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I am a 1967 graduate of The Citadel (Distinguished Military Student, member of the Economic Honor Society, Dean's List), a 1975 graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (M.Div., magna cum laude, member of the Phi Alpha Chi academic honor society); I attended the Free University of Amsterdam and completed my History of Dogma there and then received a full scholarship from the Dutch government to transfer to the sister school in Kampen, Holland. In 1979 I graduated from the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Churches of Holland (Drs. with honors in Ethics). My New Testament minor was completed with Herman Ridderbos. I am also a 2001 Ph.D. graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary (Systematic Theology) in Philly with a dissertation on the "unio mystica" in the theology of Dr. Herman Bavinck (1854-1921). I am a former tank commander, and instructor in the US Army Armor School at Ft. Knox, KY. I have been happily married to my childhood sweetheart and best friend, Sally, for 43 years. We have 6 children, one of whom is with the Lord, and 14 wonderful grandchildren.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

A Brotherhood of Christian Warriors

“The art of war is a simple art.” Napoleon

It’s My Life and I’ll do What I Want
Some might be thinking That’s why I don’t want to get involved with a church. Who wants to be disciplined or to have someone snooping around your private life? I somewhat understand what you’re thinking, but it’s just wrongheaded. The reason why you don’t want to get involved in a church is because you don’t want real accountability. You want accountability on your terms. I’ve used as the heading for this section the words from a song during the “hippy” movement days. It echoes the sentiment: do your own thing! Opting out of being held accountable for having an affair, however, is not a consideration in a biblical church.
Unfortunately, many today hold to the deadly wrong attitude of It’s my life and it’s none of your business! True soldiers are concerned about the “team.” They understand the concept that it isn’t about them. Being part of a “team” means that we live and function differently. In combat, soldiers want other well-trained comrades around them for mutual protection. The only way to rid ourselves from the crass individualism that characterizes the Church today is consciously to move in the direction of forming covenant communities where all involved are truly held accountable.
Third, there’s the need for encouragement. On an early morning walk recently one of my friends commented that, “men get hammered.” I think he’s right. Sometimes we bring it upon ourselves, and other times we get whacked just because we’re the males of the species. Rightly or wrongly, there’s a lot of animosity against men these days.[1] Men need the support of other men—now more than ever. This is not to say that they don’t need the support and encouragement of their wives and families. They do. That encouragement is very important. But they also need the encouragement of other men. They need to be able to talk to someone who manifests a caring and understanding “been there, done that” attitude. Let me illustrate what I mean.
Recently a friend dropped by our house and we got into a conversation. We finally sat down in our atrium and had a cup of coffee. This friend is an honest, hard-working man. He loves his wife and children. As we talked, he confided that sending their kids to Christian schools was taking a huge bite out of the old family budget. Sally and I told him that we knew how he felt. Those weren’t just words. We did. We put five kids through Christian schools and we know that it demands sacrifices and sometimes causes you to have to turn a dime over ten times before you decide to spend it—unless, of course, you’re buying baseball tickets. You’ve got to keep your priorities straight!
Anyway, we basically said that it was tough, but we had done it and were convinced that if we could do it anyone could do it. I didn’t think that what we said was all that profound, but it struck a note. The financial pressures remain, but we learned later that the man had been greatly encouraged by what we said.
Men are different from women. I can hear you guys saying, “Now that’s profound! Tell me something I don’t know!” It’s patently true that we men do not need as many words as our female counterparts every day. Nevertheless, it is equally true that men need to talk about pressures and temptations with other men and know that they won’t be laughed at or ostracized. That doesn’t mean that we expect people to agree with us if we’re sinning, but we need an accepting group of men around us—a band of brothers—who will encourage us and make us do the right thing. We know the things that tempt us and, as often as not, they’re very different from what tempts a woman.
As I mentioned earlier, I’m blessed to be able to work with a great elected Session or Elder Board at my church. We have an election process that might seem to others to be a tad bit on the excessive side, but we really want to serve and honor the Lord with those that are in positions of spiritual leadership. We examine all the candidates on their Christian testimony as well as an extensive discussion of their doctrine. It’s a privilege to serve with these men. The more we work together the closer we seem to get.
We’ve had to stand shoulder-to-shoulder on some difficult matters and they have only served to bond us closer together. I believe that I could tell these men anything and know that they’d continue to care for me and, if I needed my butt kicked, they’d kick it. We have a lot of open and frank discussions, but we don’t fight against each other. Early on, we determined who the “enemy” was. It wasn’t each other.
The Bible gives us the necessary tools to be able to work as a team. We’re going to talk about the Delta Forces, Special Forces, and SEAL team analogies later, but one of the facets of those “special forces” that impresses me is that they operate a little differently from the “traditional” armed forces model. There’s much more interaction and participation among the team members. Officers and NCOs have a lot of input.[2]
We’re learning the essential lesson of mutual encouragement. This is a far cry from some kind of saccharine flattery. Mutual encouragement includes a lot of prayer for each and doing extra-Session events. What are some of the things we do? Some of it is something so simple as merely being together in a relaxed atmosphere. Recently, one of the Elders opened his home for us and we watched two segments of the HBO mini-series, Band of Brothers. At the end of those segments we had a lot to talk about.
The first two episodes depict a sharp contrast between two men, both of them officers. The first, Herbert Sobel, was a man who trained his men well, but was a disaster when he was in the field. He couldn’t read a map and made stupid, possibly life-endangering decisions. By contrast, Dick Winters was a man all of us would follow into battle. Whenever something had to get done, you’d hear Winters say to his men, “Follow me!” His instructions were clear and understandable and he checked on his men regularly. Winters demanded much from himself and his men, but he was fair.
With Sobel, on the other hand, there was no give-and-take. He went far beyond nit picking. What Sobel lacked in solid judgment, he made up in pettiness and arbitrary methods. There are three levels of undesirable “manure” in the military. The “manure” gamut runs from the “chicken” variety all the way to “bull.” (In extreme cases, I’ve detected a fourth level: “elephant.”) Since I’m going to be using these descriptions later, I’m going to call chicken “level one,” horse “level two,” and bull “level three.” Since “elephant” is so rare if I have to refer to it I’ll just call it what it is.
Paul Fussell agrees and gives a good portrayal of “level one” when he says this. “Chickens**t refers to behavior that makes military life worse than it need be: petty harassment of the weak by the strong; open scrimmage for power and authority and prestige; sadism thinly disguised as necessary discipline; a constant ‘paying off of old scores’; and insistence on the letter rather than the spirit of ordinances. Chickens**t is so called—instead of horse- or bull- or elephant s**t—because it is small-minded and ignoble and takes the trivial seriously.”[3] Level one has nothing to do with growing into a band of brothers, training the congregation, or moving forward in the spiritual war. That’s why it’s to be avoided at all costs.
What Dick Winters, on the other hand, instilled in his men and exemplified to them was true leadership and comradeship. In an book dating from the 1950s, J. Glenn Gray recounts what kind of leader Winters was—even though he was not dealing with Winters per se—and what we’re striving to accomplish. Here’s what he says. “Organization for a common and concrete goal in peacetime organizations does not evoke anything like the degree of comradeship commonly known in war…. At its height, this sense of comradeship is an ecstasy…. Men are true comrades only when each is ready to give up his life for the other, without reflection and without thought of personal loss.”[4]We’ve got a long way to go in the modern Church before we remotely arrive at this kind of spiritual camaraderie. Steps in the proper direction will not even begin to be taken until we come to the realization that we’re engaged in a serious spiritual war and desperately need each other. We must add to that that the spiritual warriors have to be trained properly so that they learn how to execute their spiritual mission.
[1] For an excellent example of the negativity against men and boys, see Christina Hoff Sommers, The War Against Boys, How Misguided Feminism is Harming our Young Men, (NY: Simon & Schuster, 2000).
[2] For an apt description of how these teams work together, see Douglas C. Waller, “Delta Force,” in The Commandos. The Inside Story of America’s Secret Soldiers, (NY: Simon & Schuster, 1994), pp. 201-224.
[3] Paul Fussell, Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War, (NY: Oxford University Press, 1989), p. 80. Asterisks—RG.
[4] J. Glenn Gray, The Warriors, Reflections on Men in Battle, (NY: Harper & Row, 1959), pp. 43, 45-46.


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