Raise the Standards!
When I was a kid, the most used Bible metaphors in my Sunday School and church dealt with soldiering and warfare. Sure, many non-violent metaphors were also referenced dealing with planting and harvesting, wine and bread, lost sheep and coins, etc. But, none were put forth with such animated conviction as the warrior metaphors!
I can still hear my middle-American, childhood congregation belting out the hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers” with the American and Christian flags prominently displayed on either side of the platform. There could be no question in our hearts; the facts were undeniable: there is a war going on between these two standards (Culture and Church), and we are God’s soldiers! Furthermore, everyone was required to be a martyr for the faith if necessary! Of course, the seriousness of this deeply held conviction was always subject to the 12 o’clock noon kickoff and the traditional Sunday dinner spread.
Aggression Is A Virtue?
To be fair, my little country church was largely a peaceful and happy place. There was never an intent to produce literal armed warriors for Jesus. Everyone just wanted everyone to be spiritually armed and prepared for life’s adversities. However, with so much focus on the development of one’s inward soldier, it should come as no surprise that there were those times when outward aggression seemed to be excused as a virtue. What exactly am I talking about?
Well, there was always someone who could offer a virtuous explanation for their anger as actually being a “righteous anger.” Gossip was commonly entertained for the sake of “going to war in prayer.” Outbursts were often described as being a “clarion trumpet in these troubled and uncertain times.” Frequent bickering over leadership positions were often justified in terms of being uniquely “called” or “anointed.” The policing of other’s sins, and the checking of hair length like in the real military, were necessary to keep the faithful ranks presentable before the Lord of Hosts. You get the idea, right?
By the way, I was always perplexed as to why the great warrior Samson could have God-ordained long hair, but I couldn’t? Also, it always puzzled me why the Roman soldier motif was frequently used to illustrate God’s Christian soldier. Weren’t they the ones who crucified Jesus?
Not A Very Good Soldier
It’s true, the Bible does employ various soldier and war metaphors. However, their numbers pale in comparison to the numerous non-violent types. And when one finally reaches the New Testament Gospels in his/her daily Bible reading schedule, it becomes quite apparent that Jesus was not a very good soldier. He preferred turning the cheek and giving his shirt away. He had no use for hidden daggers or heavenly fire bombings. And, his choice “Kingdom Enlistee” was none other than a child—not a child soldier with an inward martyr complex. No, just an innocent, playful child would be enough for his kingdom’s sake.
My childhood experience, and my many years in ministry, have often prompted me to ask, “why we are drawn to certain metaphors and analogies in the Bible over others?” In a world that’s been at war since 1914, I guess it’s no surprise that we prefer fighting metaphors. After all, almost everyone has had at least one person in their family who honorably served and fought on foreign fields of engagement.
In the late 60s, my dad was in Vietnam. I can still remember going through his sock draw and looking at his bars, pins, and patches. He rarely spoke of his service. However my young imagination could fill in the details. I would often lull myself to sleep at night by role-playing his valiant deeds, fighting the good fight for both God and country.
Learning To Play Again
Now that I’m older and hopefully wiser, violent metaphors have less appeal to me. Personally, I feel that at this point in human history we Christians could better serve God and country by focusing less on fighting and more on “suffer the little children to come unto me.” Maybe then, our churches would be largely known as peaceful refuges rather than as mighty faith fortresses.
At this point in my life, I lull myself to sleep at night by imagining a people who no longer excuse their traditional aggressions as virtues. I dream of a people who’ve learned a more peaceful use for communication and prayer. I dream of a people who only police their own hearts for hostilities which could ultimately lead to harm within and without. I dream of a people who’ve dismissed their inward martyr complexes and no longer obsess about a traumatic end to this world. I dream of a people who are steadfastly focused on demonstrating presently a very near future where the lion lays down with the lamb. To this end I dream of a world where children play free from all threat or harm.