A Michigan pastor whose columns on the intersection of faith and everyday life has argued that hymns like "Onward, Christian Soldiers" should not be removed from hymnals.
Shayne Looper, pastor of the nondenominational Lockwood Community Church of Coldwater, wrote in a syndicated column published Saturday that "there is still a place in our hymnody for hymns and gospel songs that make use of military metaphors, like 'Onward, Christian Soldiers' or 'Soldiers of Christ, Arise.'"
Looper argued in part that hymns with military metaphors were acceptable because the New Testament itself is full of such metaphors.
"Take, for example, the Apostle Paul. He repeatedly chose military metaphors to make important points regarding Christian living," wrote Looper.
"He referred to his co-workers as fellow-soldiers, and in so doing evoked an image of the kind of all-for-one, one-for-all camaraderie that is characteristic on the battlefield, and ought to be in the churches."
Looper also argued that military metaphors are also important because "Christians need to be reminded that they are part of something bigger, the advanced guard of a kingdom that is coming but has not yet been established."
"They are on duty. The Christian life is not a walk in the park with the savior but a mission for the king. It calls for alertness, determination, cooperation, endurance, and strength," he continued.
"The Christians who have made a difference in the world — who have cured diseases, cared for the poor, freed slaves, and ended wars — were not people who valued comfort above kingdom. Nor are they today."
Written in the 1860s, "Onward, Christian Soldiers" has been the source of much debate in some churches, with some arguing that its militaristic tone contradicts the peaceful message of Jesus Christ.
Multiple hymnal editions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) have excluded the song; in 1989, The United Methodist Church almost removed it, but changed direction only after a strong outcry.
"This hymn, with its 'hut-two-three-four' tune and its warring call for Christians to raise the battle flag, has long outlived its usefulness," reads a 2012 column published by the Christian Century.
"In a world grown weary of religious strife, a world where the word crusade arouses more anger and embarrassment than resolve, few are nostalgic for a hymn that celebrates Christian soldiers marching to war."