By Ron Sherrill
We have heard it said that we as Christians are the Lord’s Army. We have heard that we are Soldiers of the cross. We have sung the hymn, “Onward, Christian Soldiers.” Scriptures often compare the life of a Christian to the life of a Soldier. Do we truly understand what that means? How is the church like an army? How is a Christian like a Soldier? As a retired U.S. Army Soldier, I’d like to share some thoughts on the subject.
Many today preach that if you believe in Jesus Christ, all your problems go away, that you can just pray in faith for the things you want and God is obligated to provide. It’s as if God were some kind of puppet or genie we can control and not the Sovereign, the Commanding Officer that He is. They say that if you don’t get what you want, then it must because you lack faith. This is the so-called “Prosperity Gospel,” which has no real foundation in true Bible doctrine. The Prosperity Gospel has made many a televangelist rich, while leaving many a Christian spiritually and financially poorer. I am somewhat disturbed by the number of times on the internet I see the phrase “God will bless you in one hour if you forward this!” Uh huh, right. These people don’t know what they’re talking about.
The Bible repeatedly makes references to Christians living the hard life of a Soldier. Peter and Paul owned few possessions, were often beaten, thrown in prison, and ultimately martyred. Church tradition teaches all the apostles were martyred, in the most cruel ways…killed for preaching the Gospel, with the possible exception of John. However, John was exiled in his old age to the island of Patmos by the Romans for his preaching. The Romans made the killing of Christians a sport in the Coliseum. The Roman emperor Nero used to set Christians on fire to provide torchlight for his parties. Fox’s Book of Martyrs lists Christians who, through the centuries, sacrificed their lives for their faith in Jesus Christ. Did they endure hardship, suffer and die because they lacked faith or because they HAD faith? They were true Soldiers of the Church, fulfilling the great commission of the risen Jesus Christ, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matthew 28:19-20). They had their marching orders and moved out. Saint Paul exhorts Timothy “Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good Soldier of Jesus Christ. (2 Timothy 2:3).
While largely insulated here in the United States, Christians in other lands truly understand living the hard life of a Soldier. In sub-Saharan Africa, Christians are being exterminated. In China and other Communist countries, churches meet in secret, fearing persecution and arrest. In Saudi Arabia, carrying a Bible can get you arrested. In many Muslim countries, converting to Christianity can get you killed.
We need to take a closer look at the comparison between Soldiers and Christians, lest we forget.
The U.S. Army must draw new recruits from the general U.S. population. These recruits come from areas that are geographically, economically, and culturally diverse. Further, they enter the service for different reasons; some to pick up a job skill, others for adventure, some for college money, and still others for patriotism. Ultimately, to be accepted, they must be broken down in boot camp and rebuilt as Soldiers before they can be accepted. Upon entrance into the U.S. Army, Soldiers are issued a manual to study. It contains the rules, the responsibilities and the skills a Soldier must master. A Soldier studies it regularly, or he will never make it beyond boot camp or, more formally, Basic Combat Training (BCT). Soldiers learn to accept each other, put their differences aside and work as a cohesive team.
People seeking God come from all walks of life, from areas that are geographically, economically and culturally diverse. They may be seeking God for different reasons, but ultimately must understand they are sinners in need of salvation through Christ before God receives them. Too often we judge people because they are different from us, and don’t provide them the opportunity to grow in the Lord and become part of the team. The result? AWOL converts. This is not God’s will. God wishes to strengthen his ranks, not shrink them. God has issued Christians a manual, the Holy Bible. New Christians need to study and learn before they can mature as Soldiers of Christ. Just as new recruits don’t look like Soldiers until the drill sergeant instructs and corrects, new converts may not look like the rest of the congregation until the Holy Spirit instructs and corrects. Church members need to resist the urge to usurp the role of the Holy Spirit in this process. It’s like a private trying to usurp the role of the drill instructor. It doesn’t turn out well.
The Organizational Culture
I believe it would be harder to find an organization with a more pronounced organizational culture than the United States Army. This is not an accident. Culture is taught…aggressively. The Army understands culture impacts behavior. Every new recruit must graduate from 10 weeks of BCT before he can call himself a Soldier. Here, instructors teach the history and core values that guide the U.S. Army as an institution. They learn about citizenship, teamwork and selfless service, as well as warrior skills. They learn to look, act, and dress like Soldiers…and take pride in what they do. What Soldiers learn in BCT is reinforced again when they reach their units, some of which have their own subcultures that complement the dominant U.S. Army culture. For instance, paratroopers generally maintain a higher standard of fitness, wear shorter haircuts, special spit-shined jump boots, and distinctive berets. The U.S. Army recognizes the importance of culture, leveraging it to maximize morale and performance.
A healthy church has strong preaching and teaching. Members learn what is expected. Christians dress differently, separating themselves from a worldly appearance, identifying themselves as followers of Christ in both their look and their conduct. Without getting bogged down in specifics (the Bible does provide guidelines on modest dress and adornments), it is fair to say it is hard to conduct God’s business while looking like the devil. In military terms, why would you wear the uniform of the enemy? A good church promotes a Christian culture based on Biblical doctrines, leveraging that culture to maximize its performance as a witness for Christ. As in the U.S. Army, churches may vary somewhat in their appearance and culture but not in their mission. The church’s mission is to place Christ above all else, spreading the Gospel throughout the world.
The Organizational Structure
There is a chain of command within the Army. It clearly defines an unbroken line of authority, clarifying who reports to whom, from the very top command authority to the very lowest. Ultimately, the President of the United States is the commander in chief. Down at the company level, captains command their units, with the assistance of lieutenants and NCOS who provide leadership and order. Soldiers are to remain respectful of that leadership as long as that leadership remains faithful to the U.S. Constitution, the Uniform Code of Military justice, as well as other applicable laws and regulations.
The church has a chain of command. Ultimately, God is the commander in chief. Within the local church, the pastor is the captain. Deacons and others appointed within the body of the church assist the pastor in providing leadership and maintaining order and efficiency. Christians should respect their leadership as long as that leadership remains faithful to the doctrines of the Bible.
When a Soldier arrives at his unit, he is provided the equipment necessary to fight and win. He is provided a flak vest and helmet for protection. He is issued a rifle. He learns how to utilize that equipment so that he can both attack the enemy and defend himself.
The Christian is provided equipment. In Ephesian 6: 11-17, the Christian is exhorted to “ Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand . Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:” The Bible states “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:4). God gives the Christian all he needs to sustain him. Phillipians 4:19 says “But my God shall supply all your need, according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”
A Soldier takes an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution and protect the United States against all foreign and domestic enemies, even at the risk of his own life. Soldiers are committed to each other, so much so that they will risk their own lives to save a brother or sister in arms from harm or capture. A Soldier plants his boots wherever the U.S. Army orders him to go.
Please note: there is no expiration date in the oath of enlistment.
Christians are to have a solid commitment to God and his church “Lest Satan should get an advantage of us, for we are not ignorant of his devices. (2 Corinthians 2:11). Jesus tells us, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13). Did not Jesus demonstrate this himself while carrying out His Father’s will? Christians should be committed to each other.
Is there an expiration date on your oath of enlistment as a Christian?
While we are young and able, we should be putting our shoe leather to the pavement, actively working to spread God’s word, willing to endure persecution and hardship as a good Soldier of Christ. However, as we get older, and our bodies begin to fail, that does not mean God is done with us or that he discards us. He still loves us and has a purpose for our lives. We may no longer be able to go on the attack, but we can still hold the fort. We can still be a blessing and a witness to those who come to see us, right where we are. Are there people around you that are in need of comfort? Are there those around you in desperate need of a Savior? If so, you can still be in the fight right where you are, bringing glory to God as a Soldier of the cross.
Be All You Can Be
Much as Soldiers are conformed by the organizational culture and structure of the U.S. Army, Christians should be conformed to the image of Christ. “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthian 3:18). We should be as readily identifiable as Christians in this world as a man in uniform is recognized as a Soldier. We should be loyal to the Church as a Soldier is to his unit…for as long as we can, to the full extent of our abilities. Be all you can be! Be proud of your unit, the local church!
Ron Sherrill is a resident of Troy