I was recently reminded of the early church tradition of abstaining from military service and participating in government service in general (thanks Dan Webb). I don’t believe that justification for this position can be found in scripture.
As I stated in an earlier post, we must avoid the temptation to cherry pick either scripture or teachings of the Fathers to Support our feelings-based position. Scripture can be utilized to support both the appropriateness of self-defense and turning the other cheek. We run the risk of teaching error when we rely on the scripture in isolation. When it comes to military service, who is correct, Tertullian or Augustine? Could they both be correct?
I believe that much of the early church teachings need to be balanced with the understanding of their times. Both the government and military at that time were decidedly anti-Christian. For them, at that time, being in the military of having a political office would have been akin to joining forces with their persecutors — being traitorous to the Christian Faith. You’ll recognize that by the time of St Augustine that the above teachings began to abate.
My point here is that some traditions are not as dogmatic as others. In some sense, the church can and should be like that bug stuck in amber — forever immutable. In other areas, we can discern that certain doctrinal developments can and have evolved over time.
In the Christan paradigm, however, we must be able to draw a line in the sand and say beyond this point we shall not pass — like the fictional Tolkien character Gandalf facing the Balrog. Other positions are (IMHO) not as critical and prayerfully we won’t break fellowship over the unessentials.
I have bishop friends who I deeply respect (Bishop Todd Bell and Bernard Benedict) who don’t approve of my outspoken political posts. My stance is this; how are the people of God supposed to understand the errors of our times unless spiritual leaders speak truth to the lies? There are too many competing voices. Often times we find that the lies are winning the day in the court of public opinion.
As Christians, I believe we have an obligation to stand up for the truth. Whether it is verbally combatting an immoral culture or taking a stand against False teachings coming from other church leadership. As a bishop, I consider it my obligation to remain a voice crying out in the wilderness in our age.