Tag Archives: just war

Should Christians take up arms? [Christians & War – Deuteronomy 20, part 4]

10 Jan

How should Christians view war?  We are not the nation of ancient Israel which had a special covenant with God.  We are the church, and we are under a new covenant.  So from this passage in Deuteronomy, we can learn God’s heart, but we have to also take into consideration the new covenant we have with God, and that is found in the teaching of the New Testament.

There are those who look at Jesus’ teaching in the New Testament, especially in the Sermon on the Mount when he says to be peacemakers, to turn the other cheek, and to “Love your enemies.” These Christians look at the prohibitions against killing in both the Old and New Testaments, and they conclude that war is never right.  Our Mennonite and Amish and Brethren friends are examples.  They hold to what is called pacifism, or peace.  No war, period.  They would list Ghandi or Martin Luther King Jr as examples of what is called non-violent resistance in order to deal with injustice.  They would not serve in the military, receiving conscientious objector status in a draft.  What they hold to is a completely legitimate and viable understanding of New Testament teaching.

Then there are those Christians who look to other teaching in the New Testament, and they conclude that war is right in certain specified conditions.  They see Paul, in Romans 13, for example, teaching that God instituted governments to restrain evil.  From that they create what is called just war theory.  Here “just” is being used not in the sense of “only”, but in the sense of “right”.  In other words, what are those are circumstances when it is just or right or legal for one country to wage war against another? 

Of course there are many viewpoints on this, disagreements, but here are the most common points of what is called Just War Theory: 

  1. For one nation to go to war against another, they must have a just cause – Usually this boils down to self-defense.
  2. Next, war must be a last resort – All means of diplomacy must first be tried and tried again.
  3. War must be declared by a proper authority – A recognized sovereign nation.
  4. War must have right intention – The cause must be justice, not self-interest. 
  5. War must have a reasonable chance of success – Count the cost, particularly to human life.
  6. The end must be proportional to the means used – For example, don’t use nuclear weaponry for a small border dispute.

And in fact that last point is related to what we see in Deuteronomy 20 verses 19-20 where God says to Israel, “when you bring a siege on a city, don’t cut down fruit trees to build your siege works.”

On the one hand, this is simply wisdom.  You need food! So don’t cut off your source of sustenance.  Think about the needs of the army, and plan for the future because when you eventually occupy the land, you’ll need those trees for food. 

But on the other hand, there is also a principle: when in war use self-control, don’t allow yourself to use anything and everything to make war. 

So Just War Theory sets a high bar.  I once heard a lecture from a Christian speaker from the Center for Public Justice applying just war theory to some of America’s wars in the past.  The most obvious war considered to be just was our involvement in the Allied cause during World War 2.  In that war multiple unjust aggressors were not going to stop invading nations and slaughtering millions of people until they ruled the world.  After Japan bombed our naval base at Pearl Harbor, we committed our military to the cause, sacrificing much.  The Allied mission to defeat Japan, Germany and Italy in World War 2 is widely considered to be a just war. That doesn’t mean that every Allied action in the war was just.

But the speaker that day made a surprising comment.  He said that the American Revolution might not have been a just war!   Was it possible that our forefathers, when they rebelled against the British, did not meet those six standards of just war?  Maybe.  I’ll let you think on that!

My church and my pastoral credential is with the EC Church, our denomination, and we are not pacifistic.  We believe that when there is just cause, one nation can enter into war against another, to restrain evil, and we believe that Christians can in good conscience serve in the military.  But because this is an area of theology where Christians disagree, including Christians within the same church, each individual should hold their view with love and grace towards one another.

What I want to be clear about, though, is that Christians and the church should never use violent means to accomplish the mission of God. Sadly we have a poor track record of doing just that, most famously perhaps in the Crusades. We must call any military or violent action of the church what it is: sin. And we must repent of it, over and over. The mission of God is accomplished in love, humility, selflessness, following the example of Jesus who gave his life for the world.

War and Peace and Christians

15 Sep

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Last week I asked, “What should Christians do about War and Peace?”  Sunday was the 15th anniversary of 9/11, so we talked about these two important responses.  Just War and Pacifism.  There are other ways to approach the response to evil in the world, but just war and pacifism tend to be the two primary choices.  Does the Bible say it is okay for one nation to make war on another?  Or should we be a people of peace?  Or can the Bible be used to make a case for each side?

Let’s start with Just War.  That is the theory that the large majority of people at Faith Church hold to.  We turn to Romans 13 and read about God ordaining government to respond to evil, and we surmise that there are ways to practice just war.

Just war theorists suggest that there are principles we should apply as we decided to go to war, and there are principles we should apply when we wage war.  So we should have a just cause and use just means for war.

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To me one of the most clear examples of Just War is the Allied response to the Axis powers in World War 2.  Germany, Italy and Japan were aggressively annihilating people, and Allied powers needed to step in.  In other words it was just to go to war.

But wars have been fought that have not used this criteria.  I once heard a Christian scholar give a serious presentation saying that the United States Revolutionary War did not meet the criteria to qualify as a just war.  Was taxation without representation a just cause?  Did the Colonies really exhaust all other methods for peace, did they go to war as a last resort?  Maybe not.  Maye the Boston Tea Party was actually unjust and Britain had a right to clamp down.But not nearly all war has been just.  Here’s another view on that debate.

And yet while we’re on the topic of what Jesus taught, he says in Matthew 5:38-48, that people should love their enemies.

Remember one of the names the prophet Isaiah gave to the Messiah?  Prince of Peace.

Remember what the angels said when Jesus, the Messiah, was born?  Peace on earth.

Remember what Jesus said to his disciples on the night before he was arrested?  Peace I leave with you.  My peace I give you.

Peace.

The Apostle Paul would go on to talk about it quite a lot.  One of the most compelling instances was when he said this in 1 Timothy 2:2, “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”

Who was emperor when Paul wrote this?  Nero!  A tyrant!  One who persecuted Christians.  And Paul is saying to pray for that guy?  “Pray for your enemies,” Jesus said, and now Paul is saying it too.  Here the enemy is a guy who brutally slaughtered the Christians.  Nero looked a lot like ISIS.  He was crazy.  He looked a lot like Adolf Hitler.

And so we have this teaching about peace.  I live in a place that has a long, long heritage with Anabaptist faiths.  The Amish, Mennonites, Brethren churches all hold to the doctrine of pacifism.  Pacifism means they believe in peace rather than war and violence.  They do not believe that Christians should participate in the military.

If you support Christians in the military, and you are reading this starting to dismiss pacifists, please take a moment to hear them out.  I am not a pacifist, so in order to present pacifism to you accurately, I got some help from Mennonite pastor friends in my local Ministerium, and I asked them to explain pacifism for me from a biblical perspective.

One pastor mentioned this quote, and I want you to see if you can guess who said it: “My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God’s truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders.”

Who said this?  Guesses?

Adolf Hitler.   So the Mennonite pastor responds, “it’s helpful to understand that during World War II, nearly all American and European combatants, both Axis and Allied powers, invoked Christian faith as a rationale to justify their use of violence. We try to paint Hitler as an atheist to get Christians off the hook, but history won’t let us do that.

“Our civil religion has been quite effective at indoctrinating us into a “one right interpretation” of history, politics, and current events, and surprise, surprise, in American civil religion, it turns out that God hates all the same people we do! To put it mildly, this a big problem. If we agree with Hitler and see Jesus as “greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter,” we’re in danger of missing the point of the Gospel: that God extends love to us when we are enemies (through the love of his Suffering Servant, Jesus), and God invites us to, in turn, extend love to our enemies.”

But what about the claim that pacifists will be overrun by bullies?  It was clear that Hitler wasn’t stopping until he achieved world domination.  Again the pacifist response is interesting.

“Now, pacifism certainly opens one up to charges of naiveté. Who wouldn’t kill one man in order to save thousands?  I think the easy mistake we make is assuming that effectiveness is more important than faithfulness. The early church fathers understood this.  Clement of Alexandria made it clear that “Christians are not allowed to use violence to correct the delinquencies of sin.”

Very, very interesting thoughts, aren’t they?  I would submit to you that most of us who have not studied pacifism have just assumed that it is a weak-minded kind of theology that doesn’t deal with the reality of life.  But as you can read, my Mennonite pastor friends have deep substance to what they believe.  Let’s not write them off.  It very well could be that one day in heaven Jesus will tell us that Christian use of and support for military was wrong.  Instead let’s ask ourselves if we have exchanged effectiveness for faithfulness.

In this debate between effectiveness and faithfulness, my friend shared a wonderful story by Wil Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas, from their book Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony:

The overriding political task of the church is to be the community of the cross.

Sometime ago, when the United States bombed military and civilian targets in Libya, a debate raged concerning the morality of that act. One of us witnessed an informal gathering of students who argued the morality of the bombing of Libya. Some thought it was immoral, others thought it was moral.

At one point in the argument, one of the students turned and said, “Well, preacher, what do you think?”

I said that, as a Christian, I could never support bombing, particularly bombing of civilians, as an ethical act.

“That’s just what we expected you to say,” said another. “That’s typical of you Christians. Always on the high moral ground, aren’t you? You get so upset when a terrorist guns down a little girl in an airport, but when President Reagan tries to set things right, you get indignant when a few Libyans get hurt.”

The assumption seems to be that there are only two political options: Either conservative support of the administration, or liberal condemnation of the administration followed by efforts to let the U.N. handle it.

“You know, you have a point,” I said. “What would be a Christian response to this?” Then I answered, right off the top of my head, “A Christian response might be that tomorrow morning The United Methodist Church announces that it is sending a thousand missionaries to Libya. We have discovered that it is fertile field for the gospel. We know how to send missionaries. Here is at least a traditional Christian response.”

“You can’t do that,” said my adversary.

“Why?” I asked. “You tell me why.”

“Because it’s illegal to travel in Libya. President Reagan will not give you a visa to go there.”

“No! That’s not right,” I said. “I’ll admit that we can’t go to Libya, but not because of President Reagan. We can’t go there because we no longer have a church that produces people who can do something this bold. But we once did.”

We would like a church that again asserts that God, not nations, rules the world, that the boundaries of God’s kingdom transcend those of Caesar, and that the main political task of the church is the formation of people who see clearly the cost of discipleship and are willing to pay the price.

I think a similar case could be made regarding ISIS. The historically Christian response would be overwhelming love expressed through a willingness to sacrifice our status, comfort, and even our lives on their behalf. But we don’t seem to currently have a church—even a Mennonite church—that produces Christians who can do something that bold.”  Check the astounding work being done by Mennonite peacemakers in Iraq.  There are other organizations doing radical work like this as well.

Where does this leave us?

When thinking about War and Peace consider these principles:
1. Pursue peace in all relationships.
2. Consider peace even in war.
3. If war is waged, it should be just.

Do you have a relationship that is not peaceful not right?  What will it look like for you to be a peacemaker?

What should Christians do about War and Peace? – On the 15th anniversary of 9/11

9 Sep

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On September 11th, 2001, Michelle and I were in Kingston, Jamaica.  We had been there for a year as church-planting missionaries.  That morning I was down the road at our co-workers house feeding their rabbits.  Our co-workers, the Kay family, were out of town, and we were taking care of things for them.  Michelle called me on my cell phone.  She said, “Go inside and turn on the Kay’s TV, there’s been an incident in New York City.”

I urgently finished feeding the bunnies, ran inside and switched on our co-workers’ TV.  In Kingston, normal cable packages had plenty of American TV, so coverage of 9/11 was easy to find.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  What was going on?  I realized I was alone, and I didn’t like that feeling at all.  What I was seeing on the TV was momentous, and I needed to be with my family.  I finished up at my co-workers and headed up the hill to our house, where Michelle and I watched the TV the rest of the day in shock.

We also had a very strange feeling of disconnectedness, being away from our country when it was going through something so awful.  While none of us knew what the future held, as there could easily have been more attacks coming, we still wanted to get home.

Do you remember how you felt on 9/11?

In the days and weeks before 9/11, we were finishing up our time in Jamaica.  We had actually  purchased our airline tickets home before 9/11 happened, scheduled to fly home two weeks after 9/11.  It was sketchy there for a few days whether or not we’d be able to fly, or if we would have to wait a while.  But we didn’t have to wait.  I remember, however, as news coverage about 9/11 was nonstop for a long time, that there as another feeling growing inside me.  Anger.  Frustration.  My country had been attacked.  Thousands of innocent people had lost their lives.  It was a horrible injustice, and I wanted to see it righted.  I daydreamed about signing up for the CIA to work on combating global terrorism.

But was that the right response?  Was I just angry and getting aggressive?

This Sunday is the 15th Anniversary of 9/11, now called Patriot Day.  To prepare I watched a couple YouTube videos showing network news coverage of that day.  I was thinking that it would be good to show a short video summarizing the events of 9/11 so at the outset of our worship service we could remember and pray.  I clicked through videos, and it was like reliving that morning all over again.  I was doing exactly what many of us were doing 15 years ago, eyes glued to the TV.  It was raw.  There’s no way I could show that in a worship service.  Huge jet planes ramming into the Twin Towers, massive fireball explosions, and finally, the towers imploding on themselves in giant clouds of dust and debris.  First responders covered in soot, rushing into piles of rubble.  Not to mention the tragedies at the Pentagon and Shanksville.  When you see those images you don’t immediately see the lives lost.  But those lives are the greatest tragedy of 9/11 and the war that followed, a war that still continues to this day.  Watching those videos, thinking about lost lives, I started feeling very upset again.

On the 15th anniversary of 9/11, we would do well to ask “What does the Bible say about war and peace?”  It is not so clear-cut as you might think.  How should Christians think about war and peace?  In Lancaster County we have a long heritage of religious traditions that advocate for non-violent peaceful resistance.  We also have many Christians that ardently support the military.  Both support their cause from Biblical teaching.

Who is right?  Who is wrong?

We’re going to talk about that this Sunday at Faith Church, as we continue our series on Life in These United States.  We welcome you to join us!

Show love to ISIS?

24 Apr

Red heart.A Facebook friend posted an article which included the video below, which is a message to ISIS.  Give it a look and see what you think.

How do you feel about that?

We continue our study of Jesus’ Words, Works and Way in the Gospel of Luke this Sunday, and we come to another one of his classic statements “Love your enemies.”  Continuing a teaching we started last week, Jesus once again turns conventional wisdom on its head.  Love your enemies?  That seems wrong.

Love ISIS?  Really?

What about a passage such as Romans 13:1-7?  Check it out and you’ll find a teaching by one of Jesus’ first followers, a guy named Paul, who was writing to Christians living in the capital city of the Empire, the superpower of the day, Rome.  The Emperor and his Roman armies could be pretty brutal, and not too many years after Paul wrote this, Christians would be on the receiving end of persecution from the Emperor.  For a long time, those Christians were living with the same day-to-day reality that Christians in the Middle East today face with ISIS and other groups targeting them.  Specifically look at what Paul says in Romans 13:4:

“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.”

Throughout the centuries many governments have used this passage as a basis for what is known as Just War.  Just War theory states that there is a time and place, in order to restrain evil, for one country/group to take military action against another country/group.  There is much debate about what constitutes just war.  I once heard a historian suggest quite seriously, and with scholarly research, that the American Revolution might not have qualified as a just war.  When looking back over history, it seems that sometimes we have done well (defeating Nazi Germany, for example) and other times we have not done so well (Vietnam, possibly?).

What should we Christians do then with “Love your enemies?”  What is an enemy?  Just a foreign nation?  Should we travel in droves to the Middle East and plead with ISIS to stop killing people?  And does “love your enemies” apply, perhaps, in many other ways here at home?  How should we take this teaching from Jesus?

We invite you to join us at Faith Church on Sunday morning as we discuss this further!