Armor of God: Determined Defense
This is a review (two of three) of a sermon based on Ephesians 6:10-18 called Suiting Up for Battle by Brooks Braswell, Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Umatilla (FBCU). You can read part one here.
Using a football analogy, Braswell chides the church for a poor defensive strategy: “As long as we survive, we’re okay. That’s not a good defense. That’s called being a wimp.” He quotes himself from a previous sermon, saying,
“Our watered-down pulpits in the churches today have created a generation of spiritual wimps. We’re allowing the world to come in and pretty much dictate the world around us, dictate what we can and cannot do.”
On this point, I can’t disagree more. The pulpits have created a generation of spiritual bullies. Take, for example, the recent World Vision fiasco, described by Rachel Held Evans in How Evangelicals Won a War and Lost a Generation:
On March 24, World Vision announced that the U.S. branch of the popular humanitarian organization would no longer discriminate against employees in same-sex marriages.
It was a decision that surprised many but one that made sense, given the organization’s ecumenical nature.
But on March 26, World Vision President Richard Stearns reversed the decision, stating, “our board acknowledged that the policy change we made was a mistake.”
Supporters helped the aid group “see that with more clarity,” Stearns added, “and we’re asking you to forgive us for that mistake.”
So what happened within those 48 hours to cause such a sudden reversal?
The Evangelical Machine kicked into gear.
Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said the decision pointed to “disaster,” and the Assemblies of God denomination encouraged its members to pull their financial support from the organization.
Evangelicals took to Twitter and Facebook to threaten to stop sending money to their sponsored children unless World Vision reversed course.
Within a day of the initial announcement, more than 2,000 children sponsored by World Vision lost their financial support. And with more and more individuals, churches and organizations threatening to do the same, the charity stood to lose millions of dollars in aid that would otherwise reach the poor, sick, hungry and displaced people World Vision serves.
So World Vision reversed course.
Stearns told The New York Times that some people, satisfied with the reversal, have called World Vision headquarters to ask, “Can I have my child back?” as though needy children are expendable bargaining chips in the culture war against gay and lesbian people.
Braswell’s statement, “We’re allowing the world to come in and pretty much dictate the world around us, dictate what we can and cannot do,” evidences his worldview. He seems to see things as them versus us. The outsiders against the insiders. The unchurched/de-churched versus the churched.
Sometimes in scriptures, “the world” means people, but most of the time, “the world,” means, “ordered system.” Last time I checked, the ordered system of the United States of America has no legal basis to interfere with the ordered system of the institutional church.
Jesus “conquered” the world. We don’t see the outcome of His victory all at once, though. Similarly, believers “conquer” the world — through the selfless love of Christ. It takes time. You don’t see immediate results when you conquer the world His way. For more information, read Parade of Triumph: Via Dolorosa.
A determined defense, Braswell says, is relentless. Stand firm in the truth.
In part one of this series, I wrote,
Because Braswell does not define the term “God’s word,” I can only assume he is talking about the Bible. Perhaps this is not an accurate assumption.
The sermon-listener (and blog-reader) can now know for certain that when Braswell says “Word of God,” he means graphḗ, or the Bible/Scripture/writings, and not lógos, the word/Word of God, based on the following statement:
What is the truth? It is the Word of God. How can we stand firm if we don’t know it? How can we know it if we don’t read it? How can we really understand it if we don’t study it?
Hit your mental pause button for a moment, because I feel the need to clarify something.
Blog comments help me discover whether readers receive the message I intend to send. In part one, I must not have communicated effectively regarding the value of scripture or studying it along with other believers, as is evidenced in the following comments:
I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with saying that believers should spend time studying the Bible with others, with the goal of growing spiritually, of being fortified in their faith to fight the forces of evil both within and without. That the early Christians recognized the value of coming together to learn the gospel truth and be equipped for their mission in the world seems hard to deny (Acts 2:42ff.). But I don’t disagree that the source of spiritual strength is God, that it is not a product of human exertion, but a gift of God’s Spirit at work within us. (Mary Vanderplas)
[Braswell] is not saying this is the only way to achieve spiritual strength, but stating that this is “a way that we would like to invite you to do so, here at FBCU”. It would be wrong for a Pastor to not make his church members aware of the power and strength that can be achieved as a believer through fellowship and study, and becoming locked into the church body. (Nikki Ceglar)
Alice, how are you ever going to know the lógos if you don’t read and study the graphḗ? (Lanny A. Eichert)
As always, I consider the comment section just as valuable, if not more, than the blog content. So, I’ll state as plainly as I know how, what I failed to communicate in part one: Please don’t think that the source of our spiritual strength is a book. But do read and study scriptures. And please do continue to compare notes with other believers. And above all, make sure you’re allowing the book to read you. For more on this, read Organized Bible Study, 25% Truth, Ancient Landmarks, What the Noah Movie Says About God, and Hawking and MacArthur Explain the Universe.
Now back to the subject at hand.
Consider Braswell’s assertion, “What is the truth? It is the Word of God.”
Jesus said, “I am… the truth.” John calls Jesus the “Word…with God” and the “Word…the God.” God spoke creation into existence by the power of His Word, and everything that was made was created through (dia) Christ. So, yes, Jesus = the Truth = the Word of God.
In reference to “the truth” in scripture, there are approximately 41,000 Christian denominations because of the wide array of interpretations of “the truth.” Believers disagree about “truth” as it pertains to scripture. But believers agree about “The Truth” as it pertains to Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected.
To say the Word of God (the Bible) is truth is such a non-specific statement that any believer ought to proceed with caution. More often than not, the person who says the truth = the Bible is really saying the truth = his/her particular interpretation of the Bible.
Holding the Defensive Line
The church has moved back for far too long. We need to be immovable. We are the rock.
This statement is very powerful, but Braswell and I definitely understand it differently. His challenge is aimed at both the collective and the individuals within it. Believers anywhere, regardless of affiliation (or lack thereof) with the institutional church should take a defensive position, not against people, but against the spiritual influence of any corrupt “ordered system” in their lives — methodical misinformation delivered via positions of illegitimate authority and influence that essentially replace the leadership of the Spirit of God.
The World is Changing
“We just keep taking steps back and steps back and we change our doctrine and we change our faith and we change and we redefine…” Braswell says.
The world is changing, I say to myself, and then…
“The world is changing,” Braswell says.
I chuckle at how loaded those four little words are. I can’t help but think we are looking at the very same idea, only from completely opposite perspectives. There’s nothing wrong with changing your doctrinal view if your doctrinal views are in error. Aren’t you glad the institutional church changed its views on slavery? That wasn’t a step back — it was a step forward.
Remember the Titans
Braswell returns to the football analogy, specifically, the film, Remember the Titans, in which a defensive coordinator says,
I don’t care what we do for the rest of the night, but you blitz all night… and if they ever cross the line of scrimmage, I’m going to take every last one of you out of this ballgame. Don’t you ever let them forget the night that they played the Titans.
As I read this, I picture World Vision and the Mohler gang. Don’t cross the theological line of scrimmage. The spiritual police will take you out of the game. They’ll never let you forget the night you challenged orthodoxy.
The Line of Scrimmage
A determined defense, according to Braswell, is about standing firm in the faith “in family, not just in churches.” To illustrate this point, he talks about how he took his four daughters to see Disney’s Frozen on Ice. During this outing, Braswell intends to set a dating standard for his daughters. He wears a belt, tucks his shirt in, and pays for their tickets, because “the guy is supposed to pay.” He makes a point to say his daughters won’t be dating a guy with droopy pants. He says its like drawing a line in the sand and saying, “Girls, this is the line of scrimmage. This is where we go. This is what we do.” Braswell explains,
We live in this world where we want to lower the bar, where we want to lower our standards, we want to back away and let anyone walk into our lives and into the lives of our families. And can I tell you something? That’s just not right.
Braswell’s Devil is, indeed, flesh and blood people — some crazy… from the freedom-from-religion, or people who are responsible for the changes taking place in the world, or guys with droopy pants who want to date his daughters, etc.
Although I agree that there’s nothing wrong with setting boundaries in toxic relationships to protect your family or your sanity, it’s not fair to label people who despise religion as “crazy.” It’s not good to judge the character of a person’s heart based on whether his pants fit. It is not accurate to label anyone who does not stand in opposition to cultural evolution as “spiritual wimps.”