Faith Lessons by Ray Vander Laan: Misguided Faith, Part 4

Dwayne Phillips asked in a comment to Part 3 of this series,

I enjoy reading your blog. This entry, however, sounds much like what I heard years ago from people who refused to say the pledge of allegiance and who now condemn any Christian who serves in the US armed forces. Please help me understand the differences.

It’s a good question — especially because it’s helped me clarify my thinking. Now we’ll see if it’s helped clarify my writing!

Okay, let’s start with first principles. Jesus said, “No man can serve two masters” (Matt 6:24). I take this very seriously, so seriously that I don’t think I can serve the US government as a master at all. There is no balancing or weighing my loyalty to Jesus with or against my loyalty to my country. There’s just Jesus. I’m loyal to no one else. Period.

You see, I think that when we become Christians we are obligated to offer all of ourselves to Jesus as a sacrifice (Rom 12:1; Gal 1:10; 1 John 2:15; 1 Pet 2:5). Therefore, we place on the altar everything — including our patriotism and citizenship. Everything.

But, of course, Jesus does not leave us destitute. Some of what we offer to him he returns to us — as a gift to be used in his service. Thus, although I offer my wealth to Jesus, he gives much of it back to be used to God’s glory. 

Now, this concept of giving back makes better sense when we understand the Jewish sacrificial system. Some sacrifices made to God were for atonement, and we cannot repeat this sacrifice, because Jesus has made it once for all (Heb 7-10). But other sacrifices were given as thanks offerings or as fellowship offerings. Fellowship offerings in particular were shared with those making the sacrifice — rather like a meal eaten with God. You see, going back to Leviticus, God gave some of the sacrifices back to his people — to be used for his glory.

But I digress …

So if my patriotism, my citizenship, my love for my country and its people have been given to me by God, well, if I use them at all, I must use them to bring glory to God. They must be used in his service. Thus, when Paul claimed his rights as a Roman citizen, it was to bring glory to God. 

And so, the question is simply stated: How does a citizen of the U.S. bring glory to God through his voting, his military service, his jury duty, or otherwise as a citizen?

And the principle is simple enough, even though it’s application can be quite complex. The principle is two-fold: love God, love your neighbor. These are the two greatest commands. Indeed, if we believe Paul, they are the only laws binding on us (Rom 13:8; Gal 5:14). And so, how does love dictate how we exercise our citizenship? 

Plainly enough, it has to mean that I can’t be selfish in the voting booth. As much as I’d like to vote for those who will cut my taxes and give me subsidies, I actually have to vote for what’s best for everyone — “best” being defined by Christian principles and hence not necessarily defined in terms of material wealth. 

Obviously enough, you and I may disagree about what governmental policies are the best. I’m an economic conservative and believe in minimal government. But I’m no Libertarian. I don’t want to see the FDA and EPA dissolved. Some government is a good thing for everyone. We can disagree about these things and still be brothers — and both be motivated by a truly Christlike love.

The best example I can think of is the immigration debate. Most Christians I’ve discussed this with start with the premise that we should do what’s best for Americans — especially what’s best for me. In other words, most Christians think exactly like the world — selfishly. And people get mad when I suggest that the Mexicans are people, too, loved by God just as much as we are, and many are Christians, even evangelical Christians, even members of the Churches of Christ. I mean, we’ve been sending missionaries over there for years. 

The response is, of course, that they are here illegally, which is true, but not relevant as the debate is over what the law should be. The debate is whether it should be illegal for them to be here, you see. And if I had the power to change the law, well, I’d have to change it to glorify God. That’s it.

Now, I honestly don’t know which immigration policy best glorifies God. I just know that our attitude on the subject is worldly and un-Christian. We must instead start with the fact that God loves the Mexicans just as much as the Americans. And he loves the American laborers whose wages are bid down by immigration (legal or illegal). We simply can’t discuss the subject as though the consequences to our brothers in Mexico are irrelevant. But that doesn’t give the answer. It just tells us how to think about the answer. Which is essential.

Now, it’s a good exercise just to sit down and ask yourself: If a Mexican has the same value to God as an American, how would a truly Christ-like Congress write immigration law? The answer is hardly obvious, but it’s important to ask the question. Surely it changes the answer somehow or other.

The same thought process goes into military service. Can you, as a member of the military, use your service to God’s glory?

The early church refused military service. Tertullian is quite typical —

Now inquiry is made about the point of whether a believer may enter into military service. The question is also asked whether those in the military may be admitted into the faith even the rank and file (or any inferior grade), who are not required to take part in sacrifices or capital punishments … A man cannot give his allegiance to two masters — God and Caesar … How will a Christian man participate in war? In fact, how will he serve even in peace without a sword? For the Lord has taken the sword away. It is also true that soldiers came to John [the Baptist] and received the instructions for their conduct. It is true also that a centurion believed. Nevertheless, the Lord afterward, in disarming Peter, disarmed every soldier. (c. 200), ANF 3.73.

But by Constantine’s time, there were certainly Christians in military.

Under such church leaders as Augustine and Aquinas, a theory of “just war” was developed, allowing military service for just causes only.

Now, in Restoration Movement history, David Lipscomb famously forbade Christians from all military service, voting, or jury duty in his book Civil Government. He followed in the teachings of Barton W. Stone, Benjamin Franklin, and Moses E. Lard in coming to this conclusion (Murch, Christians Only, p. 153). G. C. Brewer and H. Leo Boles opposed participation in WWII (Hooper, A Distinct People, pp 120ff).

I grew up in North Alabama, and even in the 1950s and 60s, some people still considered this sound doctrine, although it had largely been forgotten in the wake of WWII.

During WWI many Church of Christ and Christian Church young men refused military service based on the pacifistic teaching of the Churches of Christ. And our government sometimes banned Church writers from expressing pacifist thoughts in print! (Hooper, p 112).

Now, although I respect the position, I am not myself a pacifist. However, neither do I believe that we should fight in any war that the government wants us to fight. Our loyalty to Jesus first-and-only means we can only participate in military service if so doing is consistent with Jesus’ teachings. Obviously enough, there are strong disagreements on how to apply his teachings, and that is not today’s topic. 

And so, to summarize, voting, military service, lobbying, giving to candidates, petitioning the government — the exercise of all civil rights and the acceptance of all “duties” imposed by the government — are to be used to glorify God and for no other reason. Our rights as citizens are not gifts from George Washington and Thomas Jefferson — they are gifts from God to be used as God wishes.

Certainly I’ve not answers all the questions. I doubt that I could. But the point is simply this: the discussion starts and ends with what God wants.

We Americans are routinely encouraged by the politicians and parties to act out of self-interest and with little regard by those who are not Americans. We have no such right. And this changes everything.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
This entry was posted in Faith Lessons by Ray Vander Laan, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Faith Lessons by Ray Vander Laan: Misguided Faith, Part 4

  1. Well put and I agree, for the most part. However, I don't rest too securely on Tertullian's opinions, since he was, for a time, considered a heretic because of his support for the Cataphrygians and the Montanists. Also, his insistence on the pratice of Catechism in probating converts for long periods before baptizing them is hardly founded on apostolic example.

    At the same time, I have wrestled with these same issues and I have come to the conclusion that much of this depends on each indiviuals perception of what God wants or wills in each situation. Like you, I am amazed at the callousness of some Christians who want to keep the "illegal aliens" out, but would have, and probably did, support the East German attempts to escape communism during the Cold War.

    As you've stated very well, we are soldiers and slaves of Christ. Paul even says "No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him." (2 Timothy 2:4 ESV) Obviously that must apply to servants of Christ not being able to be servants of government. Hence the oxymoronic sense of a statement like "a Christ-like Congress"!!

  2. Tim Archer says:

    Jay, I've communicated with you privately about some of these issues. I'm guessing Dwayne wouldn't like where I am in my Christian walk: I have problems with pledging allegiance to a worldly power, and I have problems with Christians participating in the military, although I'm not ready to condemn anyone for it.

    One big problem with joining the military is that one gives up their right to decide. While I know that, in theory, a soldier can still choose whether or not to obey an order, in practice, they are taught to obey without question. We can argue that a Christian soldier has the right to not participate in an action that seems questionable to him, but can you point me to an example in the last 50 years of a Christian that did that? Think, for example, about how many people in the U.S. had doubts about the Iraq invasion. I haven't heard of any Christians going to jail rather than participate in that action; maybe someone can correct me on that. Are we to think that NONE of them had ANY doubts about what was going on?

    The story of Chaplain Garland Robertson is an exception (http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1058/is_n7_v111/ai_14868898), and look how he was treated!

    We live in a militarized society; our country probably participates in more wars than any other. Most Christians in most places of the world do not view killing as an option for a Christian. What makes the difference here? Since World War II, probably since the attack on Pearl Harbor, the church has changed her views toward the military. Was this because of new revelations from the text or because of a cultural shift here in the U.S.? My fear is that it is the latter.

    Let it be said, however, that I don't look down on anyone who has made the choice to serve in the military, nor do I stand in judgment on them. I would hope that Romans 14 also applies to this situation, that each man should follow his convictions. I may try to teach men and change those convictions, but I fully respect those that follow their convictions. I hope they'll do the same with me.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim

  3. David G says:

    Amen, Tim.

  4. I find myself in interesting dilemma while considering this post.

    First, Dwayne and I worship together, so I'm glad to know he's reading your blog, Jay.

    Second, my father was a conscientious objector during WWII, and was classified that way by the court, following his arrest for refusing to report for the draft.

    Third, I worked for the Republican Party in Washington, DC for 15 years.

    Fourth, at the congregation where Dwayne and I worship, just outside Washington, we have in attendance a 4-star general, a 3-star general and Barack Obama's Senior Faith Advisor.

    The only way to deal with all of this is to try to love people — and as you say, that's all people, whether they're US citizens or not — the way Jesus loved us.

    An interesting question is "how loving the way Jesus loved" applies to individuals compared to how it applies to groups of people. I have to think about that more, myself.

  5. Jay Guin says:

    David,

    I think groups of people are, well, lots of people. They are just as deserving of love as a group as they are as individuals. How could it be otherwise? (And imagine the consequences of the opposite view!)

    However, love sometimes means making hard choices. I mean, if we refused to go to war to defend England from Germany in WWII, people would have died. If we went to war to defend England, people would have died.

    Do I fight for England out of love for the English and love for the German people, to end the despotism? Or do I refuse to fight out of love for the many Christian soldiers fighting for Germany and for the many citizens being killed and displaced by the war?

    The math in such matters is always imprecise. No one knows in advance how many soldiers and civilians will die on either side. No one knows which choice will truly minimize death and suffering. We can only make the best judgment we can.

    But then, you can't just figure the right choice is the choice that minimizes death. Life is not the only or most important value. After all, many people have willingly given their lives for the sake of freedom and for other values. They certainly thought that the happiness of others was worth dying for.

    As a consequence, to me it's easy enough to draw some broad lines — some killing is plainly wrong, even if done at the insistence of the government in time of war.

    But sometimes killing is clearly permitted to governments — such as to defend their citizens against the immediate threat of death (shooting down a terrorist about to fly a jet into an occupied building, for example, seems entirely Christian to me. If I were aboard the plane, I'd want you to shoot it down even at the cost of my own life).

    However, finding the precise boundaries of the rules is none too easy — and I've not sorted it all out. It may not be susceptible to precise definition. Therefore, as Tim has written, I'm not inclined to be very judgmental.

    Nonetheless, this much seems clear: the police, the military, people acting in self-defense — every Christian who is involved in government-sanctioned violence — is bound to Christ to do the right thing, whatever that may be — as best as you can judge.

    There is no Nuremberg defense — that I was just following orders — if you knew at the time the orders were against the will the Jesus. You can only serve one master.

    And it may well be that the scriptures are unclear on this point for a reason. God may well leave the choices to us — provided we make them for the right reasons — not as Americans preferring Americans to others but as Christians who see ourselves as strangers in this land, missionaries from Jesus to do what's right.

    Hence, if you were an American missionary in Romania, and the attack was on Romanians, would you volunteer for the Romanian army or police even though you aren't one of them? If love would compel you to help them, for example, defend themselves from invaders or terrorists, well, it seems justified in God's eyes to me.

    So that was a little rambling, but the best I can do on a Friday night.

  6. I am enjoying this discussion. I pray that more people will be having such discussions.

    The most general guideline I can find in this is "Love one another." I read that somewhere 😉

    When I try to parse that guideline into a decision-making flowchart I trip all over myself. Oh well. Perhaps I can replace the flowchart with one box that says "At this point, pray for guidance from God and act accordingly."

  7. Jay Guin says:

    Yep. "Love one another" will become simple and rule based just as soon as raising teenagers does.

  8. Pingback: More Notes on Faith - Sigh « Geranium Kisses

Leave a Reply