Viewing War from a Christian Standpoint
The matter of engaging in armed warfare may be viewed from a variety of standpoints, each one influenced to some degree by the individual's particular circumstances and prejudices. A very patriotic person will view war in the light of what he feels to be the best interests of his country. An ex-serviceman would naturally look at war from the experienced eye of an actual participant in all its horrors. The person who has lost a loved one in war is certain to be influenced emotionally by this incident. Others who have relatives presently serving in the armed services, especially in a dangerous war zone, will undoubtedly allow this circumstance to govern their outlook toward engaging in military conflict. With still others it may be a popular opinion, a stirring novel or perhaps one's background or temperment that affects his viewpoint one way or the other.
However strong any of these factors may be in shaping our thinking, none must take precedence over our profession as Christians. That which the Word of God requires of a Christian overrides all other factors in determining how he regards participation in war.
It is easy to follow the teaching of the Scriptures in matters that win the respect, admiration and envy of the world. It is not easy to do this when it brings only ridicule and misrepresentation from the non-Christian world. But the people of God must not allow the world's attitude to affect their actions. If a thing is right it should be practiced regardless of what others may think or say. If it is wrong it must be abstained from no matter what consequences may follow. This takes courage but this is the only kind of Christianity known in the New Testament!
A fundamental tenet of the religion of Christ is that a converted person becomes a new creature (II Corinthians 5:17). Old ideas and practices are discarded and replaced by new ones. This "new creature" begins to view everything in a different light than he did before his conversion.
Christians are to have the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:5). This means that they are guided in their thinking and actions by the example of Christ Himself. Charles M. Sheldon powerfully illustrated this principle in his famous book, "In His Steps." Can we think of our Lord engaging in armed combat with those whom He created? The Christian must begin to view war from this standpoint!
A Christian is one who has been crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20). As far as the world is concerned he is dead. As far as he is concerned the world is dead (Galatians 6:14). The world's method of solving its problems is not the standard which controls the Christian. He lives and acts in harmony with spiritual principles because he is led by the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:18). This outlook is considered foolish to the unconverted person (I Corinthians 2:14) but is normal to the one whose nature has been changed (II Peter 1:4).
The Christian has become a partaker of the divine nature (II Peter 1:4). He is no longer motivated by the dictates of "human nature." The reins of God's Word now become the directing force in controlling a Christian's way of life. The child of God must not necessarily respond to his "natural impulses."
While the Christian lives among the people of the world, he does not champion every cause advocated by the world (James 4:4-5). His participation or non-participation in any activity will be determined by a "thus saith the Lord."
The New Testament Scriptures are virtually filled with teaching which shows that Christians are to think differently and act differently after conversion to Christ than they did before. This change is so far-reaching that it affects a person's social, physical, moral, economical, spiritual and religious standards of living. It is only reasonable to expect his attitude toward war to be affected by this radical change.
Lest anyone should think that he is excused from responsibility in this matter because of participating in a "group action", consider the following: All will stand before God to give account of his personal thoughts and deeds (Romans 14:10; II Corinthians 5:10). The final destiny of man will be determined on the basis of his response to the teaching of Christ (John 12:48).
With these thoughts in mind, let us pursue our study of the Christian's relationship to carnal warfare, examining carefully each phase of the subject and drawing our conclusions from the standpoint of a consecrated Christian desiring to obey the Word of God.
A Christian and His Enemies
One of the basic tenets of the Christian religion is Love. And one of the most difficult and demanding expressions of that love is that which relates to a person's enemies. A prominent characteristic of the world is to vent hatred for one's avowed enemies. However, when Christ enters the life this attitude undergoes a radical change. One of the greatest demonstrations of the power of Christ working in a man is to see his hatred toward an enemy turn into love.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus stated this principle in the clearest terms, "Love your enemies," he said, "bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you" (Matthew 5:44). See also Luke 6:27, 35. It would be difficult to imagine how Jesus could have made this point any plainer.
Obviously, a Christian could not love his enemies and at the same time engage in armed warfare against them. Jesus emphatically stated that this love required that we "do good to them." Unfortunately, there are people who deride this injunction of Jesus by referring to those who are trying to obey it as "do-gooders." But no stretch of the imagination or rationalizing of the situation can make the horrible acts of war "doing good" to the enemy! War calls for inflicting the greatest amount of physical and moral harm upon the enemy with the primary intention of bringing about his utter ruin or surrender. Contrary to this, however, the Christian is required to bestow upon his enemies only such things which prove helpful to their physical and moral condition.
The great apostle Paul outlined specifically what this doing good to enemies involved when he said, "But if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him to drink..." (Romans 12:20). There may be Christians who would consider this course of action "unreasonable" or "foolish" but, if the proper attitude of love exists in the heart, it will become the normal and natural way of treating an enemy. If this is not being practiced today, the fault lies in a lack of Christ-like love and not in a lack of understanding what the Bible teaches on the subject. The difficulty of carrying out any obligation is no valid argument for rejecting it.
The objection is often raised that when Jesus and Paul mention "enemies," they mean only such personal enemies as one might acquire in his day to day activities. This view holds that such enemies cannot refer to members of the military force of an opposing nation with which our country may be engaged in a declared or undeclared war. The reasoning follows that we are obliged to do good to personal enemies but that the Scriptures which teach this do not apply to enemy soldiers during wartime.
In reply to this it should be pointed out that the Greek word from which our English word "enemy" is translated is "ekthros", and is used thirty-two times in the New Testament. It is rendered as "enemy" and "foe", both in the singular and plural. It is significant to note that the same word is used in reference to both personal and national enemies.6
In Luke 19:41-44, Jesus laments the coming fate of the city of Jerusalem for having rejected him. In verse 43 he says, "For the days shall come upon thee, when thine enemies shall cast up a bank (Trench, KJV) about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side." This is an unmistakable allusion to the Roman army, under Titus, as it beseiged the city of Jerusalem prior to its fall in 70 A. D. Here the word "enemies" (from ekthros) refers to a national armed force preparing for a violent act of destructive war. This is the same word for the "enemies" whom the Christian is commanded to love. See also the prophecy of Zacharias, in Luke 1:67-79 where the term "enemies" is also used in a military sense, (although its use there appears to be figurative.)
But does war actually breed hatred of one's enemies? Does the physical and emotional training of fighting men instill in them compassion or contempt for their foes? Few men who have confronted the enemy in the heat of fierce battle would hesitate in answering this question. Let a professional soldier of international reputation provide us with some insight into this matter.
General Dwight Eisenhower lamented the apathy of the public toward all-out war preparation which immediately preceded the attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941. He cited this attitude on the part of the people as a factor in making it more difficult to secure "toughened fighting men, emotionally and professionally ready for warfare."7
What did Eisenhower mean by "emotional" readiness for war? Just what kind of preparation do fighting men receive before going into battle? Does the army chaplain stand before the troops, as they assemble below the ship's deck arrayed in battle dress and prepared to land on an enemy beachhead, and urge them to remember the words of Jesus, "Love your enemies...do good to them that hate you"? Would the teaching of the Bible regarding a Christian's attitude toward his enemies be appropriate pre-battle instruction?
I well recall that tense morning in 1945 when I was assembled with army troops aboard an attack amphibious ship off the coast of Japan. The soldiers were dressed in full battle combat gear. Within an hour they would scramble over the side and into landing craft which would shuttle them ashore on one of the Japanese home islands. Although a formal treaty had been signed a few weeks earlier, these soldiers were briefed to expect a fanatic, last ditch stand by the Japanese since this was a remote area of the country which may not have heard of the official surrender of the nation's leaders.
What would the navy chaplain say to these grim men? Perhaps we should tell you what he did not say. He completely ignored any reference to the Bible's teaching on a Christian's attitude toward his enemies. He could not have mentioned this subject if those men were to hit that beach prepared to face an enemy they had been trained to hate. Emotionally they had to be made ready to kill or else suffer the same fate themselves. The Christian principle of love for enemies has no place in war.
To help you get an idea of the attitude toward one's enemies which is encouraged by war we reproduce the following article taken from the recent number of a religious magazine.As part of the military training in World War II, the inductees were shown a film entitled "Kill or Be Killed." The picture, as I remember was vividly barbaric, and yet the U. S. Government knowing full well that most of us were reared in homes of reasonable peace and tranquillity, felt that our minds as well as our bodies must be properly conditioned for mortal combat. After all, they reasoned, war is a matter of survival of the fittest and certainly the nation with the most people surviving would emerge victorious.
The film depicted the sadistic methods of fighting used by the enemy. Everything was fair! Nothing was too cruel! All rules for human dignity were completely forgotten-this was total war and our leaders wanted each of us to know it and to respond in like manner. It was appalling but later it proved to be the one great factor responsible for our survival. We had a mission to perform-it was a mission of death. We must fight the enemy with his own methods-we must fit ourselves for the right to live. "Kill or Be Killed," they said and it had to be the most important thing in our lives. They taught us well.8
Perhaps the best way to sum up the feelings which war arouses in a man toward his enemies is in the words of a sturdy, handsome South Vietnamese soldier, Nguyen Van Ham, 23 years of age. Interviewed by a newspaper correspondent concerning his role as a member of the South Vietnamese army he said, "I hate the Viet Cong, and I love my country. I have killed three Viet Cong. When I shoot them, I don't know why, but I feel very good...I still want to go more often into the field and kill the Viet Cong."9 This young man is a Roman Catholic.
In the face of the atrocities being committed by the Viet Cong, it is not too difficult to see why this young man is so strongly motivated to kill. But the teaching of Jesus still stands. While it may not be easy, yet the Word of God commands the Christian to love his enemies, and to act like it. This he cannot do and go to war against them.
NOTES FROM CHAPTER TWO
6. G. H. C. Macgregor, THE NEW TESTAMENT BASIS OF PACIFISM, (Nyack, N. Y.: Fellowship Publications: 1960) page 47.
7. Dwight D. Eisenhower, CRUSADE IN EUROPE (Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday and Company, Inc.: 1948) page 10.
8. Ike Henderson, "Think It Over," CHRIST FOR THE WORLD FAMILY MAGAZINE (Orlando, Fla.:) (Vol. 28, No. 12, Dec. 1968) p. 19.
9. Orlando (Florida) Evening Star, Friday, July 16, 1965, p. 12-A
A Christian and Evildoers
One of the most frequent arguments used in an attempt to justify a Christian waging war is that "Evil-doers must be stopped in their aggressive efforts to overrun the world." Nearly every generation has had its Alexander, Caesar, Napoleon, Kaiser Wilhelm, Lenin, Hitler, Mussolini or Stalin. Certainly the atrocities perpetrated upon mankind by dictators who have aspired to world rule are to be deplored. Evil-doing of all kinds must be hated by Bible-believing Christians who desire to have the mind of Christ. It is said of Jesus, "Thou hast loved righteousness and hated iniquity" (Hebrews 1:9).
But in the process of hating evil Christians are not permitted to despise the evil-doer also. This attitude is supremely exemplified in the act of God commending His "own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). While man was busily engaged in the pursuit of evil, God was pursuing a course designed to effect man's eternal good. God loves sinners "even when we were dead through our trespasses" (Ephesians 2:4-5) and yet God says of evil, "all these are the things I hate" (Zechariah 8:17). Although God hates all evil, He loves the evildoer and has done only good to him, "for he is kind toward the unthankful and evil" (Luke 6:35).
The New Testament explicitly commands a Christian to "see that none render unto any one evil for evil; but always follow after that which is good, one toward another, and toward all" (I Thessalonians 5:15). This forbids a child of God from committing an evil act even a-gainst the person who has mistreated him. This principle has been stated in the well-known proverb "two wrongs never make a right."
When the apostate Jews of Jesus' day attempted to justify returning evil for evil by misapplying the Mosaic civil code requiring " an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth," Jesus plainly told them, "resist not him that is evil" (Matthew 5:38-39).
War demands retaliation against evildoers. It calls for both offensive attack and defensive counterattack against an enemy bent on destruction. War requires putting a stop to his evildoing. The prime means employed in war to accomplish this is for individuals to kill individuals. And this very action is forbidden to a Christian who is commanded by his Lord not to return evil to the one inflicting evil upon him.
Here again we are confronted with the objection that only "personal" evildoers are meant by these passages of Scripture. It is contended that the evil we might encounter in our personal contacts with our fellow man is to be tolerated but that the evil activities of an enemy nation during wartime may be responded to, in kind, by the Christian as an agent of the government. But can this allowance be upheld by the Scriptures?
In I Thessalonians 5:15 we are told to follow after that which is good toward "all." Romans 12:17-18 requires that we render to "no man" evil for evil, but rather to take thought for honorable things in the sight of "all men", and to be at peace with "all men." Now, unless these statements are somewhere in the New Testament qualified or restricted, then they must stand as clear-cut prohibitions preventing a Christian from rendering malicious evil to any and all men. This rule would apply to members of the community in which we live as well as members of an opposing army. Destructive violence and terror tactics are wrong whether they are carried on in a neighborhood scuffle or an international armed struggle. If not, why not?
Other passages which emphasize that Christians are not to engage in mutual hostility, such as war, are: Romans 12:21; I Peter 3:9; I Corinthians 4:12. While it may be freely admitted that in the open conflict of wartime it would be difficult (if not practically impossible) to engage in returning good for evil, that does not, therefore, permit rendering evil for evil.
Then there are those who still insist that evildoers must be dealt with as a matter of Justice. But in war there is no justice. Indeed, the very nature of warfare precludes justice. Law, as ordained by Scripture, allows for a nation to govern its citizens, and even to punish the offenders among its citizens (Romans 13:1-7). But this, or any other passage of Scripture, gives no authority to one nation to judge another and then to administer "justice" by indiscriminately slaughtering its inhabitants.
War does not operate on the basis of justice. The evildoers, the true criminals responsible for desecrating mankind, are seldom, if ever, punished. Since the Bible indicates that evil men will wax worse and worse (II Timothy 3:13) we can expect the art of wanton human destruction to become more and more "refined."
War is gross injustice, waged on a worldwide scale, and Christians being just men (Hebrews 12:23) can have no part in it, regardless of how evil it may become.
In the end, however, evildoers will be punished. The Word of God settles the matter by stating that vengeance belongs to God. He will repay all injustices. Christians are warned to "Avenge not yourselves, beloved, but give place unto the wrath of God" Romans 12:19. And this is as it should be, for who else, besides Almighty God, could be impartially just and unerringly right?
Christians are strictly forbidden to "get back at" evildoers, even if they incite worldwide hostility in the form of war. God will punish the warmonger in His own time and way. This responsibility lies outside the realm of man. The Christian must respect God's authority in this matter and thereby have no part in war.
A Christian and His Neighbors
"And who is my neighbor?", asked a Jewish law expert of Jesus, the greatest expert in God's law (Luke 10:29). The answer came in the form of a beautiful parable which told of a man, who had been beaten and robbed, and was ignored by self-righteous religious leaders only to be thoughtfully cared for by a despised Samaritan traveler. The lesson which Jesus taught here was that a neighbor is one who needs our help.10 Barnes elaborates upon the aim of the parable by stating that "true religion teaches us to regard every man as our neighbor; prompts us to do good to all, to forget all national or sectional distinctions." 11 Lamar comments on Jesus' teaching in this parable thusly: "Humanity is our neighbor."12 He points out that Jesus' emphasis was upon doing good to all men and that we should not only "have" neighbors but "be" neighbors.
Without question, Jesus' "Good Samaritan" story was intended to illustrate the Christian responsibility of being kind, considerate and helpful to all people.
Perhaps the clearest summary of Jesus' teaching was his requirement that men should love God with all their hearts and their neighbor as themselves (Matthew 22:36-40). He said that these two commandments were the greatest and, in effect, were the fulfillment of "the whole law" and "the prophets" (See also Mark 12:30-31).
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus pointed out that the Old Covenant also required love for neighbors. But under that law the Israelites apparently concluded that they were not obligated to love their enemies (Matthew 5:43). This was no doubt the result of Jehovah commanding them not to seek the "peace" or "prosperity" of the Ammonites or Moabites (Deuteronomy 23:3-6). Also, they were told to "blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven" (Deuteronomy 25:19). To correct any possible misunderstanding, Jesus called for love even to one's enemies under the New Covenant. This being the case, there can be no question about what attitude to have toward neighbors.
In the Christian dispensation one of the most prominent characteristics of God's people is their sincere expression of love for their fellowman.
Now let us consider this "love thy neighbor" teaching as it relates to a Christian serving in armed warfare. A Christian regards every human being as an object of genuine love. He is to eagerly seek every possible opportunity to render needed service to him. He is to bestow upon him gladly whatever deeds of kindness he is able. He is even supposed to show his neighbor the same loving interest that he does to himself. This is the true meaning of Christ's doctrine of love for neighbor.
However, as a member of a military organization whose chief aim in wartime is to inflict hardship, privation, injury, and even death upon one's fellow-creatures, a Christian would certainly not be demonstrating neighborliness, according to Jesus' teaching.
Let us suppose that Christians lived in towns near the national borders of two countries which were at war with one another. These people would actually be "physical" neighbors, in the usual sense of the word. No doubt these people would be on friendly terms and bound together by strong ties of good will. In fact, as "small" as the earth has become, people can be literal neighbors around the world.
In such a war between "neighboring" countries these "neighbors" would necessarily be pitted against one another in armed combat. The very ones they had learned to love and respect would now become objects of their violence and brutality because their respective governments were at war. Could the Christian Scripturally participate in such activity against his neighbor? Must he now begin to exchange bombs and bullets in the place of gifts and best wishes? The whole issue boils down to this: Does war exempt the Christian from obeying Jesus' teaching on love for his neighbor? If it does, where in the New Testament is this exception taught? If this principle applies universally, then the Christian cannot war against his neighbor.
Notice that other inspired writers of the Scriptures teach the same thing. Paul said, "Owe no man anything, save to love one another: for he that loveth his neighbor hath fulfilled the law" (Romans 13:8). In the ninth verse he lists some of the ten commandments (those which have to do with our relationship to others) and then says these are summed up in the command to "love thy neighbor as thyself." Then in verse ten, he expands on this idea by explaining that "Love does no wrong to one's neighbor-it never hurts anybody" (Amplified New Testament). The acts of war simply do not describe the type of conduct which Christians are required to show toward their neighbors.
In Galatians 5:14-15, Paul said that loving our neighbors as ourselves was the "one word" which fulfilled the whole law. He then added, "But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another." Here, in striking language, the apostle pictures the fierce, animal-like ravaging of armed warfare.
In order to carry out this principle, which James calls "the royal law" (James 2:8), the Christian cannot participate in war which knows nothing of the Christian ethic of love for neighbor.
NOTES FROM CHAPTER FOUR
10. B. W. Johnson, THE PEOPLE'S NEW TESTAMENT WITH NOTES, (Nashville, Tenn.: Gospel Advocate Co.: n. d.) Vol. 1, p. 267.
11. Albeit Barnes, NOTES ON THE NEW TESTAMENT (Luke and John); (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House: 1960) p. 70.
12. J. S. Lamar, THE NEW TESTAMENT COMMENTARY (Vol. II-Luke); (Dallas, Texas: Eugene S. Smith: n. d.) p. 160.
A Christian and His Brethren
A distinguishing characteristic of Christians is their love for one another. Jesus said, "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another" (John 13:34-35). Christianity is conspicuous for this quality, which is so pitifully lacking in the world. Notice that Jesus commands this love to be "as I have loved you." We are to love each other, as Christian brethren, the way that Christ loves us (John 15:12).
Christians are not only to love one another because Christ commands it (I John 3:23) but also out of deep appreciation for what our heavenly Father has done for us in sending Christ to be the covering for our sins (I John 4:9-11).
The second century writer Lucian said of Christians, "It is incredible to see the ardor with which the people of that religion help each other in their wants. They spare nothing. Their first legislator has put it into their heads that they are all brethren."13
Brotherly love is such a natural consequence of being a Christian that it hardly needs to be taught. Paul simply felt the need to exhort them to "abound more and more" in it (I Thessalonians 4:9-10). Love for our brethren is actually an evidence of having entered the new life in Christ (I John 3:14). Love of the brethren is not just a once-in-a-while attitude but is to "continue" (Hebrews 13:1). It is to be an expression of tender affection (Romans 12:10). It is to be sincere, heartfelt and intense according to I Peter 1:22. If this kind of love exists between Christians, it cannot help being seen.
Now it hardly needs to be said that a love like this would earnestly seek to "work that which is good" toward a brother in Christ (Galatians 6:10). But how does armed warfare fit into this loving relationship?
The activities of war place Christian brethren in such circumstances where brotherly love cannot exist. Suppose you were part of an army which was at war with another nation. As a soldier (or member of another branch of what is called collectively "the armed forces") it would be your responsibility to inflict damage and wreak havoc on the enemy in an effort to bring about his surrender. Suppose you were a Christian. Part of your job would be to contribute to the overall task of gaining the victory by whatever means your superiors considered most effective. This could include the bombing of such installations as bridges, dams, factories, highways, railroads or any other facility that would cripple the enemy and reduce his capacity for retaliation. In the process countless thousands of innocent civilians would be killed simply because they happened to live or work in the areas marked out for destruction. Even with precision equipment there is still a margin of error in hitting the intended target. This is seen in the fact that in World War II, entire villages of civilian population were totally wiped out.
Now suppose that some of these persons were Christians; those very ones whom your Master commanded that you should love dearly. Instead of acts of kindness and benevolence, your participation in war would call for bestowing upon them acts of violence and merciless death. Instead of love, you would be showing hate toward your brethren. And the Bible makes hating a brother equivalent to murder (I John 3:15). Bombing and strafing brethren is mass murder, regardless of how it might be "justified" as an act of war. War prevents Christians from acting like brethren!
Imagine two men, brothers in the Lord, participating in a war on opposing sides. Frequently the battle conditions of the foot soldier call for the grueling job of advancing into enemy territory at a painfully slow pace. Often towns and villages are captured block by block. The tattered, battle-weary soldier meets with the grisly task of encountering the enemy in face-to-face combat. Suddenly, over a heap of rubble in a bombed-out building, these two brothers meet! God has commanded them to love one another from the heart fervently. But each one has orders from his commanding officer to kill on sight all members of the opposing force. What are they to do?
It may be objected that since these two Christians could not possibly know they were brothers, they should just fulfill their military duty and disregard the chance of killing a fellow-Christian. But this would be saying, in effect, "Since I can't know who might be a Christian, I will just kill and not worry about it." How could the conscience of a true child of God be at ease while doing this?
But let us suppose that these two soldiers did recognize each other as disciples of the Lord. And this would not be impossible, especially in a border war where Christian fellowship spans even international boundaries. It would be very conceivable for people of adjoining countries to know and love each other as members of Christ's church. So now they meet, as brethren, and yet as enemies. They are faced with the awesome choice of killing for country's sake or loving for Christ's sake. They are confronted with the decision to carry out their earthly commander's orders or to abide in their heavenly Savior's will. Which will it be?
Surely no Christian would desire to meet with such a circumstance. Even the faintest possibility of it occurring would be enough to cause the consecrated Christian to decline military service. Brethren cannot love one another, as the Bible teaches, and participate in war against each other. Thoughtful men can come to no other conclusion.
NOTE FROM CHAPTER FIVE
13. Wilbur Fields, THINKING THROUGH THESSALONIANS, (Joplin, Missouri: College Press: 1963) p. 109.
Participation in War and the "Golden Rule"
The "Golden Rule" is a popular term for the well-known passage of Scripture found in Matthew 7:12 which reads, "All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye also unto them." With slight variation, it is more commonly quoted, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
It would not seem that there could be any difficulty in understanding this verse. None of the words require consulting a dictionary to find out their meaning. No one feels compelled to resort to a commentary to discover what Jesus is trying to get across. Its application to the subject of armed warfare is all too obvious. But, perhaps, because of its very simplicity, it has been overlooked and its implications regarding a Christian and war have been entirely missed.
At the risk of over-simplifying it, let me state plainly that one cannot keep the "Golden Rule" and at the same time participate in the acts of war as part of a military force. War requires doing to others the very things which we would not want them doing to us. Nothing could be more opposite of the "Golden Rule" than the unrestrained destruction brought on by war. The very object of war is for one side to inflict as much devastation upon the enemy as possible while suffering the least in casualties to life and property itself. War operates on the same principle as the "hit-and-run" automobile mishap, the only difference being that war is "on purpose" while a pedestrian hit by a car is an "accident."
Since it is a natural instinct for a human being not to want to be hurt or killed (Ephesians 5:29), the "Golden Rule" would lead a person not to want to injure or put to death anyone else. Since Christians, along with all civilized humans, are pleased to be treated with kindness and consideration, the "Golden Rule" would impel them to treat other people the same way. Jesus' teaching on the proper relationship of a Christian to his fellowman is totally incompatible with the requirements of war.
We often hear that the eventual aim of war is to bring about peace between nations and therefore Christians are justified in temporarily setting aside the "Golden Rule" in the interest of the overall good to humanity that would result when peace is finally "won." This is based on the false premise that "the end justifies the means." The idea is that, because long-range good is assured, short-range evil is permissible. The New Testament simply does not sanction this type of rationalizing in so serious a matter as the life and death of human beings. Even if it could be shown that war accomplishes some lasting good (and history does not bear this out), that would not override the Christian's obligation to treat others in harmony with Christ's teaching.
The apostle Paul was once faced with this same basic type of false reasoning. The Jews felt that if their sin was the cause of God extending His bountiful grace to man, then the more man sinned, the more of God's grace would be displayed. To this Paul replied, "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid" Romans 6:1-2. In effect he is saying, "Just because something good and worthwhile comes about as a consequence of our sin, that does not justify us in continuing on in that sin."
This false principle of the world, if carried out to its logical end, would justify lying, stealing, cheating and even murder, so long as there was the possibility of some good resulting.
The "Golden Rule" teaching of Jesus allows no loophole through which Christians can justify treating others the way that war requires.
Participation in War and the ''Great Commission"
"The Great Commission" is a common phrase used to describe a well-known portion of Scripture. These words refer to Matthew 28:18-20 which reads as follows: "And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you..." This is stated, in different wording, in Luke 24:46-47 and Mark 16:15-16. It is called "the Great Commission" because it consists of Jesus' final charge to his apostles to carry the gospel message to all the world.
Mark's account makes it especially clear that Jesus intended for every person to be evangelized and converted, for he says, "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature." Although originally given to the apostles, this commission was to become the "marching orders" of the entire church. According to Acts 8:1-4 we learn that the membership of Christ's body had the responsibility to go "everywhere preaching the word." So today, every Christian should recognize and accept his personal responsibility for winning as many lost persons to Christ as he possibly can.
Now with the nature of "the Great Commission" in mind and each Christian's part in carrying it out, let us consider how this relates to participation in war.
To the Christian every individual should be viewed as a potential convert to Christ. This includes our next-door neighbor, those in the adjoining state or country, and even all those across the seas, in the islands and continents of the world. Remember, Jesus said, "preach the gospel to every creature;" and "make disciples of all the nations."
But if a Christian engaged in war, he would be participating in killing the very ones to whom Jesus sent him to preach and baptize. Only those who are alive and able to hear and obey the gospel message can ever be saved. Romans 10:13-14. However, since war involves taking the lives of soldiers and civilians alike, it actually reduces the number of persons who will ever be able to hear, believe and obey the Gospel for salvation. So then, if you, as a Christian, were to participate in any effort of human slaughter (such as war), you would be thwarting the very purpose of "the Great Commission." The persons killed in war meet with sudden and unexpected death. They have no time or opportunity to make their lives right with God. To intentionally contribute to the death of a lost person in war, whether directly or indirectly, is to make it impossible for that person ever to be saved. His fate is sealed for eternity, outside the saving power of Christ.
Again, picture the Christian on a beachhead or in a jungle facing an enemy soldier. His government says, "Kill him." His conscience, instructed by the Word of God and prompted by the Holy Spirit, says, "Love him." Jesus, the captain of his salvation, says, "Preach to him." If he chooses to be an obedient soldier, he becomes a disobedient Christian. But if he determines to be an obedient Christian he would realize his obligation to "convert him" rather than to "kill him." Moreover, if the Christian, finding himself in this situation, would only have thought the matter through beforehand, he never would have been in such a perplexing position to start with.
By taking the life of another in war, a Christian not only disregards "the Great Commission" himself, but he makes it impossible for anyone else to carry it out as far as that individual is concerned. While a single Christian could never be expected to reach every person on earth with the Gospel, he should go to as many as he is able to personally, and then be willing to send others to the rest, Romans 10:14-15. But to participate in killing people absolutely prevents anyone from taking the good news of salvation to the victims of war.
This point was well taken by James D. Bales when he said, "No soldier who sees the enemy in his rifle sights can pull the trigger, and send him unprepared to eternity, if he views that enemy as a man for whom Christ died."14
Others, acquainted with the church's mission to e-vangelize the lost, have called attention to the same insurmountable problem. Moses Lard, writing at the close of the Civil War, observed that the rifle-bearing soldier "hurried into eternity" the souls of human beings who were spiritually "unprepared to die." 15 More recently Wyatt Sawyer stated it so plainly when he said, about Christians killing lost men, "In doing so they destroyed forever the opportunity of the dead man to obey the gospel and be saved."16 Even Allen C. Isbell, who classes himself as a non-pacifist, admits in his recent book, "War and Conscience," that it would be disturbing to one's conscience for a Christian to participate in killing innocent people, which is an inevitable consequence of war.17 And certainly no child of God can live an acceptable Christian life with a conscience haunted by dozens or thousands of lost souls he ushered into eternity without Christ!
How inconsistent it is for the church to send some of its young men to a foreign country to preach the Gospel, and at the same time to send others to that country to kill its people in war. What a dilemma! Visualize these two armies marching forth to battle; one made up of soldiers of the "cross", bearing the message of hope and happiness to the lost masses, and the other made up of soldiers of the "crown", bearing the implements of death and destruction to the same undeserving multitude. How inconceivable to the mind of Christ and how unacceptable according to the Scriptures.
War frustrates evangelism because it nullifies "the Great Commission." The two cannot be successfully harmonized without doing violence to the plain teaching of the New Testament Scriptures.
NOTES FROM CHAPTER SEVEN
14. James D. Bales, P. W. Stonestreet, BALES-STONESTREET DISCUSSION ON THE CHRISTIAN AND CARNAL WARFARE,(Searcy, Arkansas: James D. Bales: 1947) page 134.
15. Moses E. Lard, "Should Christians Go To War?" LARD'S QUARTERLY (Kansas City, Mo.: Old Paths Book Club: 1950, reprint) Vol. 3, p. 231.
16. Wyatt Sawyer, "Can A Christian Fight For His Government?" TEENAGE CHRISTIAN, (Austin, Texas: TAC Publishing Co.: 1962) Vol. 3, No. 2, Feb. 1962, p. 17.
17. Allen C. Isbell, WAR AND CONSCIENCE, (Abilene, Texas: Biblical Research Press: 1966) p. 19.
Participation in War and Prayer
Prayer is a vital part of the Christian life. As a child of God the Christian has the privilege of requesting from his heavenly Father those things which he may legitimately desire. From its very beginning, the church continued steadfastly in prayer (Acts 2:42) and was later exhorted to "pray without ceasing" (I Thessalonians 5:17). Upon donning the "armor of God" the Christian soldier is urged to "pray always" (Ephesians 6:18). Prayer is everywhere in the Scriptures associated with true devotion to God.
Essentially, prayer is asking. One of the words for "pray" in the original Greek means "to ask, to make request." The idea of asking in prayer is clearly seen in such passages as I John 3:22; 5:14-15; and Philippians 1:4. While prayer certainly includes praising and thanking God, its basic idea is asking Him for our needs (Matthew 6:7-8).
New Testament teaching on prayer indicates that a Christian may include everything in his requests to God. The apostle Paul shows the unlimited bounds of prayer in Philippians 4:6 where he urges "But in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God." John adds that, in order for God to hear our requests, they must be asked "according to his will" (I John 5:14). Then James points out that some things are not granted "because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts" (James 4:3). From this we conclude that, while God invites us to ask for everything, such requests are necessarily limited to those things which are according to His will. One could not rightfully ask for something which the Scriptures forbid him to have and still expect God to grant it. A Christian could not hope to receive something in answer to his prayer with the intention of using it for a wicked purpose. God is perfectly just in withholding certain things which are asked of Him. He cannot be a party to evil. If it were otherwise, God might justly be accused of providing man with greater convenience to commit sin.
Now notice these two important observations about prayer: (1) The Christian is to pray about everything. (2) The exceptions to this are such things which are not according to God's will. A logical conclusion, drawn from the above, would be that anything a Christian may not rightfully pray for would not be right for him to possess or practice. For example, one could not Scripturally pray for skill and success to perform a robbery because God has forbidden stealing. One could not pray for circumstances to work out well for seducing another man's wife because God has prohibited adultery. Whatever activity one may engage in must be in harmony with God's will in order to pray for it acceptably. Hence, whatever cannot be conscientiously and Scripturally prayed about must not be participated in.
Now here are some pointed questions which everyone who enters the armed forces must face squarely and honestly. As a Christian could you pray to God for success in carrying out your duties as a fighting soldier? Could you ask God for the skill to use deadly weapons to the best advantage in killing enemy individuals? Could you ask God to direct you as you aimed your high-powered rifle, your mortar or your hand grenade at people much like yourself, except they happened to be wearing a different uniform? Could you pray to get in the first thrust of your bayonet or the first chop with your combat knife during the close contact of jungle guerilla warfare? Could you pray for your supporting aircraft to make direct hits on an enemy machine-gun emplacement or to accurately strafe a wave of attacking foot-soldiers? Could you pray for these things with the assurance that they were according to the will of God?
Or could you request God's blessing on your bombing sortie even though you were well aware that many innocent women and children would be blown to bits, along with the primary industrial target? Could you pray for the speed, skill and maneuverability required for shooting down an enemy fighter plane, thus sending its pilot to certain death? Could you pray that a radio message you hurriedly sent would bring a rapid response resuiting in the sinking of a menacing submarine which would send hundreds of men to their death? Could you pray for these things with the assurance that you were not asking amiss?
Now consider this matter from a different standpoint. As a member of a fighting force would you feel inclined to pray for the speedy recovery of enemy soldiers you helped to wound and maim? Would you pray for the loved ones of a dead soldier lying in the ditch along the roadside of a steaming jungle war zone — a soldier that you helped to kill? After seeing the terrified and weeping wife and children of the men whose lives you took in battle, would you feel led to pray that you could increase your "kill ratio" in the next village you attacked? How could you pray for God's help to be with you in the accomplishment of the grisly and merciless tasks of war?
Suppose you were a Christian in the armed forces of your nation, dug in on an island beachhead thousands of miles from home—what would you pray for? Who would you pray for? Under such circumstances could you pray for "everything" connected with your day to day activities? Could you pray for them with the assurance that it was "according to God's will?" Or would your mind be so confused and your body so weary and your attitude so embittered that you could not even pray at all?
In the comfort of your living room you can no doubt see the utter incompatibility of participating in war and praying for success in your endeavor. You can see that praying for evil to befall your enemy would not be acceptable prayer to God. But amid the bursting bombs and the thumping mortar fire of a far-flung battlefield, it might be a far different thing. Here you can see the inherent wrong in waging war. There, all you can see is the goal of your military objective—to fight and win—even if it means committing the worst kind of sins to accomplish it.
The time for Christians to think about participating in war and what the Bible teaches about it is now, before it is too late. It is easy to pray for peace now, but virtually unthinkable to pray for anything but victory, at any cost, in the heat of battle.
The nature of warfare is such that a Christian cannot Scripturally pray for its success. And if he cannot pray for success in waging it, he must not participate in it.
The Peaceful Nature of the Kingdom of God
Jesus taught that the church which he was to build and the kingdom of heaven were one and the same. This is made clear by his use of the terms interchangably in Matthew 16:16-19. In Paul's writings he specifically says that Christians have been "translated into the kingdom" of Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:13). So Christ rules today over the lives of Christians who make up God's kingdom, the church. But what is the nature of this kingdom? May its subjects participate in warfare, with carnal weapons, and still have the approval of its King? In order to answer these questions, let us examine several Old Testament prophecies which point to the kingdom of Christ in the New Testament.
In Micah 4:1-4, we have a prophecy which contains the following elements: (1) Its fulfillment would occur in the last days (of political Israel, not of the world). (2) The mountain of the house of the Lord would be established (a reference to the kingdom or church). (3) People of all nations would flow into this kingdom. (4) Its law, the Word of God, would go forth from Jerusalem.
The fulfillment of this prophecy is found in the establishment of the church on the day of Pentecost and is recorded in the 2nd chapter of the Book of Acts. Briefly, here are the reasons why: (1) The events of Acts the 2nd chapter are said by the apostle Peter to have occurred on "the last days" (Compare Joel 2:28ff with Acts 2:17ff). (2) The church is repeatedly spoken of in the New Testament as the "house of God" (I Timothy 3:15; I Peter 4: 17). (3) The church was to be composed of people of all nations (Mark 16:15; Matthew 28:19) and on the day of Pentecost there were people present from "every nation under heaven" (Acts 2:5). (4) The apostles were told to begin their preaching of the Gospel of the kingdom from the city of Jerusalem (Luke 24:46-49; Acts 1:4, 12).
Now let us notice an important element of the Micah prophecy. Among the nations who were to flow unto this "mountain of Jehovah's house" (the kingdom or church) there would be those who would "beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks" (Micah 4:3). It further states that "nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." The references to "many nations" inviting people to come to the Lord's house (verse 2) and one "nation" not lifting up sword against another (verse 3) refer to the people from all nations who embrace this house of God. Zerr's Commentary says, "Many nations means people from many nations." 18 This period of time does not refer to some golden age of the church on earth when everyone will be converted, nor does it refer to conditions in heaven. The context shows clearly that it is speaking of the church age which began on the day of Pentecost, as recorded in Acts 2, and which continues today. Thus, this prophecy tells of conditions in which we now live, when Christians from the various nations of the world will not take up arms to fight against each other.
Commenting on this prophecy, Larry Jonas said, in "The Pattern", "It need only be a time when church members in every nation give up weapons...This prophecy is to be fulfilled by all who obey Jesus."19 Here, then, appears a prophecy of the peaceful nature of the kingdom of Christ, in which Christians would not be engaged in carnal warfare.
Another prophecy bearing directly upon the peaceful nature of Christ's kingdom, the church, is found in Isaiah 11:1-10. That this passage alludes to the kingdom of Christ is seen by the fact that the apostle Paul quotes from this passage and applies it to Christ (Romans 15:12). Notice in Isaiah 11:6-9 that various wild animals are pictured as lying down together and even playing with children without harming them. Some have supposed that this refers to a future state of heavenly bliss, but recall that Paul attributes its fulfillment to the time when the Gentiles would have hope in Christ. This, of course, is the Christian dispensation, the church age in which we now live. The language of Isaiah describing the marvelous peace and contentment existing between animal life is simply prophetic imagery indicating the peaceful nature of God's people in the kingdom of Christ. Wallace gives the following comment on this section of Scripture: "The wolf, the leopard and the lion are representative of the wicked and violent passions of men—the wild beasts of human character. It is a prophetic Gospel promise that such evil spirits should be subdued by the reign of the Prince of Peace in the hearts and lives of his subjects."20
The above reference to Christ as "Prince of Peace" is taken from the unmistakable allusion to the Savior recorded in Isaiah 9:6-7. These prophecies, together with others which could be cited, show that Jesus' rule over the hearts of men in his New Testament kingdom would produce in them a nature totally adverse to the practices required by armed warfare. But so much for prophecy. Let us now turn our attention to the explicit teaching of the New Testament Scriptures concerning the peaceful nature of members of Christ's church.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus bestowed his blessing upon the "peacemakers," stating that "they shall be called the children of God" (Matthew 5:9). Peace making was to be a notable characteristic of Christians. But members of the armed forces are rigorously trained in the art of war making. If, somehow, a fighting soldier could be considered a "peacemaker," then who should properly be classed as a "warmaker?" If being a peacemaker brings the promise of being called "children of God," what might those who wage war be called? Peacemakers do not fight, and warmakers are not peaceful!
Perhaps one of the clearest passages of Scripture showing that Christians are not permitted to engage in carnal warfare is found in II Corinthians 10:3-4. These verses state: "For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds)." Paul here teaches that, although Christians live on earth in a human body, they are not to conduct themselves according to human standards. He does not deny that a Christian is at war, but he points out that the weapons used by the child of God are not the same as those used by non-Christians. The Christian is engaged in "the good fight of the faith," but he uses only those spiritual weapons which God mightily blesses in the overthrow of evil.
Weymouth translates this passage, "The weapons with which we fight are not human weapons..." Taylor's "Living New Testament" paraphrases it in these words: "I use God's mighty weapons, not those made by men, to knock down the devil's strongholds." Phillips puts it this way: "The battle we are fighting is on the spiritual level. The very weapons we use are not those of human warfare but powerful in God's warfare for the destruction of the enemy's strongholds."
So the Christian is engaged in a spiritual battle, against spiritual enemies and therefore must use spiritual weapons. This same conflict is described by the figure of "wrestling" in Ephesians 6:12, "For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places." (American Standard Version) From this we can see that the Christian's struggle is against evil ideas; against wicked tendencies; against ungodly influences; against false philosophies; against all the powers of sin and wrongdoing.
Even though these are formidable enemies, the weapons to be used in combating them involve no violence or bloodshed. To insure victory in this spiritual battle, the New Testament Scriptures refer us to the proper equipment called "the armour of God." This armour consists of truth, righteousness, the Gospel of peace, faith, salvation, the Word of God and prayer (Ephesians 6:10-18). How different these weapons are from those used in human warfare! They are specially designed to cast down "imaginations" and to capture "thoughts" with a view to bringing people to a "knowledge of God" and into "the obedience of Christ" (II Corinthians 10:5). They are to be used for elevating and blessing the spirit of man and not for harming or destroying his body. The nature, methods, equipment and aims of the Christian warfare are on a totally different plane than those of human warfare, which requires arms and violence to gain its temporal ends.
Carnal weapons are not used in a spiritual war, and spiritual weapons are powerless in a carnal war. The Christian is engaged in only one war, a spiritual one. He is authorized to use only one type of weapon by his Commander, spiritual ones. This means that he has absolutely no place participating in the carnal wars of men, fighting with fleshly weapons, devoted to a mere earthly cause, however noble that cause may appear in the eyes of men.
Jesus made this principle clear on the occasion of his mock trial before Pilate. He said, "My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence" (John 18:36). Again we see the peaceful nature of the kingdom expressed by Christ himself. His disciples were forbidden to fight, even for the just cause of delivering the innocent Savior from the injustice of hateful men. Jesus acknowledged that if his kingdom had been as any other worldly kingdom, it would have been a natural consequence for his followers to engage in armed conflict to protect their king and to advance their cause. But Christians sustain such a relationship to Christ which demands that their primary allegiance be to him. If they are not permitted to fight to protect or promote his kingdom, how could they possibly be allowed to engage in a war involving a lesser, earthly kingdom? If a servant of Christ is forbidden to kill on behalf of the King of Kings, the Creator of the universe, how could he be allowed to kill on behalf of a temporal government led by fallible men? Unless it can be shown that earthly kingdoms take preeminence over the heavenly kingdom, it stands that whatever is not permitted for the highest order is certainly forbidden for all lower orders.
One incident in Jesus' life stands out as an example of the enforcement of this principle. As Jesus was being arrested in the garden of Gethsemene, one of his disciples drew a sword and attempted to slay one of the arresters. The blow failed to inflict a mortal wound and resulted only in severing the man's ear. Jesus immediately touched the ear and healed him, and then said to Peter, "Put up again thy sword into its place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword" (Matthew 26:52). Here is the case of a small band of disciples being accosted by an angry, armed mob intent on taking their leader to what appeared his certain death. If the use of a defensive sword on behalf of a righteous cause were ever justified, it would certainly have been proper in this instance. But Jesus said, "Put up again thy sword." By this command the Lord disarmed every person who would resort to unrestrained, destructive violence as a means of accomplishing his aim.
Jesus was not denying the use of the sword simply because he realized that his earthly mission required submitting to death, for he gives, as the reason, a universal principle. "All they that take the sword shall perish with the sword" is equivalent to saying, "Killing is futile, for it only results in being killed." This principle holds true generally whether death comes through the vengeance of a victim's friends or whether it comes from an enemy soldier on the battlefield of war. Jesus denies the use of a deadly weapon for the purpose of maliciously killing people. And this prohibition serves as another stone in the mountain of New Testament teaching which restricts a Christian from participating in armed warfare.
NOTES FROM CHAPTER NINE
18. E. M. Zetr, BIBLE COMMENTARY, (St. Louis, Mo.: Mission Messenger: 1955) Vol. 4, p. 327.
19. Larry Jonas, "Nationalistic Militarism," THE PATTERN (Vancouver, Wash.: Vol. 7, No. 11, Nov. 1, 1964)
20. Foy E. Wallace, Jr., GOD'S PROPHETIC WORD, (Oklahoma City: Foy E. Wallace, Jr. Publications: Revised edition, 1960) p. 492.
To Table of Contents
The Fruit of the Spirit versus The Fruit of War
True Christianity is more than simply a profession-it is a production. When persons are converted to Christ, they are known, not only for speaking differently, but for acting differently as well. An ever-increasing number of highly desirable virtues begin to manifest themselves in the Christian's life and conduct. These are the direct result of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit which is given, as a gift, to each person upon his baptism into Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38). These spiritual qualities develop in the course of normal growth in the Lord. Just as a maturing tree begins to bear fruit, so a Christian bears the "fruit of the Spirit" as he advances to spiritual manhood.
This fruit consists of "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, goodness, kindness, meekness, faithfulness and self-control" (Galatians 5:22, the American Standard Version). Christians individually and the church collectively will demonstrate this fruit in every phase of life and thought. Jesus taught the principle that people are known by the fruit they bear (Matthew 7:15-20). Wicked men are recognizable by their evil deeds. On the other hand, those who are led by the Spirit of God will indicate that by their actions of doing right. Let us consider this principle as it relates to war.
Wherever warring armies meet it leaves a devastating effect upon society. It produces an indelible mark upon the people of all nations involved. War leaves in its wake observable effects upon both life and property. There is hardly a spot on earth where the influence of some kind of war is not making itself felt.
A recent issue of "Time Magazine" listed forty wars of varying sizes and intensities that have broken out during the twenty year period between 1945 and 1965. These wars, by their very nature, are bearing fruit of some kind. It is this fruit that we want to observe and compare with the fruit borne by the Holy Spirit. If the fruit can be shown to be holy and righteous, according to New Testament standards, then the Christian should, by all means, participate in it. If, on the other hand, the fruit of war can be seen to be evil, the Christian is to have no part in it (I Thessalonians 5:22).
In this chapter we want to call attention to some pertinent comments on the nature of war and the character of its effects upon society. These remarks will consist of observations made by respected men in the military, political, literary and religious fields.
It was the renowned statesman, Benjamin Franklin, who once said, "There never was a good war or a bad peace." If war is not good, how can it be engaged in when the fruit of the Spirit includes "goodness" (Ephesians 5: 22)? Love, which is another fruit of the Spirit, is said elsewhere in the Scriptures to be "shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit" (Romans 5:5). Compare that with what David Starr Jordan, first president of Stanford University, said some years ago; "War is the expression of unreasoned anger, coordinated and legalized violence to accomplish political ends." Karl von Clausewitz, who was a prominent Prussian military officer and author of the book, "Of War," once said: "War is an act of violence, which, in its application, knows no bounds." The fruit of the Spirit is love and peace while the fruit of war is hatred and violence. This should be so obvious to the candid mind that we risk being accused of laboring the point to so emphasize it.
It would be extremely difficult to name any other one activity that embraces so much in it that is contrary to the standards of Christianity. Major General John O'Ryan, a one time United States military officer, made this crushing indictment of war: "War is not only the denial of Christianity, but of all the most sacred things of life." J. B. Remensnyder pointed out several reasons why war is so opposed to Christianity when he said, "War is antagonistic to Christianity for many reasons, but chiefly on account of the ugly passion it excites and the untold misery that it inflicts." Dr. William E. Channing, a noted 19th century preacher and writer, once enumerated the fruits of war in a manner similar to the way that the apostle Paul listed the fruit of the Spirit. Channing said, War is the concentration of all human crimes. Under its standard gather violence, malignity, rage, fraud, perfidy, rapacity and lust. If it only slew men, it would do little. It turns man into a beast of prey."
Perhaps one of the most sweeping charges on record against war comes from Sidney Smith, who stated: "God is forgotten in war; every principle of Christianity is trampled upon." Dr. Adam Clarke, well-known Bible scholar and author of "Clarke's Commentary," put it bluntly, "War is as contrary to the spirit of Christianity as murder."
As strange as it may seem, the extremely evil nature of war is often least expressed by those most familiar with its true character. Perhaps this is the result of military men, whether consciously or unconsciously, rationalizing on the subject in an effort to avoid being overwhelmed by the horror of it all. But William James, the distinguished Harvard philosopher and author, quotes several brutally frank statements of military men. To von-Moltke, a German military genius of yesteryear, he attributes the following candid sentiment: "The immediate aim of the soldier's life is destruction, and nothing but destruction; and whatever constructions wars result in are remote and non-military. Consequently the soldier cannot train himself to be too feelingless to all those usual sympathies and respects, whether for persons or things, that make for conservation." What an admission! But truly successful soldiering demands just such "feelingless" and unsympathetic attitudes toward persons and things. So, into the steaming jungles go the weary foot soldiers on their grim, but routine, "search and destroy" missions. How opposite this is to the compassion for others produced by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of a true Christian!
William James then goes on to give an even more striking insight into the nature and character of an ideal fighting man when he quotes an Austrian officer as follows: "Live and let live is no device for an army. Contempt for one's own comrades, for the troops of the enemy, and, above all, fierce contempt for one's own person, are what war demands of every one. Far better is it for an army to be too savage, too cruel, too barbarous, than to possess too much sentimentality and human reasonableness. If the soldier is to be good for anything as a soldier, he must be exactly the opposite of a reasoning and thinking man...The recruit brings with him common moral notions, of which he must seek immediately to get rid...The most barbaric tendencies in men come to life again in war, and for war's uses they are incommensurably good."21 While not every person who becomes a soldier attains this degree of ruthlessness, what experienced warrior, who has weathered the fierceness of pitched battle, would deny that just such a man makes the most effective "killer?"
Think for a moment of the most efficient fighting man. What would be his qualities? Would he not have to be devoid of common moral sentiments toward others? Would he not have to be utterly ruthless and unmerciful in his battle tactics? Would he not actually rise to the fever pitch of a savage in the intense heat of combat? Would he not have to develop the capability of instinctive retaliation against the oncoming enemy and that without the slightest reservation? Would he not be a human bomb of destructive force guided, not by reason, but by an all-consuming urge to achieve his military objective, regardless of the cost?
I once interviewed a veteran of the southwest Pacific theater of operations during World War II. He was then a patient in a Veterans Hospital, dying of lung cancer. He recounted how the Japanese soldiers came surrendering, on their knees with hands clasped behind their heads, on the island of New Guinea. He said his, and the feelings of the other capturing soldiers, were so strong that they approached the kneeling captives and shot them, at point blank range, in the head; When I asked him about how many he personally shot that way he said he could not recall. But following that engagement he was removed to a hospital for mental treatment which he indicated was the result of such gruesome experiences. And even worse treatment of American soldiers was shown by the Japanese because that is war!
Could such actions, by any stretch of the imagination, be said to stem from the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit? Could God's Spirit produce in the person engaged in armed conflict those qualities necessary to win in the dirty game of war where no holds are barred and "all is fair?" Obviously, that which is produced in the soldier by war is incompatible with that which is produced in the Christian by the Holy Spirit!
But just how would participation in war effect a true Christian if he were to engage in it? Unfortunately, statistical data on this are not readily available. But a survey was made on a number of professing Christians by the London Congregational Union during World War II which revealed the following: "About a third of those questioned (members of the armed forces) indicated that the deadening influence of life in the armed forces, combined with the sense of incongruity between Christian ideals and the deuctiveness of war, made their religious life seem unreal."22
An apt illustration of this unspiritual effect of war upon a Christian is seen in the instance of James A. Garfield, twentieth president of the United States. Garfield had been a preacher among churches of Christ prior to his entering the Union Army during the Civil War where he fought so gallantly that he rose to the rank of General. But due to the experiences he went through in that terrible war a marked change took place in his spiritual life. It is said that, following that period of his life, Garfield never entered the pulpit again.23
Without question, then, the fruit of war must be considered unrestrained brutality. Lord Stanley Baldwin, former Prime Minister of Great Britain, once said, "The only defense is offense, which means that you have to kill women and children more quickly than the enemy if you want to save yourselves."
Erasmus, the great Dutch scholar, asserted, "War is the blackest villainy of which human nature is capable."
John Wesley, the renowned founder of Methodism, stated it in similar words when he said, "War is the sum total of human villainies."
Napoleon, certainly a man who knew war, called it "the trade of barbarians" and William T. Sherman, famed Civil War General, said all too truly, "War is hell."
The fruit of the Spirit and the fruit of war are exact opposites of one another, and can never be reconciled. The New Testament asks the question which every Christian must be compelled to answer in the negative, "What fellowship have righteousness and iniquity?" (II Corinthians 6:14).24
NOTES FROM CHAPTER TEN
21. William James, THE VARIETIES OF RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE, (New York: Random House "The Modern Library": 1929) pp. 358-359.
22. Culbert G. Rutenber, THE DAGGER AND THE CROSS, (Nyack, New York: Fellowship Publications: 1958) p. 56.
23. David Lipscomb, CIVIL GOVERNMENT, (Nashville, Tenn.: Gospel Advocate Company: 1957) p. 139.
24. Quotations of famous people regarding war in this chapter were taken mainly from the following works: Theodore Epp, SHOULD GOD'S PEOPLE PARTAKE IN WAR? (Inman, Kansas: Salem Publishing House: Third Edition, 1949) pp. 32-35; H. Leo Boles, THE NEW TESTAMENT TEACHING ON WAR, (Nashville, Tenn.: Gospel Advocate Company: no date) pp. 55-58; James D. Bales and P. W. Stonestreet, THE CHRISTIAN AND CARNAL WARFARE, (Searcy, Ark.: James D. Bales: 1947) p. 180.
Jesus Prophesies Neutrality for Christians
The scene is Jerusalem. The time is the last week of Jesus' earthly ministry. As Jesus was leaving the Temple, early that week, one of his disciples called his attention to the beauty and splendor of this magnificently adorned edifice. Their observation brought from the lips of Jesus the astounding prediction that someday it would all be totally destroyed! In fact, he emphasized that it would be so thoroughly demolished that one stone would not even be left upon another. This statement so intrigued the apostles that Peter, James, John and Andrew later came to Jesus privately and inquired of him additional information about His outstanding prophecy.
Their question seems to be fourfold: (1) When would the Temple be destroyed? (2) What signs would precede its destruction? (3) What sign would signal Christ's return? (4) What sign would usher in the end of the world? While Jesus had not specifically mentioned his second coming, nor the end of the world, his prediction of the destruction of the Temple seemed so tremendous they could not help but associate it with the final end of all things. (Jesus' predictions, the apostles' questions and the Lord's explanation are recorded in Matthew 24:1-51; Mark 13:1-37; and Luke 21:5-38).
It is generally agreed by Biblical scholars that these chapters deal with the two principal topics of (1) The destruction of Jerusalem (including the entire demolishing of the Temple buildings) and (2) The second coming of Christ. In this chapter we are especially concerned with a statement Jesus made with respect to the destruction of Jerusalem.
But before we consider this statement let us call attention to the amazing accuracy with which Jesus' prediction of the destruction of the Temple buildings was fulfilled. Jesus said in Matthew 24:2 that "There shall not be here left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down." Dr. A. T. Pierson, in his book on Christian apologetics, makes this observation on the complete accuracy, to the minutest detail, of this prediction. Regarding the total ruin of the buildings comprising the Temple enclosure when Jerusalem was overrun by the Roman army in 70 A. D. he writes: "The hope of finding hid treasure moved the Roman army to tear up the very ground, till sewers and aqueducts were uncovered, and a plowshare was used to tear up the foundations of the Temple, thus literally fulfilling the prophecy of Micah (750 B. C.) 'Jerusalem shall be ploughed as a heap'".25 This is simply one of many remarkable fulfillments of Jesus' prophecies of the destruction of Jerusalem. "The History of the Jews" by Flavius Josephus is replete with incidents which he personally observed during the seige of Jerusalem prior to 70 A. D. and which constitute a detailed fulfillment of Jesus' words spoken on that memorable occasion.
Now let us turn our attention to a specific prophecy made by Jesus on this same occasion which bears directly on a Christian's relationship to war. In speaking to his disciples, Jesus gave this solemn warning, "But when ye see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that her desolation is at hand." This is recorded in Luke 21:20. (Notice that the doomed city of Jerusalem is referred to as "her.") At this exact point in the prophecy of Jesus, Matthew's account (24:15) and Mark's account (13:14) inject a warning to their readers (since they were both written before the prophecy was fulfilled in 70 A. D.). They add in parentheses, "(let him that readeth understand)." McGarvey comments on this parenthetical statement in this way, "The words are, therefore, exhortations by the Evangelists Matthew and Mark, bidding their readers take heed to this part of the prophecy (which constituted the last sign, and therefore, the final warning) that they might not share in the bitter fate impending over Jerusalem and Judea if they chanced to be in either in the hour of judgement."26 So, with Jerusalem soon to be completely overrun and devastated, those disciples to whom Jesus spoke, as well as those who were to read the written record of this prophecy, needed inspired guidance as to what course of action to take in order to survive. Just such divine guidance is here given by the Lord Jesus Christ. The instructions Jesus gave his disciples concerning their conduct during the Roman war of 66-70 A. D. holds a principle which serves as a guide to Christians for all generations.
Now notice Jesus' specific instructions as recorded in Luke 21:21; "Then let them that are in Judea flee unto the mountains." The poor victims of this impending disaster were not merely to take refuge in the hills of Judea, which would be infested with Roman troops, but were to flee beyond Judea, into the mountains. Note that! Then Jesus went on to urge, "And let them that are in the midst of her (referring to Jerusalem, v. 20) depart out; and let not them that are in the country enter therein." (Luke 21:21).
Here is the situation. The Christians who found themselves trapped within the beseiged city had one of two choices open to them if they had been minded to engage in warfare. They could have joined in with the defenders of the Jewish garrison or they could have cooperated with the invading Roman hordes. But Jesus' prophecy, made over thirty years before, provided these Christians with God's divine will for them under such circumstances. They were to remain neutral. Christ had specifically enjoined them to have no part in the armed hostilities on either side. Their sole responsibility was to obey their Lord who required them to flee from the doomed city and even to leave the province of Judea itself.
What was the outcome? Happily, the record has been preserved. Eusebius, the fourth-century "father of church history," tells us that "the whole body of the church at Jerusalem," in obedience to the clear instructions of Jesus Christ, as recorded in Luke 21, fled to Pella, a village about sixty miles northeast of Jerusalem. This was completely outside of Judea and on the east side of the Jordan River. The following photo copy is a quotation from the works of Eusebius on this important incident.27
The death of the rest of the Apostles was plotted in numerous ways and they were driven from the land of Judaea, and they went their way to teach the gospel among all the nations, supported by the power of Christ, who said to them: 'Going teach ye all nations in my name.'7 But the people of the Church at Jerusalem were commanded by an (?) given out by revelation before the war to esteemed men there to depart from the city and to inhabit a city of Peraea which they called Pella.8 Those who believed in Christ migrated to this city from Jerusalem, that, when holy men had entirely abandoned the royal capital of the Jews and the entire land of Judaea, the judgment of God might soon overtake them for their many crimes against Christ and His Apostles and utterly destroy that generation of the wicked from among men. Whoever wishes can gather accurately from the history written by Josephus9 how many evils everywhere overwhelmed the entire nation at that time; and how especially the inhabitants of Judaea were driven to an extremity of misfortunes; and how many thousands of youths, together with women and children, perished by the sword and by hunger
5 Cf. Acts 6.8ff. and 12.2.
6 Cf. above. 2.23.
7 Cf. Matt. 28.19. Eusebius usually omits the reference to baptism when quoting this passage. Some think that he is following a text in an earlier form; others, that he wished 10 keep the formula of baptism secret.
8 In northern Perea, beyond the Jordan, within the territory of Herod Agrippa II. Epiphanius (De Pond ft Mens. 15) also mentions this flight of the Christians to Pella. The people in the vicinity of Pella were for the greater part Gentiles.
9 Josephus, B.I. Bks. 5 and 6.
If someone wonders how anyone could possibly escape from Jerusalem during a seige that completely surrounded the city with Roman armies, history affords the answer. Let us examine the accounts recorded in the works of Flavius Josephus, a Jewish annalist who lived and wrote during the very time when all these calamities befell Jerusalem.
Some time prior to 66 A. D. a Roman officer named Cestius Gallus marched against Jerusalem, laying seige to the city. It seems that Cestius failed to realize that he had considerable sympathetic support from within the city that could have allowed him to take it with little difficulty. So instead of continuing his seige Cestius "recalled his soldiers from the place, and by despairing of any expectation of taking it, without having received any disgrace, he retired from the city, without any reason in the world."28 At this point in Josephus' narrative, his translator, William Whiston, calls attention in a footnote to the prediction of Jesus and suggests that this occasion afforded the Jewish Christians the opportunity to flee from the city and thereby escape destruction. Indeed, the very next chapter of Josephus graphically describes just such a departure in these words: "After this calamity had befallen Cestius (that is, his being driven off by the Jews), many of the most eminent of the Jews swam away from the city, as from a ship when it was going to sink."29 These "Jews" could certainly have had reference to those Christians who were following Jesus' warning to "flee to the mountains."
Then after the final seige of Jerusalem had begun, under Vespasian from 66 to 70 A. D., another incident occurred that would have allowed Christians to escape the destruction that awaited the beseiged city. In the early summer of 68 A. D. Vespasian received the news that the Roman Emperor Nero had died. He was approaching the city at the time bent on its destruction. Upon hearing that Nero was dead Vespasian immediately withdrew his armies and due to the fluctuating condition of the Roman empire at that time, the expedition against Jerusalem was temporarily postponed. 30 This undoubtedly afforded Christians another opportunity to abandon the city as Jesus had directed.
To climax the entire, amazing affair, historians tell us that not a single Christian perished in the final overthrow of Jerusalem when it was destroyed in 70 A. D. Such astonishing deliverance all came about because those early disciples took literally the warning of Christ, as recorded in the New Testament, and fled the scene of armed conflict.
Thus we have a divinely given precedent for guiding Christians of all ages who may be found in similar circumstances. When caught in the midst of a war, Christians can know with certainty what the will of Christ is for them to do. When war comes they are not to bear arms, either defensively or offensively. Instead, they are to assume a neutral position rather than to take up carnal weapons with which to kill. This is the will of Christ. Jesus' prophecy should settle the issue for conscientious Christians. The historical account of the early Christians carrying out His instructions should serve as an example to be followed by us today. Participation in armed warfare simply does not harmonize with the will of Christ as revealed by His teaching.
NOTES FROM CHAPTER ELEVEN
25. Arthur T. Pierson, MANY INFALLIBLE PROOFS, Vol. I, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House: no date) p. 54.
26. J. W. McGarvey, and Philip Y. Pendleton, THE FOURFOLD GOSPEL, (Cincinnati: Standard Publishing Foundation: no date:) pp. 624-625.
27. Eusebius, THE FATHERS OF THE CHURCH, "Eusebius Pamphili, Ecclesiastical History" Book 3, Chapter 5 (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc.: 1953) page 145.
28. Flavius Josephus, WORKS, The Wars of the Jews, Book II, Chapter 19, Paragraphs 6-7: Translated by William Whiston (New York: A. L. Burt, publisher: no date) Vol. HI, pp. 203-204.
29. Josephus, op. cit., Book II, Chapter 20, Paragraph 1, (Vol. III, p. 206).
30. Flavius Josephus, WORKS, The Wars of the Jews, Book IV, Chapter 9, Paragraphs 1-2: Translated by William Whiston (New York: A. L. Burt, publisher: no date) Vol. HI, pp. 331-333.
The Attitude of Early Christians Toward War
As we try to determine what a Christian's attitude toward war should be today it would be helpful to consider how Christians felt toward war in the beginning days of Christianity. Fortunately we have numerous writings from men who lived and wrote immediately following the days of the apostles. These writings afford a clear picture of both the attitude and conduct of members of the church of Christ for the first three hundred years of its existence.
Historians are generally agreed that when the apostles and their converts were still alive the church maintained a relatively high degree of purity in life and doctrine. If we can learn how those early Christians felt about participating in war, during and immediately following the time when inspired men were still among them, we should be able to understand better just what the original stand of the church was on the matter of war.
In this chapter we want to give careful consideration to the observations of church historians who have given years of thorough research into the beliefs and practices of the early Christians and their attitude toward war. Then we will cite, by means of photo copy, statements from the writings of early church leaders and even from unbelievers showing how war was viewed by Christians in the beginning days of the church. Such insights will no doubt prove beneficial in recapturing today the convictions of primitive Christianity in its purest form.
On the basis of material compiled by the most learned and reliable authorities on conditions in the early church we conclude that Christians did not participate in the armed forces, in any way, until at least about 174 A. D. C. J. Cadoux, acknowledged as the best authority on the subject, said, "No Christian ever thought of enlisting in the army after his conversion until the reign of Marcus Aurelius (A. D. 161 to 180) at earliest."31 Hersh-berger verifies this statement by saying, "It is quite clear that prior to about A. D. 174 it is impossible to speak of Christian soldiers."32 Still another voice may be added to testify that Christians participating in war was unheard of in the early church. Bainton tells us, "From the end of the New Testament period to the decade A. D. 170-180 there is no evidence whatever of Christians in the army."33
This silence regarding Christians engaging in war during those early years is most naturally explained by the fact that this was the period when the apostles and their contemporaries lived and wrote. It is to be expected that those early disciples of Christ would have adhered to the teaching of these inspired men. Any question arising over the matter of war and the Christian was no doubt answered promptly by an inspired utterance. In addition, the conditions of extreme persecution against the church in that day would suggest a high state of spirituality among those who remained faithful. With this kind of devotion it is not difficult to understand why killing as a government agent would appear extremely obnoxious to those suffering saints. The government was beating and killing them. Why should they wound and kill others for the government, especially since their leaders were teaching them just the opposite?
But from about 174 A. D. on to the time of Constantine, about 313 A. D., there are indications that a few Christians were in the military service. Hershberger says, "Beginning about the year A. D. 174, however, there were Christians in the Roman army."34 The reason we know that a few Christians were in the army during this period is that the leaders of the church are found to be very outspoken in their opposition to this practice in their writings. Bainton calls our attention to this in saying, "The period from A. D. 180 until the time of Constantine exhibits both in the East and West a number of more or less explicit condemnations of military service."35
So from about 180 A. D. onward we find the statements of many writers, both in and out of the church, which show that Christians serving in the military was a practice beginning to creep into the church. You will recall that prior to this period all evidence points to non-participation in war by Christians.
Let us now examine the writings of some of these early church leaders who are popularly known as "church fathers" in the literature of church history. You will notice that we are here reproducing photo copies of their exact quotations as taken from original sources available in religious reference libraries. These quotations will show clearly the attitude of the early church to participating in war.
JUSTIN MARTYR (writing about 150 A. D.)36, 37
High, shall venture to do unlawful deeds on the earth against us the Christians, who, having learned the true worship of God from the law, and the word which went forth from Jerusalem by means of the apostles of Jesus, have fled for safety to the God of Jacob and God of Israel; and we who were filled with war, mutual slaughter, and every wickedness, have each through the whole earth changed our warlike weapons, — our swords into ploughshares, and our spears into implements of tillage, — and we cultivate peity, righteousness, philanthropy, faith, and hope, which we saw from the Father Himself through Him who was crucified; and sitting each under his vine, i.e., each man possessing his own married wife. For you are aware that the prophetic word says, 'And his wife shall be like a fruitful vine.'1 Now it is evident that no one can terrify or subdue us who have believed in Jesus over all the world. For it is plain that, though beheaded, and crucified, and thrown to wild beasts, and chains, and fire, and all other kinds of torture, we do not give up our confession; but the more such things happen, the more do others and in larger numbers become faithful, and worshippers of God through the name of Jesus. For Just as if one should cut away the fruitbearing parts of a vine, it grows ap again, and yields other branches flourishing and fruitful; even so the same thing happens with us. For the vine planted by God and Christ the Saviour is His people. But the rest of the proph
by Christ to teach to all the word of God; and we who formerly used to murder one another do not only now refrain from making war upon our enemies, but also, that we may not lie nor deceive our examiners, willingly die confessing Christ. For that saying, "The tongue has sworn, but the mind is unsworn,"1 might be imitated by us in this matter. But if the soldiers enrolled by you, and who have taken the military oath prefer their allegiance to their own life, and parents, and country, and all kindred, though you can offer them nothing incorruptible, it were verily ridiculous if we, who earnestly long for incorruption, should not endure all things, in order to obtain what we desire from Him who is able to grant it.
From this it can be seen that in Justin Martyr's time Christians were neither filled with war nor did they make my use of the weapons of carnal warfare. Notice also that Justin even makes use of the prophecy in Micah 4:3 in saying that Christians had changed their "swords into plowshares." Furthermore he indicates that this was a universal practice "through the whole earth" and that Christians willingly suffered death rather than making war against their enemies.
TERTULLIAN (writing about 200 A. D.):38, 39
To begin with the real ground of the military crown, I think we must first inquire whether warfare is proper at all for Christians. What sense is there in discussing the merely accidental, when that on which it rests is to be condemned? Do we believe it lawful for a human oath 8 to be superadded to one divine, for a man to come under promise to another master after Christ, and to abjure father, mother, and all nearest kinsfolk, whom even the law has commanded us to honour and love next to God Himself, to whom the gospel, too, holding them only of less account than Christ, has in like manner rendered honour? Shall it be held lawful to make an occupation of the sword, when the lord proclaims that he who uses the sword shall perish by the sword ? And shall the son of peace take part in the battle when it does not become him even to sue at law? And shall he apply the chain, and the prison, and the torture, and even the punishment, who is not the avenger even of his own wrongs? Shall he forsooth, either keep watch-service for others more than for Christ, or shall he do it on the Lord's day, when he does not even do it for Christ Himself? And shall he keep guard
8[He plays on this word Sacramentum. Is the military sacrament to be added to the Lord's?
There is no agreement between the divine and the human sacrament," the standard of Christ and the standard of the devil, the camp of light and the camp of darkness. One soul cannot be due to two masters —God and Caesar, And yet Moses carried a rod,11 and Aaron wore a buckle, 12 and John (Baptist) is girt with leather,13 and Joshua the son of Nun leads a line of march; and the People warred: if it pleases you to sport with the subject. But how will a Christian man war, nay, how will he serve even in peace without a sword which the Lord has taken away?14 For albeit soldiers had come unto John, and had received the formula of their rule; 15 albeit, likewise, a centurion had believed;16 still the Lord afterward in disarming Peter, unbelted every soldier. No dress is lawful among us, if assigned to any unlawful action.
By a series of questions Tertullian shows the utter impossibility of a Christian making "an occupation of the sword" on behalf of Caesar when he would not even bring a law suit or avenge a personal wrong. He alludes to Jesus' prohibition of sword bearing issued to Peter at the time of our Lord's arrest in Gethsemene (Matthew 26:52) as a basis for unbelting every soldier, even in peacetime.
IRENAEUS (writing about 200 A. D.):40
people; and they shall break down their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruninghooks, and they shall no longer learn to fight."1 If therefore another law and word, going forth from Jerusalem, brought in such a [reign of] peace among the Gentiles which received it (the word), and convinced, through them, many a nation of its folly, then [only] it appears that the prophets spake of some other person. But if the law of liberty, that is, the word of god preached by the apostles (who went forth from Jerusalem) throughout all the earth, caused a change in the state of things, that these [nations] did form the swords and war-lances into ploughshares, and changed them into purning-hooks, for reaping the corn, [that is], into insturments used for peaceful purposes, and that they are now unaccustomed to fighting, but when smtten, offer also the other cheek,2 then the prophets have not spoken these things of any other person, but of Him who effected them. This person is our Lord, and in Him is that declaration borne out; since it is He Himself
Far from being the conviction of a few isolated Christians, Irenaeus indicates that the preaching of the Gospel caused such a revolutionary change throughout the world that those who were converted to Christ became "unaccustomed to fighting." They actually changed the use of their weapons of war into agricultural implements. So great was the power of Christ to transform the very nature of sinful men.
CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA (writing about 200 A. D.):41
storehouse. For He says, "Take no anxious thought for to-morrow," 5meaning that the man who has devoted himself to Christ ought to be sufficient to himself, and servant to himself, and moreover lead a life which provides for each day by itself. For it is not in war, but in peace, that we are trained. War needs great preparation, and luxury craves profusion; but peace and love, simple and quietsisters, require no arms nor excessive preparation. The Word is their sustenance.
Speaking of the children of God, who listen to Mis Word and fulfill His will, Clement of Alexandria plainly said that Christians were not trained in war. Language could hardly be more explicit in describing the attitude and conduct of early Christians!
ORIGEN (writing about 250 A. D.):42- 43, 44
My argument aims at proving the falsehood of the assertion that certain people who were Egyptian by race revolted against the Egyptians and left Egypt, and came to Palestine where they inhabited the part now called Judaea. For the Hebrews had their traditional language before they went down to Egypt, and Hebrew letters were different from those of the Egyptians; Moses used them when he wrote the five books which the Jews believe to be sacred.
7. Just as it is false that the Hebrews, being Egyptians, originated from a revolt, it is equally false that others who were Jews revolted at the time of Jesus against the Jewish community and followed Jesus. Celsus and people who think as he does will not be able to show any sign of a revolt. If a revolt had been the cause of the Christians existing us a separate group (and they originated from the Jews for whom it was lawful to take up arms in defence of their families and to serve in the wars), the lawgiver of the Christians would not have forbidden entirely the taking of human life. He taught that it was never right for his disciples to go so far against a man, even if he should be very wicked; for he did not consider it compatible with his inspired legislation to allow the taking of human life in any form at all. Moreover, if Christians had originated from a revolt, they would not have submitted to laws which were so gentle, which caused them to be killed 'as sheep',2 and made them unable ever to defend themselves against their persecutors.3 However, a more profound study of this question enables us to say of the people who came out of the land of Egypt, that it would be amazing if the whole people had taken up Hebrew all at once, as though the language had come down from heaven. So also one of their prophets said: 'In their going out of the land of Egypt he heard a language which he did not know.' 1
8. In this way also we may establish that those who came out of Egypt with Moses were not Egyptians. If they had been Egyptians, their names must have been Egyptian, because in each language names are of the same type as the vernacular. But it is obvious that they were not Egyptians from the fact that the names are Hebrew (for the Bible is full of Hebrew names even of those in Egypt who gave such names to their sons). If so, then clearly the assertion of the Egyptians is false that those who were driven out of Egypt with Moses were Egyptians; and it is perfectly clear that they were descended from Hebrew stock according to the history recorded by Moses, and that they spoke their own language which they also employed to give names to their sons. Concerning the Christians, on the other hand, we say that they have been taught not to defend themselves against their enemies; and because they have kept the laws which command gentleness and love to man, on this account they have received from God2 that which they could not have succeeded in doing if they had been given the right to make war, even though they may have been quite able to do so. He always fought for them and from time to time stopped the opponents of the Christians and the people who wanted to kill them. For a few, whose number could be easily enumerated, have died occasionally for the sake of the Christian religion by way of reminder to men that when they see a few striving for piety they may become more steadfast and may despise death. But God prevented their whole race from being annihilated because He wanted it to be established and the whole world to be filled by this most pious teaching of salvation. And again, that the weaker men might recover from anxiety about death, God's providence has cared for believers; for by His will alone He has dispersed all the opposition to them, so that kings and local governors and the common people were unable to be too violently inflamed against them. This is my reply to Celsus' assertion that a revolt was the origin of the establishment of the Jews in ancient times, and later of the existence of Christians.
Here Origen replies to accusations made by the pagan Celsus that Christianity originated from an armed revolt against the Jewish community. In this reply Origen asserts that the first Christians had been taught not to take human life. He clarifies this by showing that they were not permitted to make war against their enemies,
forth, and say to one another, turning to the religion which in the last days has shone forth through Jesus Christ: "Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LOrD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in them."1 For the law came forth from the dwellers in Sion, and settled among us as a spiritual law. Moreover, the word of the Lord came forth from that very Jerusalem, that it might be disseminated through all places, and might judge in the midst of the heathenselecting those whom it sees to be submissive, and rejecting2 the disobedient, who are many in number, And to those who inquire of us whence we come, or who is our founder,3 we reply that we are come, agreeably to the counsels of Jesus, to "cut down our hostile and insolent 'wordy' 4 swords into ploughshares, and to convert into pruning-hooks the spears formerly employed in war.5 For we no longer take up "sword against nation," nor do we "learn war any more," having become children of peace, for the sake of Jesus, who is our leader, instead of those whom our fathers followed, among whom we were "strangers to the covenant," and having received a law, for which we give thanks to Him that rescued us from the error (of our ways), saying. "Our fathers honoured lying idols, and there is not among them one that causeth it to rain."6 Our Superintendent, then, and Teacher, having come forth from the Jews, regulates the whole world by the word of His teaching. And having
Here it will be noticed that Origen refers to the "sword into plowshare" figure of the Old Testament and applies it to Christians whom he declared did not learn war any more.
And this we do in obedience to the injunction of the apostle, "I exhort, therefore, that first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority;"2 and the more any one excels in piety, the more effective help does he render to kings, even more than is given by soldiers, who go forth to fight and slay as many of the enemy as they can. And to those enemies of our faith who require us to bear arms for the commonwealth, and to slay men. we can reply: "Do not those who are priests at certain shrines, and those who attend on certain gods, as you account them, keep their hands free from blood, that they may with hands unstained and free from human blood offer the appointed sacrifices to your gods; and even when war is upon you, you never enlist the priests in the army. If that, then, is a laudable custom, how much more so, that while others are engaged in battle, these too should engage as the priests and ministers of God, keeping their hands pure, and wrestling in prayers to God on behalf of those who are fighting in a righteous cause, and for the king who reigns righteously, that what ever is opposed to those who act righteously may be destroyed.' And as we by our prayers vanquish all demons who stir up war, and lead to the violations of oaths, and disturb the peace, we in this way are much more helpful to the kings than those who go into the field to fight for them. And we do take our part in public affairs, when along with righteous prayers we join selfdenying exercises and meditations, which teach us to despise pleasures, and not to be led away by them. And none fight better for the king than we do. We do not indeed fight under him, although he require it; but we fight on his behalf, forming a special army—an army of piety—by offering our prayers to God.
Celsus had charged Christians with being unpatriotic. To this Origen replies that, while Christians did refuse to go into the battle field to slay men, they were of more help to the king by their godly lives and intercessory prayers.
LACTANTIUS (writing about 300 A. D.):45
as soon as possible. Being imbued with this practice, they have lost their humanity. Therefore they do not spare even the innocent, but, practise upon all that which they have learned in the slaughter of the wicked. It is not therefore befitting that those who strive to keep to the path of justice should be companions and; sharers in this public homicide. For when God forbids us to kill, He not only prohibits us from open violence,1 which is not even allowed by the public laws, but He warns us against the commission of those things which are esteemed lawful among men. Thus it will be neither lawful for a just man to engage in warfare, since his warfare is justice itself, nor to accuse any one of a capital charge, because it makes no difference whether you put a man to death by word, or rather by the sword, since is the act of putting to death itself2which is prohibited. Therefore, with regard to this precept of God, there ought to be no exception at all; but that it is always unlawful to put to death a man, whom Gdd willed to be a sacred animal. 3
Lactantius asserted that God had forbidden Christians from killing. He explains that, even if an act were considered lawful in the eyes of men, to be counted just before God one must not engage in it if it violated the will of God. He applies this principle to warfare.
ARNOBIUS (writing about 300 A. D.):46
6. Although you allege that those wars which you speak of were excited through hatred of our religion, it would not be difficult to prove, that after the name of Christ was heard in the world, not only were they not increased, but they were even in great measure diminished by the restraining of furious passions. For since we, a numerous band of men as we are, have learned from His teaching and His laws that evil ought not to be requited with evil,6 that it is better to suffer wrong than to inflict it, that we should rather shed our own blood than stain our hands and our conscience with that of another, an ungrateful world is now for a long period enjoying a benefit from Christ, inasmuch as by His means the rage of savage ferocity has been softened, and has begun to withhold hostile hands from the blood of a fellow-creature. But if all without exception, who feel that they are men not in form of body but in power of reason, would lend an ear for a little to His salutary and peaceful rules, and would not, in the pride and arrogance of enlightenment, trust to their own senses rather than to His admonitions, the whole world, having turned the use of steel into more peaceful occupations, would now be living in the most placid tranquillity, and would unite in blessed harmony, maintaining inviolate the sanctity of treaties.
Arnobius exposes the falseness of the charge that wars increased because of Christianity. On the contrary, he explains that wars were actually diminished as the result of peace loving Christians who acted as a restraining force by their compliance with the teaching of Christ. He further observes that if the whole world were to abide by the "peaceful rules" of Jesus all men would enjoy "the most placid tranquillity." We especially note from this quotation of Arnobius' that Christians learned from Jesus not to inflict wrong or stain their hands with the blood of others in carnal warfare.
Let us now turn our attention to the testimony of unbelievers on the question of whether or not the early Christians engaged in war. We have already seen that Ori-gen's reply to Celsus, the pagan, contained a defense of the Christian position of non-participation in carnal warfare. Thus we have the testimony of Celsus that the Christians in his day refused to serve in the army. He attempted to use this fact to show the detrimental effect that Christianity had upon the nation. Origen's work "Contra Celsum" (Against Celsus) contains Origen's reply to these arguments, which were made in Celsus' "The True Doctrine" (of which no copy exists today). From such statements we learn that the early church was so strongly opposed to war that this became a chief criticism of its enemies.
About 176 A. D. 'the emperor of Rome, Marcus Aurelius, adds his voice to the mounting evidence which testifies to the early church's refusal to engage in war. We are told that he attempted to bolster his armies by conscripting Christians with threats, only to find that they refused to bear arms because of their allegiance to God.47
Historical records also bear out that many early Christians went on record, at the risk of their very lives, as being opposed to armed warfare. A few names have survived to this effect.
Sulpicius Severus relates an incident which occurred about three hundred years after Christ in which a man named Martin answered Julian the apostate with the words, "I am a soldier of Christ, therefore I cannot fight."48
About 295 A. D. a young man named Maximilian was brought before the authorities in Africa for refusing induction into the army. Said he, "I cannot serve as a soldier; I cannot do evil; I am a Christian." The strength of conviction and degree of dedication of such persons, even at that late period, is reflected in Maximilian's reply when told that his refusal meant his death, "I shall not perish, but when I have forsaken this world, my soul shall live with Christ my Lord." He was put to death at the age of twenty-one.49
Epp tells of an early Christian named Tarachus who, upon becoming a Christian, renounced soldiering with these words, "I have led a military life, and am a Roman. But because I am now a Christian, I have abandoned my profession as a soldier."50
Several renowned historians agree upon the strict stand against war held by the early church. Eusebius' "Ecclesiastical History", written about 324 A. D., tells of a high ranking Roman military officer who became a Christian and then "by his voluntary confession and after nobly enduring bitter scourging succeeded in getting discharged from military service."51
It was this aversion to military service by the early church that proved to be one cause of encountering persecution at the hands of the Roman government. Philip Schaff takes note of this in his exhaustive work "History of the Christian Church."
"Then, too, the conscientious refusal of the Christians to pay divine honors to the emperor and his statue, and to take part in any idolatrous ceremonies at public festivities, their aversion to the imperial military service...drew upon them the suspicion of hostility to the Caesars and the Roman people, and the unpardonable crime of conspiracy against the state."52
Cadoux tells us that cases of Christians refusing to participate in military warfare were so numerous that they probably played an important part in bringing on the great persecution of the church of 303 A. D.53
Edward Gibbon, in his famous work "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" declares the early Christians were adverse to shedding the blood of their fellow-creatures for any reason. They were thoroughly dedicated to obeying the authorities but were so passive they found themselves unable to take any active part in the violence required by a military defense of the empire.54
The Christians were not less adverse to the business than to the pleasures of this world. The defence of our persons and property they knew not how to reconcile with the patient doctrine which enjoined an unlimited forgiveness of past injuries, and commanded them to invite the repetition of fresh insults. Their simplicity was offended by the use of oaths, by the pomp of magistracy, and by the active contention of public life; nor could their humane ignorance be convinced that it was lawful on any occasion to shed the blood of our fellow-creatures, either by the sword, of justice or by that of war, even though their criminal or hostile attempts should threaten the peace and safety of the whole community.100 It was acknowledged that, under a less perfect law, the powers of the Jewish constitution had been exercised, with the approbation of Heaven, by inspired prophets and by anointed kings. The Christians felt and confessed that such institutions might be necessary for the present system of the world, and they cheerfully submitted to the authority of their Pagan governors. But while they inculcated the maxims of passive obedience, they refused to take any active part in the civil administration or the military defence of the empire. Some indulgence might perhaps be allowed to those persons who, before their conversion, were already engaged in such violent and sanguinary occupations;101 but it was impossible that the Christians, without renouncing a more sacred duty could assume the character of soldiers, of magistrates, or of princes.102
We conclude from the consistent pattern of historical evidence, bearing on the attitude of the early church toward war, that the church opposed participation in any form. As apostasy developed, a gradual laxity in this conviction crept in. This led to prominent church leaders speaking out in their writings against entering the army. Finally, as the government became dominant in the ranks of ecclesiastical authority, only a minority remained who held fast to the original position of the early church.
When the church was nearest its fountain-head of doctrinal purity, under the guidance of Holy Spirit inspired apostles, it held firmly to non-participation in armed warfare. This is the position to which every earnest Christian today should adhere as he seeks to follow the teaching and example of Christ and the inspired writings of the New Testament.
NOTES FROM CHAPTER TWELVE
31. C. J. Cadoux, THE EARLY CHRISTIAN ATTITUDE TO WAR, (London: Headley Bros. Publishers, Ltd.: 1919) p. 17.
32. Guy F. Hershberger, WAR, PEACE AND NON-RESISTANCE, (Scott-dale, Penn.: Herald Press: 1953) p. 65.
33. Roland H. Bainton, CHRISTIAN ATTITUDES TOWARD WAR AND PEACE, (New York-Nashville: Abingdon Press: 1960) p. 67.
34. Hershberger, op. cit., p. 66.
35. Bainton, op. cit., p. 72.
36. Justin Martyr, THE ANTE-NICENE FATHERS, Vol. I, "Dialogue With Trypho," Chapter CX, (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.: 1956) page 176.
37. Justin Martyr, THE ANTE-NICENE FATHERS, Vol. I, "The First Apology of Justin," Chapter XXXIX, (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.: 1956) p. 176.
38. Tertullian, THE ANTE-NICENE FATHERS, Vol. III, "The Chaplet," Chapter XI, (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.: 1956) p. 99.
39. Tertullian, THE ANTE-NICENE FATHERS, Vol. III, "On Idolatry," Chapter XIX, (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co: 1956) p. 73.
40. Irenaeus, THE ANTE-NICENE FATHERS, Vol. I, "Irenaeus Against Heresies," Chapter 34, Paragraph 4, (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.: 1956) p. 512.
41. Clement of Alexandria, THE ANTE-NICENE FATHERS, Vol. II, "The Instructor," Chapter XII, (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.: 1956) p. 234.
42. Origen, CONTRA CELSUM, translated by Henry Chadwick, Book 3, Paragraphs 7-8, (London: Cambridge at the University Press: 1953) pp. 132-133.
43. Origen, THE ANTE-NICENE FATHERS, Vol. IV, "Origen Against Cel-sus," Chapter XXXIII, (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing C.: 1956) p. 558.
44. Origen, THE ANTE-NICENE FATHERS, Vol. IV, "Origen Against Cel-sus," Chapter LXXIII, (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.: 1956) p. 668.
45. Lactantius, THE ANTE-NICENE FATHERS, Vol. VII, "The Divine Institutes," Chapter XX, (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.: 1956) page 187.
46. Arnobius, THE ANTE-NICENE FATHERS, Vol. VI, "Arnobius Against the Heathen," Book I, Chapter VI, (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.: 1956) p. 415.
47. Robert Barclay, AN APOLOGY FOR THE TRUE CHRISTIAN DIVINITY, Philadelphia: Friends' Book Store: no date) p. 521.
48. Barclay, op. cit., p. 521.
49. J. A. Toews, TRUE NONRESISTANCE THROUGH CHRIST, (Winnipeg, Canada: The Christian Press: 1955) p. 56.
50. Theodore Epp, SHOULD GOD'S PEOPLE PARTAKE OF WAR? (In-man, Kansas: Salem Publishing House: Third Edition: 1949) p. 31.
51. G. J. Heering, THE FALL OF CHRISTIANITY, as quoted by Hershberger, op. cit., p. 69.
52. Philip Schaff, HISTORY OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH, Vol. II, (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons: 1887) p. 43.
53. C. J. Cadoux, THE EARLY CHRISTIAN ATTITUDE TO WAR, (London: Headley Bros. Publishers, Ltd.: 1919) pp. 150-151.
54. Edward Gibbon, THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE, Vol. I, Chapter 15, ("Great Books of the Western World": Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc.: Vol. 40, page 193).
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