THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT OPTION, CONT.
THE CHOICES WE FACE
We have a choice to make. Either we "make a decisive leap into a truly countercultural Christianity," or we do nothing and doom our children and grandchildren to assimilation.
So says Rod Dreher just two pages into The Benedict Option.
I couldn't agree more.
The Great American Assimilation Machine was recently described as an "Expansive, diverse, open form of life that is nevertheless distinctive, alluring and absorptive,---so much so that those from other cultures worry that they will be overrun by (American) mores, sensibilities, and ways of life."
"Tell someone in France, or Japan, or Uganda that America is a multicultural nation---and they'll laugh."
"We have an aggressive, invasive monoculture that most of the world sees as imperialistic." (R.R. Reno, First Things, May 2017, p. 66)
This cultural imperialism forces everyone to bow down to the Golden American Image---or pay the consequences.
The music is playing--mesmerizing, deceptive, deadly. All around us people are falling to their knees, worshipping the gods of American society.
"Hail to naturalistic Scientific Discovery!" "Hail to Inclusiveness and Diversity!" "Hail to the holy trinity of Technology, Media and Internet!" "Hail to Business, Wealth, Possessions!" "Hail to Pleasure, Entertainment, Sports!" Hail to the Human Body!"
"Hail to ME!"
And we who are still standing must decide what we will do.
How do God's people resist bowing to the idols of American culture?
How do they raise their families in an imperialistic culture hostile to Christian values?
Can we learn from the three young Hebrews who resisted bowing to the golden image? What made them strong?
Isn't it clear these young men must have been taught and shaped by a remnant countercultural society?
Dreher's solution in The Benedict Option is to make a "decisive leap" into a new kind of family monasticism patterned after the order of St. Benedict, a sixth-century monk.
But shouldn't we "leap" further---all the way back to the first-century order established by the Nazarene, Jesus the Son of God--- and His Sermon on the Mount?
Recovering the Sermon on the Mount as the pattern for daily life will give families of believers everywhere the opportunity to enter into joyful persecution for righteousness' sake.
Then we will be Salt and Light to the world with works that glorify God-- just as Jesus promised right there in the Sermon on the Mount. (Matt. 5:9-12)
This is the way to resist and penetrate the godless cultural imperialism surrounding us.
Believers living the Sermon on the Mount by faith won't bow down to the gods of this age.
And the believer who builds his house on the rock of Jesus' unshakeable Kingdom will be able to weather the storm, just as He promises at the end of the Sermon. (Matt. 7:24-27)
WHO IS THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT FOR?
One of the biggest mistakes the Church ever made is to teach that the Sermon on the Mount was for a select group of cloistered saints.
Mainstream Christianity has lost its potency because it has lost this teaching.
The Sermon isn't an impossible ideal, to be lived out in some future age.
The Sermon isn't a "law" revealing human sinfulness.
And it isn't for the half-hearted, those who would serve both God and mammon.
The Sermon was originally for the disciples, those who left their loved ones and their vocations to follow the Master. Two thousand years later, the Sermon is still for those who have left all for His sake, right here in America---in 2017.
The Sermon is for those who have been completely taken by the Savior's love as were those first disciples.
We see Him now as Risen Ruler and King of the universe, an all-benevolent, yet absolute Sovereign for whom we choose to give up everything.
We embrace the the Sermon-- not only as His gracious commands--but as the "Transforming Initiatives"* of the New Humanity for which He died.
We can embrace the Sermon with the kind of faith described in a confessional statement 490 years ago:
"Saving faith is not a useless, hidden, unborn thing in a man. It doesn't consist of merely historical knowledge derived from the Scriptures--something to be talked about without having the real substance.
True faith which counts with God is a sure knowledge of the heart; a sure confidence which we get from God---not through our own power, will or ability.
We receive this faith through hearing the Word of God, which---as it is illuminated by the Holy Spirit---is written in and imprinted on the heart. This Word works so effectively in us that we are drawn away by it from all visible and perishable things to the invisible, living God.
By it, we acquire a new spiritual taste for that which is heavenly and not for that which is earthly. For saving faith, accompanied with hope and love, is of such a nature that it conforms to things not seen.
Hence all true believers gladly and obediently submit themselves to all the commandments of God contained in the Holy Scriptures..." (Confession of Faith According to the Word of God, attributed to the congregation of Peter Twisck at Hoorn The Netherlands, 1627, Martyrs Mirror p. 383, revised slightly.)
I suggest all of His disciples should come apart, gather around the Master once again to hear His teaching by faith.
I plan to read through the Sermon for the next 30 days, taking notes.
Anyone wish to join me?
May 17, 2017
I pre-ordered my copy of the Benedict Option. Like many, I was eagerly waiting for this book.
I wasn't disappointed. I got the book just a few days after it was released, and must have been one of the first federal inmates to devour it.
I then ordered a copy for each of my four sons, (aged 14-24) my son-in-law, my four ministers, and a friend in here---a total of 10 extra copies.
Like I said, I wasn't disappointed.
Dreher's goal with the Benedict Option is to "Embrace exile from the mainstream culture and construct a resilient counter-culture" in this age of "Post-Christian barbarianism." These issues are very close to my heart.
I embrace his goal. His prophetic eye and voice is greatly needed in our day. He gives insightful analysis on how western society has reached its present state of disintegration.
He gives a blueprint for the construction of an alternative culture with helpful material on topics like raising godly families, technology and media, education and jobs---all in the context of Christian community.
"Dreher argues that the way forward is actually back---all the way to St. Benedict of Nursia."
On my second time through the book I began to wonder whether Dreher missed something in plain sight.
Does he go back far enough?
Has there every been a more resilient counterculture than the one established around 33 AD by the King of a New World Order?
Did that King leave behind a constitution, a "Rule of Life," for the citizens of His Kingdom by which they could establish a radical counterculture?
Would this "Rule of Life" not only enable the early Christians to survive the paganism around them BUT ALSO empower them to be a "City on a Hill" and a "Salty Influence" on society around them?
Did it work for the early Christians?
Are there societies throughout church history that have lived by this Rule?
Does this Rule work in modern society; are there resilient countercultures existing under this Rule right now?
YES! To all of the above.
And it's really surprising to me that Dreher, at best, only makes glancing reference to this most radical and transformative "Christian Manifesto."
It's time for "THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT OPTION."
(Don't get me wrong, I'm not canceling those extra copies and I'm going to dog-ear and mark up my personal copy some more.)
But something is very wrong with Christianity and I think it will require going beyond a "Benedict Option."
In his column "A Tale of Two Churches," in the April issue of Christianity Today, Andrew Wilson notes that "In many ways the story of Christianity is full of light."
"But there is an undeniable dark side: attacking, burning, crusading, drowning, flogging, ghettoizing, hunting, imprisoning, Jew-hating, and lynching." (And might I add, "bombs and bullets.")
Wilson says of the people involved in the above atrocities, "As far as we know, they have loved God, followed Jesus, and received His Spirit."
Is there anyone else raising their eyebrows and going, "REALLY??!!"
Eighty-six years ago E. Stanley Jones, the "Billy Graham" of the 1930's and 1940's, exclaimed, "The greatest need of modern Christianity is the rediscovery of the Sermon on the Mount as the only practical way to live." (Christ of the Mount, p. 14)
He couldn't have been more right---then and now.
Historians tell us that in the first three centuries of the church, the Biblical passage most referred to was the Sermon on the Mount." (Kissinger, Sermon on the Mount, p. 6)
I sincerely believe the loss of the Sermon on the Mount led directly to the "dark side" of Christianity Wilson wrote about.
Jones goes on to say in his 1931 classic, "The fact is, that the Sermon on the Mount is not in our creeds. As the Apostles Creed now stands, you can accept every word of it and leave the essential self untouched...Suppose we had written in our creeds and had repeated with conviction each time, "I believe in the Sermon on the Mount and in its way of life, and I intend, God helping me, to embody it!"
"What would have happened?" Jones asks. "I feel sure that if this had been our main emphasis, the history of Christendom would be different." (p.12)
"With its emphasis on doctrines which left unaffected our way of life, the Christian Church could accept Constantine as its prize convert. And yet Constantine, after his alleged conversion, murdered his conquered colleague and brother--in--law Licianius, sentenced to death his 11 year old nephew, killed his oldest son Crispus, brought about the death of his second wife, took the nails that were supposed to come from the cross of Christ, and used one in his war helmet and the other on the bridle of his war horse."
"Yet he was canonized by the Greek Church, and his memory celebrated as equal to the apostles, was hailed as "bishop of bishops and presided at the council of Nicaea." (p.12-13, Jones.)
WITH CHRISTIANS LIKE THIS, WHO NEEDS BARBARIANS?
It's time we push back through the wreckage of a dark "Christianity", and let the light of true Christianity lead us to the Light of Lights. It's time we go back past fundamentalism, past revivalism, back past Martin Luther and the Reformation, the Middle Ages, the Dark Ages, Benedict of Nursia, Augustine, Constantine and Origen and the early fathers---and reclaim our heritage.
On our journey we may find help from many great men and movements. But they will help us only as they point us to the Lodestar.
The Lodestar is a meek and lowly man from Nazareth, sent to earth to bring the Kingdom of Heaven among us.
He led his World Revolution without violence and killing (except for allowing Himself and His followers to be killed) and He taught them how to be "salt and light" and full of good deeds that would glorify God in the midst of barbarianism.
Rod Dreher has helped open our eyes to the realities of our day and time.
In my opinion, one of the most profound statements in the book comes from the leader of a Christian community in Italy whom Dreher interviewed, Marco Sermarini:
"I didn't know the teaching of Jesus Christ was for all of my life, not just the religious part of it. If you recognize that He is Lord of all, you will order your life in a radically different way."
It's time for the SERMON ON THE MOUNT OPTION.
To be continued.
Kenneth L Miller 08464-082
Federal Correctional Complex
P.O. Box 1000
Petersburg, VA 23804
I think we live in a very oppressive society.
You might disagree.
Wasn't this country founded on ideals that allow every citizen to enjoy "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?" Doesn't this society hold among its highest ideals non-discrimination and individual freedom?
The reality is that many Americans are desperately unhappy, they are not free, and tragically, they are giving up on life entirely.
Americans are the most heavily medicated people on earth. Millions are on anti-depressant, anti-anxiety and psychiatric medications--even in the church.
More people are incarcerated in America than in any other nation on earth, including Russia and China. It has more than 25% of all the world's prisoners despite having less than 5% of the world's population.
The March 31st USA TODAY reported on a study done in run-down neighborhoods in large cities. "An emerging national network of public health and neuroscience researchers, community minded foundations and law enforcement officials, believe that the primary challenge facing high poverty areas is not one of the usual suspects; education, crime or jobs."
The biggest challenge, according to the study, "Is an epidemic of trauma passed along from generation to generation, from one neighborhood to another."
The trauma from broken homes, single households, alcohol and drug abuse, incest and sexual exploitation is comparable to the trauma experienced in war-torn countries, the study reveals.
The trauma inflicted on children is mind-boggling and absolutely heart-wrenching. This is not a time for judgment, but for mercy.
Another much publicized study shows that middle-aged white Americans are seeing a dramatic decline in life expectancy. The reason? People seem to have lost hope. Broken marriages, loss of the American dream, fragmented and isolated lives are causing millions to seek escape in drugs, alcohol and other abuses. Thousands are dying from overdoses and suicide.
American society is in deep trouble.
What has gone wrong?
The news articles I've read don't suggest the possibility that the despair and hopelessness in so many lives might be caused by spiritual emptiness.
Could it be that sexual "liberation" and the pursuit of material treasure and pleasure are leaving people hollow at the core--hungry for something more?
Could it be that the Gospel of self-fulfillment being peddled everywhere is snake oil psychology? Or worse, is it a toxic brew that does the opposite of what it promises---bringing enslavement and despair instead of fulfillment?
Modern society has brought us "The autonomous, freely choosing individual, finding meaning in no one but himself."
In a Supreme Court decision upholding abortion rights in 1992, Justice Kennedy said, "At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and the mystery of human life."
God is fast becoming irrelevant as people are taught to find ultimate meaning and fulfillment in themselves.
And this gospel of self-fulfillment is anything but good news.
It's time for a revolution, time to throw off the chains of this oppressive society. It's deliverance time.
We're talking about a spiritual revolution.
"The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds. We suit up with "the armor of God on the right hand and on the left." (2 Cor. 10:4, 2 Cor. 6:7)
Two thousand years ago, The Emperor of a New Society stood up and proclaimed this revolutionary message: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (Luke 4:18)
Folks in His hometown of Nazareth were so incensed by His claims that they took the Emperor and tried to throw him down over a cliff. But He survived the attempt and went on to lead the greatest revolution this world has ever seen.
Jesus presents a dramatic counter-claim to the promises of modern society.
"Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life FOR MY SAKE will find it. If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me." Luke 16:24-25.
The exclusivity and extent of Jesus claim is breathtaking. If we wish to find ourselves (self-realization) we must let go of ourselves and surrender to this Person.
To be sure, joining Jesus' revolution means abandoning everything in order to follow Him, just as did His first disciples.
But that is a small price to pay. For He heals our broken, disordered hearts with His abounding life. And the peace and joy is unspeakable.
He is THE ONE the oppressed, brokenhearted American people are looking for--the Great American Liberator.
If we take the time to unplug the media, and turn off the TV, we can find Him, if we seek Him.
He promised, "If anyone loves me, he will keep my Word and my Father will love him and WE WILL COME TO HIM AND MAKE OUR HOME WITH HIM." (John 14:23)
There's nothing better. To have the quieting, restful, joy-giving presence of God is what our weary hearts need.
We've all been affected by the mad pace of this oppressive, soul-squeezing society.
If we step aside long enough to look for Him and open our hearts to Him, we will find the Great Psychologist; the Counselor we all need; the Friend who abides with us and comforts our lonely hearts.
He's been there all the time, even while counseling centers and drug treatments proliferate.
When we surrender to Him; when we live in His presence with our brother in obedience to His teachings, His Liberating Kingdom will break out among us and make us whole.
"The Sun of Righteousness (shall) arise with healing in His wings..." (Mal. 4:2)
Peace to all in Jesus' precious name! It's probably about time you hear from me. I miss coming to our prayer meeting. Right now we have a time of testimony and prayer and teaching each evening at 7:00 in the outdoor pavilion--except for the evenings something else is going. Tonight's meeting will be chilly.
I woke up around 11:30 the other night; loud voices in the hallway just outside the door. I tried to shut out the noise and go back to sleep. I heard Karl, my bunkmate and ex-marine get up. I figured he'd give them a piece of his mind.
The next day he told me what happened. He stepped into the hallway and tried to quietly say something like, "Can you give us a little respect, there's men in here trying to sleep." One of the men shot back, "THIS IS PRISON!"
Karl replied quietly, "You're right, it is prison."
He came back into the room and I heard him rustling around.
HE PUT ON HIS BOOTS.
He went back into the hallway, and in a quiet but commanding voice said something like, "You were right, this is prison, can we talk about it more?"
He said the fellow took a look at his boots and skedaddled for the end of the hall-way, and he didn’t come down there all the next day.
Karl said that fellow had probably never been at a high security prison or a penitentiary. Because there they'd have beaten him to death for not being more respectful. He's probably right. I've heard some horrible stories.
How does an Anabaptist compare to a marine in a situation like that?
Let me mention what happened to me about a month ago. The same thing was happening. It was maybe 12:30 a.m. and the fellows were over there in that little room off the hallway, playing chess, thumping the pieces on the board as they moved, and talking loudly. That time I couldn't rely on Karl, he slept right through it.
So finally I got up. I went over to that little room, tried to be as friendly as possible and said something like, "Excuse me, we're trying to sleep over there."
The response was identical. "THIS IS PRISON, MAN!"
Somehow I didn't feel like pushing my point, so I walked on down the hall to get a drink. When I passed by again they were still playing noisily. I crawled back into bed and tried to go to sleep. I'd like to imagine I asked God to forgive them, but I don't remember, and that's probably being a little plenty generous with yours truly.
But after 15-20 minutes they moved and it was quiet!
No threatening action necessary!
Not that threatening action would be all that natural for me. Pushing 5' 6" and 139 lbs, I'm one of the smallest fellows in here. A lot of fellows spend hours working out on the weight yard every day, massive bodybuilders--and they're CRIMINALS. And I'm in here with them, mingling with them every day.
But I've never felt real danger.
One of my friends and brothers in Messiah is Steve. He's 6'8" and about 250 pounds. When we're together you get the long and short of it.
But the real reason I've never felt danger is because the Firstborn, my Elder Brother, is here with me. He's with me everwhere. And He's Incredibly Strong.
Nobody's gonna mess with me without first tangling with Him!
I've often thought about that terrifying scene on the Kano Plains near Lake Victoria in Kenya Africa, Nov. 6th, 2000. Three defenseless men huddled together, kneeling on the ground, crying out to God while the mob rushed toward them. Only God could save them, and somehow, He did.
We've all come through times of intense trial. And one thing we learn: God is faithful. We don't have to stress and we don't have to fight for ourselves because we're learning to trust Him to fight our battles.
"The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God through our Lord Jesus Christ!" The only weapons we carry are "The Shield of Faith" and "The Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God."
Last time I checked, no concealed weapons permit was necessary for either of these.
This morning for breakfast, we had pancakes and syrup, oatmeal and a slice of pineapple that was really good. For lunch we had a hamburger with the fixings and fries that were almost better than McDonald's fries. Tonight is chef salad. We really have nothing to complain about.
Yesterday I was feeling "blah" just about all day. A lot of it was from the lack of sleep that previous noisy night. I felt emotionally drained, unmotivated and didn't use my time very well. And I didn't feel like being with people at all.
Sometimes a man needs to grab himself by the scruff of the neck and give himself a kick in the pants. So I went outside and walked in the cold bracing wind and cried out to God and resisted our enemy. And I discovered once again that if you really mean it, God answers our prayers and gives us power and new energy on the inside. And then our physical bodies are revived too.
"But if the Spirit of Him that raised up Christ from the dead dwell in you, He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by His Spirit that dwelleth in you." (Rom. 8:11) This compares to Isaiah 40:28-31, "He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might He increaseth strength;..."
One of the many things I'm learning is that Jesus is our Mediator. Not only between us and God His Father, but between us and every person and circumstance. Jesus stands there in the way, inviting us to participate with Him as we interact with that person, with that circumstance. To the extent we accept His invitation is the extent we're able to love people as He does and to face our circumstances with wisdom and strength-- without fear.
When we forget He is there, or when we ignore Him, we go around Him. Then we interact with that person, that circumstance on our own. That is what it means to operate in the flesh.
Let's all remember our dear brothers and the court hearings next week, and earnestly pray.
Your brother in Christ Jesus
I stood in the stairwell at Richmond Hall waiting at the door for the next "move." I put Brother Weber's letter into my back pocket. I moved further down the stairs. I didn't want the fellows around me see a grown man cry.
Brother Weber is a young man from Elmira, Ontario. He wrote me recently.
What in the world does he have in common with Rosaria Butterfield? (I've been reading her books lately.)
Not much, at first glance.
Weber grew up in a close-knit conservative culture much like my own.
Rosaria Butterfield was a lesbian activist and a tenured professor of literature at a major university.
That is, until she met the same Person Brother Weber must have met.
He's conservative Mennonite as I am. She's now Reformed Presbyterian. The theological differences are not insignificant.
So what does Brother Weber have in common with Rosaria Butterfield?
Brother Weber shared with me in his letter the words of a song he's come to love, "How Deep the Father's Love," by Stuart Townsend. Standing there in that stairwell, letter in hand, the words and melody of that song washed over me and took my heart:
How deep the Father's love for us! How vast beyond all measure!
That He should give His only Son, to make a wretch His treasure!
How great the pain of searing loss! The Father turns His face away.
As wounds which mar the Chosen One, bring many sons to glory.
I will not boast in anything; no gifts, no power, no wisdom.
But I will boast in Jesus Christ, His death and resurrection.
Why should I gain from His reward? I cannot give and answer.
But this I know with all my heart; His wounds have paid my ransom!
And I realized that this young coming-of-age brother loved the same Jesus that Rosaria Butterfield found in the "train wreck" of her conversion.
Strange, how this self-described "meek and lowly" Jesus has captured the lives and loves of so many millions of wildly disparate people around the world in the last 2,000 years.
It must be the "Visceral living presence of God," a Jesus who "Seemed present and alive," that Mrs. Butterfield wrote about in The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert.
It must be the "Peace and tranquility we feel when we let His love and plan of salvation be enough to carry us through each day," that brother Weber wrote about in his letter to me.
All I know is that the Jesus of Brother Weber and Rosaria Butterfield has captured my heart too, and I never want to let Him go, and I know HE will never let me go!
So let us gather around the cross together and lift our eyes to the Savior. This is the location Brother Weber and Rosaria Butterfield have in common, as do all of us who are In Jesus Christ.
And by the way, why don't you look up Brother Weber's beloved song and let its message break your heart again.
And while you're at it, get a hold of Rosaria's books, The Secret Thoughts of An Unlikely Convert and Openness Unhindered. Her books can help us see ourselves. And they can help us offer the transforming grace of Jesus to our fellow sinners.
Ken Miller 08464-082
Federal Correctional Complex
P.O. Box 1000
Petersburg, VA 23804