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Thursday, April 03, 2008

Baptist Faith & Message Article XVI. Peace and War

Here are my notes from my ongoing Wednesday evening study of the Baptist Faith & Message 2000.

XVI. Peace and War

It is the duty of Christians to seek peace with all men on principles of righteousness. In accordance with the spirit and teachings of Christ they should do all in their power to put an end to war.

The true remedy for the war spirit is the gospel of our Lord. The supreme need of the world is the acceptance of His teachings in all the affairs of men and nations, and the practical application of His law of love. Christian people throughout the world should pray for the reign of the Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 2:4; Matthew 5:9,38-48; 6:33; 26:52; Luke 22:36,38; Romans 12:18-19; 13:1-7; 14:19; Hebrews 12:14; James 4:1-2.

Christian Warfare vs. Modern Warfare

There is certainly a type of warfare in which the Christian should participate. So at the outset of this topic of war and peace we need to differentiate between godly warfare and ungodly warfare. And I am not talking about just war theory.

When one is transferred into the Kingdom of God’s Son, he is enlisted as a soldier for King Jesus. This truth is captured nicely in a hymn like Onward, Christian Soldiers.

Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before! Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe; Forward into battle, see his banner go!

At the sign of triumph Satan’s host doth flee; On then, Christian soldiers, on to victory! Hell’s foundations quiver at the shout of praise; Brothers lift your voices, loud your anthems raise!

Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war; With the cross of Jesus going on before!

The mission given to the soldier has similarities to a soldier in the Marines. For example, the Christian soldier is given permission to engage the enemy in the hopes that a victory might be secured over the enemy. However, the means, or the way we go about securing victory over our enemies, is different from modern warfare. Additionally, our enemy is a spiritual one and not primarily a physical one like we see in modern warfare.

Our enemy in Christian warfare is not mankind as Paul writes in Ephesians 6:12, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

As Scripture teaches us, mankind is not our primary enemy. Our enemies are fundamentally Satan, bondage to sin, and death. It is our enslavement to sin and its corruption of our beings which leads to division and violence between men and nations. So the goal for mankind is not to destroy one another but to be liberated from the powers and forces that lead us to violence.

Victory in Christ

Scripture teaches us that this needed liberation from evil powers and forces comes through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And the way we participate in the victory Jesus Christ made comes when we are united to him by faith. The old self is crucified with Christ. The Holy Spirit gives birth to a new self, in which the power of sin has been broken.

The primary means by which we wage warfare is the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ for it is through the hearing of the Word of Christ that we are saved and liberated from the powers of darkness. The Baptist Faith & Message says it this way, “The true remedy for the war spirit is the gospel of our Lord.”

There have been many remedies offered in the past to avoid war and there will continue to be many offered in the future, but if the peace is not rooted in Jesus Christ then it will not last.

Short-lived Remedies

There are many remedies offered today…

1. Economic sanctions are levied against countries in order to ensure peace.
2. Non-Aggression treaties are signed between nations
3. Appeasement was offered in the months leading to WWII.
4. The accumulation of great armies is often a deterrent to war.
5. The remedy of war unfortunately is often more war.

In older days past, in order to ensure the peace, princes and princesses from differing kingdoms and nations were married to ensure the peace.

Peace Through Marriage to Christ

It would seem that this approach has the most similarity with God’s plan for peace. Those who are united with Jesus Christ by faith are called the bride of Christ. Jesus is the husband and all those who will join Christ in marriage will enter into God’s peace, but all those who rebel against Jesus Christ, God will destroy.

The primary reason why Jesus Christ is the only true remedy to the spirit of war is that mankind’s heart is enslaved to evil toward God, and this rebellion against God’s ways leads to devastation in our relationships with one another. Only the new birth can enact the kind of permanent change needed for everlasting peace with our fellow man, and only the work of Jesus Christ can ensure our peace with God on account of the blood of Jesus which justifies us before God.

Given that our task is to bring the liberating gospel to all men regardless of ethnicity, tongue, or nationality we should not give ourselves to the type of ungodly warfare which leads to physical death and ensures that no further opportunities for real peace can be given. Thus the Baptist Faith & Message says, “It is the duty of Christian to seek peace with all men on principles of righteousness. In accordance with the spirit and teachings of Christ they should do all in their power to put an end to war.”

We are Peacemakers

Scripture is filled with teachings that instruct us on our responsibility to work for peace on earth.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God (Matthew 5:9).”

Romans 12:18-21 (NASU) “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath [of God], for it is written, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Romans 14:19 (NASU) “So then let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.”

Hebrews 12:14 (NASU) “Pursue peace with all men…”

In his own ministry, Jesus rejected violence toward others as a means by which would inaugurate his Kingdom.

a. He did not call legions of angels who were at his disposal for protection.

b. He commanded Peter to put his sword away when the authorities arrested him.

c. He did not militarize his followers at the height of his popularity.

Instead he inaugurated his kingdom through selflessness, sacrifice, and service to others faithfully leading people to God.

Godly Resistance

Jesus was not a complete passivist though. He taught his followers to resist evil but not in the standard practices of his day which resorted to more evil.

In Matthew 5:38-48, Jesus gave three examples of creative holy resistance tactics against evil.

a. turning the other cheek: turning the other cheek creates a dilemma for the abuser. Few would be willing to use their left hand to slap someone (for the left hand was unclean). His only option would be to quit hitting you (thus the violence would end) or because his left cheek is exposed, his only option would be to strike with a closed fist which only equals in society fought this way (if he did this then he would be saying you are his equal and he probably would not do this).

b. giving your tunic and cloak: If someone sued you for your tunic and you also hand him your cloak as well, you will be naked and your nakedness will bring shame on him who sees you. The desired hope is that the one who sues you will be shamed and recognize that suing for someone’s tunic is wicked.

c. going the extra mile: Going the extra mile beyond the legal Roman proscription of one mile would potentially cause the soldier to get into trouble and would turn the table on the Roman solider concerning who had power.

Being a peacemaker is not easy work. It takes wisdom and ingenuity.

Implementing Christ’s teaching in our own lives will help us work for peace in this world. If the church would truly model the kind of service, sacrifice, selflessness, and love that Jesus demonstrated we could truly turn the world upside down.

We should pray and work for the end of peace. The Baptist Faith & Message says, “The supreme need of the world is the acceptance of His teachings in all the affairs of men and nations, and the practical application of His law of love. Christian people throughout the world should pray for the reign of the Prince of Peace.”

Is There Such a Thing as Just War?

My own position is: where there is war where men kill one another there is also evil and wickedness. These kinds of wars are always the result of our failure to love God and love our neighbor.

The only occasion where war may be justified is when the greater evil would be to sit idly by when great injustices occur. But my belief is that few wars have been waged that fit this scenario. Furthermore, even when war is waged justifiably(?) it is still the lesser of two evils.

What we know to be true is that when our soldiers come home from wars and they have killed other human beings they are never the same. Most suffer for the rest of their lives with post-traumatic stress. And this makes perfect sense for we were never created for such barbaric conduct. Our soldiers and their families need our prayers on many fronts.


War is easy.
Wickedness is easy.
Retaliation is easy.

Peace is difficult.
Holiness is difficult.
Suffering wrongs is difficult.

But this is the work Jesus calls us to. Jesus said in Luke 9:23, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.”

1 comment:

Ann said...

Hi! I am a research fellow at Yale Divinity School, and the TA of a class called "Worship and War." This week I am researching nonviolent liturgical elements, and in doing so, I stumbled across this. I just wanted to mention that this post just made my day. I have been struggling to find evidence to show my class that Evangelicals of many stripes are not "warmongers," just because many east-coasters and ivy-leaguers get the impression that recent political administrations and conservative news stations are representative of Evangelicalism. As a good mid-westerner with an Evangelical past, I don't think this is true. Thank you for being an example to many who are training for ministry or religious scholarship here at Yale. Your plea for peace in this post may already be aiding in bringing together an often divided body of Christ. Thank you so much.