In one of my recent ACT 3 Weekly articles, which I publish each week on Monday at (where you can also subscribe to them for free), I made mention of the irrelevancy of the words and tune of the old nineteenth century song “Onward Christian Soldiers.” I got several types of response. One reader felt that the post-millennial vision of this 19th century approach was essentially right, thus I assume one would think the song could have a proper use, at least in some sense. Another, in the context of his present ministry in India, had a very different reaction. He wrote to me the following:

Like you brother, I grew up singing "Onward Christian Soldiers." In recent years, I have become much more aware of evangelical arrogance and blatant insensitivity from many Christians in the West.

Last Monday evening, at the graduation service here at the seminary, the graduates sang "Onward Christian Soldiers.” Two community leaders, staunch upper caste Hindus were in attendance as special guests. At the conclusion of the song, they politely left. I don't think it was coincidence. When will we learn?

Having ministered in India for several extended periods of time in the 1980s I share his response and argue that even in the Christian West this song needs to be dropped, along with the theology of post-mil triumphalism that clearly lies behind it. I believe my missionary friend reminds us all of the danger of why contextualizing the faith in a proper way is so very important. Triumphalism, for any theological reason, is bad missiology. Yes, “When will be learn?”

Related Posts


  1. HC May 14, 2011 at 7:43 am

    So the Church won’t prevail? the Gospel will fail? And WHO cares if a few Upper Caste Hindus (racist hypocrites) were offended by the message of SPIRITUAL warfare? Would they also walk out on the preaching of Eph 6? C’mon people, let’s not sell out to the world’s sensibilities! I am very disappointed in YOU John.

  2. Nick Morgan May 14, 2011 at 11:55 am

    HC, obviously you didn’t get it either!

  3. HC May 14, 2011 at 1:03 pm

    Do I detect a bit of triumphalism there Nick? No I get it, all right. For John to condemn the song was silly to begin with, and then to justify that opinion in the light of offending a few Hindus…at a SEMINARY graduation???…is just a little too much “relevance” (read capitulation, compromise) for me. The states, as does Jesus did, that the Church WILL prevail and so will the Gospel. And it expresses the faith of the Church being without division, which is what John’s ministry was supposedly all about. Read the history of the author and song please!

  4. John Ross May 15, 2011 at 6:22 am

    John, it seems to me that what you say makes sense and that some Christians need to develop some sensitivity and awareness of how others hear such words as ‘Onwards Christian soldiers’. And yet the hymn resonates with biblical sentiments. One does not need to be crassly triumphalist or some kind of abrasive Theonomist to hold a quiet and deep conviction that God’s kingdom will came and his will be done on earth as in heaven. The spiritual warfare theme is likewise biblical. ‘In hoc signo vinces’ is an venerable and not unworthy concept. Christ indeed is a royal master and he does lead in victory against the foe (i.e. the devil and all that is Satanic).
    The problem is that so non-Christians many hear such words as a ‘crusade’ and conceive of conflict aimed at those who hold different religious ideas. We need to remember that the gospel is all about being winsome and attractive, not abrasive and combative. So rather than totally abandon such hymns, it is surely better to be thoughtful of the company we are in when we choose to sing it.

  5. Nick Morgan May 16, 2011 at 12:33 am

    I shouldn’t have responded to you as I did. Please forgive me. I just really do believe that John is “spot-on” with this article, and in no way is he saying or implying that Christ nor the Gospel will fail. How we perceive ourselves and how others, especially non-Christians, perceive us can often be quite different. If we are going to follow Jesus’ example in bearing witness to Him, then we must meet people where they are.
    God bless!

Comments are closed.

My Latest Book!

Use Promo code UNITY for 40% discount!

Recent Articles