Editor's note: What follows is a synopsis of the sermon delivered to the congregation of Bridwell Heights Presbyterian Church, Kingsport, Tenn., on Sunday, Sept. 16, 2001.
If I had told you last week that it would happen, you would not have believed me. It is shocking. It is a disaster. I am speechless. These are words that accurately describe my reaction to the attack by Islamic terrorists on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Yet, lest we forget, this is not the first time such words have been spoken in history. Similar words were spoken by the prophet Habakkuk several thousand years ago. In Habakkuk 1:5, the prophet said to the people of Israel, "Look among the nations! Observe! Be astonished! Wonder! Because I am doing something in your days - You would not believe if you were told."
It is amazing how those of us who are students of the Bible can now readily identify with the emotions and feelings of the people of Israel when they saw the prophecy of Habakkuk fulfilled before their very own eyes. They too did not believe it would happen. The emotions of fear, frustration, confusion, and all the other related feelings sprung forth in their hearts like gushing water from a well. When we read such passages in the future, we will no longer do so with a passive, disconnected attitude. We will know exactly what it was like to experience disaster.
As I was preparing my sermon this week, I felt compelled to change my topic. Like the author of the Book of Jude, I decided to speak to a more urgent issue. In light of the events of this past week, I believe God's people need to hear from their church. How do we as Christians respond to the murder of our fellow citizens? How could it happen right here in America, within our own borders? What shall we make of all of this and what shall we do?
Right here in America, the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center were attacked by hijackers who turned our own domestic airplanes into lethal weapons of mass destruction. Men who we call cowards, but who considered themselves to be brave warriors for Allah, murdered our people both in the air and on the ground. It was horrible. From a terrorist point of view it was ingenious.
In view of this disaster and in view of the fact that many of you have been glued to the television set, I believe the Reformed Christian community must speak to our people. We hear the analysis of secular news daily, but how is the Reformed Christian community to analyze these events? Obviously, we see things differently than those of the world, and even than those of the evangelical world. How should the people of this congregation respond to this tragedy?
Let me first say, that I take a risk in speaking to this issue so soon after its occurrence. Wisdom does not begin or end with me. I generally glean from the wisdom of others before I speak to the people under my charge. However, in view of the difficulty of this week for all of us, I felt compelled to speak to you on this, the Sunday after 9-11. There is an urgency here that compels me to take that risk.
I would like to speak to you from two different perspectives today. I will speak to you first of all as a citizen of the United States, and secondly, as a Christian. I understand that in reality, I cannot divide myself into two persons, or even separate my views, but I believe an analysis from two different perspectives may be helpful.
First, as a citizen of the United States, of course who is also a Christian, I would bring two things to your attention. As a citizen, I would encourage you to respond to our fellow Americans with deeds of mercy. Let us pray for the victims still alive and for their families. Let us ask God's mercy upon all those who are part of the rescue effort, many who daily risk their own lives for others. The Presbyterian Church in America has established a special Mercy Ministry Fund to aid those afflicted by this crisis. We will be taking two offerings next week. One will be our regular offering, and the other will be a special offering that will be used to "offer a cup of cold water" to those in need. I would encourage you to give generously to this cause. It will be an opportunity for you to do something personally.
Also, as a citizen of the United States, I believe that we must encourage our civil authorities to continue to protect our national borders from further attack. It is their responsibility to protect us from all enemies, both domestic and foreign. Our civil government has the responsibility to punish evildoers. Those who perpetrated this crime of murder must be punished. It is the duty of the civil magistrate to administer the vengeance of God. I know such language is unpopular and politically incorrect today, but it is Biblical. Sadly, modern interpreters of the Bible have separated Romans 12 from Romans 13. In Romans 12, Paul says that vengeance belongs to Him. "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, saith the Lord." In Romans 13, Paul goes on to comment on the administration of the vengeance of God, and puts such responsibility in the hands of the civil magistrate. Romans 13: 4 says, "…for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil." Thus, it is the responsibility of our leaders to avenge the deeds of murder upon our people. Individual Americans must refrain from personally attacking other Americans who may be of a different race or color. Such personal attacks are sin.
In carrying out their responsibility, our government needs our prayers. It will take much wisdom, and I fear, more than they have. They must understand the cause of this attack. They must study history, and judge rightly how to respond. They must understand the Middle East conflict, and the religious roots of that conflict. They must understand that all the nations in the Middle East must be treated in a just and fair manner. They must understand that there are many Arab Christians. They must understand that if we sleep with the nation Israel, then we will die with the nation Israel. They must understand that America is also guilty of terrorism. We too have bombed and killed thousands of men, women, and children in the Middle East. We also have supplied the nation of Israel the financial backing and military hardware to do the same thing that we have experienced in this country. Modern Judaism is no more a friend to Christianity and the cause of Christ than is moderate Islam. These are issues that I fear our leaders will ignore.
After the debacle in Vietnam, as I remember, we swore we would never fight another war like that again. It was a war whereby we sent our sons to fight on foreign soil. It was a war with undefined goals. We fought in the enemy' terrain, and our military was limited by inept politicians. Now we have declared World War III, and I fear that it could be worse than Vietnam. Again we may be fighting in foreign territory under rules of war favorable to our enemy. Russia failed in Afghanistan, so what makes us think we can be successful, if we were to fight there a similar war? A war on terrorism reminds me of our war on drugs. We fight against a nebulous and undefined enemy without any borders or standing army. We fight against a movement in the hearts of men. Such a war, I fear is nothing more than a recipe for failure. I pray that our war on terrorism will more effective than our war on drugs.
Then there is the issue of what has traditionally been called in the Christian Community the "Doctrine of a Just War." Developed by Augustine, and generally accepted by the church, war is to be defensive. The purpose of war is to protect our borders, not to invade foreign territory. We should not meddle with the affairs of other nations. Although Augustine's doctrine of "Just War" may need some refining work (which would justify our aid to the Allies against Hitler in World War II), it does demand the attention of our leaders.
Thus, as you can see, even though our leaders have the responsibility to avenge this murderous act, they must do so in such a way that we do not violate wisdom and general principles of Biblical equity. They definitely need our prayers.
Secondly, I will speak to you as a Christian who lives in America. In doing so, I will speak to four issues which I believe you need to hear. I pray for God's wisdom as I seek to apply God's Word to this tragedy.
I need to forewarn you. This is not the end of the world. This is not Armageddon nor is it Apocalypse Now! Don't expect any premillennial rapture soon. I fear that many of our brethren in the church will make a prophetic heyday out of this crisis. Many of them will do it with all sincerity, but some may do it as opportunists. I personally dread the next few months when I will hear how all these events fit into their end-time schemes. Remember that some types of dispensationalism feed upon sensationalism. Gettysburg was not the end of the world. Pearl Harbor was not the end of the world. The Persian Gulf War was not the end of the world. Neither is this attack on America the end of the world. As a postmillennialist, I can assure you that there are many more events to occur in this world before the end of time. Don't be a victim of end-time frenzy.
Secondly, I would encourage you to remember that God is still on His throne. Nothing happens outside of His holy will and purpose. This is not a world of chance. Neither is it a world controlled by Muslim terrorists. God does not sit on the sidelines and watch. He is in control of everything. Paul said in Ephesians 1:11 that "God works all things after the counsel of His own will." It may seem like the world is in chaos, but I assure you it is not. God is sovereign and all things happen according to His most wise and holy decrees. Take comfort in this.
Thirdly, you know that your pastor has always taken great caution in interpreting providential events. We must remember that the only infallible and inerrant Word from God that we have is the Bible. Our interpretation of providential events cannot be put on that same level. I did not know what was in the mind of God when He allowed these things to happen. I have no direct revelation from God regarding providential events. We must be cautious here.
However, as a Christian, I will put before you some principles that I believe are in accord with the Word of God. One of the primary principles found in the Word of God is the fact that God does bring judgment upon those who are special to Him. America is not Israel, and America is not the New Israel, but America has been special to God. God brought judgment upon His people who were special to Him in the Old Testament because of their sin as a nation. I do not believe that it is stretching this principle to interpret these recent providential events as a judgment of God on America, because we have in our past been a special people in His eyes. This tragedy should be interpreted as a "Wake-up Call" by God. On 9-11 calling 911 was of no avail. There was no answer to emergency telephone calls in New York City. In lower Manhattan under the World Trade Center, there were no telephones. God has given America her first warning.
American history is rooted in the Christian faith. Church steeples still landscape our country. Take a few hours and drive through your local town or county, and see the church steeples standing high. Our civil laws were based on the laws of God. We were a leader in the free world because we were first a leader in the Christian world. A scant study of American history will reveal our Christian heritage. From the Pilgrims and Puritans to recent years, America shined as a bright light that reflected her Christian influence. To deny this is to deny history. Yes, history teaches us that America has been special to God.
Yet, our leadership, including most of our churches, have betrayed that history. The Clinton administration revealed the character of our leaders to America. We now tolerate immorality in the White House, and excuse it because of the heretical view that we must somehow separate a man's personal life from his political life. We elect Sodomites to occupy our halls of Congress and to make our laws. We have ejected the Christian God from our schools by denying prayer and refusing to teach His law. We legalized abortion and, therefore, legalized murder. We laugh at the institution of marriage. We have accepted fornication as a way of life. We worship movie stars and entertainers. We desecrate the Lord's Day. We live for pleasure and money. We have conveniently separated morals from religion and created our own religiously rooted "politically correct" speech. America has become a cesspool of immorality and lawlessness. America was under serious attack by anti-Christian forces (including the apostate churches) long before the attack on 9-11. America has lost her peace because America has lost her righteousness.
Some might ask why God would use such evil people as Muslim terrorists to warn us. Again, this is not unusual in the Scriptures. God used the Chaldeans to punish Israel. The Chaldeans were a fierce and impetuous people (Hab.1:6). They were a dreaded and feared people whose concept of justice and authority originated with themselves. Yet God sent them like eagles "swooping down to devour." Parallel to that today, we saw the hand of God in those domestic jet airplanes swooping down like eagles to destroy our own people in both the air and on the ground. It is not contrary to Biblical principles for God to use a more ungodly people to judge those who have been special to Him in days gone by. Contrary to the media responses to the statements of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, there was truth in what they said. God has removed His protective shield from America. There is a reason for His action. God always gives warning before his final judgment. Wake-up America!
Lastly, how are we to respond as Christians in America? What should you do as a Christian? As I previously said, we must respond through deeds of mercy to those who are in despair. We must pray for our government leaders that God might give them wisdom in carrying out their duties. We must pray they will not use this as an occasion to undermine the freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution. In addition, we must pray that America might be so awakened that we as a nation might return to God's law as the basis of our civil law. A revival of patriotism is not the answer. Repentance by our people is the answer. Remember that we the people elected our leaders. It is our responsibility to repent one by one. Since people are a reflection of their religious beliefs, the church in America bears ultimate responsibility. May repentance begin with God's church, especially those who deny the authority of the Holy Scriptures.
Patriotism does not guarantee success. What I see today reminds me of the days when I was a student in college. It reminds me of the pep rallies we used to have when our football team faced our archrival on the football field. We were told if we only "believed," then victory was ours. Our pep rallies were wonderful and we believed, but we still lost. They had a better team than we did. Their team was smarter than our team. May God deliver us from simply trusting in our military and the wisdom of men. Pep rallies pushing patriotism will be of no avail to us, unless we reestablish our submission as a nation under the God of the Bible.
We must not fall into the worship of the idolatrous generic god that is presently being worshipped by our leaders in America. We cannot replace the God of the Bible with some American civic god who views all religions as the same. This is offensive to the Eternal Triune God. Jesus Christ will not share His platform with Allah, Buddha, or any other god. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man cometh unto the Father but by Me." These words are a stumbling block to the adopted religion of egalitarianism, which has so swept America. Worship of a common generic god is an offense to the God of the Bible, whether is be in the National Cathedral or wherever it be. I agree that America will never be the same. This was jarringly demonstrated by a "first" in American history last week. America may never be the same because America has never before seen on public television a Baptist, a Methodist, a Muslim Sikh, a Roman Catholic Priest, and a Jewish Rabbi in a united religious service, where all gods are considered equal. This is not the answer to our problem. This is the root of our problem in America. Until we repent of that blasphemous sin, we cannot expect God's blessing on America. Contrary to modern political thought, every nation chooses a religion. Its religion is the source of its laws. The religion of egalitarianism will not save America. Only Christ will!
Be a student of history. Don't forget that Islam, before the modern age after capturing the Middle East, sought to conquer the world by the sword. Down through history they have left a trail of blood behind them in their lust for expansion. They attempted to conquer all of Europe, but by God's good providence, they were stopped by Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours in 732 A.D. Christ conquers by persuasion under the power of the Holy Spirit. Historically, Islam conquered by the sword. Islam and Christianity historically have nothing in common. Don't forget that.
In conclusion, let me remind you that God will not hear the prayers of those in the National Cathedral who pray to a generic god, but God will hear the prayers of you His people, who pray in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Remember that God told Lot that if he could find just ten righteous men in the city, He would save the city. Remember that God told Elijah that there were ten thousand that had not bowed the knee to Baal, and therefore, His mercy would still abide upon His people. Because you, His people, still live in the land, and because you, His people, love Him with all your heart, mind, and soul; because you, His people, will pray for our nation, God may very well have mercy upon us. If He does, it will be because of you and your prayers. That is a great responsibility.
Remember, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, to be vigilant in prayer, continue to be faithful, continue to reconstruct yourself, your families, and your churches according to God's Word by His grace, and God will have mercy upon us. That's the hope that we have for ourselves and for America.
As citizens of America, we must respond in mercy to our fellow Americans. As citizens of America, we must pray that the civil magistrate is given the wisdom to carry out the God-given responsibility to avenge these acts of murder. We must pray that our leaders will examine their own sins, as we as a nation have also been guilty of the same sins committed against us. As Christians, we must not become victims of end-time frenzy. We must remember that God is still on His throne as the Sovereign Lord. We must call our nation to repent of its immorality and lawlessness. We must be students of history. We must remind our leaders that a generic god will not answer their prayers. This will take boldness, but we must never compromise the claims of Christ. We must continue to persevere in doing what is right before God.
May God calm your hearts and give you peace in these fearful days!