Keep Praying

I have to say I’m appalled.  I not sure I believed I would ever see the persecution of Christianity in America get as bad as it’s getting.  It all came to a head for me when I was watching the news after the church shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs in Texas.  One more atrocity perpetrated by the hands of a sick-minded individual with a gun.  By all accounts, the crime was not committed specifically against Christians, but was an act of domestic violence.  And because it happened to completely innocent people during their worship of God, all sides of the political spectrum have used it to attack each other.

But this time, it went too far.  People across the nation, including President Trump, have called for an outpouring of prayer.  The community and those families in that small Texas town need to know that they’re being prayed for.  They need the comfort of the nation rallying around them, but most importantly, they need the comfort and reassurance that only comes from God (Philippians 4:6-7).  Calling openly for prayer during a tragic loss like this is a very appropriate response.

But that’s not how many people saw it.  Immediately following the mention of prayer, the President and Christians nationwide were blasted for their faith in God.  People decried prayer as a waste of time, an action that does nothing for those being prayed for.  They said that if God actually answered prayer, those people would still be alive.  They have effectively attacked one of the roots of the Christian faith, and it was all done under the premise of showing concern for the fallen and their families.

This post is not a call for protests from Christians or for a public spectacle to be made.  It’s not being written to bemoan the negativity and harassment Christians are continually facing.  God has warned us that those difficulties would come (Psalm 34:19).  This post is a call to pray all the more!  It’s a rallying cry to stand up for our right to pray by continuing to pray more fervently and more boldly.

When we let our problems and concerns go unnoticed or fail to deal with them, they grow.  If you don’t pray your way through the difficulties in life, through the tragedies and losses like this shooting, those events fester and infect like a wound to our body.  And God can cure all that infects our lives and make us feel healthy and whole again.  He doesn’t always take away the problems.  In fact, sometimes these challenges are there to help us grow (James 1:2-4), but he does promise to bring us through.

“Cast your burden on the Lord,
    and he will sustain you;
he will never permit
    the righteous to be moved.”

(Psalm 55:22)

So continue to pray!  Pray prayers of thanksgiving and for God’s kingdom to come (Matthew 6:10).  Pray for those who are sick and for those who are mourning.  Pray for God’s wisdom and guidance as you walk through the peaks and valleys of this journey called life.  Most importantly, don’t let anyone keep you from conversing with God or tell you that prayer doesn’t work.  They couldn’t be further from the truth.

-Joe Butler

 

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The Christian and Carnal Warfare: Where to Stand

So far in this series of posts, we’ve studied the Case for Pacifism and the Case for Non-Pacifism as well as an Introduction to the topic.  I encourage you to take the time to read these other posts to gain your own opinion on the discussion at hand.

I’ve titled this last post “Where to Stand,” with the understanding that readers will ultimately decide how they feel on the topic of Christianity and carnal warfare.  I have, in no way, exhausted this study or covered all the information out there on both sides of the argument, so this last post will pose a lot of questions for the reader to consider going forward.  I hope you’ve taken the time to think more critically about such a weighty topic, and have considered how a Christian should respond to worldly issues such as these.  I pray that in all things we do as followers of Christ , we put his commands and his kingdom first, above all things, and that God is glorified in all that we do.

At the end of this conversation on war, I’m left with several important questions that I will continue to study.  First would be the idea of whether war is ever justifiable in the eyes of God.  I say “in God’s eyes” because how he views the matter is of the utmost importance.  As James Willeford mentions in his book Is It Ever Right to Kill?, we “must distinguish between the morality of starting a war and the morality of defending oneself against unlawful aggression.”  He also asks us to contrast “unjust wars waged for unworthy motives and just wars of self-defense.”  As I’ve mentioned throughout this study…

OUR SENSE OF MORALITY AND JUSTICE MUST BEGIN WITH GOD’S STANDARD. 

The problem is that these issues may or may not be specifically addressed in the Bible.  That means we must take God’s general directions on Christian behavior and rightly apply them to these types of questions.  Other thoughts about war include:

  • How does our government wage war today?  Are we the aggressor or defender?
  • Who decides whether the motives for war are worthy?  Do we leave that up to our leaders in government?  Has God given us any direction on the matter?

How can a Christian know if the aim of war is of true legitimate value or if it’s being used as a means of control or aggression?  It’s a valid question considering the lack of trust that exists nowadays towards our government and our media outlets.  Our decisions on war are usually based on public opinion, media coverage, and the release of politically-based information from the government.  But can we really trust these sources?  Shouldn’t Christians consider speaking out against unjust wars, or do we simply go along with tradition or public opinion?

After my study of the topic, it’s blatantly obvious what God would have us do in regards to our relationship with our fellow man.  As already mentioned, we are to be a light unto a world filled with darkness.  We should be willing to love our neighbor as ourselves, even if it leads to persecution or even death.  We should promote a sense of peace because those who do are true children of God.  No matter what, we should glorify God by showing others the love he first showed us, and I firmly believe that may be impossible if we think war is the answer to our problems.

-Joe Butler

 

The Christian and Carnal Warfare: The Case for Non-Pacifism

Now that we’ve had a chance to discuss the case for pacifism (please read yesterday’s post), we are going to move on to understanding the Christian mindset on war from a non-pacifist’s point of view.

I believe most people will agree that the nature of war and our participation in it is not a cut and dry topic.  We could probably discuss, ad-nauseum, the valid excuses to wage war and there would still be someone who could present a personal argument for why war is sometimes necessary or justifiable.  All this is to say that the discussion of participating in war can be a difficult path to tread and one in which we should tread softly in light of what the Bible says.  Let’s take a look at some of the more popular arguments for the validity of war and see what God’s word has to say on the topic.

One of the most popular arguments for war is the Old Testament precedent for war-making during biblical times.  During the Old Testament dispensation, it seems that wars were occurring nonstop.  Even though Christians today live under the New Testament dispensation, non-pacifists continue to declare that our right to engage in war has not been removed.  They also argue that governments today have the God-given responsibility to use war and capital punishment to maintain order and promote justice.

The problem with this line of thinking is that it makes too many assumptions.  The Israel of the Old Testament had divine approval to wage war against heathen nations who disregarded God (Deuteronomy 9:4-5).  God commanded his people to act on his behalf when waging war against nations he wished to punish.  We cannot, however, use that excuse today.  We have no divine revelation or command from God requiring us to wage war against any evil nation today.  In fact, our command is to love our enemies and to pray for those who wish to harm us (Matthew 5:43-48).

Another argument for the non-pacifist point of view is our need to defend ourselves against any danger that may threaten our rights or the common good of the people.  This may be, in my opinion, the most common sense reason why war may be necessary at times.  What’s important to remember is not whether something makes sense to us, but what God has commanded on the subject.  There are several occasions where military service or analogies are mentioned in the New Testament, but interestingly, personal self-defense by a Christian was not.  On the contrary, we are commanded not to resist an evil person (Matthew 5:38-42).  While that is what the Bible teaches, not everyone in the early church agreed.

Augustine (354-430 AD) promoted Christian’s right to bear arms in war, but ironically denied the right of personal self-defense.  “As to killing others in order to defend one’s own life, I do not approve of this, unless one happens to be a soldier or public functionary acting, not for himself, but in defense of others or of the city in which he resides” (Letters of St. Augustine).  We must also remember that the church began to lose its way when acting on behalf of the State became more important that acting on behalf of God.

This naturally brings up our relationship to civil governments and how they function in a civilized society.  With that in mind, let’s now look at what the Bible has to say concerning this matter:

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 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. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.”

(Romans 13:1-7)

After careful study of this text, several things are apparent…

  1. God institutes our ruling authorities.  This does not mean that God specifically condones the actions of our fallible human governments, but he does allow them to exist.  We may not fully understand why certain governments are allowed to rise into power, but suffice it to say that God is always in control.
  2. God has good purposes for the government.  The governments that God allows to exist are meant to rule in a way that honors Him and protects the good and justice of his people.  Sadly, most governments and people in power use their station for personal or national gain and they forget who they are ultimately meant to serve.  In a perfect world, governments would remember that they will one day answer to a higher power other than themselves.
  3. Governments have power to rule and punish.  Verse 4 of the text above reminds us that the government has the right to bear the sword to punish wrongdoers.  That God-given ability is to help protect a group of people and help promote some semblance of rule and order.  The State has been given this right and, whether they know it or not,  is acting on behalf of God because he has ordained them into this particular role.  This may not necessarily apply to how we handle private situations though in light of our command to love our neighbor as ourselves.
  4. We have the obligation to submit.  It is evident in this text that Christians are to submit to the governing authorities as if we were submitting to God.  The underlying premise also evident is that our allegiance is always to God first before man or manmade governments.  If a government acts in a manner that is displeasing to God or that is morally wrong, we are not under compulsion to obey.  We must then ask if a government wishing to wage war is acting as a protector of freedom or in a manner that wishes to exert control over another nation.  The dilemma created is one which all Christians must take seriously.  Is the use of force against another a moral or immoral issue?

Finally, we’ll look at the non-pacifist doctrine of the lesser of two evils.  This teaching places at odds the idea of going to war with the idea of apathy.  We must choose the lesser of two evils, because to go to war is devastating, but to do nothing is equally destructive.  According to Hans Morgenthau is his book The Nuclear Discussion: Continued, “man must minimize the evil he must do and maximize the good he can attain by putting his evil acts at the service of good ends.”  The problem with this belief is that it allows room for particular evils as long as they lead to a greater good.  I’m not so sure God would look at sin in a similar manner or condone any action by a Christian that would obviously lead to sin or the death of his fellow man.

At the end of this study, we’re left with the difficulty that war brings forth: Is it ok for a follower of Christ to condone and support the act of war is they do so in submission to their governing authorities?  It is no easy question to answer.  It requires gaining insight into the motivations of those governments.  Even more important is to understand how God wishes for us to handle these situations in a way that honors him and his commandments.  I’ll close with this quote from Allen C. Isbell:

“The peril of the non-pacifist is that they tend to equate Christianity with one particular nation or one specific system of government.  The pacifist’s tendency to withdraw from all political affairs is perhaps, in some ways, a healthy corrective to this other extreme which identifies the cause of Christ with national interests.  National feeling should not obscure the fact that the Christian’s first allegiance is to the kingdom of God which has members in every nation.”

-Joe Butler

The Christian and Carnal Warfare: The Case for Pacifism

In beginning our discussion on the Christian viewpoint on carnal warfare, it’s important that we view all sides of the argument, including biblical text evidence as well as prevailing thought from Christians past and present.  Please be sure to read yesterday’s introduction to this series of posts.

Pacifism, or conscientious objection to all things war, is not a common view amongst Christians of the 21st century.  I suppose that like myself, many honest Christians of our day have not given much thought to the topic, or if they have, have not spent much time in the study of God’s word, but have been swayed in their thinking by the popular opinions of their time.  In reality, I would agree that the easier course of action would be to leave the difficult decisions of war-making to others and live quiet, peaceable lives, oblivious to the havoc that war creates.

I too, found myself taking this form of action, or inaction as it were, and failed to realize how the biblical instructions for a Christian do cause us to address such things as killing and justifiable war.  So with that in mind, we will begin our study of carnal warfare with the case for pacifism.

I will say right at the outset that I come from a military family.  My father and grandfathers served in the military for their careers.  I live in a decidedly patriotic town right outside an Air Force base where most people in the community and in my church family support all things American, even the idea of justifiable war.  It would be very easy to be heavily influenced by the overall sentiment around me that says that to love America means sometimes having to accept war, and that it is akin to blasphemy to speak down about our country’s propensity to make war.

But as a God-fearing Christian, I want to make sure our look at pacifism is founded upon biblical principles and teaching rather that popular opinion.  With that in mind, we will start by looking at the Sermon on the Mount and its effect on our attitudes as Christians.  One need look no further than Jesus’ longest recorded public teaching to see the evidence for a quiet and peace-filled life that doesn’t include killing our fellow man.  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).  Now many will argue that the life the beatitudes call for us to live is unattainable to achieve, and yet Jesus spoke this message anyways.  He also said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in Heaven” (Matthew 5:43-45a).

It only takes a very elementary level of discernment to conclude that God wishes for his children to be kind and forgiving to our fellow man and not be a war-mongering people looking for excuses to annihilate an enemy.  Not only do we have the teachings of Jesus during his earthly ministry to guide us, but the lives and examples of the early church as well.

Christ’s church of the first several centuries was decidedly pacifist in nature, even with the fact that they lived during a time with much war and political maneuvering amongst world powers.  Almost the entire New Testament writings echo the teachings of Jesus that we be concerned about the advancement of his kingdom and leave the concerns of fallible earthly kingdoms to themselves.

Even outside the biblical writings themselves, early Christian apologists were adamant about the Christian’s denial of anything warlike.  In the Epistle to the Ephesians, Ignatius address our response to the evils of this world:

“Be ye humble in response to their wrath; oppose to their blaspehmies your earnest prayers; while they go astray, stand ye steadfast in the faith.  Conquer ye their harsh temper by gentleness, their passion by meekness… Do not seek to avenge yourself in those that injure you, for says [the Scripture]… And let us imitate the Lord, ‘who, when he was reviled, reviled not again’; when he was crucified, he said, ‘Father, forgive them; they know not what they do.’  If anyone, the more he is injured, displays the more patience, blessed is he.”

Other Christian writings on the topic of pacifism include:

“We who were filled with war, and mutual slaughter, and every wickedness, have each through the whole earth changed our war-like weapons,- our swords into plowshares, and our spears into implements of tillage, – and we cultivate purity, righteousness, philanthropy, faith and hope…” (Justin Martyr- AD 110~165- “Dialogue with Trypho”)

 

“We have learned, not only not to return blow for blow, nor to go to law with those who plunder and rob us, but to those who smite us on one side of the face to offer the other side also, and to those who take away our coat to give likewise our cloak.” (Athenagoras- early Christian apologist AD 177- “A Plea for the Christians”)

 

“There is no agreement between the divine and the human sacrament, the standard of Christ and the standard of the devil, the camp of light and the camp of darkness.  One soul cannot be due to two masters- God and Ceasar… How will a Christian man war, nay, how will he serve in peace, without a sword, which the Lord hath taken away?… The Lord… in disarming Peter, unbelted every soldier.” (Tertullian- early Christian apologist AD 145~220- “Apology”)

 

“We no longer take up ‘sword against nation,’ nor do we ‘learn war any more,’ having become children of peace, for the sake of Jesus who is our leader.” (Origin- AD 185~254- treatise “Against Celsus”)

 

“The wickedness of war is demonstrated in the following particulars: 1st. Those who are engaged in killing their brethren, for the most part, have no personal cause or provocation whatsoever.  2nd. They seldom, or never, comprehend the right or the wrong of the war.  They, therefore, act without the approbation of conscience.  3rd. In all wars the innocent are punished with the guilty.  4th. They constrain the soldier to do for the state that which were he to do it for himself, would, by the law of the state, involve forfeiture of his life.  5th. They are the pioneers of other evils to society, both moral and physical.” (Alexander Campbell- 19th century leader of the Restoration Movement- lecture “Address on War”)

There seems to be abounding evidence pointing to the idea of pacifism as the preferred mode of thinking amongst early Christians, so much so, that there is very little or no evidence to the contrary.  So when did the church experience a change in its thinking?  When did the church grow support for state mandated wars, and even begin to encourage and participate in them?  In the next post, “The Case for Non-Pacifism,” we will examine the evidence for the participation in and approval of carnal warfare and see what the Bible has to say to this end.

-Joe Butler

In Jesus’ Name

“In Jesus’ name…Amen.”

Sounds familiar right?  It should if you’ve said a prayer or been around someone who has.  It’s the phrase most often used to end our prayers to God, and rightly so.  We have the privilege to personally speak to God through the name of Jesus, so we should pay homage to that fact by mentioning his glorious name.

That’s not the only time we should invoke the name of Jesus though.  His name is powerful and is tied to all of the things we hold valuable as Christians.  Our salvation is guaranteed by the name of Jesus.  Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).  We are washed, we are sanctified, we are justified by the name of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 6:11).  “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

The name of Jesus is exalted above every other name in Heaven and on earth (Philippians 2:9-11).  He has been made Lord of lords and King of kings (Revelation 19:16), and all of creation is under his rule (Luke 10:17, Colossians 1:16).  The early Christians prayed for the power to heal that only comes through the name of Jesus (Acts 4:30), and they were promised and given such power by Jesus himself (Mark 16:17, Acts 3:1-7).

Today, meditate on the name of our Lord Jesus.  Reflect on the beauty of that name and all that he’s done to redeem us from sin and from death.  “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe” (Proverbs 18:10).  “There is none like you, O Lord; you are great, and your name is great in might” (Jeremiah 10:6).

-Joe Butler

Compelled By the Love of God

It’s a busy time right now at school for us teachers.  The end of the nine week grading period is upon us and it’s always a hectic time.  Kids are scrambling to get assignments completed, and I’m working to get grades posted in the grade book.  This is also the time of year where I try giving some extra motivation to my students, to encourage them to work harder for the next nine weeks and see if they can make any improvements.

It’s always interesting watching students react to their grades.  They always know what their grade is throughout their time in school, but when report card time hits, it becomes much more real for them.  The ones who have an A or B are usually pretty happy and proud and are looking forward to showing their parents how they did.  The students who scored a D or F usually begin to panic and worry about how their parents will react.  For an 8-year-old, the idea that they may punished for a bad grade is, in most occasions, enough motivation for them to try harder.

You see, my goal as a teacher is to try to teach students how to be intrinsically motivated.  It’s good to want to perform well for their parents or so they don’t get grounded, but it’s even better for them to take pride in their own hard work and have some ownership for how they did.  We’re all that way to some degree.  We work long hours at work to earn that paycheck.  We show love to our family and friends in hopes that they will reciprocate with actions of gratitude.  Athletes train consistently in order to win the game.  We’re all extrinsically motivated to some degree and need to find ways to be internally satisfied with our performance.

But it’s a little bit different in our relationship with God.  We don’t have to work ahead of time to earn his love and good favor.  In fact, he offers us more than we could ever want even before we realize who he is.  Does that mean there’s no response on our part to God’s love?  Absolutely not!  The love of God should compel us to react in a certain way.

14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

(2 Corinthians 5:14-15)

Because of God’s love, we die to ourselves.  Because of God’s love, we decide to dedicate our lives in service to Christ.  Because of God’s love, we change our entire mindset to be God-focused instead of me-focused.  We do this, not for his love, but because of his love.  We do it because he deserves it.

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.”

(Philippians 2:1-5a)

-Joe Butler

Lifting Up Prayers of Praise

Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name;
    make known his deeds among the peoples!
Sing to him, sing praises to him;
    tell of all his wondrous works!
10 Glory in his holy name;
    let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice!
11 Seek the Lord and his strength;
    seek his presence continually!”

(1 Chronicles 16:8-11)

I’ve done a little off-the-cuff research and I’ve come to the conclusion:  We don’t praise God nearly as often as we should.  After deciding to keep track of prayer requests for the last two months at the church I attend, I may have unofficially determined that we lift up very few prayers of praise.  I’ve listened to prayer requests in Bible classes, read church bulletins for requests, and been a part of many conversations where prayers were solicited, and here were the findings:

  • prayers for the sick or general health requests- 71%
  • prayers for worldly affairs (those affected by natural disasters, tragedies in the news, government/political related prayers)- 21%
  • prayers for miscellaneous things (salvation of a friend or loved one, prayers for particular ministries, etc.)- 6%
  • prayers of specific praise- 2%

Now, please don’t hear me say that those prayer requests are wrong!  We are absolutely encouraged throughout the word of God to offer up all sorts of prayers and that God hears every one of them.  He wants us to bring him all of our cares and concerns.  And yes, I admit it was a small sample size to pull statistics from.  But you’ve got to admit that 2% for prayers of praise over a 2 month period in a church of about 160 people is an awfully small amount.

Like Daniel’s song of praise quoted above, we should give thanks to the Lord as often as possible.  And why not?  We are blessed beyond anything we can imagine!  God is so worthy to receive our thanks every day for all that he’s given us and done for us.  He deserves our worship.  He’s earned our adoration.  The works of his creation cry out to be appreciated.

So what do prayers of praise look like?

  • simply be thankful for a brand new day (Psalm 118:24)
  • praise God for his mercy and forgiveness (1 Peter 1:3)
  • thank him for his daily provision in your life (Philippians 4:19)
  • be grateful that he has provided a way of salvation (John 3:16)
  • be appreciative of the guidance and instruction of his Word (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
  • thank him for the beautiful world we live in and dream of how amazing Heaven will be (Psalm 19:1)

Most importantly, save some prayers of praise for God where you don’t ask for anything.  Just be content in the moment and enjoy the goodness of God.  Like any loving father, He relishes the opportunity to hear his children come to him with a grateful heart.  Keep offering those prayers of supplication, because God has promised to answer (1 John 5:14-15), but make sure you’re lifting up prayers of praise as well.

-Joe Butler