Episode 310: Many Christians not only today but throughout history have believed that in certain circumstances it is morally permissible if not morally imperative to wage war. So what are the guiding principles which should inform Christians if they do engage in conflict? Tune in as I unpack the just war theory and the necessary elements of a just war. ALSO, what are some of the implications for just war and ISIS. PLUS, why American Christians make terrible martyrs…in my opinion.
In favor of Just War you asked “Why would we have all this instruction about how to go to war in the O.T.?” I would contend that your point is strong without it, as it seems to involve a false premise. Namely that if something was instructed in detail in the O.T., then it should be considered meaningful for Christians. Much more time in the O.T. is devoted to instruction about the sacrificial system, but YOU and I would not say that means it should continue sometime in the future. (Emphasis on YOU & I because MOST of evangelical Christendom DOES think sacrifices will return in Jerusalem one day).
In favor of Pacifism I am amazed that NO ONE (I have ever heard or read) mentions what is, I believe, one of the most striking testimonies of scripture, namely that of the New Testament teaching on persecution.
We talk so much about our “responsibility to love our family by protecting them from evil” (i.e. by killing the aggressor) and also about “how can we love our neighbor while we watch them be attacked and killed”, that we forget that the 1st century church LITERALLY had to deal with this issues. Their friends and families were “dragged off to prison” by Paul, and they were stoned to death as with Stephen. We read disgusting and horrific stories of families fed to lions and worse.
Here is the kicker and a question I wanted answered. In the Just War theory, do Christians only have a “responsibility” to protect the weaker when they believe they can win the fight? In other words, does my “responsibility to rescue/defend/protect my family/neighbor” end if I can’t win the fight? It would appear so in the case of 1st century Christians facing persecution. That is, if we hold to a Just War view. This is why I cannot stomach it. Either it is ALWAYS right to do what Just War advocates, and every Christian should have died laying down their live for their brothers in the 1st century, or… Just War is mistaken on at least SOME of their premises.
Can I ask you to read the introduction to Dissident Discipleship by David Augsburger? You can read the rest if you want, but here are a couple of things I think he explains well there.
“In bipolar spirituality, the love of God enables us to face the difficult task of destroying stranger, enemy, and neighbor as part of our religious duty” (Dissident Discipleship, 17).
He outlines a chart to illustrate the difference in our approach to God, self, and others that I can’t post here, but that you must see.
Re: OT Teaching – There’s a lot in the OT for both subjects. “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction.” Concerning the sacrificial system, while I certainly would not advocate for renewal of animal sacrifice, all of that bloodshed is instructive…somehow. In similar fashion, and perhaps I didn’t explain as cogently as I would like, all that war instruction is instructive…somehow. I think that is what I wrestle with: what does all of this teach?
Re: Reasonable Chance of Victory – you’ve hit the nail on the head. Something Just War proponents argue about. Something one of my elders mentioned when I taught this. Don’t we have an obligation to right all wrongs regardless of our chances of success. The tension of course comes when, as you’ve brought out, we ought to be people who live in confident expectation that someday all wrongs will be put to rights not by us but by Christ.
“all that war instruction is instructive…somehow. I think that is what I wrestle with: what does all of this teach?”
Agreed. I have the same question. It was easy for me to pick out the Sac. System since it is expressly said to be no longer in effect after the death of Christ, but I agree that there is something going on there. I’ll think some more on it.
I appreciate the spirit of your response.
Somehow my introduction to all that was left off! Here it was:
This just happened. As usual, a very timely post, Nick. Much love for you brother. I appreciate your approach of trying to help these two sides come to some reconciliation. I appreciate your presentation of the two views, but I have to say that neither fully encompasses my own at this time. I do, however, think that a couple of your points should be adjusted for either side of the debate.
I am neither a pacifist nor a war advocate, just a Christ follower. I say that for the same reason that I say I am neither a Calvinist nor an Arminian, because I am not sure the Bible teaches what man wish it did… God’s word is His own whether we understand him or not.
Still, I do struggle with this issue a lot, and I will go after arguments that I think are bad and tell you why I think they are, but there are some good ones too that I consider.
As to the question of N.T. passages of Jesus coming in judgment in Revelation, 2 Thess, etc. I am surprised that you would suggest those set an example for the Christian. In both cases, Jesus is coming to make war (whether in a temporal judgment on the nation of Rome or any time since or at the final day) precisely BECAUSE His children have put their hope and trust in Him for justice and have let themselves be killed in persecutions for His sake. It is, therefore, terribly ironic to use such passages to suggest from this side that Christians should engage in warfare when those passages only came into existence because early Christians followed the instructions of Romans 12:19-21 and were killed because of it.
The point about God being a Warrior is certainly 100% true today just as it was in the O.T. But I would suggest an alternate conclusion should be drawn from this, namely that we can ENTRUST ourselves to Him and let Him do the fighting and waging of war (“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” – Psalm 20:7). If God were not able to care for and protect us, we might have reason to take up arms ourselves, but if we trust Him completely, won’t we be able to “leave it to the wrath of God” and “entrust our souls to a faithful Creator while doing good”? When James was killed and Peter was thrown into prison, they church did not gather their zealots to organize a prison break, but what was their response? They “made earnest prayer for him” almost as if they expected God to do something! (Acts 12:5). Can’t God still fight His own battles?
I will share more thoughts as I have them.
My main point appealing to Jesus in Revelation as warrior King was to draw out the tension between that and the suffering Servant of the gospels. Folks on both sides of the argument can point to Jesus to justify their position – right, wrong, or otherwise.
“Can’t God still fight His own battles?” Absolutely, He can. Where the rub lies is in the means He chooses to accomplish this. Sometimes He uses wasting disease (a la Acts 12 & Herod). Sometimes He uses nations to bring about His judgment…nations with armies…armies which may have Christians among their ranks (a la Cornelius).
Examples in the N.T. where war is not condemned and it could have been.
1) The N.T. shows Jesus and John the baptist interact with people in warrior professions and they do not condemn them.
2) Whatever Jesus does not condemn must be acceptable to God.
3) Therefore warrior professions, and by extension the military and war are acceptable to God.
Consider the following argument that follows this same form for the purpose of illustration.
Examples in the N.T. where instrumental music is not condemned and it could have been.
1) Jesus goes to the temple and sees them playing music, but he doesn’t stop them.
2) Whatever Jesus does not condemn must be acceptable to God.
3) Therefore instrumental music is acceptable to God.
Both of these arguments are made by inference. Since John & Jesus did not condemn their involvement in military or war at these encounters, therefore they must have approved of the idea of people serving in the military and, by extension fighting in just wars when necessary.
Again, this particular argument is weak because it has no direct proof, it relies 100% on inference and then it is laid against arguments that are simply a quotation of say Romans 12:19-21. How can we say these two arguments have the same force?
Good one. Sometimes when the Bible is silent we have a lot more to say.