Tag Archives: Bonhoeffer

Christ, Community, & Christian Ethics

Christ, Community, & Christian Ethics:             The Legacy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Since his death, and especially in the last two decades, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) has stirred the hearts and minds of Christians worldwide. It is through his life and writings that he has earned a place in history as one of the greatest theologians of the twentieth century. Bonhoeffer presented a stimulating challenge to a church that had colluded with the secular powers, and that had lost the will to resist evil with Christian discipleship.

Bonhoeffer is popularly remembered for his attention to Christ’s demands in the Sermon on the Mount. He provocatively discussed these demands in his book Discipleship. He wrote, “When Christ calls a man he bids him come and die.”[1] However, it is his works on Christology, ecclesiology, and theological ethics that readers have appreciated Bonhoeffer as an innovative Christian thinker.[2] Above all it was Bonhoeffer’s ingenuity amidst a crippled church and his resilience in the face of an evil political regime that has led to his enduring legacy as a Nazi resister.

It is the purpose of this paper to survey the literary and theological contributions of Bonhoeffer by: (1) briefly discussing his particular situation and context, (2) appraising his ideas born out of social, cultural, and political adversity, (3) offering praise and critique of his unique contributions to Christian faith and living. More specifically, this paper will highlight those literary works of Bonhoeffer that reveal the thinking behind his actions as a disciple of Christ. This paper will conclude with a sensitive critique of Bonhoeffer’s theological ethics.


Nazi Germany and the Confessing Church

Adolf Hitler ascended to power in Germany in January of 1933. The German Christian Church eventually fell complacent, even submissive to the ideals of the Third Reich. Bonhoeffer shortly after became a founding member of a new church, a “Confessing Church” formally founded at Barmen in May of 1934. Bonhoeffer and the Confessing Church dedicated itself to remaining free of the anti-Semitism that had plagued Germany.

The Barmen Declaration, principally authored by Swiss theologian Karl Barth, plainly stated what the German church had always believed according the Scriptures. Therefore, it rejected the state’s takeover of the church, it repudiated the anti-Semitic agenda of the Nazis, and it denounced other heresies set forth by German Christians.[3]

The following excerpt directly addresses extreme nationalism:

We reject the false doctrine, as though the State, over and beyond its special commission, should and could become the single and totalitarian order of human life, thus fulfilling the Church’s vocation as well. We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church, over and beyond its special commission, should and could appropriate the characteristics, the tasks, and the dignity of the State, thus itself becoming an organ of the State. The Church’s commission, upon which its freedom is founded, consists in delivering the message of the free grace of God to all people in Christ’s stead, and therefore in ministry of his own Word and work through sermon and sacrament. We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church in human arrogance could place the Word and work of the Lord in the service of any arbitrarily chosen desires, purposes, and plans (Theological Declaration Concerning the Present Situation of the German Evangelical Church, 8.23-27).[4]

The Confessing Church received increasing pressure from the Gestapo, and Bonhoeffer soon found himself in the minority as the Evangelical Church turned away from the Gospel of Jesus, the Jewish Messiah. In August of 1937, the Confessing Church was declared illegal. The following month, the Gestapo shut down the church’s Finkenwalde seminary. Twenty-seven of Bonhoeffer’s students were arrested, others were forced to join the army. In January of the next year, the Gestapo banned Bonhoeffer from Berlin, and the Nazis began burning down churches.

Union Seminary and the Harlem Experience

Bonhoeffer first visited the United States in 1931 to study at Union Theological Seminary in New York. He developed a friendship with four Union students: Jean Lasserre (French), Erwin Sutz (Swiss), Paul Lehmann (American), and Albert Franklin “Frank” Fisher (African American).

Jean Lasserre, a devout pacifist, was a major influence on Bonhoeffer’s understanding of the Sermon on the Mount. It is true that Bonhoeffer likely read the antiwar novel All Quiet on the Western Front in seminary, but it was the viewing of the film with Lasserre that brought a lasting change in Bonhoeffer. Eric Metaxas writes:

The sadness of the violence and suffering on the screen brought Bonhoeffer and Lasserre to tears, but even worse to them was the reaction in the theater. Lassarre remembered American children in the audience laughing and cheering when Germans, from whose point of view the story was told, were killing the French. For Bonhoeffer, it was unbearable. Lassarre believed that on that afternoon Bonhoeffer became a pacifist. Lassarre spoke often about the Sermon on the Mount and how it informed his theology. From that point forward it became a central part of Bonhoeffer’s life and theology, too, which eventually led him to write his most famous book, The Cost of Discipleship.[5]

While Lasserre helped to shape Bonhoeffer’s thinking on non-violent resistance, it was Frank Fisher an African American from Alabama that would have the greatest influence on Bonhoeffer’s life and theology. Bonhoeffer was not all that impressed with many liberal churches in New York that had given up the centrality of Christ for social activism, but he was captivated by the experience of Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem.

Fisher introduced him to the African American community that sang and preached Christ with great passion and conviction. It was there at Abyssinian that Bonhoeffer heard Christ-centered preaching that fueled action for social justice on behalf of the oppressed Negro people. At the time, Bonhoeffer had never seen such bigotry and racism.

Bonhoeffer once remarked that there was no “analogous situation in Germany” that compared to the treatment of blacks by whites. “It is a bit unnerving that in a country with so inordinately many slogans about brotherhood, peace, and so on, such things still continue completely uncorrected,” said Bonhoeffer.[6] His experiences in Harlem would prepare him for what he would soon encounter in his own country with the Jews.

Bonhoeffer would return to America a second time in June of 1939 to take a teaching position at Union Theological Seminary, as he avoided the military call-up issued by Germany. But Bonhoeffer was deeply troubled as he contemplated the will of God for his life and for Germany in such a dark hour under Hitler. In a letter to Reinhold Neibuhr, he wrote:

I have had time to think and to pray about my situation and that of my nation and to have God’s will for me clarified. I have come to the conclusion that I have made a mistake in coming to America. I must live through this difficult period of our national history with the Christian people of Germany. I shall have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people.[7]

After only twenty-six days in New York, Bonhoeffer resigned and returned to Germany the following month. He committed himself to endure the hardships of his people during wartime.[8]

From Pacifist Pastor to Nazi Resister

World War II began on September 1, 1939 when Germany invaded Poland. In October of 1940, the Gestapo banned Bonhoeffer from speaking in public, and soon after was forbidden to publish his writings. Bonhoeffer had already been receiving inside information for some time from his brother-in-law, Hans von Dohnanyi, who worked with Military Intelligence, and was part of a growing resistance to Hitler.

After having been silenced by the Gestapo, Bonhoeffer would learn of new horrifying details about the Third Reich that prompted him to begin taking an active role against Hitler for the sake of Germany and the church. He was convinced that Hitler must be removed from power.

Hitler was unveiling an evil plan, which he had been waiting to act on since his rise to power. “Hitler received moral support for his claim to be the God-given executor of historical justice, and only a small remnant was able to perceive, precisely here, Satan in the form of an angel of light,” wrote Bonhoeffer.[9]

In July of 1940, Bonhoeffer made the decision to serve as a “V-Man” (Verbindungsmann, or confidential agent) for Military Intelligence under another lead military resister, Admiral Canaris. Metaxas writes:

Canaris and the others in German military leadership thought that Hitler’s bestial nature was unfortunate, but they had no idea it was something that he cultivated and celebrated, that it was part of an ideology that had been waiting for this opportunity to leap at the throats of every Jew and Pole, priest and aristocrat, and tear them to pieces. The German generals had not seen the dark river of blood bubbling beneath the surface of the new Germany, but suddenly here it was, gushing like a geyser. Despite all the hints and warnings, it was too gruesome to be believed.[10]

Bonhoeffer’s sister-in-law once wrote to him saying, “You Christians are glad when someone else does what you know must be done, but it seems that somehow you are unwilling to get your own hands dirty and do it.”[11]

To be clear, it wasn’t out of pressure that Bonhoeffer joined the resistance and decided to get his “hands dirty” in the process, it was out of conviction. Eberhard Bethge, friend and biographer, remembers Bonhoeffer’s shift “from confession to resistance” when they were together during a call to salute Hitler: “Bonhoeffer raised his arm in the regulation Hitler salute, while I stood there dazed. “Raise your arm! Are you crazy?” he whispered to me, and later: “We shall have to run risks for very different things now, but not for that salute!”[12] Bonhoeffer embraced the double-life, the lies, and the deception that goes along with being a conspirator and Nazi resister, and he felt strongly it was the will of God for his life.

Bonhoeffer continued writing and pastoring while he kept his front as Abwehr agent with the Nazi regime. He was engaged in a “high-stakes game of deception upon deception”—convinced that he was being obedient to God. Metaxas writes: “Bonhoeffer was not telling little white lies. In Luther’s famous phrase, he was “sinning boldly.”[13]

The resistance made several attempts to assassinate Hitler, but all attempts failed. Bonhoeffer did manage to help Jews escape Germany and keep pastors out of the military. He made frequent trips abroad in order to communicate with the allies that there was a real resistance to Hitler.

The Nazis were bearing down on the Confessing Church and all those who conspired against them. It was shortly after one resister’s failed attempt to detonate a bomb in his overcoat while in the presence of Hitler that the Gestapo began to close in on the conspirators. In April of 1943, Bonhoeffer was arrested with the rest of the resistance. The Nazis knew of his efforts to help Jews while under the guise as an Abwehr agent. And they would later discover Bonhoeffer’s involvement in the assassination plot.

Bonhoeffer was incarcerated at Tegel prison in Berlin for two years, with a short stint at a Gestpo prison for interrogations. He continued to write letters and papers from prison.[14] He encouraged the inmates there, and even established a relationship with a solider that wanted to escape with Bonhoeffer.[15] But he refused to escape and put the lives of those he loved in further danger. Finally, he was taken to Flossenbürg concentration camp, marched naked to the gallows, and executed for high treason on April 9, 1945. He was 39 years old. His final words were, “This is the end. For me, the beginning of life.”[16] Less than a month later, the war was over.


The Centrality of Christ

In the Summer of 1933, Bonhoeffer gave a series of lectures on Christology at the University of Berlin. Prior to these lectures, he had already been in dialogue with his students about the role Christ plays in all matters of life, including matters of the state.

What was the church going to do about the growing threat of the Nazi regime? How would she respond on behalf of the poor and the oppressed, racist social policy, and the prospect of war? For Bonhoeffer, making Christ central means living in the world, it means social action.

[Bonhoeffer] decried the church’s hesitation to hear Christ’s gospel in movements toward social justice. Crass opportunism coupled with cowardly passivity had rendered the church irrelevant to average workers who had as little use for a capitalist Christ impervious to their needs as for a church rallying the troops around the flag of privilege.[17]

The church in Germany had compartmentalized her faith to a great degree. She had joined the Zeitgeist, the spirit of the age. It was later during Bonhoeffer’s incarceration that he would reflect on his time as a “world come of age.” Jeffrey Pugh writes, “By this Bonhoeffer had in mind a world of increasing maturity that was able to arrange itself very well without the tutelage of religion or God.”[18] Therefore, Bonhoeffer envisioned a new sort of Christianity, with Christ at the center—a new brand of “religionless” Christianity. The only way to get at this kind of faith is to have a real, holistic encounter with the living Christ.

The eternal Christ cannot be shaped to fit our own agendas. As Bonhoeffer said in his lectures, “There are only two ways possible of encountering Jesus: man must die or he must put Jesus to death.”[19] Bonhoeffer believed that the person and work of Christ is central to Christian faith. He said, “This complete Christ is the historical Jesus, who can never in any way be separated from his work.”[20] Christology and soteriology cannot be separated and continue to be true Christian faith.

The soterian (salvation) gospel alone, divorced from obedience to the teachings of Christ, is no gospel at all. Bonhoeffer stated, “It is through the work that I recognize the gracious God. My sin is forgiven, I am no longer in death, but in life. All this depends upon the person of Christ, whether his work perishes in the world of death or abides in a new world of life.”[21] According to Bethge, the Christology lectures in the Summer of 1933 were “the high point of Bonhoeffer’s academic career.”[22]

Christ in Community

Bonhoeffer believed that truth is a person (Jn 14:6). He said, “Truth is not something in itself, which rests for itself, but something that happens between two. Truth happens only in community.”[23] The discovery of God’s will in Christ happens in the context of community. His doctoral dissertation, at the age of twenty-one, was entitled, Sanctorum Communio (The Communion of Saints), and was first published in 1930.[24] Karl Barth called his work a “theological miracle.”[25]

From the very beginning, Bonhoeffer was captured by the sociology of the church, “Christ existing as community.” The Volkskirche (church-of-the-people) would lay in stark contrast to Hitler’s new Germany. For Bonhoeffer, without the church, the communion of saints, all that exists is a community of sinners. That community is broken and incapable of existing for the good of humanity. Only by embracing Christ in community can the world be healed—reconciled to God and to each other.

Bonhoeffer writes, “Community with God exists only through Christ, but Christ is present only in his church-community, and therefore community with God exists only in the church.”[26] In his Life Together (1938), Bonhoeffer writes, “Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ.”[27]

God has willed that we should seek and find His living Word in the witness of a brother, in the mouth of a man. Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth. He needs his brother man as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation. He needs his brother solely because of Jesus Christ. The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother’s is sure. And that also clarifies the goal of all Christian community: they meet one another as bringers of the message of salvation. As such, God permits them to meet together and gives them community.[28]

This community is bound together in Trinitarian love, a spiritual love. Bonhoeffer contrasts this spiritual love with a human love—a love with conditions and boundaries—a self-love. He writes, “Human love produces human subjection, dependence, constraint; spiritual love creates freedom of the brethren under the Word.”[29] Christ existing as community is manifested in a church that is sustained by a spiritual love, even using that love as its only weapon.[30]

Like the church’s true leader, the communion of saints overcomes through cross-bearing. Bonhoeffer writes, “It is the fellowship of the Cross to experience the burden of the other. If one does not experience it, the fellowship he belongs to is not Christian. If any member refuses to bear that burden, he denies the law of Christ.”[31]

In Bonhoeffer’s view, the church in Germany was guilty of rejecting an incarnational communion of Christ on the earth, and for the earth. The hour was late. The church should seize the moment and boldly profess that Christ alone is Fuehrer, and his Volkskirche is the only life-giving community on earth, or be condemned by her silence.

Theological Ethics

Bonhoeffer was one of the first evangelical theologians to recognize the great evil taking place within the Third Reich, especially as it concerned Hitler’s policies against the Jews. Hans von Dohnanyi warned Bonhoeffer that Hitler was making plans to persecute the Jewish people.[32] Before the Third Reich released the Aryan paragraph, discriminating against Jews, Bonhoeffer presented an essay on The Church and the Jewish Question—a call for the church to take action.

He proposed that there were three possible ways the church could respond toward the state: (1) admonish the state’s actions, (2) help the victims regardless of their religious affiliation, (3) not only bandage the victims under the wheel of the state, but “jam a spoke in the wheel itself.”[33]

What exactly did Bonhoeffer have in mind at this time? It is hard to say. While he was certainly insinuating direct political action, it does not appear that Bonhoeffer was thinking of an assassination plot at this time. There is no indication that he had given up his views on pacifism. However, it appears that his ethics were evolving.[34] Bonhoeffer said the church is the “boundary of the state” and must hold the state accountable as God’s instrument of righteousness.[35] This would have no doubt smacked of revolution.

Metaxas writes: “Bonhoeffer’s three conclusions… were too much for almost everyone. But for him they were inescapable. In time, he would do all three.”[36] Geffrey Kelly writes: “Church timidity on this issue was one of the reasons he joined the political resistance movement.”[37] A few years later, after being fully convinced that the church was either unwilling or incapable of responding to the actions of the state, Bonhoeffer would find an opportunity to “jam a spoke in the wheel” of the Third Reich.

When Bonhoeffer returned from America in 1939, he knew that war was inevitable. Dohnanyi had given him disturbing evidence of the evil holocaust well underway. One month before the war officially began, Bonhoeffer became a civilian agent of the Abwehr. Disguised as Nazi military intelligence, Bonhoeffer would aid the escape of Jews and join in a plot to assassinate Hitler. He then began writing Ethics at Klein-Krössin. It is in this book that we glean insights into Bonhoeffer’s thinking. For Bonhoeffer, his actions begin with the will of God.

The will of God may lie very deeply concealed beneath a great number of possibilities. The will of God is not a system of rules which is established from the outset; it is something new and different in each different situation in life, and for this reason a man must ever anew examine what the will of God may be. The heart, the understanding, observation and experience must all collaborate in this task. It is not longer a matter of man’s own knowledge of good and evil, but solely of the living will of God; our knowledge of God’s will is not something over which we ourselves dispose, but it depends solely upon the grace of God, and this grace is and requires to be new every morning.[38]

Bonhoeffer believed that proper ethical action must first be rooted in the will of God. The will of God is not always a “concrete” reality. It is at this point where Bonhoeffer’s thinking takes a radical shift from anything he had previously articulated about the will of God, and his own complicit actions against the state. In a broken and fragmented world, doing the will of God might require actions that are less than the ideal—even actions that are evil in themselves.

Bonhoeffer declared, “What is worse than doing evil is being evil. It is worse for a liar to tell the truth than of a lover of truth to lie.”[39] Considering the context of Ethics, it is safe to assume that Bonhoeffer has his own evil deeds in mind. However, those evil deeds done by righteous men are better than the alternative—a person could actually be evil like Hitler—which is far worse.

The following example illuminates Bonhoeffer’s odyssey of reasoning (rationalizing?) the idea:

For example, a teacher asks a child in front of the class whether it is true that his father often comes home drunk. It is true, but the child denies it. The teacher’s question has placed him in a situation for which he is not yet prepared… The child’s answer can indeed be called a lie; yet this lie contains more truth, that is to say, it is more in accordance with reality than would have been the case if the child had betrayed his father’s weakness in front of the class. According to the measure of his knowledge, the child acted correctly. The blame for the lie falls back entirely upon the teacher.[40]

Bonhoeffer believes the Third Reich stands in the place of the teacher who has abused her power. Is the Christian, or the lover of truth, obliged to “tell the truth” to those who have no interest in the truth—those who indeed despise the truth?

Bonhoeffer did not believe so. In fact, the lover of truth should lie, and lie for all he is worth. For Bonhoeffer, this is the “living truth.” Metaxas writes: “Bonhoeffer knew that the flipside of the easy religious legalism of ‘never telling a lie’ was the cynical notion that there is no such thing as truth, only ‘facts.’ This led to the cynical idea that one must say everything with no sense of propriety or discernment, that decorum or reserve was ‘hypocrisy’ and a kind of lie.”[41]

Therefore, Bonhoeffer was seeking a new kind of ethics in a world where he believed the rules had changed so dramatically under Nazism. According to Bonhoeffer, the old ethics simply did not work any longer. James Burtness has written that Bonhoeffer’s work throughout his adult life reveals the formulation of an “ethical theology.” This theology knows the difference between believing and behaving, between confessing and acting, but attempts to demonstrate connections at every point.[42]

For Bonhoeffer, his theological ethics were always rooted in what he believed was a Christo-centric worldview.


Finally, what can be said about Bonhoeffer’s shift from the pacifist solution to the problem of evil to involving himself in a conspiracy to kill another human being, even one as wicked and tyrannical as Adlof Hitler? It is rather difficult to understand his thinking because his words so often required a great level of secrecy. Stanley Hauerwas has written:

That we cannot know how he understood his participation in the attempt to kill Hitler and thus how his whole life “makes sense” is not a peculiarity Bonhoeffer would think unique to his life. The primary confession of the Christian may be the deed which interprets itself, but according to Bonhoeffer our lives cannot be seen as such a deed. Only “Jesus’ testimony to himself stands by itself, self-authenticating.” In contrast, our lives, no matter how earnestly or faithfully lived, can be no more than fragments.[43]

While it might be impossible to piece together the “fragments” of Bonhoeffer and acquire answers to all the questions that could be asked of him, it is still necessary to include a brief critique of Bonhoeffer’s expressed thoughts and actions–remembering that he is a fallible man following an infallible Christ.

Bonhoeffer believed that the “will of God” is the launching pad into a world of ethical decisions. I agree that the will of God is not always concrete or a rule to be applied legalistically. However, it should be a serious concern for all disciples to recognize that Christ is the full expression of God’s will for human beings. Christ has expressed the will of God in his own life and teachings—even in the face of his mortal enemies. Therefore, God’s will always looks like Jesus dying for those that crucified him.

The church must give up on the myth of redemptive violence, and dispel the disease of “necessary evils.” The cycle of violence ends on a cross, and exposes the hearts of evil men, even disarming them in shame. If the church ever needs to “jam a spoke in the wheel” of the state again, it should be in the form of creative cross-shaped living. The way of the sword always loses.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a pastor and a prophet to a church that had largely traded the God of the Scriptures for a god of nationalism. His prophetic voice is still needed today.[44]  Bonhoeffer did not abandon the church or the German people in one of the darkest hours the world has ever known. He continually counted the cost of discipleship, even as he anticipated his ensuing martyrdom. While not without sin, he was truly a great man of faith.

The courage of Bonhoeffer to stand up and speak truth to power is part of his lasting legacy. His unbridled faith and his belief in a hopeful future despite the odds breathe life into the dark corners of a suffocating, cynical world. His lasting contributions are his passion for the centrality of Christ, his insight into the community life of the church, and his untiring devotion to the cause of social justice in the ongoing quest for an ethical theology.

D.D. Flowers, 2012.

Get the new biography by Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, SpyAlso, view the documentary by Martin Doblmeier, Bonhoeffer: Pacifist, Pastor, Nazi Resister (2004), and the movie, Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace (2000).

[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, (New York: Touchstone, 1995), 89.

[2] This paper will focus on Bonhoeffer’s thinking set forth in the following books: Sanctorum Communio: A Theological Study of the Sociology of the Church (MN: Fortress Press, 1998); Christ the Center (New York: Harper & Row, 1978); Ethics (New York: Touchstone, 1995); and Life Together (London: SCM Press, 1954).

[3] Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010), 222.

[4] Ferdinand Schlingensiepen, Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance (New York: T&T Clark, 2010), 411.

[5] Metaxas, 112-113. The German title of the book is Nachfolge. The English translation is Discipleship.

[6] Ibid., 114.

[7] Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), 655.

[8] For more on Bonhoeffer’s transformational experiences in America, see Ruth Zerner’s, “Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s American experiences: people, letters, and papers from Union Seminary.” Union Seminary Quarterly Review 31, no. 4 (June 1, 1976): 261-282.

[9] Schlingensiepen, 242.

[10] Metaxas, 351.

[11] Ibid., 359.

[12] Bethge, 681.

[13] Metaxas, 370.

[14] See Bonhoeffer’s, Letters and Papers from Prison (New York: Touchstone, 1997).

[15] Metaxas, 493.

[16] Schlingensiepen, 378.

[17] Geffrey B. Kelly and F. Burton Nelson, A Testament to Freedom: The Essential Writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (New York: Harper Collins, 1995), 111.

[18] Jeffrey C. Pugh, Religionless Christianity: Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Troubled Times (New York: T&T Clark, 2008), 45.

[19] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Christ the Center (New York: Harper & Row, 1978), 35; Bonhoeffer’s “Christology” lectures were entitled “Christ the Center” in English publications.

[20] Christ the Center, 39.

[21] Ibid., 38.

[22] Kelly and Nelson, 111.

[23] Christ the Center, 50.

[24] Kelly and Nelson, 54.

[25] See Clifford Green, ‘Human sociality and Christian community’, in John W. de Gruchy ed., The Cambridge Companion to Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 122.

[26] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Sanctorum Communio: A Theological Study of the Sociology of the Church (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998), 158.

[27] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (London: SCM Press, 1954), 21.

[28] Life Together, 22-23.

[29] Ibid., 37.

[30] Sanctorum Communio, 202.

[31] Life Together, 101.

[32] Schlingensiepen, 125.

[33] Kelly and Nelson, 130-132.

[34] Bonhoeffer did not begin writing Ethics for another seven years, but his ideas on the relationship between church and state were already moving him to a new position.

[35] Christ the Center, 63.

[36] Metaxas, 155.

[37] Kelly and Nelson, 131.

[38] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics (New York: Touchstone, 1995), 41.

[39] Ibid., 67.

[40] Ibid., 362-363. Christian ethicist, Stanley Hauerwas, discusses this analogy in his article: “Bonhoeffer on truth and politics.” Conrad Grebel Review 20, no. 3 (September 1, 2002): 40-57. For a lengthy discussion on the context of Bonhoeffer’s theological ethics, see: Heinz Eduard Tödt, Authentic Faith: Bonhoeffer’s Theological Ethics in Context (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007).

[41] Metaxas, 366.

[42] James H. Burtness, Shaping the Future: The Ethics of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985), 25.

[43] Stanley Hauerwas, “Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s political theology” (Conrad Grebel Review 20, no. 3 September 1, 2002: 17-39), 19.

[44] For a modern application of Bonhoeffer’s ideas, see David Wellman’s, “Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s ethic of resistance in George W Bush’s America: a call to progressive Christians in the United States.” Union Seminary Quarterly Review 60, no. 1-2 (January 1, 2006): 69-77.


Kingdom Conversations (Faith & Politics)

“Christendom (Christian government, coalitions, institutions, etc.) tries to control morality through civil means because they have failed to uphold the truth in their own assemblies. They have diluted the Gospel and rendered themselves savorless salt. Now they turn to human government to do what the church should have done through Christian influence. The Remnant who takes God at his Word will flourish.” Cup & Cross: An Introduction to Anabaptist History by Michael Martin, 305.

The following blog post is comprised of three responses I recently posted in a conversation that was birthed from the quote above. I have omitted those involved in the conversation and their responses. I am confident that my response will read as a fluid defense of the beliefs behind the quote above. I have pasted this straight from the original posts. If you are interested in reading more on the subject below, please read my blog “Rethinking the Two Kingdoms” and check out the suggested reading.


Thanks for taking the time to join in. I understand where you are coming from. I have given great thought to the perspective that says Christians should use their influence in every aspect of the world, especially in political policies and the shaping of human law. Although I believe at times the line doesn’t seem very clear, I do believe there is a line. And I believe Christ has drawn it for us.

The greatest challenge is asking the Lord to remove the scales of culture and human wisdom from our eyes that we might see his truth. Because I know, Lord, we want to see your truth.

There is something we should make very plain. The Body of Christ is not an institution in any sense of the word. So, I would not say that any blanket statements about the true corporate Body of Christ expressed in local assemblies has been made.

The judgment has been made against those individual misguided believers who involve themselves with worldly institutions that by their very nature call for a denial of the way of the cross and the acceptance of methods that run contrary to the nature of the Gospel (e.g. power-over people instead of power-under, killing enemies, slandering politicians in partisan politics, being a religious zealot, etc.). All of this falls under the name “Christendom.”

Here is where I see the problem, brother. We have compartmentalized our faith by dividing the Gospel message into “salvation for the souls of men” and everything else we subconsciously label “OTHER.”

Therefore, we have embraced a humanistic false gospel that largely proclaims heaven and forgiveness of sin but neglects discipleship and any serious concern for a faith that reflects the very Person of Jesus Christ in all matters of faith. Compared to those believers in my Voice of the Martyrs Magazines, we have tasted little of the Gospel’s power in a New Testament context.

The reason it seems like a good idea for believers to involve themselves in a process that actually runs contrary to the methods of Jesus is because we have chopped up our faith to the point of blindness. We find the Sermon on the Mount unrealistic when it comes to overcoming evil.

Since we have accepted a Gospel that first and foremost is concerned for the “salvation of souls,” we reject any serious considerations of Jesus’ teachings. We read the Gospels and writings such as Romans 12-13 through democratic American glasses.

“We are saved!” we proclaim with enthusiasm. Everything else is fair game it seems. Besides, “we are free” the good ole pastor says, “free by the blood of Christ and soldiers–free to vote–a luxury Jesus didn’t have.” I am heartsick by these things. I am still in shock from the first time I heard them with new ears. It was one among many alarms that went off in my spirit as I made my way out of institutional Christianity.

One quick sweep of the church landscape today will prove that we have given in to the temptation that Jesus resisted with the devil–that is the adoption of the power of the kingdoms of the world and working within its system instead of from without.

It would seem that many Christians would rather bow down and pledge to operate within a corrupted system that asks us to reject the subversive nature of the Kingdom than trust in the foolish ways of Jesus that loves enemies and understands that it is men’s hearts that must change.

It is my belief that we are so far from belief in Jesus’ way that we think it preposterous to be content with it alone. We quickly move from these clear teachings to human wisdom and we do not see how our actions oppose those of Christ.

Finally, I too believe that Christianity ought to influence government. But from outside this wicked fallen system and the methods it uses in its fulfilling God’s will to be agents of wrath. We would do well to read the Gospels in today’s context. We would find that there is little to no difference. We must see Jesus living today.

How does Christ relate to the worldly kingdoms? What does Paul say to these issues in Rom. 12-13 and in the books of Philippians, Colossians, and Ephesians? His language is very political. Yet, if we have embraced a compartmentalized faith and are looking through the lenses of cultural Christianity, we will only see what we have been trained to see and nothing more.

Christ, give us eyes to see and ears to hear. This is my prayer. May we be bold enough to question and brave enough to follow through to where ever Christ leads us. Even if it leads us to a Roman cross.

Do you know how Christians responded to abortion in the first two centuries of our faith? They took the babies that were discarded and cared for them until they died or were grown. They believed in a faith that acted, not a ballot in a polling booth from a person who believes that sin can and should be legislated by the great Beast called Rome.

And as for war, the Lord has always used worldly kingdoms to punish other agents of wrath that get out of hand and pervert justice. He does a fine job without the bombastic ugly Christian getting his hands dirty with worldly agendas and the violation of Christ’s precepts.


Bonhoeffer was right in preaching against the state run church, condemning the actions of the Nazis, helping Jews to escape Nazi persecution, and suffering with Christ in the events leading up to his death in April of 1945. He crossed the line when he took on the methods of fighting evil with evil in his involvement with Hitlers assassination attempt.

This is where I want to share with everyone how I allow Christ’s commands to illuminate the line that runs between the two kingdoms. The line can seem unclear at times. It would appear that many can’t tell the difference between service in the Kingdom of God and the meddling in worldly affairs. So, how do we know what we should and should not be a part of when it comes to civil involvement?

First, I would like to point out that the Scripture seems to indicate that Jesus was not concerned with involving himself directly with civil injustices. He worked the system from outside what Rome was doing. And Jesus lived in a politically hot time! The apostles appear to follow the same order.

In the end, Roman power put Jesus on the cross for his indirect attack on Caesar and the empire by his message. Christ claimed to be a King with a kingdom “not of this world.”

Therefore, it is plain to see from this one episode, Jesus engaged the political powers, but he did so indirectly and from without side the accepted religious and political system. This should come as no surprise. Jesus had decided several years before in the wilderness with the devil that he would not be the sort of Messiah that wins by operating within the worldly kingdoms and their power-over systems.

How do I determine whether or not I will participate and how I will participate in civil affairs? For me… I will not vote or rally the troops to any sort of civic action. Although I am aware of the political climate and I make myself aware of the current events via the media, I keep my distance and pray, “They Kingdom come thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” I pray for the agents of wrath as the Scripture teaches and leave the rest to God. I am to be about the business of letting Christ change men’s hearts as I follow him.

The Word is my sword and his love is my life. Any involvement with the kingdoms of the world by use of their methods of justice… only thwarts the whole Gospel message and confuses Christ’s agenda with a worldly one. Jesus is then lost and put alongside other admirable but non-Christian figures like Ghandi.

I want to say that, for now, I believe there is freedom to follow Christ to a place that may allow SOME to participate on a miniscule level. Still, the commands of Jesus apply to us in every situation. We may only participate in as far as we do not violate Christ’s teachings and the way of the cross. If our participation means a violation of the principles of the Kingdom of God… then clearly we may not participate in an action that contradicts Christ.

Finally, we must not confuse pacifism with what Christ modeled. Pacifism is simply a non-violent direct engagement with the powers that be. Its concern is still political change through direct confrontations and working the system. Ghandi is an example of this kind of direct engagement with the government. Although difficult, a person can still hate his enemies but not believe in violence. Therefore, we must see that Jesus’ teachings do not reflect this sort of “pacifism.”

Jesus loved his enemies and prayed for those that persecuted him so that their hearts would be open to the Kingdom of God. His motivation was not political change, even if it occurred indirectly. His concern was the Kingdom of God–that heaven would begin its slow descent to earth that men might be redeemed and given a new sort of existence.

This kind of life ought to start from the moment of salvation. This is the point where we step out of the kingdoms of the world and into a new way of living that reflects the Kingdom that is already, but not yet.


I have stated my position thoroughly at my blog and in book reviews of “The Myth of a Christian Nation” and Walter Wink’s “Jesus and Non-Violence”—as well as John Piper’s “What Jesus Demands From the World.” Check them out at amazon.

I would like to conclude that I do believe I take it all a step or two further than simply saying there are two kingdoms and we should remember to which one we belong. And I am OK with that. We are both attempting to live within the principles of the Kingdom of God while continuing to question this “healthy suspicion” of the worldly kingdoms. Maybe my ‘suspicion’ has moved to more of an indictment.

I am not prepared to say that across the board a person should withdraw himself from every civic function. However, I would like all to understand my personal perspective. The Christian must be ever-mindful of the luring power the worldly kingdoms have to corrupt the true Gospel message and living.

Most Christians, I believe, will lose their witness to Christ and blur the line of distinction between the kingdoms when they meddle in worldly kingdom affairs of a political nature. It is not enough to simply recognize that there are two kingdoms and that our “primary” concern is the Kingdom of God. I strongly believe that it is our ONLY concern. This is why we can’t afford to stop rethinking the two kingdoms.

Finally, I want to say I believe that the “power-over” nature of man is evident in almost every area of life as we presently know it. I don’t believe that this means we should cease to work for our boss and withdraw to a monastery in the hills. There is no way to fully escape this system on this side of eternity. And I don’t believe the Lord has called us to remove ourselves entirely from this present evil age.

However, I do want to point out this pertinent fact. Christ isn’t casting our jobs, our mortgage, or our insurance into the lake of fire. He casts the devil, the false prophet, and the beast (i.e. Rome).

It is this human government that stands in complete contrast to that Kingdom which is coming. It is in this system that the anti-christ perverts God’s rule and reign. It is in this system that we must never trust, place our hope, boast in pride, or think of fondly. She is not our friend. For in her “was found the blood of the prophets and of saints and of all who have been slain on earth” (Rev. 18:24; see Rev. 18-22).

Rethinking the Two Kingdoms

The first part of this essay is a handful of selected Scriptures. I believe every Christian should read the following Scriptures and ask the Lord to speak to their heart in order that they may be able to discern heavenly truth from worldly passion.

The second part of this essay is what I believe to be the clear application of what we read in the following Scriptures. We must sincerely seek the Lord in these matters. It is a matter that is central to the person and the work of Christ.

Therefore, a close examination is necessary for discipleship. Being an election year, I pray the Lord will open our eyes and help us to see Christ rightly that we might reflect his person and works. May we recognize the great cost in following Jesus and the radical nature of the Gospel in all aspects of our lives.

*Please take time to read the following Scriptures.  It is best to read in one sitting.  Please allow the Lord to open your heart as you read.

Matthew 5
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’
39 But I tell you, Do not resist (Gk: “forcefully resist”) an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
40 And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.
41 If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’
44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?
47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?
48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

John 18
36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

Matthew 4
8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms  of the world and their splendor.
9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

John 12
31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world (i.e. Satan) will be driven out.
32 But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”

Luke 4
5 The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.
6 And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to.
7 So if you worship me, it will all be yours.”
8 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.'”

Revelation 20
7 When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison
8 and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth– Gog and Magog– to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore.
9 They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people (i.e. the church), the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them.
10 And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast (i.e. ROMAN EMPIRE) and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

Revelation 12
9 The great dragon was hurled down– that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.
10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.
11 They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.

Luke 4
42 At daybreak Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them.
43 But he said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.”

3 After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.
21 They preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch,
22 strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said.

Luke 10

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”  30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.

31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.
32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.
34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him.
35 The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

John 13
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Matthew 16
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me (i.e. live the way I am living, do as I am doing).
25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.

1 Peter 2
9 But you (i.e. the church) are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
11 Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.
12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
13 Submit (e.g. in the way of Christ) yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority,
14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.
15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.
16 Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God.
17 Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, (only) honor the king.
18 Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.
19 For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God.
20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.
21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
22 “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”
23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.
24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.
25 For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

Matthew 22
15 Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words.
16 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians (i.e. zealous militants) . “Teacher,” they said, “we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are.
17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me?
19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius,
20 and he asked them, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?”
21 “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s (i.e. taxes), and to God what is God’s (i.e. full allegiance, obedience to Christ).”
22 When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.

Hebrews 11
3 All these people (i.e. the patriarchs, men of faith) were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.
14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.
15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.
16 Instead, they were longing for a better country– a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

Philippians 3
18 For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.

19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach (i.e. feelings/emotions), and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.
20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ,

The words soter (Savior) and euangellion (Gospel) were used by Paul to signify a rebuke against Caesar who used these words to describe himself as “Savior” and what he can do for the Empire as good news or “Gospel”. He writes to the believers in the Roman colony (i.e. retirement home for Roman patriots) of Philippi and deliberately uses language that opposes Rome. He also uses the words “Jesus Christ (messiah, king)” or “Christ Jesus” more than any other time in his epistles. Paul is saying and has said (Rom. 12) that we are in the world, but we are not of it. Our citizenship (loyalties, support, allegiance) rests with Christ.  Our earthly citizenship becomes necessary only for the sake of functioning in the kingdoms of the world and for the advancement of the Gospel (Acts 22:23-29).

Christ is the complete revelation of God’s good will for his people (Col. 2:9; Heb. 8:13). His kingship and kingdom threatens the rule of the kingdoms of the world.  It is no wonder why Paul was treated more harshly in this city of Philippi more than any other in the first-century (Acts 16). His language defied the rule of the present-day empire.

2 Corinthians 10
3 For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.
4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.
5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

Matthew 26
52 “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.

Ephesians 6
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.
11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.
12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place,
15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.
16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.
19 Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel,
20 for which I am an ambassador (i.e. a foreign minister of diplomacy, one who is sent from another place) in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Paul uses physical Roman military attire to describe the spiritual armor and weaponry of the Kingdom of God and the Gospel of peace. It shows the stark contrast in the two kingdoms. It becomes clear that the kingdoms of the world are utterly opposed in practice to the Kingdom of God.

1 Timothy 2
3 Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.
4 No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs– he wants to please his commanding officer.
5 Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules.
6 The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops.
7 Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this.
8 Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel,
9 for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained.
10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.
11 Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him;
12 if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us;
13 if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself.

1 John 2
3 We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands.
4 The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
5 But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him:
6 Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.
7 Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard.
8 Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.
9 Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness.
10 Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble.
11 But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.
15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
16 For everything in the world– the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does– comes not from the Father but from the world.
17 The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.

Revelation 17
14 They (i.e. the nations of the world) will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will overcome them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings– and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers.”

Romans 12
1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God– this is your spiritual act of worship.
2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is– his good, pleasing and perfect will.
9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.
10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.
11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
13 Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.
16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.
18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
20 On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head (i.e. act of kindness leading to repentance).”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 13
8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.
9 The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
10 Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Rethinking the Two Kingdoms: The Cross or the Sword?

It is very important to note what lies between Romans 12 and the end of Romans 13.  Romans 13:1-7 is placed between a very clear description of right Christian living. It is very clear indeed: The Christian life is marked by love, longsuffering, and estrangement.

This charge to mimic the very actions of Christ himself obviously precludes the notion that the Christian can participate in oppressing evil with violence and rule of worldly law (even if that law claims to be God’s). The method of the Kingdom of God is to overcome and destroy evil by going to the root of man’s predicament (i.e. crucifying flesh by the cross of Christ and being made new in his likeness).

This means the Christian loves like Christ in hopes that the sinner will come to repentance (Rom. 2:4). Christ’s love not only opens the door of man’s heart… according to the book of 1 John… its display in our lives is the great indicator to knowing whether or not we belong to him.

The worldly kingdoms or governments are not concerned with why a person does right… only that they obey what is established as right. The rule of worldly kingdoms are necessary only to suppress evil doers and restrain them from bringing the world to utter chaos.  They can never bring about the spiritual renewal that is produced by the Kingdom of God.

It should be very obvious to the believer that participating in the oppression of evil men through worldly kingdom power with violence and law is not the method of Christ. The Christian recognizes the unfortunate necessity of the rule of the kingdoms of the world, yet they know that the Kingdom of God stands in contrast to them all, even to those “peace” loving and “freedom” giving ones.

The Christian should submit to the rule of the kingdoms of the world in the same manner of Christ. The New Testament tells us we are to live at peace with all men as long as it depends on us. We are even to pray for the leaders of the worldly kingdoms.

However, the Christian will clash with the kingdoms of the world when asked to violate a Kingdom of God principle (e.g. killing your enemies instead of loving them, using power-over instead of power-under, etc.).

The Christian, like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego of the OT, will acknowledge that obedience to Christ is supreme. This example is seen in Christ’s actions as well as his followers for the first 200-300 years of church history.

It was not until the rule of Constantine that many professing believers compartmentalized their faith and created doctrines to excuse participation in the power-over rule of the kingdoms of the world.  Yet, there was always a remnant that was faithful to the teachings of Jesus.

They were usually the ones being burnt alive and thrown to the lions in the arena.

The Kingdom of God vs. The Kingdoms of the World

The kingdoms of the world, much like man’s flesh, cannot be redeemed. Satan has power over them; power to manipulate and pervert justice. Therefore, like the flesh, you see a mix of good and evil within every kingdom of the world.

Throughout history you see a constant shifting cycle of good and evil within the kingdoms of the world. There will be nations that do a lot of good and there will be those whose leaders are purely evil. However, it is important to remember that all of the kingdoms of the world are tainted.

God will not bring about the summation of his will by these corrupted kingdoms, but by his church which is proclaiming the eternal reign of the Kingdom of God. The book of Revelation makes it very clear that all the kingdoms of the world (i.e. the Beast) will be cast into the fire with the devil in the end.

Martin Luther was right when he called worldly governments the “Left Hand” of God and the church the “Right Hand.” As time goes on the Lord keeps evil restrained with his sovereign left hand through the use of man’s law. Even as Satan manipulates and controls, the Lord is ultimately sovereign over them.

With his right hand he is doing a completely new work with the church. It is a kingdom not of this world. It’s his new creation. It threatens all other kingdoms with the proclamation of heavenly citizenship and allegiance to the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

As the Christian alternative band Switchfoot sings, “I pledge allegiance to a country without borders… without politicians… watching for my sky get torn apart.”

Christ will return to establish this Kingdom in its entirety very soon. In the meantime, we are caught between the workings of two kingdoms: the kingdoms of the world vs. the Kingdom of God.

The Kingdom of God has broken into the kingdoms of the world and is dismantling them by the upside-down ways of Christ through his church. Yet, the Kingdom is not yet known it its fullness. It is referred to as the “already, but not yet” aspect of the eternal Kingdom of our God and King.

The Christian is to keep these two kingdoms separate in theory and in practice. I regret that Martin Luther did not understand the full implications of this biblical truth. Luther, along with other “reformers,” persecuted other Christians that refused to mix themselves with religion and politics.

An honest assessment of history will prove this fact to be undeniable. It is not enough just to recognize the two kingdoms.  We must choose which one we will give our lives to in participation.

Nationalism: Building Walls Christ Destroyed On the Cross

Throughout world history we have seen some kingdoms of the world do a better job than others when it comes to enforcing “just” law. At other times we have seen men, like Hitler and Stalin, use the kingdoms of the world to wreak havoc and chaos through an unashamed perversion of right and wrong.

It is not hard to see the evil nature in examples such as these. However, we must see that all worldly kingdoms have a level of evil in them. Even the “freedom” giving nations are corrupt, as was Rome and the United States after it. Within these kingdoms are men who use “freedom” as a cover up for evil.

Many in the U.S. claim that America has received God’s favor like no other nation before it. This claim is most definitely made in light of America’s material abundance and references to God on her currency. This is a scary criterion to make this judgment by, no doubt.

This is not the first time a whole nation has believed this. And what is most disturbing about the American Empire is that in its founding it violated the same Scripture that many Christians use to impose upon those Christians who do not wish to involve themselves with politics (e.g. Romans 13:1-2).

The founding of this modern-day empire was built upon rebellion and treason; a rebellion against the governing authorities established by God (i.e. the British Empire). The agendas of all worldly kingdoms are no secret to us who have eyes to see and ears to hear! Their agendas are power and wealth and securing these things in the name of God and peace.

Like the Pax Romana (i.e. Peace of Rome), nations after them have enforced threats and violence to uphold the rule of law and keep this worldly peace; to further its own glory and satisfy its lust for power.

The myth of “redemptive violence” is undoubtedly tied to economic advancement and the furtherance of a particular way of life. It is born out of a tribal mentality that prides itself in natural distinctions and divisions that Christ destroyed on the cross. It is the same thing that fuels racism.

It’s also what produces denominations and the pride that ensues in them. The only difference, patriotism is seen as admirable and encouraged by the masses, racism for the most part is condemned in the public as barbarian (Many do not see that racism and slavery are actually in keeping with what fuels patriotism).

Instead of focusing on color of skin, patriotism is entirely dependent upon what piece of land you were born on. And of course, denominations secretly believe they are better than all others while at the same time holding a uniform front of a love for all creeds.

All of this should be seen rightly in its absolute absurdity! It should be no hard thing for the Christian to see the great gulf that lies between the kingdoms of the world and the Kingdom of God.

For example, asking God to “bless America” is inherently connected to pride and nationalism that Jesus rejected, as well as his followers for the two centuries of the church. It ignores the work of the cross.

Jesus turned the tables on worldly thinking. He said there are only two teams: citizens of the world and citizens of the cross.  Every division and distinction of man (e.g. race, nationality, slave, free, etc.) has been eradicated (Gal.3:28).

The only distinctions the Christian should see are those laid down by Christ himself. The Christian does not see nations (i.e. political entities) that need to be blessed by God. They only see the world and Christ. They see lost mankind and a God who loves everyone irrespective of nationality.

Gregory Boyd writes, “The kingdom of God participant has by love transcended the tribal and nationalistic parameters of whatever version of the kingdom of the world they find themselves in.” He goes on to say, “kingdom of God participants carry the cross, not the sword.” (The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power is Destroying the Church, p.47)

I have lost count of how many times I have heard a professing believer agree that we should love all men of every nation and at the same time tell me they are still proud to be an American, and they think I should move because I am not proud.

I can’t help but wonder who has really placed their allegiance (i.e. unwavering devotion) and trust in Christ. They clearly do not understand what it means to be “in” the world, but not “of” it. In saying this, they prove that there is an unhealthy interest in the world. They do not see things rightly.

The mouth exposes the heart.

We simply cannot hear the betrayal in our words until the Lord Jesus has given us eyes to see and ears to hear. A close and honest examination of the person and work of Christ will cause us to see the veil that has been pulled over our eyes.

As many men have noted in the past, an over-abundance of worldly freedom leads to idolatry and all kinds of wickedness.  Especially when a man is not constrained by the Holy Spirit of God, the flesh is given full power to reign and do whatever is right in his own eyes.

Worldly men that seek any freedom outside of Christ are therefore worshippers of tolerance.  True Christian living will eventually be interpreted as intolerance.

In early Christianity followers of Christ were seen as haters of culture and the empire. But it was not because of the “Religious Right” or some other politically militant agenda that the Empire viewed Christians as haters of society.  It was because early Christians did not live for the advancement of the kingdoms of the world and her temporary pursuits of glory.

Naturally, they were seen as non-violent rebels of the greatest Empire ever to come across the global horizon.

Michael Martin writes,  “Christendom (i.e. Christian government, coalitions, institutions, etc.) tries to control morality through civil means because they have failed to uphold the truth in their own assemblies.  They have diluted the Gospel and rendered themselves savorless salt. Now they turn to human government to do what the church should have done through Christian influence. The Remnant who takes God at his Word will flourish.” (Cup and Cross: An Introduction to Anabaptist History, p.305)

Christian Language in Politics

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.”  Maximus from the movie Gladiator said, “Rome is the light.”  How many times have we heard this language and not been alerted spiritually to the mixing of the two kingdoms?  This language was used early in American history.

America was identified with Israel and their conquest and the Indians were the Canaanites that needed to be wiped out.  Biblical language was infused with politics to arouse the Christians to get involved and support the slaughter of thousands.

This same thing was done to support the American Revolution and in almost every war America has fought. It didn’t matter then, and apparently doesn’t matter now, that the founding fathers were Deists and most of them did not even believe Christ was and is God.

Earthly power and prestige has won the day over meekness and mourning.

Many Christians have disowned their Lord and have chosen to be religious zealots instead of non-violent peacemakers.  Jesus is obviously not enough for some believers.

Is it not enough that Jesus is the light?  Is Rome (i.e. America) the light too?  Can it really be?  Which gospel will we follow? Caesar’s or Jesus’… the way of the cross or the way of the sword?

Religion paired with politics can ignite a patriotism that achieves what no nation has ever achieved. To the flesh this is irresistible!  Even Hitler understood how important it was to have “God” on your side.

Hitler’s troops were often sprinkled with holy water by the priests. He stood for family values and opposed the practice of homosexuality. He was a charismatic leader who spoke of God and restoring Germany to a place of security.

It is safe to say that Nazi Germany could be described as a “Christian” nation whose citizens were indoctrinated by both church and state, and blindly followed all authority figures, political and ecclesiastical.

We might think that Hitler’s actions toward the Jews nullify his good “Christian” deeds, therefore, he can’t be compared to any American president. The Holocaust was no doubt a horrifying event and to this day it stands as a reminder of man’s capability to do the worst evil.

What is most noticeable about the Holocaust is that it all happened at a single point in time. From a biblical perspective, we should see American atrocities strung out over 200 years no differently (e.g. the American Revolution, Manifest Destiny, Vietnam, Iran, Kuwait, Iraq, etc.).

Our inability to see the evil in them all is proof that we have been polluted by a worldly agenda and a nationalistic fervor.  The same evil that fueled Hitler is capable of being born out of our own nationalistic pursuits. The starting place for this great evil is the same for Hitler as it is for all those who passionately live for worldly gain.

Hitler was convinced that the Jews were the evil that needed to be eradicated. Bush believes they are terrorists.  The question we should be asking is, “What does Jesus see?”  Bush may not be of the same evil caliber as Hitler, but he is still an agent of wrath. Who can disagree with this?

The Christian’s response to evil should be much different than those of the government. The Lord has given the authority to the government to be “agents of wrath,” but the church is to be his agents of love.

There is no doubt that politicians today know the benefits that come from invoking the name of God and religion, and they use it to their advantage. Listen and you will hear it even now as the elections approach us. Presidents past and present have invoked religion when it suits their own purposes.

However, when it comes to social morality and true justice, the majority of American politicians are leaving religion at the door.

America does not want anyone telling her how to live. The Christian voice is stifled and ignored in his cry to address issues of ethics and morality. The politicians will use the naïve politically active Christian to get a vote for war because so many have blindly believed that America is favored by God.  They throw them to the lions once they have what they want.

These politicians have adopted Constantine’s methods. Pandering to the ignorant “evangelical” Christian activist can be very advantageous to the kingdom when you need a vote. The 2000 and 2004 election is proof of this.

When it is all said and done the politically active Christian sells his soul expecting to reap a reward of worldly kingdom security, only to find that he denies his Lord by his actions and still suffers the same fate.

It can hardly be denied that our current Caesar’s rule has been made possible by religious zealots who sincerely believe that God has favorite nations and that real Christians can be agents of wrath.

Not long ago, Ronald Reagan took the words of Jesus about his church and used them to apply to this present-day Empire.  He said America, not the church, is a “city on a hill”, a light to the world. The same language is used frequently by the current president.

My question to all of us is, “Which will it be?” Jesus said that we must serve one master. There is no such thing as dual citizenship and keeping one foot in both kingdoms. We will serve one and hate the other.

I can’t love my wife above all others and also love my neighbor’s wife above all others. Neither can I have competing allegiances with the Lord Jesus Christ.

No matter what we may think and how we may justify disobeying Christ’s commands, this is an accurate portrayal of the situation before us now. His commands are clear and to him alone ought we to pledge our allegiance.  We make no promises to this worldly kingdom.

We are loyal to Christ alone and his precepts.

Early Christian Beliefs

Many professing believers across the religio-political landscape claim to have God’s perspective on the matter as they twist Scriptures and proof-text in order to support civil action. It is very disturbing to see how many professing believers practice their faith in Christ. Especially when compared to the lives of the early Christians.

What were Christians saying before the merging of church and state in the fourth century? What were the practices of the disciples of the disciples? How did they live out Kingdom principles before the “Christianizing” of empires? How political were they?

The following quotes are taken from “A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs” by David W. Bercot:

In “Letter to Diognetus” (c. 125-200 AD.), 1.27 “Christians obey the prescribed laws. In fact, they actually surpass the laws by their lives.”

“The Caesars too would have believed on Christ, if either the Caesars had not been necessary for the world, or if Christians could have been Caesars.” Tertullian (c. 197 AD, W), 3.35

“In us, all ardor in the pursuit of glory and honor is dead. So we have no pressing inducement to take part in your public (civic) meetings. Nor is there anything more entirely foreign to us than affairs of the state.” Tertulilian (c.197 AD, W), 3.45.

“Civil laws are one thing, which varies everywhere according to customs. However, justice is another thing—which God has set forth uniformly and simply to all.” Lactantius (c. 304-313 a.d.)

“God imposed upon mankind the fear of man, for mankind did not acknowledge the fear of God. So He did this in order that, being subjected to the authority of men, and kept under restraint by their law, mankind might obtain some degree of justice. They might exercise mutual forbearance through dread of the sword…Earthly rule, therefore, has been appointed by God for the benefit of nations.” Irenaeus (c. 180 AD, E/W), 1.552

“Examine then, and see if God is not the dispenser of kingdoms. For He is Lord both of the world that is ruled and of the man who rules. See if He has ordained the changes of dynasties, with their appointed seasons… See if the rise and fall of states are not His work, under whose sovereignty the human race once was without states at all.” Tertullian (c. 197 AD, W), 3.35.

Justin Martyr (160 AD) writes, “We who formerly murdered one another now refrain from making war even upon our enemies.”

“We have learned not to return blow for blow, nor to go to law with those who plunder and rob us. Instead, even to those who strike us on one side of the face, we offer the other side also. Athenagoras (c. 175 AD, E), 2.129.

Finally, listen to John’s account of the angel who spoke of the end of Babylon (i.e. Rome, worldly kingdoms):

NIV Revelation 18:1 “After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven. He had great authority, and the earth was illuminated by his splendor.  2 With a mighty voice he shouted: “Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great! She has become a home for demons and a haunt for every evil spirit, a haunt for every unclean and detestable bird.  3 For all the nations have drunk the maddening wine of her adulteries. The kings of the earth committed adultery with her, and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries.”

4 Then I heard another voice from heaven say: “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues; 5 for her sins are piled up to heaven, and God has remembered her crimes. 6 Give back to her as she has given; pay her back double for what she has done. Mix her a double portion from her own cup.

7 Give her as much torture and grief as the glory and luxury she gave herself. In her heart she boasts, ‘I sit as queen; I am not a widow, and I will never mourn.’  8 Therefore in one day her plagues will overtake her: death, mourning and famine. She will be consumed by fire, for mighty is the Lord God who judges her.  9 “When the kings of the earth who committed adultery with her and shared her luxury see the smoke of her burning, they will weep and mourn over her. 10 Terrified at her torment, they will stand far off and cry: “‘Woe! Woe, O great city, O Babylon, city of power! In one hour your doom has come!’

11 “The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes any more– 12 cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones and pearls; fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet cloth; every sort of citron wood, and articles of every kind made of ivory, costly wood, bronze, iron and marble; 13 cargoes of cinnamon and spice, of incense, myrrh and frankincense, of wine and olive oil, of fine flour and wheat; cattle and sheep; horses and carriages; and bodies and souls of men.

14 “They will say, ‘The fruit you longed for is gone from you. All your riches and splendor have vanished, never to be recovered.’ 15 The merchants who sold these things and gained their wealth from her will stand far off, terrified at her torment. They will weep and mourn 16 and cry out: “‘Woe! Woe, O great city, dressed in fine linen, purple and scarlet, and glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls!

17 In one hour such great wealth has been brought to ruin!’ “Every sea captain, and all who travel by ship, the sailors, and all who earn their living from the sea, will stand far off.  18 When they see the smoke of her burning, they will exclaim, ‘Was there ever a city like this great city?’

19 They will throw dust on their heads, and with weeping and mourning cry out: “‘Woe! Woe, O great city, where all who had ships on the sea became rich through her wealth! In one hour she has been brought to ruin!  20 Rejoice over her, O heaven! Rejoice, saints and apostles and prophets! God has judged her for the way she treated you.'”  21 Then a mighty angel picked up a boulder the size of a large millstone and threw it into the sea, and said: “With such violence the great city of Babylon will be thrown down, never to be found again. 2

2 The music of harpists and musicians, flute players and trumpeters, will never be heard in you again. No workman of any trade will ever be found in you again. The sound of a millstone will never be heard in you again. 23 The light of a lamp will never shine in you again. The voice of bridegroom and bride will never be heard in you again. Your merchants were the world’s great men. By your magic spell all the nations were led astray. 24 In her was found the blood of prophets and of the saints, and of all who have been killed on the earth.”

In my opinion, this is the most frightening passage in all of Scripture. It speaks of the end of the power and glory of the empires past, present, and future.  This not only refers to John’s day (i.e. Rome), but every generation the church enters.

Without going too far into eschatology and getting lost in stupid debates about dates and so forth… I will only say that this much is not up for discussion:  The Lord will crush the kingdoms of the world which persecuted God’s people!

“In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.” Daniel 2:44

At this time we will see the earth destroyed by fire and the heavenly city coming down out of heaven to the new purified earth. What a wonderful reality we will know soon. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess, “Jesus Christ is Lord.” Everything will be exposed. Nothing will be hidden.

Terrorist will no longer hide in caves and presidents will no longer profane the name of God by wicked deeds done in secret. All will be weighed on this: works done in the flesh and those done through the person of Christ. Nations will no longer matter and status will be irrelevant. Those things done out of the flesh for the power and glory of man will fade, only those who are found faithful in Christ will overcome.

Follow Christ

So then, how did Christ respond to the evil of his day? How do we identify ourselves as “overcomers”? We are supposed to confront evil the way he did and do as he did in every area of life (1 Jn. 2:6).

I believe the actions and reactions of Christ to his day should be displayed in every realm of our day as well. At the same time, we recognize that this means there are some things that are off limits to the Christian. We recognize that in participating with agents of wrath, we violate Kingdom of God principles.

The problem I see is where Christians are participating in things of the world that do not concern them. It is there they are asking, “How can I be Christ here?” The answer may be, “Christ would never even be there to begin with.”

For example: Christ was into politics, however it wasn’t through working the system. It was through working against it. Christ had much to say about the empire of his day, but it was from the outside of that empire. When he finally did directly engage the empire he did a treasonous thing by proclaiming himself the ruler of all things, for this he was crucified.

If Christians were to live like Christ, their outcome might be very similar. Yet from what I see, those believers who work the political landscape of the empire today from the inside, lose their authentic Christian influence and never experience the same rejection Christ did.

The real Christ is never seen in these people because they have violated Kingdom principles and joined themselves with the kingdoms of the world. They are trying to do good things by working the system instead of working against the system by way of the cross of Christ. They are joining the “oppressors” of evil and have refused to follow the way of the “defeater” of evil.

The ways of the Kingdom of God are upside-down and unattractive to those who do not know the power of salvation!

We must study Christ’s actions to the issues of his day. We then must carry that over into our modern day circumstances. The Spirit will then guide us into all things Christian. We should rest in the peace of knowing that Christ lives in us!

The first step is in discerning between the two kingdoms. The Christian has entered in to the Kingdom of God and has forsaken the ways of the kingdoms of this world. We now are to trust in the “foolishness” of the cross and the way of Christ.

Even when it appears that the methods of the agents of wrath are more effective. We know the truth to their purpose and their calling. It is in this recognition that we will be able to clearly articulate the Kingdom of God to a world that is consumed with itself.

Christian, trust the way of the cross, not the sword. Begin professing today, “Jesus is Lord, Caesar is not.”  Then go and walk in the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

“Empire, learning, and religion have in past ages been traveling from east to west, and this continent (America) is their last western state… Here then is God erecting a stage on which to exhibit the great things of His kingdom.” Thomas Brockaway, (1784 AD).

“For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption and the forgiveness of sins.”  Paul, Col. 1:13-14

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Paul, Col. 1:13-20

“And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” Paul, Col. 2:15

Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” Jesus, Jn. 14:27

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.”  Jesus, Jn. 15:18-19

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  Jesus, Jn. 16:33


“The Gospel of the Kingdom: Scriptural Studies in the Kingdom of God” by George Eldon Ladd

The Upside-Down Kingdom” by Donald Kraybill

“God is Not… Religious, Nice, “One of Us”, an American, a Capitalist” by Brent Laytham

“The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power is Destroying the Church” by Gregory A. Boyd

“Jesus for President” by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw

“Jesus and Empire: The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder” by Richard A. Horsley

“Cross and Community: Philippians as Pauline Political Discourse” by Jeph Holloway  (published in Christian Ethics Today Issue 042 www.christianethicstoday.com)

“Resident Aliens” by Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon

“The Politics of Jesus” by John Howard Yoder

“Mere Discipleship: Radical Christianity in a Rebellious World” by Lee Camp

“Do Followers of Jesus Fight?: A Bible Inquiry” (Benchmark Press) by Edward Yoder

“Breaking the Code: Understanding the Book of Revelation” by Bruce Metzger

Religionless Christianity

“…you and I will never be Christians, or servants of the Lord, in real spiritual life and effectiveness beyond the measure of our inward apprehension of the Lord Jesus.” T. Austin Sparks, The Centrality and Supremacy of the Lord Jesus Christ, 10

Why are we wasting precious time and energy attempting to answer the problems with the church today by tweaking the old paradigms?  We ask the wrong questions within a broken and flawed model of the church that Constantine built.  Our problems grow greater still. We must begin asking the right questions.  We must allow the Lord to exchange our old paradigms for new ones.

This sort of revolution will only come by us truthfully asking the Lord to give us the right questions and reveal to us the true knowledge of his Son Jesus Christ. How do we know which questions are wrong and right?  How is it possible for old paradigms to be crushed underneath the feet of brave revolutionaries?  The Scripture is the key because Christ is the treasure within it.

The written word of God unlocks the living Word of God who is Christ Jesus our Lord. Ultimately, He is the answer we are looking for. He is the pursuit of our hearts whether we recognize it or not. Unfortunately, too often, believers stop short of their purpose for living. They settle for some other passion other than the master. The answer is not found in a method, movement, or post-modern program.  It is not found in 12 steps, purpose-driven products, or some other religious gimmick published by Zondervan. It is Christ; he is the answer to our problems in the church today.

So, in order to see a biblical image of Christ we must ask questions which are biblically sound instead of denominationally or culturally colored with bias and misconception.  We must forsake everything else but Christ. Dietrich Bonhoeffer stated it best when he said, “Besides Jesus nothing has any significance. He alone matters.” The Cost of Discipleship, 59

Question Everything

When we speak of religion… our concern first and foremost must be, “What does the Scripture say about religion?” We can say a lot of nice, fanciful, and deep philosophical things for and against religion and we can seek to answer our problems by continually asking the wrong questions. When we do not ask the right questions we will most certainly get the wrong answers.

We must leave the realm of the familiar in order to ask the right questions. If we do not leave the familiar, we will continue to ask the same kinds of wrong questions that only lead to a reform of dead religion instead of a revolutionizing answer that brings a radical return to Christ. The only way to have a revolution in thought and practice is to leave the familiar and seek answers outside the previously accepted beliefs and practices of the majority. We must question everything believing that there are answers. Some see this as evil, yet I find it is most productive in the honest pursuit of truth.

To not question, is to accept unexamined truth claims.  To accept unexamined truth claims, even truly biblical ones, would be the same as accepting a lie. In other words, you are taking another person’s digested information and making it your own. If you were to do this with food you would see a very disgusting problem. You chew your own food and digest it yourself. It would be unhealthy, to say the least, if you were to make a habit of swallowing every “truth” that came to you from your “leaders” without first chewing on it and digesting it yourself.  When it comes to spiritual things we are referring to discernment, personal study, and personal experience. The healthy spiritual man will not only discern whole pieces of doctrine, but the words we use to describe our faith.

The one who divides the Word of truth correctly is the one who will go outside his preconceived notions to let the Lord speak whatever he so desires.  Even when it means redefining words in our language or to stop using certain words altogether.

The point I am making is this: If truth is to be discovered, the believer must offer everything up and be willing to let the Lord reveal things that previously were hidden and closed; letting go of previously held understandings so that the Lord may bring new understanding as he sees fit.

The Lord must have your preconceived ideas in order to give you his sight in return.  We must surrender everything be willing to let the Lord tell us we were wrong before he can show us the light of his wisdom. If we do not allow the Lord to do this we will continue to ask the wrong questions and keep getting the wrong answers.  We will fall short like so many men in the history of the church.

Defining Religion

Religion is something we hear spoken of in good and in evil ways.  I recently read a book entitled, When Religion Becomes Evil by Charles Kimball. Obviously, the author believes there are benefits to religion when it is not evil.

The author even went so far to claim that Islam worships the same God of Judaism and Christianity. He believes all religion is capable of bringing about peace in the world.  At the same time, he spoke of the exclusive way of salvation through Jesus Christ. See anything wrong here?

He has asked the wrong questions in his book because he does not allow for a redefining of religion.  Among his many problems, he has a preconceived belief that religion is not inherently evil in itself (i.e. religion is not the problem), and that religion is good or evil, true or false. He will inevitably come up with wrong answers because he is not allowing everything to be questioned specifically, his biblical understanding of religion. It is important that we understand there are several different ways of understanding what is meant by religion.

The popular understanding of religion is found on the lips of the majority today. They speak of religion to describe worshippers of a particular deity or devotion to a set of beliefs and ideas. Webster defines religion this way, “belief in a supernatural power… an objective pursued with fervor or continuous devotion.”

Most professing Christians, ignorant of church history, would describe Christianity as a “religion.” They of course would say it is the only “true religion.”

Learning a Religionless Christianity

I do not consider myself religious in any sense of the word and I make a concerted effort to learn of a “religionless Christianity.” I like to go so far as to distinguish the difference between the religious and the faithful; those committed to man’s unnatural rituals and laws vs. those committed to the natural faith of Christ. My heart longs for this distinction not to be cliché and clever “God talk,” but to sincerely be something totally set apart from man’s religion and our modern American “pop-culture” Christianity. I, along with many others in my generation, seek a faith of Christ free from all forms of religion that threaten to contaminate the natural faith of Christ and the communal Body life that is to ensue around it.

We must know that all religion contaminates that natural faith and Body life. Even religion that claims Christ is at the center.What is false religion? In the past, we have been conditioned to respond in the following ways, “Well, it is Islam… it is Buddhism… it is Mormonism… etc.”  Again, this is thinking inside the box. This reflects culture’s definition. We must speak a new language! Claiming that Christianity is the only true religion is unbiblical. You will not find it in the Bible.

So, what does the Bible say? Some may quickly quote James, “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.” At first glance, we might think James is condoning some kinds of religious activity. Yet, a second look, I believe, will reveal that James has absolutely nothing good to say about religion.

As a matter of a fact, the way in which he mentions it is to really tell of its true worth. He goes on to say, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: TO LOOK AFTER ORPHANS AND WIDOWS IN THEIR DISTRESS AND TO KEEP ONESELF FROM BEING POLLUTED BY THE WORLD.” (James 1:26-27)

This is the only place in the New Testament where the word thrēskos (“religious”) is used. According to the Expositor’s Bible Commentary, the adjective describes “a person who performs the external acts of religion, such as public worship, fasting, or giving to the needy.” Another source refers to the word as meaning, “the ceremonial service of religion.” It has been used in Greek to speak of the practices of Egyptian priests. The noun form of the word appears but four times in the N.T., two of which are here in James.

The other two times the word can be found in Acts 26:5 and 1 Timothy 5:4. In each case, the word “religion” is not used favorably. It would be accurate to paraphrase James as saying, “Religion is in fact worthless. It is man’s outward display of works done in the flesh (i.e. looking the part, attending services, being seen by the world, etc.). The faith that the Lord approves of is FAITH PROVING ITSELF BY WORKS BORN OF THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST.”

These works born of the Spirit will largely go unnoticed. For example… caring for widows and keeping your mouth shut when you have nothing to say that will edify… this is real faith in action! You will not find these works on a billboard, but you will find them showing up on the radar of God.

Therefore, the normal Christian life springs from an inward spiritual reality that is expressed in love and purity. Religion is only concerned about those things which are external (i.e. the outward appearance).

Furthermore, religion claims it can effect the internal by way of external modifications. This is not the method that Jesus taught. Who were the examples of the religious in James’ day?  You know them as the Pharisees and Sadducees, the Essenes, and the Zealots.

There is little doubt that James was indeed thinking about these kinds of religious people. This was his context. Continue reading James and this will become clear.  It is the faith of Christ (commonly taught as “faith in Christ”) that is true. It produces real spiritual life that is made manifest by not only listening to the Word, but doing what it says (James 1:22). Our faith is the sum of all spiritual things: Christ Jesus our Lord!

Nothing else is needed but a natural out-flowing of that faith in our lives and in our lives joined with other Christians in the church. Religion is concerned with doing, the authentic faith of Christ is concerned with being. If you will look around you today, you will notice there are many Christians attempting to do great things for the Lord, but have little concern for the actual knowing of Christ and being an extenuation of his person.

The Natural Faith of Christ

Religion trains people to think about the doing.  The New Testament speaks about the being. For example, I bet your evangelistic practices have been influenced by religion to a large degree. Instead of simply being Christ naturally by showing love in lifestyle evangelism… many have resorted to a “in your face” non-stop display of religious solicitation. Many Christians learn an outline, similar in style to a salesman, and only regurgitate it for their client. Is this not unnatural?

When the Lord’s people begin with their primary purpose as doing for Christ, they will fail to ever reach the most important aspect of the faith: being Christ! They will devise many forms of unnatural religious practices and they ultimately will not be able to say with Paul, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Phil. 1:21) They will continue to resort to scheduled “quiet times” and Avon evangelism.  And this is only the beginning of the nasty fruits produced by religious thinking.  If the faith of Christ is ever to be expressed naturally, religion has to go!

Finally, did Jesus say anything about religion? Well, he never gave a discourse over comparative religion, nor did he attempt to build a case that Christianity is the only true religion. However, he did say many things to those who believe themselves to be religious. From these things we see Jesus’ attitude toward religion. In Matthew 6:5 Jesus refers to these religious men as “hypocrites” and that they like to be “seen by men” on the street corners.

In Matthew 22:23-33, Jesus tells the religious Sadducees, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.” Remember, Jesus said this to the religious of the religious. He said this to those conservatives and moderates who loved for their presence to be known on the street corners and in the synagogues. These men were highly regarded and respected by the worshippers of God.  And Jesus tells them, “You don’t know the Scriptures.” I believe this reveals the very root of the problem today. Many Christians have relied upon the denominational interpretations of the religious and have rejected the simple plain teachings from those whom the religious have discarded.

Primarily, we have rejected Jesus as being all-sufficient for life and living.  We have failed to discover the endless depths and riches that are found in Christ.  It is much easier to follow the seen instead of the person and the works of the unseen; instead of following the one who asks us to do better than obey some rules, but deny himself that he may live. (Matt. 19:16-24)  Jesus said it will not be on a particular mountain or temple that we will worship (Jn. 4:21-24), not a location or a building, but an attitude of the heart and a place of the Spirit. The Lord rejects the outward display of hypocrites, but says, “Well done!” to the faithful servant who has left all to sit around his feet in natural familial community.

Religious Christianity believes dominance, power, and visible presence is the way by which Christianity wins triumphantly.  Religionless Christianity is in no need of pagan rituals and edifices; no need of political power and the desire to conquer by baptizing the cultural.  Religionless Christianity is relational Christianity.  This faith is simple and its power comes from love and sacrifice.

Are we to say that all religious people are hypocrites? Not exactly. They may be true sincere followers of the Lord only involved in the activities of hypocrites because that’s all they know. They have grown up being taught that religion is a necessary function of ministry in this new and “post-modern” age.

Nicodemus is an example of a religious man, yet a sincere lover of God. He was practicing what he truly believed was the Lord’s will for his people.  Jesus challenged him in his understanding of spiritual things in John 3.

We do not know for certain what happened to Nicodemus after the resurrection, but we do know what happened to another religious Pharisee named Saul. And this man was a Hebrew of the Hebrews, the religious of the religious. Saul of Tarsus left it all to follow Christ into uncharted territory free from religion’s chains! He traded his religion for a faith of Christ that is natural. His aim was no longer serving the letter of the law, but to knowing the “power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow to attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Phil. 3:10-11)

Embracing Religionless Christianity

Therefore, we must say with boldness and confidence, “Religion is rooted in the pride of man finding worth in himself apart from the simple way of knowing and being satisfied with the person of Christ.” It is really an English double negative to say, “false religion” for it can be nothing more or less. All religion is counterfeit life.

Can you imagine how our conversations would change if we would adjust our language and living to this truth? Never again would you tell someone from another religious devotion, “Christianity is the only true religion.”  Doing this would only continue the never-ending cycle of religious talk. You would say nothing new and absolutely nothing that would reveal your true identity: You do not belong to the world! Your faith founded in Christ is out of this world. This is not theoretical talk, but the true language of the alien, stranger, sojourner, and follower of the King whose kingdom is coming!

Religionless Christianity is a return to the simple faith of Christ. It is the only way to communicate who we truly are to a world filled with religion. The world has enough of religion.  It needs true citizens of the eternal kingdom to show it her King. May the Lord keep us from being polluted by the world.  Lord, help us to embrace your person that your life may naturally flow from our spirits.

Note: I have borrowed the phrase “religionless Christianity” from Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  I believe many have misunderstood this phrase.  I’m not sure that Bonhoeffer himself even had a full understanding of what this “religionless Christianity” implies for Christians living in community.  We would do well to ask the Lord to reveal to us its true meaning and begin a much needed dialogue on spiritual revolution instead of religious reformation.

D.D. Flowers, 2008.

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