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Saint Augustine
Biblical Perspectives on a Christian's Service in War - Nonresistance and the Christian Soldier
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Biblical Perspectives on a Christian's Service in War
Reasoning from Biblical Truths
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Nonresistance and the Christian Soldier
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Thus we see there are a number of reasons to question the pacifist position. Faced with the reality of sin in the world, and the subsequent necessity for judicious use of force, there seems to be biblical justification for Christian involvement in battle. But if this is so, we must understand, somewhat differently than have the pacifists, some of the biblical passages that seem most directly to condemn killing.

What, in broad terms, is the application of the oft-repeated New Testament principle of nonresistance? It is a principle for an individual acting as an individual. “Brethren,” Paul wrote, “avenge not yourselves” (Romans 12:19). We must accept personal abuse, even when it is unjustified. But there is an important distinction between seeking private revenge and upholding principles of justice and liberty on behalf of others. As a soldier representing the government, I may and should do what I must not do as an individual representing only myself.

Can I love my enemy and kill him? Yes. I’m also to love myself. But if lust, madness or even misguided zeal were to turn me into a murderer who is harming others, I would prefer that my Christian brother kill me than let me continue on my way. If the enemy is a non-Christian, my bullet may send him to an eternity without Christ, but if my bullet doesn’t kill him, his will kill others. I must prayerfully make the difficult choice between greater and lesser evils in human affairs, and act on that choice.

The Christian Peacemaker

Should not the Christian be a peacemaker? Unquestionably, he should be. But to be a peacemaker does not mean to be a pacifist. The policeman on the beat, the marshal restoring law and order to a riotous town of the Old West, and the soldiers and marines patrolling the tumultuous streets of Baghdad or Kandahar are all peacemakers. The Christian will not lightly resort to arms, but he must be careful that he isn’t like the false prophets of old who said, “Peace, peace when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14; 8:11; 14:13).

The Scripture teaches with repetition, force and undeniable clarity that the Christian is to be a peacemaker – but it does not teach pacifism. What it does teach is that a Christian should “seek peace” and “follow the things that make for peace.” He should not be bold, arrogant, jealous, offensive, teasing, and the like. In short, he should be a peacemaker as opposed to being a trouble-maker. Paul wrote: “If it is possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men” (Romans 13:18, emphasis added). But if doing right brings resistance, or if justice and mercy demand conflict, we ought not to shrink from our sometimes violent duty.

What about “they that take the sword shall perish with the sword?”

The exact meaning of this verse is obscure. Obviously, it cannot be taken as literal prophecy. Some of the most cruel and criminal men of the sword die by other means. In light of what has been previously discussed, it does not seem possible that this passage is meant to condemn all use of the sword. The context of this verse makes suspect any attempt to use it as a conclusive argument for pacifism. Most probably, this verse in its generalized sense is meant as a warning to men who live habitually by violence for purposes of personal gain. They must expect that they will be subject to similar punishment, either from equally rapacious men, or from the just ministers of God’s wrath --- policemen and soldiers. This may, furthermore, be the meaning of Genesis 9:6: “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God he made man.” When we consider this verse in conjunction with commands for execution of murderers in the Mosaic law, Christ’s comment may further suggest what no Christian soldier could deny – that what good may be accomplished by the sword is at best temporary and finite.

Christ as Our Example

Is Christ’s life to be normative? Yes, in its example of total obedience to the Father, but not if we mean by “normative” that all Christians are to do exactly what He did; nothing more and nothing less. Are we all called to be itinerant preachers? Are any of us called to die as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind? Jesus refused to resist His arrest and execution because it was His mission from His Father to go to the cross as a lamb to the slaughter. We don’t know from simple observation of His life what He would have done as a human if He had been drafted, or if He had observed a gang of thugs raping a woman, or if He had been faced as a government leader with the horror of Nazi Germany.

We cannot assume that, because He gave up His own life in obedience to His Father’s command, He would ask us to allow evil to triumph on earth without ever resorting to violent resistance. He did not, however, leave us without counsel on these matters. He provided his Word as a guide and the Holy Spirit to be our counselor, “guiding [us] into all truth” (John 16:13). In prayer and study of Scripture we find God’s answers to the infinite complexity of human life.

Trusting God Alone

But why not trust God alone for our defense? Because to do so would be to “put God to the test” (Matthew 4:7). It would be tantamount to demanding a miracle from God without taking the reasonable and responsible steps required to provide for our own security. Do we refuse to use medicine? Do Christian farmers refuse to irrigate their crops? Do we disdain wearing automobile seatbelts?

Unless God has told us that we may not soldier, to refuse to do so in the face of a military threat is not to trust Him, but to test Him. Rather, we ought to be like the Israelites of Nehemiah 4:9, who “…prayed to [their] God and posted a watch day and night to meet this threat.” This is not “idolatry” as some pacifists claim, any more than it is idolatry to take penicillin as a defense against pneumonia. It is not, as they argue, trusting in arms instead of trusting in God. It is, rather, trusting in God while bearing arms.

We ought to remind ourselves that the primary issue in question is not, “Should I ever kill another to protect myself?” Rather, it is, “Should I refuse to kill even if doing so means I will be allowing others to be unjustly killed, robbed, raped, dragged off to prison, or forced to suffer under a wicked government?” That is the tough question which the pacifist must answer. Pacifism sounds very loving, godly, and self-sacrificing when argued on the front lawn of a Christian college campus, but it can look very unloving when pitted against the harsh realities of life in this world.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 27 March 2013 18:19