Today we celebrate All-Saints and the Communion of Saints, the elect body of Christ, living and dead, forged through the blood of the Lamb shed for us and through his mighty resurrection. Those who have died in the peace of Christ and are currently enjoying their rest in the direct presence of their Lord are also known as the Church Triumphant, that part of the Communion of Saints currently hidden from our view with Christ in heaven. It is the penultimate goal of any Christian to attain membership in this Church.
For those of us still living in this mortal life are part of the Church Militant, the other half of the Communion of Saints. Unlike the Church Triumphant, we have not yet achieved our reward of being with Christ in heaven, awaiting the resurrection of our mortal bodies at the return of our Lord Jesus. So why is Christ’s Church on earth known as the Church Militant?
The term implies at least two qualities. First the Church Militant cannot possibly live up to its name without boldness. By boldness I mean that Christians living in this mortal life must be convinced that our Story, the Story of God’s rescue of his creation and creatures as contained in the Old and New Testaments, is the only true and real game in town. We must be convinced that God so loves us that he gave his only begotten Son to die for us to free us from our slavery to the power of Sin and reconcile us to God, a story vindicated and affirmed when God raised Jesus Christ from the dead on that first Easter so many years ago. It is a story that while true, has not been consummated and so we must live by faith in this mortal life.
When we believe our story contained in holy Scriptures (not the story of human making or revision, but the God-breathed story contained in the Bible), we are convinced that Jesus really is Lord despite all that swirls around us, that God really is in control of his creation despite the torrent of bad news that bombards us, and the jeering of our skeptics. This story makes us bold to live for Christ because we know that death, decay, sickness, sorrow, alienation, and evil do not have the last laugh, God does. We know this because Christ is raised from the dead. While this faith does not protect us from all that afflicts us in this mortal life, it gives us real hope—hope defined as the sure and certain expectation of things to come, i.e., God’s promised new creation along with the resurrection of the dead, not wishful thinking—to face our trials and tribulations with confidence and without fear. Without a resurrection hope, Christians are no better off than non-believers who have no real hope in God’s redemptive plan in and through Christ and there is no way the Church can be bold.
Show me a church without Christian boldness and I will show you a Church that cannot possibly be Militant.
We see it all the time with Christian leaders on the defensive, apologizing for all kinds of things, terrified they might offend someone and bowing to cultural pressure from those who hate them, while remaining silent in their bold proclamation of the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ’s saving death and resurrection for all who put their ultimate hope and trust (faith) in Christ and live accordingly. It is a sad spectacle indeed. Christ either is the Son of God, God become human, or he is not. His gospel is either true or it isn’t. If it isn’t we need to eat, drink, and be merry because tomorrow we will be dead and we ain’t coming back to life. But if it’s true, we need to starting thinking, speaking, and acting like it’s true. In other words, we need to start imitating our Lord Jesus and be prepared to suffer and give our life to and for him.
Related to this idea, the Church Militant implies that Christians are called to wage war in Christ’s name, not as the world wages war but as Christ waged it. To be sure, the devil and his minions, both human and spiritual, have been defeated in and through Christ’s death. But they are far from vanquished and chaos—the very definition of sin—reigns in our world. We are told, e.g., we are racists, homophobes, [insert your favorite anti-Christian invective here], etc., etc. Every time the Church Militant acts with boldness faithfully it can expect to get punched in the face! But we don’t retaliate in kind. The Church Militant are resurrection people with a real hope! Christ is alive and reigns! The world is still in God the Father’s good and loving control and nothing, not even the gates of hell, can pry it from him.
When the Church militant believes this, we can wage war on behalf of Christ and do it faithfully: Through prayer, fasting, loving our enemies, and speaking the truth in love, for starters. We needn’t panic. Christ is Lord and the dark powers are not. So what does that look like on the ground? I offer three examples. There are millions more.
First is this piece entitled Blessing Biden. Whatever one thinks of the president and his policies, a bold Christian response is to pray for him and for a repentant heart when we see him going off the rails as defined by God’s Truth contained in Scripture. Name-calling and cursing, two favorite weapons of the world, should never be part of the Christian’s arsenal, tempting as it may be or frustrated as we may get. It is in this context that we can speak the truth in love to those who push alternative anti-Christian agendas. We don’t curse or name call because as Christians we believe even our enemies are created in God’s image and Christ died to save them as well as us, whether or not they have the good sense to claim the gift.
Or consider Archbishop Cordileone’s call to “…Catholics to join in a massive and visible campaign of prayer and fasting for Speaker Pelosi: commit to praying one rosary a week and fasting on Fridays for her conversion of heart [on the matter of abortion].” No invective, no vitriol. Just prayers and rosaries and roses (and plenty of the latter!). The world does not know how to behave this way; and in behaving as such, it colludes with the dark powers to further spread chaos. Speaker Pelosi may remained firmly committed supporting the murder of unborn babies, but we believe that in our actions of prayer and fasting, God’s healing and redemptive power is still at work, bringing about God’s will, even when it is beyond our seeing and understanding. That is Christian boldness in action, a boldness that requires an informed faith, and it infuriates our enemies even as it encourages the Church Militant.
Finally, David Roberston speaks out about the Church’s timidity in the climate-change discussion, arguing instead that Christians have a distinctive solution, one the nay-sayers and doomsday wailers do not and cannot offer, a solution based on the Story of God’s rescue plan for creation. In Robertson we find a bold voice that is polite but that speaks the truth in love in the process. And he is spot-on in terms of his criticism of timid church leaders. Show me a Christian leader or follower who believes his/her story, and I will show you a bold Christian, one worthy of doing battle as part of the Church Militant.
Of course, any Christian with a sense of boldness will be careful to start being bold by looking at himself/herself in the mirror and realizing that he/she is in the same desperate need of Christ as anyone else. Boldness starts with a sense of Christian humility. We don’t have all the answers and we certainly are not superior to those we criticize or for whom we pray/ask forgiveness. We realize that repentance and love and mercy and charity all start at home. But we have the weapons we need to combat our fallen nature. We are part of the mystical body of Christ, the Communion of Saints. We have the wisdom of tradition and the truth contained in God’s holy word. We are empowered and led by the Holy Spirit and we are part of a holy, albeit imperfect, family who loves us enough to correct us when they see us go off the rails.
This All-Saints’ Day, I encourage you to seek Christ who loves you and wants you to be his forever, starting right now. Be part of the Church Militant and be a bold Christian for your Savior, asking him to lead, guide, and correct you at every turn so that you can bring his Name the honor and glory it deserves. After all, one day every knee will bow to that Name and every tongue confess him to be Lord and Savior, whether willingly or unwillingly. Let us therefore resolve to be a willing part of the only real game in town.