STUDY FOURTEEN: CHRISTIANS AND WAR

© Rosemary Bardsley 2006, 2016

Note: this treatment of war is very minimal.

We have seen in the previous study:

Governments are God’s agents for the preservation of life on earth. As his agents they have the responsibility to impose laws and enforce penalties within the territories they govern.

Governments are instruments of God’s judgment upon other nations. This does not absolve them of guilt for inhumane practices employed in the course of war.

 

A. GOD AND THE NATIONS

God is the God of all the earth. Whether they know it or not all nations are accountable to him – he stands in utter authority over them. He has the power to move them according to his purposes of both salvation and judgment. He is in such sovereign control that he takes hold of their wickedness and brings his good purpose to pass even through their wickedness.

What can you learn from these scriptures about the way God works with the nations? Each block of texts focuses on a specific truth.
Isaiah 40:15, 17
2Kings 18:32b-35 with 19:14-19
Job 12:23;
Psalm 22:28; 47:2,3; 66:7; 113:4; 135:10;
Isaiah 4:26-27; 41:2-4;
Ezekiel 30:21-26

 


Exodus 34:24
Deuteronomy 4:38
Deuteronomy 7:17-24
Joshua 23:3,9

 


Leviticus 18:24-28
Deuteronomy 9:1-6; 18:12;

 


Deuteronomy 2:25
1Chronicles 14:17
Jeremiah 10:10
Ezekiel 31:16a; 32:9;
Habakkuk 3:6

 

Deuteronomy 29:23-28

 

Judges 3:1,3-4


Psalm 9:19,20
Isaiah 2:4a; 34:1-2;
Ezekiel 29:2,12,15

 

Isaiah 4:26ff; 10:5-6; 13:4-5, 17-20; 45:1-6;
Jeremiah 25:8,9,15,16, 31,32; 50:9-10; 51:1,2,6-9,20-24,28;
Ezekiel 26:3-6; 28:6-7;

 


While the above texts express a number of general principles, we must also keep in mind that some of them relate specifically to Israel [the people God had chosen to be vehicles of his self-revelation and physical ancestry of the Messiah], and to the relationship of other nations to Israel. Because of this there are some aspects of the above facts which cannot be applied generally to everything that happens to any nation.

In addition, the information above about specific wars and God’s purposes in and through them was revealed by God at the time. Because God’s final self-revelation has taken place in the coming of Jesus Christ, he is no longer engaged in explaining his actions. While we can be assured of his sovereign control over the nations, and his ability to engage them as his servants without their knowledge, we simply cannot know what his purposes are in individual contemporary conflicts. We can simply trust that it is all under control and that he will bring his purposes of salvation and judgment to pass in and through international conflicts, as he has done in the past.

 

B. THE FACT OF WAR IN OUR FALLEN WORLD

The entrance of sin into the world and into the heart of man in Genesis 3 radically altered life on earth. As we have already seen in previous studies, the world as we know it is not the world as God created it.

Consider the following contrasts between the world as God created it and the world as we know it:

Then: God’s will perfectly obeyed - no sin anywhere. Now: God’s will disobeyed by all - sin everywhere.

Then: Peace between man and man. Now: Conflict between man and man.

Then: Personal security in the presence of others. Now: Personal insecurity in the presence of others.

Then: No need to preserve, protect, defend and justify self. Now: Perceived need to preserve, protect, defend and justify self.

Then: Freedom from self-focus. Now: Destructive self-focus.

Then: No jealousy or comparison with others. Now: Jealousy and comparison with others.

Then: No pride/boasting. Now: Perceived need for pride and boasting.

Then: No interpersonal rivalries. Now: Inter-personal rivalries.

Then: Perfect health. Now: Physical pain and suffering.

Then: Perfect physical environment. Now: Imperfect physical environment.

Then: Life necessities abundantly available. Now: Struggle to survive physically.

Then: No divine judgment at all. Now: God’s judgment in place everywhere.

Then: Life. Now: Death.

From the above changed conditions brought in by sin, it is easy to understand that war is inevitable in the world as we know it. These facts about life in the Genesis 3 to Revelation 21 era are the facts out of which wars are generated. They generate conflict between individuals and they generate war between nations or within nations.

This fact of war in the world as we know it has a two-fold cause:

[1] it is the inevitable expression and outworking of our sinfulness
[2] it is a result of God’s judgment on our sin of rejecting him.

When we consider God’s judgment as it is described in the Bible we find another twofold aspect:

[1] it is the legal penalty for rejection of God and disobeying God
[2] it is God allowing us to have just what we wanted – life severed from God and his boundaries. We now have to live with what we chose in Genesis 3. [See Romans 1:18-32].

The Bible gives a clear description of the propensity of man for evil.

Check these verses. What do they say about human wickedness?

Genesis 6:5:


Psalm 36:4:


Ecclesiastes 8:8:


Jeremiah 4:22b:


Mark 7:21-23:

 

Ephesians 4:17:

 

This is the human reality that we chose in Genesis 3 and this is the source of all wars.


C. ETHICAL ISSUES ARISING FROM THE REALITY OF WAR

The Christian is confronted by a number of complex issues revolving around a central question: ‘what is the appropriate attitude to war for one who belongs to Jesus Christ?’

Various Christian opinions are listed below. Some of these are in conflict with others. After having considered all of the viewpoints in a section, define your own ethical choice. Your choice may be a single perspective from those listed, or a combination of various listed perspectives, or even something quite different. It should however be able to be supported from the Scriptures.

Issue #1: God has commanded ‘You shall not murder’. Does this mean that killing in war is wrong?

What Christians say:
[1] This prohibits Christian involvement in war altogether.

[2] Christians in the armed services should avoid combat roles and become radio operators, medics, etc.

[3] The command to murder bars a person from deliberately killing another person for personal reasons. On the other hand, the OT clearly endorsed the imposition of the death penalty for various offences, so there is a difference between personal murder and killing by the instituted state authorities.

[4] Governments are responsible for the well-being and peace of their population. This validates war engaged in as a defensive operation.

[5] In the Old Testament God used wars to bring about both his judgment on nations and his saving purposes for nations. This validates Christian involvement in war.

[6] In democracies, where every elector is responsible for appointing the government, Christians cannot escape culpability for the actions of their government unless they gain abstention from voting on religious grounds. Some Christians think they should do so, others don’t.

[7] Christians’ involvement in war is okay as long as the boundaries set by the Geneva Conventions [and additional protocols] are endorsed by their government. [Check Geneva Conventions on the internet if you wish.]

[8] Nuclear, chemical and biological warfare should not be tolerated because of the killing of numerous people not officially engaged in combat.  

[9] Some countries have mandatory military service making it impossible for Christians to avoid war.

What do you say, based on your understanding of the Bible?

 

 

 

 

 


Issue #2: Christ has called us to forgiveness and peace, not to vengeance and retribution.  He told us to love those who hate us and do good to them. Does this mean Christians should not be involved in war?

What Christians say:

[1] Jesus did not defend himself in the presence of his enemies. Neither should we.

[2] We should leave vengeance to the Lord, and not pay back evil with evil.

[3] What applies on a personal level does not necessarily apply on a state/government level. While I as an individual am forbidden to retaliate, governments are responsible for the peace and wellbeing of their citizens; sometimes this necessitates responding to aggression with military force.

[4] The concept of a ‘just war’ is held by most Christians. Traditionally seven conditions have been held to render war ‘just’: formal declaration, last resort, just cause, right intention, proportionate means, non-combatant immunity and reasonable expectation. Some validation of this view of war is found by some Christians in Romans 12:17 – 13:7, where vengeance is understood to be undertaken by governments as the agents of God’s wrath and judgment.

[5] What the internal laws of a nation achieve within a nation [ensure the continuance of life and relative peace], so too international law [including engagement in justified war] has the potential to do globally. This is an evidence of God’s grace in preserving life on earth. A Christian is thus justified in involvement in military conflict, just as he/she is justified in employment in the police force or legal system within a country. By such involvement he/she is part of the God-ordained desire of preserving life on earth while the day of repentance remains.

[6] In some countries mandatory military service makes involvement in war unavoidable.

What do you say, based on your understanding of the Bible?

 

 

 

 

 


Issue #3: Is it ever valid to engage in war on the basis of religion?

What Christians say:
[1] Some say ‘yes’ because many of the Old Testament wars had a religious focus.

[2] The ‘Crusades’ were religious wars.

[3] The means justifies the ends. If by subduing a godless or idolatrous nation the way is opened up to proclaim the gospel in that land, then that war is validated.

[4] Christ did not command his followers to gain converts through military means, but through the proclamation of the good news about him – by teaching the people of all nations to obey everything he had commanded.

[4] The concept of the Gospel as the ‘gospel of peace’ outlaws engaging in war in order to promote Christianity.

[5] Christians are engaged in a war, but it is a war against spiritual enemies, not physical ones.

[6] Contemporary wars in which both sides are identified by their religion confuse the issue, because the assumed religious affiliation is more a national or political affiliation than a religious one. Religion has been confused with nationality or political alignment. This has the effect of bringing religion in to disrepute.

What do you say, based on your understanding of the Bible?