Saluting our Military and Military Chaplains

Pastor’s Post #20: “SALUTING OUR MILITARY AND MILITARY CHAPLAINS” ” (05/27/’17)

For this program, we want to salute those serving in the military, and especially those serving as military chaplains. We think far too little about those men and women who serve such a critical role in defending our nation and assisting in the defense of our allies around the world.

There are, of course, those who conscientiously object to some or all forms of military service, believing that warfare involves a violation of the sixth commandment: “You shall not kill.” While we should respect those with such convictions – and while we should honestly admit the devastation and horrors of war – the Word of God simply does not endorse pacifism.

• The sixth commandment is a prohibition – not of all taking of human life – but of murder.
• Israel as a nation was frequently involved in wars for its own national defense against invading nations.
• In the New Testament, centurions and others involved in military service were never called to abandon their posts because they had become followers of Jesus Christ.
• And governments – what are often called the “Civil Magistrates” – are called (in the 13th chapter of the New Testament book of Romans) to “bear the sword” as instruments of God’s justice. Governing authorities (not private individuals) are called “servants of God…(avengers) who carry out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” They are meant to be “terrors” to “bad conduct”, whether in carrying out civil punishments, or, by extension, in what are called “just wars.” As the Westminster Confession of Faith affirms: Governing authorities “may lawfully, now under the new testament, wage war upon just and necessary occasion.”

And, given all of this, we should appreciate far more than we do those who have served and do serve our nation in the military – especially in defense of our national existence and freedom, and also in securing the freedom of nations and peoples who were (or are now) under the yoke of tyranny. And we think especially of the untold numbers of those who gave what Abraham Lincoln called “the last full measure of devotion” in giving their very lives in the service of their country. The Word of God rightly says, “Greater love has no man than this, that he lays down his life for his friends.” That is a human representation of the perfect divine love that gave itself in the unique death of Jesus Christ: The greatest life-giving on the battlefield of the cross – the battle that secured freedom for Christ’s friends – His people. His Church.

The sheer size of our national military makes it a major sphere for Christian ministry. Well over one million men and women are on active duty in the United States Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Corps, and the Coast Guard. Each day those serving their country face challenges that civilians can barely grasp:

• The ethical issues of submission to authority as well as the larger issues of the ethics of warfare.
• The strain on families when one or both parents must be away for service abroad.
• The temptations facing husbands and wives during long periods of separation.
• The unique stresses of being on the front lines of warfare, terrorist attacks, enemy traps, and sudden death that can take you or those around you.
• The challenge of war injuries that bring permanent damage to those in the prime of youth.
• The various effects of “Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome” – not infrequently leading to substance abuse, abnormal behaviors, or debilitating depression, if not suicide.

How we must pray for those who live in this world of military service. And how we must pray for those who minister in that world – especially the nearly 3000 who serve as chaplains to the various branches of the United States military.

Today, as we salute our military, I want to take you (and myself) into the special world of Christian chaplains who serve the armed forces of the United States of America. And, to be even more specific, I want us to enter the world of those who serve under the auspices of the Presbyterian and Reformed Commission on Chaplains and Military Personnel – the endorsing agency for chaplains committed to the historic Presbyterian and Reformed creeds and confessions. They hold to the doctrinal commitments that we hold on A Visit to the Pastor’s Study. But they are also a microcosm of the world of all military chaplains. In the time before us I want you to get a picture of the challenges and the opportunities of Christian service in the military – and of Christian ministry to those who serve our nation so selflessly.

My guest today is Lieutenant Cornelius Johnson, a US Navy Chaplain. Chaplain Johnson is a native of Columbia, MD. He received a Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Maryland, College Park; then went on to receive a Master of Divinity Degree from Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Greenville, SC. After seminary, he was installed as an Associate Pastor of Mt. Carmel Presbyterian Church in Somerset, NJ, where he served for 3 ½ years. Chaplain Johnson is an ordained minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and is endorsed by the Presbyterian and Reformed Commission on Chaplains and Military Personnel.

In January, 2004 Chaplain Johnson was commissioned and entered the Air Force active duty chaplaincy. After completing Officer Training School and the Basic Chaplain Course, he was assigned to the base chapel at McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita, KS, where he served as the Chaplain for the 22d Maintenance Group and Operations Group. Following that, he served in a remote assignment in Osan, Korea, where he was the Chaplain for the 51st Security Forces group, and also for the F16 fighter pilots. After this time overseas, he served as hospital chaplain at Wilford Hall Medical Center in San Antonio, TX, and then at Langley Air Force Base (where he also served as Logistics Supply Chaplain). Finally, he served as the head of the base chapel Protestant program at MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa, FL. He has deployed in support of Operations ENDURING FREEDOM and JONT TASK FORCE-BRAVO.

In August, 2015, Chaplain Johnson was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the Naval Chaplain Corps. He completed Officer Development School in Newport, RI, and also completed the Naval Chaplains Basic Course. In November, 2015 he reported to the Marine Corps Communication Electronic School in Twentynine Palms, CA, where he currently serves as a Chaplain to over 4000 Marine students, instructors, and permanent personnel.

Chaplain Johnson’s personal decorations include the Joint Service Commendation Medal, Air Force Commendation Medal, and Air Force Achievement Medal.

Chaplain Johnson and his wife, Deidre, have one son – Daniel.

Chaplain Johnson, thank you for your service to your country (and to your God!); and welcome to A Visit to the Pastor’s Study….

Yours in the King of Kings,
Pastor Bill