• The Very Reverend Andrew Hook

Onward Christian Sol...what?


At the Requiem Mass of our dear sister Ann Piper we sang a hymn that is not often sung in mainline denominations. The hymn was Onward Christian Soldiers and due to the imagery of Christians as soldiers, which brings up all kinds of baggage like the Crusades and the conquest of Central America, the hymn has been quietly put away and seen, perhaps by some, as an embarrassment of the Faith. However, I disagree. If one were to take the time to read the verses of the hymn, one would see that the soldiers of Christ are marching in war not on the world, not on non-Christians, but on the Realm of Hell itself. It is the Army of Christ which tramples down the gates of Hell and proclaims the liberation of God to all sinners through the Cross of Jesus Christ.


So, if this hymn is not about Christian triumphalism against pagans but rather about the vocation of every Christian to plunder Hell and shine the light of Jesus on the dark corners of the world, why is it tucked away and rarely sung?


I think it has to do with an unfortunate interpretation of Vatican II which has found its way throughout the Church of the West. This is the idea that the Church, instead of sticking with its stuffy rituals and being always contrariwise with the world, rather it should jettison the relics of the past and try to become friends with the World. It is the idea that the Church and the World can exist in harmony.


The problem with this is, it is impossible. We cannot expect the same World which crucified Our Lord and martyred the Saints to become friendly with the Church. Not unless we, the Church, are willing to compromise our beliefs. After all, if we, who have been historic enemies, are going to be friends, then someone has to change and that isn’t the World. We see this all the time. The World tells us to stay busy and do this and do that so the Church says that it is okay if you can’t attend the worship of God every Sunday. The World says that all lifestyles are good, so the Church quietly accepts drunkenness, adultery, and greed. The World says that all beliefs are equally valid so the Church waters down her doctrine lest we offend anyone. The World says ‘jump’ and the Church says ‘how high’.


The Church trying to be friends with the World is like the Frog and the Scorpion. It is the nature of the Scorpion to sting, and it is in the nature of the World to turn away from God. That is the burden of Sin, and that burden is what Jesus came to free us from. If it is the natural inclination of the World to turn from God than we, the Church, cannot go along with it. We must stand up and call the World back to faith in Jesus Christ. This is our prophetic ministry. G.K. Chesterton said, ‘We do not want a Church that will move with the world. We want a Church that will move the world.’


Maybe this sounds harsh, and I agree, it would be much easier if the doctrines of the Church jived with want the World desires, but it simply cannot. Not if we expect to be faithful to Jesus Christ. Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 6:24, “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”



Like Joshua in the Old Testament, we must make our choice whether we will serve Mammon or serve God. It is difficult to serve God because that means you are taking a stand against the World, but also remember what Jesus says in the Gospel of John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

The hymn ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ uses the metaphor of an army because like an army we must be resolute in our belief in our cause. We must be regimented with daily prayer, Bible reading, and Sacraments. We must talk the talk and walk the walk. Not to the destruction of those who do not believe, but so that everyone will hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ proclaimed loudly and with passion.

The Church cannot afford laissez-faire Christians. We need to become soldiers again to the detriment of Hell and to the salvation of our neighbors. Of course this doesn’t mean that we force conversions or burn the sacred texts of other religions or insult non-believers. Those things are also not Christian. It means that we wear our faith on our sleeve. We let people know by word and deed that we are followers of Jesus Christ, and we stand stoically against the changes of this World which ultimately draw people away from the love of God found in Jesus Christ. It is a high calling, but it is a calling given by God Himself.


Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before! Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe; onward into battle, see, his banners go. Onward Christian soldiers, marching at war, with the cross of Jesus going on before!

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