Note from CM: In July 2010, I wrote a rant that grew out of my attempts to comment on some other sites known for their strong views on a particular literalist interpretation of Genesis 1-2. Unlike the vast majority of the discussions here at Internet Monk, the “conversations” were nothing of the kind. I was shouted down and ridiculed. My commitment to the Bible, my faith and salvation were openly doubted and I was deemed a “dangerous” character. In their view, I was either “all the way in” or categorically on the outside. It appeared to me that I had entered a military camp and was being made subject to military discipline. The other commenters on the blog suspected me as a spy in the camp, and if not quite an enemy, at least an outsider who didn’t have a clue, likely to spill ignorance and doubt all over their tidy barracks.
That is NOT Internet Monk. However each of us, your gentle Chaplain included, has an inner fundamentalist that wants to forcibly conform others to the TRUTH™ as I see it. So this rant targets me too. If I ever let my secret “Sgt. Carter” get the best of me when we converse, I expect you to call me on it, just as I called the community out yesterday.
For today, let us consider the advisability of using the sword as we discuss God and life together.
• • •
Where does all this Christian militarism come from anyway? Why does every issue have to be framed as “The Battle for This” and “The Battle for That”?
- We must not make “friendly alliances.”
- We must not “surrender ground.”
- Now is the time to “take a stand.”
- It is our duty to “be on guard” against views that are “hostile to the truth.”
- We must “expose” and “vigorously oppose” such views.
- Now is no time for “retreat” or “compromise.”
And the final dire warning:
- To weaken our commitment to the biblical view of creation would start a chain of disastrous moral, spiritual, and theological ramifications in the church that will greatly exacerbate the terrible moral chaos that already has begun the unraveling of secular society.
That kind of talk can still push my buttons, but not at all in the way the writer intended! Instead of making me want to charge into battle, this voice of doom makes me want to yell back, “Whoa! Slow down, General Patton! Who died and appointed you commanding officer? Who gave you the right to define this conflict? Who put those warmongering words in your mouth?”
Here was your peace-loving Chaplain’s comment to all that boot camp blather:
You know, this whole debate between Christians — and I stress this particular part of the debate — could be a healthy thing in the church. But it never will be as long as people like ____________ keep using these military metaphors suggesting that we are war with one another. Either declare those who disagree with you heretics and your side the only legitimate Christianity, and be done with it, or find some way to engage in a positive discussion and debate. But this trench warfare where we hunker down in our own holes and lob grenades at one another from a distance across no man’s land is only destructive to the fellowship and mission of the church. Sometimes I despair of Protestantism and its unending warfare. Quote all the NT verses you want justifying your militant position. The apostles only engaged in this kind of attack when battling enemies of the Gospel. Either declare the other side enemies of the Gospel, or find a better way. Please.
I mean, come on. “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, by the wars you wage against other believers for your interpretation of the Bible?” You’ve got to be kidding me.
Honestly, I don’t get it. I just don’t get it.
Are some people simply temperamentally confrontational like this, so that they see everything in “war” terms? Do some people just love the adrenalin rush, the sense that this very moment is the point of crisis, the meaning and significance that it gives to them when they feel called to participate in some vital, do or die contest? Do some people just like to fight?
Is this just their public face, the rhetoric they take up when preaching or writing, or are they like this at home too, and when they deal with individuals or situations in their lives or in the church? How would you like a pastor with this mentality to visit you in the hospital?
How did the faith of Jesus and the apostles get turned into such a “take the hill” charge? How did the ministry of servanthood get turned into an onslaught against those whom someone defines as the forces of darkness (which includes the other churches in town)? Since when has God’s mission been about flexing one’s muscles, rising up to defeat opponents by cold logic and force of argument, berating and belittling them? Is anyone else getting tired and cynical listening to the constant drone of the “watchmen” sounding alarms, promoting fear, and issuing dire warnings of chaos to come?
For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel:
In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength. (Isa 30:15)
What happened to humility? to holding one’s interpretations and opinions with some sense of modesty and reserve? to abandoning the self-important delusion that the task is all up to me? to being willing to have civil discussions and debates with those who have other opinions rather than just preaching to the choir and lobbing grenades out of our protected little bunkers at the “enemy”? to loving our enemies, for heaven’s sake?
What happened to keeping the central teaching the central teaching?
I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
If we’re going to “take a stand” anywhere, it should be here. Along with the other core creeds of the church, this is the central teaching that defines our faith.
- Not a particular interpretation of Genesis.
- Not the doctrine of inerrancy, a teaching not found in any of the foundational creeds or confessions of the church — Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant.
- Not a specific outline of eschatological events.
- Not one’s particular approach to ecclesiology such as church structure, leadership roles, specifics about how the sacraments should be practiced, or worship styles.
- Not positions on specific social, cultural, or political issues.
Of course, Christians may (even should) study matters like these and develop convictions about them. Fine. Just don’t make them the central teaching of the faith. Just don’t consider them beyond discussion and absolutely non-negotiable. Just don’t turn every issue into a “battle” against the world and within the family.
What happened to keeping the main thing the main thing?
The Lord has told us what is good. What he requires of us is this: to do what is just, to show constant love, and to live in humble fellowship with our God. (Micah 6:8, GNT)
So many of the drill sergeants that are constantly in our faces telling us to shape up and get ready for battle base their harangues on “God’s Word” and the plain truth it tells us. Folks, it doesn’t get any plainer than Micah 6:8.
- God has told us what is good. From his point of view. His opinion, not ours.
- He has laid down his requirements for his people in plain and simple language.
- First, do what is right (or just). Get right and be right (in Jesus) and do right (in the Spirit). Act right and treat others right.
- Second, love lovingkindness. Make it your heart’s desire above all else to be known as a person of love. A person who shows constant, faithful, compassionate, merciful, patient, kind, and sacrificial love to family and neighbors, friends and enemies alike.
- Third, walk humbly with God. As The Message paraphrase puts it: “And don’t take yourself too seriously — take God seriously.” Big God, little me. He must increase, I must decrease. More spotlight on him. I am content in the shadows.
Simple. Plain. Much easier to grasp than trying to determine the genre and interpretation of Genesis 1!
I don’t find it believable that this kind of person — a Micah 6:8 type of person — could possibly graduate from the evangelical version of boot camp, take up arms, and go full bore into battle. I don’t picture a person who is concerned foremost about treating others right, showing them constant love, and living out of a humble walk with God playing the part of an aggressive warrior. Do you?
It’s time we started fighting the real battle, the one that is raging within. The one against self-deception, self-exaltation, and exaggerated self-importance. The one that tells me I’ve got to protect my (God’s!) territory and view others with suspicion as threats to my well-being. The one that says “I am called of God to tar and feather you because you are wrong, wrong, wrong!”
Of course, you know I am not advising against a healthy spirit of discernment. I am advocating against the basic lack of trust and confidence in God and truth and the image of God in the neighbor that turns us into such savage beasts in the ways we deal with one another.
The internet, unfortunately, makes it easier to engage in the kinds of fruitless battles that are the subject of this rant. The technology has made it possible for whole armies of faceless people to unload on each other and never have to face any consequences in real life. One blog can take on another blog. Preachers and “teachers” (and internet chaplain-monks at weak moments) have a worldwide platform from which to launch attacks. It’s Protestantism gone to cyber-seed.
But let’s not blame the transport for the troops that have boarded it.
Enough boot camp and battlefield bluster and blather. Enough I say!
Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.” (Matt 26:52)
Thus endeth the rant.