Recently I was asked a question by a friend, which really turns out to be two different questions. Those questions are; “Is war (or violence) ever justified?” and “Can a Christian be a soldier?”
I did my best to answer those two questions in conversation, but I was horribly deficient in the details. My answers contained no Scripture; they were merely based on principles from scripture. This post and tomorrow’s are essentially my attempt to answer those questions more thoroughly. Today I will begin with the answer to the first question, “Is war ever justified?” Before anyone begins to think me too erudite, you should know that there is nothing new to answer this question with. What I mean by that is that it has been answered thoroughly by many talented theologians. For the purpose of these two posts I have borrowed heavily from this article by JP Moreland. And I also had to break out my old ethics textbook. (I have another copy if anyone wants it.)
I’m going to answer this question first because there is so much on the subject already written. Also because it is the question the other stands on. If war is always wrong, then the Christian certainly cannot participate.
It seems like this question has been pondered since the beginning of Christian history. Augustine, Aquinas, Luther and Calvin all addressed the subject and all came to the same conclusion. After studying the scripture, I have also come to the same conclusion. Under certain circumstances war is justified.
In short, the argument is, that God is just, and expects his world to be just. This does not override His love, but goes alongside. As a part of the justice of God sometimes violence is demanded.
It is important to clarify at this point that the power to conduct war lies with the state only. The Church or family is not to be in the war business. (i.e. feuds, crusades = wrong)
The power for the state to carry out war is clearly granted in Romans 13.
3b Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer
This passage about he power of civil authorities makes it clear that war is the right of the state.
Of course the Old Testament has many, many commands regarding warfare. From Abraham’s [military] expedition to save his cousin Lot, to God’s directions for Saul to destroy the Amalekites.
Remember this cheer from the Israelites in 1 Samuel 18?
7 As they danced, they sang:
"Saul has slain his thousands,
and David his tens of thousands."
David was viewed as a hero because of the way he executed God’s plans toward the peoples of Canaan, because he was successful in warfare.
The next question is; Are all these Old Testament passages binding on New Testament Christians? I believe Hebrews 11 speaks to this.
32And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, 33who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.
In this case these people are being celebrated, in the great faith chapter of the Bible, for their military victories, on behalf of the state.
I am making no statement about whether or not the state should declare war in a given situation, or even when it would be right for the state to participate in a war. (for more on that read about just war theory.) I am only saying the state has the right to do so. I will say though, that sometimes the state has not only the right to carry out a war, but the responsibility to do so. Particularly, it seems, when it comes to protecting its citizens or freeing the oppressed. (In this post I am making no statement about the current theaters of the war on terror, but if you want to know my position ask me in the comments.)
I hope at this point that I have established, that from a biblical perspective, the state has the right, and even duty, to carry out a war.
Tomorrow I will answer the corollary question, “Can a Christian be a combatant?”