I’ve hesitated for some time to write about a Christian viewpoint of military service, war and pacifism, due to the fact that the subject is so controversial. God-seeking Christians don’t all agree on the issue. I decided, however, that this might be a good time to broach the subject since, after my previous two e-teachings, I succeeded in persuading some readers to see the contextual errors of the Anabaptist interpretation of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.
Christian pacifists are apt to cite Jesus’ words about loving our neighbors and enemies—both found in His most famous sermon—to support their convictions against military service and war. “How can one claim to love his neighbor or enemy and shoot bullets at him on a battlefield?” they ask. That straightforward reasoning has convinced many Christians that the military is no place for followers of Christ. Some groups and denominations even go so far as to teach that no one in military service can possibly be an authentic Christian because he so blatantly disregards Jesus’ most fundamental teaching.
So let’s begin by considering, within the context of all Scripture, the two commandments upon which Christian pacifism rests.
1.) Love Your Neighbor as Yourself
Most Christians know that this very familiar commandment is first found in the Law of Moses (Lev. 19:18). Yet they may not realize that no ancient Israelite, obligated to obey the Mosaic Law, would ever have thought that the commandment to love one’s neighbor as oneself was an all-encompassing prohibition against engaging in warfare. The reason is simply because God told the Israelites to annihilate, via war, certain very perverse groups of people, and to defend themselves at times through warfare.
This indicates that God did not consider those perverse groups and invading armies to be Israel’s “neighbors,” otherwise He would have contradicted Himself in telling them to (1) love their neighbors and (2) annihilate certain perverse groups and defend themselves through warfare. (Killing people is generally not considered to be an act of loving them.)
That being so, all Israelites knew that God’s commandment to love one’s neighbor was not a commandment to love everyone. If God wanted them to love everyone, He would have said something like, “Love everyone.” But He specified that they were to love their neighbors, a word that does have meaning.
This delineation becomes even more clear when we read God’s repeated instructions to Israel regarding how they should treat “strangers” and “aliens” who sojourned among them, who thus became their neighbors (see, for example, Ex. 22:21; 23:9; Lev. 19:10, 33-34; 23:22; 25:35; Deut. 10:17-19; 14:29; 16:11, 14; 24:14, 17, 19-21; 26:11-13; 27:19; Jer. 7:5-7; 22:3; Ezek. 22:29; Zech. 7:10; Mal. 3:5). Even if such folks were originally from faraway places, now they were living in Israel’s midst, and they should be loved just as much as any other neighbors. Leviticus 19:34 makes this quite clear:
The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God (Lev. 19:34).
Note that God used the identical language in setting the standard for loving a resident stranger as He did for loving a neighbor, namely, “you shall love him as yourself.” Obviously, God considered resident strangers to be in the category of “neighbors.” His commandment to love resident strangers could be considered a sub-commandment of the commandment to love one’s neighbors.
By loving foreigners in their midst, the Israelites would be imitating God:
For the Lord your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God…. He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt (Deut. 10:17-19).
Jesus Defines Who is One’s Neighbor
You may recall that the definition of the word “neighbor” once was a topic of discussion between Jesus and a lawyer, that is, a man who spent most of his time studying and teaching the Mosaic Law. He asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Luke reveals to us that the motive behind the man’s question was “to justify himself” (Luke 10:29). He apparently had adopted a rather narrow definition of the word “neighbor” that allowed him some bigotry.
So Jesus told him a story that illustrated that one’s neighbors are not limited to one’s next-door neighbors, circle of friends, or ethnic group. My neighbors are those with whom I come in contact in daily life, regardless of who they are or where I am. As I’m writing these words, I happen to be flying to Denver, and I just had a nice chat with one of my neighbors on this plane, my seatmate. When I land at the Denver airport, I’ll have a brand-new set of neighbors whom God expects me to treat as I want to be treated.
Let’s look a little more closely at Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan.
Scripture tells us that in Jesus’ time, “Jews had no dealings with Samaritans” (John 4:9). Jews would go miles out of their way to avoid traveling through Samaria, which was sandwiched right between Jewish Galilee and Judea. Jesus, however, never circumvented the Samaritan region. Samaria was where He healed ten lepers, and where He revealed Himself as Messiah to a Samaritan woman who had been married and divorced five times.
Tragically, after spending every day with Jesus for more than three years and witnessing Him periodically love His Samaritan neighbors, James and John once asked Him if He wanted them to “command fire to come down from heaven and consume” an entire Samaritan village that refused them lodging (Luke 9:51-56). That gives you some idea how much average Jews loved their Samaritan neighbors, and also offers some indication of how well Jesus’ sermons were sinking in to the hearts of His closest disciples.
Clearly, the story Jesus told to illustrate who one’s neighbor is was not a story about a Jew who loved his neighbor as himself. Rather, it was a story about two Jewish leaders who did not love their neighbor at all. (Apparently the assaulted man did not fit their narrow definition of “neighbor,” thus enabling them to justify their lack of compassion.) The hero in the story was a non-Jewish Samaritan whose God-given conscience told him that nearby Jews were neighbors to be loved! And at the close of His story, Jesus told the lawyer who originally questioned Him to imitate a man whom he would likely never have considered to be a neighbor.
In any case, it is important for us to see that Jesus, being God, always spoke and acted in a manner consistent with the God who is revealed in the pages of the Old Testament. Jesus was well aware of the fact that God (that is, Himself) had commanded the Israelites to love their neighbor as themselves and had also commissioned (and even empowered) Israelite armies to go into battle. And thus Jesus, just like God as He has revealed Himself in the Old Testament, did not believe that the commandment to love one’s neighbor as oneself was a commandment that (1) required Israelites to love everyone, or that (2) precluded them from any military service.
If anyone had ever asked Jesus, “Does the commandment to love my neighbor as myself mean I can never participate in military service?” Jesus would have answered, “No.” Had He answered “yes,” it would have proven that He was not the Messiah or God, as such an answer would have been an undeniable contradiction of what is revealed in the Old Testament.
There is, of course, no logical or biblical basis to make the claim that, under the new covenant, the identical commandment to love one’s neighbor as oneself has been radically altered to now preclude all military service or warfare. The commandment hasn’t changed. In fact, when warfare exists to fight evil or rescue or defend the innocent, it can be an expression of love for one’s neighbor and thus an act of obedience to the second greatest commandment.
Think about it: What if the priest, Levite and Samaritan in Jesus’ story had arrived during the actual assault of the man on the road to Jericho? Would Jesus then have commended the priest and Levite for righteous passivity by their ignoring the plight of their fellow Jew? Would He who said, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13), have condemned the Samaritan for using force to defend a man who was being brutally beaten? I think the answers to those questions are obvious.
So please remember: Goliath was not a neighbor whom God expected any Israelite to love. And David, who was commissioned and empowered by God to kill Goliath, was rightly considered a brave hero, and as one who demonstrated his love for his neighbors by eliminating their great enemy. (Yet Christian pacifists would have to consider David a sinner if he had killed Goliath under the new covenant, and consider God to be an accomplice to David’s sin.)
2.) Love Your Enemies
We all know that Jesus not only taught His followers to love their neighbors, but also to love their enemies, another commandment that is employed by Christian pacifists to support their convictions. But does one of those commandments forbid what the other permits? I’ve just proved that the commandment to love one’s neighbors does not preclude all military service. So does the commandment to love one’s enemies preclude all military service? If it does, then God is forbidding by one commandment what He allows by another, contradicting Himself.
In my previous two e-teachings, I did my best to show that Jesus did not, as is often claimed, upgrade the moral standards of the Mosaic Law through His six “You have heard…but I say” statements. Rather, He only corrected the false teaching of the scribes and Pharisees—who twisted the Mosaic Law to accommodate their own evil and selfishness—and He endorsed moral standards that any sincere student could easily derive from reading the Mosaic Law or from listening to his God-given conscience. (If you did not read those two e-teachings, I suggest that you do, especially if you are persuaded that in His Sermon on the Mount Jesus upgraded the standards found in the Mosaic Law.)
As I showed in one of those two teachings, it is simply not true that Jesus, in His Sermon on the Mount, introduced for the first time the concept of loving one’s enemies. God indisputably expected the people of Israel to love their enemies, as revealed in the Law of Moses:
If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey wandering away, you shall surely return it to him. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying helpless under its load, you shall refrain from leaving it to him, you shall surely release it with him (Ex. 23:4-5).
As I mentioned in a previous teaching, sincere Israelites would have acknowledged that Exodus 23:4-5 had a greater application than to just the wandering oxen and overloaded donkeys of their enemies. It was a commandment to express love—in any practical way one could—towards one’s enemies.
Notice, however, the commandment had no application regarding the treatment of invading armies, and no intelligent Israelite would have ever thought that it did in light of all God’s revelation regarding warfare. The kind of enemy God was speaking about in this passage was a neighbor. He lived close enough that one might discover his ox wandering away or his donkey struggling with its load.
Remember, these same Israelites whom God instructed to show undeserved kindness to their enemies by returning their wandering animals God also instructed to go to war against certain nations. Those two instructions can’t be contradictory. So they must have different applications. Thus no intelligent Israelite ever interpreted Exodus 23:4-5 to have any application to how he should treat soldiers of invading armies or certain enemies whom God instructed Israel to annihilate. Sensible Israelites realized that Exodus 23:4-5 was just a sub-commandment of the commandment to love their neighbors, and in this case, neighbors who had made themselves into personal enemies.
Another Old Testament Instruction to Love One’s Enemies
This same ethic of loving one’s enemies was expressed in the book of Proverbs hundreds of years prior to Jesus’ incarnation:
If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat;
And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink;
For you will heap burning coals on his head,
And the Lord will reward you (Prov. 25:21-22).
Like the previous instruction to love one’s enemies that we read in Exodus 23:4-5, this instruction had no application to military action or warfare, otherwise it blatantly contradicted other military instructions God gave Israel. It only applied to one’s neighbor who has made himself a personal enemy. God expected Israelites to mercy-shame such enemies. This passage in Proverbs again proves that loving one’s enemies was an old covenant ethic, not a new ethic that Jesus introduced in the Sermon on the Mount.
Moreover, according to Jesus Himself, even before God taught the people of Israel through the Law of Moses or Book of Proverbs about loving their enemies, He had, through His own daily example, been teaching every human since Adam to love their enemies:
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 causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matt. 5:43-45, emphasis added).
This passage in the Sermon on the Mount is certainly the deathblow to the theory that Jesus introduced, for the very first time, the novel idea of loving one’s enemies. Jesus believed loving one’s enemies was a concept introduced by God to every human who has ever experienced a sunrise or rain shower.
And for that reason (among others), there is absolutely no possibility that Jesus was accurately quoting something found in the Mosaic Law when He said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'” If such a concept had been taught in the Mosaic Law, every God-made sunrise and rain shower contradicted it. This is just one more reason we can be certain Jesus was quoting the twisted teaching of the scribes and Pharisees. And He was not instituting a new moral standard, but was simply endorsing an old moral standard that pre-dated even the Mosaic Law.
The Only Sensible Conclusion
Because the old covenant standards to love one’s neighbors and enemies had no application to military service or warfare (as I have shown), we can not only be sure that Jesus knew that, but that His endorsements of those two standards also have no application to military service or warfare. How absurd it is, for example, to interpret Jesus’ words about not resisting evil people as if they had any application to military service and warfare. Jesus could not have made the application of those words clearer by the three examples He offered: turning the other cheek when one is slapped, giving one’s shirt to someone who sues you for your coat, and going a second mile with a soldier who forces you to carry his load for a mile, all minor offenses that occur in relationships with neighbors.
Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount audience was not an army regiment. He was speaking to regular folks from Galilee. And the three examples He shared with them about not resisting evil people were not battlefield examples, but rather examples of minor, personal offenses that might occur in everyday life.
Put another way, take note that Jesus did not say, “If someone wants to shoot an arrow at you, stand out in the open, and don’t move, in order to give him the best chance of killing you; or, if someone wants to break into your home and rape your wife, also offer him your daughter; or, if someone wants to invade your country, take all your possessions, depose your government, and march you—with your family and neighbors—away into captivity as slaves, do not resist.
Also take note that, in His instructions about nonresistance, Jesus did not tell His followers only to not resist, but to give their offenders the opportunity to do twice the harm they intended. And this is a fact that Anabaptists and their theological counterparts simply ignore when they promote their unbalanced anti-military doctrines. They never explain how, if they found themselves to be targets in warfare, they would give their enemies the opportunity to do double the harm they intended, “in obedience to Christ’s command.” The reason they don’t explain it is because they can’t explain it, which is one more proof that Jesus’ commandment to “turn the other cheek” has no application to battlefield ethics.
I once had a conversation with two Hindu men who told me that I should not be eating meat because, they said, “Your own Bible teaches, ‘Thou shalt not kill.'” Although they were correct that my Bible said, “Thou shalt not kill,” I was smart enough to realize, from reading the rest of the Bible, that the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” had no application to the killing of animals. Similarly, I know from reading the entire Bible that the commandments, “Love your neighbor” and “Love your enemies” have no application to fighting evil on a battlefield.
What is also interesting about some Anabaptists is that, while they claim that they would show thieves, murderers and enemy soldiers Christ’s love by never resisting them, they are quite easily offended by those, like myself, who don’t agree with their interpretation of Scripture. They demonstrate an unwillingness to “turn the other cheek” at even the slightest doctrinal offense! (I’ve been “unfriended” a few times by such folks.) I can’t help but think that they are fooling themselves as they imagine how they would never resist much more significant offenses.
The New Testament Context
If we search the New Testament for scriptures that forbid Christians from serving in the military, we find none. John the Baptist, when directly asked by soldiers what they should do to demonstrate true repentance in response to his preaching, told them not to take money from anyone by force, not to accuse anyone falsely, and to be content with their wages. He did not tell them to de-enlist or desert.
Of course, some will argue that John the Baptist was ministering under the old covenant, when warfare was acceptable to God. This only exposes the greatest challenge facing Christian pacifists, which is explaining how a morally-perfect God who never changes can suddenly abhor and forbid what He historically repeatedly commissioned and directed.
There is no biblical record of Jesus forbidding anyone from serving in the military, even though He had interaction with military men. Remember that Jesus once healed a Roman centurion’s servant who was near death. Not only did Jesus not require any adjustment in the centurion’s career, He commended him for his extraordinary faith and marked him as a Gentile who would inherit God’s future kingdom (Matt. 8:4-13).
Christian pacifists often point out the fact that Jesus never personally carried a sword or engaged in warfare during His earthly life. But such an argument is as valid as claiming that, since Jesus was never married, no Christian should be married. Such an argument also ignores the fact that, if Jesus and the Father are one (as Jesus claimed), then every war described in Scripture in which God claimed some involvement, Jesus was equally involved. Many times prior to His relatively brief incarnation, Jesus mustered armies, gave them instructions for battle, and empowered them to overcome their enemies.
The pacifist claim that Jesus never used force to achieve His objectives is also patently untrue. Jesus at least once “made a scourge of cords” (John 2:15) and violently drove money changers from the temple while overturning their tables. “Gentle Jesus” was not always so gentle.
And when Jesus returns, Scripture foretells us that “in righteousness He judges and wages war.” (Rev. 19:11).
While the New Testament epistles address a multitude of moral issues, there is not a single verse that forbids followers of Christ from serving in the military.
Like Jesus, Peter also interacted with a Roman centurion. His name was Cornelius, and he directed 100 Roman soldiers stationed in Caesarea. Scripture describes him as “a devout man and one who feared God with all his household,” who “gave many alms to the Jewish people and prayed to God continually” (Acts 10:2). But there was even more divine honor yet to be bestowed upon this military man. Cornelius and his household were specifically chosen by God to be the first Gentiles to hear the gospel, orchestrated by means of an angelic appearance. When they believed, the Holy Spirit fell on Cornelius and his entire household and they all spoke in other tongues. There is no record that God required Cornelius to change his profession. Cornelius became a Spirit-filled soldier who helped “keep the peace” in Caesarea.
Speaking of keeping the peace, an equipped standing army is perhaps the most effective implement of peace that exists, as it deters, by its presence, evil governments who are being tempted to instigate war. Jesus Himself mentioned this phenomenon:
Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace (Luke 14:31-32).
By being prepared for war, a nation can prevent war. Thus, by serving in the military, a man or woman can be considered to be a peacemaker, a label that Jesus certainly honored in His Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:9). War itself, when defensive, always has peace as its end goal. In such cases, bravery is an expression of love.
Where Never is Heard a Disparaging Word
None of the apostolic authors of the New Testament epistles wrote disparagingly of the military or soldiers. Rather, Paul often used military terminology to illustrate spiritual truths, indicative of his generally positive attitude towards the armed services.
For example, he instructed the Ephesian believers to “Put on the full armor of God” so that they might be able to “stand firm against the schemes of the devil,” and then he elaborated on the spiritual significance of the various pieces of that armor, from helmet to sword to shoes, that clearly paralleled the typical armor of a Roman soldier (Eph. 6:11-17).
Paul referred to Epaphroditus and Archippus as his “fellow soldiers” (Phil. 2:25; Philem. 2), and admonished Timothy, “Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 2:3). If being a soldier was inherently evil, would Paul have used such language? (Imagine, for example, him admonishing Timothy to be a “good prostitute for Christ.”)
The list of “heroes of faith” found in Hebrews 11 includes a number of God-pleasing military heroes and episodes:
By faith the walls of Jericho fell down [during Israel’s conquest of Canaan] after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace [aiding Israel’s military conquest].
And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon [a “valiant warrior” (Judg. 6:12)], Barak [an Israelite general who commanded 10,000 soldiers], Samson [called by God to deliver Israel from the Philistines], Jephthah [a valiant warrior” (Judg. 11:1)], of David [God-anointed slayer of Goliath and thousands of Israel’s enemies] and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight (Heb. 11:30-34, emphasis added).
This would have been a great opportunity for the author of Hebrews—so concerned that his readers obey Christ—to remind them that war and military service, although once a laudable expression of faith, had now become a banished act of sin under the new covenant. But there is no such disclaimer.
Writing to the Roman Christians about Roman governing authorities and the soldiers who enforced Roman law, Paul referred to them as “ministers of God” who do “not bear the sword for nothing,” because they are “avengers who bring wrath on those who practice evil” (Rom. 13:4). Did Paul believe that no Christian could possibly serve as such a soldier, a “minister of God” who “brings wrath on evildoers”? If he did, why didn’t he say so?
The Disarming of Peter
Christian pacifists point to the fact that Jesus, as He was being arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, disarmed Peter, as proof that no Christian should be armed:
Simon Peter then, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear; and the slave’s name was Malchus (John 18:10).
Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword” (Matt. 26:52).
Of course, these are just two verses in a Bible that must be harmonized with the rest of Scripture. The fact is, the same Person who disarmed Peter previously armed hundreds of thousands of men and sent them to war. And it could certainly be argued that Jesus had previously armed Peter:
And [Jesus] said to [His apostles], “When I sent you out without money belt and bag and sandals, you did not lack anything, did you?” They said, “No, nothing.” And He said to them, “But now, whoever has a money belt is to take it along, likewise also a bag, and whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one. For I tell you that this which is written must be fulfilled in Me, ‘And He was numbered with the transgressors’; for that which refers to Me has its fulfillment.” They said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” And He said to them, “It is enough” (Luke 22:35-38).
It can’t be denied that, at that very time, Jesus’ apostles possessed at least two swords, even before Jesus told them that anyone who had no sword should sell his coat and buy one. Let that sink in. At least two of Jesus’ closest apostles (who surely heard His Sermon on the Mount) had been carrying swords. And one of them apparently was Peter, because within a very short time, he was using what Scripture refers to as “his sword” to defend Jesus from being arrested.
If Jesus’ words to Peter, “Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword” was to be a permanent disarming of Peter (and all followers of Christ), Jesus certainly sent Peter a very mixed message within the space of a short time. A few hours earlier, Jesus told all of His closest disciples to purchase swords, and when they immediately produced two from among themselves, Jesus did not rebuke them (of course), but told them two was sufficient.
Is it thus possible that when Jesus told Peter to put his sword “back in its place,” He meant nothing more than that Peter put his sword back in its sheath, simply because His arrest was actually God’s will? And is it possible, in light of the fact that Jesus had just told His disciples to purchase swords and had sent hundreds of thousands of men to war in the past, that His words, “All those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword” could be best interpreted as meaning, “Those who attempt to quickly solve everything by violence (as was Peter at that moment) typically die violently.” Because let’s face it, not everyone who takes up a sword dies by a sword, and Jesus certainly knew that.
In any case, no one can deny that Jesus told His closest disciples to purchase swords. No one can deny that, from among them, they already were carrying two. I personally do not believe that Jesus ever flip-flopped theologically, as that would be an indication that He was not God. To claim that Jesus told His disciples to purchase swords and then an hour or two later He permanently banished use of any sword by any of His followers seems like a stretch.
The Early Christian Writers
Not finding any real support in Scripture, Christian pacifists often resort to quoting pacifist passages from the voluminous writings of the “church fathers,” that is, influential writers and theologians who lived during the centuries after the original apostles had all died.
Just for the record, I have recently read the writings of all the “apostolic fathers,” that is, those church fathers of the 1st and 2nd centuries who are believed to have personally known some of the Twelve Apostles, or to have been influenced by someone who did. (Their writings are First Clement, Second Clement, The Letters of Ignatius, The Letter of Polycarp to the Philippians, The Martyrdom of Polycarp, The Didache, The Epistle of Barnabas, The Shepherd of Hermas, The Epistle of Diognetus, and Fragments of Papias.) Although all of the apostolic fathers wrote in some detail about how Christians should behave, none of them wrote anything negative about military service. At least one of them, the earliest, Clement of Rome, wrote in a very favorable way of moral military action as an act of love (see 1 Clement 55).
I have, of course, already demonstrated from Scripture the error of Christian pacifism. It is therefore safe to conclude that the latter church fathers who wrote negatively regarding Christian military involvement either (1) possessed only a very simplistic theology based on an unbalanced focus on a few out-of-context scriptures, or (2) simply described how those who believed in Christ no longer engaged in hate-filled and vindictive tribal warfare, or (3) wrote during a time when any involvement in the military required an unquestioned moral compromise, which was certainly the case at many times during the Roman Empire.
If, for example, a political leader is sending soldiers to imprison and kill followers of Christ, no Christian should be serving in his army. Or, by way of another example, if I was living in Germany in 1940, I would be writing that no Germany Christian should be enlisting in Germany’s army, and I would be telling those who had been drafted to defect.
There are numerous nations of the world in whose armies no Christian should ever consider enlisting simply because such nations have demonstrated devotion to immoral causes. True Christians should not and will not join them. If they are conscripted or drafted, they should resist and face the consequences (in spite of the fact that Christian pacifists, if they were consistent, would actually have to instruct such folks not to resist). If any Christian soldier finds himself being expected by his superiors to violate his conscience, he should disobey orders and face the consequences. Every soldier is a free moral agent who is responsible before God for his own actions. He can never excuse any immoral action by claiming that he was “only following orders.”
So, just because (1) the commandments to love neighbor and enemy do not preclude military service, (2) there are no New Testament prohibitions regarding military service, and (3) soldiers often find themselves serving as peacemakers, this does not mean that there are no moral considerations for Christians who currently are serving in the military or considering serving.
Moral soldiers are brave heroes, motivated by love, who are willing to risk their lives to always do what is right, even if it means disobeying orders and facing the consequences. If Spirit-filled soldier-and-centurion Cornelius had found himself under orders to capture and imprison Christians, I suspect he would have refused to obey his orders, and he may well have told his commander, “I’m a Christian, so you’d better arrest me.” If he had been ordered to do anything against his conscience, he would have resisted and faced the consequences, even if it meant a court-martial, imprisonment, or execution, in which case he would have gained a martyr’s crown. There are plenty of examples in history of Christian soldiers who have done that very thing.
There is a day coming when war will cease forever (see Is. 2:4). Until then, we thank God for the loving, brave, and moral soldiers who keep peace, fight against evil, and protect us all. They are, as the apostle Paul wrote, “ministers of God” who “do not bear the sword for nothing” (Rom. 13:4). — David