A lot of people love war movies. They really enjoy watching recreations of battles that took place in history or grand fictional battles staged for entertainment. There’s something about the excitement, the valor, the intensity, that really appeals to certain people. I am not one of those people.
A couple of years ago, I took a class at school called History and Film. I needed a history credit, and it seemed like something I would enjoy, so I went for it without really reading the course description. It turned out that the “film” portion of the class was almost entirely comprised of watching war films. From The Last of the Mohicans to The Patriot and on and on, we watched film after film that documented wars taking place in our country’s history. And I hated every second of it.
The thing that stuck out to me most when I was watching these films was the absurdity of it all. I watched time after time as two groups of men marched toward one another, stopped at a respectable distance, and then began firing at each other until one group was forced to retreat. I watched so many fictional characters die, and for what? To solve some political issue? Surely there must be a better way to resolve international conflict than to see which country can kill more of the other country’s men in a shoot-out. Honestly, how does firing at one another until one side is wiped out or forced to give up accomplish anything?
Here’s what I’m not trying to do. I’m not trying to disrespect our troops or the people who have fought for our country in the past. I respect the men and women who put their lives on the line for our freedom, and I understand that in our day and age, it is sometimes necessary to use military violence in order to defend the freedom and security of one’s people. But even though I acknowledge that it’s sometimes necessary, that doesn’t mean I believe it to be morally acceptable. Surely there must be a better way for us to coexist than to have sporadic mass killings to decide who’s in power. And if we’re ever going to get to a point where we can solve conflicts another way, without countless people losing their lives and countless families losing their loved ones, we need to stop promoting and glorifying the idea of war. We need to see it for what it is—a necessary evil—and speak of it as such if we’re ever going to move past it.
That’s why I cringe every time I hear a preacher use war imagery in a sermon. When I hear someone talk about creating a “Christian army” to “wage war” against evil and the corruption in our world today, I feel conflicted. Because I don’t think we need to be promoting war between men, especially not from the pulpit. I believe that when Jesus told us to love our enemies, He probably meant that we shouldn’t kill them. I’ve never been in war, so I can’t say this for sure, but I imagine that it’s fairly difficult to love someone as much as you love yourself while simultaneously taking his or her life. We need to be working to find another way to resolve conflict, and I’m not sure that these uses of war imagery in a Christian context are helpful toward that goal.
But there’s another side of the story, too. The truth is that, as Christians, we are in a sort of war all the time. We are engaged in spiritual battle on a daily basis. We fight against the devil, his minions, and the principalities and powers of this world that seek to destroy our faith. There is a spiritual war for our hearts going on constantly that we can’t afford to ignore or sugar-coat. It’s a war; there’s no way around it. And we need to acknowledge it in order to equip Christians for fighting it.
So I’m all for preaching on the armor of God. And if you really think “Christian army” is the best way to describe the Church that we’re trying to be, then I guess you have a basis for it, even if I disagree with the terminology. I just think we need to be careful not to downplay the spiritual warfare we’re in while also not promoting violence and killing in the world we live. As Christians, we are called to be spiritual warriors, but also peacemakers in this world. Let’s not get those things confused, or sacrifice one for the other. Let us go out and fight the good fight, even when that means laying our weapons down and working toward peace.