Not Peace, but Division: Walking the Line Between Subversion and Embrace

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : September 14, 2007

A while back, one of my readers made the following observation:

mark, i hope you don?t mind my frankness?

but you seem determined to revolutionize something. it?s like part of your identity. it?s curious. but it may get in the way of doing what we?re really supposed to be doing. which is to love one another.

am i missing something here? i certianly could be, and very likely am? please enlighten me?. i?m listening?

216293029_a797aabb44_o I’d like to take a moment to respond.  I’m doing it here (rather than in the comments section) because I want to make a point that I feel is worth sharing.

Indeed, I am determined to revolutionize something.  I do feel it is part of my identity–at least part of my sense of calling and ministry and gifting.  And I fully recognize that it may sometimes get in the way of loving one another.  But as risky as it is for me to challenge the sorts of things that I do on this blog, I think it is far riskier NOT to challenge them. Let me explain:

On August 19th, the lectionary passage was Luke 12:49-56.  In the passage, Jesus states:

I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.

These words are provocative.  And even more provocative are the words from last week’s passage:

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters?yes, even life itself?such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

These passages clearly build on one another.  They actually seem to harken back to earlier OT passages that speak of this division as one that divides families.  This doesn’t seem like a loving Jesus!

Or does it?  While Jesus uses the word “hate” I don’t believe he is overturning all of his other teachings on love.  Instead, he is calling for allegiance. Radical allegiance.  Now is the time when people must decide whether or not to confess Jesus as their Lord.  He did not come to bring peace and ease; his work would inevitably arouse opposition to the progress of the gospel even within families.  Even as wealth can keep us from following him (Jesus talks about the perils of wealth often), so too can our family ties.  But if we love our families, and love God, we need to radically ally ourselves with Christ.  Otherwise, we cannot learn what he has to teach us.  We will always be limited by our meager love that is constrained by our inability to truly lay everything down in sacrifice at the feet of the One who embodies love.

We, like Jesus, are called to wreak havoc…to not only be peace makers, but also trouble makers and rabble rousers. We the church are all to often too divisive with foolish things, but refuse to take a stand with important things for fear of causing division or making trouble.

And so, even as I challenge and push and seek to revolutionize things, I do so in love.  I love the Church enough to ask her to lift her head high.  I love the Church enough to ask her to be faithful to Christ.  I don’t abuse the Church–I challenge and rebuke and encourage and exhort. 

You see, love both embraces and subverts.  It not only brings unity, but also division.  Not only healing, but pain.  This is because love always calls to commitment.  It isn’t simply sweet and nice, but also painfully hard, and usually sacrifice.  Simply put: love costs.  And the high price of love can either be a aching delight, or a piercing terror.

This isn’t license to be a jerk.  I know I can sometimes come off that way or go overboard.  And I know I should balance my challenging posts with hopeful ones.  But I see a church that is in Babylonian Captivity.  I see a church that needs to make a choice. 

In Revelation, the voice of the angel calls out:

‘Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great!’ 
She has become a dwelling for demons
and a haunt for every evil spirit,
a haunt for every unclean bird,
a haunt for every unclean and detestable animal.

For all the nations have drunk
the maddening wine of her adulteries.
The kings of the earth committed adultery with her,
and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries.”

Then I heard another voice from heaven say:
‘Come out of her, my people,’
so that you will not share in her sins, 
so that you will not receive any of her plagues…’

I know all of this sounds excessive.  I know it is a bit melodramatic.  But I believe the Church in America has become to intertwined in the American Dream.  And as a result, we have failed to love mercy and seek justice.  We have commodified Christ.  And we need to be rebuked and challenged.  Not because the Church in America irritates me, or that I don’t love her.  But because I love her way too much to see her in captivity. 

Any comments/challenges/questions?

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11 Responses to “Not Peace, but Division: Walking the Line Between Subversion and Embrace”

  1. Rebekah on September 14th, 2007 2:25 pm

    We can’t falsely encourage, but I do think too many people have walked away from the church because they don’t agree with what is going on. We should fight for change.

  2. keith johnson on September 14th, 2007 8:08 pm

    Hi Mark:

    You wrote: …”I believe the Church in America has become to intertwined in the American Dream. And as a result, we have failed to love mercy and seek justice”

    I agree. I love my church–a small Lutheran church in Southern California, but I cannot attend services around the 4th of July because we sing patriotic songs. I don’t think that the Body of Christ, in whom there’s neither Greek nor Jew, neither slave nor free, has any business entangling our worship of God with the secular worship of nationality. Now I happen to think that there’s lots right with America to go along with what’s wrong with us, but when the Church is considered an extension of our nation we miss the mark. A letter writer in the Opinion section of my local newspaper once complained that Muslims Americans were disloyal because their first allegiance was to Islam, not the USA. But the same thing ought to be true of us Christian Americans according to Jesus as the passage you quoted says. Our allegiance to Christ demands that we love our neighbors and even our enemies, we are to be loving because God *is* love. But we cannot love if we refuse to obey the very essence of love–Christ. Christ has to come first, before flag, before country, before everything.

    your friend

  3. amy on September 15th, 2007 8:28 am

    hi mark. i’m thrilled to hear your views. i thought maybe i wasn’t going to. i feared i had offended you. (if i did please accept my apology)

    first i want to pray for you and amy.

    heavenly father, i come to you today in the name of Jesus to thank you for keeping your hand on mark and amy. thank you for helping them through the pregnancy and for allowing them glimpses into the joy and depth and awe of parenthood. thank you for helping them stay positive during periods of difficulty and strife. thank you for inspiring mark to continue building his ministry, and for healing his thoughts about money so that he may be open to receiving it. thank you for reminding him through his readers and friends that he is beloved. Amen.

    i’ll pray on your post some more…. there’s a lot there to digest.

    my first reaction is that this statement is not true:
    “We, like Jesus, are called to wreak havoc…to not only be peace makers, but also trouble makers and rabble rousers. ”

    that seems to me to be a bit of a misunderstanding. it is the love itself that changes people. not our effort to subvert. when we radically embrace our commitment to God then others get angry with us. family members call us “Jesus freaks” and such. division happens. and then, when we are rejected by people we love the most, we are asked to radically love them in return. this love is anything but “meager.”

    God’s perfect love, mighty love, all powerful love, does the changing of systems from inside the heart of each person. God does the revolutionizing. not people. people are asked to bring forth His great love. that is what takes courage and commitment. not the accusing and criticism and blame and trouble and rabblerousing in the name of revolution. that is satan’s territory. that is the response to the action of radical love by non-believers. not the action itself that we are to take. (does that make sense?)

    thank you again for responding with much insight and heartfelt opinion. i’ll re-read your post and give it a lot more prayer.

  4. markvans on September 17th, 2007 10:45 am

    Amy, I completely agree that it is love that transforms and revolutionizes. But you are incorrect if you think that Satan is the only who causes trouble. I simply don’t believe we should ever cause trouble in the “name of revolution.” I do, however, believe that we should cause revolution in the name of love.

    You take issue with me saying: “We, like Jesus, are called to wreak havoc…to not only be peace makers, but also trouble makers and rabble rousers. ”

    Perhaps I should have said: “We are called to wreak havoc in the same way that Jesus did…to not only be peace makers, but also trouble makers and rabble rousers.” I don’t think we should cause trouble for its own sake. Or to do it in an unloving way. But Jesus caused trouble. He did it in a way that demonstrated love for God and neighbor, but he certainly caused trouble nonetheless.

    I think you’re mistakingly equating love with niceness or love with lack of conflict.

    Does not Jesus show the love of God when he…

    …flips over the tables of the money changers?
    …speaks woe on the scribes and pharisees?
    …calls people to leave their sin behind?
    …looks Peter in the eye and says “get behind me Satan!”
    …heals on the Sabbath?
    …drinks water with the Samaritan woman?
    …tells parables that challenge and rebuke the wealthy…the Pharisees…the rulers?

    All of these things caused trouble. And often their are clues in the text that Jesus knew they would cause trouble. Jesus was a troublemaker. For love.

    That is all I’m advocating. I’m not advocating change or revolution because I’m grumpy. Nor because the Church doesn’t affirm my tastes or my particular pet doctrines. But I do advocate revolution because:

    The church in America rarely turns the other cheek as many of its people actively condone (or sometimes celebrate) war.

    Many leaders in the church care more about numbers than about people.

    That many Christians aren’t aware of how their regular practices contribute to injustice–both here and overseas.

    That many Christians believe that their possessions and wealth exist for them and not the Kingdom of God.

    I could go on. Does this help clarify my position?

  5. amy on September 18th, 2007 7:51 am

    hi mark,
    yes, thank you. your position is clarified. i honestly don’t think our positions are as far apart as they seem… we both believe in effecting change through love.

    i should say that i do not belong to a church, nor have i ever. my focus is on the individuals that make up the body of Christ, not the church.

    every church is a human system, like the government. until God is fully present in each of us, all churches will be sadly missing the mark.

    i am not equating love with niceness. that is what you believe people do so that is what you see in my words.

    i equate love in this case with my bringing to light the truth of the spirit in which you sometimes work here. i hope you have heard me.

    because you are not free from sin as Jesus was, you are not in a position to say many of the things he did.

    if you want more people to turn the other cheek, then radically practice that yourself as an example.

    if you want to show an example of someone that cares about people more than numbers, you could start by addressing your “readers” by their names more often as an example to others, or maybe knowing a little something about them.

    if you want to help people see how their actions contribute to injustice, then write about how your own actions have contributed to injustice, and how Christ has changed you for the better.

    if you want to inspire people use their wealth for the betterment of the kingdom, then allow yourself to receive abundance and show through example how to use the resources.

    if you want to be like Jesus, then spend more time doing the things he did much more often then flipping tables over. i believe he did that once. it’s a really overused example. he was making a point, not telling us all to go forth and flip tables.

    look, mark, i understand your position. like i said, we’re not all that far from one another in terms of how we feel.

    i am certainly not talking about a wimpy love that is sweet and nice and avoids conflict. if i were, i would have stopped writing you a while back.

    i am talking about the love that keeps bringing me back here, trying to get you to see what you are doing to yourself and others with your “revolutionary” identity. please hear me: there is pride within that identity.

    i knew when i first brought this up that it would “wreak havoc” and create “division” rather than make peace between us. i didn’t need to use words like “smug thug” to do it. do you understand?

  6. markvans on September 18th, 2007 8:14 am

    I’m not sure how to respond. It is easy to agree with much that you write. And sure, there is always pride tainting my words and actions, because I am a flawed human being. But I do take issue with the way in which you are characterizing me.

    You are right to suggest that we shouldn’t be so free to say and do the things Jesus did–he is after all the embodiment of love. And it would be easy for someone to just mimic the harsher things of Jesus without being loving.

    But I feel you are hearing more of my harshness than is intended, and less of my love. Let me try to give you perspective.

    All of those “if” statements that you list above are the sorts of things I do in my real life. Or at least try to do. This is just a blog. It is a place where I devote only a fraction of my energy. And I use it to promote particular ideas and to challenge things. Most of my time and energy isn’t spent in challenging things. Some of the rest of my life is spent in my household (where I spend lots of time cooking meals and spending time with friends old and new). I work with college students. I meet folks in my neighborhood. I relate with folks from inside and outside of my church.

    You confess that you are not, nor ever have been, the part of a church. It seems as though you lack the perspective to criticize me. Most of my life is spent trying to be a vessel for healing and transformation within the church or churches…among groups. You challenge me because you focus your energies on the handful of individuals that you know and love. You don’t see a Church needing to be transformed, you see many individuals each needing love.

    I think it comes down to a difference of perspective and gifting. While I sometimes go overboard in my words, I have never used words as harsh as the Prophets or Christ or Paul. I’m aware that I lack the spiritual clarity to speak with that much authority. But I do believe, in all sincerity, that most of what I write is necessary, driven by love, provocative in a measured way. It may not be rounded out enough with a pastoral spirit, but that pastoral spirit is usually focused closer to home.

  7. markvans on September 18th, 2007 8:22 am


    By the way, i think you read too much into my poems. That “smug thug” with the sign? Not anyone I’ve ever met. When I write a poem, they are usually fictional explorations of an idea. The idea of that poem is that you can’t “I love you” and “F… you” at the same time. And poems like that also express a dark sense of humor, not angst or anger.

    Would you say that some of my posts move too much in the direction of “F… you” language? Do I sound mocking or angry or hateful?

  8. amy on September 18th, 2007 11:42 am

    thank you for your response, mark. i’ll pray on it.

  9. amy on September 21st, 2007 6:22 pm

    hi mark,
    i’ve been praying on our exchange, and first want to say i’m sorry for being critical of you. i do believe that identifying too much with the “rebel” or “revolutionary” is harmful, but i never intended for you to feel criticized. i’m sorry.

    some other thoughts about your post that have been swirling in my head this week…

    “Would you say that some of my posts move too much in the direction of “F… you” language? Do I sound mocking or angry or hateful? ”

    you do have some very loving posts. it is true though that some of the words that you use are angry, accusing words. other words might be more compassionate and serve to build people up. if you step back and look back you’ll understand.

    “You confess that you are not, nor ever have been, the part of a church.”

    that wasn’t a confession. the idea that you think it was is curious to me.

    “But I feel you are hearing more of my harshness than is intended, and less of my love. Let me try to give you perspective.”

    that’s probably true. i’d like to feel the love through your online works. that’s really all i’ve been trying to say. more love. let the love itself do the reforming.

    you are a man of God and i believe in you, mark. i know there’s much more to you than people can see here.

    at some point i’d like to talk more about the group focus vs. the individual focus… that’s curious to me. i’ve always seen people as people first, and members of groups second. i’m curious to understand more about how you see it. i suspect that your group focus makes it a little easier to use angry words.

    just to clarify, i know a bit more than a “handful” of individuals. i’m a college teacher and counselor, and actually not all that much different from you.

    take care,

  10. markvans on September 21st, 2007 6:44 pm

    Not much more to say…I don’t feel anger when I use words that you feel are angry. I think my words can sometimes sound more angry than they are meant. The things that I’ve written that draw the most reaction from you are interesting to me. Most of the time, I’m being darkly humorous or tongue in cheek.

    I believe in the Church before individuals, because I believe the words “in Christ” is a communal phrase before it is personal. Jesus and Paul and the other NT writers all use words that you’d probably say are “angry” because they are addressing community problems and community sin.

    I’m open to being challenged on this…I am. I’ll try to be more reflective before I post. But I sincerely don’t think I’m being destructive or overly challenging. I think I’m simply being challenging.

    I think our difference is this: you see more of a tension or conflict between my harsher words and my loving words than I do.

    I’d appreciate the perspectives of some of my other readers on this…

  11. amy on September 22nd, 2007 8:09 am

    interesting. “in Christ” to me starts in my heart.

    clearly we believe different things, and i’m fine with letting that be.

    thanks for your perspective. i’m grateful to be able to understand it better. God bless you and amy.

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