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Biblical Perspectives on a Christian's Service in War
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Biblical Perspectives on a Christian's Service in War
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By Al Shine, Colonel, U.S. Army, Retired

Author’s note: The comments below were originally written in the early 1970s, a time when there was a strong “anti-war” movement in the United States, and much discussion and debate about issues relating to morality and war. As a young officer wishing to be honest with my calling as a Christian I believed it important to ask the age old question: “May a Christian rightly serve in the military?” In seeking to be as honest as possible in answering the question for myself, I took a concordance and, over many weeks, looked up every verse in the Bible which seemed relevant to the topic. I then looked for patterns and principles. The comments below reflect that search. I have since read much else on the topic, and have learned much from others, but have found nothing to challenge the essence of the comments below.

(All biblical quotations are from the King James Version)


What are a Christian’s responsibilities when he is called to fight for his country? This is a question that has troubled serious followers of Christ almost since the founding of the Church. Correspondingly, the tide of support for either the pacifist or non-pacifist position has tended to ebb and flow in the powerful currents of history.

Unfortunately, in pondering the question of Christian involvement in war, many people are often swayed more by the temper of the time than by an objective evaluation of biblical evidence. Difficult as it often is, we need to objectively seek God’s truth,then apply it to experience—not try to fit that truth into the logic of our experience. After undergoing this exercise, I’ve concluded that a Christian may be a soldier, but I’m very much in agreement with C.S. Lewis’ comment: “I can respect an honest pacifist, though I believe he is entirely mistaken.”


Before considering the Scriptures directly, we ought to separate those arguments that spring not from Scripture, but from humanistic philosophy. Many of these arguments for pacifism, though echoed by Christians, are not biblically based, but rather are the product of human reason. They are thus as shallow of real truth as the pithy 1960s bumper sticker which stated, as if to end all debate, “War is harmful to plants, animals, babies, and other living things.”

The essence of the philosophically based argument for pacifism usually runs something like this:

1. War is horrible and foolish. People would obviously be better off if they learned to solve their problems peacefully.

2. Men are not so foolish that they can’t see this. And yet fear, greed and mutual distrust prevent them from taking the first step.

3. If only some people and nations would be bold enough to unilaterally take that first step, to renounce war and dismantle their armies, the rest of the world would surely follow.

4. Concurrently, the vast quantities of resources squandered in war preparations could be put to more beneficial uses.

There is some truth in this line of reasoning. From a Christian perspective, however, the argument contains serious flaws. The Christian knows that human history is not a road of perpetual progress; that war will never cease until Christ intervenes in power at the end of the age, and that the root of the problem lies in the limitations inherent in the nature of men. Man’s understanding is so blinded by sin that he cannot always see what is right. Even when he does see, his will is so dominated by sin that “the things which he would, he cannot do” (Romans 7:19) Just as no war will ever end all wars until the Lord of Hosts decisively defeats His enemies (see Revelation 19:20), neither will any pacifist theory or program end all wars, no matter how logical or high-minded its appeal.

A second oft-stated philosophical argument is that ”war never accomplishes anything.” Stated as a literal truth, of course, this is foolishness. War conquered Canaan for Israel, and war enslaved the Israelites. War brought political independence to the United States. War ended black slavery in America. War subjugated Europe to Nazi tyranny, and war freed Europe from that tyranny. The list of things war has accomplished is endless.

All wars accomplish something, but we must be careful not to expect that war can do more than it nature makes possible. It may prevent an evil, or execute justice, or make possible a political climate for good to be done, but it is seldom, of itself, a positive force. Nor will any war bring about all the utopian goals we sometimes claim for it in our wartime propaganda. Just because war cannot accomplish everything, however, is not to deny that it does do something—and that what it does may be worth the cost.

The Question of Comparative Right

Finally, before we deal directly with Scripture, we must address the question of comparative right in cases of human conflict. The ideologue never asks this question, because he is always sure his nation, his revolution, or his cause is “right” and his opponent is “wrong.” Any honest student of human nature and human history knows, however, that few, if any, human conflicts pit an individual or nation that is purely right against one that is purely wrong. Because of our nature, the motives and goals of human beings are always mixed.

To admit that there are no “white hats” and ”black hats” in areas of human conflict is not, however, to subsequently conclude that there are no significant differences between moral shades of gray. An ethical person makes numerous decisions daily based on his evaluation of comparative right. In considering a conflict between nations, the “plague on both our houses” approach may be simply moral escapism. We must honestly face the fact that to avoid choosing sides in the case of human conflict is to make a practical choice in favor of the strongest.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 27 March 2013 18:19