Should a Chirstian serve in the military?


The Bible does not allow us to sit in judgment of our government when it comes to obeying orders that do not force us to sin. We must obey an unjust government no less than we must obey a just government. But we must never obey an evil order, whether that order comes from a relatively benign or relatively evil government.

May a believer serve in the military of the United States? Yes.

May a believer serve in the military of Great Britain? Sure.

Both of these situations are covered by Luke 3:14 in light of Romans 13:1-7, especially Romans 13:4. That is why a completely pacifist position cannot be sustained biblically. Saint Paul teaches that authority “is God’s servant to do you good.” And he warns believers that worldly government has been given divine authority to enforce justice using deadly force: “But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4).

Furthermore, when the greatest prophet of the Old Testament was asked by soldiers concerning their obligation in view of the coming of the Kingdom, he replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay” (Luke 3:14). In other words, John the Baptist does not tell soldiers to lay down their arms and quit the army. Rather, he tells them to do what is just and honest as they go about the business of being soldiers, bringing to bear the force of the Tenth Commandment when he warns these soldiers to be content with their pay.

The same is true with the first Gentile convert, Cornelius, a centurion in the armies of Imperial Rome.  He is baptized and welcomed into the Christian Church, while remaining on active duty to Rome, stationed in Israel at Caesarea (Acts 10).

Where it gets more difficult emotionally, but not biblically, is the question of whether a believer may serve in the military of the People’s Republic of China or under the Kim dynasty in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. But the Bible does not distinguish Finland from North Korea or the United States from Communist China in terms of our obligation to our own nations.

However, we owe unreserved, unquestioning, absolute obedience and loyalty only to one, our sovereign God. Indeed, we may say that we are never to obey or be loyal to anyone except as it flows out of and is an expression of our loyalty and obedience to him. That is part of the reason why our Lord demanded: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate (in the sense of preferring someone over the Lord) his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26-27).

In the Bible people sometimes faced pagan husbands, masters, and governments, but it is conflicts with pagan governments that we encounter most frequently in Scripture, and they give us principles that can guide us in these other relationships.


If I am a soldier or other official serving under civil authority, I always have an overriding loyalty to my King. The first time I took an oath as an office-bearer, I stated to the person swearing me in, “Please know that I am taking this oath as a follower of Jesus Christ.” The reason that I stated that is because the Christian civil servant is first and foremost an agent of the Lord Jesus Christ, as is every true Christian. That means that every enterprise and every relationship must be evaluated by how it impacts our exclusive allegiance to him.

Private citizens should never take up arms against other people in an attempt to bring about justice, but police and military people have been given divine authority to wield deadly means to enforce justice. But this can lead us into complex situations.

What does a soldier do in a situation such as My Lai 4, back during the Vietnam War?

I submit that he attempts to stop Lieutenant Calley’s order from being carried out. And if there is no other way, he points his rifle at his commanding officer and kills him.

It is a judgment call, and the only judgment that one can make in such a situation is prima facie. Such a soldier would undoubtedly be court marshaled and probably executed himself. But that is the price of moral leadership; it is the fundamental difference between the person of conscience and those who goose-stepped in the Third Reich.

In that light, I would submit that it is the duty of a husband or father to attempt to protect his wife or children against those who are intent on raping and killing them, because a husband or father is an office-bearer and not simply a private individual.

However, prayer is the fundamental thing, and we do not live in a universe where simply anything can happen. We live in a universe where only that which God has ordained for our good can happen. We pray earnestly and daily for our families because we realize that our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe, that his craft and power are great, that he is armed with cruel hate, and that on earth is not his equal.


I find history exceedingly complex with many shades of gray. Heroism and villainy often blur as we distance ourselves from issues that seemed so clear at the time. If even Saint Paul found it impossible to come to absolute conclusions about his own conduct, how much more we? How much more as we examine historical figures? “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God” (1 Corinthians 4:3-5).


In light of the complexity and confusion we are likely face, it may well be prudent to avoid the overwhelming pressure to violate our consciences by not enlisting, especially in a nation state such as North Korea.  And as history progresses to an Omega point, the conflict between good and evil intensifies, but not as is easily seen or in stark contrast, but deceptively.

Unlike earlier wars that we fought with bows and arrows and swords and spears, as military technology has advanced it has become increasingly difficult to wage war justly according to Christian tradition.  Even with modern “weapons of mass destruction” like the cannon, a measure of restraint was still possible, and soldiers could avoid murdering civilians if they chose.  

A good example of restraint in war is the American Civil War. With rare exceptions, the military forces of both the North and the South did not knowingly murder civilians. It was a brutal war, to be sure, but it was a war fought with biblical restraint, nonetheless.  Even with Union general, William Tecumseh Sherman’s infamous March to the Sea, destruction was brought to the properties of Southern civilians in order to deprive the Confederate armies of supplies.  But Sherman did not knowingly kill civilians, and when a Union soldier was caught killing or raping a civilian, he was court-martialed and hung.

However, with rapidly advancing military technology, war becomes increasing difficult to be waged justly. The classic example is the use of nuclear weapons by the Allied Powers at the end of World War II, where a Roman Catholic cathedral, St. Mary’s, or the Urakami Cathedral in Nagasaki was the most identifiable target in an explosion of unfathomable destruction that annihilated innocent babies and elderly grandmothers and left a generation of people to die slowly from cancer. In stating this, I am neither attacking nor defending President Truman’s decision; I am only stating the obvious: modern weapons make it increasingly impossible to fight according to Christian principles of what constitutes a just war.

I leave the judgment of others to God.  However, One day, the whole of humankind will stand before the Judge of all the earth, and millions of people will be weighed in the scales and found wanting. Then we may discover that a war hero from a great and noble nation may fair no better than a terrorist suicide bomber (Revelation 20:11-15).

As we weigh the question of military service, on the other hand, as we shall see below, God has often used godly people in high places to bring help to sufferers, even under wicked governments. We should thank God for people of conscience who serve in government and the military.


Jesus Christ is Lord; he is our King. For the believer, public service, as every other service, is ultimately to Christ alone. Paul wrote to Timothy, using a military analogy: “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him” (2 Timothy 2:3-4). Using Paul’s metaphor, Christian government workers’ or political leaders’ public service is a “civilian pursuit,” while their living out the Christian life is their service as Christ’s soldiers. We may never forget that we cannot serve two masters. We are never Christians and Canadians, or Christians and Americans, much less Christians and Republicans or Democrats (to speak within the American political context).

We are Christians, period, but Christians who serve Christ by serving others, including our nation and perhaps sometimes a political party. However, when it comes to submission to civil authority, we must sometimes withhold obedience even in a just cause, and we must oft times obey even in an unjust cause, because Christ, not man, is King—King over every square inch of his creation.


This principle of our obedience to human authority being subordinate to divine authority is unequivocally set forth in Scripture. Inasmuch as we, too, are exiles from our true homeland (1 Peter 1:1), our models for living in the New Testament era, in no small way, are Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.

They worked in the civil service of one of the most ruthless governments the world has ever known—every bit as ruthless as Nazi German—the Neo-Babylonian Empire, a civilization that was ultimately cursed by God and destroyed. But there they were, doing their jobs with exemplary faithfulness, praised even by their worldly superiors.

Yet when loyalty to the civil authority was pitted against loyalty to the Lord, they respectfully stood their ground even though they faced the death penalty (Daniel 1:8, 19-20; 3:12, 16-18). When Babylon fell to the Medes and Persians, and Daniel found himself serving under a kinder and gentler new world order, he still faced life and death decisions about his loyalty to the Lord. But he stood the test (Daniel 6:10), as must we.

Even under this kinder and gentler new world order, a genocidal effort to annihilate all the Jews in the known world was stopped because a Jewish woman was in the right place at the right time, serving in the harem of the Persian Shahanshah (Esther 7). The question with which she had to deal is the same one we face:

“Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14)

Yet, when we are called upon to disobey civil authority, we do so selectively and respectfully. Neither Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, Azariah, Peter, John nor Paul is abusive to the anti-biblical authorities with whom they had to deal. Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah did not renounce the authority of Nebuchadnezzar over other areas of their lives; they simply declined obedience in the one matter of his forcing them to commit idolatry. Furthermore they didn’t make obscene gestures with their middle fingers or speak abusively to him when they stated their ultimate loyalty to God:

“O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Daniel 3:16-18).

The same example is true of Peter and John when they said, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Their response infuriated the authorities, not because they hurled abuse, but because they withheld absolute loyalty and obedience to their God and his holy Word. When these authorities ordered them whipped, they humbly submitted to this abuse. Not only did they not “cuss out” the officials or “flip them off,” they maintained a cheerful spirit, knowing that their Sovereign had ordained all these things for their good and the glory of the name of Jesus Christ, whom alone they served: “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41).

Therefore, disobedience to human authority is sometimes our calling, even when we serve in the military, but this must always be done with the utmost respect for authority.


All of this is carried out under the pattern of the Lord Jesus himself. In the life of Jesus, the Moral Law is radically transformed into an ethic of self-sacrifice and self-denial. Taking on the mindset of Jesus, who is God incarnate, I must be willing to lay down my rights and privileges for the sake of others. What can we call the cross but that God almighty in his human nature became the doormat on which we wipe our sins in order to enter heaven? Without the connotation of cowardly silence, we, too, are called upon to be doormats for the welfare and needs of others, humbly entrusting ourselves into the hands of our heavenly Father when we are abused by other people, including evil political leaders (Philippians 2:1-18).

These principles apply in a variety of situations. Without endorsing slavery, Saint Peter admonished slaves:

“Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but ALSO TO THE HARSH” (1 Peter 2:18). Rather than looking for my rights under the law, I voluntarily submit to injustice for the sake of Christ trusting in God to protect and deliver me in his good time and providence—as Peter adds: “For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:18-21).

“When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23). And the self-denial of Christ becomes the pattern for all our dealings with others: “Wives, IN THE SAME WAY . . . Husbands, IN THE SAME WAY . . . “ (1 Peter 3:1, 7).

In all these difficult situations, I am called to model the law of Christ as unfolded in the New Testament as I, too, walk the way from the Judgment Hall to the Cross. But the Via Dolorosa becomes the pilgrimage of joy unspeakable and a peace beyond all natural and worldly comprehension as I walk it in Christ, not full of myself but full of his Holy Spirit.

Bob Vincent