I am tired of singing about war in church. Onward Christian Soldiers uses images from the Crusades and why? To stir us emotionally and to get us into action, I suppose. But to act in what way?
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!
Then there is We Are All Enlisted
We are all enlisted till the conflict is o'er;
Happy are we! Happy are we!
Soldiers in the army, there's a bright crown in store;
We shall win and wear it by and by.
Haste to the battle, quick to the field;
Again, the music is stirring and the words are catchy. Who isn't excited to join a group of people who are joining together with a single purpose? There's even the attempt here to add in gospel ideas of truth as our shield and if Christ is our captain, then what could be wrong with following Him?
One more song here is The Battle Hymn of the Republic, where Christ is playing the trumpet of war to demand that we answer Him by joining the battle--but it's a good, righteous one:
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible, swift sword;
His truth is marching on.
So, people are dying, but it's because Christ's sword is killing them? It's one thing to say that God is angry, but something else to declare that we are justified in war because Christ is at our backs.
The third verse of this hymn is almost good enough to keep, reminding us of Christ's Atonement for sinners and our debt to Him for the power of His transfiguring grace. But then, it goes back to equating Christ's love to our own call to war.
I know this song was written right after the Civil War, which was perhaps a good and righteous war fought to free slaves (though there were certainly other, less noble reasons the war was fought, since the freeing of the slaves did not lead to actual equality of African-Americans). But I think it is time to reconsider what we are doing when we sing about war being justified by Christ. I am not sure there is any reason, given a fair reading of the New Testament, to use this metaphor as we do. Christ Himself never uses a parable with a metaphor of war.
Instead, Christ's parables and His sermons seem to act against the idea of seeing the world in terms of clear opposites, people on "our side" and "enemies." Christ says in Matthew 5:44,
"But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you."
How can we remake this into a positive war metaphor? Christ was telling us to stop seeing war and enemies wherever we look and to instead see people just like us, people who are in need of redemption and forgiveness, those who deserve our prayers rather than swords raised against them.
Christ tells us in Matthew 5:22 that it's a sin even to be angry at our brothers (or sisters) and that we need to go immediately and ask for forgiveness. In Matthew 7:3-5, Christ tells us about the sin of seeing what is wrong with someone else's actions instead of looking at ourselves and observing what we have done wrong and how even our way of seeing the world is wrong.
As for Christ's parables, the Good Samaritan sees one who has been rejected and hurt and cares for him. Instead of turning and going on his way, the duty of the Christian is to see all who are injured or in need of care, and not ask if they deserved this punishment, but to heal up the wounds.
In the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant, Christ asks us to continually forgive, seventy times seven, in essence asking us to be as God is, whose love is always available for those who ask. The parable ends with the unforgiving servant being delivered to the tormenters because he did not answer God's forgiveness to him with forgiveness to others. This is not a direct war metaphor, but it is the closest I think Christ comes to in His parables. Mostly, Christ doesn't seem to see the world in terms of war.
Paul's verse in Epheisans to "put on the whole armor of God" is the most common war metaphor in the New Testament. But it isn't a call to go to war at all. It's a meditation of how it sometimes feels like life itself is a battle, but that we turn to Christ and to His gospel for protection from evil and for surcease from the sense that we are in a war. I don't think there's any way you can read these verses and think that Paul is suggesting that we are called to war in Christ and I think it's very dangerous for us to create metaphors for war as Christians when Christ Himself never did any such thing. In my mind, this is dangerous imagery that belongs to the era of the Crusades, not to our modern day world. The more we think of religion as war-like, the more we tend to see war as glorious in terms of religion.
War isn't religious. It may be a political necessity at times, but seeing the world in terms of a black and white "good" and "evil" that aligns with our religion versus another religion is dangerous and unChristian. Surely Christ's call is to ask us to see our enemies as brothers (and sisters) rather than to justify the causes of war. Even if we are soldiers in reality, that does not mean that we should be soldiers religiously. Quite the contrary, we are missionaries. We are bringing love and hope of eternal life when we share the gospel message.
The idea that there it doesn't matter if we kill because those who die go to God is not justified in my reading of Christ's message in the New Testament. He told us to give to Caesar what was Caesar's, to go two miles with a Roman who demanded us to go one mile, to turn the other cheek, to endure the trials of this life with meekness and to show love always, no matter how we are treated. So please, can we write some new hymns with catchy tunes that aren't about war?