Sunday, November 15, 2015

No Defensive Faith

Contemporary Christians tend to act as though they are always on the defensive, rather than appreciating the true nature of the battle.  In the panoply of armour in Ephesians, Chapter 6, there is no armour for the back, and Jesus did not say that hell would storm the gates of the Church, but that we would storm the gates of hell. Ever since the Vietnam War years the Church has been unrealistically pacifistic, even to the point of no longer singing Onward Christian Soldiers.

In all of this we have been looking too much at ourselves, and not enough at Christ.  “For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ” (Robert Murray M’Cheyne).  Our fears come in part from looking at the stormy waters of our own experience, rather than looking at the One who calms the waters.

When looking at the Sovereignty of God, consider the function of the ancient monarch.  The word monarch refers to the singular, sovereign rule of the One who is Omnipotent, Omniscient, and Omnipresent.  This God of ours cannot be surpassed or denied, all power, all majesty, all dominion is His.

The 17th Century French Bishop, Jacques Bousset unfolds the absolute power of the monarch,

The royal power is absolute….Where the word of a king is, there is power: and who may say unto him, ‘What do you do?’ 

The power of God makes itself felt in a moment from one extremity of the earth to another.

Royal power works at the same time throughout all the realm. It holds all the realm in position, as God holds the earth. Should God withdraw his hand, the earth would fall to pieces; should the king's authority cease in the realm, all would be in confusion” [i]

This kingship, this sovereignty is bestowed on Jesus the Son of God by God the Father.  It is Jesus who is the Commander of the armies of the Lord!  In biblical terms, “He is the Lord of Hosts, and “On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, ‘King of kings and Lord of lords.” [ii]

There are times in battle when each of His warriors are exposed to danger, and sometimes wounded, but not beyond redemption, healing, and restoration.  It is a real battle, and it calls for a steadfast faith that keeps its gaze steadfastly on the Commander.

In The Coming of Arthur, Tennyson points the way to a heroic faith:[iii]

Strike for the King and live! his knights have heard 
That God hath told the King a secret word.
Fall battle-axe, and flash brand!  Let the King reign….

The King will follow Christ, and we the King
In whom high God hath breathed a secret thing.
Fall battle-axe, and flash brand!  Let the King reign.

It is not enough to sit passively, hoping that the battle will pass us by. Given the violence that is irrupting in our present world a reticent pacifism may not be adequate to meet the growing crisis; that way lays infinite danger and ultimate defeat. There is a place for armed defense that a Christian leader may exercise, “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer.”[iv] 

While sharing in the armed opposition to evil in this world is not the call of all Christians, it is for others who are called to lay down their lives in armed combat to defend the God’s people; but note that in a democratic society that the ruler is the representative of the people and that may make things considerably more difficult.

However the responsibility of most of us is to take up the bright weapons of our faith, pray the Daily Office, meditate on the richness of Holy Scripture, particularly on the Psalms, be ready in praise, and constant in worship, and reach out to the world with compassion and good works.  Equip yourself for the battle according to your call and station of life, for the surely the battle will come, it always comes; but to the faithful warrior comes also the victor’s crown as he follows his liege Lord and Master.

[i] (J.H. Robinson, ed. Readings in European History 2 vols. (Boston: Ginn, 1906), 2:273-277).
[ii] Revelation 19:11-16
[iii] (Tennyson, The Idylls of the King, “The Coming of Arthur,” line 481-500)
[iv] Romans 13:3-4   

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