Don’t Tread On Me?

 

 

There’s a famous yellow flag you may have seen before that features a rattlesnake coiled above the words “Don’t Tread On Me.”

It dates back to the Revolutionary War era and served, for many, as a battle cry for freedom from the British.

After wading through all the responses to my recent post on Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day, I’m convinced that flag would have served as a perfect banner for many of those who participated in the rally last week.

“We need to stand up for our faith” was the cry I heard over and over again, both on this site as well as across the web and on into numerous conversations off it. The idea of standing up for one’s faith, of course, has a long history. Certainly, there are relatively peaceful exhibitions of this sentiment, such as flooding a local fast food restaurant, but unfortunately, standing up for the faith has often taken form in ways that don’t resemble at all the Christian faith which is supposedly being affirmed, i.e. the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades, Saul hunting down Christian, or Peter lopping off the ear of the guard who came to arrest Jesus.

Bearing that in mind, I think in light of all of the Chick-Fil-A madness, it would be important for those of us in the church to step back and ask “What does it really mean to stand up for our faith?”.

If you were to look back at last week to figure out that question, I think the answer would be fairly simple. Faith, in this context, is a set of beliefs and if those beliefs are criticized, then standing for those beliefs requires a person to fight that persecution by any means necessary.

As Americans, such a sentiment is fundamental to our identity. “Don’t tread on me” has been the impetus for countless protests, revolutions, and wars throughout American history. But as Christians, I think it is critical for us to pause and ask whether or not this sort of American response to persecution is also the sort of response we in the church are called to have when we are persecuted.

I’m not convinced that it is.

Now, this is not to say that the proper response for Christians is to simply to nothing. The idea that “doing nothing” is the only alternative to such actions as we witnessed last week is a nonsensical accusation that stems from the lack of a theological imagination.

The truth is that choosing not to fight back, choosing not to fight fire with fire is not choosing to do “nothing.” Certainly none of us in the church would accuse Jesus of “doing nothing to stand up for his faith” when he refused to fight back against the guards who came to arrest him and then later executed him. Yet, tragically, in the unholy mixture of American ideology and Christian theology we have convinced ourselves that, for us, such a response would be unacceptable today.

We want our Jesus to stand up and fight when his church is kicked around and ridiculed. When he doesn’t we take it upon ourselves to get to job done of “standing up for our faith.” But it is here that I think we misunderstand both what it means to stand up for the Christian faith as well as what the Christian faith is all about.

Simply put, the Christian is not merely a set of beliefs. It is a way of being in and for the world. The good news of the gospel is not a new list of theological tenets to agree to. It’s an invitation to participate in kingdom life here on earth, just as it is in heaven. Because of that, our defense of the Christian faith or the way in which we stand up for that faith is not found in fiery rhetoric over who is right or wrong, but in how we incarnate the good news of gospel to a lost and dying world.

Likewise, the truthfulness of the gospel is not proven through intellectual debates, but by the church’s ability to incarnate love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness to those who need it most.

In other words, as followers of Jesus we fight fire with love, persecution with forgiveness, and rhetoric with incarnation.

And if that doesn’t “work”, then we follow the command of Jesus, shake the dust off our feet, and walk away.

I realize that such a sentiment isn’t popular in a culture consumed by the need to be right and have others acknowledge that rightness. But it is the sort of response we in the church are called to.

This doesn’t mean we don’t ever engage others in debates about the faith. We should, but even in doing so we must remember that it is not our words, but our loving actions that will prove the truthfulness of the gospel we preach. This is exactly what we see with Jesus. He had countless conversations and debates with people who disagreed with and even persecuted him, but his ultimate response and what ultimately “proved” he was “right” was that he chose to “take a stand for his faith” not through rhetoric, but an act of love.

If instead, Jesus had declared “don’t tread on me”, there would be no cross, no resurrection, and no salvation.

The truth is that “don’t tread on me” is an American, not a Christian sentiment. It seeks freedom as the ultimate goal, whereas Christianity seeks total submission to God. Often times, such submission to the call of God means we will be persecuted and tread upon, but if we are to follow the example of Jesus then our response to such persecution should come through acts of love and service to our neighbors, even and especially when those neighbors are also our enemies.

I think as a church we have to take a step back and ask “What does it really matter if people attack our faith?” If the Christian faith is trashed in the media, does that really have any effect on its truthfulness? Or are we really just bothered by the lack of acceptance and affirmation we receive?

But let’s take that line of thinking to it’s ultimate end. What if the 1st Amendment were somehow revoked and the Christian faith outlawed? Would that really be the end of Christianity? Or, perhaps, would it be the start of a more authentic Christianity?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am profoundly grateful for the rights afforded to me by the 1st Amendment. However, contrary to popular belief, that constitutional amendment has no bearing on the survival of the Christian faith. Christianity began as an outlawed religion. It survives today in many corners of the world where being a Christian is considered a crime. And it will continue to thrive in the future regardless of what laws a government may pass.

The truth is if our first amendment rights were taken away the Christian faith wouldn’t end. It certainly may shrink in numbers, but that would be because we would find out very quickly who was really bold enough to follow Christ and who was only brave enough to follow a popular trend.

Though we may not like to hear it, wearing a tshirt, putting a bumper sticker on your car, posting a Facebook status, or eating a sandwich are not what it looks like to take a serious stand for the Christian faith. Those things aren’t bad, but if you really want to take a stand for the Christian faith and prove that the good news of the gospel is true, then find ways to care for the neglected members of your community, embrace the outcast, feed the hungry, care for the sick, visit those in prison, and give everything you can to those in need.

If we do that and taking up our cross becomes the way we “stand up for our faith”, then even though the world may tread all over us, we will prove the truth of the gospel, “shake the gates of hell, and set up the kingdom of heaven on earth.”

 

Grace and peace,

Zack Hunt

  • Stephanie

    Thank you so much..I love your deep insight to the human connection.

  • Doug

    I find it amusing that your blog hosting company put up an ad for ” ‘Don’t Tread On Me’ T-Shirts, Flags and Patches” right next to your post.

    • Zack

      That is really hilarious. Gotta love Google Adsense. Pretty sure they had Chick-Fil-A coupons next to that post too. :)

  • http://www.caseytygrett.com Casey Tygrett

    Zack, you hit on several points that are places of resonance with me. Thanks for putting them in front of us and I think your challenge is well-placed and holy for any of us who follow Jesus in our polemical American Christian climate. Great stuff.

    peace

  • http://www.lifebeforethebucket.com Adrian W.

    I posted some closing thoughts on the whole debacle on Friday, and my conclusion was very similar to one you express here. Sure, we have a right to defend ourselves as Americans, but we must not confuse that with our right to love unconditionally, not only in word, but also in deed. A defense of the gospel as espoused by Jesus entails us turning our cheeks, bearing the pain, and still loving (and not the “I love you but don’t have to like you” kind of love) those we disagree with in the end.

    Great post, Zack!

  • http://asimplefaith.ca Cory Vance

    Wow! I could NOT have said it better myself!

  • http://www.theupsidedownworld.com Rebecca Trotter

    I like to tell people that God does not need you to defend him. Jesus did not tell you to go to battle for him. Your instructions are to pick up your own cross and walk your own narrow path.

    Our culture wars have become a form of faithlessness, imo. We do not trust God to be able to work things out without our assitance. As an American, I understand wanting to grab a chicken sandwich as an act of defiance against an arrogant elite that can be just as unwilling to brook any disagreement as any fundie church. But as a Christian, I can not even begin to see supporting Chick-Fil-A (or whoever) as a defense of my faith.

  • Greg D

    You have hit the nail right on the head regarding this issue. Thanks for clearly articulating what are my thoughts on this too. By far, my favorite part of this article is this:

    “the truthfulness of the gospel is not proven through intellectual debates, but by the church’s ability to incarnate love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness to those who need it most. In other words, as followers of Jesus we fight fire with love, persecution with forgiveness, and rhetoric with incarnation.”

    Way to go my friend. Godspeed.

  • Brian Lennon

    Great post Zack. Again, even with disagreements here and there over the “nit-picky” aspects of our faith, I think the most important thing for us to agree on is who we are called to be as a church and this post nailed it on the head. All of that should supercede any other set of beliefs, even ones we hold in high regard such as the Bill of Rights in this case.

    I still find it possible to have supported the Chick-fil-A thing from a purely political perspective because although Jesus may not need us to stand up for him when his church is persecuted, I don’t think the Constitution is that powerful to do the same. And I do believe it is something worth defending, even with minor issues like this. Because as you said, it does guarantee us certain freedoms that make it much more conducive to practice our beliefs openly. Yes, the Constitution is a purely American thing, but not EVERYTHING American is evil.

    For me, this was a purely political issue because I don’t really agree with Mr. Cathy’s stance on same sex marriage nor his proactiveness to deny them the right to marry. Again, that’s from a purely political perspective. I do agree with his definition of marriage as between one man and one woman from a biblical perspective, but from a Constitutional perspective I can’t see how we can justify forbidding them from marrying. If it was all about a Christian response to persecution, why would I have chosen to support someone on a topic that we don’t neccessarily agree on?

    I’m sure there were plenty of people in line that day waiting to shove a sandwhich in someone’s face with “Don’t Tread on Me” in the name of God on their mind and I think your thoughts from day one of this blog are appropriate for them (and frequently myself) to hear and understand. I just caution you to not lump EVERYONE into that category of people just because they ate at Chick-fil-A last Wednesday.

    Grace and Peace back at ya.

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  • Julie

    Great article with nutritional food for thought, Zack. Might I add to your next to the last paragraph that another way to prove the good news of the gospel is to love one another as Christ did rather than rush to judge and promote hatred. Jesus congregated with sinners and the outcasts of society – not the righteous – and it was through their transformations that Christianity was born and sustained through the milleniums.

  • http://www.saloncrowningglory.com Kim Freeman

    It did, however, give Chic Fil A a chance to shine, which they did. They gave out huge amts of water to protesters in the heat, and showed grace, which was wonderful to see!
    It is natural to react in fear, when freedom is threatened, too. Maybe it will start more involvement in meaningful volunteer ops.

  • Brian Prentiss

    Thanks for this Zach. You’re exactly right.

  • Shawn

    Zack, I didn’t see a single Gadsden flag at any of the Chik-fil-A’s that I drove past. nor did I see any Romney signs. All I saw was people eating Chicken. It’s only a statement if you choose to make it that. I see it as a really good day for chicken sandwich sales.
    Also could you please make your point more succinctly. I don’t have time to read your pseudo-intelectual writings any more so than I have time to stand in line at a Chick-fil-a for 2 hours. Thank you. Oh, & you can view the story I sent you as an example of what happens when you do nothing. I find it hilarious that you are constantly guiding us Christians through your writings, yet your entire site really does nothing more than make fun of Christians. yes, some deserve it…

  • bg

    well done, brother.

    “I think as a church we have to take a step back and ask “What does it really matter if people attack our faith?” If the Christian faith is trashed in the media, does that really have any effect on its truthfulness? Or are we really just bothered by the lack of acceptance and affirmation we receive?” – This is a fantastic quote!

  • Jonathan

    Just found this sermon quote from one of the founding father’s of the Church of the Nazarene that I thought was applicable:

    Notice that Christ does not say: “Accept the creed which I frame; observe the church forms or rituals I devise; join the church which I have found.” He only said, “Follow Me.” It is as though he had said, “Come, live my life with me.”
    What does it mean? It means that Christianity is not a creed, not an ecclesiasticism, not a ritual, but a life.
    It is this simple Christ life, which the world hungers for, and which gives birth to the cry that goes up from all lands: “We are tired of forms and creeds. Let us go back to Christ.”
    It is this Christ life that we are to take out with us and teach and live in this city mission work that is our chosen field.
    Yet the present question has been asked, “Why not do this work under present church lines with their machinery, instead of forming a new organization?” The question contains its own answer. It is because of the machinery. The churches are steadily withdrawing from this field.

    – J. P. Widney, Los Angelas, 1895

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