Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus going on before.
Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe;
Forward into battle see His banners go!
I think it’s safe to say that there are many Christians these days who are somewhat uncomfortable with the use of military imagery and language when it comes to our Christian faith. My guess is that most who oppose using this kind of language might point to the mistakes of the Crusades, or perhaps how the inappropriate demonization of Jews led to the atrocities of the Shoah, or even to our international conflict which many might describe as a modern day holy war. The argument is that Christians are by nature a people of peace, and that Christ taught us to resist violence.
While I agree that we are called as Christians to be people who reject violence, even sometimes to the point of embracing persecution and death, doing away with all war imagery in our prayers is a mistake. For one thing, what are we to do with all the Biblical passages that reference war and battles? God could have easily inspired those who compiled the Scriptures to choose other stories than the ones that have been handed down to us, but he did not. The truth is that we as Christians are engaged daily in a spiritual battle, and it is a battle against some pretty powerful forces. St. Peter gives us this exhortation,
Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in faith, knowing that your fellow believers throughout the world undergo the same sufferings. (1 Peter 5:8-9)
St. Paul, in his Letter to the Ephesians also encourages us to take up weapons of defense against powers that seek to destroy the faithful.
Finally, draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power. Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness , with the evil spirits in the heavens. Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything, to hold your ground. So stand fast with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate, and your feet shod in readiness for the Gospel of peace. In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6: 10-17)
The passages above make it clear to me that living as a Christian means being willing to fight, but also that we are armed with a different sort of weaponry. Mother Teresa once illustrated this very well in describing going through some of Israel’s security,
When I was crossing into Gaza, I was asked at the checkpost whether I was carrying any weapons. I replied: Oh yes, my prayer books.
Perhaps one of the greatest weapons we have at our disposal, and one that Mother Teresa used often, is joy. When my seminary classmates and I visited some of Mother Teresa’s sisters in Gaza, we met some of the most joyful people I have ever encountered. Light seemed to emanate from their smiling faces, and it easily overpowered the darkness of poverty and war that surrounded them. The sisters, by consistently relying on the weapons of prayer, service and self denial, were giving themselves daily to Christ, knowing that ultimately he is the one who has won the victory over sin and death.
Each day I hope to remember to be on my guard against whatever temptations will be sent my way, knowing Christ has given me the weapons needed for my defense. More than anything, I hope to remember that Christ is there to pick me up when I fall and to defend me when my own power is lacking. Let us remember to pray for one another as we each face our daily battle with the enemy.