I do not represent the United States government or the Chaplain Corps. I speak for myself. My thoughts and opinions are just that—my own.
Now that we got that outta the way, here we go!
A couple months ago a friend asked me about my chosen profession as a military chaplain.
(I’ve spent 5 years in the Army Reserve and am now an Active Duty Navy Chaplain). The questions went like this:
How can you carry out Christ’s commands to love our enemies, to not resist evil, to overcome evil with good, to not kill—now that you’ve taken an oath to the military and abide by its laws?
What are you counseling the service men and women?
This post isn’t going to get into the ins and outs of Just War Theory. I’ve written about it elsewhere (as have MANY others who understand it a lot better than I do).
But I do want to address the idea that Christians should not be in the military because we are called by God to be set apart.
1) From a biblical perspective, all of the instructions in the New Testament about loving enemies, overcoming evil with good, etc., are not instructions to officials about the best way to run a government. They are instructions about how we ought to conduct ourselves in our personal relationships. Remember that in the Old Testament the God who commands, “Thou shall not kill,” is the same God that allows capital punishment for certain crimes. There is a difference between our personal ethics and our corporate ethics—and this difference isn’t a bad thing. It’s what allows us to pursue peace and healthy relationships while still being a society that deals in justice and punishment.
2) Coming to faith has never meant resigning from military service. Even in the Bible, soldiers were not condemned for their military service or told to quit. In fact, the Bible tells us about soldiers coming to faith.
John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins…. “Produce good fruits as evidence of your repentance….” Soldiers also asked him, “And what is it that we should do?” He answered them, “Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages” (Luke 3:3-14).
If being a soldier in the Roman army were wrong, why are soldiers not condemned? Rather, they are told to be satisfied with their wages. That means they’re staying in the service!
3) Finally, as a Chaplain, it’s not my job to fight. The two purposes of military Chaplains are a) to spiritually care for service members and b) to advise Command about ethics, moral, and spirituality. In that sense, John the Baptist was the first Chaplain beginning in the New Testament era! He spiritually cared for Soldiers and helped them move in a godly direction.
I’m not making a case for or against any particular war or military action. We will be debating the morality of military action until the end of time. My only point is that there is nothing intrinsically immoral or ungodly about Christians serving in the military.
In the military we are taught to obey ALL lawful orders. Should the time come when the military gives Christians orders that are unlawful or conflict with personal morality and ethics, Service Members are free to disobey the orders—just know that you will have to face the consequences of that decision
At the end of the day, I believe the Chaplain Corps makes the military a better place. We get to speak to issues of ethics and morality. We get to help Service Members pursue spiritual health. And, since the Bible clearly has no problem with God-followers serving in the military, I will not feel guilty about wearing the cloth of my nation.
I proudly serve my God while I proudly serve in my country’s armed forces.
Chris Linzey is husband to Tené, father to the three most beautiful children in the world, a Navy Chaplain, and a movie enthusiast. Chris loves people and has a deep desire to help them live lives of faith where the Bible is more than mere words on a page, but the way we live every day. His undergrad and Master’s studies were in Biblical Studies, and he focused on the New Testament (his mentor was a Gospel of Mark scholar). He received an additional Master's degree, Master of Divinity (MDiv), in Pastoral Preaching.