Around the year 1748 Czar Nicolai of Russia built a fortress on the island of Suomen Linna in the Baltic Sea. It was built to mark and guard his new territory, the country we now call Finland, which he had gained from Sweden. In the middle of that sea-fortress is a Lutheran Church, and one which I think symbolises in a multi-dimensional and powerful way why we exist as Christians and as a church.
Firstly, the church stands in the middle of very rough and dangerous waters, such waters we know that for the people of Israel in the Old Testament symbolised the forces of evil and chaos; the roaring and foaming waters of Psalm 46:3 for example. As we turn the page of a new year, the western Christian church stands in the midst of such forces.
These are the Barbarians, no longer just at but inside the Gates of Australian society (in schools, universities, parliaments) and who seek to oppose and damage the things of God and His Kingdom. Inside the Gates, so the battle is now one of ‘street by street, and ‘house to house’ combat.
Secondly, at this ‘Gate of the year’ moment, the church on Suomen Linna has another, as far as I know unique, feature that should remind us of our purpose, that is it also functions as a lighthouse. In its tower there is a powerful light to guide sailors away from dangerous rocks and into the safety of Helsinki Harbour. What a great symbol that is of the central purpose of the church! For those whom God has graciously saved in Christ from drowning in the seas of darkness, our reason for existence is to powerfully shine the light of Christ across the oceans of 21st century societies, where so many are lost and drowning in spiritual darkness and danger, and to lead people into the safe harbour of God’s Kingdom.
The third powerful symbol of the church is that it is a garrison church. Suomen Linna is a fortified island on which are based military forces; it is indeed an island prepared and organised to fight for the King. We as a church are to be organised to fight for our King, Jesus. Yet Christians in the west seem to have largely forgotten that to be a Christian means signing up for God’s army and being actively, not passively, involved in the spiritual battle that rages around us. This amnesia is reflected in the virtual absence of military themes in contemporary Christian songs, yet Paul reminds us that we are engaged in a spiritual battle, not primarily against people but against the spiritual “powers of this dark world ” (Ephesians 6:12).
The rapidly increasing challenge as we stand at the brink of 2019 is to realize that we step into a War-Zone, and to dedicate ourselves to repent of and to reject the so pervasive, comfortable ‘Churchianity ’ of Christianity-Lite, and answer Jesus call to battle. This means striving with all our might in the proclamation of the gospel. We also need to be prepared for the casualties we will take, but in the knowledge our victory is sure, because we are members of Christ’s victorious army.
It is in this very context that we exhort new converts in their baptism to “Fight bravely under His banner, against sin, the world and the devil and continue Christ’s faithful soldier and servant to their life’s end”. If we claim to be a Christian this is what we have signed up for.
As we take the step into the increasingly fierce battle that is 2019, Suomen Linna and the Church there provides for us three powerful symbols of who we are and what our task is. To be Soldiers of Christ, engaged in His battle against the crashing waves of Barbarian forces that are currently swamping western society, using His great weapon – the lighthouse of the Gospel of Christ.