Should Christians serve in the military?
With the threat of war on the horizon, we look at the complex issues around serving God in uniform.
For many young people, the question of Christian military service is a topic of uncertainty. Whether a true believer can serve a righteous God in a military role is a complex question, and must be the subject of much prayer and study. Whilst this article will examine this issue and try to point out a few answers, it will possibly just provoke many more questions!
The Lord does have something to say about the role of the military because He tells us about the role of government:
For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. (Romans 13:3-4)
In view of this, we see that a nation's Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, or any other arm of government exist for many reasons, and can be used by God.
However, this doesn't mean these institutions are somehow 'without sin'. We are all sinful people, and institutional bodies can make sins on an enormous scale. And yet, bodies such as militaries can also carry out justice on an enormous scale.
In exploring the question of whether Christians may serve in military roles, let's explore the principles of Just War Theory, the idea of 'service', and what military life itself looks like.
Just War Theory
Just War Theory is said to have been set forth by St. Augustine. Over time, this philosophy has been refined. Essentially, the theory says that we should only enter into war, based on certain moral or religious criteria:
- Jus ad bellum (justification of going to war). This includes finding a 'just cause' for war, combat as a last resort, and using force that is comparable to the crime.
- Jus in bello (justice and conduct in war). This includes not commiting war crimes, and not using means that are evil in themselves such as mass execution and torture.
- Jus post bellum (justice in the final stages of war). This is about the responsible transition from war to peace, transfer of power to the rightful authority, and rehabilitation to help the losing country function well again.
I have gone over the tenets of Just War Theory very briefly. For anyone considering military service, understanding Just War Theory will help shape their thinking as Christian military people. However, it is not an easy choice whether to serve or not, because if you commit yourself to a military organization, it is not up to you which wars you participate in and which you will not.
In service to God
Throughout life, there are many ways in which you can serve God, but the bottom line is that you must serve Him! Our Lord Jesus tells us to “deny” ourselves and “take up [our] cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). This means living a life not for our own glory, but for God’s glory.
In other words, if it be in the pulpit, on the basketball court or in a uniform, God wants us to live for Him. In figuring out how God wants you to serve Him, it is good to consider your talents, and the value of the opportunities he has placed before you.
Consider Romans 6, 6-8:
Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service in our serving, the one who teaching in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
This article can't go into great detail, however, I will attempt to give you an idea of life in the US Army - one of the largest military organizations in the world.
The US Army has three main parts:
- Combat Service Support (the largest part)
- Combat Support
- Combat Arms (the smallest part)
This is very important to know, because most people associate military service with fighting. But the fact is, for every one soldier on the ‘front line’, it takes at least ten people to keep him or her there. Working in the service means that most likely, you will not be a ‘fighter’, but will be supporting the fighters: the Armor, Artillery, and Infantry.
If you are in Combat Service Support, you will be in the rear, helping to supply and coordinate the war. Combat Support is closer to the front and ensures sound communications, intelligence, and flow material support. Lastly, Armor, Artillery, and Infantry seek and destroy the ‘enemy'.
In other words, the military needs dentists, linguists, engineers, accountants, and chaplains, every bit as much as they need fighters.
I hope this has given you an introduction into some of the issues involved in deciding if you really can serve God in the military. If it's something you are seriously considering, take your time to pray and consider with your family, pastor, or youth leader 'is this really where God wants me?', and 'is this where I can best serve Him right now?'.