Must Christians Be Pacifists?

Last time I left one of Dale’s questions unanswered, because that entry had already grown lengthy and because the remaining question is one that can easily warrant its own post. The first part of the question was, essentially, are Christians called to be pacifists?

I would have to say that my short answer is no; my understanding of the Bible does not cause me to believe that Christians are instructed or called to be pacifists.

Certainly Jesus taught at length about turning the other cheek, and refusing to seek revenge, and I think that those teachings are relevant to an extent. I am not going to talk about the individual level here, because I did that last time. To me, the idea of going to war is a national-level discussion; a macro rather than a micro issue. That said, I realize, of course, that wars are fought by a collection of individuals, and it is my conviction that there are times when Christians are justified in going to war. I will try to explain why….

First, God Himself instituted the death penalty. In fact, the death penalty was the first civil ordinance God gave to man. Jesus did bring a new law when He came to earth, but I cannot find any of Jesus’ teachings that would negate God’s instruction that there are some offenses that are deserving of death. And I think this same principal can be applied at the macro level–there are times when going to war is justified.

Second, I think that is depends on the reason for the war. I think that Christians would have every right to question, and even to sit out, a war that was being waged purely for the purposes of conquest or territorial expansion. On the other hand, I think there are such things as “just wars,” and when a war is being fought to bring a person or a nation to justice, I see no biblical conflict with a Christian being a part of such a war. World War II would be a perfect example; the atrocities of the concentration camps not only warranted but, in my opinion, necessitated war to put a stop to the genocide.

Third, Scripture makes it clear that Christians are to submit to the government unless and until the government requires something that God prohibits or prohibits something that God expects. Only in those instances when obedience to government would mean disobedience to God are Christians justified in choosing to disobey the government. Accordingly, unless the purpose of a war is contrary to Scripture, one could legitimately argue that Christians have a responsibility to submit to the government and go to war when told to do so.

Of course, in the United States we have an all-volunteer military, so one could argue that no one should join the military who is unwilling to follow orders to go to war, but I think that skirts that main point that even in such instances it is possible for unjust orders to be given and for members of the military to have the right and Christian duty to disobey those orders.

Fourth, war may sometimes be a necessary method of enforcing the law. Just as God chastises those whom He loves, and expects parents to use the rod when necessary to teach their children, so nations may at times have to use force in order to enforce treaties, agreements, etc. For example, regardless of whether or not WMDs were ever found in Iraq, the case could easily be made that the use of force was justified because Saddam Hussein had repeatedly ignored deadlines established by the UN. The enforcement of law and the execution of justice may, at times, require going to war.

I do not think that killing someone is ever the loving thing to do, but I do think that there can come a time when the bounds of love have been exceeded. I realize that is hard to swallow, and it seems contrary to what we most often think of the Bible as teaching, but even God’s love has a limit. Despite the fact that everyone will believe in God after their death, not everyone will be saved, because there is no “last chance.” In His sovereignty, God has given a set period of time to each person, and once the time is up, it is up. I cannot see a problem with that same principle being applied (fairly) to nations; eventually, a refusal to repent may leave but one option.

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