Onward Christian Soldiers (Veterans Day)

ONWARD CHRISTIAN SOLDIERS                          David Stevens

When you first enter the army, one of the first things that you learn is how to march. Everywhere you go on a military base, you see soldiers marching. It looks so easy and orderly that you don’t think much about it at first. Everyone is moving perfectly synchronized. No one individual stands out. It’s almost as if all the soldiers are bonded together into one fine tuned machine working as one.

A few days after arriving you are told you will be learning drill and ceremonies, which is everything from saluting to marching. It really is amazing there is a prescribed manner in which to do almost everything. You figure you have seen enough marching in war movies and in the last couple of days, that it shouldn’t be much of a problem. In addition to all of this knowledge, you have a haircut and uniform. You look like a soldier and you’re practically there. So that evening when you have a little time, you decide to practice. After about 10 to 15 minutes you think to yourself, “This will be a piece of cake.”

The next day you get a class, no marching, just information. You learn that the start position to march is the position of attention. You always step off with the left foot first. Your steps should be 30 inches at a pace of 120 steps per minute. Your arms are to swing 9 inches to the front and 6 inches to the rear. Your head and eyes should be pointed straight ahead. You are to keep aligned with the man on your right, looking out the corner of your eye. When the command “halt” is given you take two additional steps and stop at the position of attention.

Later that evening everyone decides they will practice on their own. After about 30 minutes of people marching all over the barracks, mastering this newly learned information; they are convinced that there really isn’t much to this marching thing. We have been at it less than an hour and we have already mastered it. There is just one problem, when you are marching on your own without the aid of others, you can’t get a real good look at exactly what it is that you are doing. You don’t realize that you are taking one 22 inch step and then a 16 inch step. You don’t realize that your arms are moving 3 inches to the front and 5 inches to the rear. You don’t see that your rate of march varies from 80 to 50, then to 130 steps per minute; and that your head and eyes aren’t focused where they should be. All you see is that you have mastered it and tomorrow that drill instructor will be amazed at how well this group can march.

So the next day in formation on the parade field, at the position of attention, the drill instructor give the command, “Forward march” to the group of about 40 men. This is your time to shine!

You have everything perfected and the drill instructor is truly amazed. He has no problem expressing himself almost to the point of turning three shades of red and becoming very animated. The problem is no one is laughing except the newly arrived recruits that had been watching from the edge of the field. They were probably thinking “What a bunch of clowns!” They don’t understand the concept, but they can sure see the results.

Here is what happened, the men in the second rank stepped on the heels of the men in front of them. This messed up the first two ranks. The ones whose steps were too short and slow caused the ones behind them to mess up. This is not to mention the ones that hesitated when the command, March, was given; or even worse, stepped off on the wrong foot. It was a total disaster!

Then we spent hours and days of marching together on the parade field, listening to the drill instructor count the cadence, “one, two, three, four, your left, your left, your left, right, a left.”

All the hard work finally pays off. You learn the 30 inch step, the arm swing and listen to the cadence of 120 steps per minute. The unit is marching all over the parade field as one body in perfect time; but not without the faint and helpful whispers of others in the formation: “steady, that’s it, a little faster, watch your right, change step, looking good!” You would be amazed at the faint whispers that can be heard as a unit is marching, constantly correcting, helping, guiding, coaching and teaching each other as they go. Any unit that can march well has learned many lessons together: discipline, team-work and how to work together to achieve a common goal and move as one in the prescribed manner.

Once a unit has reached this point, it is no problem for any soldier to properly march on his own. But returning to the parade field as one unit, is still needed on a regular basis. No matter how many years you have been marching. It’s human nature to shorten your steps or focus your head and eyes where they shouldn’t be, when you are marching on your own. Returning to the parade field often, keeps you focused on what is important.

I can’t help but think of the song, “Onward Christian Soldier,” Written in 1865, and the way marching is used in it. Verse 1 says, “Onward Christian Soldiers, marching as to war; with the cross of Jesus, going on before. Christ the royal master, leads against the foe; forward into battle, see his banner go.” Verse 2 “Like a mighty army moves (marches) the church of God: brothers, we are treading, where the saints have trod; we are not divided, all one body we, one in hope and doctrine, one in charity.”

The comparison that I am about to make has obviously been made before. There are many similarities between a marching unit and the church body. A Christian learns in church, from the word of God, and understands what he or she should do. They either do or don’t have the desire to apply it. But all too often are left to apply and practice it on their own. How do we get the adjustments, corrections and guidance we need to march correctly with the body, except on the parade field? Individual efforts in witnessing, visitation, fellowship, ect., are all good and necessary; but can never replace being on the parade field. There is the place where you move as one with others and where correction, adjustment, encouragement and help can or should always be present. Col. 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another---“ 2 Tim3:16, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Psalms 133:1 “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!”

If we as a church body are not “on the parade field” in witnessing, visitation, fellowship, prayer and many other areas; how will young Christians learn to march? How well will they march? How well will the body march? By being on the parade field, executing God’s plan with others, we can learn and develop into better stewards for Christ. Coaching, guiding, growing and developing stronger disciples as we go. Like any unit that marches on the parade field, things may be a little different than what we might expect, because we may not be marching as well as we think. Some adjustments may be required individually or as a body. But with God’s word as the standard, head and eyes focused straight ahead on Jesus Christ and walking in love as dear children; the church can and will march as one and develop stronger disciples in the process.

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