In 1944, the 23rd Army Special Headquarters landed in Britain after training in Tennessee and New York. The 23rd was made up of 1,100 men who came from unusual backgrounds for your average soldier of the war: art school students, advertising executives, stage technicians, set designers, and audio/visual engineers. They started off with borrowed equipment from the British and used whatever they could get their hands on. In spite of, or perhaps because of this, this ragtag army developed some of the most ingenious ‘weapons’ and helped the Allied forces win the war in Europe. Oddly enough, most of them never used a weapon to do it.
The 23rd Army was also known as the Ghost Army. They were the army that wasn’t really there. The 23rd used inflatable tanks borrowed from the British and loudspeakers blasting the sounds of troops, equipment, and gunfire recorded at Fort Knox to mimic troops moving around the German positions. With this setup, they were capable of creating the illusion of thousands of troops moving through the countryside. They created dummy airfields, artillery positions, and troop bivouacs to make the German army think the Allies had set up bases in places where there actually no troops. They faked crossings of the Ruhr and Rhine rivers and staged positions along the Maginot Line and Hürtgen Forest, drawing German troops away from the actual troops and creating opportunities for other units to attack. At one point, they convinced part of the German army that a larger force of 30,000 men was surrounding them, creating fear and confusion that helped drive a German occupation force out one French town.
This is a really neat story (in fact I thought it was so cool I bought a t-shirt with the Ghost Army insignia on it) but sometimes I think that we might be part of a Ghost Army called the Church. If you look around there are buildings all over the place that bear the name church but are there really forces of and for good—Jesus style good—in them? I sometimes hear people talk about the ideas of church from time to time or get fired up about some religious based caused when a politician says the wrong or right thing, but other than voting or complaining on social media, are they doing anything? I have a hard time seeing the things that Jesus advocated for in his ministry and taught his disciples visibly in the world. For instance, if there is a large force of Jesus followers, why is so much hate in the world and why does so much of it come from religious leaders and religious people—especially on social media? If there is a large force of Jesus followers, why are there so many people left hungry, thirsty, clothesless, homeless? If there is a large force of Jesus followers, why are so many people so turned off by the church and the way they have been treated by the church? I could go on but I think you get the picture.
I realize that this little indictment is not a you guys should have done this but a we should have done this sort of thing. We have failed to be the church. We have gotten good at hiding behind the ideas of the church but we have failed—miserably at times—to live into the ideas. I think the greater Church has chosen to be a clearinghouse for arguing over doctrine rather than a sending house for missionaries of the Jesus Way into the world.
I can’t speak for you, but I can’t be a part of that kind of church anymore. I also can’t see leaving the church either. That leaves one option—reformation. I think it is time for a new reformation, a reforming of the Church from what we turned it into back to what Jesus called it to be—a place where the needs of people both spiritual and physical are met, a place where anyone and everyone is welcome to explore the possibilities of what it means to follow the Jesus Way, a place where no one is left out, behind, or beside the way. It should be a place where love of the person and the needs of the person is the deciding factor in ministry decisions. It should be a place where people look to as the example of who Jesus was and what he stood for and not a warning for what not to do with Jesus’ message or the Jesus Way.
Fanciful, unrealistic pipe dream? For some, maybe. For others it may just be a haven, a place to work towards and from to share the true gospel—the real good news— of Jesus. Otherwise, we may well lose the greater war against the darkness that we have created in this world and become a true ghost army—invisible, ineffective, nonexistent.