First let me say that I come to this site for EVERYTHING! From my teenager asking why the music she was listening to was wrong, to why I don't approve of Halloween. It is a Wonderful resource and I thank you for having it available to us.
My question is this...I am a member of Church of Christ in Texas. My family has struggled financially for so long, and I am having tremendous trouble in finding a job since I was laid off. I contacted the Navy and they have been trying to get me to join the Reserves with the option to go active. Well, there are SO many great reasons to join and one reason not to. I am hoping you can enlighten me as to what the Bible says about it. That issue is what does the Bible say about joining the military? Am I not serving my country and where does God fit into that? My first allegiance is to Him. Also I have a really hard time with the idea of being in a position where I may have to actually kill someone in protecting my Chaplin (I am going into the Religious Persons branch). Well the long and short of it is that I want to know...
What does the Bible say about joining the military?
I thank you for being a loyal reader, and especially for your kind comments. I am happy to be of any assistance, and I thank God for the World Wide Web on which I can be of help to others.
Your question is a long-standing one. It even includes whether Christians can serve as law enforcement officers, whether policemen or corrections officers. When I attended Lubbock Christian College (now University) we had at least two Bible teachers who would have condemned my choice of career. On the other hand, when I went back for reunions wearing my Navy dress blue uniform I never heard any objections. Obviously, having spent 22 years on active duty in the U.S. Navy, I am a believer that one can serve in the military and serve God at the same time. Nor am I the only one. The Christian Chronicle recently published an interview with Vice Admiral Mike Bucchi, currently stationed in San Diego and a member of the El Cajon Boulevard church of Christ, where I attended for over fourteen years. Obviously he had found that serving as a Naval Aviator, with the likelihood of having to kill others during flight operations against an enemy, is not inconsistent with the scriptures. That interview can be found online at http://www.christianity.com/CC/article/0,,PTID25485|CHID127205|CIID1449022,00.html
How can I support what I did by scripture? Obviously, the Jews were given the law, "You shall not commit murder." (Ex 20:13) But this did not prevent them killing in warfare of defense or of conquest. There is a clear distinction in many people's mind between premeditated murder for one's own benefit and killing as part of military action against an enemy of the country. On the other hand, our nation and all others since the fall of Israel are not ruled directly by God.
Governments are established by God (Romans 13:1). Paul argues in the next five verses that Christians are to be subject to their country's government. That would include, I believe, being subject to military service if that was required by the government. If it is acceptable if required, it would be equally acceptable on a volunteer basis. Our subjection to God includes our subjection to the government of the country in which we live; it is not an either/or proposition but a both or neither proposition. If we are not subject to the government, how can we submit to God?
I have always wondered if I could have taken up arms in the American Revolution because that would have been in opposition to the established government. On the other hand, because they won it can be argued that God wanted to establish the new government.
You raise a very valid question when it comes to the requirement to bear arms to protect the chaplain. I occasionally had to wear a .45 on my hip while standing watches, and I was never comfortable with it. Fortunately, with God's help, the only times I had to actually draw the weapon were during a couple of bomb scares, during security drills, and in the process of turning over the weapon to the next watch. I never had to fire a weapon except at targets. While the Bible is silent about the specific question of the use of weapons to kill in such a situation, we do find that Paul was perfectly willing to use whatever weapons were available to protect his own life. In Acts 23:12-33 a conspiracy was launched to take Paul's life. Forty men swore not to eat until they had killed Paul. When Paul found out about it he notified the Roman garrison, who provided 470 armed men to escort Paul out of Jerusalem. Paul knew that there was the possibility of someone being killed and yet he used the weapons in his defense. Granted, they were borne by other men, but Paul was still responsible for their use. By calling on the guard he was condemning over forty men to death by sword or starvation, or condemning them to break their oath.
Cornelius, the first Gentile convert to Christianity, was a centurion in the Roman army. There is never an indication that he changed jobs because of his conversion. Paul converted some in the Praetorian Guard, the elite troops who guarded the emperor. There is never any indication they had to change their profession. In 1 Corinthians 7:20-24 Paul said to remain in "the same calling wherein [you were] called." If a servant, be the best servant; if a Jew, be a good Jew and a Christian. The same would apply to those who were soldiers when they were converted. And if they could remain in the military, why could one not also join the military and remain a Christian?
I know this has been a long answer. It is a difficult question which requires as complete an answer as possible. Ultimately, the Bible neither condones nor condemns joining the military, and it is a matter of individual conscience whether you do so or not. Many Christians have been able to serve, especially in the Navy, without having to face the question of whether they could kill or not.
One final note on a related matter. Most Navy chaplains with whom I have discussed the Religious Program Specialist rating say that the best men for that job are those with no religion. That particular job requires a person who can work with many different faiths, sometimes participating in or supporting religious practices with which they may disagree. You will be specifically forbidden to teach you religious beliefs or even express them (except if you are part of a worship assembly of the church of Christ). If you can do that, good. I considered the job when they first created it, but while I felt I could assist in other services and could handle the paperwork end of the job, I could not keep from presenting my own interpretation of scripture. So I remained a personnel records clerk and job interviewer.
Whatever decision you make, start with prayer. And consult your family. The Navy is a hard life for the ones you may be leaving at home for six or seven months at a time. But it definitely has its rewards as well. I have Christian friends in many places throughout the world because I met them while I was in the Navy.