If you’re like me and watch too much TV news, you are probably getting quite tired of the phrase “boots on the ground.” In nearly every speech the past few months, President Obama mentions this. He takes pains to assure the American people and the world that he has no intention of committing “boots on the ground” to fight the horrific ISIS terrorists who’ve taken over large portions of Syria and Iraq.
Instead of boots on the ground, the President has decided to simply “degrade” the ISIS forces through a bombing campaign. His calculation is that a war-weary nation would much rather send stealth bombers and cruise missiles into the conflict than risk American troops in another ground war.
I’m certainly not a big fan of sending ground troops either, but it’s interesting that practically every former military general and strategic analyst says ISIS will never be defeated through bombing alone. Although their rapid advance may be slowed, these military experts say ISIS will never be fully uprooted without ground troops—yes, “boots on the ground.”
All of this holds some powerful applications for the church today:
- We are in a war. Although President Obama and his advisers have been downplaying the global Islamic threat for years, the recent slaughter of Christians and beheading of journalists has finally blown the lid off of this naiveté or cover-up. In the same way, many pastors and churches have chosen to ignore our unseen spiritual war and our increasingly alarming cultural war. It’s time to get our heads out of the sand and face the facts.
- Staying aloof is not an option. Like the bombers sent to engage ISIS from thousands of feet in the air, the church has preferred to remain detached from where the real battles are taking place. We huddle together in our Sunday church services, while the world is quickly going to hell. It’s said that the Emperor Nero “fiddled while Rome burned,” but perhaps the American church has been guilty of gleefully singing our praise choruses while ignoring the fact that our nation is going up in smoke.
- Political correctness is a prescription for defeat. President Obama has repeatedly said, “The United States is not, and will never be, at war with Islam.” Well, that sounds very noble of him, doesn’t it? However, it is becoming increasingly obvious that much of Islam is at war with us. In the same way, many church leaders have opted for the world’s “coexist” philosophy—the notion that all faiths are relatively equal and we should all “go along to get along.” How foolish! When the church is no longer willing to confront sin, injustice, and false beliefs, we are choosing the pathway of impotence and eventual extinction.
- From the beginning, God created the church for “boots on the ground.” Chinese Bible teacher Watchman Nee explained this well in his book Sit, Walk, Stand, pointing out that the book of Ephesians can be broken up into three distinct sections. In the first few chapters, Paul focuses on our heavenly position, seated with Christ in the heavenly realms, far above all earthly or demonic powers or authorities (1:3, 1:15-23). But in Ephesians 4:1 the focus dramatically shifts, and Paul begins a new section on how to “walk” worthy of our calling as believers. Notice the difference: From the “heavenly places” you can engage in a detached bombing campaign, but “walking” means you are putting your feet on the ground. This includes such things as learning to love your fellow Christians, being a good witness to the watching world, and displaying Christ-like character in your family.
The final section of Ephesians focuses even more directly on the military metaphor of “boots on the ground”: “Take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (6:13). You see, the church wasn’t designed just for the heavenly realms or for a happy life on earth. No, we were also designed for combat.
However, there’s usually little combat with the enemy when we’re content to stay secluded in our “stained-glass ghettos” of church and family life. The fierce warfare doesn’t break out until we truly put our boots on the ground and start taking back territory from the devil.
With ISIS, if we don’t defeat them now, we will have to defeat them later, in even larger form. The same is true of the church. It’s time to put on our spiritual boots and engage in the moral issues of our day.