The Modern Christian Warrior
According to military.com, over 180,000 young people enlist in the Armed Forces of the United States of America each year. This number has fluctuated greatly over the years, but represents current years. This does not include the officer status. Those that enlist are roughly 0.06% of the population of the United States and to be more specific it is roughly 0.6% of the 18-24-year age group in the country. The Department of Defense reports 2.13 million service members and civilians make up our Armed Forces today, a little less than 1%. A Pew research study in 2014 published a report that claims that over 70% of the country identifies with being Christian, over 46% Protestant and over 20% Catholic. So, if such a small percentage of the population joins the military and the force is a representation of the civilian populace, the overwhelming influence in the military should be Christianity. This is not the case.
Christians in the military find that the atmosphere is ever changing in the direction of a secular force. Where God was once spoken of freely, He is now often locked behind closed doors, discouraged and in some cases members are discriminated against for their belief. The level in which Christianity is respected or accepted is strongly dependent on the commander of each individual unit. Some units have strong Christian leadership and encourage healthy faith foundations for their troops. Other units have either non-existent faithfulness from the top or cowardly leadership that is afraid of what an open relationship with Christ would do to their career.
I have been privileged to be able to serve in units where I was able to be a faithful Christian without any sort of discrimination and where prayer tied my brothers and I directly to the God of all creation for our guidance and protection. I have heard first hand stories of other warriors being told to remove Bibles or other faith based material from work spaces, even though they were only there as a part of private reading. I have also read area commanders rules where “proselytizing” was in direct violation of their guidance. The military is dealing with similar troubles the civilian world is dealing with in reference to gay marriages and transgender issues. Feminists are pushing to have women on the front lines in combat units and have even succeeded in opening special operations fields where small, highly cohesive, all male units will now have women. And outside attacks are on the rise from atheist groups like the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. We are facing an ever changing, ever secularized military.
So, what should the focus be for a Christian who has decided to join the armed forces? How should rising leaders stay faithful to God while serving and leading amongst their peers? How should senior leaders handle the changes that the forces present as our nation changes and separates itself from Godly values and ethics? Well, the answer is simple, turn to the Word of God!
Let’s start with Matthew 8, the story of the Roman Centurion. This soldier would have had a lot in common with a modern soldier, but his struggle was much harder than ours today. It is no secret that the Romans were not fans of the Jews and definitely not fans of these new followers of Christ. But, in light of this, a Roman Centurion remains faithful to Christ. This was not just a common soldier either, he had servants, he was in a position of leadership. He would have definitely stood out as a follower of Christ amongst the critics. Roman soldiers were tough and they knew combat. Like a modern member of the military, he knew the stress of being far from home, fighting for a cause and standing for what is right. Jesus tells us that He had yet to find another man in Israel with a greater faith! That is simply amazing. I have a theory that Christians in the military have a very unique view of service and sacrifice that draws them very near to God. We get to live a life of servanthood, leadership, followership, and reliance on Jesus for our wisdom and protection in battle. These are attributes rarely found in the civilian life. The Centurion’s example is one to emulate.
Soldiers are given orders and orders are followed. But in light of orders that are not the best orders, soldiers are still discerning. It was a Centurion that witnessed Jesus commit His Spirit to the Father when His physical body died on the cross. And that Centurion was the first recorded to recognize Jesus as an innocent man and praised God. We are called to be discerning in the case of our orders. Acts 10 records the story of Cornelius, also a Roman Centurion. Cornelius was a strong man of faith who was not only faithful in light of his position as a Roman but was also baptized as an outward expression of his faith by Peter. Acts 28:16 records that is was a Roman soldier that guarded Paul in Rome. This would not have been so much to prevent Paul’s escape but to prevent Paul from being attacked by Romans that disagreed with him. This would be a great position of honor to protect Paul, imagine listening to Paul preach every day. As members of the military we are called to protect the truth even when the majority of society does not know the truth. Paul refers to Epaphroditus as a soldier when he sends him to deliver the Epistle to the Philippians. This would be a man who understood the struggle of going out on the mission field to serve God’s followers. Epaphroditus would have followed Paul’s orders all the while being faithful to Christ with the ability to remain disciplined and on task, like a soldier heading off to battle.
Here is the bottom line. We all need Jesus. As members of the military, our mission field is vast. We can minister to our friends, subordinates and our supervisors through our words, actions and work ethic. We are uncompromising in our faith all the while being good followers of orders and servant leaders. Every other military member we reach for the cause of Christ means many more reached as we travel to foreign countries. Not only do we protect our nation’s ability to freely worship the One True God at home, we also get to love people all over the world and share Christ’s love with them. This will become increasingly unpopular as the years go by. Satan will continue to attack just as he has in our government, schools and public places. Through it we will remain faithful. We will not beat people up with the Bible as a measure of their salvation, we will serve and love as Christ did and our testimonies will speak for Christ.
Eventually we will become so secularized that it will be almost impossible to be openly Christian in the military. Jesus was clear that people would hate us because of Him. To my brothers and sisters still serving today, keep the faith. Stay strong. Seek your wisdom from the Lord. Find hope in Him. Share Christ’s love with your brothers and sisters in uniform and know that the love you share will continue to spread the good news of Jesus Christ around the world. And in many cases it will be spread to some of the darkest most violent places.
May God richly bless our military and their families at home and abroad. And may God continue to use our military members to defend our freedom and way of life all the while guiding their hearts and keeping them from harm. Soldier, Sailor, Airman, Marine your service is selfless, it is appreciated, it is needed and you will be rewarded for your sacrifice.