I came across this post that I particularly enjoyed. Why? Because it made me think! Always a good thing! (I think?) I asked the author if I may shamelessly steal it, and he agreed. (This was after I gave him a pint of my blood and my first born child, of course.) I will not tell what the discourse was between us as I am most curious to hear your thoughts. Although it seems rather long, I feel this was rather “short” in my opinion as I have been conditioned by the (oftentimes) verbose B. Here is the post:
• Tertullian (160-225 AD) is an early Christian church father from Carthage. He wrote many great works that were embraced by the Church. He is most known for being the first Christian to create a plethora of Christian writings in Latin and was given the title “Father of Latin Christianity” as a result. He is also well known for his apologies, writings against heresies, and his teachings on the trinity. As a result of all this he was given the title “Founder of Western Theology.” Though he was first rejected as a heretic the church later admitted his teachings to be orthodox.
In his writing entitled On Idolatry, Tertullian spends time discussing what type of clothing is appropriate fro Christians. He teaches that certain adornments (or uniforms) are not appropriate for Christians because of their connection with idolatry. From this discussion he moves into the subject of military service.
“But now inquiry is made about this point, whether a believer may turn himself unto military service, and whether the military may be admitted unto the faith, even the rank and file, or each inferior grade, to whom there is no necessity for taking part in sacrifices or capital punishments. There is no agreement between the divine and the human sacrament, the standard of Christ and the standard of the devil, the camp of light and the camp of darkness. One soul cannot be due to two masters–God and Caesar. And yet Moses carried a rod, and Aaron wore a buckle, and John (Baptist) is girt with leather and Joshua the son of Nun leads a line of march; and the People warred: if it pleases you to sport with the subject. But how will a Christian man war, nay, how will he serve even in peace, without a sword, which the Lord has taken away? For albeit soldiers had come unto John, and had received the formula of their rule; albeit, likewise, a centurion had believed; still the Lord afterward, in disarming Peter, unbelted every soldier. No dress is lawful among us, if assigned to any unlawful action.”
What I found interesting in this writing is not his standing against Christian in the military, for I’ve known that position belonged to him for some time, but the arguments he uses to support his teaching.* His central point in this exert is that a person must serve God and not Caesar and a result of this is that a Christian cannot pick up the sword for Caesar and thus military service is not appropriate. More interesting is that he assumes the arguments against his case and points them out. These arguments still exist today. I’ve had discussions in which these very same arguments have been brought up to show that Christian are free (and sometimes obligated or wise) to join the military.
He points out the argument that Moses carried a rod, Aaron wore a buckle, John the Baptizer wore leather, Joshua led a military command, and Israel went to war several times. In other words, there is violence and military action by God’s people throughout the Old Testament. Tertullian admits this is true and says it’s a line of argument if you really want it to be but then he goes on to make little of it by stating that a Christian cannot war or serve in military, even for the sake of peace, because Christians are not allowed weapons according to Christ. He then entered the second argument that is often given in such a discussion. He points out the argument that John and Jesus both encountered military personnel and did not command them to step down from their office. To conquer this argument he states, while this is a true historic fact, another is that Christ disarmed Peter after those encounters and in so doing he disarmed all believers. In other words, it wasn’t yet time for such commands. This is why violence existed in the OT as well; the time had not yet come for God’s followers to be fully disarmed outright.
As a result, military uniforms or garments of war and weaponry aren’t appropriate for the Christian. Any office that falls under the command to go against the law of Christ (which is to love neighbors) is not appropriate. For Tertullian, it seems that military office is not off limits solely because of idolatry and murderous action but because it is an organization that supports armed service and Christ has commanded his people to fall into a disarmed service of love. The two are therefore in opposition to one another. This makes sense as to why Tertullian uses such strong contrasts at the beginning of this quote, the two are actually opposites. To even be involved in an organization such as the military is not acceptable for that ties a person to Caesar’s kingdom and Caesar’s ways instead of Christ’s kingdom and ways.
Whether you agree or disagree with Tertullian, do you think this is a correct reading of his position? Am I missing the mark on what Tertullian is attempting to communicate? What would you add, take away, or change about my understanding of this material?
*Though, I was a bit surprised to read that he disapproves of military service which is in no way involved with sacrifices (idolatry), capital punishments (murder). Clearly, these are not the only two issues at play for Tertullian. This is important because it is often taught that the only reasons early church fathers disapproved of Christians joining the military and engaging in warfare were the idolatries and murderous actions involved.