This is the fourth post in a series of posts looking at the Sermon on the Mount. I’ve referred to a blog by Michael L. Westmoreland-White which brings up these specific points; he in turn credits John Howard Yoder and Glen Stassen. Westmoreland-White describes “dodges” to the Sermon on the Mount, ways in which people seek to get around applying it today. (I might note that he is specifically discussing pacifism, so his comments at times focus on how the Sermon is applied at a national level)
We’ve looked at the dispensational dodge and the preterist dodge. Today we’ll talk about the public/private split dodge. This approach says that yes, the Sermon on the Mount has moral guidelines for Christian living for the individual, but it says nothing about how countries are to conduct themselves. Again, Westmoreland-White is approaching this topic in the midst of a discussion of Christian pacifism, so his interest is to look at whether or not countries should be held to the standard of the Sermon on the Mount. According to him, this teaching was held to by Martin Luther and has been popular among Lutherans ever since. I’m not familiar enough with Lutheran teaching to confirm or deny that affirmation.
I’ve discussed this concept before, in the context of the idea of the existence of a Christian nation. As I’ve said, if such a thing could exist, I think that it would have to live up to Jesus’ teachings, including turning the other cheek and loving enemies. (Interestingly enough, I noticed that the people behind the Brick Testament picked up on this very idea: note this series of graphics)
I’d also say that I believe that Christians must continue to follow the teachings of their Master, even if they choose to put themselves in service to an earthly nation. The Sermon on the Mount still shows us what is right and what is godly. Again, I’m not talking about how to escape damnation; I’m talking about how to live as sanctified people.
Nations in the Old Testament, even nations not in covenant with God, were judged on several factors from what we see in the prophets: their treatment of their fellow man, their pride, and their willingness to acknowledge God. To some degree I have to think that God continues to look on countries in that same way. Even if they aren’t in covenant with Him, they are held to certain standards. And frankly, I don’t know when any nation has lived up to those standards.
I’d like to hear your thoughts. Are nations given a “free pass” as far as Jesus’ teachings go? Or are they expected to love enemies, turn the other cheek, etc.?