A gentleman recently asked me why I do some of the things that I do. In particular why did I have a picture of myself holding a rifle. While he appreciated that picture was taken when I was on active duty, sometime around 2004, and I was part of a port security detail to protect an LNG tanker coming into Boston Harbor, that “My thoughts were along the lines of preachers spreading the gospel of peace. (“How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace” Rom 10:15) It came across as somewhat uneasy that a pastor has a profile picture with a rifle in a world where other religions incite violence.” I’m not going to name the inquirer, he’s certainly welcome to discuss the issue, but I’m just using this for illustration.
I certainly understand his point, frankly that is one of the reasons why the church is taken less and less seriously. There are numerous references in the Bible to “the hosts of heaven” the word “host” refers to a large army. That is a military reference, hosts, Martin Luther in his great hymn “A Mighty Fortress is our God”, talks about “Lord Sabaoth”, that also refers to hosts. You may have seen the recent series on the Bible on the History Channel produced by Roma Downey. In every instance I can remember angels were first always depicted as men, never women and the Bible never mentions women being angels and second they were always equipped as soldiers. That portrayal of the “ninja angel” in the episodes of Sodom and Gomorrah and Jericho are much more Biblically accurate, then portrayals since the Renaissance of angels as “Cupid” kind of figures or women. Paul makes several military references: putting on the whole armor of God, Jesus talked about “binding” on earth, i.e. taking captive/prisoner, It’s a rather obscure reference, but when Jesus sent His disciples out two by two, one of the things He told them was that if they did not have a sword, they were to sell their cloak to buy a sword. (Luke 22:36). “”Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matt 10:34) There are references to Jesus such as “Prince of Peace”, but He never refers to Himself in those terms. Although He certainly tells Peter to put away the sword. First probably because of the circumstances, He had future plans for Peter and Peter had a long way to go for the Kingdom from Gethsemane and Peter was in no way shape or manner going to win that fight and get out alive. And to be sure, we are not called to go out and conduct physical warfare. On the flipside we are never told not to defend ourselves. The Christian church has a long history of martyrs who peacefully gave up their lives for the Kingdom and there certainly is a time and a place, but there has also been a long history of Christian soldiers and peace officers who have protected millions of innocents, Christians and non-Christians. The history of the church is rife with references to the “Church Militant”, hymns such as “Am I a Soldier of the Cross”, “Onward Christian Soldiers”.
My big issue with the church is that over the years it has taken itself less and less seriously. Millions have left the church because they just did not see that the church as being a place that stood against the evil and wickedness of the world. They saw a church, and that’s what I see, that is more interested in entertaining itself, lulling itself into a complacency that reminds me of everything bad about contemporary culture dating back to the 1960’s, to wit “why are you harshing my buzz man?” We want Jesus to be sort of a cream puff, you don’t have to go far in the church, no less on the street to find someone who will tell you that Jesus was a great teacher, a good man, etc. Some sort of guru living on the mountain (Beatitudes?) Paul makes numerous references to “the armour of God” fighting the good fight”, the Book of Revelation is almost exclusively about the depiction of actual warfare between good and evil. We see St Michael, one of the icons of the faith, very physically subduing the devil.
These are the things we don’t take seriously in the Bible especially in 21st century northeast United States. Other than 9/11, the Boston Marathon bombings, this tiny part of the world is probably the wealthiest, most peaceful, most entitled area of the world in the entire history of the planet. We don’t really deal with violence, we don’t really appreciate that many are dying and going to hell. Why because we are just so complacent, so caught up in our nice comfortable, pleasant little worlds, that the rest of the world simply isn’t important. We are wealthy enough that we can throw some money at an issue and feel that we’ve done enough. Too few of us have really gotten into the trenches of truly saving people first in a physical sense and then spiritually. It has often baffled me that those who are fed and lifted up by the church, don’t feel any urgency to share that with those who do not have that. I really don’t understand, if God has guided you to salvation and you have found peace, salvation and eternal life in the resurrection with Jesus, why on earth wouldn’t you share that with others. As Dr Luther once said, we are all beggars showing other beggars where the bread is.
Why do I show my picture, because I want to be taken seriously, I realize it may be a little over the top, but the church, its pastors, have been treated with this sort of condescending disdain for so long, most people see pastors as being naive, placid, little cupcakes, who pat you on the head tell you Jesus loves you and not a whole lot else.
I am not saying go out and grab guns and become some sort of survivalist, the church is not about that. We talk about the Body of Christ, that is the church, that is who we are. On the flip-side, I do want the church to be taken seriously, the church should be taken seriously, because there really is only one ultimate reality and that is of the prevalence of evil in the world. And not just bad guys who murder, rape and pillage, but as Jesus said: ESV Luke 12:5 “But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!” Through Christ God the Father does love us, does want what is best for us, but on His terms. I can’t remember or find the comment but it was to the effect, that especially in this day and age, more people will go to hell because of the complacency and frankly even the negligence of the church and complacent Christians then will go to hell because of acts of outright sin (murder, abuse, etc). We have to get serious about the church, the work of the church, that through Christ’s church people do come to know the Lordship and salvation of Christ and are saved from the evil, depravity and death of the world.
Jimmy Carter may have called the “energy dependency” situation at the time, the “moral equivalent of war”. But the war we fight as Paul said “ESV Ephesians 6:12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” The war is very real, we are not called to go marching in the streets, but we are called to be on our guard, to be as alert and ready as any soldier, sailor, Marine or airman on watch. To help those who are in danger of hell and especially those who are in danger of being lost because we are so complacent, so “fat and happy”, so unwilling to understand that we should have a sense of urgency. That person that you meant to talk to about Christ yesterday, is there any guarantee he will be around tomorrow? That you will be around or that I will be around? There were many times in the Coast Guard when I had to go out in the dark night in crummy weather, that people were genuinely in danger. Did they have the luxury of me stopping for a cup of coffee, “oh it can wait until tomorrow”, “yea I’ll be right there after I get off the phone”. You know the answer to that.
Perhaps when you see the picture on the page, you will feel a little more motivated, a feeling of urgency, you will take the Kingdom of Heaven more seriously, the Lordship of Christ as more important to you and to those who do not know Christ. A little over the top? Maybe. But is there any doubt where I’m coming from?
Finally, thanks very much to the gentleman who raised the question. I’ve been using that for a couple of years now and perhaps I lost a little of the sense of urgency myself. Please, please don’t hesitate to fire stuff at me, I may not always have the answer, like this blog,, he asked me a couple of days ago and this morning I really felt compelled to articulate where I am at publicly, why I do some of the things I do. This isn’t really complete either and I promise, if you raise an issue I will try very hard not to make the answer 1600 words. There has been a lot lost because of complacency, of the church, of you, of me, of many around us. So yes, in some situations I do feel the need to pitch the entire kitchen out. God bless and thanks.