May A Christian Serve In The Military?

Love means protecting the defenseless. God teaches that life is his gift. He commands us to preserve not only our own lives but also the lives of others, and he has appointed government authorities in part for this purpose by means of just defense (e.g., Prov. 24:11). As I pointed out in my article, military forces established by God’s appointed authorities are legitimate.

Nowhere in Scripture does God command soldiers who are Christians to give up being soldiers.

Yet, the issue you raise seems to be related more to the question of Christians serving in the military, since Christians are called to love their enemies. First, as I pointed out in the article, nowhere in Scripture does God command soldiers who are Christians to give up being soldiers—in fact, on a few occasions our Lord commends them.

If serving in the military is antithetical to being a Christian, surely Christ Jesus would not have commended them. But how can the two be reconciled? How can loving one’s enemies be reconciled with being a soldier with the mission to kill an enemy?

It is loving to protect and defend the defenseless, and it is also loving to protect a wicked person from killing others.

As far as the command to love one’s enemies, it would be unloving to show favor toward an evil enemy against the defenseless by failing to protect those who do not have the means to protect themselves. Love also means coming to the aid of others. In other words, under the rule to love one’s enemies, would it be loving to permit an enemy to murder a defenseless person? It would not. Read more»

Daniel Rowlands, “How Do Christians In the Military Love Their Enemies and Do Good To Them?” Beautiful Christian Life (May 18, 2021)

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7 comments

  1. I don’t know how anyone can read the Gospels and Acts and ask this question since Jesus praised a centurion for his faith (Matt 8) and told legionairies to stop stealing and be content with their pay, not give up their line of work altogether (Luke 3). A soldier proclaimed Jesus as the Son of God at Golgotha (Matt 27). Also, a proconsul (Roman military general) was saved in Acts 13, and let’s not forget the soldiers who guarded Peter who came to faith. No where were any of these men told to quit and their enlistments were quite long (20 years).

    Here is Luther’s tract on this topic:
    https://www.checkluther.com/wp-content/uploads/1526-Whether-Soldiers-Too-Can-Be-Saved.pdf

  2. Ok, but I don’t understand, how a Christian soldier can fight against another Christian soldier, and especially how Protestants can fight against another Protestants. That’s why there was some logic in that 16-17 century pacifists. Non-religious, secular wars are nonsense for Christian.

    • Ihor,

      War is always a great tragedy, if some times necessary and justified. War between Christians is an even greater tragedy because they are, if they are in Christ, united to each other in a bond that transcends national loyalties.

      Nevertheless, it has happened. Should American Christians have refused to shoot German Christians during World War II? I am sure that American Christians killed a great number of otherwise faithful German Lutherans, many of whom were conscripted into the German armed forces in the service of the Reich and the Führer. I do not see how we could have avoided it.

      Christians live in a twofold government, temporal and eternal. When the temporal government wages a just war, as World War II was, then by necessity it may be necessary for those conducting a just war to fight against citizens of another state who are perpetrating injustice.

      We live in a fallen world. Sin has horrible consequences. God help us.

    • This one is easy. As an enlisted man or a junior officer, you need to have a line in the sand that if your superiors cross, you walk off the battlefield. If you can’t trust your superiors – and in my experience, you can’t – don’t sign up in the first place.

  3. I remember augustinian/reformed theory about just wars. And it is very easy to understand the necessity of war with undoubtedly anti-christian or inhumane regimes as nazi Germany, etc.
    But it is hard to understand the logic of wars between christian nations. Especially when you read in history about wars between catholic states, or between lutheran (Dano-Swedish conflicts) or reformed states (Anglo-Dutch wars, for example, or Cromwell vs Scots). Lot of other nonsense wars can be named. Impossible to imagine, what clergy of that time must say about this, and how it can treat such kind of wars as just wars.

    (And the most sad situation was the WWI).

    • Ihor,

      Agreed but Germany was regarded as a “Christian State” even as Herr Hitler became a member of Parliament and then Reichschancellor. Yes, the wars under Christendom were often criminal but we live in a fallen world and Christendom was not the golden age some would have us believe.

    • But it is hard to understand the logic of wars between christian nations. Especially when you read in history about wars between catholic states, or between lutheran (Dano-Swedish conflicts) or reformed states (Anglo-Dutch wars, for example, or Cromwell vs Scots). Lot of other nonsense wars can be named

      This is a great argument for limited government and limiting the magistrate’s ability to make war. Powerful men start wars usually for the wrong reasons when there was an earlier solution that would’ve prevented war. Having checks on their powers can prevent this. Right now, the US goes to war on executive decree and the Pentagon’s sure blessing, but we’re supposed to go to war only after a declaration of war by Congress. We’ve been mired in Iraq and Afghanistan for an entire generation with no end in sight because of two invasions decreed by the executive and little oversight by Congress.

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