A Conversation with Myself About Christian Warfare Imagery and Other Things

Weekly Lectionary takes a look (sometimes brief, sometimes longer, sometimes odd) at one of the lectionary passages for the upcoming Sunday. This one falls into the "odd" category as it is literally me talking to myself. This week we'll look at the New Testament passage of Ephesians 6:10-20.

Chris: So I'll just skip the small talk. This week's NT passage is the Full Armor of God.

Christopher: Yeah. Well known passage.

Chris: Right? It's a strong visual; pretty popular to use with kids too.

Christopher: Well, when you get the chance to mix Jesus and weapons, you've got to take it.

Chris: That's part of my trouble. I'm not really comfortable with war imagery in Christianity.

Christopher: Well, that's nothing new.

Chris: True, it goes back to at least that project we did on the Crusades.

Christopher: Oh yeah. What was that? Ninth grade?

Chris: Yep. Of course it's not just restricted to the Crusades. War imagery always seems to be popular. People love taking out the bad guys. The problem is it seems to run contrary to how Jesus instructed his followers to treat their enemies.

Christopher: Blessed are the peacemakers. Love your enemies. Pray for them. Turn the other cheek. Bake them cookies.

Chris: Technically not the last one, but it's the right idea. Yet people take things like this Ephesians passage, the Book of Revelation, or the Canaan conquest in Joshua and they project it. The Christian life becomes a war.

Christopher: We've got to annihilate our enemies.

Chris: And it's gotten to the point in the US where those who most loudly proclaim their Christianity will be the ones who most loudly bang the drums of war.

Christopher: Or demand totally unfettered access to weapons.

Chris: Again, there is this disconnect between Jesus and violence. Yet sometimes Christians give the sense that the two are intertwined. It troubles me when they're brought together like that.

Christopher: Are we pacifist?

Chris: Eh...I'd like to be, but I fear we're too cynical. Pacifish, maybe.

Christopher: PICK A SIDE, PANSY!

Chris: Hey! What was that for?

Christopher: I just thought I'd try that out.

Chris: And?

Christopher: Kind of felt like a jerk.

Chris: Bringing it all back to the Full Armor of God, I sometimes have difficulty separating that passage from our warfare-laden rhetoric.

Christopher: Well in Ephesians, Paul...wait. Is it Paul?

Chris: It's up for debate, but you can call him Paul.

Christopher: Okay, Paul says that our fight is not against flesh and blood. It isn't against people. It's against evil.

Chris: While people may do evil acts, they are not our enemy. We're called to help people. Evil is what these proverbial weapons are to be aimed at.

Christopher: Right and actually little of what is mentioned in Ephesians is weaponry. It's mainly defensive.

Chris: The only weapon is a sword.

Christopher: Which, again, is combatting the evil that attacks a person. And that sword is the Spirit which brings freedom.

Chris: As opposed to something that hacks people to pieces.

Christopher: Though I do wrestle with the fact that Paul talks about the sword also being the word of God.

Chris: True. People sometimes use that verse to justify wielding scripture like a weapon against those who disagree with them.

Christopher: Which many times can be their interpretation of scripture. And even still, dropping Bible bombs doesn't seem to be the point.

Chris: No. It ties into the whole business of people reading "word of God" as a synonym for Bible.

Christopher: Whereas the Bible as we know it didn't even exist during Paul's day.

Chris: Yeah, I'm wondering if "word of God" in this passage is more in line with the logos that we read about in John 1.

Christopher: That does track better with word of God being equated to the Spirit in Ephesians 6.

Chris: Right. And I should say that my interpretation could be wrong.

Christopher: Obviously.

Chris: But if that is the kind of sword of which Paul is talking then what we wield is the Spirit that was upon Jesus. The one that caused him to preach good news to the poor, release the captive, and proclaim the year of God's favor.

Christopher: In that case, we ward off evil by living life in tune with the Spirit, by being in community with the living God rather than a document that has a variety of interpretations.

Chris: Right. And that's not to take away from scripture, its authority, or its usefulness. But scripture is not equal to the Spirit. The one and true way we fight evil in this world is living like Jesus.

Christopher: So to recap: Don't be so quick to use warfare imagery. Our enemies are not people, but evil itself. And following Jesus is the thing that will truly upend evil in the world more than quoting scripture.

Chris: Works for me. Good talk.

Christopher: Good talk.

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