Christchurch became the frontline of a war on Friday, 15 March 2019. By the day’s end 50 people who’d been at prayer in two mosques were dead by gun shot. One more died later. On the same day the New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Adhern said:
CLEARLY, WHAT HAS HAPPENED HERE IS AN EXTRAORDINARY AND UNPRECEDENTED ACT OF VIOLENCE.
MANY OF THOSE WHO WILL HAVE BEEN DIRECTLY AFFECTED BY THIS SHOOTING MAY BE MIGRANTS TO NEW ZEALAND, THEY MAY EVEN BE REFUGEES HERE.
THEY HAVE CHOSEN TO MAKE NEW ZEALAND THEIR HOME, AND IT IS THEIR HOME. THEY ARE US.
THE PERSON WHO HAS PERPETUATED THIS VIOLENCE AGAINST US IS NOT. THEY HAVE NO PLACE IN NEW ZEALAND.
THERE IS NO PLACE IN NEW ZEALAND FOR SUCH ACTS OF EXTREME AND UNPRECEDENTED VIOLENCE, WHICH IT IS CLEAR THIS ACT WAS.
FOR NOW, MY THOUGHTS, AND I'M SURE THE THOUGHTS OF ALL NEW ZEALANDERS, ARE WITH THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN AFFECTED, AND ALSO WITH THEIR FAMILIES.
“They are us!” Prime Minister Adhern said of the people who died. The Australian shooter charged with murder and attempted murder evidently saw these same people as 'them' – 'our enemies'. We will not dignify him, his views or his manifesto by any further reference, other than to observe in the late first century A.D. words of John the Apostle:
EVERYONE WHO HATES HIS BROTHER IS A MURDERER, AND YOU KNOW THAT NO MURDERER HAS ETERNAL LIFE RESIDING IN HIM.
We observe just the same of those responsible for the Easter Sunday mass bombings in Sri Lanka, in which more than 250 people died and at least 500 were injured. In this instance the dead and injured included people worshipping in 3 churches.
These horrendous crimes compel us to consider their evident precedents – about the lines we draw to divide ourselves into sides; the barriers we raise to segregate ‘us’ from ‘them’; the hatred that fuels us to devise horrendous strategies to kill ‘them’, our enemies; the stony hard-heartedness that enables us to murder innocent people in cold blood, turning houses of worship into battlefields.
We observe our Christian community become more and more fearful of threats. Islam features ever higher on the threat list. Extensive reliable evidence does provide reasonable cause for fear. It comes from both secular and Christian sources describing Church and Christian persecution in Islamic states and communities, and from Islamic extremists themselves. Authoritative Islamic theological sources apparently also offer credible evidence that some Islamic authorities’ interpretation of the Muslim Holy Book, the Qu’ran, and the related Hadith, validates persecution of Christians. On the other hand, it is also evident that historical persecution of Muslim peoples by the ‘Christian’ West – by various state and Church authorities acting in the name of ‘Christ,’ – for some Muslims, vindicates retributive persecution of Christian peoples. And persecution of Muslim societies by the ‘Christian’ West is contemporary in the minds of many Muslim people.
So, conflict between Islam and Christendom is both historical and on-going. Comparison of the relative headcounts of martyrs on both ‘sides’ serves only to inflate respective fear and further conflict. Though some Christians find it necessary to highlight headcounts, together with the relative media attention that each is perceived to receive.
The threat of Islam and of Sharia Law genuinely terrorises our Western secular societies whose structures are framed by values and innovations of Christian origins (though these are now neglected or apposed). Our response to protect ‘us’ from ‘them’ seems as genuine as it is natural. We must warn each other of ‘their’ threat. We must close our borders to more of ‘them.’ We must cease ‘their’ immigration into Australian society, least we be swamped by ‘them’. We must oppose ‘them’ when ‘they’ propose to build mosques or schools in our suburbs; all seemingly logical responses to a very credible threat.
But as genuine and natural as these responses might be, is this how we Christians should respond? Do we have Biblical authority to perceive Muslims as our enemies? Does the Church have Scriptural warrant to deem Islam its adversary?
The Gospels narrate a first century Middle Eastern society drawing a battle line, delineating ‘sides,’ segregating ‘us’ from ‘them’ and deeming ‘them’ to be ‘our enemy’. It is a salutary account for contemporary Christians. What is it about?
Refuting the opinion of the dominant Jewish religious leadership sect, the Pharisees, that he had just cast a demon out of a blind and mute man by the authority of the ruler of demons they call Beelzebul (also known as the satan, i.e., the accuser), Jesus authoritatively responds (Matthew 12:28):
IF I DRIVE OUT DEMONS BY THE SPIRIT OF GOD, THEN THE KINGDOM OF GOD HAS COME TO YOU.
Jesus’ assertion carries a patent and potent political resonance for his audience – inhabitants of Judea (or Jews), a remnant of the ancient nation of Israel. They now suffer oppression by the Roman Empire. They’ve endured centuries of invasion, disposition and genocide by surrounding (Gentile) nations. This small nation which identifies as God’s chosen people, longs to be saved from these enemies by a God-promised King of their ancient house of David. God anoints this promised future King to restore his rule in Israel and of the whole world. Furthermore, its restoration will encompass renewal of the whole of creation. He is titled the ‘Anointed One’ (Messiah or Christ). These Judeans now witness a local carpenter perform an act indicative of this Anointed One. Astounded, they reasonably muse, “Perhaps this is the Son of David.”
The extraordinary irony of the event Matthew records in his Gospel (chapter 12, verses 15 to 37), is that the leaders of Israel who ought to affirm the accuracy of the crowds’ observation, don’t do it! To the contrary, they attribute Jesus’ authority to the enemy of God, the accuser (the satan), “This man drives out demons only by Beelzebul, the ruler of demons.”
“Knowing [the] thoughts,” of both crowd and their leaders, Jesus responds in terms of two opposed kingdoms – the accuser’s and God’s. He attributes the blind and mute man’s affliction as evidence of the dominion of the accuser in human affairs. He tenders the man’s deliverance as evidence of the kingdom of God breaking into the accuser’s domain. He analogises the event in terms of a strong man’s house rendered enter-able and plunder-able upon the strong man being constrained.
Jesus plainly identifies the accuser, known also as the devil, as the one who opposes the coming of his (God’s) kingdom. The accuser is his enemy. Jesus, the Anointed One, disables him so that God’s kingdom may break into his domain, ‘the strong man’s house,’ and plunder ‘his possessions’. So Jesus presents his healing of the deaf and mute man as exhibit one of the kingdom of God on earth.
Then he draws the battle line of the ensuing conflict in unequivocal terms:
ANYONE WHO IS NOT WITH ME IS AGAINST ME, AND ANYONE WHO DOES NOT GATHER WITH ME SCATTERS.
And in so saying, he exposes the Jewish leaders. They expect Israel’s Anointed One to be on their side to deliver them from their oppressors. He is not! More to the point, they’re on the wrong side of the battle line! Arrogant confidence in their understanding of the conflict and where its front line is drawn does not alter the fact. They’re guilty of treason! They, the leaders of the people of God, are actually ‘possessions’ of God’s enemy. And rebelliously unrepentant, they remain defiantly on the enemy’s side.
Jesus similarly and plainly demarcates the conflict and the enemy of God’s kingdom in his explanation of his parable of the weeds in the field. He self identifies as the ‘sower’ in this parable by a title of God’s king drawn from the prophet Danie’s description of God’s re-established rule on earth:
THE ONE WHO SOWS THE GOOD SEED IS THE SON OF MAN; THE FIELD IS THE WORLD; AND THE GOOD SEED – THESE ARE THE SONS OF THE KINGDOM. THE WEEDS ARE THE SONS OF THE EVIL ONE, AND THE ENEMY WHO SOWED THEM IS THE DEVIL.
Importantly, Jesus explains that the landowner in the story stays his slaves’ intent to weed his contaminated wheat crop, least they uproot the wheat seedings with the weeds. It’s clearly not the task of the sons of God’s kingdom to define the battle line between themselves and the sons of the evil one, to differentiate and segregate ‘them’ from ‘us’. The sons of the evil one are not the enemy.
It’s not surprising then that Paul, special messenger of Jesus the Anointed One, plainly warns the Church in Ephesus against perceiving their battle to be against human opponents of the church (Ephesians 6:11,12):
PUT ON THE FULL ARMOR OF GOD SO THAT YOU CAN STAND AGAINST THE TACTICS OF THE DEVIL. FOR OUR BATTLE IS NOT AGAINST FLESH AND BLOOD, BUT AGAINST THE RULERS, AGAINST THE AUTHORITIES, AGAINST THE WORLD POWERS OF THIS DARKNESS, AGAINST THE SPIRITUAL FORCES OF EVIL IN THE HEAVENS.
So, Christians’ ground for categorising Muslims as ‘them’ and defining them as ‘our’ enemies is found where in the teaching of our Lord Jesus and his special messengers? Upon what Biblical authority does the church identify Islam as its enemy? If ‘nowhere’ and ‘none’ are the answers, does it matter?
Oh, it matters! Critically! The battle line between God’s kingdom and the devil’s might be a fine one from the human perspective as Jesus’ parable of the weeds in the wheat field highlights. But if Christians misjudge our standing in relation to the line, the result is disastrous!
Jesus reveals both the battle line and the shocking impact of a wrong judgement about it in a dramatic event in his early ministry. Dr Luke describes Jesus visiting the Synagogue in his home town of Nazareth. He stands to read publicly and is handed a scroll of prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll, he finds and reads from a section written in the voice of the promised Anointed One. He rolls up the scroll, hands it to the attendant, sits down and declares, “Today as you listen, this Scripture has been fulfilled.” Our earlier quoted declaration of the coming of God’s kingdom, is an unmistakable echo of this statement made at the outset of his public ministry.
Evidently so captivated by him, his hearers contemplate that he may be their long promised Anointed One. A lingering question causes them to hesitate, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” We can just imagine how they attempt to resolve this dichotomy in their minds, “He can’t be the Anointed One can he? He’s the son of our local carpenter, Joseph!” But then, “He certainly is our local boy. But he speaks with such authority! What if he’s right…? What if he IS the Anointed One… he’s with us?!!” And so, “…ourAnointed One… on ourside! Wow!!! Our own Anointed One! Our own deliverer! He will deliver ‘us’ from ‘them’! He will overthrow those oppressing gentile Romans!”
We expect Jesus would thrill to such a warm reception by his own townsfolk. Instead, what he says next is dumbfounding. Its impact is catastrophic! He tells them he knows what they expect of him if he is indeed the Anointed One – miraculous events in his home town of Nazareth. But he reminds them that historically, God’s great prophets Elijah and Elisha extended their ministry beyond Israel’s borders, to Israel’s enemies. He fingered their very thoughts! And it lit a fuse! The explosive reaction of his townsfolk suggests they do indeed understand Jesus’ reminder of God’s promise that his Anointed One will not only bless their nation Israel, but all nations of the earth. Even the Romans!??? They don’t like it. Maddened to unrestrained rage, they drive him out of Nazareth with murderous intent! How could it be their neighbour, claiming to be the Anointed One, is not on THEIR side? But more to the point, Jesus has just stunningly revealed that despite their heritage, they are NOT on HIS side!
So, is it possible that Australian Christians have identified Muslims as our enemy without Biblical warrant? And in so doing, may we have misjudged own status in relation to the battle line? Are we mistaken in our assumption of being in the right, of being the right side? If so, our assumption is just as erroneous as that of the people of Nazareth and the leading Pharisee sect in first century Judea! And regrettably, it proves hard to differentiate our haughtiness from the hubris Jesus exposed in his Nazarene neighbours. Serious misjudgement by Australian Christians in our time is a very real possibility! It’s an error which carries the same horrendous consequences for us, for the kingdom, for the church and for the Good News of the kingdom as for the first century Judeans!
The consequences? We’re acting out our fears and our misguided assumptions.
We embrace political action, shoring up our defences to preserve our society and its Christian values and culture from the Islamic threat by political action. We organise together to flex political power. We presume that political alignment, particularly with the parties to the conservative right of the political spectrum the logical course of Christian action to preserve our rights. We strategically join political parties to influence if not control their policy to our benefit. We assure one another that this is where the real battle is played out. Indiscriminately, we enter allegiance with any group that shares a common perception of Islam being the enemy.
But just a moment! Whatever prompts our Christian community to believe that the cause of kingdom of God is served by political power? Jesus tells his inquisitor, the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate (John 18:36),
MY KINGDOM IS NOT OF THIS WORLD. IF MY KINGDOM WERE OF THIS WORLD, MY SERVANTS WOULD FIGHT, SO THAT I WOULDN’T BE HANDED OVER TO THE JEWS. AS IT IS, MY KINGDOM DOES NOT HAVE ITS ORIGIN HERE.
How is it then that we, identifying as servants of this king, presume to engage and align with an instrument of the world – political power – to fight for his kingdom, for his servants and for his communities, against our presumed enemy, Islam? How can this be?
Is it possible that Australian Christians and churches, threatened by rising hostility in our secular society, loosing respect, loosing authority, loosing influence, loosing privileges, loosing freedom so long enjoyed, are hypersensitised to the existential threat of militant Islam expressed so brutally elsewhere in our world? Is it possible that the Australian church abandons the Word and the Spirit to pursue power in the world’s terms to conserve its privilege and its security? Is it possible that Christianity, provoked by the real and present threat it perceives a growing Muslim population represents to ‘our Christian’ culture abandons its calling as a spiritual movement without borders, (Acts 1:8) to establish itself as a secular cultural force waging a ‘holy crusade’ against ‘them,’ the Muslims, to protect Australia’s borders?!
Can the cause of Jesus, the Anointed One and of his kingdom and of his Good News really be advanced by our vilification of Muslims, by our taunting Islamic culture, and by our disrespect for the Qu’ran, and for the Prophet Muhammad? Can we by these means, minister the life of the Spirit to our secular society? Can we really?
No, we cannot!!! On the contrary, Christian communication such as this risks aiding and abetting misguided, extremist, anti-Muslim action as horrendously perpetrated in Christchurch! Categorisation of Muslims as ‘them’ by ‘us’ Christians in a Western society, risks generating and fuelling greater hostility for our fellow believers in Islamic communities and states!
Recapping: Without doubt, the coming of Jesus, God’s Anointed One to inaugurate of his kingdom on earth creates conflict, because his coming is opposed, because it breaks into an already established kingdom in this world. Jesus identifies his enemy clearly as the devil, the prince of the kingdom of this world, not those lost to his kingdom whom he came to save from the devil’s dominion. (Luke 19:10 And, because his kingdom does not have its origin in this world, Jesus declares that his servants wouldn’t fight in a conventional sense, i.e., human combat in political or physical terms. (John 18:36) His Special Messenger Paul affirms this. He stresses that we don’t wrestle with fellow human beings. The combat for the kingdom of God, for the Church, for Christians he declares, is against spiritual powers. (Ephesians 6: 10-17)
And without doubt, the coming of Jesus as the Anointed One to inaugurate his kingdom on earth divides the human race. It creates two very contrasting categories of people. In New Testament terms they are “the saved” or “the found” i.e., citizens of the kingdom of heaven, and “the perishing” or “the lost,” i.e., subjects of the kingdom of this world. (Matthew 18:11; Luke 15:1-32; 19:10; 1 Corinthians 1:18; 2 Corinthians 2:15; 4:3; 2 Thessalonians 2:10)
Perishing or lost people of the world, far from being enemies of those who are saved or found are welcomed by the latter to witness their unity, their love for one another and to know that the Father has sent the Son into their world. (John 17:20-26). For this witness, the king keeps his “saved/found” subjects in the world, even though they are (or at least ought to be) no longer aligned to it. (John 17:11-19) Their example is the king’s special messenger Paul. “Because of the gospel,” they will go out of their way to identify with those who are “perishing/lost.” They will do this so that they may “by every possible means same some” / “win more people” openly communicating the Good News of the kingdom to them in loving concern for their plight as “the perishing/lost”. (1 Corinthians 9:18-23)
And just as Jesus clarifies in his parable of the weeds in the wheat field, it remains humanly difficult even today to differentiate accurately between “the saved” and “the perishing.” In fact, Jesus also warned (Matthew 7:21-23):
NOT EVERYONE WHO SAYS TO ME, ‘LORD, LORD!’ WILL ENTER THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN, BUT ONLY THE ONE WHO DOES THE WILL OF MY FATHER IN HEAVEN. ON THAT DAY MANY WILL SAY TO ME, ‘LORD, LORD, DIDN’T WE PROPHESY IN YOUR NAME, DRIVE OUT DEMONS IN YOUR NAME, AND DO MANY MIRACLES IN YOUR NAME?’ THEN I WILL ANNOUNCE TO THEM, ‘I NEVER KNEW YOU! DEPART FROM ME, YOU LAWBREAKERS!’
I hold very grave fears that many who believe that Jesus, the Anointed One is on their side, and who stand so vehemently opposed to Muslims as their enemies may nevertheless one day hear Jesus announce to them, “I never know you! Depart from Me, you lawbreakers!”
What ought we all do?
We should repent of our arrogance and pride in assuming the Lord Jesus on our side – that we are something when we are nothing! (Galatians 6:3) We should self-examine our own work to test whether it be fruit of the world or of the Spirit (Galatians 6:4; 5:16-23); whether we’ve deceived ourselves, thinking we are wise in this present age (1 Corinthians 3:18); whether we think we are subjects of the Jesus the Anointed One when we are not (Matthew 7:22,23); whether we’ve been seduced by the accuser, the ruler of this world (2 Corinthians 11:3).
And if any of these is true, we should repent humbly before Jesus the Anointed One. We should deny any assumption of self-sovereignty. We should, by the power of His death in which we share, put to death all within us which is still of the kingdom of this world. And choosing his side, we should follow him, taking care to remain in step with his Spirit whom he has given to live within us. (Luke 9:23; Galatians 5:16; 24-26)
Then wisely, we will regularly and soberly assess our attitude, our communication and our behaviour against Jesus’ regal caution: (Matthew 12:30)
ANYONE WHO IS NOT WITH ME IS AGAINST ME, AND ANYONE WHO DOES NOT GATHER WITH ME SCATTERS.
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