Can a Christian Kill for His Government?
by Laurence M. Vance
by Laurence M. Vance
Recently by Laurence M. Vance: The Marines Are Looking for a Few Good High School Students
This is a serious and controversial question to ask anytime, but especially in the midst of a war. But that is exactly what Bennie Lee Fudge did — in 1943.
I only know two things about Mr. Fudge: he was from Alabama and he wrote a book in 1943 called Can a Christian Kill for His Government? I suspect that he was a Church of Christ minister, but I don't know for certain.
Fudge doesn't claim to be adding anything new to the subject of the Christian's relationship to civil government and his participation in government wars, but says that his work "is an effort to collect in logical, systematic form, the principal arguments that have been presented by those who affirm the right of the Christian to participate in these activities, and to study these arguments in the light of the Scriptures." Following each of these arguments, Fudge presents his "reasons for holding to the opposite view."
There are no gray areas in Fudge's thinking. He considers the question of Christians killing for the government in combat to be a black or white issue:
Either I am wrong in advising Christian boys against accepting combatant service, and will be held responsible before God for encouraging them to shirk their duty, not only to their country, but to God; or those are wrong who teach these young men to go willingly into combatant service, and will be held responsible in the judgment for encouraging them to violate one of the most sacred commands of God in shedding the blood of their fellow man.
Fudge condemns preachers who, under the pressure of public opinion, encourage their young men to enlist in the business of bloodshed and then later, when cooler heads prevail, change their position when some of the young men who enlisted with their blessing will never come back alive and have a chance to change their position. He astutely recognizes that wars must be sold to the public with a tremendous national propaganda campaign. He has no use for those who try to cloak wars under the banner of defense:
It is impossible for a man to judge between offensive and defensive wars while the war is in progress and he is involved in it. Napoleon declared in his last days that he had never waged an offensive war. The people of Germany believed in World War I and also in this present war that they were defending their fatherland. It is axiomatic in war that the best defense is a good offensive.
The plan of book is straightforward. Fudge presents two propositions:
The Bible authorizes the Christian's acting as a punitive agent of the civil government, either as a law enforcement officer or as a soldier in the army.
The Bible forbids the Christian's acting as a punitive agent of the civil government, either as a law enforcement officer or as a soldier in the army.
He spends the first part of the book refuting the first proposition and the second part of the book affirming the second.
In the first part of the book, Fudge introduces a subject (15 in all), presents supporting evidence, and provides a summary in the form of three statements. This is all followed by his reply. The subjects covered are: Spiritual and Material Realms, Jewish and Roman Practice, The Instinct of Self-Preservation, Innocence and Guilt, Servants of the Kingdoms of This World, They That Take the Sword Perish with the Sword, Moral and Penal Law, Cleansing the Temple, Civil Government Ordained of God, Paul's Use of Armed Defense, Cornelius the Soldier, The Philippian Jailor, Combatant and Non-Combatant Service, The Hebrew Words for "Kill," and Historical Evidence.
Here is his section on Romans 13.
IX. CIVIL GOVERNMENT ORDAINED OF GOD
Read Romans 13:1—7. The civil government is ordained of God. Christians must be subject to it and support it for conscience' sake, which places civil government as an institution in the realm of that which is morally right. Conscience has to do with matters morally right and wrong. The God-ordained purpose of the divinely approved institution of civil government is to bear the sword, punish evil-doers, and praise the righteous. But civil government works through its citizens and subjects.
- It is right for a citizen of the civil government, acting as an agent of the government, to bear the sword in punishment of evildoers.
- Christians are citizens of the civil government, and Christians may do anything that is right.
- Therefore Christians, as citizens of the civil government and acting as agents of the government, may bear the sword in punishment of evil-doers.
The first premise is defective. Logically to draw the above conclusion, the first premise must be construed to mean, "It is right for any citizen of the civil government, acting as an agent of the government, to bear the sword and punish evil-doers." It is assumed that "the powers that be" of Romans 13:1 includes the civil government with all its citizens and subjects. Since this assumption would include Christians, the first premise is in reality begging the question.
A study of Romans 13 will show that Paul considers the Christian as entirely separate from "the powers that be." "Let every soul be in subjection to the higher powers." Paul is considering the government as one party, the Christian as another, the Christian subject to the government. This applied to every soul among the Christians. "He (the power, the administrator of civil government) is a minister of God to thee for good." Not that the Christian is the minister of God in this capacity, but that another party — he, third person, automatically excluding the Christian who is addressed in the second person — is such a minister. Notice the same distinction in the following verses, "But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he (not thou) beareth not the sword in vain: for he (not thou) is a minister of God, an avenger for wrath to him that doeth evil."
Now comes the Christian's part in this order of things — "Wherefore ye must needs be in subjection, not only because of the wrath, but also for conscience' sake. For for this cause ye pay tribute also; For they (not ye, now) are ministers of God's service, attending continually upon this very thing. Render to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor." It is strikingly noticeable that in listing the services "due" the devil government by the Christian, Paul did not include "defense to whom defense is due" or "vengeance to whom vengeance is due." Those two duties have always been expected of their subjects by the civil governments, yet inspiration nowhere names them as due by the Christian. It is similarly outstanding that while he mentions that ye (Christians) should pay tribute, custom, honor, fear, be subject, it is always he or they when bearing the sword is mentioned. So far as Romans 13 goes, the Christian's relationship to political government is wholly passive. This is the teaching of the entire New Testament on the matter. There is not one example, command, or necessary inference of the Christian by divine sanction taking an active part in civil or military government.
Since it is clear that in Romans 13 Paul considers the sword-bearer and the Christian as separate and distinct individuals, our premise, to represent correctly the teaching of the passage, would read, "It is right for some citizens of the civil government, acting as agents of the government, to bear the sword and punish evil-doers." In this case it remains to be proved that Christians fall in that class qualified to bear the sword and punish evildoers. This is the point to be proved in the beginning, so this argument is begging the question, and there no logical argument at all.
In the second part of the book, Fudge follows basically the same format as the first. He introduces a subject (6 in all), presents supporting evidence, and provides a summary in the form of three statements. There is no reply here because Fudge is affirming his proposition that "The Bible forbids the Christian's acting as a punitive agent of the civil government, either as a law enforcement officer or as a soldier in the army." The topics in this part of the book are: God's Penal Law, International Nature of the Church, God's Use of a Prepared People, For What May a Christian Fight?, Is It a Good Work?, and Historical Evidence.
In this last section, Fudge relies heavily on the Church Father Tertullian, such as this quote from his work De Corona:
Shall it be held lawful to make an occupation of the sword, when the Lord proclaims that he who uses the sword shall perish by the sword? And shall the son of peace take part in the battle when it does not become him even to sue at law? And shall he apply the chain, and the prison, and the torture, and the punishment, who is not the avenger even of his own wrongs? Shall he, forsooth, either keep watch-service for others more than for Christ, or shall he do it on the Lord's day, when he does not even do it for Christ Himself? And shall he keep guard before the temples which he has renounced?
He also refers to modern historians who name aversion to the imperial military service, disregard for politics, and lack of patriotism as reasons the Romans persecuted the early Christians.
I can do anything for the government that I can do for an individual or a corporation: and, outside the things due the government by God's decree, I can do nothing for the government that I cannot do for an individual or a corporation.
Can a Christian Kill for His Government? appears to have been privately printed and distributed by the author in limited quantities. It has no doubt been out of print for decades. I only recently discovered this valuable 64-page book and reprinted it as part of my Classic Reprints series. Fudge's book is an important addition to the genre of antiwar literature from a biblical perspective.
If you are aware of any other long-forgotten antiwar books or articles that you feel are worthy of being reprinted, please contact me about including them in my Classic Reprints series.
May 17, 2010
Laurence M. Vance [send him mail] writes from Pensacola, FL. He is the author of Christianity and War and Other Essays Against the Warfare State and The Revolution that Wasn't. His newest book is Rethinking the Good War. Visit his website.
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