The Siege Mentality of JohnOctober 5, 2009, More from this speaker 更多关于此讲员: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee (1 John 2:18-27) For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: 1,2,3 John
Preached at a Bilingual (Mandarin-English, Sunday) service
Sermon on 1 John 2:18-27
Last month, FIFA ruled that Chelsea had induced teenager Gael Kakuta to breach his contract with Lens and join the Blues in 2007. For that, they were sanctioned from signing any new players in the next two transfer windows. John Terry the Chelsea captain responded, "We are very much together at Chelsea and whatever has been thrown at us over the last two or three years we seem to become stronger. We will certainly do that this time, as always." Terry's words echoed those of his England team-mate Lampard. The midfielder added: "A lot of things have happened to me in my career with England and Chelsea and whenever it's backs to the wall, it brings a togetherness and it can be used as a positive.”
When Chelsea had to go without their top scorer Drogba, Terry again said: “We always seem to come together in the face of adversity. There have been a few obstacles put in front of us in recent times but we come through it and shown our quality.” Some soccer commentators labeled this as the Chelsea siege mentality. A siege mentality is a shared feeling of helplessness, victimization and defensiveness. This is very commonly used in the field of sports, where coaches or managers often create a siege mentality in their players by highlighting an environment of hostility from outside the club. The players then bind stronger together and play better as a team. The Chelsea siege mentality began with Jose Mourinho who often galvanized the Chelsea players by creating a feeling that the world is against them. We see that this defensive and reactive culture continues to be manifested today each time Chelsea is faced with troubles or opposition.
I sometimes wonder if this is the mindset that explains why John was often so radical with his words to his church. Throughout the letters of John, we see harsh language used to describe the situation. Either you are in the light or in darkness. Either you love the world or you love God. And in today’s passage, either you are for Christ or you are the antichrist. With the hindsight of almost 2000 years of history from the time of John, it is understandable for us to wonder what all the fuss is about. John spoke about the urgency of the last hour. But 2000 years have since come and gone. John labeled those who disagree with his Christology as antichrists. But forms of Christianity have ranged as diverse as the Christian empire in the medieval days to the prosperity gospel of wealth and health in the modern era. Show me one that claims to have the absolute truth, and I’ll show you one that is sectarian and biased against many other facets of our faith. John also divided those who remained and those who left. But this unity that he so cherished has splintered into countless denominations that is the reality today. So it seems like all his pressing concerns in today’s passage have been diluted with the passage of time. Was John too extreme in his judgment against his opposition?
The truth is that John and his opposition differ mainly in one key doctrine: that Jesus is the Christ. John and his followers believed that the historical human Jesus of Nazareth was also the divine Christ of the church. His opponents however believed that physical matter was evil, and as a result God would not take on a material body. They believed that since the human body is temporary and the spirit is eternal, the body of Jesus must have been an illusion and, likewise, his crucifixion. Since one of the main beliefs was that the body of Jesus was an illusion, they could not accept that the bread and wine used in the Eucharist were the flesh and blood of Jesus.
On the surface, the opponents of John make good sense especially if you believe in the complete separation of the material and the spiritual. Christ who is divine cannot be Jesus who is material at the same time. But that which seems to make sense might not actually be the truth. John and his followers know that this is wrong because they personally experienced a different reality. They were either direct eye-witnesses of the historical Jesus, or the first generation recipients of the gospel from the eye-witnesses. They knew Jesus as humanly presented to them and can also testify to his bodily resurrection. But the greatest proof of all is that they received the anointing of the Holy Spirit. This Spirit was promised by the historical Jesus and poured out unto them because Jesus is now Christ on the high throne. The Holy Spirit is all the evidence that John and his followers need to know that Jesus is indeed Christ. The opponents of John, influenced of Greek dualism and perhaps motivated by greed and jealousy, lured out a portion of the church members with their appealing but false teachings. Those who remained are obviously shaken in their faith by such a huge disturbance to the community. This letter is John’s response to assure them that they were right in remaining faithful to the original teaching they had personally experienced. John was building a siege mentality to foster togetherness in the face of adversity.
I have two responses to what John is saying here to his church. Firstly, I am thankful for the conviction that John had built into those trying to hold on to their faith. It would have been easier to compromise on what seems like just a technicality of theology. Does it really matter if Jesus is god-like or really God? Does it matter if Christ is human-like or really human? Keeping a logical paradox that the physical Jesus is the divine Christ is already hard for personal acceptance. Worse, it is also breaking the peace with some of the other more sensible members of the community. See? These people have left. Is holding on to this quirky belief worth such a cost? Yet, John beseeches them to hold on to what they already know. Those who have left are antichrists because they deny the truth. They have never belonged to the community in the first place. Ignore their departure and their attempts to lead you astray. This is the final hour. Don’t give up. Remain in the truth that has remained in you.
John may seem heartless and brutal in promoting this siege mentality against the opposition. It seems contrary to his words “to love one another for God is love” in the same letter. But I am immensely grateful that John persistently held on to this divisive theological stand. Compromising on Jesus Christ’s humanity or divinity would have made our faith more acceptable to Judaism or Islam or the many pagan religions in those times. The concept of a deity pretending to be human would have been popular and familiar. But it would not be powerful and true. Thanks to the unwavering unity of John’s church under a siege of persecution and heretic persuasions, we now have an undeniable witnessing community that testifies that the historical Jesus is the divine Christ. What seemed like a minor theological nuance is actually a powerful message for our faith. We now can affirm that the human Jesus that dwelled in history is the divine Word made flesh. We can now rest in the assurance that it is a person fully human and fully divine that has gone through death and resurrection. All these are authenticated by a people anointed with the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ, the besieged but victorious John’s church. The end of days, the final hour, has spanned almost 2000 years now. But John has ensured that his church lived up to their calling in preserving this truth. This is their finest hour.
Though I do not know how long more is this end of days, this is also your last hour. You have been given this faith which you can verify by the Holy Spirit also in you. We face a different set of antichrists today. In the onslaught of atheism, pragmatism and consumerism, it is not easy to remain in this logically unwieldy truth. It seems inflexible to insist on this distant fragment of history compared to just using a more popular slogan like God loves you, or Jesus saves. But all it takes for Christianity to end is for an entire generation to stop holding on and passing on its faith. You have your part to play in this time just like John’s church in their time. This is the last hour for you too.
My second response is not to forget the context of John’s strong words. The goal of his severe “us vs. them” framework is to comfort and encourage his church that was rocked by many leaving. It is extremely critical that we remember that the community is facing an immediate danger of disintegration. John’s radical approach is an essential internal pep talk so that they may survive those difficult times. Given the somewhat particular situation, the tone of the message is not easily applicable in other situations. While this siege mentality has proven invaluable in preserving the truth about Jesus Christ till this day, my second honest reflection is that it has also proven dangerous when used as an outward aggression.
The most well known example of this in church history is the Albigensian Crusade in 1209-1229. This same heresy, that denies Jesus is Christ, was popular in southern France with many who are called the Cathars. The Church launched a crusade against these heretics after many unsuccessful attempts to convert them. They were finally destroyed and it is from that moment on that this heresy is finally reduced into insignificance. The schism is overcome and the antichrists defeated, but at what cost? Historians estimate that between 200,000 and 1 million were killed in the 20 years of war, most of them the Cathars. I am not so sure if John would approve even if he did see these people as those not belonging to the church. His aim is to build solidarity among those who remain, not so much as a force of oppression against those who left. His rhetoric is strong but his heart loves. I don’t have an easy answer as to when building this siege mentality can be used against opponents. But certainly we need to be mindful and careful now that we are aware of its potential danger.
Today, we are benefactors of John and his followers for preserving the truth about Jesus. It is a message we should not compromise for the sake of familiarity with other religions or other ideologies. I know it is especially painful when people you know that are part of this community have left. Some may have left for good reasons but some may have left for a different version of the faith. Sometimes you start to wonder your about own convictions. You start to think maybe you should follow your friend going to that church which has that special oil, or the prayer that can get you good results, or a pastor that can bless you with more success in your work. However, remain in this gospel that you have been given from the beginning. You have been given a precious and powerful truth, that the divine Christ is also fully manifested as the human Jesus in a moment in history. Hang in there and stay together! It is because of this truth that we know that through the Son we can know the Father. But this uniqueness that keeps you together is not for you to condemn those who are different. Rather it is a comfort to be shared. Today, I offer the same comfort to you. To encourage you in what you already know. The Holy Spirit in you testifies that you have the Son who has the Father. That is the truth.
1 John 2:18–27 (Listen)
18 Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. 20 But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. 21 I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth. 22 Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. 24 Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. 25 And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life.
26 I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. 27 But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.