I guess it is not surprising that Calvin discusses war considering his view on humanity. It was a little surprising to me that Calvin would lift up “the state” to a called office of God (Institutes, 4.20). Calvin divides up the military (student paraphrased) into different areas. The areas do line up to similar current military mission around the world. Calvin describes the “garrison” as the troops stationed within its own borders for protection (Institutes, 4.20.12). He describes “leagues” as troops who in foreign lands to aid in another’s defense (Institutes, 4.20.12). He calls the “civil defenses” as troops used in wartime missions (Institutes, 4.20.12).
I will try to draw upon some of more popular or current military practices to compare and contrast. Our “garrison” today sounds very similar to a homeland security mission. The job of protecting borders and keeping America safe lies here. Police, Drug Enforcement, and other civil authorities may also fit nicely into this category.
The term “Leagues” seems to fit the American Military category. We have military forces stationed all over the world involved in peace-keeping missions. Forces in Germany, South Korea, and Japan are just a few of examples of what Calvin may say in the present world condition.
The “civil defenses” may be better described today as War Fighters. The United States has been at war for over a decade. Regardless of personal beliefs, Calvin addresses and even gives conditions for war. Specifically, he addresses “to help those forcibly oppressed” and “to punish evil deeds” (Institutes, 4.20.11).
We have been at war continuously for many years. Does America believe that we are still punishing evil deeds or helping those oppressed? The government has the power to declare war, but do the Americans have the stomach to see it through? Radical people exist all over and Calvin acknowledges the ability of “the state” to seek justice. Is it important to our society today to seek out Christian leaders or just leaders? If the chosen leaders are not Christian, how might that impact those who are led? Where would non-Christians leaders seek wisdom (in the absence of Scripture or Christian Beliefs)?