Monday, December 2, 2019

Still Marching, Christian Soldiers?

I find any discussion of music intriguing, but especially within the local church context. In some churches or denominations, it’s traditional, time-honored hymns only. Anything written after 1899 need not apply. Other churches emphasize contemporary praise music. There are even those, it seems, that favor songs written only within the last month.

There are the slow, reverent hymns that focus on God’s character and draw lyrics from the Scriptures. Then there are the oft-repetitive praise choruses derived from “Me Generation” philosophy. “Me and God, God and me….” As much about “me” as they are about God. To each his or her own, as they say.

I didn’t become a follower of Jesus Christ until my adult years, but grew up in a church tradition that favored classic hymns like “Faith of Our Fathers,” “The Old Rugged Cross,” “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” and the Doxology. Do you remember, “Praise God, from whom all blessings flow…”? 

One of my all-time favorite hymns was “Onward Christian Soldiers,” with its cadence that conjured up images of soldiers “marching as to war.” Years ago, one denomination banned the hymn for what its members considered a belligerent, war-like message. Christians are supposed to be people of peace, they argued, not war.

I could understand their reasoning, even though I didn’t agree with it. In light of violent acts perpetrated in the name of religion, a hymn about believers going into battle definitely has the ring of political incorrectness. But it’s also a denial of biblical truth. We are involved in war, the Scriptures assert, although it’s of a spiritual nature.

The last chapter of the book of Ephesians makes this clear: 
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realm” (Ephesians 6:10-12).

Then the passage proceeds to describe that, like soldiers involved in military combat, we also are to be well-equipped:
“Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground…. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth…the breastplate of righteousness…the gospel of peace…the shield of faith…the helmet of salvation…the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:14-17).

Reading this, some of us might shrug and respond, “I don’t want to engage in any kind of spiritual battle,” but the Scriptures make clear we don’t have that option. Writing to his protégé, Timothy, the apostle Paul admonished him, “Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier” (2 Timothy 2:3-4).

Writing to believers in the ancient city of Rome, Paul asks, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered’” (Romans 8:35-36). So much for peace and tranquility and “can’t we all just get along?”

And the apostle Peter warned, “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11). Recounting the hardships he had to endure during his missionary journeys, Paul described how he employed resources for survival “in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left…” (2 Corinthians 6:7).

It doesn’t require a prophet to recognize there is indeed a spiritual war being waged all around us. In particular, Christianity has come under attack on many fronts. Public expressions of biblical faith are sometimes denounced as if the Constitution were calling for a separation of church and daily life. 

This rise in hostility, some observers believe, indicate the prophesied “end times” are fast approaching. One thing for certain: this is no time for laying down our spiritual armament. In Romans 13:12, the apostle Paul admonished believers not to become complacent, even if they sensed the end was drawing closer. He wrote, “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Romans 13:12).

Clothed with and protected by the full armor of God, we’re commanded to persevere as “salt and light,” as Jesus commanded in Matthew 5:13-16, and also instructed to encourage one another, “all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25). Are you willing to march onward, Christian soldier?

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