Tuesday, April 12, 2011

There are no right circumstances for a Christian to go to war

I am back on the topic of warfare and Christians again. As I have written before, this is an area where I have had one of my most radical rethinking of a position and one where I can see most clearly where my cultural upbringing was coloring my interpretation of an issue.

I am writing about this again because of something written by Matt Slick at the webpage of CARM, the Christians Apologetics & Research Ministry. I appreciate the work that Matt Slick and the folks at CARM do. It is one of the best apologetics websites out there because it is succinct and easy to use and I came across it when we first were leaving mormonism. That is why I was troubled when CARM promoted an entry Matt wrote titled Should a Christian go to war? It is troubling because the conclusion is that it is perfectly fine for Christians to go to war and kill other people as long as they are doing it for the “right” reasons. CARM is a resource I recommend to people and because of this I think I need to point out the flaws in this argument. This post which gives cover for Christians to be involved in military service appeals to our American tendency to glorify warfare and blur the lines between patriotism and Christianity but it is a troubling stance to assert that Christians can take up arms to kill someone else because their government has declared war on the government of the men they are sent to kill.

What is really striking is that so much of the “support” for killing others in warfare comes from the Old Testament. Most of the reasoning behind Matt’s support of Christians going to war comes from various Old Testament passages There are several glaring problems here for Christians.

One, these calls are universally from God directing the nation of His covenant people to war against another nation of pagans. These wars had purpose that were grounded in God’s covenantal relationship with this nation of the Jews, a nation absolutely unique and history, without precedent and without successor. No nation that has ever existed since the collapse of national Israel can lay claim to the same sort of relationship with God. That absolutely applies to America, a nation founded 1700 years after the cross and a nation that has absolutely no claim of a covenant relationship with God. There hasn’t been a war with God’s covenant people on one side and pagan unbelievers on the other for thousands of years.

The second problem is that making these arguments misses utterly the context they were made under in the Old Testament and the way God’s relationship has broadened since the atoning work of Christ which brings into covenant believers from all nations, tribes and tongues and breaks down the wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile (Eph 2:14). It is a new and better covenant with new and better promises.

Finally, God has claimed for Himself the sole right to take justice upon the evildoer (Romans 12: 14-21) and this undermines the argument Matt makes for using self-defense laws under the Old Covenant as support for Christians in warfare. The eye for an eye argument is specifically overthrown in the teachings of Christ on the Sermon on the Mount, specifically Matthew 5: 38-47. So appealing to the Old Testament is a weak argument indeed.

The support for Christians engaging in warfare is even more sparse in the New Testament and comes down to being subject to the government (Romans 13: 1-4 and 1 Peter 2:13). Matt said:

Furthermore, Christians are instructed to be in subjection to the governing authorities whose establishment is from God. This establishment has the right to declare war and to punish its citizenry, even by capital punishment.

Agreed. That doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not Christians should be active participant in warfare or capital punishment. A similar argument could be made that since God placed the governing authorities over us and those governing authorities, rightly or wrongly, have decided that abortion is a “right” Christians are obligated to not only accept this but to be participants in it if the government says so. I don’t think many Christians would agree that a fellow believer who is an OB/GYN should be required to perform abortions because of Romans 13 but many Christians think being a soldier and fighting for Old Glory is permissible because the government decides to go to war.

His final argument and one I have heard before is an appeal to silence in Luke 3:14. Matt writes:

Finally, notice that some soldiers approached John the Baptist and inquired about repentance. John did not tell them to stop being soldiers, but to do their jobs properly, honestly.

That is a shaky argument indeed. Was Jesus even addressing the issue of being a soldier? No but because He didn’t say to these men specifically that they should stop being soldiers, we are to interpret that as an endorsement from Christ even though His explicit teaching appear to strongly contradict that interpretation. Silence is a tough argument to make. When Jesus was speaking with the Samaritan woman at the well, notice what He says and then what He doesn’t say.

Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” (John 4:16-18)

So Jesus is speaking to a woman who had apparently has a whole bunch of husbands and is currently living with a dude who is not her husband. Does Jesus say to her “You should either get married or move out”? No. Does that mean that Jesus is endorsing unmarried couples living together? Certainly not! Matt concludes with this:

From all of this, we can see that going to war is not wrong it itself and that a Christian can go to war under the right circumstances.

I couldn’t disagree more because the premise is all wrong. There are no “right circumstances” for a Christian to go to war. You are ultimately either advocating the killing of a fellow believer because they live in a different country than you do or you are advocating killing an unbeliever who will spend an eternity in hell. As someone who strongly believes in election and predestination and believes that none of the elect will die prior to be effectually called into saving faith, I nevertheless have no wish to be the person who sends an unbeliever to his or her eternal fate. We are not called to slay unbelievers to get them into hell more quickly, we are called to sacrifice ourselves to bring the Gospel to the lost.

It is instructive that Matt doesn’t even try to deal with Matthew 5: 38-47 or Matthew 5:9 or Romans 12: 14-21. The sad reality of a world under the curse of sin is that people will kill one another and wars will be fought. Women and children and other non-combatants will be killed alongside soldiers but they should not die at the hands of a follower of Christ.

I wish Christians would spend as much time trying to be peacemakers as they do trying to fabricate justifications for killing other people.


Anonymous said...

Interesting topic. Definitely a lot of cultural bias clouding our views. How do you feel about killing in self-defense or killing in defense of someone else (family or not)?

Unknown said...

Definitely thought-provoking—you can't think of even one circumstance in which Christians can fight a war. Not one?

Arthur Sido said...


Not one and I have radically changed my stance on this. Can you think of a circumstance when it is OK for a Christian to kill someone else at the command of a secular state? Deciding which are the "good wars" versus the "bad wars" is a troubling business and one that I don't think Christians have any business in engaging in. This question goes deeper. What about being involved in the domestic production of goods that facilitate warfare? How about being a medic? Those questions are harder but I can say that the best, safest position and the one most easily defended from Scripture is a an unequivocal non-resistance stance.

Arthur Sido said...


I hold the same position with regard to the use of deadly force to defend myself, my property or my family. I think of Jim Ellliot here who possessed the means to defend himself but allowed himself to be killed rather than killing the natives. He is in eternity now and will be joined by some of those who killed him. Had he shot them in self-defense they never would have come to Christ.

Frank said...

So, speaking as a Brit) what should we have done about Adolph Hitler, given that he was murdering any and everyone he didn't like?
Should we have just let him get on with it, until someone else stepped in for us.

Timothy L. Decker said...

I'm so glad to see others moving to this position as well. I guess it would be more correct to say that I am glad to have moved to a position only to find great men and women who have been there longer than me. I absolutely agree w/ your views on warfare. It's kind of hard to love your enemy when you're shooting at him!

Question for you. You spoke of not using deadly force to protect your family. But would you consider using non-lethal force to protect them? Or do you advocate no force at all?

Also... what significance do you find in Luke 22:36-37 and Jesus' commission to buy a sword? Also, in light of that fact, why would Jesus then rebuke Peter for living by the sword (Mt 26:52)?

Sorry to bombard you with questions. Just trying to figure out this new way of thinking as well.

Arthur Sido said...


There are two answers there. If one answers as a Brit or an American, absolutely Hitler should have been fought and stopped. However as a Christian? I don't see a caveat where we can ignore what Scripture teaches us because the guy in charge of the enemy is a really bad guy. If we trust God, we should trust Him to do what He said. I have no doubt that Adolph Hitler is facing an eternity of God's wrath as punishment for his crimes. Of course one could also argue that if it weren't for the senseless prior World War, Hitler never would have come to power in the first place.

Arthur Sido said...


By "non-lethal" do you mean like a taser or shooting him in the kneecap? That is a harder one. We are to not resist the evildoer, so that doesn't leave much wiggle room. Would I tackle someone who was in my house to give my family time to escape or call 911? Probably but I am not even sure that is consistent.

As far as the sword in Luke 22:36-37, I have heard it explained that it has to do with the "He was counted among the transgressors" idea. It does seem odd that He would command that and then rebuke Peter for using it but that may have been the whole point.

Denise said...

I think you are misinterpreting and mishandling Matt. 5:39. The context is that we are not to seek vengeance or revenge. The Bible does not teach that we are not to defend ourselves or our loved ones against evil. Even Jesus and Paul removed themselves from the threat of injury and death and both rebuked injustice. The only time that Christ submitted Himself to abuse was when it came time for Him to lay down His life at the cross.

I think this link here explains Matthew 5:39 nicely:


Here's an excerpt:

"Does this mean that we should never resist when somebody attacks us? Should we let everyone take advantage of us?

"This can't be what Jesus meant. After all, Jesus denounced the Pharisees who attacked Him ( Matthew 23 ), and objected when He was struck by one of the officers of the high priest ( John 18:22-23). Further, He advised His disciples to take measures to defend themselves ( Matthew 10:16; Luke 22:36-38 ). He also declared that they shouldn't worry beforehand about how they should respond to their enemies' charges, because He would give them the right words to say so that their adversaries wouldn't be able "to contradict or resist" them ( Luke 21:14-15 ).

"Similarly, the apostle Paul aggressively defended himself against his enemies, asserting his rights as a Roman citizen, and making it clear to his attackers that there could be consequences if he were unlawfully harmed ( Acts 23:1-3; 25:14-27 )."

I think it is dangerous to teach that self-defense of any kind is unbiblical. One example, what is a believing woman married to a violent unbelieving husband to do when her own life and limb, and those of her children, are put in imminent danger?

You believe that self-defense is wrong so you're saying to a woman in this situation that she needs to lay down her life. Yet in Luke 4:28-30 we see Jesus Himself escaping from the angry mob that wanted to throw him off a cliff? If a wife is to truly follow the example of Christ when it comes to mistreatment then she needs to take notice that even Christ did not just passively submit to abuse. As I stated above, the only time He did was when it served His Father’s eternal purpose to die for mankind’s sin. I don’t see anywhere in Scripture where a wife is called to die for the sins of her husband and thereby gain his salvation.

And on a slight side note, as to protecting our possessions - how do you square your belief with Matthew 24:43 and Luke 12:39, "But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up". Note that he "would not have suffered his house to be broken up".

I agree with your thoughts on war, and I definitely agree that Christians should spend as much time trying to be peacemakers as they do trying to fabricate justifications for killing other people. But I think it's a far stretch to say that all self-defense is unbiblical for the believer. Would that mean that no believer should be in law enforcement in anyway because he would be called upon to defend innocent victims? What kind of a testimony is it to your wife and children to know that you would not protect them from harm?

It is one thing to lay down your own life for the name of Jesus and your faith in the gospel - true martyrdom. I believe it is altogether another thing to not defend helpless victims from evil.

I would humbly encourage you to do some further study into this matter of self-defense because much is at stake.

Debbie said...

I'm not going to talk about war at all. And I know Jim Elliot, Nate Saint and company were right. But I'm wondering about the issue of your role regarding someone invading your home....

You are in a position of God-given authority in your household. Isn't one of the functions of those in authority to protect those under that authority? Isn't one of your responsibilities as a husband/father to protect your wife/children? By all means, use only non-lethal force, but don't abdicate that responsibility! I have this picture in my head of someone raping Eva/Caitlyn/Maddie/Laura/Tori while you stand to one side, saying, "Turn the other cheek, honey. We can't resist an evildoer!" An extreme picture, I know, but that's what your last comment (response to Timothy) brought to mind. Do you really think that is what Jesus was talking about? This passage (Matthew 5:38-42) seems to be talking about seeking revenge, not about protecting those in your care.

'Nuff said for now,

PS And yes, making it possible to call 911 is inconsistent. It's wrong for you to use force, but okay to call in someone else with a gun???

Arthur Sido said...


Sorry, your comment ended up in the spam folder and I just noticed it.

I think you are mixing the issue here. What I am talking about is not defending the faith through persuasion and argument, I am talking about killing or violently resonding to someone to protect your property (which is not yours) or your life (which is also not yours). I am likewise not talking about fleeing or avoiding a dangerous situation.

As far as Matthew 24:43 and Luke 12:39, if you read those in context they have nothing to do with defending your house or property, it was to do with being prepared for the coming of the Son of Man. Jesus is speaking in a parable. Using those verses as an argument for self-defense are like aguing that Christians should sell all of their property to buy a really nice pearl as a means of good stewardship.

You also need to consider the words of Paul in Romans 12: 14-21.

Bottom line, there is no Biblical warrant for using violence in the defense of property, self or others and certainly not for being involved in warfare. As far as law enforcement, I would agree with many of the early anabaptists who would refuse to serve in that capacity because it might entail using deadly force against someone else.

I am quite comfortable with my position even though it flies in the face of American culture. I have yet to see anyone show me from the New Testament an argument that would permit Christians to kill or maim someone.

Denise said...

Thanks for your reply. I have what I think to be some legitimate questions. I agree with you on the war issue. I also agree that Christians aren't to take revenge/vengeance into their own hands. But do you see vengeance (retaliation) as the same thing as defending an innocent victim from harm or death? In other words, that situation I mentioned with the wife and children. Is she to stand by in the moment when her husband may murder her children and not intervene for their safety (let's put her own well-being aside)?

In other words, if a wild dog or a bear wandered onto your property and started mauling one of your children, I assume that you would intervene and save them. What if a wild man wandered onto your property and did the same thing, are you saying that you would just stand by and watch and do nothing to save your child?

The same goes for a public event where say a madman goes on a rampage and you have it in your power to stop him. Do you do nothing or do you take action to protect the lives of others?

In other words, I can understand laying down your own life, refusing to defend yourself. But what about defending the lives of others?

Romans 14:18 does say "as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men", implying that there may be times that it will not be possible to do so.

Isn't the Communist motto, "Survival of the Fittest" and isn't the Christian's way - the stong watch out for the weak?

I understand what you're saying about American culture. But I'm talking here of the safety of others, not yourself. Do you just stand by and let evil be done to someone unable to flee and protect themself?

Thanks in advance for your reply.

Denise said...


One other thing, have you ever read D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ 'Studies in the Sermon on the Mount'? He has some excellent chapters on this issue of resist no evil and loving your enemies(chapters 26-29). He points out that the words of our Lord in the Sermon on the Mount are directed to Christians implicitly. It is not for the nations of the world and has nothing whatever to do with a man who is not a Christian. He also points out that this particular teaching he is expounding (‘resist not evil’ and ‘an eye for an eye’) “concerns the individual and nobody else and applies to him only in his personal relationships and not in his relationship as a citizen of a country’. He shows that ‘the main principle in this teaching is a man’s attitude towards himself’.

He goes on to point out that ‘our Lord’s teaching here does not mean that we should be unconcerned about the defense of law and order’.

He writes, “What our Lord says is that I am not to be concerned about myself, my own personal honor and so on. But that is a very different thing from being unconcerned about the maintenance of law and order, or about the defense of the weak and unprotected. While I must and should be prepared to suffer any personal insult or indignity that man can ever inflict upon me, I should at the same time believe in law and order. I assert on biblical authority that ‘the powers that be are ordained of God’, that the magistrate is a necessary power, that evil and sin must be restrained and restricted and that I as a citizen, am to be concerned about that. Therefore I must not construe our Lord’s teaching at this point in that general way; it is a personal word to me. For example, it makes our Lord’s teaching ridiculous to say if a drunken man, or violent lunatic, should happen to come along and strike me on the right cheek, I am immediately to turn the other cheek to him. For if a man in that intoxicated condition, or a lunatic, should so deal with me, what is happening is really not any personal insult or injury. This man who is not in control of his faculties is behaving like an animal and does not know what he is doing. What our Lord is concerned about is my spirit and my attitude towards such a man. Because of the alcohol, this poor man is not aware of what he is doing; he is not really concerned to insult me, he is a man who is doing harm to himself as well as to me and to others. He is, therefore, a man who is to be restrained. And in the full spirit of this injunction, I should restrain him. Or if I see a man ill-treating or abusing a child I should do precisely the same thing.

“The teaching has reference to my concern about myself. ‘I have been insulted, I have been struck; therefore I must defend myself, and my honor’. That is the spirit our Lord is anxious to banish from our lives.”

Time and space prevent me from sharing more of Dr. Lloyd-Jones writing on this issue, but I would really encourage you to read over those particular four chapters if you haven’t already. He goes much deeper into the correct interpretation and context, etc. including the erroneous view that takes the verse ‘resist not evil’ to the conclusion that it means there should be no police, no magistrates, etc. Really good stuff.

In other words, your desire to practice the selflessness that flies in the face of our culture is admirable and good, but that very selflessness should lead us to protect others by restraining evil when we see others in harm’s way.

Thanks for your time.


Anonymous said...

Help me with the verse numbers,but what gives me the unequivocal conviction that a Christian shall not engage in war is,on top of the verses you mentioned,the one that speaks about there not being agression on the Lord's mountain in the latter days(meaning the grace period ushered in by the Lord Jesus,new testament times,now).The lamb with the tiger,the baby with the cobra.That means when you get saved by faith in Christ,AND if you FOLLOW Him, meaning if you are living in increasing transformation of your mind through obedience(this is critical,folks),God Himself will be responsible for your safety when you obey even His commands that are controversial in the secular world, though unmistakeable to christians.When He talks about submitting to authorities even the harsh ones,it doesn't mean to the point of disobeying His commands.Whenever this demand occurs you are to wear the armour of God and declare God's command(Truth) and face the consequences.If there ensue consequences due to obedience to God's commands,remember whatshisname,Shadrack and Abidnego.
In other words the Holy Spirit will see you through it. And you through the process you will get closer to God.That's why there's a running theme of 'blessings,with persecution' in the new testament. To recap,there's a watershed difference between the new and old testaments.[Incidentally,about the stoning or not of the adulterous woman,the significance of the Lord's writing in the sand with His fingers, is Him stating that He is the one that gave the old command of stoning,and now because He is going to suffer to pay for our sins (replacing,in this case,getting stoned),He is rewriting that command such that we are not to condemn each other anymore but to love even our enemies and wish them salvation.After contemplating all this if you think about going to war,you can appreciate that participating in a war in the age of grace is not a godly act. Now,if you are living,on the other hand in not close obedience,then you can involve yourself in all kinds of things,like the prodigal son,and live without the full provision of joy and blessings that the Lord promises,AND because He is God,delivers! Whenever a christian lives like a secular person he hands the devil and his representatives(those who rule the earth,like the governments,all of them,organised and otherwise mean people)permission to put pressure on him/herself.My exhortation to all my fellow christians is;this are the end times,strive to be an obedient desciple,a little more every day.Remember you have the promise from the One who never goes back on His Word,that you will never be tested beyond what you can endure!!

Anonymous said...

This author is dead on. Keep promoting the life of Christ

alberteje66 said...

I hate to tell you this, but it was John the Baptist talking to the soldiers in which the author of CARM's article is referring to, not Christ. Second, Christ interacted with Roman Centurions in the passage where he was asked to heal a centurions servant in the Synoptics, and Jesus didn't give them a speech about re-thinking their career choice. Third, I think your argument is a bit from silence as well because you never used a New Testament verse that specifically says "Believers/Christians/Followers of the way, etc. should not go to war."

So some of your arguments are good, but I did find that these three things make it a bit flawed.

Arthur Sido said...

Andrea, I would say the opposite is true. The teaching of Christ on self-sacrifical love, loving our enemies, the blessing of being a peacemaker and turning the other cheek, etc. are never overturned. Jesus doesn't tell soldiers "Love you enemy but it is OK to kill them". We don't read everything that Christ taught (John 20:30-31) so we have no idea what other conversations happened subsequent to those recorded but the non-resistant argument has the backing of Scripture where "just war" for a follower of Christ does not.

Mike said...

Most Christians who I've heard express pro-war views use John the Baptist's encounter with the soldiers in Luke 3:14 as their bread and butter verse. Can we actually build a doctrine on this encounter? Is John the baptist presenting a teaching to allow Christians to go to war? Not to mention the fact that the church was not yet born. If John the baptist started telling every soldier he met to lay down his weapons and desert, what do you think would happen? The governor would have considered him a trouble maker and inciting sedition. Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”- John 18:36 That would also mean that our kingdom is also not of this world. War is a business and the Christian must avoid it so as not to have innocent blood on his hands. when the suits and ties of corporations along with government decide to bomb somewhere, innocent people are often part of the collateral damage and that often includes children.