Recently I bought a book. I have bought a good many books since, but somehow the title of this book was a haunting one. It gripped me! You know that what gets your attention gets you. It's a law of psychology. As Lord Halifax once said: "Any thought that you think long enough will take you prisoner." I have been thinking about this title so long that I am a prisoner. "Like a mighty army moves the church of God." That's the title of this book—Like a Mighty Army.
There is one story in this book about a soldier boy back from Korea. The preacher tells the story:
"It was Layman's Sunday. Usually that Sunday brings joy, like a visit to the dentist. A good thing, but better to look back on than forward to. This year I slipped one over on them. You know Jimmy Mitchell, just back from two years in the army in Korea? I figured he would give Layman's Sunday a shot in the arm, but I didn't reckon on him blowing the place up. He refused at first. Then, with a funny light in his eye, he said he would speak if I had the congregation sing 'Onward, Christian Soldiers' just before he began. So I had them give forth with song, and then Jimmy let loose. He didn't waste any time in shadow-boxing. He waded right in. This is what he said:
"You have been singing
Like a mighty army
Moves the church of God.
That might have been all right once. The trouble is now that just about ten million men know exactly how an army moves. And it doesn't move the way a lot of you folks at St. John's do—or do not. Suppose the army accepted the lame excuses that many of you people think are good enough to serve as an alibi for not attending Church Parade.
"'Imagine this, if you can. Reveille seven A.M.Squads on the parade ground. The sergeant barks out, "Count fours." One! Two! Three! Number Four missing. Where's Private Smith?
"'"Oh," pipes up a chap by the vacant place, "Mr. Smith was too sleepy to get up this morning. He was out late last night and needed the sleep. He said to tell you that he would be with you in spirit."
" —That's fine," says the sergeant. "Remember me to him."
" ' "Where's Brown?" asks the sergeant.
" ' "Oh," puts in another chap, "he's out playing golf. He gets only one day a week for recreation, and you know how important that is."
" ' "Sure, sure," is the sergeant's cheerful answer. "Hope he has a good game. Where's Robinson?"
"'"Robinson," explains a buddy, "is sorry not to greet you in person. But he is entertaining guests today and of course couldn't come. Besides, he was at drill last week."
"'"Thank you," says the sergeant, smiling. "Tell him he is welcome any time he is able to drop in."
"'Honest, now, did any conversation like that ever happen in any army? Don't make me laugh. If any G.I. tried to pull that stuff he would get twenty days in the guardhouse. Yet you hear stuff like that every week in the church, and said with a straight face, too.
" 'Like a mighty army! Why, if St. John's really moved like a mighty army, a lot of you folks would be court-martialed!'
"That was the general drift," said the pastor gleefully.
"Too bad the stay-aways didn't hear it," I remarked.
"Don't worry. I have it on a tape recorder, and I am going to spring it on them next Easter, instead of the Second Lesson."
Is your church moving "like a mighty army"? Terrible, invincible, triumphant! There is something wonderful about an army!
Clad in the armor of Christ's righteousness, the church is to enter upon her final conflict. "Fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners," she is to go forth into all the world, conquering and to conquer.—Prophets and Kings, p. 725.
What Makes an Army?
Now what makes that kind of army? What makes a victorious army? I have five words that I would like to have you think about in relation to the development of a great army: inspiration, organization, instruction, action, cooperation. Those five words revolve around five principles that are indispensable factors in the development of a great army. Let us study them one by one.
First, inspiration. Some of you might be inclined to list organization first. Maybe that's right, but I doubt it. I would see more danger in a disciplined army without enthusiasm than I would in an enthusiastic army without discipline. An army that is undisciplined, if it has valor, can still win many victories. But disciplined cowardliness and apathy come to no good. In other words, organization without valor is a worse plight than valor without organization. But spirit and law are not incompatible. Valor may be disciplined, and then you may have a combination that is irresistible.
Where did Alexander's army gets its inspiration? From a great leader, you say. That's true. How did he develop that army? Let me give you an illustration of the power of his personal appeal. He heard of one of his soldiers by the name of Alexander. He called him in and said, "They tell me your name is Alexander, the same as mine."
The soldier said, "That's right."
"But they also tell me that you were cowardly in a battle. Either you must change your name or change your nature." What did that man do? Would you think he would give up the name of Alexander —the name of his emperor, the greatest leader of his day?
He said, "No, I will change my nature." And he became a hero in the army, instead of a coward. Does not our great Leader, the Captain of our salvation, challenge us to be good soldiers? I think some of us need either to change our name or to change our nature.
England developed a great army on the theory that "England expects every man to do his duty." Don't you think God expects every soldier to do his duty? Organization? Yes, it is important, but devotion, enthusiasm, inspiration—these are more important. We must put purpose into life —a sense of mission. And an army that doesn't have a sense of mission is already a half-defeated army.
Where can you find a greater leader than Jesus Christ? He's greater than Alexander, or Caesar, or Napoleon, or Stalin, or Hitler. Napoleon himself, when he was down there on St. Helena on the rock, gnawing his heart away, looked at things from the perspective of time, which commanded better judgment. What did he say as he thought things through? He cried out one day, and his secretary took it down: "Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and I have founded empires on force, and they have crumbled into dust. Jesus Christ alone, a crucified Jew, founded His empire on love; and at this hour millions would die for Him."
Yes, we have the greatest Leader that ever lived! Then should we not show Him greater loyalty and devotion than earthly armies have shown their great leaders?
Yes, we need inspiration—to be inspired by the "zeal of the Lord." The very word "zeal" is zelos in the Greek, and it means "to boil" or "to be fervent." "The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up" (John 2: 17). There is a fire where there is boiling. There is fire when God comes into your heart! There is fire, and when there is fire something happens—there is a consuming, there is a burning, and there is a shining. Jesus Christ brings that fire. One gallon of water will expand into 1,240 gallons of steam. There may be some stagnant water somewhere in the church today, perhaps in your heart or mine, that needs to be expanded into steam. It takes fire to do that.
There is a lost battalion in the army of the Lord—lost soldiers, AWOL. They are "missing in action" or indifferent. Can they be called loyal or good soldiers of Jesus Christ? God asks us, as Alexander asked his unfaithful soldier, to change either our name or our nature.
Power in Unity
Second, we need organization. There is power in unity. In unity there is strength. They tell me that when an army marches across a bridge the order is given to break step because the power of all those soldiers coming down at once with their feet might crush the bridge. It shows what power there is when we march in step. In the book Christian Service, page 75, we read:
If Christians were to act in concert, moving forward as one, under the direction of one Power for the accomplishment of one purpose, they would move the world.
Then let us be organized "like a mighty army." The power of an army that is inspired and thoroughly organized is immeasurable.
When it's time to build a church, let's get behind the leaders of the church. When it's time for an Ingathering program, let's sing the same song of victory and not get off key. Let's stick together and organize like an army and have everyone in his place doing his duty, with no soldiers absent without leave. If there is one lost soldier, let us find that soldier and help him find his place in the army. Let us have an inspired and an organized army!
The third word is instruction.
The strength of an army is measured largely by the efficiency of the men in the ranks. A wise general instructs his officers to train every soldier for active service. He seeks to develop the highest efficiency on the part of all.... One man's cowardice or treachery may bring disaster upon the entire army.—Ibid., p. 74.
Remember, we are told:
With such an army of workers as our youth, rightly trained, might furnish, how soon the message of a crucified, risen, and soon-coming Saviour might be carried to the whole world! . . . Unless these energies are directed into right channels, they will be used by the youth in a way that will hurt their own spirituality, and prove an injury to those with whom they associate.—Ibid., p. 30.
Then let us get our young people busy with the Master's business. If discipline and order are necessary for successful action on the battlefield, they are more needful in the warfare in which we are engaged, to the degree that the object to be gained is of greater value and more elevated in character than that for which opposing forces contend upon the field of battle.
In the conflict in which we are engaged, eternal interests are at stake.—Ibid., p. 73.
It is not enough to inspire and organize the army, we must instruct the soldiers. You don't learn to skate by a correspondence course. You can read books about skating—you may know the theory—but you have to put those skates on and get out on the ice before you really learn to skate.
The best soldiers aren't made in tents of ease and barracks of idleness. The best soldiers are made out there in the front lines. And the best Christians are not made by sitting at home in a rocking chair and saying, "Oh, the Lord has been so good to me. He's coming for me, but there is no one else on this whole street worthy to be saved. He's coming just for me." I'm not so sure He is. That's not the kind of Christianity that Christ calls for.
The fourth word is action. Christianity is a religion of action! Christianity is a religion of loving, of doing, of living—and not merely believing. Christianity is not a creed, but a life. We must act upon our religion or it is meaningless.
Christianity Is Christ
Christianity is Christ! It is a dynamic, aggressive, advancing movement. Christianity is a missionary movement. It must march on to the very ends of the earth until it encompasses all nations, bringing hope and the gospel of freedom and peace to all people. The church has good news for the world. It must carry the message to all men. A nonmissionary church is preparing for its death and burial. When a church no longer reaches out, it passes out. As long as a church lives to serve others, it is fulfilling its divine mission among men. When it settles down in selfishness to a system of creeds and rites and forms, and serves only itself, it has sealed its doom. Church doors must swing outward.
It is said that there is a law in Connecticut requiring all church doors to swing out. That is more than a State law; it is a divine fiat of God. He that would save his life will lose it, but he that loseth his life shall find it. That is the law of life. It is the law of eternal life!
There were two Martins in the time of the great Reformation. One was a certain Martin, of Basel, Switzerland, who became acquainted with the great truth of righteousness by faith, in the Bible. He wrote a beautiful tribute to Christ, and here it is:
Oh, merciful Christ, I know that I can be saved only through the merits of Thy blood. Holy Jesus, I recognize Thy suffering for me. I love Thee. I love Thee.
Then he took out a stone from the wall in his cell and folded the paper carefully, placed it inside the hole and replaced the stone, and later plastered it shut. That piece of paper was discovered one hundred years later when they tore down the old monastery.
At the same time another Martin—Martin Luther—recognized the same great truth. But what did he do? He said, "The Lord has confessed me before men. I shall not fear to confess Him before kings." And he went down the streets. He went down the street and nailed his ninety-five theses upon the church door. There is need for some Christians today to take the light that they are hiding under a bushel or in some corner and go forth to let the world see true Christianity in action. Go down the streets and nail your propositions upon the doors of the homes of today.
When Averill Harriman, who is now governor of New York, came back from Europe not long ago, someone said to him, "Mr. Harriman, how is your French?"
With a twinkle in his eye he said, "My French is excellent—all except the verbs!" That's quite an exception. You see, verbs are the sinews of speech. The great tragedy is that our Christianity is very much like Harriman's French. Our Christianity is excellent, all except the verbs.
We have wonderful nouns—Lord, God, Creator, Redeemer, Lawgiver! And adjectives? Oh, yes, we have some beautiful adjectives, like noble and sacred and divine. But how about the verbs? Verbs are the sinews of speech. The action verbs of Christianity are the very sinews of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Go, teach, preach, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick, seek and find that which is lost. These are the verbs—the action words of Christianity.
If you haven't the verbs, then you haven't anything except a little knowledge. You aren't going to be saved by your knowledge of nouns. Many will come and say, "Lord, Lord"—they know the nouns. But the Lord will say, "Depart from me. I never knew you. You didn't have Christianity at all."
No, brother, you aren't going to be saved simply by your knowledge of nouns. You are saved by your faith in those nouns—in Jesus Christ. And that faith will lead you to put your verbs to work. That's right. When Jesus comes, what is He going to say? Will He say: "Well spoken, preacher. Come into the kingdom"? Is He going to say: "Well written, editor. Come into the kingdom"? Or, "Well thought, philosopher. Come on into the kingdom. You had many good ideas"? No, brother, He is not going to talk like that to the preacher, or the teacher, or the doctor, or anyone who merely knows without functioning. He says, "Inasmuch as ye have done it." True faith, saving faith, leads to action.
And the last word I have here is cooperation. The pastor can't do the job alone. The conference can't do the job alone. The General Conference can't do it alone. But with cooperation—if we are inspired and organized and trained and really get into action—we can do it if we will work together.
Down in Africa they tell a story about someone who shot an elephant. He rushed into the village and said, "Come on out. I've shot an elephant." So they rushed out and put the ropes around the legs and the trunk of the elephant, and they all put the ropes over their shoulders and started singing in unison, "We killed an elephant! We killed an elephant!" as they dragged the elephant into the village. But the man that shot the elephant was singing, "I killed the elephant! I killed the elephant!" And the rest of them heard the discord. They heard it—and it didn't sound right. They stopped a minute, and sure enough the man bellowed out, "I killed the elephant!"
They all dropped their ropes and went into the village. They left him struggling all alone, shouting: "I killed the elephant! I killed—" He could not budge it an inch. "Well," he said, "I guess I have learned the hard way." He dropped the rope, walked back into the village, and said, "I apologize. We killed the elephant! Come on." So they all went out and got their ropes over their shoulders and started out again, "We killed an elephant!"
Brethren, let's get our shoulders together and sing in unison and march in unison. Cooperation! That's what will help to finish the -work of God. Indeed, there is no other hope.
The work of God in this earth can never be finished until the men and women comprising our church membership rally to the work, and unite their efforts with those of ministers and church officers.—Christian Service, p. 68.
Halford E. Luccock, Like a Mighty Army (Oxford University Press), pp. 3-5. Copyright, Christian Century (Feb. 6, 1952). Used by permission. Mr. Luccock uses the pen name of Simeon Stylites.