What can the Church learn from our veterans?

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First, allow me put my cards on the table.

I believe that non-violent, enemy love is at the heart of the gospel and what it means to follow Jesus.

I believe that Jesus’ blood was shed to stop the shedding of blood.

I believe that war is something outside of God’s eschatological kingdom that the salvation wrought in Christ makes present and thus should be avoided at all costs.

However, I still maintain a deep appreciation for those in the military who have sacrificed so much on our behalf.

Moreover, I also have an admiration for the skills that the military possesses that I believe the Church, in many respects, has lost. Namely, the military understands that virtues are learned and acquired through habit, practice and the mentoring of master to apprentice. The military understands that concepts such as honor, sacrifice, and commitment to others over self are not easily or automatically learned. They can’t simply be agreed to or believed rationally. They must, instead, be habituated through practices passed down from one with wisdom and authority. They must be habituated in order to become embodied and at the core of one’s identity.

In other words, as my favorite theologian, Stanley Hauerwas, says, “the military is often better at making disciples than the Church.”

We in the church have become very good at teaching people how to become “a Christian” but often drop the ball when teaching people how to become “Christlike.” The 21st century church has become really good at counting professions of faith but really bad at making disciples. Yet the latter is what Jesus demands of us.

Many of us go to or serve in churches where we have hundreds or even thousands of people showing up on Sunday. But, at some point, we have to honestly answer this question: Do their lives look like the lives of people we see in Scripture? Are we just good at getting people together once a week and maybe into a small group, or are we actually good at producing the types of people we read about in the New Testament? Have we shifted our criteria for a good  disciple as someone who shows up to our stuff, gives money, and occasionally feeds poor people?

Most churches act as though one can be a Christian without training, conversion, or apprenticeship. Just by believing in Jesus and leaving it at that. No one in the military has ever believed that you can be a soldier just by wanting to be one, without the purgative and formative experience of basic training.

So on Veteran’s Day maybe that’s the appreciative nod the Church can offer our armed forces: they know how to form character and we in the church could learn from their wisdom.

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