A Christian View of Armed Warfare

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The following
excerpts are from the newly reprinted 116-page book,
A Christian View of Armed Warfare, by William E. Paul. The first
selection is chapter 3, "A Christian and Evildoers," from
part I, "New Testament Teaching on Christians Participating
in War." The second selection is chapter 8, "But Killing
in War Is Done As an Agent of the Government and Not As a Personal
Act," from part II, "Common Objections to Christians Not
Participating in War." The book is available from Vance

A Christian
and Evildoers

One of the
most frequent arguments used in an attempt to justify a Christian
waging war is that "Evildoers must be stopped in their aggressive
efforts to overrun the world." Nearly every generation has
had its Alexander, Caesar, Napoleon, Kaiser Wilhelm, Lenin, Hitler,
Mussolini or Stalin. Certainly the atrocities perpetrated upon mankind
by dictators who have aspired to world rule are to be deplored.
Evil-doing of all kinds must be hated by Bible-believing Christians
who desire to have the mind of Christ. It is said of Jesus, "Thou
hast loved righteousness and hated iniquity" (Hebrews 1:9).

But in the
process of hating evil Christians are not permitted to despise the
evildoer also. This attitude is supremely exemplified in the act
of God commending His "own love toward us, in that, while we
were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). While man
was busily engaged in the pursuit of evil, God was pursuing a course
designed to effect man's eternal good. God loves sinners "even
when we were dead through our trespasses" (Ephesians 2:4–5)
and yet God says of evil, "all these are the things I hate"
(Zechariah 8:17). Although God hates all evil, He loves the evildoer
and has done only good to him, "for he is kind toward the unthankful
and evil" (Luke 6:35).

The New Testament
explicitly commands a Christian to "see that none render unto
any one evil for evil; but always follow after that which is good,
one toward another, and toward all" (I Thessalonians 5:15).
This forbids a child of God from committing an evil act even against
the person who has mistreated him. This principle has been stated
in the well-known proverb "two wrongs never make a right."

When the apostate
Jews of Jesus' day attempted to justify returning evil for evil
by misapplying the Mosaic civil code requiring "an eye for
an eye, and a tooth for a tooth," Jesus plainly told them,
"resist not him that is evil" (Matthew 5:38–39).

War demands
retaliation against evildoers. It calls for both offensive attack
and defensive counterattack against an enemy bent on destruction.
War requires putting a stop to his evildoing. The prime means employed
in war to accomplish this is for individuals to kill individuals.
And this very action is forbidden to a Christian who is commanded
by his Lord – not to return evil to the one inflicting evil
upon him.

Here again
we are confronted with the objection that only "personal"
evildoers are meant by these passages of Scripture. It is contended
that the evil we might encounter in our personal contacts with our
fellowman is to be tolerated but that the evil activities of an
enemy nation during wartime may be responded to, in kind, by the
Christian as an agent of the government. But can this allowance
be upheld by the Scriptures?

In I Thessalonians
5:15 we are told to follow after that which is good toward "all."
Romans 12:17–18 requires that we render to "no man" evil
for evil, but rather to take thought for honorable things in the
sight of "all men," and to be at peace with "all
men." Now, unless these statements are somewhere in the New
Testament qualified or restricted, then they must stand as clear-cut
prohibitions preventing a Christian from rendering malicious evil
to any and all men. This rule would apply to members of the community
in which we live as well as members of an opposing army. Destructive
violence and terror tactics are wrong whether they are carried on
in a neighborhood scuffle or an international armed struggle. If
not, why not?

Other passages
which emphasize that Christians are not to engage in mutual hostility,
such as war, are: Romans 12:21; I Peter 3:9; I Corinthians 4:12.
While it may be freely admitted that in the open conflict of wartime
it would be difficult (if not practically impossible) to engage
in returning good for evil, that does not, therefore, permit rendering
evil for evil.

Then there
are those who still insist that evildoers must be dealt with as
a matter of Justice. But in war there is no justice. Indeed, the
very nature of warfare precludes justice. Law, as ordained by Scripture,
allows for a nation to govern its citizens, and even to punish the
offenders among its citizens (Romans 13:1–7). But this, or any other
passage of Scripture, gives no authority to one nation to judge
another and then to administer "justice" by indiscriminately
slaughtering its inhabitants.

War does not
operate on the basis of justice. The evildoers, the true criminals
responsible for desecrating mankind, are seldom, if ever, punished.
Since the Bible indicates that evil men will wax worse and worse
(II Timothy 3:13) we can expect the art of wanton human destruction
to become more and more "refined."

War is gross
injustice, waged on a worldwide scale, and Christians being just
men (Hebrews 12:23) can have no part in it, regardless of how evil
it may become.

In the end,
however, evildoers will be punished. The Word of God settles the
matter by stating that vengeance belongs to God. He will repay all
injustices. Christians are warned to "Avenge not yourselves,
beloved, but give place unto the wrath of God" Romans 12:19.
And this is as it should be, for who else, besides Almighty God,
could be impartially just and unerringly right?

are strictly forbidden to "get back at" evildoers, even
if they incite worldwide hostility in the form of war. God will
punish the warmonger in His own time and way. This responsibility
lies outside the realm of man. The Christian must respect God's
authority in this matter and thereby have no part in war.

But Killing
in War Is Done As an Agent of the Government and Not As a Personal

Here is an
objection which may take on various forms. The argument may emphasize
that since one is a member of society or the community at large
his responsibilities must be met to that society. If the community
is at war he must participate for he cannot escape being a citizen
of some nation.

Some point
out that a Christian has obligations to his country as well as obligations
to God. They suggest that a Christian may participate in war and
even kill for the good of his country but may not commit such acts
for his own personal welfare. Those who advocate this position interpret
the Bible passages that deal with a Christian and his enemies as
referring only to personal enemies. If someone is the enemy of the
nation, then it is admissible to join hands with your fellow citizens
and destroy that enemy, without incurring any disfavor from God
for such an action.

This may be
termed "collective action." Because every human being
is part of a nation, country, tribe or society he is bound by this
association to participate in every activity deemed wise or necessary
by that nation. If a personal moral issue is involved or if the
community action has religious or spiritual implications a person
is not to consider them because he cannot possibly be held accountable
since he is acting merely as part of a collective group whose responsibility
is to carry out the decisions of those in charge. The nation decides
who is the enemy, how he is to be dealt with and when and where
such treatment is to be inflicted. According to this argument the
Christian has no other recourse than to comply with such decisions.
He has no other Source of authority or allegiance to which he is
obligated which might affect his conduct. He can do no personal
wrong because he is not acting personally. When involved in such
collective actions of his nation he is in a virtual state of immunity
from responsibility to God. If, in the nation's view, its best interests
were served by killing, the Christian should kill, and there would
be no wrong involved. If national security called for the cessation
of all other activities of a spiritual nature, such as Bible study,
prayer, partaking of the Lord's supper, etc., the Christian may
dispense with these religious duties indefinitely without it affecting
his relationship with God. In essence, whatever is required or sanctioned
by the government under which one lives becomes proper to engage
in so long as it is done collectively under the direction of the

Before proceeding
any farther let it be reemphasized that we are not advocating disregard
for law. We are not suggesting disrespect for the duly constituted
governmental authorities. As brought out in chapter six, the Christian
has definite obligations to be an obedient citizen of his nation.
He is to cheerfully comply with all laws and regulations imposed
upon him by his government except where to do so would involve a
breach of his obligation to God according to the teaching of the
Bible. When such a conflict arises the Christian must submit to
the will of God first and foremost. In so doing there are times
that he might be required to decline participating in an activity
required, sponsored or sanctioned by the government. Such a case
would be that of war.

This may best
be illustrated by referring to a few specific incidents encountered
by the author during his period of service in the United States
Navy during World War II. While aboard ship in the Inland Sea of
Japan, on minesweeping and demolition duty there, beer was brought
aboard ship and served to the crew. This was not done by an individual
sailor but was provided by the Navy and was not sold but served,
just as the regular meals, at no cost. Would a Christian, who held
the conviction that drinking alcoholic beverages was wrong, have
been justified in joining in with the other sailors in their beer-drinking
just because it was under the auspices of the government? If we
admit that his personal convictions could have and should have been
exercised in refusing to partake of the beer, then this same principle
holds true in a Christian refusing to partake in war when it stems
from a sincere conviction based upon the Bible. Just because a government
sanctions an action, this does not require God to sanction it. Participating
in it as a member of a national unit or group does not release one
from the personal responsibility for his action. Then, of course,
all ex-servicemen can recall the distribution of cigarettes to the
personnel of the armed forces. While these may have been donated
by private organizations, they were distributed with the cooperation
and sanction of the government. To accept and use tobacco does not
become proper for the Christian just because it is given to him
by his government.

A final incident
will demonstrate that one is not justified in an action just because
he engages in it collectively as part of the armed forces. Following
World War II a number of Army units were transported to Japan to
serve as occupation forces. In one city the author visited, the
Army secured a large two-story frame building and furnished it to
the troops as a house of prostitution. Japanese girls were procured
and given small rooms in the building. Just outside of the building
a soldier was stationed in a small booth where he sold tickets to
the servicemen to be presented to the prostitutes of their choice
inside the building for illicit purposes. To insure protection against
the spread of disease the building was furnished, at government
expense, with rooms where precautionary medical treatment could
be self-administered by the military personnel who frequented the
place. And even though all this went on in broad daylight, the Army
added one more precaution to insure that orderliness was kept. Armed
Military Police patrolled the halls inside the building.

We simply ask,
could, a Christian participate in the activities of such a set-up,
sponsored by the military, without committing the sin of fornication?
While we recognize the difference between being offered something
and being commanded something, the same principle holds true. Collective
action, under governmental supervision and sanction, does not remove
the sin from an illicit action nor the personal responsibility of
the one committing it.

But what does
the Bible say about the Christian's responsibility for his actions?
Regardless of whether an act is performed individually or collectively,
the person committing the act will be judged for it personally,
not as an agent of the government. The Bible says that God's judgment
"will render to every man according to his works" (Romans
2:6). Notice that each man will face God to be judged according
to HIS own works, that is, the things he did as an individual. In
referring to the return of Christ we are told "Then shall he
render unto every man according to his deeds" (Matthew 16:27).
This is again emphasized in Romans 14:12: "So then each one
of us shall give account of himself to God." Notice that judgment
will be on an individual basis. This truth is repeatedly taught
in the Scriptures. Another clear passage says "For we must
all be made manifest before the judgment-seat of Christ; that each
one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he
hath-done, whether it be good or bad" (II Corinthians 5:10).
Other Scripture passages that bear out the same teaching are the
following: Ephesians 6:8; Colossians 3:25; Revelation 20:12; 22:12.

Thus the objection
that one may kill as an agent of the government and not be held
accountable for his action is not upheld by the Bible. As close
as the husband and wife relationship is, each one will be judged
individually (Matthew 10:34–36). As close as members of the same
congregation are, each one will face God for his own actions (Revelation
3:1,4). If this is true of the members of a home and the church,
it would certainly be true of citizens of a nation.

Let no one
conclude that killing as a representative of the government will
be excused in judgment, for God shall judge each person's life individually
and not as part of any group.

17, 2008

E. Paul [send him mail],
a World War II veteran, is a retired minister and Bible college
teacher who lives in Colorado.

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