Militant Christianity

One of the discouraging signs of our times is the prevailing tendency on the part of many diplomats toward appeasement. In a world which is actually at war the peoples of democratic mind hesitate to face the reality that they are up against a subtle, resourceful, and utterly heartless foe. That cessation of hostilities is merely an armed truce to be used for gaining certain advantages is not yet fully recognized. ThaI modern war against Communist ideology is a total war, a war which must be waged on the economic, social, political, and industrial as well as the military front is hard for us to accept. This is, indeed, not altogether strange since we arc accustomed to think that peace is the normal condition in this world. We are ever loathe to accept the realism of biblical prophecy which clearly tells us that at the end-time there shall be wars and rumors of wars instead of world peace.

However, when such a benumbing attitude of appeasement seems well nigh universal in the Church of Christ, which by very definition is at war with the world, then, I say, the situation calls for serious thought and drastic action! It is to this lack of militancy in the Church that this article is directed. We need to be reminded of the fact that God calls us to a holy warfare in which we must be engaged actively and totally.

The most prevalent and provocative picture of the Christian given in Scripture is that of the warrior involved. in a life and death struggle against the forces of God’s enemies. For this conflict we have been recruited by Christ, our Captain. He calls us to fight the good fight of faith, to overcome the world, the flesh and the devil—with the promise that we are more than conquerors through him who loved us and gave himself for us. It will not do for us to be satisfied merely because we might have had better equipment and superior training, such as some of us are getting in the Christian schools, the doctrine classes, and the weekly preaching of the Word in our houses of worship. Without the will to resist the world, to oppose the evil one, without the militant mind we shall not maintain the cause of Christ or bring luster to his banner.



The Old Testament Expression of this Militancy

But how can we be convinced of the need for such a militant mind? How can we escape from the pacifistic, inclusivistic spirit of the modern, liberal church? “To the Word and to the testimony!” That is the only solution, Like the Bereans of old we ought to study the Scriptures to see whether these things are as represented.

Soon, then, we discover that the great Covenant Jehovah himself initiated the militant mind at the very gates of Paradise. You are aware of the setting, Satan was the first fifth columnist. He had infiltrated behind our lines. Adam, who was to “keep the garden,” was not on the job. The devil deceived Eve and gained an initial victory. Man fell away from God. He went over to the enemy. But God in his grace restored errant mankind to himself, to his fellowship, service and allegiance. Moreover, by that act God declared war upon the devil, calling all his allies to militant opposition: “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). Here in the “mother promise” is the first preaching of the gospel, to be sure, but also in this key text is an announcement that war is an actuality of universal scope involving all of Eve’s children!

Be sure to notice that the issue is not left in doubt, nor is the fact of our personal participation dubious. It is evident that God himself instilled the enmity against the devil and his cohorts. He is the creator of the militant mind! It is clear that if we lack this militancy we must be lacking in fervor and allegiance for the cause of our God.

Furthermore, we ought to observe that this enmity was maintained by Jehovah as in succeeding generations he called men to his colors. Noah condemned the world by building an ark to the saving of his house. Abraham did the same in his day by leaving his homeland and wandering as a pilgrim and a stranger “as in a strange country.” Jeremiah was called by God “to root up, and to pull down, and to destroy.” In establishing this enmity the covenant-keeping God not only separated his people, but also guided, protected, and trained them to holy warfare. In the Old Testament that separation and warfare was physical as well as spiritual. Israel was instrumental in destroying the might of Pharaoh, as well as the annihilation of the Amalekites. God also commanded them to root out the iniquitous Canaanites for the cup of their guilt was running over. Samuel killed Agag, David carried on the battles of the Lord, and Elijah had the priests of Baal slain at the brook Kidron.

Let us beware that we do not fall into the error of the modernists, who sit in judgment upon God by condemning this Old Testament warfare as contrary to the Spirit of Christ. For it was the Spirit of Christ, the seed of the woman, who animated these valiant warriors for God’s cause. Let us beware lest we be found wiser than God. There is a tendency even in our Reformed circles to deprecate the Old Testament ethic as though it were not Christian in spirit. So Bishop G. Bromley Oxnam, the arch-modernist of the Methodist Church, U.S.A., has referred to the God of the Old Testament as “a dirty bully.” This is not only blasphemy, but treason to the cause of God and a total misunderstanding of the ethic of Christianity.

The important lesson for us today is that Jehovah blessed his people and prospered them when they faithfully executed his judgments and waged war according to his orders, when they were really at enmity with the world. God gave his promise to Joshua, “There shall not any man be able to stand before thee only be strong and very courageous, to observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee for then shalt thou make thy way prosperous Have I not commanded thee? Be strong and of good courage; be not affrighted, neither be thou dismayed: for Jehovah thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest” (Josh. 1:5 ff).

As a result Joshua successfully overcame the Canaanites in two great campaigns. This doughty warrior became so convinced that the battle was the Lord’s that he_called upon the sun and moon to stand still in their courses. “And there was no day like that before it or after it, that Jehovah hearkened unto the voice of a man; for Jehovah fought Israel” (Josh. 10:14).

On the other hand, the covenant curses fell upon the people of Jehovah when they refused to fight, when they sought to compromise with the enemies of the Lord, when they became satisfied to live and let live. We find this dramatically announced by an angel at a place called Bochim (Judg. 2:1–15) where the people are admonished because they have forgotten the Lord and have lost the will to fight God’s enemies. As a result God punishes them in kind by leaving a remnant of their enemies on every side to harass them. Again, when heroes of faith arose who fought valiantly God delivered his people. He honored those who honored him. And the honoring of the Lord consisted of obedience, no small part of which was the opposing of the gods of the land and a willingness to wage war against God’s enemies.

A few examples may clarify this point. Gideon answered the challenge presented by the angel of Jehovah (the Christ speaking in the Old Testament) and sounded the bugle for battle. Lest man should take the credit, God delivered the Midianites to Gideon and his three hundred men who simply stood every man in his place around the camp, holding their torches and blowing their trumpets while God discomfited the enemy. Deborah, who bade Barak mobilize Israel since God would deliver Sisera at the Kishon river, saw the issue clearly when in her song of jubilation over victory she exults: “They fought from heaven; the stars in their courses fought against Sisera. The river of Kishon swept them away…” No, the stars are not neutral in this planet-encompassing, titanic struggle. Indeed, as Jonathan observed: “There is no restraint with the Lord to deliver by many or by few.”

The New Testament Accent There are those, we must admit, who would interpret the New Testament ethic as altogether limited to “peace” and “love.” These interpreters contrast the Jehovah of David, Elijah, and Jeremiah with the loving Father of Christ. This is a bald perversion of the gospel and sheer nonsense exegetically. Christ clearly identifies himself with the Old Testament prophets, telling us that it is he that is speaking through them, and that he is their fulfillment. Early in his ministry he enters the arena as commander of the hosts of the Lord to engage in personal combat the devil, whom he overcomes by the sword of the Spirit. When going to the cross, Christ indicated his victory by saying; “Now is the judgment of this world; now shall the prince of this world be cast out.” He reassured his disciples by declaring that the very gates of hell would not overthrow the Church.

However, let no one assume that there is to be no conflict. “I came not to bring peace, but a sword.”

But the nature of the conflict has changed. In the New Testament there is to be no physical separation of God’s people from the world since they must act as a leaven. Neither is the warfare itself physical. Rather, “ye are my witnesses…unto the ends of the earth…make disciples of all men My kingdom is not of this world all they that are of the truth hear my voice.” This spiritual character of the warfare was not readily understood. Jesus had to caution impetuous Peter whose sword had well-nigh split Malchus’ head! But Paul had caught the vision when he admonished us to put on the whole armor of God in order to stand against the wiles of the devil. For “our warfare is not against flesh and blood for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty before God to the casting down of strongholds.” Paul would have us sensitive to the machinations of Satan, who sometimes appears as an angel of light.

Not Spectators but Contenders

We must also observe that the New Testament presents the warfare as being our concern. We are not mere spectators to be entertained while sitting in the bleachers, but we are antagonists, combatants, contestants we are all involved.

Today we need this will to stand, to cherish the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free. We must suffer hardship as good soldiers of Christ, we must fight the good fight of faith, we must contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints. That constitutes the militant mind! That is the need of the hour in the Reformed or Calvinistic churches of the world! Such militancy maintained the Church of Jesus Christ in its darkest hours. Recall the stand of Athanasius, Luther, Calvin, deCock, Kuyper, and, in recent times, Machen. These heroes of faith tested the spirits to see whether they were of God and valiantly opposed the spiritual forces of darkness in high places. They were unwilling to compromise. They did not bow to the gods of the land or sue for peace with the forces of evil. They were truly animated by that enmity toward the world, that intolerance of evil and falsehood which characterizes the godly seed.


The great question in our democracy today is whether we can educate a generation that will cherish liberty enough to fight for it. It will not be enough to have the best trained, best equipped, best clothed soldiers in the field against Communism. Somehow we must match the will to fight, the morale of a high ideal with that of our enemy before democracy will be safe. In much the same manner the Church today will not serve Christ’s cause effectively even though she has the best equipment, the finest training, and the most beautiful liturgy, unless she hates evil and is willing to go out to destroy the works of the devil. David, a man after God’s heart—not a bloodthirsty, lecherous tyrant as modernism pictures him—said, “Shall I not hate them that hate thee, O God?”

If we do not hate the world, the love of the father is not in us. Our enmity against the world must come to expression in the militant mind which opposes the world in the Church as well as without. Peter and John were cast into prison for their militancy. Paul had a riot on his hands, but he also had it said of him that he turned the world upside down. We will never be confronted with a riot nor turn anything upside down as long as we keep polishing our guns and pressing our uniforms and standing at attention on parade, that is, as long as we use all our time and money merely to keep our church organization going.

It is reported that the aging Cato never missed an opportunity in his addresses before the Roman senate to remind that august body: “Carthage must be destroyed!” So we ought to take as our motto: Evil must be destroyed!

Henry Van Til is associate professor of Bible at Calvin College, Grand Rapids.