A Time for...?
Dean Phillip Jensen's sermon on the war in Iraq
Field baptism of Christian convert in Iraq.
Though one might not agree with all the theology contained in this sermon, it makes some very important points on the subject of Christian attitude that should not be ignored.
I have reproduced the sermon primarily as an exercise for Pastoral Theology students, but because of the points concerning attitude that are relevant to Christian attitude I put the sermon into a booklet format to make it easily manageable for anyone who wishes to benefit from it.
The seminary student will study the outline and format of the presentation. He will also observe how the preacher uses Scripture to support his position. These are important things for him to recognize and benefit from so he can make decisions about how to effectively prepare sermons in his future service to God.
The lay reader should use the sermon to consider his attitude toward war and in particular the war titled "Operation Iraqi Freedom." It is not necessary that the reader comes to a conclusion that is exactly in concert with Dean Jensen, but it is very important that he comes to a conclusion that is holy and in agreement with the will of God.
Dean Michael L. Ford
West Georgia Resident Center
The Christian response to war is prayer.
Prayer is the most natural supernatural activity. But is it of any use other than making us feel good?
What are God's plans for the world and where does war fit into His plans? And where does this war fit in? And what should we be praying for - hoping for - expecting to happen?
Is God on our side?
How does this war look from God's perspective?
1 "War is Hell!"
It was one of the first men to use total war - the American civil war General William Sherman - who used to say: "War is Hell!" He was both right and wrong. It is hellish in its horror and destruction - the unleashing of the forces of evil. It is hellish in its suffering - the four horsemen of Revelation 6 riding out to conquer and fight to impoverish and to kill - are the realistic images of war. For with war comes not only conquest and hostility but also economic disaster, illness and death.
It is also hellish because it is the consequence and judgement upon sin. It is the lamb who opens the seals that release the four horseman. The lamb who died to take away the sin of the world. The lamb who has risen to rule and put into effect the plans and purposes of God. It is the lamb - Jesus - who sends the four horsemen into the world as part of the judgement of God upon sinful humanity.
But war is not hell. Like all human self-willed chaos - it is not hell but only the foretaste of hell. The four riders of the book of Revelation are only a beginning and warning of the judgement to come. They come at the behest of the risen Lamb of God - to judge the nations of the world, to
warn the nations of the world of the judgement yet to come.
2 Divided Community
And understanding this helps us understand why we, in Australia, have such a Divided Community. For this particular war does not commend itself to all our citizens.
I have noticed five different attitudes to the war in our community debate. I suspect all five are here with us today. So let me briefly outline all five and see what God's word says to each, before I turn back to what God says to us all about war.
a the dove
Firstly there are the doves: The pacifists who are opposed to all war and all violence. They are opposed to the war in Iraq because they are opposed to any use of force to resolve any issue.
We can all have sympathy for this position. The image of heaven we are given in the Bible is of peace and harmony where they shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into
pruning hooks; nation shall not lift sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. (Isaiah 2:4) The Prince of Peace will usher in the time when the wolf shall dwell
with the lamb.. (Isaiah 11:6) However that is exactly what is wrong with the pacifist's position.
It is the wrong timing. We are not in the Garden of Eden, nor yet the Heavenly city. And now is not the time for world peace. We are in the fallen world of human sinfulness - where evil people do dastardly things and where God has given governments authority to administer justice with the sword. (Rom 13:1f, 1 Peter 2:13f). But Governments are made of sinful people who will not rule the world in perfect justice and peace. Having in my youth taught and lived the dove position I must confess its great attraction to me - but it is decidedly wrong. It is a godly heresy - in that it hates violence and seeks for the peace that God will one day bring to the world - but it fails to take seriously the sinfulness of the human heart; it fails to take seriously God's present means of ruling the world through human governments; it fails to take seriously the difference between living in this world and living in the world to come. Failing to take seriously the sinfulness of humans - makes it an unrealistic and unworkable idea - for monsters do exist and do
need stopping. Furthermore we are all capable of doing real harm to our neighbor and need the constraint of law and order and of good government.
b the hawk
The second position is the opposite of the dove namely the hawk. By this I mean the person who is always looking for a fight, controversy, disagreement and the use of force and violence to get his way. While one can be sympathetic with the godly heresy of the dove - there is little or no sympathy for the man of violence.
The Scriptures say the LORD hates the wicked and the one who loves violence. (Psalm 11:5),
for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires.(James 1:20) and so we are warned Do not envy a man of violence and do not choose any of his ways, for the devious person is an abomination to the LORD , but the upright are in his confidence. (Prov. 3:31-32)
Nowhere in the Bible do those who love violence get God's approval. So if you are one of the Hawks who are pleased, thrilled and excited about this war - look to yourself and repent, for you are well and truly out of step with God. God is not on your side. He is opposed to you irrespective of which side you are so eagerly fighting for.
The third and fourth positions are neither pacifist nor militaristic - neither dove nor hawk. The difference between them is the division over timing. In the Ecclesiastes poem there is the striking verse: …a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. (Ecclesiastes 3:8) There is a time for Governments to take action, to step in to the affairs of the world with punitive action - be it by the police, the judiciary or the military force.
There is such a thing as a time for war.
But when is the time? Was Neville Chamberlain right in his timing or too slow - was Winston Churchill right or too precipitous. It is a
matter of human judgement of the pragmatics and strategy of war. We are not God and we do not know what to do. The world is in an intractable insoluble moral mess and we are not free from the evil that we see in others.
Both sides appeal to high moral principles - they have to for human life and death is at stake. But there are all the high moral principles can be contradicted by the other side. One man's terrorist is another man;s freedom fighter. In the affairs of humanity there is deep interwoven lies deceit sin
and evil. No one is spared and no system, nation or government is innocent. (Romans 3:9-20)
c not yet
The third position then is the "not yet" position. Those who say that this is "not yet" the time for war. Maybe in the future if the United Nations did more, maybe if Iraq invaded a neighboring country, or if more clear evidence of a terrorist connection could be established - but not now - not now with our present information and the present activities of the government of Iraq.
To those who feel/think that our Government has made a mistake in the timing there are some important things to do.
Firstly we must respect those who are appointed over us in government. The first century Christians were called upon to respect and obey the tyrannical and persecuting Roman government of their day as being appointed by God. It is no less incumbent on us to respect our leaders. (Romans 13:1f, 1 Peter 2:13f)
We must be careful not to express our democratic civil freedoms of speech and action in such a disrespectful way as to undermine the Government's authority. We must not attack the servicemen and service women who, obedient to the duly elected government of the day, are willing to lay down their lives to protect our freedom, including our freedom to dissent from Government opinion. Violent peace demonstrations are a contradiction in terms. Arguing with our Government may be good but beware of going to war with them. 5.
d at last
The Fourth position is that of our Government. That "at last" we have had to act. They may be right just as the third position may be right. But to those who hold this position - we must remember God is not on one side in this war. He is not disinterested. He has not lost control of the world. But it is our war not his. This war cannot be fought in the name of God. Even if we realize that this is not a religious war, as the governments of England, The United States and Australian have been forcefully arguing - we may still feel that God is on our side. But that cannot be known from the Bible.
Furthermore it is worth reminding ourselves to keep listening to others and weighing the costs and benefits of the war. For as the Bible teaches by wise guidance you can wage war, and in abundance of counselors there is victory. (Prov 24:6) and what king, going out to encounter another in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? and if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. (Luke 14:31-32). And in listening to advisors and weighing up the options - remember the words of Cromwell to the Scots just a month prior to the Battle of Dunbar: "I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken."
e the fence
And then there is the fifth and final position - the fence. For many of us - knowing that we cannot be pacifist doves nor militaristic hawks are left having to make a judgement call on whether this is a time for war or for peace - and feel ourselves unable to decide. We do not want to go to war. But then we do not want the Saddam regime to continue and we do not want to see his kind of tyranny grow in any military capability. We certainly do not want weapons to proliferate and fall into the hands of terrorists - but then again which is the best way to prevent that - we do not know. Friends we may not know what to do - but we can always pray. To pray
for those in government over us that we may live a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. (1 Timothy 2:2)
3 Time for War/Peace
But is this the Time for War or for Peace? The Bible was not written to governments about when to go to war - but to God's people about how to live in this war-ridden world. It is about God's plans for the world and for you. And the Bible's view of life and war and peace gives us the real
basis for prayer and action. Though to understand it requires some careful consideration and thought.
a God in control
Firstly we must remember that in the midst of all our chaos, confusion and differences of opinion that God is in control.
In the Old Testament he directs the course of history raising up Egypt, and Assyria and Babylon and of course Israel. We are even told that: The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will. (Prov 21:1)
In the New Testament, God's control of the world centers upon the Messiah - Jesus. So in Revelation 5 the lamb who had died to ransom people to God - ie Jesus who died as a sacrifice for our sin - is ascribed the praises of all the universe.
11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands,
12 saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing!
13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honour and glory and might forever and ever!
14 And the four living creatures said, Amen! and the elders fell down and worshipped. (Revelation 5:11-14)
Two important implications are here for us.
First: Christ is now ruling the world as king of kings and lord of lords and
Second: through Christ we who are sinful and unworthy to come to
God can now make our requests in prayer to God as our father
b ultimate peace
And what we want to pray for is peace. The Peace that will last forever. The final ultimate peace - the peace of heaven when God will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no
more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Revelation 21:4)
The problem of the pacifist/dove is not the desire for peace but the timing and the means of achieving it. For the time without war is not now in this present world but in the next. And the means are not sinful humans or governments - but God.
c present warfare
Now is not the time of peace but the time of our present warfare. Jesus first arrival was not meant to be the end of war. For as he himself warned his disciples about the present age: And when you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains. (Mark 13:7-8)
For Jesus kingdom is not of this world. As he said to Pilate; Jesus answered, 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)
That is why we can be so sure that this present war with Iraq is not a Christian war. God is not on either side of this war. But to say that Jesus Kingdom is not of this world is not the same as to say that Christ's kingdom has no implications for this world or this present warfare.
On the contrary: The Lamb who now rules the universe has been given a scroll with seven seals. And as the Lamb opens each seal
the plan of God is put into effect.
The first four seals bring out the four horses of conquest and war of famine and death. It is his enthronement that has brought to a head the chaos of world wide sinfulness.
But this is not the end of the world - this is not the final judgement of the world - this is just the beginning of the birth pains. (Mark 13:8)
d present peace
But what about now? Is there no peace? Has the Prince of Peace come only to bring more war? Is there no present peace to which we can point?
Peace in the present Christian era that comes in two ways.
Firstly there is the real peace of heaven that Christ brings to his people to enjoy now.
Secondly there is the peace that we pray for.
The peace that Christians can enjoy now is not the peace of this world. Nor even a peace that the people of this world understand and appreciate. But it is real and tangible and transforms our whole experience of life in this world
On the night that he was betrayed Jesus said to his disciples Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:27) and then after his death and resurrection he entered into the room where his terrified disciples huddled and his first words were - the first words of the risen Christ to them were - Peace be with you. (John 20:19)
For as the apostle later declared to us Therefore since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:1)
Here is the foundation of that peace which we have already. The death of Christ brings sinners like us into reconciliation with God. And this reconciliation with God enables us to be reconciled with ourselves and with people from any race nation people or background. Read all about it in Ephesians 2.
Two Christian book-titles illustrate it:
Bishop Festo Kivengere wrote a book about the brutal dictator of Uganda who had murdered many of Festo's friends. As best as I remember it was entitled "Why I Love Idi Amin"
And here in Sydney one of our Jewish Christian friends who escaped from the Holocaust having lost nearly all her family has published her book "Forgiving Hitler" (Matthias Media 2002)
But I mentioned a second way of peace in this world now. That is prayer. For the Christian is to pray for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim 2:2-4)
For it is in peaceful condition of life that we may share the great news of Jesus - not just to our own people but to all peoples - whereas war limits the free expression of serving Christ.
So we have before us the Christian response to this week's terrible news. By all means appeal to our government to change its mind or declare your support and agreement with the governments action. By all means support our troops in the field, whether or not you agree with the government. But Christians our first response must be to pray.
* To pray for the peace that will enable us all to live in quiet godliness.
* To pray for a quick end to hostilities, a merciful treatment of all involved, safety for our military forces, comfort to the bereaved, worried and anxious, wisdom for our leaders.
* To pray for the peace that will enable us to get on with job of sharing the great news of Jesus to all people.
* To pray knowing that wars and rumours of wars are normal in the last days - wars are not abnormal peace is abnormal.
* To pray knowing that, while these wars are part of the final judgement of the world that will not listen to God, - yet the war is not itself the end of the world.
* To pray that other people may come to know the peace of God
in Christ Jesus - the peace that passes understanding - that comes through his sacrificial death for us and not only for us but for the whole world.
e how long?
But yet as we pray for this peace remember the fifth seal that the risen lamb has broken open in Revelation 6. The seal that shows us the martyrs who call out how long? For the world in all its terror and wickedness - its injustice and corruption - cannot go on forever.
The wars are themselves the signs to us:- that something is fundamentally wrong with this world - with humanity; that we cannot and will not ever live in peace and harmony; that we will always need police and soldiers; that we cannot be trusted; and that wrongs have been done that do need repayment.
One day the lamb will bring full complete and satisfying justice to the whole world. And if you are tempted - as many are - to cry out with these martyrs and demand that God brings his justice now - that he should come and do away with hostility and violence, lies, corruption, greed, exploitation, tyranny and injustice - if you want to point the finger at God and demand justice now - make sure that you have nothing to fear when the day of the lamb comes. For he will come with absolute justice and Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and
the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand? (Revelation 6:15-17)
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