Monday, May 25, 2009

Calling out the militia (Part 1): Dt 20:1-4

"When you go out to battle against your enemies and see horses and chariots and people more numerous than you, do not be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, who brought you up from the land of Egypt, is with you. When you are approaching the battle, the priest shall come near and speak to the people. He shall say to them, 'Hear, O Israel, you are approaching the battle against your enemies today. Do not be fainthearted. Do not be afraid, or panic, or tremble before them, for the Lord your God is the one who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.'" (Deuteronomy 20:1-4)
While a biblical case can be made for a separation between the church and state, God never intended there to be a separation between God and state. In the formation of a militia there were two groups of people who were to address those assembled, the priests and the officers of the people. While the priests job was not the establishment of an official religion among the ranks, they were to inspire, encourage, and exhort the people as to the morality of their fight and to direct their faith to the God who would give them victory and success.

When calling out the militia for battle it is important that the objectives, purposes, and, most importantly, the morality of the war to have been clearly established. Before engaging in battle, it is important that the moral narrative for the reasons and objective of the war to have been communicated and understood by the nation as a whole and by those who would fight in particular. We should never expect people to fight in a war that is for the mere purpose of personal aggrandizement or empire building, the moral foundations for the war must be clearly identified and spelled out.

This is not to say that just because we can construe a moral explanation for our chosen war that our battle is in fact moral. This was made abundantly clear during our Civil War when both sides believed that they had a moral imperative for engaging in war with their brothers. It is obvious that one side (or both sides) failed to comprehend the full morality of their actions. However, what I am saying is that, right or wrong, before sending men (and/or women) into battle, we must understand what it is we are fighting for. If a clear moral imperative for war cannot be given, or concurred by the people, then perhaps other actions short of war should be taken.

The role of the church in war is more than a co-opting of the church by the state but is rather a co-opting of the hearts of the people by God. During the Civil War, in the winter of 1864 to 1865, revival broke out amongst the ranks of the confederate army. It is reported that 15,000 confederate troupes were saved and gave their hearts to the Lord that winter, many who would die in the upcoming battles that spring. It was not the state that was using the ministers and revivalists who traveled with the troupes, it was God who was using them to secure the hearts and soles of the people for His eternal kingdom.

David Robison

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