Summary: Determining the Christian's relationship to war by looking at the Bible and Church History

Annual Sermons 18-19: Vol. 5: 1991

Bob Marcaurelle


(2009 Condensed)

Copyright 2009 by Bob Marcaurelle bob marcaurelle

Is war right? Is it moral? Can it be Christian or endorsed by God? If a Christian goes to war, should he go as a combatant, willing to kill if necessary? What about “Thou shalt not kill!” (Exodus 20)? What about Jesus’ commands to not resist not evil, to turn the other cheek and to put up the sword (Matthew 6:39-40; 25:52)?

What about the opposite - God commanding Israel to go to war (Deuteronomy 20, etc.) and going with them to give them victory (Psalm 18)? What about Jesus with a whip driving the dishonest money changers out of His Father’s temple (John 2:13 ff)? What about Paul commanding us to obey the government, which is His servant and agent of wrath (Romans 13:1-5)? What about Christ’s return as a military conqueror, who “makes war” and is followed by “the armies of heaven” ( Revelation 19:11/14)?

You can see how no easy or dogmatic answer can be given and how good Christians can and do differ over this. I agree with the basic teachings of the church through the centuries. (1) A Christian often can and should participate in a just war, if called upon by his country, even if it involves the awful necessity of taking another human life. (2) If a Christian cannot bring himself to kill another human being even in a just cause, he should serve his country in a role of mercy such as the medical corps or chaplaincy. (3) If he cannot bring himself to participate in any way he should quietly accept the punishment his nation imposes, just as the Apostles did in the Book of Acts (Acts 5:12-40). It is not the only position, but I believe it is the right one. I have strong emotions here against those who refuse to fight and let others pay dearly for their freedom. But I suspect these emotions spring more from my patriotism than from my Christianity. My prayer is that God will help me love and understand any Christian brother who cannot bring himself to kill even in war.

A. The Positions

The two positions of the church throughout history have been “non resistance” (pacifism) and “just warfare.” (In a just cause the evil of war is a lesser evil than the evil it seeks to defeat.)

a. Pacifism

Until AD 170 the church, because of its place in Roman society, was almost universally pacifist and there is no record of any church member serving in the Roman army. This was partly because they were not eligible for military service and had no voice in government; and also because Christians felt little allegiance to Rome and considered themselves primarily citizens of a kingdom, not of this world (John 18:36).

As soldiers were converted, the church battled over the issue. Great theologians like Tertullian (145-200 AD) and Origen (185-254 AD) taught pacifism either complete or partial (serving in some noncombatant roles). Pacifism lost its dominant position in the 300’s AD when Emperor Constantine made Christianity an acceptable religion and put the cross of Christ upon the shields of his soldiers. The pacifist position continues today in groups like the Quakers, Mennonites and Unitarians. Some, like the Quakers, carry pacifism to the point that they will not defend themselves or their families from attack. Like Tertullian they say, “The Lord / in disarming Peter, unbelted every soldier.”

The pacifist view is based mostly on the example and teachings of Jesus about resisting evil and turning the other cheek (Matthew 5:39-40). William Barclay says if the Christian’s country is overtaken, it will probably be better than the loss of life due to war. The Christian’s only weapon, he says, is love (Psalm 99-100). The Ten Commandments, Pgs. 99-100

b. Justifiable (Just) Warfare

The majority view of both Catholics and Protestants is that of “just war” developed by Augustine (400’s AD) and Thomas Aquinas (1200’s AD). War should have:

1. Just cause –

It is defensive and not aggressive.

2. Just intention -

The goal is peace for both sides.

3. Last resort -

It comes after every other means

has been exhausted.

4. Formal declaration –

It is an act of government, not individuals.

5. Limited objectives -

Peace as the goal forbids the rape and

destruction of the conquered nations’ resources.

6. Proportionate means -

The force used should be the force needed

to secure peace.

7. Noncombatant immunity -

Individuals not involved in fighting

(medical personnel, POW’s, civilians, etc.)

should be immune from attack.

8. Preventive aggression

These seven views, more or less standard

through the centuries, have been joined by

an eighth; primarily because of today’s nuclear

threat. In self defense, there may come a

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