CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

When Victory Seems Uncertain

Jul 20, 2006

It is a tricky thing to hold two passports. There are always questions of divided loyalties with dual citizenship. As someone in this position, I am quite aware of the associated problems. The same can be said about the Christian life as well.

As Christians we are citizens of two kingdoms: this world and the one to come. Tensions often arise as to how we are to live this out. How can we be true to the one without doing a disservice to the other? The questions about Christianity and culture, of Christian social and political involvement, are many.

I want to focus on just one such question. To what extent are we to seek to stand up for biblical principles in a secular society? More specifically, how much effort do we put into a battle when it looks like we have little chance of success?

Often it seems that we as believers have our backs against the wall, and most of our efforts are uphill battles with little prospects of victory. In which case, why even bother? It is to this concern that I want to address my remarks. It is easy to get discouraged in the culture wars, and in our efforts to impact society with biblical values. We may be tempted to think, perhaps it is all a waste of time and effort.

Well I believe it is not a waste of time, and I want to encourage all of us to keep on fighting the good fight, regardless of possible outcomes.

Now of course there is much wisdom in both picking our battles carefully and recognising our chances of success. As to the former, yes we need to discern which fights we become involved in, and which we ignore. We cannot do everything, and some battles are more important than others.

As to the latter issue, yes a good general will want to weigh up chances of success. But can I suggest that this is not the only consideration. As Christians, our ultimate marching orders come from our Lord, and sometimes we are called to engage in battles that from a worldly point of view look like having little or no chance of success.

There are plenty of examples of this in church history. Let me mention just one. William Wilberforce (1759-1833) was involved in one of the more one-sided fights in history. Everything looked to be stacked against him. He seemed to have little chance of success. Many believers in fact advised him to not waste his efforts.

I refer of course to his long standing battle against slavery. This certainly looked like a lost cause to most Englishmen. Even fellow believers had little hope of victory. Yet Wilberforce knew that it is always worth fighting for what is right, regardless of the possible outcome. He knew as a Christian that slavery was wrong, and that it was wrong to treat blacks as non-persons. Thus he dedicated his life to battling this evil, even in the face of tremendous opposition.

England at the time greatly depended on the slave trade. Indeed, its economy would collapse without it. Thus there were great vested interests to be challenged. Because so many had financial interests in the slave trade, it is not surprising that Wilberforce was not exactly popular because of his actions. In fact, he was for some time known as the most hated man in all of England.

But that did not deter Wilberforce. He spent some 40 years fighting this evil in the British Parliament. And the rest is history. Just days before his death he saw the evil practice outlawed. It is a good thing that he did not listen to fellow believers who might have counselled him to abandon this “wasted” effort. “Pick a winnable cause” he would have been told. Fortunately he ignored such advice.

And we need to ignore it as well. Many battles today seem overwhelmingly impossible. The abortion battle certainly comes to mind here. But we are ill-advised to pull out of this battle because it seems like a lost cause. We need to stand up for what is right with the same determination as Wilberforce, and ignore the naysayers and critics who would deter us from a noble cause.

The truth is, we need to ask God what battles we are to enter into, and then engage with all our might. After all, the battle is the Lord’s, not ours, as we are reminded in 1 Sam.17:47. Whether we have a good chance of success or not should not be the guiding principle. The real question is, is this the right battle at the right time, and is God leading us to take it on?

Of course there are plenty of examples of this in Scripture as well. Indeed, it is a major biblical principle that God tends to work with a remnant, with a minority, and he seems to delight in calling us to enter seemingly un-winnable battles. Consider the examples of Gideon, or David against Goliath, or Israel as it took on the might of the Canaanite nations. All looked to be lost causes. But all were winnable because God was on their side.

Can I encourage all of us to keep these truths in mind? It is too easy to get discouraged and to think that we cannot make a difference. It is too easy to say that the other side is too big, too powerful, or too many. Thus human reasoning might suggest that we avoid such battles, and stick to what is achievable.

But again, our strategies ultimately come from above. We need to prayerfully and humbly ask God what areas we are to get involved in, and then fight the good fight with all our strength. Whether it is a winning cause or not really does not matter. The important thing is to stand up for what is right.

Mother Teresa was spot on when she said that Christians are not called to succeed, but are simply called to try. And that we must do. So can I encourage all of us to keep on keeping on, standing up for what is right, regardless of the odds, regardless of how it looks in human terms? What matters is how God sees things. So be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might (Eph. 6:10).

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2 Responses to When Victory Seems Uncertain

  • I agree with you Bill that it is difficult sometimes to fight the good fight, but we need to keep in focus that if we do not respond to evil threats, our society as we know it will surely deterioate. As Christians we really need to stand up and be counted and make a stand for our Sovereign Lord, otherwise Evil will surely prevail, and none of us want that.

    Rae Wallace, Devonport, Tas.

  • THank you Bill for the encouragement.

    I have been one of a number fighting against the Victorian Education & Training Reform Bill/Act 2006.

    We have apparently lost the fight to retain our freedom to educate our children at home without government registration, and a new regime is planned probably to commence Jan 2007.

    I remain opposed to registration of home educators, and have been castigated (as well as supported) on education fora for my “hard stance.”

    May I quote or link to your commentary, please?

    With thanks
    John Angelico, Melbourne

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