Christ’s church … militant?

Christ in Glory, Ethiopic Gospel ms, British Library Or. MS 481, f.110v. 17th century

The title of this post is one of the many resonant phrasings from the Book of Common Prayer, ‘Christ’s church militant here on earth.’ I have to admit, though, looking first to myself, we are not very militant in the West. I have recently blogged about my attempts to set up regular prayer. It is slowly emerging, but I’m still no soldier. I need to figure out reading and study of Scripture, let alone working out other disciplines.

Somehow, sitting around at my computer with a beer and a bowl full of creamy dill potato chips doesn’t feel very militant.

Others have noticed what I have previously referred to as “spiritual flabbiness” here in the West. Apparently, one reason why immigrant Christians start their own churches in Canada is that they think we are too soft and that we will be a bad influence on their children. They’re probably right!

What inspires these thoughts today is a little something I found on an Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church website (from Mountain of Medicine Saviour of the World, an English-language Ethiopian Orthodox mission parish in Toronto — I want to visit):

Orthodoxy in general helps the believer to realize that the Church is a Militant Church, which means every believer is a soldier in Christ; then one must realize that the Christian life consist of Order, Discipline and Sacrifice. These are traits that a soldier must possess in order to be successful in warfare.

The world is an undisciplined place so the Church of God must be the opposite. Just read the scriptures and see that Heavenly Worship is very orderly; it involves a Heavenly Hierarchy if you will, Cherubim, Seraphim, Archangel, Angels, Principalities, and Powers. The Worship is Liturgical Rev. 4:8 “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God, The Almighty, Who was and Who is and Who is to come” the living creatures chant this day and night without ceasing.

Order, Discipline and Sacrifice.

Now, even soldiers get time off, so don’t get me wrong. And our rich ascetic tradition in Christianity knows this — a bow that is always strung will break. But I think most of us — self included! — leave our bows unstrung most of the time.

The Ethiopians are not unusual in seeing us as soldiers, of course. The word pagan that refers to those ancient persons who are neither Christian nor Jewish, as it turns out, seems most likely to refer to non-combatants, to civilians. The ancient Christians saw themselves as fighting, as milites (the Latin word for soldiers). Everyone else was a civilian, not fighting the fight.

The martyrs were considers soldiers of Christ, and after them the monks.

In our Protestant hymn books, we used to sing “Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war.”

Of course, Anglicans are too enlightened for this sort of thing, anymore.

But the Ethiopians know it. Maybe we flabby westerners should spend some time with our Ethiopian brothers and sisters to get back some of the fire, discipline, and strength of our own forebears, men and women who went to the stake for the Gospel, were imprisoned, were beheaded, and crucified, who travelled far and wide by primitive means of travel to share the Gospel of Christ with others, who endured sickness and death just to be faithful to Christ, their King.

3 thoughts on “Christ’s church … militant?

  1. I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the idea of violence in scripture lately and have decided to not be dishonest with God about it anymore. I’m honest when I tell God that the militant themes and violence in the Bible are “cool” with me.

    The spiritual mentors I had growing up had all their reasons for showing how that was crucial for the people at the time. This might be “fair enough” but considering I wasn’t there nor know anyone who was, it’s very difficult to believe that violence has ever been strictly necessary for human beings.

    So what do we do in a society that does not require violence to survive and thrive. Do we play at the forms of violence, anticipating its return? Is that what we will do in Heaven? Shouldn’t the return of violence be a shock and upset? Of course it should. Is counting on our future failure to live out the fear of violence missing the point? I kind of think so.

    I don’t believe that our God is a God of violence and these ideas of the military in our religion strike me primarily as the influence of sinful humanity on the faith rather than the wise guidance of a war-approving deity.

    In short, I’d rather be violently murdered because of lack of military mindset, and I have a hard time believing that God would hold that against me.

    Now, I know you’re talking about military-grade discipline rather than military violence. But I wish the whole thing would just exit our system of belief. That’s my 2 cents 😉

  2. Thank you for these honest thoughts, Jon! I always feel unqualified to talk about violence in Scripture, drawn either to the evangelical upbringing of ‘defend Scripture at all costs’ or to the detached academic approach. But I think it is important, and even supports your feelings, that God Himself is the victim of violence in redemption, not the perpetrator. My second thought is, of course, that since violence is sadly endemic in human culture, the war metaphors in Scripture make sense both then and today. We know that St Paul doesn’t want us to take up arms, but we get that there is struggle involved in the Christian walk, and that military-grade discipline (as you aptly put it) is required.

    Maybe a follow-up post is in order soon…

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