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Friday, March 2, 2012

A Good Soldier of Jesus Christ


Christians should not be helping Christians kill other Christians.



σὺ οὖν κακοπάθησον, ὡς καλὸς στρατιώτης Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ.
2 Timothy 2:3


This post was going to be an examination of the biblical commandments ordering God’s People not to entangle their social lives with the social lives of unbelievers, the enemies of Christ. However, while amassing my evidence, a particular form of this widespread and unscriptural fraternization started to agitate me more than all the others, so I decided instead to focus on that; and by “that” I mean Christian involvement in the military.

I mentioned this in passing back in November, in the post The Separation of Church and State, Veteran’s Day Edition, but always intended to say more about it at a later date. I knew that American Christians had it bad, but the more time I spend in the U.S., the direr the situation seems. Simply put, a large number of American Christians are delusional with regards to military service and cannot see that their participation in, and support of, the U.S. Military is idolatrous and antichrist (of course this applies to every Christian in every nation—even Israel—but as I’m in America, and Christian military participation here is endemic, I’ll confine my remarks to them).

In order to make my point, I’m going to examine two of the better arguments I could find in favor of Christian participation in the military. One of these is mainly theological, the other is more socio-political.

First up is Pastor John MacArthur of Grace to You. MacArthur is a highly regarded Christian apologist, scholar and theologian. Few of today’s popular preachers are credited with such perceptive, exegetical insight as MacArthur. If anyone’s opinion on this matter could be said to be representative of the American protestant church at large, it would be his.

I first got a sense of MacArthur’s opinion on Christians and the military when I viewed the following Youtube video clip from the Larry King Live show. Now, while I admit that these off-the-cuff statements of MacArthur’s are probably not the most credible argument he could mount, he still made them, publically, and to my knowledge has yet to retract them. There's certainly been no indication that his interpretations of the few verses he uses to justify his position in the clip below have changed. Therefore, I have no qualms in presenting them as indicative of his “first principles” with regards to this debate.

In the clip, the guests were asked for the “Christian Position” on the (at that time) upcoming war with Iraq. MacArthur answers first:

So, John MacArthur is convinced, and teaches, that Christ endorsed the use of violence for personal and national defense. As long as a U.S. Military campaign is believed by the Christian to be defensive in nature, he is free to participate in killing anyone the Pentagon calls “the enemy”.

Amazingly, MacArthur forgets all about the Lord commanding us to “love” our enemies (see Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27 & 35), and to not resist evil, but to turn the other cheek instead (see Matthew 5:39). He also ignores the Apostle Paul’s instruction to not be conquered by evil, but rather conquer evil with good (Romans 12:21).

The only verse used by MacArthur in that video—in fact, the only verse in the entire New Testament—that could even remotely be considered an endorsement of a Christian taking up a weapon of any kind is the highly controversial Luke 22:36.
Then said he unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take [it], and likewise [his] scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one.
The shocking incongruity of this instruction within the rest of the wholly pacifist doctrine of Christ fuels the controversy surrounding this verse. The text says what it says and it simply cannot be ignored.

Firstly, I freely admit that the classic pacifist interpretations of this verse are unsatisfactory at best. These are that:
1) Jesus was talking about a knife to be used for killing and butchering animals in the field—a provisioning in keeping with the purse and knapsack of the same verse.

2) the sword is not real, but figurative (i.e. the Sword of the Spirit of Eph 6:17)

3) the sword is real, but the command was given to fulfill a certain prophecy (this would be Isa 53:12, according to the Wycliff Bible Commentary, Moody Bible Institute, 1962)
Jesus wasn’t talking about a knife. The disciples, while they may have misunderstood His point, did not misunderstand the word Jesus used: μάχαιρα [machaira], a small sword. Yes, machaira can mean a “large knife”, but in every other place it’s used in the NT (29 times in all), it clearly means the common Greek weapon; including in the Lord’s admonishment to Peter after he uses it to cut off Malchus’ ear (John 18:10-11).

That's not a knife...


As well, it is disingenuous to suggest that the sword is figurative. After all, no one thinks the “purse” and “scrip” of the same verse are figurative, so why would the “sword” be? The purpose for the sword might be figurative, but a real sword is clearly meant.1

As to the idea that the disciples arming themselves was for the sake of fulfilling the prophecy that the Messiah would be “numbered with the transgressors”, this is so absurd I don’t even want to debunk it. Suffice it to say that Jesus was numbered with the transgressors when he was sentenced to a criminal’s execution.

To me, it is the shocking nature of this instruction which negates the meaning the non-pacifist side wishes to give to the Lord’s words. The idea that, from Gethsemane on, every disciple of the Prince of Peace is to arm himself is in such direct opposition to everything else Jesus taught, that it simply can’t be what He meant. After all, the minute Peter used the sword for defensive purposes, Jesus stopped him, rebuked him, healed the injured “aggressor”, then gave us one of the most pacifist statements in the Bible (Matthew 25:52):
Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.
In any case, how does Luke 22:36 translate into permission for Christians to join today’s U.S. Military? Perhaps, as the verse suggests, the disciples then were to acquire swords, but to extrapolate from this that Jesus was endorsing the carpet-bombing of entire foreign cities into rubble in order to defend Christian families back home is a stretch of ludicrous proportions.

From this one incongruent interpretation of Luke 22:36, it is difficult enough to make the case that all Christians are to defend themselves against physical attack, but to make the case from it that all Christians are now permitted to join secular armies and participate in the mass killing of potential invaders is simply impossible. We are to submit to the Sovereignty of God in all things, especially with regards to becoming targets of the ungodly. If He allows us to be mugged, invaded or massacred, so be it!
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to [his] purpose. (Romans 8:28)
MacArthur's Christian Cowards?

This pro-defense position of MacArthur’s is more fully explained in one of his audio broadcasts from 1985 entitled Answering Tough Questions About the Christian and Government (click on the link to listen to and/or read the transcript). Here MacArthur was answering the questions, “How is war to be justified? Is it right or isn't it right for a Christian to be a part of the military service and, in the process of being involved in the military service, take a life?”

It’s true that this recording is nearly 30 years old now, but, as you’ll see if you click on the link, it’s still posted on the Grace To You website. Clearly, if he’d changed his position to such an extent that he would now disavow any of these statements, he would’ve had his people either post some kind of qualifier, or take the whole thing off the site.
Nations rise, nations fall; war is a part of that. I believe as a Christian the only time that you can enter in to such activity, whether it's as a soldier in an army, or as a policeman, is in defense of someone who is being attacked by an evil aggressor.
Yes, John, but there’s the rub: Who gets to determine who is evil? Is every aggressor evil? If so, what does that say about pre-emptive strikes? Does Christ allow you to kill that gang-banger on the corner because you are convinced he will one day be an evil aggressor?

Besides, once you are in the Army, you no longer get to choose what missions you participate in. You can't opt out whenever you think the Generals have made the wrong decision.

Here's another question for you, John, one that no Christian ever poses when he’s justifying Christians serving in the U.S. Military: What about those Christians living in the “enemy” nation? One of the fundamental commandments to Christians is to “love” one another (see John 13:34-5, 15:12 & 17; Rom 12:10, 13:8; Gal 5:13; Eph 4:2; 1 Thess 4:9, 3:12; Heb 10:24; 1 Peter 1:22, 3:8; 1 John 3:11 & 23, 4:7 & 11 & 12, 2 John 1:5). How are we loving them by calling them our “enemy” and killing them? How does a Baptist strafing the “enemy” with a 50-calibre machine-gun from his Cobra Helicopter avoid hitting his Brothers in Christ?

Right.

The second representative argument in favor of Christian involvment in the military I want to look at comes from an article entitled Can Christians Serve in the Armed Forces? by Martin L. Cook, the U.S. Naval War College's Professor of Leadership & Ethics at the College of Operational & Strategic Leadership. I found the article at Religion Online. The article first appeared in the July 4-11, 2001 edition of The Christian Century.

Cook's article is a marvelous example of academic erudition. From Luther to Pericles, via the Swan of Avon, it cuts an impressive historical and literary swath. His argument is rational and dignified, as befits a Christian ethicist of Cook's calibre; which makes it all the more surprising when you realize that early on he admits that there's no biblical basis for it!

First, he gives us a bare-bones definition of the “function of the military” (one John MacArthur should take note of):
Let’s start with the core function of the military—its essential reason for being. All activities in the military ultimately serve to sustain the “pointy end of the spear.” In its most formal and sterile formulation, their purpose is “national defense.” A more direct expression is “fighting and winning America’s wars.” When military people talk among themselves, they state the unvarnished truth: it is “killing people and breaking things.”
Cook then hands his rhetorical sword to the Christians on the other side of the debate:
The prima facie case against Christians’ performing this function is unquestionable. The message of the New Testament, the early church and the example of Jesus himself all point to nonresistance to evil as the model of Christian life.
Wait...what?

This is a staggering admission! What could he possibly say now to convince Christians that they should question the “unquestionable” and join the military?

Well, continuing in the same paragraph, he simply places a pagan, antichristian obligation onto the shoulders of the slaves of Jesus:
Yet those texts and examples fail to address a perennial problem: How do we protect innocent people and maintain order in a world where wrongdoing is a permanent feature of life?
The short answer, Professor, is that we don't! If Christ, the Apostles and the leaders of the early church didn't do it or tell us to, then I would say we shouldn't be doing it.

But we can see what is actually going on with Professor Cook and Pastor MacArthur: they are convinced that the United States of America is God’s Chosen Christian Nation for the Spreading of Global Goodness. So ethno-centric is their world-view, so steeped in patriotism and American exceptionalism are they, that they cannot see the U.S. for the pagan, antichrist, modern-day Roman Empire that it is. And once you’ve swallowed that lie, it’s a short hop to equating Christian service with U.S. Military service.

1 John 2:15 anyone? Maybe James 4:4?

Here, for example, MacArthur makes distinctions based on relative cultural values, but imagines he’s making them using objective, biblical ones:
So I believe the issue in war can be very simply understood. If a war is a war of defense against an evil and aggressive intruder who comes to murder an innocent people, then I believe self-defense is a just act. If, for example, I'm in the United States and I was drafted into the services of the United States in the time of war because we were attacked by Russia and the Russians came to try to take away our nation and destroy our lives and massacre millions of us...or if Russia decided to invade our Canadian friends to the north and I was called to go there and defend them against that evil aggressor, I believe that that would be a just act of defense.

If, however, I was a Russian citizen and the Russians recruited me for their army and said, "Go to Afghanistan and massacre as many people as possible so we can take their land and turn it into a communist land," I couldn't do that.
Clearly, John MacArthur is convinced that the U.S. nation is godly and good while (pre-perestroika) Russia is godless and evil. Where did he get such an unscriptural notion? In what book of the Bible does God institute the United States of America and confer His blessing upon it? Does MacArthur really believe that the Declaration of Independance is Holy Writ? That the Constitution is the 67th Book of the Bible?

From Genesis to Jefferson

As for Cook, here he is, after already surrendering any biblical justification for his argument, dressing the same cultural bias as MacArthur in political language [my emphasis added]:
In the current international context, the U.S. serves as what former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright called the “indispensable nation”. In peacekeeping and diplomacy, U.S. participation is expected and sought by almost all other states...

The ability to threaten and to use coercive force is a morally necessary instrument of worldly power. We who benefit from the voluntary service of our fellow Christians (and others) who take on the moral, physical and spiritual burden of that service honor them poorly when we simply wish those sad necessities away...

In the contemporary geopolitical circumstance, service in the American military is, on balance, a force for relative good. That good is grounded in a balance of power and coercion, a balance that Reinhold Niebuhr argued is the closest approximation to justice and peace achievable in this world. To the fundamental question then—is military service to defend and advance American national interest and security a valid Christian vocational choice?—my answer is yes.
So, the real master being served by Christians in the Military is not Christ, but a manmade geo-political entity; those being defended are not His brethren, but rather anyone squatting within this entity's self-defined borders.

Cook continues:
Unless we are really willing to give up the “empire”—the place America has secured for itself in the economic and political sphere of the world—we must also accept the burdens, practical and moral, of maintaining that place. It is simply bad faith to derive the benefit and then condemn a major source of that benefit.

Furthermore, unless we really believe the world as a whole would be better off without the U.S. to play the “indispensable nation” role, we must think clearly about the fact that our power serves not merely national but global welfare and stability.
Remember, Cook's essay was first published in Christian Century magazine, a magazine that Wikipedia describes as the “flagship magazine of U.S. mainline Protestantism”. Let's hope the flagship magazine of U.S. mainline Protestantism has sailed back into more Spirit-filled waters.

What's wrong with this picture?

Of course, if John MacArthur is anything to go by, Mainline Protestantism is still paddling in circles near the reefs of American-style replacement theology. In his 2011 sermon, Why Christians Submit to the Government, he finishes with a note of hope for his troubled nation:
[Psalm 81:16] is a plaintive cry from God who says, “O that My people would listen to Me, that Israel would walk in My ways. I would turn from abandoning them, from giving them over to their own sinful choices to defending them and protecting them and punishing their enemies and I would feed them with the finest of the wheat and with honey from the rock I would satisfy them.”

The key, listen to Me. Walk in My ways. The only hope for this or any other society is to hear the Word of the Lord and obey it...to hear the Word of the Lord and obey it. And I would suggest that this is not a good time for weak men preaching weak messages in weak churches. This is a time for bold and powerful, strong biblical ministry that calls people to hear the Word of the Lord and respond. This is the only hope for any people for any individual.
Sorry, John, but God’s People is God's Israel, which is the Universal Church, the Bride of Christ, it is not the earthly nation state you happened to have been born into. Right message; wrong target.

Yes, the only hope for Christians is to hear the Word of the Lord. And before they join the U.S. Military, they might want to hear these:
16 And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, “I will dwell in them, and walk in [them]; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 17Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate,” saith the Lord, “And touch not the unclean [thing]; and I will receive you, 18and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters,” saith the Lord Almighty. (2 Corinthians 6:16-18)

Amen







Footnotes:


1. I was wrong when I wrote this paragraph. After examining the issue further, it is clear to me now that the sword is indeed figurative. See the post The Sword of the Lord for details.


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