In the fourth century, the North African theologian, Augustine, understood the New Testament to teach that sometimes violent coercion of heretics and unbelievers was acceptable to ensure a Christian nation. He wrote, “You also read how he who was at first Saul, and afterwards Paul, was compelled, by the great violence with which Christ coerced him, to know and to embrace the truth.” While there is much to appreciate from this Berber theologian, acts of violence have been justified by different groups based on their understanding of what is right since the beginning of a nationalistic form of Christianity.
Jesus knew this all too well even in his day. Whether it was from Jewish religious leadership or Roman political leaders, acts of violence were most certainly a part of first century Palestine. He challenged such systems and His challenge caused division, but not division as we are currently witnessing in our society and in the church in the 21st century. The division He caused included:
- His identification as God in opposition to both Jewish and Gentile views of deities (John 10:30)
- His commitment to peace, but peace that comes through uniting with Him and not religious or political authorities (John 14:27)
- His challenge to His disciples to not lord authority over others (Matt 20:25-26)
- And His call to stand up for justice, defend the faith, and proclaim the good news as core ministries of the church (Rev 2:1-7)
Jesus provided a new way to think about the world in which we live. Perhaps Paul captures it well in Ephesians 2,
“For he himself [Jesus] is our peace, who has made us both one [Jews and Gentiles] and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new [humanity] in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:14–19, ESV).
If we have any hope for change, we might consider adopting the way of Jesus.