Summer Soldiers and Sunshine Patriots

By Daniel H. King

Some of the most dedicated Christians that I have known have been members of our Armed Forces. Being part of the military community they are trained to follow orders, remain at combat readiness at all times, make whatever sacrifices needful (including separation from home and family, even loss of life and limb), and place duty and honor, courage and country before all other worldly things. My work with congregations made up of military personnel has shown them to be (generally speaking, of course) just as sacrificial and dutiful in the cause of Christ, and often even more so, than in their service to their homeland. This observation is made not to extol the virtues of militarism or unduly compliment one segment of the brotherhood but for the sole purpose of taking note of the underlying cause of Paul’s selection of one of his great metaphors: that of the Christian as soldier.

“Fight the good fight of faith . . .” (1 Tim. 6:12) is a charge issued to those who are engaged in conflict, spiritual in nature, but conflict nevertheless, no less deadly than that fought in the carnal sphere. “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against the spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God . . .” (Eph. 6:12-13): and, “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds” (2 Cor. 10:3, 4).

Those who take upon themselves the work of soldiering recognize hardship as a component of the soldier’s life. Total dedication is an absolute essential also: “Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him as a soldier” (2 Tim. 2:3-4).

But there are soldiers and there are soldiers. As Thomas Paine forcefully pointed out in the springtime of our own land of liberty: “These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country” (The Crisis, 1776). A crisis of one type or another is usually the means by which we may distinguish the true patriot and soldier from the “summer soldier and the sunshine patriot” as well as the mercenary warrior. Our own recent crisis in Viet Nam revealed the half-hearted commitment to liberty (stimulated by socialistic and liberalistic trends of thought and philosophy) which characterized a large segment of the youth of the sixties.

This is a dramatic demonstration of the point with which we currently concern ourselves: crises bring out the best or the worst in us. Oh, it is there all the time, either lurking in the deepest recesses of our minds or cradled in our heart of hearts. Timidity or heroism, disreputation or honor, self-love or sacrifice, cowardice or conscience – and the crisis of a moment, the “zero hour” of conflict and battle, or even the threat of it will betimes act as the necessary stimulus which betokens who we really are and where we really stand, or even whether we stand at all.

In the church, the crisis of issues quite often lets us in on who the real troopers are. It also identifies the summer soldiers. When the missionary society and instrumental music questions threw the church into the awesome and traumatic ordeal of division, those who were willing to fight the progress of digression were few and far between. But they faced more than mere loneliness for the struggle was carried on at great cost to themselves and their families and to all who were sympathetic to the cause. No one would have loved peace more than them, but if they had quietly sat by and watched the church go back into denominationalism we would have little honored their memory. And the God who told them to “buy the truth and sell it not” would have had little pleasure in such compromising ways either.

A comparable situation has arisen in the more recent problems over institutionalism, centralization, and liberalism. In many cases, men have held fast to biblical precedent and the New Testament pattern for the church and its work at great personal cost and sacrifice, while others who today hold seats of authority and prestige in those very institutions and agencies often flip-flopped in order to “swim with the current” on these issues: Foy E. Wallace, Jr., Guy N. Woods, Bill Humble, Earl West, Harold Hazelip, to mention but a few. The quotations of Guy N. Woods still come back to haunt him from his Annual Lesson Commentary and other sources. Moreover, his recent silence on points of conflict with Ira North, editor of the Gospel Advocate point out this willingness to hush up in order not to rock the boat. It would be very difficult for us to believe that he does not oppose many things that are currently happening across the brotherhood, knowing his past positions. Earl West’s tract on Church Cooperation remains today as sound as it was when he preached the sermon that was its basis – even though the same could not be said of brother West. Bill Humble’s thesis written at the University of Iowa on the problem of cooperatives in the early restoration movement is a sufficient rejoinder to the position he now occupies on the cooperation issue. On and on we could go. Preachers who worked in those days tell of the numerous men who talked a good fight and whispered a good stand but then felt the breeze to see which way the wind was blowing. Upon finding out that it was not blowing their way they adjusted their convictions and their preaching to fit the flow of brotherhood opinion.

What has all of this to do with the present and the future? Just this: every new generation seems to face a new set of issues or problems. Some depart from the faith and some faithfully enter the struggle armed with the Sword of the Spirit, ready to suffer whatever may be their lot. They know that the scars of war will be deep and painful. They know that the contest itself will be dreadful and nightmarish. They shudder and march on in resignation. Yesterday’s friends will be today’s foes. Comrade-at-arms will lose their courage and flee the lines of battle leaving them to fight alone. Worse yet, traitors will try to cover their flight from truth by switching sides. When the engagement is over the soldier, wounded and bleeding, will stumble home only to meet barbs of criticism from his supposed friends and fellow-countrymen. They did no fighting. They never even went near the battle zone. But they know best how the war should have been conducted. Armchair generals they are; and still no stroke from the declared enemy could smart like theirs do. Later generations may applaud and call one a hero. For now he will be labeled a brute and a barbarian.

Yet such is a soldier’s life, whether he fights in the forces that protect the native land or in the legions of the Lord. He does not fight to please the crowds or satisfy the public or on account of his thirst for blood or even as a “soldier of fortune” but because right is on his side and he is on the right side. The great general Douglas MacArthur once said, “No one loves peace more than a soldier.” I suspect he is right, for none knows the real horror of war save the man with experience on the front. However, peace is too expensive when right and justice and truth are the price.

For the soldier of the cross a whole host of crises could be listed; the crisis of preaching support, of inflation, of hard times, of lack of appreciation; of failure, of closed doors, of indifference, of laziness and lethargy in the church, of too little help, of too few hours in the day, of persecution, of lack of love, of worldliness, and many, many more. Whatever the crisis may be, though it really boils down to this: what kind of a soldier are you? What kind am I? Paine’s immortal words could well be rephrased to fit the case: “These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his Master.” Paul wrote, “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life . . . ” If we fail or flee the contest it will not be the fault of the cause for which we fight or the weapons with which we fight or even the enemy which we fight. The fighter, the soldier will be to blame. The annals of military history are rife with examples of courage, sacrifice and heroism in the waging of carnal combat. Can we afford to do less? Can the Lord’s people afford to offer less than men who usually only squabble over land boundaries?

Truth Magazine XXIV: 15, pp. 247-248
April 10, 1980