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Disciples & War?

First, in the face of severe suffering such as that many Americans began to experience on September 11th, our human response is naturally a desire for the downfall and destruction of our enemies. But Jesus taught clearly that we are to love them and not to retaliate no matter how much we have been hurt (Matthew 5). While the political and military powers may strike back aggressively, in our hearts we are called to peace. We do not wage war with the weapons of the world. Moreover the Bible says we are to pray for our leaders (1 Timothy 2). We are to desire good for our enemies and wisdom for our leaders. Failure to pray at a time like this is gross neglect of a biblical command. Finally it is my hope that, whatever happens, the end result may promote the gospel that it may open doors. God has already moved to bring down Apartheid in South Africa and the Iron Curtain in Europe. Could it be that now he is moving to deconstruct the Islamic empire, eroding confidence in its leaders who are fueled by religious nationalism? How will the stiff opposition to Jesus and his message throughout the world of Islam melt away? Could it not be that the Lord is moving in our world to pave the way for his church? May the Lord provide one day in the near future safe and free access to every nation, especially those under the Muslim crescent! Should a disciple kill in wartime? I know that if you haven't already been asked this question you will be soon: Should a disciple kill during a wartime situation? I honestly was surprised that a lot of disciples feel that we should kill during a wartime situation....

I believe there is a distinction between thoughts of personal vengeance and a desire to see societal justice done. Personal vengeance is wrong (as are the sins of the heart that may go along with it -- hatred, spite, ill will), but a desire for societal control, protection, and even societal punishment of wrongdoers is not is it? And is it not inconsistent for us to believe in societal justice in theory or on a limited scale, but then not support the national means necessary to carry this out with reference to the current crisis? After all, Jesus does not command any of the soldiers converted in the first century to abandon their profession...

Now how should I respond? Both make some excellent points, and if we are quick to dismiss them we are oversimplifying the issues. So let me begin by saying I am fully aware that the war issue is one on which disciples have a range of viewpoints. The fact that there are so many differing interpretations of the scriptures should give us pause.


For example, while we do not desire the demise of our enemies--since we are praying for them--sometimes there are overlapping or even conflicting principles which must be weighed. If the enemy if threatening my wife, my love for her being stronger than my love for him will naturally impel me to protect her, possibly to the point of force. One could actually reason that in some situations it would be wrong not to use force. And yet when confronted with the arrest party, Peter, drawing the sword to protect his Master, was rebuked for resorting to arms! Another principle always to be considered is conscience. One disciple may be forbidden by his conscience to use deadly force even in self defense. For him to violate his conscience would be sin (Romans 14).


In no way do I wish to be ungrateful for the blessings many of us enjoy under (powerful) military protection. Yet as one who has traveled the world, I know how most people live (less affluently than, say, the Americans). Often our lifestyles are maintained at the expense of others. The minor prophets speak about those who "sell the needy for a sandal." Then there is another dilemma: the destruction of innocent bystanders victimized by their own governments. They may not agree with their governments' policies; they may not be violent persons themselves; yet in a bombing attack, let's say, they will be killed. Even more shocking will be the toll on the women and children. No war is waged without these casualties as a by-product.


Every war begins with rhetoric talk of justice and the building of some sort of consensus. I am not claiming to be above the fray--I was hurt by the attacks of September 11th, and deep down I admit I would like to see all terrorists get justice too. But history shows us that it is not always that simple. Perhaps that is why Jesus himself did not get involved in politics. I do not believe everyone in politics is in it for wrong motives.

All these principles need to be taken into account, and we must respect others' views when they have studied the scriptures--even if they disagree with our own. So to respond: of course I have a problem with any disciple who enjoys killing others or who has not thought about the innocent who may suffer the "collateral damage."


I would strongly encourage all Christians to study this out. The distinction between societal justice and personal vengeance is an important one--as eloquently articulated by the second question. The truth is, you can make a pretty good case for the pacifist position. But, you can also build a (weaker in my opinion) case for military service. I think, however, that only the pacifist position resonates with the teachings of Christ, as in Matthew 5.


Christians since the fourth century have been divided on the war issue. And yet that is also the time that the church en masse became apostate, drifting far from the teachings and the spirit of Jesus.




 

originally posted from Douglas Jacoby, used with permission.

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