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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 02, 2006

One of Life’s Defining Moments

Training is all-encompassing and should be related to everything a unit does, or can have happen to it.” Lieutenant General Arthur S. Collins, Jr.


Who are You?
Entering Basic Training in the military is a defining moment in a person’s life. Irrespective of your past, you’re about to be “re-invented.” You enter as a raw recruit and you end as a soldier. Your training is in no wise complete after Basic, but a definite transformation takes place. The degree and level of expertise you attain during Basic will not be as high as any soldier can attain, but it’s like the proverbial five-hundred lawyers at the bottom of the ocean: a good start.
Basic Training teaches you skills that you probably never had before and pushes you beyond what you previously thought you were capable of performing. You’re introduced to a new regimen of life. Expectations are high. There’s a lot of “spit and polish,” early morning calisthenics, and instruction on the firing, cleaning, and care of your weapon. Learning to read a map and to orient yourself in unfamiliar terrain is an integral part of your training. You perform field exercises and learn small unit tactics. The fundamentals of working together as a unit are taught. Learning to depend on others and have them depend on you are essential lessons of the combat soldier.
Intense[1] is a good word to describe Basic Training. You’re on the go from early in the morning until late at night with little or no let up or “down” time. Basic Training is certainly not the place you go if you want a “laid-back” atmosphere or to be entertained. You get dirty and sweaty during Basic—every day! Recruits submit themselves—more or less willingly; probably less—and are subjected to this type of rigorous training as serious preparation for war and as preparation for serious war. The Drill Instructors put them through their paces so that the recruit will have a solid foundation for being a good soldier when Basic is completed.[2] The recruits might never actually go into combat, but their preparation is for that purpose nonetheless.

Preparation for Warfare
Having laid this foundation from a military perspective, I want to compare Basic Training with the preparation for spiritual warfare some Christians receive in the Church of Jesus Christ today. It’s safe to say that many modern churches do not have anything comparable to military Basic Training for their members, yet the warfare is substantially more intense because it is of a spiritual nature. Mega-churches often do not even know who their “people” are, and, as often as not, the “attendees” are more than willing to slip in and out of the worship service unnoticed.
This lack of realistic preparation would be unthinkable in the military. When I was a tank commander I knew the name, marital status, and other pertinent information about everyone in my platoon. In fact, I knew everyone in our entire company by name. My men were not merely identification numbers to me. I was aware of their strengths and weaknesses. Were they having problems with their wives, girlfriends, or children? I knew if they were. We trained, worked hard, and got dirty together. I knew them and they knew me. Our training took us beyond mere recognition. We were prepared, if necessary, to fight and die shoulder-to-shoulder defending a cause. We were, in a very real sense, family. There were leaders and followers, but we knew if push came to shove all we had was each other. Survival is a huge motivator.
By way of comparison and illustration, let’s suppose that someone is a new Christian and has been referred to a large church by a friend. He’s been told that the music is great and the service isn’t boring. He goes and discovers that his friend is right. In actuality, there’s not much difference between the melodies that he hears on the secular radio stations during the week and those he’s now hearing in the church. In fact, the church presentation of the music is pretty “slick.” It’s comparable to what you’d hear outside the church. Besides that, the people are really into the music as well. Some are dancing in the aisles, some are clapping their hands, and some are swaying back and forth with their hands in the air.
In the midst of all this, the pastor appears. He’s pretty hip. He’s not wearing a coat and tie and certainly not some silly robe. His attire is tennis shoes, slacks, and a pullover shirt. The language is like what you’d hear around the water cooler at work. The message is contemporary and makes some references to the Bible, the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, motivational jargon, and is filled with anecdotes. You can’t help but notice how people laugh a lot during the message. Our friend leaves thinking Now that was both entertaining and laid-back. I can definitely relate to it! Nobody speaks to him on the way out, but he’s glad they don’t. He wants to get in and out quickly. It’s his desire to remain anonymous. His biggest spiritual hassle—or, so he thinks—is finding a decent parking place and having to sit in a long line of traffic to get out of the church parking lot. His friend didn’t warn him about this—bummer (It’s a Southern California church)—but he figures that next week if he slips out of the service ten or fifteen minutes earlier he can avoid this inconvenience too.
He returns week after week to the same basic menu: A lot of singing, the collection, and a contemporary message. Still, few, if any, speak to him. It dawns on him after a while that the content of each message centers around one basic, repetitive point: the love of God for sinners. That’s a message we all need to hear on a regular basis he says to himself. Secretly, he’s thankful that the pastor is not hitting on something “meatier” because our friend is in the middle of an affair, his wife is distant and drinking too much, and he found a condom in his 15-year-old son’s blue jeans pocket last week. He can’t seem to connect with his wife anymore and he’s not sure how to approach the subject with his son. After all, if kids are going to “do it” isn’t it better if they have “safe” sex? He heard one woman say that on TV last night and it made sense to him. When he was growing up, he wasn’t perfect either. Why should he expect his son to be any different?
What this man needs is an environment that is truly going to train him in the “basics” of the Christian life and not merely one or two aspects of it. This man needs to be trained to be the spiritual leader of his home. He needs to become a spiritual warrior. There’s an important lesson to learn. “As odd as it may seem to modern sensibilities, battle is portrayed as an act of worship in the Hebrew Bible…. Since at the heart of holy war is God’s presence with the army…Israel had to be as spiritually prepared to go to battle as they would be to approach the sanctuary.”[3]
Both “battle as an act of worship” and “spiritual preparation for battle and sanctuary” are foreign concepts in most of modern worship. Most of us like to take the path of least resistance. How can we think of spiritual battle and worship when a lot of worship is geared to be sheer entertainment? Some of modern worship has been developed to reflect a “kickback/laidback” undertaking. It is void of any vestige of the notion of (spiritual) battle. In some churches, staffs have gone out of their way to make “worship” as easy as possible. In the face of this lackadaisical mentality, fewer and fewer are spiritually prepared to endue the ravages of spiritual warfare. The modern Christian is, as often as not, ill prepared. Therefore, the modern Christian is highly susceptible to spiritual defeat.
Someone needs to take the time to show us how the Bible not only speaks about God’s love for sinners, but also about virtually everything in life. Included in biblical teaching is that the male is designed and required to be the spiritual leader in the home. His call includes not merely to be a theologian, but to be a good one. But this too often runs counter against what the modern Church teaches.
In a recent survey, for example, George Barna discovered that a minority of Christians believes the Bible contains absolute truth. In addition, they would not go to the Bible to solve ethical dilemmas. To put this into more practical terms, “Barna noted that substantial numbers of Christians believe that activities such as abortion, gay sex, sexual fantasies, cohabitation (shacking up for those in Palm Beach County, Florida—RG), drunkenness and viewing pornography are morally acceptable.”[4] This is in line with Barna’s other findings that “showed that less than one out of three born again Christians adopt the notion of absolute moral truth. The surveys also found that few Americans turn to their faith as the primary guide for their moral and ethical decisions.”[5]

Making Ethical Decisions
This, of course, begs the questions: Why should they? and How could they? Allow me to explain what I mean by those questions.
In the first place, why should they look to the Bible? Everyone, Christians included, is bombarded by secular life and worldviews on a daily basis. The TV, movies, and music are rife with non-Christian and, quite frankly, anti-Christians messages. When you consider that Christians spend precious little time reading their Bible is it any wonder that—and this is borne out by the Barna research—they would they would embrace a form of relativism? Indeed, “Without some firm and compelling basis for suggesting that such (immoral) acts are inappropriate, people are left with philosophies such as ‘if it feels good do it,’ ‘everyone else is doing it’ or ‘as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else it’s permissible.’”[6]
In the second place, how could they turn to the Bible? If all that they are given is a variation on one or two simple themes, how can they be expected to comply with what is clearly taught in Scripture? (Comp. Heb. 5:14.) The text in Hebrews points us to two types of Christians: those who are, after an expanse of time, still on “milk” and those who have become spiritually mature through knowledge and application of the Word of God. It’s one thing to tell a recruit to go out and engage the enemy, it’s quite another thing to train him to do so.
There are actually pastors that scoff at people who are “sound” in their doctrine even though the Word of God calls us to be so. (Cf. 1 Tim. 1:10; 6:3; 2 Tim. 1:13; 4:3; Tit. 1:9, 13; 2:1-2.) I should point out that in all of the previously listed texts the word that has been translated “sound” is the Greek word from which we derive the English word, “hygienic.” Rather than telling God’s people to avoid doctrine and biblical teaching, pastors ought to be admonishing them to embrace it as that which is spiritually “health-giving.”
Instead of the necessary basic training in the doctrines and lifestyle that attend the Christian profession of faith, however, our friend finds an atmosphere that’s both entertaining and laid-back. So what’s wrong with that? There are many valid points that could be raised to object to the entertaining and laid-back approach to Christianity, but the most pertinent, I believe, are these. First, is the intensity and seriousness of the spiritual warfare and, second, is the requisite training in order that the spiritual warrior will be able to fight effectively against formidable foes.As far as I know, Commander Richard Marcinko (Ret.) is not a Christian, but he certainly is a “no-nonsense” man that I respect because he takes proper training of his men and leadership so seriously. Here is the “bleeped-out” version of some of his military wisdom regarding training and warfare. “If you want to be with somebody who’s laid-back and mellow, then go find Barney the @#$%&*# Dinosaur. But don’t take him into battle; take him out to play golf, or drink beer, or to sing ‘I-love-you, you-love-me.’”[7] A representative number of people attending Christian churches are going into spiritual battle singing “I love you, you-love-me.” The results are an obvious “slam-dunk.”
[1] Basic Training is intense and you also spend a lot of time “in tents.”
[2] An excellent example of what I mean is found in James B. Woulfe, Into the Crucible. Making Marines for the 21st Century, (Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1998).
[3] Tremper Longman III & Daniel G. Reid, God is a Warrior, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), pp. 34-35.
[4] George Barna, “Americans Are Most Likely to Base Truth on Feelings,” Barna Research Online, (February 12, 2002), p. 2.
[5] Ibid., 1.
[6] Ibid., 2.
[7] Richard Marcinko, Leadership Secrets of the Rogue Warrior, (NY: Simon & Schuster, 1996), p. 61.

4 Comments:

Blogger Dan Edelen said...

Ron,

I've been reading your blog for a few days now and the same issues come back again and again. Your advice is absolutely godly and right on, but it's always highly theoretical and makes no attempt to provide practical solutions to the problems you discuss.

For instance, you talk about the need for tight-knit comraderie like you experienced in the tank corp, but the type of community enforced by the military has absolutely no counterpart to the way most communities are structured in reality. Your tank group worked, lived, and played together because you were all stationed with the same people all day every day. But that's not how most communities are structured, even in the church, unless you are advocating some kind of Christian commune-type living and working arrangements, which I don't think you are.

You also don't discuss the basic reality for most men. The average American works nearly fifty hours a week, up from forty-eight just a few years ago. That's a ten hour day. And they have to work that or face losing their jobs. Most people commute anywhere from a half hour to two hours one way. That takes another hour to four hours out of a person's day. Add in meals, devotional times, time with the wife and kids, and guess what? There's no more time to be highly involved in other people's lives or the life of the church.

Unless Christians start working to find ways to slow down the relentless grinding wheel of modern business life by seeking out alternatives, all the theories in the world are not going to make a difference in making the church function more like the true community it is supposed to be.

Most of the people I know are living frenzied lives as jobs go elsewhere and energy prices and property taxes continue to hurtle to the stratosphere. They're not materialists, either. They try to live simply and are finding there is no more room to cut back. Families that were once able to get by on one income are finding they can't keep up with the cost of living and the other spouse is having to go back to work just to survive. None of that lends itself to more available time to spend at church or with others.

As long as the church cannot speak to this issue, all of our ideals will remain just that.

What are your practical suggestions for making the things you write about work? What do they look like when implemented? I think people are more interested in that than hearing the way things should be when they have little opportunity to conform to theories that don't intersect their daily existence.

11:43 AM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

Dear Dan,
Thanks for such a thorough response. In my successive articles I hope to give a more detailed, practical scenario. I have quite a bit of material on this and I have examples to offer.
The comraderie part is not rocket science although more important than rocket science.
At my home church we actually do have a "Band of Brothers" group that includes men of all ages. We get together about once a month for fellowship and fun. As a pastor, I work as many hours as my congregational members and still find time for family devotions, to volunteer as a wrestling coach, to go shooting once a week, and to have a date day with the "bride of my youth" once a week. I do this in a family where we have a handicapped daughter and two other children still living at home with us. Life is active!
Give me some wiggle room and I will take your suggestions to heart. Thanks so much for stopping by and letting me know your thoughts. God bless, Ron

9:56 PM  
Blogger Dan Edelen said...

Ron,

You got it, bro. Eager to hear more.

9:28 PM  
Blogger SolaMeanie said...

Outstanding column. As an aside, I wonder how we could have gotten so cavalier in our attitude toward worship etc. If God struck people dead for mishandling the Ark or not being properly prepped for entering the Holy of Holies, how can we have such a slaphappy approach to our worship now?

It's a sad day when Madison Avenue is taken more seriously when putting together a worship service than is Scripture.

8:38 AM  

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