Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Question of Warfare

"For 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" (Romans 13:4).

Paul here states that God has given to the civil magistrate a weapon to enforce the laws. This we call the power of the sword. It means that rulers have the power under God to back up their decrees with the use of force. They may use that power rightly or wrongly, but the power itself is not something they usurped. It is given to them by God. This power entails the power of capital punishment and the power to make war. Both of these powers have proven controversial in church history.

Today let us consider war. All Christians are called to be “pacifists” in the sense that we are to love peace and pursue it. The use of the sword as a restraining device, though legitimate, is a means of last resort.

In Christian history, three theories of war have been advocated. The first we can mention is the position of pure pacifism, which states that no Christian may ever take up arms. The second is the position summed up in the phrase, “My country, right or wrong.” This position says that the Christian citizen has a duty to fight in whatever kind of war the government decides to prosecute.

Between these two extremes lies what I believe to be the correct position, which has been advocated by the vast majority of Christian ethicists in all branches of the church: the “just war” position. Based on the Bible, the just war position states that some wars are justified, and Christians may and often should bear arms in such circumstances; but that other wars are unjustified, and Christians must oppose such wars. What determines the difference?

Basically it is this: A just war is a defensive war. It is right and proper for the magistrate to call Christians to help defend the borders of a nation against aggressors. On the other hand, Christians should oppose wars of aggression, because they are simply murder on a grand scale.

A common objection to the just war position is that any involvement in a war is a violation of the commandment “Thou shalt not kill.” Using other Scriptures, answer this objection.