T. Pierce Brown
Several months ago when my grandson, Bryan, was getting ready to enlist in the Marines, I tried again to impress upon him the real meaning of Semper Fidelis. They may have told him it was a Latin phrase meaning “Always faithful” and implied that the meaning of it was to be always faithful as a Marine. But he was a Christian before he ever became a Marine, and everything worthwhile he learned as a Marine he should have learned as a Christian.
Unfortunately, although the Captain of Our Salvation has clearly set forth some important principles for those in his army, we are very lax in teaching and practicing them. Let us notice some specific instances.
We have no “noncoms” in the Lord’s army. We are all commissioned by the Great Commission. When Jesus said, “Go, therefore and make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:19), we have removed much of the meaning of that by our teaching and actions. Most of us teach that a disciple is a learner. That is true, but it is only the lowest or least significant part of the meaning. A disciple is a disciplined follower. As Webster says, “It always implies personal adherence to the views or doctrine of one’s master.” Vine says, “A disciple was not only a pupil, but an adherent.” Thayer says, “One who follows one’s teaching.”
The Marines teach a person to be a disciplined follower — semper fidelis. More often than not, in the church of the Lord we imply by words and deeds that it is sufficient to be a follower, even like Peter in Matthew 26:28. Not only can you follow afar off, you can even be AWOL most of the time if you simply get there for roll call most Sunday mornings. Occasionally the preacher may suggest that is not proper, but most of us practice it without any particular action or remonstrance by the elders or preacher in a specific way.
Jesus taught, “Whosoever compels you to go one mile with him, go with him two” (Matthew5:41). I tried to teachBryanwhen he was but a little boy, the principle of “And then some.” If your teacher tells you to do 5 math problems, do 5 for him and three more for yourself. When he left for basic training, I told him, “When the drill sergeant tells you to do 10 pushups, do 12. If you will but discipline yourself properly, there is no discipline that they can impose upon you that you cannot take.” Semper fidelis means more than simply being faithful to Marine standards. It means be faithful to the standards you should have learned from Christ. “To thine own self be true, and it must follow as night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man” as Shakespeare put it.
Notice how our invitations during a gospel meeting are often worded, and the implications of them. “Sinner friend, this meeting was planned just for you. All things are in readiness for you to obey the gospel. The water is warm; the clothing is ready. All you need to do is to step out of your seat, give me your hand and God your heart, complete your obedience in baptism and you have God’s promise of salvation.”
There are several things wrong with that. First, when we tell him the meeting was planned just for him, we usually say a few other choice words that suggest that he is the center of the whole effort. If at any later point he ever gets the idea that everything is not being planned just for him, he may decide to pout and quit coming. The truth of the matter is that the meeting and all we do should have been planned for the glory of God, in the hope that the sinner will glorify God by surrendering to his will.
Second, when we have strongly emphasized that all is in readiness, we may have left him the impression that if the water were ice cold, there were no clothes, and he would have to walk a mile in wet garments after cracking ice to be baptized, perhaps he should wait until next summer. At very few places have we emphasized that “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).
Third, “All you need to do is–.” That is perhaps not as bad as “salvation by faith only” and we do not really mean that is all he needs to do. But we sometimes say things like that and leave the convert psychologically primed for getting by on the minimum.
Fourth, we have heard often about the idea that one “completes his obedience in baptism.” Of course no gospel preacher believes that, but surely all who have lived very long have seen many that acted as if that act “completed their obedience.” At least there seemed to be very little more to do except attend most of the time Sunday mornings. It would be a pitiful choice for one to have to choose between the two false doctrines of salvation by grace only and salvation by good works. I reject both of them, but the fact remains that many of us who know better doctrinally have taught by implication in word and deed that being a Christian does not demand any particular significant effort or sacrifice.
I have found myself and others also doing that in other ways. For example, when we began the ONE NATION UNDER GOD program and brother Horace Burks and I were talking about the $17,000,000 we then thought the program would cost, we came up with these kinds of thoughts: “If we only had 1,000,000 Christians and each would only give up the cost of taking the family and guests out to dinner one time, the whole amount could be raised immediately.” Or, “If 9000 congregations would only give $2000 each, the money could be raised in one Sunday.” More than once I have said things like, “If every Christian who smokes and drinks soft drinks would only give up those bad habits, we could finance every program we have planned.” All those things are true.
The shocking thing about it is that the most fantastic and wonderful programs we have planned could all be done with no real sacrifice at all by any person! So instead of thinking in terms of doing what Jesus wants, and speaking in terms of the sacrifice and devotion that his love should impel, we usually speak in terms of minimums or how little we need to do in order to carry out our plans.
It is my firm conviction that the Crossroads andBostonmovements would never have been able to appeal to any significant portion of the brotherhood if the so-called “mainstreamchurchofChrist” had practiced anything close to the teaching and practice of the early church in evangelism, sacrificial living and giving. We left such a vacuum by our soft words of how easy it is to be a Christian that the challenge of any real sacrifice for Christ was only incidental. Instead of crying out with Caleb, “Give me this mountain” (Joshua14:12), we whimpered, “Let us go climb a molehill.”
The challenge of the Marines that they only want a few good men may be what impelled my grandson, Bryan, to join. I know that the disciplined life he was forced to live during his basic training did worthwhile things for him. My hope is that he and all other Christians can see that true Christianity has an even greater challenge. Semper fidelis means going the second mile, being always faithful in walking worthy of the calling wherewith we are called (Ephesians 4:1), doing what we can, where we are, with what we have for the glory of God. When we do that, instead of thinking of how little we can do, we will begin to see the meaning of Ephesians 3:20, “Now unto him that is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to his power that worketh in us.” Then we will allow his power to work in us and instead of relatively few having to strain to raise $10,000,000 for the ONE NATION UNDER GOD program, many will be able to raise $100,000,000 for programs to get the gospel into every nation under heaven.