Chapter 7 – Power and Truth

From the book: “Resident Aliens – A Provocative Christian Assessment of Culture and Ministry for People Who Know That Something is Wrong.” By Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon.

  • Virtues That Make Ministry Possible

“While the American church was busy thinking it was transforming the world, the world declared victory in its effort to extinguish or to ignore the church.” (p. 146)

This suggests a quote by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900). Unfortunately, only the first part of this quote, “God is dead,” is usually stated, which entirely misses the point he was making. We need to look at the whole quote to fully understand his idea.

“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, murderers of all murderers, console ourselves? That which was the holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe this blood off us? With what water could we purify ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we need to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we not ourselves become gods simply to be worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whosoever shall be born after us – for the sake of this deed he shall be part of a higher history than all history hitherto.”[1]

Nietzsche makes this proclamation because of the “Enlightenment” thinking that culminated earlier that century, also known as the “Age of Reason” (1685-1815). See Chapter 3 – Salvation as Adventure, for this discussion.

By embracing rationalist and materialist thinking in place of biblical thinking, the church has failed to inform and show the world the reality beyond the materialistic or rational.

“For centuries, Christianity’s teachings about reality – that there exists a Creator outside time and space, and that we should abide by the rules of this Creator to ensure a good afterlife – were entirely dominant.

However, the scientific revolution and the separation of Church and State across Europe pulled the authoritative rug from underneath Christianity’s feet. Atheism became not only acceptable among citizens, but popular.

Without a divine power underpinning our existential situation and moral outlooks, however, our paths into the future became rather uncertain. ‘How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers?’ Nietzsche questions.

In other words: where do we go from here? If God’s authority is no longer unquestionable, how on Earth should we live our lives?[2]

Unfortunately, the church today is still failing in this challenge. So, what must we do?

We must develop a gospel-based theological understanding for ministry that is, not by intention but by default, counter-cultural. Rather than Christians bowing to the secular culture, we are enabled to boldly live a life that says, “God is not dead!”

  • Putting on the Whole Armor of God

When the church assumes the role of preparing its people to adapt to the world as it is, it does not prepare the people to live the gospel.

In 1989, when this book was first published, our authors stated:

“Our world recognizes the subversive nature of the Christian faith and subverts us either by ignoring us or by giving us the freedom to be religious – as long as we keep religion a matter of personal choice.” (p. 152)

Even this level of religious separation is unacceptable in many quarters today. The culture is becoming intolerant of even personal religious choices. Christian belief is now actively suppressed in any form or forum. The church and faithful believers are not only not allowed to disagree with the current social ideology of marriage, gender, and abortion; they must support it. What started out as live-and-let-live has become promote-or-be-cancelled.

Unfortunately, today’s church prefers a non-confrontational approach. It sees Christ as just wanting to make the world a little less violent and a little more just. From this, we get a church that strives for peace over truth and mercy over justice. It accommodates rather than challenges. A casual reading of the four Gospels should dispel this perspective.

This is definitely not the idea we get from Ephesians 6:10-20. Nor is it the attitude we get from the hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers” (1865). This hymn was written to encourage Christians in their personal battles with temptations and against the evil forces throughout the world. Interestingly, this hymn was not based on this passage from the letter to the Ephesians, but on 2 Timothy.

“Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 2:3, ESV)

Our current individualized culture emphasizing “do your own thing,” “every man for himself,” and self-care is contrary to Jesus’ command in John’s gospel:

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:12-14, ESV)

In the trenches of today’s secular culture, we must train, equip, and prepare to fight alongside other Christians for what we believe, because we have a real enemy.

“In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:4, ESV)

This enemy has not won the war (John 16:8-11), but there are still battles to be had, so we must be trained, armed, and ready.

It is too difficult to fight these Christian battles alone. This is why Paul tells the Ephesian church to be prepared with “the whole armor of God.” Soldiers do not fight alone. They fight in a well-trained and equipped formation. Like the soldiers before the city of Jericho, we must be ready to march and blow our horns as God leads us (Joshua 6).

  • Boldly to Proclaim the Ministry of the Gospel

This is not a conservative, liberal, or progressive matter. It is a gospel matter.

“Our project is to recover what it means to be truthful people – a hope American liberals and conservatives have equally abandoned.” (p. 157)

It is about people who know the Cost of Discipleship and are willing to pay the price for a gift that cannot be bought. We must be able to face the truth about ourselves without backing away from those things we find personally unflattering. We cannot waste our energies fighting over labels like conservative or liberal, traditional or progressive. It is about truth versus lies based on the Bible, not on ancient or modern philosophies. It should be our prayer, “that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel.” (Ephesians 6:19, ESV)

  • Empowerment for Ministry

A Christian’s authority comes from scripture.

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.” (Titus 2:11-15, ESV)

There are many ways to learn and interpret the scriptures. Literary genre, contextual, historical-critical, textual criticism, literal vs. figurative, author’s intent, audience intended, and cultural/chronological setting are just some of the many.

Regardless of the interpretation method, the Christian community is critical to ensuring faithful understanding and practice.

“Here is a community breaking out of the suffocating tyranny of American individualism in which each of us is made into his or her own tyrant. Here is an alternative people who exist, not because of each of us made up his or her own mind but because we are called, called to submit our lives to the authority of the saints.” (p. 164)

Theology is not a definition of who or what God is, but a belief in how we are to life our lives with God. It is practical, not theoretical. It is critical to our lives as individuals and to the church. Rather than looking for the next new thing for the church, we need to be living the Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5-7] (Review Chapter 4 – Life in the Colony).

  • By the Work of God’s Power

A ministry built on fear can never succeed. Self-protection makes us cowards. The biggest challenge facing the church is not in understanding the Bible but in the actions one must take when one understands the gospel. It is in the resident alien community that we enable one another to act on our convictions. Belief in God becomes more than a statement; it becomes a lived life.

Our message to those in the church today and in the world must be truthfulness. We must be insensitive, uncaring, and offensive. Insensitive to the lies being told and believed. Uncaring that the truth will cause hurt to those otherwise dying in sin. Offensive because it challenges the core beliefs and values of sinful human nature.

Maybe our problem is that we are not offensive to the world. The world looks at us and sees nothing different from what it sees in the rest of the world.

The offense of the gospel is a necessary part of its message. It confronts our pride and self-righteousness by presenting a message of sin and redemption. It requires us to acknowledge our need for a Savior. The offense of the cross challenges the belief that works can lead to salvation. The gospel states we are saved only through faith in Jesus Christ.

We have the responsibility to speak the truth about Jesus. However, we must speak this truth in love. Truth without love is not an effective witness because we are telling people about a God who IS LOVE.

“Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8, ESV)

This truth gives us power. Not worldly power so sought after by secular culture. But the power of the cross. The power of salvation of the soul. It is only through the Holy Spirit that we become morally capable of exercising the power of God’s word in our lives.

“The church is given the awesome power to bind and loose, to convict and to forgive. Look at what Peter did to the poor Ananias and Sapphira [Acts 5:1-11]. We must therefore be people who respect the power God has given us and who learn to exercise that power faithfully.” (p. 168)

Where did Peter, and by extension, we, get this power to exercise?

“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:19, ESV)

We have the power from ”the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:17, ESV)

[1] Friedrich Nietzsche – God is dead, age-of-the-sage.org, https://www.age-of-the-sage.org/philosophy/friedrich_nietzsche_quotes.html.

[2] Jack Maden, God is Dead: Nietzsche’s Most Famous Statement Explained, Philosophy Break, February 2022, https://philosophybreak.com/articles/god-is-dead-nietzsche-famous-statement-explained/.

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