On some Sundays in our services we honor those who have served our country—like Memorial Day Sunday and Fourth of July and Veteran’s Day weekends. We ask those who have served in the military to stand. We speak highly of their duty, their sacrifice for freedom, and their valor. But on Mission Sundays (we have three a year) we speak about going into all the world to make disciples. We are urged to love others in Jesus’ name. On a recent Missions Sunday we were called to befriend Muslims. We even heard stories about sharing the love of Christ with radical Muslims.
Recently, on the same weekend, two amazing events took place simultaneously on our church campus. In one building we hosted a Yellow Ribbon event for troops returning from Iraq. Our facilities were used by a Colorado National Guard Unit to welcome them home, honor them for their sacrifice in fighting against terror and rebuilding Iraq, and to help them transition to civilian life. But then in another building, we had our annual World Outreach banquet. There we had a man speaking about sharing Jesus with some of the radical leaders of Hizballah and Hamas. He spoke of Jesus command to love our enemies and asked us if these people need Jesus? We agreed they did.
Now let’s stand back for a moment. So which is it? Is it one way on one weekend and another way on another weekend? Is this a case of institutional schizophrenia? Are we hopelessly confused? Not in my mind. There is Biblical sense behind both events. In fact, I am very thankful to be part of a church that could have both of those events going on at the same time. Why?
On the one hand, we recognize that God ordains civil government. According to Romans 13, he gave the government the right and duty to “bear the sword.” Government leaders are given this commission in order to maintain order and restrain evil. The government, as Paul writes, “ is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrong doer.” They are right to put down tyranny and stand against those who strap explosives to their belts, walk into a crowd and blow up innocent civilians. I am glad they stand against Al Qaida, and other global jihadist groups because of their evil acts of spreading their religion by killing as many infidels as possible. That is despicable.
I am well aware that the majority of top terrorist organizations identified by the US State Department are Islamicist. (See the US State Department’s Country Reports on Terrorism for 2007 which lists US Government Designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations. http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/crt/2007/103714.htm ) I am also aware that five out of the ten top nations that persecute Christians and are responsible for the killing many of the 171,000 plus Christian martyrs each year do it in the name of Islam. (See the recent International Christian Concerns Hall of Shame Report on the Worlds 10 Worst Persecutors of Christians; http://www.persecution.org/suffering/pdfs/ICC_Hall_of_Shame_2009.pdf )
But on the other hand, while restraining evil is part of the government’s God-given mandate, the church is not the government. The church, and individual Christians, are called to follow Jesus, who said we are to love our enemies, and do good to those who hate us. So when we hear a call from the pulpit to love Muslims, even radical Muslims, it is totally sincere. When we support the sending of missionaries all over the world, even to Muslim nations, we go in love, wanting to help their nations, and to spread the name and influence of Jesus Christ. When we call our congregation to love our Muslim neighbors and not fall into a nativist paranoia, when we say that many Muslims are peace-loving people, we really mean it. When we say that we are called to even love Muslim jihadists in the name of Christ, we mean this too.
The one calling is a God-ordained calling for government. The other calling, is the calling of Christians and the church. Both are valid. Both are important.
So a follow-up question arises, if we are not schizophrenic, and if we have a Biblical mandate for this view, then can a Christian serve in government and serve as a soldier? Some Christian traditions would answer “no” to this question. They believe as either pacifists or conscientious objectors, that it would be a violation of our allegiance to Jesus to engage in such activities. But the majority view in the church, and certainly the historic view of Presbyterians, stemming from a Calvinistic view of government as a God-ordained institution, is that it is honorable to serve in this capacity. Being a soldier, not to mention serving in other government posts, is an honorable calling. Of course, we want our government to be careful with its use of power and to use it justly We also know that power is easily misused.
Nevertheless, we want our soldiers to be committed and courageous, to be strong and well trained. We want them to be ready to lay their lives down so that the innocent may be protected and that people might be free from oppression. They are to be effective “agents of wrath” for that is their calling.
At the same time, we want Christians in our calling to be radically committed to spreading the good news of Christ to neighbors and to nations, whether they be secularists or radical Muslims. They are to be effective “agents of the love of Christ” given to the ministry of reconciliation for that is our calling.
These two callings, interestingly find a convergence in the Lord Jesus himself. For he is presented in Scripture as both a gentle lamb and a fierce lion. He is God’s love gift to the world, bringing us who were God’s enemies, to himself through the cross. But he is also the divine warrior, the rider on the white horse of Revelation 19 who with justice judges and makes war, who leads the armies of heaven and with a sword subdues the nations that stand against the Lord. He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. In the end he is the king of kings, Lord of Lords, the prince of peace, and the lamb who was slain before the foundation of the world. And that is not schizophrenic. It is Biblical.