Missions at the point of a gun?

In case you haven’t been paying attention, there is a great deal of fuss over whether or not Muslims should be allowed to build a mosque in Manhattan near where the World Trade Center used to stand. Do an internet search for “ground zero mosque” and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

Essentially the debate is between those who, for the sake of tolerance, think the mosque should be built and those who oppose the mosque because they view it as an Islamic slap in the face of America. I think, however, that a much more important issue needs some consideration here.

Note: the rest of this post is written specifically to Christians in the United States.

Imagine, dear brethren, that Muslims are intent on evangelizing you. Imagine that they would like to share their faith with you and have you convert to Islam. Does the fact that Muslims are responsible for attacking the World Trade Center make you more likely or less likely to hear what they have to say? Does the fact that Muslims want to build a mosque very near where that attack happened make you more likely or less likely to want to convert to their faith?

My guess is that the vast majority of you would answer “less likely” to both of those questions. You may be wondering, since the answer is so obvious, why I’d even ask such a question. Here’s why…

We rarely get an opportunity to view a situation from the perspective of another. The situation in Manhattan provides us with one.

Most Americans (many Christians included) are clearly offended at the thought of a mosque being built near ground zero. They view it as an intentional insult from the very people who launched the attack on 9/11. Ironically, these same people applaud the efforts of American soldiers in Islamic countries, not only as a “fight to protect freedom,” but also as a means of making the world safe for the spread of the gospel. Why in the world would we think Muslims would be more likely to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ from American missionaries after their country has been invaded and occupied by American soldiers when we clearly want nothing to do with Islam when the situation is reversed?

How have we come to be so misguided? Many American Christians actually view American soldiers as some sort of militarized mission force, doing God’s work. Can we not see that when American soldiers invade a population that population resents Americans? They are highly unlikely to want to have anything to do with us — or “our God.”

Of course American Christians are not the first to make this mistake. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the famous Baptist preacher from England, ministered in London during a time when Britain was quite imperialistic. Many British Christians viewed their troops as some sort of militarized mission force, too.

Spurgeon rebuked them saying…

“The church, we affirm, can neither be preserved nor can its interests be promoted by human armies. We have all thought otherwise in our time, and have foolishly said when a fresh territory was annexed to our empire, ‘Ah! what a providence that England has annexed Oude,’ – or taken to itself some other territory – ‘Now a door is opened for the Gospel. A Christian power will necessarily encourage Christianity, and seeing that a Christian power is at the head of the Government, it will be likely that the natives will be induced to search into the authenticity of our revelation, and so great results will follow. Who can tell but that, at the point of the British bayonet, the Gospel will be carried, and that, by the edge of the true sword of valiant men, Christ’s Gospel will be proclaimed?’ I have said so myself; and now I know I am a fool for my pains, and that Christ’s church hath been also miserably befooled; for this I will assert, and prove too, that the progress of the arms of a Christian nation is not the progress of Christianity, and that the spread of our empire, so far from being advantageous to the Gospel, I will hold, and this day proclaim, hath been hostile to it.”

“And I do firmly hold, that the slaughter of men, that bayonets, and swords, and guns, have never yet been, and never can be, promoters of the gospel. The gospel will proceed without them, but never through them. ‘Not by might.’ Now don’t be fooled again, if you hear of the English conquering in China, don’t go down on your knees and thank God for it, and say it’s such a heavenly thing for the spread of the gospel – it just is not. Experience teaches you that, and if you look upon the map you will find I have stated only the truth, that where our arms have been victorious, the gospel has been hindered rather than not; so that where South Sea Islanders have bowed their knees and cast their idols to the bats, British Hindoos have kept their idols, and where Bechuanas and Bushmen have turned unto the Lord, British Affairs have not been converted, not perhaps because they were British, but because the very fact of the missionary being a Briton, put him above them, and weakened their influence. Hush thy trump, O war; put away thy gaudy trappings and thy bloodstained drapery, if thou thinkest that the cannon with the cross upon it is really sanctified, and if thou imaginest that thy banner hath become holy, thou dreamest of a lie. God wanteth not thee to help his cause. ‘It is not by armies, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord.’”

It was a message appropriate for the Church in England in the 19th century and it is one that is appropriate for the Church in the United States of America in the 21st century. Christ’s love is not expressed through the barrel of a gun.

Whatever wars may come, Christians need to recognize the higher calling that is theirs. We are called to take the gospel to every group of people. We are called to make disciples of all men. We are called to build God’s Kingdom because all earthly kingdoms are temporary and perishing. Never mistake earthly empires for God’s Kingdom. They are not the same.

If a mosque is built in Manhattan what is that to the Church? Both Muslims and New Yorkers need to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ. Both the mosque and Manhattan will cease to exist one day. Only God’s Kingdom will remain.

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