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The Secular Warrior and the Kingdom of God

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The Apostle Peter and Cornelius the centurion

The most recent issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality (16.1) features an updated translation of “The Moral Organization of Humanity as a Whole,” the last chapter of the Russian Orthodox philosopher Vladimir Soloviev’s major work on moral philosophy The Justification of the Good. Writing in 1899, Soloviev offers an insightful reflection on the centurion Cornelius, the first Gentile convert to Christianity (Acts 10), regarding the military vocation and the kingdom of God, appropriate to consider as we celebrate Veterans Day today:

Neither the angel of God nor the apostle Peter, the messenger of the peace of Christ, nor the voice of the Holy Spirit himself suddenly revealed in the ones converted, told the centurion of the Italian cohort that which was, according to the latest notions about Christianity, the most important and urgently necessary thing for this Roman warrior. They did not tell him that in becoming a Christian he must first of all cast away his weapons and without fail renounce military service. There is neither word nor allusion about this ostensibly indispensable condition of Christianity in the whole story, even though the point is precisely about a representative of the army. Renunciation of military service does not at all enter into the New Testament concept of what is required of a secular warrior in order that he become a citizen enjoying full rights in the kingdom of God.

While this may appear to be an argument from silence, Soloviev notes,

When Peter came, Cornelius said to him, “Now, therefore, we are all present before God, to hear all the things … commanded you by God” [10:33]. But in this all that God commands the apostle to communicate to the Roman warrior for his salvation, there is nothing about military service.

Taking seriously that the Apostle Peter did not leave anything out when he told Cornelius everything he needed to begin the Christian life, the omission of any command to renounce military service is a significant silence.

Elsewhere, Soloviev notes that while the Gospel commandment to love one’s enemies ideally prohibits war, “since a loved enemy ceases to be an enemy and cannot be made war upon,” our fallen world sometimes requires bloody callings, such as the vocation of a soldier, as a matter of prudence for the sake of compassion and justice:

When the centurion Cornelius was a pagan, the sentiment of pity that compelled him to ‘give alms generously’ [Acts 10:2] also certainly induced him to protect the weak from any injuries and to force violent aggressors to obey the laws.

In defense of the good of the use of force in society against the objections of some anarchists and passivists, Soloviev employs the metaphor of surgery:

It is as if someone pointed to the meaningless cruelty of an unsuccessful surgical operation, but then, incidentally, also to the suffering of a patient in a successful operation as an evident contradiction to the concept of surgery, in the sense of a beneficent art that helps people in certain bodily sufferings. It is more than evident that such representatives of state authority as, for example, Ivan IV [“Ivan the Terrible”] testify just as little against the humane basis of the state as bad surgeons do against the benevolence of surgery itself.

Soloviev would not deny the possibility of unjust war or tyrannical governance. However, he argues that just as medical malpractice should not cause us to decry surgical procedures as opposed to the Christian faith (even though the body is made for health and ideally would never need surgery), so also we must be more nuanced when we critique the use of violence in governance and even war. As the dictum goes, abusus non tollit usum: abuse does not destroy use.

No doubt Soloviev’s argument may not apply to all passivists (or anarchists) today, but it is something to ponder for Veterans Day. Some, like the centurion Cornelius (or, for that matter, St. Demetrius or St. George), must wrestle with how their particular calling as “secular warrior[s]” is conditioned by their citizenship in the kingdom of God. No doubt there is no easy answer for our veterans. War is a terrible thing, but sometimes it is necessary for the sake of the effective compassion needed “to protect the weak” from “violent aggressors.”

The path of a soldier is not an easy one, and the horrors of war linger on long after the fighting stops. Those rare few willing to undergo such trauma for the sake of others truly deserve our thanks today, even while we all hope and pray for a day when nations no longer need such surgery.

In the meantime, however, I also hope and pray for better surgeons: trained not only with skill with a scalpel, but with discernment of mind and virtue of soul.

Dylan Pahman Dylan Pahman is a research fellow at the Acton Institute, where he serves as managing editor of the Journal of Markets & Morality. He earned his MTS in Historical Theology from Calvin Theological Seminary. In addition to his work as an editor, Dylan has authored several peer-reviewed articles, conference papers, essays, and one book: Foundations of a Free & Virtuous Society (Acton Institute, 2017). He has also lectured on a wide variety of topics, including Orthodox Christian social thought, the history of Christian monastic enterprise, the Reformed statesman and theologian Abraham Kuyper, and academic publishing, among others.


  • TehGoldenRule

    The only legitimate use of a military is to protect one’s own country from an invasion by another countries military. If a government wants to send the military to free an “oppressed” people from a tyrannical government then that government that wants to send the military to free the “oppressed” people must first get the “oppressed” people’s agreement to be “freed” militarily. Only then can that government that wants to help the “oppressed” people ask their own people for agreement to use the military for that purpose. Without agreement the action taken is unjust and only matched by the scheming hypocritical propaganda that says repeatedly over and over again, “freedom and democracy”:

    Ask anyone in the world two questions:

    Do you prefer to be told the truth or to be told lies?
    Do you prefer that people do things to you either with or without your agreement?

    Everyone on Earth answers the two questions the same way.

    Jesus Christ was at a well and a Samaritan woman asks him for living water, of which Jesus said that everyone who shall drink of the waters that I will give him shall not thirst for eternity, but those waters that I give him shall be springs of waters in him that shall spring up into eternal life. She asks because she does not take, but instead seeks agreement, and he agrees to give it to her. He tries to get her to lie which she does not, instead telling him the truth. He said she answered well. He gave her TRUTH AND AGREEMENT, living water, the Kingdom of God.

    Before your words you have two choices and before your actions you have two more. When you speak you can either speak the truth or speak lies and when you do things that affect other people you can either seek their agreement or not seek their agreement at all.

    Jesus Christ said that whenever anyone speaks the truth it is done in the Spirit and presence of God (John 3:21). He said that when anyone gets together with other people and decides to do whatever together, affecting no one else that did not agree, it is done in the Spirit and presence of God (Matthew 18:19).

    We all love truth and agreement to be done to us. Truth and agreement are the Spirit of God, The Spirit of Truth, the Kingdom of God, the Tree of Life, the Divine Spark, The Golden Rule, and Objective Morality. Do unto others as you would have done unto you so do unto others truth and agreement.

    There is only 1 true God. 5 things: truth in words, agreement in actions, help those in need when and where you can, be humble you are not better than anyone else, and forgiveness. Expressed as 3 things: Love, Truth, and Agreement. Judge not on the appearance but rather judge righteous judgement; lying and not-seeking-agreement are judged.

    And when Jesus kicked the money changers out of the temple, surely they wouldn’t of agreed to it, but the agreement was that the temple is a place of God, not of money and power, so he kicked them out, righteously. Seek the root agreement.

    No one likes a hypocrite, and because you love truth and agreement to be done to you, do it for other people also. This core hypocrisy is sinful.

    No one likes false righteousness, and because many think there is condemnation of others for their beliefs, yet they harm no one with beliefs alone, they do it without cause.

    No one likes it when others judge them about things that they do that affect no one else, but everyone righteously judges lying and those who trespass against them, who do things to them that they don’t agree to.

    The Spirit of Truth is not a person. The Gospels are to be interpreted with love, not hate or fear, with truth, not lies. Words and actions define a person, not beliefs, and God sees this. Beliefs are things that can’t be proven, so they are just beliefs, but the Kingdom of God is true and not a belief, because you can ask yourself the two questions and you will answer the same way as everyone else, including men and women, those who are religious and those who are not, all races and nationalities, heterosexuals and homosexuals. The answers to the two questions have been the same since the beginning of time and will be the same until the end of time, just as the groups of this world have been the same since the beginning of time and will be the same until the end of time. If you make war with them you make war with God, and if you don’t acknowledge that they also do Love, Truth, and Agreement, and that it is done in the Spirit and presence of God, then you speak against the Holy Ghost, and need to repent.

    Jesus said “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to God but by me”. And he meant it. The way is agreement, the truth is the truth, and the life are the results. And a goal reached as the result of truth and agreement is a goal built on a rock, but the goal reached as a result of lying and not seeking agreement is a goal built on sand. When the winds and the rains come the goal built on a rock withstands and lives, but the goal built on sand withers and dies. Jesus’ person did Love, Truth, and Agreement since he came to us and until he left us. Jesus’ Spirit, being the Spirit of God, is Love, Truth, and Agreement, and no one comes to God but by the Spirit of God. When an atheist speaks the truth and does agreement it is done in the Spirit and presence of God.

    Jesus Christ is a person with a soul who was born of God. He did Love, Truth, and Agreement his whole life. He prayed to God many times while he was here on Earth. We are spiritual beings who are to be born again. Jesus Christ the person is coming back, and he is the Messiah. You will know him by his words and by his actions, not by how he looks, and not any other way. Anyone who brings war to those at peace is not of God. Do Love, Truth, and Agreement, judge lying and not seeking agreement.

  • Danny

    Being in the military and becoming a Christian is one thing. If you raise your kids in a Christian home and they are showing fruits of salvation, can they participate in a military whose mission is immoral/amoral/confused?

    • Dylan Pahman

      Good question. This is the sort of dilemma, I think, that helps to underscore that the question of military service is a matter of prudence.

      In some situations, for some people, the answer to your question may be no. Many in the early church left the Roman military upon converting to Christianity. But for others the answer may still be yes, for a variety of reasons. For example, militaries exist firstly to protect nations from invasion. The current mission may be flawed, but the nation still needs a military for this good purpose. And not all military positions involve combat. Again, abusus non tollit usum.

      On the other hand, we might also consider the opposite question: If you raise your kids in a Christian home and they are showing fruits of salvation, can they *not* participate in a military whose mission is moral, just, and clear?

      Again, I do not think there is any one, cookie-cutter answer. For some the answer will be yes, and rightly so. For others the answer may still be no, and rightly so. No doubt the variety of conclusions that sincere Christians may adopt reflects an abundance of important voices that deserve to be heard to help others discern how best to apply the essential principles of their faith to the reality of our imperfect world.

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