Yesterday I answered the question, “Is war ever justified?” My conclusion; only the state can carry out war, and it can be the morally correct thing to do in certain circumstances. The corollary question to that one is, “Can a Christian be a combatant?” These questions are not mere abstractions. In case you haven’t noticed, the United States is in an ongoing war. And to have a war, you need people to fight. There’s probably a dozen us.army.mil addresses in my address book. So this question matters. For a Christian interested in doing the will of God, who also happens to be in the military this question is of paramount importance. So lets get to the answer.
Can a Christian fight in a war? The answer to this one lies in yesterday’s conclusion. The state can carry out a war. So how is a state to do so? What is a state? Is the US the land that we inhabit? If so do we expect the land to begin drifting and swallow up the land of our enemies. That is ludicrous, of course. The US is the people that make up the country. Remember that whole We the People thing? The citizens are the body of the United States. If the people decide to do battle through their duly chosen government, we are to support this decision.
Since the state needs to do things and has no anatomy of its own, it needs agents to carry out those duties. So what is an agent of the state? We have police officers, who patrol the domestic streets in order to keep order, we have engineers who design the infrastructure, to keep us moving. We have sanitation workers who keep our streets clean, and we have teachers to educate our populace. All functions that the state has decided are good and necessary.
Sometimes it is possible or even likely that one of these agents will be required to do something that under other circumstances would be immoral. Of course since we are talking here about war, the obvious example is the taking of a human life. A soldier may have to do so, a police officer may have to do so, an executioner fulfilling the penal system requirements may have to do so. In these cases killing is not equal to murder. Remember that yesterday we said that the state has the right, and possibly the duty, to do these actions. Someone acting as an agent of the state is not morally responsible for murder.
This can definitely be taken too far. The Nuremburg criminals all said they were just following orders. No Christian should be expected to become torturers or be involved in the slaughter of innocents. (I would argue that innocents are not necessarily the same as non-combatants.)
So what about Jesus’ turn the other cheek talk? I’ll take this paragraph directly from JP Moreland because I couldn’t possibly say it any clearer or better:
Jesus' teachings about forgiveness, loving your enemies and turning the other cheek were not meant as social ethics for the state but as private ethics for the individual. Moreover, they were guides to becoming a certain sort of person — kind and compassionate, ready to forgive; but they did not offset the need for justice and protecting the innocent with force as a last resort. After all, it is not "living by the sword" for genteel folk to kill an intruder who tries to murder their children. Jesus accepted the reality of hell and judgment, and He is depicted as a warrior when He returns again.
On a few occasions there were soldiers in the Bible, how are they treated? Let’s first look at when some soldiers came to John the Baptist, wondering what they should do. They seem willing to change their job. Here are his directions in Luke 3:
14Then some soldiers asked him, "And what should we do?" He replied, "Don't extort money and don't accuse people falsely—be content with your pay."
There was nothing in his answer to suggest the being a soldier is incompatible with the kingdom of God. In Acts 10 Peter goes to the Roman centurion, Cornelius, and leads his family to faith in Christ. He never suggests that he should cease being a soldier. Jesus in Luke 7 encounters a Roman soldier and says:
9b"I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith."
Don’t forget Paul’s Words in Romans 13:
4he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.
Why all this scripture? To establish that the Bible is favorable to the soldier. There is no reason to believe that the Bible encourages the soldier to stop doing so. And certainly Jesus is pictured as a triumphant warrior upon his return.
At the end of this marathon 2-day post what is the conclusion?
- The state has the authority to conduct war
- The Christian may be a soldier
I hope that wasn’t overwhelming!