Wednesday 31 October 2007


"One of the most important - and controversial- aspects of being the church in the twenty first century is the relationship between the church and the military. I want to suggest that the time has come for the centuries-old marriage between the church and the military to end in divorce."

These words by Michael J. Gorman, Dean of Ecumenical Institute of Theology and Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore, voice what an increasing number of committed disciples of Jesus, are gaining courage to say.

In his fine article, "Irreconcilable Differences" printed in Christianity Today, Gorman also points out that the "powers, great and small, have subtly seduced the church into marriage with the military." It's time the church declares that the military's "false gospel" is totally incompatible with the church's calling and the true Gospel of Christ. We cannot reconcile Jesus and the military. We cannot seek and save while we search and destroy. We cannot obey Jesus' command to "love your enemies" and obey the nations' command to kill.

Since the creation of the "just war theory", following Emperor Constantine's claim to having become a Christian in the fourth century, the church, at large, has assumed the marriage of the church and the military. Prior to the fourth century, the Christan church was uniform that a Christian cannot be a soldier. As one looks at this theory, it is absolutely amazing that the church has, for centuries, claimed to use this as a guide rather than the Scripture.

Why is it so amazing? Because it is only a theory, without a Scriptural base, which has never limited or deterred any war. It has never been put into practice. Rather it has been used to justify every war that has come along. Even a casual look at this attempt to formulate a moral justification for war by Christians, reveals not only its own inadequacy to provide a Christian answer, but its inadequacy to stop blood shed.

What does this theory say? It says that under certain, very restricted conditions, a particular war may be an exception to the Gospel and a Christian might be able to participate. However, to participate certain things must be true.

For example, all other peace efforts must have failed. The intention of the war must be for good and not for economic or exploitative advantage. There dare not be the killing of innocent victims. That is, no civilian may be killed, or the Christian must get out. And, war dare not destroy more than what is gained. According to this theory, the Christian must bring these and other tests to bear on each war and, if any of these conditions are not met, the Christian must refuse to serve in the military.

First, we need to remember that this is the only theory ever devised, which says a Christian might be able to participate in certain, select wars.

Second, we need to realize that the theory has never been used. No body of Christian leaders, since the theory was developed in the fourth century, has ever declared one war unjustified or has forbidden members to fight.

Third, we must ask how it is possible that those, who claim to be followers of Christ, can at the same time follow that which is diametrically opposed to all Christ was, and taught, and demonstrated.

Recently a group of Catholic leaders declared the just war theory invalid, if indeed, it ever was defensible. Harvey Cox wrote, "A church that is not able to take a firm stand against war is not a church which deserves to be believed."

In 1895, the English preacher Robert Eyton wrote: "Nothing seems to show the absolute departure of the Spirit of the church from the Spirit of Christ in so glowing a light as the history of Christianity in reference to wars. "When one takes war to bits, thinks of what it involves-the fierce and brutal passions that it stimulates, the hatred which it inspires, the deadly ingenuity about the means of killing and maiming, what it produces, the helpless crowd of people it sweeps off in the prime of their lives, the odious ambition of which success so often casts over the general idea: when one strips off the fine phrases about dying for one's country, and honestly looks the facts in the face that so often people have been butchered like sheep - their homes made desolate for some tyrant's whim or some noble's envy, it is hard to see how the whole history of the church's attitude on the subject of war has been anything better than a great evasion."

It is the great betrayal of Christ, the Prince of Peace. Yes, there are many irreconcilable differences between the church and the military, between what Jesus teaches and what the military teaches. Few, if any, areas test our Biblicism, honesty and obedience more than the Christian's relationship to war.

"It is time" as Michael J. Gorman writes, "for the centuries-old marriage between the church and the military to end in divorce."

-Reprinted from Reunion newsletter, Vol.12, Issue 1- An article by John Drescher, author, writer, and preacher (and good friend of my now deceased parents) living in Quakertown, PA


A rebuttal/response to the Gorman article referred to by Drescher and entitled "The Just-Chaplain Theory" was published a few months later by Christianity Today (in July 2000) written by Douglas K. Stewart who served in the U.S. Marine Corps for seven years followed by 16 years as a Navy chaplain. Useful for discussion!

If you liked the Drescher article (or even if you didn't but want to better understand some current "practical theology" demonstrating the application of these ideas) I invite you to read the lead article in the Winter 2007 issue of the "Reunion" newsletter, written by my neighbor Keith Graber-Miller who teaches theology and bible courses at Goshen College:
"Faithfulness and Patriotism in a Time of War."


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