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What is the church militant?

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“The church militant” is a reference, primarily, but not exclusively, used by Roman Catholics, to the body of believers alive and in the world at any given time in history. The designation emphasizes the struggle of the church in all ages to advance God’s kingdom and defeat Satan’s forces.

The words of the 1865 hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers” by Sabine Baring-Gould is a good reminder of what it means to be “the church militant”:

Onward, Christian soldiers,
Marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus
Going on before!
Christ, the royal Master,
Leads against the foe;
Forward into battle
See His banner go!

Refrain: Onward, Christian soldiers,
Marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus
Going on before!

At the name of Jesus
Satan’s host doth flee;
On then, Christian soldiers,
On to victory!
Hell’s foundations quiver
At the shout of praise;
Brothers, lift your voices,
Loud your anthems raise!

Like a mighty army
Moves the Church of God;
Brothers, we are treading
Where the saints have trod.
We are not divided,
All one Body we—
One in hope and doctrine,
One in charity.

Crowns and thrones may perish,
Kingdoms rise and wane,
But the Church of Jesus
Constant will remain.
Gates of hell can never
‘Gainst the Church prevail;
We have Christ’s own promise,
Which can never fail.

Onward, then, ye people,
Join our happy throng;
Blend with ours your voices
In the triumph song.
Glory, laud and honor
Unto Christ, the King—
This through countless ages
Men and angels sing.

The militant imagery in songs such as this must not be confused with advocacy for theocratic governments or taking control of the world to institute Christian laws. In other words, it is not the counterpart to “militant Islam.”

The church can properly be described as “the church militant,” since the Bible uses imagery of warfare in presenting the Christian life. Of course, the militancy of the church is not directed toward human beings or human institutions. As Paul reminds us, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). The “weapon” of the church is the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17). “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3–5).

The composition the church militant keeps changing, as the church militant is comprised only of those here on earth at a particular time. (In AD 70, for instance, all the Christians alive then were part of the church militant at that time. Today, the church militant is all believers alive at this time.) The idea of the church militant is found in Bible passages such as 1 Timothy 6:12, “Fight the good fight of the faith”; Ephesians 6:11, “Put on the full armor of God”; and 2 Corinthians 6:7, “. . . in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left.” Earth is the battlefield, and all Christians are part of the church militant and involved in spiritual battle, whether they know it or not.

Church Militant is also the name of a Roman Catholic organization dedicated to spreading Catholic teaching via digital means. It was known as Real Catholic TV until 2012. Much of their content addresses social, cultural, and/or political issues.

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This page last updated: July 26, 2022