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Saint Augustine
Biblical Perspectives on a Christian's Service in War - Some Biblical Facts
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Some Biblical Facts

These arguments for pacifism from Scripture are not specious and many not be ignored. Neither, however, are they conclusive. Let us consider some other biblical facts (some briefly mentioned earlier) that we need to ponder if we’re to know all that God has revealed about this matter.

1.In the Old Testament, God forbade murder and praised peace-makers, but He frequently commanded men to kill in war and in the execution of criminals (for example: Exodus 21:14; 32:25-29, Joshua 7:25 and 1 Samuel 15).

The God who commanded the complete destruction of the Amalekites in 1 Samuel 15 is the same God who became flesh and dwelt among us, and Who told us to turn the other cheek. Even in the Old Testament, the preeminent commandments were to love God and love men (Mark 12:28-34). Were the soldiers in Saul’s army commanded to violate the Sixth Commandment as they carried out God’s instructions to kill every man, woman, and child? He never commanded prostitution, which would violate His Seventh Commandment, and He never commanded thievery, which would violate His Eighth, and we know Him to be the same yesterday, today, and forever. It seems very likely, therefore, that participation in war must not be, of itself, a violation of either His Sixth Commandment nor of the principles of conduct laid down by His Son under the New Covenant.

2.The profession of soldiering, though frequently mentioned in Scripture, is never condemned by it.

The four centurions mentioned in the New Testament who were professional soldiers are all presented in a positive context, with no suggestion they should leave their profession. Analogies between soldiering and the Christian life are frequently used in Scripture and always in a positive sense (for example: 2 Timothy 2:3-4).

John the Baptist was asked by soldiers: “What should we do [to bear fruit that displays true repentance]?” (Luke 3:8-14) He did not tell them to leave the army – the obvious answer, if to remain was in itself sin. Instead he told them to be honest and good soldiers, refraining from the practice common to soldiers throughout history of using their arms to extort money from the defenseless populace.

3. The same Christ Who taught non-resistance also used physical violence against the money changers in the temple (Matthew 21:12-13).

He who said “blessed are the peacemakers,” said also: “I am come not to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). The implication here is that being a “peacemaker” does not always mean turning the other cheek to evil. To do what is right will sometimes cause conflict. He who commanded the “turning of the other cheek” when He was slapped by one of the officers at His trial did not meekly turn the other cheek, but replied with a challenge which, though not physical retaliation, was certainly a strong verbal rebuke.

Granted, our Lord did not kill in these instances. But He did resist evil. Those who base their pacifism on a literal and total interpretation of the nonresistance principle must modify this principle in light of the rest of Scripture. They are no more consistent in this than those non-pacifists who also interpret nonresistance as meaning something less than “Under no circumstances may a Christian kill another human being.”

4. The same Christ Who said: “They that take the sword shall perish by the sword,” also sanctioned the carrying of swords by His disciples.

Peter had a sword in the Garden of Gethsemane (John 18:10). Surely if Christ were teaching pacifism His disciples would long before have dispensed with lethal weapons. In fact, Christ had earlier directed them to provide for their reasonable protection by carrying swords, along with providing for their material needs by carrying a purse (Luke 22:36-38).

5. Finally, and most importantly, there is scriptural sanction for the proper use of “the sword” –lethal physical force – by human governments.

In the Old Testament, men of God served with praise in the armies of Israel (for example, David’s mighty men). They also served in secular governments that certainly employed armies (for example: Joseph, Moses, Nehemiah and Daniel).

In the New Testament, Christians are directed to be loyal and obedient citizens of human governments: “Render unto Caesar the things that be Caesar’s” (Mark 12:17). “Submit yourself to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether it be to the king as supreme, or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of them that do well” (I Peter 2:13-14).

Human government is a legitimate, God-ordained institution, one of the main purposes of which is to bring justice and order into a world of sinful men (Romans 13:1-7). The use of the sword, the symbol of physical violence unto death, is a proper duty of human governments (Romans 13:4).

An Inconsistent Argument

The Anabaptist position – that the non-Christian may rightly and ethically kill in a society of sinful men but the Christian may not – seems to be morally contradictory. Christ has commanded us to live in this present world with all its difficulties. He has ordained human government (using lethal force when necessary) as the practical means to maintain justice and order in society. If this Anabaptist position is true, God is saying to the non-Christian: “You must do the difficult, dangerous and bloody work of the policeman and soldier, but My people may not. They will live as they will in my future Kingdom where there will be no sin, but you non-believers must deal with the problem of sin as it is in the world today. You must do your best to adjust to the practical reality of life in this age. My people will show how one can live when the practical reality has one day changed.”

Has God told us to do this in any other legitimate and necessary secular pursuit? Are we to shun government service because in the Kingdom none but the administrative government will be needed? Are we to never serve as physicians because in the Kingdom there will be no disease? If this argument seems inconsistent and unfair to the Christian, it must seem even more so to the non-Christian!

We are to live as members of two kingdoms, and we are, indeed, to put faithfulness to the Kingdom of God above loyalty to the kingdoms of men. But in this age, before the coming of our Lord, human government has been God-ordained to protect what is right and to punish wrongdoing, to encourage good behavior and to suppress evil behavior. We who are called to be salt in this world are not exempt from doing what God has said other men must and should do.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 27 March 2013 18:19