On warfare

By , 22 January 2010 7:20 pm

As often before, this blog really revolves around two things coming together. The first was the widely reported revelation that some US military gunsights have biblical verses coded onto them. This has provoked an utter storm of outrage and I suspect most Christians have run for cover on the matter. Personally, although I find the slightly underhand way of putting the verses on the rifles somewhat dubious I have fewer problems about them being there in the first place. Even in Britain we still have a simple prayer for blessing said over naval vessels (even nuclear armed submarines) at their launching ceremony. Now I do not wish to defend the sort of holy right-wing politics that somehow confuses the Kingdom of Heaven with an earthly state, a view much less common in the UK than in USA. Nevertheless, we really need to ask, if our warfare is legitimate, what is so wrong about invoking God’s blessing upon it? And, if our warfare is illegitimate, then surely we have more pressing problems than verses on gun sights.

This crystallised my thinking on another matter where I need to speak in veiled terms. Some years ago I was involved in chairing a venerable if battered organisation with a long and honourable track record. I expended long hours on this and achieved some degree of restoration. After a couple of years, someone  – let’s call him X – joined me on the organisation and it soon became apparent that he had ambitions to replace me as the chair. Every committee meeting was rendered difficult. He would protest that he hadn’t been consulted, that I had acted against the best wishes of the organisation or that I was simply not following correct procedure. He made temporary alliances with other members of the committee to ensure that what I wanted wasn’t approved. He vetoed sane and sensible proposals simply to undermine my authority.  The result was that I came to dread committee meetings.

Eventually some of the young people involved at a low level in the organisation came to me, closed the doors behind them and said “X wants to take your place. We don’t want it to happen and we are prepared to help you fight against him.” I considered the matter for a few seconds and then said I was not willing to fight and that I didn’t want them to battle against him either. My decision was based on both Christian and pragmatic grounds. On Christian grounds, I did not feel it right to struggle against him; I would have to have challenged him and effectively opened some form of intellectual or committee level warfare. On pragmatic grounds, he was – as far as committees went – something of a street fighter with a rare gift for the strategic amendment or the sudden adjournment and I would, I’m sure, have been outmatched. I suspect there was also too an element of weariness in my decision: I hate such things and like nothing more than universal amiability (a most dangerous weakness). And when I considered the matter, being either excessively self-critical or genuinely humble, I decided that perhaps X might do a better job than me. So when my position came up for renewal I let him replace me and take the chair of the organisation.

Years past during which the organisation effectively severed contact with me. Nevertheless, disturbing rumours reached me. This week I heard from someone close to the organisation who gave me text and verse; X was an utter disaster and all but destroyed the organisation I worked to build up. So I now wonder whether I did the right thing in edging away from confrontation. Perhaps, I did the right thing for myself. But did I do the right thing for the organisation?

As the knee-jerk response to the gunsights issue has shown, pacifism (whether literal or metaphorical) is awfully tempting and indeed is the response we Christians are expected to adopt.  But after deeper thought it seems to me that there are times and places where not only is fighting right, but not to fight is to give evil the victory. I’m sure for many of you this is a truism. But I think we need to think about it. Given that in the West Christianity is now in the middle of what we can call ‘culture wars’ against New-Age postmodernism, an aggressive if shallow secularism, and Islam, simply yielding the field may be catastrophic.  Yes, Christianity has waged battles in the past that have been wrong; yet to refuse to fight for anything is surely equally wrong. We need wisdom!

3 Responses to “On warfare”

  1. Terry says:


    Your comments regarding the dangers of pacifism made me think more on this than I have – so thank you. I suspect that the reason I have shied away from this, even in my own thoughts, is how draining it can be to take the field. You referred to this in your decision to step aside for X. I know of several situations where people engaged in a struggle because it was the right thing to do, and the cost can be huge in the areas of energy, relationships, and finances, as well as others.

    As you say, we need wisdom. We need to be seeking the Lord for His will regarding the fields on which to fight. If the battle is truly the Lord’s, He promises to provide what is needed. If not, we’re on our own. And I’m starting to realize in my middle age that many of the battles I’ve thought were His, were really mine, or those the church thought were His. And sometimes the cost has been rather steep.

    Thanks again for some stimulating thoughts, and may God bless you with the wisdom to which you refer.

    Take care,


  2. Katie says:

    Fantastic thoughts, and most timely!
    Merrall was a most reluctant fighter indeed, but the fighting was so very needed.
    I just read in my other favorite blog (randyalcorn.blogspot.com) the debate whether hell can be real if God is truly good. To listen to the angel of light’s lie that there is no punishment, no fear in death, no eternal consequence to the rejection of Christ’s sacrifice is the same as pretending that the loving thing to do in this life is but to “live and let live” — let everyone do as they please — let everyone “find their own truth.”
    Fighting the cultural war, fighting doctrinal battles, fighting over what’s right in a particular organization — a true Christian does not welcome or relish fighting anywhere. However, it must be done, or the Christian has (albeit passively) contributed to the victory of evil and wrong. And as for the people who want to “do what is right in their own eyes”, have we truly done them a favor if we’ve left them alone in their errors?
    All much easier said than done, I am painfully aware….!!! Been in the place of exhaustion, and doubting the possibility (or even the necessity) of overcoming myself, so I’m not pointing fingers here. But whether we’re talking about physical or spiritual warfare, the fact is that in this life, it exists, and the old saying still is true — “for evil to win, it’s only needed that good people do nothing.”

  3. Stephanie says:

    Some very good thoughts there, Chris. And it’s true, we need wisdom to know how to choose our battles, what’s worth fighting for and what isn’t.

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