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“The Bridge Over The River Kwai” is an Academy Award winning film loosely based on the Japanese construction of a bridge across the Khwae Yai river during World War II using Allied prisoners of war as slave labor. Alec Guinness won an Oscar for his portrayal of Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson, the British Commander. 

As the film proceeds, the torturous treatment of the soldiers begins to take its toll on the Allies and especially on Nicholson. He begins to instruct his men that contrary to sabotaging the building of the bridge (which they had been previously doing- mixing bad concrete and collecting white ants in large numbers to eat the wooden structures), he decided to build the bridge to the glory of the British and also to boost his men’s morale over a job well done.

At the climax of the movie a train full of Japanese soldiers was heading toward the bridge. Meanwhile a team of Allied saboteurs had hidden explosives under the bridge. Nicholson spots the wire to the explosives that had been exposed by the receding river. He then alerts the Japanese commander, Colonel Saito, and together they hurry down the river bank pulling up and exposing the wire, much to the horror of the Allies hiding in the bushes. A firefight erupts and Saito is killed as is one of the American saboteurs. Nicholson, mortally wounded finally comes to his senses and realizes who the real enemy is. “What have I done?” he exclaims when in his last dying gasp (much like Samson of old) he fell on the plunger, the bridge was blown up and the Japanese transport train plunges into the river.

I first saw this epic film as a boy but I have never forgotten the misplaced priorities of Colonel Nicholson and how he was temporarily duped into setting his priorities wrong and thereby sabotaging the war efforts of his own country. He had taken the British work ethic, a good thing, pushed it to an extreme and became an “enemy within”.

The Bible is big on Christian unity. We are told that God blesses and commands it (Ps 133, 1 Cor. 1:10, Phil. 2:1-2) and that Jesus prayed for it (John 17:21-23). When we pray for and work for unity we are on God’s side. When we allow our Enemy to push us to extremes it brings confusion and destruction within our ranks (1 Cor. 14:33, Jn. 10:10) and we become like the deluded Colonel– an enemy within God’s Army. 

There is the danger of overemphasizing organizational, institutional and doctrinal unity (denominationalism) to an extreme and under emphasizing the relational unity demonstrated in the Bible by people like David and Jonathan, commanded by Jesus himself (John 13:34-35) and taught by the Apostles (Eph. 4:3,13, Jas. 2:1-10, 1 Pet.1:22, 1 Jn.2:7-11,3:11-17). The challenge for us is this: How can we maintain relational unity as we develop friendships with those outside our primary ministry circle? After all, the word “denominate” means “to divide”!

Must we let our position on the Second Coming hinder our unity with those who are attempting to reach the 2 billion who have yet to hear that He came the first time?  If some among us prefers to take the Song of Solomon literally and not as a prophetic, allegorized, spiritualized, romantic picture of Christ’s love for the church can they still be on the team? Does this mean they are not “intimate” with God? 

Extremes breed heresy and division. In the Early Church when the humanity of Christ was pushed to an extreme at the expense of His Deity, Arianism was the result. Apollinarianism and Docetism emerged when His Divinity was pushed at the expense of His humanity. If we allow prayer to be pushed at the expense of preaching we will become a monastery. If we push preaching at the expense of prayer we will become powerless. If we push mercy, justice, social transformation and relief and development at the expense of gospel proclamation and church planting we are in danger of sending well fed, healed, and socially transformed people into a Christ-less eternity. If on the other hand we push evangelism at the expense of social action we are in danger of obeying the Great Commission (preach the gospel) while disobeying the Great Commandment (love your neighbor).

Extremists kill abortion Doctors, start wars,(including religious ones – James 4:1-3), split churches and more often then not, become the enemy within. Let’s be careful that we don’t shoot ourselves in the collective foot by wounding our friends in the house of God with “friendly fire”. I am convinced that controversy and disunity are not simply theological or methodological problems but are an actual spirit that invades our camp, pushes us to extremes and divides us. If Satan can’t destroy us from the outside with persecution, he will certainly try to harass us from the inside by turning us on one another.          

continue reading the views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the views of Calvary Southampton

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