A soldier’s vocation

Browsing on the LCMS website and looking for something else, I came across this interview with Gen. John W. Vessey, whose distinguished military career including not only combat in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, but serving as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President Reagan.  He reflects very perceptively on the doctrine of vocation and gives some interesting stories of practicing the Christian faith in the military.  It turns out, the interview is from the latest Lutheran Witness.  A sampling:

LW: How does your Lutheran faith play a role in your courageous work, both when you were in active duty as well as now in retirement?

GV: I’ve been a lifelong Lutheran, and for that I am thankful. Martin Luther once wrote a pamphlet called Whether Soldiers Too Can Be Saved. I really took that to heart. Article 16 of the Augsburg Confession–which among other things says that Christians may serve in just wars–well, one can certainly take comfort in that too. Christ goes with us wherever we are. The Lutheran Confessions are blessings to us and make us stronger and help us understand the Word of God even more. . . .

LW: How can we, as Lutherans, properly view military service in light of caring for our neighbor and protecting him in his body?

GV: It first starts with Article 16 of the Augsburg Confession: It is not only right to serve but it is a duty for Christians to serve the civil community. As Luther pointed out, we live in the two kingdoms: the kingdom of God on the right and the civil on the left. We are God’s representatives in both places, but we are also fallible and sinful beings in both places, so we need to carry God’s Word with us as we do His work in the community. Being a soldier is not only okay but is even required by civil authorities for the safety of citizens.

For the young people today, I encourage them to consider a bit of service to the nation, whether it is teaching in schools or in the Armed Forces or what have you. It is an important thing, and you can take your Christian beliefs to that service, making both the service and yourself stronger.

LW: Most of us go through our lives in an occupation that does not require us to make life-altering or life-taking decisions in defense of country or self. How does the Christian soldier deal with the inner conflict that may accompany such an occupation?

GV: Prayer.

LW: In the military, is there a struggle of having to compromise or follow orders that burden the conscience?

GV: There are certain things you just don’t compromise on. According to our Lutheran Confessions, we are to obey the orders of civil authorities–until we are ordered to sin. Then God is in charge.

I never allowed my Christian beliefs to be a secret. I sometimes went out of my way to be sure they weren’t a secret! When traveling to places that were enemies to the U.S., I knew that they would bug our living facilities. So I’d do my daily devotions and prayers under the bug so they could hear loud and clear where my beliefs lie. That led to a number of interesting conversations later in life. At one point during my six years of diplomatic work, I was working with former Soviet Union folks. One day I met with the former Chief Historian of the Soviet Armed Forces and he asked to speak to me privately, so we went out in the hall together. He told me that he knew I was a Christian and he wanted to tell me that he himself had been baptized just the day before.

via 10 Minutes With . . . – The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

Knowing you’re being bugged, so reading the Bible and praying out loud to witness to the spy!  Brilliant!

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Kathy

    I was searching the LCMS site also and kept getting directed to this article. (I noted other pages, as in next page, in the “10 Minutes” site; perhaps our topics were somewhere else within the “10 Minutes.”)

    I was in the military for nine years and can testify that there are a lot of Christians in the military. The close work environment and togetherness also make the military a good place for evangelism.

  • Kathy

    I was searching the LCMS site also and kept getting directed to this article. (I noted other pages, as in next page, in the “10 Minutes” site; perhaps our topics were somewhere else within the “10 Minutes.”)

    I was in the military for nine years and can testify that there are a lot of Christians in the military. The close work environment and togetherness also make the military a good place for evangelism.

  • SKPeterson

    I would like to hear more about Vessey’s views on Just War theory and the obligation to resist orders that would be sinful. Who decides? What are the boundaries of authority and duties of conscience?

    We used to have a Congress to debate the merits, costs and justice of military action.

    Now, the only Decider as to whether military action is “just” is a unitary executive in the Office of the Presidency. Excuse me if Vessey’s comments don’t give me a great measure of confidence.

  • SKPeterson

    I would like to hear more about Vessey’s views on Just War theory and the obligation to resist orders that would be sinful. Who decides? What are the boundaries of authority and duties of conscience?

    We used to have a Congress to debate the merits, costs and justice of military action.

    Now, the only Decider as to whether military action is “just” is a unitary executive in the Office of the Presidency. Excuse me if Vessey’s comments don’t give me a great measure of confidence.

  • Other Gary

    “Knowing you’re being bugged, so reading the Bible and praying out loud to witness to the spy! Brilliant!”

    Agreed! This little snippet has just made my day!

  • Other Gary

    “Knowing you’re being bugged, so reading the Bible and praying out loud to witness to the spy! Brilliant!”

    Agreed! This little snippet has just made my day!

  • Momof3inTenn

    Now if we had a ‘like’ button, I could just ‘like’ Other Gary’s comment and be done with it. Since we don’t, I’ll just say ‘what he said.’ ;-)

  • Momof3inTenn

    Now if we had a ‘like’ button, I could just ‘like’ Other Gary’s comment and be done with it. Since we don’t, I’ll just say ‘what he said.’ ;-)

  • rlewer

    The Lutheran Witness has become an excellent representative of the LCMS and solid Christian teaching.

    Congratulations to the editors and to Pres. Harrison’s leadership.

  • rlewer

    The Lutheran Witness has become an excellent representative of the LCMS and solid Christian teaching.

    Congratulations to the editors and to Pres. Harrison’s leadership.

  • Norman Teigen

    I am a veteran of the Vietnam War. Luther’s piece on ‘Whether Soldiers Too Can Be Saved’ is a must read. It brought me great comfort to know that I could serve in the military with a clear conscience as part of my vocation. Fortunately for me, I was not a combat soldier.

    American soldiers are legally obligated to obey orders. But, because we live in a democracy and not a totalitarian society, there is a necessary qualification. All orders that are illegal need not be obeyed. One example of an illegal order would be to kill a bunch of civilians. Many more could be given.

    The American soldier is protected by the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

    S.K. Peterson: what is it with this “Only Decider” business? Inform yourself of what the military is like. Vessey’s comments are quite commendable.

    Norman Teigen, Layman
    Evangelical Lutheran Synod
    1st Aviation Brigade, Republic of Vietnam, 1970-71

  • Norman Teigen

    I am a veteran of the Vietnam War. Luther’s piece on ‘Whether Soldiers Too Can Be Saved’ is a must read. It brought me great comfort to know that I could serve in the military with a clear conscience as part of my vocation. Fortunately for me, I was not a combat soldier.

    American soldiers are legally obligated to obey orders. But, because we live in a democracy and not a totalitarian society, there is a necessary qualification. All orders that are illegal need not be obeyed. One example of an illegal order would be to kill a bunch of civilians. Many more could be given.

    The American soldier is protected by the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

    S.K. Peterson: what is it with this “Only Decider” business? Inform yourself of what the military is like. Vessey’s comments are quite commendable.

    Norman Teigen, Layman
    Evangelical Lutheran Synod
    1st Aviation Brigade, Republic of Vietnam, 1970-71

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    Norman @ 6,

    That brings up an interesting point to think about, whether a soldier, policeman, teacher, or any other civil employee will face a day in which they must choose between their Christianity and their job.

    I’m not a soldier, but I am a teacher, and I can tell you for a fact that there are some involved with education who, if they had their way, would specifically introduce anti-Christian material into schools. Should such a scenario come to pass, it might mean forcing me to step down from my educational job.

    I’ve wondered if soldiers and policemen have ever looked at what their orders entail and feel any sort of conflict with Christianity at times, or if anything is coming down the pipeline which may lead to that sort of polarization for the Christians in military and law enforcement positions.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    Norman @ 6,

    That brings up an interesting point to think about, whether a soldier, policeman, teacher, or any other civil employee will face a day in which they must choose between their Christianity and their job.

    I’m not a soldier, but I am a teacher, and I can tell you for a fact that there are some involved with education who, if they had their way, would specifically introduce anti-Christian material into schools. Should such a scenario come to pass, it might mean forcing me to step down from my educational job.

    I’ve wondered if soldiers and policemen have ever looked at what their orders entail and feel any sort of conflict with Christianity at times, or if anything is coming down the pipeline which may lead to that sort of polarization for the Christians in military and law enforcement positions.

  • Norman Teigen

    Suggest you read up on the subject of the Two Kingdoms. I won’t patronize you or any of the othe readers of this blog, but I am reasonably certain that you will find the answers which you seek. I will post a link for study if I can still find it.

    Norman Teigen, Layman
    Evangelical Lutheran Synod

  • Norman Teigen

    Suggest you read up on the subject of the Two Kingdoms. I won’t patronize you or any of the othe readers of this blog, but I am reasonably certain that you will find the answers which you seek. I will post a link for study if I can still find it.

    Norman Teigen, Layman
    Evangelical Lutheran Synod

  • Norman Teigen

    I am posting what I believe to be a very reliable link for study of this topic. The link is to a study by a Concordia-St. Louis professor, Joel Biermann. It will take some time and effort to work through this subject but Dr. Biermann makes a very good presentation. Besides, Biermann’s class I would also recommend reading Dr. Herman Sasse’s 1930 essay on the same topic.

    http://concordiatheology.org/2012/06/from-sea-to-shining-sea-a-christians-perspective-on-america-and-its-politics/

    I think that it is important to study the right stuff on this topic. There has been a considerable amount of discussion on the internet within the past six months especially on topics that deal directly or indirectly on the Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms. Much of this stuff is just unreliable.

    Some of the commentators have even achieved a sort of celebrity status in cyberspace. Sad to say much of the stuff is just pious baloney. It is for this reason that I particularly encourage readers to study Biermann and Sasse.

    I will look at further posts on this topic. I can’t imagine what difficulties a policeman or a school teacher might face but there is always some new problem which comes along. I will be reading these entries with great interest.

    Norman Teigen, Layman
    Evangelical Lutheran Synod

  • Norman Teigen

    I am posting what I believe to be a very reliable link for study of this topic. The link is to a study by a Concordia-St. Louis professor, Joel Biermann. It will take some time and effort to work through this subject but Dr. Biermann makes a very good presentation. Besides, Biermann’s class I would also recommend reading Dr. Herman Sasse’s 1930 essay on the same topic.

    http://concordiatheology.org/2012/06/from-sea-to-shining-sea-a-christians-perspective-on-america-and-its-politics/

    I think that it is important to study the right stuff on this topic. There has been a considerable amount of discussion on the internet within the past six months especially on topics that deal directly or indirectly on the Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms. Much of this stuff is just unreliable.

    Some of the commentators have even achieved a sort of celebrity status in cyberspace. Sad to say much of the stuff is just pious baloney. It is for this reason that I particularly encourage readers to study Biermann and Sasse.

    I will look at further posts on this topic. I can’t imagine what difficulties a policeman or a school teacher might face but there is always some new problem which comes along. I will be reading these entries with great interest.

    Norman Teigen, Layman
    Evangelical Lutheran Synod

  • fws

    Norman @ 9

    I dont have patience to listen to audio, and I like to read and reread text and take notes.

    My understanding of Two Kingdoms is reflected pretty well here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doctrine_of_the_two_kingdoms

    Many Lutherans think two kingdoms is a theory of the relation between church and state. And it is not. that would be more a thomist or scholastic way of seeing things. it is really just another form of Law and Gospel distinction. Is that what you are finding Norman?

    Luther everywhere talks about 3 earthly governments of household/marriage, church, and state that are all in the earthly kingdom of the Law, and then he says that the heavenly kingdom is alone , faith, in Christ, alone. Do you have an idea of where left hand and right hand kingdom terminology started being used? I cant find that anywhere in Luther or the Confessions.

  • fws

    Norman @ 9

    I dont have patience to listen to audio, and I like to read and reread text and take notes.

    My understanding of Two Kingdoms is reflected pretty well here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doctrine_of_the_two_kingdoms

    Many Lutherans think two kingdoms is a theory of the relation between church and state. And it is not. that would be more a thomist or scholastic way of seeing things. it is really just another form of Law and Gospel distinction. Is that what you are finding Norman?

    Luther everywhere talks about 3 earthly governments of household/marriage, church, and state that are all in the earthly kingdom of the Law, and then he says that the heavenly kingdom is alone , faith, in Christ, alone. Do you have an idea of where left hand and right hand kingdom terminology started being used? I cant find that anywhere in Luther or the Confessions.

  • Gabriel E. Borlean

    I have to say, having been raised as a Fundie Baptist (a-la Anabaptists) who has veered off the path to follow another legalistic group (2 years as a door-knocking JW), I have found Gene Veith’s book “God at Work, your Christian Vocation in All of Life” … in understanding how being a solder (aka super-skilled mercenary or killing machine) is a vocation.

    I understand how protecting your country is a vocation, but I still struggle with understanding how killing another person (for example American Lutheran GI in WWII killing a German no-Nazi-views Lutheran). Those two people are brothers in Christ, members of the Church Militant/Pilgrim.

    How is this a Vocation (honoring God and loving neighbor) ?

  • Gabriel E. Borlean

    I have to say, having been raised as a Fundie Baptist (a-la Anabaptists) who has veered off the path to follow another legalistic group (2 years as a door-knocking JW), I have found Gene Veith’s book “God at Work, your Christian Vocation in All of Life” … in understanding how being a solder (aka super-skilled mercenary or killing machine) is a vocation.

    I understand how protecting your country is a vocation, but I still struggle with understanding how killing another person (for example American Lutheran GI in WWII killing a German no-Nazi-views Lutheran). Those two people are brothers in Christ, members of the Church Militant/Pilgrim.

    How is this a Vocation (honoring God and loving neighbor) ?

  • Norman Teigen

    fws #10 I really wish that you would give the Biermann lectures a try. When I went to college many years ago we listened to lectures, read books, and wrote papers. Biermann is good.

    I also encourage you to read Sasse himself. The author is Hermann Sasse and the 1930 essay is The Social Doctrine of the Augsburg Confession. Try this link http://www.lcms.org/Document.fdoc?src=lcm&id=662

    President Meyer of Concordia St. Louis had something on the subject several weeks ago but I cannot locate his essay. It was a very fine piece of writing.

    I am not qualified by time or background to engage in a discussion with you. I am a simple layman and I think that the subject is important enough to study the best that is available.

    Best wishes in your studies.

    Norman Teigen, Layman
    Evangelical Lutheran Synod

  • Norman Teigen

    fws #10 I really wish that you would give the Biermann lectures a try. When I went to college many years ago we listened to lectures, read books, and wrote papers. Biermann is good.

    I also encourage you to read Sasse himself. The author is Hermann Sasse and the 1930 essay is The Social Doctrine of the Augsburg Confession. Try this link http://www.lcms.org/Document.fdoc?src=lcm&id=662

    President Meyer of Concordia St. Louis had something on the subject several weeks ago but I cannot locate his essay. It was a very fine piece of writing.

    I am not qualified by time or background to engage in a discussion with you. I am a simple layman and I think that the subject is important enough to study the best that is available.

    Best wishes in your studies.

    Norman Teigen, Layman
    Evangelical Lutheran Synod

  • Norman Teigen

    To Borlean. This might sound callous but if I, a Lutheran, had been engaged in combat in WW II I would have tried to kill as many Germans as I possibly could. I wouldn’t have cared if they were Lutheran Christians or atheists. Some of the German soldiers were indeed Christians with whom, in peace, I would have worshipped. In combat I would have killed them as they would have tried to kill me.

    I personally witnessed a meeting once of two World War II adversaries, by then Lutheran pastors, who met each other with joy and happiness at being spared a horrible death.

    As to trying to understand this, well, just remember that when we do our duty as soldiers we are doing a good thing. But, my duty is to kill them all and let God sort them out.

    Norman Teigen, Layman
    Evangelical Lutheran Synod

  • Norman Teigen

    To Borlean. This might sound callous but if I, a Lutheran, had been engaged in combat in WW II I would have tried to kill as many Germans as I possibly could. I wouldn’t have cared if they were Lutheran Christians or atheists. Some of the German soldiers were indeed Christians with whom, in peace, I would have worshipped. In combat I would have killed them as they would have tried to kill me.

    I personally witnessed a meeting once of two World War II adversaries, by then Lutheran pastors, who met each other with joy and happiness at being spared a horrible death.

    As to trying to understand this, well, just remember that when we do our duty as soldiers we are doing a good thing. But, my duty is to kill them all and let God sort them out.

    Norman Teigen, Layman
    Evangelical Lutheran Synod

  • Carl Vehse

    J. Dean @7: “I can tell you for a fact that there are some involved with education who, if they had their way, would specifically introduce anti-Christian material into schools”

    A physics and society education listgroup (PHYSOC (at)LISTSERV.UARK.EDU) has a bunch of anti-Christian teachers foaming at the mouth over Missouri voters overwhelmingly passing a state constitutional amendment, which states, in part, “no student shall be compelled to perform or participate in academic assignments or educational presentations that violate his or her religious beliefs.”

    “I’ve wondered if soldiers and policemen have ever looked at what their orders entail and feel any sort of conflict with Christianity at times”

    Fortunately, Gen. Vessey retired before he had to witness or deal with a U.S. military that has sunk into a cesspool of perversion under the Traitor-in-Chief.

    Col. Tammy Smith was recently promoted to Army Brigadier General, and currently serves as deputy chief in the Army Reserve Office of the Chief in Washington, D.C. Gen. Smith received the stars for her new rank from “her wife,” Tracey Hepner.

  • Carl Vehse

    J. Dean @7: “I can tell you for a fact that there are some involved with education who, if they had their way, would specifically introduce anti-Christian material into schools”

    A physics and society education listgroup (PHYSOC (at)LISTSERV.UARK.EDU) has a bunch of anti-Christian teachers foaming at the mouth over Missouri voters overwhelmingly passing a state constitutional amendment, which states, in part, “no student shall be compelled to perform or participate in academic assignments or educational presentations that violate his or her religious beliefs.”

    “I’ve wondered if soldiers and policemen have ever looked at what their orders entail and feel any sort of conflict with Christianity at times”

    Fortunately, Gen. Vessey retired before he had to witness or deal with a U.S. military that has sunk into a cesspool of perversion under the Traitor-in-Chief.

    Col. Tammy Smith was recently promoted to Army Brigadier General, and currently serves as deputy chief in the Army Reserve Office of the Chief in Washington, D.C. Gen. Smith received the stars for her new rank from “her wife,” Tracey Hepner.

  • Norman Teigen

    To call the President a traitor marks you as a public sinner. Go to your pastor and repent of your sin against the 4th and 8th Commandments.

    For the sake of your eternal soul, repent.

    Norman Teigen

  • Norman Teigen

    To call the President a traitor marks you as a public sinner. Go to your pastor and repent of your sin against the 4th and 8th Commandments.

    For the sake of your eternal soul, repent.

    Norman Teigen

  • Carl Vehse

    Norman, we’ve been through routine this several times. Calling a publicly lying murdering traitor a “traitor” is not a sin. Defending a traitor is.

  • Carl Vehse

    Norman, we’ve been through routine this several times. Calling a publicly lying murdering traitor a “traitor” is not a sin. Defending a traitor is.

  • Norman Teigen

    The liturgy is plain: if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. To say that the President of the United States is a traitor is a public sin..

    You are an unrepentant sinner. Call your pastor immediately and ask for Private Confession.

    You don’t have to confess to any of us in this forum, if that would help.

    Norman Teigen

  • Norman Teigen

    The liturgy is plain: if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. To say that the President of the United States is a traitor is a public sin..

    You are an unrepentant sinner. Call your pastor immediately and ask for Private Confession.

    You don’t have to confess to any of us in this forum, if that would help.

    Norman Teigen

  • Carl Vehse

    Norman, by your eisegesis you are claiming to speak for God what God has not spoken.

    I have previously explained to you by email that my description is based on public actions and statements and is not a sin against the 4th commandment, nor the 8th commandment.

  • Carl Vehse

    Norman, by your eisegesis you are claiming to speak for God what God has not spoken.

    I have previously explained to you by email that my description is based on public actions and statements and is not a sin against the 4th commandment, nor the 8th commandment.

  • Norman Teigen

    Don’t be afraid to come to Jesus, Carl. He hangs out with sinners. He doesn’t hang out with the self-righteous who deny their sin and proclaim their pious pretentiousness.

    Don’t try to convince me. Get into your pastor’s study . Your soul’s salvation is at stake.

    Norman Teigen

  • Norman Teigen

    Don’t be afraid to come to Jesus, Carl. He hangs out with sinners. He doesn’t hang out with the self-righteous who deny their sin and proclaim their pious pretentiousness.

    Don’t try to convince me. Get into your pastor’s study . Your soul’s salvation is at stake.

    Norman Teigen

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  • Gabriel E. Borlean

    @Norman, et.all.

    I still have difficulty with such statements “I would have tried to kill as many Germans as I possibly could. I wouldn’t have cared if they were Lutheran Christians or atheists. Some of the German soldiers were indeed Christians with whom, in peace, I would have worshipped… As to trying to understand this, well, just remember that when we do our duty as soldiers we are doing a good thing”

    1) WHEN you try to kill/murder as many soldiers aren’t you breaking the 5th commandment ?

    2) Also, WHEN you are attacking/on offense against another country (which has not directly attacked you … getting in to political waters here), aren’t you acting OUTSIDE your God given vocation to “defend” your country ?!?

    It is kind of scary to see how easily you would pick up arms just to kill while following an arbitrary command given by a random country (which you happen to be a citizen). Taken to its logical conclusions this Doctrine of Vocation gets into a “catch 22″ scenario, where every side can claim “I killed because it was my vocation as soldier” indiferrent of any moral motives or ethical motives. Sad.

  • Gabriel E. Borlean

    @Norman, et.all.

    I still have difficulty with such statements “I would have tried to kill as many Germans as I possibly could. I wouldn’t have cared if they were Lutheran Christians or atheists. Some of the German soldiers were indeed Christians with whom, in peace, I would have worshipped… As to trying to understand this, well, just remember that when we do our duty as soldiers we are doing a good thing”

    1) WHEN you try to kill/murder as many soldiers aren’t you breaking the 5th commandment ?

    2) Also, WHEN you are attacking/on offense against another country (which has not directly attacked you … getting in to political waters here), aren’t you acting OUTSIDE your God given vocation to “defend” your country ?!?

    It is kind of scary to see how easily you would pick up arms just to kill while following an arbitrary command given by a random country (which you happen to be a citizen). Taken to its logical conclusions this Doctrine of Vocation gets into a “catch 22″ scenario, where every side can claim “I killed because it was my vocation as soldier” indiferrent of any moral motives or ethical motives. Sad.

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