Year B Proper 16 John 6
The term backsliding, I discovered in my research, was popularized in the 1600’s by John Bunyan in his very famous allegory Pilgrim’s Progress. In the story, you may recall, the character of Christian and Hopeful are on their religious pilgrimage. While on the journey they begin to discuss an individual by the name of Temporary. He had started the pilgrimage, but along the way he fell by the wayside, or, as Bunyan worded it, backslid. That term was picked up, particularly, but not exclusively by the Methodists in early America and became a stock phrase. It referred to those once faithful individuals who had lost interest in their Christian pilgrimage.
There are some denominations who do not affirm the concept. They say once saved always saved. Methodists have never affirmed that, because it implies that if a person becomes a Christian then he loses his free will to turn away. The individual who was free to choose the way of Christ, we insist, is still free to turn his back on it. Man can experience no level of grace that is beyond the possibility of falling.
Jesus had just finished one of his more obscure teachings. He said several things, which confused some and upset others. “I am the bread of life,” he said. Some objected to this language because he was comparing himself to Moses who gave the children Manna, or bread, in the wilderness. Jesus then took it a step further and declared, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” This appeared odd to some because they knew he was the son of Mary and Joseph and not some modern day Elijah sent from heaven back down to earth. And then he just flat confused many because he suggested that everyone must eat his flesh and drink his blood otherwise they would die. It sounded too cannibalistic.
You can then understand why in verse 66 of chapter 6 (please don’t read anything into that) we read that many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. Notice what is said, they turned back! They quit following. They became Temporary. I don’t think a single reason can be identified as to why so many stopped following, a combination of issues probably, as we have already noted: His teaching confused some. His images offended others. But primarily, I think it was his claim to be the new source of life, his claim to be greater than Moses, a new Manna. Either way, they weren’t buying it and they left. Just like that. One day they were disciples and the next they were not. They became backsliders.
- Backsliding is a Reality
- There are Many Reasons for Backsliding.
- There are Consequences for Backsliding.
It's Humble or the Umbles
You know you’ve crossed into some new station in your life when you visit the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art and realize as you are leaving that you completely skipped all the paintings. That’s right, the entire Renaissance wing just was not on the agenda. Suddenly it hits you: You are no longer a student, or a tourist, or an art lover. No, you are a parent of small, squirming children who need to see something big, and strong, and hard-hitting.
So your museum tour was through the pyramids. Your museum circuit consisted of huge tombs and temples, the mummies and the caskets of ancient Egypt. But perhaps most importantly, you meandered through the mists of the medieval ages. This means rooms and rooms of ancient, awful-looking weaponry, and the Met’s huge collection of all types of “awesome” armor. There are over 15,000 pieces of ancient armor and weapons in the Metropolitan’s collection—dating from 400 BCE, through the heavily weighted years of medieval Europe, and including a huge collection of Japanese implements and armories, from the fifth through the nineteenth centuries.
As you wander around the Museum complete coats of heavy iron armor stand at attention all over the place. Armored warhorses with metal encased soldiers mounted on their backs are holding up hundreds and hundreds of pounds of “protection.” Medieval armory gradually grew to be a source of artistic expression. Metal workers took pride in the precision of their pieces, in the intricacy of their designs. Kings and noblemen commissioned fantastic suits of armor that were designed more for parade days than for the battlefields. Later armor became so elaborate and heavy that fighting in such restrictive outfits was virtually impossible. It was a significant physical feat just to get all the stuff on, and not fall down.
The Roman armor described in this week’s epistle text was far different. It was lightweight, utilitarian, proved and improved on thousands of battlefields. The “breastplate” was not like some over-sized tuna fish can encasing the soldier. It was known as the “lorica hamata” or “lorica segmenta” — a kind of lightweight chain mail which may or may not have had additional iron strips fastened to leather straps. The “scutum” (Latin for “shield”) was either rectangular or, later in the empire’s rule, an elongated oval. The “cingulum” was the military belt, which was worn at all times, even if the soldier was not wearing the rest of his armor. The helmet, the “galea,” offered cheek, ear, and neck protection. Marching sandals, “caligae,” were equipped with gripping studs on the sole. A simple coarse woolen tunic was worn under all the various protective gear.
The function of the Roman soldier’s armor was defensive. It was designed to keep the soldier from dying so that he could go on fighting for the Empire.
The function of the Christian’s “armor” described in today’s Ephesians text is quite different. The function of the “armor of God” is to keep the faithful alive — alive in Christ...