Those attempting to make this argument think this to be pretty ironclad. This seals the deal for many as the reason not to follow Christ. But is this as ironclad as it may appear? I recentfinished Miroslav Volf's latest book, A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good, and in it Volf touches on this topic. Volf teaches theology at Yale Divintiy School.
Throughout the book he describes essentially two errors that Christians fall into when publicly engaging the world. The first error is what Volf calls "idleness." This is the engagement which is actually a lack of engagement. The person who says "My faith is a private thing that shouldn't involve others" is an example of idleness. Another example could be the politician who when asked the question "How will your faith effect how you lead?" and they respond "My faith will not effect how I lead." The idle person professes faith but they do not engage the culture.
The other extreme that Volf draws attention to is "coerciveness." Essentially this is when a believer attempts to force their faith onto a non-believer. This can take place in numerous ways. One example from the history of America involves the West-ward expansion and the Native Americans. In certain instances the expansionists forced the Native Americans to profess faith in Christ or be killed.
Volf reminds us that Jesus and the early church were not idle, nor were they coercive. In fact, as he points out, "an unbiased reading of the story of Jesus Christ gives no warrant for such perpetration of violence" or idleness. Jesus and the early church never forced their faith on others. Also, they never refrained from public engagement of the faith as well. Volf goes on to remind us:
If there is a danger in the story of the cross in relation to violence, it is that it might teach mere acquiescence to be mistreated by others, not that it might incite one to abuse. Whenever violence was perpetrated in in the name of the cross, the cross was depleted of its "thick" meaning within the larger story of Jesus Christ and "thinned" down to a symbol of religious belonging and power - and the blood of those who did not belong flowed as Christians transmuted themselves from followers of the Crucified to imitators of those who crucified him (pg. 48).The words of the apostle Peter, who was an eyewitness to Jesus' trial, are a powerful reminder and corrective for Christ-followers:
"To this [suffering] you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 'He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.' When they hurled there insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly" (1 Peter 2:21-23, NIV).Christ-followers are called to love the world. Jesus said this is how the world would know that we are his people. Jesus also told his disciples that love means laying down your life for another. How is violence under the sign of the cross laying down one's life?
In the next post we'll look more at the issue of violence as a misuse of the Christian faith.