Friday, May 26, 2006

Onward Christian Soldiers...Marching Just For More?

The metaphors that are used to describe the Church are many and varied. The Bible describes the company of believers as God's family, a holy nation, a royal priesthood and the Body of Christ. These all help us to understand the way in which God views us. While some metaphors can be helpful, I believe that one, in particular, has damaged the Church. That metaphor is the Church as an army.

Many have taken a few verses of Scripture, and built an entire paradigm which states that the Church of Jesus Christ is like an army, marching as soldiers with one goal and one purpose. That goal is world evangelism. That purpose is, as one well-known evangelist says, to "plunder hell to populate heaven". Sounds like a noble and lofty goal, doesn't it? After all, isn't the mission of the Church the "Great Commission"?

This mind-set, while well-meaning and, at times even somewhat fruitful, leads to an enchantment with numbers at the expense of the individual. The Church, while embracing this model, has become just like the local US Army recruiter. In the first meetings with a potential soldier, the local Army recruiter extols the individual benefits and rewards of being a member of the US Army. The young proselyte is told of the GI bill, free college tuition and a salary that far surpasses what an average 18 year-old could find elsewhere. After thinking about these benefits, the young man/woman signs the dotted-line, looking forward to all that the Army has promised. All is well, until the recruit is stripped of their individual identity by being assigned a serial number, given a uniform, having their head shaved and handed a military-issue M-16, just like everyone else. Suddenly, these recruits learn that the Army is concerned with their personal well-being, only in so much as it will contribute to the accomplishment of the greater goal of the US Army. Sound familiar?

Many people are wooed into the Kingdom by believers who express a personal interest in their lives. Potential converts are told of the unconditional love that God has for them, of the free gifts of peace and joy that can be theirs in Christ, and of the promise of eternal life forever and abundant life today. Acting upon this Good News, the unbeliever places their faith in Christ and, for a time, experiences many of the benefits promised. Before basic training is even over though, another well-meaning believer comes along and shares with the new disciple how they can "really" please God, and what God "really" expects of them. They are now expected to sacrifice many of the benefits previously promised in route to accomlishing the "mission". Peace and joy are now to come second to witnessing and serving. Now, the believer's value is no longer intrinsic, but rather, proportionate to the amount of "service" he/she can provide to the Kingdom of God. The new believer is sent to the front-lines, M-16 in hand.

Instead of focusing on true discipleship, the paradigm of the Church as an army has caused us to seek more converts. As we seek to win nations instead of persons, we become a mile wide and an inch deep. Relationships within the Church become an accessory that takes a back-seat to the attainment of "the goal". As we seek more and more numbers, we don't have time for "non-productive" and "unfruitful" relationships. We can only relate to people in so much as they are useful to fulfilling the "mission". If we are not discipling or mentoring someone, then they become a luxury, a distraction that keeps us from fulfilling our "true purpose". While trying to reach more people, we lose focus of the goal... PEOPLE! Instead of having 10 intimate relationships, we seek to "share our lives" with 100; but is this really possible? Should we each invest a little in the many, or alot in a few? Could it be that while we tell multitudes of the transforming power of Jesus, we are left with no time to actually show anyone the love of Jesus? Is God more interested in faceless masses or in individuals?

Am I suggesting here that God does not want everyone to be reached with the Gospel? Absolutely not! I am simply saying that we must be careful not to lose sight of individual lives and needs in our search for more "souls". Did Jesus die for names or for numbers? Should we woo them with love and caring, only to throw them into the "heat of battle"? Do we truly care about the people for whom Jesus died, or are they just a number to add to the roll? What do you think?


Steve Sensenig said...

Well said, Raborn. I think there is probably a lot of "bait-and-switch" going on. And like I was telling you yesterday, it's even worse when a person has some gift or talent that a church leader thinks can be useful. That person is wooed mercilessly and shamelessly. And the story rarely ends well, it seems.

What Scriptures do you think people use to justify the army metaphor? I'm thinking of the "armor of God" passages (Eph 6 and 1 Thess 5), but I can't think of any others off the top of my head.

steve :)

Raborn Johnson said...

Steve, one passage I think of is the metaphor that Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 9:7. Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk?
The idea being conveyed here, is simply that a church planter deserves to be financially supported. In Philippians 2:25 and Philemon 2, Paul refers to Epaphroditus and Archippus as "fellow soldiers", but only in the midst of other metaphors such as "brothers", "fellow workers" and "dear friend". The passage suggesting the metaphor of an army most strongly is 2 Timothy 2:3-4. Paul says, "Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs-he wants to please his commanding officer." NIV In the immediate verses following, Paul goes on to encourage Timothy using the metaphors of a farmer and an athlete. It seems important to note that Paul is here not speaking to a church, but to one individual to whom he had previously said "God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and of a sound mind".
It is fine to use such metaphors, but the danger is when we paint them with such broad strokes, encompassing all believers, everywhere. While we can learn from Paul's instructions to Timothy, we need to be cautious not to literalize what Paul intended to be taken figuratively.

Very true, Steve. When a person is identified as having a "gift" that could be useful, that person is considered very "valuable" to the work of the local church. Another instance that "marks" a believer for service in the local church, is when he/she expresses any kind of enthusiasm about their faith. Even if someone is a new believer (and maybe even predominantly so), they are not immune from being thrown into the deep end of "church work". Excitement for Jesus is often misdirected into a cycle of dead works that leaves a new believer frustrated and hurt after realizing that they were just another "finger" to plug a "leaky hole".

Anonymous said...

Good job, Raborn. I couldn't agree with you more. We need to feed and nurture those who have placed their faith in the Lord, not drop them like a hot potato.
Love you,