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Mike Pohlman Christian Blog and Commentary

Ulysses S. Grant and the Display of Ministry

  • Mike Pohlman
    Mike serves as the senior pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Bellingham, Washington. Mike is a former church planter in the Pacific Northwest, and served for three years as the executive producer of The Albert Mohler Program, a nationally syndicated radio show dedicated to Christianity and culture. Mike has a PhD in American church history from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mike is husband to Julia and father to four wonderful children: Samuel (12), Anna (10), John (9) and Michael (4). When not pastoring, Mike loves sports, music, and hanging out with his family.
  • 2009 Mar 16
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In his excellent, brief biography of Ulysses S. Grant, Michael Korda argues that among Grant biographers there has been "a widespread failure to understand Grant's character, which was admittedly complex and always, to some degree, secretive." Korda continues by contrasting Grant with General Robert E. Lee: "With Lee what you saw was what you got--he was a proud, patrician officer, a beau sabreur, a born commander who expected to be obeyed. With Grant what you saw was what he wanted you to see--a plain, ordinary man with no pretensions to gentility or military glamour."

So if "a plain, ordinary man" is what people saw, what were they missing? Korda explains:

"But in truth Grant never saw himself as 'plain' or 'ordinary,' and was always intensely conscious of his rank, his social position, and his gifts as a commander. Grant's black slouch hat, his omnipresent cigar, and his muddy boots are not so much a pose, like Ike's not wearing his medal ribbons on his uniform jacket, or Monty's affecting a beret, baggy corduroy trousers, and a sweater even as a field marshal, but rather a simple lack of interest in military niceties, a fierce concentration on the business of war--which was winning--rather than the display of war, which seemed to him a waste of time and energy."

I love this description of Grant and could not help applying it to many contemporary expressions of Christianity. What I see far too much of in American religion today is the "display" of ministry rather than "a fierce concentration on the business of [ministry]"--which is the glory of God. In other words, it seems to me that many a minister today loves being dressed in the finest of fabrics, adorned with glossy reminders of his "rank," and building ever-bigger command centers for his sprawling empire--all the while forgetting that the display of ministry is not the same as the business of ministry.

This, of course, is not new to our generation. Jesus saw the hypocritical display of ministry in the religious leaders of his day, and condemned it for what it was:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

 

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

Given human nature, this is a perennial problem. And as such, one we must continually guard against.   

I'm reminded of Jon Foreman's "Instead of a Show":

I hate all your show and pretense
The hypocrisy of your praise
The hypocrisy of your festivals
I hate all your show
Away with your noisy worship
Away with your noisy hymns
I stomp on my ears when you're singing 'em
I hate all your show

Instead let there be a flood of justice
An endless procession of righteous living, living
Instead let there be a flood of justice
Instead of a show

Your eyes are closed when you're praying
You sing right along with the band
You shine up your shoes for services
There's blood on your hands
You turned your back on the homeless
And the ones that don't fit in your plan
Quit playing religion games
There's blood on your hands

Instead let there be a flood of justice
An endless procession of righteous living, living
Instead let there be a flood of justice
Instead of a show
I hate all your show


Longing for the show to end...