Hi my name is Aaron Henes, I am a small group leader and friend of Rob. Rob asked me to answer an email surrounding the Christian view of war and post the contents on the Saturday Night Blog. What follows is the main section of that email.
There is no one passage in the Bible that definitively, or even directly, deals with the issue of war. What we are left with is trying to deductively take different portions of Scripture and distill them into a Christian worldview. This is what we will try to do now.
History of the Debate:
War has been a part of human existence as far back as there is recorded history and theologians have wrestled through this thorny question for almost that long. Two camps have emerged: the first is the pacifist and the second is what I will call the just war camp. In my opinion, we must live as Christians in the tension that these two camps create. Looking at the Bible, we have a transition from the Old Testament where it was perfectly acceptable to love one’s friends and hate one’s enemies to the New Testament where Jesus commands his follows to love one’s enemies.
The Pacifist Camp:
This camp sites this scripture in addition to the entire Sermon on the Mount where Jesus blesses the peacemakers, who are called the sons of God. Finally, we have the command that vengeance is God’s and not ours. Some of those who take this position are quick to point out that pacifism is not passive. A pacifist can stand up for what he or she believes, and actively engage evil in the many places it can be found. There are some pacifists who believe that non-lethal physical action is sometimes very necessary.
The Just War Camp:
There are those who believe that while war is never desired, it can be justified. I think the most powerful argument that comes out of this camp is from the beginning of Romans 13. In context, Paul is stating that we should submit to governing authorities because they have been established by God and have been given the legitimate use of violence to promote what is good and punish what is evil. The governments of the world are instituted in part to promote the good of its citizens and to that end they have the responsibility of protecting their citizens from those who would harm them in both domestic and foreign areas. Augustine was the first who articulated the conditions that would result in a just war. These include the idea that it cannot be a war for vengeance, unrelenting violence, or lust for power. We must be peacemakers, and while we cannot seek peace in order to be at war, we can go to war to have peace. Even in war, we must be conscious that our goal is not to annihilate the enemy, but to ultimately bring them peace, as well. From what seems to be at best an oxymoron, we have developed the idea of the protection of non-combatants, the concept of a proportional response, and the final choice being violence as a last resort. This Christian worldview does offer a stark contrast to the third worldview that is not usually discussed, but assumed all to often: one where all is fair in war.
The Ten Commandments and Warriors:
The answer to those who would point to the Ten Commandments as a reason for not engaging in war is that most scholars understand that the Hebrew word used there is to murder, rather than the English translation of kill. God commands wars and even raises up nations to serve as His instrument of judgment. In Habakkuk, God is clear that there are rules in war and punishes the nation who violates these rules even as He sends them to punish Israel. In addition, we have godly men and women who make war and are commended by God for their virtue in both the Old and New Testaments: Abraham, Moses and David were all warriors and are our heroes of the faith. Cornelius was a warrior and was singled out by God to hear the gospel as one of the first gentile believers. Soldiers asked John the Baptist directly how they should live their lives and were not told to quit their posts.
On a Personal Level:
So what are we to make of the command to love our enemy, not resist an evil person and to turn the other cheek? Honestly, every Christian must wrestle through these issues on a personal level. War and violence is ugly even in its justified form, but loving our enemy does not mean that we allow that enemy to have free rein to harm others. A judge can love his daughter even as he is forced to condemn her to jail for a mistake made. However, not resisting an evil person and turning the cheek is an opportunity for one’s enemy to leave satisfied and to not give occasion for a fight. As Paul says, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with all those around you. This does not necessarily mean that we submit to every and any torture that an evil person would seek to inflict on us or the world. Jesus chose carefully the time and place where we submitted to death and other times He escaped from such abuse.
Overall, I hope that I have shown that there is biblical support for pacifism and for the idea of a just war. I fall in to the latter camp because I believe that one of the roles of government is to protect its citizens and work towards peace, which in our fallen world, sometimes means war. Those in our country who voluntarily choose to live by the sword have to make peace with the idea that they may very likely die by the sword. Those men and women who do serve to protect us deserve our honor and respect and in my opinion, may serve in the military as Christians with a clear conscience.
Here is a well-written pamphlet on why Christians can serve in the military. I apologize that after a quick Google search I did not find a similarly well written piece to defend the other side of the debate.