Nov 11, 2009

The Nobility of Soldiering

On this Veterans' Day I thought I would share some brief reflections on the nobility of the profession of soldiering. Specifically, I want to point out four ways that we can see the nobility of soldiering in the Bible. In Scripture, the nobility of soldiering can be seen in. . .

1. The positive portrayal of soldiers. In the Old Testament consider especially Joshua and David, two military men are are heroes of the faith (and heroes of the faith at least in part because of their soldiering. In the New Testament, there is, first, the centurion who asked Jesus to heal his servant (Matt. 8:5-10). When the centurion expressed his belief (based on his own experience as a military officer who expected his subordinates to carry out his orders) that Jesus could heal his servant with just a word, Jesus said, "I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel." Second, we have the example of Cornelius (Acts 10), the God-fearing centurion who was the first Gentile convert to Christianity.

2. The prayers for success in war. In numerous places, God's people prayed for success in battle against their enemies and God answered their prayers positively (Num. 21:1-3; Josh. 10:12-14; Judges 16:28-31; etc.). Especially poignant is David's praise to God in Psalm 144:1: "Blessed be the Lord, my Rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle."

3. The direct biblical legitimizing of the idea of a just war and of soldiering. In Ecclesiastes 3, we have a well-known poem (think of The Birds famous song, "Turn, Turn, Turn") that gives us a series of contrasting human activities all of which have their appropriate times. Among these we read, "A time for war and a time for peace" (v. 8). The idea is that sometimes war is the right thing to do. Also, in Luke 3:10-14, we read of soldiers who came to John the Baptist to repent of their sins and be baptized. They ask John what they are to do now with their lives. Implied is the question, "Should we quit the army?" John tells them simply, "Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages." Hereby we have as clear an endorsement of the legitimacy of soldiering as we could ask.

4. The use of military metaphors to describe the Christian life. I will leave it to the reader to check out how many times the New Testament speaks of Christians as "soldiers" and likens our pursuit of Christ-likeness as a war (cf., e.g., 2 Cor. 10:3-6; Eph. 6:10-13; 2 Tim. 1-4).

In these and other ways, the Bible underscores the nobility of being a soldier. Let us honor those who serve well in defense of our country.


The Militant Pacifist said...


I'm concerned by your observation that "soldiering" could possibly be a noble profession for a Christian.

The contention that a Christian may righteously serve as a soldier is not by any means a “given.”

This notion may be uncomfortable for some who have either served in the military, or had beloved relatives whom they have considered heroic because they served in the military. Be that as it may - let truth reign.

Of course there is the matter of unchristian oath taking, which would forbid some (of sensitive conscience) from swearing to defend the constitution (in today’s American political climate this has denigrated into a promise to invade whatever country the current administration has a beef with).

I have a strong (I believe "Christian") bias against oaths and pledges, but I believe there is a stronger reason why the notion that a Christian may righteously serve as a soldier is not a “given.”

Your commendation of "soldiering" endorses the idea that Jesus (i.e., God) did not forbid service in the killer corps, but the analysis may be shortsighted.

There was a prophet (John, the baptizer) of whom God (Jesus Christ) said “Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist (Matthew 11:11).” Apparently, the Lord Jesus Christ had a very high regard for John.

One day some soldiers came to John and asked him, “what shall we do? (Luke 13:14).”

John’s answer is instructive. He answers them, “do violence to no man.”

Violence is the soldier’s business, so what he (John) is really saying to them is “find another job.”

So here is a syllogism...

Major Premise: Christians should not be violent
Minor Premise: The ultimate job of a soldier is to do violence
Conclusion: A Christian should not be a soldier

This was the consensus of the Church fathers and the practice of Christians until the Constantinian creation of “Christendom” (for more on this, see "nonviolence in the ancient Church and Christian
obedience, at []).

Steve Cowan said...

Thanks to the Militant Pacifist for his comment. I have to disagree with you, of course. I believe that you have misquoted or misused the text from Luke 3:14. John the Baptist did NOT say to the soldiers "Do violence to no man." He said, rather, "Take money from non man by violence." The Greek verb has to do explicitly with the idea of extortion, a practice that soldiers with no scruples did. This is supported and clarified by the following command: "Be content with your pay." What pay? Their army pay, of course! It could not be clearer that John was not exhorting these soldiers to give up soldiering, but to keep on solidering honestly and faithfully.

So, I have to reject the first premise of your syllogism. The Bible, not only in the Luke 3 text, but from Genesis to Revelation, permits Christians to serve as soldiers. Which means that it is not always wrong for Christians to do violence. What's more, I think your second premise is flawed, too. Though a soldier is trained to do violence and may be called upon in some circumstances to do violence, that is not his ultimate job. His ultimate job is to do justice (Rom. 13:3-4, etc.) Violence is simply sometimes (but not always) the God-appointed means to that end.

Anonymous said...

Thank you from the wife of a "Christian soldier" who is also a soldier who is Christian.

Anonymous said...

Holy Spirit,
Guide Brother Steve into truth about non-violent spiritual activism.

Goldenfoxx said...

I will be the first person to say that violence should always be the last resort of the practicing Christian. But living without violence is pretty much impossible. Even Jesus got angry at injustice, and anyone who suggests that Jesus taught pure pacifism has a job to do in reconciling that fact. Furthermore, if you have a problem with men and women serving in the military, or the idea that God would ever promote violence, I would love to hear your thoughts on Numbers 31. O_o

-- Topher