported and sustained, for their own intrinsic worth, and because they are essential to the well being not only of the world, but the Church itself, and in many respects more essential to society than the church. This conception of the relationship existing between them, changes the positions of the two institutions, makes the Church subserve the interest of the State, makes the State first, the Church second. Church members enter into the contests, strifes, animosities and partisanships of the State because their first, highest duty is there, the chief interest of society is embodied therein. With this idea all Church harmony depends upon political unity. This condition of affairs makes the Church the tool of the political clique, at once the victim and fosterer of the sectional prejudice and a party to the national conflicts. We denominate this idea the Protestant idea. Protestantism has its birth in the rebellion of the political rulers of England, Germany, and Switzerland, against the assumption of Rome to control them for the benefit of the Church assisted it is true, by a religious reformation excited by Luther, Zuringle* [Zwingli], and Calvin. Each branch of Protestantism received its peculiar embodiment from the nature and interest of the national government with which it allied itself. English Protestantism differed widely from German, and Swiss from both. This view of the relationship of Church and State pervades all the denominations of Protestant Christendom. We may safely affirm that not one of these has ever been able to maintain its unity intact, its harmony of feeling and action undisturbed, when two nations in which that Church existed was engaged in strife, or even when political partisanship or sectional excitement ran high in any one government. Hence, when the United States separated from England politically, the Church of England in this country and England severed in twain. Also, in the sectional and political strifes in our own country, sectional animosity and bitterness ran fully as high in the religious bodies even before it did in the body politic.

There is yet another view of this relationship that we desire to present. A few individuals in all ages of the Church, from the days of Jesus Christ, to the present time, have maintained that the two institutions, the Christian and the worldly, were necessarily separate and distinct. That they could form no alliances. That each was necessary in its proper place and for its proper subjects. That God’s institution, or the Church, was perfect and needed no help or addition from human hands to enable it to direct the affairs of its own children. On the other hand, that God had left those who refused to submit to his government, to form a government to their own liking, to manage it according to their own views of propriety and for the accomplishment of their own desired ends. And with this, Christians have nothing to do, farther than God has connected them with it. The limit and bound of which connection is a quiet submission to its requirements, when these do not conflict with their obligations to God. In a word, that the Christians cannot become the partisan of any human government or institution. It is his duty to submit to all alike, and with fidelity as to God himself, comply with the requirements of whatever one he may be under, modified by his first duty to obey God unto death itself rather than any man-power, but it is not his province to become an active participator or partisan of any human government or form of government.

This idea prevailing in a church and being acted upon, will at once render that church free from discords and strifes on political grounds. It causes the Christian in England to submit to the government of England, not because he approves that government, but because God requires him to submit to it. It causes the Christian in Mexico to submit to the Republic of Mexico, when under the Republic, not because he approves a republic, or is a republican, but because God says to be subject to the powers that be. It requires him in turn to submit to the Empire of Mexico, when an empire is established; not because he is a monarchist, or a partisan of the empire, but because God says submit to the powers that be, not the ones that ought to exist, or that he prefers, but to the ones that actually do exist. These three ideas of the connection of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ with the world powers and institutions, with their modifications, embrace the faith and practice of the professed Christian world on this subject. These ideas direct the actions of their respective advocates, and exercise a wonderful effect upon the course and destinies of those churches.

Will our readers ponder these questions in their bearing upon the peace, purity, unity, and destiny of the Church of Jesus Christ and the well-being of the world, and with us examine the Sacred Scriptures to see which, if any one of them be true positions assigned the church by its Divine founder.