Yesterday I was scrolling through my Twitter feed when this jumped out, from @ourCOG, the social media outlet of the Church of God:
The painting they used is “Vercingetorix Throws Down His Arms At The Feet Of Julius Caesar” by Lionel-Noël Royer. Having just re-read Caesar’s De Bello Gallico, it leaped out at me. I doubt the people at @ourCOG really grasp what it means, but for Evangelical Christianity in general and the Church of God in particular it isn’t pretty.
Vercingetorix was the leader of the Gauls in their last major revolt against the Romans under Julius Caesar. Beyond the famous “three parts” which Caesar describes at the start of his classic, the Celtic inhabitants of what is now France were divided into a number of tribes, some loyal to the Romans, some not, some going back and forth. Vercingetorix managed to get most of them on board a general revolt against Caesar. He experienced initial successes and a victory at Gergovia, but then did something that can only be described as stupid: he decided to make his “big stand” at Alesia.
It was stupid because Alesia, hilltop fortress though it was, was a sitting duck for the strong point of the Roman military: siege operations. (The Jews also learned this the hard way more than a century later at Jerusalem, when Titus sacked the city and tore town the Temple). Caesar promptly laid siege to the town and the Celts on the outside were unable to relieve it. So Vercingetorix and the Celts were forced to surrender, as shown in the painting. (Well, not really; Royer embellished it considerably from Caesar’s account). Gaul passed to Roman rule, which would remain until the Franks conquered it five centuries later.
This is significant because the Church of God’s “core” ethnic group in this country is the Scots-Irish, another Celtic group who panicked a century and a half ago and broke away in the Confederate States of America. That conflict had some equally stupid moments such as Pickett’s Charge, where the Confederates threw themselves against entrenched Union position. As was the case with the Gauls, no match for the methodical and well-supplied Romans under Julius Caesar, the South saw its brave men in grey beaten down by an opponent with greater numbers and industrial might.
Today Evangelical Christianity–largely centred in the South–is up against it with things like same-sex civil marriage. And the temptation once again is to whip up an emotionalistic rally and plough into a great battle which should result in triumph. I guess that’s part of the “prophetic voice” that the tweet refers to. It drives a great deal of our idea about worship and church life; we’re always looking for “breakthrough”.
But all too often what we’ve ended up with it not breakthrough but breakdown. Our quest for glory may start at Gergovia and Manassas but usually ends up at Alesia and Appomattox. It’s time we seek the counsel of others in the Body of Christ and take a fresh approach to this problem before we run headlong into another disaster, because no wrapping it in spiritual rhetoric will change the reality.
We can’t work our way to heaven, but face it: God deserves better than this.