Thursday, November 29, 2012

With the Cross of Jesus, Marching on Before

In situations of conflict Christians often find themselves accomplices in war, rather than agents of peace. We find it difficult to distance ourselves from our selves and our own culture and so we echo its reigning opinions and mimic its practices. As we keep the vision of God's future alive, we need to reach out across the firing lines and join hands with our brothers and sisters on the other side. We need to let them pull us out of the enclosure of our own culture and its own peculiar set of prejudices so that we can read afresh the “one Word of God.” In this way we might become once again the salt to the world ridden by strife.  -Volf, Miroslav (2010-03-01). Exclusion & Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation (p. 54). Abingdon Press. 
Volf's book is a sometimes meandering read, but it's given me occasion to think about what the scriptures teach Christians about priority.  In particular, it is helping me to consider how we as Western Churches respond to events in the East.  I will not engage in political commentary, but there is an issue of Christian faith which requires consideration.

After failing to found a cohesive community at Athens with his eloquent preaching, the Apostle Paul moved on to Corinth determined to preach only one thing:  "Jesus Christ, and him crucified."  In the simple statement we see that the cross is the foundation of the Christian community (Volf, p. 47).  It defines who belongs to the community, and the basis for interpersonal relationships within the community.

The community requires primary allegiance from members.  "If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple," Jesus said (Luke 14:26).  All other relationships are formed at the behest of the Cross.  We honor our father and mother because it is the way of the cross.  We love our wife and our earthly family because the cross leads us to love.  All of our relationships are restored and prioritized by the cross.  "Love one another," the cross calls to us, and so we love.

And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, 
"Behold My mother and My brothers!"

The cross establishes our relationships with the secular world as well.  We are told to live quiet lives, to submit to the governing authorities, and to honor the King.  In the modern context, this means that we should be good citizens, but we are reminded that our Kingdom is not of this world.  Our citizenship bows to and serves the cross.  There is only one Church, which spans all cultures, through the suffering of Christ on the cross (Volf, p. 51).

Nowhere is this more relevant than the relationship between Churches in cultures that are in conflict.  When there is a clash of cultures or nations, Christians must first look across the conflict and find those members of our Church that are on the other side.  The first allegiance is always to the cross, and to our community founded upon it.  Opposing the "enemy" must be secondary to embracing our brethren.

In the context of the Arab world, western Churches must realize that they have communities of Christian brothers and sisters in many nations of the region.  While we might be quick to support Christians in the pro-western countries, Christians living in "pariah states" and the "axis of evil" are no less deserving of our love and faithfulness, and of our embrace.

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