“The problem with our “change the world” rhetoric is that it is too often a thinly veiled grasp for power and a quest for dominance—things that are antithetical to the way Jesus calls his disciples to live.” Brian Zahnd
Every time in history the Church has tried to raise the Christian flag over a nation, a people group, or even over one other person it’s always turned out very poorly! Think Constantine, Crusades, Inquisition, and the “Christianizing” of the Native Americans for example. By contrast, we win the world, like Jesus did, not by force but by fascination. He modeled the servant’s way and taught us to do the same; to serve, love, and give until they ask us why.
Brutish Peter made the transition from blood letting in Gethsemane to, “Be ready to give an answer for the hope you have. And do it with gentleness and respect.” That’s what I call progress!
Our simple subversive Savior was born a refugee in the manger, came in riding a donkey, carrying a towel, welcoming children, feeding the hungry, serving the least, and was executed as a rebel on a cross.
It seems like a lot of Christians and their churches exist in a constant state of war with the world. Since Jesus told us to love our enemies (the people kind) we only have one enemy (well a bunch if you include his impish followers). Though the world system, our Babylon, is utterly opposed to God and his followers, we’re never told to battle with it. We’re supposed to resist the world, not be conformed to the world, not love the world, but we’re never told to try to win a fight with the world. Someday Babylon will be replaced with the New Jerusalem, but until then we’re here to do our best to improve it.
Many of our brothers and sisters spend all their time, money, and energy battling secularism, materialism, spiritualism, and any number of other isms; and they have nothing left to influence the world for the better. They use up all their so-called righteous anger on the Democrats, the Republicans, the Muslims, the Mormons, the Gays, or the Gangs when they should be wielding it at the real world power and hater of humanity.
We’re not at war with the culture, instead we contend for the culture by offering a better way.
We don’t battle Babylon, but labor to infuse it with righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. It’s our job to illuminate not to dominate. We seek to win people not arguments. We’re not trying to be in charge of the culture but to collaborate with Jesus in such a way as to slowly but surely transform it. Jesus did not say that the meek would conquer the earth or take over the earth, but inherit it as a gift from the Father. Scott Bessenecker says this is because the meek are “naturally disposed to use power in the way it was designed by God to be used—as a guard for the weak and to preserve the common good.”
Our subversive mission is no coup d’état, but a cooperative effort to entice as many as possible into the benevolent love of the meekest Man to grace our planet. We’ve confused captors with captives and turned our weapons on the wrong targets. It’s no wonder people aren’t flocking to sign up for salvation!
When Jerry Falwell Jr. encouraged students to carry guns on the Liberty University campus, saying, “Let’s teach them (Muslims) a lesson if they ever show up here!” Pastor John Piper responded:
“That is a response learned from Jason Bourne, not Jesus and the Bible. That response appeals to everything earthly in us, and requires no miracle of the new birth. . .
“I think I can say with complete confidence that the identification of Christian security with concealed weapons will cause no one to ask a reason for the hope that is in us. They will know perfectly well where our hope is. It’s in our pocket.
“Christians are sent into the world ‘as lambs in the midst of wolves.’ And exhorting the lambs to carry concealed weapons with which to shoot the wolves does not advance the counter-cultural, self-sacrificing, soul-saving cause of Christ.”
Amen, Brother Piper! The more palatable strategy of dominion flips the words of Jesus back around makes us the wolves. I mean, in the natural, which would you rather be, the wolf or the lamb? Jesus’ way, the right way, is not the easy way. We should know that by now.
Remember it was the false prophets of Jeremiah’s time that preached “Battle Babylon! Bring it to its knees!” To my ears, some people sound more like “jihadists” than Christians in their rhetoric. Our mandate is to bless not battle Babylonians. Servant subversives are not trying to take over the planet. That’s something Jesus will do at a later date.
As I said before, “subversive” means to “turn from beneath.” Like Jesus, we influence the world from below. We do our world changing best when we do it the Jesus way, as servants. He fought for followers but never fought with them to subdue them. He subjected himself to be killed by vicious people not to kill them (umm, us)! His hands were too full of nails to pick up a sword. He left his home unblemished, came here, was brutalized, and returned home with the scars to prove it.
Ours is not an imperialistic goal, to take over Babylon by electing the right people into office or by imposing biblical values on the culture. Tim Otto writes:
“Early Christians lived out Jesus’ admonitions to practice a politics of servanthood. It can be seen, for example, in the way they stood against infanticide. They did this by not leading marches on Rome, nor by making contributions to sympathetic senators. They picked up “exposed” babies (babies who were left outside to die) and adopted them into their own families. Girls, in particular, were often the victims of “exposure.” The vast majority of people at the time were poor, and having too many girls was perceived as an economic liability. By faith, Christians took on these “liabilities” and supported each other as they raised these rescued and adopted family members.”
Now that’s what I call servant subversion!
Let me conclude with the words to a seldom-sung song written by the mother of a famous servant subversive:
‘My soul magnifies the Lord, And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, For he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, For the Mighty One has done great things for me. Holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, From generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones But has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things But has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, Remembering to be merciful to Abraham And his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.’”
Next time we’ll unpack this song for servant subversives…