Friday, October 3, 2008

Called to Be Set Apart, Part 3

These principles are difficult to translate over into our present age. But this is meant for us, now, just as it was meant for Jesus’ listeners then. These principles not simply meant for when we arrive to Heaven. This applies to us now, not resisting an evil person, turning the other cheek, giving up coat and tunic, walking a second mile. That is meant for us today as well. This comes down to our allegiance.

Many of you know that last week my husband was granted US citizenship. It was interesting timing as these thoughts have been rolling around my head for quite some time. And as they called the people within the stadium to rise to their feet and place their hands on their hearts to pledge allegiance to flag, I could not do it. I thought of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who refused to bow down to the idol of King Nebuchadnezzar. I thought of the many times that God warns His children not to worship any other gods. I thought of the words of Paul who told us very clearly that our citizenship is in Heaven. And I could not rise, place my hand over my heart, and pledge my undivided allegiance to a flag made by man, representing an empire created by human imagination. Whether the pledge says “under God” or not, the pledge is to an empire and not to God Himself.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love the fact that my husband will carry the same passport as the girls and I, as it will simplify and streamline many of our travel obstacles. I also greatly appreciate many of the simplicities of life based on how things are set up here. But I struggle with the empire values, and cannot pledge my allegiance to it, because this could all be removed in an instant, and I would still pledge my allegiance to Christ the Messiah, regardless of which passport we carry. Now before you stone me for being an ungrateful traitor, let’s take it back to Scripture.

Jesus had warned his followers that they were to live the kingdom of God in this world, regardless of where in the world they were, and that the world would hate them for it. They were not to blend in to be like everyone else, but were to live distinct lives, severed from the peoples of the nations. The powers that be would drag them before governors and courts, beat them and insult them, feed them to beasts, and hang them on crosses. Look at what happened to Jesus himself. And hate his followers is what the world did – at least for the first couple of hundred years.

The young early church lived within the messy collision of kingdoms, the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Rome. The more the early Christians reflected on the life and message of their Messiah, and the more they tried to live the way of the gospel, the harder they collided with the state and its hopes and dreams, militaries and markets. In fact, Christians in those first few hundred years were called atheists because they no longer believed in the Roman gospel; they no longer had any faith in the state as savior of the world. They were called “renegades” and “rebels,” “enemies of the human race.” They refused to serve in the Roman military, refusing to pick up arms against another human being, just as Jesus himself told Peter to lower his sword against the Roman soldier. And so they themselves became the targets of violence and persecution.

Before there was Christianity or Christendom or even really a church, the movement of people following after Jesus became known as the Way, because their way of living stood in stark contrast to the ways of empire. They believed that new life through Jesus had begun, right now. Jesus’ constant reiteration of his vision of the kingdom of God coming on earth still rang in their ears. They believed the kingdom’s coming was so immanent, they could not help but start living it now.

Take a look at Acts 4:32-35:
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.
Among themselves, they had completely eradicated poverty and formed a treasury for all. They had become a nation unto God while living in the midst of the empire, completely subversive to the empire around them. There was no welfare from the government. There was no outside aid or government funding. God provided resources through His Church. They were forsaking all that the empire had to offer, choosing rather simplicity and contentment to build and edify each other. Those who had too much gave it away, and those who had too little were brought up to par.

I found this quote from a first century follower of the Way and found it quite compelling:
“We who formerly treasured money and possessions more than anything else now hand over everything we have to a treasury for all and share it with everyone who needs it. We who formerly hated and murdered one another now live together and share the same table. We pray for our enemies and try to win those who hate us.”
So, as beautiful as this sounds, it leaves me wondering what happened? How did this fall apart? The problem is that the followers of the Way went from being on the fringes of the empire, the outcasts and rebels of the society, to being baptized into the empire. The system that Jesus himself had rejected became the backbone of it all.

In the year 306 AD, a Roman Emperor named Constantine took over power. He was a military conqueror, and as legend has it, in the year 312, won the Battle of the Milvian Bridge after seeing a sign of the cross and hearing a voice say, “In this you will conquer.” It is interesting, considering that for Jesus the cross meant refusal of worldly ways of conquering. But the battle was won and in 313 AD the Edict of Milan was passed, which granted religious tolerance to all religions, especially Christianity.

Emperor Theodosius ruled Rome from 379 to 395 and proclaimed Christianity as the state religion of the Empire, making it a crime not to be a Christian. It wasn’t long after that that the persecuted became the persecutor, and the church became the church of the militant and triumphant. The kingdom of God that had been known through a king who rules with a towel draped over his arm to wash feet, riding a donkey, and carrying a cross had become the empire of Christendom. In the name of the one who taught us to love our enemies, the church began to burn its enemies alive.

Now, these days we certainly aren’t burning our enemies alive, not literally at least. But I can easily say, the church is not known for the servant love that Jesus demonstrated. Christianity is at its best when it is peculiar, marginalized, suffering, and it is at its worst when it is popular, credible, triumphal and powerful. We saw this in the persecuted Church of Ethiopia this past summer. The Church is small and struggling, and yet loving and growing, and loving and growing. They are being forced to return to Jesus for absolutely everything because the powers of the government oppose them. And so they grow and struggle and give all they have, and love and grow and struggle and give all they have. It is amazing and humbling to see.

You see, when the empire took over Christianity, the doors of the church flew wide open for all to enter, but at a very great cost. Repentance, rebirth and conversion were exchanged for cheap grace, and the integrity of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus faded. The humility and servanthood that He taught and demonstrated were overlooked for power and influence. Christianity began to face an identity crisis as they tried to make disciples of all nations by imperial influence. Instead they baptized the empire itself, producing what so many liberal and conservative Christians today actually want – an entire empire run on the blood of Jesus Christ, a holy Christian state.

I found this quote in a very challenging book that I’ve been reading:
The greatest sin of political imagination is thinking there is no other way except the filthy rotten system we have today. Is it possible we can’t see the destructiveness of our economy and system not because we don’t know it’s terrible but because deep down we feel that it’s necessary and that therefore it’s hopeless to criticize it?
These days we have a president, not a Caesar, and so we don’t actually call him Son of God. We call him president. And we say that we can support a president while also worshiping Jesus as the Son of God. But how is that possible? Scripture says that you cannot serve two masters.

For one says that we must love our enemies, and the other says that we must kill them; one promotes the economics of competition, while the other admonishes the forgiveness of debts. To which do we pledge our allegiance?

For Jesus and his followers, the central question was, “How do we live faithfully to God?” But then the Church inherited a kingdom. And it wasn’t the kind of servant kingdom Jesus imagined and incarnated, not the kingdom of the slaughtered lamb; it was the dominant and coercive force in charge of the world.

And instead of faithfulness, the question became, how do we run the world as Christians?
How do I run this profit-driven corporation as a Christian?
How can we make culture more Christian?
How would a responsible Christian run this war?
How can we put a Christian into office to influence the life standard of this whole empire?

The history of the church has been largely a history of “believers” refusing to believe in the way of the crucified Nazarene and instead giving in to the very temptations he resisted – power, relevancy, spectacle.

We are seeing more and more that the church has fallen in love with the state and that this love affair is killing the church’s imagination. For those who might disagree with that, think about how much of the conversation about the two current candidates has been about their religious views. Which man is more Christian? Which man votes more Christian values? What if I agree with a some of one, but not all? And some of the other, but not all? Churches have begun to endorse candidates from the pulpits, risking losing their tax-exempt status, saying it’s their God-given responsibility to name God’s candidate. I have to say that that is just hog-wash. It has no place in God’s church. Whether some would call the tax-exemption hush money or not, the Church has no business getting involved in worldly affairs such as this. We have seen it in country after country, where the Church itself becomes divided along party lines. Pastors start saying things like, “if you don’t vote for so-and-so, you’re not welcome in this church,” or even questioning a person’s salvation based on how they vote. That’s ridiculous!

The powerful benefits and temptations of running the world’s largest superpower have bent the church’s identity. Having power at its fingertips, the church often finds “guiding the course of history” a more alluring goal than following the crucified Christ. Too often the patriotic values of pride and strength triumph over the spiritual values of humility, gentleness, and sacrificial love.

Maybe we, as a body of believers, need to rethink our involvement in the business and ways of this world. Our responsibility and allegiance, first and foremost, belongs to the One who died for us. And this is not the Way that He modeled for us. Let us re-imagine what the Christian life could/should look like. I know for me, I want to be part of a revolution. My soul is hungry for a revolution. One that is marked by radical living, stunning humility and sacrifice, compassion and love, community and servanthood. I want to be a part of recreating the Way of Jesus, not just on Sunday mornings, or Monday nights, or life groups gatherings, but life and every aspect of it. Maybe you’d like to join me in exploring what that would look like. Maybe you’d like to imagine with me what it would be like to truly live set apart.

Grace and peace.


  1. Hey Shauna. Thanks for sharing the past three posts. Like you, I want to be a part of the revolution God started. It was in existence before Christ and it was revitalized through him and as believers, we are to be part of it.

    I can relate to much of what you said here. Even a few weeks ago, I was talking to my friend about the struggle I have to support any candidate simply because none of them are truly representing the values of Christ entirely. My allegiance is always first and foremost to the Kingdom of God and it's our duty to to see that Kingdom comes to earth as it is in heaven. If our nation truly lived up to this false notion of being a "Christian nation", it would certainly look so much different.

    Now, I can't fully agree with all your views presented here, but I most certainly can say that I agree with the premises. What happened to the revolutionary living of the early followers? Where is it today? How come we are not know by our love? Why doesn't our way of life and actions SCREAM the name of Christ in every part of us!?! We have failed. I have failed. That's why each day I seek to serve Christ with my whole heart and all of my passion.

    No matter what people may think, the USA will NOT last forever. It will disintegrate and it will be replaced. Rome fell. So will this nation. The Kingdom of God, however, NEVER will. It is long lasting and its King is everlasting. Our allegiance to him will never be jeopardized by anyone but ourselves. How would this world look today if we truly brought his Kingdom to earth today so that it could reflect the Kingdom of Heaven.

    Anyway, this political season is no less silly than any other for me. I am not affiliated with any party for obvious reasons. I do vote and I do pray, but I can't say that I am proud of any party or even any candidates.

    1 Timothy 2:1-4
    First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

    This nation is a mess. We have a responsibltity to any nation we are a part of. We have to pray for our leaders, and we we are given a choice, we have to vote in a manner that will greater reflect God's Kingdom. Sure, the economy is in shambles, but that isn't a measure of God's Kingdom. Take abortion though. That IS a measure of his Kingdom. Our nation is a Kingdom of DEATH and so long as we keep allowing these murders to continue, we will never see God's Kingdom here in the USA, regardless of the fact that people call this a "Christian" nation.

    Anyway. I am tired and I am just yaking. I should probably reread this because I know I said something silly, but I don't care. The only think I really meant to share was awesome and glorious God is. We ARE set apart! It's time is SHOWED, regardless of what happens to this nation.

    Thank again for sharing.

  2. I just added you to my RSS...these 3 posts look so good - I want to read them!!

  3. I have to say I’m glad you’ve been blogging about this issue for a while. It has given me a chance to ponder some points and raise my own questions. If I had heard Monday night’s talk “cold turkey” I probably would have been so distracted by some of the content that I would have missed other points.

    If people take issue with your presentation, I suspect that this is the section that pushes them over the edge due to the content related to citizenship and, therefore, patriotism. To be honest, I have had to contemplate it a great deal because the fact that you wouldn’t say the pledge of allegiance immediately rankles me.

    I love this country. I love the flag. I suspect I will always cry at the National Anthem. I am exceedingly thankful to live here and to be a citizen. And despite the way in which the country is headed right now, I believe we were a nation founded on Christianity. A revolutionary Christianity.

    But your question of allegiance is very important. And I have given it a great deal of thought. I know I can not serve two masters (Matt 6: 24). I know that in comparison to my love for God I should hate my parents, my spouse and my children (Luke 14:26). But the fact that I do indeed love my parents, my spouse and my children does not lessen my love for God. It only proves that love is from God (1 John 4:11).

    Now, empires are quite different than people, but I’m thinking out loud. Do I think there will be a time when there is not much to love except for the memory of our nation? Yes. Do I think there will be a time when the National Anthem makes me weep for all that has been lost? Yes. So, yes, allegiance is very important. When it comes to allegiance I have to be able to say that God is first. That Christ is the center from which my life is lived. That without the Holy Spirit I am powerless. I know these in my mind and believe them in my heart, but when our lives are easy, as you mentioned, it is easy to forget that we need Jesus for absolutely everything.

    As I mentioned previously, I am becoming more and more aware that apart from Jesus we can do nothing. One of the points I took away from your talk is that, as Christians, we should be more about acting like Christ individually and as the Church. In this way we will have a more profound effect on the world than by trying to make our government more Christian or trying to make our government take the responsibilities of the Church. I agree.

    However, I do not believe we should simply throw up our hands and say “…the Church has no business getting involved in worldly affairs such as this.” Should we withhold our vote, our prayers, our influence and even our involvement? We Christians have a profound influence on the world. To assume that Christians with political interests or influence should disengage seems dangerous. I hope we have some political leaders with Christian values. Indeed, that seems like part of your mission in Unite4Africa…influencing people in high and political positions.

    Should we place the hope of our salvation in America? No
    Should we seek our security from this empire or our economy? No
    Should we make disciples by imperial influence? No

    I am totally with you Shauna. I want to be marked by radical living, stunning humility and sacrifice, compassion and love, community and servanthood. In that way, we show Christ to be our hope for salvation, our security and a Lord worth following.

    This verse keeps coming to mind. 2 Corinthians 2:14-15
    But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.

    I want that every day and in every way. I want to live set apart.

  4. You haven't posted for a while - everything okay?

  5. Hey friends! Becky, thanks for checking in on me. I'm here, just busier than ever expected. I so appreciate your comments on here, and I fully intend to continue this conversation, as I believe it is imperative to struggle with these things in order to grow. I appreciate your patience with me. I will get back to it!!


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