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The Untamed Warrior & the Peace of God
F. Earle Fox
St Luke's REC, Santa Ana, CA
11/07/24 Trinity 5
Deut. 17:14-20; Ps. 76; Heb. 11:8-16; Mt. 28:16-20
I recently finished God’s Battalions on the Crusades by Rodney Stark, and am currently viewing for a second time a 36 lecture “Great Courses” DVD series on the Crusades. The two together make a very helpful study of that event, or series of events during the 11th and 12th centuries. Stark applies his scientific skills as a sociologist to discern just what happened during the crusades.
Both Stark and the professor doing the DVD series tell of a quite different event than you commonly hear nowadays – about those nice Muslims being mistreated by those crude and violent Christians. The Christians were in fact responding to an offensive (jihad) which had been at work for at least four centuries, and was coming fiercely at them from both directions, Spain in the west, and through the Balkans in the east.
I came away, especially from God’s Battalions, with a deep impression of the violence of the human race – on all sides. It is a way of life and a frame of mind going back to both pagan and Old Testament times.. It reminded me of several other “Great Courses” series on ancient western history which gave the same message. Power struggle was a way of life.
Occasionally, I have commented on how the pagan world often appreciated a tyrant because their world was so chaotic. A tyrant could often provide some measure of order and stability – if he was a reasonably decent sort of fellow. Caesar Augustus was that sort of emperor, and in that sense a blessing to the Christians as they followed the Roman roads around the Mediterranean to evangelize the Roman world.
But there is a deeply flawed aspect of our human nature, especially of men, to become warrior types, addicted to violence. Most early cultures developed such warrior castes of necessity -- because of the violence all around. Life was brutal, nature seemed brutal, the next door tribe might decide to take your land. Or the next door nation. So survival almost dictated the necessity of one’s own warrior caste.
The downside was that men trained in the arts of killing and destruction tended to want to put those arts to work, and often did for their own pleasure and gain. It was the equivalent of a “standing army” with almost no discipline or regular oversight. Keeping them under control was a continual problem for local government -- as it was for Rome.
Our lesson from Deuteronomy points toward this problem. Moses speaks to his own people about their going into their Promised Land and maybe later wanting a king, looking forward to such a possibility:
You may indeed set as king over you, him whom the Lord your God will choose. One from among your brethren you shall set as king over you; you may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother.
Only he must not multiply horses for himself, or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to multiply horses.... And he shall not multiply wives for himself, lest his heart turn away; nor shall he greatly multiply for himself silver and gold.
And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, from that which is in charge of the Levitical priests; and it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God...., that his heart may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left; so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel.
Horses were primarily for cavalry and war chariots, i.e., the building of a warrior class.
These are the same warnings and promises which Samuel gave the Hebrews when they did indeed ask for a king in I Samuel 8. When power gravitates toward a center, when power is placed in the hands of an individual or an oligarchy, there is a drive to gather more, to concentrate the means of power around oneself so as to be able to control the affairs of one’s life. But to ensure one’s own life, one has to control also the affairs of the lives of others. That is the danger inherent to a centralized government. God wants a small government guided by His revelation to His people.
God has very clear notions about how civil government shall be managed – the first of which is that the rulers shall themselves be submitted to His law and grace. They shall have, and regularly read, a copy of God’s law so that they can administer their authority according to the principles which God Himself has established for human government. They are not to make up their own laws apart from those principles from God.
If they obey God, they are told, they and their people shall flourish. If they do not, they shall not. That was the same message which St. Augustine in his book, The City of God, gave to the Roman citizenry after the sacking of Rome.
Those are also the principles pointed to in our own Declaration of Independence. Our freedom and prosperity come from being under the law and grace of God.
God has clear instructions on how all human government is to be administered. The tendency to become warrior types, to become controllers of other persons by law and force, is almost universal in our fallen human natures. The only reliable means of turning this tendency around is by having a moral and spiritual consensus of the people under God.
The first epistle of St. Peter might be called “the Epistle on Suffering”. It was written to Christians, many of whom had been, or were, suffering for their faith. They were getting the back-handed side of their Roman government. This is the same Peter who, in the Gospel, was astonished at the catch of fish, now catching men.
Rome leaned heavily on religions which created tight knit communities because they feared political subversion among them. When Christians came along, creating tight knit communities, and also refusing to acknowledge Caesar as lord, they cracked down. They were not specifically anti-Christ, about whom most of the Roman leaders knew or cared little. They would have welcomed another god into the pantheon. But the emperors often insisted on being acknowledged as “lord”. Christians could not do that, and often paid with their lives. Just as the Presbyterian preachers during the Revolution held up, “No King but Jesus!”, so also the early Christians insisted, “No Lord but Jesus!”
But, St. Peter is not addressing the rulers, he addresses the saints who might be suffering under those warrior rulers.
Be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous; not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called. That ye should inherit a blessing.
Power-hungry politicians, then as now, would laugh such advice to scorn:
For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace and ensue it.
“...and do good..” The “good” is that which enhances life and relationship. We can easily see that some things hurt life and relationship, and other things enhance them. God tells us in the second Great Commandment to love our neighbors just like we love ourselves. Loving someone means doing good for them. It does not mean pampering them, that is not life-enhancing. It means doing that for them which will lead to the fullness of their being in Christ – their inheritance from God. There is no greater good one can do for another than help him into his Godly inheritance.
But the saints were not just victims of the emperors and their magistrates, they too were sinners. And St. Peter was addressing their sins, not those of the emperor. He was telling them to respond to the evils about them with love. They were not to become like their overlord persecutors, competing with them to dominate over them.
God wants the tyrant warriors to repent of their sins. But He first wants His own people to deal with those same sinful tendencies within themselves. Peter is describing how the “meek shall inherit the earth...”
For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and His ears are open unto their prayers; but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil. And who is he that shall harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good? And be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; but sanctify the Lord God in your hearts.
The evil-minded will not survive the sifting by God of those evil-minded from among the righteous. The meek, the righteous, will find their eternal stability on the Hand of God, and their eternal moral direction from the Voice of God.
And then the righteous in the Lord will begin to raise up Godly leaders from among themselves – ones “from among their brethren...”
A foreign ruler among the Hebrews would be from a pagan tribe. That was forbidden. Our situation is a bit different, but the principle is the same.
God wants rulers from among our brethren because he wants the rulers to be of (yes!) the same religion, the same ultimate commitments. They must read the same Bible as the people themselves read, and make that book the foundation of their leadership.
That is the real issue behind the “birth-certificate” ruckus. Is the president “one of us”? Is there, indeed, a common moral and spiritual consensus among us so that an officer of the state could even be “one of us”? The deeper issue is not being a “natural born” citizen, but being unified, of the same “religion”, under the same God.
The word ‘religion’ comes from the Latin ‘religio’, the root of which is ‘ligo’, meaning to bind together – as a lig-ament binds together our muscles and bones. The religio was the customs and beliefs and values which bound the community together.
It was the most public of all things, not the private foolishness which even we Christians have made of it today. The religio in the Bible was that which set the rules for the government – not the government telling us which religion we can follow – as we are getting today. That is what God did with the Hebrews. He intends to do it with every people on the face of the earth – as we fulfill the Great Commission.
When all the governors of the earth read from the same Bible, then alone will there be any hope of peace on earth and good will toward men. But that cannot, and will not, happen until we, the people, raise up governors who are not of the untamed warrior caste, but submitted to the law and grace of God. The problem is we, the people, our churches, schools, and families – we, those who do the raising up of children. When families, churches, and schools are run by the kinds of persons to which St. Peter refers, we will get Godly government. But it must come from the bottom up.
Jesus is standing by the Lake of Gennesaret (Sea of Galilee), where two boats were lying empty as the fishermen were cleaning their nets after a fruitless night fishing. Jesus asks for the use of one of the boats as a platform from which to speak to the crowd. After speaking, He asks Peter to take the boat out and make one more cast of their nets. Peter objects, that they had been trying all night and gotten nothing, but agrees to go. And then comes the great catch of fish, so that both boats are sinking from the weight of the fish. Peter falls to his knees, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man...” James and John are likewise taken aback. To their astonishment, Jesus responds, “Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.”
“Fear not...” says Jesus. “You are astonished and feel unworthy because I bring in a large catch of fish into your boat. What are fish? Wait til you begin drawing men into the Kingdom!”
They joined Jesus and never looked back. They could hardly know that they would be taking on the warrior caste, at first among the Jewish leaders who ran Israel with an iron legalism, and then Rome itself – and the iron sword.
Hymn 437 reads, like a commentary on today’s sermon:
They cast their nets in Galilee just off the hills of brown
Such happy, simple fisherfolk -- before the Lord came down
Contented, peaceful fishermen, before they ever knew
the peace of God that filled their hearts brimful, and broke them too.
Young John who trimmed the flapping sail, Homeless in Patmos died.
Peter, who hauled the teeming net, head down was crucified.
The peace of God, it is no peace, but strife closed in the sod.
Yet, brothers, pray for but one thing, the marvelous peace of God.
The untamed warrior cannot know the peace of God. He can know only the power-struggle of the world, perhaps with an occasional lull.
The taming of the warrior, of the power-struggle, of the power of civil government, is a large part of western history. It did not happen in any other culture. It led, as John Wycliffe (not Abe Lincoln) first said, to a government of the people, by the people, and for the people as required by God.
God has given us in America an extraordinary gift in the founding of America. Just as the Hebrews, we have all but lost what God gave us, and for the same reasons, so that there will have to be deep repentance and the raising up of a new spiritual life. It will be done only at great cost, and by a people who, like the early Christians, are willing to be spiritual warriors for the Lord Jesus Christ, wielding the two-edged Sword of the Spirit – in the public arena.
We live in a sacramental world, in which it is impossible to separate out the worldly from the spiritual. God Himself means to dwell in this world, He means to live with His Bride in this world. Untamed warriors will be tamed only by those Christians who have themselves, in this world, been tamed by God.
Let us covenant together to help each other attain to that maturity in Christ, so that the untamed warrior in ourselves and in the world will find that marvelous peace of God.
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