Recalling Which Kingdom You Fight For in the Quest for Shalom

Olive branch

Olive branch (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This post is part of a MennoNerds Synchro-Blog on the topic of War on Syria. Check out our page on MennoNerds.com to see all the other posts in this series.

All facets of the mainstream media are bursting at the seams with the latest scrap of news regarding the potential U.S. war on Syria. Everyone is voicing their opinion on this matter in all areas of life especially in religious circles. Just recently, a fellow MennoNerd Marty Troyer challenged all of us to voice our opinions on the matter publicly resulting in this impromptu synchro-blog.

My response to this situation will most likely take a form contrary to what others will present; my aim is to outline the parameters of how believers are to approach this concern by keeping things in the proper perspective. Just as those, that are pursuing war can go to extremes to acquire what they yearn for in the same fashion Christians can go out of bounds in the same fashion. Everyone desires peace but what are the limits that one will surpass to achieve said peace? Many reside in a state of unfamiliarity concerning all of these matters but they desire something that is incessantly sought but never attained.

Shalom

Prior to proceeding, further some preliminaries must be dealt with. If someone desires to acquire something, he or she first must clearly identify what is being pursued. What exactly is shalom? To the ancient Hebrews the word for peace is the term שָׁלוֹם. Transliterated it is shalom; it has the lexical significance of “completeness”, “soundness” (as in mental or physical), “welfare”, “contentment” and “peace”. It denotes a full-orbed state; it “is iridescent in meaning, connoting well-being. Shalom may denote (material) prosperity….ethical relations among humans…or eschatological (messianic) hope that brings peace among nations”.[1]

Many have coveted this concept or state of being. The quest for shalom or peace, has been a quest that has not ceased since the uprising in the garden when humankind’s relationship with their Creator suffered impairment (Genesis chapter 3). Ever since that point in history humankind has borne all kinds of violence and strife.

Two Kingdoms

Throughout the centuries, all types of notions have sprung originating from varying sources regarding how amity is attained. However, generally it has taken the form of peace via Empire as seen with the celebrated Pax Romana (Roman peace). The Empire’s means of bringing about peace is generally through coercion or outright domination. Yet, another empire or more aptly kingdom offers a marginal way to bring about shalom.

In the 16th century, a member of the Swiss Brethren (the original Anabaptists) named Hans Schnell wrote a tract that delineates the doctrine of these Two Empires or Two Kingdoms.[2] He wrote, “There are two different kingdoms on earth—namely, the kingdom of this world and the peaceful kingdom of Christ” because of their contrasting natures these “two kingdoms cannot share or have communion with each other.”[3]

Schnell goes on to elaborate of the character of those that populate these kingdoms and the methods these two empires utilize to bring about their goals. He posits:

The people in the kingdom of this world are born of the flesh, are earthly and carnally minded. The people in the kingdom of Christ are reborn of the Holy Spirit, live according to the Spirit, and are spiritually minded. The people in the kingdom of the world are equipped for fighting with carnal weapons—spear, sword, armor, guns and powder. The people in Christ’s kingdom are equipped with spiritual weapons—the armor of God, the shield of faith, and the sword of the Spirit to fight against the devil, the world, and their own flesh, together with all that arises against God and his Word. The people in the kingdom of this world fight for a perishable crown and an earthly kingdom. The people in Christ’s kingdom fight for an imperishable crown and an eternal kingdom.[4]

As we can see, both groups engage in warfare but the tools that are exercised and the battlefield in which the battle is fought is on two different planes.

Ordnances and the Frontline

In addition to helping identifying, the battlefield Hans Schnell also effectively quotes Ephesians 6:11-17, which says in its complete form:

Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.[5]

All of the things cited above such as the “belt of truth”, “breastplate of righteousness”, “shoes of the Good News of peace” (WNT), “shield of faith”, “helmet of salvation” and finally the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” are pacific means of combat. The Apostle Paul said in another place “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, and we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete” (2 Corinthians 10:3-6).

God outfits the Christian’s arsenal in a non-material and non-lethal fashion. His weapons are shaped to combat internal mental forces manifested as ideologies and attitudes that deter others from the knowledge of the Creator and His ways. Nations or natural resources are not the plunder of this indisputably holy conquest but in its place minds and hearts. Iniquitous thinking is overturned and ultimately destroyed.

In place of physical guns, tanks, manned military aircraft, missiles and drones the Christian’s weapon is the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God”. The Bible and its contents is the sole weapon for Christians many that profess this designation have preferred to appropriate the sword of steel hand in hand with the Kingdom of Discord. In the same fashion as the Messiah during his earthly sojourn, peace-loving believers wield the sword of the Spirit.

While it is recognized that Christians are not to retaliate or engage in corporeal warfare, in general a question still needs to be satisfied. Are Christians supposed to pressure the civil authorities in how they are to encounter other governments in which they are in engaging? Greg Boyd wrote a recent blog post that addresses this matter is a very precise and sound fashion entitled What I – a Pacifist – Would say to Obama About the Crisis In Syria. He writes:

The first thing I’ll say is that I don’t believe that being a kingdom pacifist (viz. on who swears off violence out of obedience to Jesus) means that one must embrace the conviction that governments are supposed to embrace pacifism. Many people assume this, and I’ve found that the implausibility of this position is one of the main reasons some people reject pacifism. After giving talks about the kingdom call to unconditional non-violence, I’ve frequently received responses like: “Are you telling me our government should just love the terrorists and ‘turn the other cheek’?” Actually, I’m not saying this.  I don’t believe Jesus’ and Paul’s teaching on the need for disciples to adopt an enemy-loving, non-violent lifestyle was ever intended to serve as a mandate for how governments are supposed to respond to evil.

Boyd then leads the reader into a succinct exegetical dissection of Romans chapters 12 and 13 to corroborate his point.

…in Romans 12 and 13, Paul explicitly contrasts the call of disciples to swear off violence as they love and serve enemies with the way God uses governments. He tells disciples to “bless those who persecute you” (12:14), to never “repay anyone evil for evil” (v.17), and to never “take revenge (ekdikeō).” Instead, we are to “leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written, ‘Vengeance’ (ekdikēsis) is mine says the Lord’ (v.19).”  Rather than retaliating, disciple must rather feed our enemy when they’re hungry and give them something to drink when they’re thirsty, thereby overcoming evil with good rather than allowing evil to overcome good (vss.20-21). Immediately following this Paul says that God “establishes” or “files” (tassō) all governments as he sees fit (13:1), which is why their “rulers do not bear the sword for no reason” (vs. 4).  God uses these sword-wielding authorities “to bring punishment” or “vengeance” (ekdikos) on the wrongdoer” (vs.4).

Genuine believers walk the path of peace they speak the words of peace; it is seen in their behavior and attitudes. All those that are intimate with the Father and Son know the way of no other sword but Sacred Scripture the sharp two-edged of peace. This involves far more than speaking against war or the participating in it (nonresistance), it is a life of nonresistance, without any use of coercion of force—it is a way of life.

One must take notice that there is an overarching principle present here as well; we are to forgo employing the armaments and tactics of the opposing kingdom when we proclaim the message of peace, no resorting to political maneuvering or slander through the media or any other means in order to realize objectives. During times such as this, we all must remember which Kingdom we fight for and to do not blur the lines and continue to tread the true path of peace since these are the ones that will be “called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9 NET).


[1] Donald E. Gowan, The Westminster Theological Wordbook of the Bible (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), 354

[2] Schnell, Hans. “Anabaptist Archives: The Two Kingdoms.” Christian History Magazine. Christian History Magazine, https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/magazine/article/anabaptist-archives-two-kingdoms/

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] New International Version

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