Tag Archives: military

When trusting in God is scary [Christians & War – Deuteronomy 20, part 5]

11 Jan

What will really change the heart of humanity?  Fighting wars?  No!  Only Jesus.

So what does trust in God look like when we are faced with strife in our world?  Christians should be known as a people who pray deeply for and strive for peace.  We should love our enemies.  We should seek to share the good news of Christ with all.  I think of missionaries who train young people to minister in what is called the 10/40 Window.  We have friends and family in Muslim countries.  At what point do we see Western Christians so trusting in God that they are willing to give up the comforts and ease of America to share the good news about Jesus, even in places that are opposed to Christianity?  We should serve locally as well!  Faith Church is near the city of Lancaster, and through refugee resettlement, the world has come to us. We could volunteer with an organization like Church World Service, caring and loving refugee families from many countries. 

But these ideas are scary, even risky. Thus I want to conclude with where the passage started.  The principle in the first four verses is that we must trust in God and depend on him about anything difficult or scary that we are going through.  But how do we do this? 

We follow his ways, even when people make fun of us. 

We allow God’s ways to define us, and not the way of the world.

And that means we need to learn God’s ways, and thus we spend time reading the stories of Jesus over and over, for it is there we most clearly see Jesus live out God’s ways.  Make 2019 a year where you commit to read through the four stories of Jesus in the Bible: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. 

Then we spend time in prayer, in God’s presence, listening for his voice, even when we feel like we don’t have time.  That means we have to open up time in our busy schedules to learn to hear his voice!

We start our day asking God to show us himself in those around us.

We trust him even when we don’t understand what he is telling us to do or why he is telling us to do it. And we are okay with not understanding all of his ways. We act on what we know to be truth and we act humbly and graciously as we interact with others, knowing that we don’t understand it all.

For me it is starting doctoral studies.  I have one semester of classes under my belt. I will be honest that while I got through that, and it went well, there is a part of me saying, “Drop out, drop out, it’s too hard. You can’t do it.”  But that’s not the whole story.  God is with me, and I believe he has opened the door to this, and he is for me.   What is God calling you to do that seems impossible?  Are you dragging your feet because you are scared, finding it difficult, thinking you aren’t ready or capable?  All those things are probably at least a little bit true, but they are also not the whole story, because God is with you, and he is for you, and he has called you to this!

Should Christians take up arms? [Christians & War – Deuteronomy 20, part 4]

10 Jan

How should Christians view war?  We are not the nation of ancient Israel which had a special covenant with God.  We are the church, and we are under a new covenant.  So from this passage in Deuteronomy, we can learn God’s heart, but we have to also take into consideration the new covenant we have with God, and that is found in the teaching of the New Testament.

There are those who look at Jesus’ teaching in the New Testament, especially in the Sermon on the Mount when he says to be peacemakers, to turn the other cheek, and to “Love your enemies.” These Christians look at the prohibitions against killing in both the Old and New Testaments, and they conclude that war is never right.  Our Mennonite and Amish and Brethren friends are examples.  They hold to what is called pacifism, or peace.  No war, period.  They would list Ghandi or Martin Luther King Jr as examples of what is called non-violent resistance in order to deal with injustice.  They would not serve in the military, receiving conscientious objector status in a draft.  What they hold to is a completely legitimate and viable understanding of New Testament teaching.

Then there are those Christians who look to other teaching in the New Testament, and they conclude that war is right in certain specified conditions.  They see Paul, in Romans 13, for example, teaching that God instituted governments to restrain evil.  From that they create what is called just war theory.  Here “just” is being used not in the sense of “only”, but in the sense of “right”.  In other words, what are those are circumstances when it is just or right or legal for one country to wage war against another? 

Of course there are many viewpoints on this, disagreements, but here are the most common points of what is called Just War Theory: 

  1. For one nation to go to war against another, they must have a just cause – Usually this boils down to self-defense.
  2. Next, war must be a last resort – All means of diplomacy must first be tried and tried again.
  3. War must be declared by a proper authority – A recognized sovereign nation.
  4. War must have right intention – The cause must be justice, not self-interest. 
  5. War must have a reasonable chance of success – Count the cost, particularly to human life.
  6. The end must be proportional to the means used – For example, don’t use nuclear weaponry for a small border dispute.

And in fact that last point is related to what we see in Deuteronomy 20 verses 19-20 where God says to Israel, “when you bring a siege on a city, don’t cut down fruit trees to build your siege works.”

On the one hand, this is simply wisdom.  You need food! So don’t cut off your source of sustenance.  Think about the needs of the army, and plan for the future because when you eventually occupy the land, you’ll need those trees for food. 

But on the other hand, there is also a principle: when in war use self-control, don’t allow yourself to use anything and everything to make war. 

So Just War Theory sets a high bar.  I once heard a lecture from a Christian speaker from the Center for Public Justice applying just war theory to some of America’s wars in the past.  The most obvious war considered to be just was our involvement in the Allied cause during World War 2.  In that war multiple unjust aggressors were not going to stop invading nations and slaughtering millions of people until they ruled the world.  After Japan bombed our naval base at Pearl Harbor, we committed our military to the cause, sacrificing much.  The Allied mission to defeat Japan, Germany and Italy in World War 2 is widely considered to be a just war. That doesn’t mean that every Allied action in the war was just.

But the speaker that day made a surprising comment.  He said that the American Revolution might not have been a just war!   Was it possible that our forefathers, when they rebelled against the British, did not meet those six standards of just war?  Maybe.  I’ll let you think on that!

My church and my pastoral credential is with the EC Church, our denomination, and we are not pacifistic.  We believe that when there is just cause, one nation can enter into war against another, to restrain evil, and we believe that Christians can in good conscience serve in the military.  But because this is an area of theology where Christians disagree, including Christians within the same church, each individual should hold their view with love and grace towards one another.

What I want to be clear about, though, is that Christians and the church should never use violent means to accomplish the mission of God. Sadly we have a poor track record of doing just that, most famously perhaps in the Crusades. We must call any military or violent action of the church what it is: sin. And we must repent of it, over and over. The mission of God is accomplished in love, humility, selflessness, following the example of Jesus who gave his life for the world.

Soldiers in the garden? [Christians & War – Deuteronomy 20, part 2]

8 Jan

Soldiers are hardy, rugged fighters, right? They train to kill, learning not only weaponry, but also hand to hand combat. But what we will find out is that God has some surprising news for Israel’s officers. Some soldiers need to be in their gardens.

In part 1 of this series, we read that right before the Israelite army engaged the enemy in battle, their priests would give them a final pep talk, directing them to remember that God is with them, fighting for them. Now in part 2, we continue in Deuteronomy 20, looking at verses 5-9 where we read that the officers of the army also speak to the soldiers.  Chronologically, however, this speech by the officers likely happened before the priests spoke.  The scene is back at camp, before the army gets close to battle.  In these verses the officers are to let people go home who are not qualified to fight!

God lists specific categories of people who would not be qualified to fight: those who built new homes, those who planted new vineyards, those who are engaged to be married, and those who are fainthearted.  All these men can go home, and don’t have to fight.

Is this simply a description of troop selection that is wise or pragmatic for war?  Or could we say that this is a description of God’s heart for his people to enjoy life and not be forced beyond what they are capable of?  I suspect this surprising directive is both wise and caring.  God knows that those who are distracted will not be quality soldiers.  Their heart and mind will be elsewhere.  The fainthearted could really bring down the morale of the other soldiers, maybe even spook them out.  So let them go home.  Keep only those who are ready and willing to serve.  In Deuteronomy 24 this will come up again, when God says that after a man is married, he is not allowed to fight for a whole year.  There again we see God’s heart to provide a good foundation to a new family. 

This thinning out of the ranks requires the army to have quite an amazing trust in God, doesn’t it?  Think about it.  What kind of army reduces its numbers?  In the face of battle, that is ridiculous.  You want to sustain or, even better, increase your numbers.  So the officers push their soldiers hard, even the ones that are fainthearted or missing home or scared.  They say, “You want to go home to your wife and garden?  Ha!  No way.  Buck up, buddy, this is what you signed up for. We’ve got a mission, and you’re going to give your all to help accomplish it.”  But maybe the soldier didn’t sign up for the army.  Maybe they were drafted into the military?  There are plenty of times in our country’s history when people had no choice but to serve.  There are many countries around the world today where every single person has mandatory military service, often for two years.  No choice! 

It is amazing, then, to hear God say that he wants the officers to reduce the size of the army.  I can imagine plenty of stalwart officers, when they heard Moses giving this part of his teaching, thinking, “This is insane.  Every able-bodied person over 20 should be in the army, period.  God, you want to let people go home?  They’re all going to say they want to go home.”  But that’s God, caring for his people, and wanting them to trust in him.  The officers, then, must let people out of the army! 

That means those officers and soldiers who stay are going into battle with reduced numbers.  They are going to have place their trust in God.  You don’t trust in numbers, God is saying, you trust in me.  A smaller army with God on its side is in no danger against a much larger more powerful enemy.

And that enemy is who God addresses next.  Now that the army is prepared, trusting in God, he gives them very curious instructions about battle, which we’ll study in part 3.

War and Peace and Christians

15 Sep

Image result for War vs peace

Last week I asked, “What should Christians do about War and Peace?”  Sunday was the 15th anniversary of 9/11, so we talked about these two important responses.  Just War and Pacifism.  There are other ways to approach the response to evil in the world, but just war and pacifism tend to be the two primary choices.  Does the Bible say it is okay for one nation to make war on another?  Or should we be a people of peace?  Or can the Bible be used to make a case for each side?

Let’s start with Just War.  That is the theory that the large majority of people at Faith Church hold to.  We turn to Romans 13 and read about God ordaining government to respond to evil, and we surmise that there are ways to practice just war.

Just war theorists suggest that there are principles we should apply as we decided to go to war, and there are principles we should apply when we wage war.  So we should have a just cause and use just means for war.

Image result for criteria for just war

To me one of the most clear examples of Just War is the Allied response to the Axis powers in World War 2.  Germany, Italy and Japan were aggressively annihilating people, and Allied powers needed to step in.  In other words it was just to go to war.

But wars have been fought that have not used this criteria.  I once heard a Christian scholar give a serious presentation saying that the United States Revolutionary War did not meet the criteria to qualify as a just war.  Was taxation without representation a just cause?  Did the Colonies really exhaust all other methods for peace, did they go to war as a last resort?  Maybe not.  Maye the Boston Tea Party was actually unjust and Britain had a right to clamp down.But not nearly all war has been just.  Here’s another view on that debate.

And yet while we’re on the topic of what Jesus taught, he says in Matthew 5:38-48, that people should love their enemies.

Remember one of the names the prophet Isaiah gave to the Messiah?  Prince of Peace.

Remember what the angels said when Jesus, the Messiah, was born?  Peace on earth.

Remember what Jesus said to his disciples on the night before he was arrested?  Peace I leave with you.  My peace I give you.

Peace.

The Apostle Paul would go on to talk about it quite a lot.  One of the most compelling instances was when he said this in 1 Timothy 2:2, “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”

Who was emperor when Paul wrote this?  Nero!  A tyrant!  One who persecuted Christians.  And Paul is saying to pray for that guy?  “Pray for your enemies,” Jesus said, and now Paul is saying it too.  Here the enemy is a guy who brutally slaughtered the Christians.  Nero looked a lot like ISIS.  He was crazy.  He looked a lot like Adolf Hitler.

And so we have this teaching about peace.  I live in a place that has a long, long heritage with Anabaptist faiths.  The Amish, Mennonites, Brethren churches all hold to the doctrine of pacifism.  Pacifism means they believe in peace rather than war and violence.  They do not believe that Christians should participate in the military.

If you support Christians in the military, and you are reading this starting to dismiss pacifists, please take a moment to hear them out.  I am not a pacifist, so in order to present pacifism to you accurately, I got some help from Mennonite pastor friends in my local Ministerium, and I asked them to explain pacifism for me from a biblical perspective.

One pastor mentioned this quote, and I want you to see if you can guess who said it: “My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God’s truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders.”

Who said this?  Guesses?

Adolf Hitler.   So the Mennonite pastor responds, “it’s helpful to understand that during World War II, nearly all American and European combatants, both Axis and Allied powers, invoked Christian faith as a rationale to justify their use of violence. We try to paint Hitler as an atheist to get Christians off the hook, but history won’t let us do that.

“Our civil religion has been quite effective at indoctrinating us into a “one right interpretation” of history, politics, and current events, and surprise, surprise, in American civil religion, it turns out that God hates all the same people we do! To put it mildly, this a big problem. If we agree with Hitler and see Jesus as “greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter,” we’re in danger of missing the point of the Gospel: that God extends love to us when we are enemies (through the love of his Suffering Servant, Jesus), and God invites us to, in turn, extend love to our enemies.”

But what about the claim that pacifists will be overrun by bullies?  It was clear that Hitler wasn’t stopping until he achieved world domination.  Again the pacifist response is interesting.

“Now, pacifism certainly opens one up to charges of naiveté. Who wouldn’t kill one man in order to save thousands?  I think the easy mistake we make is assuming that effectiveness is more important than faithfulness. The early church fathers understood this.  Clement of Alexandria made it clear that “Christians are not allowed to use violence to correct the delinquencies of sin.”

Very, very interesting thoughts, aren’t they?  I would submit to you that most of us who have not studied pacifism have just assumed that it is a weak-minded kind of theology that doesn’t deal with the reality of life.  But as you can read, my Mennonite pastor friends have deep substance to what they believe.  Let’s not write them off.  It very well could be that one day in heaven Jesus will tell us that Christian use of and support for military was wrong.  Instead let’s ask ourselves if we have exchanged effectiveness for faithfulness.

In this debate between effectiveness and faithfulness, my friend shared a wonderful story by Wil Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas, from their book Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony:

The overriding political task of the church is to be the community of the cross.

Sometime ago, when the United States bombed military and civilian targets in Libya, a debate raged concerning the morality of that act. One of us witnessed an informal gathering of students who argued the morality of the bombing of Libya. Some thought it was immoral, others thought it was moral.

At one point in the argument, one of the students turned and said, “Well, preacher, what do you think?”

I said that, as a Christian, I could never support bombing, particularly bombing of civilians, as an ethical act.

“That’s just what we expected you to say,” said another. “That’s typical of you Christians. Always on the high moral ground, aren’t you? You get so upset when a terrorist guns down a little girl in an airport, but when President Reagan tries to set things right, you get indignant when a few Libyans get hurt.”

The assumption seems to be that there are only two political options: Either conservative support of the administration, or liberal condemnation of the administration followed by efforts to let the U.N. handle it.

“You know, you have a point,” I said. “What would be a Christian response to this?” Then I answered, right off the top of my head, “A Christian response might be that tomorrow morning The United Methodist Church announces that it is sending a thousand missionaries to Libya. We have discovered that it is fertile field for the gospel. We know how to send missionaries. Here is at least a traditional Christian response.”

“You can’t do that,” said my adversary.

“Why?” I asked. “You tell me why.”

“Because it’s illegal to travel in Libya. President Reagan will not give you a visa to go there.”

“No! That’s not right,” I said. “I’ll admit that we can’t go to Libya, but not because of President Reagan. We can’t go there because we no longer have a church that produces people who can do something this bold. But we once did.”

We would like a church that again asserts that God, not nations, rules the world, that the boundaries of God’s kingdom transcend those of Caesar, and that the main political task of the church is the formation of people who see clearly the cost of discipleship and are willing to pay the price.

I think a similar case could be made regarding ISIS. The historically Christian response would be overwhelming love expressed through a willingness to sacrifice our status, comfort, and even our lives on their behalf. But we don’t seem to currently have a church—even a Mennonite church—that produces Christians who can do something that bold.”  Check the astounding work being done by Mennonite peacemakers in Iraq.  There are other organizations doing radical work like this as well.

Where does this leave us?

When thinking about War and Peace consider these principles:
1. Pursue peace in all relationships.
2. Consider peace even in war.
3. If war is waged, it should be just.

Do you have a relationship that is not peaceful not right?  What will it look like for you to be a peacemaker?

That time a military recruiter called me with an amazing proposal

31 Dec

A couple years ago, I got one of those out-of-the blue calls that sounded legit, but also made me very suspicious.  It was from a military recruiter, the Army Reserves to be precise.

At the time I was 39 years old.  Not quite the age anymore to be considered for military service.  He explained that he was recruiting for the military chaplaincy, and at 39 I had a couple more years before I would be too old to start a career in the military.  He told me I didn’t need to worry…I wouldn’t have to go through basic training!

I would, however, have to go through a chaplaincy training program, but the Army Reserves realizes that its chaplains are usually already in full-time ministry, so they try to fit the training around a pastor’s schedule.

As a chaplain in the reserves, after my training was complete, my responsibilities would be just like any other Reservist, spending one weekend per month on base, and two weeks each summer.  Of course, if my unit got called up to active duty, I would go with them.  The recruiter assured me that many of their chaplains are full-time pastors, and their churches work around their Reserves schedule.

Additionally, and this piqued my interest, I would be qualified for a military pension if I served 20 years, and because I already had my master’s degree, I would start my military career as an officer!

I couldn’t believe it.  I had not sought this out.  I had not had a conversation with the chaplains in my denomination.  It came completely as a surprise.  How did he find out about me?

Maybe he just looked on my denomination’s website?  I don’t know.  And it doesn’t really matter how he found out.  What mattered was that this was a serious offer, and I needed to evaluate it.

I have to admit that there was an inkling of interest deep within me.  I liked the idea of a military pension.  I liked the idea of being an officer is the US Army.  And I’ve heard from my military chaplain colleagues how many wonderful ministry opportunities there are for chaplains.  I like all of that, and it excited me.

So Michelle and I needed to talk about it.  We needed to pray about it.  If I became a military chaplain, it could deeply impact my family.  Would my wife and kids be okay with having me gone so much?  And what if my unit got called up, and I went to serve in a war zone?

I also needed to talk with my church, or at least the group of leaders in my church that could give me honest feedback about this decision.  It was an opportunity that could also deeply impact our church.  My church already graciously and wisely allows me one Sunday off preaching every month.  It doesn’t always happen, but I’m very thankful for it.  This chaplaincy opportunity would go well beyond the once/month off though.  Would the church be okay with me being gone so much?  And what would happen to this full-time ministry that I committed to before the Lord and before the church if my unit did get called up and I would be gone for months?

Simply put, for an opportunity like this, I would have to count the cost.  And I would have to get others to join the evaluation process with me.  It was an amazing opportunity.  Very enticing.  But it came with a cost.

This coming Sunday at Faith Church we will study Luke 14:25-35, a passage about counting the cost.  Check it out before worship on Sunday.  Like that recruiter, God is offering you an amazing opportunity, as we’ll see in this teaching by Jesus, but we need to count the cost.

So we invite you to join us to learn more.