Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 14, 1970

May Christians Participate In War?

Kenneth Green

This is a reply to the article, "To Kill or Not to Kill" in the March 5, 1970 Gospel Guardian in which brother Ralph Edmunson reviewed my December 4, 1969 article, "There's More Involved."

It's always with a feeling of humility that I state my views on the "war issue" (I believe it is really the civil government issue).

Though my father is an Army veteran of thirty years, and I served in the U.S.A.F. for four years, I took the conscientious objector viewpoint for a period of about six years. I still have notes which I used in sermons to set forth that particular doctrine.

This I point out, not as evidence that my present belief is right, but to say that I too have given careful consideration to these matters and I know something of the attitude that C.O. brethren have toward us who disagree with them, and I understand why they have such an attitude.

I'm mindful that I don't know all the answers. There are difficulties hard to be resolved whatever position we take. At least I've found them so.

Brother Edmunson apparently thinks that his case is the stronger because I used no scriptures in my article. He said, "One thing is outstanding in bro. Green's piece — he does not offer any scriptures at all."

I tried to make it clear that I could offer no scriptures to sustain the highly prejudicial and over simplified proposition that "a Christian should kill those whose political beliefs are different from his." No one teaches that. The purpose of my article was to show that such is not the point of issue!

I certainly believe that I have a scriptural basis for my convictions. For any who would like to make a complete and objective study of the question, I would recommend Allen Isbell's book, "War and Conscience." Other informative material on both sides would include: "The Sermon on the Mount and the Civil State" by Foy E. Wallace, Jr., "The New Testament Teaching on War" by H. Leo Boles, and "Can a Christian Kill for His Government?" by Bennie Lee Fudge.

Brother Edmunson said that those who believe that a Christian may bear arms in defense of his homeland "could be classed as 'pro' war." I wish that we could show a bit more kindness for those with whom we differ. It's pretty hard on a fellow to be classified as "anti-orphan" and "pro-war" too.

Just as I disclaim being "anti-orphan," I reject the tag "pro-war" which is equally an inaccurate generalization and is therefore a misrepresentation. Like other people, I abhor war and it would make me happy if elements did not exist which make necessary law enforcement and defense agencies.

To my question: "Would the Christian have a responsibility to render aid to a molested third party, the people of other lands who are endangered by the threat of communism?" he replied: "Aid, yes; to kill, no ..." Then he continued in the same vein to answer a similar question by a correspondent: "Yes, I could make many efforts (to stop a lawless criminal from shedding innocent blood) short of killing . . . Certainly, I should try to prevent a murder, but not to the extent of simply exchanging one life for another."

I believe that our brother has placed himself in a very inconsistent position. Where is the scripture that would lead to his conclusion? If your argument is true, brother Edmunson, then you could consistently take no resistive action at all against an assailant. If you hit him, would you not be resisting evil (Matt. 5:39)? If you called the police and they killed him, you would be a party to the "murder," would you not?

It's a hard but true fact that taking life is often a necessary part of rendering aid to the "molested third party." I don't believe that our government is involved in war because our leaders like to kill people. Killing people in war just happens to be a necessary by-product of rendering aid to those who need it, and providing for the common defense. Therefore it's not always a question of how many efforts one will put forth "short of killing," but it may become an "either-or" proposition. To say that we are not sometimes faced with the decision of choosing what we may consider the lesser of two evils is to ignore the facts of life.

Three scriptures are offered by brother Edmunson which "cannot be harmonized with the Christian's bearing the sword," according to him. They have nothing whatever to do with "bearing the sword" as a government agent, and I can personally see no disunity between that concept and these scriptures.

The first two scriptures are: (1) "Love your enemies, Matt. 5:44;" and (2) "Love works no ill, Rom. 13:10." In the first scripture, Jesus was interpreting the Old Testament (Matt. 5:17, 18) and laying aside the facade of human traditions (5:43). These principles find their application in individual relations and not in civil affairs. God commanded His people under the Old Testament to have proper regard for their enemies (Exodus 23:4, 5), but that was no prohibition to "bearing the sword."

In the verses immediately preceding Rom. 13:10, the apostle plainly declared that the civil agent (peace officer, sheriff, policeman, or soldier) who bears the sword against the evildoer is appointed by God and is the minister of God for good (Rom. 13:1-4). Brother Edmunson believes that he is a murderer and I deny that the same act can make him both.

It appears to me that if these scriptures forbid a Christian from taking the life of an attacker to protect an innocent person, they would likewise forbid a Christian from beating that assailant unconscious or senseless or shooting him in the leg, or whatever similar action might be necessary short of killing. I agree, naturally, that it would be preferable to stop such a person without killing him if possible. But the interpretation that brother Edmunson places on these scriptures would consistently lead him to the philosophy of complete non-resistance.

He asks, "If one kills his enemy because he loves him, what would he do to him if he hated him? I might just as properly ask, if one makes every effort short of killing against his enemy because he loves him, what would he do to him if he hated him? Really! No one has claimed that a Christian may kill his enemy because he loves him. The proper question is: Would taking his life under such circumstances prove that one had no love for said enemy?

Do we infer that Samuel hated Agag when he fulfilled the command of God and killed him (I Sam. 15:32, 33). Were the great men of faith of Old Testament times full of hate?

I believe that a Christian could serve the state as an executioner and yet maintain the love for condemned men that would lead him to pray for them and try to lead them to our Savior before he discharged his duty in carrying out the sentence demanded by the state.

The third scripture used was: "Thou shalt not kill, Rom. 13:9." It was posited that "the Old Testament God made specific exceptions — commands — to the law against the taking of life." If I read him correctly, bro. Edmunson is telling us that God made a law and then specified occasions when the Israelites could break the law. If that's his argument, I would like to know where he got such an idea.

The sixth command along with bro. Edmunson's so-called exceptions simply demonstrate that all taking of human life was not proscribed by the command "Thou shalt not kill." The command prohibited personal aggression, or retaliation. It had nothing whatever to do with "bearing the sword" as a civil agent.

The Old Testament God is the New Testament God. He has changed His positive commands, but He has not changed. If all taking of human life is immoral now, then it always has been. Moral principles don't change. The injunction "Whoso sheddeth man's blood by man shall his blood be shed" (Gen. 9:6) is based upon the unalterable fact, "for in the image of God, made he man."

We do not live in a theocracy as did those under the law, but we do maintain a dual citizenship (Acts 16:37; 22:25). If it can be shown that: (1) Governments are ordained by God; (2) Governments may rightly, under some circumstances, take human life; and (3) a Christian may serve in the government, then it would follow that he may rightly, in those circumstances, play a part in the taking of human life. This is why the question may more accurately be described as "the government issue" than "the war issue." The government cannot exist without the military and police to support and protect it.

That civil government is ordained (ordered) of God is made clear by such passages as: Dan. 2:21 — "He removeth kings and setteth up kings." Rom. 13:1 — "...the powers that be are ordained of God." I Peter 2:13, 14 — "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well."

Civil government is just as truly a divine institution as is the church. It is appointed for the orderly maintenance of human relationships. Laws are indispensable to this end and they must be enforced.

That governments may take life is shown in: John 19: 10, 11 — Here, Jesus agreed that Pilate had authority to condemn him to crucifixion. He said that such power came from above. Pilate misused his authority by releasing a murderer who should have been executed, and condemning the Just One. Acts 25:11 — Paul said, "For if I be an offender, or have committed anything worthy of death, I refuse not to die." Rom. 13:4 — "But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil."

That a Christian may serve in government is set forth in: Acts 10:1, 2 — All the evidence here is that Cornelius was a morally pure man. But he was a soldier, sworn to protect the Roman Empire even to the taking of life. Though Peter was to tell him what he "oughtest to do" (Acts 10:6; 11:14), there is no implication that he was told to sever his military connections.

Much the same may be said concerning the Philippian jailer (Acts 16), the Ethiopian treasurer (Acts 8), and Erastus, the treasurer of Corinth (Rom. 16:23).

These individuals are named and commended with no word of disapproval in regard to their occupations. Such would be unexplainable if those occupations involved them in acts of immorality.

Either a Christian may serve his government even to the taking of life, or he may not participate in any form or fashion. If he does, he is aiding and abetting the "crime." He may not even pull for our side in the event of war for in doing that he would be wishing for the defeat and consequent deaths of those on the other side. That would be a sin of the mind, if the C.O. position is correct.