A couple of days ago I had a barbecue with an old friend from high school who has served his country with three tours of duty in Iraq. I hadn't seen him for over a decade and in the course of those years we've both come, by God's grace, to faith in Christ. He's also gotten married and his first daughter was recently born. After catching up for a while the topic of conversation turned to theology. We ended up talking about some of the many distortions we've run into when it comes to being a Christian and a soldier. My friend told me of an unfortunate encounter he had with some of Fred Phelps' followers who were protesting an army funeral he spoke at. We also talked about the pacifists, one of whom called him a "baby-killer." In my opinion, these pacifists are simply self-righteous pharisees who try to apply their legalism to other Christians.
A couple of nights before this barbecue I had read the third chapter of the Gospel of Luke. I've read this many times but something stood out to me which hadn't really hit me before, maybe because I'm living on an army base right now. In Luke 3 we read of John the Baptist's ministry. People are coming to John to be baptized and asking him, "what shall we do?" One of the groups of people being baptized were soldiers. Luke 3:14 reads, "Soldiers also asked him, 'And we, what shall we do?' And he said to them, 'Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.'" Nowhere is there any hint that John advised these soldiers to quit being soldiers or to quit obeying the orders of their superiors. And these were Roman soldiers, serving a pagan emperor.
John the Baptist wasn't the only one who interacted with soldiers. A Roman centurion encountered the Lord in Capernaum. The centurion, a Roman military officer, asks for the healing of his servant and when Jesus offers to come to his house to heal his servant the centurion expresses his unworthiness to have the Lord enter his house. The centurion says, "Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes, and to another, 'Come,' and he comes, and to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it (Matt. 8:8-9)." The text says that Christ marveled at the the centurion's response saying, "Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 8:10b-12)." Christ heals the centurion's servant and the text gives no hint that the Lord expressed any disapproval of the centurion's profession.
Another reference to soldiers is in the tenth chapter of Acts. Here we read of Cornelius, another Roman centurion, who after receiving a command in a vision, sends some servants and a "devout soldier" to fetch the Apostle Peter. When Peter comes to Cornelius he preaches the gospel to his household. While Peter was preaching to this Gentile, military family, the Holy Spirit falls on them and they begin "speaking in tongues and extolling God." Once again, no hint of any apostolic command to quit being soldiers or to quit obeying commands.
One last military reference I will cite comes from the Apostle Paul. In Second Timothy 2:3-4 we read, "Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him." Paul uses the soldier as an example of how we should serve Christ. And once again, the soldiers Paul would have been thinking of as he wrote this passage were not the soldiers of a "Christian nation" but the soldiers of a pagan empire.
As I talked with my friend one thing we agreed upon is that the solution to all these distortions, whether the rank heresy of Fred Phelps or the legalistic agendas of pacifists, is to know God's word. I'm proud of my friend's service and I look forward to serving soldiers like him wherever I'm stationed in the medical corps.