I recently read an article arguing that Christians need to realize we’re (because I myself number among the “Christians,” which is why I’m so interested in discussing this) in the middle of a massive war between the divine and the demonic, and we need to buck up and fall in line for battle.
Which, fair enough. As the article does point out, we’re called to be the insurgency, and we ought to get on board with that fact.
But it also seems like the article fundamentally misunderstood the nature of the conflict we’re in the midst of, and calling it a “war” rhetorically makes it seem like we should be a lot more antagonistic than is really wise. And the words we use matter – it’s sort of like how declaring a “war on drugs” gives implicit permission for police officers and DEA agents to use highly militant tactics, even when the situation might not call for it. (And you can see a whole lot more about the escalation of SWAT team usage, especially in conjunction with anti-drug policing, in this movie.)
So the rhetoric of the article is important, because it conveys as much meaning as the article’s underlying principles. And the militant rhetoric of this article seems to say we ought to go out and crush our enemies – or else we’re in danger of being overrun and utterly defeated.
But is that really what we’re called to do? Is that really what’s going on in the world?
Look at this line form about a paragraph into the article:
[This is a war that] many human beings – maybe even including you, personally, and me – will lose if we die fighting for the wrong side.
The implicit message of that statement is that anyone – even the righteous author of this article! – might be forcibly turned away from a true identity in Christ damned to hell if we reject Jesus and/or don’t do enough fighting for God. Plus, when you add in one of the lines that leads into it (“A war that conscripts every human on the planet into combat, on one side or the other, whether they like it or not.”), the whole thing takes on the flavor of a human v. human conflict.
So let’s break those three ideas down a little.
- You lose if you don’t fight for Christ.
Fair enough. This is a central tenant of Christianity, and one of the key ideas of the Bible. Love God. That’s essential.But let’s also take a moment to reject the fallacy that any force of evil would be sufficient to overcome the power of God, and to suggest otherwise betrays a lack of confidence in God’s agency.
- You lose if you don’t fight hard enough.
This is partially an idea espoused by the above statement, but is even more the point of the rest of the article: Christendom needs people who will fight to the bitter end, not lukewarm converts who might waver in the face of a challenge. There’s some truth there. God asks you to put him first, before everything, and as the KJV so eloquently puts it, “faith without works is dead.” (James 2:20)But there are a couple problems with this message. It’s also pretty central to Christianity, if more emphasized in Protestantism, that good works do not a righteous man make. Mostly because our power doesn’t come from us, it comes from God. The whole point of Christianity is that God’s glory will be revealed by working out perfection through imperfect actors. We are never going to win a war – if that’s what it is – by becoming closed off, embittered, and reclusive. We can enact change by being more engaged and relational.
- You are fighting against other people.
But here’s the really scary part to me. While the article does speak directly to combatting the forces of hell as a presence and distortion of God’s will for the world, it also implicitly and explicitly treats the people who are acting out those evils as the enemy, not the oppressed. And this is where the war metaphor really breaks down.Wars are fought with a purpose in mind. New territory. Resources. Retaking the Holy Lands. Whatever it is, killing the enemy is the means to the end. But as the author of the article himself points out in the above quote, the enemy actually makes gains when we’re destroying its soldiers. “Souls” are what’s supposedly at stake in this war, but you can’t win souls when you fight a wa” against sinners. You only lose.
You win souls when you see sin acting and refuse to demonize the people it infects. You win the war when you fight sin itself through patient love and trust in the fact that God has already won in the death and resurrection of Christ, not just that “God will ultimately win.”
There are a lot of details I could get into, specific problems I have with the theology, social policy, and tactics espoused by this article, but this has to be the big idea that sort of links it all up.
If a person is “driven away” because the truth scares them, let them leave. Better they join the enemy outright than stay as infiltrators in our ranks, attempting to entice more believers into their cowardly, wicked way of thinking.
That’s an argument I just can’t get behind because it treats people as numbers, and God isn’t concerned with numbers. He’s concerned with love. He’s concerned with creativity. He’s concerned with joyful outworkings of a blessed spirt. He’s concerned with body, mind, and soul, and he proves it over and over again throughout scripture.
That means that far from driving away lukewarm Christians, we should be patient in encouraging them to continue seeking. This – I’m going to stop calling it a war – this movement of Christ isn’t something we need to execute with crushing efficiency. It is something we need to joy in as it happens over time. Don’t tone down the message of God’s love, perfection, and justice – ever. But declaring war on people who don’t really understand it yet isn’t the answer to the world’s problems.
When the author of the article says that the Church “is weighed down by many nominal, lukewarm members who want to bide their time and wait around for the victory parade,” he’s not wrong. But seeing these people as enemic to the Church demonizes them rather than sympathizing with them.
Jesus met people in relationship and walked with them – literally – through life. We can’t afford to ever stop that in favor of the nuclear option, whatever that actually looks like.