Soldiers, War, and the New Testament Part 1
We must be able to understand the separation between our “role” as “believers” (the mission of the Church), and our place as “citizens” of an earthly government.
Conversion versus Conquest:
There is a great difference between the way God worked through his people in the Old Testament, and the way He wants to use the Church in the New Testament. Our mission, the work of the New Testament believer, is to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Savior of all mankind. We are building a “spiritual kingdom” in which Jesus Christ reigns as King and Lord.
This differs greatly from the mission, the life—the fight of the Old Testament believer. They were struggling for their physical lives against the forces of this world in order to “build” a family / a Kingdom which would be used by God to bring the Messiah into the world. Although they had God “fighting” on their sides (at times supernaturally) they had to fight their enemies according to the principles of the natural world. They used swords, spears, stones—that is: they were armed warriors—to overcome or to defend. And, even at the times when God intervened in their battles, He would use natural or supernatural elements to destroy the physical enemies, armies, and strongholds. He even used defeat to teach them obedience and commitment. The descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were His people, and Israel was His nation.
But, that is not the “fight” of the Church today. As Jesus stood before Pilate, He declared His “Kingdom” was not of this world (John 18:36). Previously, He had told those who tested him to give to Caesar the honor due unto him and give to God the honor due to Him (Matt 22:16–21). The mission of the Church is to proclaim the Gospel—not to conquer nations, subdue people, or bring judgment. My responsibility as a Teacher in the Body of Christ is to bring people to the knowledge of God’s Word, and lead unbelievers to the message of Salvation through Jesus Christ.
This is the mission of the Church—the Believers. However, we live in a world that is filled with all manner of evil. The purposes of evil men, oppressive governments, and satanically inspired people must somehow be subdued. The Church teaches/preaches truth, peace, freedom in Christ, but we are not called to subdue the works of evil persons. God has established “earthly governments” for that purpose. As they fulfill their roles to establish order and “earthly” justice, the Church and the believers are free to pursue and fulfill our purpose of bringing mankind the message of salvation through Jesus Christ.
The “Peace” of the Roman Empire:
Just as the Church is called to “wage war for righteousness” on a spiritual level, earthly governments are called and appointed by God to establish peace and justice in society.
1 Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God.
2. So then, the one who resists the authority is opposing God's command, and those who oppose it will bring judgment on themselves.
3. For rulers are not [to be seen as] a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do good and you will have its approval.
4. For government is God's servant to you for good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, because it does not carry the sword for no reason. [The] government is [to be] God's servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong.
5. Therefore, you must submit [to its laws and ordinances], not only because of [the fear of] wrath but also because of your conscience [as a believer].
6. And for this reason, you pay taxes, since the authorities are God's public servants, continually attending to these tasks.
7. Pay your obligations to everyone: taxes to those you owe taxes, tolls to those you owe tolls, respect to those you owe respect, and honor to those you owe honor. (Holman Christian Standard Bible)
That’s a long passage, but it is fairly clear in meaning. God set “government” in place to be a ”terror” to evil—bringing earthly judgment upon those who live outside the established law. Now, that certainly doesn’t mean all forms, individuals, and governing bodies are “godly / righteous”, for clearly, they are not. Throughout the Old Testament, God used righteous people to subdue evil government. It is His desire that they “reign” in a righteous and merciful manner.
The Apostle Paul was clearly aware of the tension that existed between his mission to preach the Gospel, and the command to obey civil authorities. A study of his Letters to the Churches, and the Book of Acts will reveal how well he used his “liberty” as a Roman citizen to gain access to all that the “Roman Law” allowed, while at the same time never compromising his message, even under threat of imprisonment and / or punishment.
Now, my point here is simply this: The “Peace of Rome” was an integral part of the Early Church’s success in being able to carry the Gospel to the “known world”. And, it was nothing less than the Roman Army that maintained this “peace”. They subdued rebels and criminals, established uniform law, enforced civil obedience, and defended against invasion and anarchy. Beyond that, a study of history will also reveal that the Armies of Rome were responsible for most of the highways, bridges, aqueducts, and other civic projects. They even assisted local governments and religious groups in building projects as acts of benevolence to gain the favor of society. Consider:
Luke 7:3 When the Centurion heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to Him, requesting Him to come and save the life of his slave.
4. When they reached Jesus, they pleaded with Him earnestly, saying, "He is worthy for You to grant this,
5. because he loves our nation and has built us a synagogue."
This was not an isolated incident. According to Roman history, the Centurions were well-known for these acts of benevolence (and yet, mostly we hear about their savagery). They were used as a means of building “goodwill” with the people of the territory they ruled. This, in turn, served as a method of keeping civil strife, unrest, and rebellion at bay. Certainly, the Army could “crush” any resistance and call upon more legions if necessary. But, what they wanted was “peace”. They understood that for the “government” to prosper, the civil society would also need to prosper. And, that can only happen when the population is at peace.
We know that not all of what the Army did was of “godly character”, but it is also evident that God used this specific time to send His Son.
Galatians 4:4 But when the time arrived that was set by God the Father, God sent his Son, born among us of a woman, born under the conditions of the law so that he might redeem those of us who have been kidnapped by the law.
God was not only using the Jewish nation and the Old Testament Law to accomplish His purpose, but also the Roman government and its policies. The orderly operation of government was an essential part of the “timing” for the Messiah’s birth. And, it was the Roman Army that shaped that peace and maintained that peace.
The Duty of the Soldier
It is the Military forces and the Law Enforcement agencies who maintain the civil order in society and the world so that we (the Church) can preach the Gospel. Soldiers are doing their duty so that we can do ours. Many of our military personnel are believers. And as believers you pray, you witness in word and deed, you encourage, and you help the oppressed and the poor. As “soldiers” (I use that term in a general reference to all Military service personnel), you subdue, defend, rescue, and execute God’s civil judgment. We owe a great debt of gratitude to your sacrifice. It is truly your vigilance and selflessness that lends stability and peace to our world. And that “peace and quiet” is a necessary element in our presentation of the Gospel.
1 Timothy 2:1 First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone,
2. for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.
3. This is good, and it pleases God our Savior,
4. who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
Paul openly states that prayers of all types are to be made for government in order that we may live in peace and quiet. Those 2 words convey a meaning of internal and external peace.
1. The internal peace comes from our confidence that God will keep us safe through any storm.
2. The external peace is the result of believers taking authority through the power of prayer over all that causes trouble in this world.
Why is this important? Why does it please God that we live in internal and external peace? God desires all men to be saved. Times of civil unrest and anarchy are not conducive to the spreading of the Gospel. Our prayers are for our “soldiers” (as the enforcement arm of government) to help establish “quiet” in this troubled world; for them to have the strength and wisdom to overcome the strategies of evil men and anarchists; and for the swift execution of justice to subdue those who wage war on society and oppress the population.
The mission of “soldiers” is to establish order. That includes the disarming and removing of elements that are a threat to society, the imposing of civil law and obedience, and the restoration of public services and governmental authorities.
These actions can be done in a “peaceful” manner, or it may require the execution of severe judgment—all depending upon the response of the opposing elements.
This has nothing, directly, to do with a soldier's standing as a believer in Jesus Christ. Believer or nonbeliever, those involved in “righteous” civil government are fulfilling God’s purpose, whether they be a member of the military services, the law enforcement agencies, or the judicial system. Certainly, as believers, they may gain an added perspective as they do their work as unto the Lord, but all are serving God’s ordained plan.
For example: Suppose there is a Judge who is a true believer in Jesus Christ. His “faith” does not alter his judicial duties. He is responsible to “judge” by the Law of the Land—the Constitution of the United States, and the codes derived from that Instrument. As a believer, he is responsible to God for his witness to the salvation that is ours through Jesus Christ. As a “judge” he is responsible to US Constitutional Law.
Soldiers have a responsibility to establish civil obedience. Soldiers who are "believers" are responsible to live before God in righteousness and faith and to witness to His Gospel. The service as “soldiers” brings security and stability to our society. It is easy for us to revel in the liberty and freedom we enjoy, and never recognize the sacrifice that has been and is being made to secure that freedom.
The “work” of defending our Nation takes place in far-away places, out of our sight, and usually out of our thoughts. And it is the express desire of the military that it remains that way. Our Armed Forces personnel labor tirelessly, and shed their own blood that they may never fight a war on their native soil. We owe them, and all those who have served a very deep debt of gratitude.