April/May 2016 - Vol. 85
Building a Bulwark that Serves God’s Purposes.
by Carlos Mantica

Our community in Managua, the City of God (Cuidad de Dios), finds its meaning in the mission the Lord has entrusted to itto be part of a bulwark. We believe the Lord raised up the community to move that mission forward.  That is its reason for existence.

The word “bulwark” is uncommon for most of us, but in various ways the Lord has shown us that this concept of being a “bulwark” is part of his call to the whole Sword of the Spirit. The idea of the medieval castle or the fort with a surrounding village in the early European settlement of North America might help us better understand what a bulwark is. We tend to consider castles and forts as defensive, and they do have to be solid and unassailable to protect their inhabitants and the many others who rely on them. But they were essentially advanced positions to help establish a new culture in the territory they were placed in.

The Medieval walled community of Carcassone, France, was a center of trade and
Christian renewal for the surrounding region. It was originally built in the 5th century A.D.

We as a community consider ourselves to be something like a fort [not a physical structure but a community living a distinctive way of life], planted in a territory that is not yet the Lord’s, and we have discovered that the mission in foreign territory requires that we live a radical life in Christ. As Jesus pointed out in the Gospels, to be a disciple, to be effective in the mission he calls us to, we need to give our whole lifeeven to deathto accomplish it. The Lord hasn’t invited us to a quiet stroll in the countryside. Rather, he has asked us to build and maintain a “fort” for him, influencing the people around us on the Lord’s behalf, sometimes providing help in their need, winning some to the Lord by our words and actions and by our very presence. To build a Christian community as part of the bulwark which he is establishing is a work of great magnitude andaccording to what he has shown us  one that has eternal consequences for many others as well.  Therefore we need to be serious disciples of the Lord to carry it out.

I was deeply encouraged in reading the documents of the 1979 Latin American Catholic bishops, when they gathered with Paul John Paul II in Puebla, Mexico, to discuss evangelism in our region. I want to quote two short sections from the document:
“The Church evangelizes in the first place through the global testimony of its life. (By its manner, and not only by what it does). Thus in its faithfulness as sacrament, it tries to become a sign or living model of the communion of love in Christ which it announces and tries to bring about.

“The pedagogy of the Incarnation teaches us that people need clear models to guide them.  It was said that the greatest political relevance in the Middle Ages was the foundations of the Benedictine monks, because their form of community life became the great model for the social organization of fledgling Europe; Latin America also needs such models” (Puebla, ch. 171).
A society with Gospel values
This is not an easy way to live, and in our community we are far from perfect at it, but we can already see signs of God’s kingdom breaking forth in it. For example, we aim to exercise authority as a service, not as an excuse to lord it over others. In the area of possessions, the level of sharing in the community is much more ambitious than in any communist society. We don’t do this by negating the right to private property, nor by imposing some law, but simply through the generous sharing of goods and resources, inspired by the Holy Spirit working within each of our members. Our community life is founded on genuine love, expressed in a total commitment involving every area of our lives and possessions.

Learning to live as members of this new society is not an easy business. It is a high calling and entails a very deep level of commitment, both to God and to our brothers and sisters. It entails a death to self and a renunciation of the values of our current secular society.
  • In a secular society which values absolute personal freedom as an inalienable right, our way of life calls us to move from independence to interdependence and on to brotherhood and sisterhood.
  • In a secular society centered on competition as the key to personal success, our way of life proclaims collaboration, mutual help and service for the growth and well being of all.
  • In a society that applauds rebels, whatever their cause, our way of life insists on relationships of authority and subordination that do not diminish the dignity of the person.
  • In a society that has stopped believing in the sanctity and importance of marriage, our way of life fosters an ever-increasing affection, kindness and commitment between husband and wife.
  • In a society in which emotions are the absolute criterion for action, our way of life builds its relationships on people’s given word and solemn commitment.
  • In a secular society that no longer proclaims freedom of worship or religion but freedom from any religion or worship, our community way of life presents a people who value their relationship with God above all other values.
  • In a society that disregards all morality or introduces a supposedly human morality, we insist on obeying the law of God with all its implications.
  • In a society in which people pride themselves on doing whatever they want, our way of life proclaims that doing the will of God is the absolute criterion for action.
  • In a society that demands justice, we proclaim mercy.
  • In a society full of violence, our life upholds the wisdom of self-sacrificing love.
  • In a society full of anxiety, where mental disorders and depression are quite common, the new society in Christ testifies that people can live today in harmony, joy and peace.
Our community, a small “fort”, is distinct from the society in which we livedistinct in its economics, laws and manner of governing, in its lifestyle and values. Despite the barrage from the media offering an often twisted and superficial philosophy about how to live, we are doing what we can as a people to establish the Lord’s kingdom on earth.

A distinctive people
The strategy of being a distinct people who influence the people around them is really God’s own strategy. In the New Testament the Apostle Peter in his first letter gives one of the earliest definitions of the church, and in so doing echoes the Lord’s call to the people of Israel in Old Testament times. To the Christians, Peter writes, “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God” (1 Peter 2:9).  God’s plan was and still is to establish his church, this people set apart for him, as a city on a mountain top, a sign planted in the midst of the nations, light and salt of the earth, leaven in the doughan instrument for the extension of the kingdom of God. But disgracefully, many Christians today have lost their sense of being a nation.

The example of Israel could help us understand our call to community, our call to become a holy people. Speaking through Moses, God told his people Israel that they should have nothing whatever to do with the wicked ways of the nations around them, for, he said, “You are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession” (Deuteronomy 7:6).

His people were supposed to be different from the other nations. In addition to the Ten Commandments, the Lord gave them many other regulations for their daily life, as detailed in the book of Leviticus and elsewhere. For example, they were to consecrate their first-born sons to God and circumcise all their sons. They were to avoid eating the meat of certain animals and were to offer to him the first fruits of their crops, the first-born of their animals, and a tithe of their earnings. These concrete norms constituted a whole way of living, a distinct culture. The importance of these for the survival of a people was made particularly clear when the people of Israel were exiled from their land, sometimes for long periods of time and in various countries. By virtue of their common and distinctive way of life, they have continued even to this day to be one people, one nation, set apart by their culture.

I believe the Lord has also called us as the Sword of the Spirit, this community of communities, to be his people, a distinctive grouping within the whole Christian peoplenot better, but distinctiveto whom he has given a particular mission. From the very beginning he has addressed the City of God and many other communities as “my people” and continues to speak to the whole Sword of the Spirit in this way.  Like the People of Israel, we find ourselves dispersed all over the world, made up of people of different races and languages. What gives us an identity in such a diversity is our culture. We are supposed to be a distinct environment, a distinct people with its own culture, even though formed from people of diverse races, languages and cultures around the world.

We are on the way to being brothers and sisters in a very deep way, as we more and more share a common way of life. Our unity, although still imperfect, is already a reality, a kind of utopia before our eyes. The Lord has chosen us and is in the process of forming us into one people. We have the same God, have all been called to follow the Lord and have accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior. He has made a covenant with us and joined us all into one people, and we in turn have made a covenant with one another, even with those we might never see. He chose us and gave us a new name and a new identity. And among us there is a real confidence that what we are involved in is something that was his initiative and not merely human. 
A distinctive way of life
As a community of communities we have our own way of praising and worshiping the Lord. Our music strong and at times martialis fitting for a people who are in a spiritual battle, a people at war, and differs noticeably from the sweet, almost lyrical music of other groups. Our common form of praying reflects the vision we have of the Lordthe Lord of heaven and earthand focuses on giving him the glory and praise that is his due, rather than primarily on asking for his help, although we do depend on him for even the smallest things and are open to seeing him work wonders, large and small, on our behalf.  We have our distinctive way of honoring him by celebrating the Lord’s Day and relaxing together. 

We have a distinctive way of exercising authority, with subordinates being encouraged to take initiative and bear responsibility. We have a distinctive way of relating to secular authority. A way to share our material goods and money. A distinct way of relating as husband and wife, with the husband serving as the head of his wife, and she the suitable helper and necessary complement for him. A distinct way of speaking, in which the words “brother” or “sister” flow naturally and in which we work to eradicate from our speech all negative humor, name-calling, sarcasm, slander, vulgarity and rudeness. And we try to live our lives in the light, not in secretiveness or darkness. Brotherly correction is given and received in humility; exhortation and counsel are received gracefully. If there is an argument or a difficulty in a relationship, we know how to heal it, asking and giving forgiveness and owning up to our faults.  And we don’t harbor anger or bitterness in our hearts. 

We have an approach to sexuality that is different from the world’s but at the same time joyful and full of thanksgiving. There is a clarity about our identitythe men dressing and acting as men, and the women dressing as women. We have a distinct process of dating and courtship among the young people, with the young men showing signs of respect to young women.

We have forms of giving and receiving respect between children and adults, men and women, and between members of the community and their leaders. When we have guests, the children give their seats to the older brothers and sisters, whom they treat with respect, calling them “uncle” or “aunt”. But the children are also taken into account and treated with respect:  they are not only our children or our nieces and nephews, they are also our young brothers and sisters in the Lord. Among themselves the children treat one another with affection, as brothers and sisters or cousins. We also have a distinct way to form our children so they will grow up as confident people, loving God and loving those around them. 
We have a distinct way of viewing the world around us and what is happening in it. A distinct attitude toward life and death. Toward sickness and suffering and trial.  Toward success, riches, friendship and happiness.  In our homes we live a life that is quite similar from one family to the next, and distinct from the world’s way. Each of us takes time for personal prayer and we all read the scriptures. We offer prayers of thanksgiving before meals and have times of family prayer. We have family nights and celebrate the Lord’s Day.  We pray over one another very naturally for various needs.  The use of TV is limited. Hospitality is very much a part of our daily lives, and in many cases, single brothers and sisters make their home with families, sharing a common life. We know how to value and administer our time and we try to schedule it wisely so that we can be faithful to commitments and punctual at meetings.

These are all elements of a culture that we consciously try to live out. We should feel proud to be part of this people and proud of our way of life.

We feel that the Lord has called us to live a way of life that is radically distinct from the world around us and opposed to many of its ideals, values and customs, and this is not an easy task. The world may not applaud us for it.  In fact, the Lord warns us in scripture that if people persecuted him, they would also persecute us, his disciples.

The Lord has always asked his disciples to love one another as he loved them. Today he is raising up disciples in communities, called in a special way to radically live out that love as brothers and sisters in Christ, committed to one another in a way that touches every area of life, and every moment of every day.  Christians have always been called to be in the world without being of it, to be salt and light.  In this particular moment in history, in which the values of the world threaten large segments of the church, the Lord is calling some Christians to form communities, “forts”, that are joined together as a bulwark to strengthen and protect his church and foster the spread of his good newsto be a people set apart for him, living according to his ways.

> See other Living Bulwark articles by Carlos Mantica

This article is adapted from The Mission of the City of God, by Carlos Mantic, (c) copyright 2004 The Sword of the Spirit.

Carlos Mantica is a founder of The City of God community (La Cuidad de Dios) in Managua, Nicaragua, and a founding leader of the Sword of the Spirit. He served as president of the Sword of the Spirit between 1991 and 1995.

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