By Steve Wallace
“Church of Christ Chaplains” are increasingly becoming a common part of Air Force chapel staffs. There are many such chaplains in Germany alone. It is our purpose in this article to look at some of the responsibilities of a chaplain, some pertinent passages from the Bible and some conclusions we may draw.
Having already had the opportunity to talk to chaplains on a number of occasions, I recently visited an Air Force Chapel with the expressed intention of learning more about a chaplain’s duty. As always, I found everyone to be very cordial and helpful. The chaplains and their staff take their work seriously and provide many helpful services to Air Force personnel and their families. However, I do not believe that these facts alone make them right before God.
A Chaplain’s Work
The Air Force generally recognizes three main religious groups within which all chaplains function: Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant. The “Church of Christ Chaplain” falls into the category of a “Protestant.” While a chaplain’s primary responsibility is to meet the spiritual needs of those of his “faith,” he must also preach for denominations whose ministers are away. In addition to this, he must take his turn preaching for the “Protestant Service,” a general service for members of all Protestant denominations. Besides these things, we need to note some of the rules governing the work of a chaplain.
He must fulfill his responsibilities under certain constraints. For example, there are rules against “proselytizing. ” In other words, a “Church of Christ Chaplain” must be careful what he says while preaching for Protestant services. He could neither preach the truth on how one becomes a Christian, nor expose the sinfulness of the false practices so common among Protestant denominations. In addition to the above, if a chaplain begins to teach that which his faith does not believe and loses endorsement from the church he represents, he must separate from the Air Force within 24 hours. These are some serious restrictions.
Being a Chaplain is Not A Work for a Christian
(Note: By “Christian,” I mean someone who has been baptized “into” Christ, ‘for the remission of sins” [Rom. 6.-3; Acts 2:38]).
1. A New Testament Evangelist Must Reprove Error. Paul tells Timothy to “preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:2). Paul exemplified this not only in his dealings with brethren but also with those in religious error. The record in Acts shows that he regularly went into synagogues and “so spake” (14:1) that people were moved to either be for Christ or against him (k:f. also 17:1-5; 18:1-6). When we add to this Jesus’ constant reproving of the error among the Jews (e.g. Matt. 12:1-13) and the example of the prophets of the Old Testament, it is difficult to imagine a child of God taking on a work which forbids him following their example. The “Church of Christ Chaplain” finds himself On the plains of Ono (Neh. 6:2), unable to do the work of the Lord.
2. Fellowships Error. The word “fellowship” simply means “sharing in common” (Vines). When a Christian actively takes part in a denominational service he is sharing in that which is wrong (cf. 1 Cor. 10: 16-2 1). Because he cannot speak against that which is wrong he lends his influence to it. Those who see him in services will believe that he agrees with what goes on in Protestant services because he takes an active part. Because he takes an active part, he can never argue for the sinfulness of it. It would be like teaching against drunkenness with a bottle of whiskey in your hand. Fellowshipping error is a sin that must be repented of before one can ever teach against error.
1. If one Christian can worship regularly with non-Christians all can. I am unable to see how this consequence can be denied. What is right for one Christian is right for all.
2. Christians should cease their opposition to denominational doctrines. Such teaching as salvation by faith only, worship with the church of your choice, baptism by sprinkling, etc., can be fellowshipped without opposition by our “Chaplain brethern.” The rest of us can therefore do the same. If we can be a part of something we ought not oppose it.
3. Churches of Christ will become full-fledged denominations. Since the “Church of Christ Chaplain” must have the endorsement of the church he represents, some churches of Christ must be sanctioning Christians becoming chaplians. It is hard for me to see how a church can sanction a member being part of denominationalism without admitting that is is a part of denominationalism itself. When we add to this the fact that many in Churches of Christ recognize saved people in all denominations, this consequence seems undeniable.
The practice of Christians becoming chaplains is simply a compromise with error. What is needed today is what has always been needed: Christians need to stand apart and opposed to error. The line between darkness and light must be made clear both by our teaching and by our example (1 Tim. 4:16).
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 20, pp. 609, 630
October 18, 1990