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Biblical text from the Gospel of Matthew found fused to metal from the World Trade Center wreckage at Ground Zero in Manhattan. “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

Biblical text from the Gospel of Matthew found fused to metal from the World Trade Center wreckage at Ground Zero in Manhattan. “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

Retraction and Correction – Page 228

Obtainable Expectations: Timely Exposition on the Sermon on the Mount

Please strike over and disregard the entirety of the second full paragraph on page 228 of my Sermon on the Mount book. It is rubbish I wrote in 2003. This book was written over of a couple decades and there are several places where I’d say things differently today. However, the issue I correct here is so central at the very the summit of the mount it cannot stand uncorrected. There is no section of the Bible like here at the summit of the mount (enemy love) where corporately, Christians contort themselves more to get out from underneath its demands. Here we come to the second of the two main issues of interpretation with regard to the Sermon on the Mount. The first being, is it liveable? Is it an obtainable standard? The entire thesis of this book is absolutely, it is liveable and obtainable. The second issue then becomes who is it for, an individual believer or also for Christian’s corporately, including nations seeking to adhere to Judeo-Christian values? If you want a more developed article on non-retaliation go to my essay: Love as a Foreign Policy: September 11 and Turning the Other Cheek (pdf alert, 11,000 words). One of the first questions I get on this is; what about self-defence, what about defending the nation?? This article is about retaliation and to whom the non-retaliation commandment applies. If that is not kept in mind one will misunderstand and misrepresent my argument. The following constitutes the corrections I wish to make in place of the disregarded paragraph.

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Christians quickly hide behind Romans 13 arguing God gives governments the power of the sword. Romans 13 does say just that, except the passage does not say God agrees with and sanctions every pagan governments decided use of the sword. And most certainly, Paul was not telling Christians that they are justified to forsake the path of mercy and love if and when they one day assume positions of power. Why then are so many Christians today defending the values of pagan Romans and the ethics of Nero? Perhaps it should be the case that governments in the Christian sectors of the world are based more on the ethics of Jesus rather than on the ethics of Nero. It is remarkable how much weight Christians throughout the centuries have given to this eisegesis of Romans 13:4. Somehow it outweighs fifty verses from Jesus on showing mercy and love.

Retreating to a bifurcated interpretation of “turn the other cheek,” in that it applies to Christians interpersonally but not to Christians corporately and politically, is to entirely miss all that the Apostle Paul underscored in the chapter immediately before Romans 13, chapter twelve. Chapter 12 of Romans reads much like the Sermon on the Mount;  “Love must be sincere… Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse… Do not repay anyone evil for evil… 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. 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.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  Those were Paul’s instructions immediately prior to his Romans 13 statement on Christians living submissively under pagan governments (whom God has delegated the power of the sword). There is no caveat that they do not apply to the Christian later, if and when they find themselves in positions of power and political authority.

There is no caveat that these divine strategies of responding to hate and hurt with love and responding to evil with good only work on a small scale. My contention here is those who have been faithful and obedient in smaller situations can be entrusted with the same in larger situations. Jesus never differentiated between loving a neighbour and loving a neighbouring nation.** Effectually it is as if we believe Jesus said “These are some strategies that I commend to you for little matters. Honestly, for the more complex conflicts I have nothing for you in terms of heavenly wisdom or strategy so go ahead and ‘do unto them what they’ve do unto you’ and I’m okay with whatever response seems and feels right for you at the time. Not to worry, forgiveness comes easy with me, and grace cheap.”

**Leo Tolstoy settles this centuries-old, unnecessary uncertainty with a simple appeal to the words Jesus used and what they would have meant to his original hearers. “…[N]eighbour in the Hebrew language meant, invariably and exclusively, ‘a Hebrew.’” Considering the lengths he went to describe the thoroughness of his study of these words, that he seems to imply Jesus spoke this originally in Hebrew, not Aramaic, is peculiar. His justification may be it is the same word and meaning as in Luke 10:29 where the “neighbour” is a Samaritan– someone a Hebrew would have clearly not regarded as a neighbour. Finding the same meaning in Acts 7:27, his conclusion is “‘neighbour’ in Gospel language, means a compatriot, a person belonging to the same nationality…. And so the antithesis used by Jesus in the citation, ‘love thy neighbour, hate thine enemy,’ must be in the distinction between the words ‘compatriot’ and ‘foreigner.’” Tolstoy contended his supposition was further confirmed when seeking the Jewish understanding of enemy. “The word enemy is nearly always employed in the Gospels in the sense, not of a personal enemy, but, in general, of a ‘hostile people.’” His citations are Luke 1:71,74; Matthew 22, Mark 12:36 and Luke 20:43. Based on the words Jesus used, Tolstoy’s conclusion is that it is not possible that Jesus intended his teaching to be applicable only on the interpersonal level. [Source: Tolstoy, Leo. My Religion–What I Believe. (Guildford, UK: White Crow Productions Ltd, 2009 reprint of the 1884 text), 72.]

4/2016, SH

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This is a repost of an article I did for the Justice House of Prayer in Washington, D.C.

Today we call it a global prayer movement. For centuries it was referred to as monasticism. Today we call them Houses of Prayer, or HOPs. For centuries they have been called monasteries. We call ourselves intercessory missionaries. For centuries our types were known as monks. At every point and place where Christianity came into crisis or compromise, God raised up a prayer movement, a new monasticism or faithful praying remnant to ensure that discipleship, grace and the Gospel were kept pure.

Most notably in the third century when Christianity became easy, grace cheap and the path wide, holy men and women went out into the dry places and deserts to die to self, stay pure, to encounter God, to learn to love him and obey, radically obey. Following the collapse of the Roman Empire into the Medieval Period it was the monks of Ireland who literally saved civilization (Good read: How the Irish Saved Civilization, Thomas Cahill).

Hung by his neck in a German concentration camp, pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s vision of “a new monasticism” also suffered an early martyrdom of sorts. Eight years earlier Bonhoeffer was leading an underground seminary in a chilly remote place called Finkenwalde. There he taught what we we know today as his Cost of Discipleship, much of which is a commentary on the Sermon on the Mount. There he and his students lived in community the daily rhythms of life and prayer which is spelled out for us in his short book Life Together.

finkenwalde

Dietrich Bonhoeffer with students at Finkenwalde Seminary

In a earlier letter to his brother Karl-Friedrick, he made a very prophetic and important statement that many of us have adopted today as our guiding charge.

The renewal of the church will come from a new type of monasticism which only has in common with the old an uncompromising allegiance to the Sermon on the Mount. It is high time people banded together to do this. (14th of January, 1935)

For Bonhoeffer, the Finkenwalde rule included life together in authentic Christian community, or in his words, banding together. In a 1936 letter to the Finkenwalde community, Bonhoeffer noted that it also included “assembling together every day in the old way to pray, to read the Bible, and to praise our God…” This illegal seminary at Finkenwalde was both a school of prayer and a singing seminary; the daily prayer rhythms and worship life of ancient monastic orders he revived in fresh form. The foundation of the curriculum was “The Discipleship of Christ” as given in the Sermon on the Mount.

The next generation of pastors, these days, ought to be trained entirely in church-monastic schools where pure doctrine, the Sermon on the Mount, and worship are taken seriously–none of which are at the university and cannot be under the present circumstances. (DBWE 13, 1/147, 217)

Bonhoeffer became captivated by and fascinated with Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as the expectation Christ had of his followers. Bonhoeffer saw “these words of mine” in Matthew 5-7 as foundational for the Christian life and putting them into practice to be the key to successfully weathering the storms to come. The Sermon on the Mount ethic of enemy love was to Bonhoeffer the summit of the mount and his seminary at Finkenwalde was a training outpost for Christ-like passive resistors. He trained his students to use spiritual weapons and not take up the world’s weapons of war.

The crucible of political hostility and societal animosity toward Christians is definitely on the rise in the world and it tends to produce a more pure discipleship. And even though it only existed for two years before being shut down by the Gestapo, Bonhoeffer’s illegal seminary at Finkenwalde was a snapshot of Bonhoeffer’s prophetic vision of the essence of discipleship training within the context of a new monasticism resulting in the renewal of the Church.

In our day when church leaders more resemble CEO’s and celebrities than self-denying devotees of Jesus, and in our day when religious liberties are increasingly in peril again, Bonhoeffer’s model at Finkenwalde is truly a call back to the fundamentals of Christian discipleship, Christian community, a daily rhythm of prayer, Sermon on the Mount lifestyles and ethics.

CLICK HERE TO SEE JHOP DC’S DAILY PRAYER SCHEDULE

A book I’ve been recommending to those in our house of prayer is the book, Punkmonk, by Andy Freeman and Pete Greig. The title conveys how today’s monks in 24/7 prayer/furnace rooms in the major cities of the world look more like a pierced and tattooed generation of youth. The monks of the earlier centuries looked different too. It’s no different than what our friend Lou Engle is calling us to with the Nazirite vow. It is my intention here to open our eyes to the breadth of what the prayer movement looks like in the world today. It spans all the traditions.

To keep the discipline and perseverance required to pray continually means that you begin to experience different styles and types of prayer: New models, ancient disciplines, silence, liturgy, open prayer, prophetic prayer. Our prayer flows in rhythms. (Punk Monk, 127)

I want to reawaken the contemplative you if the contemplative you isn’t already awake. There are daily rhythms of prayer and communion and encounter with God that we must never step out of. Far back into Judaism, and far back into Christian history, the faithful had set times for prayer and set prayers for those times – and there was a unison chorus.

Spirituality is very varied and there is a time and place for all kinds of praying and expression. Many reading this are no doubt fluent in things like authoritative and warfare prayer, healing prayer, intercession, declarations, binding and loosing and so on.  But the ancient spiritual disciplines need to be reawakened too; Meditation, Fasting, Study, Simplicity, Silence, Solitude, Submission, Service, Confession, Worship.

Our spirituality needs to wider and deeper.  It will take a deep root in God to withstand the days to come!


A native of Kansas City, Steve Hickey is pastor emeritus of Church at the Gate in Sioux Falls, SD and a former South Dakota Legislator. He and Kristen live in Scotland where he is doing post-graduate work at the University of Aberdeen on Bonhoeffer, the Forerunner at Finkenwalde. He’s written several books including Obtainable Expectations: Timely Exposition of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and The Fall Away Factor.

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