Previous article in this series: August 2014, p. 443.
We have acknowledged that we are called to warfare and that we must be conscious of this warfare. We have demonstrated this calling from Scripture, and therefore find it in our Psalter, Three Forms of Unity, and doctrinal terminology. By “war” in this series we are referring to our ongoing spiritual hostility towards all that is opposed to God and His kingdom. There is war between God and Satan—the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness—and by virtue of our union with Christ the head of God’s covenant and King of God’s kingdom we are participants in this war. By the power of the Spirit of Christ within us, we are determined to fight all unrighteousness in the confidence that God’s kingdom of righteousness realized in Jesus Christ shall triumph gloriously in the full subduing of all opposition and the establishment of perfect peace in the new heavens and new earth for the glory of His great name into all eternity. We could call this “our holy war.”
By referring to this war as “our holy war,” we distinguish ourselves from the false, idolatrous religion of Islam, which is known worldwide for its jihad or holy war. Let no man mistake or misrepresent our instruction as Islamic indoctrination. There is nothing holy but everything profane about Islam’s jihad, whether that war refers to an inner spiritual struggle or a physical war waged with the flesh-piercing, blood-shedding, and head-decapitating swords for the purpose of destroying infidels or the conversion of them by force. Muslims have their so-called holy war. We are referring to our holy war, and it is radically different. Holiness is separation from that which Jehovah the triune God abhors and is consecration of heart in love to Jehovah as God alone. Any religious war that is not conducted according to Jehovah God’s will and for His glory is not holy but profane, and to be repudiated.
By referring to this war as “our holy war,” we make plain our war is not physical. What has already been stated specifically with respect to Islamic jihad must now be expressed more generally. War is holy if it is done in devotion to God and His will. Old Testament Israel’s holy war had a physical aspect to it and was pleasing to God. However, God does not call the church of the new dispensation to physical war in which we wield steel swords, slaughter human beings, go on crusades for some piece of soil, forcefully capture political seats, and amass as spoils physical property. Our weapons are not carnal (), and we wrestle not against flesh and blood ( ), for Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world, else would His servants draw swords and staves ( ). The proponents of the contemporary neo-Calvinist doctrine of the redemptive transformation of culture that may be pressed upon some of you in Christian colleges seek to develop an earthly kingdom for God. It will not be surprising if this doctrine eventually leads to “crusades” with blood-shedding swords. If the kingdom to be established is earthly, must not the warfare be also? Then one has to wonder who might be the object of those assaults? The true church looking heavenward?
Our holy war is war God requires, and God, the God of the heavenly kingdom of Jesus Christ, requires spiritual warfare against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places (). Behind warring covenant young people there ought not be a trail of blood and physical corpses, but in you a wounded old man—crushed pride, quenched lusts, controlled anger. In the name of our holy war we will not kill human beings, Muslims or other, who refuse to submit to King Jesus, but we will expose and refute false religions, false doctrines, and wicked lives and call sinners to repentance and faith in the acknowledging of the truth of Jesus.
By referring to this as “our holy war,” we separate ourselves from all unholy, God-dishonoring wars and contentions that, regrettably, may arise among us (; ). Contentious spirits are not for war for peace’s sake, but for war for war’s sake. Our call to warfare is not a call to fight each other as joint-heirs of the grace of life, to make every single issue a matter of principle and orthodoxy, to strive as members of our congregations over petty personal preferences, to pit one Young People’s Society against another in unholy jealousy, to form rival groups in the hallways or lunch rooms, and cold-shoulder those who don’t meet the requirements of the “club.” Lamentably, some unholy wars begin already on the playground in kindergarten. How good and pleasant is the sight when children and young people of the church make it their delight to dwell in blessed accord. Our holy war is not sinfully striving and contending with brethren but a war against the sin that causes contention, division, and schism.
By referring to this war as “our holy war,” we emphasize our opposition to individualism or an independent spirit that tends to overemphasize the soldier while minimizing the army. It is not “my holy war,” or “his/her holy war,” or even “the holy war.” Certainly our primary focus is upon the battle with sin within us, but not to the exclusion of responsibilities we have in and to, as well as our need for, the whole body of believers with whom we march against all the forces of evil. To be pitied is the spiritual lone ranger, especially he who willingly marches apart from the body of believers, for he lacks accountability, loving admonishment, and comrades to sharpen him in knowledge and discernment. Savage enemies lurk around him, and not only does he not see them all, he has no one to point them out to him. Woe to him that is alone when he falleth in battle, spiritually fatigued, discouraged, and even depressed, for he hath not another to help him up. You need them. They need you. This is “our holy war.”
To emphasize the positive of the foregoing assertion, our warfare is covenantal. “Our holy war” is the war we wage as members of God’s covenant joined together in the Spirit (). In catechism class one is not taught to identify himself as the individual militant, but part of the church militant. We war as those eternally chosen and made members of the one body that from the beginning to the end of the world is gathered, defended, and preserved by Christ’s Word and Spirit. To fight in this war against every appearance of the kingdom of darkness led by Satan is to join with the church of all ages from Adam and Abel to you and me.
A necessary and significant implication of this covenantal aspect of our warfare is the necessity of membership in the church institute, the visible manifestation of that universal, invisible body. A soldier might claim he has enlisted in and fights on behalf of his national army. He may even wear a uniform. But if he has never joined the visible manifestation of that army at camp and on the battlefield, his speech betrays him. In our holy war, young people make church membership a priority in their life, joining the covenantal assembly.
By referring to our life as “our holy war” we are emphasizing that the Christian life is not easy but difficult. It is strenuous and painful. War is not nice. It kills. It leaves wounds and scars. Combat is ugly. Fighting elicits eerie cries. Sanctification hurts. Our enemies cease not to assault us. Think it not strange if you young people sigh often, for we grow weary warring against the corruption within us and often “sigh, desiring to be delivered from this body of death” (Belgic Confession, Art. 15). Do think it strange if your spirit never groans.
Every day is filled with so many circumstances and encounters and experiences and conversations and assignments and discoveries and setbacks and distractions and unexpected incidents that will all be used by the devil in alliance with our old man to tempt us to sin. If we are not ready to fight the old man, resist the devil, and avoid temptation, we will erupt in anger when we should have remained still; be filled with envy and resentment when we should have encouraged another; lie to cover up when we should have gone to the cross—and our brother—confessing; complain in bitterness and sink into morbid self-pity when we should have said in sincerity, “Blessed be the Lord”; laugh with him when we should have admonished him; say nothing when we should have defended the doctrine we confess and regulated the worship we practice; say yes and go when we should have said no and stayed home to finish studying our catechism; enter that website that leads to hell when we should have protected our eyes as the possession of our Lord.
The same applies to the true church of Christ in the world wherever she is manifested, standing fast in the truth, rejecting error, walking a narrow path of uprightness, and declining offers to false ecumenicity while being despised by the world and reproached and slandered by the false church.
Living out of the new man, we know the approval of our God and Father, and that is more than life to us. But that blessing comes only through daily, painful, self-denying warfare against the principle of sin within.
By referring to this war as “our holy war,” we keep in view the goal and purpose of the war. Holiness is consecration to the Holy One. Holiness is doing all for God, His glory, His honor, His name, and the exaltation of His incarnate Son our Lord Jesus Christ, crucified and risen from the dead. We do not do battle against sin in our lives merely because getting caught in sin can be embarrassing, or because sinning brings consequences that will hurt and hinder. Zealously defending, for example, the use of Psalms in worship over against another who is defending the use of contemporary hymns is unholy if the goal is merely to be right, or to show him he is wrong, or to stand proudly for a heritage. Opposing sodomy and lesbianism in a world and church-world gone mad with unfurled lusts of enmity against God merely because we consider it perverse, distinguishes us not one whit from many of the ungodly.
God! Holy God! Jehovah’s name! The honor of Jesus the Lord of heaven and earth! The goal of our warfare in every aspect is Jehovah God in Jesus Christ, whose glory we seek, whose praise is primary to us, and whose approval is worth dying for. When soldiers and citizens lose a sense of purpose, enthusiasm wanes.
When soldiers and citizens lose a sense of the purpose, wicked motives mar outwardly good deeds. We must be taught as young people that if our warring does not permanently keep in view the goal or purpose, we will dishonor God. He is not only the holy God but our Savior who in Jesus Christ has translated us out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of His marvelous light wherein is everlasting righteousness. For His sake, war.
The war of which we speak in this series is “Our Holy War.”