Watch for the Periscope

Remembrance Day is a good idea. It reminds us of the horrors of war and the enormous sacrifices made by men and women for freedom during the world wars. We are right to be very thankful for that. We enjoy the fruits of their sacrifice.

But the Christian Church could do with a Remembrance Day to remember it is still at war. Here are some inadequate images of the church I have come across (OK, people didn’t actually use the descriptions I use here, but they implied them):

The Christian cruise linerThey’re all on a lovely holiday, enjoying the charismatic sunshine, singing the charismatic songs, repeating the charismatic “liturgy”. It’s all very relaxed and voluntary. But nobody has noticed the submarine periscope.

The Christian hospital shipThe only interest is healing – inner healing, outer healing, in-between healing. Those with physical ailments are prayed for. Those with emotional hurts receive the laying on of hands. Those dropped on their heads as babies, are delivered. But nobody has noticed the submarine periscope.

The Christian psychotherapy shipThe decks are lined with counselling rooms and large containers of paper tissues. The normal greeting is: “You’re all right – how am I?”  The clocks are marked with days and hours, rather than hours in minutes. After all, what is the point of a short counselling session? The constantly exhausted counsellors have specially comfortable beds in their cabins. But nobody has noticed the submarine periscope.

The Christian friend-shipExpect a warm welcome on this ship – with open arms you’ll be made to feel at home. You can do what you like so long as you’re nice to people. Sin is defined as upsetting someone. Passengers spend their time gazing into one another’s eyes and deepening relationships. But nobody has noticed the submarine periscope.

The Christian synod shipThis is in the shape of an enormous debating chamber. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week the debates go on. There’s something for all interests – vital subjects like: will there be animals in heaven or the level of fees for diocesan chancellors or care of cathedrals or how many angels could fit on to the head of a pin. Riveting stuff. But nobody has noticed the submarine periscope.

The Christian doctrine shipThis is the sister ship of the synod ship. There are endless dialogues about who is sound and who isn’t or can evangelicals believe in life on Mars or did Jonah really swallow the whale or what is the method and message of Old Testament apocalyptic. The passengers have really sharpened their wits and exercised their grey matter. But nobody has noticed the submarine periscope.

But what is this fine vessel sailing over the horizon? Why, it’s:

The Anglican shipThe officers are all well-dressed with chasubles and amices and cassock albs and stoles. Their colours and braids shine and sparkle in the sun as they process solemnly (not to say miserably) along the decks, refusing to take the direct route to any destination. But there’s a certain lack of spontaneity in that they address one another from written scripts which they are constantly perfecting through radio contact with the synod ship. But nobody has noticed the submarine periscope.

I don’t want to throw out the baby with the bathwater: I value the charismatic tradition; the ministry of healing and counselling; and strong relationships within the body of Christ. I even think there’s a place for synods (at least on a good day!). I’m fascinated by doctrine (there are three of our family who are theological graduates: you should hear us when we get going!). And I love the Church of England (most days, anyway). 

The battle

But when I read the NT I see a church which is, so to speak, aware of the submarine periscope. It knew it was in a battle: the battle of good against evil; belief against unbelief; God against Satan; Satan against the church – a battle for the church’s survival let alone its success.

Paul is concerned “that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.” (2 Cor 10:11). He urges the Ephesians to “put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 6:11-12). He knew Satan had stopped him getting to Thessalonica (1 Thess 2:18)

Peter warns: “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith.”(1 Peter 5:8-9). James similarly says: “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7)

We are not playing at church: we’re in a battle. That demands standing together in close unity; having the courage to be real and honest with one another; accepting the demands of discipleship; removing weaknesses in our defences and being vigilant about enemy infiltration.

© Tony Higton: see conditions for reproduction