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The Militant Church

By Rev. David Blunt

This Editorial was published in the Presbyterian Standard, Issue No. 20, October-December 2000.

T HE church of Jesus Christ is one church. She is the body of which He is the only Head. But like our own bodies Christ's mystical body is made up of many different members, each having its own place and importance. Of these members, some are to be found serving in this world, others are at rest in the next and yet others are still to be born. So although the church is one we may consider that one church in three distinct phases: the latent church is the church yet unborn, lying in the womb of God's election; the militant church is the church on earth, called by grace, fighting the good fight of faith; and the triumphant church is the church in heaven, victorious and glorious.


In the Song of Solomon it is the figure of the marriage relation that is especially used to describe and celebrate the blessed relationship between Jesus Christ and His church as she is found in this world. He is the heavenly Bridegroom and she is His bride. She has union and communion with Him. In all her experiences, whether it be of gladness and rejoicing or troubles and trials, she is aware of His love; "we will remember thy love more than wine": the response of her heart to this precious love is seen; "the upright love thee" (Song 1:4).


Yet the same Song, relying so heavily as it does upon this rich picture of the marriage bond to portray the mutual and intimate love between Christ and His church, also brings the martial image to our attention. To our surprise the Bride of Christ is the Army of the Lord too. Hear the challenging words of our Beloved Husband: "Thou art beautiful, O my love, as Tirzah, comely as Jerusalem, terrible as an army with banners" (Song 6:4). We who love the Lord then are called to arms, engaging on the side of the great Captain of our salvation, King Jesus, who leads His own hosts. But how shall we be fit for the battle? What does the Lord require of us here?


Before we can fight we must be holy. When He visits His garden the Lord Jesus expects to see a church that is "fair as the moon" (v.8) a church which is beautiful in character. Did you know that the moon has no natural light of its own? It shines with a reflected beauty only, reflecting the light of the sun. This is a perfect illustration of the church. The beauty of this bride is all derived from her Husband, Jesus Christ – she mirrors His image. Her beauty is her moral purity. That is what makes her attractive to Christ. The moon's face has blemishes, as we can see on a clear night – and so does the church while she remains in this world. But her Lord is lovingly washing her face by His powerful word to remove the spots and wrinkles of sin (Eph. 5:25-27). This is the burden of His intercession for her (John 17:17).

The Last Day shall reveal both the false church and the true (Rev. 17:4-5; 21:18). The false church deceived so many but her beauty was only on the outside and merely ornamental. The believer's best side though is his inside: a sanctified heart. True holiness is the great attribute of Christ's church and without it she will prove no effective weapon for God and for good in a world of sin.


Our Lord looks for another quality in His church. She is required to be "clear as the sun" (v.8) – or faithful in her testimony. The sun is a brilliant, radiant orb. It shines with a pure light. Likewise, the church of Christ should be decided in what she believes. She must have regard to her doctrine, what she preaches and teaches. She must hold fast the form of sound words (2 Tim. 1:13). She must also be decided as to her duty in world – she is not another agency for social work, but the agency for gospel work, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints (Eph. 4:11-13). This great task is hers alone.

As Presbyterians we should never be ashamed of our distinctive beliefs! The Reformation in Scotland has left us a precious legacy which we should hold on to tenaciously. In addition to truths held in common with other Reformed people we bear testimony to purity of worship, biblical church government, the establishment principle and the identification of the papacy as the Antichrist foretold in Scripture. These things we believe are from God!


Those who are called to be ministers of the gospel have a special responsibility before the Lord. It has been well said that if a thief wants to get into a house then the first thing he must do is to silence the watchdog. The devil would have men of God stay dumb regarding those truths which this generation needs to hear. This generation certainly needs to hear the gospel of grace but does it not also need to know how God is to be worshipped and His church governed? Do not our rulers need to be told of their duties toward Christ and His church and our people warned of the danger of the Man of Sin? Faithfulness to the Word of God is the need of the hour.


When holiness of character and faithfulness to truth mark the people of God then the church is "terrible as an army with banners" (v.8) she is awe-inspiring in her influence. This is the militant church! She must see this world as a battleground, not a playground. Her life and witness should promote the reverence and fear of God.

The true church is often unrecognised by the world. When men wish to wear the cloak of religion, as often as not they turn to impressive Rome and the papacy. To countless millions she is the Christian Church. In reality she is the "great whore that sitteth upon many waters," casting her spell over great men and common men alike, enticing them to commit spiritual fornication (Rev. 17:1,2).

In our own poor land, a man may also think of the other great, historic denominations. He is taken with their 'liberal,' 'tolerant' attitudes, equating the Christian church with these. Or perhaps he is captivated by the 'signs and wonders' of the charismatic movement. He has not listened to the Lord and what He says in Scripture about His own church. But have we also given the world an excuse by our lack of true consecration and zeal? Are we not sadly lacking in spiritual power ourselves?


As the church of Christ we must like any army unfurl our banners and hold them high. Then the troops will rally and have confidence in the face of the enemy. Do you know the banners of the Bible? What are they? The church's great banner is found in Exodus 17:15. There we learn how Moses on the hilltop held aloft the rod of God while below Joshua and the men of Israel overcame the Amalekites in battle. Moses then built an altar and called it "Jehovah-nissi" – the Lord my banner. God is everything to His people and they are not ashamed of the gospel of Christ. Underneath that chief banner there is the banner of salvation (Psa. 20:5), the banner of truth (Psa. 60:4) and the banner of love (Song of Sol. 2:4) – great themes which the church must proclaim to the glory of God and for the good of perishing souls. Oh, that the Lord would make us more militant for these things!


When the One who walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks observes the churches of today, what does He see? Does He find those qualities which are a delight to His heart? Only when the church is marked by holiness and faithfulness will she enjoy God's blessing and have any real impact upon the sinful world around her. Then and only then will she have real success. Sinners will be found saying, "We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you" (Zech. 8:23). Oh, for such a day to dawn again! May the Lord hasten it.