Other Articles on
War - Christian Responsibility In
Early Christian View
of War and
“Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers,
For there is no power but of God:
the powers that be are ordained of God.
Whosoever therefore resisteth the power,
resisteth the ordinance of God...”
The validity of Romans 13— “Be subject unto the higher powers”—justifying Christians going to war is based on the Old Testament concept of God using the armies of Israel as his executioners. Why was it just for God to destroy Sodom, Gomorrah, the Canaanites and other nations slaughtered by Israel?
First, an illustration. Say that your brother was murdered and the murderer was apprehended. He was tried in court and found guilty, to be punishable by death. At that point, you stood up and shot the murderer. What would happen to you? You would be prosecuted for murder. Where’s the fairness in this? The judge has appointed an executioner to kill the murderer. Why would you be prosecuted for killing the murderer of your brother? The matter is simple. The judge as a judge had the authority to order the death sentence. The judge had the authority to determine who the executioner would be. You did not have that authority or right.
The lesson is: God and God alone is the judge of the universe. He has already condemned the human race to death and he alone has the authority to determine the manner of execution.
The reason God destroyed nations or individuals prematurely is two-fold.
1. Certain nations or ethnic groups based on Gen. 15.
When God promised the land of Canaan to Abraham and his descendants, he said the iniquity of the Ammorites and/or Canaanites had not yet “come to the full.” Abraham was told that the nation of Israel would enter Canaan 450 years later, when the iniquity of the Canaanites had “come to the full.” Archaeological discoveries reveal that nations like the Canaanites, Sodom and Gomorrah, etc., had become very immoral and debased to the extent that if their lineage had continued uninterrupted, their consciences would have become so seared that it would be impossible for God to appeal to them with truth and righteousness in the kingdom. Actually, it was for their eternal welfare that they were cut off so that they would have a conscience that God could deal with in the future probation for eternal life.
2. God as an executioner had the right to carry out the death sentence on any of the human race from the time of their birth onward.
The human race will come forth in the resurrection for their trial for eternal life. In order to illustrate certain principles to the church of the Gospel Age, God used nations and individuals in these pictures. The lessons sometimes required their premature dying.
For instance, Israel’s warfare against the Canaanites became a graphic picture of the Christian's necessary warfare against the imperfections of his flesh.
The seemingly extreme judgment of God putting Uzzah to death was an important lesson to the church showing why faith in God’s arrangements and commandments is so necessary. It was Uzzah’s lack of confidence in God’s ability to care for the sacred ark of the covenant that resulted in his death (2 Sam. 6:6-8). Uzzah and a few other individuals, who were seemingly put to death prematurely, were already under God’s judgment of Adamic death with the whole human race. God as a judge could determine the time and method of their execution. The justice of it all is further reflected in their future opportunity for salvation. An eternity of blessings far excels any time limitations that might be required in our present life span.
"Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers,
For there is no power but of God:
the powers that be are ordained of God.
Whosoever therefore resisteth the power,
resisteth the ordinance of God..."
What kind of rulers are these higher powers?
Daniel 4:17 informs us that God raised up the "basest of men" to rule during the seven times of Gentile powers (2520 years). Does this mean that God directly selected the basest men in these countries? No. God knew in an evil society generally the most power hungry and corrupt would arrive at the top of the governments. This is why Peter and the Apostles in Acts 5:29 observed when the laws of these ordained/permitted rulers differ from the laws of God, we must obey the laws of God. “The basest of men” are not the type of rulers that God would directly raise up to execute his judgments.
We have a general principle here. Every nation and tribal unit has a moral code that is enforced by its rulers. This moral code was retained in part from the fall of Adam. Adam had the law of God written in his heart. Also, in Christian countries many laws have been strongly influenced by the ten commandments. But remember, this is only a general principle. Therefore, there are notable instances when the basest of rulers have done much harm. However, from a general standpoint there were benefits.
For example, Germans who lived in the time of Hitler’s regime observed that as evil as that rule was, the anarchy after Hitler’s government fell, during the interim before the Allies were able to set up their administration, was far worse than Hitler’s rule. Yes, God permits base men to rule over nations and as evil as their governments are, they are better than anarchy. At least under Hitler’s rule murderers, etc., were arrested and imprisoned. That is why Romans 13 is only a general principle.
It is hopeless to try to evaluate what principles of government the Christian should support even to the extent of becoming involved in a just war. Christians should not become involved, period.
2 Timothy 2:4,5
“No man (Christian) that warreth
entangleth himself with the affairs of this life;
that he may please him who hath
chosen him to be a soldier.”
Paul uses the illustration of becoming good soldiers, not of this world, but of Christ. In a natural army, soldiers have no part in the affairs of the society. Their sole life is army life. So we, as good soldiers of Christ, are not to become entangled with the affairs of this life.
The word “entangleth” is significant. No one claims that all wars are just. Only a few are just, if any. In most wars there is more black than white. We cannot become entangled in the affairs of this life trying to ferret out details of black and white, such as, should Chamberlain have stopped Hitler in the beginning? History shows that Hitler and bin Laden had some justification for their grievances. World War II and the war on terrorism is not all black and white. That is why we cannot become entangled in the affairs of this world.
If we do become entangled and decide a war is a just cause, who are these enemy soldiers coming at us whom we are willing to kill?
1. If Christians should go to war in the U.S., then they should go to war in all countries and some of these enemy soldiers charging at us might be members of the body of Christ, who, like us, went to war in the enemy’s army. Are we willing to kill our brothers in Christ?
2. Some hated Hitler and what he stood for, but they were forced to fight. This would be true in a just war today. Are we willing to kill those of the enemy who did not endorse the principles of the enemy, but were forced to fight? Are we willing to kill them?
3. Most who fight in wars against the U.S. are brainwashed against the U.S. The U.S. is the ‘big demon’ causing all the evils in the world. For that matter, in every war each side has its propaganda of truth and error. Many of these poor people we would be fighting against don’t know better–they believe they are right. They are victims of manipulation. Are we willing to kill them?
4. Collateral damage. In modern warfare thousands of innocent civilians, old people, women, mothers, and children are killed. Are we willing to be the one who kills them?
And if we are willing to kill in these four areas, what will all of this do to our Christian character? Inevitably, it will have a brutalizing effect on our conscience. We do not kill or have a part in the kingdoms of this world, but we will kill in God’s kingdom when the issues are black and white. We will enforce justice and, if necessary, put to death those who are incorrigible sinners.
“Recompense to no man evil for evil.
Provide things honest in the sight of all men.
“If it be possible, as much as lieth in you,
live peaceably with all men.
“Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves,
but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written,
Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.
“Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him;
if he thirst, give him drink:
for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.
“Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.”
We are instructed of God to avenge not ourselves for vengeance belongs to God. For the most part, and there are exceptions, the Christian does not exact justice from his fellow man. God knew that living this lifestyle of love, while not exacting justice, was the only the way the Christian could develop details of sympathy and love for his fellow man. God says to live at peace with all men. We are not to avenge ourselves for “vengeance is mine” saith the Lord.
We are to obey Jesus’ commands, “My kingdom is not of this world [this present evil world] else would my servants fight.” We do not fight for the many issues of justice in the affairs of this world or social order. We do not want to become entangled in these matters, but instead we try to live a lifestyle of love without entering into any of the unjust causes of our fellow man. If we are harshly opposed at times for following this position, this is good—we are learning sympathetic love for all our fellow men. But in the world to come, we will fight for justice, having the sympathy of the love of God. We will be able to exact justice for mankind in God’s way.
Every evil that is committed in this life adversely affects at least two parties—the party offended and the party doing the offending. Most of these issues of justice will be finalized in God’s kingdom as far as each human character is concerned. If this present life were all there is to life, then life is unjust. If the blurred justice carried out by our church friends as a part of the nations “ordained of God” is the exacting of God’s justice—Bible Students are thankful they were not a part of the U.S. army “ordained of God” [?] to drop two atomic bombs on Japan. What a sincere, but distorted expression of justice.
Another important aspect of Romans 13 is that since 1914, nations are no longer ordained and/or permitted of God. Why? The time of trouble is gradually destroying these nations. By being in the military a Christian might be trying to defend [preserve] a nation God might want to destroy. If we engage in war during the time of trouble, we actually might be working against the cause of God as He is gradually setting up His kingdom.
The surgeon skilled and authorized
Has duties the unqualified
May not perform.
Policemen trained and deputized
Have duties those unauthorized
May not perform.
An husband’s duties throughout life
Are duties others to his wife
May not perform.
One man’s duty and another
Vary, to country, God, and brother,
What to perform.
Some making vows to God above,
To do his will and live by love —
These must perform.
These vows which call for sacrifice,
Those who, but pay a lesser price,
Need not perform.
One conscience goes to war away,
While C.O. cannot thus obey,
Yet both perform;
And law provides alternative
That in good conscience both may give,
And full perform.
1 Encyclopedia Americana, Vol. 7, 543.
2 New International Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, 777.
3 Cecil John Cadoux, Early Church and the World (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1925) 116.
4 Cadoux, Early Church 274.
5 Collier’s Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, 612.
6 Encyclopedia Britannica, Vol. 17, 20B.
7 Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, Vol. 4, 210.
8 Kenneth Scott Latourette, History of the Expansion of Christianity in the First Five Centuries, Vol. 1 (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1944) 268.
9 Jonathan Dymond, An Inquiry Into the Accordancy of War with the Principles of Christianity (Philadelphia: Friends Book Store, 1892) 80.
10 Dymond 80-81.
11 Dymond 80-81.
12 Dymond 85.
13 Cecil John Cadoux, Early Christian Attitude to War (New York: Seabury Press, 1919), 67.
14 Cadoux, Attitude to War 53, 92.
15 Cadoux, Attitude to War 121-126.
16 Guglielmo Ferrero and Corrado Barbagallo, A Short History of Rome, Vol. 2 (New York: Capricorn Books, 1964) 382.
17 Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, 678.
18 Cadoux, Attitude to War 73.
19 Cadoux, Attitude to War 54, 65, 157.
20 Leo Tolstoy, The Law of Love and the Law of Violence (New York: R. Field, 1948), 61.
21 Dymond 83.
22 Cadoux, Attitude to War 78.
23 Cadoux, Attitude to War 52-53.
24 Dymond 85.
25 Cadoux, Attitude to War 60, 74, 273.
27 Cadoux, Attitude to War 102.
28 Cadoux, Attitude to War 56, 158.
29 Collier’s Encyclopedia, Vol. V, 612; Cadoux, Attitude to War 84.
30 Tolstoy 63.
31 Tolstoy 65.
32 Cecil John Cadoux, Christian Pacifism Re-examined (Oxford: B. Blackwell, 1940) 230-231.
33 Cadoux, Attitude to War 104, 131-132, 135.
34 Cadoux, Christian Pacifism 230-231.
35 Cadoux, Attitude to War 142.
36 Cadoux, Attitude to War 63-80.
37 Cadoux, Christian Pacifism 239.
38 Dymond 85.
39 Cadoux, Attitude to War 108-109.
40 Ferrero and Barbagallo 382.
William Smith and Samuel Cheetham, Dictionary of Christian Antiquities, Vol. 2, 1182-1183.
Cadoux, Attitude to War 110-112.
41 Cadoux, Attitude to War 117-119.
42 Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 2 (New York: C. Scribner, 1866) 61.
43 Cadoux, Early Church 189-190, 275-276.
44 Cadoux, Attitude to War footnote 97.
45 Dymond 86.
46 Cadoux, Christian Pacifism 231.
47 Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, (War), 678.
48 Collier’s Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, 612.
49 Cadoux, Attitude to War footnote, 92.
50 Cadoux, Attitude to War 57, 101.
51 E. R. Appleton, An Outline of Religion (New York: Garden City Pub. Co., 1939) 363.
Cadoux, Attitude to War 150.
52 Cadoux, Attitude to War 153.
53 Collier’s Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, 612.
54 Dymond 82-83.
55 Cadoux, Attitude to War 154.
56 Cadoux, Attitude to War 240.
57 Cadoux, Attitude to War 152-153.
58 Dymond 82.
59 Cadoux, Attitude to War 153.
60 Cadoux, Early Church 121.
61 Thrapp, Los Angeles Times, May 2, 1954, article.
62 William Lecky and Edward Hartpole, History of European Morals, Vol. 2 (New York: D. Appleton and
Co., 1877) 37 quoted from: Latourette 269.
63 George Park Fisher, Beginnings of Christianity (New York: C. Cribner’s Sons, 1896) 569-570.
64 Dymond 86.
65 Schaff, Vol. 2, 343.
66 Cadoux, Attitude to War 151.
67 Schaff, Vol. 2, 43.
68 Schaff 344-345.
69 Cadoux, Attitude to War 245.
70 Dymond 86-87.
71 Tolstoy 60.
72 Collier’s Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, 612.
73 Cadoux, Early Church 588-589.
74 Tolstoy 65.
75 Dymond 80.
76 Dymond 87.
77 Cadoux, Attitude to War footnote 250.
78 Cadoux, Attitude to War 250.
79 Dymond 87-88.
80 Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, Vol. 4, 211.
81 Cadoux, Christian Pacifism 185.
82 Collier’s Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, 612.
83 Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, Vol. 4, 211-212.
84 Vol. 4, 212.
85 Dawn Magazine, Dawn Bible Students Assoc., E. Rutherford, NJ, March 1954, 6.
86 Reporter, National Service Board, Washington, D.C., September 1952, 3.
87 Cadoux Attitude to War 263-264.
88 Dymond, 84.
89 Cadoux, Attitude to War Foreword, ix-x.