KB Categories Archives: Kingdom of God

Dr. Christopher Montgomery: Sacramentality: A Political Hermeneutic

Video-IconVideo Content: At June, 2016’s annual AFFN Convocation, Network member Dr. Christopher Montgomery presented a thought provoking paper on sacramentality and the Kingdom titled “Sacramentality: A Political Hermeneutic.”

Through a close reading of Mark 6;14-44 Christopher argued that the sacraments are gifts given to the Church to help us understand the way God relates to the world He has created and that the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist, hold implications for the meaning we assign to ourselves as the Church and to our mission in the world around us.

Christopher has held pastoral positions in worship and the arts in evangelical and Anabaptist congregations, and now is pastor of Sermon on the Mount Mennonite Church in Sioux Falls, S.D.

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Right-side Up in an Upside Down World

Rob Hewell:

BirdUpsideDownThe Book of Acts is an engaging narrative and certainly necessary for understanding the impact of the gospel. Among the more important lessons from this record is that the work of God’s Holy Spirit in and among Christians will highlight the differences between God’s people and the rest of the world, not diminish those differences.

The first nine verses of chapter 17 indicate Paul and Silas arrived in Thessalonica where Paul contended with the Jews in the synagogue for three Sabbaths. A number of Jews and Greeks became followers of Christ.

Some Jews, however, were not so amenable to the gospel. They gathered a mob, created a commotion, and hauled Jason and some believers before the local authorities. Apparently Jason provided lodging for the two preachers.

The charge leveled against Paul, Silas, and the others? “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also…” (v. 6, NRSV). Further, “They are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying there is another king named Jesus” (v. 7).

Under Roman rule the phrase “turning the world upside down” was useful for identifying persons who were acting treasonously. The purpose of the gospel of Jesus, however, was not to depose emperors—at least not in the way this rowdy crowd suggested to the local authorities.

Isn’t it just like the world to think that Jesus and Jesus’ followers are “upsetting the apple cart” as it were? It’s the world’s nature to defend its own status quo. Self-preservation is the name of that game. Truth be told, however, it’s actually the world as we know it in the shadow of the Fall that is already upside down.

Jesus has never turned the world upside down— not then, not now, not ever. Instead, God was incarnate in Jesus Christ in order to turn things right-side up.

The gospel tells us about a complete redemption of the whole cosmos; not merely a better version of what has been for so long, but the way things are supposed to be. The revelation to John about a new heaven and new earth reads like a re-establishment of Eden (Rev 21). The “right-side upping” of the whole creation through Christ creates the context within which God will make all things new.

Paul and Silas’ proclamation of the kingship of Christ likely constituted civil disobedience. Yet their greater commitment was obedience to God and the message of God’s Messiah. If anything, Paul’s concern for Roman rulers was more for their conversion to the faith (read of his encounter with King Agrippa in Acts 26). The fact that some in the broader culture perceived Paul’s preaching about Christ as a threat to Caesar is merely a collateral repercussion, not an intentional aspiration for dethroning the emperor.

The right-side up gospel of God’s kingdom—and those proclaiming that gospel—will always be in conflict with the world’s thinking, values, and behaviors. The world’s defense of itself will always be upside down, appealing to some temporal principle or ideology, rarely if ever to anything bearing the weight of eternal truth.

For the moment, suppose Paul and Silas were found at Jason’s house and brought before the authorities. Paul might have responded to such allegations by saying, “If those are the charges, I’m guilty!” He would then give a vigorous and articulate declaration of Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah and resurrected Lord, the Son of most high God in the royal lineage of David.

An odd twist in this narrative is that the crowd’s indictment actually proclaims a truth at the heart of the gospel: that Christ is indeed the Sovereign of a new kingdom. Sometimes the world speaks right-side up truth in spite of itself. It is a sign of the gospel’s influence when the world is critical of Jesus’ followers by accusing them of doing and saying precisely what God has called them to do and say.

As Jesus’ followers now in the 21st century, it is incumbent upon us to be “guilty” of the same “offense” as Paul and Silas. The message we are called to proclaim is likely to be perceived as disruptive and even subversive by an upside down world because that is precisely what it is—the good news of the right-side up Kingdom of God.

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Christian Worship as Hate Speech? It Could Happen

Rob Hewell:

hate-speech-is-not-free-speechIt seems unthinkable to followers of Christ for the terms “Christianity” and “hate speech” to be linked to one another. Yet a recent internet search for the phrase “Christianity as hate speech” brought a noted response of an astounding “About 1,600,000 results.”

Who would do such a thing? Take your pick. Certainly some of the resulting links were for blogs, social media, and opinion pieces, while others appear on what could be legitimate news sources. While the search results certainly represent a range in the use of the term “Christian,” the very real possibility does exist that expressions of orthodox Christian doctrines may be construed by some persons to be hate speech, with a relatively new focus here in the United States (U.S.).

For most of the history of the U.S. the gospel entrusted to Christ’s church was widely acknowledged enough for American citizens to consider it neither foolish nor a stumbling block (to borrow descriptors from Paul’s first epistle to the church at Corinth). No one took particular offense at the church’s existence and message since Constitutional protections were, by and large, honored for all citizens and groups. Sadly that was true because the gospel had become entangled in the nation’s epic narrative of divine providence for America as a unique nation and a force for ultimate good in the world.

That could be changing.

If the Christian faith is determined to exist as an expression of hate speech and, therefore, in danger of being forbidden, what, then, about worship among Christians? In what sense might the worship of holy God be cast into the category of hate speech?

In the conversation of the moment, it appears that any person or group who holds a position that is deemed to be exclusivist is found to be offensive are determined to hold beliefs that are hateful toward others. In such a climate, worship that is based on what Christ’s followers in the U.S. believe to be true may, indeed, be deemed foolish (at least) and offensive (at the extreme), more so than ever before.

Worship that is biblically faithful can be described as being specific and exclusive.

  • If we say we worship the one true holy God and that all others are not God, is that hate speech?
  • If we sing praises to the LORD God encountered in the narrative, who is the heavenly Father, incarnate Jesus Christ, and revealed in the Holy Spirit, can that be counted as an attack on persons who sing a different theme?
  • Could we be declared out of bounds constitutionally if we assert that baptism and the Lord’s Table are participation with Christ reserved solely for his followers?
  • Might we be hauled into court if we proclaim that the eternally loving God is the Creator of all things whose grand redemptive enterprise will culminate in a new heaven and a new earth where God and the Lamb will sit upon the throne forever?
  • Will we be told we cannot preach Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that no one comes to the Father except through Jesus? And can we be prohibited from offering our prayers in Jesus’ name?

Such worship is precisely the kind of distinguishing characteristic that sets Christianity apart, a stance that may become less tolerable within an aggressively secular culture.

For more than two hundred years, Christ’s followers living in the U.S. have enjoyed constitutional protection for liturgical practices we understand to be right and proper according to God’s Word. We should be thankful. We should also be vigilant in like measure, for those protections cannot be completely guaranteed.

Cultural rumblings remind us this world is fickle, and the freedom to honor the triune God as the only true God may be increasingly fragile. Scripture’s prophetic witness would caution us not to expect such freedoms—and not to be surprised that, if we do have them, they one day disappear. The things afforded to us by worldly empires are not immutable; that which is granted and secured by the state can be rescinded and denied by the state.

In a prior EthicsDaily.com column I wrote: “Christ’s church requires neither the approval nor protection of earthly empires in order to be faithful to God in its worship and its witness to the gospel.”

Christ calls his church to be faithful regardless of what temporal kingdoms and their leaders do or do not do. Our hope is in the holy triune God—the same yesterday, today, and forever—whose word is absolute and whose kingdom stands forever.

 

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