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A Model for Manhood

Several months ago, I said that I would tell you what I believe is the biggest problem in the world today, and what I believe is its solution. Well, this is it.

When my dad died in 2001, he was 76 years old, a former athlete, veteran of WWII, graduate of the University of North Carolina, businessman, husband, father of three, survivor of three heart attacks and a self-described "country boy." In true Southern fashion, we had a reception on the eve of his funeral, in which people, dressed in their Sunday best, were lined up outside to pay their respects. There were two comments made by the mourners that became recurring themes that evening: "Your father was a true gentleman," and, "Your father was my best friend."

I was such a blubbering wreck at the time, that the only thing that registered with me was that so many people considered my dad to be their best friend. Later, I began to contemplate the "gentleman" part, and I realized what a profound pronouncement they were making.

Now, the phrase "true gentleman" may not mean much to people from other parts of the country; but in the South, it is the quintessential praise or compliment that can be paid a man. It means "true knight." So, whatever best qualities of knighthood and chivalry you can conjure up in your mind, that is what the word "gentleman" means in the South. President George Washington, General Robert E. Lee and Lieutenant General Stonewall Jackson were all true gentlemen. A true knight has the highest character and purest motivation, does the greatest good, and consistently treats other people with grace and charity. The female counterpart is "lady."

Why am I talking about this? Well, I believe the biggest problem in the world today is not war, poverty, disease or anything like that. I believe it is that there are very few knights and ladies left. We've gotten away from the values of chivalry, and that, in a nutshell, is the cause of all the other problems. I know all about sin and the fallen nature of man. That is Christ's problem, not ours, and He has solved it. If you think you can live in a world without conflict or struggle, you're living in a dream world. This fallen world is a reality. But how we deal with the fallen world - that, we can do something about.

So, I'm not talking about the problem with man spiritually; I'm talking about the problem with man after he becomes a new creation in Christ: why all these Christians covering the globe don't seem to be making much progress in bringing about God's Kingdom on Earth. Christ wasn't kidding when He said, "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven." So, how come we're not doing it if we're praying it so much? I believe it is a lack of good men and good women - knights and ladies, if you will: we are not training our children to become in this world what God made them to be in Christ.

And it hasn't been so long ago that we did embrace the virtues of chivalry and did teach our children to do the same. The reason American men and women of WWII have been called the greatest generation is because they still lived that code of behavior. Freeing the world from the stranglehold of fascism (Nazi Germany in the West and Imperialist Japan in the East) was the right and honorable - the knightly - thing to do. Compare then with now. What would it take today to convince the American people to engage in such a struggle? Given our present nation, I don't think we could.

The reason chivalry is so important is because it has defined manhood and womanhood for the Western world since the time of the Romans. Knighthood isn't just about men in armor on horseback from the Middle Ages - it is a way of thinking and living that puts societies and cultures on a higher plane - a godly plane. But chivalry in America began to fade after WWII, and it has been getting weaker ever since.

And it has nothing to do with sex or being sexist. It has everything to do with how we think about God, ourselves and each other: why we're here. Every problem that exists in the world today, within the context of what Christ accomplished for us on the cross, can be boiled down to our understanding of what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman. That is the crux of chivalry, and, after salvation, that is the crux of Christianity.

Every man that understands and embraces true manhood walks with Christ and blesses everyone he meets. The same goes for women that understand and embrace what it means to be real women. And it is knighthood and its code of chivalry that define both these roles. The beauty of knighthood for the Christian man and woman is that the code of chivalry that governs knighthood is exactly the same as the code of love that governs Christ's kingdom. The difference, perhaps, is that chivalry puts skin on love: it defines and describes for Western man what the Bible commands for all men.

Over the next several months, I would like to take you on an adventure into the world of knights and ladies (i.e., manhood and womanhood) with a series of short outings through the twelve knightly virtues that make up the code of chivalry. What I hope you will say at the end of them is that they describe what it means to be a follower of Christ more clearly than anything else you've ever heard; but, more importantly, because I have taken you through them in the form of knighthood, that they mean far, far more to you personally; and, most importantly, that you now have a plan to put them into practice.

Discipleship implies training. Yet, most Christians have never been trained. Christ's disciples were trained personally by the Master, and they trained the disciples that came after. Knights in the Middle Ages were trained vigorously, as they went through the various stages of page, squire and finally knight. Parents in the past who knew what they were about trained their children to be gentlemen and ladies. We need to get back to training our children to become the men and women God intended. We need to get back to training them, and ourselves as well, as knights and ladies. I hope you will enjoy this adventure, because it is, I believe, the most important thing there is after salvation. It is the sanctification process as a living, real adventure.


Waitsel Smith, June 6, 2009

Text © 2009 Waitsel Smith. All Rights Reserved.

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