What’s the big deal with recent events in Ukraine? Most Americans don’t care. They know something is brewing in Eastern Europe and their ears perk up a bit when they hear the name Russia, but in general they are relatively uninformed and generally apathetic. If they do know something about the situation, they don’t want the US to pick sides or get too involved. One journalist states,
Russia’s acquisition of Crimea from Ukraine has riveted world attention on Eastern Europe. The United States and Western Europe have denounced the Crimean plebiscite for union with Russia as tainted with intimidation. In the meantime, Russian forces are poised to invade the rest of Ukraine. The United States has promised to economically punish Russia for its aggression. But it would be better for America to remain neutral.[i]
Between Ukraine’s “weaker” status, the Budapest Memorandum, and the United Nations Charter, many believe that the US has some responsibility in the situation. That said, even with tens of thousands of Russian troops poised on the border of their small neighbor, only 8% of the American public believes that military options should be considered.[ii]
So what should Christians make of all of this? Well, first let’s briefly fill in a few blanks for those that are not as familiar with the past history and current tension between the two countries.
A struggle for Ukrainian independence is no new story in the region. The breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 marked the first time in at least three centuries that the Ukraine had been ruled an independent and sovereign state.[iii] The latest antics by their adjacent neighbor are not surprising and many would argue that Russia has never viewed the Ukraine’s border as legitimate. Between the long history, the country’s rich natural resources and current array of natural gas pipelines, political and economic tensions would be expected in the region.
Not long after the dissolution of the Soviet Empire, the Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons stockpile and in doing so was granted security assurances from the United States, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, China and France. These assurances were against any threat regarding their independence or territorial integrity.[iv]
The latest actions on the part of Russia are seen as a violation of Ukrainian sovereignty as well as a breach of international law. An independent Ukraine had a president with Russian sympathies and things came to a head when he was deposed and had to seek refuge in Russia. Tensions skyrocketed as Russian troops hit the ground in Crimea.
Relations between Moscow and Kyiv have been in crisis since the Ukrainian parliament deposed Moscow-backed President Viktor Yanukovych on Feb. 22 and Russia seized control of the Crimea region from Ukraine before annexing it on March 21.[v]
Such an annexation or incorporation of a Ukrainian territory into Russia was a move that caught the world’s attention. There is no doubt that economics lies behind the scenes as it always does. The Ukraine’s alleged theft of Russian natural gas as well as Russia’s coveting control of the pipelines themselves would be enough, but there is even more to the story. The ambitions of Russia’s president Vladimir Putin play a role as well.
This is the man who described the breakup of the Soviet Union as the greatest geo-political disaster of the last century. This is also the man who was willing to spend upwards of $50 billion on the Sochi Olympics. The thought is linked to the act. Putin saw the Games as a signal to the world that Russia, as Mao Zedong said of his country, has again “stood up.”
Europe’s talk of sanctions and mediation is almost certainly wasted. The retaking of Crimea by the Russian bear is another signal that Moscow has stood up…The restoration of Russia as a great power is the goal, however costly it may be in the short term.[vi]
With the long history, economic tensions and imperialist ambitions present, it is no wonder that NATO is scrambling to prepare for Russian aggression and Western onlookers are watching. But this brings me back to the beginning of the article. Most American’s don’t really care. Should we care? What should we care about?
Perhaps let’s go back to the original question. What’s the big deal? When we look at these political conflicts (which exist worldwide) we as Christians are not much different than the rest of the general population. Put simply, we lack a reference point or standard against which to view foreign policy. As spectators, we look around the globe and though we may not know all of the history and details surrounding any particular conflict, we at least know we want peace. But we have to ask ourselves, where does peace originate? We know the answer. God is the God of peace (Hebrews 13:20). There is no peace without him. To the extent that any country abides by the Word of the God of peace, they will experience peace themselves.
There can be no lasting peace outside of the rule of Jesus Christ. This applies to individuals, families, and it applies to nations. Public peace is achieved only as Christ’s visible rule is extended. How is his visible rule extended? Through covenant.
Men in covenant with Christ represent him in every area of life and thereby extend Christ’s rule. As other men come into covenant with Christ and – through the power of the Holy Spirit – live according to its terms, Christ’s covenant boundary is extended in history. Not only are individuals consigned to Christ and place under his authority, but families are as well. Nations can also make covenant with the God of the Bible. They cannot escape representing either God or Satan. Neutrality is not an option. In God’s grace they can acknowledge the Trinitarian God as supreme authority and source of all law. Through a hierarchy or representative government, they can then govern according to that law and carry out scriptural sanctions. Civil government is a God-ordained covenant institution. Understanding this begins to lift the fog off the topic of biblical foreign policy.
Nations in covenant with God should live according to the Word of God. Where they fail to do so, they should repent and redirect. These Christian nations should not enter into covenant with non-Christian nations, although there is biblical warrant for temporary alliances (Gen. 14:13). As a nation lives according to the Word of God, blessings and influence follow. A “city on a hill” emerges and becomes a witness to the faithfulness of the one true God. The generation of capital (one aspect of blessing) funds missionary efforts in other nations. A Christian bully-state, evidenced in military bases strewn across the globe, is a misuse of God’s blessings. As long as sin exists in the world there will be war, a need for defense, and Biblical warrant to take up arms and fight. That said, outside-in, top-down, moral transformation by force is not a biblical strategy for success. This, after all is a perversion that results when the state begins to operate outside of its God-given jurisdiction.
This is the reason why an understanding of covenant is so important. Although nations can make covenant with God, the church covenant transcends national boundaries and marks out the people of God in history. This covenant is renewed every time God’s people from all nations assemble around his table at the Lord’s Supper. The covenant keepers, through the power of the Holy Spirit, move throughout each week and conduct their families, businesses and other efforts according to the terms of the covenant – the Word of God. This has national and international implications.
When we look at nations such as Ukraine or Russia we should be encouraged. The gospel is currently flourishing there like never before. When we think of taking action amidst these circumstances our minds should not immediately begin weighing whether or not we will back military force. Our action should be centered on prayer, evangelism in those countries and extending Christ’s rule within our own sphere of influence. Empires seek to bring about peace or just extend their rule through force. Empires eventually run out of money during the process. This is by the Creator’s design. The Holy Spirit never runs out of power. As people throughout any nation are evangelized, baptized and taught Christ’s commands, peace begins to spread. This is the leavening process described in scripture. This is the extension of God’s family through covenant adoption. I discuss this process in my recent book, Baptism is Not Enough: How Understanding God’s Covenant Explains Everything.
As men are changed individually to be like Christ they make decisions differently. These decisions are not limited but complete in scope. They may not make decisions consistent with their conversion but if consistent, these decisions and the decisions of those around them who conform to God’s standard (wheat or tares) shape all of life around them. We are back to a visible extension of Christ’s rule.
This is a representative view of the kingdom of God. Progressively in history Christ works representatively through his people to establish his rule over every area of his creation. Then, in a final judgment at his second coming at the end of time he ushers in eternity. What was accomplished definitively at the cross is being manifested progressively in history and will one day be finally complete.[vii]
There is no shortcut to the extension of peace in any society. As we continue to watch things play out on the borders of Russia and Ukraine, we need to look through the lenses of God’s Word.
[vii] John Crawford, Baptism is not Enough: How Understanding God’s Covenant Explains Everything (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision Press, 2013), 129.