When we think about Christian soldiers, we can be tempted (based on our views on war in general) to either venerate or vilify those who have participated in military service or combat. The battlefield certainly has its share of both beauty and tragedy, and that complexity can be confusing. To some, Christian soldiers—ready to stand up and sacrifice for a larger cause—are heroes, for “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13). To others, the violence of combat seems overwhelming in its scope and severity. They take Jesus’ words, “all who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Matt. 26:52), to mean that soldiers’ close proximity to killing fundamentally compromises their morals.
This dichotomy highlights our need to find a new way of thinking about Christian soldiers. And one avenue for doing so takes us back in time, as we remember the saints of Christian history who served in war.
Saints—whether among the living or among those who have passed into the next life—are people who live lives faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Some denominations have formal procedures for designating certain Christians as saints and reserve the title for only a few. In the Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican traditions, saints are those whose faith was so exemplary that they become guides for how to live as Christians. In the Catholic tradition, before a saint can be added to the canon, they must be nominated, then investigated by a “devil’s advocate” (officially known as the Promoter of Faith) who tries to find fault in their lives. This process of canonization, therefore, has the added benefit of reminding us that every saint has a past, and every sinner, a future.
In my book For God and Country (in That Order), I profile more than 40 individuals whose stories bear directly on issues around military service. Together, these soldier saints provide a precedent for understanding how the church has witnessed both against and within war.
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SOURCE: Christianity Today