I’d like to start this post with a stanza of one of my favorite hymns: Water, Blood, and Spirit Crying, by Stephen P. Starke.
And now: The Church of Christ Wields an Offensive Weapon.
There is an image of a warrior that resides in the back (or sometimes the front) of everyone’s mind. There is another image that, though usually pushed much further back in the mind, also takes its residence in everyone’s mind: A man dying on his knees. The warrior is tall, he is strong, his grip is iron, his eyes are bright. He may be ruthless and wicked, or kind, a shield to the weak: but he is strong. His enemies fear encountering him. The man dying on his knees is weak, pathetic even. He is bound and has been tortured. His head is shaved and he is thin from being a prisoner. In the mind’s eye, this man is broken into pieces: he is not a man; he is a heap of the fragments of a man. And yet he sings. This man, this broken and dying man, is a witness: a martyr. His blood is spilled because he refuses to deny his Lord Jesus.
Strange, how the mind’s vision is so poor. We ought to look again at the two men before us. It is a paradox that confronts us. When Christ came into this world, everything went inside-out and topsy-turvy. In reality, everything went right-side-up: but if everyone else is upside down, the one who sees the world right side up is ‘topsy-turvy’. When the people of God sing ‘The white robed army of martyr’s praises you’, we confess that these saints, who died ‘poorly’, in truth, died well; that these who were slaughtered with their hands tied, fought and even triumphed in the war.
In today’s world, the church spends most of its time defending itself. It defends its doctrine. It defends its right to speak about what it believes. It defends the lives of the old and the unborn. All this good, yet something of a shame. It is a shame because the church is fundamentally made and equipped for offence. It does not primarily exist to defend its values, or its doctrines or its people. The Holy Church wields, despite appearances, a sharp and well-made sword. It is made to ‘go and make disciples of all nations.’ It sends its warriors out, and often, they die, and the church grows. The strange paradox that slaughter has never annihilated the Christian faith is explained by the fact that in death, the martyr’s victory over the devil is won for him, and the sword of the church strikes true.
And again, the many in the church spend their time doing their best to sound good. The most charitable construction of this is that they are trying to not be misunderstood: so let us think that. Yet, it is a travesty that the church cares overmuch if it offends people. It is not a coincidence that offensive (the technical term for attacking in a fight) and offensive (as in someone was offended) are the same word. The church has been literally guaranteed to offend people. Are people offended when they are told they are sinning? Yes. Are they offended when they are told that this thing, that the church ought to call a favorite sin, that makes them feel so happy, is going to damn them to hell? Yes! Do people loathe it when they are told that even nice people, people they liked a lot, will go to eternal damnation (which is torment) if they do not have faith? Obviously!
And yet: those who engage in sexual perversion need to be told that they are committing sins, that they are perverted. Likewise, people who gossip need to hear that their gossip is also a vile sin that must be repented of. People within, and especially without, the church must hear the conviction of the Law of God. Without the condemnation of the Law, the Gospel has no impact.
The church must be offensive and call evil, evil; and good: good. The Devil, the world and one’s own flesh will scream. People will take you to court, they will close down your businesses with lawsuits, they will threaten you and may one day again make martyrs in the streets. But consider this: the Church is filled with warriors intended to be specialists in offensive combat, and the most potent weapon in her armaments is the witness of the lifeblood of the saints.