Friday, February 15, 2008

Militant musings

My good friend Jesse has a post about his views on military service. He believes that it is incompatible with a Christian's calling to love neighbor as self. This was my response to his long and scattered as it may be. You may have to read his piece for this to make sense.

Point 1:
You and I have a totally different view of authority. Authority is given by God -- there is no authority on earth not given by Him. If you believe that the military/government has no morally binding call on us as Christians, then you must be saying that their authority does not come from God.

This runs counter to the plain teaching of scripture. Romans says that the government (a pagan one) does not bear the SWORD in vain. If this was just a metaphor for general oversight, I think Paul could have chosen his words better. Clearly the power to take life is given to the state. Just as the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven are given to the elders of the church, frail, fallible men as it consists of, so is the responsibility placed upon the state to seek order out of chaos, administer for the general well fair of those under their authority, and to BEAR THE SWORD against the evil-doer (off with his head).

Point 2:
Christians throughout the ages have always had to object to pointed commands given by earthly rulers to break God's law. This is literally the point at which rulers go beyond the authority of God, and set themselves up as God (two different things). Christians have always resisted such actions, from the earliest days of the Roman Empire, to the more recent tragedy of communist regimes. Ironically, we are still the only group of people that have historically, by and large, committed ourselves by written doctrine to respect government authority whenever possible.

So should the calling of military service be any different? I have already had to protest on religious grounds imperatives to work on Sunday in my college days and beyond (whether you would agree with that or not), but that did not change my career goals. Why would military service be any different. The fact is, many traditions tell of great numbers of the Roman army itself coming to faith in Christ -- by no accounts, either biblical or traditional do we have those serving in those armies or fighting secular wars being asked to stop serving the state in this way. The call to renounce the faith or act contrary to God's laws was a common problem though.

Bottom line:
Your argument that Christians should stay clear of military service based on the fact they may be asked to do something contrary to God's law is a bit shallow because that happens in EVERY sphere of life.

You "wonder why a person would feel more deeply called to serve their country in that way rather than to commit their lives with the same kind of dedication to the furthering of the gospel..."

This creates a inordinate separation of spheres. There is no sphere of life where a Christians is not called to further the Kingdom of God and the gospel. There are no holiday careers out there. If there were, then I would agree that Christians have no place in them -- however you first have to establish that the military is an immoral institution with absolutely no sanctified calling.

You say that Christians are "called" to serve all men "both the victims and perpetrators of violence." This is very interesting. On its face I agree. I'm curious though -- are non-Christians not called as well to keep God's law perfectly? Everyone is called to perfection, to love God (and neighbor) with a completeness that is beyond our sinful mind's comprehension. By advocating so strongly for non-violence, and prophesying that we can convince people of a less-sinful way of running their countries, you claim that man can be sanctified without being justified. Man is dead in sin. Dead means he is blind, senseless, without any rationality or reason or ability to grasp what is good, or the very thing that could give him life: the saving power of Christ. It is the Church that is called to bring Light to the world. Preach the Word and by all means, LOVE "both the victims and perpetrators of violence." But take care when you say we are called to "serve" perpetrators of violence, since you almost come full circle and endorse military service by saying this -- not to mention you make no provision for objecting to immorality within this service context.

Stated differently, you have an ethical contradiction when you insist on non-violence, but demand inaction on the part of Christians to stop evil.

This is best exemplified in your statement:
"Why would you then submit your life and conscience to the violent defense of these borders and laws, when the gospel - of love, of peace, of justice - calls us to defend the poor and the widows among us?"

Well, obviously we have two very different meanings for the word "defend," since you saw fit to add "violent" to one usage, but in the case of the quote from scripture, you assume that no violence can be involved. It's odd because "defend" always indicates a contest in which the goal is to violate the intentions of another. Do "the poor and the widows among us" deserve no more defense from Christians than that which can be accomplished by mere words?

And just for curiosity's sake -- I've already given the argument that "man-made" borders are set by those charges with the preservation of order and the visiting of justice on the evil-doer; but why should defending them be anything less then protecting the poor and the widows among us?


<< Home 2 Comments:
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thumbs up! Good show, wot!


9:39 AM, February 16, 2008  
Blogger Jesse said...


Point 1:
I think you're correct in in assuming that I have a different point of view on the authority of the military on the Christian. Especially in our society, where the military does not function as a police force on our own soil, it's an entity that the Christian should have nothing to do with.

I would have no problem with a Christian becoming a police officer, whose job it is to enforce the law: to protect the lawkeepers from the lawbreakers, and deadly force is always, always a last resort. But to join the military, whose function is to attack other nations (no matter how you slice it, this is what they do, even in today's era where they are used as police forces in other nations), goes beyond the call to protect the poor and downtrodden and marches straight on into - I think - murder.

Point 2:
As Christians, how committed are we to be in our service to the government we happen to live under? Should we be so committed that we take up arms against other Christians, who happen to live under a different government? That we take up arms against other men in general, simply because of the geographical boundaries they find themselves within? Simply because we're commanded to respect and submit to to our governing authorities does not mean we should go out of our way to pledge and serve them. "Render unto Caesar's what it Caesar's, and unto God what is God's." If Jesus says this about taxes, how much more would he say it about our very lives! Do our bodies - should our bodies - belong to Caesar? May it never be! We may abide by the law of the land, but the only cause for which we should be willing to lay down our life should be that of the gospel, and military service has nothing to do with the gospel.

Bottom line: I agree that no matter what sphere of life we are in, we'll encounter commands counter to what God commands. But the stakes are far higher in military service, and I believe the very nature of military service demands violation of the commands of God by potentially having to take up arms against other men only because they live under the authority of a different government.

I don't believe this is an unjustified separation of spheres. Seeing military service as something a Christian should not be involved in because of the nature of what serving in the military entail. Pitting ourselves purposefully towards one nation of people over another, when we are truly citizens of a kingdom which transcends all nations and includes people from all tribes and tongues, seems completely incongruous to me. We should rather be working to break down barriers and find common ground with enemies, reaching out in love to them, not siding against them because our government has taken such a position. Al-Qaida and the Taliban need the gospel as much as anyone else. Is it not our job to see that this is accomplished?

11:47 AM, February 19, 2008  

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