Sunday, February 10, 2008

Wayward Christian Soldiers by Charles Marsh

I had gone to one of my local Christian bookstores to find a Bible for my goddaughter. On a whim, I also decided to to look for a Holy Spirit lapel pin, the kind that had always been easy to find in the display case in the front. Many people in my church and in the places where I traveled had been wearing the American flag on their lapel for months now. It seemed like a pretty good time for Christians to put the Spirit back on. But the doves were nowhere in sight. In the place near the front where I once would have found them, I was greeted instead by a full assortment of patriotic accessories - "support our troops" ribbons, "God Bless America" gear, and an extraordinary cross and flag bangle with the two images welded together and interlocked. I felt slightly panicked by the new arrangements. I asked the clerk behind the counter where the doves had gone; they had always been so popular in the subculture. The man's response was jarring, "They're in the back with the other discounted items," he said, nodding in that direction.
- page 6

On Friday, February 1st, our family went to hear a reading by author and University of Virginia professor, Charles Marsh. The reading was for his latest book, Wayward Christian Soldiers: Freeing the Gospel from Political Captivity, in which Prof. Marsh attempts to shake the Evangelical Christian body by the shoulders and wake it up to the fact that it has taken the trust, passion and faith it should have reserved exclusively for God and has adulterously given them to the American government instead.

We have become idolaters. Egotistical idolaters. As the American Church, we have looked to ourselves as the standard which God uses to measure truth throughout the world. The more American a foreign populace appears, we assume the more Christian it must be. God warned us against this in the Scriptures, in Mark 7:5-8:

The Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, "Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?"


"Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men."

As members of the American Church, are we promoting the Gospel or the Constitution? With which are we more concerned? And who was charged with the Great Commission? Was it the Roman government? No, it was the disciples and the disciples to come. It was a command given to the Church. When missionaries travel the globe to share the Gospel with those who may not have heard, they learn the language, traditions, and cultures of the people they are serving. In her book, The Hidden Art of Homemaking, Edith Schaeffer tells of her parents' taking on of Chinese culture when they were missionaries in that country:

My father went to China at the turn of the century, as a missionary under the China Island Mission (now the Overseas Missionary Fellowship). At that time China could be better reached by missionaries dressing in Chinese dress, looking as much as possible like the Chinese, so that the message would be listened to, rather than the missionary simply being stared at as a curiosity, or being rejected as a 'foreign devil'. So missionaries wore native dress. For my mother this consisted of trousers and a high-collared Chinese robe made of a very lovely blue Chinese damask, frog buttoned down the side and embroidered... My father wore a long gown with very wide long sleeves and a stand-up collar. The frog closings were made of handsome twists of satin. Now some may say that a man should wear men's clothing. But a gown was men's clothing in that place, at that time. But there was more than that. Chinese men, at that moment in history, wore plaits. They had very very long hair, and braided it in a single braid that hung down their backs. The head was shaven in a circle so that no hair showed around the face. A black silk 'pill box' type of hat was worn, with a hole in the centre out of which the plait could come. Some missionaries bought ready-made plaits, and sewed them to the top of their hats. But my father disliked 'falseness' and grew his own hair. But - long hair for a man? The point was that at that time, and in that place, it 'fitted in' with the people to whom God had sent him.

God warns us in Scripture that we must beware of holding culture and tradition above God's Law and mercy; in Matthew 10 Jesus warns that those who love their father and mother more than Him are not worthy of Him. Now, the Scripture also tells us to honor our fathers and mothers and to love our neighbors (our neighbors being those to whom we show mercy and all are in need of being shown mercy), and we should honor them. However, our parents are also fallen and can make errors. We must hold their teachings up to the filter of Scripture. The home is the central classroom of the culture. We must be willing to scrutinize and either embrace or reject various elements of culture as taught to us through our parents, schools, communities and governments. If we cling to a teaching simply because it was taught to us by our parents or our culture, we are not worthy of Christ. Many American evangelicals have done just that. And what is worse, we have tried to harness the power of our government, supported by its military and judiciary, to impose those tightly held cultural beliefs upon others. We are trying to legislate or battle the Kingdom of God into the hearts of people instead of loving them sacrificially and possibly causing ourselves personal effort or discomfort. Is our vision of and trust in God, who is all-knowing, all-seeing and all-powerful, so weak that we are willing to entrust our lives and devotion to a government composed of fallen men? They deserve our honor because they have been chosen and placed by God Himself, but it is not blind honor. It is honor with the knowledge of who rules the universe and to what standard we are all held to.

The fear of man brings a snare,
But he who trusts in the Lord will be exalted.
Many seek the ruler's favor,
But justice for man comes from the Lord.

- Proverbs 29: 25-26

Americans are not the only ones who are commanded to honor their authorities. The French, the Iraqis, the Chinese, all people are commanded to respect their authorities. The Scriptures attest to the fact that all authorities are put in place by the God of the universe.... President Bush, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and President Jalal Talabani. Should we not then use caution and pause before taking our military into other countries and imposing our customs and system of government upon them? These leaders we are planning to overthrow have been ordained by God. Why are American evangelicals so quick to attribute God's blessing to our military actions and successes? If the fruit of the Spirit includes love and peace, why are we so quick to cheer on Shock and Awe?

Franklin Graham boasted that the American invasion of Iraq opened up exciting new opportunities for missions to non-Christian Arabs. But this is not what the Hebrew prophets or the Christian teachers mean by righteousness and discipleship.

- page 14
In the movie musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, six brothers, with the encouragement of their oldest brother who easily attained a wife for himself after a quick trip to town one day, decide to "do as the Romans did" and kidnap some girls to marry. Without giving too much of the story away (it really is an excellent musical, by far my favorite), the oldest brother, Adam, decides to bring the girls back to their families, but his brothers want to fight to keep them. Adam confronts them by asking, "And who would you be fighting? Their fathers. Brothers, maybe. Don't you see that the only way you're gonna get 'em is by bringin' 'em back?"

Yes, God is sovereign. He can turn the hearts of the Arabs to Christ through this war if He so chooses. He used the wickedness of Joseph's brothers to bring glory to Himself and save the Israelites, after all. But why are we voluntarily making our task of evangelism and discipleship that much more difficult? Why should an Iraqi accept food from us when we offer it with fingers stained with the blood of their fathers or uncles or neighbors? Why would they listen to the good news of the love offering of Christ from the same lips that cursed their customs and spoke of them with disdain?

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you great only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore, you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
- Matthew 5:43-48

I haven't finished reading the book. Most of these thoughts were spurred by the reading and discussion we attended. I am still struggling with these ideas and many more. Are there times when war is necessary and we should support it? If so, when? Should evangelicals become pacifists, like the Amish, and never participate in military activity? How should we mourn for the babies that are lost to abortion while we sacrifice and love the mothers who see abortion as their only option? Do we really know how to grieve over sin like God does? Why are we so willing to allow the government to take over the job of the church? Do we not believe that God is all-powerful? Why do we protest in the streets? Do we think that God cannot really hear our prayers spoken in the closet?

I will leave you with a couple more quotes from the book:

Have we in the Christian community forgotten that we serve a God who really is, who sees and hears and shares our sorrows, and a God who listens with favor to the victim and the oppressed; that the God we confess to be the true and living God is a God who stands in our midst?
- page 13

If only holiness were measured by the volume of our incessant chatter. We would then be universally praised as the most holy nation on earth. But in our fretful, theatrical piety, we have come to mistake noisiness for holiness, and we have presumed to know, with a clarity and certitude that not even the angels dare claim, the divine will for the world. We have organized our needs with the confidence that God is on our side, now and always, whether we feed the poor or corral them into sweltering, subterranean ghettos. The demands of scripture and tradition, the study of Christian doctrine, and the catechisms of the faith have been abandoned for pleasurable technologies and relevant guidebooks. No wonder we have no qualms about mining the faith for sound bites.
- page 15

Alright, I can't resist sharing this story about what happened after the reading was over. We were taking a stroll around the town square where the bookstore is located, and two women who attended the reading were walking behind us, and as their conversation was rather loud, I couldn't help overhearing. Keep in mind the book we had just heard a reading from and discussed was the one I just discussed above.

Lady 1: "Hmmm. That was interesting."

Lady 2: "Yes, it was."

Lady 1: "I really don't care for any of the candidates. Although I really don't know much about Hillary or Obama. Hillary's a Methodist, isn't she?"

Lady 2: "I don't know. I think I've heard that, but I'm not sure."

Lady 1: "What about Obama? Is he Methodist, too? I thought he went to a different kind of church."

Lady 2: "I've heard about his church, too. If it's Methodist, I guess it's okay, but I don't know about anything else."

Lady 1: "Yeah, I guess Methodist is okay, but I'm really not sure about Methodists."

Huh? Seriously, I'm not sure they were listening to the same talk I was.


*~Tamara~* said...

Well, first let me say that I'm going to have to read this book now. ;-)

Second, thank you, thank you for this post. It reinforces so much about what I believe to be a truly Biblical perspective on this war (as opposed to the typical "Evangelical" perspective).

I also love Edith Shaeffer's retelling of her parents' choices in conduct and clothing. I have a very close friend who is a missionary in a place far, far removed from modern American culture, and the stories she tells of having to deal with the fallout of people who pass through with "the gospel" while trampling the customs and traditions of the local culture are very eye-opening.

Dawn said...

Excellent post. From the outside looking in on the US I often don't feel a real kinship with American Christians. How can I when so often, especially in homeschooling circles, such an important part of being Christian seems to mean worshipping the US or certain politicians?

PariSarah said...

How eloquently written, Tutor!

I haven't read that book, but I have met him and I know of his work. I have a great deal of respect for him.

I'm impressed with how thoughtfully you're engaging his work.

neurogrrl said...

Very nice blog on what appears to be a good book. I am an Orthodox catechumen and not an evangelical, so I admit coming from a slightly different angle, but I have long been concerned about the inability of certain political and religious leaders to differentiate between God's will and their own.