I'm skeptical of Donald Sensing's description of Jesus' instruction to "turn the other cheek" as an admonishment to resist oppression. Here's the passage in context:
Matthew 5:38-42It seems very clear to me that Jesus is not advocating resistance or even civil disobedience. This passage comes right after the Beatitudes, where Jesus says "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth."
"You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
Rev. Sensing writes:
In the culture of the day, backhanding someone was a gesture of contempt. It was how you treated someone who was beneath you in class and status. To give someone the back of your hand was to say by gesture, "Remember your place! I am superior to you!" It was how a father rebuked his son, a brother his sister, a husband his wife and a master his slave or servant.It's not that I disagree with Donald's conclusions, I just don't think this passage is implying what he says it does. Taken in context with Jesus' other teachings, I don't see any way to infer that he was advocating any resistance to Roman power. Jesus' main concern was spiritual warfare, and he never seemed to worry about physical oppression on this fallen earth.
That being so, Jesus’ advice to turn the other, or left, cheek to be struck is loaded with symbolic meaning. It is certainly not advice to be submissive to evil. It has at least two loaded meanings:
- I deny that I am inferior to you and I demand you acknowledge me as your equal by striking me a forehand blow, and
- as your equal, I have the right to strike you back.
Turning the other cheek actually could well have been Jesus’ admonishment to the people under oppression by the Romans and class structures to stop being passive and start resisting, but never to be the aggressor and to provide an opportunity for the oppressor to ponder the evil of his ways.
The use of the word "also" seems significant to me as well, since it implies "in addition to" rather than "instead of".
Donald posts more, and comments on my post here as well.
My main disagreement with him isn't on whether the social order should change (it should) but rather on the method. Let's look at Ephesians 6 for more insight.
5 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. 6 Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. 7 Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, 8 because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.First, consider the slaves Paul writes about. Does this passage imply that slavery is good? Of course not. But Paul also doesn't tell the slaves to flee -- rather he instructs them to serve their masters in a Godly way, so as to be examples of goodness. Liekwise, masters were reminded that they too had a Master in heaven who would hold them accountable. Paul's focus wasn't on changing the social order, but rather on changing the hearts of those involved.
9 And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.
19 Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.
Secondly, our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Our battle isn't against this world order -- the sinful world we live in is only a symptom of the greater spiritual illness that infects our species. Fighting to change the system isn't bad, but treating the symptoms directly is ultimately useless if the disease isn't cured. Only by fighting in this spiritual battle can hearts be turned to Christ, and the material world will follow. All the equipment Paul lists is spiritual in nature, and this is the front where the real battle for souls is fought.
Thirdly, Paul himself was a prisoner of the oppressive Roman Empire, and he never railed against it. On the contrary, he took every opportunity to work within the system and to subvert the hearts of those he came into contact with. In the book of Acts, he says that while he was held prisoner in Rome many of the emperor's personal guards listened to him and became Christians. Eventually, Paul was put to death for his beliefs, and he never resisted the fate God had in store for him (in fact, he counted it a joy). If he had fought, he might have brought about some change to the government system, but at what cost to the cause of Christ?
Finally, we know the end of our world and everything in it: destruction. The day will come when every man and woman will stand before God to be judged, and on that day our civilization will come to an end. There's no purpose in trying to save it, because it will eventually pass away. The only things of any value are people, because people last forever.
Injustice is bad, oppression is bad, and the Bible constantly warns those in authority to use their power for good, but if we Christians allow ourselves to be distracted from our spiritual war by the battles of this world, we're falling into a trap.
Some further thoughts:
1 Corinthians 7:20-24Paul says it here pretty clearly: if you can relieve oppression, it's good to do so -- but don't be overly bothered by it. He recasts the physical situation in spiritual terms, and points out that no matter what our earthly circumstances are, they're of far less consequence than our spiritual standing before God.
Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him. Were you a slave when you were called? Don't let it trouble you--although if you can gain your freedom, do so. For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord's freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ's slave. You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men. Brothers, each man, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation God called him to.