Holes: The Centurions, or “Nobody said I couldn’t do it!”

This is a scripture portion that many just war theorists point to as an attempt to justify their views, or at least to say that Jesus never commanded pacifism:

Matthew 8:

5 When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, 6“Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” 7And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” 8But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” 10When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. 11I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 13And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment.

There is also this passage from John the Baptist in Luke 3:14;

14Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”

The argument often goes as such (this version from John Piper’s paper on pacifism):

It is significant that John the Baptist did not tell the soldiers to leave the military when they asked him what it meant to repent: “And some soldiers were questioning him, saying, ‘And what about us, what shall we do?’ And he said to them, ‘Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages'” (Luke 3:14). Since it is, therefore, possible to live a godly life and yet be in the military, it must be because engaging in war is not always sinful.

(One side note before I continue: I know I pick on Piper a lot, mostly drawing from his paper on the subject, but this blog isn’t about proving him wrong at all, but showing how nonviolence is a legitimate and proper view for scripture. I have mad respect for Piper, I just disagree with him in some areas.  Anyway…)

If I may break the argument down even more simply, what Just War Theorists say is that, since neither John the Baptist nor Jesus reprimanded the soldiers that spoke to them, that it must be OK to be in the military as a Christian.  This is a logical fallacy known as “Argument From Absence,” or, basically, “we weren’t told no, so it’s OK.”  I have several objections to raise to this argument.

1)  Just because the soldiers were not specifically told by either man that military service isn’t OK doesn’t automatically give them a green light to continue, necessarily.  If we want to use this line of logic, we can point out that Jesus never said that homosexuality was wrong (go ahead; try to find it). In fact, the same passage in question has been used to JUSTIFY homosexuality in Jesus’ eyes (has to do with the greek word for servant in this case; it’s been used to mean lover, apparently).  John the Baptist never said anything about witchcraft, so does that make using such arts OK? On top of that, neither spoke of aborting children.  Just because one appeals to an authority’s lack of mention of a moral issue doesn’t mean that one has freedom to do as one wishes in said area.

2) In the case of Jesus speaking with the Centurion, just war theorists miss the point of what Jesus was actually talking about, not to mention seem to forget key points of Jesus’ gospel.  The man was asking Jesus, in an act of total faith, to heal his dying servant and friend.  Jesus, amazed by his faith, gives him his request.  How much would that robbed not only from the soldier, but also from the message of the Gospel he preached, had Jesus set terms on this healing.  Jesus, when confronted by faith, met needs and answered prayers without question.  Besides, how are we to know what the centurion did following his encounter with Jesus?  We can only be left wondering, as none of the Gospels tell us what happened.

3) In the case of John the Baptist, the Sermon on the Plain (if the Gospel of Luke is chronological in order) has not been preached yet, and the fullest understanding of the law has not been brought to light at this time.  As far as we know, John wasn’t even present at the sermon in question, as he was imprisoned by Herod.  John was only meant to prepare the way for Christ, not to teach the law to its fullest extent. He instead began to call the people to repentance, for the Son of Man, who judges the world, was coming.

The question can also be raised, in objection to my standpoint: “then why did no one ever tell the centurions to leave their posts and take up a life of nonviolence?”  This is an excellent question…which will take too long to answer in an already lengthy post.  I’ll leave you with this thought, however: Did Jesus, in spreading his message, work from the top down, or from the ground up?

That’s all from me here, but what do you think?  Can it still be argued that leading a life in the military is possible while being a Christian under the command of “love your enemy?” I’d really like to hear some input here; I like it when I get comments!

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