The Western movies of my boyhood often contained a scene where Indians attacked a wagon train of settlers. The settlers would draw their wagons onto a circle to form a protective wall, then try to fend off the attackers with rifle fire. This would go on until the ammunition was gone and their doom appeared to be near. Then they would hear the faint sound of a bugle over the tumult and soon the U. S. Cavalry would come riding over the hill and the Indians would flee.
I suppose that may have actually happened a time or two in real life. But circling the wagons is not an option for those of us who call ourselves strangers and pilgrims on the earth. When Christianity becomes purely a defensive battle to hold on to what we have, we may have already lost the battle and denied the faith.
“And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
Jesus did not commission us to be fearful defenders of the faith; we should rather be fearless propagators of it. He didn’t say it would be easy or without danger. In fact, He said things such as: “In the world ye shall have tribulation” (John 16:33); “ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake” (Mark 13:13) and “they shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues, and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for my name’s sake” (Luke 21:12).
We should not expect to be treated any differently than He was. To help us face all these forbidding dangers, He has promised us the peace and the overcoming power of the Holy Spirit.
In Matthew 10:16 Jesus says: “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves”. Those who try to proclaim the gospel in an offensive way, such as the pastor in Florida who keeps threatening to burn the Qur’an, or the Westboro Baptist Church, are neither wise not harmless.
The apostle Paul recounted his tribulations for the sake of the gospel in this way: “Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.” (2 Corinthians 11:24-27). None of those things appear to have dampened his ardour for spreading the gospel, or to have even slowed him down.
The gospel has spread most quickly during times of persecution. The Martyrs Mirror is a precious part of our Anabaptist heritage, detailing the faith, the victories and the persecutions of those who kept the faith. The full title is: “The Bloody Theatre or Martyrs Mirror of the Defenceless Christians who baptized only upon confession of faith, and who suffered and died for the testimony of Jesus, from the time of Christ to the year AD 1660.”
Defenceless and defensive are not the same thing. Our spiritual forefathers did not shrink from sharing the gospel wherever there was interest, but refused to defend themselves in any way. Can I claim to be their spiritual descendant if I refrain from acknowledging my faith in order to avoid exposure to danger? Am I a true follower of Christ if I shrink even from ridicule? If we collectively circle the wagons and refuse to go forward when there is a threat of danger, where is the evidence of spiritual life? And no, sniping at the flaws in our opponents arguments is no proof of our own spirituality.