By Jon Kauffman
Some Christians say that because when the soldiers asked John the Baptist what they should do, John did not tell them to leave the military, therefore Christians can use serve in the military today and use violence.
Luke tells us the story.
10 “What should we do then?” the crowd asked.
11 John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”
12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”
13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.
14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”
He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”
A few general thoughts on how the passage applies to Christians serving in the military.
- Because Luke did not record John saying the soldiers should leave the military does not mean that he did not at some other time tell them to do so.
- Jesus taught that we must love our enemies and that we must not violently resist evil men. Following Jesus is more important than following our interpretation of what we might think John’s silence might mean.
- Early Christians did not understand John the Baptist to be approving of military service when they read this passage.
A soldier of the civil authority must be taught not to kill men and to refuse to do so if he is commanded, and to refuse to take an oath. If he is unwilling to comply, he must be rejected for baptism. A military commander or civic magistrate must resign or be rejected. If a believer seeks to become a soldier, he must be rejected, for he has despised God. Apostolic Tradition, Chapter 16, by Hippolytus of Rome.
Hippolytus lived from AD 170 to AD 235. Hippolytus was a disciple of Polycarp who was a disciple of John the Apostle.
- Although early Christians clearly taught that Christians must follow the teachings of Jesus, they did not always say how to carry out his teachings. John the Baptist perhaps had similar feelings when he was talking to the soldiers. David Bercot tells us: “Consistent with its position of not legislating righteousness in other areas of life, the early church made no law that Christians could not serve in the army. The Scriptures only commanded a Christian to love his enemies and not to return evil for evil. Neither Jesus nor the apostles ever strictly forbade Christians to serve in the military…it was quite possible for a Christian to spend his entire life in the army and never be required to shed blood. In fact, during this period, soldiers primarily served in a capacity similar to American police officers. Generally speaking, the church did not permit a Christian to join the army after his conversion. However, if a man was already a soldier when he became a Christian, the church did not require him to resign. He was only required to agree to never use the sword against anyone. One reason for this flexibility was that the Romans did not normally allow a soldier to leave the army until his time of service was completed.” Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up by David W. Bercot, Page 97, 98.
- In conjunction with the teaching of Jesus and the understanding of how the early church understood the teaching of Jesus it is difficult to see how John the Baptist’s comments justify Christians entering the military or using violence.
Copyright © 2019 by Jon Kauffman. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted, provided full credit and a live link are given.
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Picture: Copyright © 2019 by Leon Kauffman