Recently, I was drawn to an article shared on Facebook by Leonard Sweet, an author who has some credibility in the church world. The article was written by Carl Medearis and entitled, A Thoughtful Christian Response to ISIS. I eagerly clicked on the link hoping for a biblical response and found rather a confusing and convoluted response. Rather than a “thoughtful Christian response,” it was more of an awful Christian response. This represents the same confusion I see present in the Church today, because we often fail to understand the whole council of God’s Word. We hear simple answers from a few gospel passages trying to understand national roles in light of responsibilities Jesus gave to personal relationships.
You can read the entire article linked above from the title, so I will simply summarize Medearis’ five-point strategy that he gives that Jesus would have us follow in dealing with ISIS. Mr. Medearis makes a major blunder in taking Jesus’ teachings which were given to us on how to respond to our personal enemies and applies them to our nation. He has missed the big subject of authority and the place God gave to civil government for our protection. He misapplies Scripture and he sounds like Barack Obama in a 2006 speech in which Obama mocked Christians who use the Scriptures for guidance. Barack said, “the sermon on the mount is so radical that our own defense department would not survived its application.” The sermon on the mount was not written for national defense. That’s the same error Medearis makes. The main purpose of civil government is to protect its citizens from enemies from without and from within. Paul the apostle, declares that governing authorities are established by God and those who do evil should fear it. He says if you do what is evil fear it, for it does not bear the sword for nothing (Rom 13:1-4). Strong words for those who do evil. Paul tells us the civil authority has the right and power to punish evil. A sword is used for protection and even death if that level of force is needed to protect from such evil. God established laws of protection for each sphere of authority. He protected the familial government by giving the instruction, that if a thief is caught breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there will be no blood guiltiness on his account (Exodus 22:2). God’s view is very clear on how evil is to be addressed. It is to be confronted. Governing authorities are given permission to protect. Individuals cannot take the law into their own hands, that is why God established civil government. However, a family can protect itself from evil invaders into their home and even call upon their neighbors to stand with them. They appeal to civil authority when time and circumstances allow. If someone breaks into your home you have the right to protect yourself from evil. In the same way, one nation can defend its citizens and call upon another nation to help stand against such evil.
Now for Medearis’ WWJD five-step strategy for dealing with ISIS.
Medearis’ first strategy for dealing with ISIS is to “take the log out of our eyes, before we help get the speck out of someone else’s eye.” What? That makes me want to scream. Jesus is teaching us to first examine our own lives before judging another, He is not telling civil government to back off and limit its responsibility of resisting evil while it examines society’s sins as a whole. That would mean no one could ever by charged with a crime because bad actions take place in other members of society. This reasoning is a result of taking a command given to individual relationships and applying it to a collective society. It makes no sense.
Then Mr Medearis goes on to blame the church for not taking the gospel to the Arab world and if only these little boys would have heard the gospel ten years ago then they would not be doing evil today. Hypothetical arguments and collective blame like this benefits no one. There is evil now and presently must be resisted. Using Medearis’ argument it could be said that if only someone would have invited Hitler to Sunday School he would not have been the evil man he was and history would have been different. The argument of blaming society collectively is not only a non-principled thought, it is blame shifting at its worse because it solves no problems and provides no answers.
Strategy two: “Blessed are the eyes that see and the ears that hear.” Carl argues that if we could only walk in their shoes then we could understand their evil. Well, an argument can be made that wrong has been done on both sides in the Arab and West conflict, but this is not only bad exegesis it is a sidestep from the real issue here. Who is committing these atrocities that even Medearis agrees are brutal and wrong? It is not the West he charges with brutality, but rather ISIS. Medearis argues that if you were deprived and were given a weapon and told to go get what you wanted would you be able to resist the temptation? What? Come one, what does that have to do with a Christian’s response to evil? He is making them into deprived victims.
His third strategy is to declare the “harvest is ripe” and that Paul the apostle himself was a terrorist killing Christians so there is hope in potential conversions. Paul was one among many but not all who persecuted Christians were converted. We have already seen many Islamic leaders come to Christ. One such example is the son of a Hamas leader. He now speaks out for Christians, but conversions is the long-term answer and does not deal with the present threat that America, Christians around the world, and other nations face. I believe the kingdom of God is advancing and over the next 100 years we will see that kind of victory, but that does not prevent Christians from supporting national defense against collective evil.
Fourthly, “turn the other cheek.” Now I am fuming, I knew he was headed to that verse. This verse is often taken out of context. Jesus is teaching individuals who are smitten on the check to take it and turn the other. He is speaking of an insult not an assault. Jesus says when someone slaps you on the right cheek. That means it is a left-handed-backward slap. That is not an act of violence as in an assault, but an act of insult. Yes, in that moment take it and turn the other cheek, but that is not intended for biblical instruction on national defense. Otherwise there would be no order of law in any nation. Is Medearis saying that if his house was broken into he would not call the police? Is he also saying that if his wife were raped he would invite the intruder back? No, we know better. When we speak of groups like ISIS, we are not talking about a willingness to take a cheap shot from someone doing us wrong; we are talking about evil men preying on innocent lives to such a degree that the hardest of hearts are squeamish.
Then Medearis comes up with the worse response ever. He says, “if we spent a billion dollars coming up with creative ways of shaming ISIS” this might be the answer. Oh please! Just how biblical is that? Shaming others. ISIS will not be shamed by their enemies. Evil is evil and has no honor to understand shame.
Fifthly, he suggest, “love your enemy, bless them and loan without expecting return.” And with that he continues to say we need to develop a long-term plan to deal with evil. Well, the Gospel is the long-term plan. It is the only plan. Economics, education, and playing soccer, will not deal with the long-term problem with evil. A Christian response cannot forsake the biblical response
of personal and national protection and resistance of evil.
To Medearis’ credit he finally suggest that, “there is a legitimate argument to be made, that when people such as those within ISIS submit themselves fully to evil, war is our last option.” Then he proceeds to tell us not to be quick to employ that strategy. If only Churchill had followed such advice in his day history would be different in Europe and the world. Neville Chamberlain, the Prime Minister of England, at the time of Hitler took the position that Medearis suggest, that is to be slow to defend against evil, and it almost cost England their nation.
A Christian response is to peach the gospel, pray for our national leaders, support a national defense against evil, and build friendships with Muslims here in the United States and abroad for personal influence and conversions. The later is an active role for a long-term problem, but for now we need biblical defense addressing evil with the force necessary to abolish the threat. The last thing we need is another awful Christian response.
About the Author:
Glenn Shaffer is the author of Apostolic Government in the 21st Century, Christianity 101 and Discipleship 201. He has a Masters of Ministry degree in leadership studies from Southwestern Christian University and is working toward a Doctorate in Ministry at ORU in Tulsa.
Glenn and his wife, Ami have been married for 40 years with two sons, Matt and Daniel. Together, they co-see the elder pastoral care of Destiny Life Church, one church in two locations (Owasso and Claremore, Oklahoma) where they have been serving for almost 4 decades. It is a non-denominational church, based on a New Testament Apostolic form of church government. Together, they also serve as the directors of ATI- Apostolic Teams International, an emerging network of churches and ministers.