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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Who is My Neighbour?


Since we are to love our neighbours as ourselves, let’s be sure we know who they are.



ὁ δὲ θέλων δικαιοῦν ἑαυτὸν εἶπεν πρὸς τὸν Ἰησοῦν Καὶ τίς ἐστίν μου πλησίον.
Luke 10:29


The word “neighbour” comes from an Old English word meaning “near farmer”; referring to the “occupant of an adjacent farm”. As we all know, it now refers to anyone who lives nearby, or within the same neighbourhood. It can also have a narrower or wider application, depending on context. It could either refer to someone sitting beside another, or someone living in an adjacent county or state. In either case, however, the focus of the English word “neighbour” is on geographical proximity, more than it is on familial or nationalistic proximity.


Just what is He selling?

This is a problem for us modern English-speaking Christians because none of the original Bible languages are English and none of the cultures that those languages express were Anglo-Saxon in origin. The two main languages of the Bible are Hebrew and Hebraized Greek; the primary culture is ancient Judaic. When God spoke to ancient Israelites about “neighbours”, He spoke in their language and in terms they understood. It is unwise for us to assume these terms are entirely transferable to our language.

So, if we want to make sure we know what God meant when He commanded us to love our neighbours as ourselves, it would be a good idea to first see what He actually said, then find out what ideas these words actually expressed to those hearing them. To do this, we have to examine the actual words written down by His ancient, inspired, non-English-speaking amanuenses.

It might surprise you to learn that the Evangelist Luke gives us three different Greek words that have been translated “neighbour” in the Bible. Each of these words does mean neighbour, but each captures a different and distinct aspect of the wider concept of the word. With regards to language study, it is significant that it is Luke who gives us these three words, since, of all the Gospel writers, his is the more adept Greek:
And her neighbours and her cousins heard how the Lord had shewed great mercy upon her; and they rejoiced with her. (Luke 1:58)
Here the word for neighbour is περίοικος [perioikos]. This is a compound of the preposition περί [peri], meaning “around” (as in the English cognate “perimeter”) and οἶκος [oikos], meaning “house”. This is the NT Greek word that is closest to the literal meaning of the English word “neighbour”; someone living in relatively close proximity to one’s own home.
Then said he also to him that bade him, When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor [thy] rich neighbours; lest they also bid thee again , and a recompence be made thee.
(Luke 14:12. See also Luke 15:6 & 9; John 9:8)
The word translated neighbour here is γείτων [geiton], meaning “those of the same country (or land)”; The root of geiton is γῆ [ge], meaning “country, land or ground (earth)”. This word is closer in meaning to the English word “countryman” and, to the ones to whom the Lord is speaking, this would be any other Judean.
But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?
(Luke 10:29)
The word here is πλησίον [plesion], “one nearby”. Plesion is the neuter form of a derivative of πέλας [pelas], meaning “near or hard by”. It is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word רע [rea], that appears in Leviticus 19:18:
Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I [am] the LORD.
The word rea is one of five different Hebrew words translated neighbour. It comes from רעה [ra’ah], a primitive root meaning “to pasture, tend, graze or feed”; the noun form meaning “a shepherd or herdsman”. So the sense of this Hebrew word for “neighbour” (rea) is really of a “fellow shepherd”.


Also, the first clause in Lev 19:18 shows us that there is a familial relationship to the word. This verse is a typical example of OT duplication, whereby the same thing is expressed in two different ways. Therefore “children of thy people” is equivalent to “neighbour”. So, the Hebrew word for neighbour, as far as the neighbour we are to love as ourselves is concerned, expresses familial, or kinship, proximity, rather than geographical proximity, as the English word neighbour implies.

As for the Greek word plesion, this too must imply the same familial nearness, because it is the word Jesus used to cite and explain, through the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the OT commandment to love thy neighbour (Luke 10:27-37).1

1st Century Jewish culture was a product of 2,000 years of kinship-based exclusivity. Only Jews, sons of the same forefathers, could be related, and only relatives were to be loved. Because of this, the Pharisees taught that only proselytes, converts to Judaism, could be considered neighbours worthy of love. The parable of the Good Samaritan was revelatory to Jesus’ audience because the idea of a non-Jew being a neighbour was theretofore unthinkable. The Samaritans were geographically close, but the Jewish cultural concept of “neighbour” had nothing to do with spatial relationships. If it did, Jesus wouldn’t have needed to supply a parable, He would’ve just replied, “The Samaritans are your neighbour” (or the Egyptians, or Romans living in Jerusalem, etc).

This is a fundamental concept to grasp, if we Christians are to fully understand the commandment to love the neighbour. The Samaritan of the parable was a neighbour because he treated the injured man like a close relative (who must have been a Jew, because if he wasn’t, Jesus would’ve had to mention it. He was illustrating a principle for Jews that only applied to Jews; every one of His hearers would’ve assumed the man was one of them.); closer even than the priest or Pharisee that walked by. In other words, he treated the injured “sheep” like a “fellow shepherd of the same extended family” would have. His actions showed that his internal character was familial, even though his external character was not. All good things come from God (James 1:17), so only someone with God inside them can do good works:
For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves.
(Romans 2:14)
So that is the neighbour whom we Christians have to love like ourselves: the ones who are in the same spiritual family, evidenced by their treatment of Christians. It is not anyone and everyone who just happens to live, stand or sit beside us.









Footnotes:


1. Cf Acts 7:27 & Exodus 2:13. In Stephen's account he uses the Greek plesion (KJV: neighbour), as does the LXX, where the OT Hebrew is rea (KJV: fellow), further proof that these words are equivalent. Note that the "neighbours" are both Hebrews and that the Egyptian is not considered a neighbour.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Dumb Idols


What do Colton Dixon, Tim Tebow and Santa Claus have in common?

They’re loved by Pagans in all 50 States!


Οἴδατε ὅτι ἔθνη ἦτε πρὸς τὰ εἴδωλα τὰ ἄφωνα ὡς ἂν ἤγεσθε ἀπαγόμενοι.
1 Corinthians 12:2


The word “idolatry” is a transliteration of the Greek word εἰδωλολατρία [eidololatria]. This is a compound of εἴδωλον [eidolon] and λατρεία [latreia]. Eidolon comes from the noun εἶδος [eidos], meaning “what is seen”; latreia means “service and worship”. Therefore, eidololatria means “the service and worship of what is seen”. Idolatry is a sin because God is a spirit and can’t be seen (John 4:24), so if you’re worshipping what you can see, you’re not worshipping God (cf John 20:29).

Additionally, the Apostle Paul tells us in Colossians 3:5 that idolatry is synonymous with covetousness (πλεονεξία [pleonexia], “greedy desire for more”). So where there’s idolatry, there’s covetousness.

Of course, no Christian worth his salt would ever put his approval on idolatry. Even the wealthiest, most apostate mega-church guru has enough propriety left to denounce the worship of idols; which makes it even stranger that so many Christians think being an idol is something to cheer about.

American Idol hopeful Colton Dixon is supposed to be a Christian. The 20-year-old’s parents are said to be missionaries in the Philippines and he says he gives all the glory to God. Of course, he also said, “I want America to see me as someone to look up to.”

So, clearly, he’s been spending more time singing in front of a mirror than he has studying the Doctrine of Christ.

Colton and his parents might want to read Luke 6:26, Christ’s curse on popularity.
Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! For so did their fathers to the false prophets.
Then, to further their horror, they can take a look at Matthew 5:11-12.
Blessed are ye, when [men] shall revile you, and persecute [you], and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
Tim Tibow, the NFL quarterback, late of the Denver Broncos, and Christian media darling, would do well to paint those verse numbers under his eyes. They just might give him and his fan(atic)s some needed perspective.

The Mile High Messiah’s Christianized antics on the field have so bewitched football-loving believers that they’ve actually rechristened (see what I did there?) the act of genuflecting to pray as “tebowing”.

Just as Jesus Commanded (Matt 6:6)

Tebow himself has rechristened “making money from wearing underwear on TV” as “not portraying or advocating sexuality”. Oh, and “classy”:
“People may say it's underwear, but everyone wears underwear. It's not like I'm doing something risqué,” he said to ESPN. “I wouldn't do anything that goes against what I stand for. The whole campaign is very classy.”
Underwear ad. Classy. I'm not sure Tim knows what that word means. Just like “mammon” (see Matt 6:24).

Why would any Christian want to be famous? Being looked at and up to by those who hate Jesus will not make you a good disciple, but it will expose your love for the praise of men over the praise of God (John 12:43).

Look it’s this simple, no matter how much evangelizing you tell yourself you’ll do once you’re famous, it won’t make up for all the compromising you’ll have to do to get there. You can’t want to be an idol without having an unhealthy regard for idols yourself. No one who hates hunting will ever want to be a champion hunter, right?



Or, as the Apostle John put it, "Kids, keep yourselves from idols" (1 John 5:21).


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Pearls Meet Swine


Pity poor Kirk Cameron, set-up and sucked-in by Piers Morgan on CNN.



ψυχικὸς δὲ ἄνθρωπος οὐ δέχεται τὰ τοῦ πνεύματος τοῦ θεοῦ· μωρία γὰρ αὐτῷ ἐστιν καὶ οὐ δύναται γνῶναι ὅτι πνευματικῶς ἀνακρίνεται.
1 Corinthians 2:14


Despite being warned about popularity by Jesus (Luke 6:26), the ex child-star is still doing his best to be a famous Christian personality, so, last Friday, he appeared on Piers Morgan Tonight to promote his new Christian documentary, Monumental; a sickening piece of American Christian idolatry about “this great nation of ours”, judging from the trailer.

Listening to Cameron talking about looking to the Founding Fathers to help secure a “great future” for his kids reminds me that the pejorative “hypocrite” is a transliteration of the Greek word for “actor”, ὑποκριτής [hypokrites]; a term used 20 times by Jesus in the NT to describe a false interpreter of Scripture.

As to the Morgan interview, as anyone with an ounce of nous could've predicted, Piers, doing what every secular progressive does when they’ve got an avowed Christian on their show, got Cameron to say something that confirmed for CNN-land that all believers are hateful, small-minded Neanderthals. Morgan dropped the unwitting Christian documentarian right onto the third-rail of modern public evangelism, homosexuality. He asked Cameron what he thought of gay marriage and what he would say if his son told him he was gay.

Here’s the video:



The more I learn about Cameron’s latest movie, the longer the list of mistakes he makes here gets, but for now, I only want to look at one in particular.

The Bible verse that came to my mind upon hearing this exchange on the radio (see the first line of this post) was Matthew 7:6.
Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.
Every Christian that thinks he should be debating with or preaching to unbelievers should study that verse very carefully. Then they should think seriously about who on Earth the Lord is referring to as “dogs” and “swine” (hint: starts with un and ends in believers).

Now, I know it’s hard for Christians to stop casting pearls before swine, because they’ve been force-fed the lie of the Great Commission. They are convinced that it is their mission in life to come up with soul-winning arguments from the Word; but that is simply not true. The only thing they need to tell unbelievers is The Gospel:
1Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you...2By which also ye are saved...3How that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; 4And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures. (1 Cor 15:1-4)
That’s it; that’s all. If God doesn’t open their understanding to the Gospel, everything else is a waste of time—move on to someone else. The reason for this is that, as the Apostle Paul tells us, unbelievers can’t understand the Word of God because it is spiritually discerned (see 1 Corinthians 2:14).

The video below is proof of that. It’s of Piers Morgan completely misrepresenting everything Cameron said about homosexuality to another guest:


What they perceive not, they defame. (Jude 1:10)

So, Kirk, next time listen to Jesus, not your instincts, and politely tell the swine that he can't have your pearls.



Thursday, March 8, 2012

An Important Distinction


If God isn’t chastising you for your sins, then He doesn’t love you and you’re not one of His Elect.



εἰ δὲ χωρίς ἐστε παιδείας ἡς μέτοχοι γεγόνασιν πάντες ἄρα νόθοι ἐστε καὶ οὐχ υἱοί.
Hebrews 12:8


Because I’m often in the car these days, I find myself listening to a lot of Christian radio; much more than I ever did back in NZ. And although Sandy maintains that I only listen in order to find fault with the presenters, preachers and personalities, I actually listen in order to compare and hone my theology against the various streams of mainline theology aired there. It’s not my fault if I end up always finding fault with the presenters, preachers and personalities.

It’s not surprising either, given that mainline Christian theology is so unscriptural, culture-bound and self-contradicting. Just like mainline Christian thinking with regards to the military that we explored in the last post, the handling of any subject on Christian radio is hamstrung by the unsoundness of the presenter’s basic Christian doctrine. In most cases, the Big Three Fallacies will be their undoing. These are:
1. God Loves Everyone
2. Believers Choose to Believe
3. The Great Commission
There are other fallacies (e.g. God Wants Us Healthy & Wealthy) but one or more of those three stumbling-blocks to doctrinal soundness will easily trip up 95% of the people on Christian radio 95% of the time.

A humorous example of this occurred just the other day. I was listening to a preacher railing against the things that make Christians turn away from God. One of these things, he said, was when God scourges us. His proof texts were Proverbs 3:12:
For whom the LORD loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son [in whom] he delighteth.
...and Hebrews 12:6:
For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.
At one point in his sermon, he started asking the congregation questions to facilitate their acceptance of the idea that God does indeed scourge His children (Greek word μαστιγόω [mastagoö], meaning to whip with a scourge):

“Does he love you? Yes, you’re His children. He will scourge you!”

Then he unwittingly painted himself in a corner:

“Does he love unbelievers?”

Pause, two, three...I thought he was actually going to say, “Obviously not, because He doesn’t scourge them”; the natural implication from the distinction those two verses make.

“Of course, because He loves everyone.”

...and then he continued on with his sermon hurriedly, hoping to distance himself from the glaring contradiction between his fallacious belief that God loves everyone and the obvious conclusion from his sermon that He doesn’t.





Friday, March 2, 2012

A Good Soldier of Jesus Christ


Christians should not be helping Christians kill other Christians.



σὺ οὖν κακοπάθησον, ὡς καλὸς στρατιώτης Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ.
2 Timothy 2:3


This post was going to be an examination of the biblical commandments ordering God’s People not to entangle their social lives with the social lives of unbelievers, the enemies of Christ. However, while amassing my evidence, a particular form of this widespread and unscriptural fraternization started to agitate me more than all the others, so I decided instead to focus on that; and by “that” I mean Christian involvement in the military.

I mentioned this in passing back in November, in the post The Separation of Church and State, Veteran’s Day Edition, but always intended to say more about it at a later date. I knew that American Christians had it bad, but the more time I spend in the U.S., the direr the situation seems. Simply put, a large number of American Christians are delusional with regards to military service and cannot see that their participation in, and support of, the U.S. Military is idolatrous and antichrist (of course this applies to every Christian in every nation—even Israel—but as I’m in America, and Christian military participation here is endemic, I’ll confine my remarks to them).

In order to make my point, I’m going to examine two of the better arguments I could find in favor of Christian participation in the military. One of these is mainly theological, the other is more socio-political.

First up is Pastor John MacArthur of Grace to You. MacArthur is a highly regarded Christian apologist, scholar and theologian. Few of today’s popular preachers are credited with such perceptive, exegetical insight as MacArthur. If anyone’s opinion on this matter could be said to be representative of the American protestant church at large, it would be his.

I first got a sense of MacArthur’s opinion on Christians and the military when I viewed the following Youtube video clip from the Larry King Live show. Now, while I admit that these off-the-cuff statements of MacArthur’s are probably not the most credible argument he could mount, he still made them, publically, and to my knowledge has yet to retract them. There's certainly been no indication that his interpretations of the few verses he uses to justify his position in the clip below have changed. Therefore, I have no qualms in presenting them as indicative of his “first principles” with regards to this debate.

In the clip, the guests were asked for the “Christian Position” on the (at that time) upcoming war with Iraq. MacArthur answers first:

So, John MacArthur is convinced, and teaches, that Christ endorsed the use of violence for personal and national defense. As long as a U.S. Military campaign is believed by the Christian to be defensive in nature, he is free to participate in killing anyone the Pentagon calls “the enemy”.

Amazingly, MacArthur forgets all about the Lord commanding us to “love” our enemies (see Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27 & 35), and to not resist evil, but to turn the other cheek instead (see Matthew 5:39). He also ignores the Apostle Paul’s instruction to not be conquered by evil, but rather conquer evil with good (Romans 12:21).

The only verse used by MacArthur in that video—in fact, the only verse in the entire New Testament—that could even remotely be considered an endorsement of a Christian taking up a weapon of any kind is the highly controversial Luke 22:36.
Then said he unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take [it], and likewise [his] scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one.
The shocking incongruity of this instruction within the rest of the wholly pacifist doctrine of Christ fuels the controversy surrounding this verse. The text says what it says and it simply cannot be ignored.

Firstly, I freely admit that the classic pacifist interpretations of this verse are unsatisfactory at best. These are that:
1) Jesus was talking about a knife to be used for killing and butchering animals in the field—a provisioning in keeping with the purse and knapsack of the same verse.

2) the sword is not real, but figurative (i.e. the Sword of the Spirit of Eph 6:17)

3) the sword is real, but the command was given to fulfill a certain prophecy (this would be Isa 53:12, according to the Wycliff Bible Commentary, Moody Bible Institute, 1962)
Jesus wasn’t talking about a knife. The disciples, while they may have misunderstood His point, did not misunderstand the word Jesus used: μάχαιρα [machaira], a small sword. Yes, machaira can mean a “large knife”, but in every other place it’s used in the NT (29 times in all), it clearly means the common Greek weapon; including in the Lord’s admonishment to Peter after he uses it to cut off Malchus’ ear (John 18:10-11).

That's not a knife...


As well, it is disingenuous to suggest that the sword is figurative. After all, no one thinks the “purse” and “scrip” of the same verse are figurative, so why would the “sword” be? The purpose for the sword might be figurative, but a real sword is clearly meant.1

As to the idea that the disciples arming themselves was for the sake of fulfilling the prophecy that the Messiah would be “numbered with the transgressors”, this is so absurd I don’t even want to debunk it. Suffice it to say that Jesus was numbered with the transgressors when he was sentenced to a criminal’s execution.

To me, it is the shocking nature of this instruction which negates the meaning the non-pacifist side wishes to give to the Lord’s words. The idea that, from Gethsemane on, every disciple of the Prince of Peace is to arm himself is in such direct opposition to everything else Jesus taught, that it simply can’t be what He meant. After all, the minute Peter used the sword for defensive purposes, Jesus stopped him, rebuked him, healed the injured “aggressor”, then gave us one of the most pacifist statements in the Bible (Matthew 25:52):
Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.
In any case, how does Luke 22:36 translate into permission for Christians to join today’s U.S. Military? Perhaps, as the verse suggests, the disciples then were to acquire swords, but to extrapolate from this that Jesus was endorsing the carpet-bombing of entire foreign cities into rubble in order to defend Christian families back home is a stretch of ludicrous proportions.

From this one incongruent interpretation of Luke 22:36, it is difficult enough to make the case that all Christians are to defend themselves against physical attack, but to make the case from it that all Christians are now permitted to join secular armies and participate in the mass killing of potential invaders is simply impossible. We are to submit to the Sovereignty of God in all things, especially with regards to becoming targets of the ungodly. If He allows us to be mugged, invaded or massacred, so be it!
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to [his] purpose. (Romans 8:28)
MacArthur's Christian Cowards?

This pro-defense position of MacArthur’s is more fully explained in one of his audio broadcasts from 1985 entitled Answering Tough Questions About the Christian and Government (click on the link to listen to and/or read the transcript). Here MacArthur was answering the questions, “How is war to be justified? Is it right or isn't it right for a Christian to be a part of the military service and, in the process of being involved in the military service, take a life?”

It’s true that this recording is nearly 30 years old now, but, as you’ll see if you click on the link, it’s still posted on the Grace To You website. Clearly, if he’d changed his position to such an extent that he would now disavow any of these statements, he would’ve had his people either post some kind of qualifier, or take the whole thing off the site.
Nations rise, nations fall; war is a part of that. I believe as a Christian the only time that you can enter in to such activity, whether it's as a soldier in an army, or as a policeman, is in defense of someone who is being attacked by an evil aggressor.
Yes, John, but there’s the rub: Who gets to determine who is evil? Is every aggressor evil? If so, what does that say about pre-emptive strikes? Does Christ allow you to kill that gang-banger on the corner because you are convinced he will one day be an evil aggressor?

Besides, once you are in the Army, you no longer get to choose what missions you participate in. You can't opt out whenever you think the Generals have made the wrong decision.

Here's another question for you, John, one that no Christian ever poses when he’s justifying Christians serving in the U.S. Military: What about those Christians living in the “enemy” nation? One of the fundamental commandments to Christians is to “love” one another (see John 13:34-5, 15:12 & 17; Rom 12:10, 13:8; Gal 5:13; Eph 4:2; 1 Thess 4:9, 3:12; Heb 10:24; 1 Peter 1:22, 3:8; 1 John 3:11 & 23, 4:7 & 11 & 12, 2 John 1:5). How are we loving them by calling them our “enemy” and killing them? How does a Baptist strafing the “enemy” with a 50-calibre machine-gun from his Cobra Helicopter avoid hitting his Brothers in Christ?

Right.

The second representative argument in favor of Christian involvment in the military I want to look at comes from an article entitled Can Christians Serve in the Armed Forces? by Martin L. Cook, the U.S. Naval War College's Professor of Leadership & Ethics at the College of Operational & Strategic Leadership. I found the article at Religion Online. The article first appeared in the July 4-11, 2001 edition of The Christian Century.

Cook's article is a marvelous example of academic erudition. From Luther to Pericles, via the Swan of Avon, it cuts an impressive historical and literary swath. His argument is rational and dignified, as befits a Christian ethicist of Cook's calibre; which makes it all the more surprising when you realize that early on he admits that there's no biblical basis for it!

First, he gives us a bare-bones definition of the “function of the military” (one John MacArthur should take note of):
Let’s start with the core function of the military—its essential reason for being. All activities in the military ultimately serve to sustain the “pointy end of the spear.” In its most formal and sterile formulation, their purpose is “national defense.” A more direct expression is “fighting and winning America’s wars.” When military people talk among themselves, they state the unvarnished truth: it is “killing people and breaking things.”
Cook then hands his rhetorical sword to the Christians on the other side of the debate:
The prima facie case against Christians’ performing this function is unquestionable. The message of the New Testament, the early church and the example of Jesus himself all point to nonresistance to evil as the model of Christian life.
Wait...what?

This is a staggering admission! What could he possibly say now to convince Christians that they should question the “unquestionable” and join the military?

Well, continuing in the same paragraph, he simply places a pagan, antichristian obligation onto the shoulders of the slaves of Jesus:
Yet those texts and examples fail to address a perennial problem: How do we protect innocent people and maintain order in a world where wrongdoing is a permanent feature of life?
The short answer, Professor, is that we don't! If Christ, the Apostles and the leaders of the early church didn't do it or tell us to, then I would say we shouldn't be doing it.

But we can see what is actually going on with Professor Cook and Pastor MacArthur: they are convinced that the United States of America is God’s Chosen Christian Nation for the Spreading of Global Goodness. So ethno-centric is their world-view, so steeped in patriotism and American exceptionalism are they, that they cannot see the U.S. for the pagan, antichrist, modern-day Roman Empire that it is. And once you’ve swallowed that lie, it’s a short hop to equating Christian service with U.S. Military service.

1 John 2:15 anyone? Maybe James 4:4?

Here, for example, MacArthur makes distinctions based on relative cultural values, but imagines he’s making them using objective, biblical ones:
So I believe the issue in war can be very simply understood. If a war is a war of defense against an evil and aggressive intruder who comes to murder an innocent people, then I believe self-defense is a just act. If, for example, I'm in the United States and I was drafted into the services of the United States in the time of war because we were attacked by Russia and the Russians came to try to take away our nation and destroy our lives and massacre millions of us...or if Russia decided to invade our Canadian friends to the north and I was called to go there and defend them against that evil aggressor, I believe that that would be a just act of defense.

If, however, I was a Russian citizen and the Russians recruited me for their army and said, "Go to Afghanistan and massacre as many people as possible so we can take their land and turn it into a communist land," I couldn't do that.
Clearly, John MacArthur is convinced that the U.S. nation is godly and good while (pre-perestroika) Russia is godless and evil. Where did he get such an unscriptural notion? In what book of the Bible does God institute the United States of America and confer His blessing upon it? Does MacArthur really believe that the Declaration of Independance is Holy Writ? That the Constitution is the 67th Book of the Bible?

From Genesis to Jefferson

As for Cook, here he is, after already surrendering any biblical justification for his argument, dressing the same cultural bias as MacArthur in political language [my emphasis added]:
In the current international context, the U.S. serves as what former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright called the “indispensable nation”. In peacekeeping and diplomacy, U.S. participation is expected and sought by almost all other states...

The ability to threaten and to use coercive force is a morally necessary instrument of worldly power. We who benefit from the voluntary service of our fellow Christians (and others) who take on the moral, physical and spiritual burden of that service honor them poorly when we simply wish those sad necessities away...

In the contemporary geopolitical circumstance, service in the American military is, on balance, a force for relative good. That good is grounded in a balance of power and coercion, a balance that Reinhold Niebuhr argued is the closest approximation to justice and peace achievable in this world. To the fundamental question then—is military service to defend and advance American national interest and security a valid Christian vocational choice?—my answer is yes.
So, the real master being served by Christians in the Military is not Christ, but a manmade geo-political entity; those being defended are not His brethren, but rather anyone squatting within this entity's self-defined borders.

Cook continues:
Unless we are really willing to give up the “empire”—the place America has secured for itself in the economic and political sphere of the world—we must also accept the burdens, practical and moral, of maintaining that place. It is simply bad faith to derive the benefit and then condemn a major source of that benefit.

Furthermore, unless we really believe the world as a whole would be better off without the U.S. to play the “indispensable nation” role, we must think clearly about the fact that our power serves not merely national but global welfare and stability.
Remember, Cook's essay was first published in Christian Century magazine, a magazine that Wikipedia describes as the “flagship magazine of U.S. mainline Protestantism”. Let's hope the flagship magazine of U.S. mainline Protestantism has sailed back into more Spirit-filled waters.

What's wrong with this picture?

Of course, if John MacArthur is anything to go by, Mainline Protestantism is still paddling in circles near the reefs of American-style replacement theology. In his 2011 sermon, Why Christians Submit to the Government, he finishes with a note of hope for his troubled nation:
[Psalm 81:16] is a plaintive cry from God who says, “O that My people would listen to Me, that Israel would walk in My ways. I would turn from abandoning them, from giving them over to their own sinful choices to defending them and protecting them and punishing their enemies and I would feed them with the finest of the wheat and with honey from the rock I would satisfy them.”

The key, listen to Me. Walk in My ways. The only hope for this or any other society is to hear the Word of the Lord and obey it...to hear the Word of the Lord and obey it. And I would suggest that this is not a good time for weak men preaching weak messages in weak churches. This is a time for bold and powerful, strong biblical ministry that calls people to hear the Word of the Lord and respond. This is the only hope for any people for any individual.
Sorry, John, but God’s People is God's Israel, which is the Universal Church, the Bride of Christ, it is not the earthly nation state you happened to have been born into. Right message; wrong target.

Yes, the only hope for Christians is to hear the Word of the Lord. And before they join the U.S. Military, they might want to hear these:
16 And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, “I will dwell in them, and walk in [them]; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 17Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate,” saith the Lord, “And touch not the unclean [thing]; and I will receive you, 18and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters,” saith the Lord Almighty. (2 Corinthians 6:16-18)

Amen







Footnotes:


1. I was wrong when I wrote this paragraph. After examining the issue further, it is clear to me now that the sword is indeed figurative. See the post The Sword of the Lord for details.