A Band of Brothers
Impartiality is one of the most needed and maybe one of the most neglected aspects of faithful ministry. The closer our relational bonds are the more easily we can be tempted by line drawing, blind loyalty, party spirit, or clouded judgment. These things have no place among those who account themselves servants of Christ — and that includes within ministerial friendships.
The St. Crispin’s Day speech given by Henry V in Shakespeare’s historical play is well remembered. The French vastly outnumbered the English, and the King had one chance to persuade his men to do what none of them wanted — “to make us fight cheerfully.” And on the muddy fields of Agincourt the King roused and commanded his men for the fight:
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember’d;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile.
The imagery of the band of brothers has been used for wartime propaganda. In popular culture it’s most recognizable by Stephen Ambrose’s record of Easy Company of the 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment assigned to the 101st Airborne Division in World War II. Those who have battled in blood together share a close kinship and loyalty that transcends many relationships in life.
From one angle it’s also reflective of the relationships cultivated in the service of the gospel. The Apostle Paul speaks of the ministry as warfare and the destroying of strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:4). He reminded Timothy to be a “good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:3). He commended Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:5) and Archippus (Philemon 2) as “fellow soldiers.” Aristarchus was Paul’s “fellow prisoner,” which more literally means a fellow-prisoner-of-war (Colossians 4:10). He also identified Prisca and Aquila as those who risked their necks for him (Romans 16:3) — and often made mention of many fellow workers, brothers, and kinsmen.
Pastors and elders can likely identify quickly with Paul’s love for his co-laborers. Writing to William Farell and Peter Viret, John Calvin said: “I think there has never been, in ordinary life, a circle of friends so sincerely bound to each other as we have been in our ministry.” Sharing the experiences and burdens of the pastorate, contending for the faith, and taking the kingdom of heaven by storm has a way of forging battle-like relationships, knitting Christians together in the bonds of love, courage, and loyalty. These friendships are needed in the ministry, and many pastors have been strengthened by such affectionate bonds. After all “a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17).
But the band of brothers can have an insidious effect too. On March 16, 1968 it’s reported that 504 people — including elderly, women, children, and infants — were brutally murdered by United States troops in South Vietnam. This became known as the My Lai Massacre and remains the largest publicized massacre of civilians by US forces in the 20th century. Not every soldier in the company participated in the killings, but they also didn’t protest or file complaints with their superiors. Three US service members tried to stop the massacre and help the Vietnamese. These men were shunned, ignored, and denounced as traitors. In particular Hugh Thompson faced death threats and was vilified for his efforts….
…Sacrificing friendship for the sake of Christ isn’t easy. But sometimes it’s necessary. In March of 1887, Charles Spurgeon was drawn into an immense conflict known as the Down-Grade Controversy. He perceived that the Baptist Union was being threatened and it required him to set himself against some with whom he’d labored for decades. In the heat of the conflict Spurgeon wrote that he had “suffered the loss of friendship and reputation,” and went on to say “the pain it has cost me none can measure.”