Defense and War: A Biblical Perspective

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A
key responsibility of the civil government is to protect its citizens
from attack by wrongdoers. This involves punishing those who break
the law. It also involves defending the nation from every external
attacker, including nations, other groups of people or dangerous
pests and diseases. All these responsibilities are encompassed in
the power of the sword (Romans 13:1-8). Therefore,
pacifism is not a Christian option
.

The
Bible gives a nation the right of self-defence. However there are
a number of principles which should control the civil government's
exercise of this authority in the fulfilment of its responsibilities.

  1. War is
    only justified for defence (Romans 13:1-8). It should not be
    used to expand a nation’s boundaries, or to take control of
    another nation, or to extract trade advantages. This is a fundamental
    principle. A nation should never need to establish military
    domination in another region or nation.
  2. The idea
    of a Christian Holy War has no basis in Scriptures. The nation
    of Israel conquered and destroyed the Canaanite nations. This
    was only done after a specific and direct command from God (Deut
    7:1,2). This was a special case where God had a specific purpose
    in terms of the salvation he planned for Israel. It is not an
    example that can be followed by Christians or a Christian nation.
    We should not use war to win people for the gospel. (We should
    be honest and admit that the crusades were a mistake, however
    well-intentioned the crusaders may have been).
  3. A Christian
    nation must not have a large “standing army”(Deut 17:16; 1 Kings
    10:26-29). An army that is constantly training for war is dangerous,
    because it will be tempted to find a situation where it can
    use its skills. The military should not be given too much political
    power, as they will have a tendency to use war to solve all
    problems.
  4. The defence
    force should take the form of a part-time local militia. The
    central command structure may be full-time professional so that
    the defence of the nation can be well organised (Deut 20:5).
    However, most of the soldiers will be trained civilians who
    can be called up when a defence force is needed. As they have
    other interests there will be no danger of them becoming over
    militant and fighting unnecessary wars. However, because they
    will be defending their families and friends they will be highly
    motivated if they are needed. They will be well prepared, but
    they will be only rarely called upon to fight.
  5. The militia
    should be up made of volunteers. Anyone who is faint-hearted
    or afraid should not be forced to fight (Deut 20:5-9). People
    who are at a critical stage in their lives should not be forced
    into military service. For example, men who have recently married,
    started building a house or started a business should be freed
    from service, because they would not be focused on the battle.
  6. The army
    of a Christian nation will not have offensive weapons (Deut
    17:16). God forbade the king from acquiring great numbers of
    horses for himself. The reason for this was that horses and
    chariots, at that time, were offensive weapons used for attacking
    other nations. The defence of the nation would not need large
    numbers of them. A modern defence force should choose weapons
    that are best for defensive purposes.
  7. Only the
    civil government has authority to declare war. Individuals or
    companies do not have the authority to commit a nation to war.
    Any declaration of war must be in accordance with correct legal
    processes (Deut 20:10).
  8. War should
    always be the last resort. Before declaring war, the civil government
    should try every means possible to obtain peace (Deut 20:10).
    We should never forget the horror of war. It is always costly
    in terms of human suffering. Christians should never glorify
    war. While it is an honour for a man to give his life to defend
    his family and community, war is never an ideal solution. A
    Christian government should be prepared for war, if it is attacked,
    but it should also hope that it would never have to fight.
  9. A Christian
    nation should always seek God's will before declaring war. A
    nation going to war, because it thinks it is right, is being
    presumptuous (Deut 1:41-44). Presumption is a terrible sin.
    If the war has God's blessing, the army is more likely to have
    success.
  10. A Christian
    government should only declare war if it thinks it has a reasonable
    chance of success. Jesus said that before a king goes to war,
    he should sit down and consider whether he can match the army
    that is coming against him. If not he will send a delegation
    to ask for terms of peace (Luke 14:31-32), even if this involves
    a loss of freedom. For Christians freedom is not an absolute
    value. It may be better to lose freedom to govern, than to lose
    a large number of lives in an unsuccessful defence. In fact,
    because Jesus has set us free, we cannot lose our freedom.

Two
things should always be remembered,

    1. Christianity
      can survive under extremely hostile environments. It was born
      in the hostile world of the Roman Empire. In our own time,
      Christianity has blossomed under the hostility of both the
      Soviet Union and Communist China. Therefore, Christianity
      will never be dependent on winning a war for its survival.
      If a Christian government has no hope of defending against
      attack, it should surrender, knowing that Christianity will
      survive.
    2. It is
      God who determines the appointed times of the nations and
      the boundaries of there habitations. (Acts 17:26, cf Job 12:23,
      Deut 32:8) If a nation is invaded by another and this is not
      God's will, he will not allow the situation to last long.
      For example, after the Second World War, the Russian Empire
      took control of most of Eastern Europe. However, because this
      was contrary to God's will, that empire had collapsed within
      fifty years. If a nation is unable to defend itself, all is
      not lost; God will have his way in the end.

Counting
the cost of war, is not just a matter of estimating how many
soldiers will be lost. The full cost of the war should be counted.
There are generally very few winners in war. The cost for the
families of those who die is enormous. For the soldiers who
survive the cost can also be high. Many will have injuries that
blight their lives. Worse still, war has a desensitising effect
on its participants, and good men can be drawn into doing great
evil. They will have to live with there consciences. War is
also an enormous waste of economic resources. There are actually
very few situations serious enough to justify the enormous costs
of war.

  1. Deut 20:1-5
    declares that a small army with God on its side can beat a large
    well-armed one. A good example of this is Gideon, who defeated
    a large Midianite army with 300 unarmed men (Judges 7). However,
    this promise should not be used as a justification for foolish
    wars.
  2. Total
    war, as it has been practised in this last century, is prohibited
    by the Bible. Those engaged in war are prohibited from attacking
    and damaging the land (Deut 20). The same protection would apply
    to women and children. Non-combatants should also be protected.
  3. This prohibition
    makes nuclear war unacceptable. Nuclear weapons would harm the
    land and non-combatants. The same principle would rule out many
    modern weapons. Only weapons which can be targeted at combatants
    or other weapons can be used by a Christian nation. On the other
    hand, anti-ballistic missile defence systems may be justified,
    because they are defensive.
  4. Military
    alliances are common in the modern world. However these are
    forbidden over and over again in the Bible. A Christian nation
    has a covenant with God. It cannot be totally committed to God,
    and place its faith in another nation for defence (Is 31:1-3).
    Therefore, defence alliances are not an option for a Christian
    nation.
  5. God determines
    the appointed times of the nations and the timing of their rule.
    (Acts 17:26). No nation has the authority to invade another
    nation to change its government (even if it is evil). A nation
    cannot even be invaded to establish democracy. (Democracy must
    come from the hearts of the people, it cannot be enforced from
    the outside.) Most attempts by great powers to establish "better"
    government by force in other nations have failed, because the
    spiritual forces that control the nation have not been defeated
    (Dan 10:13).

The
principles outlined here allow a nation to defend itself, but there
are very severe restrictions on which methods may be used. Likewise
there are very strict conditions which must be fulfilled before
war may be justified. Almost all modern conflicts would fail
to meet these conditions. The Bible recognises the horror of war.
There are probably very few situations that would justify the cost
of war. It should be an extremely rare event.

The
current war in Afghanistan does not fit with these principles. The
people who organised the attack on the World Trade Centre, committed
a dreadful crime and should be punished as criminals. However, the
nation of Afghanistan did not attack the United States. The Taliban
did not attack the United States. Afghanistan may be harbouring
the criminals who organised the attack, but that is not a justification
for war. We may dislike the Taliban intensely, but that does not
justify war against them. The United States does not have the right
to determine who should govern Afghanistan. (The Taliban gained
power through victory in a civil war. This is the same way that
the current federal system in the United States was established).
The United States is not defending itself against an attack by Afghanistan,
so it is not justified in attacking Afghanistan.

The
methods of warfare being used in Afghanistan cannot be justified
either. Bombs that destroy the land and can kill and maim civilians
are forbidden by Deuteronomy 20. The alliance with the ungodly men
of the Northern Alliance is also contrary to the Scriptures.

November
23, 2001

Ron
McKenzie [send him mail]
is an economist in Christchurch, New Zealand. He is also a Presbyterian
minister.

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