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The Church and a Just War

Updated on March 4, 2019
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Dr. David Thiessen is an educator, writer, pastor, and speaker. He has authored several books on a variety of topics including Archaeology

In their (National Association of Evangelicals) statement in April 2005, there is a call for strict just war restraints on the initiation of armed conflict- pg. 46

The question is, can there ever be such a thing as a just war? Then the question rises, should the church or its members participate in the fighting knowing that believers are fighting on the other side?

Later in the same Book President Carter wrote the 5 principles that define the difference between a just war war and an unjust one. Here are those principles:

#1. The preeminent criterion for a just war is that it can only be waged as a last resort, when all non-violent options have been exhausted- pg. 153

#2. Weapons in war must discriminate between combatants and non-combatants- pg. 153

#3. Violence used in war must be proportional to the injury suffered- pg. 15

#4. The attackers must have legitimate authority sanctioned by the society they profess to represent

#5. The peace to be established must be a clear improvement over what exists- pg. 154

Do you agree with these definition of a just war and do you still think that the church should be involved in war, any war? Of course, there are always non-fighting roles to be filled in any war which the church can participate.

There Are Problems With the Definitions

I am not going to tell you everything that may or may not be wrong with those definitions. I will provide a couple of examples for each to get you to seriously think of war and how it should be viewed as a Christian.

Just keep in mind that Jesus said, if my kingdom was of this world, my followers would fight. Also his statement to love one another as he loved us, does not exclude enemies.

For #1 this does not work when a person’s country is invaded by an aggressive neighbor. People do have the right to fight to defend their homes, their families and their country.

Also, they have a right to fight off attacks from those political parties that seek to undermine the laws of the land.

For #2 Weapons are not thinking objects. They have no idea who is or isn’t a non-combatant. Also, it is the people in charge of those weapons who must be restrained from attacking innocent people who do not participate in the war.

The question is what about those people who support the war but are too old, infirm, and so on and cannot fight? Are they not combatants as well?

For #3 this is unrealistic as war provides far more violence than any injury suffered. Innocent people get hurt or killed even when the attackers did not hurt them. Also, who is the one to measure the equity in this issue and does he have the authority to determine what violence can or cannot be done?

For #4 The term legitimate needs to be defined here as there are many leaders who have legitimate power yet do not have the full support of all their people. Also, this legitimacy can be manipulated to justify any military action.

For #5 in whose eyes is that assessment to be made? For the loser, the peace is not an improvement over what once was. The same for those who supported the war. The invaders’ idea of better may not be better as the defeated are subjected to humiliating terms. See the results of WWI as evidence for this point.

God Used War

The Bible is full of accounts where God used war. He used it to free his people from their oppressors, see the book of Judges; he used it to defend his people, see the 6 Day War with Egypt; he used it to punish evil doers.

While God used war it must be understood that God did not sin in his use of those acts. He was not motivated by greed, lust, blood lust and so on. His call to war was just and holy. We cannot match up to those standards.

Jesus will use war when he returns to earth but he is not using that war for sinful purposes but defeating the sinful enemy that uses humans for its vile deeds. Humans will die but that is because they have not repented from their sins.

The Church’s Duty in War

I have always had a dislike for the law that banned people from helping the enemy when thy are hungry, thirsty, injured and in need. They call it aiding the enemy but how do you turn an enemy into a friend if you do not help them in their time of need?

Jesus’ instructions do not provide escape clauses that allow people to ignore his words simply because someone is at war. In war, the church cannot take sides, It does not belong to the fighting earthly kingdoms but belongs to God’s kingdom.

The church must follow God\s words correctly and minister to both sides regardless of the outcome. They must show God’s love to all including when it helps the enemy soldier recover from their wounds or feeds those in the enemy’s nation.

While it is understood hat many Christians will take up arms, that is not under discussion here. The Church needs to put God’s kingdom rules into place and set the example of how people are to act during a time of war.

Some Final Words

The Church’s role in life is different than any other entity. It belongs to one kingdom while living in earthly ones. It is to be the light unto the dark world and be in the world but not of it. This includes war.

There are many ways to protect one’s nation without picking up a gun and killing the members of the other side. But it all must be done without sin. Some point to the Crusades as an example of a just war or a war with a higher purpose.

Sadly, that is not the case. Those Crusades were not of God and not sanctioned by him. The ulterior motives behind those campaigns, the death of many innocent people, Jews and Muslim alike, do not meet the above reasons for a just war nor God’s use for war.

The Church needs to be wary of such calls to fight as the motives behind them are not of God and serve no godly purpose.

In the end, there is no such thing as a just war. The act of war cannot be conducted in the ideal manner described above. You will notice that God is left out of those ideals defining a just war. Without God there is no justice in war or a just campaign.

© 2019 David Thiessen

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