Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Why Would Any Follower of Christ Serve in the Military?

I've recently come to the conclusion that I could no longer consider serving in the military. Not that I'm being asked to sign up, but if I was asked I would not do so. I can no longer reconcile loving my enemy with possibly being asked to shoot him.

This conclusion has led me fairly quickly to a related question: Why would any follower of Christ serve in the military?

Uh-oh. Them's fightin' words.

I realize that thousands of Christians are currently part of the U.S. military. Many thousands more support them in this. However, numbers do not equal correctness. Look at the following verses from the book of Matthew:

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." Matthew 5:9

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust." Matthew 5:43-45

In 5:9 and 5:43-45 Jesus says that "sons of God" and "sons of your Father" are those who are peacemakers and love their enemies. Christ himself makes a connection between how we treat others and whether or not we know God. Remember that both love and peace are aspects of the fruit of the Spirit. Evidence of our being in Christ is loving and peaceful attitudes toward even those who hate us.

I've heard some Christians speak of a difference between how we are to act individually toward others and how we are to act as part of the military. The idea is that while it's not acceptable to harm someone as we go about our daily lives, it is all right to harm them as part of the Army, Navy, etc. I find this argument convenient but not biblically defensible.

Jesus made it clear what he thought of the use of violence. During his arrest we see the following:

"While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, 'The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.' And he came up to Jesus at once and said, 'Greetings, Rabbi!' And he kissed him. Jesus said to him, 'Friend, do what you came to do.' Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him. And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, 'Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.'" Matthew 26:47-52

Jesus says, "All who take the sword will perish by the sword." This is a strong warning to those who would act out in violence toward other people.

God's Kingdom is not of this world. Its values are upside-down compared to the world's standards. What might make sense to us is often not what Jesus wants.

Jesus commands to love enemies. The military commands (sometimes) killing enemies. These aren't just different; they are opposite.

In light of Jesus' counter-cultural statements and demands, how can any Christian serve in the military?


Tim said...


This wasn't a convenient argument for me to "allow" me to ignore Jesus' commands. I and many others approached this issue seriously, spending time in prayer and study of Scripture. I'm a little surprised to find you so apparently dismissive of those who have come to a different conclusion than you have.

I'd be interested to see you further engage on the idea of Christians serving as part of the military, subject to the authority of government. Romans 13:1-7 informs us that the civil authorities who bear this sword do so for our blessing as "servants" (or deacons) and "ministers" of God.

I've heard some state that being a minister of God as a civil servant could be incompatible with being a follower of Christ - but I can't follow their logic.

This is the same God who issued both a no-kill commandment (Exodus 20:13) and instructions for capital punishment (e.g., Exodus 21:12). God consistently makes a distinction between individuals acting on their own and governments acting within their sphere of authority.

Furthermore, Jesus nowhere rebukes members of the military or police with whom He interacted (surely the centurion of Mathew 8 and Luke 7 wasn't the only case of this interaction).

Nor does Peter instruct Cornelius to resign his commission. Nor does Paul, anywhere in his letters, instruct members of the Roman military or government to leave service. We know this would have been an issue, since we know there were members of the Roman government in the churches to whom Paul wrote.

Jesus commands me to love my enemies. The military doesn't command people to kill their personal enemies, but enemies of the State. Police aren't supposed to kill personal enemies, but may have to use deadly force to defend the innocent or keep the peace.

Note - this is not a blanket excuse for followers of Christ to blindly follow orders, nor am I saying that pacifism is not biblically defensible. I believe there is significant room for disagreement between brothers and sisters about the specifics of when and where participation in the military is permissible and beneficial. For example, I agree that the U.S. is not biblical Israel and we have no mandate or authority to wipe out the unbelievers, etc. However, I see no biblical prohibition on military, police, or government service.

Eric said...


I appreciate your comment. I realize that this is a difficult issue for many. I have both close friends and family who are in the military.

Regarding the government, such as in the Romans 13 passage, I believe God puts in place for the restraint of evil. However, this does not mean that followers of Christ should be part of this process.

I cannot find any support whatsoever for Christians killing other people. This is why I find it difficult to understand how a Christian can serve in the military. Even being a police officer would be a struggle.

You do bring up a good point about Jesus, Peter, and Paul not instructing members of the military to leave the military. I don't discount this argument; in fact, I think it is one of the strongest arguments in favor of Christians being in the military. However, it doesn't answer how believers who are in the military are to act if given a command to kill an enemy combatant.

In order to avoid killing anyone else, I believe the best course of action is to not be involved in the first place.

Tim said...


I appreciate the discussion, by the way. I wonder if Cornelius or Erastus (city treasurer mentioned in Romans 16) ever had a similar conversation with brothers and sisters around a Lord's supper.

I agree that avoiding any chance of having to kill or support killing (if I felt as you did I'd extend the prohibition to any participation in government) may be one way to keep a clean conscience, and I can accept that some will want to take that path.

However, for those who are still wrestling with the issue I would ask: how is it loving to stand by and watch injustice occur unchecked? That would seem unloving to the victims. Should we really abdicate the tough choices police officers must make to those who do not follow Christ in any way?

Clearly the Bible mandates protecting the helpless and the civil government is the ministry which Christ instituted to fulfill that mandate. The fact that some people will choose to commit evil requires some way to restrain that evil.

Therefore in answer to your question a follower of Christ might serve in the military (government, police force, etc) to follow Christ as part of the ministry which Christ instituted to restrain evil.

This is also an argument for a biblically literate and socially aware community of Christ followers ensuring that their government is restrained to the task for which it is instituted, by the way. Which is one reason I appreciate the voices of those who agitate for pacifism even though I do not hold to it.

Eric said...


I suppose a related question is the following, "Is there a way for Christians to take part in the military, in order to be a godly influence, without actually killing anyone?" My guess is that there is. I hope chaplains, for example, never face the order to pick up a gun.

As I look at the life of Christ I see someone who emphasized, among other things, peace and nonviolence. There is no hint given in any of his teachings, or in the remainder of the NT, that the church will be involved in any way in killing other human beings. Therefore, I believe the burden of proof in upon those who would say that there are instances when it is acceptable to kill another human (for any reason). I've never seen a convincing argument in favor of killing. This leads me back to my original conclusion in this post.

Tim said...


Again, I have no issue with your conclusion as regards your own conscience.

However, as regards your question: a follower of Christ might serve in the military in order to participate in a ministry of Christ, which is the restraint of evil through civil authority.

The sword is not given to the church, which is why we see no mention of the church being involved in killing in the NT. Civil authority is not the church's task.

Jesus taught, consistent with the Old Testament, that individuals were not to resort to violence. That's not even close to the assertion that He prohibits His followers from participating in civil authority to whom, again consistent with the Old Testament, He gives the sword as a tool of ministry.

Certainly, some followers of Christ are not called to the military or government. To decide that one cannot do so with a clean conscience is perfectly acceptable, to impose that same judgement on others is questionable.

Eric said...


If Christians are part of the civil authority, specifically the military, are you saying that it is acceptable for them to kill? I think I know the answer based on what you've written, but I don't want to put words in your mouth.

I cannot find anywhere in New Covenant teaching that suggests that killing on behalf of a nation is acceptable. It's dangerous, I believe, to reference OT Israel's activities regarding this. God had a special relationship with one political nation under the Old Covenant. I don't see the application for us today regarding one person killing another.

Additionally, when Jesus tells us to love our enemies he doesn't give any sort of loopholes or out clauses. He makes an all-encompassing statement. He expects us to love everyone. I cannot see this meshing with killing them.

Tim said...


There are times when it is not only allowable but necessary for someone to kill in order to love another. Sometimes it is necessary to kill in order to restrain evil. God restricts that right to the civil authority and prohibits individuals from killing in their own, personal authority.

God's love for the helpless is the basis for His gift of the use of violence to the civil authority. God's love for peace is the basis for His restriction of that gift from individuals and the Church.

You would agree, I think, that God is love. Yet even in the NT, He kills. This doesn't condone all killing, but does show that to kill does not necessarily equal to fail to obey the law of love.

My previous post wasn't referencing Israel's activities, it was referencing the Ten Commandments and subsequent regulations regarding penalties for murder. When God said you shall not kill another, and then instructed the authorities to kill the one caught in murder, He was not contradicting Himself. The commandment was to the individual; the duty for punishing a murderer was placed in the hands of the civil authority.

Of course Jesus doesn't give any loopholes or clauses. He didn't give any loopholes when He told His followers to give to Caesar what is Caesar's, either, and I don't think you've paid your denarii to Rome recently.

Context has to be considered. Jesus' teaching us to love our enemies and do good to those who persecute you wasn't a prohibition and the use of force by civil authorities, nor does it contradict Romans 13. If I am wrong, how do you address the participation by believers Cornelius and Erastus in duties that required them to employ the threat of lethal force?

Eric said...


"There are times when it is not only allowable but necessary for someone to kill in order to love another."

This is the place where we disagree. I don't think we'll get past that point.

Regarding civil authorities, they do have the right to kill. I'm saying that Christians should not be a part of this activity. As for Cornelius an others, they must have had to deal with this issue in a difficult way. I don't envy them.

Arthur Sido said...

It really isn't surprising that Christians would serve in the military. Our religious culture elevates killing for country to a sacred duty. We put "God Bless Our Troops" bumper stickers on our cars, we sing patriotic songs on national holidays at church, we display the American flags on platforms behind our preachers, a not too subtle linking of American patriotism and duty with our religious faith. Many churches have veterans stand up in worship services so we can thank them for killing for us so that we can enjoy the fruits of the American way of life.

Of course all of the same arguments in favor of Christians who live in service of America, taking up arms to kill the enemies of America, would apply for a soldier in Nazi Germany or in Caesar's legions or any other military force around.

As far as Romans 13, it must be read in light of Romans 12. Romans 12 speaks to the duty of Christians in their behavior and overcoming evil with good, living peaceably with all people as far as it is up to us (even if they will not return the favor) and Romans 13 of our duty to submit to authorities, even ungodly authorities (as all human governments are). Nowhere does Romans 13 imply that submitting to Caesar and rendering unto Caesar means taking up the sword to kill for Caesar. The taking of life by a Christian is prohibited for the Christian as an area where we must render unto God. Our Christendom based religious culture creates the theory of "just war" and then reads it back into the text to provide religious cover for killing others, often throughout history killing other Christians at the command of unbelievers.

Tim said...


Thank you for the opportunity to comment and discuss. I hope the discussion helps someone out there who may be considering these issues.

Eric said...


I remember when I was pastoring I never made a big deal out of the patriotic holidays and never asked the veterans to stand. This really bothered some of the people. I wanted to remove the American flag from the sanctuary, but never had the guts to do it. Oh well.

You make a great point of Romans 13 being understood in light of Romans 12.

Eric said...


I hope our discussion helps others, too. Thanks.

Tim said...


Just as Romans 13 must be read in context, so must Jesus' words on non-violence, as I've stated earlier.

Does anything in Romans 12 negate the clear statement in Romans 13 that governmental authority is a ministry of God? Does the abuse of a ministry somehow negate God's original purpose for it?

On the other hand, Romans 12:19 seems to indicate that the prohibition is against personal vengeance, not participating in the government's task of restraining evil.

Governments are servants of God (albeit frequently unfaithful or wicked servants) with a task to restrain evil.

Let's apply context somewhat consistently. In isolation, I'm sure any biblical argument can be applied wrongly. The believer must avoid doing so. Believers who serve in the military or who work in any other field need to keep in mind that there may come a time when they will have to choose between obeying God or man.

One defense against reading our cultural norms back into scriptural principles is to examine how those principles were applied when first issued. In this case, there is no evidence to suggest that the NT believers like Cornelius and Erastus saw any inherent conflict between their military or government service and the commands of Jesus.

In fact the only recorded counsel to those in the military is John the Baptist's "Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.” (Luke 3:14). Now why would Luke specifically record those words and no more?

Aussie John said...


I have never met a person who, when his/her children, or spouse, was under direct threat of injury, or death, from an aggressor, who would not take direct physical action to prevent their harm.

My thoughts are more in line with Tim's.

Eric said...


If my family was in danger I would defend them. However, I struggle to make a solid biblical case for using violence.

Additionally, I believe killing on behalf of nationalism is far different from killing to defend family and friends.

I sure hope I'm never in a situation where I'd have to consider it.

Tim said...


Both as a follower of Christ and as a retired Naval Officer I agree with your statement that killing on behalf of nationalism is different, if by nationalism you mean the idea that one's own nation is superior to others and has the right to do anything it wants.

Nationalism, defined this way, is beyond the scope of the mission with which God has entrusted civil authority as well as outside what would be supported by U.S. Law or Just War theory.

Norm M. said...


I have a few points to bring up about your article, not to argue, but to perhaps flesh out the discussion a bit more. I enjoy reading your thoughts on this topic (and also the thoughts of those who have commented). To set a baseline for my comments, I do not yet have a solid Biblical justification for my opinions, as I see a few Scriptural paradoxes that I have not yet reconciled.

I see two foundations for your article--a Biblical foundation and a logical foundation. I’d like to ask a few questions about both foundations.

First, the Biblical foundation. I agree that nowhere does Jesus explicitly condone the use of violence by Christians. It’s abundantly clear that he says to “turn the other cheek,” “love your enemies,” and “do not render evil for evil.” (There is also the verse where he tells his disciples to buy a sword if they do not have one. I don’t fully understand this verse, and because I don’t understand how it relates to the rest of Jesus’ teachings, I won’t anchor on this issue.) There are, however several Old Testament principles that seem to be glossed over: Death penalty for murderers, self-defense, and “just wars”--by which I mean God-directed military actions (I know this last principle is vehemently debatable, so I won’t lead the discussion down this rabbit hole).

Logically, I would think that if we are to follow Jesus’ words as you state in your article, then we are also not to execute murderers or defend ourselves or others by using force of any type. The principle to me, is the same regardless of the circumstances. More on this in a bit.

Second, the Logical foundation. You make a few points that I find difficult to reconcile.
1. You imply in your comments that the government (composed exclusively of non-Christians) has the God-given right (responsibility?) to prosecute criminals and defend its citizens with lethal force when required. To me, this does not logically follow. I don’t think that something that is morally wrong for a Christian would be morally right for a non-Christian. Which leads to my next dilemma....

2. You seem to believe, if I understand you correctly, that Christians have no place in government service--especially law enforcement or the military. To me, this almost seems like a cop-out: we’ll let someone else handle the duties of criminal apprehension and prosecution and national defense, but we won’t assist ourselves. I generally dislike far-fetched illustrations, but I’ll offer one that makes me think: What if we lived in a community composed exclusively of Christians. I think that it would be only a matter of time before a violent crime took place. Let’s say a murder took place. Would we turn a blind eye to it and hopes that it would not occur again? Would we recruit a non-Christian to apprehend the murderer? I have a difficult time finding Biblical support (mostly OT, I admit) for this mindset.

To be continued...

Norm M. said...

... continued:

3. You seem to imply in your “No Longer Could I Serve in the Military” post that serving in the military equals killing in the name of the USA. I would contend that while this is a possibility (a remote possibility in my experience), it is very seldom the case. Military members are taught Sun Tzu’s premise that the ultimate goal is to win without fighting. A tremendous amount of time and effort are put into training soldiers to avoid killing non-combatants. Now I realize that this is an ideal that has not always been achieved, but it is inaccurate to say that killing an enemy combatant = killing in the name of the USA. Soldiers are not taught to be thoughtless automatons that indiscriminately kill on order. They are taught to be judicious in the application of force and honorable in conduct. Are there moral dilemmas in war? Sure. But I don’t think that one is doing something inherently immoral by choosing a profession where he might have to face a moral dilemma.

4. As I touched on before, I think that defending one’s self, one’s family or neighbors, or defending one’s fellow-citizens by serving in the military are moral equivalents. Do you see a logical, moral difference in these three situations? I’ve heard and read comments from people that swear that they would not lift a finger to defend someone who was being attacked (including family). I see no honor in this way of life. If that is the way Jesus would have us to behave, then I guess I’ve got more studying to do, because right now, I don’t see that mindset as being compatible with much of what I read in the Bible.

Again, I truly appreciate your point of view. I can’t authoritatively say that you are incorrect. These are just some of the reasons that I haven’t reached the same conclusions.

Eric said...


Thank you for commenting. I was hoping you would because I value your thoughts a great deal.

I've read what you've written, but I don't have time to respond right now (I'm about to head to work).

I'll respond this evening. Thanks again brother.

Arthur Sido said...


Is there a difference between a Christian serving in the Wehrmacht during World War II and a Christian serving in the American armed forces? Would a Christian soldier in Nazi Germany, and I am sure there were many, have been justified in killing in the service of Hitler? After all, Hitler (and Nero and Pol Pot and Stalin and Saddam Hussein are all rulers covered under Romans 13). We have this notion that serving in the American military is somehow different.

Romans 12 and 13 says nothing of killing for personal vengeance being prohibited but killing at the command of the secular world powers is OK because the person on the other side of the battlefield happens to wear a different uniform. It defies logic that killing to defend myself is not OK but killing someone in a war is. We are to submit to the governing authorities but it doesn't follow that our submission requires or allows us to violate the command and example of Christ because Caesar says so.

As far as the argument that Jesus never directly told any soldiers that they should stop being soldiers is not terrible persuasive. Most of this line of argumentation is an argument from silence. Jesus never spoke directly on the topic of bestiality but that hardly means that it was therefore acceptable. Not every precept is spelled directly out but what is recorded for us consistently witnesses for the refusal to take up arms to kill another over territory or money or national pride or any of the other reasons men go to war with other men over.

Both Jesus and Paul taught on the subject of peacemaking and never taught that serving in the military was acceptable. I don't expect a new Christian to understand everything about being a disciple of Christ on day one and the soldiers that are referenced in Scripture would certainly have learned of the teachings of Jesus and Paul on the sword so just because they brief recorded conversation doesn't cover that topic it does not follow that killing for king and country is/was acceptable.

Arthur Sido said...


A few quick notes...

On your first point. The case for warfare based on Old Covenant principles is a very weak one. As far as I know there hasn't been a directive from God to go to war since the end of the original nation of Israel. We go to war for a lot of reason but never because God has commanded it. Likewise the Old Covenant laws for governing Israel are not applicable in the New Covenant people of God. We are not a distinct, separate nation nor are we called to create one. We live as strangers and aliens, exiles amidst the world, and our calling is not to kill but to proclaim the Lamb of God, the Prince of Peace. As a side note, we are told why Jesus spoke about the swords but then rebuked Peter for using it, namely to fulfill the Scripture of being numbered with the transgressors. He is NOT telling them to buy swords to kill:

He said to them, "But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: 'And he was numbered with the transgressors.' For what is written about me has its fulfillment." And they said, "Look, Lord, here are two swords." And he said to them, "It is enough." (Luke 22:36-38)

Your two part second point. The second half is irrelevant as a hypothetical that has never happened and will never happen. The first half assumes that only the commands that the world can/will follow make logical sense. Jesus tells us a lot of things that make no sense to the world and that doesn't negate our responsibility. Just the opposite, we are often commanded to do things that make no sense to the world. We have to remember the context of Romans 13, the very authorities that Paul says we are to submit to are the ones who crucified Christ.

Arthur Sido said...


On your third point. While many people in the military don't actually kill, being in the military implies a willingness to do so and/or a willingness to support others doing so. As history has shown us over and over, every war has collateral damage. Even the "greatest generation" in World War II saw the U.S. bombing civilian targets like Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, etc. It is precisely because being in the military implies a willingness to kill or support killing that historic peace churches refused to serve even in specifically non-combat roles.

On your fourth point. When was the last war that the U.S. fought to defend "one’s self, one’s family or neighbors, or defending one’s fellow-citizens"? Certainly none in my lifetime. What about Vietnam? What about Korea? What about the European theater in World War II? What about World War I? Our military doesn't "defend" us, there really is no credible threat in the world to the military of the U.S. that spends almost as much on "defense" as the rest of the world combined. Rather our military projects power and seeks to right the wrongs of less enlightened nations. As the church we need to jettison our bias in favor of soldiers wearing the stars and stripes and recognize that we are ambassadors of Christ in a lost world and that calling transcends our legal, secular citizenship in any nation.

You also assume a black and white scenario, a common tactic in this discussion, where our only option when faced with danger is gunning down an assailant or sitting passively by and doing nothing.

I go further than Eric in my non-resistant position and embrace a more traditional Anabaptist stance. I would not only not serve in the military, I would not serve in the police force (especially since the line between the two is increasingly blurry). Nor would I serve in public office where I would be required to order someone else to engage in violence. The danger of nationalism is a very real one in the church in America. Instead of finding excuses to be willing to kill we should be finding ways to be peacemakers.

Tim said...


Is there a difference between a Christian serving in the Wehrmacht during World War II and a Christian serving in the American armed forces?

We are never absolved of our responsibility as priests to evaluate what we are being asked to do by other ministers of God. This is true even in church. I've actually addressed this in an earlier comment.

It defies logic that killing to defend myself is not OK but killing someone in a war is.

I agree. Did you think I asserted this? Or did you confuse the concepts of vengeance with self defense?

We are to submit to the governing authorities but it doesn't follow that our submission requires or allows us to violate the command and example of Christ because Caesar says so.

True. My proposition is the Christ doesn't tell us not to participate in legitimate civil authority, including the military or police which are subordinate to that authority.

As far as the argument that Jesus never directly told any soldiers that they should stop being soldiers is not terrible persuasive. Most of this line of argumentation is an argument from silence.

Agreed, which is why I allow that some will be fully convinced that they must remain pacifist in order to have a clear conscience. Likewise, you have no terribly persuasive argument for the pacifism of all believers, because the Bible never prohibits followers of Christ from serving in the military. Not once.

Furthermore, Romans 13 clearly indicates that the civil authority is servant of God - not Satan, Caesar, or anyone else - with a God-ordained mission to restrain evil, and with the gift of violence to support that mission.

Your repeated assertions that all governments are evil is not Biblical. It's your opinion. Thought I will agree that all governments of man will be judged and found wanting when the Worthy One consolidates His government under Himself and His church.

You assume that Cornelius eventually came around to your point of view and left the military. Ok, prove it. Until you do you are speculating and all we have to go on is what's been recorded.

The case for warfare based on Old Covenant principles is a very weak one. As far as I know there hasn't been a directive from God to go to war since the end of the original nation of Israel.

Again, I agree, but that's not the point. The point is that the same God who commanded "do not kill" in Exodus 20 commanded "kill..." in Exodus 21 and other places, the God of love, but also the God of justice and the God who restrains evil through His servant, the civil authority. The point is that God has always commanded individuals to refrain from killing for vengeance or personal gain, and even provides penalties for accidental killing. At the same time, He commands (not allows) his servant civil authority to kill when it is necessary to restrain evil. I fully admit that servant is often unfaithful, greedy, etc.

The danger of nationalism is a very real one in the church in America. Instead of finding excuses to be willing to kill we should be finding ways to be peacemakers.

Not only do I agree, but I would further state that nationalism is a danger outside of the church as well. In fact nationalism is merely a subset of what the Bible calls "nations" which unchecked becomes a kind of worship of some other identity than created persons who need Christ.

Instead of finding excuses to be willing to kill we should be finding ways to be peacemakers.

Art, love your blog and most of your thoughts, but you are exaggerating my position in this argument. I'm not finding excuses to kill, and as Norm pointed out the real military and national strategy community (not the military in the movies) works very hard to avoid having to kill.

We should be finding ways to be peacemakers, and that includes using the gifts God gives us, which includes the civil authority and its use of force within its appointed limits.

Eric said...


My conclusions on this issue stem from Christ's teachings on how we should treat other people. Specifically, Jesus taught us to live sacrificially, caring for others and looking out for others. Jesus modeled this through a life of peace. He told us to love our enemies. He told us to turn the other cheek. During his trial and crucifixion he never responded in kind in any way. He told Peter to put his sword away.

It is because of Christ's teachings and example that I've come to the conclusion that Christ's followers should not place themselves in situations where they might be forced to kill another human being. This leads to my beliefs about the military and law enforcement.

I do not believe that it is possible to kill in an acceptable manner. I do not see killing an enemy combatant as significantly different than killing anyone else. I believe these things because I believe they are logical conclusions from Jesus' expectation that we will love all men, including enemies.

I do not give much weight to what we see in the Old Testament because God is dealing there with a specific nation. What he instructed Israel to do has little bearing on his expectations for his church. We are of the New Covenant, not the Old. This is one of the reasons I do not think we are bound by the Ten Commandments.

One thing you wrote was, "it is inaccurate to say that killing an enemy combatant = killing in the name of the USA." That's a place where we'll have to disagree. If someone is in a military that is governed by a nation state, then killing a combatant as part of that military is killing for that nation state. Maybe we are thinking about this differently from one another.

You also wrote, "As I touched on before, I think that defending one’s self, one’s family or neighbors, or defending one’s fellow-citizens by serving in the military are moral equivalents." I don't see them as the same. I do think I should defend my family and neighbors. However, serving in the military, especially the US military, often means invading other countries. The US hasn't had to significantly defend its borders since the War of 1812. Usually our military's goal is to advance the American way by imposing our ideals on other countries. The invasion of Iraq is an example of this.

In the end, I cannot see how taking another life meshes with loving enemies. Therefore, I don't believe a follower of Christ should put himself in a position where he may be called upon to do so.

Tim said...


You wrote:

...I do think I should defend my family and neighbors. However, serving in the military, especially the US military, often means invading other countries. The US hasn't had to significantly defend its borders since the War of 1812. Usually our military's goal is to advance the American way by imposing our ideals on other countries. The invasion of Iraq is an example of this.

In principle, then, it sounds to me like you do believe that a follower of Christ could serve in the military. The conditions under which one could serve is that the military only provides a way for the community (in this case your family and neighbors) to defend itself.

The idea that a community should defend itself could be seen as a subset of the idea that the community has a God-given duty to restrain evil. The hypothetical force that is attacking your family and neighbors is evil that needs to be restrained.

Self-defense is an element of Just War theory. Just war theory has been extended to include the concept of one community defending another community's vulnerable populations when it is possible to do so.

For example, perhaps my neighbors and family hear that your neighbors and family are under attack. We realize that we have the strength to prevent this attack and voluntarily do so. That would be considered Just War. If we could not muster the force to defend you, or if the best we could do is kill a few of the attackers or their families without preventing your massacre, then combat would not constitute Just War. This is a somewhat simplified example. Just War theory is based on the idea of restraining evil.

The idea that Just War extends beyond pure self-defense is debatable. I happen to agree that it does - but others do not. We can disagree on where the limits of the "restrain evil" ministry of government fall, but we seem to agree that there are times when the government must use violence and that in limited conditions believers should participate.

Where you and I seem to disagree is whether the conflicts in which the United States has engaged since the War of 1812 have ever fallen within those limits. I think that sometimes we have transgressed those boundaries, sometimes we have waged war within those boundaries, and sometimes we have engaged in an impure mix of just and unjust. Your position seems to be that we have only transgressed those boundaries.

We disagree about whether those post-1812 conflicts are justifiable, but there's plenty of room for disagreement there - people disagree on whether the Revolutionary War or the War of 1812 were justified.

Being a follower of Christ who serves in the military is hard.

Any follower of Christ who feels called into the military needs to prepare himself or herself to face difficult decisions with courage and accept the consequences.

That could be reason enough for some followers of Christ not to serve in the military. However, I think this could be the case with any occupation.

I am curious as to which of the ten commandments you think do not express God's will for us. I hope you will blog about that at some point. However, it's not relevant to this discussion. My point had nothing to do with the old covenant. In fact I agree with your point about a specific role for old covenant Israel. My point was that God's assignment of different areas of authority to individuals compared to governments remained consistent from Exodus 20 and 21 through Romans 12 and 13.

Eric said...


I believe defending one's family and neighbors is something we should do. We all, of course, hope this never requires deadly force (I'm glad that is something we all heartily agree upon).

However, I do not see this as the same principle as defending a nation state. We have a responsibility to our family and neighbors, not to political leaders.

Above all else, Christ's commands to love others must be primary.

Tim said...


Perhaps our true difference of opinion lies in how we view the nation state. I view the nation state as merely an extension of my neighbors and family, with political leaders who serve by a special arrangement we call the Constitution, and whose purpose is to represent our interests. Thus for me and for others I know, serving in the military is a way to love my neighbors by taking on the burden of possibly having to make those hard choices so that they might not have to.

I propose that this only varies in degree with your thought that we should defend our neighbors and family, until the nation state undertakes some action which we deem to be beyond its appointed limits.

Eric said...


I think you are right when you say that we view nation states differently. I see them as secular entities with secular agendas striving to meet secular goals. God can certainly use them to bring about whatever he desires; however, the nation states themselves have no desire to follow God. I would never take part in a military, for example, that serves a nation state's agenda.

Steve Scott said...

I wanted to make some comments on Romans 13, as I think they apply a bit to the discussion.

First, we need to remember that Romans 13 is an artificial chapter division not in the original text. Personally, I believe it is the most badly placed chapter division in all of the bible. Romans 13 has nothing whatsoever to do with "obeying" laws of government authorities, including serving in the military. It is a continuation of the context of chapter 12. Tim pointed out that this context is one of personal revenge. It is not about obeying laws. The submitting to governing authorities that Romans 13 is talking about is if YOU are the person spoken of in chapter 12 that is committing an evil act toward another, then YOU are the one in chapter 13 that is supposed to submit to the punishment of the authority. Your punishment does not come from the one YOU committed evil against, but vengeance is the Lord's, and his means of punishing YOU is through the civil authority. And YOU are to submit to that punishment.

Second, if one starts reading at Romans 13:1, which is all too often, one may get the idea that "Caesar is Lord because God says so" and also come away with the absurd idea that we are to obey all laws which evil men create, and those of the military, too.

Eric said...


Excellent points! Thank you for adding them to the discussion. I agree that Romans 13 is far too often talked about in isolation, as if it stands alone apart from chapter 12. I can't even recall all the times I've heard Romans 13 used to justify some sort of military action on the part of the USA.

Norm M. said...


I appreciate your insight, and I really enjoy reading your blog.


Thanks for the kind words and for the clarification.

Let me quickly clarify my reference to OT principles. I do not think that America is an extension of OT Israel. Nor do I think that the United States goes to war with the blessing or mandate of God. One of the principles that I was referring to is that God at times allowed or directed people to participate in armed conflict. Another is that usually, He has made people struggle through and confront societal conflict. I have a hard time accepting that Christians should avoid all societal conflict (whether local/civil or international) and expect non-Christians to bear the brunt of said conflict. We live in a world of conflict and must deal with that conflict by virtue of the fact that we are humans living in a fallen world. I also am not convinced that because Jesus said to love our enemies, fighting is always wrong. Without turning this into a discussion on America’s foreign policy, I’d side with Tim in that I believe that defense of our community is a natural extension of defending family or neighbors. Those serving in the German army during WWII provide an easy example of soldiers who did the bidding of evil leaders. I think that on the flip side, it is tough to criticize soldiers serving in the Polish army who defended their people from a brutal blitzkrieg, or the British RAF that defended London from being bombed.

I believe that the use of force in any situation should be a last resort. Unfortunately, there are some people in this world that are wholly committed to cruelty. I respect the choice of Christians that follow their conscience and do not participate in the military. I also respect those Christians that wish to stand between the cruel and the helpless. I understand that this statement may open the door to more complaints about American foreign policy, and I understand that for some people, the two issues are inseparable.

Another OT principle that carries over to the NT is the reconciliation of mercy and justice. Only one man, Jesus, ever reconciled those two concepts perfectly. The rest of us must struggle to reach that ideal reconciliation--including when dealing with violent criminals. I certainly don’t claim to know what the optimum balance is, but I don’t think that neglecting to mete out justice is a good way to show love for our enemies or to defend victims.