[Continued from last week]
Eventually I received orders to report to Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia. I began attending a church in the Woodbridge area and attended a mid-week Bible study in the home of a staff sergeant. All of the Bible study attendees were Marines and the wives of those who were married. Being a closet pacifist in the midst of Marines studying the Bible was informative.
I had not yet been involved in the study of the Old Testament. When I was a child, my mother read to me from a Bible storybook, so I was familiar with many of the stories and main characters. I questioned whether this route was necessary but the Marines present assured me that it was.
It was pointed out that the Apostle Paul told young Timothy that, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16 KJV). Further, the “all scripture” referred specifically to the Old Testament since, what we know as the New Testament, was either not written or, if some portions were written, they were not yet compiled.
And while Jesus said, “… Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father…” (John 14:9), it was pointed out that the Bible also teaches “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8) and, “ I am the Lord, I change not…” (Malachi 3:6). There is a consistency and constancy in God, whether we understand it or not. And, though Jesus is often thought of as the “Lamb of God,” he is also the “Lion of Judah.”
In a number of references in the Old Testament, God is described as a warrior, including this passage: “The Lord goes out like a mighty man, like a man of war he stirs up his zeal; he cries out, he shouts aloud, he shows himself mighty against his foes” (Isaiah 42:13 ESV).
In the New Testament Book of Revelation 19, there is this description: “From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.”
As members of the military, this verse from Romans 13:4, which refers to civil authority, held special meaning for those in the Bible study: “For they are God’s servants, working for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for it is not without reason that they bear the sword. Indeed, they are God’s servants to administer punishment to anyone who does wrong.”
And then there was this: “…since indeed God deems it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant rest with us to you who are afflicted, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at in all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.”(2 Thessalonians 1:6-10 RSV)
Jesus sounds a lot less like a pacifist in this account.
Alvin York was a Christian pacifist from eastern Tennessee when he was drafted to fight in World War I nearly 101 years ago. York claimed conscientious objector status on the grounds that his denomination, the Methodist Church, forbade violence. It was through a study of the Bible that he changed his position and went to war. Sgt. York eventually received over 50 decorations, including the Medal of Honor. After the war, he returned to his beloved Tennessee.
York reportedly attempted to re-enlist in the Army during World War II, but was denied for his age and declining health. Instead, he found ways to support the war effort by participating in bond drives and visiting training camps to meet and cheer on American troops.
All this was a bit much for a newly minted Christian pacifist to take in. It was a challenge to my way of thinking. It would not be the last.
[To be continued next week.]
[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA between Newnan and Peachtree City (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Charismatic Episcopal Diocese of the Mid-South which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]