“We’re at war.” These were the words of French President Francois Hollande after the Paris attacks. This Friday the 13th will be remembered like 9/11. Is war the new reality? Or have we just ignored the depressing thought that it’s one of humanity’s constants?
Why did Islamic State target Paris? Its statement claiming responsibility declared the city as “the capital of debauchery and vice and carrying the banner of the cross in Europe.”
We may vehemently disassociate ourselves from that statement. We might even silently agree with the debauchery observation. But France, an unapologetically secular state, is one of the last countries that should be confused with promoting Christianity. The Islamists, of course, are convenient students of history. Dragging up the crusader’s “cross” awakens Muslim anger while weakening already faltering Christian conviction in the West. We rightly don’t want to be associated with that politicized cross of emperors and popes, but in our secularized discipleship we risk throwing away the cross of Golgotha as if it was the same cross. This is sloppy theology and a sly ploy of the Evil One.
So how now do we live?
It is time to become more, not less, Christian. In no way does this mean recovering some nostalgic fantasy of a “Christian” nation. Rather, it is time to unashamedly hold up Jesus and his cross as the hope of the world. He told us to take up our cross and follow him. It is time we wake up from our slumber and the debates that are distractions and death-nails to our witness of Christ in the world, and declare that we exist to bring him glory. He is the risen king and in him alone is there salvation from what ails this incredibly messy planet.
In the grace of God alone revealed in Christ is there rescue from our proud sin-sickness. In Jesus’ crucified body alone is there hope for an end to hostilities and the creation of a new people, a new household. This is the gospel hope of Ephesians 2 and it is the gospel blessing promised to Abraham in Genesis 12. It is for all people—even Islamic State!
Surprisingly enough, a cry for renewal is coming from German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Seeing her people disturbed by Islamic fervour and frightened by incoming refugees, she called for a spiritual reawakening. Rather than slither further into secular emptiness and dither in spiritual confusion, she told Germans to get back to church, read the Bible and take their faith seriously. In a prophetic challenge to shaky western Christians, she declared, “If you were to get people to write an essay on the meaning of Pentecost, you would soon see that people’s knowledge of Christianity leaves much to be desired.”
Ouch. Is she right about Canadian Mennonites?
What would you and your church say about the meaning of Pentecost? Yes, we’re at Christmas, but Pentecost is when he who was born in a manger set fire to the world. He still threshes for good wheat and burns away religious chaff by baptizing those who repent with the very breath and power of God (Matthew 3:11-12). This is power to witness to Jesus as Lord. This is power to be freed and transformed from our pride, debauchery, and “Jesus Lite” and other cross-corrupting theologies. This is power to be the people of God—a true people of peace—in a world at war.
It’s Christmas, friends, but it’s time for a new Pentecost.
Phil Wagler (firstname.lastname@example.org) and his family live in Surrey, B.C. They are seeking to take up their cross and follow the king for the sake of the world God so loved.