In discussing military service, with Jehovah’s Witnesses, I recommend that you say something like this: “I would like to get your take on several New Testament Scriptures that address the subject of whether it is possible to follow Christ and still serve in the armed forces.”
John the Baptist
Request that one of the Witnesses read aloud what John the Baptist said to soldiers who came to him to be baptized.
Luke 3:14: “Then some soldiers asked him, ‘And what should we do?’ He replied, ‘Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.’”
- If it was wrong for followers of Jehovah to serve in the army, why didn’t John the Baptist tell them that?
- Why did he just tell them to serve in an honorable manner?
Jesus and a Roman centurion
Moving to the views of Jesus himself, ask one of the Witnesses to read aloud the encounter between Jesus and a Roman centurion recorded in Matthew 8:5-10:
When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. ‘Lord,’ he said, ‘my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering.’ Jesus said to him, ‘I will go and heal him.’ The centurion replied, ‘Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, “Go,” and he goes; and that one, “Come,” and he comes. I say to my servant, “Do this,” and he does it.’ When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, ‘I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.’
- Roman centurions commanded a hundred soldiers. If serving in the Roman army was detestable to Jehovah, why would Jesus commend this man for his level of faith and also heal his servant?
- Why didn’t Jesus tell this man that in order to demonstrate genuine faith in Jehovah he and his servant needed to resign from the Roman army?
Direct the Witnesses’ attention also to Acts 10:1-2. Have them read it aloud: “At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly” (emphasis added).
Footnotes in the Watchtower’s 2013 New World Translation indicate that Cornelius was a centurion who was in command of 100 soldiers and that the Italian unit was a cohort or a Roman army unit of 600 soldiers.
Have the Witnesses read aloud Peter’s comment about this man in Acts 10:34-35: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right” (emphasis added).
- How is it that this man could be both a Roman military commander and “a devout and God-fearing man”?
- How could Peter describe Cornelius as a man who “fears God and does what is right” when this man was an active commander of 100 Roman soldiers?
- Invite them to show you anywhere in the Scriptures where Cornelius was told by God or Peter to give up his military career. It isn’t there.
Have you ever shown these passages to Jehovah’s Witnesses? What was their response?
Share your thoughts in the comments.