Jesus and the sword

I had an interesting Sunday Bible study recently where we covered Romans 13. Of course since this is probably the most debated text in the New Testament it was a lively discussion. I have to hand it to my pastor, he allow a free flow of diverse discussions. I will only cover one topic from our discussions and that is about the “sword”. Here is ther particular verse:

Rom 13:4-5

 For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.  Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.

 Of course these verses refer to how we are to submit to government authority. The particular words I want to discuss here are “for he does not bear the sword for nothing”. It seems that some take these words to mean that God gives permission for governments to kill people via capital punishment and war. Of course being a person who believes in total non-violence they do not mean that to me.   I take my clues from the red letters and Jesus only mentioned the sword twice in the Gospel accounts. Once was where is said he is not bringing peace but the sword and that brother would rise up against brother….   The other place was where Peter cut off the soldier’s ear as they were taking Jesus in for subsequent crucifixion. In that account Jesus made the all to familiar statement that “those who live by the sword will die by the sword”. This is a rather negative aspect of the sword! By these words did Jesus give governments the authority to execute people?  I think not.

Church Hoppers?

Keeping with the theme of the last post about going to church, it has been found that 45% of Christians who go to church do not go to the same denomination that they went to as children. Is this a good thing or a troubling aspect of Christianity? Some say troubling and some say not. For me personally it is a good thing in that it shows that, at least for some of us, that we are taking our faith seriously and considering other options when our spirituality is at stake. I am one of those 45%. I had no choice in the matter as to what church my parents went to or whether they even went to church at all. But as an adult I consciously made a decision based how my perceptions of biblical knowledge aligned. I must admit that I don’t agree with everything about my current church’s doctrine but that is ok. 

Politically people tend to stay with the same affiliation as their parents. It is almost as if national party is a generic trait 🙂 . The same generally holds for religious affiliation. It is also a general belief that the large mega churches are sapping off members from smaller churches. While some of that is probably true I think church hopping for theological reasons is generally a good thing. At least it shows that some of us study Christ’s words and try to base our lives, of at least our worship, on them.

What does being a Christian mean?

Just what does it mean to be a Christian. There are many opinions on this topic:

  • Some think being a Christian means to go to church regularly and to honor all the traditions and history of the church.
  • Some think being a Christian is about constant repentance and always striving to keep the ten commandments.
  • Some think being a Christian is about fearing God and his wrath.
  • Some think being a Christian is about concentrating totally on God’s love and forgiveness.  

    While all of the above are in some aspect part of being a Christian, I don’t believe any of them reach to the heart of it. To me being a Christian is not about how you celebrate the past but how you act now and in the future. Being a Christian is not a spectator sport but instead is an active way of life. Most religious denominations today cheapen what it means to be the follower of Jesus Christ.  They demand so little when Jesus, through his words in the Gospels, demands so much.  They do this by focusing on a few words and seemingly ignoring the rest. 

Is it possible to be a good Christian without going to church?

To me he short answer is yes. The longer answer is yes, but without the fellowship that a church provides it is more difficult. We all have our own opinions about just about everything. At least I certainly do. If we are left to our own account we will often develop a very distorted view on many things. It is only by conversing with others that we solidify and hone our views of the kingdom of God and the proper attitude of the world around us. Even on this blog I have readers who gently poke me when I need it. I constantly thank the Lord for them. It helps me grow as a Christian when they do.

One thing I have personally found is that when I read the Bible I get different insights from the same verses depending on where I am (spiritually that is). Getting input from other believers helps me to broaden my perspective. As Reggie McNeal says in his book the Present Future, church and spirituality are often not the same thing. Some people who do “church” are not very spiritual and some who do not attend church are very spiritual. But for most of us the fellowship that a good church provides is indeed a good thing on our road to Christ.

Pentecost – What was it all about?

In many church calendars last Sunday was Pentecost Sunday. That was a very dramatic event in early church history. Acts describes it as this:

Acts 2:1-12

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs — we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

This must have been a very scary moment for the apostles. And, of course, it was a very dramatic appearance of the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised that he would send the Holy Spirit to them but I don’t imagine they expected it in this way. All Christians are supposedly filled with the Holy Spirit. It is too bad that each of us can’t have it this same way. I think it would change much of our attitudes about living for Christ. There was such a dramatic change in the apostles after this event. They went boldly proclaiming Jesus as Lord and Savior whereas before they were very meek.

Some say speaking in tongues means speaking gibberish that only God can understand but the closing verses above paint a very different picture. To me these verses mean that the apostles were now able to communicate with everyone regardless of their native language. That makes speaking in tongues a miraculous communications tool not some self centered revelation. So, I will respectfully disagree with some as to what speaking in tongues mean.