I’m finding Well’s book The Courage to be Protestant to be somewhat depressing and I feel myself getting more and more jaded and cynical as I read it (mind you, I think he’s right about most of what he says). To balance Well’s out a little, I just started Michael Green’s Evangelism in the Early Church and I’m enjoying him very much so far.
In the introduction he asserts that the church in the West must re-emphasize the militaristic analogies that come to us in the Bible (warfare, being a good soldier, weapons, armor, fighting the good fight, etc.). He points to the early church and though many refused to enter into military service they used militaristic images as analogies for the mission of church profusely. In addition to the early church, the church in Africa, Asia and Latin America are also characterized by this mindset – victory at all costs against a strong spiritual enemy. These are images you don’t hear in the Western churches very often. Instead, Green comments, we see our churches as hospitals rather than military outposts. I think there is something in the hospital imagery that is good and should be retained, but I don’t think it is helpful as the dominant image of the church.
Now I agree that we probably should re-emphasize the militaristic images in our churches. We should bring back Onward Christian Soldiers and Lead on O King Eternal (though not “I’m in the Lord’s Army”). My question is how? How in a world being torn apart by militant religious groups do we recapture what is healthy and biblical without being totally misunderstood and caste as radical fundamentalists?
2 thoughts on “Onward Christian Soldiers?”
I grew up in a conservative denomination that did emphasize the military aspects of Christianity….far too much in my current opinion. It came off as “It’s us against the world.” I’ve since come to realize that while the Christian life is a fight, it’s not against people who don’t agree with us or who believe differently than we do. It’s not against people at all, really. It’s against the evil that causes people to sin and brings death. Very different perspectives. So if the church should, indeed, bring back military imagery, it should be done very carefully so as to instruct who or what exactly we’re fighting. In a sense, our main military weapon should be love, just like Jesus showed us.
What I remember liking about Green’s book many years ago was his observation that, in the NT, much evangelism happened simply from the church BEING the church. There’s more to the church than theological content. There are the “one anothers.” We need truth AND love, truth in the context of loving relationships.
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