Can Christians Serve in the Military?

Veteran’s Day is a time to thank those men and women who have served the nation. Sometimes Christians rethink their service in the military during this time. They question their professions and reconsider their commitments to the nation in light of their commitment to Christ. Should Christians, who are part of the kingdom of God, participate in worldly, national affairs (such as the military, civil service, etc.)? I say yes and here are a  few biblical examples we can look to: Soldiers speaking to John the Baptist, the centurion speaking to Jesus, and Abram (Abraham).

When John the Baptist begins his public ministry crying out to the nation of Israel to repent, there is a great response. People from everywhere come to hear him and are responding by being baptized and also seeking instructions on what to do with their re-dedicated life of obedience to God. When the Soldiers come to John and ask what they should do, he tells them

“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.”” (Luke 3:14 ESV)

There isn’t a call to drop their arms, or to stop being Soldiers for Rome and be Soldiers for the kingdom of God. Rather the exhortation is to do their work honorably and glorify God as a Soldier.

Jesus doesn’t appear to “marvel” at many things in the Gospels. In fact, as I’m able to see, he marvels only twice. Once in Mark 6 Jesus marvels at the unbelief of the Jews and the other in Luke 7 at the belief of the Centurion. Jesus marvels that Israel, who should rejoice at the Messiah, disbelieves yet the gentile Soldier who does not have the oracles of the Old Testament believes. The Centurion is recognized for a faith in Jesus that is not seen anywhere in Israel.

“When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”” (Luke 7:9 ESV)

One of the observations here is that a Soldier is blessed for his faith in Jesus. His life work of being a Soldier demonstrated that he did his work honorably and was not extorting, oppressing, or abusing his power. (Luke 7:4-5)

In Genesis 14 the patriarch Abram (doesn’t become Abraham till Genesis 17) is involved in a military conflict. The shepherd/pastor uncle becomes a warrior as he goes after the kings who took his nephew (Lot) captive. In the backdrop of the story the promises of God are still present and at work in two ways. First, though Abram’s life is at risk, the divine presence of God preserves and protects him in the midst of conflict. And second, God’s promise “those who curse you I will curse” (Gen 12:3) is shown as he rescues Lot and wins the battle against the armies of four kings.

Those who serve in the military should not feel they have an obligation to abstain from serving the nation in this capacity. Rather they should be exhorted to serve in a way that is honorable and thereby bring greater glory to their God. For Jesus is the true warrior who has taken up his garments of righteousness and truth and defeated our great enemy of sin and death.

2 thoughts on “Can Christians Serve in the Military?

  1. One stickler of a question I can’t escape: if a Christian is going to go and kill Caesar’s enemies, and thus ends up firing his weapon upon another Christian who is fighting for his government’s enemies, has Christ been glorified in Christian killing Christian just because he did his job correctly?

  2. Hi Adam. I’m certain there’s been many instances where Christians have killed Christians unknowingly or knowingly. I don’t think the Civil War was fought with Christians wearing one color and pagans an other. Just as Israel entered their own civl war (Judges 19-21) and there were brutal events under the monarchy.

    The reality is that war is not a neat and tidy ordeal. It is incredibly complex and there’s simply no way to know if the person trying to kill you is a Christian. All you know is that they are trying to kill you. Yet there are honorable ways to fight wars and Christian soldiers can show mercy. When your enemy is unarmed you don’t shoot them. When the threat is neutralized you don’t become oppressive bullies. When you need to kill you don’t do it in a way that is cruel (gas, phosphorus, etc.). War is an ugly reality of our world, if there are Christians present it’s a breath of fresh air to have that sense of humanity in an otherwise barbaric time.

Comments are closed.