“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
I am the type of person who hopes for a Christian utopia, but I also am aware that it doesn’t really exist as long as we are in this corrupt human bodies. Oh, there may be fellowships and individuals who come close to seeing true “Peace on Earth”, at least among themselves, but it does not exist anywhere for very long.
Why is this? I think it is because we do not really believe that God is more powerful than our emotions, our selfishness and our sin. I confess, many times I struggle with the good vs. evil conundrum, and wonder why it seems that “good” so often seems to lose the battles.
If you could change the way people think, the way they act, or even what they watch on TV, would that really make a difference?
I used to think so. I have fellow Christians who have given up TV entirely, but I have trouble with some of the stuff they read. I have restricted any kind of strong drink in my house, but not wine, because 1. The Bible does not restrict its use entirely, and 2. I believe it is good for the body in moderate amounts. This may very well not sit well with some of my fellow Christians, but the point really is that we cannot restrict or enforce our own ethics or morality on anyone! This is where the Christian Right and groups associated with them, who perceive Christianity as an “us against them” kind of warfare, get it wrong. Prohibition did not work! It only made things worse, in the short and long run.
I wish every Christian would give up things I am uncomfortable with, but I have to remember Romans 14 and the words of Jesus, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; “ (Luke 6:37) . But, let’s not forget that Jesus also said, “And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? “ (Luke 12:57)
So, in that spirit, where I understand that I cannot make or force anyone to do according to my will or follow my morality or conscience, I offer this small treatise on how I believe many justify a Christian becoming a soldier or a policeman, and how I believe they have to twist the Word of God to justify that.
Here is the scripture used to justify a person who is a Christian joining in the military (note that I do not fault those already committed for a term agreed upon prior to their conversion):
Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.” (Luke 3:14)
This is supposedly an affirmation by John the Baptist that being a soldier is an acceptable occupation for a Christian. However, there are certain points that are overlooked by taking this at face value.
1. These are John’s words of instruction, not the words of our Lord.
2. Scripture does not indicate that any Gentiles were coming out to hear John preach. No Roman soldier would have any impetus to see what the hubbub was about except perhaps to observe and insure it was not a political uprising. A Roman solder would first have had to become a Jewish proselyte before John would have been willing to baptize him, which, I might add, would have required him to desert his employment as a soldier.
3. There is absolutely no indication that these were Gentile soldiers, serving under Rome. It is much more believable that these were the same temple police referred to in Luke 12 than military men. The Jews were an exception among all the conquered peoples of Rome, in that Rome’s emperors allowed the Jews to continue their unique sacrifices and temple worship as well as exempting them from sacrificing or honoring Rome’s gods and goddesses.
4. As policemen, these “soldiers” were an adjunct of the Sanhedrin and had the power to arrest and bring to court any who broke Jewish law or were disturbing the peace. However, according to the laws in place at that time, they also were not given the power to condemn or kill anyone (John 18:31). Something many can relate to is to think of British “Bobbies”, who for ages were able to perform their duties without a lethal weapon being issued to them.
Another scripture taken to mean soldiering is acceptable is the story of Jesus’ encounter with the centurion in Matthew 8: 5-13. However, Jesus was not, at any time, trying to convert Gentiles. Rather his mission was to the house of Israel. True, Jesus did not condemn the man’s occupation, but neither did he commend it. What he commended was “with no one in Israel have I found such faith”!
Further, Jesus himself said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matthew 15:24). Of course, this and his other conversation outside of Israel on a personal level were to Samaritan women at the well and the Samaritan villagers. I believe this was God’s way of showing that even these “dogs” who were of mixed Jewish blood, were part of the flock of the lost sheep of Israel.
But, pointedly, while Jesus honored the faith of those Gentiles who exhibited it, he did not preach the gospel to them about himself or the Kingdom of God.
Of course, someone will mention Cornelius the Roman centurion whom Peter was sent to and the jailor in Acts 16. Let’s look at these briefly, but carefully:
1. Peter explicitly states that the purpose of his visit was explained by the angel that appeared to Cornelius as an evangelistic one (Acts 11:14).
2. True, Peter does not require the centurion to abandon his post, but neither does scripture infer that this man was anything more than a local governing emissary with some military authority. There are many positions in the military that do not entail the use of any weapon at all. It does not imply, by any means that he was a man who would obey the rule of Caesar over God since he is termed a “God-fearer”. If push came to shove, I am certain he was of the character that would refuse to participate in violence against others.
3. Cornelius was obviously familiar with the name of Jesus and his crucifixion, and was well on his way to being converted when Peter arrived.
4. The jailer apparently was issued a sword as a part of his equipment, but this does not mean that he was also an appointed executioner, either. He was about to take his own life, which an unconverted person without a knowledge of the gospel would be justified in seeking in his circumstance.
5. However, the jailer in no way threatened harm to anyone but himself, and he apparently did not have an armed guard at his disposal, else they would certainly have been placed on high alert after the earthquake.
6. A person can certainly fill the role of a policeman or jailer without ever having to take a life or use violence instigated by retribution against anyone. In both cases, restraint and capture are the desired end result, not death.
The Holy Scriptures cannot to be used to justify violence against anyone, ever. If we were still under the Old Testament, such could be the case, I will admit. But, as Christians, we are by virtue of our very title not under the old law, but under the new law which is simply comprised of two things:
And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. (1 John 3:23)
And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
(1 John 4:21)
“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. (Luke 6:27-28)
One can hardly obey the commandments of Christ and be intent on and willing to kill people they don’t even know and have never even met. Many people who were deadly enemies during wars found that they had much in common after such war and were unanimously regretful of the lives they had taken.
Say all you want about men having to die in order to preserve our freedoms, but I say to you what Jesus said to Pilate, “”You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.” (John 19:11a) as regards what government and what rights we are given.
Those who pervert the Word of God in order to justify their carnal aims are not of the gentle flock of Jesus Christ, who never advocated or lifted his hand against anyone for any reason. If that is our example, that (not other flawed human beings) is what me must aspire to and follow.