Thursday, June 28, 2012

Pondering the Kingdom of God This 4th of July Weekend

This week I read the on-line translation of Leo Tolstoy's The Kingdom of God Is Within You. Tolstoy seeks to prove in his 1894 work that it is inconsistent with the character and teachings of Christ for any Christian to resist evil with violence. Tolstoy (1828-1910) is considered by many as the greatest novelist of all time, and his writings had tremendous influence on Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr. I had not known until this week who influenced Tolstoy in his own thinking on this subject.  In chapter one,  entitled The Doctrine of Non-Resistance to Evil Has Been Professed by a Minority of Men from the Very Foundation of Christianity, Tolstoy credits American abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879) with writing a declaration that cemented in Tolstoy the belief that Jesus was teaching in Matthew 5:39 "that the establishment of universal peace can only be founded on the open profession of the doctrine of non-resistance to evil by violence."

Tolstoy printed Garrison's entire 1838 declaration in chapter one of The Kingdom of God Is Within You. Paragraph two of Garrison's declaration affirms the following:
"We do not acknowledge allegiance to any human government. We recognize but one King and Lawgiver, one Judge and Ruler of mankind. Our country is the world, our countrymen are all mankind. We love the land of our nativity only as we love all other lands. The interests and rights of American citizens are not dearer to us than those of the whole human race. Hence we can allow no appeal to patriotism to revenge any national insult or injury..."
Regardless of one's agreement with Tolstoy or Garrison regarding non-resistance, Christians in America would do well to pause prior to this 4th of July--before any musical celebration in church or patriotic message from the pulpit--and ponder whether we are making it clear to our fellow Christians that "the kingdom to which we belong is not of this world."


Rex Ray said...

Ah! July 4…a date I remember because 55 years ago, it was two days before we were married, and now it will be two days after a knee replacement.

Someone said something like: “A nation that does not look back with pride will not look forward with hope.”

So what value was “Remember the Alamo”, “Pearl Harbor”, or “Get behind me Satan!”?

On one hand if Stephen had not prayed, would Paul have preached; and on the other Jesus did not take a palm branch into his ‘Father’s House’ but a whip.

Bryan Riley said...

I just recently read Tolstoy's book as well. I'd love to chat with you about it! It seems the gospel often preached today is much different than the gospel of the Kingdom Jesus consistently taught. It seems hard sometimes to distinguish between cultural preferences and real Kingdom.

Bryan Riley said...

Pondering that our enemy is not flesh and blood... pondering that people will know who we are by our love... pondering the walk that resists by using an opposing godly spirit - turning the other cheek, resisting greed with liberality, resisting force with volunteerism, and living meekly and in forgiveness. There is much to ponder in Jesus' teachings, those teachings with which we are to disciple whole nations.

Wade Burleson said...


Wishing you a happy anniversary and a successful knee replacement!



I am doing an entire series on "The Kingdom" this fall on Wednesday nights. I have to agree with you that much of what we call "Christianity" in the west is cultural preferences and not the kingdom Jesus taught us about!

Dennis said...

I think you should do a little more research on Ghandi. He is not what people think he was. Very dark saide in his life regarding murders etc. He was not a man of peace.

I agree that the Kingdom of God here on earth is a Spiritual Kingdom, and that with the very residing of God in believers (which equates to being the church)makes us this spiritual Kingdom.

I live in that. But I also have no problem being part of the participation of helping choose good people in Government. The choices those people make affect my life here. i have never been in the military, but i have no problem with having a military, neither would it bother me to kill in self defense. You kinda left such a short blag that I am not real sure what you are saying.

Wade Burleson said...


I agree with your views more than I do Tolstoy's. I often write to stretch Christians in the realization that there are various views out there, and in areas of gray, we ought to support people who hold to different positions.

Johnny D. said...

It is amazing, Wade, how often your posts hit so close to home for me.

As you know, my son is in Afghanistan. Just today on the phone, in response to the question, "Are you safe?" he replied, "No." He can't say anything else, and frankly, I wish he had not said that to his mother. But, what is done is done.

More to the point, I'm torn about what to say to him. I posted on his facebook something like, "Give the Taliban hell for me. Dip your rounds in bacon fat before you send them their way" but not so much because I want that to happen, but because I don't know what else to say and I certainly DO want him to think he has my full support. Looking back on it, that was a mistake to write that to him. That's not my personality anymore since Jesus came to live in me.

I hate war. Our son being there in the fight is like having Damocles' sword hanging over our heads. Thanks largely to some words you wrote to me in the recent past, I believe that what he is doing is a good thing, and I told him about your words - he appreciated it - as do I. It's still hard though. It didn't bother me when I was on the line, but having your son on it is so much harder. Guess I know how mom and dad felt at times.

Wade Burleson said...

Johnny D.

Your words are powerful.


JW said...

How many Christians can tell anyone about the Kingdom of God? I recently heard a podcost from steve brown etc. in which he interviewed a guy who wrote a book about it and decided to live it out more fervently.


Jim said...

I spent 26 years in active duty military service and I concur with Tolstoy. As Christians, we are often obliged to live with a foot in both worlds (secular and sacred...state and church). The problem begins when we attempt to combine those worlds. I love our flag, I would die for it, but I don't want to see it beside the pulpit in church. The church/pulpit represents the sacred; the flag represents the secular. Let's not try to marry them, no matter how much we love both.

Anonymous said...

When I first became a Christian, I felt uneasy saying the Pledge of Allegiance. It was said at every church I attended, and nobody ever told me that it was wrong to say it. I just felt that I didn't want to pledge allegiance to anything but Jesus. I still feel that way.