Saturday, November 22, 2008

Anabaptist Perspective (Ronald Sider) #2: Church, Politics, & the Sword

The Church
Sider continues to argue that the church is part of the gospel of the Kingdom and it is to be a visible expression of God’s new creation/community. It’s values are such that it stands out (racial unity in the 1st century) as a countercultural (not anticultural) community. This new community should influence the surrounding culture and it does so by living out Jesus’ values first and foremost. This includes “binding and loosing” – where differences are resolved by “reconciling dialoge,” not force, economic sharing, an inclusive community, everyone having a voice and a gift, and “forgiveness rather than retaliation is the way to reconciliation” (p. 175). The living out of these values are to influence culture positively.

Government, Society, and the Sword
Next, Sider offers that government is a good gift that should be limited, but is intended to restrain evil and promote the good. From there he talks specifically about how government should (or shouldn’t) wield the sword.

He begins with the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5.38-48), which Hengel believes is written contra the Zealots. Loving your enemies is radical, as is the expansion of the definition of “neighbor” (Lk. 10.29-37). Sider argues the context is public, not a two powers view articulated by Luther (personal ethic and public responsibility). The ultimate responsibility is loving the other and doing what they need.

This idea of nonviolence is not nonresistance. The key tenets of Sider’s pacifism are…
1. Don’t place every evil person in the category of enemy.
2. Don’t retaliate, but respond according to the needs of others – even if they’re offensive.
3. Regardless of response, we need to love because love is not based upon response.
4. We should act in these ways at great personal cost.

To do anything less than these is to weaken Jesus’ costly call. Sider does not buy the double ethic of public/private because he doesn’t think God has a double ethic. Jesus was calling the nation of Israel to righteousness, not private righteousness. It also goes against the literal understanding of the text. Also, this dual ethic allows for Christians to engage in atrocities like Nazi Germany. Finally, the early church (prior to Constantine) knows nothing of this public/private distinction and Christians were forbade from being executioners or in the military, according to Sider.

Lastly, God shows us how to treat our enemies in that while we were yet enemies, Christ died for us (Rom. 5). Just as Christ dealt with His enemies through suffering, so we should do the same because the cross is not the end of the story. There is a resurrection and it tells us that Jesus’ way triumphs and He will ultimately make things right.

What do you think of this sketch of pacifism? I’m intrigued and certainly challenged. I see some basic issues, but I don’t know that I could build anything as textual and coherent as Sider has at this point. I have a book, When God Says War is Right, that I’ll probably be reading soon to see how it compares to Sider. Thoughts?

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