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August 04th, 2010 | Author:

Early this summer I bought a book by Laurence Vance titled Christianity and War, a collection of essays.  I’ve been meandering through it as time permits, and one essay that has grabbed my attention is titled Charles Spurgeon on Christian War Fever, also posted here if you’d like to read the whole thing.

In a day when pastors routinely celebrate our military agenda, it’s refreshing to learn that it was not always so.  Spurgeon (1834-1892) had a lot to say on the subject that can and should be applied to today.  So my Word for Wednesday this week are excerpts by Charles Haddon Spurgeon, forward by James, afterward by Jesus.

What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel.  (James 4:1-2)

Sin is the mother of wars; and remembering how plentiful sin is, we need not marvel if it brings forth multitudes of them.

if we should see at our doors the marks of carnage and bloodshed; then should we more thoroughly appreciate what war means. But distance takes away the horror, and we therefore speak of war with too much levity, and even read of it with an interest not sufficiently linked with pain

The church, we affirm, can neither be preserved nor can its interests be promoted by human armies.

for this I will assert, and prove too, that the progress of the arms of a Christian nation is not the progress of Christianity, and that the spread of our empire, so far from being advantageous to the Gospel, I will hold, and this day proclaim, hath been hostile to it.

For my part, I conceive, that when an enterprise begins in martyrdom, it is none the less likely to succeed, but when conquerors begin to preach the gospel to those they have conquered, it will not succeed, God will teach us that it is not by might.  All swords that have ever flashed from scabbards have not aided Christ a single grain. Mahommedans’ religion might be sustained by scimitars, but Christians’ religion must be sustained by love. The great crime of war can never promote the religion of peace. The battle, and the garment rolled in blood, are not a fitting prelude to “peace on earth, goodwill to men.” And I do firmly hold, that the slaughter of men, that bayonets, and swords, and guns, have never yet been, and never can be, promoters of the gospel. The gospel will proceed without them, but never through them. “Not by might.”

The Church of Christ is continually represented under the figure of an army; yet its Captain is the Prince of Peace; its object is the establishment of peace, and its soldiers are men of a peaceful disposition. The spirit of war is at the extremely opposite point to the spirit of the gospel

First of all, note that this crusade, this sacred, holy war of which I speak, is not with men, but with Satan and with error. “We wrestle not with flesh and blood.” Christian men are not at war with any man that walks the earth. We are at war with infidelity, but the persons of infidels we love and pray for; we are at warfare with any heresy, but we have no enmity against heretics; we are opposed to, and cry war to the knife with everything that opposes God and his truth: but towards every man we would still endeavour to carry out the holy maxim, “Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you.” The Christian soldier hath no gun and no sword, for he fighteth not with men. It is with “spiritual wickedness in high places” that he fights, and with other principalities and powers than with those that sit on thrones and hold sceptres in their hands. I have marked, however, that some Christian men – and it is a feeling to which all of us are prone – are very apt to make Christ’s war a war of flesh and blood, instead of a war with wrong and spiritual wickedness. Have you never noticed in religious controversies how men will fall foul of each other, and make personal remarks and abuse each other? What is that but forgetting what Christ’s war is? We are not fighting against men; we are fighting for men rather than against them. We are fighting for God and his truth against error and against sin; but not against men. Woe, woe, to the Christian who forgets this sacred canon of warfare. Touch not the persons of men, but smite their sin with a stout heart and with strong arm. Slay both the little ones and the great; let nothing be spared that is against God and his truth; but we have no war with the persons of poor mistaken men

We would persuade all lovers of peace to labour perseveringly to spread the spirit of love and gentleness, which is indeed the spirit of Christ, and to give a practical bearing to what else may become mere theory. The fight-spirit must be battled with in all its forms, and the genius of gentleness must be cultivated. Cruelty to animals, the lust for destroying living things, the desire for revenge, the indulgence of anger – all these we must war against by manifesting and inculcating pity, compassion, forgiveness, kindness, and goodness in the fear of the Lord. Children must be trained with meekness and not with passion, and our dealings with our fellow-men must manifest our readiness to suffer wrong rather than to inflict it upon others. Nor is this all: the truth as to war must be more and more insisted on: the loss of time, labour, treasure, and life must be shown, and the satanic crimes to which it leads must be laid bare. It is the sum of all villainies, and ought to be stripped of its flaunting colours, and to have its bloody horrors revealed; its music should be hushed, that men may hear the moans and groans, the cries and shrieks of dying men and ravished women. War brings out the devil in man, wakes up the hellish legion within his fallen nature, and binds his better faculties hand and foot. Its natural tendency is to hurl nations back into barbarism, and retard the growth of everything good and holy.

“But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. (Matthew 5:22)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.’ “But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. “If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. “Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. “Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:38-45)

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April 14th, 2010 | Author:

I’m taking a break from the “End of the Age” series to revisit – you guessed it! – Christians and guns. The last time I addressed this, it generated quite a bit of commentary, and even inspired my buddy Jim Wetzel to begin an excellent series of WFW posts to search the scriptures on this topic. So my apologies to Jim.  I’m really not trying to steal your thunder, my friend, but the issue has become like a burning fire, and I am weary of holding it in. (Jer 20:9)

What happened is that – finally, after I don’t know how many months or even years – I’ve found a new book that excites me.   As often happens when God has been writing a particular point on my heart, after He knows I’ve “got it,” He  leads me to a book that helps clarify and confirm the issue.  Christians and violence is one of those issues, and this seems like the right time to revisit it, as there are some other things that have come to me since my last post on this subject.  Even if you don’t agree, I hope you’ll hear me out.

The book I’ve been reading is titled The Myth of a Christian Nation:  How the Quest for Political Power is Destroying the Church by Gregory A. Boyd.  (And yes, Jim, it’s available for Kindle.)   A couple caveats:  While there is much in this book that I believe is biblically accurate, there is some that I don’t agree with.  In addition, Mr. Boyd holds some unrelated views that are controversial and unorthodox, and this is by no means an endorsement of his theology. That said, he has a gift for teaching and challenging us to examine and probe our ways. (Lam 3:40)

Before I get into his book, there are a couple other related things that I want to share, so here we go.

1) There’s an old chorus that was popular when I first got saved that goes like this:

Some may trust in horses
some may trust in chariots
but we will trust in the name of the Lord

Anybody remember it?  It was a catchy tune and we used to sing it with gusto.  It’s based on Isaiah 31:1:

Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help
And rely on horses,
And trust in chariots because they are many
And in horsemen because they are very strong,
But they do not look to the Holy One of Israel, nor seek the LORD!

We all know that “going down to Egypt” is a common type in the Bible for turning to worldly methods instead of relying on God.  As I meditated on this verse, it occurred to me that buying guns to protect ourselves or our families or our stuff is a form of “going down to Egypt.”  Instead of truly looking to the Holy One of Israel and seeking the Lord to protect us, we’re buying horses and chariots.  Woe to us.

2) Last week’s WFW included this passage:

If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell. (Matthew 5:29-30)

Let’s suppose – even though it’s hard – that you think a Christian would be sinning if he purposefully killed someone, that he would be operating out of the flesh instead of the Spirit.  Let’s further suppose – which should be a lot easier – that in the defense of self, family, or home, our first reaction to a home invader would be to grab a gun and blow that threat to smithereens.

Given this scripture, and Jesus’ instruction not to resist an evildoer, wouldn’t it make good Christian sense to get rid of our guns, to remove a source of temptation to sin?  Killing someone, no matter how much the law or our flesh may justify it, is a final act.  We can’t repent and make amends to a dead person.

3) Here’s another passage from the Sermon on the Mount, emphasis added:

You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-16)

We often proclaim that we are salt and light to the world, but honestly?  We don’t look much different than the world, and our impact on others is minimal.    This is born out by a survey referenced in a recent Newsweek article titled The End of Christian America:  “The percentage of self-identified Christians has fallen 10 points in the past two decades.”  That’s quite a drop, and I don’t see anything happening in the church in America that will reverse that trend.

We did have a recent example of salt and light, though, and the world noticed.

When Charles Roberts shot and killed five Amish girls in their one-room schoolhouse in October 2006 and then killed himself, members of the Amish community – even on the same day of the shootings – were speaking about forgiveness.  They reached out to comfort Roberts’ family, many of them even attending his funeral.

The media, in unusual deference to the Amish, did not invade with their cameras. Instead, they produced multiple reports about the real story, the salt and light that did not demand justice or investigations to try to ease their pain.  Reporters wrote about these unusual people who offered love and forgiveness, instead of retaliation and vengeance.  These people were different, and the world noticed.

I don’t have the exact reference, as I’ve loaned the book out to a friend, but in the biography Rees Howells, Intercessor, by Norman Grubb – another book that has changed my life – early in his life Howells told God that he would believe if he could find someone who actually walked the Sermon on the Mount.  God led him to that man, and his life was changed forever.

My point in this is that actually living the Sermon on the Mount makes us look radically different than the world.  Turning the other cheek and blessing our enemies is completely in contrast to what the world does. It makes us imitators of Christ, which, after all, is what Christians are supposed to be.

4) What really helped clarify all this for me is a couple related passages from Boyd’s book referenced above, starting on page 162:

On the one hand, we who confess Jesus as Lord don’t want to say that Jesus and other New Testament authors are simply off their rockers in telling us not to resist evildoers, to repay evil with good, to love our enemies, and to pray for and bless people who mistreat us.  If our confession of faith means anything, it means we have to take this teaching seriously.  On the other hand, we have to admit that it’s hard to take this teaching seriously when it comes to extreme situations such as having to protect ourselves and our family from an intruder.  Not only would most of us resist an evildoer in this situation, killing him if necessary, but most of us would see it as immoral if we didn’t use violence to resist such an evildoer.

After addressing a couple related points, Boyd continues:

But how might a person who cultivated a nonviolent, kingdom-of-God mindset and lifestyle on a daily basis respond differently to an attacker?  How might a person who consistently lived in Christ-like love [Eph. 5:1-2] operate in this situation?

For one thing, such a person would have cultivated a kind of character and wisdom that wouldn’t automatically default to self-protective violence.  Because he would genuinely love his enemy, he would have the desire to look for, and the wisdom to see, any nonviolent alternative to stopping his family’s attacker if one was available.  He would want to do good to his attacker.  This wouldn’t be a matter of him trying to obey an irrational rule to “look for an alternative in extreme situations,” for in extreme situations no one is thinking about obeying rules!  Rather, it would be in the Christlike nature of this person to see nonviolent alternatives if they were present.  This person’s moment-by-moment discipleship in love would have given him a Christlike wisdom that a person whose mind was conformed to the pattern of the tit-for-tat world would not have [Rom. 12:2.]  Perhaps they’d see that pleading with, startling, or distracting the attacker would be enough to save themselves and their family.  Perhaps they’d discern a way to allow their family to escape harm by placing themselves in harm’s way.

Not only this, but this person’s day-by-day surrender to God would have cultivated a sensitivity to God’s Spirit that would enable him to discern God’s leading in the moment, something the “normal” kingdom-of-the-world person would be oblivious to.  This Christlike person might be divinely led to say something or do something that would disarm the attacker emotionally, spiritually, or even physically.

For example, I heard of a case in which a godly woman was about to be sexually assaulted.  Just as she was being pinned to the ground with a knife to her throat, out of nowhere she said to her attacker, “Your mother forgives you.”  She had no conscious idea where the statement came from.  What she didn’t know was that her attacker’s violent aggression toward women was rooted in a heinous thing he had done as a teenager to his now deceased mother.  The statement shocked the man and quickly reduced him to a sobbing little boy.

The woman seized the opportunity to make an escape and call the police who quickly apprehended the man in the park where the attack took place.  He was still there, sobbing.  The man later credited the woman’s inspired statement with being instrumental in him eventually turning his life over to Christ.  The point is that, in any given situation, God may see possibilities for nonviolent solutions that we cannot see, and a person who has learned to “live by the Spirit” is open to being led by God in these directions [Gal. 5:16,18].

Boyd goes on to confess that he’s not sure what he would do in such a situation, but adds:

What we must never do, however, is acquiesce to our worldly condition by rationalizing away Jesus’ clear kingdom prescriptions.  We must rather strive every moment of our life to cultivate the kind of mind and heart that increasingly sees the rightness and beauty of Jesus’ teachings and thus would naturally respond to an extreme, threatening situation in a loving, nonviolent manner.

And so I, too, confess that in an extreme situation, I would probably react from my flesh and not my Spirit.  I can only throw myself at the foot of the cross in repentance, asking that God transform me into the image of His Son, my Lord and Savior.

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)

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December 09th, 2009 | Author:

New Word for Wednesday participants are always welcome.  If you’d like to join, click the WFW tab above for details.  And be sure to click Mister Linky below to see who else has posted this week.

I also encourage you to visit the WFW regular bloggers listed to the right in the sidebar.  Whether it’s other memes (Inspiring Story, Memorization Marathon), politics, humor, or life commentary, they’re worth a read.

Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition
words and music by Frank Loesser, ©1942

Down went the gunner, a bullet was his fate
Down went the gunner, and then the gunner’s mate
Up jumped the sky pilot, gave the boys a look
And manned the gun himself as he laid aside the Book, shouting

Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition
Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition
Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition
And we’ll all stay free

This song was written about a legendary chaplain named Howell Forgy who was on the USS New Orleans during the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Although what actually happened is in dispute, the phrase became a rallying cry for the military during WWII.

print ad, Henry Repeating Arms

print ad, Henry Repeating Arms

On Sept. 17th, the NY Times Stuart Elliott did a story about this new ad campaign, an obvious reference to Obama’s controversial  primary remarks.  The associated TV commercial promotes Henry’s made-in-the-USA guns, but the company is not mass-producing the Bible holster.

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, my post this week is about Christians and guns.  More specifically, it’s about when Christians should use guns and what their targets should be.  I’m going to skip over killing animals for food or defense.   And I’m going to give governments a pass at this point, being appointed by God to avenge against evil. (Romans 13:4)

The issue that concerns me is the role of the individual Christian.  The Second Amendment reads that A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. As gun restriction laws became more numerous, on the basis that the Second Amendment applied only to official military organizations, several lawsuits were filed challenging this position.  In 2008, the Supreme Court ruled in DC vs. Heller that the the Second Amendment is an individual right intimately tied to the natural right of self-defense.

So we have the legal right to kill someone in self-defense, but do we as Christians have the biblical authority to kill anyone – ever?  That’s the question in my heart, and I’ve been digging around the Bible for a while looking for answers.  Specifically, I’ve been trying to find New Testament scriptures that support a Christian killing someone – and I’ve drawn a blank, pun intended. If I’ve missed something, I’m all ears.  In fact, I’m really asking for your input – as long as it’s not based on cultural songs and ad campaigns, or a church doctrine, but based solely on NT scripture.

All that I came up with points in the opposite direction.

First, we have the example of Jesus, our Christ and our Lord, who did not resist when they came to the garden to take him away.  He did not defend Himself, and rebuked Peter for drawing his sword.

When those who were around Him saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” And one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus answered and said, “Stop! No more of this.” And He touched his ear and healed him. (Luke 22:49-51; see also John 18:10-11)

When they came to the place called The Skull, there they crucified Him and the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left. But Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves. (Luke 23:33-34)

By His refusal to resist, He saved us all.

Next let’s look at Stephen.

When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” Having said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:58-60)

His death led to great persecution and a great dispersion of the early church – and the gospel being preached throughout the world.

And then there’s Paul.

Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. (2 Corinthians 11:24-27)

Not once do we hear of Paul defending himself with physical violence – and his legacy is a good share of our New Testament.

Mark Dinsmore has written an article that addresses some of the issues I’ve been struggling with, entitled Would Paul answer the call to Christian Patriotism? The whole article is well-worth reading, but here’s an excerpt:

My fear today is that if Christians answer a “call to arms” to fight whatever totalitarian regime is being plotted (in preparation for Antichrist), then godly men will be imprisoned or die, leaving women and children behind to be ravaged both physically and spiritually. Going down in a “blaze of glory” like the Revolutionary “heroes” sounds good to our own flesh, but if we are dead men, how can we minister the gospel under whatever pagan ruler or communist culture rises to replace our Constitutional Republic?

We are in a spiritual battle, but we must choose on which hill we are willing to die. Dying for Nationalistic Pride or even for our “Rights” is not the same as dying for the cause of Christ. Far better for godly men to survive in a pagan nation and submit to rule of law (which God ordains) and to subsist by His Word—unless (or until) we are asked to bow down and worship a false god. Such an affront would still not be cause to take up arms. In the life-and-death trial of the fiery furnace, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah did not go into the flames as “National Patriots,” willing to die for their “Bill of Rights,” nor did they offer any physical resistance to their captors. Like Christ’s, theirs was a peaceful obedience and demonstration of submission to God, who alone is able to save (Dan 3:17-18; James 4:12; Heb 7:25).

The last thing I will add, and the passage that comes to my mind whenever I think on these things, is from the Sermon on the Mount, emphasis added.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.’ “But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. (Matthew 5:38-42)

So have at it, my friends.  Show me why I’m wrong.

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