Monday, 25 March 2013

Standing Together

I have been watching the news over the last several weeks with great interest as Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin Welby take up office in their respective churches. Is it a coincidence that they should do so now and so close together? Is this God at work through his Spirit as he seeks the renewal of his Church and people? I can't say I agree with everything the Roman Catholic Church stands for and nor can I say I am entirely happy with the way the Anglican Church has been moving in recent years. But it is not what I think that matters but what God thinks. Giving the continuing crisis in the world, further recession, rising tensions in Asia and the continuing slide into a soulless secularism in Europe can we really afford to quarrel over historical arguments and differences? Are we doing what Jesus once accused the Pharisees and religious leaders of "straining on gnats while swallowing camels"? (Matthew 23:24) Isn't there a greater need than ever to take a united stand with Christians of other denominations emphasizing what unites us rather than squabbling about the things we beg to differ on?

There is a story about Philip II of Macedon who as a young man was kidnapped and held as a hostage in Greece.  There he remained for several years.  During this time he received a military education.  Then he returned to his homeland, which had conceded many defeats and had lost much land.  Within five years he had become king.

As King Philip desperately needed his army to stand firm.  He is remembered for two major innovations.  First is the sarissa, a very long spear.  Second is the re-development of a rectangular military formation used by ancient armies (known as a phalanx).  A core of highly-trained infantrymen armed with Philip’s longer spears stood shoulder to shoulder in files normally eight men deep.

As long as they stood firm and did not break rank they were virtually invincible and struck fear into the hearts of their enemies.  Using this tactic, Philip united the city-states of Greece and took the city of Philippi (which is named after him) in 356 BC.

Commenting on this Nicky Gumbel writes:

Sometimes, it seems that the Christian life is like facing a powerful enemy.  It feels like an intense struggle in which another team is attempting to push us back and break down our ranks.  If we don’t stand firm, we fall on our backs and slide in the mud in the wrong direction.  We have seen how Jeremiah warned the people many times against backsliding (Jeremiah 2:19, 3:22, 5:6, 14:7, 15:6).

It is not a matter of us standing firm on our own.  We are part of a community.  Paul uses this image of the phalanx with which Philip II of Macedonia once conquered the city of Philippi (Philippians 1:27).  Shoulder to shoulder, the church can stand firm (one of many occasions that Paul exhorts the church to ‘stand firm’ (2 Thessalonians 2:15).

I believe that the Holy Spirit is slowly breaking down the barriers that divide Christian from Christian and calling us to work closer together. The devil's stratagem is to divide and conquer, breaking through our divided ranks and pick us off one at a time. It is time to make a stand. It is time to fight back. Together we can do it.

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