“But let me hasten to slay another myth, namely, that reading books will of itself guarantee growth and success. Not so. Reading is only the key that opens the door to the vault. Assimilating what you read, relating it to what you already know, and practicing it where you serve put the treasure to work paying dividends. It’s tragic to open the vault and stand there empty-handed. Readers are leaders only if they turn their learning into living. To change the metaphor, reading a book is like eating a meal; but if you eat and don’t exercise, you’ll get overweight, and you may die.” (Warren Wiersbe, On Being A Servant Of God)
“Praying in Jesus’ name is not some kind of magical password that can be used indiscriminately to get our way. Prayer in Jesus’ name is effective only when we are praying in a manner that is both consistent with our relationship to Christ and God’s will. Prayer involves adjusting and even relinquishing our expectations and plans to the will of the Father.” (David Alan Black, 7 Marks of a New Testament Church)
“That practice which is alike the most holy, the most general, and the most needful in the spiritual life is the practice of the Presence of God. It is the schooling of the soul to find its joy in His Divine Companionship, holding with Him at all times and at every moment humble and loving converse, without set rule or stated method, in all time of our temptation and tribulation, in all time of our dryness of soul and disrelish of God, yes, and even when we fall into unfaithfulness and actual sin.
We should apply ourselves unceasingly to this one end, to so rule all our actions that they be little acts of communion with God; but they must not be studied, they must come naturally, from the purity and simplicity of the heart.” (Brother Lawrence, The Spiritual Maxims)
This past week, as I scrolled through my twitter feed, I came across this tweet from Brian Zahnd (Pastor at Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, MO)
I followed the link to his blog post and opened up a twitter dialog with him concerning his position. During this dialog my friend Derek Vreeland (Disicpleship Pastor at Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, MO) jumped in and after several tweets back and forth, I suggested that we write on this issue. After all, it is difficult to flesh out a position in 140 characters. So what follows is my initial response to Zahnd’s post.
Brian Zahnd’s Thesis: Waging war is incompatible with following Jesus.
My Response: First, let me say that I am all in favor of peace. It is unfortunate that a great deal of world history (I have a Bachelors degree in History) can be summed up in one word – war. So, by all means, I agree that war should never be our first option but to say that “waging war is incompatible with following Jesus” hints of a naïve utopian vision of the world at best and fundamental misunderstanding of God’s justice at worst. Let me explain:
Championing a Jesus of peace without emphasizing the justice of God is problematic.
Peace and justice are two sides of the same coin. Zahnd would lead you to believe that the gospels present a Jesus whose primary concern is peace. But it is never peace without justice. The entire reason Jesus came to this earth was to satisfy the justice of God. In fact, Jesus drank the entire cup of God’s wrath poured out against sin – the innocent one, Jesus, for the guilty ones, all of us (2 Cor. 5:21). Without the shed blood of Jesus Christ (a gruesome and peace less event), we all stand condemned.
This same justice led Jesus to call the religious leaders vipers and whitewashed tombs (Matthew 23). It is the basis for him clearing out the moneychangers in the temple by force, driving them out with a whip and overturning their tables (Matt. 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-18, Luke 19:45-46, John 2:13-17). One could hardly consider these examples promoting a Jesus who cared only about peace. The argument has been made that no one was killed during this escapade but if Jesus’ primary concern was peace don’t you think he could have gone about these encounters in a more peaceful way? Why did he not exhaust all means possible to accomplish his objective (returning God’s house to a house of prayer) peacefully? The reason is clear – the justice of God.
We are both Jesus and Pilate.
One of the specific questions Zahnd mentioned that he always receives is concerning home invasion. How should you respond in that type of situation? His attempt at an answer to this question is riddled with problems. First, he puts forth the argument that this is a fictional scenario. Yet, turn on the news and you will see that exact scenario play out across this country. The reality of home invasion is true for too many people throughout our nation and to make light of it is pastorally insensitive. Second, he uses his “imagination” to respond to this scenario in a way that I hope is meant in jest. Providing for and protecting your family is a biblical responsibility (1 Timothy 5:8)!
What Zahnd fails to recognize is that we, as citizens in a democratic republic, are both Jesus and Pilate (as we encounter their roles in the gospels). Pilate was the Roman governor in authority at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion and Jesus willingly submitted to his authority though he reminded Pilate that his authority came from above. God instituted government and gave government the responsibility to exercise justice (by force if necessary – Rom. 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:13-17) by punishing evil and rewarding good. Here is the rub: Zahnd says we are to model Jesus and he would respond peacefully to the above scenario but the government (our elected officials) has transferred to us (citizens) the responsibility to defend ourselves and our family, with force, in that same scenario. I don’t believe there is a contradiction here – we, as believers, have the God-given right and responsibility to uphold his justice (punishing evil/rewarding good) which was entrusted to the government and then to us through legislation. To insinuate that it would be sin for a person to defend himself and his family in a home invasion scenario has no biblical basis.
With the groundwork laid for this dual perspective (we are both Jesus and Pilate) it is necessary to consider how this applies to us as a nation within the world. I do not think it is a jump to see our role in the world as a promoter of justice. In our fallen world, it is necessary for someone to stand up against evil. While Zahnd, in my estimation, has muddied the waters concerning Hitler it was imperative for someone to stand up against the madness. I agree that Christians in Germany should have taken a stand (though it has been documented that many tried through peaceful and less than peaceful means and were executed – Bonhoeffer for example) but it is inconceivable to dismiss the Allied response as unbiblical.
Zahnd offered the possibility that a German Christian could kill American, British, French and Russian Christians fighting on behalf of his country and stated, “This is the problem with Constantinian Christianity and Just War theory.” Here is the problem: the German Christian was wrong. He, first and foremost, had a duty to obey God rather than his government when his government told him to do something directly against God’s commands (the Third Reich was murdering innocent people by the millions). He should have objected to this atrocity.
Zahnd would have us believe that “Constantinian Christianity and Just War theory” requires Christians to wholly submit to the government regardless of what the government requires. We have biblical support (the disciples in Acts 5:29) that this does not have to be the case and, in fact, should not be the case. We submit to our government until the government requires from us what we cannot do as citizens of the God’s kingdom. Our ultimate allegiance is to King Jesus but we must never forget he requires that we submit to the government he has established over us. This is, in fact, exactly what he did (1 Peter 3:18).
In every war, there is a side that is right and a side that is wrong. There is a side whose basis for being in the war is biblical (preserving justice) and one whose is not biblical. Even if both sides believe they are right and God is on their side, we know that this is impossible. In a fallen world, sorting this out becomes problematic but it remains true. If no one stands for justice in the world we risk millions upon millions of people being murdered (think Somolia, Rwanda, Iraq, South Vietnam, South Korea, etc.). Edmund Burke was right when he said, “All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.” Sounds similar to Proverbs 31:9, “Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
Lasting peace will only be present when Jesus returns to set up his kingdom.
Finally, my greatest concern with Zahnd’s thesis concerning war/peace is that the Scriptures are explicitly clear that true lasting peace will only be present on this earth when Jesus sets up his earthly kingdom (Revelation 21-22). Now, you may be tempted to think that this is merely the fulfillment of Jesus’ “peace campaign” which began during his earthly ministry but to do this you must overlook Revelation 20. What is clear in this chapter is the lasting peace promised is made possible only through Jesus exercising justice against Satan, his demons and all who have rejected him. It is impossible to read this along with Philippians 2:9-11 (“every knee will bow” – if not willingly, they will be forced to bow before King Jesus) and see the “peaceful” Jesus put forth by Zahnd. Lasting peace will come (for which I am thankful) but it will not be peaceful for those opposed to Jesus. In perfect justice and righteousness they will be cast into Hell for all eternity. After all, John’s vision of the Son of Man (Jesus) in Revelation 1:16 with a tongue like a “sharp two-edged sword” harks back to Jesus’ own words in Matthew 10:34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” The sword of God’s judgment will prevail upon evil and bring true and lasting peace. Jesus wields that sword.
“God has infinite treasure to bestow, and we take up with a little sensible devotion, which passes in a moment. Blind as we are, we hinder God, and stop the current of His graces. But when he finds a soul penetrated with a lively faith, He pours into it His graces and favors plentifully: there they flow like a torrent, which, after being forcibly stopped against its ordinary course, when it has found a passage, spreads itself with impetuosity and abundance.” (Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God)
This weekend I finished reading James L. Snyder’s biography of A. W. Tozer entitled, The Life of A. W. Tozer: In Pursuit of God. I couldn’t put the book down and I would encourage every pastor to pick it up and soak in the life of this great man of God. Tozer said that he wanted to know God more deeply than any other person in his generation. The result of this pursuit can be seen in several of Tozer’s books, which are still being read today: The Knowledge of the Holy and The Pursuit of God.
Even though his writing and speaking ministry would carry him all over the country, Tozer was, first and foremost, a pastor. Immediately following his ordination to the gospel ministry, Tozer slipped away by himself and spent time in prayer. He recorded this prayer and I have included part of it here. It challenged me as I consider my calling and I hope it will be an encouragement to other pastors.
Lord Jesus, I come to Thee for spiritual preparation. Lay Thy hand upon me. Anoint me with the oil of the New Testament prophet. Forbid that I should become a religious scribe and thus lose my prophetic calling. Save me from the curse that lies dark across the face of the modern clergy, the curse of compromise, of imitation, or professionalism. Save me from the error of judging a church by its size, its popularity or the amount of its yearly offerings. Help me to remember that I am prophet – not a promoter, not a religious manager, but a prophet. Let me never become a slave to crowds. Heal my soul of carnal ambitions and deliver me from the itch for publicity. Save me from bondage to things. Let me not waste my days puttering around the house. Lay Thy terror upon me, O God, and drive me to the place of prayer where I may wrestle with principalities and powers and the rulers of the darkness of this world. Deliver me from over-eating and late sleeping. Teach me self-discipline that I may be a good soldier of Jesus Christ.
If in Thy permissive providence honor should come to me from Thy church, let me not forget in that hour that I am unworthy of the least of Thy mercies, and that if men knew me as intimately as I know myself they would withhold their honors or bestow them upon others more worthy to receive them.
And now, O Lord of heaven and earth, I consecrate my remaining days to Thee; let them be many or few, as Thou wilt. Let me stand before the great or minister to the poor and lowly; that choice is not mine, and I would not influence it if I could. I am Thy servant to do Thy will, and that will is sweeter to me that position or riches or fame. I choose it above all things on earth or in heaven.