Biblical Foundations for Chaplaincy

Where are chaplains in the Bible? There are no chaplains in the Holy Scriptures, but the great story-line of the Bible naturally produces an activity of the Church that looks like chaplaincy, no matter what you might call it. The church reaches out to bless the world around it, regardless of how people respond to the call of the gospel. We do so because God blesses the world he loves, even if the world doesn’t bless him back. We are merciful, because God is merciful. God’s work of mercy and blessing are the twin foundations of Christian chaplaincy.

The Character of God

We start with the nature of God. God loves the world.

For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that everyone who believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

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The Holy Aura of Chaplains and the Realm of the Sacred

Chaplains perform a variety of functions. Depending on the setting, they counsel individuals and families, advise leadership, teach an assortment of subjects, pray, lead worship, conduct rites and sacraments, assist clients with practical matters and a perform host of other duties.

In some settings, chaplains are recognizably religious. In others, they are hard to distinguish from social workers or psychologists.

I recently heard an address given by the president of a professional organization which board-certifies chaplains. In his speech, he argued that clients should not even know what religious body a chaplain represents. Clients will make assumptions about the chaplain which will invariably get in the way or lead to disappointment. In a way, that makes sense. Those whom chaplains assist do not always belong to the chaplain’s own faith group, either broadly or narrowly. Many are not religious at all.

He also said that chaplains should keep prayer out of the relationship. Again, I understand his point. Prayer doesn’t mean the same thing across traditions, or sometimes even within traditions.

I don’t think, however, that the speaker was correct. I think the people we work with have the right to know who we are and who we represent. If the therapeutic value of the encounter lies at least partly in the relationship, honesty and transparency are important.

Moreover, the word “chaplain” itself carries a religious connotation. Unless you explain it away – “No, I’m a secular humanist chaplain” – to introduce yourself as a chaplain is to claim a religious identity. That identity may be an recognizable faith tradition or it may be a diffuse contemporary spirituality, but it’s still religious.

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Christian Chaplains and God’s Promise to Abraham

The Apostle Paul said, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:29).  And what was that promise?

  • Descendants and land. A people and a place.
  • Greatness and blessings in general.
  • Justice. Holding the world accountable for its treatment of God’s covenant people.
  • And lastly, that “all the peoples of the earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:3)

In the Christian view, the church stands in continuity with the people of God from Abraham to Moses to the kings, priests, prophets and sages of the Old Testament. The various threads of the Old Testament story begin with Abraham and come to full maturity in Christ Jesus, who continues to exercise his many offices in the church until he comes again.

God is fulfilling – in a small way – part of his promise to Abraham through Christian chaplains, spiritual heirs of the patriarch who bless the world beyond the local church. Christian chaplains are a gift from the church to the world. Just as the church’s committee on relief unconditionally feeds, shelters and nurses the hungry, the sick and the injured, so our chaplains care for those with inward hungers and wounds.

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The Victory Worth the Sacrifice

What is the most important thing about the victory in WWII at the cost of a million allied combatant lives?

  1. The fact that so many allied soldiers gave their lives touches my heart. It’s a very powerful thing to contemplate.
  2. The tenacity and skill of the allied soldiers show me how to succeed in the face of great difficulties. There are lots of life lessons to be learned.
  3. The allies produced a number of scientific and technological advances that provided the world with many practical advantages, which make my life better. (This computer is the evolution of one of them!)
  4. The allied victory made it possible for me to live in Europe and Korea, which was really cool! I loved the food, the drink and all the sights! Lots of good shopping, too! Yea, allies!
  5. The allied victory freed large parts of the world from brutal dictatorships and deadly oppression, restoring hope for millions. The whole world benefits from their victory.

All are true. Only one is the reason that so many allied service members shed their blood. Only one is commensurate with the scale of the sacrifice.

Now the most important thing about Christ’s victory over sin, death and the devil is ….

We’re Mutts

My recent post on The Election of Second Sons in Genesis (and the postscript on 18th century South Carolina revolutionaries with a chip on their shoulders), reminded me of this scene from Stripes.

Like Bill Murray’s platoon of American soldiers, the church of Jesus Christ is composed of mutts and mutants. We are not by nature heirs of the kingdom and members of his family, but only by the grace of God in Jesus Christ.