Sunday, July 2, 2023

Gettysburg Day 2 (July 2, 1863): "Shall We Stand and Fight?"

On the first day of battle, Meade had kept his headquarters at Taneytown, Maryland, about 14 miles from the battlefield. There he could remain in a central position as his scattered corps began to concentrate in Gettysburg. Sometime around 10:00 pm, he saddled up and left Taneytown behind. Meade and his party made their way to Gettysburg, reaching the town sometime around midnight. There he discovered that his troops were positioned in the form of a fishhook, starting with the barb at Culp's Hill, then curving around Cemetery Hill and following Cemetery Ridge down to the Round Tops. 

When someone asked him how many men he had, Meade replied, "In the course of the day I expect to have about 95,000 -- enough, I guess, for this business." That day, July 2, saw hard fighting all along the line. The enemy came perilously close to breaking through the main Union line on Cemetery Ridge, and at Little Round Top the fighting was some of the most ferocious his men had ever witnessed. But the line held. 

This weekend I've been watching videos on Youtube that follow the troop movements on this second day of battle. I've heard about Longstreet's delayed attack, the fight on Little Round Top, the struggle for Devil's Den, and the slaughter in the Peach Orchard. But the event I'm most interested in took place later that night after darkness had descended on the battlefield. As the firing died down, Meade called his corps commanders together at his new headquarters -- a little white building that was the home of a German-speaking widow named Lydia Leister, located just behind Cemetery Ridge. 

It's one of many familiar sites on the Gettysburg battlefield. By the flickering candlelight the generals were asked, Should the army stay where it is or move? They decided to stay and fight it out. Once the voting was done, Meade quietly said, "Such then is the decision." The meeting broke up about midnight, and the generals returned to their troops to prepare them for a third day of fighting. 

In Phil. 1:27-30 -- a key passage in the book and one containing the letter's first imperative -- Paul exhorts the church to stand and fight. One can't help but notice the military imagery he uses. He is convinced, as doubtless they were too, that some things in church are worth fighting for. Paul says, whatever happens to me, whether I die or remain with you, you must have the courage to stand and fight for the faith of the gospel with a firm grasp of the principles involved.

I've been around churches since I was 8. If you've been involved in church life for that long, you know that most people don't go to church in order to get into a fight. But some people do. Some people are eager for trouble, and there are churches that are in turmoil because of it. However, most people don't go to church to fight. Most people prefer peace and a quiet life. But there are occasions in the life of churches and even denominations when not to fight, not to stand, is the wrong thing to do. There are occasions when to fight is to betray the gospel. But there are occasions when to be silent, when turning away from conflict, is an act of cowardice. When the gospel is under threat, when people are preaching a false gospel or preaching the true gospel for false reasons, the call to stand and fight is appropriate. Just ask the Bible believers in the United Methodist Church or the Bible believers in the Global Anglican Communion. For them, a split over biblical orthodoxy is not just a theoretical possibility. 

It is becoming increasingly obvious that those today who hold to the primal authority of the Bible are true aliens in a culture that disapproves of and even despises them. Will the true church cave in? Will it accommodate to the culture? Or will it take a loving stand for the faith of the gospel? Always there is this tension in denominations between those who dare to resist the culture and those who believe that we must come to terms with the culture and go along with what the world says. It seems clear to me that there are many in the church who have brought compromise with the world by accommodating to it. Others say no, this is too great a price to pay for so-called Christian unity. 

The approval of God or the approval of the world's new morality -- that is the question that faces us today. At its foundation, the debate is about God's authority. It is a question about whether the truth of God's word will be accepted, believed, and obeyed, or whether it will be reinterpreted, put to the side, and disobeyed. The choice is ours. 

Will we stand and fight?