How should Chrisitians respond to the stirrings or war? Do we simply refuse to participate? Or do we do our duty and fight for our country? This article is a bit of primer on how we as Christians should begin to approach the problem of war time.
God has given the civil magistrate "the sword" to punish wrongdoers. Consider what Paul says in Romans 13:4-7:
For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
God has given rulers the power to back up their laws with force. This includes capital punishment and the power to go to war. Throughout history, this power has been used both for the right or wrong reasons.
There are few different schools of thought when it comes to Christians going to war:
- Pure pacifism
- Blind nationalism ie. "My country is never wrong"
- And finally, what may be considered a "just war"
This position holds the opinion that no Christian may ever take up arms in self-defence. This includes the defence of ones country, and of themselves. While they are correct in understanding that Christians are called to be pacifists in the sense that we love peace and pursue it, they fail to take into account that the Bible has said that we are permitted to defend ourselves and our families. Consider Exodus 22 and Luke 22:35-37:
If a thief is caught breaking in at night and is struck a fatal blow, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed Exodus 22:2
Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything? “Nothing,” they answered. He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.” Luke 22:35-37
Please do not misunderstand my position here, the use of the sword should be used as restraining/preventative device and only deployed as a means of last resort.
This position holds the opinion that because God has bestowed the power of the sword on the state, that they must be obeyed at all times. In many ways, people that hold this position worship the state as in their eyes, they believe that it can do no wrong. This position fails to take into account that human nature is fundamentally corruptible and that no system is perfect. We are also called to civil disobedience when our leaders inevitably start to follow a path of corruption or evil. See 1 Kings 18, Joshua 2, Exodus 1, 1 Samuel 14:45, Acts 4:19-20 and Acts 5:29.
I think civil disobedience might be better summed up in its own article, as there is a lot to unpack there.
The Just War
The just war fits somewhere between these two extremes and has been advocated by many Christian ethicists and theologists including Augustine, Constantine, Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin.
But what defines the just war? Simply put, the declaration of war should come from a place of mourning, it must be declared by a legitimate, just and god-fearing authority, waged as a last resort and with a resaonable chance of success. With such things, stringent moderation must be employed. Most importantly, the outcome must outweigh the cost of the destructive methods used.
Christians should oppose wars of aggression, because they are born only out of hatred and fear, vices the enemy uses to pit us against one another. A just war is defensive in nature. It is good and honourable to die protecting ones borders against an aggressor.
Granted, this a lot easier to say than to actually practice - the fog of war and the limited information and propaganda passed down to us make it ever increasingly difficult to distinguish truth from fiction.
Mournful prayer, fasting and reading of scripture is required here to truly interpret God's will on the matter. We must be careful not to act carelessly, Christians should strive to be above reproach.