Feb20WedFebruary 20, 2019
On Sunday evening, I participated in the special viewing of Dr. John Roth’s documentary about the Anabaptist Trail. I was captivated by the historical landmarks in Germany, Holland, and Switzerland which memorialize significant moments in church history.
One such landmark is the statue of Ulrich Zwingli, a Swiss priest who debated with Martin Luther. The large monument displays Ulrich holding two swords – a sword of man (a sharp, steel blade) and the sword of the spirit (a Bible). Although Zwingli was influential within the Anabaptist movement, he later separated from his friends, Conrad and Felix, when it became evident that they were convinced of carrying only one sword – the Scriptures. Zwingli would later be memorialized while his friends would be martyred.
For those who agree with Conrad and Felix, it can be difficult to know what to do with the violence in the Old Testament. For example, our Daily Scripture Reading has taken us to Deuteronomy 13 this week which says that if an entire city indulged in pagan worship, God’s people should, “put the inhabitants of that city to the sword, devoting it to destruction, all who are in it and its cattle” (Deut. 13:15).
What a contrast from Jesus who commanded his disciples to “Love your enemies, and do good. Lend and expect nothing in return… for [the Lord] is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:35-36). Didn’t Paul, Peter and John all repeat the commands to love in the face of adversity (see Romans 12:14-21, 1 Peter 3:9-11, and 1 John 4:18-21)? But if that is true, then why did God give such violent instructions centuries earlier? Honestly, we can’t say for sure. However, there are some clues which we should consider.
First of all, God’s reputation as the divine champion over Pharaoh had spread abroad (Exodus 15:14-15). The inhabitants around Canaan knew enough about the true God in order to turn away from their heinous idolatry…but most of them didn’t (Deut. 2:25-34).
Secondly, the Lord severely prohibited the shedding innocent blood (Exodus 23:7). God never violated His own law by killing truly righteous people.
Thirdly, the Lord repeatedly commanded his people to love their neighbors and offer hospitality to foreigners (Ex. 22:21, Lev. 19:18, 33-34, Deut 10:19).
Although the bloodshed under the Old Covenant is difficult to understand in light of the incarnation – three truths become clear as we consider the whole counsel of God. First, “The Lord takes no delight in the death of the wicked.” Instead, He desires that everyone “repent and find life in Him” (Ezekiel 18:32).
Secondly, sin is serious business in God’s eyes. Truly, “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23) and the Hebrew story displays it’s consequences within historical humanity.
Finally, and most importantly, Jesus ushered in the age of the New Covenant through the shedding of his own blood. Through Him, justified violence has been replaced with love and radical hospitality for everyone (see Romans 12).
Yet some, like Zwingli, struggle with this because it sounds so irrational…and difficult to live out even with the Holy Spirit. If you yourself struggle with these New Covenant commands, I encourage you to visit the Anabaptist section of our FMC library to learn about the many who followed Jesus – even to the point of death. Remember that our Master’s words are never easy to follow. But they do carry a tremendous witness when they are lived out through the power of the Holy Spirit! (Just don’t expect to receive a stone statue as your legacy.)