Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Be content with your wages

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.


Ed said...

Trying to justify yourself, eh, Lieutenant?

Just kidding, I'm on your side on this one.

Actually, I think it is of note that the earliest archaeologically identifiable "church building" space (i.e. space that is dedicated solely to the enactment of Christian worship) is found in an annex to a Roman military base. There's an inscription on the chapel floor which reads "dedicated to the God Jesus Christ." This dates to roughly the year 100.

Also, early Christian history is replete with occasions on which soldiers ended up dying martyrs' deaths at the hands of their commanders for refusing to worship the emperor, etc. They didn't try to desert when they became Christians, they continued in their profession until someone else made a stink about their faith.

Great examples of early Christian military saints include St. Theodore Stratelates and the forty military martyrs of Sebaste.

Anonymous said...

"And now, behold, we will resist wickedness even unto bloodshed...We would subject ourselves to the yoke of bondage if it were requisite with the justice of God, or if he should command us so to do. But behold he doth not command us that we shall subject ourselves to our enemies, but that we should put our trust in him, and he will deliver us.
Therefore my beloved brother, let us resist evil, and whatsoever evil we cannot resist with words, yea, such as rebellions and dissensions, let us resist them with our swords, that we may retain our freedom, that we may rejoice in the great privilege of our church, and the cause of our Redeemer, and our God."
-Pahoran I

Just wanted to send a little encouragement...

~Scarlet Pimpernel

Matt Perkins said...

Oh SP. . . You put me in a bind. I thank you for trying to encourage me. But I have to say that if any other commenter quoted the Book of Mormon on my blog I would delete their comment. I've enjoyed your comments and I like you as a person so I'm not going to delete this one. I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you were really just trying to be kind. I will say though that I don't believe that the Book of Mormon is in any way inspired by God but instead is a deception and at best a human creation. Sorry to be harsh, I really do feel bad about it, but the best I can do is not delete your comment and follow it up with this disclaimer.

In the future please don't quote the Book of Mormon unless we are specifically discussing it.

I hope my response to you doesn't offend you too much.

Anonymous said...

Hey Matt,

Not offended at all, go ahead and delete this quote if it isn't helpful to you. I was deliberately quoting the character, not the book, in an attempt to merely share literature. It was not at all my intention to sound preachy and I am sorry if it came off that way anyway.
Obviously I'm not much help. And please, please, do not hesitate at all to inform me when I make such a horrible faux pas.

I hope that the rest of your week goes well.