Posted by: sean | July 25, 2009

Why Didn’t They Tell the Centurions To Leave the Military? (2)

The following was excerpted from an untitled work by Drew Ayers, which he sent to me in 2009.

Doesn’t the fact that soldiers in the New Testament are never expressly told to leave the military damage your peace position? Shouldn’t this be taken as an indication that it may be allowed to be a “Christian” soldier? Many try to make this point but I believe it’s wrong for two reasons:

1. This is an argument from silence. Actually in these passages neither Jesus nor any apostle either condemn or endorse military participation. They aren’t advised to be born again either for that matter. Is being born again also not required for soldiers? In a similar instance, Simon the sorcerer isn’t told to stop practicing sorcery in Acts 8. Is sorcery allowed too? (if not specifically forbidden?) If failure to mention a sin condones it, then slavery is now okay. Nowhere in the New Testament is there a command, “Thou shalt not have slaves.” Silence in this case is simply silence and proves nothing.

2. If we rightly conclude that “Do unto others…” discourages slavery, then doesn’t “love your enemies” put military service in a negative light? Isn’t it self-evident that if all men must love their enemies and do no harm (Romans 13.10), then military participation is impossible?



  1. No one seems to notice that the centurion, whose servant Jesus healed, was “the enemy.” He was an officer of the Roman occupation of Palestine, a former prime target for Simon the Zealot. Rather than killing him, Jesus healed the servant of his enemy. The servant was probably a slave but Jesus didn’t urge the Centurion to free his slaves, just as he didn’t urge him to leave the army. Like all of us, the Centurion was a sinner. And like the woman at the well, Jesus would have known his sins. But Jesus didn’t urge him to end any of the sins in his life.

    Acts 10 tells the story of Peter’s encounter with Cornelius the centurion. Before this encounter, Cornelius and his devout soldier likely were gentiles who worshipped the God of the Jews and served in a nearly all-pagan army of the pagan Roman Empire ruled by a pagan self-deifying emperor. They served the most powerful dictator in the world and could have been ordered to kill any enemies he wanted destroyed. In order to use this story to justify Christian service in the military we would have to concede that, throughout history, it has been permissible for Christians to serve in ANY military, including those of Germany and Japan in WWII. Assuming that Christians serving in the military are authorized by God to kill enemies of the state, then it was appropriate for German and Japanese Christians (yes, there were some) to kill Americans and that God expects Christians to kill each other in war. (During the Viet Nam war, one of John McCain’s North Vietnamese prison guards in the “Hanoi Hilton” was a Christian.)

    We don’t know if Cornelius ever killed anyone after his baptism of the Holy Spirit or if he even stayed in the military. Two who didn’t stay were Martin of Tours and Marcellus the Centurion (who was martyred). Maximilian of Tebessa was also martyred – for refusing to join the army as a Christian. The idea that just because an earthly ruler wants some people killed that God also wants them killed and wants Christians to participate is surely questionable.

  2. I am very glad to have found this online forum, where these ideas are discussed. They seem to be avoided or not even brought up in churches, and one has to find himself on one or the other side of these issues.
    There is a difference between murder and killing, in the OT (God says you shouldn’t kill, then orders people to kill other people) and I think there is a difference between loving your enemies and justified war, fought by one country in defense from another, having nothing to do with the kingdom of God but merely human administrative, political or religious matters.

  3. Dear Daniello,

    I would challenge your assumption that Christians should participate in a national war, which as you said has “nothing to do with the kingdom of God but merely human administrative, political or religious matters.” In other words, we cannot compartmentalize our faith so that it does not inform our civic actions. When I profess, “Jesus is Lord,” I making a big statement…it is cosmic, political, and personal. But, let’s just think about the personal aspect for a moment. By confessing Jesus as Lord, I’m personally agreeing to obey him. That means that I am committed to loving my enemies (and my neighbors and my fellow Christian brothers and sisters). It is not loving to kill someone (especially for the sake of national interests, which are so trivial and changing from age to another).

    If we take a nursery class room as our example, it may help to sharpen our thinking about this. Say Tommy and Johnny are playing with toy trucks. Tommy decides to steal Johnny’s truck so he can play with both. Johnny, naturally, gets angry and punches Tommy. At this moment, the teacher enters the situation. Should she reprimand one or both? Of course, the answer is both. Tommy was wrong for stealing and Johnny was wrong for hitting him. Can this serve as an illustration between modern nations, like the US and Iraq, or whatever conflict you prefer?

    I think the bigger question is what should we do when we are treated unjustly by others? As Christians, who have committed our selves to Jesus’ commands (i.e. including loving the enemy), how should we proceed? The answer, I think, lies in a cooperation between our own God-given capacity to creatively imagine a better way with the Holy Spirit’s guidance. We all agree the tit-for-tat, ends-justifies-the-means, way the world operates is remarkably ineffective in producing a safe and happy society.

  4. Related question…

    Is it wrong to “honor” dead soldiers?

    How about the “religious” observance in memory of wars?

    • I’ve wrestled with the question of honoring deceased veterans and will share a few of my thoughts.

      It must be acknowledged that people enter the military with various motivations, some or all of which may be of personal benefit to the service-member. After his/her death we don’t know what those motivations were but we assume they were in the military to protect the rest of us from foreign threats and were willing to die on our behalf. On the one hand I am grateful that someone would sacrifice himself for me; on the other, I neither expect nor desire anyone to kill on my behalf, thus putting themselves in a position to die for me.

      One of the ways society rewards the young who enter the military is the promise of respect and gratitude (honor) from the populace, both before and after their death. By honoring the dead for their military service we are encouraging others to join and kill on our behalf. I would suggest, rather, that we treat all dead with respect regardless of their career choices in life.

      For my part, as a 20-year veteran I desire no military honors upon my death but only hope that my service to the kingdom of God will have encouraged others along the way.

  5. Scott

    On the one hand I am grateful that someone would sacrifice himself for me; on the other, I neither expect nor desire anyone to kill on my behalf, thus putting themselves in a position to die for me.

    So which is it? Sounds like your of two minds here.

    I would suggest, rather, that we treat all dead with respect regardless of their career choices in life.

    Sure, my initial querie was not whether we should or should not respect dead soldiers. But whether or not it is appropriate for us as Christians [let alone as an example for family and friends] to join in the “festivities” and pagantry that goes along with it.

    • In my opinion, it is not appropriate.

  6. Was there a distinction between soldiers who were deployed for expanding and controlling the empire and others who policed the territories after they were under control?

    Jesus instructions to the soldiers in Luke 3 were simple guidelines he would likely have given to police—don’t extort, always be honest, and be satisfied with your pay. And in Matthew 8 and Luke 7, it appears the Centurion was living in town and was treating his servant like a friend. Perhaps the people under him were police, too. In any case, Jesus was not likely to come across a soldier who was out conquering and killing, but one whose role was keeping civil order.

  7. Hey guys something to look up but I’m pretty sure that in the early church Christians were forbidden to join the military.

    • All wars from ww1 onwards have been orchestrated by the illuminati (who work for their god, the god of this world -satan) and have been designed to bring about the new world order of one world government under the rule of the anti christ. Therefore it is my view we should all refrain from joining in any part of them.

      If you’re wondering how these wars bring the world together you need only look as far as the league of nations, formed after ww1 and th UN, formed after ww2. The EU was the next step and we will soon see the North American union. The EU and the NAU will be two of the 10 kingdoms mentioned in Daniel and revelation.

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