Summary: On keeping our focus as a church during a time of national buildup toward war.
Wars and Rumors of War
Once again we come to a time in history when the sabers of battle are rattling around us. And once again we are faced with widespread opinion concerning the need for war, the ethics of it, the wisdom of it, etc.—everyone’s got an opinion, including myself.
My purpose with this message is not to address whether or not this particular confrontation is warranted in the worldly sense, or otherwise, but to look to the larger questions that it raises; particularly, the question of the church’s relationship to the state.
It seems to me that at times like these it is very easy for us to lose our focus and to forget some very basic things.
The Normality of War
First of all, whenever the sables of war rattle, we seem to forget that in the political systems of our world, this is normal and expected.
Three words from Jesus help me focus this. First
You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.
These words remind me that the war talk around the Iraqi situation is no surprise to God.
We should not be surprised that conflicts emerge in this world—there will be wars and rumors of wars, and then the end will come.
This is not to say that we should simply throw up our hands in blind acquiescence. Of course not! War is a bad thing and ought to be avoided whenever possible. However, the reality of life in this world is that conflicts will emerge until the end of time.
The Conflict of Two Opposing Kingdoms
A second word from Jesus that informs me during times like these is John 18:36
Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place."
My kingdom is not of this world.
We live during an age of human history when there are kingdoms in conflict and I do not mean, the kingdoms of Iraq and the USA. I have in mind a much more significant conflict—the conflict between the kingdoms of this world and the kingdom of heaven.
Our nation, as good and fair and just as we think it is, in the final analysis, is a part of the realm that God calls the kingdoms of this world.
Jesus, on the other hand, has come to establish a new kingdom.
The kingdoms of this world are marked by national boundaries (which must be defended and protected) in which its citizens are encouraged to live lives that benefit the collective society (and if they do not, they are held in check by the threat of force, including incarceration) and which has as its primary objective the peaceful and prosperous advancement of the collective group.
The kingdom that Jesus began is not a physical one marked by national boundaries. Rather it is a spiritual kingdom that resides in the heart of all those who believe in him. All persons who follow him become citizens, as it were, of his kingdom, while they also need to live, physically, within the boundaries of some nation, some worldly kingdom somewhere.
Christians hold, as it were, dual citizenship. As people of faith in God we are members of his kingdom, a society not of this world. In other words, the heavenly kingdom does not live by the same rules and goals as the kingdoms of this world.
However, we are also citizens of the various nations in which we live.
It is this dual citizenship that causes us to struggle over what part we should play in the kingdoms of this world. We know that worldly kingdoms are just that—worldly. They will not last forever, they will not teach us the principles of God, they cannot, by their very nature, live according to the deepest truths that God has revealed.
Unfortunately, the degree to which Christians align with the nation of the world in which they live is often governed by how that nation has treated them as Christians.
For the first 300 years of the Christian Church, Christianity was not among the recognized religions of Rome. Consequently, from time to time, Roman emperors would levy persecution against the Christians. Naturally, in a government like that, when as a Christian you were told that you must join the army and help defend and even expand the boundaries of this nation which routinely persecuted the church—naturally you declined.
Much of that changed in 313 A.D. when the emperor Constantine declared himself a Christian and eventually not only legalized Christianity, but began to promote it. Now Christians openly and feely worshiped and their attitude toward the state changed. Consequently Christians joined the Army in droves.