Saturday, March 4, 2017

Now you've gone too far!

{I am back blogging again. It's been a couple of years, but I have some things on my heart I wish to share. I had followers in the double digits before and I hope they will come back. For those who read this, I welcome you as well as your comments.}

As I often have I am writing about one of my pet peeves. This one is an example of taking analogies and imagery in the Bible and taking them too far, thereby distorting and misapplying them. The answer to this is to ask ourselves the question, 'Does the Bible really teach that?'. At the same time, I want to get the complete revelation of what God has for us in these images.

One of the most common types of imagery is military imagery. In our own society, we talk about fighting all kinds of diseases and poverty and injustices. Our politicians, when running for office, run a "campaign". The Bible also has a lot of military imagery and, of course, actual armies as well. The pre-incarnate Christ appeared to Joshua calling Himself 'Captain of the Lord of hosts'. We read about God fighting battles on behalf of Israel, bringing down Jericho without any fighting by the Israelites at all. We have young David defeating Goliath in the name of the Lord. In Daniel, we have angels having to fight demonic powers that ruled over Persia at that time. (Daniel 10)

The New Testament is also full of military imagery, except that our enemies are not men, but demons. Jesus "spoiled principalities and powers ... triumphing over them ...". (Col 2:15) Then Paul uses similar imagery regarding the church. "Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ." (2 Cor 2:14) Paul sees use in a triumphal procession, having defeated our enemies. And God is the One who led us into that victory. Again, "we are more than conquerors through Christ". (Romans 8:37)

Then there is Ephesians 6:10-17 where we are instructed to "put on the full armor of God". Indeed, those who do want to live the victorious Christian life will experience much spiritual conflict because the Devil wants to keep us in bondage. We must enforce his defeat. There is a saying in the world about freedom that applies to us here. "The price of liberty is eternal vigilance." The Enemy is constantly trying to keep us down. We are not ignorant of his devices and we must be ever aware of how he is trying to oppress us. We ought to take full advantage of the armor of God and the "weapons of our warfare" (2 Cor 10:4) . We certainly do need it in this demon-filled world we live in.

But can we take this military imagery too far? I have often heard Christians say, "We are the army of God". Does the Bible actually say that? Is that the conclusion we have to draw from the scriptures that use military imagery? Maybe, but I am not sure. If we are "the army of God" why does the NT not say so directly? The NT does call us a royal priesthood, a holy nation and the body of Christ. That is quite direct language. It never calls us an army. Why not?

One could point out that Paul told Timothy,"You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier." (2 Tim 2:3-4) Here it calls Timothy a soldier and speaks as if he is in an army. But read the subsequent verses as well. "And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. The hardworking farmer must be first to partake of the crops." (2 Tim 2:5-6) Paul then calls Timothy an athlete and a farmer! The NT has several places where athletic imagery is used, but nobody calls the church an athletic team. And farming imagery is more prominent in the NT than military imagery. Jesus used agricultural imagery in His parables and His teachings all the time. Yet, nobody that I know of has said that we were a farming cooperative!

Additionally, even the imagery of the armor of God is actually a mixed metaphor. It says that we "wrestle" against these principalities, etc. Soldiers do not wrestle, they fight. We have military and athletic imagery combined here. Wrestling is very strenuous and is one-on-one unlike the ways that armies fight. Yet we need military armor to do this wrestling. It's strange when you think about it.

I am not necessarily saying that it is wrong to call the church, 'the army of God', but I do not teach it. Also, I have seen this "army of God" saying taken too far. I know of a couple of ministers who have gone so far as to say that we not only are an army, but that we have different ranks and a kind of military order in the church. But the NT never speaks of believers as being "ranked" as such. I heard one say that there are "generals and privates" in this army and that generals give orders and privates obey them. Really? Where exactly does the NT say that? I certainly believe in authority in the church, but is it military type of authority? Of course, this minister does say that the five-fold ministry is to govern the church. That is fine, but what does that have to do with generals and privates?

Look at the imagery used when the NT talks about the five-fold ministry. The main passage is in Ephesians chapter four. You will find no military imagery here. Instead, the imagery is that of a body, an organic unit where the head is Christ. Also, we have a similar list of ministries at the end of 1 Corinthians 12. Once again, the context is one of a body and not of an army. In fact, no place in the NT where it says to submit to the elders of the local church is any military imagery used. Even the term "bishop" or "overseer" is not military.

I have seen those who have been so caught up in the church being "the army of God" that they begin to get a militant attitude and begin abusing the authority that they have. They will order people about and then rebuke anyone who does not instantly obey. It is not a question of who has authority but the manner in which they exercise it. It's often an attitude that's the real difference. "Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant." (Mark 10:42-43)

We need to use the right images in the ways that they were intended. With regard to our relationships with one another, we love one another as brothers and sisters. With regards to ministry and church life, we are to function as a body - each one contributing with their gifts and callings and taking orders from the Head. And in our facing the Enemy, we need to be vigilant and not let him kill, steal and destroy. That is where military images are appropriate. We should not get carried away with any truth in the Bible or we can distort it. Instead, we should keep all these things in balance. Then we will be successful.

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