Christian Soldiers: Armies of One?May 13th, 2009 | By Tom Brown | 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.)
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?