A Farewell to…

I’ve just finished reading a book by Brian Zahnd called A Farewell to Mars, a book about the author’s journey toward a biblical understand of the gospel of peace. Throughout the book the author makes his case for the church needing to separate itself from the politic of war and the economic ideals of the state and toward a biblical understanding of these things. In one part he says,

In political conversation these days, we hear a lot about “right” and “left.” People have a lot of passion bout these teams, but I have no allegiance to either the political right or the political left for this simple reason: Jesus has his own right and left! In the Jesus right-left divide, you definitely want to be on the right. (The goats on the left are sent away into hell prepared for the devil and his angels!)[1]

He, of course, goes on to reiterate the story of the sheep and the goats from Matthew 25 where Jesus basically says that those who care for the poor (food, water, clothes), the sick, the prisoner, and the foreigner are those who will be at his right hand and those who don’t will hear,

Get away from me, you who will receive terrible things. Go into the unending fire that has been prepared for the devil and his angels. I was hungry and you didn’t give me food to eat. I was thirsty and you didn’t give me anything to drink. I was a stranger and you didn’t welcome me. I was naked and you didn’t give me clothes to wear. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me. – Matthew 25:41-43

Reading this, and other things of late (especially a lot of church history), I have found a personal need to examine the idea of what puts us in a right relationship with God or what does it mean to experience salvation. A lot of people talk about salvation as a transaction: say the prayer, believe a few ideas about Jesus, and punch your heavenly ticket. As I look at the New Testament, particularly the words of Jesus, I find that there is always something said about how we treat others in connection with those who face judgment. Believe in Jesus—that is the Jesus Way of living—and you will be judged by God as being sheep. Live otherwise—regardless of what ideas you subscribe to—and you endanger yourself before God.

I think Martin Luther did some great things for Christendom, but I think his most famous ideas ‘only faith’ and ‘only scripture’ have been misinterpreted and re-misinterpreted to make the church a rather lazy institution. It’s created what some people in my seminary referred to as Jesus, the bible, and me in rowboat theology—all I need for this life is Jesus and a bible and a quiet place to get away from the big, bad, terrible world. By using the mantra ‘only faith’ as a rallying cry, the revivalists of the nineteenth century (1800s) were able to offer a fire insurance version of salvation to a scared people in a scary world. In the process, American Christians learned to lean into the idea of ‘believing for salvation’ without realizing that believing calls for something other than sitting in a pew. Believing requires acting on the ideas that Jesus taught—and the Holy Spirit reteaches to us—in everyday life. This version of Christianity is still prevalent if not predominant today in most American circles.

The Jesus Way of salvation calls for a complete and total lifestyle overhaul with the goal of becoming a living imitation of Jesus and his Way. This living imitation has its core in passages like the one above, the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, the Farewell Discourse of John 14-17, the living way of Jesus presented in Mark and Luke where the poor and disenfranchised are center-stage with Jesus as those whom Jesus spent his time teaching and healing. His criticisms were almost exclusively leveled at the religious authorities, the greedy rich, and the Roman governmental systems who abused those that Jesus championed.

The current political climate has politicized faith on both sides of the divide and quite honestly, I think to the detriment of historic Christianity. We have traded in the true Way for an easy way in order to fit into the society of comfort that we live in. The Jesus Way calls for the imitation of love and sacrifice that our namesake lived into during his life and ministry. It is time to change.

When we choose the Jesus Way, right and left don’t matter—except for sheep and goats.

[1] Brain Zahnd, A Farewell to Mars, p. 165-166