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FIRST-PERSON: Middle East peace: a Kingdom roadmap

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–The Apostle Paul didn’t know anything about Hezbollah or the Israeli defense ministry. But he did know something about hatred and hostility between irreconcilable people groups. And, more importantly, he knew something about the Kingdom of Christ.

Everyone watching the CNN and Fox News images of bombs bursting in air over Lebanon does so from a point of view. Palestinian sympathizers see an aggressive Israeli war machine on the march. Most Americans see a sovereign nation defending itself. Many worry that this could be, in the words of former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, the beginning of “World War III.”

But for Christians, there’s a unique perspective. After all, we’re watching citizens of Galilee, the home of Jesus, scurrying to bomb shelters. And our response to the Middle East crisis is linked inextricably to evangelical thought on the Kingdom of God. Some Christians believe peace in the Middle East is a hopeless endeavor, until Jesus sets foot on the Mount of Olives. Others believe peace in the Middle East can be hammered out in the West Wing of the White House. Both groups are partially right, but both groups easily can miss a crucial element of the biblical vision of Kingdom peace, the church.

It is difficult for contemporary Christians to grasp just how real the Jew/Gentile division was in the first-century congregations. This was about more than some rancorous business meetings. Instead, the issue was the gospel itself. Gentiles were more than just an ethnic category — they were the heirs of Esau, the enemies of the people of God. In the midst of all this turmoil, the apostle Paul declared that the gospel meant the creation of a new humanity in Christ. The church, he concluded, was a model of the coming Kingdom that embraced both Jew and Gentile, reconciled to God and to each other through the last-days triumph of their common Messiah (Ephesians 2:11-21). Paul went so far as to declare that the peace within the congregation of Christ served as a herald to the cosmic powers that God has enthroned Jesus as the indisputable King of the entire created order (Ephesians 2:8-11).

Paul saw the big picture of humanity at war with itself, and with its Creator. He also saw the small picture of local congregations modeling the peace of the coming Kingdom. And he saw that these two foci were linked together. The church doesn’t just pray for peace and justice; it is to demonstrate it within its own walls.

The Bible doesn’t give us a blueprint for foreign policy negotiations. Good Christians can disagree about whether, for example, the Iraq war was a good idea or whether we should have intervened militarily in Rwanda. This seems particularly clear cut, however, regardless of where we fall on the theological or political spectrums. I, for one, support Israel’s response (so far) to the terrorist attacks against it. It seems to me that, whatever our interpretation of Romans 9-11 about Israel, Romans 13 speaks clearly to the mandate of a state to defend itself against aggressive evildoers in this way. It also seems clear to me that, whatever our view as to the identity of the Israel of God, there’s a reason why the nations continually rage against our Lord Jesus’ kinsmen according to the flesh.

Whatever our view about Israel’s place in Bible prophecy and whatever our view of the trouble in the Middle East, Christians should pray for the coming of our Messiah, who will decisively beat all swords into plowshares (Isa 2:4). But we should also pray for Kingdom congregations that declare the truth of the gospel with their very existence. That’s not just overseas. As America’s inner cities simmer still with racial tension, let’s pray and work for churches in which white, black, and Latino Christians worship Christ and love their brothers, together.

And as the Middle East grows more and more incendiary, let’s pray for political peace. But let’s also pray for churches in which Jewish and Palestinian Christians pray to the same Messiah, and manifest the love and unity of the Spirit — together.

The United Nations might not notice congregations like that. But Scripture promises us that the spirit world cannot ignore the message of such Kingdom-focused churches — the message that Jesus is Lord.
Russell D. Moore is dean of the school of theology and senior vice president for academic administration at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

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  • Russell D. Moore