Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Christians and the Military

Some time ago, I had an email discussion with another Christian on the subject of how a follower of Jesus should view military service. The other fellow holds the view that being in the armed forces is an honorable vocation for a Christian, while I believe that such service is incompatible with the teachings of Jesus. I thought it might be informative to post some of the dialogue. For clarity, I will indicate his points with a ^ and preface my responses with an *.


^Question: What does the Bible say about a Christian serving in the military?

John, One of the first things we need to do as God’s people when we study a subject especially when it is a controversial one is to focus on God’s word only and not to our traditions or denomination we are a part of.

*I can assure you that I do not believe anything just because a particular group or denomination says so. I follow the teachings of the New Testament as I understand them with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. As you may know, I come from a Catholic background, which I have rejected. I do not believe in non-resistance because I identify with the Mennonites now. I identify with the Mennonites now because I believe in non-resistance and many other teachings common among them. However, I do not accept conservative Mennonite beliefs wholesale.

^First of all, Christ’s teachings are repeating what was taught in the Old Testament, as he said "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill." Matthew 5:17

*Christ did not destroy the law, but I believe that He did fulfIll it by His atoning sacrifice. "It is finished." As such, I view the law to be obsolete as a moral standard for Christians.

But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises. For if that first
covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second... In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.
(Heb 8:6,7,13)


Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Matthew 5:5

but that is found in the Old Testament

But the meek shall inherit the earth Psalm 37:11

*I consider Christ's teachings in the Sermon on the Mount to be more than simply repeating Old Testament teaching. They represent a higher moral standard.


Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths:

But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.

(Mat 5:33-36)

The OT command was not to swear falsely. The NT command is not to swear at all.


Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:

But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

(Mat 6:19-21)

In the OT, amassing wealth was acceptable. In the NT, Jesus tells us not to accumulate wealth. More examples could be given.

^When Jesus said "Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy" He was not replacing it but correcting the abuses of the day because it had been distorted over the years.

Actually the verses they were misquoting was Leviticus 19:17 & 18

Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him.18 Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the Lord.

*In Leviticus, an Israelite's neighbors were defined as other Israelites ("the children of thy people"). The surrounding nations were outsiders from which God told the Israelites to separate themselves. A lawyer asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbour?" The Lord's response was the account of the good Samaritan, a member of a nation traditionally hated by the Jews.

^Principals like "Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head" Romans 12:20 The same things found in the Old Testament as well.

*I understand that Romans 12:20 is a reference to Proverbs. However, the practice of the principle was sporadic in the OT at best. This is understandable considering it was outside of the Mosaic law. In the NT it becomes binding for Christians.

^What about Killing????

Well the Bible tells us not to Kill Exodus 20:13

The Hebrew word for Kill is (
רָצַח ratsach) Which means not to Murder

Then there is Ecclesiastes 3:3 A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

Hebrew word for kill is (הָרַג harag) which is to protect in war and defense of one’s family, not to abuse.

The role of the institution of Government (Genesis 9 Noahic Covenant) is to take one’s life when they shed another’s blood (murder) – Capital Punishment which is commanded by God and was not done away with in the New Testament.

Just like in any language there are words that are spelled the same and have different meanings.

*I am aware that the word "kill" in the Sixth Commandment means "murder." However, my opposition to military service has nothing to do with the Ten Commandments or any other part of the Mosaic law. Yes, God has given the government the authority to use violence to punish evildoers as indicated in Romans 13. Israel was an earthly nation and as such its government like any other used force to defend itself and enforce order.

I want to make sure you understand one key aspect of my position. I am not a pacifist. I don't believe Christians shouldn't be in the military because war is inherently against God's will. However, I believe it is God's will that Christians should not be involved in the fighting of wars.

This seems like an appropriate place to elaborate on my understanding of the two kingdom concept. A continual subject of Jesus's teachings was the kingdom of God. The reason the teachings of Christ raised the bar for morality is because Jesus was not interested in creating a new earthly kingdom, but rather something entirely new. When Pilate questioned Him about His kingdom, "Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence." (John 18:36). The kingdom of God is not some future state but the present membership of the body of Christ.

Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated
us into the kingdom of his dear Son:

(Col 1:12-13)

I believe the distinction between kingdom of the world and kingdom of God can be observed in Romans 12 and 13. Chapter 12 contains instructions for Christian living, and Paul speaks in the second person--you do this or you do not do that. Chapter 13 explains the enforcement role of the government, which Paul refers to in the third person. No man can serve two masters.


For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to
execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.

(Rom 13:4)

^The Bible contains plenty of information about serving in the military. While many of the Bible’s references to the military are only analogies, several verses directly relate to this question. The Bible does not specifically state whether or not someone should serve in the military. At the same time, Christians can rest assured that being a soldier is highly respected throughout the Scriptures and know that such service is consistent with a biblical worldview.

*The NT does not say, "thou shalt not serve in the military." Neither does it say, "thou shalt not watch ungodly entertainment." However, it is an obvious application of Biblical principles. Also, to say that being a soldier is highly respected throughout the Scriptures is a bold statement. Consider, for instance, when God told David that he would not build the temple because he had shed so much blood in his wars (1 Chronicles 22:8).

For a Christian to know that any behavior, such as military service, is consistent with a Biblical worldview requires at a minimum a thorough examination of the teachings of Christ and His apostles. As a start, look at the Great Commission.

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:

Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

(Mat 28:19-20)

That is our job as Christians, in a nutshell. It is rather hard to accomplish these things if we are killing people on the battlefield. If unbelievers, those opposing soldiers need the Gospel too. If believers, those opposing soldiers should be our partners with all other believers in making disciples.

^The first example of military service is found in the Old Testament (Genesis 14), when Abraham's nephew Lot was kidnapped by Chedorlaomer, king of Elam, and his allies. Abraham rallied to Lot's aid by gathering 318 trained men of his household and defeating the Elamites. Here we see armed forces engaged in a noble task—rescuing and protecting the innocent.

Late in its history, the nation of Israel developed a standing army. The sense that God was the Divine Warrior and would protect His people regardless of their military strength may have been a reason why Israel was slow to develop an army. The development of a regular standing army in Israel came only after a strong, centralized political system had been developed by Saul, David, and Solomon. Saul was the first to form a permanent army (1 Samuel 13:2; 24:2; 26:2).

What Saul began, David continued. He increased the army, brought in hired troops from other regions who were loyal to him alone (2 Samuel 15:19-22) and turned over the direct leadership of his armies to a commander-in-chief, Joab. Under David, Israel also became more aggressive in its offensive military policies, absorbing neighboring states like Ammon (2 Samuel 11:1; 1 Chronicles 20:1-3). David established a system of rotating troops with twelve groups of 24,000 men serving one month of the year (1 Chronicles 27). Although Solomon's reign was peaceful, he further expanded the army, adding chariots and horsemen (1 Kings 10:26). The standing army continued (though divided along with the kingdom after the death of Solomon) until 586 B.C., when Israel (Judah) ceased to exist as a political entity.

*Here I will simply reiterate my belief that Christ's teachings for the kingdom of God constitute a superior standard compared to what took place with earthly kingdoms in the OT.

^In the New Testament, Jesus marveled when a Roman centurion (an officer in charge of one hundred soldiers) approached Him. The centurion’s response to Jesus indicated his clear understanding of authority, as well as his faith in Jesus (Matthew 8:5-13). Jesus did not denounce his career. Many centurions mentioned in the New Testament are praised as Christians, God-fearers, and men of good character (Matthew 8:5; 27:54; Mark 15:39-45; Luke 7:2; 23:47; Acts 10:1; 21:32; 28:16).

*Jesus did not denounce the centurion's career and neither did Jesus applaud his career. The reason Jesus marveled at his faith is because he was a Gentile, not because he was a soldier. When Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well, she was living with a man she was not married to, but Jesus did not tell her leave him. It does not follow that Christ approved of her living in sin. As for Cornelius, the Bible does not say what he did after his conversion. For all we know, he may have left the Roman military. These examples simply illustrate that a soldier can receive the Gospel, just like any person no matter how sinful.

^The places and the titles may have changed, but our armed forces should be just as valued as the centurions of the Bible. The position of soldier was highly respected. For example, Paul describes Epaphroditus, a fellow Christian, as a "fellow soldier" (Philippians 2:25). The Bible also uses military terms to describe being strong in the Lord by putting on the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-20), including the tools of the soldier—helmet, shield, and sword.

God’s word does address serving in the military, directly and indirectly. The Christian men and women who serve their country with character, dignity, and honor can rest assured that the civic duty they perform is condoned and respected by our sovereign God. Those who honorably serve in the military deserve our respect and gratitude.

*You mentioned above military references serving as analogies. I believe that is the case for these examples. Christians are soldiers in a spiritual battle. We are grappling with the devil for the souls of men.

Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of
this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.

(2Ti 2:3-4)

I think earthly warfare would qualify as an affair of this life; it is contrary to the Great Commission. We are called to spread the kingdom of God. That kingdom is where a Christian's primary loyalty should be, not in the earthly kingdom he happens to be a citizen of. God will attend to the relations between nations. Things like civic duty or even the fates of different countries pale in eternal significance to the value of one soul. As such, our weapons and our battles are spiritual.

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare
are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;

(2Co 10:3-5)

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

(Eph 6:12)

^Luke 3:14 And the soldiers likewise demanded of him (John The Baptist), saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence (to extort from one by intimidation money or other property) to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages.

John did not tell them to get out of the military but not to abuse their occupation.

*The ministry of John the Baptist was still under the Old Covenant. He was the last Hebrew prophet. Jesus had not yet introduced His teachings on the kingdom of God, and John was not a member of it.

Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

(Mat 11:11)

The law and the prophets

were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it.
(Luk 16:16)

^The Military has been used of God and there is nothing that forbids one serving in the Military, but like anything else we do, not to abuse the limited power entrusted to us and use it for his glory.

Our family ultimately seeks peace and to love our enemy as Christ commands, but we also believe as the bible teaches to provide and defend our way of life.

*Just because God has used the military does not automatically justify Christian participation. God has the prerogative to use the most wicked person to accomplish His will if He so wishes. In the OT, God used Assyria and Babylon to carry Israel and Judah into captivity as a consequence of their transgressions, and those were pagan kingdoms.

As I see it, serving in the military violates the teachings of Christ on loving your enemies. I'm a visual person, so I will attempt to paint a picture of a scene. Your unit is deployed to the front lines of a battle. You spot the enemy's troops. You raise your assault rifle and line up your sights on an enemy soldier. You wait until he comes in range and then pull the trigger. When you opened fire on that person, were you loving him?

Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love
is the fulfilling of the law.

(Rom 13:10)

As for our way of life, it is not our role to defend it with force. Our shield and defender is God.

Let your
conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.
(Heb 13:5-6)

More food for thought: are we absolutely sure our way of life is totally pleasing to God? He chastens those He loves. How did Jesus indicate His followers should respond to opposition? When Jesus sent out the twelve apostles to cast out demons and heal, these were some of His instructions:

Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.

(Mat 10:16)

If they were persecuted, the Lord instructed them to flee, not to fight back. Here's another example. Jesus was passing through a Samaritan village with the apostles, but the Samaritans did not want anything to do with them.

And when his disciples James and John saw
this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did? But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them. And they went to another village.

(Luk 9:54-56)

One more point I would like to consider is how the first generations of Christians looked at this subject. What was the original teaching of the Christian church? These writers were only a handful of generations removed from the apostles. The following quotes are drawn from The Ante-Nicene Fathers, as organized in A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, edited by David W. Bercot.

We who formerly murdered one another now refrain from making war even upon our enemies.

-Justin Martyr, c. 160, Vol. 1, page 176.

The Christian does no harm even to his enemy.

-Tertullian, c. 197, Vol. 3, page 51.

Now inquiry is made about the point of whether a believer may enter into military service. The question is also asked whether those in the military may be admitted into the faith--even the rank and file (or any inferior grade), who are not required to take part in sacrifices or capital punishments...A man cannot give his allegiance to two masters--God and Caesar...How will a Christian man participate in war? In fact, how will he serve even in peace without a sword? For the Lord has taken the sword away. It is also true that soldiers came to John [the Baptist] and received the instructions for their conduct. It is true also that a centurion believed. Nevertheless, the Lord afterward, in disarming Peter, disarmed every soldier.

-Tertullian, c. 200, Vol. 3, page 73.

Yet Christ nowhere teaches that it is right for His own disciples to offer violence to anyone, no matter how wicked. For He did not consider it to be in accord with His laws to allow the killing of any individual whomever. For His laws were derived from a divine source.

-Origen, c. 248, Vol. 4, page 467.

These examples are representative, but there are many more. Even as late as the Council of Nicaea, the church prescibed excommunication for former soldiers who returned to the military. It was only after the fusion of church and state initiated by Constantine in the 4th century that it became acceptable for Christians to join the military.

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