Saturday, January 19, 2008

A Wolf in Sheepdog's Fur: The Unconsecrated Warrior

I am grateful to my barber for sending me the following story:

Ivan the Great became the great sovereign ruler of all of Russia during the Fifteenth Century. He brought together warring tribes and independent provinces. He has been called the gatherer of all of Russia. As a fighting man he was courageous. As a general he was brilliant. He drove out the Tartars and established peace across the nation.

However, Ivan was so busy waging his campaigns that he did not have a family. His friends and advisers were quite concerned. They reminded him that there was no heir to the throne, and should anything happen to him the union would shatter into chaos. "You must take a wife who can bear you a son." The busy soldier statesman said to them that he did not have the time to search for a bride, but if they would find a suitable one, he would marry her.

The counselors and advisers searched the capitals of
Europe to find an appropriate wife for the great tsar. And find her, they did. They reported to Ivan of the beautiful dark eyed daughter of the King of Greece. She was young, brilliant, and charming. He agreed to marry her sight unseen.

The King of Greece was delighted. It would align
Greece in a favorable way with the emerging giant of the north. But there had to be one condition, "He cannot marry my daughter unless he becomes a member of the Greek Orthodox Church." Ivan's response, "I will do it!"

So, a priest was dispatched to
Moscow to instruct Ivan in Orthodox doctrine. Ivan was a quick student and learned the catechism in record time. Arrangements were concluded, and the tsar made his way to Athens accompanied by 500 of his crack troops--his personal palace guard.

He was to be baptized into the Orthodox church by immersion, as was the custom of the Eastern Church. His soldiers, ever loyal, asked to be baptized also. The Patriarch of the Church assigned 500 priests to give the soldiers a one-on-one catechism crash course. The soldiers, all 500 of them, were to be immersed in one mass baptism. Crowds gathered from all over

What a sight that must have been, 500 priests and 500 soldiers, a thousand people, walking into the blue
Mediterranean. The priests were dressed in black robes and tall black hats, the official dress of the Orthodox Church. The soldiers wore their battle uniforms with of all their regalia—ribbons of valor, medals of courage, and their weapons of battle.

Suddenly, there was a problem. The Church prohibited professional soldiers from being members; they would have to give up their commitment to bloodshed. They could not be killers and church members too.

After a hasty round of diplomacy, the problem was solved quite simply. As the words were spoken and the priests began to baptize them, each soldier reached to his side and withdrew his sword. Lifting it high overhead, every soldier was totally immersed-everything baptized except his fighting arm and sword.

That is a true historical fact. The unbaptized arm. What a powerful picture of Christianity today. How many unbaptized arms are here this morning? How many unbaptized wills are here? How many unbaptized talents? Unbaptized check books? Unbaptized social activities? How many are there here this morning?

[Dr. Wayne Dehoney, Walnut Street Baptist Church,]

I have no idea whether the foregoing story is actually true or not, but it is fascinating, nonetheless. Pastor Dehoney's application is also effective and vivid. What interests me, however, is that the story reveals certain general mis-perceptions of Biblical teaching.

The man in the street seems to assume that Christ taught pacifism. I know this because people who see me reading my Bible in a public place often engage me in conversation. Many of them assume that I'm against capital punishment or that, in the face of a murderous orc, I would turn the other cheek.

Even worse, some professing Christians seem to have the attitude that Biblical ethics only works in civilized settings. They think that in the case of violent assaults (or war), we need an extra-biblical solution to the problem. Such thinking results in the conclusion that Biblical ethics are for peace, but all morality goes out the window in violent conflict. That idea is wrong and dangerous.

Some of this attitude may come from a false view of Luke 3:14.

And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages.

As we read John the Baptizer's charge to professional soldiers, we would think that "do violence to no man" is an exhortation to pacifism. The the phrase do violence, however, translates a Greek verb that means
  1. to shake thoroughly
  2. to make to tremble
  3. to terrify
  4. to agitate
  5. to extort from one by intimidation money or other property (Thayer's Lexicon)
The idea behind the word is the same as an American slang term for extortion. We say that the mob shakes down small business owners for protection money, and we refer to such activities as a shakedown racket. So, John was telling the soldiers not to shake civilians down for economic advantage.

The very fact that he told them to content themselves with their wages as military men implies that he had no scruples against military service. Neither is there any evidence that would deny baptism to a soldier based on his military affiliation.

I conclude that we must wholly baptize the righteous warrior -- including his sword-bearing arm. He must fight evil as a Christian lest he become part of the evil, himself. The sheepdog must remain a sheepdog, for if we train him to act like a wolf, even in our defense, we will have cause to fear him.

David Morrell's novel First Blood makes that point much more eloquently than the Sylvester Stallone film based on it. The book relates the story of what society can expect when it turns its young men into amoral killing machines. There was no sequel to the novel, because in the book, John Rambo dies. Col. Troutman, who had trained and unleashed the beast within the troubled vet, put him down like a mad dog.

Morrell's novel is actually more violent than the movie, and its ending is in no way satisfying. It's not meant to be. It shows what happens when we separate baptism and all it signifies from the use of force.

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