Dear friends of Vital Signs Ministries, November 2019
I begin this month’s letter in the predawn quiet of the L’Abri Manor House in Greatham, England.I have slowly groped my way in the darkness from our bedroom on the second floor through a maze of hallways to the lecture hall where last night I addressed some 45 L’Abri students, staff, and lay persons from around the area.
Claire and I have now completed our time in Birmingham, Cambridge, and here yet we are only half way done.In a couple of hours, we will be heading by car and trains back north to Manchester for the second week of our Great Britain adventure.So far our activities have included 7 informal meetings with Christian colleagues, 7 talks to various groups, and 4 presentations at nursing homes of a special British version of our “When Swing Was King.”In this coming week we have another “WSWK” show on the schedule, several networking meetings (most concerning Image, the pro-life pregnancy center care ministry with whom we have been involved for nearly 30 years), participation in a grand intergenerational outreach called The Big Night Out, and a couple more speaking opportunities. Whew! But that’s all I’ll be saying about our U.K. adventure in this letter because:1) By the time we get home, I will have put more detailed reports on Vital Signs Blog which you can check out, and 2) Claire and I will be sharing highlights of the trip at the Vital Signs Ministries Pie Social which is coming up quickly on Friday evening, November 8 at 7:00 PM at Converge Church on south 144th Street. We do so hope you can come. (And RSVPs are much appreciated.)
In the rest of this month’s letter, however, we thought we would give you a glimpse of our U.K. mission by printing a shortened version of the talk I gave just yesterday at the historic “Round Church” in Cambridge. I believe its relevance applies very much to believers on both sides of the Atlantic and so I hope you find it of value.
Complacency vs Chivalric Ideals
I’ve been asked to speak about the problem in the modern church of complacency. In fact, I’ve been asked to address complacency (and such close cousins as compromise and cowardice) in the light of the Bible’s commands regarding purity, loyalty, courage, vision, andperseverance. I will do so by using the illuminating and, I believe, inspiring metaphor of chivalry.And I begin with a provocative contrast of quotations from two influential figures from British history.
First, Edmund Burke. Burke was an Anglo-Irish statesman, philosopher, and writer of the 18th Century who was supportive of the American Revolution yet who vehemently opposed the violence and injustice which marked the French Revolution.
In seeing the devastation wrought by that latter upheaval, Burke wrote, “The Age of Chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists, and calculators has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever…The unbought grace of life, the cheap defense of nations, the nurse of manly sentiment and heroic enterprise is gone!”
I find Burke’s prophecy both sad and foreboding. For what happens to civilization if the ideals of freedom, self-control, and loyalty are tossed aside? And, if God Himself is denied (and, as I will show in a moment, that is exactly the end goal of the opposition to chivalry), what will become of man himself?
And so it is that I prefer an observation about chivalry that comes from another famous British citizen, Charles Kingsley. Though on many subjects, I greatly differ from Kingsley, a 19th Century Anglican priest who was also a historian and novelist, I believe he was spot on with his response to Burke.“Some say that the age of chivalry is past, that the spirit of romance is dead.But I contend that the age of chivalry is never past, so long as there is a wrong left unredressed on earth.”
You can easily see the connection of these quotations (and the virtues of chivalry that both illuminate) to the problem of complacency. For the noble knight — which I submit is a robustly relevant metaphor for the faithful Christian — must never “settle down” into complacency as long as wrong and wickedness exist. He must never compromise his responsibilities to stand for truth, righteousness, beauty, and mercy. For the knight (the word, by the way, derives from cniht, meaning servant or soldier) is the “king’s man.” He is beholden to give his sovereign lord his allegiance, his earnest prayers, and yes, the service of his sword. And the knight strictly keeps his vow of loyalty,no matter the might of the enemy or the desperation of the crisis.
But before I connect the codes of chivalry to their ultimate source (that is, the Bible), let me cite one more very moving passage. The gallant Ivanhoe, in the pages of Sir Walter Scott’s wonderful 1819 novel,gives the following answer to a young woman who asks him just what chivalry is. “Chivalry? Why maiden, she is the nurse of pure and high affection, the stay of the oppressed, the redresser of grievances, the curb of the power of the tyrant.Nobility were but an empty name without her. And liberty finds the best protection in her lance and sword.”
What a superb answer this is to the demands that post-modern culture is making nowadays of the Christian Church. For those cultural powers that be (increasingly shrill, intolerant, even coercive) insist that we Christians get with the new world order, that we “get used” to the tenor of the times, that we become, in a word, complacent with such progressive things as abortion, infanticide, sexual perversions, cohabitation, and the control by extreme secularists of media, business, the public square, and even the education of our children.But loyal knights of Christ do not surrender to temporal forces. They keep their vows of chastity; they continue to speak truth and to defend liberty; they seek to protect the innocent and the unjustly oppressed. Are there costs to this loyalty? Of course. And sometimes it’s very high. Just ask Christian believers in such places as China, North Korea, Iran, or Nigeria. Nevertheless, I submit that, in the light of eternity, the cost of complacency is much higher still.
The great apologist, disciple-maker, practical philosopher, and pro-life champion, Francis Schaeffer once wrote of this cultural battlefield in his ground-breaking book, Whatever Happened to the Human Race?“If we sit back and do nothing, our mere passivity and apathy will lead to actively evil results by removing resistance to those who are active and nonapathetic.”
This, my friends, is the future if complacency wins the day in the Church. For, as Schaeffer warns, complacency is anything but neutral or benign. It is a surrender which inevitably leads to “actively evil results.” Yet another 19th Century British philosopher, John Stuart Mill, would agree with Schaeffer. Wrote Mill, “Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.” Complacency is thus the very antithesis of chivalry. Rather than being the stay of the oppressed, complacency finds excuses to stay uninvolved. Rather than being the redresser of grievances, complacency redefines priorities and even biblical exegesis in order to keep these moral issues off the agenda. Rather than being the curb of the tyrant, the compliant Christian bows to temporal authority (oftentimes not to specific thrones either but merely to fashion and popular opinion) and thereby he restricts his movements, his speech, and his very beliefs to fit in. (And, as you remember, St. Paul used the images of being poured into a mold, being overtaken, being bewitched, and so on to describe this unnatural surrender of the spiritual man to the nefarious forces of the world.)
Now let me explain a bit why I find chivalry to be such an appropriate and compelling metaphor for the Church which in our day is so constantly tempted by complacency. It is because the chivalric codes were not invented in the 15th Century nor in the legends of the Round Table dating centuries earlier. Rather, the ideals of the faithful knight (the king’s servant and soldier) are taken right from the pages of the Holy Scriptures. Let me give you a few quick examples and, as I cite them, please consider how dramatically they contrast with so much of modern Christianity with its insistence on comfortability, popularity, and possessions. It is what Schaeffer so often warned his readers about; namely, choosing “personal peace and affluence” over obedience to biblical truth.
A millennia before Malory or Scott’s chivalric heroes, the prophet Isaiah preached, “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean.Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight.Cease to do evil.Learn to do good.Seek justice.Reprove the ruthless.Defend the orphan.Plead for the widow.” (Isaiah 1:16-17) That’s the chivalric code in a directly divine declaration. But so too is this from the prophet Jeremiah, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Do justice and righteousness and deliver the one who has been robbed from the power of his oppressor.Also do not mistreat or do violence to the stranger, the orphan or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place.’” (Jeremiah 22:3)
Asaph says in Psalm 82:3-4, “Vindicate the weak; fatherless.Do justice to the afflicted and destitute.Rescue the weak and needy.Deliver them out of the hand of the wicked.” And the Book of Proverbs records this stirring exhortation, “Deliver those who are being taken away to death, And those who are staggering to slaughter, O hold them back.If you say, ‘See we did not know this.’ Does He not consider it Who weighs the hearts?And does He not know it Who keeps your soul?And will He not render to man according to his work?” (Proverbs 24:11-12) And, in the New Testament letter of James, we read, “This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to visit the orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” (James 1:27) I could, of course, refer to many other such Scriptures.
So, it becomes clear. Complacency is not the way forward to the Kingdom of God. And no;it’s not that Christians shouldn’t count the cost of being a true disciple of Christ in this dark, decadent culture. It is only that we realistically count those costs in the sure certainty that investing our lives in our King’s service is always the wise thing to do. Therefore, the Church must speak out and act against abortion and child abuse and infanticide. The Church must speak out and act against sexual perversions, the destruction of marriage and the family, the intolerance and persecution practiced by the left, and the takeover of our children’s education and future by the State. The Church must speak out and act against euthanasia, the shutting away of the lonely and infirm and elderly. To such evils we must never be complacent.
Will we accept our responsibilities to serve as the King’s servant/warriors? Will we embrace the high honor of living out the chivalric/biblical ideals? My friends, we must choose nothing less. Indeed, the direction and empowerment of the Holy Spirit are graciously, abundantly provided to the believer as we humbly yet courageously move into His service. Let no one be fooled. There is absolutely no good to come from complacency, compromise, or cowardice. There is no future in loving the world and desiring its approval.
Rather, it is in living holy lives, speaking the truth in love, being dedicated to the good of the brethren, and serving the needy in His Name wherein we will find peace and joy and blessing. These are the hallmarks of God’s knights. So, let’s move out, shall we? Clad in the armor of God, wisely wielding the sword of the Spirit, and courageously taking Christ’s banner into the world, we will together experience, in bountiful abundance, God’s power, wisdom, and everlasting rewards.