Music is always in a state of flux. One day’s rage of rhythms and melodies soon become footnotes in musical history books. Think disco, the twist, bee-bop, doo-wop, and the cha-cha. We still hear and see them sometimes, but for the most part they’re regarded as candidates for the Smithsonian.
The same holds true for Christian music. In many churches today, time-honored, traditional hymns are a thing of the past. Praise music, replete with heavy drums, amped-up guitars and even flashing lights, are the predominant “fashion.” Whether that’s a good thing or not is subject for discussion – or debate.
But it seems to me that the drift and shift away from the hymnbook began early in the 1980’s.
I vividly remember when certain denominations took a stand against the classic “Onward Christian Soldiers,” declaring it too militant, too “warlike” for people of faith who, as they viewed Jesus’ Beatitudes, are supposed to be “meek.” They demanded it be removed from their hymnals, calling for “kinder, gentler” congregational choruses.
Personally, I always had a fondness for “Onward Christian Soldiers,” even as a boy in church, long before I understood what being a disciple of Jesus Christ truly means. I recall standing at my pew, softly stomping my feet to the image of soldiers marching boldly for Christ. “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!...”
These lyrics never motivated me to go out and beat up someone. But I’m afraid there’s no point in stumping for its reinstatement as part of Sunday services. Sadly, I think we’ve lost sight of the hymn’s central message that, like it or not, if we’re Jesus’s followers, we’re in a war – a spiritual one – and we’re all enlisted.
Consider the admonition of Ephesians 6:10-18, which minces no words: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of the dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground….”
Exactly what is this “full armor of God”? No, it’s not rifles or pistols, tanks or artillery. It consists of spiritual armor and weaponry: “the belt of truth…breastplate of righteousness…gospel of peace…shield of faith…helmet of salvation…sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God…prayer.” Interestingly, as others have noted, the only “offensive” weapon in this heavenly arsenal is “the sword of the Spirit,” what we recognize as the Word of God – the Bible.
Lest someone accuse us of “cherry picking” the Scriptures, selecting one passage that seems to promote “warlike” behavior, there are many others we could choose. One of the best is Romans 8:37-39, “…we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
This spiritual war ultimately isn’t against people we don’t like in politics, the news and entertainment media, corporations, or other institutions. We’re in combat with “the rulers, authorities, powers of the dark world and spiritual forces of evil.” As Jesus said, “The thief (Satan, our spiritual enemy) comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).
Even though some would seek to diminish or even dismiss the reality of Satan and ever-present evil, we dare not make this mistake. We don’t have to look far to see evidence of the evil one at work in every conceivable way.
This is why the words of hymns like “Onward Christian Soldiers” are so inspiring. You might want to read through all five verses sometime, but consider the uplifting message of the second verse, followed by the refrain: “At the name of Jesus Satan’s host doth flee; on then, Christian soldiers, on to victory! Hell’s foundations quiver at the shout of praise; brothers, lift your voices, loud your anthems raise!... Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before.”
We are deeply engaged in a spiritual, eternal war – but victory’s already won. We are, God promises, “more than conquerors.”
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Robert J. Tamasy is a veteran journalist, former newspaper editor and magazine editor. Bob has written, co-authored and edited more than 15 books. These include the newly published, ”Marketplace Ambassadors”; “Business At Its Best: Timeless Wisdom from Proverbs for Today’s Workplace”; “Tufting Legacies,” “The Heart of Mentoring,” and “Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart.” A weekly business meditation he edits, “Monday Manna,” is translated into more than 20 languages and sent via email around the world by CBMC International. The address for his blog is www.bobtamasy.blogspot.com. His email address is email@example.com.