The Truth Is Marching On?
I like to collect hymn books. They’re like a common language, no non-sense, theological dictionary for every denomination. Flip through any one and just take a look at the headings in the index, and you’ll get a fair idea of the spiritual concerns and character of the church in question.
One heading you won’t find in any United Church hymn book these days is “Spiritual Warfare”. Scripture is littered with references that are the popular foundation of this particular theological slant on our faith, but none more so than this week’s text from Ephesians 6:10-20, the conclusion of Paul’s epistle.
Most folks forget that while Paul cries “Fasten the belt of truth”, “put on the breastplate of righteousness” and take up “the sword of the Spirit”…he does so in chains, imprisoned by the very empirical forces that many Spiritual Warfare hymns adore.
I remember a Sunday School teacher who, with a dash of drama, taught this story to his class by dressing up in full Roman Army regalia and relishing every word of Paul’s description. The irony that Paul’s accent always falls on resisting the world’s ways of living and embracing the way of the Gospel, loosing our weapons of war and adopting the spiritual path of peace-making and reconciliation, was totally lost on the teacher.
Think of “Onward Christian Soldiers” for example. “Like a mighty army, moves the church of God.” I thought Paul’s emphasis was being the body of Christ of one faith and baptism grounded in the gospel, not cogs in the empire’s machine relentlessly attacking its enemy. “Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war”? To most of us, that smacks of the crusades and other historical atrocities that stain Christian history with violence and persecution.
Or take “Battle Hymn of the Old Republic” as another popular choice that’s still sung in many parts of the world with gusto. Admittedly, it plays a greater role in American culture as it was written during the civil war, but you can hear its tune and words in many other communities as well.
“Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord; He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored, he hath loosed the fearful lightning of his terrible swift sword, his truth is marching on.”
I thought Paul said our only sword is the Word of God, the same Word that commands us to turn swords into ploughshares? (IS 2:4) To mine ears, this hymn sounds more like a fourth installment of the popular Terminator franchise that Arnold Schwarzenegger made so popular than the gospel of Christ.
Read the text, and ask yourself, when Paul proclaims “Our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places”, and warns against the wiles of evil that will twist our witness to the gospel, is he really asking us to take up arms and persecute others? Is Spiritual Warfare the gospel that brings Jesus to the cross?
In our want to confront and divest ourselves from Spiritual Warfare, we have to be careful not to loose this sacred text from Paul. His cry against the cosmic powers and spiritual forces is true and as relevant today as any. Look at your street, your town or city, your country – the world – and ask if there’s a struggle going on. It’s in plain sight in newspapers and around kitchen tables – and as the church, we are called to stand firm and witness.
Our church has been a particular target of media criticism over the 41st General Council’s resolution regarding a ban on goods from Israel. While I’m not content with this resolution, I was curious to hear the insinuations in the media this past week.
Information Morning CBC interviewed a sociologist who claimed that the United Church of Canada’s religious identity was being lost because it had focused too much on the secular world and not enough on spiritual matters. I really enjoyed the piece, and in particular, the interviewers skill in teasing out multiple view points of the sociologist’s work. Visit