Have you noticed that nobody sings Onward Christian Soldiers anymore? I sang it as a kid in our Evangelical church. I still know the first verse,
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…
Onward Christian soldiers?
Go ahead. Look through any modern, up to date hymnbook. You won’t find it. You also won’t find Fight the Good Fight With All Might or Soldiers of Christ Arise and Put Your Armor On. Try finding any of the old hymns about Christian warfare, and good luck with that. The editors have quietly removed them. Censored them out. Consigned them to the cupboard with the plumed hat, the cape, the dusty armor and the rusty swords.
We don’t talk like that any more. We don’t sing rousing military marching songs. Instead we rise up on eagle’s wings and Jesus hears us crying in the night and there is only one set of footprints on the beach because that’s when he carried us. We haven’t beaten our swords into plowshares. We’ve beaten them into pacifiers.
The problem with this puppy dogs and kittens Christianity is that it is not really Christianity. From the beginning to the end of time the heart of the old, old story is not comfort but conflict.
A war in heaven took place before the history of our planet. Lucifer was cast down with his cohort and imprisoned here. Earth became the silent planet— a dark dungeon ruled by Satan.
Then God established a plan to re-take this planet. Rather than creating another order of spirit beings like angels, God created a new species—both physical and spiritual at once. Neither ape nor angel, these creatures would be called “humans” because they came from the clay of the earth. Sure enough, the word “human” comes from the word humus —earth. It is the same word from which we derive the words humility and humor and the fact that “Adam” also means “earth” matches neatly. Creating humans out of the dust of the earth was one of God’s great jokes.
It was one of God’s simple strokes of genius. This humble creature would be fully physical. Like the animals it would eat and drink, defecate and copulate. It would grunt and scratch and sneeze and fart, but it would also gaze in wonder at a newborn child, make music, poems and paintings, it would play games, invent tools, laugh and cry, dance and sing and wonder at the stars and worst of all for the Proud One—it would learn to love and worship God himself.
Satan spotted these new angel-apes and he saw at once what God had done. Immediately he hated the new half breeds with an intense and hellish hatred. He gnashed his teeth with rage. He transmogrified into a dragon and snorted volcanic fire and smoke. He folded his leathery wings and strutted and preened and paced with frustration and fury. He could not understand why God had created these mongrels and what they could possibly be for, but out of the sheer malice in his heart, he was determined to claim them as his own. He would enslave them, then he would torture them and eventually he would devour them.
You might say I am spinning a fairy tale. I don’t mind. I happen to think fairy tales are often more true than facts. The story of Satan’s fall is the legacy of the war which has, for four thousand years been the foundation of the faith—the lens through which we have understood God’s great gamble. But we, in our lily livered age, apathetic in our affluence, and cowardly in our comfortable lives, have studiously avoided the language of war. We are frightened of offending others. Timid in the face of Muslim jihadis we turn away from the idea of battle. We are embarrassed by the whole idea of the Church Militant and wish The Salvation Army would change its name.
Earth is the battlefield and the human race is caught up in that battle. This is total war, and every human being in one way or another is caught up in the cosmic conflict, whether he likes it or not. Every human being will have to take sides. Every human being, by virtue of being one of God’s special half breeds, is fighting either for heaven or for hell. There are no neutral territories. There are no pacifists.
We must choose, and not to choose is to choose. To pretend the forces of evil do not exist is ostrich-head-in sand idiocy. One only needs to read yesterday’s headlines to know in the pit of your stomach that an evil greater than mere human weakness and mistakes exists in the world. To stand on the sidelines and watch the battle is to be on the side of Satan because all it takes for evil to triumph is for enough good men to do nothing.
This article is adapted from a chapter in Fr. Longenecker’s latest book, Immortal Combat: Confronting the Heart of Darkness. It is available as an ebook or paperback from your favorite bookstore or online through Sophia Institute Press.