Saturday, 31 December 2011
Christians are a people who love their neighbors, even when those neighbors are their enemies or the enemies of those they love. Many Christians in the United States find it a duty to fight for the United States, a nation they love, in times of war. There is often a strong bond between our discipleship with Jesus and our citizenship in the USA.
I'm of the opinion that this is often taken too far, to a point in which we compromise our discipleship for the sake of our citizenship and I often see it happen through the channel of violent activity on behalf of the country. However, this is not merely something Christians in the U.S. deal with but an issue Christians in all nations through time have dealt with and continue to deal with. I always hear Christians crying out "How do we fight for what is good in this world as Christians? We can't all die on a cross and be a saviour!"
Christians are to fight for justice, but this can be done without compromising our kingdom of Heaven citizenship. Jesus says, "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world" (John 18:36). Even though Jesus was making a revelation of who he was (and simultaneously those who are a part of his kingdom) with this statement he speaks the truth that people of his kingdom aren't fighters, at least not in the way the world knows fighters.
This is echoed by Paul when he writes, "For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds" (2Corinthians 10:3-4). As Paul defends his ministry as an Apostle he makes it clear that the people of God, Christians, aren't fighting the same wars as the world and aren't using the weapons the world uses to fight because the aim of kingdom people who belong to Jesus is different from those in the world. While the world is focused on fighting enemies who are neighbors and using wounding and lethal weapons such as guns, knives, bombs, gases, sprays, and more the citizens of the heavenly kingdom are seeking to demolish strongholds in this world with a different kind of arsenal.
Paul makes more sense of this when he writes in Ephesians 6:10-21
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.
In the crosshairs of the Christian, the kingdom of heaven citizen, is the devil (Satan) and his schemes. The aim is to demolish Satan's strongholds. The strongholds of Afghanistan, North Korea, the Taliban, Saddam Hussein, even Adolf Hitler are not the aim for Christians. However, those strongholds may be deeply within the strongholds of the devil. We must be careful not to mistake one for the other lest we kill the creation of God in the grips of Satan's claws.
To make sense of this, look at Lord of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkein. In the second book/movie The Two Towers there is a king of a land called Rohan named Theoden. Theoden is a ruler who was once good but has become corrupted to the point where death and injustice permeate his kingdom. Think of him as the earthly ruler who breeds death and injustice. He had an adviser named Grima who was poisoning and weakening the king and thus his rule over the kingdom in order that that Grima's true master Saruman could rule the kingdom.
For us, Saruman is Satan and Grima is an influential demon. This is the way our world works. People are influenced be rebellious angelic beings (demons) who side with the Prince of this World, Satan. When men give into this wicked influence they begin to see their kingdoms ruled by Satan. Even if God establishes the authorities, they can rebel and fall prey to evil influence and give their kingdom over to the enemy of God (and this happens in our personal lives as well).
Eventually, Gandalf the White shows up in the palace in which Theoden resides. Gandalf casts out Grima from the kingdom and then destroys Saruman's possession of Theoden and as a result Theoden's health and mind are restored and soon his kingdom comes back to life and justice again exists.
Just as Gandalf had his aim on Saruman, whom he actually speaks against and casts out of Theoden, so we aim at Satan and his strongholds, seeking to demolish them so that people may be reconciled to God, embracing life over death, justice over injustice, and service over power. When Satan's walls are broken down people may walk on the path of their Creator who calls them into his nation to be eternal citizens.
If Gandalf had merely killed Theoden the stronghold would still be in Rohan, plaguing the kingdom, but Gandalf saw through the mask and looked deeper into the truth of the situation. He knew the players and he acted accordingly, working to reconcile and save. He demolished a stronghold, not a neighbor.
We are called to the same thing. Our battle is not against flesh and blood (people) but our true enemy who influences and grabs hold of our neighbors, Satan. His work is our target so we work against it and in doing so we work for our neighbor and our enemies of flesh and blood. If we are ever fighting flesh and blood we are fighting against the wrong enemy.
So how do we protect ourselves from the devil's schemes and stay strong in God as citizens of his kingdom? Paul says we put on the armor of God which consists of truth, righteousness, readiness from the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, and the Word of God. Elsewhere Paul might call this putting on the new self. The most offensive of these is the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. The Word of God is our weapon with which we vanquish the enemy. Just as Jesus proved in the desert during his temptations so we can stick to the Word and demolish strongholds (Matthew 4:1-11, Luke 4:1-13).
Speaking the Word is a main weapon of God throughout scripture. From the Reed Sea waves to the demon's being cast out by Christ and his disciples, the Word is how this battle is fought and won for Creation knows the Word formed all things and has power over all things. The most rebellious aspect of creation is mankind. Demons, Satan, and elements of creation know and respect the Word, obeying it and shuddering at it but man is least likely to obey (so it seems). Regardless, the spoken Word of God is immensely powerful so we do well to speak it.
Next, Paul tells us to pray. Prayer is also a way in which we fight. It is no coincidence that Paul speaks of this warfare and then commands his recipients to be people who pray on all occasions. This is how Christians fight. Christians do not pick up swords but rather they put down knees (besides, they've been busy bending swords into farming tools so those aren't much of an option anymore). No, the people who pick up their crosses and imitate Christ are the people who join him in his kingdom, being different and not of this world, and choose to fight the strongholds of Satan through prayer and the Word of God instead of hurting their neighbors with earthly weapons.
Origen of Alexandria was a Bible scholar in the third-century who has heavily influenced the Church. He wrote that “as we — by our prayers — vanquish all the demons that stir up war, and lead to the violation of oaths, and disturb the peace, we in this service are much more helpful to the kings than those who go into the field to fight for them. None fight better for the king than we do. We do not indeed fight under him, although he demands it; but we fight on his behalf, forming a special army of piety by offering our prayers to God.”
The real fight is not the one against humans or the one that uses weapons created by humans. If we're using those weapons and fighting those wars then we're missing the reality in front of us. If we are doing that then we are of the world and not the kingdom of God. If we are in those wars with those weapons we are not helping in the best way possible. I agree with Origen that None fight better for the earthly king than the Christian who refuses to pick up arms and instead embraces the weapons of God which are prayer and the Word. The king may not understand, just as Theoden did not understand what Gandalf was doing, but this is the course of action and the focus that is needed.
We can be good earthly citizens by not fighting in our nation's wars against our neighbors. We can be just people but not using our guns, knives, gases, and other man-made weapons. When we pray we fight for our nation's and those against the nation we live in. We may not look like the great citizen many will want us to be but we will be doing what is needed, what is good, for we will be doing the work of Christ which he has given us. We are to be reconcilers, bringing sinners to God and to one another. We are cultivators and not destroyers. Let us fight not as people of this world but as citizens of the kingdom of heaven which is not of this world but of God.
Disclaimer: While we do this, let us not neglect daily action. Praying and the Word of God are our initial and primary weapons but we must also be people who act. When we act it must be in accordance with the Way of Christ and display love, working towards making reconciliation a reality. If our action is void of the fruit of the Spirit then we aren't acting as we ought as we seek justice. When you're sick you can pray but you should also go to the doctor.
How do you think Christians are called to fight? Are we called to fight in physical wars or is our fight more spiritual than that? Are we called to fight against rulers, nations and peoples or are we called to fight against spirits, evil and demons? Can we be called to fight against all of these things?