Peace and War (BFM #24)
A Just War; or Just A War?
Text: James 4:1
By: Ken McKinley
Now today’s sermon should be required listening for any person running for the office of President of the United States of America. Now if you’ve been with us here at church or following along at home on your TV you know why… (Just kidding we’re not on TV… yet!). But like I was saying, you know that we are on article 16 of the BFM – Peace and War! So if you will take your BFM and turn with me to article 16 I’ll read to you our doctrinal position on these issues of peace and war (Read article 16).
How many of you have ever heard the phrase, “Kill em’ all and let God sort em’ out?” You might have seen it on a novelty t-shirt, and many people think its some kind of Special Forces motto or something. Now in my time in the Army we were never taught to “Kill em’ all and let God sort them out.” In-fact the U.S. Military tries very hard to limit civilian casualties in warfare. And for the record, the motto of the Special Forces is De Oppresso Liber, which is Latin and it means “To Liberate the Oppressed.” So where does this idea of “Kill em’ all and let God sort em’ out,” come from? Well that phrase, is actually attributed to Dominic Gusman. He was the founder of the Dominican order of priests in the Catholic Church. And what happened was that he had an armed troop of “heretic hunters” and it was their job to stomp out whatever the Catholic Church deemed heresy. It just so happened that Dominic and his men came across a village that they heard contained a large number of heretics, and Guzman gave the orders to kill everyone in the town. When his military commander told him there were probably quite a few Christians mixed up with the heretics, Guzman said, “Kill them all and God will know His own.” And that’s where we get the modern variation of that phrase.
Now theologically speaking, Guzman’s phrase is correct; the Lord knows who belongs to Him. But what do you think about the idea behind it? What if we brought it into the modern context. Let’s say a group of U.S. Marines, or better yet, the 3rd Rangers came across a village in Afghanistan and they were told that in the village were a lot of Al-Qaeda supporters and even a few operatives. Would those soldiers be justified in killing everyone in the village?
What about war? A lot of people protested when we went to war in Iraq and Afghanistan (for some reason they are silent now that we have a different president). But was the United States justified in going to war in Iraq and Afghanistan? What about the first Gulf War, or Vietnam, or Korea? What about WWII and WWI? Are all wars the same?
If our faith is important to us and if we really believe that the Bible should be applied to every area of our lives, then we have to deal with issue of war.
The New Testament Church has been around for some 2000 years, and during that time, Christians have justified, rationalized, condemned and restrained from war. And the Bible teaches that wars are only going to increase until Jesus returns.
So before we can actually think theologically about the Christians “conduct” in war, we need to think theologically about the “cause” of war. The simple answer for us is that wars are caused by sin. We are fallen and every aspect of human life is marred by sin and iniquity. And so war is ultimately a reflection of and consequence of sin. There was a song done by the Christian group “The Call” back; I think, in the early 1980’s, during the height of the Cold War. And that song had a line it that went, “I don’t think there are any Russians, and their ain’t no Yanks… Just corporate criminals, playing with tanks.” And the reason I say that is because the line that separates good and evil, isn’t national or political boundaries. It isn’t drawn on a map, it’s drawn on the human heart. The heart of the human problem is the problem with the human heart.
And so wars, even though they are fought on battlefields but they are waged first in the heart, soul, and spirit of man. That’s what our text in James chapter 4 is telling us. But here’s the problem. Even though wars are started because of man’s greed, or ambition, or lust for power, or other evil desires, they aren’t always waged against the same kind of people. I mean; Poland was minding their own business when Adolph Hitler and the Nazi’s attacked them. So as Christians, what should our response be to war? Knowing that wars are started because of evil desires, but they are sometimes waged against those who did not want war.
So why are there wars? What is the cause? Sin! But can war be just or moral, and should Christians be involved? Well again; if we look at the example of Hitler invading Poland, I think we can get our answer. Some wars are fought in the defensive sense. In-fact; this is one of the reasons we have the institution of government. Turn with me to Romans 13 (Read vs. 1 & 2). Believe it or not; government is instituted by God as a means of mercy to mankind. Its primary task is to protect innocent people from aggressive elements. The police, the courts, the right of capitol punishment and the military are elements that God has ordained to protect society from the desires of sinful man. Look at verses 3 and 4 (Read). The ordinances of government don’t bear the sword in vain – in other words, government is not supposed to be symbolic, it is to have power and authority, and it is an instrument that is SUPPOSED to bring wrath on those who do evil.
Now some people say, “Well that’s the institution of government, but what about us as individual Christians?” Is it, “I’m gonna’ lay down my sword and shield, down by the river side?” Or is it, “Onward Christian soldiers! Marching as to war?”
How many of you have ever heard of the “Black Regiment?” The Black Regiment during the Revolutionary War – the US war for independence? Not the Civil War.
The Black Regiment was a group of pastors during the Revolutionary War, who opposed the tyranny of England. Many of them joined the Continental Army in the fight for freedom. They were called the Black Regiment because back in those days, pastors wore long black robes when they preached. George Washington even asked John Muhlenberg, a pastor in Pennsylvania to raise a regiment of volunteers for the U.S. effort against England. The following Sunday Muhlenberg preached a sermon from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8; and he concluded his sermon with these words, “The Bible tells us there is a time for all things and there is a time to preach, and a time to pray, but the time for me to preach has passed away, and there is a time to fight, and that time has come now. Now is the time to fight! Call for recruits! Sound the drum!” Then he took off his long black robe to reveal the uniform of a Virginia Regular, he grabbed his musket that was hiding behind the pulpit and he marched off to fight for the independence of these United States.
Turn with me to 2nd Samuel 22:32-40 (Read), who was it that taught David’s hands to make war? Who was it that armed him with strength for the battle? It was the Lord!
There is a time to fight, less evil go unchecked!
There is a saying that goes, “Evil men prosper when good men do nothing.”
If it is immoral to restrain evil then what we should do is get rid of all our police forces. We should let all the criminals out of the prison down the road. Let’s make it personal. What if a deranged killer broke into your house and pulled a knife on the people you love, your wife or husband, or your kids? Would it be immoral to stop him if you had the capabilities to do so? Absolutely not! What do you think that psychopath would do if you protested the invasion of your home? If you said, “I object to this!”
So in that sense, but on a large scale, war can be just.
But as Christians, war should never be our first option. You see, we have those institutions like jails and prisons so that we don’t have to use deadly force on people like the psychopath who would break into your home and threaten your family.
So war is not always necessarily wrong. If you are defending those you love, or those who are unable to defend themselves. If the cause is just, it’s not necessarily wrong for a Christian to participate in warfare, or combat. But again the cause must be just, we’ve got to exhaust all our options, we don’t just rush into war, and even our methods must be guided by Christ and by the Bible. What I mean by that is that we should not indiscriminately “Kill em’ all and let God sort em’ out!” And not only these things, but we should also enter war with clear goals in mind. In other words, if you are a leader and you enter a war without a clear plan to win the war, and bring about a swift peace, then you end up loosing more life, and doing more damage in the long run.
Alright… we need to move on. There’s one more point I want to go over about war before I close; and that is, God has a purpose in war.
I am not saying that God directly causes all wars. Remember, we just talked about how war is most often caused by sin, and God does not tempt us to sin, nor does He cause us to sin, and neither can He be tempted. But what people intend for evil, God often causes it to work out for good. Remember the story of Joseph in the Old Testament? He said to his brothers, “What you intended for evil, God has worked for good.” And so God has a purpose in war. The wars that men wage don’t take God by surprise. He knows and He uses them for His own purposes. So people ask, “Well what are those purposes?” And the answer to that is, “We don’t always know.”
I mean, sometimes, we know that war can be judgment. The wages of sin is death, and very few things bring about death like a war. But not only do wars bring about death, but think about how that death comes and to who its coming to. I mean, even here in the United States where we inflict far greater casualties than we sustain, who is the death coming to in our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? It’s coming to young men and women who are willing to stand up for something. It’s coming to young men and women who are willing to fight for you, and give their lives for you, and for this country. These are people who in 20 or 30 years would be leaders. Leaders in business, or politics, or maybe even in ministry. Wars take their toll in other ways too. On families, or economies, or national moral. And so sometimes war can be a type of judgment. Other times, I think war opens doors of opportunity. If you look at Japan… I honestly believe that Japan would not be the country it is today had not they been defeated in WWII. But after their defeat in WWII that country was opened up to industry, and democracy, and liberty, and most importantly – the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I’m not trying to be flippant about this, or lessen the terribleness of war in any way. Sherman was right when he said, “War is hell!” But the good news is that someday, we will beat our swords into plow shears and there will be no more war, and death, and violence and bloodshed. Someday, Jesus will come back and peace will reign supreme.
Even so, come Lord Jesus