Should Christians serve in the military?

Should Christians serve?In honor of Memorial Day and all who served we are offering this ENCORE POST

Some Christians refuse to serve in the military on religious grounds.  So what of those who do serve?  Are they disobeying God?  Let’s look into God’s Word and see what HE has to say.

Note: Because this is such a complex issue and because the topic so deeply impacts the lives of many men and women who are serving in the armed forces, this topic deserves greater attention and this post is much longer than most.

1. What did Jesus say?
John the Baptist and Jesus both spoke to soldiers in an army that was oppressing God’s people.  Certainly, if it was wrong to serve in the military, it would be extra wrong to serve in an army oppressing God’s chosen people and either John or Jesus would have addressed the issue.  Neither John nor Jesus said the soldiers should change careers.  In fact, soldiers specifically asked John what they should do and he never mentions getting out of the military.

Luke 3:14
Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”  He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely — be content with your pay.”

When God wanted to introduce the Holy Spirit to the gentile world (Acts 10) He specifically chose a soldier, a “devout and God-fearing” man who “prayed to God regularly.”   Cornelius sent “a devout soldier” with other servants to find Peter.   Surely the Lord would have addressed the need for Cornelius to change his profession if God was opposed to military service.  Neither the angel, nor Peter, however, made any reference to a need to get out of the military if one is to fully serve the Lord.

2. The Bible says “Thou shalt not kill”.  Participation in the military supports death and killing.
Due to the confusion it has caused it is regrettable the King James Version translated the passage in Exodus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 5:17 as “kill”.  Most other translations, including the New King James Version, translate the Hebrew as “murder”.  That Hebrew word is used 47 times in the Old Testament and nearly every other time even the King James Version translates it “murder”.

Is there a difference between killing and murder?  Most certainly!  In the Old Testament, if a man murdered another, God demanded the murderer be put to death.  Death (executing the offender) was God’s commanded punishment for certain other crimes as well.  If there is no distinction between murder and killing then God would be requiring people to violate His law by killing the offender, to fulfill His law.

C.S. Lewis explained that all killing is no more murder than all sexual intimacies are adultery.  God promotes, even commands, proper sexual relationships but condemns adultery.  Likewise, God commands some killing but condemns murder.

Even our court systems recognize -as did the Jewish law – that a man might have to kill in self-defense or in defending another and, while it is a tragic situation, it is not accounted as wrong or as murder.

3. Ministers of God?
God established governments to punish those who do wrong and reward those who do right (1 Peter 2:14).  Government officials are said to be “…God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.”  (Romans 13:4)

Government officials who “bear a sword” are called “God’s servant, an agent of wrath” to carry out God’s plan.  The “sword” they bear is an instrument of God’s wrath.

4. What about “turn the other cheek”?

Matthew 5:39
But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

Notice this was a commandment Jesus gave to the individual – “I tell you” .  He was not changing the law or how a government is instructed to treat wrongdoers.   A government must still fulfill its God given reason for existence – to punish and reward. It cannot “turn the other cheek” on crime or chaos would ensue.

Representatives of the government (military, police and others who bear a “sword” ) must still fulfill their role as representatives of the government sent by God to protect society and punish evil.  To fulfill its mission, a government  and its representatives might need to kill to stop or punish offenders.

Is it right for a Christian to serve in the military?
As strange as it seems, in Romans 14 Paul makes it clear that even well-meaning Christians can disagree on certain “disputable matters” and both be right!  In matters not directly addressed in Scripture one may feel a conviction a certain activity is wrong while another person has liberty in that area.  To the one who feels something is wrong, it is wrong.  To the one who feels no conviction he is free to participate.  “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” (Romans 14:5)

There is no direct command in Scripture prohibiting or mandating military service so this is a “disputable matter”.  In that case, Paul directs that one person should not “look down on” the other nor reject him  “for God has accepted him.”  (Romans 14:3)

In essentials – unity.
In nonessentials – liberty.
In all things – love.

Sincere Christians, who read the same Bible and pray to the same God, can have differing understandings of how the Bible answers the question of military service.  Because it is a disputable matter we need to respect those who view the matter differently and accept them though we may adamantly disagree with their convictions.

Is God on America’s side in war?
“One can only abjure violence because others are prepared to endure violence on their behalf.”
[Quote Source]

[photo credit]

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4 thoughts on “Should Christians serve in the military?

  1. Thanks for your post, Rick. I continue to struggle with this issue. I am leaning more and more into the position that Christians, particularly this one, should not inflict violence on others. This is a huge change for a former gun-toting law enforcement officer with the Coast Guard (and soon to be drawing a pension from 21 years of service). Here are my comments regarding your blog:
    1. God’s decision to NOT specifically address all moral issues in His Word doesn’t justify them or make them right. For example, your logic in #1 could be, and probably was, used to justify slavery until recent times. In many cases, it seems God prefers to use the culture ‘as it is’ and over time, allow the Holy Spirit to write new moral laws on the hearts of His people.
    2. There may very well be a distinction between what a government is allowed to do and the personal practices of His people. I’m still working on that one. However, it still seems like there should be some kind of dividing line in a democratic republic like ours as to the kind of issues a Christian should and should not support. The list of these might include all kind of “life issues” such as abortion, war, and capital punishment.
    3. I agree with your argument about disputable matters. In most cases, we are all changed over time as we listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit, Sometimes those beliefs become more restrictive and sometimes more flexible. Whatever the changes, though, I think they should always be drawing us closer to revealing the character of God (love, mercy, grace, etc.) in our own lives to lost world.

    A couple of things I’d like to see you someday address is the current focus by many Christians on gun rights and American patriotism. To me, as an ex-pat living the past 3 years in another country and seeing it from afar, attaching ourselves to either of these issues seems to be presenting a very un-Christ-like, non-biblical presentation of Christ to others.

    Thanks for your posts. Most of the time I agree with the content and always with the way you present your thoughts.

  2. Hey Joe:

    Thanks for writing. You always leave some great comments and this one is no exception. Because I was trying to keep this as short as possible – and it still went much longer than I would have preferred – I was not able to fully explain some of the items. Let me respond to each of your items.

    1. I agree God works within the culture as is. I sometimes laugh (cry) when Christians lambaste other believers telling us how the world would be different if Christians just lived right. It is our fault pagans act like pagans.The culture would change if we lived correctly. Really?

    Jesus did a pretty good job of living right but the culture did not change. The early church did a pretty good job of impacting the world but the culture did not change – Rome was still a pagan empire. When it did change, with Constantine’s “conversion”, it had nothing to do with how Christians were living but with a supernatural act of God AND things started in a downward spiral for the church when the culture did change and become “Christian.”

    Re: slavery. I agree, the Lord giving instructions to slaves in the NT certainly did not condone it. In fact, in the OT, slave traders were condemned, so God obviously did not OK slavery, He just worked within the system men had established telling folks how we should live to represent Him in a “wicked and perverse generation”. I have written more on the slavery issue here.

    2. The government cannot be forgiving as we as individuals are commanded to be. “Hey, Boston bombers, you killed and maimed but we forgive you. We will turn the other cheek and invite you to do it again.”

    Any government that does that is not fulfilling its God ordained purpose for being as laid out in 1 Peter 2:14 – “to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.”
    But there are absolutely issues that our government is involved in that we cannot support. The question then becomes, how active do we become in opposing them? There seem to be some Christians that God has called to be active voices in that arena. But I find it curious that Jesus did little to nothing to even speak against the horrendous activities of Rome in his days on earth – abortion, death penalty and war were all hot topics even then. (For an absolutely fascinating reading of the early church’s opinion on abortion and war, get the book, “Will the Real Heretic Please Stand Up?. It is an easy read but will rattle your theological cage in a good way.)

    3. You are so right about our perspectives on these things evolving as we get older. I think some of it is the Holy Spirit working the character of Christ more into our hearts and perhaps some of it is just getting older – loss of testosterone makes all that exciting stuff less attractive. I wish I could say I am getting more spiritual but I think my more “holy” life is just due to getting older. It just takes too much energy to sin any more. 🙂

    Thanks for the suggestions on future topics. These are issues I am really trying to settle on the proper attitude. For example, I am not sure the traditional “Christian”/Republican stance on many of these issues is really that Biblical – immigration for example, gun control, others. I am not even sure there is a Christian stance. Again, Jesus did not take a stand on so many of the issues of the day. He just acted like it was not happening – as though he lived in a parallel universe. And in some ways he did – he was of another kingdom.

    I am still working this through but I am think in some ways my getting all caught up trying to get the world to live like Christians is like me barging in on my neighbors telling them how to run their house and discipline their kids. It is none of my business unless it intersects my world. I am not of this world and should not expect them to run it like I run my household. You are a guest in Guatemala. It is not your business to tell them how to run their country. Obviously, if an opportunity to influence for righteousness comes up you take it but you should not be picketing and protesting to change their government.

    But then we are also to be salt in the world, a preservative. Salt is always salty. So our being in the world does make a difference just by our being here.

    Just some thoughts rattling around in my brain. But thanks for the great suggestions of other topics. I will look into them and post my (still unformulated) thoughts out there for discussion.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful response, Rick. I apologize for my delayed acknowledgement but we got really busy here for a few weeks and I just got back to this today. FYI – I ordered the “Real Heretic” book you recommended and am looking forward to receiving and reading it.

      I love your explanation for why you don’t sin the same way you did when you were younger. It really does take a lot of extra energy and most of us older geezers need to conserve it just to get through the day. Haha!!

      Keep the salt shakin’, bro. I enjoy your commentary.

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