August 18, 2011

Hard Sayings XIII: Not Peace But A Sword: Causa Causans

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” ~Matthew 10:34

Ah yes, the verse that Liberation Theology advocates cling onto tighter that a Titanic survivor clings to a flotation device. They cling to it tightly because they believe it advocates the use of political activism or even force to bring the Kingdom in power. Its main significance is that it is often offered as evidence that Jesus advocated violence or at least social upheaval or unrest (i.e: protests and resistence against "The Man"). The adherents of this theology believe these activist methods are the only way to free people from the oppressiveness of the “system” and sin. It is often used by groups of people that have had a history of oppression and subjugation by others as it appeals to the sensibilities of people that have been “kept down” and abused by others. The emphasis of their “ministry” is to bring justice to the poor and oppressed, particularly through political activism. Its theologians consider sin the root source of poverty, the sin nearly always is exploited by the capitalistic system and class warfare by the bourgeoisie against the proletariat. Liberation theologians use political theory, primarily Marxism, to help understand how to combat poverty. The religion proper is a breakaway of the Roman Catholic Church after Vatican II and should be regarded as a form of Christian socialism and Christian syncretism. This theory gained a stranglehold in South and Central America in the 1960’s and subsequently migrated northward to be adhered to by folks in the Mexico, USA, and then spread beyond. The most important person in this movement was Friar Gustavo Gutiérrez and his 1972 book, A Theology of Liberation, where he wrote about a combination of Marxism and the social-Catholic teachings contributing to a socialist current in the Church in Peru. It then quickly branched out.

Liberation Theology condones fighting poverty by suppressing what it believes to be its source, which is sin. In so doing, it bonds a relationship between Christian theology and political activism, especially when it comes to social justice, poverty, and human rights. The danger of this theology is that it (1) is not biblical since it condones working subversively against the power structures we are called to obey in Romans 13 and (2) it often does not draw a distinction between how much is too much and occasionally adherents become over-zealous to the point of being riotous or outright violent. Liberation theologians base their social action upon the Bible scriptures describing the mission of Jesus Christ, as bringing a sword (social unrest). Extreme adherents view the sword as literal and sometimes take up arms against their oppressors. Passages quoted by these adherents always reference Matthew 10:34 and also Isaiah 61:1, Luke 22:35-38 Matthew 26:51-52 — and not as bringing peace (social order) but just the opposite. This Biblical interpretation by Liberation Theologians and Liberal Theology adherents view these verses as a "call to arms". They believe they have the power within their own hands to bring Jesus Christ's mission of justice into the world now through force (figuratively and literally). Understood this way their theology includes socialist and Marxist philosophies that believe in maintaining class struggles and open class warfare and they also believe it is through their activism or work that the improvement of mankind will come about ushering in the Kingdom. That my good friend…is ridiculous and unbiblical. Correctly interpreted we know that this will not happen until Christ returns.

We know unequivocally that it is not through man’s violent or politically activist works that the Kingdom of God comes to the earth. If that was the case, then why didn’t Jesus use this means to overthrow Rome 2000 years ago. No, this premise is a misinterpretation of the passage and has been Shanghai-ed from the Bible and its original context by people with an agenda. It is an agenda that is often used to manipulate and brainwash people towards purposeful agitation. These followers of this theology are being manipulate by their religious leaders through the very same means they accuse the “powers that be” are using. Thereby they “steer” these adherents by their emotions to resist the people they claim their oppressors when in reality, their very own church leadership is manipulating them in a vastly worse manner (through their belief in God). I sense an element of hypocrisy in the leadership of this movement. I may have oversimplified Liberation Theology’s position but you have grasped some of the main ideas from it. As such I can now use it as a contrast to the truth of the Gospel as it was intended by Jesus and written by the disciples.

So what does the passage really mean if it does not mean that Jesus advocated taking up a sword and politically or physically resisting one’s oppressor? To help us understand we should also quote this verse’s companion in Luke 12:51. Both writers, Matthew and Luke also add statements to the nature of “For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law-a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.” What we see is there will be division but this division is not to purposely come from the Christian and Jesus does not advocate conflict. If anything Jesus taught disciples non-retaliation in the form of turning the other cheek or blessed are the peacemakers. People that wish to reflect Christ are peaceful not politically agitating, subversive to the government or violent. Christianity was going to be a system of reconciliation in Christ (Philemon) and its members would be peaceful not rebellious dissidents and revolutionaries. Any belief system that sows more discord than peace cannot possibly be adhering to the Bible and be a true Christianity.

In this verse Jesus is speaking of a tension (conflict) between those of the light that understand what Jesus was truly about and those of the darkness that did not.

“The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.” ~John 1:9-10

Some of these disparities would be contained even within singular families. Some are believers like me, my wife, parents and some aunts and uncles. Within my own family there are also non-believers like my brother, cousins, aunts and uncles. We can even look at Jesus' very own family and we see the discordance or division.

“Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” ~Mark 3:20-21

Do we see that this division was purposely caused by God or Jesus in these situations, either mine or Jesus’ family? No, Jesus would never purposely cause conflict in this manner nor should a faithful follower of Jesus. So what the heck is going on? If Jesus did not cause this division then what did? We are not to be the causes of the division any more than Jesus.

The sword is symbolic for division but not a division caused by Jesus directly, his disciples or followers (like us). It is a division caused by the effect of Jesus’ presence or His teaching, whether that teaching is audible or internalized in the behavior of a believer through their actions. The division or sword would be the ripple-effect of Jesus’ the form of rejecting Him. With Jesus now having been in the world you have to make a choice: You either accept Him or you reject Him. What you cannot do is not make choice because by making a decision not to have rejected Jesus anyway! 

So what we see in this passage is believers are being warned that their relationship with Christ would cause conflict and division, not that they would be urged to cause it. It would be divisions that would take place even within their own households. A division that would not have its inception in Christian actions of following Christ but rather Non-Christian’s reactions caused by their rejection of the fact of Jesus having come into the world, taught and embodied the Gospel. Let’s face it folks, some people were just not meant to be part of the Kingdom. I firmly believe that some (like Judas) were predestined to condemnation. If you are not of the light you are of the darkness. There is no middle ground or room for oscillation or ambivelence. Being a good person doesn’t get you to Heaven, Jesus Christ does. Which is it for you? Light or Dark? Righteousness or Evil, Salvation or action for Christ or reaction against Him?

Like it or not, you have to decide. Now would be a good time to do so because you may die tomorrow...or maybe even tonight.

Addendum: As an additional thought I should state this and it is directed at us as Christians. Purposed hostility is not the only action that could be the cause of division. There are divisions we can cause ourselves as Christians that aren't necessarily Christian actions. Arrogant piousness or the proverbial Pharisaic attitude. This will cause division quicker than swinging a machette...and there is no room for this behavior in a Christian's life...because it really ain't Christian now is it?.

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