Onward Christian Soldiers, marching as to war.
Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war
We don’t often sing Baring Gould’s nineteenth century hymn these days. Its military images have echoes of our imperial past. We may be uncomfortable with those, although St Paul did use military metaphors for the Christian life.
As I was watching my DVDs of Bernard Cornwell’s “Sharpe” novels recently, an interesting comparison between chaplains and the church, based on a military picture, came to mind.
Sharpe leads a bunch of “chosen men” in the Napoleonic Wars. Carrying accurate rifles rather than crude muskets, they don’t seem to be subject to the same discipline as the rest of the army. They are dressed in green, and so are better camouflaged than the redcoats of the infantry. When the army attacks, they are on the edges, running independently, darting here and there whilst sniping at the enemy. The other troops, the main body of the army, form impressive lines when advancing or squares when they need to repulse a cavalry attack.
If we are Christian soldiers, marching as to war, are chaplains, in their many forms, the church's “chosen men” and women? We often feel that we are on the edge of the church, and may sometimes appear a little undisciplined and independent. We like to blend in with our setting and we hope to be responsive to what is going on there. We’re often involved one to one with people, not in combat, but in conversation.
And chaplains are part of the church. We need the strength of the body of Christ, which, when it gathers, should be a demonstration of fellowship and unity. On a recent Sunday, I worshipped at Lichfield Cathedral and at “Naturally Supernatural” where at least 2000 people gathered for a Christian conference. Both, in different ways, were impressive gatherings of Christians, committed to advancing the cause of the gospel.
Perhaps it is a hymn that chaplains should sing more often.