August 12, 2020

For Memorial Day: A Classic Michael Spencer Essay

Classic iMonk Post
by Michael Spencer

My friend Mark is a soldier. A Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps. He just returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan, where he, in his own words, was “proud to be a Marine at a time my country needed my service.” I am proud of him, too. Not just because of his military service helping to keep my children safe from the terrorists who hate all Americans. I am proud of him because he is a Christian, one who is serious about following Jesus and gives real evidence of Christian commitment and character. I don’t hesitate to wish that my children would grow up and imitate Mark.

Recently, however, I was reminded that not everyone agrees with my assessment of my friend, Mark. There are some Christians who would say that Mark cannot love his country enough to go to Afghanistan and dispatch Bin Laden and company, while at the same time claiming that Jesus is King. This is idolatry, they say. A sinful and impossible compromise, choosing country over Christ and ignoring the Bible’s teaching that Jesus alone is King. These critics point to Jesus’ words of non-resistance and non-violence in the Sermon on the Mount and say that Mark is willfully disobeying Jesus at the instigation of nationalism.

Some of these critics make an articulate case that the evangelical church has adopted a blindly nationalistic, patriotic idolatry in the last two decades, as Christians have become flag-waving supporters of the Gulf War and the War on Terrorism. They point out America’s many sins, such as abortion, its shallow and unbiblical understanding of God, and its headlong pursuit of money and materialism. How can a Christian follow Christ and promote and defend these errors?

The Kingdom of God, these critics charge, is our true country and Christ is our only King. All other nations are under His judgment. Notions such as freedom, liberty and justice are perverted by the nations of the earth, and only Christ can be the source of such blessings. We are to live as aliens and strangers, giving no allegiance to nation or political party that ultimately belongs to God.

It’s the ultimate WWJD question. Would Jesus do what Mark did? Could Jesus have been a Sergeant in the Marine Corps, go to Afghanistan to fight terrorists and still have been our savior and example? Could Jesus give His service to America, and not sin in choosing to do so? Or would Jesus have refused military service? Would “Render unto Caesar” include or exclude fighting to defend His family if invaders attacked Nazareth, or if the nation of Israel asked for His service in defending itself? Tony Campolo used to ask if anyone could picture Jesus dropping bombs on North Vietnamese civilians.

These are serious questions that must be answered. As a Christian I believe I must answer them from the Bible, and that I must submit to what the Bible teaches and not to my own emotions and preferences. I freely admit that I am a patriot, and that the phrase “For God and country” is not nonsense to me. I have listened to the arguments of those who take the position outlined above, and I agree with substantial parts of their observations. But, in the end, I believe they have ignored and over-simplified the Biblical material to bolster their own choices.

To begin with, I will not outline my considerable agreement with those who accuse evangelicals of idolatry. There is a plague of patriotic idolatry in American Christianity. Our ultimate loyalty is to Christ. We are citizens of His Kingdom, and we must obey the law and example of our King. I am a great admirer of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and I fully agree with the Biblical foundations for his critique of America and the movement he inspired. I don’t believe America is always right or that every conflict we have entered was right, and I certainly agree that America is fallen, pagan, materialistic and likely to become increasingly hostile to Christians in her midst.

My disagreement — and it is a substantial one — is that this picture is too simple. It discounts the Bible as a whole in favor of one stream of Biblical material. This is a common problem among people who build Biblical cases without an overall Biblical theology, and I have noted this with everyone I have debated concerning these issues. There is a real annoyance at bringing up anything other than the words of Jesus. Where Jesus endorsed all of scripture as a testimony of truth, these critics quickly reject or ignore scripture that is not on the level with the Sermon on the Mount or the words of Jesus. Of course, one must ignore the words of Jesus Himself that send us into the rest of the Bible to understand Jesus if we are going to maintain that position.

I also find it interesting that the position of the critics does not match up with what we find in scripture where Jesus or the disciples interact with people. I was surprised to discover that some advocates of pacifism teach that the centurion and the Roman officer Cornelius left the military after becoming Christians. The text, of course, says nothing of the sort, and, in fact, the New Testament seems to have a positive or at least neutral view of the career of soldier. Such assertions come perilously close to the kind of statements Roman Catholics make about the career of Mary. I am not denying that we may sometimes make logical inferences beyond scripture, but there is a limit to what sort of confident factual assertions we can make.

What is the missing factor in the argument that my friend Mark cannot serve God and country? Common grace, an element of theology that is more and more frequently abandoned by Christians who do not know the whole Biblical story. It is God’s common grace that redeems nationalism sufficiently that my friend Mark can defend my family against terrorists in the service of our military with a good conscience.

Common grace is an answer to the question, “To what extent did God abandon the world when it fell into sin?” Now the reason so few understand common grace is that their answer would be, “God abandoned the world totally and completely, because He can have nothing to do with sin, sinners, or anything they create.” And of course, there are lots of scripture verses to prop up that claim. The problem is, however, that while God’s holiness does dictate that His eyes are too pure to behold evil and so on, God’s mercy, kindness and continued involvement with sinners has been consistently demonstrated through all of redemptive history.

God should have exterminated Adam and Eve. Instead, He showed them mercy, forgave them, clothed them, allowed them to enjoy the blessing of marriage, family and creation. God was merciful to Cain. He blessed whole generations and nations of sinners. Even in the flood, when it appeared God had run out of grace, He was gracious to a whole family of sinners, and continued to be so after the flood when they demonstrated they were still quite sinful and fallen. The story of God’s surprising common grace is the story of the entire Bible. The Apostle Paul appeals to this often, as he does in Acts 17.

I won’t write a treatise. Common grace is the history of God’s dealings with every person and every nation in the Bible. When He should have utterly abandoned them, He did not. When He should have left them to themselves to rot in their own depravity, He showed a more patient, kinder face. He blessed them with gifts large and small. The goodness of His image remained with them, though marred and broken. He restrained judgment and extended mercy repeatedly. God did this as a witness to His mercy. As Paul said, the kindness of God is meant to bring us to repentance. Common grace is a pointer to saving grace. Many Christians may think it wasted, but God apparently disagrees, because He lavishes the stuff on the just and the unjust alike with every breath.

If you have come this far, please understand the importance of this last point. God has not utterly turned His back on humanity or human institutions, work, creations, and concerns. God is up to more in history than just the redemption of a people for eternal glory. He is invested in every aspect of human experience to do us good, even those of us who despise Him and always will. While the sinfulness, depravity and judgment-worthiness of humanity and its works are beyond dispute, that has not compelled God to abandon us. In the worst of people, the worst of human activities and the worst of human institutions, there is still the remaining purpose of God and His on-going common grace.

Now the premise of this essay is that common grace sufficiently redeems nationalism that my friend Mark may serve his country with a clear conscience and still give ultimate allegiance to Jesus Christ. Two passages of scripture catch my attention in this regard, one in Genesis and one in Revelation.

The first is the origin of human government itself, the story of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-11) I would like you to observe that what God is doing at Babel is a restraining act of mercy. It is God’s opinion that human nations will be less evil if separated into nations than if they are one nation, one culture. (One world government fans, have at it.) In other words, nations are, to a certain extent, a manifestation of God’s common grace, and this is, I believe, Paul’s entire point in the crucial text of Romans 13:1-13. The state is a minister of God to do you good. That is common grace in the form of a nation.

Now what is the purpose for God’s invention of a world of nations at Babel? If the purpose of the individual government is to bear the sword and punish the evildoer, then I do not think it a leap at all to say the entire Babel project had as one of its purposes the preservation of good and the restraining of evil in the community of nations. All nations are fallen, and all are under God’s judgment, but in the sovereignty of God, some nations will preserve genuine good more so than others. And the stage of Biblical history demonstrates that this is exactly the way God used nations: preserving truth and good, while bringing temporal, restraining judgments on individuals and other nations. (Read Habakkuk, where the prophet learns from God himself how God will use one nation as judgment and preservative.)

It is at this point that I want to say there is a good bit of unbiblical multi-culturalism underlying some of the criticisms I am answering, and I think it is important to point this out bluntly. A nation that treats women like animals is inferior to a nation that gives them equal rights. A nation that says kill innocents is worse than one that says protect innocents. (A true contradiction in America, as we protect some children and abort others.) A nation that protects religious freedom is better than one who denies it. A culture that allows people to choose their own government is better than a dictatorship. A nation that freed its slaves is better than one that enslaves its own people. A nation that gives generously is better than those who take ruthlessly.

I know both are fallen, depraved, wicked and under the judgment of God. But one, in the common grace of God, is better than the other on the scale of true virtues. It is grade school stuff. (At this point I will spare you the bizarre statements made by some critics that America is the moral equal of Nazi Germany or Communist North Vietnam. It is sad to see what multi-culturalism has done to the ability to recognize simple human decency. Some of our Christian colleges are churning out this remarkably barbaric point of view, and it is tragic.)

Now this alone, in my mind, justifies my friend Mark’s choices in life. He is fortunate to live in a country that, under the kindness of God, cares about values that are superior to and more compassionate than most other nations that have ever existed. Our country is flawed and its history is flawed, but no one need be ashamed to protect women, children and their fellow human beings. Mark is doing the Lord’s work, according to Romans 13.

Is it right for Mark to take the life of a terrorist? Don’t the words of Jesus absolutely preclude that option for a Christian? This is another essay, but I’ll say this: Where is the moral law of God eliminated as a result of the words or works of Jesus? If the Ten Commandments say “Do not murder,” and the next two chapters are filled with example after example of capital punishment, where does the New Testament say this moral law is abrogated? In John 8, is Jesus’ act of mercy premised on an elimination of the moral law? I hear Jesus’ words to Christians saying they cannot employ violence in any way towards those who persecute them, but where does the New Testament say I cannot protect my family?

Right here? Matthew 5:43-44: “You have heard that it was said, `Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Are these words intended to stop Christian policeman from enforcing the law? Do they mean the state, if it submits to Christ’s words, will empty death row and all prisons? Does it mean I am obligated to only pray for the terrorist who is murdering my children, rather than stopping him — even with lethal force — if I can? I respect those who say that is the case, but I must respectfully disagree.

Romans 13 makes it quite clear that Paul assumed his readers understood the rightness of the execution of justice. A Christian choosing to not resist persecution is one thing. A Christian choosing to not do the just and right thing is another. God says He is a protector of the innocent. God says He is a warrior for the cause of right. God says we should imitate the good soldier. Jesus said that Pilate’s power to execute was from God. I believe that Cornelius went back to work after becoming a Christian, and if a threat to the safety of his fellow citizens came his way, he would be absolutely acting in accordance with right principles to deter the evildoer in any way, including the use of lethal force.

Should Cornelius obey Rome if it said, “We are going to invade Britain, pillage and rape the population?” In my opinion, no. The principles of justice can obviously be violated to the point that a Christian cannot serve, but my point (and St. Augustine’s) is simple: when a nation is defending what is good and just, a Christian may serve with a clear conscience.

And so my last passage is from Revelation 21:24 ,26:  24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it.  26 The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. This is, of course, the picture of the New Jerusalem, and it is explicitly said that the glory and honor of the nations, and their kings, will be brought into it.

The picture is one of triumph, the victory of God attended by the arrival of conquered nations, bringing their treasure to lay before their conqueror, the Lord Jesus Christ. Like all of Revelation, this is picture language, using the known to communicate the unspeakable. But it is striking, in a book that so consistently speaks of the nations of the world negatively, to hear of the “glory” and “honor” of the nations being part of the New Jerusalem.

I find this the perfect compliment to the idea of common grace given to every nation. To every nation and every culture, there is given the gracious gifts of God. These treasures of truth, justice, liberty and compassion are then soiled and broken in the hands of fallen, sinful men. But they are God’s gifts nonetheless. There is a glory and honor to every nation and culture, to every people group, and yes, apparently to every government. A glory and honor that we may be able to see or not. A glory and honor that we sometimes handle with respect or treat with contempt. A glory and honor that leads us to Christ, or which we distort and destroy to dishonor Christ.

In the kingdom, such glories will be redeemed. The gracious purpose and blessing of God will be recognized, and we will have a further reason to admire God’s kindness, mercy and salvation.

There is a divine glory to America. There is a godly honor given to this nation. Yes, it has been betrayed in the idolatries of human ambition, and soiled in the ignorance and evil of human greed. But those gifts have not been completely forgotten, and they are worth living for, and even dying for. Martin Luther King, Jr. saw this and spoke of it often. I believe my friend Mark sees that honor and is right to be proud of his service to a country that still upholds, imperfectly and inconsistently, values and truths that reflect God.

The critics I have responded to believe that America is rotten to the core because it is not, nor can it ever be, a Christian nation. They criticize those who say America is such a country, and point out the flaws of our founders, our dreams and our ambitions. In many ways they are right. But there is another way to look at America. In this fallen world, this is one nation where the churches of the Lord Jesus have flourished. This is a nation that has sent more missionaries and ministers to serve than any other in history. It is a nation given incredible blessing by God, and though these have been misused and made into idols, it is a nation that regularly thanks God for those blessings. It is a nation where millions of people beg that God for mercy and revival.

America is, among all the nations of the world, in many ways the best and the worst. The best in the grace that God has shown us. The worst in how little we have done to respond to that God. But where a young man named Mark lives for Christ, and serves the best values of this great country that God has established for His honor and glory, then I think we have no reason to be ashamed.


  1. What a wonderful post for today! Michael was such an incredible writer. Nobody says things better.

    I love: “As Paul said, the kindness of God is meant to bring us to repentance. Common grace is a pointer to saving grace. Many Christians may think it wasted, but God apparently disagrees, because He lavishes the stuff on the just and the unjust alike with every breath.”


    Enjoy Memorial Day, my fellow Americans. And to you non-Americans, pray for America so that we will behave more perfectly as citizens of the Kingdom of God.

  2. Full disclosure: I was a soldier, and I am proud of my service. I personally struggled with being a Christian and a trained killer (let’s not mince words, that’s what soldiers do). I ultimately came to believe that God sees us as individuals that he loves and not as our vocation or nationality. In particular, I took solace in what is recorded in Luke 3:14

    Having said that, my discomfort comes when the concepts of patriotism and national policy are elevated to the status of Biblical truth, and any dissent is condemned as un-Christian. Don’t believe me? Openly question some military action and see how quickly you are accused of “not supporting the troops” by your Christian friends. I have a close friend who fought in Vietnam, and although I am in awe of what he and others went through, I fail to see what their sacrifice accomplished to protect me and my family.

    • For a non-American view, here’s this non-American picking out what would give most of us pause:

      “There is a divine glory to America. There is a godly honor given to this nation. ”

      I am not saying that Michael was claiming that America had a special destiny to rule the world or anything like that. But Europeans would hesitate, to say the least, to make such a claim about their own nation. I think this is where the burden of history comes in; after a longer, bloodier past, we no longer have the innocence of such attitudes.

      But as for the main point, yes, I do think that a soldier can be a soldier and a Christian. There are all the early hagiographical accounts of soldier saints such as the martyrdom of St. Maurice and the Theban Legion, which indicates that Christians did indeed either remain in or join the military. And there is the Gospel account of what John the Baptist told the soldiers who asked him what they should do: (Luke 3:14) “And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages.”

      The problem arises when, as Ed says, patriotism is raised to an idol, particularly in times of heated political rhetoric. And it’s not the military that does this, it’s the general public, in the bitter poem of the First World War soldier-poet Siegfried Sassoon:


      Siegfried Sassoon

      The House is crammed: tier beyond tier they grin
      And cackle at the Show, while prancing ranks
      Of harlots shrill the chorus, drunk with din;
      ‘We’re sure the Kaiser loves our dear old Tanks!’

      I’d like to see a Tank come down the stalls,
      Lurching to rag-time tunes, or ‘Home, sweet Home’,
      And there’d be no more jokes in Music-halls
      To mock the riddled corpses round Bapaume.

  3. Jordan Peacock says

    No one that I’ve met is willing to extend this common grace outside of their nation. I worked at a church where the staff members included a Vietnam vet, a former Navy officer, a former Tamil Tiger, and a former Singaporean soldier. I’ve rubbed shoulders with numerous active-duty Christians. I disagree strongly with the assessment above, but not to the point of breaking fellowship. But the inconsistencies are numerous, and until the same logic grants mercy across the board, I find it simply hypocritical.

  4. And here is an example of the freedom preserved. All these above me slightly disagree, and it is allowed and even encouraged, and I KNOW for a fact what happens in some other places when the slightest disagreement with any of the concepts put in place by the ones in power occurs.

    I am content to observe the minds at work, and I know my own choices for my beliefs, and I know the point in my own heart where faith wins over logic.

  5. I hear what Michael was saying in this post, and I agree with the majority of it, especially the differences between the U.S. and other countries where people’s rights are denied. There is a real difference between the two.

    However, my problem is with the theoretical idea that Christians are “allowed” to fight for a “Just” cause, but not for an evil one. Michael’s example was what if Cornelius had been ordered to invade Britain and rape and pillage that country. Michale said that he should refuse to do that.

    Or what if the U.S is involved in an unjust war? It’s one thing to be drafted into the military and to object to the cause and therefore refuse to serve, or serve as a non-combatant, or in alternative service. But if somebody joins the military during peace time, goes through the training and becomes a part of a unit they lose their objectivity somewhat. How many times have I heard from soldiers that they weren’t fighting for “the Cause” but were fighting for the man in the foxhole next to him.

    So it seems that ultimately the cause of the war doesn’t matter, what matters is the threat to one’s platoon, or unit. Where’s the objectivity in that? Where is the weighing out of pros and cons? Where is the searching of Scripture? The prayer? Seeking God’s will?

    The soldier has taken an oath of allegiance to his country, and has, in my opinion, given up the right to choose who his enemies are, and how he is to treat them. The U.S. government now tells him what to do with his enemies, not Jesus. In my opinion, A believer ought to think very seriously before swearing that kind of oath, and giving up that kind of control of his life to someone other than God.

    • This was me. The statement that there is a divine glory to America is a bit too maudlin for me; it smacks of boasting the double blessing of Elisha. I too was career military; a JAG who served long and honorably but resigned prematurely. Let’s say it was due to a difference between political/military doctrine and my personal views on the nature of a just war. One has only to look through the OT, whether Joshua or the Chronicles, to see that God uses nations to judge other nations. Even Nebuchadnezzar was used to display his righteousness. Unfortunately human nature calls for us to reverse that relationship: we often invoke God to justify our wars and get him on our side. We repeatedly see both God’s judgment and his grace in war. Last week, my son serving in Afghanistan was 10 meters away from a detonated IED. I am thankful that God graciously spared him. War is ugly. I’m also thankful my country allowed me to resign when my faith no longer permitted me to serve.

  6. Kenny Johnson says

    I struggle with this issue a bit. Not much though, because neither me nor anyone close to me is currently serving in the military. But I do struggle with the concepts of Christian pacifism. I honestly wonder if I am supposed to violently (i.e. kill someone) protect my family. I can honestly say that I could not serve in the military or police force because I don’t want to be put in a situation where I might have to kill someone. I don’t judge other Christians who do serve though.

    I do have a problem with mixing Christianity and nationalism though. . . especially at church. I remember a church I attended had a video playing showing the U.S. soldiers, airplanes, and tanks rolling through battlegrounds and bombs going off etc to celebrate Memorial Day. That really bothered me — at least in that context (at church worship service).

    An Anabaptist church recently had a series on Christian pacifism. I listened to the whole thing. It was interesting (and 1-sided). Check it out:

    It’s the series called: Inglorious Pastors

    • It’s long been a question in Christianity, which is why the Roman Catholic Church (for one) has worked on developing what’s called “Just War Theory”, i.e. under what conditions is it permissible to resort to arms?

      The Catechism gives a condensation of this in paragraph 2309:

      The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:

      – the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;

      – all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;

      – there must be serious prospects of success;

      – the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.

      These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the “just war” doctrine.

      The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.”

      Answering the question of “Can Christians serve in the military?”

      “2310: Public authorities, in this case, have the right and duty to impose on citizens the obligations necessary for national defense.

      Those who are sworn to serve their country in the armed forces are servants of the security and freedom of nations. If they carry out their duty honorably, they truly contribute to the common good of the nation and the maintenance of peace.”

      • Kenny Johnson says

        Of course, this muddies things like the American Revolution. Were both Christians just in their killing of fellow Christians?

        • I was thinking about that very the same thing this morning. We often hear Christ’s words to “render unto Caesar” used to push conformance and acceptance of our government’s actions, and yet as American’s our very beginnings come from rising up against the government that was in place at the time.

  7. I read this article and after a couple of hours of thought came to the conclusion that this is unlike much of what I read from Michael. I honestly have trouble attributing this to his overall voice.

    The ideas of an exceptional America, just war and the acceptance of nationalism seem to be the very cultural ideas that are abandoned when moving away from an evangelical culture to a liturgical culture. To move away from evangelical Christianity and criticize multiculturalism seems contradictory.

    Michael seems to be a man contradicted within himself.

    • I too got the same impression that MWPeak had. I tried to find when the original post was written. Michael said to me a couple of times, that I should be careful quoting his earlier stuff, because his views had changed.

  8. As one whe became a follower of Christ after joining the military I had to deal with this issue personally, at a time when those I attended high school with were either talking about going to Canada or burning their draft cards (neither actually became necessary – things were winding down at that point). So me and my newly-acquired concordance sat down with my Bible and had a long discussion: Should I continue to serve, or should I file for conscientus objector status based on “religious conversion?”

    Ultimately, for me, it came down to 4 passages: John the baptist and his advice to the soldiers; Jesus and the Roman centurion whose servant was ill, Cornelius, and, of course, Romans 13 and the authority of government. Ultimately I did not extend my enlistment, but I did chose to serve the balance of my contract with my country.

    And while I was never called upon to fire a shot in anger, I could easily have been called upon to provide targeting data to others, or to draw my .45 and use it to protect nuclear weapons stored at my location. And having come to a clear decision regarding my position in Christ, and as a U.S. citizen in serving my duly-appointed government, my targeting data would have been accurate, as would have been my aim with the .45.

    • I should add that, in spite of having served, I have major concerns about our idolatrous adoption of the American civil religion, to the point where I wasn’t even interested in attending church yesterday morning. Too many evangelical churches willingly, and even enthusiasticly, throw Jesus off the bus on a national holiday like this.

      That does not, however, over-ride Rom. 13. I do not regret having served, and I have nothing but respect for those who serve today. I just want to make sure we clearly delineate where our faith leaves off and our patriotism, our pride in and willingness to serve our country, begins. And in my experience the typical evangelical church has a very poor grasp of that dividing line, if they even acknowledge the existance of said line.

      • Very well said. In America, many Christians have a hard time distinguishing between patriotism and faith. Very Maccabean in context.

      • Outside of Memorial Day, today is also the Feast of the Visitation.

        God give us all grace and eternal rest to the faithful departed!

    • Donalbain says

      Didn’t John tel them to “do violence to no man”? How can you square that with service in the military?

      • Try the NIV, the ESV, or the NASB. You’ll get an entirely different picture than that painted by the KJV.

        • To expand on that, I have a friend, just a little older than I am, who was manning a .50 cal. with a clear field of fire when the Tet offensive hit. As a result of the people he kikked that day he struggled for years, even after becoming a follower of Jesus, because the translators of the KJV chose to use “kill” instead of “murder” in the 10 commandments. Only after he learned that the commandment in quesion was really a commandment not to commit murder was he able to find peace, even as a believer.

          The passage in the NT is the NT equivalent of the 10 commandments. What John told people was not to “do violence to no man,” but rather, not to abuse their powers as soldiers for inappropriate gain. There is nothing in the passage in question stating they can’t continue to serve as solders, even if that service requires them to kill.

    • James,


      (Currently Serving)

  9. Many soldiers died to keep this country free so posters on this page can pontificate on WWJD. Had they been pacifists we would be speaking german or japanese and have been forced too worship other gods by now, so don’t be too judgemental of the USA. As our sgt. used to say, “you never had it so good.”

    • Kenny Johnson says

      Maybe if all those early Christians had killed their enemies we’d all be speaking Greek today…

  10. Great article. Very well written with lots of valid points. However, I am one of those who many would call a pacifist. I am a born-again Christian who firmly believes Jesus taught a pacifist message and so did the rest of the New Testament writers. I agree that we should not dismiss the Old Testament and what it says, otherwise, we would contradict what Jesus himself often referred to. But, with this same notion, we must also remember we are under a new covenant. A new covenant of grace. Where the OT took up the sword against its enemies, the NT says to love them. Where the OT says not to murder, the NT says even angry thoughts are the same. Where the OT conquered their lands, the NT says to be at peace with all men. Where the OT says to defend oneself, the NT says to turn the other cheek. And so on.

    I myself served in the Armed Forces for 10 years. It was while I was in the military that I had become a Christian. I felt strongly convicted to leave the military as a result of my new faith in Jesus Christ. I had struggled with thoughts like: Could I kill a fellow man during combat that could be one of God’s elect? Could I kill a fellow Christian brother in combat? Could I kill a man in combat who had never heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ before? If America were to ever go at war with Israel, could I fight against God’s chosen people? I couldn’t reconcile my faith with these questions and therefore chose to finish my career in the military. I received an honorable discharge after ten years of service.

    I am thankful that I served in the military. I grew up during that time. And, it was during that time that I was introduced to my Lord and Savior. Do I hold it against my Brother in Christ who have served and continue to serve in the military? No. Do, I think Christians should serve in the military? Yes, as long as they are not willing to kill another man. Should a Christian be in infantry? No. I don’t see any Biblical basis for killing another man.

    Christ taught a pacifist message. Paul taught a pacifist message. The disciples were reprimanded by Jesus for raising a sword. The disciples were all apprehended, tortured, persecuted, and killed without any resistance. The early church and early church fathers all frowned upon Christians serving in the military. They too never resisted persecution or the Roman army.

    I would encourage any Christian serving in the military to prayerfully reconsider serving in the military. God has called other people for this act, not Christians. Just as He sets up people of authority and people to govern and protect its citizens so too does He setup the military and all who serve in it.

    The bottom line, as with all things, it comes down to God’s grace. Ultimately, it comes down to the heart. And only God is the judge of a person’s heart.


    • This is a major problem for me as well.

      If I take what I read in the gospels and the NT and apply it to life, I am left with no other conclusion than Christian pacifism. The church’s main purpose in this world until Christ comes is to proclaim the truth of the gospel and care for the needy, nothing else.. All other arenas, such as government, military, business, and education, are secular and in the hands of non-Christians. God may use these secular, pagan institutions for His purposes, but Christians should not be part of any of these systems. We submit as long as we not required to deny Christ or abandon our call to serve those in need.

      Yet, I am faced with that provocative question of is there really a secular and a sacred or are all things, having been made by God and coming from God, sacred? If government, military, commerce and education are from God, given that they operate on principles He built into His creation, are sacred, then Christians are obglited to serve in all areas of life.

  11. To answer Michael’s question of whether his friend Mark (or anyone) can serve both God and country, I would answer, YES–as long as it’s in that order.

    I’ll also agree with Michael that “[t]here is a plague of patriotic idolatry in American Christianity.” I’ve been saying almost the same thing since the First Gulf War (1991)—that Patriotism is one of the more acceptable forms of idolatry among us Christians.

    During the 1991 war this patriotic idolatry was throughout the general population, at least in this part of the country; but in the run-up to the 2003 invasion, it was more noticeable among my fellow evangelical Christians. And it’s a scandal that we have yet to deal with.

    On a lighter note, my wife and I were at a dinner party last night with some old friends to honor birthdays of the hostess and the host’s brother. They’re all arch-conservatives as well as evangelical Christians, and we’re OK with that (the political part) because we’re such old friends. They are also Episcopalians, and so naturally the conversation among us guys turned to liquor, and the advantages of single-malt MacAllen scotch over the blended American stuff, etc. etc. My friend the host joked that his wife (the real arch-conservative in the family) had stopped buying Absolut vodka when the Iraq war started in 2003 because Sweden had refused to join the “Coalition of the Willing” against Iraq. (Some of my Baptist friends would wonder what a Christian was doing buying vodka in the first place, but that’s another story.)

    Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be boycotted by the faithful!

  12. I’m gonna go out on a limb and make a couple comments. Before I do, let me preface: I am neither a pacifist nor a war-monger.

    Two quickies:

    @Martha – My only true concern with Just War Theory is that I’m not convinced an action is wrong on the grounds that it can’t be won. An example: If I see a friend in danger, despite my physical limitations and likelihood of overpowering my friend’s attacker, I’m going to feel obligated to intervene–or die trying.

    @whomever – Just a side note, I won’t pretend to claim to know anything about the inner-workings of the military, but, and I have no idea how to soften this: Two people in a fight know the stakes. I’ve never been in a real physical fight, but even in a verbal one, I know the stakes.

    Now that my neck’s on the block…I’d say more, but I’m not completely sure I should.

    • I guess my other thought is: Wouldn’t war be worse if all the Christians bailed? Dunno. Just an expansion of a thought someone I know had that we should want Christians on both the Democratic and Republican sides, and we should want Christians to penetrate all areas of life, from arts to education to athletics to politics to running truck stops to defending our borders.

      It’s just a thought. And again, possibly too much.

    • Addendum: Should read “unlikelihood,” not “likelihood.”

    • Donalbain says

      Remember though, a war is not an action in which YOU intervene as in when you step into protect your friend. A war is a situation in which you (the leaders who make such decisions) send OTHER PEOPLE to be placed in harms way. That changes the morality of the situation.

      • Yes but.

        In the US we elect our political leaders to represent us and make such decisions for us. It’s how things were set up back in the 1780s. It is why we call it a representative democracy.

        • Donalbain says

          There is still a HUGE difference between sending others to fight and choosing to fight yourself.

      • I keep going back to the early part of WW2, when Hitler kept taking over countries and the U.N. (I think it was U.N. by then, not League of Nations) kept basically slapping his wrists with warnings. I suppose, in my mind, had someone intervened sooner, WW2 might not have escalated to the extent it did. Was it good or ill, in other words, for other nations to decide it was okay for Germany to keep violating the sovereignty of these other nations? I realize hindsight’s 20/20, but things like that have always left me to wonder.

        Who was it who said, “All it takes for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing”?

        I’ll add, though, Donalbain, and I may admittedly be a bit naive on this end, but I think there’s a right and a wrong way to do everything, even in the matter of war. This area is one where it quite likely comes down to case-by-case and personal conviction on the matter.

  13. There is a glory and honor to every nation and culture, to every people group, and yes, apparently to every government.

    There is a divine glory to America. There is a godly honor given to this nation.

    I like some others also find this rather uncharacteristic of Michael’s writing overall, and it’s an issue where I’d have to disagree with him. The two statements above are particularly troublesome. I know well that God works in every nation and in all governments (I grew up as a missionary kid in a Muslim country), but the honor and glory are God’s, not people’s or governments’ or nations’. And there is divine glory in America because the people of God are here, but a divine glory to America as a nation or government; a godly honor given to America?? That’s a real stretch theologically and scripturally and I just can’t go there.

  14. One final post on this article then I’m done.

    When it comes to war, God gave a very specific answer to the Israelites on how war was to be waged. I wonder to this day why God set for Israel such a brutal and “final” answer and even left nations to teach a new generation how to fight (Judges 3:1-2) and then sent Christ to teach us to be passive and not wage war.

    At least that is the impression I get from scripture.

  15. I highly recommend a book that will challenge your faith. It addresses the issue of non-resistance as one of many other things that Jesus taught concerning His kingdom. The book is entitled, “The Kingdom That Turned the World Upside Down” by David Bercot.

  16. For what it’s worth, as I’ve wrestled with whether it’s appropriate to serve in the armed forces, the advice to the Roman soldiers who sought out John the Baptist comes to mind. They were not told to resign their commissions and become pacifists. Instead they were told “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.” Luke 3:14. It seems to me that there is a place for Christians in the military just as there is a place for them in other fields of endeavor – but that they should not abuse their positions of authority and trust.

    • In part of the NCO creed it states:

      “I will not use my grade or position to attain pleasure, profit, or personal safety.”
      “I know my soldiers and I will always place their needs above my own.”

      At least here the Army aligns with biblical principle, whether intentionally or not.

  17. The pacifists among us really ought to tell us what they would have done, for example, on December 7, 1941. Let the heathen defend us? Welcome the Japanese with flowers? Live quietly and see what happened? Was Hitlerism another way for God to clean house, like the Flood? For that matter, should Charles Martel simply have greeted the Muslim armies in 732? If he had, there certainly would be a lot less Christians now.
    The acid test is not the Gulf War or the American Revolution, it’s the big wars of extermination.

    • if there never was a World War 1 there never would have been World War 2 ——-Probably no Communism, Fascism, Nazism. Wars create Radicalism & disrupt order in society. I’m not going to argue Pacifism over Just War (though I am a Pacifist ) but we as American tend to hold war up on a pedestal & talk of the “good” war & war bringing peace. you will not find that in countries that had wars fought in their backyards. it is not because they are cowards, it is because they have seen it close up & understand the costs. Americans understood that after the Civil War —-but since then we have only seen economic boom & victory without having to re-build our own cities. We send off men & now women to war & we gamble if they will come back. The soldiers ( please stop staying troops, it is not a word) are the ones with their lives on the line. I pray for their safety , they are to be loved & prayed for. we, Myself included are to blame for war. peace —-again I’m not going to argue my point farther.

    • Jordan Peacock says

      I recommend Brimlow’s book What about Hitler?: Wrestling with Jesus’s Call to Nonviolence in an Evil World.

  18. Chad, I deleted your comment because it was far too long. You are welcome to resubmit ashortet version.

  19. “The first is the origin of human government itself, the story of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-11) I would like you to observe that what God is doing at Babel is a restraining act of mercy. It is God’s opinion that human nations will be less evil if separated into nations than if they are one nation, one culture. ”
    i never heard the Tower of Babel story being God’s approval of nationalism. This is really a stretch to me, If God would be recommending anything here it would be Anarchy. I don’t agree with the Imonk but I can still see his point in most of this post though I still disagree, but this interpretation of the Tower of Babel is weird to me —–anyone else???