For all of you youngsters … sixty years ago one of the most popular songs one heard was: Chattanooga Choo-Choo. It had a nice beat to it, and it was on all the media. It told of leaving Pennsylvania Station and traveling to Chattanooga. Now, these sixty years later, the actual Chattanooga Choo-Choo still exists, but it is a museum piece in Chattanooga, in which you can revisit the ambience (even spent the night in a sleeping car)—the only difference is that now the train is not going anywhere.

There is a fascinating similarity here to what happens to the church over one or two generations. I have been insisting, in the recent couple of blogs, that all of God’s people are, by divine design, to be equipped to live out their (radical?) new Kingdom humanity in being formed by the four gifts mentioned in Ephesians 4. Then, at the very end of this awesome letter to the Ephesians, Paul reminds them that this is not a safe, or hazard-free journey that they are on, but that they need to continually put on “the whole armor of God.” He reminds them that they do have a very aggressive and wily adversary, Satan, and that Satan is going to bring them down if they fail to wear that whole armor. The church is not a citadel of safety, but an exciting but risky, even dangerous, but thrilling adventure into God’s reconciling mission to the world.

If you are thinking about it, you have to ask: Why does Paul write such a letter, and then conclude it with such a grim warning? What a strange way to end a letter. But what Paul knew was that such armor is what is necessary for survival in life and function as the sons and daughters of Light, and if you become careless or forgetful of that calling, you are giving-in to the darkness—like the Chattanooga Choo-Choo, you may call yourself a Christian, or a church, but you aren’t going anywhere. It also becomes obvious, if you think about it, that part of disciplemaking is training Christ’s followers (all of them) what these seven pieces of armor indicate.

I have dealt with these more thoroughly in: The Church and the Relentless Darkness, but in brief, Paul begins with the belt of truth, which would be the centrality of Jesus Christ, who is the truth, in all that he was and did and taught. Then comes the breastplate of righteousness, which is the character and behavior of God’s new creation people. This is followed by: the putting on the shoes of “the readiness of the gospel of peace,” which says that Christ’s folk are eager to make the message known, they move toward those whom Jesus came to seek and to save. This is followed by the necessity of the shield of faith, because Satan is ferocious in throwing ‘fiery darts’ of doubt at us, as one of his most discouraging weapons. Then comes the helmet of salvation, which has to do with our calling to think like Kingdom, or New Creation people—to understand the message and the mission to which we are called. Then we take the Spirit’s sword, which is the capacity to speak and communicate the message. And finally, we know that all that we are called to do is humanly impossible, so we pray without ceasing, and so tap into the power of God, by the Spirit.

The church at Ephesus evidently became forgetful of much of this, because it is addressed in Revelation, chapter two, with the warning that they have abandoned their first love, and are in danger of ceasing to be a church—in my metaphor: they are in danger of becoming a ‘Chattanooga Choo-Choo’ church, i.e., and ecclesiastical relic that is not going anywhere. Then Jesus says to them: “If you’ve got ears, listen to what I am saying.” Have we got ears?

About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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