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