Holy War

spectre_of_jihadBiblical Scholar Robert Write, in his new book, The Evolution of God, suggests that to understand the Biblical teaching on “holy war” we must learn to unlock the “code that is hidden in the Scriptures and that, once revealed, unlocks the secret.” But it turns out that Write believes there is no real code at all. The Bible is hopelessly contradictory, sometimes teaching tolerance and sometimes forbidding it. He adopts an evolutionary model of religion where the God of the Bible “had bursts of moral growth.”

The traditional evolutionary thinking on religion suggests that primitive man believed in patron tribal deities that sought the interests of the tribe. This concept gradually evolved into the more sophisticated concept of ethical monotheism. In Write’s thinking, however, ethical monotheism is the more primitive, since it naturally tends toward intolerance. The hallmark of polytheism, on the other hand, is its ability to absorb all religious ideas and assimilate them into a single religious stew.

At the end of the day Mr. Write’s advice is that Jews and Christians should accept the teaching in the Bible that we find agreeable and dismiss what we find objectionable. It is hard to believe that the absurdity of this suggestion escapes him. If we sit in judgment on the Bible (a merely human document in the first place) then what religious authority could it possibly still possess? We should dismiss the Bible entirely as a source of religious inspiration, and view it only with an historical an academic interest. Let us come up with a new document that we can fully subscribe! Furthermore, how can Write reply to a Jihadist that views the “intolerance” of monotheism to be the more progressive ideal contained in the Old Testament?

The Bible, however, displays a consistency of teaching that refuses to conform to evolutionary theories. We find, in fact, that the Bible contains no timeless principle of holy war to either affirm or deny.

In the beginning, when God expelled the first couple from his holy paradise garden in Eden he established a common grace order with sinful men. He promised to strive with sinful man and postpone his judgment to make room for repentance. But at specific moments in redemptive history there were divine intrusions of judgment. These intrusions of judgment serve as an illustration of final judgment. Most notable of these intrusions was the flood. After the flood God promised that he would never bring a worldwide destruction again before the end, “for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen 8:21).

Abraham abided by this common grace order. When God appeared to Abraham and promised to him the land of Canaan, Abraham lived in that land as a stranger and good citizen. With God’s approval he made covenants with the polytheistic inhabitants, obeyed their laws and benefited those he dealt with (Gen 14; 20:17; 21:22-34; 23). The only portion of the land of Canaan that he owned was the burial site he purchased for his wife. God told him that the time for receiving the land as an inheritance was postponed until “in the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure” (Gen 15:16). God allowed the inhabitants to continue to increase in wickedness, even sacrificing their children, until the Day of Judgment.

At the right time God purposed to establish his holy kingdom in Canaan. This paradise land “flowing with milk and honey” provided a picture of Eden renewed. If God’s people obeyed the curse of the fall would be reversed: they would not suffer plagues or famine. It would be for them a Sabbath land, giving rest for their souls, and a picture of our heavenly reward (Deut 12:9, Ps 95; Heb 3-4, Heb 11:10, 16). At this time, therefore, God’s common grace order ended for the inhabitants. The Israelites were to guard the sanctuary of God and protect their boarders. Once they occupied the land they were never commanded to engage in “Jihad” against other nations or to “slay them [infidels] wherever you find them” (Surah 2:190). The common grace order ended for the Israelites as well. The land did not belong to Israel but to God, and in time He came as the holy warrior against them, just as He told them, “Like the nations that the Lord is destroying before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the Lord your God” (Deut 8:20).

When God fulfilled his word and expelled his people from the land and settled them in pagan Babylon they were to resume the good neighbor policy of Abraham. “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jer 29:7). Such teaching must be an embarrassment to the liberal Biblical scholars, since according to their theory; ethical monotheism didn’t fully develop until during the exile.

Christians in the New Covenant live in the period of God’s common grace. We are prohibited from taking judgment into our own hands, as it belongs to God alone (Rom 12:18-19). If need be we endure injustice, and resist all use of force in defense of our faith, even at the cost of martyrdom. Jesus commands us to pray for our enemies and obey unrighteous rulers rather than seeking to drive them out in order to establish a holy culture (Matt 5:38-48; Rom 13:1-7; 1 Pet 2:13-17). For this reason Jesus taught that he does not now judge the one who hears his word and rejects him (John 12:37) and he rebukes James and John who desire to call down fire from heaven in imitation of Elijah (Luke 9:53-55).

Therefore the Apostle Paul teaches Christians that we have no business judging those outside of the Church (1 Cor 5:9-13; 6:9-11). We are to defend the purity of the church, but we are armed only with the keys of the kingdom. The church is not entrusted with the sword, but with Word and sacrament. In the New Testament the holy war theme is spiritualized. Christians put on “the full armor of God.” But this armor consists of the helmet of salvation, the breastplate of righteousness, the sword of the God’s word, and the shield of faith (Eph. 6:10-17). “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor 10:4-6).

But it is not as if God has outgrown the sort of judgments that we find in the Old Testament. Judgment is merely postponed. We are warned of the day when God will establish that holy kingdom that Canaan merely foreshadowed – the New Heavens and New Earth where righteousness dwells. That day will see the final Day of Judgment which all the other judgments merely foreshadowed. When “the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction” (1 Thess. 1:7).

Mankind is at war with God, but Jesus Christ today is the emissary of peace calling all to repentance and faith in him. Now is the time of God’s favor; today is the day of salvation.

Pro-Life in America

Child at 24 weeks

Child at 24 weeks

Recently a Gallup poll reported that the majority of Americans call themselves “pro-life” for the first time since Roe v Wade decision. Predictably, Gallup has been widely criticized for lack of nuance in its poll. After all, many Americans may identify themselves as personally pro-life, but support full legal access for others who choose to abort their children. Even President Obama voiced his desire to reduce abortions in the United States.

It may be that the majority of Americans still desire abortion to be “safe, legal and rare.” But it is not at all clear that the majority of Americans support publicly subsidizing of abortion or the radical pro-choice agenda pushed by the current administration.

  • Do you believe that tax payers should supply one third of Planned Parenthood’s $1 billion dollar budget?
  • Do you believe that the federal government should invalidate all state restrictions on abortion, including parental notification laws, informed consent laws, and bans on partial birth abortion?
  • Do you believe we should repeal the conscience clause and require all doctors and health care professionals to perform abortions, even if doing so violates their conscience and their understanding of the Hippocratic oath?

Our federal government has long subsidized Planned Parenthood, the nations leading provider of elective abortions, and we expect to see the level of public funding increase dramatically. President Obama also promised to sign the Freedom of Choice Act, which will remove all state restrictions. Perhaps most shocking is that Health and Human Services is working to repeal the conscience clause that protects medical professionals from being compelled to perform abortions.
Our President stated his opinion that mothers should be free to navigate these ethical waters and have the right to a safe and legal abortion. But what about the freedom and conscience of the healthcare professional? How can we claim to uphold the first amendment with a law that so clearly violates the religious convictions of so many? Forcing doctors to perform abortions against their conscience is not morally different from China’s policy of forced abortions for second pregnancies. China compels the conscience of the mother, while Obama is attempting to compel the conscience of the doctor or nurse.

Of course the pro-life movement has been severely set back by the schizophrenic loon who murdered Dr. George Tiller, one the few late term abortion providers in the country. Being pro-life means that we uphold the command “thou shall not murder.” The Bible categorically rejects all vigilantism (Deut 32:35; Rom 12:19) and places the sword of justice in the hands of government alone (Rom 13:1-7). Even when our leaders get it horribly wrong, Christians are called to suffer unjustly and to entrust ourselves to God’s future judgment (1 Peter 2:13-25).

As a Christian church we will not back down from the claim that elective abortions take human life, and we will not hesitate to identify it as sin. We also insist that sin must be taken to the cross of Jesus Christ, and that his blood is sufficient to atone for all sin, even murder. We are all in the same boat; we are all sinners. God alone is holy, but his grace is free and forgiveness is available for those who repent and believe.

God in the brain

BrainA few years ago Dr. Dean Hamer made a splash with the publication The God Gene, in which he argued that he pinpointed a gene responsible for theism. The study, however, was very poorly done as his indicators of theistic belief had more in common with Eastern mysticism than theism. According to my answers to the survey questions Dr. Hamer would predict that I am a very skeptical agnostic when in fact I have dedicated my life to my religious belief.

Carl Zimmer, writing for Scientific American, ridiculed Dr. Hamer’s new book. In 1993 Scientific American published Dr. Hamer’s peer reviewed study “The Gay Gene,” which study was enthusiastically received by much of the scientific community before it was discredited a few years later. Zimmer was not impressed with Hamer’s exotic theories motivated by a quest for self-understanding.

Dr. Hamer, however, was trying to answer an important and troubling question. Certainly not everybody professes belief in God, but religion is a universal phenomenon that has existed in every culture since the beginning of human history until now. Plutarch observed, “If you go round the world, you will find cities without walls, or literature, or kings, or houses or money, without gymnasia or theaters. But no one ever saw a city without temples or gods, one which does not have recourse to prayers, oaths or oracles.” Cicero likewise wrote, “There is no people so wild and savage to have not believed in a god… It is necessary to believe that there are gods, because we have an implanted or an innate knowledge of them.”

Freud argued that religion is neurosis but he could not explain its universal impulse. Feuerbach argued that belief in God is wish-fulfillment, but he could not account for why we should have a desire for which there is no corresponding fulfillment. Karl Marx, like many before him, declared that religion was the opiate of the masses devised by the ruling class to keep the working class in line. While it is true that many rulers have used and perverted religion to this end, John Calvin pointed out the flaw in this explanation: “they never could have succeeded in this, had the minds of men not been previously imbued with that uniform belief in God, from which, as from its seed, the religious propensity springs.”[1] Even atheists often feel “the truth that they are desirous not to know” and they are troubled with the prospect of this truth.

If there is a God who has implanted in mankind an innate knowledge of the Divine then it follows that this is a God to whom we are morally accountable to. In the Bible, the Apostle Paul writes these sobering words, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles” (Romans 1:18-23).

The prospect of a personal God to whom we are morally accountable to is a frightening thing. Atheism is quite understandable from a psychological point of view: who wants an all Seeing Eye scrutinizing our every action and thought? But there is a way that we can come near to God without fear. He has provided a way for us to approach him as a father instead of a judge. Only through Jesus Christ, who gave himself for sinners, can we serve God without fear (Luke 1:74). Jesus came to take our place as God’s obedient Son. He obeyed the law in every respect so that he might substitute our disobedience with his obedience. On the cross he was judged as a sinner and absorbed the wrath of God against sin. Through his resurrection he was vindicated and conquered death. Through faith in Jesus our sins are covered and his righteousness is imputed to us. We are able to stand on the Day of Judgment forgiven and clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Although we are guilty, we will stand acquitted (Romans 5:12-21; 2 Corinthians 5:12). It is therefore through Jesus Christ alone that we can enter into a right relationship with our Heavenly Father.

[1] Inst., 1.3.2.