Jesus said many controversial things during his earthly ministry. One day Jesus said, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law” (Matthew 10:34-35 KJV).
As outrageous as this statement may seem today, these words would have seemed unthinkable for first century Palestine. The family was a central part of Jewish society as was the concept of honoring authority. While the Jews certainly had their moments of rebellion, many of the religous leaders tried to keep the peace as much as possible. And while fighting the Romans was one thing, taking up arms against your own family is quite another.
The religious establishment would have viewed such talk as rebellion. Everyone would have seen Jesus as a controversial figure who rocked the boat. Why would Jesus use such hard words to describe His mission? Some today think of Jesus as a pacifist. True, Jesus did say that those who live by the sword will die by the sword. But He also promised to come again to the earth in a visible manner. And the next time Jesus comes will be with a sword as a conquering King. He will destroy those who oppose God and righteousness.
Many Christians today get very squeamish when other Christians begin to talk about God in militaristic terms or mention spiritual warfare. However, the New Testament uses these concepts. The Apostle Paul wrote about being a good soldier of Jesus Christ and fighting against the devil. The book of Revelation describes Jesus as a warrior King.
It can be difficult to know how to communicate the truth of Christ ‘s complete message in a modern context. This recently became abundantly clear as audience and critics have reacted to Jesus Camp, a documentary film about modern day evangelicals and their efforts to teach children about Jesus and spiritual warfare.
The movie tries to present itself as independent even though selective editing and the use of ominous music in some places make it clear that the producers have a bent. It seems they believe that the evangelical message taught by the leaders featured in the film is dangerous or at least short sighted. This comes up from the earliest moments in the film. A liberal Christian activist denounced what these pastors do as spiritual and political brainwashing.
Nominated for an Academy award this year, Jesus Camp follows a group of Pentecostal evangelical students as they seek to experience God through their normal lives and a revival camp meeting. The images can seem overly intense for those who are not familiar with Pentecostal experiences. I am reminded of how odd the life of Jesus seemed to so many people during His earthly ministry. Many people walked away because they just couldn’t accept the radical nature of His lifestyle and message.
In a modern context, it can be difficult to understand the rap culture for those born in the suburbs. Likewise, children crying for aborted babies, speaking in tongues, kids receiving visions or speaking in warlike terms about combating evil can appear too edgy. But that’s their reality, and it can be supported by Scripture. Some of the children may get carried away in some instances by a tide of emotion. But that’s not odd for human beings.
As a Pentecostal myself, I know what I have experienced. And I know that some of the things that I have seen have appeared a little weird at times. Some of it even made me a bit uncomfortable. But that’s OK because the Bible is full of weird miracles and things that I cannot explain. How in the world can I expect given my limited brain to understand everything about the physical and spiritual realms? How can I hope to figure out God and His ways?
Now I am not saying that I agree with everything that takes place in the movie by any of the parties involved. The movie chronicles people. And people are going to make mistakes, even Christians. Those who follow Jesus are not always going to agree on everything. I respect all the view presented in the movie and happen to agree with pieces of what the different people said.
Parents have the right to raise their kids as they see fit as long as their instruction does not cause damage to other people. Even though some evangelical Christians may think of life in warlike terms, our enemy is never people. The Bible makes it clear that we struggle not against flesh and blood. Christians war against evil principalities and dark, spiritual forces. Lying spirits and demons bind people, keeping them stuck in sin and despair. Jesus came to set people free. Through prayer and teaching the truth, we are called to continue what Jesus started.
Some critics correctly identify that the spiritual warfare concept can get out of hand. It can cause some to look at non-believers as targets to be won instead of relationships to be made. Christians must never look at another person as a notch to put on our salvation belt. Instead, we must see everyone the way that God sees them.
A combat mindset can cause division making Christians feel superior or create unnecessary division. While we should seek to be separate from wordly lusts and evil influences, we cannot think of everything in the world as corrupt or bad. God originally made the world to be very good. Everyone was created in God’s image. This includes those who deny the existence of God.
Some distinction is important because we are called to mirror Jesus not others. However, Christians must be careful not to become prideful, which damages our witness and ability to relate with non-believers. We are all in the same boat. None of us are righteous enough on our own to stand before God.
Others would point out that we are at war. Satan is very serious about his plan to separate people from God’s life and love. He is not playing around. In that sense, we are at war and should give everything we have to stop him. Some even carry this too far by putting too much focus on Satan and demons. We don’t need to try to communicate with the enemy except to declare our position and victory in Christ. The enemy loves for us to put our attention onto him. Our focus should be on Jesus and God’s kingdom. He has already secured the victory. All we have to do is believe it. Notice how even the Archangel Michael in disputing with the Devil was careful about speaking too brashly against him. Michael declared that God would rebuke the Devil (Jude 1:9-10).
At times, the leaders running the camp did seem too political for my taste. Even though I tend to vote Republican, I don’t think of George Bush as a messiah figure. He’s done both some good and bad things as president. God is not a member of either major political party. God isn’t even an American. God is King.
Sure, God calls us to pray for our leaders and submit to their rule. This is true no matter who is in power. I don’t put much faith in earthly politicians because all sides appear to have mixed motives. This was one criticism that came through in the film and appeared to be a legitimate concern. The Church should never become a tool for either party. The Church belongs to Jesus.
Some of the families in the film seem to have overly sheltered their children. While I can’t blame them given the bad influences in society today, a more effective way to train the next generation appears to be insulting them from within not building a wall around them. Christian kids need to be released to impact their schools and communities. Parents don’t have to fear that the world is stronger than Jesus’ life in their kids. It isn’t for those who truly believe.
Finally, speaking in tongues and falling down under the power of the Holy Spirit are heavily debated topics within Christianity today. The film does not really offer anything new to the discussion. It does highlight the emotional nature of the experience. I have seen both fake and legitimate moves of God in the past. I guess a little wildfire is better than no fire at all.
Some may think it odd for a child to talk about hearing from God. A number of the children commented about seeing visions. They talked about God impressing words or burdens on their heart. But this isn’t odd if you read the Bible. Jesus said that you can’t enter the Kingdom of God unless you become like a little child. In the Scriptures, God frequently moved through and spoke to the young because more mature adults were too set in their ways. If God is indeed real and He does not prefer one person over another, why would He neglect children?
Jesus called the little children to come to Him. Jesus proclaimed a curse on anyone that did anything that caused them to fall away from God’s love. May we never make this mistake by either the things we do or fail to do in our ministry to the emerging generation. One thing is certain, children are important because they are the future.
Jesus Camp Web Site: http://www.jesuscampthemovie.com/
Video Explaining the Importance of Reaching the Young for Jesus