A message from Paul Mundey, moderator of the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference
Of late, the inauguration of a new US president has occupied our attention. But there’s a more pertinent inauguration needed during days of national upheaval: a fresh elevation of Jesus as Lord.
Many have yet to inaugurate Jesus to this status. Yes, we give lip service to the centrality of Jesus, but often we become acculturated, collapsing toward consumerism, civil religion, and an insular faith. In doing so, we fail to allow Jesus to transform every aspect of our “form and frame,” being “born again,” not only in our relationship to God, but also in our relationship to soul, self, others, and all of creation (Romans 12).
This holistic renewal is the DNA of Jesus’ dream (Luke 4:18-19), for Christ envisions life not constricted, but full and abundant (John 10:10). Such expanse is not tribal or siloed, but all-encompassing, calling us not to narrowcast but to adopt a spacious view of life. Thus, Jesus does not see us as conservative or progressive, “born Brethren” or “new Brethren,” Democrat or Republican, Anglo or ethnic, but as children of God called to confession and repentance–and in turn–salvation and New Creation in him (2 Corinthians 5:16-17).
Such a vital, countercultural slant in Christ is promising but also arresting, for
— a Jesus-slant requires that I learn from my enemy, not just confront my enemy;
— a Jesus-slant requires that I condemn violence after birth, not just before birth;
— a Jesus-slant requires that I reach toward the sinned against, not just sinners;
— a Jesus-slant requires that I welcome and receive his work (the cross and resurrection), not just focus on my own efforts; and
— a Jesus-slant requires that I prioritize my citizenship in heaven (God’s Kingdom), not just casually nod to his authority.
In sum, a Jesus-slant is counterintuitive, offering an unexpected way forward amid national upheaval. It does so by calling us to be “resident aliens” in Christ (Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon, Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2014), loyalists to an alternate Kingdom (1 Peter 1:1-2; 2:1-12), rather than conforming to a culture of “racism, nationalism, ethnocentrism, exceptionalism…postmodernism, militarism” (Michael Gorman, Participation in Christ: Explorations in Paul’s Theology and Spirituality, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2019, p. 247).
In doing so, a Jesus-slant identifies the world, in the words of C. S. Lewis, as “enemy-occupied territory. Christianity [then] is the story of how the rightful king has landed…and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage” (Gorman, p. 246).
As Gorman clarifies, “this benevolent sabotage is not…a Christian takeover, a religiously based coup d’état…but…a foretaste of something–the new creation that has come and is coming” (Michael Gorman, “A Letter from Paul to Christians in the US,” Christian Century, Aug. 21, 2019, www.christiancentury.org/article/critical-essay/letter-paul-christians-us).
I call us to a mission of sabotage, modeling and proclaiming New Creation in Jesus. In doing so, we refrain from using the tactics of the world, the flesh, and the devil, opting for strategies of the Kingdom: enemy love, “carefronting,” radical hospitality, merciful justice, nonviolent protest (Matthew 5-7). This is not to minimize the abhorrence and disgust before us and the need to witness assertively; please hear me. Instead, it is a way to maximize our effectiveness as we avoid becoming the very evil we deplore.
In Acts 17, Paul and Silas hold a revival meeting in Thessalonica declaring Jesus as Messiah (Acts 17:3). Many believed, including both Greeks and Jews (Acts 17:4). But some Jews “became jealous, and…formed a mob and set the city in an uproar…[dragging Paul and Silas’s friend, Jason, and members of his house church]…before the city authorities, shouting ‘These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also…. They are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor [Caesar], saying there is another king named Jesus’” (Acts 17:5-7). Miraculously, Paul and Silas are released on bail, slipping off to Beroea, but their message still echoes: Jesus is King and not Caesar.
I pray we too turn the world upside down with the disturbing yet enlivening message of King Jesus. It’s tempting to disrupt with mob, uproar, or some other conventional means, but far more effective are the countercultural methods of the Messiah. In fact, they’re the best device, surprising and sabotaging, as we live as “resident aliens,” making manifest the New Creation of the Savior. Frankly, that’s the best path forward through a highly charged political climate–modeling and proclaiming boldly another way of living, inaugurating anew Jesus as Lord!
— Paul Mundey is serving at moderator of the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference.
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