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Peace in Our Time?

The United States seems to be getting more and more angry.  [Note: this was written within hours of the latest mass shooting--in Las Vegas.] I would assume that, if South Africans can pick this up by watching world news on their TV sets, so can much of the rest of the world.  But South Africa constantly plays its own, tiring records of wrong to feed its own narrative of injustice, hate, and violence.  We are fed narratives of violence, no matter where we live, on a daily basis.

In America, this cultural anger is undoubtedly nursed and nurtured for quite a number of reasons, not just one.  The polarization of the country itself has to do with an aggressive ‘change’ agenda throughout the Obama presidency, followed up now with an ‘America Great Again’ change policy of the Trump presidency.  Both options for change—radically different—fed the culture with fears, anger, and hatred. Anger is surely also due to the financial crisis in 2008 that was met with socialist policies that did not restore the economy (when has socialism ever fixed economic crises instead of create them?).  The economic and educational challenges in American cities only get worse and are regularly misinterpreted as racial issues—so they become racial issues.  America has a race problem because it chose to see its social problems as racial, rather than the more serious, underlying problems that bring social divisions. One recent expression of anger, illustrating how inane this has all become, is the absurd display of rage at American football games when the national anthem is played.[1]

The daily news feeds anger in the populace.  News, whether the 90% of coverage from a hyper-liberal angle, or the 10% from a hyper-conservative angle, is primarily served as entertainment.  And what could be more entertaining than people cutting each other off, making outlandish statements, and offering ‘facts on the ground’ for the most outrageous challenges to human decency?

The international news is also a source of collective anger.  We watch the rapid Islamization of Europe and the United Kingdom, this religion of political dominance (‘Islam’ means ‘submission’—you can call that ‘peace’ if you wish!) finally getting its prize after its defeats by Charles Martel or twice at the gates of Vienna centuries ago, or in Spain, where it did establish a foothold for centuries before being defeated five hundred or so years ago. 

Europe, frankly, no longer has an answer to Islam or its uncontrolled immigration.[2]  Having opposed the Church for a century, Europeans now only believe one thing: that nothing is believable.  Having lost any sense of innocence in the first half of the 20th century, they have now lost not only their identity but also the wherewithal to form an identity (ask Tony Blair about his ‘multiculturalism’ agenda that has left British society reeling).  Europeans have also lost their sense of purpose, illustrated, no less, in their unwillingness to have children.  This is ripe soil for an invasion of people with a purpose and with an identity who believe in themselves sufficiently to out-breed native Europeans within two generations (native Europeans are not having enough children to replenish their numbers).  Yet the Islamic take-over of financial sectors (call them ‘investments’!), neighbourhoods, schools, the building of mosques with foreign money, the murders, and the raping of Europeans are all factors contributing to an ever increasing sense of social anger.  Of course, Europeans who do not believe in belief struggle to understand a religion with strong beliefs, especially of this sort, and their anemic, impotent version of Christianity (choose any state Church you like as an example) offers them no counter-paradigm.  Frankly, there is no longer a solution to this challenge, and the ‘What if’ that Charles Martel might have asked himself about the possible invasion of Islam into Europe in the 8th century had he not stopped it can finally be answered this century.  Wait a bit and you will see.

Anger.  It is seething in Europe and America, boiling over.  Anger about immigration, anger about a madman in North Korea, anger about American foreign policies that never seem to get anything right for three generations, anger about the killings in the Middle East, anger about the quiet take-over by China and the ever-advancing face of Islam in Africa.  Half the United States is frothing at the mouth in anger at the president, and the president appears to be a man who has vowed to get into a bar brawl on a daily basis.  Even our entertainment and entertainers are serving up anger during any hours of rest we might find.

Christians, too, are angry—or are struggling with anger.  More Christians in our day are being martyred for their faith than ever in the history of Christianity.[3]  They are being persecuted in the West, whether in the United States,[4] the United Kingdom,[5] or Australia.[6]  Of course, Christians have known since Jesus’ last days in Jerusalem before he himself was put to death by both the Jewish and Roman authorities that they would face persecution.  Jesus warned his disciples of this—their entry into the time of tribulation in the last days that began with his own crucifixion (Matthew 24).  And Paul stated flatly that ‘all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived’ (2 Timothy 3.12-13).

Christians are also angry at the take-over of once strong, soundly orthodox, missionally engaged denominations in the West.  Every mainline, Protestant denomination in first-world nations has capitulated or is in the process of capitulating to the post-Christian, even anti-Christian, culture of the West.  Every one of them is declining and has been since, typically, the 1960s.  The ongoing ruination of the Church by its ‘leaders’ is only stemmed by the new, orthodox Christian denominations that are picking up the pieces of orthodoxy and soldiering on in the fight of faith.

So, what are we to do with this anger?  In his letter to his co-worker, Titus, Paul contrasts a life before and a life after coming to Christ:

Titus 3:1-11 Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work,  2 to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.  3 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.  4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared,  5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,  6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,  7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.  8 The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.  9 But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.  10 As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him,  11 knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.

In this treasure of a text, we see Paul’s pastoral advice on the somewhat similar issues of his day.  He addresses a Church under variable levels of persecution; he himself would soon be put to death in Rome.  He also addresses living in a culture of hate: ‘hated by others and hating one another’ (v. 3).  He addresses irrelevant divisions in the Church: ‘foolish controversies’ (v. 9).  He addresses more serious divisions in the Church: ‘have nothing more to do with’ the person who ‘stirs up division, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned’ (vv. 10-11). 

Note that Paul does not call for dialogue and unity over heretical teaching, as, e.g., the Archbishop of Canterbury regularly does these days as he undermines both Scripture and the historic Church on issues of homosexuality and transgenderism.  Paul’s solution to false teaching, to the contrary, is not to baptize it into the Christian Church; quite the opposite.  While imagining himself to be the architect of unity for the Church, the Archbishop is actually, in Paul’s words, the one who ‘stirs up division’ by entertaining false teaching in the Church.[7]  Paul, in saying these things, is laying out a pathway to peace for a persecuted Church in an angry world and in the face of false teaching and division.  He is giving practical advice: warn such a person twice, then have nothing to do with him.  This advice is not feeding anger in the Church; it is avoiding an ongoing, festering, gangrene of false teaching that will only spread throughout the rest of the body if not amputated.

Paul also speaks to the deeper issues in a culture of anger and hate: ‘we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another’ (v. 3).  How does he envision moving beyond this situation?  First, he reminds this Church on Crete that they have experienced an immersion in the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour (v. 4).  The culture of anger has been penetrated with God’s love, and we are the beachhead for God’s loving kindness and goodness in the world.

Second, Paul reminds the Church that they have experienced God’s grace not because they were better than others or achieved God’s blessings through their works.  Rather, they are the recipients of God’s grace.  Thus, we have no claim of superiority over the culture except in what God has accomplished among us.  The culture of anger and hate that met one of the first missionaries to Fiji was appalling: he began ‘his missionary career by gathering the heads, hands, and feet of eighty victims who had been cooked and eaten.’[8]  The offer of peace to an angry world comes with a confession that we ourselves were once ‘children of wrath’ (cf. Ephesians 2.3)[9] and proceeds with the restoration of compassion and kindness in the face of injustices. Paul says, ‘Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them’ (Romans 12.14).

Third, Paul reminds the Church of the inward working of God, that heart-transforming work of the Holy Spirit which prophets from centuries earlier promised and that was now fulfilled through the outpouring of the Spirit in the days of the Church.  If the prophets (Isaiah 59.20-21; Jeremiah 31.31-34; Ezekiel 36.24-27) had in mind a transformation of the heart that would remove sin and restore righteousness, Paul extends this to a transformation of the heart that removes the poison of hate in society.

Fourth, Paul reminds this Church of the work of Jesus Christ, the central teaching of our faith.  God poured out the Spirit on us richly through Jesus Christ (note the work of the three Persons of the Trinity) (v. 6).  Through Jesus we received divine grace, whereby we were made righteous and were made heirs of eternal life.[10]  We do not offer the world an example of peace without offering them the Gospel: such peace comes only through Jesus Christ our Saviour.  As Paul says in Ephesians, Christ is our peace (Eph. 2.14).  As Peter said, ‘… there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved’ (Acts 4.12).  As John reports Jesus saying, ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid’ (John 14.27).

Fifth, Paul gives us the very decent word of advice that we need to replace our ‘passing our days in malice and envy’ (v. 3) with devoting ourselves to good works (v. 8).  We have already noted his sixth and seventh pieces of advice: avoid foolish controversies and have nothing to do with a divisive person after warning him twice.

We might add, from Ephesians 2, an eighth point: behind the disobedience, sinful passions of the flesh, and the culture of wrath, stands a spiritual battle for the hearts of humankind (vv. 1-2).  The ‘prince of the power of the air’ is at work in the children of disobedience.  As Christians, we recognise that ‘we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places’ (Ephesians 6.12).  Yet, thanks be to God, Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead and seated at God the Father’s right hand in the heavenly places, ‘far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come’ (Ephesians 1.20-21).  It is, indeed, because Christ reigns now that we can say, ‘He is our peace’ (Ephesians 2.14).

We live in an angry world.  Some—much—of it is justifiable, for the world is full of disobedience, persecution, war, and every variety of sin.  Yet, as believers, we are the bearers of peace—not simply ‘peace’ but God’s peace in Jesus Christ, a peace poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.  An empty West that has lost its desire to believe anything and its own identity and purpose is faced with two options: a peace of Islam through its totalizing politics and enforced submission to its laws and way of life, or a peace through Jesus Christ as God’s outpouring on a hateful world of His own goodness, loving kindness, grace, mercy, and love.

Apart from divine intervention, we know where things are headed.  Yet we also know our, the Church’s, role in the face of the impending doom: to pick up our crosses daily and follow Jesus, being his people in a hateful world.  We should not expect justice, but we can still be the physical representation of divine grace in our day.  Not the kumbaya unity and peace of the Church of England that no longer knows God’s standards, but the kind that witnesses to God’s peace in Jesus.  Jesus was not a divine hippie with flowers on his blue jeans and singing peace songs with his guitar; he went to the cross to suffer and die for the sins of the world and so bring God’s reconciliation and redemption to a hateful world.




[1] Sadly, the reaction to kneeling during football matches only galvinises patriotic groups, thus dividing the country even more and, more ominously, developing a nationalism in the country on the brink of another, possibly horrific war.  None of this is good.
[2] On this, I would say that Douglas Murray nails the problem but also leaves us without hope of a solution in his The Strange Death of Europe—Immigration, Identity, and Islam.
[3] See the reports on www.globalchristiannews.org.
[4] See Undeniable: The Survey of Hostility to Religion in America; online at https://firstliberty.org/undeniable/.
[5] See the ongoing cases in the United Kingdom addressed by Christian Concern at http://www.christianconcern.com/.
[6] See the catalogue of challenges Christians face in Australia: Margaret Colwell, ‘Documenting the tide of bigotry and hatred,’ Mercatornet (22 Sept., 2017); online: https://www.mercatornet.com/conjugality/view/documenting-the-tide-of-bigotry-and-hatred/20446?utm_source=MercatorNet&utm_campaign=0b7cb18fc9-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_09_22&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_e581d204e2-0b7cb18fc9-124674403 (accessed 23 Sept. 2017).
[7] In another of the Pastoral Epistles, Paul says that overseers in the Church ‘must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach (Titlus 1.9-11).
[8] Stephen Neill, A History of Christian Missions, 2nd ed. (New York: Penguin Books, 1990), p. 251.
[9] While most commentators and some translations (e.g., the NIV), take this phrase to mean that we were objects of wrath before a righteous God because of our sins, I think that Paul might well have had his theology of Titus 3.3 in mind here as well.  Certainly, both doctrines are true—and taught even in Ephesians 2 itself!
[10] While translations regularly translate dikaien juridically, I think the moral focus of this passage requires a greater emphasis on the moral sense of this word: not ‘to justify’ but ‘to make righteous.’