I awoke early October 7 to discover that Israel was under attack by Hamas (the Islamic Resistance Movement) terrorists. Early reports said hundreds were likely already or soon-to-be dead due to the strategy of the terrorists to attack the Supernova Music Festival in the Negev desert in southern Israel. Current reports indicate more than 1300 people have been killed in Israel and more than that in the retaliatory strikes inside Gaza.
I immediately began reaching out to friends who might have better information than I could get. Like many other pastors, I also began fielding questions from friends and church members who were similarly trying to understand what was happening. At the prompting of church members our elders decided to address the situation to help our members think biblically about the tragic events that were and still are unfolding.
Following are some of the points we covered along with further thoughts I have had since then. I offer them here in hopes that they may help other pastors and churches think principally and carefully about this still fluid situation.
1. The Bible grants jurisdictional authority to deal with evil
The three primary jurisdictions that God has established are the home, the church, and the state. Christ, who has all authority, delegates authority in all three of those jurisdictions and commands that it be wielded according to His will.
• In the home Christ delegates authority to parents, and primarily husbands and fathers, for the welfare of the family. Specifically, He has given them the rod of correction to help administer their authority (Proverbs 22:15). The most extreme use of this is corporal discipline.
• In the church Christ delegates His authority to the members, and specifically the elders for the welfare of the congregation. God has given them the keys of the kingdom to help administer their authority (Matthew 16:13-19; 18:15-20). The most extreme use of this is excommunication.
• In the state (nation, government), Christ delegates authority to civil officials for the welfare of the citizens. He has given them the sword (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17) to help administer their authority. The most extreme use of this is capital punishment and war.
2. War is the province of the state
Our church’s confession of faith, the 1689 or Second London Baptist Confession, in chapter 24, paragraphs 1 and 2 summarizes the authority that Christ has given to the state and the legitimacy of war.
1. God, the supreme Lord and King of the whole world, has ordained civil authorities to be under him and over the people, for his own glory and the public good. For this purpose he has armed them with the power of the sword, to defend and encourage those who do good and to punish evildoers.
2. Christians may lawfully accept and carry out the duties of public office when called to do so. In performing their office they must especially maintain justice and peace,according to the wholesome laws of each kingdom or other political entity. To carry out these duties they are authorized now under the New Testament to wage war in just and necessary situations [see 2 Samuel 23:3; Psalm 82:3,4; Luke 3:14].
3. For a war to be legitimate, it must be waged justly
When the 1689 confession speaks of waging war “in just and necessary situations” it is referring to “just war theory” that has been described and debated from at least the time of Augustine. In various sermons and writings (specifically see City of God IX.7) Augustine encouraged Christians to evaluate the legitimacy of any particular engagement in war by three criteria (these have been debated, refined, and expanded through the centuries but these three are largely still recognized by conservative Christians):
1. Is there a legitimate authority behind the declaration of war? In our American constitution that authority is in the hands of the US Congress.
2. Is there a just cause for the war? Is it to avenge wrongs or to restore what has been illegitimately taken?
3. Is there a just intent? The motive must not be hatred or simple desire to dominate. Will the war promote the greater good? Will it promote peace? Will it reduce evil?
Based on these criteria Israel’s declaration of war on Hamas is just. The evil that was unleashed by the terrorists in the name of an organization whose purpose for existence is to annihilate all Jewish people deserves to be destroyed. The nation of Israel’s stated resolve to do this is just. Though all Christians long for peace and must never glorify war, we should support the right of Israel to wage war against Hamas.
4. Christians are people of truth who serve the God of truth. Our Savior, the Lord Jesus, is Truth incarnate (John 14:6)
Because this is so, be very careful not to be deceived by lies or to traffic in spreading untruths. Propaganda has always been a part of warfare. In a day of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and social media, the ability to create and spread propaganda exceeds anything that humanity has dealt with in prior wars. In your zeal to be relevant or even helpful do not forward images, articles, or information from sources that you cannot verify as trustworthy. And recognize that even trustworthy sources can get duped.
Along with this, limit your consumption of all media, especially social media. It can become addictive to the point of contributing to serious anxiety and stress. Make it a goal to spend as much time reading and meditating on God’s Word as you do consuming news from the media.
For many years I have discouraged my family and friends from trusting legacy media outlets. They sell news and all have agendas that influence what they report and how they report it. Remember basic scriptural principles like Proverbs 18:13 and 17,If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame….The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.
5. Other specific admonitions
1. Remember the gospel. What Hamas needs is Jesus Christ. That is exactly what Israel needs. It is what every Muslim, Jew, and Gentile needs. The only hope for the world is our crucified, risen Savior. You will have opportunities to speak of Christ as this war continues. Do not miss them. Pray for wisdom and boldness to make the gospel known.
2. Do not feel obligated to make public judgments about every public event. You do not have to have an opinion about everything. Remember David’s prayer and let it be your own, “O LORD, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me” (Psalm 131:1).
What Hamas needs is Jesus Christ. That is exactly what Israel needs. It is what every Muslim, Jew, and Gentile needs.
3. Do not feel compelled to speculate about foreign policy. Unless you are involved in governmental leadership, you have no duty to do so.
4. Think biblically about Israel. Faithful, Bible believing Christians disagree on what the Bible says about modern Israel. The questions that divide include, “Are any or all of the Old Testament promises given to Israel already fulfilled?” “What is the difference between Israel as a nation-state and Israel as a people?” “What does it mean to be a ‘Jew inwardly’?” “Are Christians the ‘true Israel’ today?” “What is the Bible promise about the future of Israel?” “Are those promises for the nation of Israel or ethnic Israel?”
As I said, good, faithful Christians disagree on how to answer those, and many other related, questions. What we must carefully avoid is letting the current headlines drive our eschatological understanding of the Bible’s teachings. The books, articles, podcasts, sermons, etc. that will come out over the next few months giving details about how these current events fulfill specific Bible verses about the end times will be obsolete in two years (“if the Lord tarries”). If you doubt this, check out the blockbuster books that came out after 9/11.
5. Prepare for possible future scenarios. Congressional leaders have spoken for years about “sleeper cells” of terrorists in the United States who are waiting for orders to carry out attacks against this nation. While we must not allow that to dampen our love for strangers or create any xenophobia in us, it is naïve to think such cells do not exist. With the influx of illegal immigrants into the USA the last three years, prudence demands at least a modicum of awareness and preparation.
What that looks like in practical terms will vary from household to household, but every Christian should prepare spiritually and emotionally by remembering the truths of God’s Word and thinking often of our ruling, reigning Savior. Meditate on Psalm 2 and remember what the wicked strategies on earth look like to our triune God in heaven.
The Christian who forsakes the gathering of his church for sports or special activities for his children because he thinks he is giving them some kind of advantage in life is at best immature and naïve.
6. Ground yourself in your church. For some that will mean simply continuing on the path of faithfulness that you have been walking. But for 90-minute-a-week-on-Sunday-morning Christians (or those who think themselves Christian but are unwilling to submit to Christ in a church), it will mean repenting of spiritual apathy that has crept into your life. “Find a healthy church and build your life around it.” I have given that counsel for years. Though at times it can be hard to find such a church, it is always a challenge to keep building your life around one. To do so you must be willing to know and be known. You must order your priorities and schedule to meet when the church gathers. The Christian who forsakes the gathering of his church for sports or special activities for his children because he thinks he is giving them some kind of advantage in life is at best immature and naïve. As we have seen with the disruptions caused by natural disasters, it is the church that gives strength and stability to endure through them. Your son’s baseball team will not serve you like the church can and will when moral evil erupts.
7. Finally, and most importantly, pray. Our God rules and reigns in this world and He has encouraged us, indeed He has commanded us to pray. Pray the Lord’s Prayer. Pray that He will cause justice and mercy to prevail in this war. Pray for Jewish and Palestinian brothers and sisters who are directly affected by it. Pray that in their suffering, Christ will be honored and the gospel will advance. Pray for Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Biden, and other political leaders. Remember Proverbs 21:1 as you do, that the Lord has their hearts in His hands.
What is happening in the Middle East is tragic. Let it be a call to humble ourselves before the Lord with fresh repentance and renewed faith seek the Lord and His glory with renewed zeal. May the cries of His people and the reminders of our frailties and dependence result in genuine spiritual renewal and steadfast resolve to live wholeheartedly for Him now and forever.
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