Jesus First

Posted: September 7, 2017 in Culture and Faith, Things of Faith

daca-rt-jpo-170901_12x5_992As I was perusing my Facebook feed this morning, I came across the following quote from a former colleague and friend:

 “In this time of DACA and immigration, a personal testimony: in a previous appointment I came to know a few illegal male Mexican immigrants who had come to the area seeking work to send money back to their families. They had come to the U.S. seeking to provide for their families. As a husband and a father I understood that. Did I turn them in? Nope. Why?
Because… I am not an American first. I am a Christian first, and from my study of the Gospels over the years, I could not imagine Jesus turning in anyone for the high crime of trying whatever they could to send money back to their families so they can eat. I will not suggest how following Jesus should be an instrument of foreign policy, since the American empire is essentially pagan; but as a follower of Jesus, I will follow Jesus. If I wore a ball cap it would say, “Jesus First.”… and that would mean Jesus is first and foremost for everyone.” (Alan R. Bevere)

To say that this past week has been troubling would be a severe understatement. When I returned to pastoral ministry 15 months ago I published a blog post that talked about the personal nature of this topic. In this country we too often politicize social issues to such an extent that the human factor is removed. Moreover, topics such as “immigration” is framed within a rhetoric of fear in such a way that the subjects concerned are marginalized to the “extreme other.”

What struck me about Alan’s post was that it consisted of the most basic common sense perspective of one claiming a Christian faith. The unfortunate reality for most self-proclaimed Christians in the US is that their faith has been so syncretized with the national religion that it is nearly impossible to separate faith and nationalism. What Alan is getting at is the necessary re-contextualization of North American Christianity in contrast to “powers and principalities,” and in this case the empire.

Any institution that propagates violence and coercion for the benefit of an institutional state can be considered a power or principality. One that has overwhelming power and influence over and against other such states through the framing of a metanarrative which exceptionalizes said state can be considered an empire. It is when we come to the understanding that Christians have always lived within this type of context that they can begin seeing themselves in contrast to it. Regrettably many Christians in the US perceive themselves in such a way that merges their faith identity with their geo-political identity.

This, I believe, is why so many self-proclaimed Christians so easily support a national policy that treats undocumented people in a way that contradicts God’s mandate. Nationalism is so strong that one’s identity is primarily articulated as national identity. Thus, a person’s faith identity is secondary and subordinate to one’s national identity often being tainted in such a way as to cease resembling any connection to Jesus’ teachings.

My Christian faith requires that I identify primarily as a “Jesus follower.” The implications of this is that I am ever bound by his life, teachings, death and resurrection. What this means is that I will always identify with the “other” as I am required to lovingly serve them. Faith in Jesus ultimately means standing in contrast to any such “power or principality” that sets out to exclude, marginalize, evict, or unjustly treat any human being. Like Alan, if I were to wear a hat it would say, “Jesus First,” not out of a desire to push a national policy, but as a reminder and proclamation of my allegiance. This requires one response and that is to love the other regardless of what the law of the land is.

  1. John Snyder says:

    Pastor Andy, I recently met with the Pastor of the church we currently attend about a video he shared on the gospel of chairs. My wife and I asked his believe or opinion on the video. He told us that the church as a whole probably takes a soft view of penal atonement. He said he is probably more right of the church view and only a few would take a hard line stance on it. If you have time, and I don’t mean to take up much of your time, can you explain what that means? My wife feels that what he said takes a stance that Jesus did not die for our sins, that their is a belief that God is not a wrathful God and did not sacrifice his son Jesus but man killed Jesus. This is a very short synopsis of the discussion but would appreciate any insight on this view you could give me, or any insight on the Brethren view of penal atonement. Thanks for any help, John Snyder (Rita Snyder’s son)

    • Andrew says:

      Did you get my response that I sent this morning?

    • Andrew says:

      Hi John,

      For some reason the response I wrote and sent disappeared. Not sure what happened. So I’ll give it another try. Oh and please extend my greetings to your mom and dad. Laura and I miss them both!

      Over the past two thousand and some odd years several atonement theories have been developed. The earliest one that the first Christians held to (and I would argue that the apostles held to in some form as well) is called the Christus Victor theory. First let me say that each of them are considered theories because each are theological reflections based based upon interpretations of scripture to some degree (I would argue that some are not as consistant with scripture and raise significant issues for faith and practice). The Christus Victor theory is one that interprets the crucifixion in the context of the greater story and cosmology of scripture that tells of God creating by separating the chaotic evil waters to make a safe space for his creation to live. The scriptures continually tell of God battling the forces of darkness (whether Leviathon or satan himself). This telling also portrays God absolutely good and loving (1 John). This interpretation also tells of satan holding captive all of humanity. The source of this takes place in the garden of Eden when Adam and Eve succomb to the influence of satan to disobey God and break the covenant of life thus handing the destiny of humanity into the hands of satan. This theory holds closely to the redemption story as portrayed in scripture. It also emphasizes the Father’s love of the Son. In it God’s wrath is expressed in the Father’s withdrawing his protective presence from the Son allowing corrupted human beings under the influence of the forces of darkness to torture and kill the Son. In this telling the fault lies primarily on satan and the forces of darkness, but also acknowledging the complicity of sinful humans cooperating with the forces of darkness. In Jesus’ death God allows the forces of evil to destroy themselves as Jesus in his obedience willingly gives himself as a ransomed sacrifice for the liberation of human beings from sin and death. In this interpretation God’s judgment is always the putting to right what has been wronged and God’s wrath is not understood as a human emotion of extreme anger. But is instead understood as God’s withdrawal of his protective presence.

      On the other hand the Penal Substitution theory was developed during the Protestant Reformation. It was developed from Anselm’s (AD 1098) Satisfaction Theory. It essentially interprets tells of Jesus being a type of whipping boy who takes the punishment in place of another. Only in this telling it is only Jesus who can take the punishment bringing the possibility of redemption to all humanity because he is both God and man. In this telling the Father is characterized as an angry God who must incur a punishment before forgiveness can take place. Interestingly, the characterization of God in this telling is reflective of the medieval lordlings who ruled during that time period. God’s wrath is interpreted in a way that is reflective of human anger and expressed with the same violence demanding blood for any breach of the law. The postives of this theory are that it takes serious the significance of human sin and disobedience. It also emphasizes human responsibility. Unfortunately it also provides several significant problems. First, the Father is portrayed as the one who kills the son thus leading to obvious interpretive implications regarding child abuse. Secondly, God being portrayed as a medieval lordling is problematic on numerous levels, least of which is the necessity of blood to forgive.

      John I hope this is helpful and I acknowledge my own bias as I find the Christus Victor theory more in line with the biblical witness. As far as Brethren are concerned, currently we are all over the place theologically. From a historical perspective, Brethren have typically sought to re-establish the ancient form of Christianity (what the earliest Christians believed). Secondly they have historically work diligently to maintain an interpretation that is consistent to scripture and particularly the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. These are the primary reasons I personally prefer Christus Victor. For a large portion of Reformed Evangelicalism, Penal Substition is a litmus test for salvation. As I stated earlier. There have been several theories developed over the centuries. These are the two predominant ones in evangelicalism. Christus Victor is the one that is most conducive to Anabaptist/Pietist theology, in my humble opinion.

      I would be happy to talk further about this. Thanks for the question.

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