They Shall Be Called Children of God: Violence, Transformation and the Sacred

Violence occurs in our own homes and in our neighborhoods, in our schools (public, private, adult vocational, trade, colleges and universities), in our church buildings, in our denominations, within our theology, at our seminaries, at work, in malls, in hospitals, in our small towns, cities and nations.  We may limit the broad scope of violence to only its physical manifestations all the while ignoring the spoken, mental, emotional and spiritual forms of violence.  When we stand before all these complex expressions of violence, it is sobering and frightening to witness such a satanic presence that can only be transformed by God through the Holy Spirit. 

What possible recourse does the Church have in its possession to effectively address violence? 

It would seem that having God and prayer would suffice.  However, it is how we come before the Lord in prayer and how we enact our faith through consecrating, reclaiming and setting boundaries before the evil one - in the name of Jesus Christ - that we will come into a greater understanding of the indescribable power of God in this violent world.  This is paramount if we are to comprehend the task that is before us, as kingdom people, to stand up to violence and be instruments of His peace.  Moreover, it is quintessential if we seek to be empowered by the Eternal for the work of emancipating our brothers and sisters (and perhaps ourselves) from violence through the grace of the Holy Spirit.      

Baptist/Anabaptism spirituality and discipleship are inextricably connected.  I believe that this is one of many reasons why Christian rituals (in a historically Reformed Protestant/Free Church context) are potent and extraordinary glimpses into the Kingdom of God.  Regrettably, Christian rituals are often misunderstood and their profound purposes usually disregarded by post-modern society.  The rituals of a godless society have replaced the ones the Church intended to offer humanity as life-giving and peaceful expressions of the Holy and the sacred.    

When Christian rituals are wisely enacted with holiness and reverence toward God, shalom comes forth in abundance. God’s purposes are unveiled and divine direction embraces an entire community.  As rituals can be infused by the Holy Spirit with the intention to bless and guide the Church in its service to Him and to our neighbor; it is of cardinal importance that we closely examine Christian practices of spirituality and discipleship in prayer and with discernment.  These include celebrating the Lord’s Supper at home, practicing various forms of prayer (including the Anabaptist Rosary), fostering community at home through gathered family meal times, demonstrating love and building trust through the setting aside of time each and every night to have meaningful conversations with our children.         

How do these practices speak to confronting, diffusing and transforming violence? 

In “The Naked Anabaptist”, by Stuart Murray, the story of Dirk Willems is retold.  In his description of the iconic story of love for enemies, Murray suggests the following interpretation for why Dirk decided to return and save his persecutor: "… many have concluded that this instinctive response… was the result of being nurtured by a community in which enemy-loving was regarded as normative for disciples of Jesus.” 
(p. 132)

It is my position that the nurturing of our children in a Jesus-centered home and church community where love, shalom, communication, understanding, healing, forgiveness and radical discipleship are modeled is the single-most powerful “weapon” against every form of violence.       

How this teaching and modeling occurs is vitally important.  It will not be inculcated through Sunday morning preaching or youth group meetings alone.  It must go beyond Sunday school as well.  Too many churches have been assimilated into the dominant culture and have also bought into the mass hype of the most current and “hip” Christian author, book, DVD… in short, consumerism.  Three to four hours a week of “church” will not make any long-term difference in the raising up of peace-centered, kingdom people seeking to plant seeds of nonviolence, understanding, education, engagement, healing and forgiveness. In fact, apathy, passivity and the rat race can all distract and will ultimately cause the spiritual death of a congregation.  The home is the lifeblood of the church.  It is the true academy wherein the formation of radical Jesus followers happens.  The homes of the believers must be the place where shalom is fostered, enacted and expected.  It is where anti-violence is the normative manner of conflict resolution.          

When parents feel frustrated and do not possess the spiritual resources to face the difficulties and uncertainties of parenting, they experience insecurity, frustration, loneliness and guilt.  Without a genuine, Christ-centered rhythm of life (rituals), the frustration sets in and grows uncontrollably into the enactment of desperation in the form of anger.  In short, violence.  Tragically, children inherit far more of what they see, than of what they are told.  As parents become perpetrators of violence, their children will model those very same behaviors thereby initiating the cycle of violence.     

A return to Christian rituals, rooted in Christ and the Scriptures, will enliven and inject profound purpose and direction to the spirituality and discipleship of our faith tradition as was intended by our Anabaptist forefathers and foremothers.  They sought to pass on to our children and of our families, both old and young alike – under penalty of excruciating death – the legacy of following Jesus and in doing so, loving neighbor, enemy and each other alike… embracing all in God’s shalom.     

In reclaiming the sacred traditions of the universal Church, the Free Church witness can divest said practices of nationalism, superstition and misguided doctrine.  In doing so, we can rejoice and reclaim our radical reformation heritage while providing a much needed visual, tangible and sensual expression of our faith to the people who claim Christ as Lord and Savior – especially in such a visual, individualistic, violent and spiritually desensitized culture as our own.  Through these habits of faith, we can strengthen our focus; plant the seeds of a more deeper and extensive understanding of Christ and make peace the fruit of the heart.  


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