Onward Christian Soldiers

John ArmstrongACT 3, Missional Church, The Church

In one of my recent ACT 3 Weekly articles, which I publish each week on Monday at www.act3online.com (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?”