It's not easy to know how to be a Christian in wartime. One reason is that no one duty applies to every Christian. Though this war somehow fits into God's providential plan, it's often difficult to discern what our individual role in it is. Phillip Jensen, dean of Saint Andrew's Anglican Cathedral in Sydney, Australia, tried to answer that question on March 23, the first Sunday after the war began. He could not give guidance for every possible Christian response in a single sermon—for example, there is nothing here about the many worthwhile peacemaking efforts Christians are pursuing in hotspots like Palestine, Ireland, and Colombia. But Jensen still managed to cover a lot of ground and give direction for believers all across the globe. A condensed and edited excerpt.

It was one of the first men to use total war, 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 of and judgment upon sin. It is the Lamb who opens the seals that release the four horsemen—the Lamb who died to take away the sin of the world and 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 judgment of God upon sinful humanity.

But war is not hell. Like all human self-willed chaos, it is only the foretaste of hell. The four riders of the Book of Revelation are only a beginning and warning of the judgment to come.

In any event, war raises a multitude of questions. Where does war, and this war in particular, fit into God's plans? Is God on our side? How does this war look from God's perspective? What should Christians be praying for, hoping for, and expecting to happen? Fortunately, the Scripture in general, and particularly the sixth chapter of Revelation—a text often ignored and feared because of its apocalyptic content—provides guidance in times such as these.

FIVE VIEWS


Let me begin by briefly outlining five different attitudes to this war, because God's Word has something to say to each.

First 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 oppose any use of force to resolve any issue. We all have sympathy for this position. The biblical image of heaven, after all, is of peace and harmony where "they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore" (Isa 2:4). The Prince of Peace will usher in the time when "the wolf shall dwell with the lamb" (Isa. 11:6).

That, however, is exactly what I believe is wrong with the pacifists' position: It is the wrong timing. We are not in the Garden of Eden, nor yet in the heavenly city. 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. 13:1, 1 Pet. 2:13). Pacifism is a godly mistake in that it fails to take seriously the sinfulness of humans, for monsters do exist and do need stopping. We are all capable of doing real harm to our neighbor and need the constraint of law and order and of good government.

The second attitude is the opposite of the dove: the hawk. By this I mean the person who is always looking for a fight, for controversy and the use of force to get his way. While one can be sympathetic with the godly mistake 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" (Ps. 11:5), and "The anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires" (James 1:20).

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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. Those who are pleased, thrilled, and excited about this war should look to themselves and repent, for they are out of step with God.

The third and fourth attitudes are neither pacifist nor militaristic. The difference between them is timing.

In Ecclesiastes we read the striking verse: "a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace" (Ecc. 3:8). There is a time for governments to take action, to step into the affairs of the world with punitive action, be it by the police, the judiciary, or the military. There is "a time for war."

But when is the time? Was Neville Chamberlain right in his timing, or too slow to go to war? Was Winston Churchill right or too precipitous? It is a matter of human judgment of the pragmatics and strategy of war. We are not God, and we do not know what to do.

"Not yet," then, is the third position—those who say that this is "not yet" the time for war. Maybe 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, with the present information and the present activities of the government of Iraq.

Many who believe our government has acted too quickly have been tempted to disparage it, even condemn it as immoral and genocidal. But the Bible says we must nonetheless 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 (Rom. 13:1, 1 Pet. 2:13). And we must not attack the servicemen and servicewomen 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.

The fourth attitude is that of our government—"at last" we have had to act. Those who hold this position must remember God is not on one side in this war. He is not utterly disinterested, but neither does he identify completely with one side or the other. This 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 Australia 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 as Jesus said, "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).

In listening to advisers and weighing the options, remember the words of Oliver Cromwell to the Scots just a month before the Battle of Dunbar: "I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken."

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And then the fifth and final attitude: the fence. Many of us feel ourselves unable to decide. We do not want to go to war. But then we do not want Saddam Hussein's 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 we do not know the best way to prevent that.

Those in this position may not know what to do politically, but they can always pray. Paul tells us to pray for those in government over us "that we may live a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way" (1 Tim. 2:2).

PEACE IN A WAR-RIDDEN WORLD


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, war, and peace gives us the real basis for prayer and action.

We must remember, for instance, 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, Assyria, 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 is surrounded by "every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea," and they sing praise: "To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power for ever and ever" (Rev. 5:13).

And 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 horses of conquest, war, famine, and death. His enthronement has brought to a head the chaos of worldwide sinfulness. But this is not the end of the world. This is not the final judgment of the world. This is just the "beginning of the birth pains" (Mark 13:8).

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 comes in two ways. First, there is the real peace of heaven that Christ brings to his people to enjoy now. Second, 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). After his death and resurrection, he entered into the room where his terrified disciples huddled, and the first words of the risen Christ to them were, "Peace be with you" (John 20:19).

For as Paul later wrote, "Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom. 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, 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. It was titled I Love Idi Amin (Spire, 1977). And here in Sydney, Kathy Diosy, 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).

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A second way of peace in this world now is prayer. 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 Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. 2:2-4).

It is in peaceful conditions 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.

OUR FIRST RESPONSE: PRAYER


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 of the government. But as Christians, our first response must be to pray.

Pray for the peace that will enable us all to live in quiet godliness.

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.

Pray for the peace that will enable us to get on with job of sharing the great news of Jesus with all people.

Pray knowing that wars and rumors of wars are normal in the last days. Wars are not abnormal; peace is abnormal. Pray knowing that, while these wars are part of the final judgment of the world that will not listen to God, the war is not itself the end of the world.

And finally, 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.

But yet as we pray for this peace, let us 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—and with humanity.

  • That we cannot and will not live in peace and harmony in this present age.

  • That we now need police and soldiers.

  • That we cannot be trusted.

  • That wrongs have been done that do need to be made right.

One day the Lamb will bring full, complete, and satisfying justice to the whole world. You may be tempted, as many are, to cry out with these martyrs and demand that God bring his justice now, that he should come and do away with hostility, violence, lies, corruption, greed, exploitation, tyranny, and injustice.

But 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, [will hide] 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?' " (Rev. 6:15-17).

Jesus' kingdom is not of this world. As he said to Pilate, "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.

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And one implication is to pray.


Related Elsewhere



A ready-to-download Bible Study on this article is available at ChristianBibleStudies.com. These unique Bible studies use articles from current issues of Christianity Today to prompt thought-provoking discussions in adult Sunday school classes or small groups.

Related Elsewhere



A ready-to-download Bible Study on this article is available at ChristianBibleStudies.com. These unique Bible studies use articles from current issues of Christianity Today to prompt thought-provoking discussions in adult Sunday school classes or small groups.

Anglican Media Sydney, the media and communications arm of the Diocese of Sydney, has posted the full text of this article, Archbishop Phillip Jensen's March 23 sermon. The site also includes a biography of Jensen.

For more coverage on the current conflict, commentary and thought on just war, or Christian debate, see our CTWar in Iraq archive. For relevant articles on the war from news agencies around the globe, see CT's updated war links page.

A downloadable Bible study on the implications of war with Iraq is available at CurrentIssuesBibleStudy.com. These unique Bible studies use articles from current issues of Christianity Today to prompt thought-provoking discussions in adult Sunday school classes or small groups.

Recent Christianity Today articles and commentary on the current war with Iraq include:

A nation at war:

Books & Culture's Book of the Week: Why We Are in Iraq | Michael Kelly, R.I.P. (April 7, 2003)
Faith and Fear on the Truman | How one Navy chaplain helps men and women face combat. (April 1, 2003)
Weblog: Freed Kenyans Thank God For Iraq Rescue | Plus: Franklin Graham defends Iraq ministry, and other stories from online sources around the world. (March 31, 2003)
CT Classic: War Cry | As 1991's Gulf War began, a Christianity Today editorial said the church's best weapon was tearful prayer. (March 24, 2003)
A Nation at War—And on its Knees | American Christians pray for peace, justice, and wisdom. (March 21, 2003)
Peacemakers Seek to Show War from Point of View of Iraqi Civilians | Six Christian Peacemaker Team members remain in Iraq as bombs drop. (March 21, 2003)
War Could Reduce Holy Land's Christian Presence | Palestinian bishop fears current hostilities could continue a trend that sees Christians forced out of the area altogether. (March 21, 2003)
Weblog: Will War Breed Hate Crimes Against Muslims, Christians, or Both? | Plus: PCUSA court criticizes leader but dismisses charges, and other stories from online sources around the world. (March 20, 2003)
Weapons of the Spirit | Regardless of their positions on Iraq, Christians have much they can do. (Feb. 25, 2003)

What's next?

As Baghdad Falls, Agencies Brace for Flood of Work | Aid and mine removal teams could move into Iraq within days. (April 11, 2003)
Mixing Iraq Aid and the Gospel Stirs Debate | Critics say proselytizing can reflect negatively on other relief groups and governments. (April 4, 2003)
Evangelicals Plan to Minister to Iraqis' Needs—Physical and Spiritual | Evangelism efforts will join relief work, say Southern Baptist Convention and Samaritan's Purse. (March 27, 2003)
Speaking Out: Where Do We Go From Here? | Now that the bombs are falling, we'll need to repair Iraq—and our nation's moral standing. (March 21, 2003)
CT Classic: Weeping over Baghdad | Desert Storm cost Iraq thousands of lives. At its conclusion, a Christianity Today editorial called for the church to deal with the living souls that remained. (March 21, 2003)
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The debate over whether war is justified:

The Dick Staub Interview: Robert Seiple on the War in Iraq | The founder of The Institute for Global Engagement says America suffers from an inconsistency between national values and national interests. (April 15, 2003)
CT Classic: The Ethics of Desert Storm | What Christianity Today said during the U.S.'s first war with Iraq. (March 25, 2003)
War Isn't Being Waged From the Pulpit | Most clergy avoid blanket statements on war. (March 24, 2003)
What George Bush's Favorite Devotional Writer Says About War | "War is the most damnably bad thing," wrote Oswald Chambers. (March 24, 2003)
Weblog: Clergy Respond to Bush's Ultimatum to Saddam | Given denominational leaders' earlier comments opposing any U.S. military action in Iraq, it's not surprising that most clergy members still oppose it. (March 18, 2003)
Standing for Peace on the Eve of War | Christian group seeks nonviolent solution in Iraq. (March 12, 2003)
Just War in Iraq | Sometimes going to war is the charitable thing to do. (Dec. 10, 2002)
Bully Culprit | Can a pre-emptive strike against the tyrant of Baghdad be justified? (Sept. 30, 2001)
Is Attacking Iraq Moral? | Christian leaders disagree, too. (September 4, 2002)

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