The Word of Cambronne

I was hunting with my eldest son.  He happened upon a snake in tall grass.  Seeing it at the last second before stepping on it he sprang to one side, as only youth can do, yelled, “Snake!”, and as kind of afterthought said “the word of Cambronne.”

I didn’t know what “the word of Cambronne” was either till I happened upon it in a book.   Pierre Cambronne was the commander of Napoleon’s Imperial Guard at Waterloo.  When it was clear all was lost, a British officer asked him to lay down his arms.  Generations of students have been taught that he nobly replied, “‘The Guard dies, but never surrenders.’” What he really said was, ‘Merde!’ (‘S**t!’) (Goodbye, darkness: A Memoir of the Pacific War, William Manchester, 28).

In April 2013 when the President of the ACELC said that in a private meeting President Harrison asked for patience until he could be re-elected in the summer of 2013. I said, “The word of Cambronne.”  When he was re-elected with a fantastic majority, with what secular politics would call a landslide, a mandate, carried into office on shoulders, I said, “Thanks be to God.”  A year later, having taken no visible steps to addressing the errors the ACELC has pointed out, all I could say was “the word of Cambronne.”

But the Association of Confessing Evangelical Congregations doesn’t have “the word of Cambronne” on her seal, but VDMA which stands for the Latin phrase “The Word of the Lord Endures Forever.”  “The Word of Cambronne” doesn’t endure forever, although it has had a surprisingly long life. The French know the truth about what Cambronne really said on that fateful day.  In fact “the word of Cambronne” is a euphemism for merde in France. Still to this day children are told that he said what they know he did not say (Ibid.).

Let’s not do that to our children, our congregations, or to each other.  Let’s speak the truth, albeit in love.  Let’s be honest. What do we have after 4 years of confessional leadership?  We have a Koinonia Project but no koinonia. We are in altar and pulpit fellowship with a church-body that declares that they don’t practice the closed Communion we say we do.  We have confessional pastors “called” out of parishes to become Synod bureaucrats– like we didn’t have enough of them.  Our mission statement reads like that of an ecumenical church, a church from the 1970s, or Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood – Witness, Mercy, Life Together. And the pièce de résistance? A color change from magenta to royal blue and a name change from counselor to visitor.

Cambronne didn’t say, “The Guard dies, but never surrenders.”  He said, “Merde!”  We don’t say that.  We say with St. Peter that the Word of the Lord endures forever, and therefore, outlasts all words of men, all works of men, all institutions of men. So, the Word of the Lord is to be believed, preached, and confessed even when it causes the institutions of men to say “the word of Cambronne.”


About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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