“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”
During the period of American involvement in the Vietnam War (1956-1973), due to the nature of the conflict, the Pentagon adopted a policy that focused on what was termed “body count” or the number of enemy killed in battle. Since the conflict was a guerilla war with no clear lines of battle or well-defined fronts and because traditional measures such as geographical territory gained were few and uncertain, “body count” became the gauge of success or progress toward victory. The higher the body count of enemy dead the better the war was going. Eventually, the policy became suspect since who exactly the enemy was or who was killed was hard to measure – suspicion and accusations of civilian deaths as well as inflated counts began to circulate and gain credence. Conrad C. Crane, director of the military history institute at the U.S. Army War College states “In Vietnam, we were pursuing a strategy of attrition, so body counts became the measure of performance for military units, but the numbers got so wrapped up with career aspirations that they were sometimes falsified.” Considering how U.S. involvement in the war ended with withdrawal and the subsequent defeat and occupation of S. Vietnam by the North, the bold claims that “body count” was ever an accurate gauge of success was clearly shown to be bogus.
Over 60 years ago, pastor and author A.W. Tozer pointed out a similar misguided policy by the church which he called the worship of “the goddess Numbers” or measuring success in the size of the membership roll, the dollar amount of the budget, the total mass of bodies that show up at an event or raise their hand or walk an aisle to accept Jesus into their heart – “if these look good the church is prospering and the pastor is thought to be a success. The church that can show an impressive quantitative growth is frankly envied and imitated by other ambitious churches.”
Such a “body count” is just as bogus a measure of true conversion or real spiritual growth or genuine Christ-like maturity as was used by the P.R. managers of Vietnam. The American obsession with body count has been the standard used since before Tozer’s days but the evidence of spiritual transformation house by house, street by street, community by community is just as lacking as was the end result of Vietnam – “body count” despite impressive bodies, bucks and bricks, becomes a way to dress up attrition and ultimate defeat.
The measurement of success in the book of Revelation is not how many enlist but rather “overcome” or are “victors” – to pick another metaphor, it’s not who shows up for the race but who finish it by overcoming – overcoming adversity, opposition, persecution, the Adversary, the God resisting kosmos, and the sinful inclinations of one’s own heart. I rejoice that the book of Revelation (7:9 ) shows “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” who will experience the glorious grace of God. There I find no strategy of attrition that needs to be dressed up to look like success. I pray many, many more of this generation and generations to come will experience the true, saving power of God’s glorious grace in the gospel of Jesus Christ. May his praises be even far more innumerable than the countless saints who will sing them.