Christians and War (Part2)

Part 1 is here:

The early Christians were not warmongers like so many Christians today. They did not idolize the Caesars like some Christians do Republican presidents. They did not make apologies for the Roman Empire like many Christians do for the U.S. Empire. They did not venerate the institution of the military like most Christians do today. They did not participate in the state’s wars like too many Christians do today. If there was anything at all advocated by the early Christians it was peace and nonviolence.

Aggression, violence, and bloodshed are contrary to the very nature of Christianity. There is nothing in the New Testament from which to draw the conclusion that killing is somehow sanctified if it is done in the name of the state. As explained by the famed nineteenth-century British Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon: “The Church of Christ is continually represented under the figure of an army; yet its Captain is the Prince of Peace; its object is the establishment of peace, and its soldiers are men of a peaceful disposition. The spirit of war is at the extremely opposite point to the spirit of the gospel.”(More on Spurgeon here)

Back before the so-called Civil War in the United States, a Baptist minister writing in the Christian Review demonstrated that Christian war fever was contrary to the New Testament: “Christianity requires us to seek to amend the condition of man. But war cannot do this. The world is no better for all the wars of five thousand years. Christianity, if it prevailed, would make the earth a paradise. War, where it prevails, makes it a slaughter-house, a den of thieves, a brothel, a hell. Christianity cancels the laws of retaliation. War is based upon that very principle. Christianity is the remedy for all human woes. War produces every woe known to man.” There is nothing “liberal” about opposition to war. There is nothing “anti-American” about opposition to militarism. And what could be more Christian than standing firmly against aggression, violence, and bloodshed?There has, unfortunately, persisted throughout history the theologically schizophrenic idea among some Christians that mass killing in war is acceptable, but the killing of one’s neighbor violates the sixth commandment. I have termed this the Humpty Dumpty approach. But as the aforementioned Spurgeon said: “If there be anything which this book denounces and counts the hugest of all crimes, it is the crime of war. Put up thy sword into thy sheath, for hath not he said, ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ and he meant not that it was a sin to kill one but a glory to kill a million, but he meant that bloodshed on the smallest or largest scale was sinful.”

So when did the early church go astray? Undoubtedly, it was the accession to power of the emperor Constantine. When the empire allied itself with the church, it was the church that changed more than the empire. Instead of spreading Christianity by persuasion and being persecuted for it, some Christians began persecuting those who could not be persuaded. This Constantinian mindset is alive and well today. When Jerry Falwell said that America should chase down terrorists all over the world and “blow them all away in the name of the Lord,” he was expressing a sentiment widely held by conservative Christians.

After Constantine came just war theory.

War is mentioned over two hundred times in the Bible. The overwhelming majority of these instances concern in some way the nation of Israel. This fact is extremely important, because the president of the United States is not God, America is not the nation of Israel, the U.S. military is not the Lord’s army, the Christian’s sword is the word of God, and the only warfare the New Testament encourages the Christian to wage is against the world, the flesh, and the devil.

Yet, just war theory is untenable because it is difficult to know with sufficient confidence whether all of its conditions have been met, because some of its tenets are impossible to realize, because the criteria of just war theory are too flexible, because it contradicts itself in that it sanctions the killing of innocents, which it at the same time prohibits, and because it is used to justify rather than to prevent war. Indeed, just war theory can be used effectively by all sides to justify all wars. Every government, every ruler, every soldier, every citizen – they all think their country’s wars are just.But just war theory has nothing to do with war in the Bible. Christian just war theory began as the attempt by Augustine to reconcile Christian participation in warfare with the morality of New Testament Christianity. In its essence, just war theory concerns the use of force:when force should be used and what kind of force is acceptable. The timing of force relates to a country’s justification for the initiation of war or military action; the nature of force relates to how military activity is conducted once a country commits to use force. The principle of the just war is actually many principles, all of which must be met for a war to be considered just. A just war must have a just cause, be in proportion to the gravity of the situation, have obtainable objectives, be preceded by a public declaration, be declared only by legitimate authority, and only be undertaken as a last resort. A war that is not justifiable is nothing short of mass murder.

Just war theory says that a war is just if certain conditions and rules are observed. But how can you make rules for slaughter and mayhem? By sanctifying war while attempting to curtail its manner and frequency, just war theory merely allowed Christians to make peace with war. That just war theory is used to defend the war in Iraq shows just how useless it is. Waging the war in Iraq is against every Christian just war principle that has ever been formulated.

But not only is just war theory not based on Scripture, it is rooted in blind obedience to the state, which, the last time I read my Bible, is not a tenet of New Testament Christianity. War is nothing but a form of state-sponsored violence. It is the state that decides to go to war, not the people, most of whom want nothing to do with war. The state always claims that it is acting defensively, has the right intention, has the proper authority, is undertaking war as a last resort, has a high probability of success, and that a war will achieve good that is proportionally greater than the damage to life, limb, and property that it will cause. What good is just war theory if it can be used by both sides in a conflict?

After just war theory came the Crusades, where conquest was conflated with conversion, followed by the continual wars of religion among European Christians. The ultimate picture of the folly of war is the bloodbath perpetrated by the Christian nations in World War I. From 1914 to 1918, in battle after senseless battle, Christian soldiers in World War I shot, bombed, torpedoed, burned, gassed, bayoneted, and starved each other and civilians until twenty million of them were wounded and another twenty million lay dead. The conduct of Christians in the United States before and during the Great War was shameful.

But even without the massive government propaganda campaign that was undertaken during World War I, we see the same shameful conduct among Christians regarding the war in Iraq. When Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq in March of 2003 with the announcement that our cause was just, Christians lined up in droves to support their president. They enlisted in the military. They put “W” stickers and yellow ribbons on their cars. They implored us in church to pray for the troops. They began reciting their patriotic sloganeering, their God-and-country rhetoric, and their “obey the powers that be” mantra. They dusted off their books on just war theory. They denounced Christian opponents of the war as unpatriotic, anti-American, liberals, pacifists, traitors, or Quakers


6 responses to “Christians and War (Part2)

  1. A few questions:

    1. Is murder in self-defense wrong?

    2. Is the death penalty murder?

    3. Is war, under any circumstance, ever justified?

    • Harry, glad you found the blog. Thanks for your comment! I hope to write a detailed piece on my beliefs regarding the difficult topics you proposed. So for now, I’ll keep it short.

      1) Without you qualifying “self-defense,” things are vague. Nevertheless, I hope my response is sufficient. God values and ordains life (1 Corinthians 6:19, Ezekiel 33, Genesis 9:5-6). The Bible condemns murder, i.e. any premeditated killing by an individual (Exodus 20:13). Even justified murder is a serious offense toward God and can inhibit our walk as we see with King David (1 Chronicles 28:3,8) Unintentional or accidental murder is a serious offense toward God (Deuteronomy 19:4). Murder out of vengeance is always condemned in Scripture (Romans 12:19, 1 Peter 2:14). The Bible does not condemn protection of life and of loved ones in self-defense in life threatening situations (Exodus 22:2-3). The Bible does give responsibility to the head of the household to provide and protect those under his leadership(1 Timothy 5:8). Jesus advocated some form of future self-defense, although not specific (Luke 22:36). In summary, we should avoid taking another life if at all possible. If it comes down to the slaughter of ourselves and family, I believe the Bible warrants self defense even unto murder. It is important to “rightly divide the scripture” by applying passages in their proper context.

      2) Yes, are you wanting a qualifier? God’s law commanded the death penalty for murder and a few other forbidden actions (Exodus 21:12). Many times God gave mercy where death was due; king David is an example who committed murder. All sin should be punished by death but God is gracious (Romans 6:23). Government is ordained by God to punish the wicked and we are in submission to the ruling authority, assuming it does not violate God’s law (Romans 13). We are not to take vengeance into our own hands, as I showed above.

      3) This is more difficult, as justification is subjective to our fallen minds. I’ll try to stay quick here. We need to make a clear distinction between a holy war and a just war. A true holy war is one specifically commanded by God to Old Testament Israel. The commands to do battle in the Old Testament were for a particular group of people for a particular time, for a particular purpose. That purpose has been accomplished, and no one can claim a “holy war” today.

      Offensive wars, as we have been fighting, which are not Constitutional and were waged on faulty premise, are absolutely not of God. War is only justified for defence (Romans 13:1-8). It should not be used to expand a nation’s boundaries, or to take control of another nation, or to extract trade advantages. This is a fundamental principle. A nation should never need to establish military domination in another region or nation. Total war, as it has been practised in this last century, is prohibited by the Bible. Those engaged in war are prohibited from attacking and damaging the land (Deut 20). The same protection would apply to women and children. Non-combatants should also be protected.

      God determines the appointed times of the nations and the timing of their rule. (Acts 17:26). No nation has the authority to invade another nation to change its government (even if it is evil). A nation cannot even be invaded to establish democracy. (Democracy must come from the hearts of the people, it cannot be enforced from the outside.) Most attempts by great powers to establish “better” government by force in other nations have failed, because the spiritual forces that control the nation have not been defeated (Dan 10:13).

      The current war in Afghanistan/Iraq does not fit with these principles. The people who organised the attack on the World Trade Center(if it was Taliban), committed a dreadful crime and should be punished as criminals. However, the nation of Afghanistan did not attack the United States. The Taliban did not attack the United States. Afghanistan/Iraq may be harbouring the criminals who organised the attack, but that is not a justification for war. We may dislike the Taliban intensely, but that does not justify war against them. The United States does not have the right to determine who should govern Afghanistan/Iraq. (The Taliban gained power through victory in a civil war. This is the same way that the current federal system in the United States was established). The United States is not defending itself against an attack by Afghanistan, so it is not justified in attacking Afghanistan.


  2. Pingback: Christians and War (Part2) | Find Freedom |

  3. Pingback: Christianity and War (Part3) | Find Freedom

  4. 1. Self-defense needs no explanation and is not premeditated by definition. You can not plan to kill someone by self defense.

    2. I was referring to Exodus 21 with my question and think you are contradicting your own posts with your response. Gov’t is instituted by God and He uses it to carry out justice against the wicked. Some crimes, according to Old Testament law, should be punished by death. Jesus affirmed that He came to fulfill the law, not to abolish it in Matthew 5:17. My point is that some crimes deserve death (murder by your definition, not mine), and the Bible clearly backs that up.

    3. Though our minds are fallen, we have the perfect Word of God to direct our paths. If war is ever justified, and you hinted that it is, your three blog posts on war aren’t relevant. They would become relevant if you pointed ONLY to the problems with the current wars compared to Scripture (not the constitution, as it is not the proper litmus test for the Christian). Making statements like, “war is nothing but a state sponsored form of violence” is in contradiction to your reply above.

    I want to encourage you to rest in the sovereignty of God. Though we look around at our fallen world and think it is all crashing down, there is a God who reigns on His thrown!

    Consider some of my favorite passages on God’s sovereignty:

    “And at the end of the days I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me, and I blessed the most High, and I praised and honoured him that liveth for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation: And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?” Daniel 4:34-35

    “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes.” Proverbs 21:1

    “As for man, his days are like grass; As a flower of the field, so he flourishes. When the wind has passed over it, it is no more, and its place acknowledges it no longer.
    But the lovingkindness of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep His covenant and remember His precepts to do them. The Lord has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all.” Psalm 103:15-19

    “He ruleth by his power for ever; his eyes behold the nations: let not the rebellious exalt themselves.” Psalm 66:7


    • 1) I never claimed self-defense was premeditated, that’s an unwelcome straw man. You asked if murder in self-defense is wrong. The Biblical answer can be either yes or no, dependent upon the nature of any given incident. Exodus 22 shows us that some murder in self-defense is wrong.

      2) You seem to be writing in circles concerning what I just clearly explained via Biblical passage.

      3) Another straw man concerning the Constitution and a litmus test here, unmerited to say the least. Somewhere you must have misread the entire response to original questions, as if the supplied Scripture was nonexistent. Relevant to you, to the Bible, to others, to war, to what? Your language seems to indicate that somehow I have exhausted all of my thoughts on war; did I indicate that? I think not. The article is clear about which wars are being considered, as is my response (Which again indicated I had more to say on the topic) in showing why they are not supported by Scripture. Again, nothing contradictory here.

      I find great comfort in God’s eternal plan. I also cherish his commands and exhortations given to us in Scripture. Such articles are written to encourage professing Christians to do the same. We should take part in this unique Republic and voice our opinions so as to not forfeit the ability to proclaim the Gospel without State-induced fear. Likewise, let us carefully examine our world-views lest we worship a god made in our image.


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