Ecclesiastes 3:8, "A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace."
This morning, we feel impressed to write a very different type of segment than usual. Due to a subject request and hearing a wonderful sermon last night on "Balance," we would like to focus this morning on the subject of "War and Peace." Normally, people are geared one of two ways. Either someone tends more towards war, or they tend more toward peace. Due to personality makeup and general disposition, an individual will have a predilection towards one in particular. However, no matter what the "bent" of someone's personality is, the real question is, "Is war better than peace or vice versa?" We could find countless Scriptures that describe the virtues of peace (Matthew 5:9 for example), but we could equally find countless Scriptures that extol the honour of warfare (Ephesians 6:10-20 for example). This coupling of honourable war and blessed peace should teach us that one is only better than the other in the proper season.
In our study passage, Solomon has been showing the seasons of life. There is a time for everything under heaven. However, when Solomon gets to war and peace, he describes them differently than he does all the rest. In every other pairing, Solomon says there is a time "to" do this and a time "to" do that. When describing war and peace, he describes a time "of" war and a time "of" peace. Why the change in verbiage? Simply put, the other pairings (like laughing and weeping) are actions. These actions may not be engaged in at all. In the example of laughing and weeping, someone could be doing neither. The actions are not perpetual states but rather actions that we engage at different times and seasons. However, war and peace are not simple actions, but rather we perform actions within these states. One is either in the state (position) of war, or they are in the state of peace.
Since these two things are states rather than simple actions, it behooves us to properly consider how to approach them since we are always in one state or the other. To properly scope this, we intend to do something that we normally do not do – draw out certain historical examples by name. When considering war and peace, one can easily see from history that certain wars were honourable while others were not. Likewise, we can conclude that certain "truces" to make peace were really compromises while other peace treaties were noble and good. Therefore, let us consider some honourable and dishonorable wars and peace in our church history.
During the late 1700s and early 1800s, certain ideologies began to rear up within the church that disturbed the peace of Zion. From the teachings of certain preachers, ideas like mission boards, Sunday schools, and other auxiliaries to the church began to be promoted as the right way to go. Coupled with these auxiliaries was the errant teaching that the preaching of the gospel was instrumental in saving God's children to heaven. Doubtless over the 30 years or so that the ideas were growing and festering, many people in the church abhorred the idea of going to war over these things. However, by 1832 when the split became official through the work of things like the Blackrock Address, no thinking mind could doubt that war over these principles was necessary to preserve the purity – and peace – of the Lord's church.
Another war that came a half century or so later came over the absolute predestination question. Some of the same men that had stood steadfastly during the war against the new school ideas became involved in theology that went against the core of Scripture. They promoted ideas such as God predestinated everything that comes to pass, man is completely passive in his actions, and even some espoused the doctrine that God's children were eternal in their existence. By the early 1900s, sound brethren could no longer bear these ideas and openly warred against them – again to preserve the peace and purity of Zion.
The last war we will consider from recent history came another few decades after the absoluter controversy. This conflict became known by many as the Peace/Trumpet/Cayce/Richards division. Certain factional lines were drawn in different areas of the country, and many groups of people were known by the preachers that they had among them (such as Cayce or Richards). While we will forego many of the details of that conflict and strife, the root cause of the war was jealousy among preachers and worshipping of preachers among the hearers. People became more interested in the man than the One who the man was supposed to promote. Preachers became interested in their own legacies and reputations than the One who they were supposed to be extolling.
In the three brief synopses above, we can draw the conclusion that the first two wars were honourable, but the last was quite dishonorable. Flipping the coin, we can say that seeking peace to avoid the war in the first two was dishonorable, but that seeking peace in the face of the third war was honourable. As Solomon so wisely noted by the usage of the word "of" in our study verse, we can only have one or the other. Not only do they not go together concurrently, one is always in season. So, why would we bring to bear those three examples today? What is the relevance of that history for us today?
If someone has the predilection to be a warmonger, they will insistently point to the first two cases to say that war is always the proper course. If someone has the predilection to be a pacifist, they will point to the last case to say that peace is always the proper course. Whether someone's bent is war or peace, the simple point is that we should base the issues of the day on whether they are essential or not, regardless of how we feel personally. If something disturbs the essential points of Scripture (things that cannot be crossed without doing damage to the tenor of the Bible), then it behooves us to war against those ideas lest Zion be overrun in our area with error. If something is simply a matter of non-essential material (or in the case of the last division mentioned a matter of personality or prejudice), then we should devote our energies to promoting peace to the welfare of Zion and the benefit of her inhabitants.
Too many times, we can point to the wrong historical example to seek to prove our point. If we are peace-minded, we might too often point to bad wars and say that we should not go to war. If we are war-minded, we might point to good wars and say that we should go to war. Balance is needed. Our personal bent should not govern our thinking. We should seek to objectively look at the issue before us. Does it pose a legitimate threat to what the church stands for? If it does, honourably war against it. If it does not, honourably seek to teach and live peace.
One final point is this: just as personality bent should not govern how we look at a situation so should circumstances of the day likewise not govern how we look at an issue. Since times change but God's principles do not, our course does not change (or it should not) based on how modern thinking sways at the moment. Looking at the natural world, thinking is swaying towards pro-homosexuality, pro-divorce, pro-abortion, etc. None of that modern thinking and its general sway today changes that God despises those things that are now openly promoted and touted. Likewise, modern thinking in the religious world is Arminian, pro-auxiliaries to the church, etc. None of that modern sway changes the fact that God despises rotten theology and a change to the pattern of the church that He established.
Friends, we cannot be in war and peace at the same time. Nor is there a time when we do not have one or the other. There is a time of war, and there is a time of peace. May we seek to understand which is the proper state to be in, labour and acquit ourselves honourably in that endeavor and always put the cause of Christ and His people above our personal preference. Whether we would prefer to "have a fight" or "just live and let live," let us renew our sight on the mark that He set. He knows when to war and when not to. He knows when not to open His mouth against His accusers yet also when to make a whip and drive people out of His Father's house. May we ask and beseech Him for the wisdom and balance to know when to act likewise.