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Why does the U.S. military have chaplains?

It is important for us to understand that the history of the chaplain corps dates back to before our nation was founded. On July 29, 1775, Congress approved General George Washington’s request to establish a chaplain corps. It had been one of Washington’s first requests, since he knew the critical need to provide for the spiritual and moral needs of those serving under his command and fighting for our independence. Each regiment would have a chaplain, and that chaplain would serve the spiritual needs of the soldiers and ensure that the free exercise of religion was carried out for all soldiers.

What does a military chaplain do?

A military chaplain is an ordained minister who has been ecclesiastically endorsed to represent his denomination and serve in the mission field of the military culture. I will place what a chaplain does in three categories based on my years of serving as a chaplain. First, a military chaplain nurtures the living by preaching, teaching, leading Bible studies, providing pastoral counseling and visitation, and providing a ministry of presence where military personnel are located. Second, a military chaplain cares for the wounded by ministering to those who are injured physically as well as those who are injured emotionally. Third, a military chaplain honors the fallen by providing memorial services, ceremonies, and funerals for those who have died in service to the nation.

How is serving as a chaplain different from serving as a pastor in a local congregation?

There are many similarities and differences. One main difference is the diversity experienced by a chaplain. A chaplain preaches to many diverse service members and interacts with many different faith groups, which is significantly different from the experience of a local minister. Also, the average size of a military unit is much larger than a local congregation. An infantry battalion might include eight hundred to nine hundred soldiers, and the chaplain is responsible to provide for the spiritual needs of the battalion’s soldiers and those of their families.

What led you to become a military chaplain?

Ultimately, I felt called by our Lord to serve in this amazing mission field. I desired to minister in a setting where there was significant diversity and sacrifice and in a global setting that allowed me to minister around the world. There was strong patriotic spirit within me, and I desired to serve those who were willing to sacrifice for our nation.

What is the Presbyterian and Reformed Commission on Chaplains and Military Personnel (PRCC)? What does your role there entail?

The PRCC is a ministry to member denominations dedicated to obeying Christ’s Great Commission by providing teaching elders to serve as chaplains in military and civilian organizations. The commission endorses and ecclesiastically supports ordained qualified chaplains, approves chaplain candidates, and helps presbyteries and congregations engage in biblical ministry to military personnel. It is a ministry agency of seven Christ-centered Reformed Presbyterian denominations, and it was formed to ecclesiastically endorse chaplains seeking to serve in the armed forces, the Department of Veterans Affairs, federal and state prisons, hospitals, hospice, and corporate settings, and chaplains who serve sports teams and first responders.

The PRCC also provides five important specific ministries to the chaplains: to care, credential, cover, connect, and catch. These 5 C’s really sum up the main role of PRCC. My staff and I care for our chaplains and family members in support of their presbyteries by visiting them and shepherding them as specific needs surface. I credential or endorse them on behalf of their denomination. My staff and I also provide the religious liberty covering needed at times when apparent restrictions might be placed on our chaplains. We work to keep them connected with their denominations and presbyteries and with congregations that are able to pray for them and encourage their ministry.

How can churches support the work of military chaplains?

Churches can adopt or sponsor one of our chaplains and pray for them and build awareness through their missions boards. They can invite them to speak at their missions conferences and write them to encourage them in their ministry.

What is required to become a military chaplain?

To be a military chaplain, you must have a bachelor’s degree and an accredited master’s degree of at least seventy-two hours of approved theological study. You must be ordained and endorsed from your denominational faith group. The branches of service also require at least two years of professional pastoral ministry experience. Applicants must also meet all medical standards and must be selected by military service branch selection boards. After selection, the minister must complete his service branch’s chaplain officer basic course.

Have there been any new challenges over the past few years in the military that have made it more difficult to be a chaplain?

As culture changes and becomes more secular, there have been growing challenges for our chaplains. Yet our chaplains remain faithful, as Daniel did while working in the king’s court. They cooperate with other faith groups without compromising their faithful calling to preach Christ and Him crucified.

How do military chaplains remain faith­ful when they’re pushed to compromise on issues such as biblical sexuality?

PRCC chaplains boldly stand firm for their convictions, their ordination vows, and their doctrinal beliefs. They have their ecclesiastical support and covering as well as the constitutional law behind them. PRCC chaplains know that they do not have to compromise their faith in a pluralistic setting, and the laws of our land still protect them and allow them the freedom to live out their calling. For example, if a PRCC chaplain were asked to perform any duty that violated his doctrinal beliefs or the tenets of his denomination, he would not have to do so. This is where the church, the PRCC, and the law intersect to protect all our chaplains and give them the support they need. The government cannot force a chaplain to violate his conscience or go against his ordination vows. These are men of courage and character working in the king’s court who will not bow down.

What kind of freedom do Christian chaplains have to engage in evangelism?

PRCC chaplains have countless opportunities to share the love and grace of Christ. They are free to live out their faith and have opportunities to preach, teach, and meet with service members who are interested in learning about the Christian faith. They are also able to conduct classes on religion and faith. They have both direct and indirect opportunities to express the true gospel of Christ. Daily they are able to share that we are saved by faith alone in Christ alone by grace alone.

What are some of the distinctive needs that service members have?

There are many distinctive needs. There are deployments, long separations from family members, and the calling to serve in a profession of arms that requests that you lay down your life for your country if called upon. There is the trauma that service members are sometimes exposed to and many other challenges that go along with combat and intense military training. Service members also release a certain amount of control over their lives and decisions as they submit to the chain of command and those in authority over them, always trusting in God’s sovereignty.

What kinds of duties do Christian chaplains have in relation to non-Christian service members?

Every service member is created in the image of God and is to be treated accordingly. Chaplains shepherd all the service personnel by performing and providing for their needs, whether through counseling or by assisting them through a crisis. PRCC chaplains have the same duties that a pastor would have to his community at large. They are there to be a witness for Christ and to let the light of Christ shine in a fallen world. Through their word, walk, and witness, they are there to lead non-Christian service members to our gracious Savior in just the same way that a local minister serves in his city.

A military chaplain is an ordained minister who has been ecclesiastically endorsed to represent his denomination and serve in the mission field of the military culture.

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