The Church in a Time of War

Ned B. Stonehouse

The present war confronts the Christian church with a danger of a distinctive character. Wars of previous generations, and particularly the great war of 1914-1918, no doubt interfered with the progress of the work of the church, but the threat to the church's welfare and growth is different today because of the distinctive form that war has taken. War today is a "total war," that is, it engages not merely the armies but the entire populations of the nations which are involved. Through technical advances, especially in the development of the airplane, modern warfare much more immediately affects the non-combatant elements of the nation. And the dreadful power of a modern war machine in high gear is so destructive that it can be resisted only if there is virtual mobilization of the entire nation.

Even in the democracies, where there are constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion, the practical necessities of waging war result in demands upon the citizens that can hardly fail to utilize energies and resources that otherwise would be devoted to the work of the church.

We, who live in a country that is still at peace, cannot but be distressed at the secularization of life that war involves for our Christian brethren in other countries, and it is fitting that we should pray earnestly that the Christian church in these lands may not be turned aside from its divine mission. Meanwhile, our own prospects for the extension of the gospel are not improved. For, as our nation itself comes more and more under the tension which the unsettled situation has produced, and as the program of preparedness increases in tempo, the strength and resources that should be spent in advancing the cause of Christ may be diverted, at least to a certain extent.

There is great need, therefore, that the Christian church in these times shall resist vigorously the temptation to render unto Caesar the things that should be rendered unto God. By divine mandate the church is also engaged in warfare, and this warfare likewise makes imperative demands, which those who acknowledge the kingship of Christ must implicitly obey. Although our weapons are spiritual, and our motives and aims in the Christian warfare are distinctly religious, this warfare is surely not less demanding upon the Christian than the warfare of the nations of Europe is upon their citizens. "For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places." Accordingly, our war is also a "total war"-it is a life and death struggle which demands that we as Christian soldiers engage in it with all of our energies. In this time of crisis, it is incumbent upon the church to take stock. It must once again be moved by the conviction that it has a divine commission to engage in spiritual warfare, and that all of its strategy and tactics are to be directed towards the end of winning the war.

This is not a plea for pacifism in the civil sphere, nor for indifference to the duties of citizenship in general. Indeed, only a church that insists upon the basis of the Scriptures that the things that are God's must be rendered unto God will faithfully charge men to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's. It is because the modern church has so largely ceased to be militant in the proclamation of the gospel that it also so commonly sounds a retreat when it speaks on the issues of the day. Would that the church might return again to its God given charter, and that its ministers might boldly proclaim the full counsel of God in its all-embracing claim upon the whole of our lives!

It will perhaps not be thought out of place to make a particular application to The Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Anniversaries and other special occasions often serve the purpose of a review of the past and a looking ahead to the future. The Seventh General Assembly meets early in June, and our fourth anniversary as a church falls on June 11th. In these few years the church has gained a reputation for militancy in the service of the King. The record of zeal and self-sacrifice is one which may well call forth humble thanksgiving. Our church remains, indeed, a body of sinful men, a church not free from spots and wrinkles. It is not a part of the church victorious. And even as thanks are offered to God for His mercies, it must be remembered that he that thinketh he standeth should take heed lest he fall. Nevertheless, in the consciousness of a sincere effort to be faithful to the great Head of the church, earnest prayer should be made that the pressure of worldly interests and demands may not cause us to turn back upon the course that we have sought to follow. Let us attend to our marching orders, and engage in the great struggle as true soldiers of the cross.

Reprinted from the Presbyterian Guardian, Volume 7, No 10, May, 1940. The OPC Committee for the Historian has made the archives of the Presbyterian Guardian available online!


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