Wanted: The Reluctant Warrior
We are told that Moses was the meekest man on the face of the earth. This meekness certainly showed itself in Moses' reluctance to assume the task God had for him. And although God finally had to rebuke Moses and command him to go to Egypt to set His people free, I nevertheless think that the meekness and reluctance of Moses were necessary virtues for the man who would be called upon to confront and rebuke the King of Egypt and rule the great and unruly mob of Israelites that followed him out of Egypt and into the wilderness.
The confrontation with Pharaoh and the authority with which Moses commanded the children of Israel carried with it the threat of violence. It had to be so. And the violence which God set lose through the words and actions of Moses, whether it was the destruction of the Egyptian first born or the punishment of the disobedient Israelites, was not a godless matter. It was, instead, the work of God. But it was work done to restore order, done to bring about a time of God-filled peace, a time of godly normality. The violence itself was not part of the normality, and Moses even sought to ameliorate it.
What we see in the man Moses, then, is a kind of reluctant warrior. He is a man who has found a narrow way between the Scylla of loving violence and being at heart warlike and the Charybdis of tolerating wickedness which God abhors.
The fact of the matter is that God is not happy with the necessity of violence, nor does He approve of those who love violence. The Old Testament, fraught with the violence of wars and destruction commanded by God, nevertheless carries in it a condemnation of men of violence, of those who love violence. Indeed, the single reason given for the Flood is that violence filled the earth. This violence brought the curse of God. What brings the blessing is this: when brothers dwell together in unity.
The New Testament as well decries violence. This is underlined by the fact that the violence of God's punishment for sin was absorbed by God Himself in the Person of His Son. Furthermore - and this is important for the burden of this paper - not only is physical violence decried, but so is the violence done by the tongue, by those who, for whatever reason, love the violence of verbal attack, and become, deep in their spirits, abusers of the brethren by the sharp use of their tongue. To Paul those who love argument and divisive speech have kindred spirits to those who in the Old Testament love physical violence.
The problem is that there are wars that must be fought, arguments that must be made. In this world, if one loves God, and all that He has revealed Himself to be, and all that He has called us to be in Jesus, there are things worth fighting for.
Only outside the love of God could Joshua have refrained from raising the sword, could David have wined and dined Goliath instead of killing him, could Ezekiel not have violently hurled the word of God at the Israelites.
In the same way our Lord violently rebuked all who opposed the coming of the Kingdom of God by His work on Calvary. Both Pharisee and Disciple were assaulted by Him in the most vigorous way.
Furthermore, in almost every book in the New Testament we find angry and vigorous attacks on every teaching and behavior which threatens the integrity of the Gospel. Jesus is the Prince of Peace, but when the Peace He has made by His coming, life, death, resurrection and ascension is compromised, perverted or denied, then silence and peaceful accommodation is disobedience to God. For to peacefully accommodate a teaching which undermines the gospel is finally to lose all real peace.
It is the very nature of the gospel that demands this posture. For in it three notions are supposed:
1) Man was made by God to know His love, now and forever.
2) Without Christ man is trapped in sin, which has and will cut him off from the love of God, now and forever.
3) In Jesus Christ, God has dealt with our sin and revealed Himself in such a way that we can, as new creatures, know Him, know His love as His children and abide in His love now and forever.
The gospel teaches us that these notions are true for everyone, On the one hand, for a man to build his life on another foundation is for him to render that life meaningless. On the other hand, for a man to build his life on the gospel is for a man to be marked by joy forever.
Thus the defense of the gospel is appropriate, commanded, ever loving.
The problem, then, for the pastor is in finding that narrow way which allows both the pastor and the layman to be, on the one hand meek, and on the other hand a soldier of Christ: a man who loves peace and flourishes in it, and yet is able to defend, at the appropriate time, and in the appropriate place and with much vigor, the gospel.
This problem seems to be a great one, for we find Church after Church foundering on the Scylla or the Charybdis that mark the narrow way. For some Churches, doctrine and the virtues are quite like a smorgasbord where people are free to pick and chose as they please. Who Jesus is, how God has revealed Himself, what moral contours the Christian life ought to have, really doesn't matter so long as the choosing of different opinions is peaceful. For most of these Churches, what really matters is that people learn to be "supportive" of one another, whatever beliefs or lifestyles they have adopted, and "relevant" to the world about them. (Surprisingly, these Churches, which are unable to make theologically or morally normative statements, are quite able to make economic and political declarations that suggest an almost miraculous depth of wisdom. They know more than they know.)
For other Churches, basic Christian doctrine and moral expectations are matters of the most elementary teaching to every member. Unfortunately, the pieces that make this base are used in the crudest and most truculent manner. The members of these Churches stalk the world like porcupines looking for someone to stick.
The real problem here is that knowledge, instead of enhancing relationship, has replaced it. The old man - instead of dying before the Lord, the Christian - instead of growing in the love of God and neighbor, uses Christian knowledge as a weapon for the old man. This knowledge simply makes more subtle and vicious the terrible spirits of meanness and paranoia, which help to define the old man. Those who come into the faith, loving verbal violence and suspecting those about them of evil intentions, are not changed. They continue in these modes, only now (and terribly) they do so under the guise of Christianity!
The question raised for the pastor, then, is how to nurture a Church in such a way that her members come to know the truth of God's revelation concerning both Himself and the behavior of His people -- and that they know this truth in such a way as to love it, grow in it, if need be defend it, and yet not use it as an excuse to nurture a bellicose spirit.
I hope to make, in the next few paragraphs, several suggestions that will help the pastor (and the body of elders responsible for the spiritual well being of the congregation) in building such a Church.
A) How we understand ourselves and others is a crucial issue. For the Christian, the issue can never be "good guys" versus "bad guys." Instead, the Christian must understand that there are two marks which bind him to all of humanity. The first is the mark of sin. The wretchedness of the Christian without Jesus is every bit as serious as that of the hardened criminal. This must always be remembered. The second mark is that of the cross. Jesus Christ died for every one who has ever lived. That is why the commandment to love our neighbor carries with it such weight.
Only when we forget these marks and this unity can we return to the meanness and violence that make up our sin nature. Only when we remember these marks are we able to let authentic Christian teaching do its real work in our lives.
B) The function of Christian doctrine must also be understood. It is, as Paul Holmer has noted, a kind of grammar of faith. This is a potent metaphor. For grammar is essential for speech. It enables the speech. It is also learned by speaking. Thus a person who has absorbed and is absorbing grammar is known by his speech. In the same way, doctrine is a kind of basis for living the Christian Life. Thus a person who, by the work of the Holy Spirit, has rightly absorbed and is rightly absorbing Christian doctrine, is best known by his living of the Christian Life.
The function of Christian Doctrine, then, is not the bandying about of the doctrine. It is the enabling of the Christian Life. Kierkegaard once commented on the irony of modern theologians doubting the doctrine of the resurrection. Early Christians, he commented, did not have time to doubt the doctrine. Suffering persecution and imprisonment and even death, they were too busy counting on it. We can see that a Church that does not proclaim and teach the doctrine of the resurrection is not enabling courageous Christian living, which counts on the truth of this doctrine. On the other hand, one would wonder about a church where sermons simply consist of attack after attack on Churches which lack the doctrine. One would expect, instead, to find sermons, teachings and lives which presuppose and build on the doctrine.
C) In a Church that is called upon again and again to be militant, peace time must be preferred. A pastor must nurture the congregation to rejoice in, and build, peaceful relationships with those about them, in every phase of life, with non-Christians, as well as Christians. Only then can the Christian effectively and appropriately wage war when he must.
Reluctantly, for the sake of the Peace of God, the Christian wages war. This cannot be done if the Christian has not learned to prefer and walk in that Peace.
M. Frank © 1993
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