Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Remembrance Day

Today is November 11th. It is a day when in this corner of the world, people will pay tribute to those who laid down their lives to serve our country as our country sacrificially offered up some of its most beloved sons to bring peace to friends and strangers in distant lands. A moment's thought ought to cause us to be grateful and amazed that so many of our nation's heroes quickly gave of themselves to end oppression and violence on distant shores when most of them had never seen these places before they set foot in battle. So much freedom, justice, and peace was secured because our own lives were not considered to be of greater worth than that of others who were being violated and downtrodden. Scores of biblical lessons can be illustrated from this monumental sacrifice granted for the liberty of others.
Having said that, there are a few things that we must keep in mind without losing an enormous and unyielding gratitude for what we enjoy because of the sacrifice of many. First, war is never to be taken lightly, or entered into carelessly, or supported unquestionably. War is brutal and ugly. It is the slaughter of lives made in the image of God . God is not indifferent to this violence, and if we are to dare to enter into war, we must be sure that it is because the cause is truly the furtherance of justice. God's hatred of bloodshed echoes through the Scriptures. Do you recall the words of our God when David wanted to build a temple unto the Lord? 1 Chronicles 22:8 reads "But the word of the Lord came to me, saying, "you have shed much blood, and have waged great wars; you shall not build a house to My name, because you have shed so much blood on the earth before Me." God loved David. God hated the bloodstains of David's record. It was that important to God that David was denied the privilege of building a temple for the Lord. I wonder how many Christians have ever wondered if the Lord might deny us in the West the privilege of building His new temple, the church, if our hands are stained by constant support of war and bloodshed in the nations? Is it at all possible that one reason for the shift of church growth to the Asian world and other corners of the planet may be a divine determination to distinguish God's name and reputation from that of those who are known for war? We need to at least be open to that question. We need to proceed carefully, reflectively, patiently and faithfully. Christian leaders must sober the minds and soften the hearts of God's people for the sake of the nations for whom Christ died rather than be a rallying voice for the government or carelessly preaching on the biblical foundations for a just war without due diligence to examine ourselves and our nation's cause. I agree with one of my heroes of the faith, Charles Spurgeon, that we need to be very careful to see war up close and personal and not theoretically from a distance. Spurgeon put it this way: "It is astonishing how distance blunts the keen edge of anything that is disagreeable. War is at all times a most fearful scourge. The thought of slain bodies and of murdered men must always harrow up the soul; but because we hear of these things in the distance, there are few Englishmen who can truly enter into their horrors. If we should hear the booming of cannon on the deep which girdles this island; 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 ("A Present Religion," May 30, 1858, Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens). We also must keep in mind that war is not as clean and tidy as people might want us to believe. Listen to Dr. Timothy J. Demy, a commander with the Chaplain Corps of the U.S. Navy and a Dallas Theological Seminary grad. He writes "Yet, the definition and the experience of war are two vastly different things. In the first half of this decade, from 1990 to 1995, 70 international states were involved in 93 wars which killed five and a half million people. Most of the casualties were civilians, noncombatants. At the beginning of this century, most of the war casualties were military (85-90%). In World War II more than half of all war deaths were noncombatants. Today, at the end of the twentieth century, more than three-fourths of all war deaths are civilians" (http://www.leaderu.com/humanities/demy.html). We need keep in mind that the issue in going to War is not simply is this war considered to be just. It must also be "Will this war be fought in a just fashion?" Christians should never align themselves willingly with the slaughter of civilians in the nations. We should not be supportive or be silent if we are not sure the war is just or if it will be fought justly. We must speak for the most vulnerable. We cannot assume that because our sons are returning in flag-drapped coffins that we are the good guys and the others are the bad guys. God's people have often been wrong. History is blotted with the errors of Christians who slaughtered the nations believing that they were doing the will of God. When God sends Isaiah to Israel in Isaiah 5, there is this metaphor given, describing Israel as the vineyard planted by God. Isaiah 5:7 reads "For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah His delightful plant. Thus He looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed. For righteousness, but behold a cry of distress."
Also, it is crucial for Christians to keep in mind when considering war - where your citizenship is and who your King is. We are not builders of earthly kingdoms. We do not serve an earthly King. Listen to Jesus and why He chose to suffer wrong than to retaliate. When standing before Pilate, Jesus was questioned about whether he was the King of the Jews. Jesus answers "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting, that I might not be delivered up to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm"(John 18:36). That is our Saviour. He is not building an earthly kingdom therefore His servants are not fighting to spare Him from the wrong that was about to be executed against Him. You and I must always remember that our battle is not against flesh and blood. Our kingdom is won not by taking life but by laying down our lives. Yes, there is a governmental responsibility to wield the sword for the peace and protection of its citizens. Yet, we need to understand - that sword is not the path of Christ's kingdom. In fact, the sword may actually bring persecution on the church for something other than the gospel. It may make life increasingly miserable for our brethren in the nations and if the war is unjust, bring the nations to blaspheme the name of our God. Again, let me quote C.H. Spurgeon: "The church, we affirm, can neither be preserved nor can its interests be promoted by human armies. We have all thought otherwise in our time, and have foolishly said when a fresh territory was annexed to our empire, "Ah! what a providence that England has annexed Oude," – or taken to itself some other territory – "Now a door is opened for the Gospel. A Christian power will necessarily encourage Christianity, and seeing that a Christian power is at the head of the Government, it will be likely that the natives will be induced to search into the authenticity of our revelation, and so great results will follow. Who can tell but that, at the point of the British bayonet, the Gospel will be carried, and that, by the edge of the true sword of valiant men, Christ’s Gospel will be proclaimed?" I have said so myself; and now I know I am a fool for my pains, and that Christ’s church hath been also miserably befooled; 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." Now don’t be fooled again, if you hear of the English conquering in China, don’t go down on your knees and thank God for it, and say it’s such a heavenly thing for the spread of the gospel – it just is not. Experience teaches you that, and if you look upon the map you will find I have stated only the truth, that where our arms have been victorious, the gospel has been hindered rather than not; so that where South Sea Islanders have bowed their knees and cast their idols to the bats, British Hindoos have kept their idols, and where Bechuanas and Bushmen have turned unto the Lord, British Affairs have not been converted, not perhaps because they were British, but because the very fact of the missionary being a Briton, put him above them, and weakened their influence. Hush thy trump, O war; put away thy gaudy trappings and thy bloodstained drapery, if thou thinkest that the cannon with the cross upon it is really sanctified, and if thou imaginest that thy banner hath become holy, thou dreamest of a lie. God wanteth not thee to help his cause. "It is not by armies, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord" ("Independence of Christianity," August 31, 1857, Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens).
Remember the peace secured by the armies of men is never to be seen as the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ. He gives us peace, but as He says, "not as the world gives it" (John 14:27). The gospel of the kingdom will advance in the nations not as the nations see us waging war against them but as we lay down our lives for them. The glory of Christ will be seen not as we defend ourselves from injustice but as we endure and love and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5). When we take communion, Jesus tells us to "Do this in remembrance of Me". We are not remembering the King who rode on a battle steed. We remember the Prince of Peace riding in on the foal of a donkey and Who laid down His life for His enemies. May the Lord bless us all on Remembrance Day as we give thanks for the freedom we possess but also for the freedom that no one can take away - secured by our Lord Jesus Christ.