Charles’s quotes

"It is surely ours to combine these elements of mourning for sin and joy in our salvation in one complex and composite experience which keeps us perpetually humble and yet perpetually joyful too."— Rev William Still

Showing posts with label ireland. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ireland. Show all posts

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Mixed Messages

Ireland has long been known as the ‘Land of Saints and Scholars’ with a reputation for sending God’s messengers around the world to proclaim the ‘Good News’. In 563, St. Columba travelled from Ireland. His journey was a missionary journey. It has been beautifully and vividly described by T. Radcliffe Barnett (1868-1946) – ‘that navy of heaven which brought more wealth of Christ than ... all the greatest ships of war’. In recent times it has become known for the ‘Bad News’ of violence, sectarianism and bigotry.

What message is coming out from Ireland to the rest of today's world?

There are conflicting messages coming out from Ireland. There is good news. The wealth of Christ is being carried out to the nations of the world. There is bad news. The world hears about the troubles in Northern Ireland and wonders, ‘Will it ever end?’ The Church enjoys a glorious privilege. God has shown us His kindness by allowing us to spread the Good News of the immeasurable wealth of Christ (Ephesians 3:8). There is, however, a great danger that the voice of love will be drowned out by the noises of war.

How can the voice of love be heard above the sounds of war? We consider this question here in connection with a short study of Psalm 149, a song of praise which begins and ends with the words, ‘Praise the Lord!’

If we were to focus our attention exclusively on the early verses of this Psalm, we would be on safe ground for a devotional message concerning worshipping the Lord with joy. As the psalm progresses, we find that a purely devotional use of this Psalm is fraught with great difficulty. In verses 6 to 9, we read of real conflict. This is the real world. There are tensions. We cannot run away from them. We must face them. We cannot take refuge in an other-worldly atmosphere of pious devotion.

Commentators have drawn our attention to the misuse of this Psalm. H. C. Leupold points out that ‘this psalm has been put to unholy use’. He cites two examples – (a)‘Catholic princes were incited to warlike fervour at the beginning of the Thirty Years’ War by reference to it’, (b) ‘in the Protestant camp by use of it Thomas Munzer incited the peasants to rebellion at the beginning of the Peasants’ War.’

The ominous aspect of this is not, of course, bound up exclusively with Psalm 149. Many of those who incite violence – in the name of Christ – may not be particularly familiar with Psalm 149. We are not dealing with ancient history here. The warlike attitude is still with us today. Still, Scripture is being used as a tool to serve unholy purposes.

Once we have noted the military background against which Psalm 149 was written, we must take care not to overreact. There are those who propose to remove certain hymns from use in worship because they use military metaphors. Such hymns are not in keeping with the spirit of the age. Is there not an element of overreaction here? Are we to abandon every attempt to view the Christian life in terms of a battle against the enemy of our souls, a spiritual warfare which can only be waged with the whole armour of God?

In 2 Corinthians 10:3-4, we find Paul’s description of our spiritual warfare: ‘We do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world’. When, however, we turn to Psalm 149, we find something quite different. In verse 6, we read of ‘the high praises of God in their throats and the two-edged swords in their hands.’ We could easily leap from the phrase ‘two-edged swords in their hands’ to the New Testaments description of the Word of God as ‘the sword of the Spirit’, a spiritual ‘sword’ which is ‘sharper than any two-edged sword’ (Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 4:12). This would, however, be an example of a naive pious devotionalism which pays no attention to what the Bible actually says. Psalm 149:6 means exactly what it says – ‘two-edged swords in their hands’. We must not be in such a hurry to get to ‘Bibles in their hands’ that we take no notice of the fact that Psalm 149:6 is speaking, quite definitely of ‘two-edged swords in their hands’. There is a real difference between Paul’s words. ‘The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world’ and the Psalmist’s words, ‘Let the two-edged swords be in their hands’. Taking account of this difference, we must move on to consider what it will mean for us to fight the battles of the Lord in this generation.

There is a real spiritual commitment which finds expression in Paul’s words, ‘Put on the whole armour of God’ (Ephesians 6:11). The use of military language need not mean the adoption of a warlike attitude. We can so easily fall into the harmful and hurtful way of thinking of other churches as ‘the opposition’. We can speak and act like ‘know-it-alls’ who never imagine for a moment that we might not have all the answers. Our testimony for Christ must be more than simply defending our own heritage, our own traditions, our own denomination, our own congregation, our own personal opinions – as if the Christian faith had its beginning and ending with ourselves!

In the work of evangelism, there needs to be a spirit of humility in our relations with other congregations and denominations. In Psalm 149:4, we learn that ‘the Lord takes pleasure in His people; He adorns the humble with victory’. We may note here that ‘His people’ is not necessarily to be equated with our people. The idea that, in our Christian witness, we should go only to ‘our own people’ is such a harmful restriction on Jesus’ command – ‘Go everywhere in the world, and tell everyone the Good News’ (Mark 16:15).

Nevertheless, this idea – we must only go to our own people – is very influential. It will not go away unless there is a real commitment to being a missionary people. If we are to go beyond ‘our own people’. We need to go with humility. When we read the words. ‘the Lord adorns the humble with victory’, we must ask, ‘What kind of victory are we seeking?’ The ‘know-it-all’ goes out looking for a fight. We are to ‘fight the good fight of faith’ (1 Timothy 6:12). This is very different from the kind of warlike attitude which says a great deal about ourselves and not a lot about our Lord.

In this battle, which is the Lord’s, we must remember that the power lies with Him and not with ourselves. Drawing too much attention to ourselves will create conflicts which have nothing to do with the real spiritual conflict between good and evil, between God and Satan. These conflicts will be personality conflicts which say more about ourselves than they do about the Gospel. They will be cultural conflicts which say more about our own preferences than they do about the saving power of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We are not concerned with gaining, through our own strength, a victory over ‘the opposition’. This kind of confrontational attitude may produce a certain kind of ‘victory’, but it will not be the victory of the Lord. It will be a ‘victory’ which serves only to show how far removed we are from the priorities of God’s Kingdom. The Lord’s concerns will always be a great deal broader than our much narrower concerns, which are confined by the limitations of our own particular personality and background.

Presbyterian Herald, July/August 1999

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