Peace-Loving Believers in an Age of Violence, Part 3 (Final)

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Three fairly significant biblical examples appear to support a believer’s participation in the military:[1]

  • Jesus’s approval of a king who waged war against wicked people (Matthew 21:33–41).
  • In Luke 3:14 John did not command them to resign from military service, but to be content in that position with its wages. Their behavior was to be just and honest — even while remaining soldiers.
  • In John 18:36 Jesus stated that it would have been proper for His disciples to defend His kingdom with swords if it had been an earthly kingdom.

In addition, New Testament writers employ a variety of military metaphors to describe the character of the believer:[2] the armor of God (Ephesians 6:10–20), being a “good soldier” (2 Timothy 2:3–4), and waging spiritual warfare (2 Corinthians 10:1–6). As Boettner observes:

It is hardly conceivable that the Scriptures should present the Christian life under a symbolism having to do so distinctly with soldiering and warfare and at the same time repudiate the reality for which that symbolism stands as always and everywhere wrong.[3]

Christ Himself will engage in warfare when He returns to establish His kingdom (Revelation 19:11–21). If war is inherently evil and the combatant’s role satanic, such warfare would contradict Christ’s character as righteous and holy. He also will direct His people to engage in that future warfare (cf. Obadiah 15–21). Since He would never command His people to commit sin, warfare cannot be inherently sinful.

Chaplain Winward (U.S. Navy) offers yet another line of reasoning regarding Christian involvement in both military and police:

If we grant the military is an unfortunate necessity of a fallen world, we simply cannot prohibit Christian participation without creating an untenable double standard. In such a society, Christians would rely on non-Christians to perform morally objectionable, but necessary, tasks. Jesus called those who would follow Him to be the salt and light of the world. Consequently, if an institution is necessary for the legitimate functioning of a society, Christians not only can but should be involved in that institution.[4]

Consider also the matter of the Lord’s Prayer itself: “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” That prayer asks Jesus to impose divine rule on mankind through His violent overthrow of the kingdom of evil and all unbelievers.[5] Do you pray that the Lord Jesus might return soon? Do you pray for God to deliver Christians from persecution in places like China, the Sudan, and Pakistan? How might God choose to answer those prayers? He might choose to utilize war in China, the Sudan, or Pakistan to deliver His people. Yes, the answer to your prayers might be war.

Matthew 5:9 (“Blessed are the peacemakers”) raises another question: What is involved in being a “peacemaker”? Such a role might not be antagonistic to the role of a warrior. Christ’s employment of the Greek term is the only biblical occurrence. Outside Scripture it is found only as a description of Caesar who wielded the sword of military might to produce the pax Romana.[6] Should a true peacemaker make peace at any price? Can he or she shun the employment of legitimate force to produce that peace?

Conclusion

A believer might successfully ignore this issue for a time, but every generation eventually faces it personally for themselves, their children, or their grandchildren. Each believer’s good conscience is at stake in the decision each makes as an individual and as a member of the Christian community. In my opinion the just war viewpoint offers the greatest consistency with the overall view of both Old and New Testaments. However, I ought never impose such a viewpoint on another believer. The Scripture’s silence about resigning from military service after a soldier’s conversion might indicate that the matter falls into the realm of freedom of conscience rather than the realm of absolute morality.

Our current need is for Christians to pray for and work toward a stronger nation economically, politically, morally, and spiritually (including a call to repentance). We need to recognize the threat of terrorism, not close our eyes to it. To that end, we dare not neglect an objective examination of the external (as opposed to spiritual) causes of terrorism. And, no Christian should ignore the cries of innocents when violent criminals attack them. The Bible does not support a peace-at-any-price approach for Christians. Believers cannot have a do-nothing attitude toward violence of any kind in any setting. We must love our fellow man as we love ourselves (Matthew 19:19) and “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friend” (John 15:13).

Click Part 1 and Part 2 to read the previous posts in this series.

 

Footnotes

[1] For a fuller listing of such potential arguments, see Robert A. Morey, When Is It Right to Fight? (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1985), 39–42.

[2] See David J. Williams, Paul’s Metaphors: Their Context and Character (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999), 211–44.

[3] Loraine Boettner, The Christian Attitude Toward War, 3rd ed. (Phillipsburg, PA: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1985), 33.

[4] Mark S. Winward, “How Can a Pastor Serve in the Armed Forces?” Princeton Theological Review 12, no. 2 (Fall 2006): 41.

[5] See James E. Adams, War Psalms of the Prince of Peace: Lessons from the Imprecatory Psalms (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1991), 52, 166.

[6] Cf. H. Beck and C. Brown, “Peace,” The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, ed. by Colin Brown, 2:776–77 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976).

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  • johntjeff

    Dr. Barrick: I have greatly appreciated your careful and thoughtful posts on this subject, as well as the resources you have referenced throughout. One Biblical incident that I believe has a bearing on this subject was not considered by you in this series. In discussion with Christian pacifists the historical narrative in Genesis 14:14-20 has been recognized by them as something they did not know how to deal with. This transcovenantal incident, since prior to the theocratic Mosaic covenant, where Abraham defended his relatives and property with a violent armed response, was concluded by Abraham being blessed by Melchizedek following this slaughter of the armies of Chedorlaomer, and the kings allied with him: “Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth: And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand.”