Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Bible As A Unified Whole Rather Than A Bunch Of Individual Verses

One of the most concrete rules for the Christian seeking to drink deeply and profitably from the well of Scripture is that every verse needs to be read in context. Reading in context is much more than reading the verse immediately preceding and the verse immediately following the verse you are citing. The Bible as a whole is a unified revelation of God unfolding through the ages His interacting in holiness and glory with the sin deadened world, culminating in the cross of His Son, the heralding of the Kingdom and the inauguration of God's greatest, complete and final covenant with His people. Too often we see the Bible as a whole bunch of moralistic stories, almost as though we never advanced past the children's story book Bible stage, and/or a bunch of verses that we use after sifting through the Bible to find something to support what we have already decided.

I ran into this again in a discussion regarding Christians and the sword, something I have written about a lot. The conversation was launched based on a posting of Ron Sider's article, The Early Church And Killing. I am continually amazed and saddened by how eagerly and often angrily people who profess to be Christians knee-jerk react to any suggestion that we as the ambassadors of the Prince of Peace ought not be in the business of heading out to kill our "enemies", who historically have often been other believers, at the command of Caesar. Specifically someone responded to my comment that putting forth Luke 3:14 where Jesus says a single sentence about soldiers, telling them not to abuse their position and nothing else, is making an argument from silence as He neither affirmed nor condemned being a soldier. That leaves us with the necessity of seeking what else Jesus and the apostles taught on the topic. The gist of the reply was that the Bible speaks favorably about men of war in the book of Hebrews so God must be OK with Christians serving as soldiers.

It is not an argument I have never come up against but it is a lot more rare than the "two swords" passage or direct appeals to the Old Testament. The argument goes like this: In the book of Hebrews, specifically Hebrews 11:32-38 and Hebrews 7:1-3, the author of the book praises some of those mentioned in the Bible as mighty warriors. Therefore God is Ok with His people being soldiers. The passages read as follows (I have added emphasis where I presume those who use these verses to argue in favor of Christians engaging in warfare are focused):

For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever. Hebrews 7:1-3


And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. Hebrews 11:32-38

First off, what is the point here? Is it the promotion of warfare? Not really. The point being made in the first paragraph is both God's and Abraham's faithfulness. Ironically the writer of Hebrews describes Melchizedek as the "king of Salem...that is the king of peace". It is their faithfulness that lands people in positions of praise in the book of Hebrews. Being valiant for the sake of being valiant is not what the Bible is praising. Erwin Rommel, the Desert Fox, was a valiant warrior and a brilliant general. He also led the armies of Adolf Hitler's Third Reich. Vasily Zaytsev, the Russian sniper immortalized in the movie Enemy At The Gates, was a valiant warrior who reportedly killed hundreds of Nazis single-handedly. He fought on behalf of the Stalinist Soviet Union that matched the genocidal prowess of the Third Reich's Final Solution. Being valiant isn't what God is after. Being faithful is what God is expecting from His people.

Second, and this is pretty critical, the men who were mighty warriors in Hebrews 11 were living in a specific covenant nation made up of believers and unbelievers and part of that covenant was that God commanded them to drive out certain people groups by force and take possession of their lands. Let me repeat that. The heroes of Hebrews 11 lived under a conditional covenant that is now obsolete that demanded as part of that covenant the conquest of other people groups. Although national Israel was made up of both believers and unbelievers, they were all part of God's covenant people. On the other hand the nations they conquered were essentially 100% not God's people. God Himself commanded His-people to war against not-His-people. So how does that compare to now?

Since the dismantling of the nation of Israel, the destruction of the Temple and the inauguration of the New Covenant there has never been a war fought to compare to that situation under the obsolete Old Covenant. God has never commanded His people who are the Bride of Christ, the citizens of the Kingdom rather than the world, to go to war based on which secular nation-state they live in and kill people from another secular nation-state. In every war of Western Europe and America, believers have been sent out by Caesar to kill their enemies who often are their brothers in Christ. To narrow down our focus a bit let me make a succinct, clear statement:

Every single war America has ever fought has included believers killing other believers for no reason other than they wore a different uniform and a different leader told them to do so.

Every. Single. War.

Two men, bought by the shed blood of Jesus Christ, pointing spears or sword or muskets or rifles at each other with the intent to take another life bought by Christ. That is perverse and I would argue blasphemous. Little wonder that in every war America has fought, clergy have been enlisted by Caesar to put their stamp of approval on these wars, from the Revolutionary War to the invasion of Iraq, to convince Christians that God is on "our side" and He is fine with Christians killing other people because He obviously is not on "their side". Of course clergy on the other side are assuring their fellow citizens that God is in fact on "their side". Imagine this. Before many battles in the Civil War, clergy prayed on behalf of their side while fellow American believers were praying a stones throw away on behalf of their side. The hope of each was victory which means killing more of them than they kill of you.

Is that why Jesus redeemed us? So we can kill each other because some leader, often an unbeliever, sends Christian to fight Christian? Perish the thought.

We are supposed to think that God wants His own people to kill for the state because men were commanded to fight under an obsolete covenant? God has placed the sword in the hand of the state (Romans 13:1-5) and immediately before that He has forbidden His people to take up the sword (Romans 12: 16-21). Context.

Viewed in the light of comprehensive Biblical context it is clear that the conditions that existed when God commanded His people to go to war under a now obsolete covenant relationship no longer exist and as a people who are mixed into all the nations, Christians are never commanded and in fact are forbidden from taking up the sword to kill our enemies. The enemies of one state are not automatically our enemies just because we live there. Even if they truly are our enemies, the only response to an enemy we are given in the Bible is to love them. The world overcomes evil by the sword. The Church overcomes evil by the Spirit of God leading His people to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21). If you want to be a hero, show your faithfulness and devotion with love, not with a sword.

1 comment:

Simon said...

That's a lot of good thoughts packed in one article.

I've never heard the argument you addressed about Hebrews "endorsing" some of those who were warriors. I've read Sprinkle's book, Fight, and don't remember seeing that addressed in there. I appreciate your clear, well thought-through rebuttal.