31 October 2005

Spurgeon on warfare, compromise, and the sword of the Spirit

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon

PyroManiac devotes Monday space to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive.

SpurgeonHere's an excerpt one of the last sermons Spurgeon ever preached at the Metropolitan Tabernacle. This was preached on April 19, 1891—less than a year before Spurgeon's death. Spurgeon was embroiled in a great theological conflict at the time. It was the height of the "Down-Grade Controversy."

The sermon's theme is spiritual warfare. That, of course, has also been the central motif here at PyroManiac for several days. In this introduction to his sermon, Spurgeon makes some excellent points about the Christian's weaponry, the futility of compromise, and the need to stand.

Lord willing, we'll follow up some of these thoughts in Tuesday's post. In the meantime, if you want to read more of Spurgeon's sermon, the text is Ephesians 6:17 ("take . . . the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God"); the title is "The Sword of the Spirit," and you'll find the complete sermon at The Spurgeon Archive.

TO BE A CHRISTIAN is to be a warrior. The good soldier of Jesus Christ must not expect to find ease in this world: it is a battle-field. Neither must he reckon upon the friendship of the world; for that would be enmity against God. His occupation is war. As he puts on piece by piece of the panoply provided for him, he may wisely say to himself, "This warns me of danger; this prepares me for warfare; this prophesies opposition."

Difficulties meet us even in standing our ground; for the apostle, two or three times, bids us—"Stand." In the rush of the fight, men are apt to be carried off their legs. If they can keep their footing, they will be victorious; but if they are borne down by the rush of their adversaries, everything is lost.

You are to put on the heavenly armor in order that you may stand; and you will need it to maintain the position in which your Captain has placed you. If even to stand requires all this care, judge ye what the warfare must be!

The apostle also speaks of withstanding as well as standing. We are not merely to defend, but also to assail. It is not enough that you are not conquered; you have to conquer: and hence we find, that we are to take, not only a helmet to protect the head, but also a sword, with which to annoy the foe.

Ours, therefore, is a stern conflict, standing and withstanding; and we shall want all the armor from the divine magazine, all the strength from the mighty God of Jacob.

It is clear from our text that our defense and our conquest must be obtained by sheer fighting. Many try compromise; but if you are a true Christian, you can never do this business well. The language of deceit fits not a holy tongue. The adversary is the father of lies, and those that are with him understand the art of equivocation; but saints abhor it.

If we discuss terms of peace, and attempt to gain something by policy, we have entered upon a course from which we shall return in disgrace. We have no order from our Captain to patch up a truce, and get as good terms as we can. We are not sent out to offer concessions.

It is said that if we yield a little, perhaps the world will yield a little also, and good may come of it. If we are not too strict and narrow, perhaps sin will kindly consent to be more decent. Our association with it will prevent its being so barefaced and atrocious. If we are not narrow-minded, our broad doctrine will go down with the world, and those on the other side will not be so greedy of error as they now are.

No such thing. Assuredly this is not the order which our Captain has issued. When peace is to be made, he will make it himself, or he will tell us how to behave to that end; but at present our orders are very different.

Neither may we hope to gain by being neutral, or granting an occasional truce. We are not to cease from conflict, and try to be as agreeable as we can with our Lord's foes, frequenting their assemblies, and tasting their dainties. No such orders are written here. You are to grasp your weapon, and go forth to fight.

Neither may you so much as dream of winning the battle by accident. No man was ever holy by a happy chance. Infinite damage may be done by carelessness; but no man ever won life's battle by it. To let things go on as they please, is to let them bear us down to hell. We have no orders to be quiet, and take matters easily. No; we are to pray always, and watch constantly.

The one note that rings out from the text is this:—TAKE THE SWORD! TAKE THE SWORD! No longer is it, talk and debate! No longer is it, parley and compromise! The word of thunder is—Take the sword. The Captain's voice is clear as a trumpet—Take the sword! No Christian man here will have been obedient to our text unless with clear, sharp, and decisive firmness, courage, and resolve, he takes the sword. We must go to heaven sword in hand, all the way. "TAKE THE SWORD." On this command I would enlarge. May the Holy Spirit help me!

It is noteworthy that there is only one weapon of offense provided, although there are several pieces of armor. The Roman soldier usually carried a spear as well as a sword. We have seen frequent representations of the legionary standing upon guard as sentry, and he almost always stands with a spear in his right hand, while his sword hangs at his side. But Paul, for excellent reasons, concentrates our offensive weapon in one, because it answers for all. We are to use the sword, and that only.

Therefore, if you are going to this fight, see well to your only weapon. If you are to have no other, take care that you have this always in your hand.

C. H. Spurgeon

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30 October 2005

An abbreviated account of Calvinism

Last week I was asked to give a group of college students a 50-minute survey of the history of Calvinist opinion. Sound like I bit off more than I could chew? That's what I think, too. But if you want to listen to "The story of Calvinism," it's downloadable for free.

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29 October 2005

So I took Friday off and came up to Santa Cruz with Darlene to visit some of our best friends...

Capitola, CA
Capitola, CA

The region around Santa Cruz and Capitola is practically our favorite place in the whole world. If a one-room bungalow didn't cost $750,000, we'd think of retiring here someday.

Nearby is the famous Mt. Hermon Christian conference center and campground—one of the premier Christian campgrounds anywhere (if not the absolute finest in the world). Down the road from the entrance to Mt. Hermon, we saw this sign:


I think it's a convention of homeschool moms.

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28 October 2005

Now, let's get personal

Centurion's Mugless Mug

I have been trying to underscore some principles about spiritual warfare from 2 Corinthians 10:4-5. If you get nothing else from that passage, please understand this much: First, the spiritual warfare we fight as Christian soldiers is a battle for truth, not territory.

Second, our weapons are not the carnal apparatus of worldly warfare, but vastly more powerful spiritual weaponry. Specifically, we wage this spiritual battle "by purity, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left" (2 Corinthians 6:6-7).

Today I want to consider those principles from a very personal and practical perspective.

Have you ever realized that if spiritual warfare is ideological, the most crucial battle you will ever participate in takes place in your own heart? If the goal and the end game of this warfare is to bring "every thought [captive] to the obedience of Christ," that presupposes that my own first order of business must be victory in my own thought life.

I have no control over your thoughts. I can perhaps influence your thinking by proclaiming the truth of God's Word, but my role in that capacity is instrumental only. You can't really be accountable to me for your private thoughts, nor can I be similarly accountable to you. This is a battle you must fight, sometimes all alone. It's lonely, grueling, lengthy, frustrating—and it's the one great battle you can least afford to shirk.

Paul knew that. On occasion, he described the Christian warfare in precisely those terms:

  • Romans 7:22-23: "I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members."
  • Galatians 5:17: "The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would."

Paul was describing a struggle in his own heart. He says you can expect to have the same kind of internal conflict. That conflict you feel inside yourself is one of the key skirmishes you must win in the spiritual arena.

Peter understood that aspect of the warfare, too. In 1 Peter 2:11, he wrote, "Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul."

That is why the New Testament uses such graphic and violent language when it speaks of our duty in the matter of sanctification.

  • Romans 8:13: "For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify [put to death] the deeds of the body, ye shall live."
  • Colossians 3:5: "Mortify . . . your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry."

One of the sad realities of warfare is that the soldier must kill or be killed. In the spiritual warfare, there is some killing for us to do, Paul says. It's not about killing people, for that would require carnal weapons. But it's about putting to death sin—first of all in our own members.

May I say as gently as possible that you that you cannot be a good soldier unless you take this warfare seriously? You must be spiritually earnest, sober-minded, sound in the faith, strong in the Word of God, and diligent in the battle.

Too many Christians, especially in this worldly age, are content to coast through life taking nothing seriously. If you read the blog regularly, you know I'm not arguing against every expression of a lively sense of humor. But I am saying that this warfare we are engaged in is serious stuff. It's not for the lazy or apathetic. In fact, if you are passive or careless at all in your own personal spiritual walk, you will suffer agonizing defeat at the hands of the enemy.

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27 October 2005

Picking up where we left off Tuesday...

Two days ago, before we got interrupted by the atonement debate, we were talking about spiritual warfare and 2 Corinthians 10:4-5:

"For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ."

Those words evoked vivid imagery in the minds of the Corinthian believers.

Just outside Corinth is a very high natural formation that overlooks that city. It is a tower of rock that stands over 1800 feet high, known as Acrocorinthus. The ancient Corinthians had built an impregnable fortress atop that rock. It is so high that on a clear day you can see Athens, 45 miles away. The stronghold was virtually impregnable—a massive, towering bulwark so high and so strong that no earthly army ever succeeded in tearing it down. That's where the Corinthians would find refuge whenever their city was under assault.

The fortress atop Acrocorinthus
The fortress atop Acrocorinthus
To the Corinthians, the idea of pulling down or casting down such a stronghold was unthinkable. Paul was comparing that impenetrable fortress atop Acrocorinthus to false religions, faulty worldviews, malignant philosophies, and evil belief systems—the fortresses of lies, deception, and unbiblical ideologies Christians are supposed to be waging war against.

Paul says, however, that our spiritual weapons are "mighty through God" to the pulling down of such battlements. What are those weapons? The apostle isn't specific here, but it's not hard to discern what he means.

In the first place, since he is talking about an ideological battle, the array of weapons he has in mind must be the instruments of truth and righteousness, starting with the gospel message and the Word of God itself. In the second place, and more specifically, it seems clear that he is speaking of the same apparatus he already mentioned just a few chapters earlier, in 2 Corinthians 6:6-7:

By purity, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left.

There's no need for a Christian employing such weaponry ever to be timid about the truth or to shrink away in the face of false or anti-christian ideologies. We don't need to compromise with such systems, try to find common ground with them, or engage their leading gurus in dialogue as if we might eventually come to some kind of profound agreement. We have weapons powerful enough to tear those strongholds down.

And we need to employ those weapons and keep at the fight as long as people are barricaded in the fortresses. The goal of our battle plan is to bring as many as possible "into captivity . . . to the obedience of Christ."

Be sure you catch what Paul is saying here. Our aim in the spiritual warfare is not to destroy people, but to liberate them. We're following the lead of our captain, who "[did] not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them."

Acrocorinthus, with the ruins of the Bema (a judge's platform, used for tribunals and athletic events) in the foreground
Acrocorinthus, with the ruins of the Bema (a judge's platform, probably used for everything from tribunal to athletic events) in the foreground
"Captivity . . . to the obedience of Christ" is the true freedom. (Those who truly love Christ understand this principle. Romans 6:17-18: "But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.") It sounds paradoxical, but real freedom is found in a different kind of "captivity."

People who barricade themselves in fortresses of lies and deception are enslaved to their sin and their evil ideologies. Our goal is the liberation of as many of them as possible. And we can't relinquish the fight or ease off until the battle is completely over.

The ruins of Corinth, seen from atop Acrocorinthus
The ruins of Corinth, seen from atop Acrocorinthus

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26 October 2005

No punishment required?

Spurgeon and penal substitution revisited

PyroManiacA couple of Brit-bloggers, Steve and Sven, both noticed Monday's Spurgeon quote and voiced doubts about whether Spurgeon really believed in the penal-substitution view of the atonement.

Steve writes, "Pyromaniac digs up this quote by spurgeon, which he belives [sic] is talking about Penal Substitution. Aside from some amusement at the Victor Meldrewness of it, it’s an excellent, and typical spurgeon quote, talking about Jesus atoning (at-one-ment—reconciliation) death on the cross."

(For Yank readers who wonder what Steve means, Victor Meldrew was an elderly character in the Britcom One Foot in the Grave, known for his ill-tempered grousing.)

Steve then opines: "Interestingly while he talks about a recompence and substititution, he makes no mention of punishment or anything penal. In fact he seems to be fairly clearly talking about the satisfaction model of Atonement (Substitutionary Atonement) which Anselm devloped, before it was developed further by Luther and Calvin into the currently popular penal model."

Actually, in such a context, the recompense Spurgeon spoke of (the payment of which he "fairly clearly" says was "render[ed] to God's justice") is nothing if not punitive. I suppose if you don't understand Spurgeon and aren't familiar with Victorianisms, you might not catch that idea on your initial reading of this particular quote, but for the record, Steve has badly misread what Spurgeon is saying.

Anyway, in a note added after posting, Steve refers his readers to The World of Sven, promising, "Sven says this better."

Sven actually says it much worse: "Spurgeon himself seems to have gotten stuck halfway between Anselm and the classic Reformed position." Sven quotes a sentence from Spurgeon, ("My conscience tells me that I must render to God's justice a recompense for the dishonor that I have done to His law, and I cannot find anything which bears the semblance of such a recompense till I look to Christ Jesus.") and asks:

Doesn't this sound rather more like satisfaction theory rather than the popular version of penal substitution? This is of course slightly problematic, because Anselm (satisfaction theory) and the magisterial Reformers view Christ's death in two very different ways, because of course if Christ makes recompense to God's honour, no punishment is required. (Emphasis added.)

I admit to some amusement at the Arnold Rimmeresque hubris contained in such pronouncements; but Steve and Sven really ought to investigate what Spurgeon actually believed about the atonement before lecturing their readers on the nuances of his view. Spurgeon's view on the atonement was no secret. His outspoken defense of penal substitution was a consistent theme—and not a subtle one—from the beginning of his ministry to his dying gasps at the height of the Downgrade Controversy (in which this very issue of penal substitution was one of the main doctrines in dispute).

Nor would Spurgeon ever have approved of paring back the definition of "at-one-ment" to reconciliation only.

It's extremely irritating that after more than two years of controversy, Steve Chalke and his aficionados still seem blithely ignorant about the historical debate among British Baptists over the doctrine of penal substitution. It's always annoyed me that Chalke, who ministered at Haddon Hall—a chapel founded by Spurgeon's own congregation and named for him—decided to champion this issue, and then has handled the ensuing controversy in such a clumsy and perfunctory way.

Here's a message where Spurgeon explains himself with absolute clarity and without the Victorian euphemisms. Whenever Spurgeon spoke of "substitutionary atonement," here, in his own words, is what he had in mind:

"The doctrine of Holy Scripture is this, that inasmuch as man could not keep God's law, having fallen in Adam, Christ came and fulfilled the law on the behalf of his people; and that inasmuch as man had already broken the divine law and incurred the penalty of the wrath of God, Christ came and suffered in the room, place, and stead of his elect ones, that so by his enduring the full vials of wrath, they might be emptied out and not a drop might ever fall upon the heads of his blood-bought people."

"Christ—Our Substitute" is one of my all-time favorite Spurgeon sermons, because Spurgeon's passion is conveyed in the words. You don't have to know what he actually sounded like to sense the fervor with which he defended the atonement against the Steve Chalkes of his day:

SpurgeonThese are the new men whom God has sent down from heaven, to tell us that the apostle Paul was all wrong, that our faith is vain, that we have been quite mistaken, that there was no need for propitiating blood to wash away our sins; that the fact was, our sins needed discipline, but penal vengeance and righteous wrath are quite out of the question. When I thus speak, I am free to confess that such ideas are not boldly taught by a certain individual whose volume excites these remarks, but as he puffs the books of gross perverters of the truth, I am compelled to believe that he endorses such theology.

Well, brethren, I am happy to say that sort of stuff has not gained entrance into this pulpit. I dare say the worms will eat the wood before there will be anything of that sort sounded in his place; and may these bones be picked by vultures, and this flesh be rent in sunder by lions, and may every nerve in this body suffer pangs and tortures, ere these lips shall give utterance to any such doctrines or sentiments.

There's lots of picturesque and painfully blunt language in this sermon, but if I get started quoting it, I won't know where to stop. It reads like it was aimed at Steve Chalke himself. Read the sermon for yourself. It's a good one.

And, by the way, there are many more where this one came from. Fans of Steve Chalke need to face up to the reality that Spurgeon is no friend of anything Chalke stands for.

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25 October 2005

Real spiritual warfare is not like a round of Doom


Ever since Frank Peretti's demon-warfare novels dominated the Christian best-seller lists in the 1980s and '90s, the popular conception of "spiritual warfare" has had the complexion of trashy, mystical, superstitious fantasy.

The ideas of "territorial demons" and fanciful combat strategies like "spiritual mapping," "prayer marching," and similar nonsense have no basis whatsoever in Scripture.

True spiritual warfare is not about territory; it's about truth.

Note how Paul describes spiritual warfare 2 Corinthians 10:3-5: "Though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ."

Notice: the real spiritual warfare is about imaginations, arguments, knowledge, and thoughts—in other words, belief systems, not real estate. It's a fight for hearts and minds, not a war over cities and nations.

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24 October 2005

Spurgeon on substitutionary atonement

Spurgeonfrom chapter 12, "The Minister in These Times"
in An All-Round Ministry

Spurgeon responds to men in his day who thought the doctrine of penal substitution wasn't genteel or sophisticated enough.

Those who set aside the atonement as a satisfaction for sin also murder the doctrine of justification by faith. They must do so. There is a common element which is the essence of both doctrines; so that, if you deny the one, you destroy the other.

Modern thought is nothing but an attempt to bring back the legal system of salvation by works. Our battle is the same as that which Luther fought at the Reformation. If you go to the very ground and root of it, grace is taken away, and human merit is substituted. The gracious act of God in pardoning sin is excluded, and human effort is made all in all, both for past sin and future hope. Every man is now to set up as his own savior, and the atonement is shelved as a pious fraud.

I will not foul my mouth with the unworthy phrases which have been used in reference to the substitutionary work of our Lord Jesus Christ; but it is a sore grief of heart to note how these evil things are tolerated by men whom we respect.

We shall not cease, dear brethren, in our ministry, most definitely and decidedly to preach the atoning sacrifice; and I will tell you why I shall be sure to do so. I have not personally a shadow of a hope of salvation from any other quarter: I am lost if Jesus be not my Substitute. I have been driven up into a corner by a pressing sense of my own personal sin, and have been made to despair of ever doing or being such that God can accept me in myself.

I must have a righteousness, perfect and Divine; yet it is beyond my own power to create. I find it in Christ: I read that it will become mine by faith, and by faith I take it. My conscience tells me that I must render to God's justice a recompense for the dishonor that I have done to His law, and I cannot find anything which bears the semblance of such a recompense till I look to Christ Jesus. Do I not remember when I first looked to Him, and was lightened? Do I not remember how often I have gone as a sinner to my Savior's feet, and looked anew at His wounds, and believed over again unto eternal life, feeling the old joy repeated by the deed?

Brethren, I cannot preach anything else, for I know nothing else. New dogmas may or may not be true; but of the truth of this doctrine, I am sure.

If anybody here is preaching the atonement, but does not like it, I dare not advise him to cease preaching it, but the words tremble on my lips. I am firmly persuaded that the unwilling or cold-hearted preacher of any doctrine is its worst enemy. It comes to this, in the long run, that the wounds of truth in the house of its false friends are worse than those given it by foes. If you do not love the cross in your heart's core, you had better let it alone. I can truly say that I preach the atonement con amore, with all my heart.

Some seem to think that we poor souls, who are of the Puritanic school, are "cabin'd, cribb'd, confined" by harsh dogmas, from which we would gladly escape. They imagine that we have to check every rising aspiration of our nobler selves, so as to preserve the tyranny of a certain iron system. John Calvin is supposed to ride us like a nightmare, and we lead dogs' lives under his lash.

Brethren, it is far otherwise. Little do these slanderers know of our happiness and peace. If they feel more joy in preaching than we do, their felicity is great; but, from their tone and style, I should greatly question it. Observers will have noticed that the joyous element has gone out of many pulpits. The preacher does not enjoy his own subject, and seldom speaks of having been in the Spirit while he was discoursing. He likes twenty minutes' preaching a great deal better than forty; and he is peculiarly apt to merge his two week-night services into one.

Nobody enjoys modern doctrine, for there is nothing to enjoy. The people have to do their best with that soup of which our friend spoke last night so admirably,—the soup made from a borrowed bone, which had been lent out for a similar purpose on six previous days, so that the flavor of meat no longer remained upon it.

No, my brothers; let our opponents dismiss from their minds all pity for our enslaved condition under the old gospel. We are the free men, whom the Lord makes free, and all are slaves besides.

I would like to rise from my bed, during the last five minutes of my life, to bear witness to the Divine sacrifice and the sin-atoning blood. I would then repeat those words which speak the truth of substitution most positively, even should I shock my hearers; for how could I regret that, as in Heaven my first words would be to ascribe my salvation to my Master's blood, my last act on earth was to shock His enemies by a testimony to the same fact?

C. H. Spurgeon

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22 October 2005

Pacifism and Christian warfare

...Summing up

It should be clear by now that I oppose strict pacifism in principle.

I especially object to the jejune and naive types of "Christian pacifism" that try to turn Matthew 5:39 ("resist not evil") into a rigid absolute—making a wooden, literal interpretation of that text (and its cross-references) the controlling hermeneutical principle for the New Testament while canonizing non-violence as the supreme moral value.

To recap: In matters of national defense and criminal justice, "the sword" (a biblical expression for the use of deadly force) is sometimes an appropriate remedy against evildoers, and rulers who use the sword rightly do so as God's ministers for good (Romans 13:3-4). Moreover, when the government implicitly delegates authority to an individual for wielding the sword in self-defense, he has every moral right to use force.

Moving on...

On the other hand, I can't think of a single instance in which it would be appropriate for the church or her leaders to bear a sword or use violent means of any kind as part of their ministry. Although Christian life and ministry are often portrayed in Scripture as warfare, it's not a war against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12).

"For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds)" (2 Corinthians 10:3-4). Paul is saying that Christian warfare is not a carnal battle. It's not a battle for lands and cities. It's not a personal conflict against other people. It's a battle for the truth.

Biblical Christianity is not and never has been like Islam, spreading its influence at the point of a sword or with threats of force or acts of terrorism. Although history includes several sad episodes of wars and crusades and inquisitions that have been carried out by men who claimed to be acting in the name of Christ, that has never been the tactic by which the true church has sought to increase her influence.

Our battle is not against flesh and blood. In the words of Spurgeon, "For the church of God ever to avail itself of force would be clean contrary to the spirit of Christianity: for the Christian bishop to become a soldier, or employ the secular arm [of military force], would seem the very climax of contradiction. A warrior ambassador is a dream of folly."

So Paul makes it clear in 2 Corinthians 10 that he is not talking about the actual use of force. He's at war, but it is not a carnal war. It's a spiritual conflict. This is not a battle over territory, but a fight for the minds and hearts of people.

Next week, I want to take up this subject of spiritual warfare and examine the context of 2 Corinthians 10:5 carefully. I hope to relate our duty in spiritual warfare to the issues of pacifism and militancy. Should be a lively discussion.

Odds 'n' ends

Not desiring to delve too much into the sort of self-referential, solipsistic specifics that send CenturiOn into spasms, I nonetheless need to inform my readers of a few changes I have planned for PyroManiac:

  1. I'll no longer be doing the regular "Monday Menagerie" posts. These have proved to be too labor-intensive for my weekends.
  2. Instead, I'll try to format one or two Spurgeon items for The Spurgeon Archive each weekend, and Monday's post will feature a pithy excerpt from that week's sermon or article. This will also maximize the use of my time and help me in the process of adding Spurgeon material to my Web site.
  3. From time to time, I'll make a special post in the genre of the old "Monday Menagerie" items. I do enjoy writing those, but once a week is simply too much to promise. It was becoming a perfect ball and chain.
  4. Yes, I really am having a few die-cut vinyl bumper stickers made from my new logo. Unfortunately, they are too expensive to produce in large numbers. They're going to be hard to come by. I'll have to devise a contest or something to give a few of them away. Suggestions would be appreciated.

21 October 2005

A specimen from the week's e-mail

Fighting FundiesWhen the recent pacifism thread got interrupted by my brief hiatus, I received a smattering of e-mail from angry pacifists. Their usually non-agressive tranquility was greatly disturbed by my suggestion that some forms of killing may actually be authorized by God—and therefore are righteous acts.

I could not possibly answer all who wrote or commented, but I did try to answer as many as possible, starting with the people who seemed most serious.

Here's one of my favorites. This guy is a radical Arminian pacifist and political left-winger in the Anabaptist tradition. Noticing that a few of my commenters were appalled at the idea of chub-clubbing the world's most infamous terrorist in the aisle of a Costco store when you could just as easily invite him to a Saturday men's Bible study, our liberal Anabaptist friend sensed blood in the water, and seized the opportunity to berate me about Calvin and Spurgeon.

Here's my reply:

From: "Phillip Johnson"
To: A____ B_____
Subject: Violence, Calvin, Spurgeon

> I'm appalled at your attacks on
> pacifism. I'm a Christian and a
> total pacifist. In fact, I've
> become a vegetarian partly in
> protest of wanton violence
> against animals.
> Your kind of thinking is exactly
> the kind of sick human reasoning
> that turned Calvin into a killer.
> In Calvin's Geneva, if you did not
> believe exactly what he taught then
> you were an unsaved person. A heretic.
> and he killed heretics, right?


Calvin did not believe people should be executed (or even ostracized) simply for disagreeing with him. Many people—including the whole Geneva city council—disagreed openly, passionately, and outspokenly with Calvin on various issues. He was actually quite a reasonable man when it came to simple matters of disagreement.

There were only a handful of executions in Geneva over cases of conscience during Calvin's era. Of these, the best known and most frequently cited against Calvin was Servetus, who was not executed merely for disagreeing with Calvin. Servetus's crime—and it was a crime in those days—was deliberately propagating serious heresy in a way designed to undermine the established order of European society.

Servetus's heresy involved a fanatical hatred of the Trinity and a determination to breed his error by any means across central Europe. He was not merely duped by some insignificant theological error; he was a brazen anarchist, determined to overturn both civil and religious athority. He refused to cease and desist, though he knew he would ultimately die for his actions. Calvin and Geneva were not even his primary targets, initially. He fled to Geneva in a desperate attempt to avoid a death sentence already passed against him by the Catholic Church.

Incidentally, I don't approve of Servetus's execution. But it's simplistic and grossly unfair to Calvin to portray the Reformer as someone who was prone to employ violence or even excommunication in order to quell all dissent from people who disagreed with his personal opinions. (As a matter of fact, Servetus's conduct was deemed criminal first by civil authorities; Calvin did not initiate the call for Servetus's execution.) Civil autorities in Geneva tried heretics only in the most extreme cases. In the context of his age, Calvin was actually quite a tolerant man.

> By the way, Charles Spurgeon smoked cigars.
> Since smoking cigars is unregenerate behavior,
> how can you hold this man up as an example
> of what a Christian should be?

Well, at least he never killed any deer or Anabaptists.

Phil's signature

20 October 2005

Thanks for your patience

Phil's back

Sorry for the long delay. I noticed there was some speculation about what my long absence signified. Actually, I wasn't intentionally being mysterious. I mentioned in my last post that I had a deadline to meet. I was editing a book manuscript whose due-date was impending, and with all the hoo-hah the pacifism issue was stirring up here, I couldn't write blogposts, participate in the discussion, and still finish the book on schedule. Something had to give.

My plan was to finish the book and take a few days to get the blogplan in order, have a few spectacular posts in the can and ready to go, then relaunch in a big way tomorrow.

Unfortunately, a couple of minor crises arose during the past two weeks (nothing too serious, but very time consuming) so the book took a little longer than I projected anyway. I just mailed it off last night, and I have nothing written for the blog.

So for those of you who have been awaiting something really special, I'm sorry to disappoint you.

Many have noticed that during small breaks while editing over the past two weeks, I messed around a little bit with the graphics here at PyroManiac. I started by posting a picture as a birthday greeting to my esteemed sidekick, Pecadillo—and then I just couldn't leave well enough alone. It wasn't a calculated experiment to mess with people's minds (though I enjoyed that aspect of it immensely). I was a little disappointed, however, that no one seemed to notice when a pterodactyl flew through the image.

I do want to say a heartfelt thanks for all the comments. I think we finally have a post that generated more feedback than the Great Comic Book Apocalypse of September 1.

This is where I am right now...

Anyway, I finished the book yesterday and am now able to get back to a more normal routine.

...except that we have a major board meeting scheduled here at Grace to You on Monday, and I have to speak twice on Sunday. So when I say "routine," I mean that in the sense of "routinely hectic."

I've done little housekeeping on the blog template this morning, updating the "favorite posts" lists in the right sidebar. Enjoy a little romp down memory lane if you care to.

I also designed a new logo during lunch-breaks whilst editing. It replaces the image on the matchbox at the top of the right sidebar. I'm ordering vinyl stickers with the logo in large format, so that I can offer it to my friends as a bumper sticker.

But don't look for major or substantive posts till after the board meeting Monday. I'm just reporting in, and I'll keep posting, perhaps doing some BlogSpotting this weekend. I also have some plans for a couple of significant changes in the blog, which I'll announce tomorrow or the next day.

Meanwhile, I again apologize for not returning with a splash as anticipated. However,

Here's a small consolation prize...

Another Biblezine parody for the collection:

Wanna play "spot the parody"?

No, this is not a parody, but the latest actual BiblezineTM release from Thomas Nelson:


Phil's signature

07 October 2005

Taking a break


My agenda for the next ten days is absolutely packed, and with an important deadline looming, I can't afford any distractions. Lord willing, PyroManiac will be back sometime within the next two weeks. Have your frozen ground-beef tubes ready.

11 October 2005

Happy birthday from the deserted backstreets of Pyromaniac

Phil's signature

06 October 2005

Did Jesus change the moral law?

Pyro v.s PacifismChristians who embrace radical pacifism face a serious dilemma when they come to the Old Testament, because the historical narratives of the Hebrew Scriptures are filled with instances when the Lord commanded the Israelites to go to war.

In one famous incident, God commanded Israel to wipe the Amalekites from the face of the earth (1 Samuel 15:3), and then He punished king Saul for Saul's failure to follow those instructions to the letter (vv. 18-23).

So the Old Testament clearly does not support a radical pacifist worldview.

Pacifists therefore usually take one of two approaches to interpreting the Old Testament: either they attack the authority and reliability of the Hebrew Scriptures, or they devise a theology that accommodates some sort of massive shift from the ethical and moral standards of the Old Testament to a supposedly new and higher standard in the New Testament.

The former approach is patently liberal and quickly degenerates into some variety of deism or Socinianism. The latter approach is really no less problematic. It undermines one's approach to both hermeneutics and systematic theology at a foundational level. It opens the door for creeping liberalism, too.

Most of the Christian pacifists with whom I have dialogued have defended some version of the second approach. Some of them are Anabaptistic, some advocate a variety of dispensationalism, and (more recently) several have adhered to one style or another of "New Covenant Theology." The common belief of all of them is that the New Covenant era is governed by a whole different moral standard from the Old Covenant era. They typically argue that this is what the Sermon on the Mount was all about: Jesus was modifying the moral content of the Law. Some even claim He nullified the Law itself, despite Jesus' own explicit disclaimer in Matthew 5:17-19.

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones's excellent work on the Sermon on the Mount skillfully refutes those views. I won't repeat all his arguments here, but they are well worth reading—and conclusive, in my view.

The bottom line, however, is that the moral demands of Moses' law are no more or less stringent than, and in no way fundamentally different from, the New Testament ethic of love. The Sermon on the Mount simply amplifies the moral content of the OT law, but it does not abrogate or change any of it.

To be clear: Jesus "amplified" the law by making its true meaning clearer, not by adding anything that wasn't there before, and certainly not by changing the moral principles of the law.

The same pacifist gentleman with whom I dialogued in Tuesday's post strongly disagrees. His response to my Tuesday comments deals with precisely this issue.

In our dialogue, I explained to him from Scripture itself why I cannot accept the notion that the moral principles of the New Covenant are different from the old. What follows is the conversation that ensued. (Again, his words are in dark red; mine in black):

You're wrong about The Sermon on the Mount. No less than six times in a row, Jesus' teaching does alter the moral standard of Moses' law. Christ explicitly changed the law, set it aside, and made new laws which are more stringent—such as the rules against remarriage and the swearing of oaths.

Let's see, shall we? I believe it's clear that Jesus was correcting the excesses and distortions of rabbinical tradition, not changing the law. And this is demonstrable from the Old Testament itself.

Not so. Jesus didn't even mention "rabbinical tradition." Virtually all His quotes in Matthew 5 are straight from the Pentateuch, and the changes He makes are big changes, and flat-out contradictions—not mere affirmations of the OT.

They are not "changes." But neither are they "mere affirmations." They are expositions of the true intent of the law.

No. I'm convinced that Jesus' repeated expression, "But I say into you..." is the interpetive key to the passage. It proves he was altering the moral standard.

The expression "But I say into you..." doesn't necessarily imply any repudiation of the principles cited; in most cases it merely introduces a further elucidation of the moral principle underlying the law. To paraphrase: "The law says don't commit adultery, but I tell you that lust violates the same moral principle." It's actually quite clear that there's no contradiction between Moses' standard and Jesus'; after all, lust was sinful in the OT, too (Proverbs 6:25). So this is hardly a "big change."

In fact, it's no change at all.

Read again: In no less than six pairs of verses (Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28, 31-32, 33-34, 38-39, 40-41) Jesus flatly contradicts, or substantially alters, Moses' law, replacing it each time with a more strict new commandment.

There is no contradiction of any OT law in any of those verses, but rather a clarification of its true meaning. Look at each passage you have cited:

vv. 21-22: "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire."
  • Moses: "Don't kill."
  • Jesus: "Don't hate."

No contradiction there; nothing has changed. Killing is still wrong in the NT, and hatred was wrong in the OT (Leviticus 19:17).

vv. 27-28: "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart."
  • Moses: "No adultery."
  • Jesus: "No lust."

No contradiction there; nothing has changed. Adultery is still wrong in the NT, and lust was wrong in the OT (Proverbs 6:25).

vv. 31-32: "It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery."
  • Moses: "Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement...." But he "...may not take her again to be his wife" (Deuteronomy 24:4).
  • Jesus: "Divorce for any reason other than porneia constitutes adultery."

Again there is no contradiction, and no change in the standard. Moses' instructions about divorce emphasized its gravity and permanence. Jesus' emphasized that divorce is an extraordinary remedy allowed by God only in certain extreme cases. But even in the OT, God said He hates divorce (Malachi 2:16). So the two statements are not in conflict.

vv. 33-34: "Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne. . ."
  • Moses: "Don't break your oaths."
  • Jesus: "Better not to swear at all."

What Christ was prohibiting was the common practice of peppering one's everyday speech with indiscriminate oaths (often combined with the superstitious notion that if one did not swear, it was OK to lie).

Jesus is teaching that in our daily conversation as believers, we should simply let our yes be yes and our no, no. He is not prohibiting lawful oaths, such as those required of court witnesses, etc. (Jesus Himself testified after being placed under an oath—Matthew 26:63-64. The Apostle Paul even included an oath in the inspired text—2 Corinthians 1:23. And God confirmed His own Word with an oath—Heb. 6:13-18; Acts 2:30.)

So again, there is no change and no contradiction. The OT also prohibited frivolous oaths (Deuteronomy 23:21).

vv. 38-39: "Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also."
  • Moses: "An eye for an eye."
  • Jesus: "Turn the other cheek."

The eye-for-an-eye standard of the OT law (Leviticus 24:19-21) was designed to limit the civil penalties that could be exacted for crimes. It was a principle of mercy, teaching that the punishment should fit the crime, and not exceed it.

But rabbinical tradition had misapplied the standard, and people were using it to justify acts of personal vengeance. It was meant to regulate penalties administered by legal authorities; but it was being misused as a rationale for deliberate acts of private retaliation. Jesus forbade that.

As shown in Tuesday's post, however, the NT elsewhere expressly affirms the right of governments and government agents to use the sword to mete out retribution to evildoers. So both standards ("an eye for an eye" and "turn the other cheek") are valid in their proper contexts in both OT and NT. No contradiction, no change.

vv. 43-44: "Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you."
  • Moses: "Love your neighbor."
  • Rabbinical gloss: "Hate your enemy."
  • Jesus: "Love your enemies."

No change; no contradiction. This is just a correction of a serious Rabbinical error. The truth is that Moses' law also demanded love for one's enemy (Exodus 23:4-5).

In each case, the true meaning of the New Testament perfectly accords with the true meaning of the Old, and vice versa. So the Sermon on the Mount offers no proof for the thesis that the moral standard changed in the NT.

Instead, it proves the opposite: the very same inviolable moral code governs both covenants.

Phil's signature

05 October 2005

Time out....

Apparently, I still need to explain what I was saying about Mr. bin Laden.

(By the way, it's curious, but oddly reassuring, that even in these postmodern times—yea, even among the most devoted pomos themselves—there are still a few rigid literalists who act as if words are capable only of a single, narrow, woodenly literal meaning.

That's OK with me. I'll just work harder to be clear.)

In the hypothetical example I concocted, when I indicated that I wouldn't hesitate to kill Osama bin Laden, I was not actually condoning "vigilantism."

From the beginning, the statement carried the assumed-but-unstated understanding that if I were actually in such circumstances, it would be either as a soldier whose duty it is to track down the guy and bring him to justice (or bring justice to him); or else as a civilian faced with an opportunity to try to halt some immediate threat of terrorism. That's what we were discussing in the original context of the remark. It didn't occur to me that I might need to spell out all those qualifications every time I returned to the illustration to clarify a point. However—

  1. Of course if I saw Osama at Costco buying milk and riding one of those scooters for disabled people, I wouldn't wantonly and unnecessarily crack his skull with a chub of frozen meat.
  2. The imagery of beating him into unconsciousness with a tube of Costco ground beef was 1) partly for humorous effect, 2) clearly exaggerated, and 3) likewise loaded with a few unspoken but rather obvious assumptions, including the theory that he would most likely try to resist arrest (in which case the same principles would apply whether I was a military authority or a regular Costco shopper trying to make a citizen's arrest.) Only if he resisted would I hit him with bovine products. (Are we clear on that?) If I could reasonably and easily subdue him peaceably, I agree that killing him would be an unjust and unjustifiable act of vigilantism.
  3. I would not, however, first invite Osama to a Backyard Bible Club, a week of VBS, or an evangelistic meeting. I would indeed want him to hear the gospel at an opportune time, but that will most likely come only after he is subdued and imprisoned. (Unless he meets a more immediate form of justice, in which case I would feel no personal responsibility for the failure to evangelize him. That will be true even if by some amazing and unlikely turn of events I become the one who ultimately has to beat the life out of him with a frozen Costco chub, or whatever.)

I realize there are those who will judge me guilty of an unloving and overly-harsh attitude toward our terrorist neighbors who need to hear the gospel, and a few tenderhearted souls might even henceforth boycott the blog. But I gotta be honest with you: At the moment, I want to see Osama out of commission. After that, if the opportunity arises, I'll help map out a strategy to evangelize him.

Phil's signature

Drama in the waiting room

PyroManiacOK, here's the deal...

I was planning to post some material today that continued and elaborated on yesterday's theme.

Owing to circumstances beyond my control, however, I didn't get home until nearly 9:00 PM, which was too late to start working on a proper blogpost about a topic as controversial as pacifism. So I'll get back to that issue tomorrow, and today's post will be one of those infamous quick-and-dirty "This Is Where I Am Now" diary-type posts Frank Turk rightly abominates.

This is where I was today...

I had a doctors' appointment scheduled today at 4:00 PM. (Routine annual checkup, but thanks for your concern.) My doctor nearly always runs at least an hour late, and yes, it's frustrating, but I've had the same family physician for 20+ years, so I keep coming back.

This time, it seemed to take forever, and I ended up not leaving the doctor's office till after 7:30. Since I arrived at 3:45, that broke down to an hour and a half in the waiting room proper, an hour and a half waiting in the examination room (during which I read every MAGAZINE AVAILABLE!! TWICE!!), and then a half hour with the doctor probing, scolding, and wondering aloud why my blood pressure was so high. Then it took fifteen minutes more to get all the paperwork done, referrals to the lab for blood work, prescriptions and sample packages of a new blood-pressure medicine, co-payments paid, release forms signed, and all the other annoying things things that make medicine these days so inefficient and costly.

Normally, I would have considered it a totally wasted afternoon, but something exquisitely interesting happened while I was in the waiting room.

The receptionist at my doctor's office is a notoriously brusque man. Let's call him "Duke." That's not really his name, of course. But he looks and acts like it should be his name. Anyway, Duke is a royal pain to deal with. He will always put callers on hold within 4 seconds of answering a call; it's become a reflex action with him. It's the way he routinely answers the phone. ("Doctor's office; please hold." Followed by on-hold music.)

If Duke ever promises to phone in a prescription to the pharmacy for you, you can guarantee he will forget, and you will have to track him down and listen to at least 10 minutes of on-hold music, so you can remind him to do what he said he would not forget. When you do track him down, he'll blame something beyond his control, and try his best to make you feel like you're being unreasonable. It's happened at least fifty times over the past five years.

Plus, he has zero people skills. He's been my doctor's office manager for more than a decade and for the life of me I cannot explain why. If I didn't have such high respect for this doctor's skill and such a long track record with this same family physician, I would switch doctors in a heartbeat.

But I digress. I hate dealing with Duke. I always let Darlene do it. And as sweet and gentle as she is, her dealings with Duke regularly test her sanctification. No way I would ever wish to take this scoundrel's side in a dispute with anyone over his bad manners.

Today, however, I did. Some drug salesperson got angry with him for refusing to let her see the doctor to explain the benefits of a new wonder-drug. This salesperson was a woman who started out real perky, but—without Duke's really doing anything to provoke her—she became angry, started shrieking at him, turned her wrath against everyone in the waiting room, and finally called the police to report that Duke was "harassing" her. All this was just because he declined to let her see the doctor and then held his ground when she threatened to throw a tantrum.

That's what you call high-pressure sales. I've been a critic of Duke's people skills for years, but this time, he was not legitimately to blame.

The amazing thing is that the police actually showed up to investigate. By that time, however, the harridan had fled the premises, so there was no one to make a formal complaint. It would have been really interesting if she had stuck around. I think I would actually have felt sorry for Duke if they had led him off in handcuffs for basically doing his job. But it would have been a sweet thing to see anyway.

Actually, it couldn't have happened. Every person in the waiting room was prepared to give testimony that she was the one doing the harrassment. It was the biggest hissy fit I have ever actually seen in person, close up. She was good at it, too. And really believable. Her mascara was well and truly streaked by the time she finally left.

Anyway, my long and eventful day in the waiting room is the reason I didn't answer many of the comments that were posted yesterday. And that's also why there's no follow-up post yet. Stay tuned.

One clarification on the pacifism issue

I did appreciate all the comments and questions. Someone directed me to a neighboring blog, "Scribbles in the Sand," where Greg Ho raises a point I want to reply to. Greg, by the way, is a grad student at Princeton (so he's really slumming when he reads PyroManiac). He's also a former member of my church, and he reminds me that I met him once. (I do remember the incident, Greg, but just barely. Thank you for your kindness on that occasion.)

Anyway, Greg writes: "I agree with [Phil] on most of the points he makes, except the one about how it would be right to lob a grenade at Osama Bin Laden even if there was going to be known human collateral damage (if that were the case, why not nuke the whole country of Pakistan)."

Good point, and it raises an issue I need to clarify. What I said was, "As a Christian, I would have no compunction about pulling the pin and lobbing a grenade at Osama bin Laden, even if I knew it would kill bin Laden and everyone else within a 30-foot radius."

To be clear, my assumption is that Osama is still hiding in a cave somewhere, and everyone within a 30-foot radius of him is a terrorist, sympathizer, or support person.

Actually, if by happenstance I ran into Osama at the local Costco and there were moms and children in that thirty-foot radius, I'd try a different method to kill him. (If I could, I'd crack his skull with a tube of Costco's frozen ground beef.) My remark wasn't meant to indicate approval of all civilian "collateral damage." If there's a reasonable way to avoid it and still accomplish the military objective, I wouldn't condone deliberately killing non-combatants. Especially a tactic like nuking a whole country just to be sure you get one guy.

My point stands, however: I wouldn't accept the argument that "collateral damage" is always unjustified, nor do I think the mere fact of civilian deaths proves ipso facto that a tactic is immoral.

And if there are civilians who can actually get within 30 feet of Osama because they know him and are sympathetic with his terrorist tactics, or otherwise deliberately providing him a safe environment where he could blend in, I wouldn't hesitate to throw a grenade in amongst them in order to end his evil influence. I would be sorry and not glad about the collateral deaths, but I would regard them as justifiable nonetheless.

A few miscellaneous short answers

Here's a scattershot array of short responses to various comments on yesterday's post: Let's stay focused here. I didn't intend the post to be an apologia for "just war" theory, a defense of the current Iraq campaign, or an invitation to discuss what is wrong with our government's bureaucracy. (I don't recall even mentioning any of those subjects, pro or con.)

I did explicitly say it would grieve me deeply if I ever had to kill anyone.

And it ought to have been perfectly clear from the context that my remark about someone's brains getting blown out his left nostril was not a celebratory remark about anyone whose brains I actually witnessed getting blown out of said nostril. It wasn't a reference to any actual event at all, but a purely hypothetical argument. It was an attempt to make a graphic point about the justice of lethal force in the worst criminal cases. I stand by it.

I also want to point out how seriously twisted it is that in certain postmodern religious circles such plain language about justice for evildoers is deemed a greater social gaffe—or at the very least, it is more likely to provoke outrage and draw a scolding—than the actual wicked behavior of the evildoers.

I'll try, as time permits, to expand on some of these issues in subsequent posts. That's the best I can do tonight, though.

Phil's signature

04 October 2005

Go ahead. Make my day.

Other articles in this series:

Make my day, punkHere's an admission that will come as no surprise to those who know me: I'm not a pacifist. In fact, I think radical pacifism is both immoral and unbiblical.

I realize, of course, that some Christians do advocate strict pacifism. They believe all war is immoral; they teach that self-defense is always wrong; and they even sometimes argue that it is wrong to use deadly force to stop a rapist or killer in the commission of his crime.

That sort of pacifism is based on a jejune approach to Scripture and an absurd misapplication of some commandments that are clearly meant to govern how we respond to everyday interpersonal conflicts—not capital crimes and acts of war.

For example, the context shows clearly that Jesus' famous command in Matthew 5:39 ("Resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also") applies to personal and individual insults. Jesus wasn't giving a prescription for how nations ought to respond to terrorism and acts of military aggression from enemy armies. In fact, the commandment doesn't apply at all to government authorities in the performance of their duties.

The apostle Paul makes that perfectly clear in Romans 13:4. That verse expressly teaches that government authorities who use force against evildoers are acting as ministers of God. The principle Paul outlines in Romans 13 applies to the use of force (including, sometimes, deadly force) in a wide range of situations—from a just war to the shooting of an armed robber in the commission of his crime to the execution of criminals convicted of capital crimes.

That doesn't authorize any and all use of government force in every situation, obviously. Note that the principle grants rulers authority to use deadly force against those who "do evil." Scripture—not public opinion or some dictator's personal whim—gives the only reliable and authoritative definition of who is an evildoer and how much force is justifiable in which situations.

It would be clearly wrong, and an atrocity by any measure, for an army or individual to cause civilian casualties in a wanton and deliberate way, with the sole aim of provoking horror and dread and thereby subduing innocent people under the tyrrany of a despot, a religious idol, or a false god. That, of course, is the central tactic of terrorism, and that tactic itself is evil and unjust, and deserving of the severest forms of punishment.

Civilian casualties caused unintentionally or as collateral damage in attacks on legitimate military targets are another matter. The mere presence of civilian deaths is not sufficient proof that whatever act of war caused those deaths is ipso facto immoral. I personally would be prepared to argue, for example, that the use of nuclear weapons at the end of World War II was justified because those who ordered those attacks believed the action would end the war quickly and thereby save many lives in the long run. And I believe a strong case can be made to show that is precisely what happened.

I once said those things (or something similar) in the presence of a radical pacifist. He was a former Presbyterian Calvinist who had embraced pacifism, adopted a modified semi-pelagian flavor of Arminianism, and abandoned the principle of substitutionary atonement. He had joined an Anabaptist sect where this sort of doctrine was taught. He told me he had come to see Matthew 5:39 as the interpretive key to all of Scripture. Pacifism, he was convinced, was the central message of Christ's life, and His death on the cross was designed to be a vivid portrayal of the turn-the-other-cheek philosophy. The cross, according to this man's "new" understanding, was not so much a substitute punishment for our sins as a vivid example of how to live in peace.

In other words, this guy had abandoned every vital doctrine of historic evangelicalism and adopted a unique brand of theological liberalism. And by his own admission, this whole paradigm-shift was driven by his radical pacifism.

After explaining why I reject his theory of the atonement (which I still think is the root of his apostasy and the most egregious error in the hideous garland of theological blunders he had woven for himself), I told this guy that as a Christian, I would have no compunction about pulling the pin and lobbing a grenade at Osama bin Laden, even if I knew it would kill bin Laden and everyone else within a 30-foot radius.

Here is the conversation that ensued. My pacifist friend's words are in red:

Compunction is a rather "useful" word in a context like this. But suppose there were no grounds for assuming the innocent victims' guilt before God. Would it then cause you any anxiety or grief to know that you were taking the life of those civilians?

Of course it would cause me grief. It causes me grief just to read about such loss of life. And grief is always intensified the closer you are to a tragedy. But my grief in such circumstances wouldn't be caused by guilt or moral uneasiness over the act itself. In that sense, I would have no "anxiety."

One passage in the NT debunks the sort of pacifism you are defending: Romans 13:4, which expressly grants governments and rulers a right to bear the sword to execute wrath on those who do evil. And the verse clearly states that this is a ministry for good.

Every policeman faces a similar moral dilemma every day when he straps on his gun. I hope you wouldn't argue that there is something morally unsavory about a cop who has to use deadly force to stop a child molester in the act of attacking a helpless child.

Jesus taught us to love our enemies. Even defending a little girl, how does a 38 Magnum "love" its victim?

Ever hear of "tough love"?

On the other hand, what kind of twisted "love" makes a rapist or killer into a "victim" while refusing to defend the little girls who are the true victims of such miscreants?

I didn't call the attacker a victim, just an enemy.

Yes, you did. You wrote, "Even defending a little girl, how does a 38 Magnum love its victim?"—making the rapist a "victim" and the policeman a wrongdoer, when in reality if the scoundrel gets his brains blown out his left nostril while in the process of molesting a little girl, he is a "victim" of nothing but his own wickedness and the righteous retribution of God.

I was just trying to point out that the policeman wouldn't be showing much love for the enemy if he blows him away with a gun.

On the contrary, if I can prevent him from carrying out the rape, I will have saved him from committing at least one of the sins for which he will have to give account to God. Under the circumstances, it might be the most loving thing I can do for him.

Regarding the issue of defending the little girl, I managed to raise 3 boys and 3 girls without ever having to resort to violence.

Good for you. I sincerely hope for your children and grandchildren's sake you are never put in a position where you need to resort to violence to protect them, because it doesn't sound like you'd have the godly wisdom and manly boldness to do what would need to be done on their behalf in the worst of circumstances.

What helped is that we didn't do things to make people into our enemies.

Really? Notice how subtly you are taking credit for the grace God has mercifully shown you, while implicitly laying blame on the little girl who does get attacked by a rapist. What a twisted sense of "righteousness" your sect has taught you! I never liked radical Anabaptist moralism. Thanks for reminding me why.

Now please tell me, Phil: how do you fulfill Christ's command to love such an enemy as an attacker of little girls? Sola scriptura: give me a Bible verse that supports the killing of bad guys.

I already gave you the Scripture. Romans 13:4 plainly and expressly states that sometimes bearing the sword against an evildoer is a ministry of God for good.

Several years ago, at the church I was attending at the time, we had a kind and godly deacon who had served as a counselor in our church for many years. He was also a city cop. One Sunday he shot and killed a drug-crazed reprobate who drew a gun in the church parking lot during a church service. It was his duty as an off-duty officer to do what he did. It was also, according to Romans 13:4, his biblical duty.

Sometimes church discipline has to be done the hard way.

Phil's signature

03 October 2005

Monday Menagerie XVIII

PyroManiac devotes Monday space to esoteric and offbeat things, in the hope that these will supply learning experiences for us all.

Song of Deliverance

Herb and Ruth Clingen
Herb and Ruth Clingen
Herb and Ruth Clingen were career missionaries who retired in Southern California and spent the final years of their lives ministering alongside John MacArthur to the people of Grace Community Church.

During World War II, the Clingens were held prisoner in a civilian internment camp in Los Banõs, not far from Manila in the Philippines. It was a long and grueling ordeal.

Near the end of the war, as part of General MacArthur's successful campaign to liberate the Philippines from Japanese domination, the internees at Los Banõs were dramatically rescued in a dawn raid by American paratroopers. It was one of the most remarkable and heroic chapters of World War II history, but the raid on Los Banõs was neither well publicized nor widely noticed, even at the time, because it happened on the same day as the battle of Iwo Jima, and that event got all the headlines.

Still, a number of WWII history books include chapters on Los Banõs—some from the perspective of the rescuers, and a few from the perspective of the internees. The story of the picture-perfect rescue is well worth tracking down to read in detail. It would make a wonderful movie.

Herb's diary
Herb's diary
Herb Clingen kept a diary of his experiences during the war. The handmade diary in which Herb recorded the story of their imprisonment and rescue was a burlap-bound, hand-embroidered notebook—a gift from Ruth to Herb on their first Christmas in the Japanese prison. (It's one of the "books" referred to in Herb's first diary entry below.) The worn diary remained one of his most precious possessions until the end of his life.

Herb and Ruth wanted to write a detailed account of their internment and deliverance, but they were never able to interest a publisher in publishing it. In the late 1980s, they enlisted my help in compiling a single chapter of annotated notes from Herb's diary for publication in a magazine. Herb's diary entries are italicized in brown below. The black text is the commentary Ruth added in about 1988.

Herb and Ruth are both with the Lord now. I wish Herb could have lived long enough to see what an impact the Internet has had. A blog would have been an ideal medium for the serialization and publication of his wartime diary.

So today, in honor of Herb and Ruth, I'm including the article they asked me to help them write. The heart of this article consists of excerpts of Herb's diary. The diary portions are presented as they were written, despite the pejorative use of the word "Japs." That was a common expression during the war, and I have retained it here rather than compromising the integrity of Herb's diary.

I hope you'll enjoy this sample of Herb and Ruth's war experiences. It's a moving account of God's faithfulness in our severest trials.

Rescue at Los Banos

We had seen American planes flying low overhead. The Allies were finally winning the war in the Pacific. But what was wonderful news to most Americans had ominous overtones for us. Together with our three-year-old son Bobby we were prisoners of the Japanese along with more than 2,000 other civilian internees in the Philippines.

Rescue from Los Banõs
by Herb and Ruth Clingen

Monday December 25, 1944—Christmas was a happy, happy day. Happiness, as with other such joys is a comparative thing. This year, in our own "little home" with our own little boy, we celebrated our Savior's birth. What a thrill to see Bobby react to his first Christmas of which he will have a memory! The little toys I made (Mickey Mouse, blocks, cigar-box cart) and the lovely books and clothes Ruth made were joyously received.

Our "little home" that Christmas was a makeshift set of bamboo barracks at Los Banõs. It was one of the largest internment camps of World War II, located about an hour south of Manila, at the Philippine National School of Agriculture.

Herb's journal entry the next day was more somber.

Tuesday December 26—Christmas Day has passed, and with it our last can of meat and any supply of food. There is a temptation to despair as we see this war continue perhaps to find us here well into 1945. Also, rumors are abroad that our rations will receive a still further cut. (Mush this morning was as low as it has been for some time.)

As our boys come nearer (saw five P-38s today—two, in fact, right over camp) the Japs get harder to deal with. What will be our plight? That a crisis is impending, no one doubts. So much for Hebrews 13:5-6. As for Romans 15:30-32, it is a challenge to pray that we will get out of here.

Los Banos internment camp from the air as liberation begins. Note smoke from markers for paratroopers.
Los Banõs internment camp from the air as liberation begins. Note smoke from markers for paratroopers.

We did not know it, but our captors expected American soldiers to attempt a rescue at any time. The camp guards were prepared for a wholesale massacre. They had positioned large drums of gasoline throughout the barracks. If American soldiers tried to rescue us, the gasoline would be set ablaze. Prisoners running out of the barracks amid flames and confusion would be met with machine-gun fire.

The Japanese were notorious for atrocities against prisoners of war. The Bataan death march led to nearly 50,000 deaths of captured American soldiers by starvation, torture, and disease.

Worse, at the POW camp on Palawan, Japanese guards, mistakenly thinking they were going to be attacked, had forced 140 prisoners into underground shelters, doused them with gasoline, and set them ablaze. Los Banõs was set for a similar holocaust, only this time with civilians—including hundreds of women and children.

Civilian prisoners
Civilian prisoners
What a night! Bobby contracted a bit of a cold. When he can't breathe properly I defy anyone to get a sound sleep! This besides mosquitos that got into his net made the night a nightmare. But morning found us in good spirits although we have had to keep him in. His high fever is gone and at time of writing he is snoring peacefully!

Thursday December 28—Bobby has had a cough and cold since Christmas but is better. He has ever so much fun with his toys. A darling child and is taking it on the chin as cheerfully as his mummy. Thank God for both of them.

Nearly everyone in the camp was suffering from beriberi and other side-effects of severe malnutrition. Daily food rations consisted of two meals a day, usually nothing more than a meager cup of mush and on good days mongo beans. Meat was almost unheard of, and many of the prisoners ate pods from unidentified trees to supplement their diets.

We ached for Bobby. Once a friendly Japanese guard had given him an extra portion of rice. Several weeks later, Bobby saw another guard washing dishes at a spigot. When he approached and asked the man for some rice, the guard gruffly brushed him off. Bobby, crushed, ran to Herb crying bitterly. There was nothing Herb could do. It broke our hearts.

Weighing even more heavily on Herb's mind was the fact that I was seven months pregnant. If we weren't rescued soon, the baby would face certain malnutrition. We tried to be optimistic.

Monday January 1, 1945—And what a happy New Year this is going to be. Everyone is confident that before many weeks (perhaps days) we are going to be out of here! Today some 24 to 26 4-motor bombers flew over—so white and new they looked—escorted by a large number of P-38s! As they passed over they fired what some folks interpreted to be the victory code " . . .—." Morse code V for victory!

Friday January 5—O, Like Hudson Taylor, may these experiences prepare us for a life of rich ministry in years ahead. It will be worth it!!

A week into the new year, we were awakened very early one morning by commotion in the camp.

Sunday January 7 (4:15 A.M.)—We are FREE!!! Praise God! Jap guards have pulled out. Chairman has signed a receipt for us all. Have been advised to remain within confines of camp until . . .!!!

Double mush, coffee, coconut mush for breakfast at 8:50 A.M. Everyone beside himself with joy!!! The beginning of a new day! A new chapter opens for our lives. May it all be for Him, whose I am and whom I serve!

We could not leave the camp because we were still behind Japanese lines. But we were now confident that it was only a matter of time before American soldiers showed up to liberate us completely. In our euphoria, someone suggested a new name for the camp.

Camp Freedom, Los Banõs—Just back from flag raising ceremonies. We have been declared free! What a shout of cheer went up!

Prisoners immediately raided the guards' barracks and storehouses. There they found supplies—including rice, vegetables, and food like we had not seen for months!

Tuesday January 9—Bobby received MILK!!! A quart bottle of pasteurized milk from animal husbandry. I tasted a bit. DELICIOUS! Bobby went after it like a little calf! First fresh cow's milk he has ever had. Imagine—we didn't use any mush from the line this noon! And three days ago we went to bed starved—literally! How good God has been to us.

The camp committee had warned us to stay within the camp for our own safety, but few prisoners were able to resist the urge to stand outside the barbed wire fence and just smell the air of freedom.

Wednesday January 10—Went outside gate by old Italian camp. Stood on bridge. A foretaste of what it will be like to be free! Glorious!!! Had more molasses mush and cocomash.

But our freedom was to be short-lived. At the end of the week we were awakened in the middle of the night with chilling news.

Saturday January 13—"The Commandant Konishi and his staff have returned. Keep away from the fence and all sentry boxes . . ." With this announcement we were awakened. Our hearts melted like water and the rest of the night gave us fitful sleep. Apparently the Japs have been hard pressed. They looked worn and haggard, Konishi not having shaved since he left.

Would like to write impressions and reactions of past week. Afraid I can't express them. Had thought in passing that the Japs might take camp over again (small garrison remained at front gate after 1st day) but never dreamed old commandant and staff would return.

Konishi was a brutal, ruthless man—surely the most hated and feared man in our camp. He swaggered around the camp with a slight limp, intimidating the prisoners and his own soldiers with threats and acts of cruelty. We assumed from the way our captors looked that they had been called to the front lines to dig trenches for the combat soldiers. Their reappearance at our camp was completely unexpected. I still get a sinking feeling remembering that day. It was one of the bleakest we have ever known.

Roll call lasted from 2 P.M. till 3:30. Nothing is in orderly manner. No one respects the Japs and they have lost so much face they don't seem to respect themselves. Some are of the opinion they will leave in a short while. However, they have restricted us to camp under penalty of death.

Konishi was furious that the internees had raided the storehouses. He demanded the immediate return of everything that had been taken. He was especially indignant that his radio was missing. Apparently someone had taken it into the village and bartered for food with it, because it was never returned. Konishi's response was to cut our already meager food ration. From that day on, he seemed determined to inflict as much agony on us as possible.

Monday January 15—Mass demonstrations! Protests! Meetings—visits with Konishi, staff, etc. What a day!

Shortly after breakfast it became evident that we were to have no noon meal and only mush and stew for supper. Women of one of the barracks went to Konishi and demanded we have food. He called them all kinds of names, threatened them and tore around in general. But camp refuses to go back on pre-starvation rations since we know food is available outside the camp.

The showdown only made Konishi more vicious. From that time on his treatment of internees was sadistic.

Tuesday January 16—Two boys from upper camp were caught up a tree. Taken by guards with bayonets to Konishi's office. Shortly after several shots heard.

Konishi's plan had been to torment the camp into thinking he was going to torture the young boys over a minor infraction. The gunshots were an unplanned part of the drama.

Just got news shooting was by guards. Internee caught going over fence and was shot. Brought dead to hospital. Serious days. Dangerous.

Konishi had threatened the death penalty for anyone caught outside the camp. A young internee named Pat Hell had sneaked out to look for food. He was gunned down immediately by the camp guards. He was not to be Konishi's last victim.

Friday January 19—Konishi has been as mean as the devil again. Promises if things returned that had been taken after they left he would consider food again. Ruth not well. Situation is wearing on her nerves. The days are long and we have waited a lifetime. "Thou art my hiding place; Thou shall preserve me from trouble: thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance" (Psalm 32:7).

Sunday January 21—Six years ago today we left America! Three years ago today we first hid out in the mountains. What does the future hold for us? It holds eternal life, we know! Hallelujah!

Three years of captivity had worn us down. The terror and violence of the past week were pushing us to the breaking point. Then came an incident that showed us just how merciless our captors could be.

Sunday January 28—Awakened this morning by rifle shot. An internee, George Lewis, was shot reentering camp.

George Lewis had sneaked out of camp to try to find food. The guards saw him returning and shot him in the shoulder. The wound was not serious, but Konishi refused to let the camp doctor treat him. They dragged him behind a building and shot him through the head, literally blowing his brains out. The entire camp was stunned. We realized, perhaps for the first time, just how savage our captors could be when they were desperate.

We were desperate, too. Konishi continued to cut the food ration. He seemed intent on starving the entire camp to death. It was as if he wanted to punish us for America's victories against Japan.

Tuesday January 30—At lunch today darling Ruth stated that something would have to change soon as she just cannot seem to get this mush down any longer. She has been a remarkable example of patience and endurance.

Wednesday January 31—Konishi cut grain ration again—25 grams corn, 215 grams rice—lowest it has been. Thank God for our rice on hand. Made thick stew of pig weed & 300 Grams rice this noon.

Thursday February 1—Committee had meeting with Konishi. Starting tomorrow we are to be reduced to a little less than 200 grams of corn/rice per person. Committee to protest this drastic cut. Everyone discouraged because our boys still 20-30 miles from Manila and our situation here getting steadily worse. I find comfort in Psalms 27 & 46.

Sunday February 4—While in church Ruth and I looked up on hill at any number of banana and coconut trees—fruit for which we are starving. O lord, how much longer? Ruth is weakness personified. She can hardly get around. How my heart goes out to her. Please Lord, grant that she may get some strengthening food before the baby comes.

Food was available—for a price. Somehow a black market continued to operate underground within the camp. If one had money, or jewelry, or almost any valuables, he could supplement the food ration with illegally obtained food. But the prices were exorbitant—about $50 for two pounds of rice.

Monday February 5—Ruth and I are discussing trading her diamond engagement ring for food. I see that our food is sufficient to sustain life but not enough to build strength. Thus, for Ruth's sake I would consider a trade for mongo beans and sugar. If nothing happens by the 15th, we must do something drastic.

Wednesday February 7—Ruth has not been strong today but God has given grace. Something must happen before the 19th because the camp's grain issue runs out then. God will not forsake us.

A few days later the Committee voted to give a supplementary ration to expectant mothers. It eased the pressure enough so that we decided not to trade my ring, but we continued to starve.

Thursday February 8—I had a season of prayer beside Bobby's bed at which time I reconsidered just what my devotion to Christ really means. Not only a yielding of myself as a living sacrifice but also the surrendering of Ruth and Bobby. No one knows what will be the end of this thing. May my life be a positive testimony of God's ability to keep one's mind at peace in the midst of suffering, hunger, weakness, and wasting.

News about the war raging all around us was scarce. We heard bombs and tremendous explosions—often frighteningly close to camp, but we did not know what the noises meant. One thing was clear: both sides were suffering heavy casualties as the fighting dragged on.

Tuesday February 13—American Filipino Scouts came into camp, reporting that our forces lost heavily in Manila but finally broke through. Santo Thomas is free. People in deplorable condition. Supposedly relief is coming here from the south. Remains to be seen.

Santo Thomas was another civilian internee camp in Manila. We had been held there before being moved to Los Banõs.

Friday February 16—A meeting with the Japs reveals that they have obtained little rice. Only a few kilos of any kind of vegetables are coming in. The trees in the compound are fast being cut down for firewood. The situation is desperate. One kilo of rice now sells for $70 US. Another internee died of beriberi yesterday. God is a refuge for us (Psalm 62:5-8).

Saturday, February 17—Didn't sleep well last night. Babies cried and thought of food situation worried me, I confess, in spite of wonderful prayer service at Landis's last night. Guess I fear the starvation suffering—not so much for myself as for Ruth and Bobby. I got down beside Bobby's bed and sought God's face. He answered and I immediately went to sleep and had sweet dreams.

But Konishi found an inventive way to abuse us even more. He increased the food ration but gave us palay—unhusked rice. Eating the rice with its razor-sharp outer shell would cause intestinal bleeding that would kill us in hours. We had no tools to remove the husks, and doing the job manually—by pounding the grain or rolling it with a heavy stick—consumed more calories than the rice would make up for. It was the death sentence for all internees.

Monday February 19—This morning Konishi handed over rice issue: 8 sacks of husked rice and 36 25-kilo sacks of palay! Whiteman in explaining his situation and offering materials in exchange for food. He claims he and family will go over fence! It just cannot be long! Dr. Magill passed to a rich reward 4 A.M.

Dr. Magill was 68. He had died of malnutrition.

Wednesday February 21—The situation at present: one death per day for the last six or seven days. These caused by malnutrition resulting in beriberi. Our only hope is God. Never before have I been so thrown upon the Lord. It won't be long now. It will be over the fence or over the River. The prayer of my heart is that I shall not fail Him. "Be anxious for nothing" (Philippians 4:6). "Though He slay me yet will I trust Him."

Hours after Herb wrote that in his diary, we awoke to another day of desperate hunger. I remember the sense of dread and despondency as Herb prepared boiling water for "breakfast."

Saturday February 24—A brief resume of yesterday: Got fire under pot by 6:45 A.M. Too cold for shower. Roll call bell just rung when heard noise of many planes. Went to look. Paratroopers! Excitement. Shots. Under bed with Ruth and Bobby. Saw Jap steal down beside barracks. Moments later paratroopers swarmed camp. Entire garrison of 85 Jap guards wiped out. Konishi included! Soon tanks came into camp via all roads. Order given to evacuate barracks.

General MacArthur's Army had finally come. The 511th Parachute Infantry's 1st Battalion came en masse from the sky at exactly 7:00 A.M. That was the exact time our guards had their morning calisthenics, during which they locked their weapons in a cabinet across the field. Guerrillas and a few ground-based troops broke into the camp, seized the weapons cabinet, and routed the entire guard force. Many were killed. Most—including Konishi as we learned later, fled for their lives into the surrounding jungle.

Some of the prisoners prepare for the trip to freedom.
Some of the prisoners prepare for the trip to freedom.

The American soldiers rounded up the stunned prisoners with what few possessions we had left. Miraculously, not a single internee was seriously wounded in the raid. They loaded us into amphibious vehicles—which we had never seen—and took us safely across the lake to Manila.

Into tanks safely. Soldiers gave us biscuits, fruit bars. Started out toward beaches and returned fire as were challenged. A 20th century miracle—tanks became ferries and took us across Laguna de Bay to Manila! Thrilling! Arrived here about 5 P.M. Standing in noon chow line at Bilibid prison outside Manila as I write. This will be our home for the next few days at least. Ruth fine. In hospital ward with Bobby for rest.

Have since learned what our fate would have been. Retreating Japs had artillery trained on our camp. They were to have exterminated us sometime during the day (according to reports) but God answered prayer and we were delivered JUST IN TIME! We are all safe and happy. Praise God!

Herb, Ruth, and Bobby with one of their rescuers
Herb, Ruth, and Bobby with one of their rescuers
And so we were saved from a certain death. Exactly a week later I delivered a daughter, Betty. We had been rescued in time for me to gain some strength before her birth, and she was fine and healthy. The doctor had no scales, but he optimistically estimated her weight at 6 lbs. She and Bobby both grew normally with no adverse effects from our ordeal.

Looking back we see the hand of God clearly protecting us through three years of captivity. In the midst of our worst starvation, just days before we were rescued, Herb wrote in his diary, "O, Like Hudson Taylor, may these experiences prepare us for a life of rich ministry in years ahead. It will be worth it!!"

It has been worth it. We constantly are asked to share our experiences during the war, and literally hundreds of people have turned to the Lord because of the testimony of His faithfulness to us.

Free at last!
Free at last!

Years after the war we learned that Konishi had been found working as a grounds keeper at a Manila golf course. He was put on trial for his war crimes and hanged. Before his execution he professed conversion to Christianity, saying he had been deeply affected by the testimony of the Christian missionaries he had persecuted.
Herb and Ruth Clingen

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