Posted by Paul Smith
Just thinking on this cold and cloudy morning about what it means to surrender myself to the cross.
Thinking that for more than 300 years the disciples of Christ owned nothing but their surrender to the cross. They had no power. They were sometimes persecuted, sometimes abused, sometimes even murdered. They lived cautiously, but not fearfully. They displayed courage, not machismo. Stripped of all symbols of political and religious authority, they demonstrated the only power they had – the power of self-surrender and love for neighbor. They had no weapons other than the word of God and the shield of their faith.
Thinking that those Christians, the maltreated and abused and dispossessed, those Christians who had no power and no defense and nothing to rely upon physically – those disciples turned the world upside down. They converted thousands, if not millions, in those 300 + years by the simple strength of their unwillingness to surrender to the prince of this world. Those converts sometimes had to pay with their livelihoods, sometimes with their lives. They watched their families turn against them, their employers dismiss them, their nation label them as traitors.
Thinking of the amazing stories they could tell of courage and faithfulness and of the victories they shared in their Lord. They celebrated the death of their leaders and their followers as a birth into the eternal kingdom. Life here was precious, to be sure, but their home was yet to come. They did not live by the mantra of law and allegiance to nation, they lived by grace and the all consuming confession that Jesus is Lord.
Then came the conversion that has almost destroyed the church. The emperor Constantine saw a sign and “converted” to Jesus. Constantine thought Jesus gave him a victory, and in return Constantine gave Jesus a sword. For 300 years the church had survived, and even thrived without one. When your hands are nailed to a cross you have nothing with which to grip a sword.
But the church learned to wield the sword with brutal efficiency. Nations were conquered by the use of the sword in the name of the one who refused to allow his followers to pick one up. Those who refused to surrender to the Prince of Peace were butchered by the armies of a warrior god. Those who left the fold were not lovingly confronted and gently restored, but they were executed in a legitimate use of the “sword” of the secular law. Nation and church became indistinguishable. Wars were fought between followers of the cross and followers of the cross. Rivers, oceans of blood were shed in the name of Christian obedience.
Thinking, and wondering about the meaning of surrender to the cross today. Priests and prophets of the crucified one are beating the war drums once again. A call to arms has been sounded. “We are to arm ourselves” is the cry on the battle field. “We have a duty to protect ourselves” is the refrain. “We are protected by a Divine ordinance, enshrined in the Constitution!”
It may just be me, but I cannot help but wonder – how did those early disciples of Christ accomplish so much without their guns? How did they evangelize so effectively without having the protection of multiple firearms and a piece of paper? How, for three long centuries, was God able to protect this powerless and mistreated group of disciples without assault weapons and multiple cartridge magazines?
I’m thinking, as I read so many priests and prophets and preachers beat the war drums for the defense of a weapon designed to take a human life, where did the cross go? Has it been chopped down and the wood used for gun stocks? Have the nails that held my savior suspended on that tree been melted down for gun barrels?
I’m just thinking on this cold and cloudy day about surrender to the cross. About what it means to say “Jesus is Lord.” I’m wondering how disciples of Jesus can argue for the taking up of arms when Jesus so clearly told Pilate that his followers would not fight. I’m wondering how modern disciples can argue that we need our guns when for over 300 years the disciples had neither gun nor sword and managed to overcome every obstacle to take the gospel to the entire world.
Did they not love their families? Were they ignorant of the command to “turn the other cheek?” Had they not heard of Jesus’ teaching that those who live by the cause of violence will eventually die by that very same violence?
Or, was their success a direct result in their faith in God? Did they willingly lay down every form of human power and coercion for the exact reason that they did understand the Sermon on the Mount?
I must admit I’m confused. The ones who should be the closest to the cross are the ones who seem the most committed to the cold steel and wood of a modern firearm.
I’ll say it again. If you are nailed to a cross you cannot hold a gun. If your hand is wrapped around an instrument of death you cannot grasp the hand that was pierced with an instrument of death.
The only implements Jesus used on the last night that he was alive on this earth were a wash basin and a towel.
I think there is a lesson in there, somewhere.
Maybe I just think too much.