Monday, December 7, 2015

Enlisting In The Bloodiest Revolution Ever--An Open Letter To Liberty University

Christian Martyrs' Last Prayer, by Jean-Léon Gérôme 1883
"With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers (and sisters), as an act of intelligent worship, to give God your bodies as a living sacrifice, consecrated to him and acceptable by him...

"As far as your responsibility goes, live at peace with everyone. Never take vengeance into your own hands, my dear friends: stand back and let God punish if he will. For it is written: ‘Vengeance is mine. I will repay’... these are God’s words: ‘Therefore if your enemy hungers, feed him; if he thirsts, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head’. Don’t allow yourself to be overpowered with evil. Take the offensive—overpower evil by good!"
- Romans 12: 1, 18-21 J. B. Phillips translation
The following open letter to students at Liberty University is in response to their president's call to carry arms on campus to guard against any threat by radical Muslims:

If you think the 21st century appeal to young men and women to join ISIL is radical and extreme, consider what it meant to heed the first century call to follow Jesus.

Each involves a lot of potential bloodshed, but with one big difference. For Jesus and his followers, the blood is all on one side. God's ultimate way of dealing with human sin and violence is by stopping it in its tracks, by absorbing it and refusing to be ruled by it, by offering an alternative life powered by resurrection and heaven-bent on reconciliation.

It is all about taking up a cross instead of taking up arms, about being armed with weapons of prayer and persuasion instead of with weapons of massive destruction. In the coming of Jesus, God declares war on violence itself, and makes of God's incarnate king a blood-sealed peace offering.

Early Christians were not naive about the cost of joining this radical movement inaugurated by Jesus. They were inspired by it, responding in large numbers to offer their lives as "living sacrifices" for this revolutionary "call to arms" in what has been called "The Lamb's War".

Times of intense persecution were intermittent during the first three centuries, so no one knows for sure how many Christians actually made the ultimate sacrifice, but they certainly numbered in the thousands under the reigns of Nero, Domitian and other ruthless emperors. The reasons they were martyred were not for joining another religion, per se, there were plenty of those, but because they refused to affirm the required Roman pledge of allegiance, "Caesar is Lord", having made their own enlistment vow, "Jesus is Lord". They chose the word "sacramentum" for their rite of baptism, borrowed from the Roman ceremony of enlistment into Caesar's army.

In the end, at one level the Christians won. In 325, the Emperor Constantine not only protected Christianity from further persecution, but became a nominal Christian himself, and made it the official faith of the empire. Ironically, this led to Christianity evolving into a religion that began to bless the use of force and to encourage its members to approve of war. And the rest is history.

Jesus wept.
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