It seems to me that Christians have changed drastically over the last fifty years in their feelings about what the Bible teaches on war. Fifty years ago there were articles in multiple religious papers promoting the idea that Christian’s should not participate in war. Some took the position that the country had the right to go to war in certain situations but that Christians were not to be part of the fighting forces. If a Christian were drafted as was the case at that time, they should sign up as pacifist and serve in something like the medical core or some other behind the lines situation and not on the battlefield carrying a weapon.
When was the last time you read an article opposed to Christians going to war? If it has been as long for you as it has been for me, it’s been along time. Back when there were lots of articles on the subject it was common to read articles explaining why going to war wasn’t the Christian thing to do. Most of the arguments went back to the Sermon on the Mount. The primary focus was on Matthew 5:38-48. Jesus there said, “You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect , as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
The questions were then raised, “how can you love your enemies and pray for them and turn around and kill them?” Does going to war in any way look like turning the other cheek? These were good questions that deserve an answer. The obvious point of difference it seems to me is these passages are talking about personal problems and differences and not about how one nation should respond to another. From that standpoint it would seem that this whole argument is missed because it was applied to something it never was intended to be applied to. Suppose a judge followed this passage when sentencing a murderer or rapist. This isn’t about government or law but personal relationships.
What does the Bible say about nations and war? Obviously the Old Testament is full of stories of God having the nation of Israel to go out and fight against their enemy and destroy them. God’s great heroes of the faith were often the same men who had gone into battle and killed a great number of the enemies. God’s chosen Abraham led his servants as an army to go and rescue Lot and his family who had been taken captive. David the man after God’s own heart was a mighty warrior who had the women singing about him saying, “Saul has killed his thousands and David his ten-thousands.” That song set off the horrible jealousy in Saul’s heart that led to him trying over and over to kill David. God’s chosen people were commanded to go to the Land of Canaan and drive out the people who had been living there so that they could inhabit the land.
But what about today? God prophesied in Isaiah 2:1-4 and Micah 4:1-4 of the coming day when the house of God would be established in Jerusalem. People would be streaming into the kingdom from all the nations. He would teach us his ways and we would walk in his paths. But then he said that those who came to him would beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; Nation will not lift up sword against nation and never again will they train for war. This prophesy is about the establishment of the church that is recorded in the second chapter of Acts. The word of the Lord went forth from Jerusalem when Peter preached on Pentecost and 3,000 people became Christians. People were there from every nation under heaven and the gospel through those people spread all over the world.
If that is right what about the halting of wars and the peace among the people? It isn’t talking about what would happen among the nations as a whole. It is talking about the church and God’s people. Under the Law the kingdom of Israel would spread through the conquering of different nations. The church is not to spread by means of war but by the preaching of the gospel of peace. I know there have been wars between rival segments of Christianity. But I also know that such wars are a violation of what God teaches us as Christians and as a church.
But what about countries going to war? What does the Bible say about that? The most definitive statement on the subject is found in Paul’s writing to the church in Rome in chapter 13. He had closed chapter twelve with the plea for Christians not to take vengeance on people but give place to wrath for God said “Vengeance is mine.” Chapter 13 explains how God takes vengeance in the world. It is primarily through civil government. Notice what Romans 13 says in the first few verses. “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for they are a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.” (Verses 1-4)
Notice a few things in this. First ruling authorities are ministers of God. They are put into the place they fill to fight evil and praise good behavior. If one does evil the authority has the right to punish them. These authorities even have the right to take one’s life if they do wrong since the text says they do not bear the sword for nothing. It is that statement that the minister of God is an avenger of wrath on the one who practices evil that gives a government the right to go to war to fight evil in the world. While this passages certainly promotes the idea that government has the right under certain conditions to go to war against another country, it also limits when and under what circumstances a country can go to war against another. God didn’t authorize the invasion of one country of another. It authorized one kind of war. It was when it was going against a nation practicing evil.
Can a Christian participate in such a war? I believe so since this book of Romans was to Christians trying to give them a full grasp of God’s plan for his people. If the soldier or policeman is a minister of God it doesn’t make much sense that we could say that a Christian can’t be such a minister of God.