One of the problems that we face in our world is that we are too apathetic to make the enemies that we need to make. Whilst we hear a lot about the need to be peacemakers in the Church today, I don’t think that we hear enough about the need to be those who have and even make enemies. All too often the peace that we enjoy is a peace that is enjoyed at the expense of the truth. We are offended at such things as the crusades, not so much out of a strong conviction of their inconsistency with the Christian faith, but out of a general feeling that private religious beliefs are not worthy of the ultimate commitment that we associate with warfare. The great virtues of our day—tolerance and inoffensiveness—are incompatible with our commission to bear witness to the truth. They demand the muzzling of the Gospel.
The Scriptures will not make sense to us if we do not think of ourselves as a people at war. All of the Scriptures are written out of a profound sense of being in the middle of a battle. Many of the psalms call for God’s judgment upon enemies and rejoice at God’s military deliverance. As Stanley Hauerwas observes, ‘Christianity is unintelligible without enemies.’
The message that most churches preach is far too innocuous to have the sort of polarizing effect that our message ought to be having. The powers are quite happy to carve out space for a Christian ‘reservation’ in its secular realm. As long as the Church is singing sappy ‘I love you Jesus’ choruses and preaching gooey sermons of reconstituted pop psychology to spineless congregations the world will feel gloriously unthreatened by our presence. The world loves to see a feminized pulpit and an emasculated hymnal.
This is one of the reasons why the Church needs strong men in its pulpits. Whilst not a primary argument against women preachers, I believe that, whatever people may say, the virtues that ought to characterize good preaching are primarily masculine in character. The good preacher should be someone who leads from the front, someone who establishes and guards important boundaries, someone who encourages congregations to think antithetically and to be willing and ready to engage in combat when the situation calls, even when the combat might be avoided by silence. Christian preaching should elicit courage and unswerving loyalty, calling us to be people of conscience, conviction and honour. The sort of preaching that elicits such a response is far more ‘masculine’ than the preaching that is found in most of our churches.
In the OT the Levites were chosen to be the crack troops of God’s holy army. They were the ones who were to guard the most holy places. One of the virtues that particularly set them apart for their role of special priests was their willingness to draw the most painful of lines—lines drawn in the blood of their relatives. The Levites were blessed for being prepared to defend the covenant at the cost of the lives of their brothers (Exodus 32:25-29). We see something similar in the case of Phineas in Numbers 25. Phineas was zealous for God and was willing to thrust a javelin through a man and a woman for God’s sake. It is after this action that Phineas is set apart for ‘an everlasting priesthood’.
We should expect nothing less of our priests. The office of priest in the holy war is a military one, just as the role of the soldier in a just war is a priestly one. Both persons are called to guard and enforce boundaries and have eyes that do not spare. The reasons for the traditional opposition to setting women apart as combatants are analogous to reasons why we ought to oppose the setting apart of women as priests. Both roles run counter to the primarily nurturing role that women have been given and prize qualities that are chiefly masculine. If we set apart women for the priesthood we will either emasculate the priesthood or defeminize our women.
Our preaching, praying and worship really ought to terrify the world. We ought to celebrate the Eucharist and really have the sense of having a table prepared in the midst of our enemies. Our Lord instituted the Eucharist on the night on which He was betrayed, when all the powers of evil were mobilizing to destroy Him; it is only as we experience something analogous to this that we will truly enter into the significance of the rite. As Hauerwas argues, our preaching should locate our enemy, give us a sense of the stakes, the long-term strategy and prepare us for engagement. After the mustering of the Church on the Lord’s Day we should see our sending out as bringing the battle to the enemy. In our prayers we should be prepared to call for God’s judgment upon our enemies. Our psalms and hymns should instil courage, determination and steadfast loyalty in our hearts. Of course, these things are noticeably absent in many contemporary churches.
So much contemporary Christianity is drawn in on itself. If you truly want to know your own heart, you will know it as you engage in warfare, rather than as you engage in spiritual navel-gazing. It is only as we engage in warfare that we come to realize how easily our own hearts will betray us.
It is so easy to lose the ability to think antithetically in our postmodern age. The lines in so many of our battles have been smudged. We have begun to debate things that ought never to be debated. This is largely a result of the weakening of the Church’s priesthood. We no longer have people who are prepared to establish and guard the boundaries. We no longer see ourselves as engaged in warfare to preserve these boundaries.
Fundamentalism is one of the few areas of the Church where antithetical thinking is really preserved and a sense of Christian warfare has not been lost. Unfortunately, fundamentalism tends to pick the wrong fights and think in terms of some very helpful antitheses. It divides things that belong together. It brings war to churches where peace should exist. Drawing the right lines is not easy, but drawing lines is a task with which the Church has been entrusted.
Christ, our High Priest, lest we forget, did not come to earth to bring peace, but a sword. He came to divide families and set relatives at war with each other. It is our duty to ensure that this war continues until its successful conclusion.