A Tale of Two Prisoners: What John McCain and Richard Wurmbrand Teach Us About the Two Kingdoms.

Perhaps no living member of the United States Senate commanded the kind of respect enjoyed by Senator John McCain of Arizona.

Shortly after discontinuing treatment for his advanced and aggressive form of brain cancer, the eighty-one year old politician was dead, and thousands across the Republic mourned the loss of America’s Senator.

A self-proclaimed “maverick”, McCain was known for his rare decency in political discourse, his willingness to work across the ideological aisle, and his decorated military service on behalf of the country he adored.

Indeed, it was that service in Vietnam, where he languished five-and-a-half years as a prisoner of war, soldiering through the brutalest of tortures, which helped launch McCain’s successful and lengthy political career, gaining him respect in the eyes of allies and opponents alike.

Maverick, though he may have been, McCain stood in a long line of individuals who had had their deepest beliefs tested in the fires of physical and psychological torment.

Indeed, in reading the harrowing details of McCain’s stay at the “Hanoi Hilton”, one notices the similarities between his story and that of another political prisoner more than 5000 miles away.

That prisoner was Richard Wurmbrand.

Wurmbrand was a Romanian convert to Christianity and preacher living in Romania during the Cold War who spent fourteen years in Communists prisons for his faith in Jesus before his release three years before John McCain’s ordeal.

Like McCain, who elected to serve his country in the United States Navy, Wurmbrand felt a divine call to service on behalf of his nation, a Holy Nation, and became a minister of the Gospel in his native Romania, even as the Communists were making such an occupation as difficult and dangerous as possible.

Both men would suffer dearly for their service.

In 1967, during the Vietnam War, McCain’s aircraft was shot down over Hanoi.

Once pulled to shore, he was greeted by a band of North Vietnamese who beat and stabbed him with the butt and bayonet of a rifle, treating the freshly minted POW to a sampling of the hell that was to come.

Nearly twenty-two years prior, the Church in Communist-controlled Romania was facing a war of its own.

At a Soviet-sponsored clerical assembly in 1945, Richard Wurmbrand and his wife Sabina, herself a radical disciple, sat in horror as priests and pastors, one after another, rose and extolled the supposed the compatibility between the Kingdom of Christ and the politics of the Communist state.

Finally, Sabina tuned to her husband and said, “Richard, stand up and wash away this shame from the face of Christ.”

He replied, “If I speak, you will lose your husband”, reminding her of the high cost of defying the Soviets.

With that, Sabina issued him a firm challenge: “I do not wish to have a coward for a husband.”

“Then I arose”, Wurmbrand recounted in his book “Tortured for Christ”, “and spoke to the congress, praising not the murderers of Christians, but Christ and God and said that our loyalty is due first to Him” (15-16).

The brave minister was promptly put on a list and, three years later, arrested and imprisoned.

Wurmbrand and McCain spent three and two years, respectively, of their time incarcerated in solitary confinement.

To keep from losing their sanity, both men passed the days by writing, using the only means available to them: their minds.

“I used to write books and plays, McCain recalled, “but I doubt that any of them would have been above the level of the cheapest dime novel.”

Wurmbrand composed sermons, explaining, “Every night I delivered a sermon. There was no visible audience, but I preached to God. I preached to the angels.”

Though perhaps even worse than the isolation was the physical abuse.

The atrocities visited upon Wurmbrand and other believers in the Communist prisons have to be read to be believed:

Christians were put in ice-box “refrigerator cells” which were so cold, frost and ice covered the inside. I was thrown into one with very little clothing on. Prison doctors would watch through an opening until they saw symptoms of freezing to death, then they would give a warning and guards would rush in to take us out and make us warm. When we were finally warmed, we would immediately be put back in the ice-box cells to freeze—over and over again! Thawing out, then freezing to within just one minute or two of death, then being thawed out again. It continued endlessly. Even today sometimes I can’t bear to open a refrigerator (36-37)

Writing of his own tortuous experiences, McCain said, “I had been reduced to an animal during this period of beating and torture”, at one point enduring a succession of beatings by various prison guards every few hours for days until finally agreeing to write a confession of guilt.

Yet for all the similarities between their stories, the greatest point of divergence is reflected in how they reacted to the very people who caused them such misery.

In a first person account of his captivity, written in 1973, the language McCain used to describe his prison guards spoke to a fresh wound seeping anger and resentment.

“I hate and detest the leaders”, he wrote, a sentiment he echoed in 2000, saying, “I hate the gooks. I will hate them as long as I live.”

While a professing Christian who prayed and knew the Scriptures, the grace to forgive his tormentors eluded the elderly statesman.

In the starkest of contrasts, even while still imprisoned, Wurmbrand and many of his fellow Christian inmates prayed for and desired the salvation of their captors:

In the jailors who whipped us we saw the possibilities of the jailor of Philippi who first whipped St Paul and then became a convert…It was in prison that we found hope for the communists, that they will be saved. It was there that we developed a sense of responsibility toward them. It was in being tortured by them that we learned to love them. (60)

My point here is not to condemn John McCain. I can only thank God I have never suffered a fraction of what he did.

Yet, here we see the clear differences between the politics of the kingdoms of world and the politics of the Kingdom of Jesus.

John McCain went to Vietnam to kill his enemies on behalf of his country.

  • Richard Wurmbrand went to prison with a vision of giving to his enemies life through the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

John McCain swore himself to hate, resentment, and unforgiveness towards his enemies who made his life a living hell while in captivity.

  • Richard Wurmbrand, by God’s power, was given a supernatural love for his enemies in the very face of their cruelty.

John McCain had an unflagging vision to protect, spread, and preserve the principles of his country, the United States of America, above all others.

  • In solitary confinement, Richard Wurmbrand prayed “for America, for Britain, for Africa, for Australia, for New Zealand, [for] Germany, [and] France”, for their churches and children, knowing “you [the Christians there] pass a good time of your night praying for the prisoners in Communist countries.”

This was a man who understood that the Kingdom of God, not any earthly nation or national principle, is the hope of mankind, and who toiled to make that hope known around the world until his death at ninety-one.

As radical disciples, we feel uncomfortable with the lionizing and romanticizing of war stories and nationalism, both of which fly in the face of our Lord Jesus’ teachings.

Therefore, when our sons and daughters look up and around for heroes to emulate, let us point them to men and women like Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand who embodied the Savior’s words in Matthew 5:11-12:

“God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.” 

Christianity and Politics: An Interview with Dr. Christopher Petruzzi

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Dr. Christopher Petruzzi is professor emeritus at California State University, Fullerton’s Mihaylo School of Business and Economics (having served as assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and at New York University’s Stern School).

In his book “Christianity and Politics: The Attempted Seduction of the Bride of Christ”, Dr. Petruzzi makes the case that the way of Christ stands opposite the way of worldly politics. Bringing in his unique insights as a PhD in economics, Dr. Petruzzi’s book is a great resource for those wishing to go deeper into why Christians ought to reject the siren song of politics in favor of charity, evangelism, and living lives transformed by the Holy Spirit.

Dr. Petruzzi, how does an economist and Evangelical Presbyterian come to write a book about the danger of mixing Christianity and politics, and how did your religious and professional backgrounds help equip you to tackle such a difficult subject?

While I was raised as a Presbyterian and even belonged to a Presbyterian church a few years ago, I am not now a Presbyterian. I am part of Mariners Church which is an evangelical church in Orange County, California.

I became interested in politics and government in my early teen years. In college I became more interested in the economics of government and how that related to property rights and market solutions to economic problems. I was the president of my college’s club of libertarian political economists.

The free- market orientation of economists at the University of Chicago was part of why I picked that university for graduate school, and when my advisor, Arthur Laffer, left Chicago to teach at the University of Southern California I went with him to finish my PhD there. That background left me with the perspective that political solutions to social problems all involved changes in (broadly defined) property rights. They take rights away from some parties while giving them to others.

When, at the age of 39, I became a born-again Christian it became apparent to me that following Christ was not about seeking to change property rights.

The tagline of your book is “The Attempted Seduction of the Bride of Christ.” What is it about the prospect of political power that is so seductive to Christ’s Church What happens when the Church succumbs to political seduction?

People often think of politics as the way to get things done. Prior to the crucifixion even Jesus’ disciples thought that Jesus would take over the worldly government of Israel to bring about his kingdom. They did not understand that Jesus was doing much more than that. He offered a way to change the behavior of people by bringing them into a spiritual kingdom. More important, he offered a way for people to enter into a new relationship with God.

Islam is based on changing people’s behavior by the political solution of a theocracy which forces obedience. That is a substitute for God’s direct rule over their lives. It makes the state into an idol. When Christians become seduced by politics they are following that same false idol and, consequently, rejecting Jesus.

What is the most common objection you hear to the view of Christianity and politics you propose in your book and how do you answer it?

The common objection is that Christians should change the world and that politics is the best way to do that.

I agree that Christians should seek to change the world, but trying to do so through politics leads to failure. The only way that we can genuinely change the world is by leading people to Christ and letting the Holy Spirit change the hearts of men. That needs to be done one person at a time, by witnessing, showing charity, and making ourselves good examples.

While that it may not be the quick and easy solution that people want, it is the only solution that works. Fortunately, as Jesus told us you will find rest for your souls for my yoke is easy and my burden is light”.

Many say that by declining to participate in worldly politics, we refuse to be part of the discussion. If issues such as health care, environmental protection, and religious liberty, for example, are decided in the political arena, isn’t it negligent to not let our voices as Christians be heard?

Most of the private hospitals in the US were started by Christian organizations, and through charitable endeavors like those, we have been an important part of health care. We should continue providing health care to the needy. Political solutions, however, are about forcing other people to spend their own money to provide health care to the needy. That is not a Christian cause.

Each Christian should do his own part on protecting the environment, including little tasks like picking up trash that has been left by other people, and I support courts holding polluters liable for the damages they cause. While they are important, environmental issues are not what I would call Christian issues. Just because an issue has importance and even involves justice, does not make it a Christian issue.

For example, think about Luke 12:13. When a listener asked Jesus to tell his brother to make what was presumably a just division of an inheritance, Jesus said that was not his business. In a similar ways some other issues which involve justice are not our business.

On a similar note, scientific issues are not Christian issues. Global warming and what causes it are scientific issues, and we should leave those to science. There is no Christian position about what causes global warming.

Courts have upheld religious liberty in the US, so that should not be an issue here.

What makes Christian charity a superior more efficient form of charity than government charity, in your view?

That relates to my answer (above) about health care as well as other issues of charity.

First of all, a political solution which forces people to pay for health care or other benefits for the poor does not help the souls of the people who pay or the souls of the people who receive those benefits. The payers just see it as one more tax. They do all they can to avoid the tax, and many resent being forced to pay for the benefits of other people. The recipients see it as an opportunity to get something from the government. Since they know that the people who paid for that benefit were forced to do so, there is no reason for them to feel grateful.

By contrast, Christians who freely give to charity know that they are being obedient to God, and this enhances the Holy Spirit who dwells within them. Similarly, the recipients of Christian charity know that people gave to them out of love. That makes the gift something special to them.

In addition to these spiritual advantages of Christian charity over public benefits, there is a practical side. Taxpayers arrange their affairs to avoid taxes in every way that is legal. That has social costs which do not exist for charitable giving.

Recipients of public benefits arrange their affairs to qualify for more benefits, and that has even greater social costs. For example illegitimacy rates among the poor soared after the creation of the federal program AFDC which provided cash benefits based on number of dependent children in poor households.

Finally, there is the cost of administration which is more expensive for public benefits due to the many rules which are necessary to prevent the system from being exploited.

You seem to think that legislation is not the best way to change behavior, but if laws allowing no-fault divorce and same-sex marriage, for example, influence public morality and normalize certain forms of behavior, could not opposite forms of legislation influence the public morality of the nation in a more Christian direction?

At the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, Roman law and the morality of unbelievers was far worse than anything we see in the US today. What Christians would call bad behavior was normal. People enjoyed watching other human beings being tortured to death in the public arenas. Slave owners could force their slaves to have sex with them. Nonetheless, over the next 280 years, the number of believers grew from about 3,000 on the day of Pentecost to (by my best estimate) more than half the population of the Roman Empire.

Christians changed public morality over this period. Their contrast with the behavior of non-Christians may have been part of why people changed from pagan ways. They changed from their pagan beliefs even though that change sometimes brought the death penalty. If the behavior of unbelievers becomes worse in modern times, it will only make the contrast with Christianity more apparent, and that may help bring more people to Christ.

An outward appearance of moral behavior is enforced in the one fifth of the world that follows Islam. That outward appearance does not bring people closer to Christ, and it might keep them away from him.

In chapter 10 of your book, you write, “while the Bible states that those who bless the children of Israel will themselves be blessed, this does not mean unconditional support for the secular state of Israel” (133). How should Christians approach U.S. policy towards the Israeli State (one thinks of the recent move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, celebrated by many Conservative Evangelicals, for example)?

Other than using the courts to further our rights to worship and witness (as was done by Paul in the Roman Empire and by modern Christians in the US) Christians should not try to influence government policies. Many Christians have let the State of Israel and Jerusalem become idols. We should explain their errors to those Christians with love using the Bible along with historical and scientific facts.

In your own life, how receptive have you found people to your view of Christianity and its relation to politics?

Most Christians do not like this viewpoint. I think that there are a couple reasons for that. Many Christians do not agree with me that Jesus’ words in his Sermon on the Mount apply to us today. They also do not agree with me that while we are in the world, Christians are not part of the world. Politics is part of the world, and I suspect that some Christians want to hang on to that part.

When I myself gave up participation in worldly politics, I was left thinking, “now what do I do?” What do you advise someone in a similar situation, having been convinced to reject the politics of the world and now wondering what he should do to make a positive change?

Worldly politics is an idol, and people make idols of their political leaders. Those leaders, however, will not save them and, for the most part, are not going to make the world a better place. Jesus the Christ is the one and only leader whom we can trust. We cannot be divided on that. Jesus does not want half of our allegiance, or even most of our allegiance. He wants it all.

Christians had a great historical success in making the world a better place, but that success did not come from our involvement in politics. In fact, the involvement in politics hindered Christian success. Our success was through witnessing, charity, and making ourselves good examples. The Holy Spirit helped us with that.

My advice to Christians seeking to make a positive change is to step away from the world, and obey God. We can trust Him.

What are you up to these days? Any new projects on the horizon?

I am working on some academic articles that develop concepts from my book to explain how and why government works the way it does.

I am also continuing with the project on Christian group living which I started a few years ago.

I also have some projects involving innovations in business.

Kingdom Journey: Steve and Stephanie Jordan

The Kingdom Journey Series shares how Christians with roots in the Restoration Movement came to embrace Kingdom Christianity.

Name: Steve and Steph Jordan |Location: Ohio | Rest. Mov. Roots: International Churches of Christ

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1.) Brother and Sister Jordan, tell us a little about yourselves?

We have been married for eighteen years and have five amazing kids whom we homeschool. As far as work, we have a vending machine business and our blessed that I (Steve) can now work from home as an accountant. We have lived in Ohio/Northern Kentucky most of our lives, apart from a short stint in Arizona.

2.) When did you both come to follow Jesus?

We were converted in the International Church of Christ in 1996 (Steve) and 1997 (Steph) during which time we learned discipleship and the basics of the gospel.

3.) Can you explain your background and involvement in the International Churches of Christ?

Once converted, like many others, we were in leadership pretty quickly, eventually going on full-time ministry staff. We also started a chemical recovery ministry given our background in drug/alcohol abuse.

We continued to serve on staff for several years before leaving in 2002-03 in the months after the reorganization caused by the Henry Kriete letter. We homeschooled with many folks from the ICOC, and maintain many of those relationships to this day.

In recent years, we have been back in fellowship to a degree with people in the ICOC, though we do not commune with them. They respect us and our convictions, and are somewhat humble in many respects regarding our convictions, as most of them are unfamiliar with Kingdom-centered convictions.

4.) How did you become interested in a more “radical”, Kingdom focused Christianity? What does that journey look like?

We read David Bercot’s books (Finny Kuruvilla’s book “King Jesus Claims His Church” was helpful, as well), but at that time were busy growing churches. After we left the ICOC, I (Steve) worked for a Christian Church and we helped form a church plant with a team of people. The church is doing well by American Evangelical standards, as we had not yet embraced Kingdom teaching when we worked with them.

Jesus being the head of the church in truth and reality, not just in word, has become very important to us. Particularly, the handling of communion is the best indicator we have seen as to this headship issue, for if a church treats communion flippantly, it is a warning sign that the Head is missing.

It has been a process for us, doing various house churches through the years on and off and seeing the fruit in the churches we have known through the years, etc.

5.) What have been some of the difficulties along the way?

Having three of our kids in the middle of their formative years exposed to Evangelical churches, and seeing the need to move towards more grounded groups has been very challenging. As Paul says, marriage divides our interests. We want relationships for our kids, but struggle knowing the cost of those relationships is a compromise in holiness and, frankly, numbers of people, as Kingdom-minded folk are scattered and relatively scarce.

We do not want to go from lawless Christianity to rules-based holiness with our kids. They will have to sift through a lot just to see God.

6.) How does Kingdom-centered Christianity play out practically in a marriage? What advice can you give to young couples who may be on the same journey as you and your wife were?

The sooner you get the King to be the head of your home, the better. There is nothing like taking communion as a couple, and having accountability before partaking keeps the throne in its rightful place!

7.) What can conservative Anabaptists learn from the Restoration Movement and vice versa?

When I (Steve) think of the Restoration Movement, I think of a very incomplete restoration. Establishing, the preeminence of Scripture (at least in theory) and dismissing associations and societies overseeing church bodies was huge, but much has been left undone and holiness has been sacrificed on the altar of “being relatable.”

“You shall know them by their fruits”, Jesus said.

Traditional Church of Christ circles resemble the Anabaptists (mostly) with their rules and piety, but still only just so. Even (especially) in the ICOC, worldliness abounds and persists.

The Anabaptists, however, are shackled by rules that stifle growth. Both Anabaptists and Restoration Churches would do well to abandon group-think and come together in humility to learn from each other.

8.) What church do you attend currently?

We are in a rather nauseous state of flux in the ICOC Cincinnati, OH. We are strongly considering starting a fellowship here just north of Kings Island Amusement Park where we live.

9.) What encouragement would you give to a reader in a Restoration Movement church who is going through a “Kingdom awakening” of their own?

Live outside the box!

Do not forget Revelation and the book of Acts – as well as Matthew and Jesus’s teachings towards the Pharisees. Revelation has warnings that are best to heed when considering worldliness, and the book of Acts has convictions for those who are comfortable in their piety. The reliance on the Holy Spirit in Acts prompted many radical things to happen, from gentile conversion to jail breaks.

You don’t get to witness God if you are in a church where programming is the thrust, and sermons and staff are the Head.

Beware of the allure of prosperity in the U.S. and other first world countries.

10.) Finally, what is on your bookshelf or what are you reading currently ?

On books, there are too many to list…Law, Ravenhill, Richardson, Finney, among others… The first two volumes in particular of the Ante-Nicene Fathers.

Elliot Nesch’s Sermon on the Mount commentary.

Some books on the holocaust, and a couple other books for my (Steve) profession and entertainment.

11.) Anything else you would like to add?

I (Steve) am a studier of people, and am very interested in sociology and in what people are doing in regards to their journeys.

Please pray for us as we consider our next steps. And those who have current fellowships, please be humble. Other people have probably walked your steps before, and you would do well to heed their advice. The book of Proverbs says as much for a reason!

Thank you for your time and prayers.

The Life and Legacy of David Lipscomb: An Interview with Dr. John Mark Hicks

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Dr. John Mark Hicks is Professor of Theology at Lipscomb University, having taught in institutions affiliated with Churches of Christ for thirty-six years (you can read more about his bio here). In 2006, Dr. Hicks co-wrote the book “Kingdom Come: Embracing the Spiritual Legacy of David Lipscomb and James Harding.”

David Lipscomb’s work “Civil Government” continues to inspire Christians to look past the kingdoms of the world to the Kingdom of God as the solution to humanity’s problems. We thank Dr. Hicks for agreeing to be interviewed on life and legacy of David Lipscomb.

Dr. Hicks, for those unfamiliar with David Lipscomb, can you give us a brief sketch of who he is and how contemporary historians of the Restoration Movement have appraised his impact on the Movement?

David Lipscomb (1831-1917) was born in Tennessee, and he was educated, farmed, and ministered in the area around Nashville, Tennessee for practically all his life. He is recognized as the most significant thought leader among southern Churches of Christ in the post-Civil War era, even into the 20th century.

While all would agree he was a significant figure in the separation of Churches of Christ from the Christian Church due to his opposition to instrumental music in the Christian assembly and the centralization of money and power in missionary societies, among Churches of Christ he is often viewed as a moderate. He did not embrace some of the right-wing perspectives that characterized publications such as the Firm Foundation in Texas. For example, he opposed the practice of reimmersing those who had been previously immersed upon a confession of faith in Jesus simply because they did not understand baptism as the moment when God saved them. Doing what God said because God said to do it was a sufficient motive for faithful obedience, according to Lipscomb.

From the perspective of the Disciples of Christ, Lipscomb is a radical right-winger. From within Churches of Christ, he is a moderate. In fact, if the Disciples had never moved toward higher criticism, the introduction of women preachers, and ecumenicism, Lipscomb would probably have never been as strong on separation from the Christian Church. In other words, while disagreements would still exist, I imagine Lipscomb and contemporary Christian Churches/Churches of Christ would have found some common ground and mutual respect as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Many of our readers will be familiar with Lipscomb’s work “On Civil Government” , which first appeared in the Gospel Advocate magazine which Lipscomb edited and which argued for a strict separation between the people of the Kingdom of God (the Church) and the politics of the kingdoms of the world. How was that work received in Lipscomb’s time? When did his non-participation, non-violence view begin to wane among the Churches of Christ?

Lipsbomb did not originate this position. It was held by a significant number of people in Middle Tennessee at the outbreak of the Civil War, and Tolbert Fanning (1810-1874) advocated it a dozen years before the Civil War at least.

In 1866 Lipscomb published a series of articles articulating his position, and those articles ultimately became the book Civil Government (published in 1889).

The articles and book created considerable controversy. It is difficult to judge percentages, but it appears it was a dominant position in Middle Tennessee but it was not as well received elsewhere. Some suggest that it was a strong minority at the time of World War I, perhaps even a slight majority. I don’t think we can really know exactly.

His view began to wane among Churches of Christ in the 1920s-1930s. World War I began the demise, and as some power brokers within Churches of Christ moved to isolate premillennialists among them, it declined further because his view of civil government was closely linked to an apocalyptic vision of world history (and many added premillennialism to that vision, such as James A. Harding). Ultimately, World War II was the death of this vision of life as the vast majority within Churches of Christ embraced patriotism and nationalism (much as what happened among Northern Christian Churches at the outbreak of the Civil War).

The plethora of responses by Restoration Movement Christians to the plight of the enslaved Africans on American soil, especially in the time surrounding the Civil War, is both fascinating and frustrating. Alexander Campbell seemed to take a moderating view that stressed unity. How did Lipscomb’s view on the institution of slavery compare with Campbell’s?

Yes, Alexander Campbell was a gradualist, that is, he believed the evils of slavery would gradually disappear over time as the nation came to its moral senses, and he did not think slavery should divide churches because it was, in his view, morally sanctioned in some form by the New Testament. Campbell hoped and believed that slavery would disappear in the South just as it had in New England, given enough time and due moral diligence.

Lipscomb held a similar view as Campbell. However, he did regard slavery as a great evil because of the way the slaves were treated and he believed God, in his providence, would find a release for the slaves. Indeed, Lipscomb believed the Civil War was for the purpose of punishing the south for its treatment of the slaves as well as freeing them. At bottom, Lipscomb did not believe in violent revolution, and though Fanning and others were known to buy and free slaves (when freeing them was costly and difficult), Lipscomb submitted to the government as he thought Scripture demanded but worked for the humane treatment of slaves and expected its ultimate dissolution.

You co-wrote a book on David Lipscomb in 2006. And those familiar with your online writings know how Lipscomb, Tolbert Fanning, and James Harding have captured your attention. What is it about these men that fascinates, inspires, and challenges you?

Well, first of all, they are my family of origins as a minister among Churches of Christ. They shaped my family in significant ways. In order to understand myself, I need to understand them. We don’t know who we are unless we know where we have come from and how that has shaped how we think and act in the present.

More than that, however, I find their passion for evangelism, the poor, and critique of government fascinating. They advocated living simply, giving generously, and dedicating their energy toward kingdom-building rather than political and economic power. Their sense of the priesthood of all believers (every Christian is a teacher, missionary, etc.) is powerful, and their sense that the local church is the frontline of the kingdom of God in the world inspires me to focus my attention there. The church truly is, for them, a community that bears witness to others by its own life and practices.

The challenging dimension is holding together the tension between kingdom of God and the desire to bear witness to justice and peace in the world. To what extent is political action necessary if we are going to bear witness to justice? Lipscomb himself favored labor over the business tycoons of the late 19th century; he was a progressive era unionist, even sometimes bordering on a socialist communal agenda without, of course, involving himself in politics themselves. What would Lipscomb have done with the Civil Rights Movement? I think he might have marched (given the changing times) and supported the movement, but to what extent would he have seen the necessity of political action in the legislatures and voting. Probably, I imagine, he would have left that to God though he would have been a voice for humane treatment of people in their social relations and in churches.

Lipscomb obviously was not in favor of Christians taking over the legislature to, for example, “take the country back for God.” Many of us who think similarly are often met with the charge that we believe Christians should “sit back and do nothing.” How would Lipscomb have responded to such a claim?

 

It is difficult to know exactly what Lipscomb would have done in our contemporary context.

In his own context, he welcomed laws that supported morality though he neither voted for them nor antagonized for those laws. When there are good laws, he is happy to obey them. When there are bad laws, as long as they do not subvert the gospel in any way, he still obeys them.

Civil disobedience is on the table for Lipscomb, though it is difficult to discern when he would actually use such except in extreme circumstances where the law explicitly contradicts the will of God.

He also used his voice to protest war (e.g., Spanish-American War), denounce commercial greed, and advocate for labor. In the Jim Crow south, you do not see him, however, confronting the evil and calling for change, though it is clear he did not agree with Jim Crow laws. One sees this in the context of the church, for example, where there should be no difference between Black and White in the community of faith. Lipscomb opposed the Jim Crow process of segregation that shaped the South in the 1870s-1890s, and it was basically complete by the 1900s.

I don’t think Lipscomb would say, “sit back and do nothing.” He would probably say, “preach the gospel, live as disciples, and bear witness to justice and peace in nonviolent ways.”

Hypothetical scenario: I’m sitting in a Church of Christ and have come to believe Lipscomb, Harding, and Fanning were on to something, especially as it relates to the Christian’s relation to government and war. Now I am wondering if there’s a place for me in the Churches of Christ. What is your advice for such a person for whom the teachings of the leaders of the past are clashing with the realities of present teachings and trends?

I hope there is a place because that is where I sit! There is a persistent stream of thought from Stone and Fanning through Lipscomb and Harding to the present. Pacifism never died out among Churches of Christ, though it was overwhelmed at times. Our heritage has this resource, and we should retrieve for the present, especially in the light of current realities.

However, one must sit with grace, patience, and persistence. Speak when there is opportunity, live peaceably with people, model how to resist evil with good rather than evil, etc.

I imagine Jesus himself had to wonder whether he could endure remaining among his own disciples who wanted to burn cities rather than liberate them. This is part of suffering with Christ and completing the ministry of Christ in our time.

How can we allow the example of David Lipscomb to continue to challenge us in the present day?

The pressures surrounding the Civil War were intense. It is difficult for us to imagine. But suppose someone said (as some did) in the aftermath of 9/11, that our task is peacemaking rather than warmongering. Suppose someone might say, it is just for us to fight back and make war on the Taliban because of what they did to us. It serves justice and freedom.

I imagine Lispcomb heard the same thing in Middle Tennessee from both northern and southern politicos. Each could make their own case. Each employed a “just war” strategy. Lipscomb and others were under tremendous pressure to conform and pick sides and go to war. Some of Lipscomb’s cousins, classmates, teachers, and fellow-students went to war, and some from each of those categories I just listed died. The cultural pressure must have been enormous.

 

Nevertheless, Lipscomb refused to conform, and he decided for the kingdom of Christ instead of the human kingdoms.

That challenges me. Could I have done that? What would I have done? What should I do now?

Yes, Lipscomb continues to challenge me.

Welcome.

In the first century, a zealous group of men and women set out to change the world with the message of Jesus Christ. They called themselves “followers of the Way”, Christians.

Though they faced fierce resistance, these disciples of Jesus stood against war, worldly politics, and the idolatry of their day to point people to a more excellent way of life in relationship with Jesus in his kingdom.

More than 1600 years later, another group of passionate and persecuted Christians, this time in Europe, stood against centuries of corruption and corrosion that threatened the integrity of Christ’s Church and name.

Their enemies called them “anabaptists”, repulsed by their practice of (re)baptizing those who had been “baptized” as infants in state churches.

Call them Anabaptists, Kingdom Christians, or Radical Believers, they had as their mission to live by the Sermon on the Mount, preach the Gospel of the Kingdom, and interpret the Bible as pure babes in Christ.

Furthermore, in the 1800s, Barton Stone and Alexander Campbell, dismayed by the sectarianism destroying the fraternal love between God’s children, came together under the banner of the Bible to work for restoration and unity in Christ’s Church.

Later known as the “Stone-Campbell Movement” or “Restoration Movement”, some of their distinctives included weekly communion, baptism for salvation, and a high view of Scripture.

Their spiritual descendants live on today in the Churches of Christ, Christian Churches, International Churches of Christ, and so forth.

Today, another wind is sweeping through the land as Restoration Movement Christians slowly awaken to a new spiritual heritage among those of conservative Anabaptist convictions.

The purpose of this blog is to encourage such Christians, facilitate discussion and cooperation between traditional Anabaptists and those of Restoration conviction, and do our part to help spread the Gospel of the Kingdom which Jesus preached.

“The spread of the peaceful principles of the Savior, will draw men out of the kingdoms of earth into the kingdom of God.” — David Lipscomb

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