Whether Peace Officers, Too, Can Be Saved
What’s a Chaplain (or any Christian) to say? Officers are not looking to have you pat them on the back and say, “it’ll be alright.” They know better. Yet, by recapturing the idea of vocation - that God calls people into whatever work they do for His glory and the good of our neighbor - we can make inroads into how officers perceive their work.
In July of 1525 Assa von Kram, a counselor of Duke Ernst of Braunschweig-Lüneberg, and a professional soldier seemed to have been troubled in conscience trying to reconcile his confession of the Christian faith with his profession as a peace-keeper. He and others urged Martin Luther to publish the views which he had previously shared with them.
The question of whether a Christian might bear arms and be Peace Officers is not simply a conversational or academic matter. This and related questions cannot simply be answered in the solitude of meditation and reflection, but in the crucible of events. The Chaplain can affirm the legitimacy of the Peace Officer’s endeavor. Although we are aware of the effects of The Fall and that the calling to be a Peace Officer can be abused, we must affirm that the abuse of the position does not invalidate its legitimacy and function. Thus, we identify the Peace Officer’s endeavor with the divine institution of the sword to punish evil, protect the good, and preserve peace. (Romans 13) We also help the Peace Officer to understand how to execute his God-given office.
So, Luther’s thoughts on this matter are trenchant for today’s Peace Officers and for the Chaplains who serve them. What follows are excerpts from Luther’s treatise on this question.
“... when I think of a [peace officer] fulfilling his office by punishing the wicked, killing the wicked, and creating so much misery, it seems an un-Christian work completely contrary to Christian love. But when I think of how it protects the good and keeps and preserves wife and child, house and farm, property, and honor and peace, then I see how precious and godly this work is; and I observe that it amputates a leg or a hand, so that the whole body may not perish. For if the sword were not on guard to preserve peace, everything in the world would be ruined because of lack of peace.”
“The office of the sword is in itself right and is a divine and useful ordinance, which God does not want us to despise, but to fear, honor, and obey, under penalty of punishment, as St. Paul says in Romans 13 [:1–5]. For God has established two kinds of government among men. The one is spiritual; it has no sword, but it has the word, by means of which men are to become good and righteous, so that with this righteousness they may attain eternal life. He administers this righteousness through the word, which he has committed to the preachers. The other kind is worldly government, which works through the sword so that those who do not want to be good and righteous to eternal life may be forced to become good and righteous in the eyes of the world. He administers this righteousness through the sword.”
“When [conflict arises, Peace Officers] should simply commend themselves to God’s grace and adopt a Christian attitude...everyone should also say this exhortation in his heart or with his lips, ‘Heavenly Father, here I am, according to Your divine will, in the external work and service of my lord, which I owe first to You and then to my lord for your sake. I thank Your grace and mercy that You have put me into a work which I am sure is not sin, but right and pleasing obedience to Your will. But because I know and have learned from Your gracious word that none of our good works can help us and that no one is saved as a [peace officer] but only as a Christian, therefore, I will not in any way rely on my obedience and work, but place myself freely at the service of Your will. I believe with all my heart that only the innocent blood of your dear Son, my Lord Jesus Christ, redeems and saves me, which He shed for me in obedience to Your holy will. This is the basis on which I stand before You. In this faith I will live and die, fight, and do everything else. Dear Lord God the Father, preserve and strengthen this faith in me by Your Spirit. Amen.”