MESSAGE FOR JUNE 19, 2005 ON CHRISTIAN MILITANCY

 

          This week I sensed the Lord wanted me to briefly interrupt our series in First Corinthians.  It seems appropriate to spend some time setting a tone from a biblical perspective for the new chapter of ministry that will open for our church as we begin to minister from the Swan Lake location next week.  As we move over there, there will doubtless be many emotions experienced but a good question is how should we perceive or process all this?  Through what lens should we look as we move from one hill in Piedmont Heights to another hill in Duluth Heights?  There are many truth driven attitudes that would be appropriate but I want to spend some time thinking about one that would not necessarily be the most obvious to us during this time of transition. 

For five years the leadership of this church has been repeating that although we need a good facility from which to minister, ultimately wherever we worship and meet together is simply a base of operations—a ministry headquarters from which the truth of the gospel will be spread here and to the uttermost parts of the earth.  We should in one sense view any church building as the khaki tent from which militant offensives on the forces of darkness are planned, prayed over and launched.  This morning I want to highlight this militant nature of the church so that we can see next week’s ascent to Duluth Heights as the first wave of a spiritual assault with the ultimate goal being the joy of the Lord and the glory of God as we demolish the gates of hell here and to the nations.

          Several years ago, I drew some inspiration in this area from an article in Parade magazine entitled, “What we Can Learn from Them.”  The article was written by Thomas E. Ricks and is adapted from a book he has written about the Marine Corps.  Ricks had been exposed to the Marine Corps as a Pentagon correspondent.  He was so impressed by what he saw of the Marines in combat, he decided to research Marine Corps training methods.  He wanted to know how the Marine Corps, (quoting now) “turns teenagers, many of them pampered or frightened or reckless or dangerous—into self-assured, responsible, courageous leaders.”  To that end, he intermittently followed a fresh platoon of recruits during their 11 weeks of Marine boot camp at Parris Island.

          What Ricks discovered was that boot camp is about teaching teenagers solid, absolute values upon which responsible attitudes and decisions are built.  Ricks summarizes the values expressed as follows: 1. tell the truth 2. Do your best no matter how trivial the task—even mopping the floor 3.choose the difficult right over the easy wrong 4. Look out for the group before you look out for yourself 5. Don’t whine or make excuses 6. Judge others by their actions, not their race and 7. Don’t pursue happiness; pursue excellence—that is the path to a fulfilling life.  Ricks also found the methods by which these values were imparted are anything but sophisticated.

          Ricks says, “The recruits arrived steeped in the popular American culture of consumerism and individualism…They were stripped of the usual distractions, from television and music to cars and candy.  They even lost the right to refer to themselves as “I” or “me.”  When one confused recruit did so during the first week of boot camp, the platoon’s “heavy hat” disciplinarian, stomped his foot on the cement floor and shouted, “You got on the wrong bus, cause there ain’t no I, me, my’s  or I’s here.”…The drill instructors didn’t try to make the recruits happy.  They pushed the members of the platoon harder than they’d ever been pushed; to make them go beyond their own self imposed limits.  Nearly all the members of the platoon cried at one time or another.

          The results of this process are indeed impressive.  Ricks says, “…by the end of 11 weeks almost all had been transformed by the experience—and were more fulfilled than they had ever been.  They had subordinated their needs to those of the group, yet almost all emerged with a stronger sense of self.  They unembarassedly used words like “integrity”…One of my favorite moments came when [the] sergeant ordered a white supremacist from Alabama to share a tent in the woods with a black gang member from Washington D.C.  The drill instructor’s message to the recruits was clear:  If you two are going to be in the Marine Corps, you are going to have to live with each other.  Recruits Jonathan Prish and Earnest Winston Jr. became friends during the bivouac.  “We stuck up for each other after that, “ Prish said.” 

          I read the article with a strong mix of emotions.  I was inspired by the undeniable transformation in character attested to among these teenagers.  As an American, I was proud to have such a well trained military.  In that sense, the article was greatly encouraging, but in another deeper sense, the article was and is disheartening to me.  The main reason is this—if this article is a reasonable representation of what is happening in the Marines, they are seeing personal transformation and maturity among their soldiers that frankly put many in the church to shame.  The story of racial reconciliation would draw ringing “Amen’s” if given as a testimony in a Wednesday night prayer meeting.  We mustn’t idealize the Marines’ successes.  There are profound differences between the Marine Corps and the church of Christ.  For one, the focus of the Marine training is much narrower than the church.  There are many other “apples and oranges” dynamics in such comparisons, but I am still left with the undeniable fact that, in 11 weeks the Marines are able to bring about attitudinal and behavior changes in some very unlikely people in ways that are far too seldom seen in the church of Jesus Christ in North America.  What do they have that the church does not have?

          Let’s begin with what it is NOT.  First, it is not power.  The Marines have only human motivational methods and the promise of purely raw, finite human potential.  The church has the supernatural power of love and the dynamic, heart-transforming power of the omnipotent Holy Spirit.  Second, it is not truth.  All the best values in the article taught by the Marines can be found numerous times and stated with Holy-Spirit inspired power in the Bible as well as many other, more demanding and radical values.  No Marine was ever indoctrinated to love his enemies.  I came to the conclusion that the primary quality the Marines have that much of the church does not is simply this—They take their task much more seriously.

          This motivates them to live with a high sense of community because in battle, you MUST trust one another—your life may depend upon each other.  They have high expectations of themselves because low expectations can lead to carelessness and carelessness in a fire fight sends you and perhaps your buddies home in body bags.  They have high discipline in part because tasks upon which your life may depend must be learned well enough to be performed in the most adverse and distracting conditions.  That demands high discipline.  They have high levels of devotion to their commanding officer or at least his authority.  If you are willing to storm a heavily armed fortification on the orders of your commander, you have to be almost slavishly devoted to your commander and his authority.  Now, let’s shift our attention from the Marine Corps to the army of God and I want to begin by reminding us from various biblical texts that God’s charge for his church to be militant is no less real than what we see in the Marines.

          Perhaps the best known reference is in the sixth chapter of Ephesians where we are reminded not only that every believer is a soldier in God’s army but that we have been supremely well equipped for battle.  Paul says in verse 11,Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.  12For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”  He then proceeds to delineate each piece of armor required to engage in this spiritual combat against these real, yet unseen enemies warring against God’s purposes and our souls.  Paul isn’t simply allowing himself to be carried away by a romantic military metaphor.  He is as blood earnest here as any Marine drill sergeant and is simply restating a common Scriptural theme for God’s people.  In the Old Testament the people of God were a literal army—called to drive out the enemy from the Promised Land.  Yahweh was the “Warrior King” who went before his army and conquered all those who stood in his way.  Moses in Exodus 15:3 says, “The Lord is a man of war;   the Lord is his name.”  

          The New Testament carries on this militant theme, though now the fight is exclusively spiritual against the forces of evil.  In Second Corinthians 10:3-5 Paul says, “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh.  4For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments  5and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,”   He speaks of the sacrifice and single-minded devotion required to serve in God’s army in Second Timothy 2:3-4.  Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.  4No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.”  He uses this same militant language in addressing Timothy in First Timothy 1:18.  He says, “This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare,  The ESV is a good translation there because the last verb in that sentence literally means “to make war.”   Paul calls upon Timothy in his ministry to make war.  In Romans 8:37 Paul speaks about all believers when he says, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”   Again, Paul uses a strongly military term for the word translated “conquerors.”

          Finally, just so you don’t think this is only the apostle Paul’s terminology, John, the apostle of love was led to use this militant imagery repeatedly in the Revelation.  In chapters two and three this same military word translated “conquer” is used seven times to describe those who will be by God’s grace admitted entrance into heaven.  The speaker is Jesus who is later in chapter 19 pictured returning to earth as a conquering Warrior King brandishing a sword and astride a conquering General’s white horse.  In each of the letters to the seven churches, Jesus gives a promise of eternal life and they each contain a common theme.  He says, for instance to the church at Smyrna in the second half of verse 11, “The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.”  The promise of eternal life in each of the seven letters is given only to those who in this militant terminology, “conquer.”  That means heaven will be populated by spiritual veterans of the great war on earth—the ongoing spiritual battle fought between the forces of light and darkness. 

          That leads to the question: What does the bible mean when it speaks of a militant Christian?  Much of what is seen in the media of so called militant Christianity is a gross caricature and an insult to the church of Christ.  The militias who claim a Christian motivation would be almost comical if they weren’t so hurtful to the testimony of the church.  Abortion clinic bombers who return evil for evil and other hate groups who claim to march under the banner of Christ are an abomination, not an army.  That is NOT Christian militancy as defined and described in the Scripture. Paul says our weapons are not those of this world—not hate, not political muscle, not media blitzes or mass marketing.  Our weapons are love and prayer and fasting—those weapons (to paraphrase Chesterton) have not been tried and found wanting, they have been found difficult and left untried.  This church has been issued the most powerful weapons in the world.  Jesus said we can by God’s grace see dead sinners resurrected to new life in Christ.  We can be used to do something no Patriot missile will ever be able to do—change a human heart and turn it away from self to God.  Our weakness is not in the arsenal of weapons we may draw upon.

          One weakness is that we are too frequently an army that lives largely without a sense of our own militant identity and mission.  The Marines understand that, just as important as our weaponry, is our sense of identity and mission and having a value system that produces personal disciplines that make for effective soldiers.  THAT is essential in any kind of fighting force whether the weapons are a machine gun or a prayer journal.  It is the absence of this element (among others) that has so often crippled the church’s potency as it wars against the forces of darkness.  What are some elements of this value system that should characterize the church militant?  The first is: a lifestyle of disciplined simplicity.   Any conquering army is disciplined and discipline is greatly enhanced by simplicity. 

The simpler the life, the more easy it is to keep it under control.  If your life is complicated by extreme busyness and many possessions, it will almost certainly not be tightly disciplined.  In the Marine Corps when the recruits come in, the non-essentials go out—television, unnecessary vehicles and candy.  Why? Because they can distract from the task at hand, which is fighting the enemy.  Piper’s well worn quote describes the changes made during times of war.  In wartime, we spend money differently - there is austerity, not for its own sake, but because there are more strategic ways to spend money than on new tires at home. The war effort touches everybody. We all cut back. The luxury liner becomes the troop carrier.”  Our truth-driven self understanding as spiritual combatants should change the way we live.  As soldiers of Christ we should ask ourselves, “What is it about my lifestyle that reflects the truth that I am at war?”

          This is part of Paul’s point to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:3-4.  Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.  4No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.”  This doesn’t mean we all have to live in tents in the desert, but if something is hindering us from effectively serving Christ, it is a distraction and a good soldier will lose it.  If I am habitually so busy that I cannot spend good time with God, I need to pare down my schedule.  If I am obsessed with any person or possession or pastime, regardless how valuable they or it may be--if it is interfering with me being militant in my devotion to Christ, I must confess it as idolatry and by God’s grace put it in its proper place. This is the kind of discipline implicit in First Corinthians 9:27 “But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”  

          Can you imagine a Marine corporal strolling up to his commanding officer and saying, “Sir, I’m not much in the mood for a five mile hike today—I think I’ll stay on base and watch TV or surf the net or maybe call a friend on my cell phone.”  That’s an absurd picture but how many of us communicate something like that every day to our Commanding Officer? Later we think, “I wonder why I don’t seem to love the Lord like so and so does—why I don’t have their passion, their drive, their discipline.”  The truth is—we often don’t conceive, except theoretically that Jesus is our Commander.  Judging from the way many evangelicals relate to Him, he’s more frequently seen as the host of a dinner party whose task it is to ensure that everyone is having swell time.  A good soldier will maintain a lifestyle of disciplined simplicity.

          A second element of a biblically militant value system is radical dependence upon Christ.  Here is where the parallels between the Marine Corps and the church dramatically break down.  The U.S. military is trained to be able to think and operate independently when it needs to do so.  Not so the church of Christ.  All our strength, our wisdom, our resources, our victory flow from Him.  If our prayers--our line of communication with him is ruptured for any length of time, we are sitting ducks because we fight and win solely on the basis of HIS direction and HIS provision.  God trains his soldiers to kill off our independent tendencies and strengthen our ties to Jesus and His word.

          C.S. Lewis in his series,” The Chronicles of Narnia” portrays his main human characters fighting against evil and performing any number of daring, valiant deeds.  But his heroes are fighting with swords too big for them and foes too strong for them unless they are dependent upon their King, Aslan. These gallant warriors are children.  Lewis makes the point that the Christian army is paradoxical because it is an army of children—children of God trained to be dependent upon God.  In this sense, the more childlike the better.  Jesus says in Matthew 18:3, “Truly I say to you unless you turn and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”  Children will prevail who are not impressed with their own cunning or intellect or craftiness but who deeply trust that they go into battle with the Lion of Judah.  The challenge is--this kind of childlike trust does not come naturally to us.  This kind of child-like faith springs from God’s grace, which is funneled through Spirit-empowered disciplines—disciplining our body, killing our prideful, self-dependent impulses and bringing them under the reign of the Holy Spirit.  Good soldiers have an attitude of radical dependence upon Christ.

          A third element of this militant value system is a strong sense of community.  A good soldier knows a battle is not won by a solo effort and attempts to make yourself a hero only hurt your unit and get people killed. It takes a total team effort to prevail.  It doesn’t matter how accurate your artillery men are if they don’t have enough mortar shells.  A brilliant battle plan is irrelevant if your communications with one another is broken off.  Victory only comes through CONCERTED effort. The sacrificial effort required for victory seldom occurs without the strength that comes from knowing we are supported on all sides by those who love us.  We need more of the truth that propelled Dietrich Bonhoeffer to martyrdom in a German POW camp.  He wrote in his book “Life Together” of the crucial need for community.  He would encourage his fellow brothers and sisters being persecuted by telling them, “You and I will die for this cause and join hands in the resurrection.”  That word is intensely encouraging to those who live with a biblically militant perspective.

          There must be this strong sense of community—not because the church is a social institution but because we are an army and whether we know it or not, we have an enemy who is firing flaming arrows at us.  We all need each other to watch our backs.  If we understood—truly understood the nature of the conflict in which we have been enlisted—we would park our petty differences and our competitive egos and start looking out for one another.  But if we lack a persistent awareness of the battle raging fiercely around us, we will remain content with superficial and fragile relationships that are easily bruised by a perceived snub or a wrong look or an ill-chosen word.  Only those who are oblivious to the fight will stay long in a mode of reclusive, superficial Lone Ranger Christianity.  In Acts chapter two soon after the church was born and when it was operating from an intensely militant perspective, verse 46 tells us, “And day by day, attending the temple and breaking bread in their homes…”  They were persistently with each other because (among other things) they KNEW they needed one another.

There are several other elements of this militant attitude but unless we are willing by God’s grace to embrace these truths and live them out they are all for naught.  The church makes occasional noises about being an army but its empty rhetoric when you see how we train for battle.  In truth, many of us live far more like we are loitering around waiting for heaven than preparing for war.  We easily forget that it’s only those who CONQUER who by God’s grace will be in heaven.  God will welcome only conquering soldiers, not spoiled vacationers into his eternal habitation.  Because many believers see this world more as a playground than a battleground, there is little discipline, a low sense of community and little sense of dependency upon God.

As we turn to a new chapter of our church’s history and take occupation of a new ministry facility next week, as a church let’s by God’s grace renew our commitment to mount that hill in Duluth Heights and take it for Jesus along with thousands of other dark “hills” like it here and around the globe.  The property on Swan Lake Road, as nice and spacious as it is, must be seen in large part as a base for spiritually militant operations where prayers, praise, truth and sacrificial love will be given to empower and equip the army of God to make war on the enemies of God here and to the nations for the glory of Christ.  He is worth far more than we could ever give for Him in the battle and just as those Marines in the article who found great fulfillment in the midst of hardship—there is no joy like the joy of knowing you are doing the will of God.  May God give us the grace to fight with great joy as He brings us to a new phase of militant ministry for His Name. 

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