As the calendar turned 1963 the number of citizens clad in uniforms of the United States’ military establishment totaled 2,667,545. Of these, the Army claimed 952,571; the Navy, 662,522; the Air Force, 863,287; and the Marines, 189,165.
This means that a population virtually that of the state of Iowa or of the nation of Ireland has in the main been uprooted from normal community associations and maintains its spiritual ties at the least under great stress. This issue of CHRISTIANITY TODAY concentrates on the spiritual predicament of American servicemen, reflects the vital faith of some who gladly bear their testimony to the grace of God in Jesus Christ, and suggests some avenues for reaching service personnel with the Gospel.
A military chaplain usually has 850–900 men under his care. Since these men are more strenuously preoccupied and more mobile than most churchgoers, the responsibility for the religious program at the various military bases rests actually with the commanding officer, and not with the chaplain. The chaplain, of course, is accountable to the commanding officer, and formulates and implements the spiritual activities. In round numbers, there are 3,300 chaplains in the Armed Forces: 1,300 in the Army, 900 in the Navy, and 1,100 in the Air Force.
CHRIST GIVES NEW LIFE
As for all people, the greatest need of persons in military service is salvation from sin through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of men. Apart from reliance on him there is no true joy or peace of mind—only ultimate futility, in this world, and God’s judgment of the sinner to follow. My own experience is that faith in Christ results in an entirely new inner life, one of joy and peace of mind, and complete assurance of an eternity as a child of God in His kingdom. In fact, I know personally the living Lord Jesus Christ.
Although chapel attendance figures give only a vague picture of the spiritual concern and depth of military men, they are of some value. The weekly religious services for all faiths are attended by 800,000 (380,000 Army, 120,000 Navy, and 300,000 Air Force). These numbers, on the one hand, include dependents and visitors; on the other hand, they do not reflect that proportion of the military who worship off base.
SUSTAINING FAITH IN CHRIST
The assurance of spiritual birth has made all the difference in my military service. For the most part my career has been a life of stimulating opportunity, but there have been times when the crevasse of disaster was bridged only by a sustaining faith in Christ our Saviour and Lord.
When I accepted a commission in our Navy some twenty years ago the privilege and responsibility of leadership became mine. Acceptance of Christ was quite like this. Then, too, I assumed leadership responsibility, but love for Him has provided the motivation. He who sealed this commission has also led me into many avenues of Christian service.
The Navy has afforded marvelous opportunity for development of talent. I am grateful I can use my talents for Him.
Some home churches have been drawn into an energetic program of spiritual watchcare as their young men and women have entered the various services and traveled throughout the free world. Other churches, however, have viewed the inductions simply as an unfortunate loss from the ranks of church youth, and have regarded the military complex of modern life with little more than a feeling of frustration. Actually much can be done by the home church both to prepare its young people for military service and to preserve spiritual encouragement during their absence.
1. The church must urge parents to steep their children from birth in “the nurture and admonition of the Lord” as the best preparation for any life, whether it be at home or away from home.
2. It must emphasize a conversion experience as basic for entrance into the kingdom of God.
3. It can encourage extensive pastoral counseling, particularly during the period before entry into the military.
4. It must emphasize the substance and rationale of Christian ethics in all church departments.
5. Pastor and people should maintain faithful contact with servicemen through letters, packages, and reading material.
6. The church should be faithful in prayer support through individual and family devotions, pastoral prayers, and prayer meetings.
7. It can establish and maintain contact with the chaplains of its service people.
8. It can encourage young people to enter the chaplaincy as an avenue of Christian service.
THE WISDOM OF CHRISTIAN DECISION
Have you seen a sunrise from a mountain top or a sunset at sea? Isn’t there a majestic beauty about it? Have you smelled, on a hot day at high noon, a city slum or a battlefield after the action has passed? Isn’t there an inexplicable revulsion to it? These are parts of the world God and man have created—beauty, revulsion—God-made, man-made. So it has been throughout history.
Christ was here some nineteen hundred years ago, lived thirty-three years and returned. In his short life span he explained for us the sights that mystify and the smells that sicken; the morality that stimulates and creates and the degradation that desecrates and destroys; the understanding, love, and devotion that make us very human and the mistrust, hate, and deceit that make us very inhuman. He explained these things very clearly. Wouldn’t we be wiser if we listened to him? Wouldn’t we bear our responsibilities more easily? Wouldn’t our decisions be more decisive? A Christian decision adds meaning to a world in crisis.
Churches located near military installations have additional opportunities, since the American military policy encourages chaplains to cooperate with religious leaders of the community. Although no official regulation requires local churches to clear their special efforts among the servicemen with military authorities, commanding officers and chaplains prefer this be done as a matter of “good taste.” Problems have sometimes arisen when persons unrelated to any of the local churches have promoted programs of one kind or another, or when chaplains of liberal persuasion have sought to impede evangelical activity. Many churches, however, through a wholesome relationship with the officers of nearby bases have entered into remarkable opportunities for spiritual ministry. Some possible areas of practical activity are the following:
1. Teams for meeting servicemen and personally inviting them to the services and activities of the church.
2. Instruction classes for church members in how to reach military men for Christ.
3. Special church functions designed primarily for servicemen.
4. Invitations into church homes and family life, even “adoption” of servicemen for the duration of their local stay.
5. Provision of Christian magazines, books, and pamphlets for servicemen personally and at base libraries.
6. Cooperation with local organizations such as YMCA, YWCA, and Christian Servicemen’s Centers.
AN EVER INCREASING EXPERIENCE
Seven years ago I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Saviour. Since then my life has changed from a normal military life to an ever increasing experience with Jesus as I dedicate each day to him and see his will come to pass through and around me. I have turned my life and military career over to him, knowing that he has the power to bless or terminate either at any time. As a result, my military efficiency and effectiveness have increased, for he has to a great extent freed me from the fears of this world. In order to obtain the right to be heard in the military service, one must first be an outstanding military man. Therefore, all that I do, say, or think must be to the glory of God.
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