Question: Is it permissible for a Christian to be in the police and carry a gun on the job?
Answer: Yes. Romans 13:1-4 tells us that God has authorized civil governing authorities. They bear the sword, verse 4 tells us, to punish those who do wrong. God has authorized civil authorities to punish criminals. Usually this is done through process of law, but laws also authorize the police to take potentially lethal action in certain situations.
We see from these scriptures that civil government, specifically the function of law enforcement, is a divinely authorized role. The police carry potentially lethal weapons as part of their divinely authorized job of preventing social chaos. They hold a terror to those who do wrong, verse 3 tells us, and in so doing, they are God’s servants (verses 4, 6).
If prowlers are outside our home, they may be armed and dangerous. It is not wrong to phone the police and ask them to confront the prowlers. It is not wrong to request legal armed protection; neither is it wrong to provide that divinely authorized armed protection. It would be hypocritical to allow Christians to request police protection and simultaneously condemn those who provide it. (We are of course not discussing the problem of police who abuse their position.)
Police are carrying out a divinely authorized job that is needed for social stability. They carry weapons not for personal revenge or anger, but to protect and help others. In many cases, they risk their lives to save others. We do not require them to quit this in order to be considered Christian.
In the first century, soldiers did the work now done by police. Some of these soldiers, probably Jewish soldiers, asked John the Baptist what they should do to repent (Luke 3:14). He told them, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely — be content with your pay.” He said nothing about putting away their swords. A few years later, Cornelius the centurion was baptized, and nothing was said about his occupation. Even as a sword-carrying centurion, he was considered devout and righteous (Acts 10:2, 22). There was nothing unrighteous about his role in enforcing the law.
In some translations, the sixth commandment says, “You shall not kill” (Exodus 20:13). But the same law code also prescribed the death penalty for many transgressions. The people who carried out the death penalty were upholding the law, not breaking it. The meaning of the sixth commandment is, as most translations convey, “You shall not murder.” The distinction between kill and murder recognizes the fact that under some circumstances taking human life is permissible or divinely mandated. Under those circumstances, which would include proper law enforcement, taking human life is not a sin. It is therefore permissible for a Christian to work in law enforcement, because that is a divinely authorized role. Policemen may be baptized, and Christians may join the police.
Question: Should military service be viewed in the same way as police work?
Answer: Military service, although it can include functions similar to law enforcement, is much more complex. One major difference is that military personnel are not allowed to quit whenever they want. One week they might be commanded to serve as police, but theoretically the very next week they might be commanded to fight as aggressors. They are not allowed to quit at such moments simply because they don’t feel the action is right, or because they feel the government has given them biased information.
For this reason, we believe that Christians who are considering joining the military should carefully and prayerfully consider the commitment they would be making and their reasons for making it. We do not believe that it is a sin to join the military. (Some nations require all citizens to serve a term in the military, and in such cases it is usually wise to serve the required term. Christians often have the option of noncombatant roles.)
We also support those who for conscience reasons believe they should avoid conscription into military service. Being a conscientious objector for right reasons is an honorable position to hold.
When police are ordered to do something illegal, they should refuse to do so, and they have the option of leaving such employment. When military personnel are ordered to do something ungodly, they should also refuse to do so. However, they cannot simply leave the employment of the military. Severe penalties may be involved, but Christians should obey God rather than human governments whenever there is a contradiction. If military personnel are commanded to knowingly act unjustly and be unjustified aggressors, they should refuse no matter what the penalty is. However, the church is not in a position to evaluate their situation for them. Each person must make his or her own decisions.