I was in the center of KL driving back home when I saw these words on a huge electronic newsboard: PM condemns bomb attacks on churches.
I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Shortly after, I got a text message from my cousin asking whether I had heard about the firebombs. I clearly hadn’t. So I started texting him for more details. I don’t need to recount what happened here. It’s already all over international news. I believe it’s the first time in a long time that such a thing has happened in this country.
How should Christians respond in the face of such aggression?
1. Trust in the sovereignty of God
And we know that for those who love God, God works all things together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
All things. Not just good things. But the evils of this world as well. All things are being worked together for our good and his glory. Is this tragic? Yes, but only in the short term. In the eternal scope of things, it will only serve to add to the glory of God, as he weaves it into the tapestry of his inscrutable yet good, wise and glorious ways.
2. Rejoice and be thankful
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 1 Peter 4:12-13
If we are indeed suffering for the sake of the gospel of Christ, then let us rejoice.
3. See what is central: Are we fighting the good fight, or a pointless skirmish?
The circumstances of the bombings are interesting, to say the least. Some people have seized upon the Allah ruling to cause dissension and inflict violence. This is a sad state of affairs that many of us, the people and the government, are right to condemn. All who love peace and stability do not wish for these sort of things to happen. But the question that is uppermost in my thoughts at the moment is the significance of this ruling to the cause of the Christian gospel. Are we indeed suffering for the sake of the gospel of Christ?
I reckon this is a controversial matter. I admit I am ill-informed on the matter, but I personally think the ruling has little direct significance for the spread of the Christian gospel. It seems to me that it is more a marker of the boundaries of religious freedom within the country. I will not stand down on the first matter, but I understand that leeway must be expected on the second matter. Freedom is a blessing that the modern world enjoys. Human history reveals that the majority of governments have directly resisted the spread of the gospel or co-opted and distorted it to fit their political agendas. Persecution is the norm we ought to expect, and freedom is the blessing we presently enjoy.
I also fail to see the significance of the word Allah over Tuhan, and wonder whether certain churches have caused unnecessary hoo-hah over this matter. This is a right I’m willing to cede, in the spirit of Paul:
I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. 1 Cor 9:22-23
Is the gospel at stake in the use of the word Allah? Personally, I think not. The gospel stands and falls on the name of Jesus Christ. And as far as I can tell, God has blessed us with a government that does not contend the use of that name. After all, Muslims know one Jesus Christ, and Christians believe in another. And while each of us believes that only one of us is right, we are not going to shed blood over the matter. This is an area where we believe each has the right to their own truth, and that all have an obligation to be civil and respectful of the other’s beliefs. More than that, as Christians, we believe that salvation is the work of God, not the work of man. On the contrary, by placing so much emphasis on the right to use the word Allah, I think we do great disservice to the cause of the gospel, as we turn people’s attention to semantics (or so I believe it to be the case) rather than the person of Jesus Christ.
4. Hold out the gospel constantly and faithfully
Regardless of where you come down on the matter, our calling remains clear.
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20
Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. Philippians 1:27-28
Our battles are not against people and governments and bombs. It does not primarily take place in courtrooms and public squares. Our battle is against sin and the deceptions of the devil, and it takes place in the heart of every individual. This sort of fight can only be fought with the sword of the Spirit, the word of truth, the glorious gospel of grace through Jesus Christ. It is true that the spiritual fight does not leave the physical realm unscathed. We will most definitely suffer physically. On the contrary, our aggression is a spiritual aggression, not a physical aggression, for we know that the death and violence and darkness that plagues this world of ours finds its roots in the universal sinfulness of mankind and the power that gives the devil over us. What counts most at the present time is the redemption of souls, not the redemption of the earth. I am not saying that Christians have no obligations to the world as it is, but redemption has to start with our souls. A fallen people cannot redeem a fallen world, for they possess no redemptive qualities. And our most pressing eternal need is not a redeemed world but a redeemed relationship with God.
So hold out the truth of the gospel constantly and faithfully. Suffer if you must. Endure all persecution if you must. But know that the gospel of God will triumph for he has bound up the glory of his name with the success of the gospel. This is the good fight we must fight – the fight to faithfully and constantly preach and live the gospel to all peoples despite all that might afflict us. And this is the good fight God will win – the fight to redeem the people he has called.
5. Pray for peace
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 1 Tim 2:1-4
Thus far I have said that we ought to trust in the sovereignty of God, rejoice in our sufferings, examine to see whether we are suffering for what is right, and to hold out the gospel constantly and faithfully. Paul’s counsel to Timothy incorporates all these things. Prayer assumes the sovereignty of God. He tells him to be thankful for all peoples, including those in the government. It is clear that the desire of God is for us to live in such a way that all people may be saved by coming to a knowledge of the truth. But Paul also urges Timothy to pray for peace.
I would say that Christianity has often flourished in the face of adversity. Suffering is the price Christians have paid for the advance of the gospel. And suffering is often the catalyst for people to humble themselves and believe in Christ. So it seems strange to pray for kings and those in high positions that we might lead peaceful and quiet lives, godly and dignified in every way. But if we think deeper about this, there is enough suffering and death in this world without having to add political instability to the mix. If anything, this saps the energies of people and makes it more challenging for the church to lay any foundations. The riches of our Christian heritage equally originate in periods of relative peace and stability, such as Calvin in Geneva, Owen in England and Edwards in America.
Therefore pray for peace in this nation. Pray for a stable government, who punishes what is evil and rewards that which is good. Pray for the integrity of our leaders, that they will continue to do what is pleasing in the sight of God. Pray this in light of the gospel, knowing that redemption and forgiveness is open to everyone, no matter how many times they’ve screwed up in the past. Pray above all that Christians might live peaceful and quite lives, godly and dignified in every way, so that all men may come to a knowledge of the truth and be saved, to the glory of God the Father and our Saviour Jesus Christ.