It astonishes me that each week as we post a new chapter of SEEK it seems to be a commentary on current news….this weeks connection should be obvious….
SEEK 12: Being a Christian Soldier
Question: Can a Christian also become a soldier and kill people and yet the Bible says, “Do not kill?”
Bible Reading: Acts 10:1-48
Text: “The men replied, ‘We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to ask you to come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say.” (Acts 10:22)
In the Second World War my grandad was a ‘conscientious objector’. In other words, he refused to go and fight because of his objections as a Christian. He wanted Hitler to be defeated so he played his part by allowing his farm to be used as a prisoner of war camp. German prisoners came and stayed there – none of them escaped – why would they? Who would want to leave a farm in the Scottish borders to go and fight on the Eastern Front?!
There has been a long tradition of Christian pacifism. Some argue on the basis of verses such as Micah 4:3 “they will turn their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore”, and Matthew 5:39; “Do not take revenge on someone who wrongs you. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also”. If we are to love our enemies – how does becoming a soldier and perhaps killing them fit in?
Yet there is another side to this. We live in a fallen and imperfect world. What if someone came into your school and started shooting all the children – would the police be justified in shooting the shooter? What if a country like Russia invaded Ukraine? Would the Ukrainians have a right to defend themselves? Do Christians have a right to be policemen or soldiers?
In Acts 10 we are told about a Roman soldier, Cornelius the centurion (literally meant he was in charge of 100 troops) who is described as ‘righteous and God-fearing’. So, it is possible to be in the army and be righteous and God-fearing. There is no indication that when Cornelius became a Christian, he stopped being a soldier. . Theodoret, one of the early church fathers wrote of the Emperor Diocletian that he ‘made an edict ordering the Galileans (his nickname for Christians) to be expelled from the army” – showing that Christians were in the army.
You state that the Bible says, ‘do not kill’. But the sixth commandment is more accurately translated “do not murder”. (Exodus 20:13). Murder is unjust killing – the taking of an innocent human life. But there can be such a thing as just killing. Paul tells the Roman Christians that the State authorities ‘bear the sword’ because they are ‘God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoers” (Romans 13:1-7). Nowhere is a Christian forbidden from being a servant for the State.
But what about war? Especially in today’s world – surely that cannot be right? Augustine was a great African Christian teacher from the 4th century. He developed what has been called ‘Just War Theory’. He argued that there would always be wars, and that wars were sinful. If any Christian was involved in a war it had to be with sadness. Sin was the cause of war, but war could be a cure for sin. A state could fight a war in order to maintain peace. “True religion looks upon as peaceful those wars that are waged not for motives of aggrandisement, or cruelty, but with the object of securing peace, of punishing evil-doers, and of uplifting the good’.
The 17th Century Dutch Christian philosopher Hugo Grotius developed Augustine’s just war theory. For a war to be just it must
- have a just cause (just seeking to grab more land would not be a just cause),
- be a last resort,
- be declared by a proper authority,
- possess right intention,
- have a reasonable chance of success, and
- the end must be proportionate to the means used (i.e. you would not drop a nuclear bomb on Moscow if you want to get Crimea back for the Ukraine!).
This is a difficult subject, and it is not always easy to work out where the dividing law between good and evil falls (except as Solzhenitsyn pointed out through the middle of every human heart!). In my view a Christian should err towards pacifism, and only take part in war reluctantly, if it is justified and necessary. The Lord hates violence, but sometimes it is necessary to restrain evil and prevent further violence – until the day the Lord returns. Meanwhile we pray that he will make wars to cease and breaks the bow and shatters the spear (Psalm 46:9).
Consider: When do you think a war is unjust? Should a Christian soldier obey an unjust or evil command?
Issues Facing Christians Today – 4th Edition – John Stott
Just War Theory Isn’t Obsolete – Gregory Brown – https://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2016/04/16772/
Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, you are the Prince of Peace, yet you are also the warrior who brings justice on the earth. We know that violence and destruction are not your desire for those made in your image. May we be blessed by having peace, and by being peacemakers. Come soon and end all war, Amen.