I have to admit I had second thoughts about the title of this column….especially in light of the words of James in chapter 2 verse 18; "And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace." I also had second thoughts when I consider the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, "Blessed are the peacemakers because they will be called sons of God" (Matthew 5:9 HCSB).
But when I read the words of Paul written to his young protégée Timothy encouraging him to "fight the good fight for the faith" (1 Timothy 6:12a) and I when I hear Paul say at the end of his life "I have fought the good fight…." (2 Timothy 4:7a), I am convinced the title is appropriate.
I have just returned from the 2007 Southern Baptist Convention meeting in San Antonio, Texas where I heard Charles Colson, former Nixon advisor and founder and President of Prison Ministry Fellowship, verbally paint an accurate and disturbing picture of the challenges evangelical Christians face in the world today. Colson said, "Christians face two serious threats, one from the East (radical Muslim extremism) and one from within (the culture war).
The threat from Islamofacism is growing exponentially as radical elements within the Muslim faith try to destroy the very foundations of Christianity. Extremists use both the sword and fear of the sword to t gain an advantage over the complacent hearts and minds of Westerners. Many Christians in the West believe the extremists represent a minor departure from the mainstream of the Muslim faith and that we should not be too worried about the possibility of another 911 type of attack. These misguided brothers and sisters in Christ believe if we will just leave the extremists alone they will leave us alone.
That line of thinking applied to Adolph Hitler by the Europeans prior to World War II left most of Europe in ruins and cost the lives of well over a million people. We make the same mistake today if we do not take the threat of an Iran armed with nuclear weapons seriously. We make it when we fail to realize the influence the terrorist nation of Iran has in Iraq, in Syria, in Afghanistan, in Lebanon, and most recently, in Gaza. Colson reminded Southern Baptist Convention attendees that it took the defeat of the Turks by the Polish cavalry in 1683 as the Turks encircled Vienna to stem the fast rising tide of radical Islam. If the United States loses its resolve to win the war on terror, however and wherever that war manifests itself, we may well see the day when all we hold dear will be relegated to the dust bin of history.
The second enemy Colson mentioned is what he calls "Neo-atheism." This new brand of 21st century atheism is much more pervasive and exceedingly more dangerous than any of its earlier manifestations. Neo-atheism goes much farther than the mere denial of God's existence. It actually calls for the eradication of all forms of Christianity. One prominent Neo-atheist has gone so far as to suggest that Christian parents should be prohibited by law from passing their religious values down to their children. They consider the teachings of Jesus Christ to be the moral equivalent of child abuse. They believe absolute truth is a myth and objective, fact-based reality is a fairytale told by fools. Relativism has so infested the thinking of many Christians that they are slowly beginning to buy into the ideas put forth by the Left concerning what true Christianity is all about. Moral relativists on the political Left reduce abortion to nothing more than a woman's right to choose and homosexuality to nothing more than one lifestyle choice among many. They turn the "faith once delivered to the saints" into the "faith once distorted for the sake of political gain."
If Colson is right (and I believe he is), how can Islamofacism and Neo-atheism threaten a culture that claims to be overwhelmingly Christian? The answer lies in understanding the real threat to Christianity is not the philosophies we face but the faith we lack. It is what I call "Regressive Christianity." Regressive Christianity's main problem is the lack of standing room. In fact, every Church in America could use a sign posted prominently over the pulpit that says, "Standing Room Only." The Apostle Paul, after reminding the Ephesians that our fight is not against "flesh and blood" but against rulers, authorities, the world powers of this darkness and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens" exhorted them to "stand therefore…"(Ephesians 6:10-17). He essentially called them to fight not with the weapons of the enemy but through the enablement of God with "truth like a belt, righteousness like armor, faith like a shield, salvation like a helmet, God's Word like a sword, all while standing in the shoes of the gospel."
A strange thing happened at the first Battle of Bull Run during the Civil War. People packed up their picnic lunches and loaded up in their fine carriages to ride out and watch the opposing armies do battle. But shortly after the battle began those sideline thrill seekers realized being mere bystanders was not an option. Three times in this passage Paul says the key to the fight is to stand. It really doesn't matter how well equipped we are to charge the gates of hell if we retreat or outright refuse to enter the battle. We must replace "Regressive Christianity" with the mystery of an aggressive yet gentle faith that is firmly grounded in God's Word and faithfully demonstrated in the lives of God's people.
Dr. Tony Beam is Director of the Christian Worldview Center at North Greenville University in Tigerville, South Carolina.