In the wake of the violent murders at a Sutherland Springs, Texas Church, a Facebook group called Nazarenes United for Peace posted a statement titled “An Altar Call” which with only a superficial reading sounds likes positive support for the victims of the attack while calling us all to a deeper walk with Christ. But a closer reading reveals an irresponsible statement with assumptions and errors that (at least in my opinion) need answering.
I should say that I chose to follow Nazarenes United for Peace some time ago because as a Soldier who has seen war, I long for peace. I believe that a peaceful existence is the ideal of Scripture and Christ’s teachings. While I agree with many of their posts, they often go too far on the pacifist, complete non-violence, side of Christianity. But that’s fine, I “like” the posts I agree with and just keep scrolling past the ones I don’t.
But this one, “An Altar Call,” I can’t just scroll by. Not because I agree, or even because I strongly disagree, but because it’s an irresponsible post. It makes assumptions of gun owners that rarely are true. It presents interpretations of Scripture that are not the only possible interpretations. It ignores other statements by Jesus and others recorded in Scripture that not only don’t support their thesis but contradicts it. And finally, it gives no room for disagreement, but dogmatically asserts that it’s their way or the highway (or “the door” as they put it).
So, I repost it here, with my comments inserted in red. Feel free to disagree, that’s your right and more importantly, I realize there are different views. I’m not suggesting, as they did, that there is only one way to understand the teachings of Jesus and other Scripture. But more than that, I appreciate that some have taken on as their calling a life of pacifism and non-violence but I contend that it is a calling and not the calling of a Christian.
An altar call (That’s OK, we all need time at the altar)
At the heart of the gospel resides the call to take up your cross and follow Jesus. This is a non-negotiable of discipleship: to be Christian is to be crucified with Christ. To be sure, crucifixion in the Roman world often was the response to violent defiance of the authorities, but the way Jesus was crucified was different. He faced down crucifixion non-violently, he surrendered his life, he became obedient to death, even death on a cross. The Christian call is to let that same mind be in us that was in him, to become obedient to death on a cross (I’m in complete agreement so far). To be willing to be defenseless for the sake of bearing witness to the one who would rather die than be without us, to bear witness to the one who did not send in armed defenders to rescue his Son. (The problem here is equating our following Jesus, “to become obedient to death death on a cross,” to the death of Jesus on the cross. Jesus chose to -He had to die- to accomplish our salvation. For Him to resist would be to resist the will of God. To suggest that our death would be anything similar to Christ’s is ludicrous, therefore to freely go to death –while it may be the calling of some- is not mandated as the only way a Christian must live-or die.)
To take up one’s cross and follow Jesus to co-crucifixion is to lay down one’s weapons (says the author, but says nobody in Scripture-including Jesus. He told Peter to put his weapon away, but it’s a misinterpretation to make that a universal command). This is the non-negotiable call of the gospel of Jesus Christ. (This is an incorrect assumption, that Scripture teaches non-violence as the only Christian view. There’s plenty of Scripture, and interpretations, that indicate defense, Soldiering, etc., is not anti-Christian). To call for arming more parishioners in churches as a response to the recent tragedy in a Texas church is anti-gospel and anti-Christ. (Again, making an incorrect interpretation of Scripture that to defend others, family members, loved ones, is anti-Gospel and anti-Christ. The exercise of love can mean providing for the protection of others. To not defend our family or the weak could be seen as neglecting our call to care for them, to love them, to provide for them).
Whenever I raise the issue of responding legislatively and otherwise to mass shootings and gun violence I am often met with the rejoinder: Gun violence is a heart problem. I agree. It is a heart problem to not renounce the ways and means of violence. (This suggests that those who support responsible gun ownership and/or support only responsible gun legislation and not knee-jerk legislation, are violent people and support violence of any kind, which isn’t true). To not give up the right to kill in the face of the commandment not to kill is a heart problem. (This statement just shows the author’s lack of proper interpretation of Scripture. Nowhere does the Bible say not to kill. The commandment, correctly interpreted, is not to murder. There is a difference). It is a heart problem and it is an American societal problem.
So hear this call to repentance: if you are not ready to renounce your addiction to violence, (an assumption that if you have guns you’re addicted to violence) your justification of a culture that values instruments of death over human life, (an assumption that if you own guns and believe in sensible gun laws that your guns are more important to you than human life-absurd!) and your own justification to use those weapons, (see all previous comments!) either come down to the altar and surrender your life to Jesus and his way, (suggesting that the “anonymous contributor’s” way is Jesus’ way and if you haven’t been living it, you haven’t surrendered to Jesus) or find the door (since you’re not welcome if you don’t agree. This may be the scariest part of this statement. Shouldn’t the Church be the place for one who is not following the Way of the Cross? Shouldn’t the sinner as well as the saint be welcome in our churches? Isn’t among those who follow Christ the best place to be for those who don’t, to see the example of Christ? But instead, we are told that if we don’t agree and don’t repent, we should just “find the door.”). If you are defending the way of violence you have abandoned the way of Jesus (once again, his interpretation of Scripture, neglecting several passages that suggest non-violence is not the only way to live the Christian life, and that if you are any kind of gun owner or 2nd Amendment supporter then you support “the way of violence” of any kind). You cannot serve two masters, you cannot serve both the God of Jesus Christ and the God of Violence. (And here he is again, jumping from gun ownership and support for the 2nd Amendment to worshiping and supporting violence of any kind, which responsible gun owners do not).
An invitation to the altar: “Come, behold the works of the Lord. See what desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars to cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; [he melts down the assault rifle] (because assault rifles are the real problem, right?); he burns the shields with fire. Enough of this! And know that I am God. I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46, emended. (More misinterpretation to apply the fullness of the Kingdom of God to the period we live in today. When Jesus returns, when the Kingdom of God is fully come on Earth as it is in Heaven, then we will see wars cease with no need for weapons of war or the defense of weapons. Then, God will be exalted among the nations…)
– Anonymous Contributor (Responses by Daryl Densford, Christian, Nazarene elder, Army Chaplain, disciple and follower of Christ)
Here’s the original post without my comments, in case you want to read it without interruption:
Why do you assert that one interpretation is incorrect (we are called to lay down our lives, etc) simply because you do not agree or your hermanuetic is different? Sadly, this is why the CotN will never be unified.
There are some places where his interpretation -or translation- is wrong, like “thou shalt not kill.” But perhaps I didn’t make my point clear. What is incorrect is the author being dogmatic that his interpretation is the only correct interpretation, which can be seen all through his post. This is what will hurt the unity in the Church of the Nazarene. We’ve always operated under a “big tent” philosophy, but when folks like the author of this Nazarenes United for Peace post insists that his is the only correct way to understand Scripture, the tent gets very small, which seems to be his intent based on his statement, “or find the door.”
[…] my thoughts about Nazarenes United for Peace in another response to one of their posts, “An Altar Call” so I won’t go into it again here except to say that I don’t question the […]