My article about the UK national anthem provoked a little discussion. Several people on social media commented that they agreed with me that it shouldn’t be sung in church. One reason given was that the Anthem includes verses which call for the defeat and destruction of the Queen’s enemies. Observations included that this was “more Old Testament than New Testament” and that we are meant to pray for not against our enemies. We are to love them.
Well, my own issues with the Anthem as church prayer are not really with that and here’s why. First of all, I wouldn’t describe this as an Old Testament v New Testament issue. The New Testament would equally warn against the enemies of God’s people. In that sense, we can still pray those Psalms that call for deliverance from and judgement of the enemies of God’s people. However, the NT point is that our real enemy is spiritual not human. We are not, as believers to consider other people, even those who cause us trouble and persecute us as our enemies. We are to love and forgive them.
However, that’s concerning God’s people the Church. When we are talking about secular nations, then neither the Old Testament prayers for deliverance of Israel and her king, nor the New Testament warnings about spiritual enemies are relevant. However, it is clear from Romans 13, that Governments are set in place for the good of their citizens and that this includes a responsibility to protect a nation and its borders from enemy attack.
So, if we found ourselves in a crisis situation, where our country was threatened by a physical enemy, would it be right for us to pray for that enemy’s defeat? I believe it would. To give a couple of specific examples, I think it is right that we pray that those who seek to inflict fear and chaos through acts of terror are defeated and that the security services, police and military are given wisdom and skill to do so. This is about good v evil. Similarly, whilst we are not at war right now, we cannot ignore that Vladimir Putin’s henchmen have made blood curdling threats about unleashing nuclear devastation on Britain because of support for Ukraine. We might pray that those who make such threats are silenced and that their plots come to nothing. This is a matter of common grace. We want the freedom to live our lives peaceably.
And that brings me to a point that I’ve mentioned before. You see, I have no doubt that Ukrainian believers right now are praying that the enemy will be turned back and that justice will be done. As I’ve mentioned before, if we pray for peace in Ukraine, we cannot neglect to pray for justice. Peace cannot happen simply because Putin gets his way and suppresses a people.
And here’s the thing, such prayers do not exclude pacifists. I’m not a pacifist myself though I fully understand that position and the views of conscientious objectors. I do think that military conflict is always horrific and something to be entered in reluctantly, not lightly, as a last resort. But you can believe that it is better not to take up arms and still pray that God will confound aggressors and turn them back through supernatural intervention.
The point of course is that in such circumstances we would be praying not a generalised prayer about an undetermined enemy. Instead we would be praying about very specific situations and our prayers would be nuanced by that. We would be praying specifically for those in authority as commanded by Scripture and we would be praying this in order that we might live peaceful lives and that the work of the Gospel would not be hindered.