In this four part series, I’ll be posting a recent sermon that I delivered entitled “What Are We Fighting For?”. This is an important topic to me. I believe that peace is an important part of our responsibility as Christians. I hope that this sermon rings true in your heart as well.
Title: What Are We Fighting For?
Key Verses: Romans 12:14-21
Topic: The Peace Position
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice;
mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be
willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take
revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to
avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Part 1: Introduction
We live in a strange world… We live in a world of contradictions.
The phrase “War on Terror” confuses me, especially with all of the bad press coming out of the US about prisoner abuses and civilian casualties. I just finished reading a memoir of a World War I vet named Stephen Pike and in the memoir, he is quoted as saying: “War: You don’t have to do any lyin’. You can’t tell it as bad as it was.” We’ve all heard similar descriptions when talking about war. If anything, I’d say the “War on Terror” should be aimed at preventing war. War seems to be the real terror here.
Speaking of contradictions… I read a Time magazine story that ran just before the Iraq war started. In the March 17 2003 issue of Time, there was a picture of a group of soldiers being baptized in the desert before marching off to war. This was an important image to many American families who believe wholeheartedly that their mission in the Middle East is sponsored by God and that they are doing God’s work in bringing democracy to the Middle East through violent intervention.
I’m puzzled by the theology behind baptizing a person that is being prepared to break not only one of the ten commandments, but also the greatest law of all, as spoken by Jesus: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. […] And the second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself.” How anyone can take that quote and mangle it into support for war is beyond me.
Today I’m going to talk to you about a topic that I am very passionate about: the peace position. Pacifist Christians have been quite unpopular ever since Augustine’s conversion in the early 4th Century. Even today, the peace position is considered a “radical” perspective. Regardless, I’d like to suggest that there’s nothing radical about pacifism. In fact, I find it more radical that someone could claim that they follow the teachings of Jesus, but that they miss the pacifist message. I don’t know about you, but that’s far more radical to me.
Today I’m going to share with you the story of how Christianity evolved from Christ’s pacifist message into a message in support of “Just War”. And, we’ll ponder what Just War really means. That’s another one of those confusing phrases that I was referring to a minute ago.
War and persecution is nothing new. It’s been going on for centuries. We see numerous examples of war in the Old Testament. I remember a sociology class I took in my undergrad days, and the term given to wars like those described in the Old Testament are “Holy Wars”, where entire groups of people are completely wiped off the map. My sociology professor argued that Holy War, no matter what the religion, is always the worst possible kind of war. Nobody is spared in a Holy War. Everyone on the opposing side is considered evil and must be destroyed, men, women and children included.
But Holy War isn’t on Jesus’ agenda. He is completely adverse to violence in any way. Look at the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:4-12):
- Blessed are the:
- The merciful;
- The pure in heart;
- The peacemakers;
- And those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake;
So I have to admit… I’m quite confused. I don’t know how a Christian can open the New Testament and justify war in any way. I’ve been studying this topic for quite some time, and I’m not convinced by any of the arguments I’ve heard thus far. If anything, Jesus is a pacifist, which is someone who believes in a non-violent approach to conflict resolution.
And just to be thorough, I’m sure that some of you are wondering what Just War is. Just War refers to a war that is considered fair and respectful for all involved. In a nutshell, a war is considered just if it is:
- Based on a just cause (self defense against a hostile attack from an enemy);
- That it is based on a right intentions (to defend oneself, not to get revenge); and
- That it is a last resort (all other efforts have failed).
There are other criteria, but these three cover the main idea of Just War.
To understand the current debate and the mad circle that we keep going in, it helps to look at the past. Understanding the past gives us tools to deal with the present. Let’s take a quick look back and see where the Christian message of peace has changed from the time of Christ to the present day.
Coming up next: Part 2: The Historical Context of Christian War