Over the next four months during this centenary year, the Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Scripture Readers Association (SASRA) will help us reflect on the closing months of World War One and November 1918’s Armistice.
Using its historical records, SASRA takes us back to August 1918 and reminds us that, even in war, Christians face an age-old temptation: conform with the world or stand for the Saviour. Please pray that today’s disciples of Christ in the British military would faithfully stand for the Lord.
1918 was a dramatic year for the British Army. On 21 March, the Germans attacked between Arras and La Fère. They broke through and almost reached Amiens, about 40 miles behind the original front. Then, on 9 April, the Germans launched an offensive south of Ypres which pushed the British back 10 miles.
On 11 April, Field Marshal Haig issued a Special Order which included: ‘Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause each one of us must fight on to the end’.
The Allies held out and, from 18 July, the tide turned in their favour. Over the ‘Battle of 100 days’ (8 August to 11 November) the British advanced far beyond their lines at the start of the year, ending the war at Mons in Belgium.
Alongside the physical battle was a spiritual battle. The August 1918 edition of the Soldiers’ Christian Association’s Ready magazine (now called SASRA) included an article on whether Christians should be open about their faith. Then, as now, the pressure was to conform rather than be transformed, and, to that end, the article noted the following:
‘The letter which appeared in our last number on the question “Should a Christian soldier pray before his comrades?” has elicited quite a number of very interesting replies … We are much concerned, and would warn our members against the serious assaults that are being made in these days, not so much by open and direct attack of the enemy, as by the insidious and dangerous new gospel known as the “Gospel of expediency”’.
Gospel of expediency
‘Its subtlety is revealed in the suggestion, “Of course it is quite right for you to be a Christian, yet it is hardly expedient for you to make an unnecessary parade of that fact. Scripture itself, it goes on to prompt, says, “Hast thou faith? Have it to thyself” (Romans 14:22), etc, etc.’
‘The temptation to thus avoid open testimony is for ever forcing itself upon Christians, but we think perhaps, more on Christian soldiers, on account of the peculiar conditions of their lives in the mess, barrack-room, bivouac or trenches.
‘Whist drives, card-playing for nominal stakes, moderate drinking, although it may only be of country wines, taking part in Sunday concerts, sports, regattas, etc, are all things over which this “Gospel of expediency” throws its protective mantle.
‘Christians are told that times have changed, and that the old narrow views on these matters are no longer expedient. And then comes the crafty suggestion, “If you stand aloof from these things, you will become unpopular and lose your influence with the men, and surely for the sake of such small matters you will not give up the chance of winning them for Christ”.
‘We strongly urge our members to be watchful and to pray for the spirit of discernment to recognise these attacks and for grace to resist. The Gospel of expediency brings triumph for today, but defeat for tomorrow’.