SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSON/All Hands on Deck!
Wednesday, March 6, 2013 12:00 AM
George Barna once said that "the church is nothing more than the heart of the people that comprise it." There may be something to that for if the church is to maintain its community presence and sustain itself as a driving force for change, then it must embody a core group of members who, as Barna puts it, "are willing to die for the church." That may sound a bit overly zealous. But in truth, until the church is filled with people who see themselves as ministers/soldiers/pilgrims/conquerors who are on the move forward on God's behalf, then there is small hope that the world will be greatly impacted by her presence.
This militant aspect of the nature of the church is laid out before us throughout the Scriptures as it is here. The Book of Numbers tells the story of the wanderings of the Hebrew people over the forty years during which they made their slow and circuitous journey towards the Promised Land. Along the way there would be many struggles, many battles, and once that occupied land was reached it would be a grand enterprise to dislodge the resident nations from it. So, here at the beginning, Moses and Aaron are instructed to set the frame of mind for the people by calling them to form ranks and prepare themselves for war. A list is compiled of every male, twenty years of age and upward, who is able to fight. That phrase: "whoever is able to go out to war" is repeated thirteen more times in this first chapter. God was sending the message that He expected something special of the hearts of His people - that they should possess such a love for Him and a desire for that Land which had been promised, that they were willing to fight and to die for it. I wonder if the church today hasn't lost something of that militant attitude when it come to impacting our own culture?
Reformed Theologians, in discussing the Church, have distinguished between the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant, maintaining that the first represents the church as she exists here this side of Glory, while the latter speaks of the church at rest. This distinction is borne out in Samuel Stone's wonderful hymn, "The Church's One Foundation" whose fifth stanza teaches: "'Mid toil and tribulation, and tumult of her war, she waits the consummation of peace forevermore; till with the vision glorious her longing eyes are blest, and the great church victorious shall be the church at rest." Here in this life, we are ever on the march, ever in battle mode, ever assaulted by the forces of evil, ever stretched beyond our own resources by the challenges of our day. But in the strength of Christ and under His banner, we press onward to do battle against the forces of evil and to push back the darkness with the light of the gospel. No matter the dangers or setbacks, we do not lose heart for we know that victory is assured. "The church shall never perish! Her dear Lord to defend, to guide, sustain, and cherish, is with her to the end; though there be those that hate her, and false sons in her pale, against or foe or traitor she ever shall prevail." Yes, at times the battle will be fierce but the day of victory lies before us and toward that day we steadily march.
There is, therefore, no room in the church for an attitude of laissez faire or que sera, sera. The children of Israel were not victorious conquerors by displaying a commitment to 'let sleeping dogs lie". It is time for the church to throw off all traces of lethargy and regain something of that old militant heart that is worthy of a people who follow the King of kings. Ours is a Kingdom of Light and by that light we are to be active in "destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God (and) taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ". (2 Cor. 10:5) We form ranks behind Christ, our Captain, ready to serve and even "suffer hardship . . . as a good soldier of Christ Jesus . . . (ready) to please the one who enlisted (us) as a soldier." (2 Tim 2:3-4)
George Grant writes in The Changing of the Guard that our most basic duty is to remember that our God reigns! Therefore, everything, for us, becomes a question of honoring Him. However, George continues and raises the following question: "The heavens and the earth may be theocentric, but is our practical agenda to restore family values, traditional virtues, and moral standards equally theocentric? Perhaps not. Sometimes the good is the enemy of the best. Sometimes, tradition is just a cover for an older, albeit milder, evil. Thus, every project, every battle, every petition, every campaign, and every initiative ought to be reevaluated according to this: Does it honor the Lord? Does it place His integrity and glory above all other things? Or is it just another political expedient for one class of citizens or another?"
Surely this is where the battle is fiercely waged - right within our own hearts - to insure that God does occupy the center position of prominence and control. A congregation consisting of members whose hearts are so inclined, will zealously seek to tear down all false walls separating church and state, church and school, church and courtroom - knowing our God has called us to the sacred service of applying His Lordship to every part of culture and society and until this, our Country, is once again a 'righteous nation' we continue on in the fight!
The Rev. Donald Caviness is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, MS.