Sunday, February 14, 2016

What Does “Jesus Is Lord” Mean?

Earlier this month I wrote about Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his highly influential book The Cost of Discipleship, published in a new translation in 2001 as just Discipleship. Bonhoeffer’s emphasis was upon following Jesus as Lord. But what does that mean?
For most of my life I have generally agreed with those who said that the most basic, and most important, “creedal” statement for Christianity is simply “Jesus is Lord.” All people who could sincerely make that profession, and only those who make that profession, should be considered Christians.
In my Jan. 30 blog article I mentioned that I had started reading Frederic Rich’s book Christian Nation (2013). I have now finished it, and I can’t remember when I have read a novel that has been as disturbing, and thought-provoking, as it.
In Rich’s novel, John McCain and Sarah Palin are elected in 2008, and within a year or so McCain dies (of natural causes). Soon under President Palin there is a move to make the United States into a Christian nation as envisioned by her and those of the Christian Right who agree with her.
The movement toward the Right’s concerted attempt to establish a theocracy is greatly aided by terrorist attacks on 7/22/2012, which are much worse than the attacks of 9/11/2001. Those attacks also facilitate Palin’s reelection in 2012.
Four years later Palin’s successor is her principal advisor, the fictional Steve Jordan. He starts his inaugural speech in 2017 by declaring, “I submit America to Christ.” He then establishes a commission to draw up plans for a specific legislative program to implement his vision of a Christian nation.
Michael Farris, who is a real person (see this link to the Wikipedia article about him), was appointed chair of that commission, which included people whose names you know: John Ashcroft, Rick Perry, James Dobson, Tony Perkins, Ralph Reed, and David Barton, among others.
The third section of the completed Farris Report is titled, “This nation devoutly recognizes the authority and law of our Lord Jesus Christ.” One provision of that section states, “Only persons who have accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as their savior shall serve as federal judges.”
Maybe you can see why this caused me to think deeply about what it means to confess “Jesus is Lord.” Those seeking to establish a Christian theocracy in the U.S. use their belief in Jesus as Lord to lord it over people who are not Christians or who do not agree with their interpretation of Christianity, which I don’t.
Here is why I strongly disagree with them: proclaiming Jesus as Lord never means coercing other people. According to the biblical records, Jesus never coerced anyone to follow him. Accordingly, those who are disciples of Jesus should never seek to coerce anyone to follow him—or to follow explicit “Christian” laws enacted by those who think they are following Jesus.
In Christian Nation, though, blasphemy, all abortion, homosexual activity, adultery, extra-marital sexual activity, and even labor unions are made illegal. Moreover, all American citizens are forced to live under the government’s interpretation of Biblical law—a kind of Christian Sharia.
All of this may seem so fictitious as to be completely implausible. But I think we have to consider the fact that, in the words on the dust jacket of Christian Nation, it could happen here.
The best chance of it beginning to happen here soon is for Ted Cruz to be elected the next President. If he wins the nomination, which is still quite possible, I’ll write then about why I think that.  


  1. The first comment received was from an American Christian Thinking Friend who lives in Japan. He wrote,

    "Oh my! Your synopsis of 'Christian Nation' gave me a serious shock. What a nightmare scenario!"

    My response:

    Yes, it was a rather shocking scenario that Rich projected, but one not out of the realm of possibility if the right (read "wrong") people get into office.

    1. Dear Friend your fears are utterly unwarranted! Ted Cruz does not believe in such a political state as the kind of theocracy you have implied! We are nowhere near a theocracy!Or maybe you would prefer a leftist to be President rather than a Cruz? Why because Cruz gives,(who) the best hope of bringing this theocracy about? Are you for real? When we had a Christian consensus during the formative years of America and revivals happening on a regular basis we were not in danger of becoming a theocracy? And now in these evil and adulterous times you think a theocracy is possible? This is unbelievable naivete and gross ignorance of the times in which we live? A Clinton Presidency or any of these malignant leftists should trouble you? Then we will have Lordship alright but not the kind of Lordship good for anyone! Even non Christians! I know for a fact that some of the people who are associated with the so called Right do not believe in the death penalty for adultery and homosexuals etc.! Very few professed Christians believe this! There is no way that a theocracy is possible if you take into account what the current political parties whether conservative or not believe. No one is on the verge of thinking in terms of theocracy? Democrats even conservative , Libertarians, Independents and Republicans are not interested in such an arrangement!So your fears are unfounded and complete non sense! clinton is who you should be wary of and a leftwing Supreme court who only has to win a 5 to 4 vote which can complete the leftist LORDSHIP of America!

    2. I don't usually respond to anonymous comments, but just this brief response: I think that Sen. Cruz is not going to be the Republican nominee for President and the dystopian scenario of the novel is completely unlikely with any of the other candidates.

      As for Cruz and the possible move toward theocracy, though, check out this article:

  2. Local Thinking Friend David Nelson shares this comment:

    "I find it very sad that 'Christian Nation' advocates fail to read the gospels. If they did they would discover that right and just action is far more important than right belief.

    "I will join the movement where the hungry are fed, the sick are healed, education is available for all and compassion is celebrated.

    "Jesus did not come to be King, he came to be fully human and invited those who would to follow."

    1. Thanks, David, for your comments.

      Yes, it is remarkable that in seeking to follow the teaching of the Bible the "Christians" in charge of the Christian nation they have formed are far more interested in literally following the Old Testament passages about stoning to death blasphemers and gays than in following Jesus' teachings about feeding the hungry, healing the sick, etc.

  3. I think it's important to stress a point you made, and that is that the novel and the people it reflects carry one particular interpretation of Christianity, which itself is a historically recent phenomenon. Even Christian fundamentalists and evangelicals were not married to reactionary right-wing politics until the 20th century.

    The scenario of the novel does sound nightmarish to those of us who escaped fundamentalism.

    1. Anton, while what you say about the relative newness of the conservative evangelical and Religious Right is correct, they have become a voting block that gains major attention from the media.

      In the days before the South Carolina primary, for example, there is constant reference to "the evangelicals" and how they are likely to vote. We hear nothing about how the members of the UCC, for example, are going to vote, and even little about Catholics.

      Also, while some of us may have escaped fundamentalism personally, we may not have escaped from its dangers in the world of politics.

      Rich says in the Afterword that his novel is not a prediction about what will happen; "instead, it is intended as a warning that such an outcome is possible."

      I think he makes a legitimate point. I don't think this country will move toward a theocracy, but it could happen if the right (wrong) people get into office.

  4. A sad topic as we think on the life of the saint we honor today, and the persecution of Christians both back in his day and now. I have not read the book, but I do recognize some of the names(good Christian people). The author seems a little psychopathic in his estimation of Christians - as you put it in a previous posting, Evangelphobia. In my lifetime, I have witnessed the cruelty of "Christian" wackos from both the extreme right and left, and worked with those persecuted by Muslims, Buddhists, pagans, atheists, and even other "Christians". The meanness within Christianity needs to be called by those closer to those aberrant and heretical factions, that they might repent, and take their disciples in a Christ honoring direction. (Madeline Albright, and Episcopalian, set a good example this week, of recanting her statement of damnation which had included good Christians.)

    I would say that I doubt that will happen, but this week we witnessed some initial healing of two very divergent parts of the Church as the Patriarch of Rome and Russia (east and west) met and signed a document of goodwill. Both have also begun reaching out to Protestants as well.

    Rather than a isolated segment as a creed, I would look to the full creeds penned by the Church councils, which sought acknowledge the one, holy, catholic Church.

    During this time of Lent/Great Lent, may the Spirit of God lead us back to the Christ of Love and goodwill, Jesus our Lord. ن

    1. There are several things I would like to comment on in these comments, but let me just respond to the next to last paragraph.

      One Bible passage read in the worship service I attended yesterday was from the 10th chapter of Romans. In the Common English Bible I was reading, verses 9-10 say that "if you confess with your mouth 'Jesus is Lord' and in your heart you have faith that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Trusting with the heart leads to righteousness, and confessing with the mouth leads to salvation."

      Perhaps that is the reason some, including me at times, have thought "Jesus is Lord" is a sufficient "creed." The creeds that developed in the fourth century and later were mostly about correct belief.

      The Anabaptist tradition, which I affirm, has consistently emphasized discipleship, following Jesus as Lord, and thus "correct" action is seen as being of more importance than correct belief. The historic creeds, though, are almost exclusively about the latter with little emphasis on actual discipleship.

    2. That sounds good...

      This probably does require more dialogue. I don't know anymore. It would be nice if God really was that generous. The term "leads to" is an interesting modifier. There is huge divergences in Christian faith and practice, many with valid concerns and little goodwill.

      Occasionally I am encouraged by the noble thought, then another "Christian" dashes it again. So many have been intentionally wounded by one of their "own". This seems more common than healing. Even the Rabbi Himself left lingering questions with farm parables of growing crops and of sorting livestock.

      So I am left with the question, is that sufficient for me? I sincerely doubt it, but a good place to start.

  5. Thinking Friend Charles Kiker sent the following comments by email with permission for them to be posted here:

    “'Christian Nation' sounds like a good but very disturbing read.

    "I share with you the dangers of a Cruz presidency. He has given all kinds of room to believe that he would want to make the United States into an officially Christian nation, in direct opposition to the first amendment to the U. S. constitution.

    "The founding fathers saw clearly the dangers of theocracy, chief among those dangers is the fact that theocracies cannot agree on who gets to be Theos.

    "What else is wrong with some sort of Christian theocracy? It’s not Christian. Quoting from memory, which always carries the danger of misquoting, the late great James Dunn, (may his tribe increase), frequently said, “Faith that is not free is not faith.”

    "I have heard a Texas politician, a blue dog Democrat when there still were such beings, say, 'I believe in freedom of religion, but I do not believe in freedom from religion.' I beg to differ with Mr. Blue Dog. There can be no freedom of religion without freedom from religion."

    1. Thanks for your comments, Charles. I could not find the quote by James Dunn on the Internet, but that certainly sounds like something he would have said. And if he didn't he should have!

  6. For me to say “Jesus is Lord” means Jesus is my teacher; that his authority in my living is like to that of one who guides my learning. This means, as Leroy suggests, that Jesus does not “coerce” me into the will of God, but invites me to discern that will; and that means with all the humility of conviction that comes with recognizing my limits and fallibility. At my worst I act as if my (or our [insert like-minded group]) conclusions or convictions need to be held by everyone or else bad things will happen :-). At my best I offer my (or our) convictions as possibilities that might guide others. I need to differentiate between saying “Jesus is Lord” as a confession that “Caesar is not lord” or “The Fuehrer is not lord” with thinking that Jesus is now *like* Caesar or the Fuehrer. God’s authority/power is not Caesar’s armies (for the early disciples) or the Fuehrer’s armies (for the Confessing Church) but like that of Rabbi Jesus. For me “Jesus is Lord” means we learn together, we yearn together; but we do not force on others what we discern about God’s will through our teacher Jesus.

    "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” I try to keep this in mind.

    1. Thanks, Dick, for your very helpful reflections on the meaning of Jesus' lordship.

      I found it interesting that Sunday morning, before I read your posted comments in the afternoon, I read and thought about Jesus' words in Matthew 7 that you cited. And I particularly thought about how they applied to the "Christians" as portrayed in "Christian Nation."

      But as you imply, we each need to keep those words in mind--in examining ourselves and not just in criticizing others.

  7. There appear to be as many Jesuses are there are Christians these days in that we are all so skilled at remaking him in our own image and a servant to our particular interests. My first task is to struggle against that phenomenon in my own life. Jesus has to be Lord even of my conception of who he is. My complaint is with those who appear to be saying that their Jesus is the only true Jesus and that he has tapped them to be the unquestioned authority and arbiter regarding all things religious and cultural (The implication that my Jesus is Lord negates all claims that Jesus is Lord). Many will always find that it is a lot easier to abdication their responsibility for a life that is committed to a constant discovery of who Jesus is and is not.

  8. Thank you, Mike, for posting these perceptive comments.

    The distinction you make between "my Jesus is Lord" and "Jesus is Lord" is extremely important but greatly overlooked.

    In order to know the meaning of "Jesus is Lord" we need the community of faith -- and often the community of faith that extends widely over denominational and theological lines.

  9. Wish I had mentioned this earlier, but here is a link to Chuck Queen's take on this question.

  10. Thanks, Dick, for sharing the link to this good article.

  11. I have been saying on other media that Eduardo Cruz worries me more than any other of the Republican candidates because he, like is father, is a Christian Dominionist. Christian Dominionism is a belief that Christians, of a particular stripe, should be the only people with any say in the governing of the United States.