Christian Soldiers: Armies of One?

May 13th, 2009 | By | Category: Blog Posts

The Bible tells us that we, as Christians, are types of soldiers. For instance, Paul tells the Church at Philippi that he has decided to “send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker and fellow soldier.”1  In 2 Timothy, we are reminded to “[e]ndure hardship…like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs—he wants to please his commanding officer.”2 And of course there is the well known passage from Ephesians 6 exhorting Christians to “put on the full armor of God.”3

Today’s army wrestles with the working out of individualism and the ‘liberating’ ideology of the previous centuries. Headlines from a few years ago savored the excitement generated by a U.S. Army junior officer who refused to deploy to Iraq. His reason: he believed that the Iraq war was immoral and illegal, so he would not participate.

In the same year, the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church ruled to petition the U.S. President to allow soldiers to selectively conscientiously object to conflicts “on the basis of just-war criteria.”  The Synod noted the Christian’s obligation to obey national authorities, but saw this obligation as being trumped by “our ultimate loyalty…to God.”  By “our,” the Synod meant “each individual Christian’s.”

This has me wondering about private judgment and effective warfare, both in the context of military soldiers fighting military wars, and in the context of Christian soldiers fighting a spiritual war.

Are we the Army of Christ, or many armies of one?  Armies are effective when they amass a stronger force than their enemy.  Strength comes from obvious things: size, training, discipline, and cohesion.  But if each soldier can privately determine the rectitude of the commander’s course, cohesion and discipline evaporate.  Would Col. Chamberlain have been able to send his 20th Maine Regiment on a daring charge, thereby holding Little Round Top and saving the Union flank at Gettysburg, if private dissent was allowed?  Could Gen. Eisenhower have thought to take the beaches at Normandy with an allied force in which individual conscience could trump military orders? (And I note that the individual’s conscience and judgment are far from clear when facing the prospect of incoming hostile fire.)

Normandy Beach

The sine qua non of successful warfare is an obedient soldier. Every military needs him before it can hope to have cohesion and unity.  Even guerilla forces, irregular militia, and insurgent rebels abide by this modus operandi; they have leaders and subordinates, rules of obedience and enforcement of disobedience.

So for what reason might we conclude that the Army of Christ would be any different? The concept of obedience is hardly a minor tangential characteristic of soldiering, so I do not think this is an instance where ‘all analogies break down at some point.’ To the contrary, if anything is derived from our being characterized as armor-wearing “soldiers,” it should be that we are part of the whole, with the whole depending on its parts. We are not called Wrestlers for Christ, after all, but soldiers. And we are not an army of one. We should be one Army of Christ. It is — and has been since time immemorial — the soldier’s to obey, and the commander’s to lead.

I suspect most faithful Reformed and Catholic Christians would agree with the suggestion that obedience is a great virtue, a key help in our war against evil.  But who or what is the commander deserving this obedience, and able to coordinate the forces of Christ?

  1. Phil. 2:25. []
  2. 2 Tim. 2:3-4. []
  3. Eph. 6:11. []
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  1. But who or what is the commander deserving this obedience, and able to coordinate the forces of Christ?

    Obviously the person whose interpretations of the bible agree with mine and to whose “authority” I therefore voluntarily submit.

    Oh, and it obviously follows that I can voluntarily rescind my obedience when this authority’s opinions cease to line up with my own.

  2. Dear David,

    I am sorry I did not reply sooner; I was very much away from my computer for the weekend.

    I take it that what you wrote was sarcasm. I am concerned about any implication that there is no fair rebuttal, nothing to counter your view. We probably agree in substance, but I do not think sarcasm is the way to bridge this gulf between Protestants and Catholics.

    I wonder what you would say to a Protestant reply. What of the view that the Bible is our “commander” in the Army-of-Christ analogy? So then any ‘disobedience’ to earthly authorities is not disobedience to a properly constituted authority at all. This seems to be the view that the CRC held in its Synod decision I mentioned in this post.

    Again, I just don’t see that sarcasm will bear fruit in this instance.

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom

  3. Interesting thoughts Tom, congrats on graduating law school as well. I just began Reformation Church History at RTS and one of my options for my research paper is the Oxford Movement. Would anybody know which St. John Henry Newman book would be helpful to understand the Oxford movement and why he went Catholic? Thanks, Jeremy Tate

  4. Jeremy,

    The paper should prove interesting, but I could not give advice on Oxford Movement readings. Perhaps Taylor Marshall (another contributor here) would have more to add? As for why Cardinal Newman (“Venerable,” but not yet “Saint”) “went Catholic,” it does seem that his “Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine,” written late in his Anglican period and touched up much later, is a must-read.

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom

  5. Jeremy,

    I also recommend An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, but if you want to go straight for Newman’s take on the Oxford (Tractarian) Movement in relation to the Catholic Church, you should read his contributions to Tracts for the Times (written while Anglican) and Difficulties of Anglicans (written after becoming Catholic). In addition, you might enjoy his Apologia pro vita sua (autobiographical) together with Loss and Gain (fiction with autobiographical overtones), both written while Catholic. The latter is a “conversion story,” written not long after Newman was received into the Catholic Church. All of these works and more are available online at: http://www.newmanreader.org.

  6. thanks, I just ordered development of Christian Doctrine, it sounds like a pretty monumental work for Protestant seminarians considering the Catholic Church. Thanks for the help, Jeremy Tate

  7. “it does seem that his ‘Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine,’ written late in his Anglican period and touched up much later…”

    Actually, although Newman insisted he revise his work “An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine” due to a subsequent greater understanding of the Catholic Faith after his conversion, he was advised by the Catholic clergy not to do so in order that his work could thus remain a genuine product of his earlier Anglican days prior to his actual conversion into the Catholic Church; which Newman of course heeded.

  8. Dear Roma Victor,

    Thank you for that added information. My “touched up” comment was based on his preface to the 1878 edition, which goes as follows:

    “In this new Edition of the Essay various important alterations have been made in the arrangement of its separate parts, and some, not indeed in its matter, but in its text.”

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom

  9. I, myself, was referring to the event that unfortunately is only tersely alluded to in the adjoining Post-script:

    “His first act on his conversion was to offer his Work for revision to the proper authorities; but the offer was declined on the ground that it was written and partly printed before he was a Catholic, and that it would come before the reader in a more persuasive form, if he read it as the author wrote it.

    It is scarcely necessary to add that he now submits every part of the book to the judgment of the Church, with whose doctrine, on the subjects of which he treats, he wishes all his thoughts to be coincident.”

    SOURCE: http://www.newmanreader.org/works/development/#advertisement

  10. Why in heaven’s name is my comments now under moderation?

    What was so outrageous about what I said concerning Newman?

  11. At any rate, for those interested — there is a free audiobook you can download here:

    An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (September 5, 2007) from Open Source Audio
    http://www.archive.org/details/NewmanDevel

  12. Roma – please be patient with us. When there is a link present in the comment – WP (at least using the settings we have) generally flags it as potentially spam. By default, most comments automatically go through but certain things like that can trip our spam booby trap and sometimes it is a false positive.

    Thanks for understanding. We appreciate you contributions here at CTC!

  13. […] friend (and Wright-o-phile) Phil says: “He’s a one man magisterium!” Or an “army of one,” as another friend, and recent convert to the Catholic Faith, Tom Brown wrote about a while […]

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