Hold the Line

     I'm always a little crunched on the aspect of time. Yes, I know that everyone has twenty-four hours equally in a day. But between my secular job, my family, preparing a sermon, tending the flock, trying to get a little exercise, and keeping the yard in shape, it's always tricky to find uninterrupted time to read. But recently I found a little time and read a book entitled "In Deadly Combat," by Gottlob Bidermann. It's a historical account of life on the Russian Front during WWII. I have read many books about the war, but I had never read any firsthand accounts from a German perspective on fighting the Soviets. It was fascinating. It was sobering. Bidermann was barely 19 years old when he boarded the eastbound train in an infantryman's uniform to fight the enemies of the fatherland. He had no political aspirations, and like so many of the young men who bled and died for Hitler's Third Reich, he could not have fathomed the evils being perpetrated in the name of National Socialism.

     He spent 6 punishing Russian winters on the front, trying to fight, sleep, and merely survive in temperatures that regularly dropped below zero for weeks on end. After one winter's brutal and deadly battle in which Soviet infantry made a broad assault on his position, he wrote:

Bodies clad in earth-brown and white camouflage uniforms lay heaped in front of the machine-gun positions...The forest before us had become a concentrated killing ground. There was no need to search out targets as the Soviets threw themselves toward our line...Despite the overwhelming terror that swept over them, the grenadiers remained in their positions, refusing to panic. As if on a training exercise, the landsers (German infantry) controlled and sustained their fire, able to observe the field of fire directly before the line, unconscious of what might have occurred to their right or to their left.

     The Russian assault ground to a halt under the stalwart defenses of Bidermann's unit. He would live to see another day. In fact, he and his regiment would not only survive countless such battles, they would remain cohesive and intact until the bitter end, laying down arms only after receiving orders from Berlin to surrender. Through unforgiving weather, strangled supply lines, slim rations, and wave after wave of Soviet assaults, they were never defeated.

     As I read Bidermann's impressive and death-defying record, I realized that a very important spiritual application was there for Christians. I know it sounds strange to glean Biblical principle from the German Wehrmact, but examples of God's word are true no matter where we find them. Biderman's survival, as well as the survival of his entire regiment in one of the most brutal contests ever undertaken, was a feat he credits to the fanatical devotion individual German soldiers felt for one another. They pledged their sacred honor and their lives to support one another in every circumstance. When weapons and supplies failed, when Soviets offensives rushed their lines with insurmountable odds, and when death and defeat looked absolutely certain, the men held their positions, knowing that retreat would only condemn their brothers-in-arms to certain death.

     All infantry tactics have a common thread. Every man has to manage the threat immediately to his front. He cannot become distracted with his right flank or his left, but must give full concentration and energy to the task set before him. As the strength of a chain depends on every link, so the infantryman must rely upon the man to his left and to his right to manage his own field of fire. Every position is tied into the next, and as long as everyone answers their immediate responsibility reliably, the entire line is secure and the unit survives. As soon as the chain is broken however, the flanks are exposed and defeat is sure to follow. The unit is incredibly vulnerable from the sides and rear, and if the man beside you falters in his responsibility, you will surely falter in yours. Mutual trust and support are the key to all infantry tactics.

     The corresponding Biblical principle is this: God has given us the power of His Holy Spirit to live the Christian life, but He has given each of us separate gifts, abilities, and responsibilities to edify and minister to the entire body of Christ. There are no "lone ranger" Christians; we must serve one another as a "body of believers" to be truly effective for the Kingdom. Like interlinked infantrymen, we each have a responsibility in front of us that will undoubtedly affect the brother next to us. Any compromise or self-serving retreat from God's word only exposes the flank of those who remain faithful on either side, and makes it extremely difficult for them to hold the line. Capitulation to the world in one area of the body of Christ decimates those defending another.

     When David sinned with Bathsheba, the cover up cost Uriah and his fellow soldiers their lives, and ultimately the entire nation paid a price in blood and turmoil. When pastors today compromise the word of God and preach a gospel of convenience, when Christian leaders endorse the culture, and when individual Christians abandon necessary convictions, the chain breaks and the church is exposed to needless attack. Instead of focusing on the battle the Lord has placed in front of us, we have to fight flanking attacks that foolishness and failures have exposed. Satan would love nothing more than to see Christians break their interdependence with one another and begin to fight skirmishes within.

     Our faithfulness to Jesus is not merely a personal issue. It affects every other Christian around us. Let's hold the line where the Lord has placed us, and let's protect our brother's flank. The author of Hebrews has to be thinking the same when he says, "And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching" (Hebrews 10:24-25).