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Friday, January 28, 2005

Soldiers of Christ, Arise!

Charles Wesley was the finest hymn writer the English-speaking peoples have ever produced. [This is not open for debate. Dale locuto, causa finita. Dissent on this point will be addressed swiftly, mercilessly and with finality.] It is a source of no small pride from my Methodist upbringing that I can claim CW as a part of my heritage. Amongst the torrent of gems that flowed into the hymnbooks was Soldiers of Christ, Arise. I will reproduce the lyrics here in their entirety (oddly enough, it's not your OCP Breaking Bread missalettes):

Soldiers of Christ, arise,
and put your armor on,
strong in the strength which God supplies
through his eternal Son;

Strong in the Lord of hosts,
and in his mighty power:
who in the strength of Jesus trusts
is more than conqueror.

Stand then in his great might,
with all his strength endured,
and take, to arm you for the fight,
the panoply of God.

From strength to strength go on,
wrestle and fight and pray:
tread all the powers of darkness down,
and win the well-fought day.

That, having all things done,
and all your conflicts past,
ye may obtain, through Christ alone,
a crown of joy at last.

Jesus, eternal Son,
we praise thee and adore,
who art with God the Father one,
and Spirit evermore.

Great stuff--ideal, also, for men's conferences. Permit me a brief aside.

Hint hint. Soldiers of Christ Arise is galaxies better than one of the staggeringly awful ditties of renewal that was inflicted on yours truly at 2004's otherwise superb Catholic Men's Conference here in Detroit. Last year, at Divine Child Parish the presumably well-meaning cantor decided to tamp down the looming threat posed by so many y-chromosome bearers concentrated in one place. As you know, there is an omnipresent threat that Catholic men gathered together will hype themselves into a berserk frenzy chanting Deus lo volt! and will put paid to any heretics they come across. Happens all the time.

I mean, that had to be the cantor's goal--he chose Hosea, by Gregory Norbet, OSB.

Imagine the comfort level of two men sharing a missalette and repeatedly cooing (the song is absolutely immune to "belting") out the refrain:

Long have I waited for
Your coming home to me
And living deeply our new life

If the goal was to turn a healthy exuberant gathering into an awkward, weight-shifting, eye-contact-averse mumblefest--Mission Accomplished.

Moving along.

JenB at the Totally Catholic Youth Ministers' Lounge blog related a recent experience in the Disapproving Schoolmarm vein. Jen called her charges "soldiers of Christ."

Uh oh.

Naturally, she was confronted by a most scandalized mom:

"I have a problem with the phrase 'Soldier for Christ'. That is such an emotionally charged word and brings up images of violence and war. Christ wasn't about war he was about peace. No where in scripture does it talk about this being a war. These are children for gosh's sakes-not soldiers!"

To my Protestant brothers and sisters who frequent this blog--yes, I admit it: Your average Catholic knows precisely squat about that leather-bound heavy book that collects dust on the shelf below the pictures of Fido and Fluffy.

"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication."

Then there's that whole first-three-quarters-of-the-book-thing commonly referred to as "the Old Testament." Even putting that aside--and you shouldn't--her picture of Jesus is incomplete--and therefore wrong. The willingness to ignore the complete picture of Christ proffered by the whole New Testament in favor of a toned-down version of the Alpha and the Omega says more about the would-be Lion tamer than it does about the Lord.

Call it wimpy dispensationalism.

You can also call dangerously naive. Whether Disapproving Mom likes it or not, the Christian life is one of struggle: internally against our own sin and also an external one, facing all the world throws at one who bears His name, from temptation to scorn to open persecution.

Moreover, it's not a strictly defensive struggle. We are supposed to, by virtue of our baptism, bring the Gospel to an increasingly unbelieving, uncomprehending, and hostile world. A spirituality that tries to pretend this is not a battle--one that strenuously denies even the very vocabulary and examples of battle contained in revelation and the lives of the saints--is one doomed to destruction. And deservedly so.

I'll take Wesley's vision. It's the one grounded in reality.

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