Sunday, June 12, 2011

Stump The Priest: Question 1: Where in the Bible does it say I can be a policeman or in the military?

1.      The first observation to be made is that we Christians understand Scripture as both prescriptive (God telling us what is in His will) and prohibitive (what is outside His will).  Sometimes, however, Scripture is explicitly neither; that is, it is silent in terms of overtly prescribing or prohibiting something.  Being a policeman or in the military perhaps falls into this category.  But, implicitly, there is plenty Scripture has to say about pacifism and avoiding violence, even in terms of the righteous use of force.   What, then, can we infer from the warp and woof of Scripture concerning this?

This avoidance of violence and force for any reason is known as Christian Pacifism, which has a long history in the life of the Church.  Some of core scriptures for this movement in Christianity are…
 ‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” 39But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. (Matt 5:38-41) (Sim… Lk 2:27-29)

‘You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbour and hate your enemy”. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous’ (Matthew 5:43-45).

Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. 53Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? (Matt 26:52-53)

Bless those who persecute you…. (Rom 12:14)

Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God;* for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ 20No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Rom 12:17-21)

The Christian Pacifist movement has over the life of the Church taken these passages seriously, and taken to heart the call to model our lives on Christ and to understand the Church to be under the Lordship of the “Prince of Peace.” The Church it its early centuries was in many quarters therefore in opposition to military service.

But does this mean that we Christians living in this world should not resist evil with all our might when called upon to do so?  One would think resisting evil to be a primary Christian duty.  Scripture says our battle is with “principalities and powers in the spiritual realm.”  This spiritual realm all too often operates through real flesh and blood.  We sometimes have to put on the “whole armor of God,” in very real and worldly ways in our defense against these things.  History has even shown the necessity of killing our enemy while ostensibly loving them at the same time.  And, of course, there are issues of justice, defense of the helpless, maintenance of order, and the preservation of the common good to be considered. 

We should also note that the police and military are extensions of governing authorities, which according to Scripture are ordained by God.  Romans 13:4-5 says, 
For it (the governing authority) is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain!  It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer.  5Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience.
Here is an interesting paraphrase of this passage from Peterson’s The Message:
The police aren't there just to be admired in their uniforms. God also has an interest in keeping order, and he uses them to do it. That's why you must live responsibly—not just to avoid punishment but also because it's the right way to live.

We live in a real world with a real devil prowling about.  The Christian tradition has generally been very practical about his reality.

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