War: A Christian Response
From the moment that man was expelled from the Garden of Eden human beings have been in bloody conflict with one another. In the first story after Eden, Cain killed his brother Abel because he was overwhelmed with covetousness. God had regard for Abel and his offering but did not have regard for Cain in his offering. Cain became angry and his countenance fell; therefore, Cain killed his brother Abel. (Gn 4:1-15)
This became the way of man up to the time of Noah and the flood. Man returned to the same after the flood; man, against man, family against family, tribe against tribe, nation against nation and ideology against ideology. Jesus told his disciples that between his first and second advents there will be wars and rumors of wars, but they are not to be frightened because it is the way of the world until the end. (Mt 24:6-8)
When He broke the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, "Come." And another, a red horse, went out; and to him who sat on it, it was granted to take peace from the earth, and that men would slay one another; and a great sword was given to him. (Rv 6:3-4, NASB95)
What I have to say about a Christian’s response to war did not come to me recently. I have been thinking and reading about this for many years. I have been reluctant to expose what I believe about a Christian response to war because my convictions regarding a Christian’s response to war differ from most American Evangelicals and even most in my Southern Baptist denomination. However, I do affirm what is written in the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message regarding war:
XVI. Peace and War
It is the duty of Christians to seek peace with all men on principles of righteousness. In accordance with the spirit and teachings of Christ they should do all in their power to put an end to war. The true remedy for the war spirit is the gospel of our Lord. The supreme need of the world is the acceptance of His teachings in all the affairs of men and nations, and the practical application of His law of love. Christian people throughout the world should pray for the reign of the Prince of Peace.
The U. S. Army, 1987-1992
I spent my young adult years in the U. S. Army as an active duty soldier which began on November 4, 1987. I do not talk about my Army experiences unless someone else mentions it. In fact, most people have no idea that I was a soldier. I was in the U. S. Army during two times of war: Operation Just Cause in Panama and Operation Desert Storm in the Persian Gulf.
I can remember patrolling the jungles in Panama with a full combat load of ammunition. My M16 had a grenade launcher mounted underneath; therefore, I also carried grenades strapped to my chest with a desire to use them. On night patrols, at the tank farm or ammunition depot, if we saw something suspicious we could call for a mortar illumination round which lit up the night sky. I would anticipate seeing enemy combatants out in the field and I was eager to fight them. We were preparing for eventual combat; therefore, it was ever present in our minds; however, in July of 1989 I received orders to return stateside and was to report to Fort Knox, Kentucky, where I would soon meet my wife.
Operation Just Cause was initiated in the early morning hours of December 20, 1989. I can remember the day very well, I had spent months preparing for combat only to leave the country just before war broke out. Later I would read an article in the Army Times about the platoon that I had been a member of and their feats of heroism. They all received awards and my platoon sergeant, Staff Sergeant Arroyo, received the Silver Star. I was very envious and imagined the great things that I would have done had I been there.
My last duty station was at Camp Humphries in Korea. I was in a Black Hawk helicopter unit that flew for the Special Forces. Korea was boring and lonely. I can remember being despondent because I missed my wife Darlene and our son Daniel. Before Korea, I had planned on being a career soldier and was on my second enlistment. The Army was offering early outs under the newly elected Clinton administration. With my wife and child being on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, and my state of continuance being what it was, I took the early out and was honorably discharged on July 8, 1992.
After being discharged from the Army I was an angry person for 11 years. Though I tried to suppress my anger it would flare up over the smallest things. My wife and children suffered because of my temper. That is until I saw my wretched state and trusted the promise of eternal life in Christ Jesus. The old man still raises his head from time to time, but the love of God has given me a heart of compassion for all people.
Panama, 1989: We had just completed a relay race from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean across the isthmus of Panama. My Platoon Sergeant, Staff Sergeant Arroyo, is to my right and has his hand on my shoulder. I am at the center wearing the red shirt.
Christian History and War
After the New Testament, there is no record whatsoever of a single Christian as a soldier until 170 A.D. Even when some became soldiers in the third century the Canons of Hippolytus indicate that a follower of Christ who is a soldier should be taught not to take a human life even when commanded to do so. When Christianity became legal under the Emperor Constantine the church changed its views on war from one of nonresistance to the just war theory laid out by Augustine which meant that a Christian could participate in war if it be a just war.During the middle ages another outlook on war began to emerge. You may know this as the Crusades.
In 1095 at the Council of Clermont, in response to appeals for help from the Eastern emperor at Constantinople, Urban II preached a sermon urging his listeners to undertake an expedition under papal leadership to free the Middle East from pagan control. He stirred his audience by describing how the Turks had disemboweled Christian men, raped women and desecrated churches. Urban appealed for unity in the face of the enemy and promised forgiveness of sins for anyone who would fight to free the Holy Land. The crowd responded enthusiastically to his sermon shouting: "God wills it! God wills it!"
The Arabs had taken Damascus in 635 A. D. and Jerusalem in 638 A. D., within 2 years the Arabs had control of the entire region and by the end of the 7th century they controlled all of North Africa and the former Persian Empire. Urban II preached 400 years later; therefore, the spirit of the Crusade was a new aggressive phase in a Christian response to war because it meant righting wrongs several generations removed.
For 300 years, following the New Testament period Christians were pacifist. When Christianity became legal in the Roman Empire Christian’s could participate in war if the reason for going to war was determined to be just. Throughout the Middle Ages a crusader mentality prevailed. This meant that a Christian could not only go to war but were now being encouraged to do so by a spirit of hatred and vengeance. Why did the church go from being pacifist toward her enemies to outright hostility and violence? The church had failed in the great commission to teach the new disciples all that Jesus command, namely to not resist the evil person and love one’s enemies. (Mt 5:39, 44)
The Protestant Reformation made things slightly better but did not return to the pacifism of the first 300 years of the church. Though Scripture Alone was the rallying cry for the reformers in regard to salvation, most did not reform to scripture alone regarding a Christian response to war; they reformed to the end of the patristic era where state and church were connected at the hip. For this reason, the just war theory prevailed among the reformers and continues to be the dominate view for most evangelical churches today. I fear that many American Evangelicals actually hold a crusader mentality.
War and Four Christian Views
After taking Ethics in seminary, I read a book put together by Robert G. Clouse called "War: Four Christian Views." I first saw the book in a list of references found in my Ethics text book. I read this book because in my ethics class I saw that both my professor and the author of my Ethics text book presented war with a strong bias towards the just war theory. For this reason, the majority of my classmates expressed this theory as being their own. Most of my fellow students are half my age and have never been in the military and do not know the mind of a soldier. In our discussions, I refused to give an answer regarding my own view because it is not the just war theory. I wanted to do more reading before giving a proper answer and stated that I would do so after reading Clouse’s book.
Clouse’s book is unique in that every view is presented by a person who actually holds that view. Then each essay is critiqued by the other three authors. The four essays presented in Clouse’s book are:
1. Nonresistance by Herman A. Hoyt
2. Christian Pacifism by Myron S. Augsburger
3. The Just War by Arthur F. Holmes
4. The Crusade or Preventive War by Harold O. J. Brown
The views of Hoyt and Augsburger are essentially the same except for some differences based on hermeneutics. Dr. Hoyt is dispensational and Dr. Augsburger views scripture through progressive/covenantal eyes. One of the things that I noticed out of the gate was that Hoyt and Augsburger both presented their views from scripture alone. Holmes view combined scripture and Greco-Roman philosophy. Brown’s view did not quote scripture at all nor elude to it even in the slightest. From these essays one could determine that nonresistance is biblical, the just war is bible mixed with pagan philosophies, and the crusade is simply human will and reasoning.
My convections concerning a Christian response to war are biblical; not social, political or philosophical. The Christian pacifist position is not a negative position, it is a positive position; it is not pacifism out of fear of man but out of love for God in Jesus Christ, trusting him at his word and love for one’s neighbor. Our hope is not in this world, but in the world to come following the resurrection of the believer. The Christian pacifist position is neither practical nor logical. Someone hearing the Christian Pacifist express their position will argue, “If you believe that, give me your wallet.”
This is sad because they are trying to make the Christian pacifist understand that nonresistance is not practical or logical when he already understands. They are correct in their assertion because nonresistance is not practical as taught by Plato or logical as taught by Aristotle, but it is what Christ and his apostles taught. Are we to follow the teachings of Christ or the teachings of man?
While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice out of the cloud said, "This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!" (Mt 17:5, NASB95)
I have come to understand scripture as the progressive revelation of God’s kingdom. God is a covenant making and covenant keeping God. God always deals with humans in terms of covenant, but man always fails in his covenantal obligations to God. Throughout time God has dealt with man in six progressive covenants: the creation covenant, the Noahic covenant, the Abrahamic covenant, the Mosaic covenant, the Davidic covenant and the New covenant in Christ Jesus. The New covenant in Christ Jesus is the fulfillment of all the previous covenants and is not like the former covenants because in it God is first making man new, after which he will make a new creation. Christ Jesus is the first fruits and all in Christ will rise to walk in newness of life at his coming.
The follower of Jesus Christ should, therefore, be taught to observe all that Christ commanded his disciples. The follower of Jesus Christ is not under the Mosaic law, but under the law of Christ; therefore, Old Testament examples of Israel fighting the Canaanites is not pertinent to the discussion of a Christian response to war. The law of Christ is love, the teachings of Christ, the teachings of his apostles, and the Old Testament in light of Christ. The prophet Micah looking ahead to these last days said of the citizens in the kingdom of God, "Then they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they train for war." (Mic 4:3, NASB95) For Micah this prophecy was not yet, but for the believer in the New covenant it is already in fulfillment but not yet in consummation.
Nonresistance is a commanded by Christ for all of his disciples. The main text is Matthew 5:39, "But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also." Further explained in verses 40-48. A similar text is Luke 6:27-36 in which Jesus tells his disciples to love their enemies. The kingdom of God is not of this world; therefore, the citizens of God’s kingdom do not wage war like the citizens in the kingdom of man. When Peter took up the sword in what he thought was a just war Jesus *said to him, "Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword." (Mt 26:52, NASB95) And he told Pilot, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm." (Jn 18:36, NASB95) The citizens of the kingdom of God are not to take up the sword and fight the citizens of the kingdom of man.
My position is one of Biblical Nonresistance or Christian Pacifism, a conviction that I held before reading War: Four Christian Views; however, if I had reservations before I would be convinced after reading Clouse’s book; not from Dr. Hoyt’s essay on nonresistance, nor from Dr. Augsburger’s essay on Christian pacifism, but from Dr. Holmes essay on the just war because his arguments against Christian pacifism solidify what I believe the scriptures teach.
Dr. Holmes states matter a fact that the just war position reaches into both biblical and Graeco-Roman sources and then he spends a great deal of time on Graeco-Roman sources. Yet the apostle Paul said, "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect." (Rom 12:2, NASB95) Dr. Holmes also said that those who hold to a pacifist position do so for two reasons:
1. They appeal to the teachings in the New Testament.
2. They hold to a two-kingdom doctrine.
The doctrine of nonresistance is consistently taught in the entire new testament. The Christian is not bound to the Mosaic law but is bound to the law of Christ; so, why would I not appeal to the New testament. The kingdom of God and the kingdom of man are clearly taught in scripture. “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and render to God the things that are God’s.” (Mt 22:21, NASB95)
What of Romans 13:1-7? Some will use this passage to say that the proper relation of believers to the government includes military service.Is Paul advocating for a connection between church and state? Paul is telling the Roman Christian with regard to the state hold a position of nonresistance.
Historical/cultural context for this passage: The first Christians were Jews, for the oppressed Jew submission to civil authorities was an extreme example of nonresistance. Christianity was seen by the Romans as a minority Jewish sect. The Christian was to demonstrate good citizenship in the face of public slander and suspicions of being terrorist. Any connection to Palestine was viewed with suspicion because many Palestinian Jews were advocating for revolt which took place less than a decade after Paul’s letter to the church in Rome.In the face of religious and ethnic oppression Paul exhorted the Christian to live in nonresistance to the government.
Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, "You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet," and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Rom 13:8-10, NASB95)
In 1 Peter 2:18-20, Peter commands the Christian to be submissive to earthly masters whether they be good and kind masters or harsh and unreasonable masters. He says that this finds favor with God when a Christian does what is right and suffers patiently. He then goes on to say that Christ is our example of how the Christian should patiently suffer. (cf. 1 Pt 2:21-24)
There has been three ways that Christians have viewed a response to war down through the ages:
2. The Just War
3. The Crusade
The crusade is clearly not a Christian response to war. Someone may link it to the Old Testament theocracy of Israel, but the crusade mentality, whether it be to right a past wrong or go to war to prevent war is clearly not what the New Testament teaches.
The just war uses both biblical and nonbiblical Graeco-Roman sources to support its theory. The just war contradicts the teachings of Christ to not resist the evil man (Mt 5:39-48) and love one’s enemies (Lk 6:27-36). The just war also contradicts the teachings of the apostles who clearly tell us not to resist oppressive governments and harsh masters, but to always do what is right because patiently enduring suffering when you are doing what is right pleases God. (cf. Rom 13:1-10 & 1 Pt 2:18-24)
The doctrine of Nonresistance is biblical and harmonizes with everything taught in the New Testament. However, we must keep in mind that there are two kingdoms: the kingdom of God and the kingdom of man. The Christian is a citizen of the kingdom of God though he currently abides as a pilgrim in the kingdom of man. The unbeliever is a citizen of the kingdom of man; therefore, the obligations of nonresistance are for the believer only and not laid on the unbeliever.In other words, the unbeliever is not going to play by the rules set forth for the citizen of the kingdom of God. Peter said to not be surprised by the fiery ordeals and things that the unbelieving world will do to you. (cf. 1 Pt 4:12-19) Nonresistance is not practical; we are pilgrims in a fallen world where evil men do many evil things. Nonresistance is not logical; by taking up arms a believer could likely defend his person and property but doing so would contradict the command of Christ to not resist the evil person. Nonresistance is the command of Christ to his disciples; and therefore, taught by his apostles in their letters written to his churches.
“The 2000 Baptist Faith and Message,” Southern Baptist Convention, cdli:wiki, http://www.sbc.net/bfm2000/bfm2000.asp.
Robert G. Clouse, War: Four Christian Views, (Winona: BMH Books, 1986), 12-14.
Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the dawn of the Reformation, 2nded. (New York: HarperCollins, 2010), 291.
Robert G. Clouse, War: Four Christian Views, (Winona: BMH Books, 1986), 55.
Craig S. Keener, “Submission to Civil Authorities,” in The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, 2nded. (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2014), 450.
Robert G. Clouse, War: Four Christian Views, (Winona: BMH Books, 1986), 34-44.