Tuesday, December 21, 2010

We Wrestle Not With Flesh, But Sometimes With Our Flesh

I am bugged by analogies that compare the Christian church to an army. When I hear talk of spiritual war I flinch and try to steer the conversation in a new direction. It's not that the church-as-an-army is actually a wrong idea, but too often I see this idea being used to turn Christians against their neighbors instead of against the Enemy who lies and divides (Eph 6:12). Sadly idea of a holy army always makes me think of well dressed church-folks shouting at poor people.

It's not that I don't believe that Christianity stands uniquely opposed to the habits and systems of the world. It is precisely because I believe that Christ and Christianity are so opposed to the world that military analogies bother me. The trouble with overextending these analogies, is that they turns people towards the wrong sorts of battles. My revulsion most often comes up when I hear the phrase “Defending the faith” and at the heart of that annoyance is, in actuality, a loathing for the ass I can be when I'm at my worst.

I spent my freshman year of high school engaged in what I believed to be the holiest of wars for the kingdom of God. At every opportunity, and with any excuse I could find, I wrote and spoke about God's word and my faith in Jesus Christ. That sounds fine if not excellent, but unfortunately what I was often doing was trying to set myself apart from people at the school whom I thought were evil. I was trying to show them that if they had faith they could just stop being evil and be like me. That was a pretentious mission with a rather faulty premise. A Christian who is under the impression that their faith makes them superior to others has missed the point of faith. Faith is a gift (Eph 2:8), and not the mark of some holier tier of society.

If people become Christians solely because they find that the Christian way of thinking is morally or philosophically superior to all others, they are not the sorts of people I really want to call brothers and sisters. Race, gender, religion, and every other conceivable distinction between individuals has been used since the beginning of time as an excuse for one group to call themselves superior to another. Christ's religion does not have room for that nonsense. Christ came to serve, love, and bless anyone who wanted him. Christianity even thwarts those who would earn God's favor. The Bible tells Christians that we are “the worst of sinners” (1 Tim 1:15) who are justified freely by the action of God. (Eph2: 8-9)

Here's what I think about truly “Defending the faith”:

Arguing does not defend Christianity. Arguing, as I understand is a competition in which two people stroke their own egos while belittling the beliefs of others. This closes down opportunities to minister while isolating and dividing peoples. Arguments honor a winning intellect, but Christianity exalts humility (Lk 22:27). When the faith is defended, it is by Christians of humble spirit who do not conform to the petty and adversarial patterns of this world (Rom 12:2). A smart Christian defends the faith when they value loving their neighbor above proving their neighbor wrong.

I know of no one who was intellectually persuaded into faith in Jesus Christ. Bringing people into God's kingdom is rarely done in debate (though God may make use of any means he likes). People are brought into the kingdom of God by generous Love. More practically, people are brought in by Christians who politely listening to people they disagree with, who show authentic friendship, and who act with generosity and kindness (Romans 2:4). These things are much more attractive than arguments, however clever the arguments are.

“Christian” is not a badge to pin to one's chest nor is it a set of rhetoric that explains why one is better or smarter than anyone else. Christianity is a loosing of the cords that bind and blind the rest of civilization. Christianity is freedom. It is freedom from pride, violence, bigotry, judgment, and fear which sap our energy, kill our joy, and repulse our neighbors. Christ sets us free indeed (John 8:36).

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8&9)


  1. Well put, David. We both Know I've been there myself, at the worst, arguing with people until every time I opened my mouth it was full of daggers and bullets.

    This reminds me of the Norma Jean song "Vipers, Snakes, and Actors". One of the lines towards the end of the song is "You wear that cross like a Crown! You wear that cross like a dagger!" implying that the person wearing the cross is thinking highly of themselves and using it to wound others.

    I'm tired of shooting other Christians. I'm tired of the friendly fire. I want to find or found a place where people, God's or not, can come and know they're loved. Know they're worth something. I want a woman whose had a third trimester abortion to be able to come and be loved on and prayed with and not be condemned or told that she's a monster.

    I'm sick of all the strife that the church has over stupid little differences in opinion about the stupidest things that matter not at all in comparison to having a unified front and bringing others into the Love of Christ.

    I'm too tired now to explain everything I mean, but I might facebook note it. Anyway, good blog, Dave.

    See you later.

  2. Carry your flags, march into that fictional cause and show off that medal
    Just don't reach for that gun
    Reach for that gun
    Carry that banner, build that heart out of stone
    Just don't, reach for that gun, GUN!
    You scaled the high horse and I felt the change
    I know the difference between you and me
    You cleaned the outside of your chalice but it's filled with robbery
    And self indulgence...Just like the rest of us
    You wear that cross like a crown! You wear that cross like a dagger!
    You wear that cross like a crown! You wear that cross like a dagger!

  3. david, this was excellently worded. it speaks to a discussion we had the other night and is full of awesome truths.

    these days my vision of the church militant, an idea i loved as a teenager, often lean towards that of a rescue mission, never firing at a single person, christian or otherwise, but rather only at the enemy, and never engaging him unless engaged by him unavoidably. the glory i dreamed of as a young and firey christian fades. i no longer hope to stand in bloody battle, but rather long only to see freedom for those bound. yay God for perspective on that one. :)

    Mike~your wish to find/found a place of that magnitude of peace, i'm afraid, is something you may not find. wherever you go, this world strife survives--and it will come in just as easily to a new place. That place is a place made wherever there are people with patience and perseverance~fruits of the Spirit. often being that person is what slowly changes that place, rather than waiting for all the perfect people. it's more frustrating, but i think you will find it is better.

  4. Hi David! You are so awesome at getting to God's heart and causing us to inspect our own! I have to say that my picture of a holy army is more of a picture of a one-on-one confrontation between a cultural Christian and an angry atheist (remember, I watch and read lots of news :) ). I just read through 2 Timothy 2:2b, "Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus," and 2 Timothy 2:24-26, "And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will." I know I have been profoundly influenced by those living out an authentic faith, as well as by those Christians who have been able to answer my doubts about Christianity and the Bible with intelligent and credible answers. So true that you can't argue someone into the faith, but I do know that I and others I know (and know of, such as Lee Strobel) have had some very huge intellectual barriers to submitting to faith in which good apologetics, given in the spirit of 2 Timothy 2:24-26, were able to help break down resistance to the true gospel. Having made that point, thanks again, for pointing out the dangers of our taking that revelation of truth and using it against others or to elevate ourselves! We must be prepared to defend the faith (1 Peter 3:15) for the sake of helping to eliminate those barriers to faith, and to edify those who are weak in the faith because of those same barriers, but I know I can't be reminded enough to behave toward others as one completely humbled by God's gracious gift of faith, and to have compassion on those who aren't there yet. Thanks for inviting me to read your blog--I've enjoyed it immensely! The kids have missed you at Hope and I have missed our theological discussions!


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