We don’t seem to sing “Onward Christian Soldiers” very often anymore. If so, perhaps our neglect of this great Christian hymn is a product of our times–a shying away from things military toward a kinder, gentler approach even to church life, leaving “like a mighty army” to other radical religious persuasions intent upon taking over the world.

Or perhaps it is that “Onward Christian Soldiers” was written for schoolchildren and intended as a children’s processional. We’ve seen more than enough of life in dictatorial societies where children are ruthlessly indoctrinated―already at a young age lined up and “marching as to war.” Lining up our Sunday School children on the sacristy steps to sing to the congregation of going “forward into battle” may seem a bit harsh and disagreeable to our senses.

Or perhaps we are feeling a little timid these days about Christianity’s standing in this world, increasingly the party out of power. We can easily feel less like “a mighty army” and more like a guerilla group. To be sure, we know that things are going to turn out all right in the end, but to sing robustly of the “happy throng” of men and angels pressing onward to victory while “kingdoms rise and wane” may seem a bit over the top.

Then perhaps we should remember again (and again) that we have every reason to sing “Onward Christian Soldiers” and sing it resoundingly. We are at war, as St. Paul reminds us. This war is carried on within us (Rom. 7:23) and without (Eph. 6:12). We are soldiers enlisted, as St. Paul reminds Timothy, to “wage the good warfare” (1 Tim. 1:18) and to “fight the good fight of faith” (1 Tim. 6:12).

A new starting point now and then could be helpful, an occasion to fall in and start off again on the right foot, an occasion even to approach others of our army who appear to have gone AWOL. A specific day on the calendar could be particularly helpful—a day to regroup, a day to remember that we still are the church militant on this earth, a day to press forward and gain some new ground, a day to break out Baring-Gould’s children’s processional and sing it with renewed gusto: “Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before!”

If so, we just missed a day with potential. How about this past Friday, March 4th? It has the right ring to it. Say that date a few times with military gusto and you will recognize that you are saying “March forth!” It could be the perfect “Command Day!”—our day each year to step up the pace of our Christian lives, to do even one extra thing to make a difference for Christ’s Kingdom, to take on some stubborn thing within our own lives that may be troubling the lives of others or doing harm to Christ’s Kingdom.

To my family’s dismay at times, I enjoy a good play on words. I’ve been advocating March 4th for years as a good day for a Christian rally-the-troops day, the day each year to join the ranks of fellow Christian soldiers and “march forth” like the mighty army we are. Obviously “Command Day” hasn’t caught on yet. It may take some time. But there still is time. We have until the great victory celebration of Revelation 7 when “Onward Christian Soldiers,” no longer needed, will take its rightful place among “Best-Loved Hymns of the Church Militant” in the heavenly music hall of fame, and a new victory anthem will have become the hymn of choice for the Church Triumphant: “Salvation Belongs to Our God Who Sits on the Throne, and to the Lamb!”  

Ray Hartwig