Unleavened Brett

Brett’s Friday Blog Post

UB Jun 21

When is war justifiable?

Are we already in World War 3? Some prominent voices say so, considering the U.S. is fighting a proxy war with Russia by funding Ukraine’s defense; involved in the conflict between Israel & Hamas in Gaza; & may try to defend Taiwan if invaded by China. The U.S. sells weapons to multiple nations, is obligated by several treaties to fight, & has troops stationed around the globe.

So should Christians serve in the military? A quick overview notes that some Christians are pacifists. Others believe in biblical nonresistance, meaning that Christians can participate in war but only as non-combatants. Most seemingly would adhere to the “just war” theory which allows Christians to fight in justifiable, that is, defensive wars. Some would even permit preventative war that seeks to stop an attack preemptively. A few would allow for intervention in other nations to correct outrageous behavior.

Can war ever be moral? I respect the conscientious objection of Christian pacifists since I used to be one myself as a young man. I believed Jesus’ command to “turn the other cheek” was absolute, so much so that I got into a dormitory debate over whether I would use violence to defend others. “Would you fight off someone trying to kill your grandmother?” my friend asked. With what I thought to be consistent conviction, I replied, “No.” I wince at that now, because once I studied the issue further, I became convinced that the “just war” position is correct. Pacifism can be claimed on a personal level based on Jesus’ teaching & example of non-retaliation in the face of evil, but Scripture does not forbid self-defense. What is forbidden is seeking vengeful retaliation & returning evil for evil (Rom. 12:17-21).

But even if a Christian were to refuse to defend himself personally, love for innocent victims would compel him to fight off attackers. And if that’s a justified use of force, then police & military force are appropriate as well. They’re the ones authorized to execute justice & take vengeance on God’s behalf (Rom. 13:1-2).

What about the command, “Though shalt not kill?” It doesn’t apply because the correct translation is “you shall not murder” (James 2:11). Murder is the taking of an innocent person’s life. Only God has the right to say who can be put to death. In severe circumstances, justice takes precedence over human life. So God delegated some of his authority to government to execute judgment on the guilty even to the point of capital punishment–which is what a judicial war is on a larger scale. God sanctioned the Israelites to engage in wars that were sometimes defensive, & sometimes judicial against wicked nations. But those wars were not meant to be models for any other nations’ conquests.

While Jesus came to bring a New Covenant to individuals, he did not come to change God’s purpose for government. It is still his instrument of justice to protect the innocent, restrain evil, & punish the guilty (Rom. 13:3-4, 1 Tim. 2:1-4, 1 Pet. 2:13-14). Though some like to charge “pro-life” people as hypocrites for being anti-abortion but pro-capital punishment, the difference is that abortion takes the lives of the innocent while capital punishment & war should be taking the lives of the guilty.

Jesus’ teachings prevent Christians from personally exercising dominance through force while informing the conduct of warfare to treat enemies humanely instead of brutally. While non-Christians may consider wars of revenge, aggression & expansion acceptable, Christians should not. The primary purpose of a country’s military capability is not to fight a war, but to cause a potential aggressor to fear the consequences of attack. “Just war” theory takes human sin seriously & understands that at times violence must be restrained. For a war to be just, it must have a just cause–self-defense. It must have a just intent–to restore peace. It must be the last resort & lawfully declared. It must have a limited objective & be fought with limited means. The immunity of non-combatants should also be respected.

If you were to apply these criteria to actual wars fought, few would ever meet the criteria. We must carefully scrutinize any reasons given by government officials to justify military action. If the U.S. is engaging in unjust warfare, Christians should refuse to fight (Acts 5:29). And if the government demands a draft that goes against those principles or our Scripture-informed consciences, we do not go.