Of Warriors and Weathervanes
September 21, 2023
In the book of Ephesians, Paul paints a graphic portrait of the Jesus follower who is prepared to take a stand against the enemy. In chapter 6 he admonishes us to, “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” He goes on to describe the armor as the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
We wear this armor for one purpose, “to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” (v13) The image is striking; a warrior fit for battle, equipped to stand firm against the powers of this dark world, and protected from all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
This armor is a gift of God. We don’t own it, we didn’t manufacture it, and we don’t control it. Twice Paul urges us to ‘put on’ this armor. This means that it is available to us if we will choose to pick it up and use it. In a very real way, we steward this armor. As God’s gift, we choose to be faithful stewards when we hold fast to the Truth, bear witness to the righteousness of God, proclaim the gospel of peace, walk by faith, live in the joy of our salvation, and let the word of God dwell in us richly.
This image of the warrior who stands firm is in stark contrast to Paul’s warning just two chapters earlier that we not be, “like infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.” This verse takes me back to my time as president at Eastern Seminary. We had a beautiful campus whose centerpiece was a stately Gregorian-inspired chapel with high ceilings, sweeping arched windows, and white pillars at its entrance. I loved the chapel. But one thing bothered me. For some reason no one could remember, at the apex of its cupola sat a patina-encrusted weathervane. One blustery morning on my way into the seminary I heard the creaking of the weathervane’s metal arms straining to yield to the changing direction of every gust. I was reminded of this verse and concluded that the weathervane had to go.
So, a few weeks later our faculty and students gathered on the lawn outside the chapel to sing, “Lift High the Cross” as we celebrated the removal of the old vane and the installation of a white cross in its place. I think about that simple architectural swap and its symbolic significance for our day. If we choose not to put on the armor of God, we will, like that weathervane, turn in the changing winds of the voices and pressures that represent “the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming” in our culture.
There is a second critical distinction we must consider between the warrior and the weathervane. It comes from Anselm of Canterbury who coined the term fides quaerens intellectum, which means “faith seeking understanding.” Its importance for our life as followers of Jesus today is, in my opinion, inestimable. It establishes what is normative and what is relative in our worldview. That is, when we consider the world, we assess and seek to understand it through some lens. If we start with Jesus Christ, whom we know by faith, we shape our view of the world through that one, fixed, unchanging lens. Another way to say it is that we put on the full armor of God. We consider the world through the truth of the Gospel. We make decisions based on the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God. The world makes sense to us as it is seen, assessed, and evaluated through the non-negotiables depicted in our body of armor. And because of that, we stand.
The alternative is to flip the equation where understanding seeks after faith. When our own reason, wisdom, desires, and viewpoints become normative, we will be forced to reconsider our faith to make it palatable and congruent with our self-manifested worldview. Faith needs to make sense to our sensibilities, or it needs to be changed, or jettisoned altogether.
It’s easy to find examples of this reverse methodology. Historically, consider Harvard University’s founding seal and motto: Truth (Veritas) for Christ (Christo) and the Church (Ecclesiae). After decades of erosion of faith and the triumph of human reason, the motto changed to simply, ‘Truth’ which is now pursued by throwing off the shackles of faith. A second example is a movement of former believers who have deconstructed their faith. If you listen to the testimonies of Christian leaders who have renounced their faith, you will find one common thread. Somewhere on their journey, they shifted from a normative faith to a subjective one. Someone or something convinced them that their own reason, logic, and understanding of how the world should be run was given the throne of their life. Dissatisfied with the God of the Bible, they either recreated God in their image – a much nicer, more reasonable and palatable version – or they rejected him altogether. Either way, they reversed Anselm’s dictum and, starting with their own experiences, went looking for a version of God that they could tolerate. Rather than standing firm as a warrior equipped for battle, they were pushed by the winds of the culture and changed their worldview and their God.
At the same time, the exact opposite is happening at places like Northwest University in Kirkland, Washington. Situated in the heart of one of the most unchurched and godless regions in our country, NU has just launched a new marketing campaign entitled, Jesus First, Jesus Always. Its current capital campaign carries the motto, True North; Staying the Course, Charting the Future. NU is determined to be unequivocal on where it stands…and that it stands! While so many other universities and churches are changing with the shift in the cultural wind, NU’s message is, “We Haven’t Changed!”
Our question today is, are we stewarding the gift of the armor of God and standing firm in the chaos that surrounds us? Is our faith the normative truth in our life, and do we seek to understand the world we live in solely through its lens? Let us be on guard for the temptation to flip the equation and recreate our faith – and our God – into what we think it, and he, should be.
So, I ask you, are you a warrior or a weathervane?