*ADENDUM* I would like to start this off with a preface that apologizes for the misunderstanding that occurred when I originally posted this essay and to make it unequivocally clear that I both love and respect Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary as an institution, Dr. Danny Akin, our faithful president, and the faculty and staff of my seminary who serve King Jesus tirelessly. I have been inspired, edified, and sanctified by the Holy Spirit through their faithful exposition of the Word and constant challenge to live a life that reflects the Great Commission and the gospel of Jesus Christ. The only reason I bother in writing these articles is because I care enough about SEBTS and the SBC to take the time and effort to challenge the things I see as out of line with Scripture rather than throwing my hands up and just walking away, as some are prone to do (as we have been made painfully aware recently here at SEBTS).
In part, it is because of this teaching and adamant adherence to Scripture that I have been convicted by the Holy Spirit to share my thoughts on the issue of a seminary that actively endorses military involvement for its students. I personally feel that they should seek to discourage their students from taking up arms against their enemies, but I am aware that such a tremendous step would take the miraculous intervention of the Lord, not a silly blog by an obscure and overworked student. At the very least, however, I feel that the seminary has an obligation to at least remain consistent on this “gray area” by not inviting men in pressed green uniforms to stand up in the pulpit of our chapel where the Word of God is preached and tell the future ministers of this world to grab a gun and fall in line.
Furthermore, my primary problem is with the fundamentally inconsistent logic the administration engages in when on one hand there is the prohibition of the biblically sanctioned moderate use of alcohol while simultaneously endorsing military allegiance from its students. How deluded are we as a body of believers when the consumption of a beer is elevated to a higher priority level than the taking a human life? We have lost sight of what matters more (to intentionally allude to Derek Webb's recent album controversy) when the beverages we sip become more important than the blood we spill.
And, to be clear, despite my disagreement, I have adhered to the alcohol ban the entire time I have been in seminary, even when acting as the best man at my best friend’s wedding at a vineyard in Virginia last summer when I easily could have had a glass of champagne to toast his union to his wife without getting “caught” because I want to respect the authority of the seminary over me and submit to the covenant into which I have entered. I will not, however, submit in silence, when there are bigger issues at stake!
The good news out of all this controversy is that I now have some more time to sleep and do school work. The bad news is, as much as it grieves my spirit, I am no longer under the employ of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (not by my decision). That being said, here is a slightly edited version of the now notorious essay:
I know that not everyone feels the same way I do about the military and it's role in the world or in the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ (although, I do stand in good company, with the likes of Charles Spurgeon in my corner, a favorite Baptist preacher). I have tried to be open and listen to those who are proponents of "Just War" theories (I even attended a breakout session at the most recent 20/20 Conference with Dr. Heimbach who helped craft the Just War policy for the first President Bush during the Persian Gulf War). I was challenged by some of the Scriptures he used and how he applied them to the notion of war and peace, but, to be honest, I was left wholly unconvinced. At best there is an argument from silence that Christians are not prohibited, per se, from joining the military. Proponents of this point of view use verses such as Matthew 10:34 and 24:6, Luke 3:1, 14:31, and 22:36, Acts 10, and Romans 13:4 to defend their position. I do not think that Jesus’ acknowledging that wars and rumors of wars would always be with us is the same as saying we, as Christians, should participate in them or endorse them as a body. Jesus’ claim that He did not come to bring peace is because He was dispelling the misconception of being a political messiah instead of a spiritual messiah. This is not the same as saying that He does not desire peace on earth or that we should not be actively working towards bringing God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven (sound familiar?).
Also, the decision for someone already in the military to finish out his term of service after conversion cannot be twisted to say that people who are already Christians are allowed/encouraged/commanded to join the military. These are NOT the same! The early church clearly held that centurion converts ought to finish their military duties, but they did not want Christians to join the military (until Constantine).
Finally, about the passage in Romans, a favorite go-to proof-text for military involvement by Christians, I want to make two points. First of all, the passage is referring to civil and domestic power. You can use this to argue for the existence of police and the judicial system. Second of all, it tells us to submit to those authorities, not participate with them, especially when they engage in activities that could be contrary to God’s will, purpose, and demonstration of His love and mercy.
I cannot look at the life and teaching of Christ as a whole and walk away with the thought that He would desire us to voluntarily enlist in the armed forces. Over and over Jesus encouraged peace through love, not violence.
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God" (Matthew 5:9)
"But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also...Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you..." (Matthew 5:39 - not "blow them up or point machine guns at them until they stop upsetting or threatening you"!)
"Then Jesus said to him, "Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword." (Matthew 26:52).
There are a myriad of such examples – including the oft overlooked counterpart to the aforementioned Romans passage that is the context (hermeneutics 101) for their proof-text: Romans 12:9-21- Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (emphasis added)
Beyond the explicit teachings of Christ we have the example of His life, which we are implored to emulate, which was one of radical non-violence. Jesus did not retaliate when struck. Jesus did not choose to accomplish His will through overpowering others with military might. Jesus did not create a community with high walls and locked gates to keep “them” away from “us”. To quote an old hymn “…but He never said a mumblin’ word. Not a word, not a word, not a word, not a word. They all cried, “Crucify Him”… but He never said a mumblin’ word…”
Getting away from the aspect of non-violence in the personal Christian life, which I find to be almost overwhelming, let us talk about idolatry. I can also speak from the personal experience of having multiple family members in the military, having dated a Navy nurse for two years, and having close friends, fraternity brothers, and many acquaintances who are either in or preparing to enter the military and the detrimental effect that being a soldier had on their psyche and the lives of their (and my own) families. When one becomes a soldier they are broken down and rebuilt to have an allegiance to their country above all else. All else. When Jesus is teaching on finances during the Sermon on the Mount He tells us that, "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money." (Matthew 6:24) While Jesus is obviously talking about money here, I think the principle of not having any masters above Him is throughout Scripture (cf. Luke 14:26 for another example of not holding anything or anyone in a place of more importance than Christ or the first of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:3). When someone becomes a soldier, they are forced to forsake their identity in order to adopt a new one that is one of submission to country and commanding officers above all else. There is a subculture that is incredibly strong that supersedes any sense of self; a Christian soldier is no longer an adopted child redeemed by the blood of the Lamb but an "Army of one." There is a former Marine I know who no longer says, "amen" or "Hallelujah" when he agrees with something said in the sermon but rather he exclaims, "Hoo-Rah!" like a dog dreaming he is catching the mailman. He is a Marine first and a Christian second. He has told me that when he dons his uniform he is first and foremost a soldier who must act in that capacity above all else. This is idolatry! “You cannot serve two masters...”
I say all this because I was struck by a thought recently when yet another military man made a plug for becoming a [Army, Navy, Marines, whatever] chaplain during our chapel service here at Southeastern. I was struck by the inconsistency in logic I find coming from an institution that forces its faculty, staff, and students to be teetotalers because of the potential for sin involved with the consumption of alcohol. When I first arrived at Southeastern Dr. Akin put out a series of articles regarding the "Gray Areas" of life and how to make wise decisions in those areas. His argument is that, despite the fact that Jesus' first miracle was turning water into wine (John 2:1-11), the fact that Jesus instituted the drinking of alcohol in remembrance of His voluntary salvific self-sacrifice and spilling of His blood for the remission of our sins (Matthew 26:27-29, Mark 14:23-25, Luke 22:17-18), that [in the Old Testament especially] the Jews viewed wine (but not drunkenness) as a sign of joy and God's blessing (Psalm 104:15; Proverbs 3:10), or that Paul tells Timothy to drink wine instead of water (1 Timothy 5:23), that, despite all these, it is most wise to abstain from all alcohol due to the potential for addiction or making a brother "stumble."
One of the arguments that Dr. Akin makes is that we ought to ask the question, "Will this action potentially enslave me?" I think this is a wise question when it comes to alcohol; alcoholism runs deep in my family and I have seen the slavery that it can bring. However, as I mentioned earlier, military allegiance also runs deep in my family tree, and I can tell you that, as far as enslaving decisions go, selling your soul to Uncle Sam by enlisting in the military is an equal commitment to being a slave for the rest of your life. Just like a recovering alcoholic still identifies themselves as an alcoholic, even if they have not had a drink in years, so a former soldier will carry the emotional scars and damage of that decision and will forever be a "soldier."
Other questions Dr. Akin encourages asking about alcohol I think ought to be equally applied to the military are:
Will this action encourage my brother or sister in Christ?
Will this help or hinder my gospel witness?
Is this action consistent with my life in Christ?
Will this action follow the pattern of the life of Jesus?
Will this action show love to others?
Will this action honor my body which belongs to God?
Will this action glorify God?
These are all great questions that we should ask about everything we do in our lives... including our allegiance to the military! Stop for one minute and try to think outside of the American Dream indoctrination with which you have likely been flooded. Think through these questions through the filter of the gospel, not the Constitution. Can we really answer any of these questions in the affirmative when it comes to joining the military? Does dedicating your life to death (even if you make it more palatable by labeling it "freedom" or "liberty" or "justice for all") really follow the pattern of the life of Jesus? Does learning how to disassemble and reassemble an automatic weapon to shoot brown or yellow people who disagree with you or threaten your way of life bring glory to God? Does dropping bombs on innocent men, women, and children in hopes of assassinating a few "bad guys" (who still bear the Imago Dei) show love to others? I cannot wrap my head around how that could be so.
In a perfect world there would be no war; there would be no Hitlers or Husseins or Stalins or Castros. But there are. I know that. This is a complicated issue that requires careful prayer and consideration. All I know is that I cannot justify committing my life and allegiance to Uncle Sam instead of Jesus. Nobody said the gospel would be easy. No one promised perfection to be an overnight acquisition. Loving our enemies isn’t easy or else everyone would do it. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
What frustrates me in regards to Southeastern's policy is what I perceive to be inconsistent logic. Either let me enjoy a Guinness (which is more Christian than the Army by far!) with my supper because we are adult Christians who enjoy the freedom and liberty that Christ paid dearly to grant us or stop pushing the military on me because all gray areas that have the potential to enslave us or make others fall into sin ought to be prohibited by the administration. We need to commit to one or the other. (At the very least be balanced and invite a non-violence organization to come speak in chapel and talk about opportunities to serve the world for peace and justice in ways that don’t require the shedding of blood.)
I know this is controversial, and I'm ok with that. I would love to hear your thoughts and dialogue about this issue with you over coffee. I just ask that you really think/pray/meditate/challenge your preconceptions before doing so. I have taken time and sought God extensively before writing this. This is not an article I take lightly, but it is one that I feel I must share out of a conviction I believe to be from the Holy Spirit. At one time I actually planned on joining the military until the Lord convicted me about what truly being under the Lordship of Christ (not the Commander in Chief) meant.
Thank you for pushing yourself, even if you still disagree with me.
In love and seeking Truth,