Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Thoughts on the "Church Militant"

One of my favorite Bible school songs as a child was "I'm in the Lord's Army."  The lyrics went like this:

I may never march in the infantry, 

Ride in the cavalry, shoot the artillery. 

I may never fly o'er the enemy, but I'm in the Lord's army. 

Now as an adult, I tend to cringe when I hear kids sing that song.  I think it's because I now understand the unfortunate and often disastrous results that occur when Christians try to live militantly.

As a child, I liked the idea of being on God's side--everyone likes to be on the winning team.  I had no idea who the "Lord's army" fought against, but I'm sure I pictured some sort of caricature of Satan and his demons as the enemy.  We Christians are in a battle of sorts.  We are even given specific instructions on how to put on our armor (Ephesians 6:10-18).  But our battle is not "against flesh and blood" (Ephesians 6:12).  In other words, we are not fighting against people.  Our struggle is a spiritual one.  Jesus gave us clear non-violent principles for living when He told us to "turn the other cheek" (Matthew 5:38-40) and "pray for our enemies" (Matthew 5:43-45).  I see no hints of marching into battle or calls to arms in the gospel.  I see the willful relinquishing of personal power and control to effect an even greater victory.

In my last post, I discussed how often we Christians in America take a very disrespectful attitude towards our governmental leaders.  On the flip side, American Christians tend to be very patriotic--even nationalistic.  We've blurred the line between love for God and love for country so much that we often think "American" is synonymous with "Christian."  We've elevated our country to the position of "God's favorite nation" and think that all our country's actions to promote democracy are somehow an extension of building the kingdom of God on earth.  This takes the simple refrain of "I'm in the Lord's army" to a whole new, blasphemous level.

Greg Boyd has written extensively about this topic and so I'm not going to rehash it here.  I'm thankful Boyd has the guts to speak out against this idolatrous trend in the American church. He has recently been posting his thoughts about the "New American Patriot's Bible"-- I highly encourage you to read his review and be aware of this harmful Bible that will soon be showing up in our church pews.

I will, however, offer up a simple test that I use in determining whether something is better suited for the kingdom of God or the kingdom of America--whether it be songs, sermons, books, or whatever.  I ask myself questions such as, "Would an Iraqi Christian be comfortable sitting in this service or reading this book?  Would I be comfortable singing this song if an Afghani Christian were sitting next to me?"  

There have been many times in the last several years (most notably on church services over Memorial Day weekend and close to the Fourth of July) when I have to say, "No, an Iraqi Christian would not be comfortable with this song.  They would be very, very offended."  Then I picture how I would feel if the situation was reversed-- if my country was the one invaded by another, if suicide bombs were going off in my streets, if members of my family had been killed by the bombs of another country--and I was sitting in on a church service with fellow believers from that country singing songs asking God to bless their country or singing about the good and noble things their country had done all for the glory of God.  

And that's when I choose not to sing those songs, or listen to that sermon, and I spend the time praying for God's kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

The people of God are a family, a body, a building... not an army.  We are a family that transcends borders, a body that lasts throughout time, a building that will not be hemmed in by country or government.  Let our allegiance be firm in following our leader, Jesus Christ, who did not take up a sword, but a towel to wash the feet of His disciples and a cross to die for the world.

No comments: