September 26th, 2015

God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble

I was asked to do the homily last Sunday (September 20) at the Church of the Ascension in Apex, NC. The transcript (which deviates slightly from the audio) and the audio are both provided.

God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. James 4:6b (ESV)

Amen. Lord have mercy. A bad doctor only ever looks for and treats the symptoms of a problem without ever getting to the diagnosis of the root cause of the symptoms. Every particular sin we deal with in our walk with Christ is a downstream symptom of pride:

  • Pride says “I shall be like God knowing good and evil.”
  • Pride sees the Lord transfigured in glory and then argues over who is the greatest on the way back
  • Pride sees Proverbs 31 as a Super Law checklist and uses it to oppress and ostracize others who don’t measure up
  • Pride says “thank you God that I’m not like that tax collector”
  • Pride also says “thank you God that I’m not like that Pharisee”

How does the Great Physician treat this core sin of pride in our readings today? Does he utter brittle authoritarian threats? Does he tell his disciples be clean harder…or else?  No. He takes a little child and gently corrects them. Jesus here exhibits the wisdom from above that is pure, peaceable, gentle.

God opposes the proud. I was the proud, dead in my sins and transgressions…

But God…

God opposes the proud. I am the proud. I’m skillful at arguing over who is the greatest. I am boastful and full of bitter envy and selfish ambition…

But God…

How did and does God oppose us when we’re the proud? By doing the most humbling and humiliating thing possible for God. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Jesus, the humble God, spent a tremendous amount of time in prayer. He came to seek and save the lost and give his life as a ransom for many. He opposes the proud by turning us into the humble and giving grace to us.

Now we have access to the Father in a way that the Patriarchs only dreamed of. Both the Proverb and the Psalm today exhibit for us what a life rooted in Christ may look like. It’s not a checklist; we all have gloriously different gifts. Be who you are in Christ. We just need to remember where we are planted–in Whom we are planted. He is the vine. We are the branches. Amen, Lord have mercy.

September 1st, 2015

How can a Bible-believing Christian be an anarchist?

Servants, be in subjection to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the wicked.  For it is commendable if someone endures pain, suffering unjustly, because of conscience toward God. For what glory is it if, when you sin, you patiently endure beating? But if, when you do well, you patiently endure suffering, this is commendable with God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving you an example, that you should follow his steps, who did not sin, “neither was deceit found in his mouth.” Who, when he was cursed, didn’t curse back. When he suffered, didn’t threaten, but committed himself to him who judges righteously; who his own self bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live to righteousness; by whose stripes you were healed. For you were going astray like sheep; but now have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:18-25 WEB)

If I’m going to discuss the topic of whether anarchism is an acceptable position for Christians to hold, why would I begin my discussion with the quotation above? Does the passage above make it unacceptable for a Christian to be anti-slavery? If you use the same hermeneutic that most contemporary people bring to Romans 13 (and other passages about civil government like the one in 1 Peter that immediately precedes this one), then you would be forced to conclude that Christians must support slavery. So how would an anti-slavery Christian use the Bible to defend their viewpoint against a pro-slavery Christian brother who was brought from the past via time machine? If your method of Biblical interpretation is to take one verse or passage, absolutize it, and divorce it from the context of the rest of scripture, then you’ll wind up in a stand-off at best. You’ll have your verses and they’ll have their verses. No, in order to argue against slavery as a good institution, you would need to look at the whole story of it in the Bible. You would need to begin and end with who Jesus Christ is and how his incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension ultimately overthrow and subvert lawful pre-Christian institutions like slavery and polygamy. When something like slavery appears in the New Testament, it is not shown as a good, but as an evil that is to be subverted through imitation of Christ (who, when he was cursed, did not curse back) rather than overthrown via violent revolution. Do not repay evil with evil, but overcome evil with good. Wait a minute! That verse sounds familiar. Where in the Bible does it appear?  It happens to be the last verse of Romans 12. And what comes immediately after the end of Romans 12? Hmm…

Ye shall be like God – an anatomy of the state

To see the true nature of the state, we need to go back to the beginning. Think about the temptation of Adam and Eve by the serpent.  How does he close the sale? “You won’t surely die, for God knows that in the day you eat it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Since the fall of man, the desire to use power to dominate others has been a constant theme. The City of Man, as Augustine coined it, has been one story after another of centralization of power, deification of the state, and Yertle the Turtle-style hegemony. This is especially obvious in the ancient world of Nimrod and the Egyptians. Do you think those pyramids were built in that shape by accident?

In contrast to the autocratic kings of the nations, how did God choose to establish Israel? Rather than centralizing autocrats, you see a decentralized administration of God’s law by judges. There really isn’t anything that could be construed as a state in the modern sense. The decentralized nature of Israel from Moses to Samuel consisted of elders and judges using God’s law to resolve disputes. This far more closely resembled free market private law and mediation than it resembled the socialist court system of the modern state. The main drawback (if it can be called one) of this system is that it worked so well and brought such prosperity that the people forgot God. When God brought judgment in the form of foreign invaders, the stiff-necked people of Israel learned the wrong lesson and called for a king like the other nations. When the people of Israel clamored for a move from an essentially anarchic system of decentralized judges to a system aping the pagan kings, God revealed to Samuel that it was a rejection of Him (see 1 Samuel 8). The monarchy of Israel was a disaster, just as Samuel prophesied, and you didn’t see any widespread return to following God until the exile, when the people of Israel no longer had political power.

Since Constantine, the intoxicating temptation to seize political power has been a constant problem for the church, undermining her witness and causing Christians to apologize for, justify, and even participate in the atrocities of the state. People who claim the name of Christ have fought on opposite sides of wars, all too eager to swallow the dehumanizing propaganda of the state. How can this be? Why not rather be wronged? Ye shall be like God, knowing good and evil.

So what about Romans 13?

Now that we’ve looked at the state, let’s take a look at the passage that allegedly precludes the possibility of a Bible-believing Christian being an anarchist. George Kalantzis points out in Caesar and the Lamb that the pre-Constantine Christian attitude toward the civil magistrate was very far removed from the way a modern western Christian looks at Romans 13. The early church took Jesus’ call to love your enemies very seriously. Participation in war and the apparatus of the state was seen as incompatible with the command to love your enemies. I’m going to quote the passage giving it a running start from Romans 12. Remember, there were no chapter headings or verses in the original epistle.

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor that which is evil. Cling to that which is good. In love of the brothers be tenderly affectionate to one another; in honor preferring one another; not lagging in diligence; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope; enduring in troubles; continuing steadfastly in prayer; contributing to the needs of the saints; given to hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless, and don’t curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice. Weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind one toward another. Don’t set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Don’t be wise in your own conceits. Repay no one evil for evil. Respect what is honorable in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as it is up to you, be at peace with all men. Don’t seek revenge yourselves, beloved, but give place to God’s wrath. For it is written, “Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord.” Therefore

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him.
If he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing so, you will heap coals of fire on his head.”

Don’t be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Let every soul be in subjection to the higher authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those who exist are ordained by God. Therefore he who resists the authority, withstands the ordinance of God; and those who withstand will receive to themselves judgment. For rulers are not a terror to the good work, but to the evil. Do you desire to have no fear of the authority? Do that which is good, and you will have praise from the same, for he is a servant of God to you for good. But if you do that which is evil, be afraid, for he doesn’t bear the sword in vain; for he is a servant of God, an avenger for wrath to him who does evil. Therefore you need to be in subjection, not only because of the wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For this reason you also pay taxes, for they are servants of God’s service, attending continually on this very thing. Therefore give everyone what you owe: if you owe taxes, pay taxes; if customs, then customs; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.

For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,”  and whatever other commandments there are, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love doesn’t harm a neighbor. Love therefore is the fulfillment of the law.  Do this, knowing the time, that it is already time for you to awaken out of sleep, for salvation is now nearer to us than when we first believed. The night is far gone, and the day is near. Let’s therefore throw off the deeds of darkness, and let’s put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day; not in reveling and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and lustful acts, and not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, for its lusts. (Romans 12:9-13:14 WEB)

Some thoughts on how this doesn’t automatically preclude a Bible-believing Christian from being an anarchist:

  • The passage is written in the immediate context of the radical Christian practice of loving your enemies. Do not repay evil with evil, but overcome evil with good. Love your enemies. Even if your enemy is the state. Even if he kills you. This is how we win. Our weapons are not carnal.
  • As discussed earlier, submission is subversive. Slaves submitting to harsh masters, wives submitting to domineering husbands, and subjects submitting to rulers and imitating Christ in how one does so overthrows these extended implications of God’s curse to the woman in Genesis 3.
  • “For rulers are not a terror to the good work, but to the evil. Do you desire to have no fear of the authority? Do that which is good, and you will have praise from the same, for he is a servant of God to you for good.” If you care about Biblical inerrancy, then you can’t take this clearly counter-factual statement at literal face value.
    • Jesus, the only truly righteous person in the history of the world was killed by the state. Rulers are 0 for 1. In addition, all of the apostles except for John were martyred, most at the hands of the state. Paul the writer of this epistle, was executed by Nero.
    • Since antiquity, the state has been an unending procession of beast after beast with very few exceptions. Over 200 million people have been killed by the state since the beginning of the 20th century.
    • As a servant of God, the “ministry” of the state seems more like the ministry of a natural disaster than like a minister of the Gospel. The state slays the righteous along with the wicked, and often intentionally targets the righteous.
  • Romans 13 comes after Romans 8. God works all things (even the state) together for the good of those who love Him. The fact that God turns the evil acts of the state for our good doesn’t mean that we should be encouraging or supporting the state in its performance of evil acts. We can say along with Joseph that they meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.
  • Romans 13 was the primary text used as the justification of the Divine Right of Kings by tyrants and their apologists for centuries. As the church matures in her understanding of the application of scripture, perhaps contemporary advocacy for the Divine Right of the Post-Enlightenment State will look as silly to our descendants as advocacy for the Divine Right of Kings looks to us today.


Hopefully in this short format, I have at least caused my brothers and sisters in Christ to rethink whether anarchism can fit within the bounds of Christian orthodoxy. The goal here hasn’t been to question the living Word of God, but to try to get us to re-examine some of the assumptions and biases we bring to scripture in the 21st century west. I’m well aware that I bring my own biases and presuppositions to the interpretation of scripture, and that I stand in the vast minority in terms of contemporary and historic post-Constantine Christianity. This is why I’m only advocating for tolerance and discussion of my point of view and not demanding that others adopt it, or else I will question their loyalty to Jesus. I would hope that my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ will extend to me the same charity.

I would also add that our differing views of the state are essentially irrelevant to the overall mission of the church. Our views on what the state should (or shouldn’t) be are adiaphora (matters that are of secondary importance where sincere Christians should be allowed to disagree according to conscience). Our mission as the church is to go and make disciples of the nations. If the state is as faithful to God as Josiah, or as unfaithful as Stalin has absolutely no bearing on the mission of the church. Jesus and apostles didn’t tell us to do everything we could to seize control of political power and the public square and use that as our tool for discipling the nations. On the contrary, the church has historically seen its greatest growth in regimes where it was outright illegal to profess belief in Jesus and its greatest stagnation and mission creep when the church and state have been the coziest. The world’s problem is a spiritual problem; carnal weapons won’t work. The only tool the state has at its disposal is the sword. It can’t help us in our mission. Perhaps it is time for us to reconsider whether we as the Church are undermining our own mission by expending so many of our resources helping the state with theirs.

May 11th, 2015

Coming out of the closet . . . as an anarchist

If you follow me on social media, have read several other posts on this blog, or are friends with me on Facebook, perhaps you’ve seen some of my posts and began to wonder.  Is he, you know, one of those? Well let me confirm your fears:

I am an anarchist.

Unlike other closets, coming out of this closet hasn’t become fashionable, and likely won’t be for quite some time. (Although it’s certainly more socially acceptable than it was when pioneers like Lysander Spooner, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Murray Rothbard came out.) There aren’t a bunch of political pressure groups demanding that society be forced to treat people like me a certain way. (Wouldn’t that be ironic?) And it isn’t like my coming out of the closet won’t cost me anything. It’s probably a bad career move. Employers Google prospective employees, and there aren’t many firms that are willing to hire an anarchist.

There are other more potentially dire consequences of me outing myself. I actually took the Ron Paul bumper sticker off the back of my car several years back because it increased the chances of my young children getting shot by cops. (See here, here, here, and here.) If the state were to come and take me away some day, all it would need to say was that I was a suspected anarchist. No further explanation or justification required. So why would I reverse course and put it out there on my indelible permanent internet record in my own words that I am an anarchist?

My journey hasn’t happened suddenly.  I certainly wasn’t born this way. As late as my junior year of college (where I was studying music education and planning on working in a government school), I was a friend of the state, not an enemy of it. I initially supported the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. I voted for George W. Bush. Twice. (I know; I threw up in my mouth a little when I wrote that.) The fact that I wasn’t born this way is one of the reasons why I’m coming out. If I were persuaded that I was wrong about the state; then maybe others can be too. People are propagandized in the ways of anarchophobia (fear of anarchy, not spiders) from a very young age. Anarchophobia is proclaimed in the schools, the news, the churches, talk radio, the movies, and just about everywhere else. Because of all this misinformation and indoctrination, it’s important to define and clarify what I mean when I say I’m an anarchist.

When the average person thinks of what an anarchist is, the image that comes to mind is probably one of “whiskered men with bombs” assassinating some 19th century political figure. This is not what I’m advocating.  My concise definition of anarchism is the belief that the use of coercive force by the state is not a legitimate means to solve any given problem. To be more specific, I would label myself an anarcho-capitalist. By implication, anarchism calls for an abolition of the state altogether, believing as Tolkien did that “the most improper job of any man, even saints (who at any rate were at least unwilling to take it on), is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity.”

Think of all the problems that you encounter in your own life.  How many of them do you actually solve by using coercive force? Not many, unless you work as an enforcer for the state. Nearly your entire life is already anarchic. The United States of America have been officially anarchic regarding religious practice since the adoption of the first amendment.  Irrespective of your religious beliefs (or non-beliefs), do you think things would be better if some bureaucrat were dictating them and using coercion to enforce conformity? How about some state central-planning board decreeing whom you could date or marry? Don’t all jump at once. If you think a date costs a lot now, just wait until it’s free. And think of the waiting list!

In project management and business analysis, there is a concept known as net present value (NPV). To simplify, you anticipate the costs and discounted future revenues of a project. If the NPV of a project is negative (costs exceed benefits) you don’t embark on the project. I assert that the state has a negative NPV. It does more harm than good, and you are better off without it. Think about yourself, and the people you know. No matter how screwed up your lives are, you can still run your own lives better than the state can run them for you. And the problem grows worse on a larger scale, not better. This same problem of distributed knowledge and expertise is why central economic planning can never work.

Pragmatic arguments are all well and good, but they’re not enough. The moral arguments against the state are more important. If the initiation of force is wrong for you and me, does it become right if 21% of the population (65.9M/314.1M voted for Obama in 2012) authorize it? Does the morality change if you increase it to 50% plus one person? Even if everybody else in the world got together and unanimously agreed on a decree to kill you and take your stuff, it would still be wrong.

There’s a lot more to say regarding anarchism (answering objections, how it harmonizes with Christianity, strategic considerations, further arguments against the state, etc.) but these topics will need to wait for future posts. I just couldn’t continue to pretend to be somebody I’m not and decided that now is the time. Maybe some people dealing with similar inclinations in the future might read this and be empowered to speak up themselves. There may be different reactions among my friends and family, ranging from support and tolerance to shunning or staging an intervention. I don’t expect you to understand me, but hopefully those who care about me will learn to accept me for who I am.

I’m out and I’m proud.