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‘Don’t mention the war!’ — Churches miss Gospel opportunity in comedy of errors

Basil Fawlty (John Cleese) goose stepping in the diningroom in a memorable scene from the Fawlty Towers series

By Charles Gardner, UK Correspondent

It’s one of the most well-known lines from one of the best-loved British television comedies of all time – the 1970s series of Fawlty Towers featuring the hapless Basil Fawlty (played by John Cleese) running a shambles of a seaside hotel.

Everything always went wrong, amid howls of laughter from all the family watching at home. The iconic line – ‘Don’t mention the war!’ – came up repeatedly in an episode involving a German guest.

It was, of course, a quite unnecessary instruction to Spanish waiter Manuel which only succeeded in exacerbating the situation.

Well, churches in South Africa (and no doubt here in the UK too) have the dubious honour of using the same disclaimer – i.e. ‘Don’t mention the war!’ – to visiting speakers from a certain mission to the Jews.

They announced that they were still happy to hear about efforts to reach Jewish people with the gospel they first brought us – but only on condition that no reference is made to Israel’s current war with Gaza.

This is presumably because they see it as mixing politics with religion, or that it might encourage hearers to take sides on the issue.

Yet, ironically, when a representative of this same mission went to see her Jewish doctor with a bad chest cold, talk of the war proved the trigger for a serious discussion of the gospel.

The physician was an atheist who, on a previous occasion, had mocked our friend for quoting the Bible.

But this time she was positively transfixed by Old Testament prophecies of how, when vast armies attack Israel from the north, the Jewish Messiah will come to their rescue and they would “look on the One they have pierced”, to quote the prophet Zechariah (chapter 12, verse 10).

The doctor immediately confessed to coming over with “goosebumps”. It was clear she knew exactly what was meant, even though Jesus wasn’t mentioned.

As Isaiah put it, “he was pierced for our transgressions” — Isaiah 53:5

The good doctor was thus left with an awful lot to think about thanks to the crisis in Gaza and her earlier question: “Why does everyone hate us?”

Context is all-important in gospel communication, and the global rise in antisemitism sparked by the war is an obvious bait for gaining the attention not only of Jews who don’t yet believe, but also of Christians who fail to understand what is happening.

God has not divorced, forsaken, or rejected his chosen people. He has an everlasting love for them and is ready to welcome them back into his arms in a restored relationship.

The violent opposition to the Jewish people is a picture of the fierce spiritual conflict through which Satan is doing his level best to prevent this reconciliation from taking place. And Jesus will not come back until it does.

Removing the context of the war, and the tsunami of antisemitism following in its wake, is to suggest all this has nothing to do with the gospel and biblical prophecy. It amounts to shutting heaven’s door in men’s faces, as Jesus accused the religious leaders of doing. Yet the war is clearly causing many to reflect on eternity.

As the doctor will hopefully discover, the cure for all our troubles is to be found in the One who took our sins on the cross and bled and died in our place.

There’s a war raging – spiritually as well as physically – for the souls of men and women, and we do a great disservice to our hearers if we deny this reality.

Peace will come, but not before the Prince of Peace stands upon the Mount of Olives east of Jerusalem! (See Job 19:25, Zechariah 14:4, Acts 1:11)

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