Do you think I should join the army? My mom and dad are pacifists – they don't believe Christians should fight in wars or submit to military service. I'm not sure I agree, and I've been thinking of joining up. Of course, my mom and dad are firmly opposed to the idea. What should I do?
Here at Focus on the Family we respect the convictions of our fellow Christians and support their right to follow the dictates of their own consciences. We also feel strongly that parents have a uniquely God-given role in the shaping of their sons' and daughters' hearts, minds and lives. It's not our place to intrude in your relationship with your mom and dad, especially where matters of faith and family tradition are concerned.
At the same time, it's our opinion that if you're old enough to join the army, you're also old enough to make up your own mind. As an adult, it's your responsibility to decide what you believe and how you're going to use your talents and spend your life.
Naturally, you want to go about this in a way that honors your parents and demonstrates respect for their beliefs. With that in mind, we'd advise you to listen carefully to what they have to say before making your choice. Talk with them at length. See if you can get a better handle on their reasons for viewing military service as they do. Ask them to pray with you and help you seek God's solution to your dilemma.
As you go through this process, it might help to remember that the perspective your parents represent is part of a time-honored tradition in the Christian church. From the earliest centuries of the Christian era many believers have held to a strictly pacifistic interpretation of the disciple's calling. As a matter of fact, no writing has survived from the first three hundred years of church history that condones Christian participation in war. There is evidence that the influential church of Alexandria had doubts about receiving soldiers into its membership. Hippolytus, a leader of the church in Rome, believed that soldiers applying for admission to the fellowship must refuse to kill even when commanded by superior officers to do so. Tertullian, one of the greatest fathers of the western church, argued against Christians being members of the Roman armies on the ground that this would bring them under the authority of a master other than Christ and obligate them to take up the sword in disobedience to His word (Matthew 26:52). The historic peace churches – the Amish, the Mennonites, the Brethren, and the Quakers – are the best-known representatives of this viewpoint today.
There is, of course, another side to the story. In the fourth century, Augustine became the first major Christian theologian to express the idea that there could be such a thing as a "just war" to which Christians might lend their support and in which they could conscientiously participate. As submissive citizens of the state, he argued, Christians have an obligation to cooperate with governing authorities in their efforts to "execute wrath on those who practice evil" (Romans 13:1-4). He also maintained that killing in warfare is something very different from murder, and thus is not forbidden by the commandment we're given in Exodus 20:13.
The vast majority of contemporary evangelicals seem to agree with the second point of view. They believe that there are times when Christians are justified in going to war if the cause is righteous. In addition, many feel strongly that the War against Terrorism is a case where the biblical and theological justifications for the use of force are fairly obvious.
In the final analysis, this is a question that you will have to resolve for yourself. We can't tell you what to do. Even your parents must ultimately give you the freedom to make your own decisions according to the dictates of conscience and your own understanding of the Lord's leading in your life. We sincerely hope that the information we've provided will help you make that choice thoughtfully, intelligently, and prayerfully.
If you feel a need to discuss these thoughts at greater length, don't hesitate to call our staff of pastoral counselors.
Christian Military Fellowship