A Pastor’s Perspective on the Christian Conversation Concerning Science
In the first of these two installments titled, “The Weapon of Science, the Sword of the Spirit, and a Call to Prayer,” I presented what I perceive to be a temptation of evangelicals to see and use science as a weapon rather than a tool. This thwarts the true purpose of science to seek truth in the physical world. Both non-Christian and Christian scientists alike can fall into this temptation, but as a pastor, and as a Christian, I find this particularly troubling when Christians use science as a weapon against other brothers and sisters in Faith that believe differently than they do concerning origins. It is not that I believe there should be, or ever could be uniformity. Nonetheless, the nature of the debate, and the use of science by Christians as a weapon to destroy in that debate, is troubling to me. While this is troubling, unfortunately, it is not surprising.
Regrettably, science is not the first tool to be misperceived as a weapon by evangelicals, and quite honestly, it is not even the first weapon of choice. These dishonors fall to that which evangelicals hold most dear – the Word of God, the Holy Scriptures, the Sword of the Spirit. It is this question concerning the use of the Sword of the Spirit by Christians that will be explored in this article.
Of course one may object from the very beginning and say, the Word of God is a weapon – after all it is the “sword” of the Spirit according to the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 6:17. This understanding or interpretation of what Paul is saying, however, once again leads to the “Christian” bizarre. I remember walking into a Christian bookstore when my children were little and seeing for the first time an “Armor of God” toy set for small children with an actual plastic sword for the “Sword of the Spirit.” I was pretty sure that the true significance of the Sword of the Spirit would be lost on my young son if he had this toy, and he would probably use it to beat his sister. This of course seems obscene, but it is not much different than our “grown-up” evangelical use of the Sword of the Spirit. What Paul is actually saying is lost, in our overzealous desire to beat our enemies. Nevertheless, if the Sword of the Spirit is not a weapon with which to beat our earthly opponents, then what is it? What is Paul saying?
There are two keys to understanding Paul’s intentions in this passage. The first key is so simple and obvious that it is often overlooked. It is found in the opening verses of his description of the Armor of God in Ephesians, chapter 6:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:10-12, NIV)
Paul states, our battle is NOT against flesh and blood. Therefore, whatever the Sword of the Spirit is, it is not a weapon to be used against opponents of flesh and blood. Paul could not be clearer on this point.
This comes into even greater focus as we consider the second key of understanding Paul’s intentions which is the broader context of Ephesians. From the very beginning of this Epistle, Paul is arguing that God has reconciled us not only to Himself through the power of Jesus Christ but also to one another.
For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. (Ephesians 2:14-16, NRSV).
This theme, which began at the very beginning of the epistle, is carried through to the verses immediately leading up to the Armor of God. The verses immediately preceding the Armor of God describe how unity and peace are to be kept in all of our relationships by submitting to one another (5:21) and then Paul gives three examples of how this plays out: husbands and wives (5:22-33), parents and children (6:1-4), and slaves and masters (think employees and employers for today) (6:5-9). Therefore, the Armor of God, and specifically the Sword of the Spirit, which is not just the Bible, but more specifically, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is not to be used against one another, but against the evil forces that try to divide us, that attempt to create hostility between us, that take pleasure in seeing us at each others’ throats.
Therefore, unlike the Roman sword which brought the false Pax Romana, the Sword of the Spirit was to bring the true peace of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is this word of truth that brings salvation, reconciliation, and the mark of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13). As Andrew Lincoln states in his commentary on Ephesians, “As believers take hold of and proclaim the gospel, they are enabled to overcome in the battle…. The paradox again is that it is the gospel of peace and reconciliation that is the sword that enables the militia Christi to advance.”1
Please do not misunderstand, as Christians we are to instruct, correct, and speak truth to one another, but this is to be done with gentleness and respect (2Corinthians 10:1, Galatians 6:1, 2Timothy 2:25). As a pastor, and as a Christian, it pains me when the tenor of our disagreements resembles more the sword of the Romans than the Sword of the Spirit. I recognize that in the disagreement over creation that there are divergent and strong opinions; the breadth and depth of these opinions are present in my own congregation. Nevertheless, we must remember that when we use science, or worst yet the Sword of the Spirit, as a weapon to tear and to destroy, we are not winning regardless of the outcome of the debate.
I realize that there will be many that will disagree with me, not only on the positions that I hold concerning science and my interpretation of Paul, but even with my convictions of how the conversation concerning science should be conducted within the faith community. It is my hope, however, that at the very least we can agree to Paul’s final plea to the recipients of the epistle of Ephesians:
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel. (Ephesians 6:18-19, NIV)
May our disagreements with brothers and sisters in Christ be tempered by prayer. May each of us commit to praying for those with whom we disagree most vehemently. May we pray God’s glory would be seen in the lack of hostility in our disagreements and in the abundance of peace that comes from being united under Christ.
“Grace to all who love our Lord Christ with an undying love.” (Ephesians 6:24, NIV).
1. Andrew Lincoln. Ephesians: Word Biblical Commentary. (Dallas: Word Books, 1990), 451.