Always remember who’s on your side.
It’s human nature to forget, almost immediately, who your allies are in the war that rages around us constantly 1. Let’s sum it up in just a few words: Christ is on our side and the Church is on our side.
Or perhaps what we should say is that we are on Christ’s side and that we are the Church.
Very often we focus only on Christ being our ally and, because of that, we can’t lose. But Christ is only our ally in so far as we are acting as the Church—when we are doing the work Christ called the churches to do.
These should be our permanent allies. Whenever we see a church struggling, we ought to want to come alongside them to support them and build them up in their mission. Whenever we see a fellow Christian toiling at the work he’s called to do, we ought to use whatever we can to help him succeed. After all, his individual success or the success of that church is to the greater success and glory of God.
We also have temporary allies—or what ought to be only temporary allies 2. A massive example of these kinds of allies are governments. Some governments are aggressive opponents of the Church. Others are apparent allies.
But we can’t forget that they are never true allies—they’re more interested in winning support for their own regime than in fighting for the Kingdom of God. We can, at most, have similar goals for a time. A Christian and an Atheist may both see the value in the statement do unto others, but one sees it as expedient for an orderly culture or even a moral maxim3 while the other see it as a requirement for faith.
Other times leaders of various sorts are Christian and therefore in that way they are allies. But are they allies in everything they do? A Christian CEO of a secular business may support fellow believers, but he is still first and foremost responsible to the company shareholders.
In a great many examples – like that of the CEO of the secular business – there is no particular harm or intrinsic spiritual reason not to work with that person. One supposes that that business, under the leadership of a person of faith, is unlikely to be a danger to the Church. Even so, we must recognize that our ally is the man and not necessarily the business he represents.
Governments are even more tricky. When you have a government that supports and fosters religious freedom, as indeed most western ones do to a greater or lesser degree, it becomes too easy to see them as something more than they are. We are quick in the US to say that the country was founded on Christian ideals 4.
But governments have responsibilities beyond the religious. In the US the government has to represent all people, not just the goals of the Church5. And in places where the government has sought to be based solely on Christianity, the ills and evils done are well known. The cause of Christ has been allowed to justify the worst desires and actions of men, from the worst elements of the crusades to slavery to the systematic murder of other Christians of different denominations.
And yet, even knowing the risks of mixing faith and politics, we have a nearly constant flow of examples of Christians allying themselves with political organizations, parties, and politicians. Some revere institutions like the military as the highest standard of virtue obtainable. The military does uphold some Christian standards more than the state in general. Virtues like self-sacrifice and serving one’s brothers are some of the noblest in either tradition. And yet recognizing that we have similar values is no reason for deifying a secular institution. Such things have led to terrible crimes in the past.
We also have to caution ourselves against a slavish love of ideas—ideas like law and order and various forms of justice. We can appreciate the peace that order brings in a civil society, that’s true. We might desire to see all people equal under the law and our goal ought to be to live according to biblical moral principles thereby creating a “perfectly” just world. As such, a “good” government should indeed only be a terror to those who do evil. But who gets to draw that line? And as Christians, is it even a line we ought to be interested in defining?
Yes, it’s in human nature to want to see a murder punished. It’s easy to assent to the statement that a child rapist is the lowest form of human being and ought to receive the harshest punishments. But we also have to remember that our first ally is Christ – Christ and God, whose heart breaks at the terrible sin his children have committed. Yes, and maybe especially, those worst sins.
When we forget the love of Christ, it becomes easy to begin to hate 6. Because all we’re left with then are the rules and our own sense of right and wrong.
As we move further from Christ and the Church, either from our own hardhearted nature or because we’ve never really learned who our true allies are, we risk compromising ourselves even more. And there are some people and organizations explicitly set up to take advantage of this. If we have a cause or struggle, it’s eminently likely that there is a person or organization pandering to it.
We’ve seen whole movements hijacked by these kinds of people, and what’s worse is that very often the Church or at least the individual Christian begins to take on some of the beliefs of these people or organizations as though they were gospel.
So can we use these kinds of allies as we fight our spiritual battles? My first and immediate response is probably not. The reason for this is a primarily definitional one. These kinds of organizations and people are allies only in the physical. They see the manifestation of the spiritual war and offer their services there. There is an immediate danger here in distracting us from the real goals which are spiritual in nature (the work of the gospel).
There may, possibly, be exceptions. Allow me to suggest a few: if there is a murder in a neighborhood and the police can capture him and protect the people, then our work of saving their souls becomes easier. If we have a message of repentance that needs to be spread across a city, state, or entire country, having access to various news organizations or media platforms is a huge advantage.
But in either and any case, our alliance with groups outside the Church ought to be limited in scope, understood, covered in prayer, and without expectation 7. These kinds of alliances cannot be ongoing, intrinsic, or reciprocal.
Another exception would be based on the ability to be sure that the goals of an ally match the goals of the church as perfectly as possible. An example might be a church and a community organization working together to feed the homeless. In so far as they are partnered to provide food, an alliance may be perfectly acceptable. Even in a case like this, however, it’s important to make sure you know the expectations on both sides and reevaluate the state of the partnership regularly. The subject of such an evaluation would be: (1) Do our goals continue to match in the physical (i.e., are we still feeding the hungry as our primary mission) and (2) are the main spiritual goals of the Church still primary in our work and has the physical work in no way corrupted the spiritual? 8
I think its also important to note that alliances of this type are extremely useful in spreading and communicating the Gospel message. It demonstrates what we’re for and shows us doing those things – those very things that others are interested in doing as well. Doing good and confronting injustice are universal ideals (which we believe the church is absolutely best equipped to accomplish) and so every opportunity to serve in this capacity is an opportunity to show the love of Christ, not just to those being served but to those with whom we serve.
So when should we leave an alliance or never start one in the first place? Probably most of the time, except when certain standards are met. But let’s submit a few suggestions for things to avoid (and enumerate why they’re still so tempting).
Perhaps first and foremost the Church (or a church or individual believer) should never enter into an alliance in which it can be used and where it can be exploited—or worse, be expected to exploit its members. I submit that almost all political alliances are of this sort. While it’s almost certainly desirable to have a Christian be involved in politics, it’s never desirable that his faith be a basis to obtain votes or support for policy. Instead, assuming he is guided by the principles of his faith, it should be the physical or ideological manifestations of his faith that ought to be the reason for people to vote for a person.
Second, and this ought to cover almost all other cases, the Church should never enter into an alliance where the spiritual intentions of the work (the subject of the alliance) can be harmed, directly or indirectly, by the ally. For example, let’s take that case of feeding the homeless. If we are expected to serve in the facility of another organization (perhaps but not necessarily one that explicitly endorses things we ought to oppose) but we are unable to express our faith in any way, then we must ask if this alliance, however limited and important, is justified. Feeding the hungry is a good in itself and should be done regardless of whether we are given the opportunity to evangelize—and if the organization we’re working with does not oppose our faith in another way (they are, as one might say, agnostic) then this still might be a alliance worth having.
But if that organization promotes immorality, we find ourselves in the unenviable position of trying to determine net good. Does the good of feeding the hungry override the ill of that organization’s promotion of non-traditional marriage, for example? Perhaps it does. Perhaps you can make the argument (and I think you likely can) that the good of feeding the hungry now (and also building relationships with them and the people in that organization) is more important than a potential issue later on. That is, the spiritual good done is in no way directly connected with a potential spiritual ill. It should be said, though, that if you can’t make this argument convincingly or if you have doubts, it might not be worth it.
In the second case, it’s worth asking if the Church can or should endorse the work being done that matches its values, while also being upfront in its simultaneous condemnation of those aspects that are antithetical to its spiritual goals. It seems to me that this could be valuable in one way and not in another and therefore ought to be considered ahead of making any statement. That is, if it is an attempt to show the Church what it ought to be doing while lamenting the fact that a secular organization is both doing it and corrupting it 9, there is great value in that. We should, however, avoid the trap of wanting to endorse good at the expense of whitewashing evil in the public square.
This is an exceptionally difficult subject because it deals with the fact that almost all of us on a daily basis are asked and expected to work with people and organizations that don’t share our faith and we always have to make choices about if we ought to be doing it or not.
But it is important to ask the question.
Because far too often we do not. We don’t even consider the question of who we’re aligning ourselves with. We see only expectations (of friends, family, or the society in which we live) and inertia (this is what I do or have done) of everyday life, and it becomes easy to ignore the responsibilities we have as warriors in the spiritual war.
It’s important to stretch this muscle as often as possible. That’s not to say that we need to worry at every moment if we’re unequally yoked with an ally. Worrying over such things, especially ones where it’s difficult or impossible to be sure, can be debilitating and can destroy our effectiveness 10.
Why it’s so important to make this a regular practice is that, if you don’t – if you fail to consider the spiritual ramifications of an alliance, then you are likely to seek out these unequal alliances, thinking all goods are equal and justifiable. Or more likely, the enemy, knowing your weakness in this area, will seek you out with a proposition he knows you will have a hard time refusing.
We have to remember that he’s never for us and, what’s more, he’s against all mankind. We do not serve our fellow man by allowing ourselves to be used to destroy. Remember: what profits a man if he saves his life but looses his soul?
Some concrete examples from the world today:
This article was prompted as a follow up to the article How We Participate in a Spiritual War where we talked briefly about the current tensions (in June 2020) surrounding race and police.
The righteousness and possibly righteous anger felt by many in those communities has broken out in violence. We can debate the ethical uses of violence – indeed it may be right to use violence to rise up against oppression – but what I wanted to focus on was the alliance between these protestors who support the concept of Black Lives Matter and the organization itself (and other organizations that support it.)
It seemed to me that the fight against racial injustice was one that the Church should be able to endorse and support, but the question of how to support it and what organizations it could align itself with was much more difficult. Indeed groups (as opposed to just the idea of) BLM and antifa have some of these same goals. But they also have other goals. In that way they seek to divide the Church from itself and also from the community they seek to serve.
I think it’s fair to say that these allies forced themselves on those seeking to solve racial injustice, and when you’re not regularly asking the spiritual question of why (do they want to work with me) and what (do they want) then it becomes easy to simply see them as supporters along the way. Those who aren’t against us are for us.
It’s important to note (though it shouldn’t need to be said and the fact that seemingly does is to our shame) that these allies have also succeeded in driving a wedge between the black and white churches in the US. That is, when we see these protests having support from “obviously” anti-Christian groups, it makes it easy for people who haven’t experienced such things firsthand to dismiss the thing itself.
This brought me to two other alliances that should be equally frightening as they clothe themselves in righteousness. That is the alliance between white Christians and law and order. I’m careful not to say “the police,” though I think that’s a visible manifestation. But it is, indeed, law and order that many of these have allied themselves with. It seems a strange thing to say that there is a problem with an alliance to a concept such as this, but that’s possibly what makes it more dangerous.
A love of law and order allows people to callously say that protesters get what’s coming to them if they misbehave in any way.
Some examples: an elderly protestor was knocked down by police who also refused to immediately render assistance (those who moved to help were told to stay in line) has spent time in the hospital. Social media (in themselves not necessarily the best barometer of truth, I admit) on this story from a source followed by mainly white conservative Christians was filled with comments to the effect that “he got what was coming to him.” And worse, conspiracy theories 11 that he was an agitator and that the whole thing was staged. Regardless of what you might think of the man or the police actions in themselves the lack of compassion for an apparently injured elderly man (particularly as caused by our civil government) ought to chill the Church to its core.
Another example: a woman, perhaps trying to recreate images from last century’s civil rights movement, brought a flower to national guard troops. She was arrested for crossing the barrier between police and protesters. Again the comments: “she got what was coming to her,” and “she knew that would happen – that’s what SJWs 14.
It’s apparent that this division was of a spiritual nature. That both sides were sold a bill of goods promising just the things we wanted and there was never going to be a payoff. That’s the worst part: there didn’t need to be. We were willing to accept the promise that things would change as sufficient. We never asked the price of our blind allegiance nor did we demand results.
This cannot be and yet, I’m certain, it will happen again and again. But that’s no reason not to try to focus on the spiritual implications of our relationships, sticking to the moral teachings and being thoughtful and prayerful of our interactions in the most important of issues.
We have the power in Christian unity to say it need not be like this. It would have been better had we started this movement 20, 50 or 100 years ago but, as the parable says, the next best time is now.
- Almost as easy as forgetting we’re in a war at all.
- Or should they be allies at all?
- Of course, it is indeed both things.
- In a very interesting way this is true but I believe it is very limited to the statement: the fundamental liberty in the world is the liberty to choose – to Chose or Reject Christ. The “American” ideal is that we also have choice in regard to religious freedom, and indeed in all sorts of other freedoms.
Christians, obviously, do not have all these freedoms as we ought to subordinate our will and desires to that of Christ.
- the most we might be able to hope is that the government is not openly hostile to the Church.
- This is, perhaps, one of the most important reasons to want to spread the Gospel: that we might cut hate off before it has a chance to grow.
- No quid pro quo.
- Its worth noting that this is a test that is likely valid even in evaluating work being done by the Church alone even without any allies.
- This is another aspect of spiritual warfare I haven’t touched on yet but the idea that when one gives up ground to the enemy (i.e. a ministry we ought to be doing) it is almost a certainty that the enemy will take up that work, and putting on a good face, destroy the spiritual value of the work.
In some ways this is never more evident than the work done by organizations like Planned Parenthood. They are seen as the savior of the unwed mother who the Church ought to have been serving all along. Instead, we’ve chosen to be judgmental instead of forgiving in that space and given the enemy an opportunity not just to kill but to destroy the lives of the mother and potentially any current and future family.
- A check against this is to consider the spiritual good of doing or not doing something. If there’s a great good at stake then it might be worth some consideration and prayer.
If there’s not or at least doesn’t seem to be then submit it to God in prayer and move on. I believe he will honor and protect you in this and lead you in the correct path.
- This even reached the twitter of the President of the United States in this case.
- Social Justice Warriors 12do. It was a photo op.”
These were not single or unique comments. In the case where the majority sampled self identified as conservative and Christians, they represented the majority opinion. This, of course, is not a surprise in the polarized world of the echo chamber that is social media. What is a surprise, or at least should be, is that the majority of these comments came from Christians. I could go on breaking down different comments and trains of thought that have been seen in this space, but it should be sufficient to say at this point that there are many who are more interested in law and order than in justice, equality, and more importantly the loyalty we owe our fellow Christians: namely the black Christians and churches. Instead we’ve chosen to be separated from them.
Even the affiliation of Christian and Conservative (at least in this case) seems to be highly problematic for the Church. It’s just as easy to find cases where the alignment of Christian with Liberal causes is equally troublesome. I’ve chosen today to pick on my “own side” because its easy to see the sin in others but, I think, one of the most important things you can do in a spiritual war is recognize your own weaknesses.
So, it seems to me that this Christian polarization has its roots in the alliance of black and conservatives with the two predominant political parties. The relationships of these two groups (who as we have said ought to be working together) with the parties is well known and documented and, moreover, represents some of the worst alliances between people of faith and government. In both cases it has created separation between us. In both cases Christians have been used for the purposes of the parties and the government against fellow believers. Some have asked the question, “what have we gotten out of it?” That’s the wrong question entirely. It assumes that some end is worth the means. It assumes that the division of churches and people and the hatred of someone because of his political affiliation (over his eternal affiliation) is or could ever be worth a victory in racial equality or limiting of an evil like abortion.
This is made worst when the truth is that if we had spent the same amount of effort working together, rather than against each other, we could have made massive strides in these areas 13Indeed if white churches, instead of forming alliances with the Republican party had chosen to support black churches and their communities there would almost certainly be less animosity.
If we had chosen to work together and support each other as fellow workers in Christ we might have been able to help support black families and prevented, for example, a massive number of black abortions over the years.
If white churches had chosen to support black churches in love and respect – not trying to solve their problems – we would have learned long ago the reasons for the pain in these communities.
We could have shown love to one another and been stronger together than we were apart and allied with people who didn’t share our faith.