Brian Zahnd is a nondenominational pastor I have been following. Though he is part of the mega-church culture I have come to reject, he has a unique voice that makes his sermons and articles interesting. Not long ago, he shared a quote from Ambrose of Milan, a church father and mentor to Augustine, “You are not making a gift of your possession to the poor person. You are handing over to him what is his.”
This is one the the quotes from the church fathers that deeply inspires me, and I have have a page devoted to very similar quotes from the early church. Ambrose’s statement is nothing too special, but what is mentioning is how some people reacted to this quote when Zahnd shared it.
First of all, there was a comparison being made to the policies of Barack Obama, which just seemed strange. Secondly, and more importantly, there was condemnation of this teaching because it was seen as “involuntary” or that wealth was someone not really that bad. This second reaction is one that I often see in the American church, especially ones that are conservative and/or influenced by the prosperity gospel. Continue reading →
Of course it is true that religion on a superficial level, religion that is untrue to itself and to God, easily comes to serve as the “opium of the people.” And this takes place whenever religion and prayer invoke the name of God for reasons and ends that have nothing to do with him. When religion becomes a mere artificial facade to justify a social or economic system—when religion hands over its rites and language completely to the political propagandist, and when prayer becomes the vehicle for a purely secular ideological program, then religion does tend to become an opiate. It deadens the spirit. . . This brings about the alienation of the believer so that his religious zeal becomes political fanaticism. His faith in God, while preserving its traditional formulas, becomes in fact faith in his own nation, class or race. His ethic ceases to be the law of God and of love, and becomes the law that might-makes-right: established privilege justifies everything, God is the status quo. (Merton)
When I was younger, I remember hearing a lot about Sodom and Gomorrah. I was a part of conservative evangelical churches, and this story was often used as an example of extreme sexual immorality. Obviously, it was not uncommon for the story to be used to condemn homosexuality. Then, I cannot remember when, I realized that the common reading today didn’t make sense. From the rape of angels to Lot’s incestuous relationships, reading the story of Sodom and Gomorrah as a sex manual just didn’t make a lot of sense. Later, I realized that the story was about hospitality. The people of Sodom and Gomorrah were hosting angels and did not realize it. They were inhospitable, and it was their doom (Hebrews 13:2).
Hospitality is a common theme in Abrahamic religions. There are various verses in the Law, the prophets, and the New Testament concerning the care for strangers (as well as widows and orphans). For example, Deuteronomy 24:17 states: Continue reading →
My all-around favorite and most trusted Bible translation is the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), but for the last six months, I have been giving the English Standard Version (ESV) a serious looking-over. Of the Bibles that I have read, the ESV is perhaps one of the more untrustworthy that I have come across. Before I explain my reasoning, I think it is important to give a little bit of history concerning contemporary Bible translation.
Up until the mid-twentieth century, there were only a handful of Bible translations that people actually read, and a handful of obscure ones that nobody ever hears about. By the 1950s and ’60s, two translations dominated American Christianity: the King James Version (KJV) and Revised Standard Version (RSV). The KJV has always been a favorite among traditionalists due to its historical status, but it was also a favorite of fundamentalists because it was easy to proof-text from. The RSV, however, became the standard for most academics and became widely accepted by the major denominations of American Protestantism, and even Catholic and Orthodox Christians had a lot of support for it. Even today many Catholics and Orthodox continue to use it. To put it simply, the RSV was ecumenical and scholarly. They also tried to keep much of the poetic-sounding language of the KJV tradition so that it even appealed to traditionalists. Continue reading →
It is no surprise that activism is something that I am passionate about. Usually, I have expressed my activistic impulse by allying with socialist and communist parties and organizations, but recently this has started to change. For a long time, I thought of religion, politics, and economics as largely separate categories. For me, my religion was Christianity, and my politics and economics were socialist, but as I developed in my Christian faith, as I continued to read, I realized that these categories were all interconnected and interdependent.
I started discovering and reading about the Social Gospel, Liberation Theology, and other such movements, and I looked at my own views on politics and economics, and they were firmly rooted in my faith. In fact, I received my faith and my politics at the same time. I remember it all very well. I was having tea with my grandmother in Rhode Island back when I was in middle school, and we were discussing Eastern religions, which is what I was interested in at the time. Eventually, for whatever reason, we started talking about the Sermon on the Mount, which I was not yet familiar with. Discovering that text started me down a path that continues to this day, and during that same conversation, my grandmother taught me about Karl Marx. Continue reading →
I recently wrote about Romans 13 and the state. I mentioned that I did not believe that text was even about the Roman government. I believe, based upon the evidence I have seen, that Romans 13 talks about reconciling Jewish and Gentile Christians in relation to the religious, community authorities. Tyler Tully picked up on this and wrote a far more detailed analysis of this here and here, which I strongly recommend reading.
Today, another questionable text in regards to the New Testament and the state has been brought up, this time from Peter instead of Paul:
Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:13-17 ESV) Continue reading →
I come from a charismatic stream of Christianity. Most of the churches I have attended or been a member of have openly believed in the active presence of the Holy Spirit (the “Wild Goose“), a very personal relationship with Christ, faith healing, and active worship. This background developed in me a deep respect for religious experience, but unlike a stereotypical charismatic, I was quiet and contemplative, which caused me to develop a deep respect for the monastics, mystics, and Quakers. For the longest time, I had no idea I was part of the Charismatic movement (I was not really aware of the theological labels), but my background continues to influence me.
The Charismatic movement is a product of the 20th century and has its roots in Pentecostalism, but I find that Spirit-filled Christianity puts one in a large family of Christian traditions. I think Eberhard Arnold described this tradition well:
The life of love that arises from faith has been witnessed to over the centuries, especially by the Jewish prophets and later by the first Christians. We acknowledge Christ, the historical Jesus, and with him his entire message as proclaimed by his apostles and practiced by his followers. Therefore we stand as brothers and sisters together with all those who have lived in community through the long course of history: the Christians of the first century; the Montanists in the second; the monastics and Arnold of Brescia; the Waldensians; the itinerant followers of Francis of Assisi; the Bohemians and Moravians and the Brothers of the Common Life; the Beguines and Beghards; the Anabaptists of the sixteenth century; the early Quakers; the Labadists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; and many other denominations and movements down to the present day. (Eberhard Arnold: Writings Selected, pg. 158-159)
I wish I could add something more, but I really think Arnold says it perfectly. Spirit-filled faith is part of a long prophetic tradition going through many individuals and communities—the Hebrew prophets, early Christians, medieval mystics, “spiritualist” Anabaptists, Quakers, Pentecostals, and many others. Continue reading →
In reaction to this, Kurt Willems wrote a response showing where he disagrees. Kurt, in classical Anabaptist fashion, believes that Christians should be nonviolent, but that the state still serves a purpose. There is a separation of church and state, and the state is a necessary evil. Continue reading →
As I have mentioned on this blog and numerous other places before, I am a Christian communist. However, it is nearly impossible to use that term today (and the related term, “socialism”) because the 20th century saw some of the most authoritarian and propagandistic states in human history. A lot of people like to look to European Fascism or Soviet Stalinism to show this, but the United States and other Western “democracies” were also guilty of it. The complete rewriting of the histories and meanings of socialism and communism are good examples. Compare these definitions of socialism and communism from Webster’s dictionary over the last century:
Socialism: a theory of social reform, the main structure of which is to secure a reconstruction of society, with a more equal division of property and the fruits of labor, through common ownership. (1936)
Communism: The economic system of theory which upholds the absorption of all proprietary rights in a common interest, an equitable division of labor, and the formation of a common fund for the supply of all the wants of the community; the doctrine of a community of property, or the negation of individual rights in property. (1936) Continue reading →