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.