God Calls Warriors, Pt. 2

  • Steve Hatter
Man flying a fighter jet

In last Monday’s Memorial Day blog, I promised a dive deep into the topic of Christianity and military service by posing and answering three questions: First, what does Scripture have to say about governing authorities building up and using military forces?  Second, can a Christian, whose heart is for the lost in this world, and who is motivated by the character and person of Jesus Christ, serve in the military with a clear conscience? Or, said another way, is military service a called profession, ordained by God? And third, As Christian believers living in a chaotic and divided culture, might we learn from looking at the military—its mission, its organization, and its ethos? 

Today’s blog will address questions one and two, with Part III coming next week to finish the series with an answer to question three.

To best answer question number one—what does The Bible have to say about governing authorities building up and using military forces–we must start in Genesis 3 with the fall of man and the resulting divine judgment. 

14 The Lord God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this,
    cursed are you above all livestock
    and above all beasts of the field;
on your belly you shall go,
    and dust you shall eat
    all the days of your life.
15 I will put enmity between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
    and you shall bruise his heel.”

16 To the woman he said,

“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
    in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be contrary to your husband,
    but he shall rule over you.”

17 And to Adam he said,

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
    and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
    ‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
    in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
    and you shall eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your face
    you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
    for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
    and to dust you shall return. (Genesis 1:14-19)

God cursed Satan, humanity, and our physical world in His condemnation of original sin. Thus, the tragedy of Eden brought consequences that will be playing out until God delivers on His history-culminating promise of creating a new Heaven and a new Earth found in Revelation 21.

Evil became manifest in the world and therefore conflict at all levels, and in every possible form, has been, and will continue to be, the norm of man and his life on earth until the outcomes promised in Revelation occur. Consider the news cycle from this weekend alone! No form of progressive thinking on man’s part can or will mitigate the reality of endemic conflict. Such conflict, on the high end, as it were, between nations and coalitions of nations, means large-scale military organization, training, equipment, and rules for its use. Like it or not, we are in an unceasing war that we cannot ignore.

We also know from Scripture that God is a sovereign and active God who works providentially through history for His higher and good purposes. He is not so much interested in the success or failure of specific nations as He is in working in fallen creation to bring individual souls to Himself. He uses the world’s governing authorities—good and bad—to advance His overarching redemption plan for mankind. Remember Genesis 3:15: “he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Jesus is the head-bruising victor over the heel-bruising Satan, so all historical wars, small to big, local to global, clan sized to nation sized, occur within God’s redemption context.

Within this highest good versus evil framework, Romans 13:1-2 says:

“Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities, For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore, whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.” (Romans 13:1-2)

And 1 Peter 2:13 offers: “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority.”

In sum, the Bible’s explanations of the sweep of history tell us we are in an epic, unabating battle between good and evil.  Scripture emphasizes that our life belongs to God, and it reassures that He will direct our paths, which I believe answers our first question. Governing authorities will, in God’s sovereign plan, build up and use military forces, and Christians must accept and submit to that authority.

But should Christians only submit, or does God call some to participate actively? How does taking up arms square with the deep sense of compassion to save the lost that God gave us at conversion?  Does God call Christians to a mission which, at its core, is the pursuit of violence, destruction, and human casualty?

I give credit for much of what follows to Lt. Gen. William K. Harrison, who served as a US Army Division Commander in the European Theater in World War II.  As a Christian leader, he knew that the Bible commands we should love our enemies and pray for them. He embraced and wrote concerning Christ’s teachings that we should return good for evil, that the peacemakers are blessed, that vengeance is His, not ours, that they that take the sword shall perish by the sword, and that as far as in us lies, we should keep peace with our neighbors.

General Harrison also knew that as Christians serving as “living epistles of the Lord, our weapons in the warfare of the soul are not carnal, but rather spiritual. In fact, the only weapon for the Christian in his war against the enemies of the soul is the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. As individuals, there is no place for hatred in us.”

But as Gen. Harrison contemplated his sense of call to service, he recalled those men of the Old Testament  who were soldiers and yet were men of God. In a Christian tract, he wrote about “Abraham, who fought the four kings; Joshua, who served the Lord; David, who killed Goliath and then led his armies in war and who then received from God one of the greatest promises ever given to man; and those who in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews are described as having through faith in God subdued kingdoms, waxed valiant in fight, and turned to flight the armies of the intruders.” As I was reading General Harrison’s argument, I realized that David, the soldier that he was, still would not kill his worst enemy, Saul, when he had him at a disadvantage and helpless.

The New Testament speaks of four soldiers, centurions in the Roman army. The Lord said of one of these warriors that he possessed greater faith than Christ had found in all Israel. Another, at the cross, believed in Jesus as the Son of God. To the third soldier, God sent Peter to introduce the gospel to the Gentiles. When this man heard the gospel, he believed, and the Holy Spirit was given to him immediately. General Harrison points out that none of these men of war discontinued military service, and nowhere is there a command in the New Testament that a Christian should not be a soldier. On the other hand, there is a mandate given by the Lord through Paul that we should remain in the calling in which we are called (1 Corinthians 7:20).

There are more examples to offer, like the capture of Jericho, but the fact that there are cases in which war was commanded by God—and is therefore justified—is undoubted. Given God’s command, to say that war is invariably sinful is to say that God told Israel to sin and is, therefore, an attack on God’s character.

James 1:13 reminds us: “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.”

The crucial doctrinal concept here is for Christians to realize we have a mission God gives us, and we have a responsibility to pursue that mission with Christlike obedience. Some of the faith are called to be military warriors, even as others are called to be spiritual warriors in full-time ministry. A Christian’s failure comes in not trusting in God’s higher purposes, which leads to a shrinking from duty, which is shameful. We do not need to see all of the bigger pictures, but we can be powerful witnesses in pursuing Christlikeness in extraordinary circumstances, like a call to physical combat. 

I’m going to stop here in the hope I have satisfactorily answered question #2.  A Christian can and indeed must serve in the military if that is God’s call on one’s life. Next week I’ll look to answer question number three: As Christian believers who live in a chaotic and divided culture, might we learn from looking at the military—its mission, its organization, and its ethos? As a teaser, consider Philippians 4:8 and ask yourself if you see these virtues played out in the core values of our American military traditions and histories:

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8)