Our second son joined the Alaska Air National Guard and flew away to Texas for basic training last month. Before he left, he presented me with a pile of papers covering everything from how to get in touch with the Red Cross should an emergency arise to the order of weeks for his training. One paper directed me to a military website where I discovered something called the Military Code of Conduct. I asked my husband, a Marine veteran, if he knew what it was. He immediately began reciting the six sections. I was impressed, especially since he completed active duty twenty years ago. It reminded me of the phrase “Church Militant,” a delineation for Christians on earth following Jesus and battling against the world, the flesh, and the devil.
“I am an American, fighting in the forces which guard my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense.” We call ourselves Christian – follower of Christ. It’s a fight sometimes to remain on the straight and narrow road that is hard but leads to life (Matthew 7:14). Paul wrote to Timothy, “Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called (I Timothy 6:12).” Yes, let us take hold of eternal life; let us work out our salvation in fear and trembling with the help of God himself (Philippians 2:12); and when we die, we gain heaven. We can do it.
“I will never surrender of my own free will. If in command, I will never surrender the members of my command while they still have the means to resist.” We name the name of Christ and must not deny him. Our pastors in command will not surrender us and they offer a powerful means to resist by giving us the sacraments. A sacrament, defined simply for my children, is an earthy action with a heavenly reaction. Jesus used the stuff of earth to work miracles – dirt, water, oil, bread, wine. These are our solemn rites for strength and nourishment and are real signs of God’s grace to keep on never surrendering.
“If I am captured, I will continue to resist by all means available. I will make every effort to escape and aid others to escape. I will accept neither parole nor special favors from the enemy.” Of course we sin, but our goal is not to and to get out as quickly as we can. Every time we pray the Act of Contrition, we end with these words: “I firmly resolve with the help of your grace to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin.” Firmly resolve. Continue to resist. And aiding others to escape is a beautiful example of the communion of saints, the spiritual union of believers both on earth and in heaven. We are to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2) and pray for one another (James 5:16). That is how we aid others in this fight.
“If I become a prisoner of war, I will keep faith with my fellow prisoners. I will give no information or take part in any action which might be harmful to my comrades. If I am senior, I will take command. If not, I will obey the lawful orders of those appointed over me and will back them up in every way.” It is a crucial part of Christianity to keep the faith with our fellows and take no action harmful to our comrades. We are to build each other up in our love for Jesus and people, not gossip and contend together. Contending is what we need to do with the Devil, who is like a prowling, roaring lion seeking souls to devour (I Peter 5:8).
“When questioned, should I become a prisoner of war, I am required to give name, rank, service number, and date of birth. I will evade answering further questions to the utmost of my ability. I will make no oral or written statements disloyal to my country and its allies or harmful to their cause.” Should we fall into bad times, whether due to our own sin or just bad luck, we must face it and deal with it the best we can, without being disloyal to the cause of Christ or the humanity he loves. I don’t want to endure trials. But it’s part of life on this fallen earth. “Blessed is the man who endures trials, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him (James 1:12).”
“I will never forget that I am an American, fighting for freedom, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the principles which made my country free. I will trust in my God and in the United States of America.” We must never forget that we are children of God, beloved by our Creator, and called very good. We have been saved (Ephesians 2:8-10); we are being saved (2 Corinthians 2:15); and we have the hope of salvation (I Thessalonians 5:8-11). My favorite part of that final passage on our hope of salvation is that we are to “encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”
We are the Church Militant. We fight the good fight of our faith surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, our comrades in arms; although our weapons and armor are spiritual: truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, the word of God, and prayer (Ephesians 6:10-18). We long to hear our Lord tell us, “Well done, my good and faithful servant!”