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Military and Christianity: Should Christians Join The Military?

Table of Contents

Military and Christianity: Is it one or the other?

As a Christian, I’ve always wondered: Can we serve in the military with a clear conscience? All to ask, military and Christianity … do I have to choose between the two?

This question has haunted me for years. On one hand, we’re called to be peacemakers. On the other hand, we’re told to submit it to governing authorities. This tension is not quickly resolved.

Here’s the thing: Christians have been asking this question for a long, long time. It’s not a new dilemma. Believers from way back in the early church days up to now have struggled to figure out if faith and military service can coexist. And let me tell you, the answers are rarely simple.

Christians are called to live out our faith in everything we do, including military service. But what does the Bible say about war and peace? And how have Christians in the military navigated these issues throughout history? Let’s explore these questions and the complex realities Christian soldiers face today.

Military and Christianity Table of Contents:

Can Christians Serve in the Military?

Whether Christians can join the military has been debated for centuries. It’s a complex issue that requires careful consideration of biblical teachings, historical context, and personal convictions.

Biblical Perspective on Military Service

The Bible contains various examples of war and military service, particularly in the Old Testament. Figures like Joshua, David, and other Israelite leaders engaged in military campaigns. However, interpreting these passages requires understanding the specific historical and theological context. In the New Testament, we see a more nuanced perspective. Jesus’ teachings emphasize love, forgiveness, and turning the other cheek (Matthew 5:38-48). Some argue this precludes Christian participation in war. However, others point to passages like Romans 13:1-7, where Paul recognizes government authorities’ legitimate role in maintaining order and justice.

Historical Examples of Christians in the Military

Throughout church history, many Christians have served in the military. In the early church, Roman soldiers who converted to Christianity were not necessarily required to leave their military profession. Later, Christian thinkers like Augustine and Aquinas developed the just war theory to guide Christian participation in war. During the Crusades, Christian soldiers fought in what they believed was a holy war to defend their faith and protect pilgrims. Historically, Christians have served in various conflicts, from World Wars I and II to modern-day engagements.

Modern Views on Christians in the Military

Today, many Christians serve in the armed forces around the world. Many see military service as compatible with their faith, believing they can serve God and their country with integrity. They view their role as protecting the innocent, defending freedom, and maintaining justice. However, some Christian traditions, like the Anabaptists and Quakers, maintain a pacifist stance. They believe that Jesus’ teachings on non-violence preclude Christian participation in war. These Christians often seek alternative ways to serve their country, such as through humanitarian work or conscientious objection. Ultimately, the decision to serve in the military is a matter of personal conviction for each Christian. It requires prayerful consideration of biblical principles, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and wise counsel from spiritual leaders.

What Does the Bible Say About War and Military Service?

The Bible has a lot to say about war and military service. But what does it specifically say about Christians joining the armed forces? Let’s take a look at some key passages and examples from scripture.

Old Testament Examples of War and Military Service

The Old Testament contains numerous accounts of war and military campaigns undertaken by the Israelites. God sometimes commanded Israel to engage in war as a means of judgment against wicked nations. For example, in the book of Joshua, God instructed the Israelites to conquer the land of Canaan and drive out its inhabitants. This involved military action and the destruction of enemy cities. Other notable military figures in the Old Testament include: – David, who began his career as a warrior and later became king of Israel – Gideon, who led a small army to victory against the Midianites – and Samson, who fought against the Philistines. However, it’s essential to understand these specific instances in light of God’s unique covenant relationship with Israel. The Israelites were God’s chosen people, and their wars were often a means of divine judgment and fulfilling God’s purposes.

New Testament Teachings on War and Violence

In the New Testament, Jesus’ teachings emphasize love, peace, and non-violence. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told his followers to “turn the other cheek” and “love your enemies” (Matthew 5:38-48). Some interpret these passages as a call to pacifism and non-violence in all circumstances. Others argue that Jesus spoke about personal relationships and did not necessarily preclude all forms of military action. The apostle Paul also addresses the topic of violence and warfare. In Romans 13:1-7, Paul tells Christians to submit to governing authorities, which some interpret as including military service. However, Paul also emphasizes that our ultimate allegiance is to God, not human institutions (Acts 5:29).

Interpreting Biblical Passages on War and Military Service

When interpreting biblical passages about war and military service, context is vital. Considering each passage’s historical, cultural, and theological background is essential. Some questions include: – Is this passage descriptive (describing what happened) or prescriptive (commanding what should happen)? – What was the specific situation and purpose behind this war or military action? – How does this passage fit into the broader narrative of scripture and God’s redemptive plan? Ultimately, Christians must grapple with the tension between God’s ideal of peace and the reality of a fallen world where war and violence still exist. The Bible doesn’t provide a clear-cut answer for every situation, but it does offer principles of justice, mercy, and love to guide our thinking. As Christians consider military service, they must prayerfully seek God’s guidance and carefully evaluate their convictions in light of scripture. It’s a complex issue that requires wisdom, humility, and reliance on the Holy Spirit.

Just War Theory and Christian Participation in War

Throughout history, Christians have grappled with the question of when, if ever, war can be justified. One framework that has emerged is the just war theory, which seeks to provide moral guidance for Christian participation in war.

Defining Just War Theory

Just war theory is a set of criteria to determine whether a war is morally justifiable. It has roots in classical Greek and Roman philosophy but was significantly developed by Christian thinkers like Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. The theory seeks to balance two competing moral principles: 1. The duty to protect the innocent and resist evil 2. The duty to pursue peace and avoid violence Just war theory argues that in certain circumstances, the first duty may outweigh the second, making war a necessary and justified response to aggression or injustice.

Criteria for a Just War

Just war theory typically includes several criteria that must be met for a war to be considered just: 1. Just cause: The reason for going to war must be to correct a grave wrong or injustice. 2. Right intention: The primary motive must be to restore peace and justice, not to seek power or revenge. 3. Proper authority: A legitimate governing authority must decide to go to war. 4. Last resort: All peaceful means of resolving the conflict must have been exhausted. 5. Probability of success: There must be a reasonable chance of success in achieving the war’s aims. 6. Proportionality: The expected benefits of the war must outweigh the expected harm and destruction. 7. Discrimination: Civilians and non-combatants must be protected as much as possible. These criteria aim to provide a moral framework for evaluating the justness of a particular war or military action.

Christian Perspectives on Just War Theory

Christians have a range of views on just war theory and its application. Some see it as a helpful tool for navigating the complex realities of a fallen world, where war is sometimes necessary to protect the innocent and resist evil. Others argue that just war theory is incompatible with Jesus’ teachings on non-violence and enemy love. They believe that Christians should reject all forms of violence and instead pursue peaceful means of conflict resolution. Still others take a middle ground, acknowledging the tensions and complexities involved. They may see war theory as a helpful starting point for moral reflection but recognize that applying it to real-world situations is rarely clear-cut. Ultimately, Christians must grapple with these difficult questions in light of scripture, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and the wisdom of the church community. While there may not be easy answers, the just war tradition provides a framework for thoughtful moral discernment about war and military service.

Key Takeaway: Christians have long debated their role in the military, balancing biblical teachings of peace with the realities of a fallen world. The Bible shows war heroes and calls for non-violence, leaving believers to consider their path prayerfully. History reveals Christians in arms from ancient times to modern conflicts, guided by personal conviction and just war theory.

Challenges and Opportunities for Christians in the Military

For some Christians, the military is their mission field. They see it as a unique opportunity to be a light in a dark place. By serving with integrity and compassion, they can show the love of Christ to their fellow soldiers. I’ve seen this powerfully lived out by Christian soldiers I know. Men and women of deep faith humbly love their neighbors under challenging circumstances. It’s not an easy path, but it’s a way some are called to serve.

Maintaining Faith in a Military Environment

As a Christian serving in the military for over two decades, I’ve faced my fair share of challenges and ethical dilemmas. Matching up our beliefs with the harsh truths of war and serving in the military can be challenging. There is an ongoing public debate in Christianity about the place of Christians in the military. Throughout church history, most Christians have served in the military. However, maintaining a robust Christian faith while serving is not always easy. Long deployments, high-stress situations, and being away from regular church attendance can take a toll.

Opportunities for Ministry and Witness

Despite the challenges, the military also presents unique opportunities for ministry and witness. As Christians, we can be a light in dark places and share our hope in Christ. I’ve seen fellow Christian soldiers boldly live out their faith, even in adversity. They pray with their battle buddies, lead Bible studies, and seek to honor God in all they do. Amid the hardships of military life, there are openings to point others to the peace and purpose found only in Jesus.

Ethical Challenges Faced by Christian Soldiers

Christian soldiers also grapple with weighty ethical challenges. How do we apply Jesus’ teachings on love and nonviolence while serving in the military? These are not easy questions with simple answers. They require deep soul-searching, prayer, and wise counsel. As Christians, we must strive to serve with integrity, compassion, and a commitment to justice. We’re called to be peacemakers even as we navigate the moral complexities of war.

Guidance for Christians Considering Military Service

For Christians considering military service, it’s crucial to seek God’s will prayerfully. It’s not a decision to be made lightly. offers helpful guidance, emphasizing the importance of prayer, wise counsel, and searching the Scriptures. In the final analysis, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Each person must discern God’s calling and lead for their own life.

Prayerfully Seeking God’s Will

As with any significant life decision, Christians considering military service must start with prayer. We need to seek God’s guidance and wisdom earnestly. It’s not about what others think we should do but about aligning our lives with God’s purposes. Through prayer, Bible study, and godly counsel, we can discern God’s path for us. For some, that may mean military service. For others, God may lead them in a different direction. The key is to trust in His perfect plan.

Counting the Cost of Military Service

It’s also essential to count the cost of military service. It’s not just a job but a calling that requires sacrifice and commitment. There will be times of separation from family, challenging living conditions, and the ever-present reality of danger. We must be prepared to lay down our lives for others. As Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Military service is a high calling that demands much.

Resources for Christian Soldiers and Their Families

Many resources are available for those who do sense God’s leading into the military. Organizations like Officers’ Christian Fellowship and Cadence International provide support, fellowship, and discipleship for Christian soldiers. There are also helpful books, such as “God and the Military” by Lt. Col. Tom Hemingway, that offer biblical guidance for navigating the challenges of military service. Most importantly, Christian soldiers need the support of their local church family. They need prayer, encouragement, and a community to stand with them. Christians are called to live out our faith in every context, including the military. It’s not an easy road but a path of purpose and eternal impact. May we have the courage to follow God’s leading, the strength to serve with integrity, and the compassion to be His light in a hurting world.