So can a Christian put on a military or police uniform, knowing that this might mean he’ll have to kill another human being? Dr. Sprinkle and other pacifists would say no, but I say yes. Here’s my case.
As we discussed before, the Lord’s created three distinct institutions: the family, the church, and the state. Each of these has a sphere of responsibility, and although there might be a little overlap, there’s not much. The family has the responsibility of raising the next generation in the fear and teaching of the Lord and being the first resort when a member is in need, the church has the responsibility of spreading the Message of Christ, discipling believers, and being the last resort for those in need (if the family’s unwilling or unable to help), and the state’s there to maintain basic civil order, basic justice, and to maintain rule of law.
On a side-note, the sources I’ve been reading date the establishment of the state all the back. . . to Noah. When he stepped off the Ark, the Lord told him (and thru him the rest of humanity):
Whoever sheds human blood,
by humans shall their blood be shed;
for in the image of God
has God made mankind.
This was the establishment of the principle that because people are made in God’s image, the standard punishment for murder is to be the death penalty. And in order to have the death penalty (as opposed to simple blood vengeance), you have to have a state doing its job.
And as I participate in each institution, my responsibilities within each will be different. As a believer I’m supposed to share the Message of Christ with the lost, both collectively in the church and individually. As a father I have responsibilities which are different from those as a church member. And if my calling is to be a soldier or police officer and fulfill the state’s function in Romans 13, then my responsibilities to that calling are different from those of a church member.
Au contraire, says Dr. Sprinkle:
Jesus doesn’t give any room for obeying some bits of the Sermon, while setting aside others if your vocation demands it. A lawyer who’s a Christian shouldn’t lie, a lifeguard who’s a Christian shouldn’t lust, and even if you were the secretary of defense, if Jesus is your King, then your King says you shouldn’t retaliate, shouldn’t hate your enemy, shouldn’t confront evil with violence. As citizens of God’s kingdom, we gladly surrender every fiber of our lives to the One who breathed the stars into being. . . Matthew 5 isn’t directed at secular governments, but it is binding on followers of Jesus no matter their vocation.
I have to admit, that’s probably the strongest argument I’ve heard for his position. Following this line of reasoning, I can’t be a soldier if being a soldier means I’m going to have to “resist an evil person.” Even if I was a soldier in World War Two, I’d be sinning if I physically resisted the Nazis. Or if I was a police officer and a man is shooting at children in a schoolyard, I’m not supposed to resist him by any means except persuasion and prayer.
I’m not hitting a straw-man here. To his great credit, Dr. Sprinkle spends an entire chapter handling the “hard cases,” such as the aforementioned soldier in WW2, or “What if someone breaks into your home?” And he’s consistent. He doesn’t believe that being a faithful follower of Jesus can be made compatible with taking up (lethal) force against another person under any circumstances. It seems that his argument is “Well, if Jesus commanded us to do or not do something, then we have to choose obedience over expediency or even what seems rational.”
Well, I agree with him that we have to choose obedience over everything else. If this is what Jesus expects of us, then our part is to trust and obey.
But is that the entire story?
Let’s go back to the Sermon for a moment. Is everything there categorical? When Jesus tells us “Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you,” does he mean it? Let’s interpret this the way Dr. Sprinkle would take it. When a beggar who’s smelling to high heaven of something out of a bottle approaches and asks me for money—making it pretty obvious he’s going to buy more booze with it--apparently Jesus wants me to just hand him money. I’m going to issue a call to Dr. Sprinkle right now. I’m officially asking for the address to your house. Once you give it (since Jesus tells us to give anything to anyone who asks for it, right?), I’m going to show up at your house with a moving van. That TV looks really nice. That couch would look great in my living room. Wow, that bed is sure nicer than mine. And I’m sure you’re going to just watch me take it, since Jesus told us “Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”
But no. Dr. Sprinkle himself says in his book “Jesus doesn’t envision giving all your money to every beggar on the street.” What? What do you mean, Dr. Sprinkle? You mean that maybe. . .just maybe, we need to take a closer look at what the Sermon says in the light of the rest of Scripture?
With all respect, here are some questions for Dr. Sprinkle:
1) Do you lock your doors at night? How is that not keeping someone from taking something that belongs to you? How is that not disobeying the straight-up command of Jesus?
2) Do you pray in public at all? Well, I read here in the Sermon on the Mount that “when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.” So is Jesus forbidding public prayer?
3) Do you have a savings account? If so, how is that not disobedience to “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.” And if you do have a savings account, I’m officially asking you to email me the account number and any passwords I’ll need to empty that sucker out.
Just for the record, I also lock my doors at night, and I don’t feel obligated to hand money to someone who’s involved in a self-destructive lifestyle. And I don’t think our Savior is against public prayer.
Here’s something more to consider re: the question of “Can a believer be a soldier and still follow Christ?” There are two instances of personal encounters with soldiers in the Gospels which Dr. Sprinkle--probably because of space limitations--didn't get to. Let’s take a look.
Jesus encountered a Roman centurion, who would’ve been in charge of a hundred soldiers underneath him. The centurion begged him to heal his servant, and unlike most people of his day, he understood that Jesus didn’t have to be physically present to do his work. And Jesus’ response? “[He] was amazed and said to those following him, ‘Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.’” This is one of the very few people we see in the Gospels whom Jesus praises unconditionally. Strangely enough, the Lord—who never had any problems calling out sin when he saw it—never told the centurion to leave his job.
But you (and Dr. Sprinkle) might reply, “But we don’t know what he did after he met Jesus. Maybe he repented and quit his job.” That’s possible, but not really likely, is it?
OK, well, let’s look at the other encounter I have in mind. John the Baptist was attracting all sorts of people to his ministry to be baptized as a sign of repentance. Please keep in mind that this man had absolutely no problem calling people out for their sin. He told a king to his face that he (the king) was indulging in adultery, and for that the king put him in prison, and John’s stand eventually cost him his head.
So, not afraid of calling people out, not reticent about telling people what they need to hear in order to get right with God, right? So getting back to my point (I actually do have one), lots of different people came to John the Baptist to repent and be baptized. Here’s the part I want to focus on:
John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
“What should we do then?” the crowd asked.
John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”
Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”
“Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.
Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”
He replied, “Quit your jobs immediately, since you can’t be a soldier of Rome and be right with God.”
Oh waitaminute. That’s not what it says! Pardon me, I misquoted the last verse:
He replied, “You can stay on as soldiers, as long you never kill anybody.”
Oops, wrong again! What was I thinking? Let’s try one more time:
He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”
Please forgive my rather lame attempt at humor, but that’s what Mr. Tell-It-Like-It-Is had to say to soldiers. In order for them to show true repentance, he told them to 1) not extort money, 2) don’t accuse people falsely, and 3) be content with their pay. Each of these was a common (mal)practice of Roman soldiers. I’m sorry for the lame attempt at humor, but I’m trying to make a point here. John the Baptist apparently had no problem with Roman soldiers (not bound by the Geneva Convention) doing their jobs, which would frequently involve killing people.
You see, the way I’ve always interpreted the Sermon on the Mount is that it is applicable to me as an individual believer. If someone strikes me on one cheek, I offer him the other one. I don’t take vengeance on my own initiative. But when I wore the uniform of the U.S. Army, I wasn’t representing myself. I was representing the U.S. military and its government. That’s when I was under the auspices of Romans 13, just like any police officer, FBI agent, or judge. When a cop pulls a gun on a bank robber, he’s not pulling the gun under his own authority; he’s doing so under the authority of the city’s police department and government. That’s why we issue them uniforms. They’re not vigilantes. They’re fulfilling the role of government which the Lord instituted back in Noah’s day.
Now please keep in mind that I’m under no illusions that government fulfills this purpose all of the time, or even most of the time. Throughout human history, kings and dictators have ruled by whim and typically killed anyone who disagreed with them. The idea that the common people would have any type of voice in how they’re governed would be literally unimaginable to most people who’ve ever lived. In the last century, Communist governments have murdered around 100 million of their own citizens. But even under Roman rule, the apostle Paul, speaking with the authority of Jesus Christ himself, told us that the authorities which exist have been placed there by God himself, and he’s placed a sword in their hands. In other words, apparently the Lord sees bad government as better than no government. And when you compare how relatively just and free Western societies are compared with just about everything else we’ve seen (King Davids are hard to come by these days), you have cause to be thankful.
Let’s, shall we?