There is a spiritual battle going on within the fallen heart of humanity. We have been created by and for God. Our soul naturally longs for him and the things that surround him. Our fallenness, however, desires the passing things of “the flesh,” the disordered love for pleasure, comfort, and power. The battle rages within us.
The battle reflects the two roads described by the Lord Jesus, one leading to eternal life and the other to perdition. (Matthew 7:13-14) It’s the tension behind the way of the Spirit and the way of the flesh described in many places by Saint Paul. It lies behind Saint Augustine’s two cities, Saint Ignatius of Loyola’s two standards, and – more recently – Pope Saint John Paul II’s two cultures. The battle is real, tangible, and observable.
The spiritual battle is the reason for a culture war in our contemporary world. As in the fallen human heart, so in society. No believer seeks a culture war, no person of goodwill desires it. A culture war exists, however, wherever two ways of life are in competition for the soul of humanity.
The evitability of a culture war is plainly visible to those who seek the way of virtue and holiness. A culture war isn’t odd to those who seek to work out their salvation in Jesus Christ. It is an almost given state of affairs in a fallen world that seeks redemption beyond its own devices and machinations. It has been understood, grasped, and prepared for by the saints, spiritual masters, and mystics for over two millennia.
So, it’s peculiar when contemporary shepherds of the Church tell us that there is no culture war or that some among us are needlessly creating and fueling a culture war, or that only those who thrive in contention are perpetuating the delusion of a culture war. We are told to believe that any hint at acknowledging a culture war is divisive, misleading, and contrary to the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
Such a perspective is a far cry from the hope we should have of preventing a culture war through a triumph of virtue, a victory for godliness, mass conversions to the Gospel, and the active pursuance of grace in the life of people and society.
The messaging we are told today is very different.
In history, we are oftentimes told of cities or outposts during various wars that continued to fight after an armistice was signed. The outpost was unaware of surrender by its leadership and so they continued to fight.
Many believers today are beginning to wonder if the white flag of surrender has been raised by high churchmen while many of the troops – the baptized in the midst of the world – are still in the battle, fighting the good fight, and laboring for goodness and righteousness to triumph in the human heart and in society.
Many baptized Christians are starting to ask, “Have we lost?”
Such a thought is shocking, since the Gospel cannot lose. But it does express the need for clarity and affirmation. Surrender has only been offered by those who never turned up for the fight in the first place, or by those who showed up but decided the fight wasn’t worth it, or by those who started to fight but became disillusioned by the Cross of Jesus Christ. They allowed themselves to become compromised or seduced and have begun to rely on something other than the Lord Jesus’ promise of eternal life.
While the historical example of outposts fighting after a surrender might help in some ways, the example falls apart with respect to the culture war. Battles are waged here and there; nations rise and fall through time. But the battle of the Body of Christ – the most central battle of human history – is for the very salvation of the world. And this battle determines the health of the Church, her effectiveness in proclaiming the Gospel and bearing true witness to humanity’s Lord and Savior.
And it involves the eternal destiny of countless people in our world today who need redemption and the hope that is born from it, whether it’s recognized or denied.
Many shepherds of the Church today are imitating King Saul of Israel. God made Saul the tallest man in Israel. He blessed him with strength and military prowess. When the Philistines came, however, the king led his troops in stagnation, sitting behind battle formations, wallowing in doubt and uncertainty, cowardly avoiding a fight even for God’s honor, and looking for a path to avoid battle and live a life of comfort and respectability.
Goliath’s blasphemies went unheeded and unchecked. The tallest man in Israel quaked before the threat.
A small shepherd boy, with stones and a heart of courage, took a stand, spoke truth, and defended the majesty of God. In many ways, the young David reflects many of the baptized who – despite the Sauls behind them – still know the difference between right and wrong, light and darkness. They see the spiritual battle and they’re willing to fight for truth, goodness, and holiness.
There are shepherds among us who should be kings and generals – the tallest among us – who cringe and have become slaves to a fallen world and suppliants to the way of the flesh. They deny the very battle for which they were raised up and for which they should lead the charge. Their lack of action, sins of omission, and absence of courage are their lasting shame.
And yet, without the robust and strong leadership that should be given to them, there remain many baptized Christians – small shepherds with mere stones – who have taken up the mantle and will not accept the white flag of a false surrender of wayward shepherds. They will continue to seek truth, labor for goodness, and accept persecution in defense of beauty. They will fight the good fight, run the race so as to win, and zealously seek the imperishable crown that is promised to those who love God.