by William E. Paul
The following excerpts are from the newly reprinted 116-page book, A Christian View of Armed Warfare, by William E. Paul. The first selection is chapter 3, "A Christian and Evildoers," from part I, "New Testament Teaching on Christians Participating in War." The second selection is chapter 8, "But Killing in War Is Done As an Agent of the Government and Not As a Personal Act," from part II, "Common Objections to Christians Not Participating in War." The book is available from Vance Publications.
A Christian and Evildoers
One of the most frequent arguments used in an attempt to justify a Christian waging war is that "Evildoers must be stopped in their aggressive efforts to overrun the world." Nearly every generation has had its Alexander, Caesar, Napoleon, Kaiser Wilhelm, Lenin, Hitler, Mussolini or Stalin. Certainly the atrocities perpetrated upon mankind by dictators who have aspired to world rule are to be deplored. Evil-doing of all kinds must be hated by Bible-believing Christians who desire to have the mind of Christ. It is said of Jesus, "Thou hast loved righteousness and hated iniquity" (Hebrews 1:9).
But in the process of hating evil Christians are not permitted to despise the evildoer also. This attitude is supremely exemplified in the act of God commending His "own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). While man was busily engaged in the pursuit of evil, God was pursuing a course designed to effect man’s eternal good. God loves sinners "even when we were dead through our trespasses" (Ephesians 2:4–5) and yet God says of evil, "all these are the things I hate" (Zechariah 8:17). Although God hates all evil, He loves the evildoer and has done only good to him, "for he is kind toward the unthankful and evil" (Luke 6:35).
The New Testament explicitly commands a Christian to "see that none render unto any one evil for evil; but always follow after that which is good, one toward another, and toward all" (I Thessalonians 5:15). This forbids a child of God from committing an evil act even against the person who has mistreated him. This principle has been stated in the well-known proverb "two wrongs never make a right."
When the apostate Jews of Jesus’ day attempted to justify returning evil for evil by misapplying the Mosaic civil code requiring "an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth," Jesus plainly told them, "resist not him that is evil" (Matthew 5:38–39).
War demands retaliation against evildoers. It calls for both offensive attack and defensive counterattack against an enemy bent on destruction. War requires putting a stop to his evildoing. The prime means employed in war to accomplish this is for individuals to kill individuals. And this very action is forbidden to a Christian who is commanded by his Lord – not to return evil to the one inflicting evil upon him.
Here again we are confronted with the objection that only "personal" evildoers are meant by these passages of Scripture. It is contended that the evil we might encounter in our personal contacts with our fellowman is to be tolerated but that the evil activities of an enemy nation during wartime may be responded to, in kind, by the Christian as an agent of the government. But can this allowance be upheld by the Scriptures?
In I Thessalonians 5:15 we are told to follow after that which is good toward "all." Romans 12:17–18 requires that we render to "no man" evil for evil, but rather to take thought for honorable things in the sight of "all men," and to be at peace with "all men." Now, unless these statements are somewhere in the New Testament qualified or restricted, then they must stand as clear-cut prohibitions preventing a Christian from rendering malicious evil to any and all men. This rule would apply to members of the community in which we live as well as members of an opposing army. Destructive violence and terror tactics are wrong whether they are carried on in a neighborhood scuffle or an international armed struggle. If not, why not?
Other passages which emphasize that Christians are not to engage in mutual hostility, such as war, are: Romans 12:21; I Peter 3:9; I Corinthians 4:12. While it may be freely admitted that in the open conflict of wartime it would be difficult (if not practically impossible) to engage in returning good for evil, that does not, therefore, permit rendering evil for evil.
Then there are those who still insist that evildoers must be dealt with as a matter of Justice. But in war there is no justice. Indeed, the very nature of warfare precludes justice. Law, as ordained by Scripture, allows for a nation to govern its citizens, and even to punish the offenders among its citizens (Romans 13:1–7). But this, or any other passage of Scripture, gives no authority to one nation to judge another and then to administer "justice" by indiscriminately slaughtering its inhabitants.
War does not operate on the basis of justice. The evildoers, the true criminals responsible for desecrating mankind, are seldom, if ever, punished. Since the Bible indicates that evil men will wax worse and worse (II Timothy 3:13) we can expect the art of wanton human destruction to become more and more "refined."
War is gross injustice, waged on a worldwide scale, and Christians being just men (Hebrews 12:23) can have no part in it, regardless of how evil it may become.
In the end, however, evildoers will be punished. The Word of God settles the matter by stating that vengeance belongs to God. He will repay all injustices. Christians are warned to "Avenge not yourselves, beloved, but give place unto the wrath of God" Romans 12:19. And this is as it should be, for who else, besides Almighty God, could be impartially just and unerringly right?
Christians are strictly forbidden to "get back at" evildoers, even if they incite worldwide hostility in the form of war. God will punish the warmonger in His own time and way. This responsibility lies outside the realm of man. The Christian must respect God’s authority in this matter and thereby have no part in war.
But Killing in War Is Done As an Agent of the Government and Not As a Personal Act
Here is an objection which may take on various forms. The argument may emphasize that since one is a member of society or the community at large his responsibilities must be met to that society. If the community is at war he must participate for he cannot escape being a citizen of some nation.
Some point out that a Christian has obligations to his country as well as obligations to God. They suggest that a Christian may participate in war and even kill for the good of his country but may not commit such acts for his own personal welfare. Those who advocate this position interpret the Bible passages that deal with a Christian and his enemies as referring only to personal enemies. If someone is the enemy of the nation, then it is admissible to join hands with your fellow citizens and destroy that enemy, without incurring any disfavor from God for such an action.
This may be termed "collective action." Because every human being is part of a nation, country, tribe or society he is bound by this association to participate in every activity deemed wise or necessary by that nation. If a personal moral issue is involved or if the community action has religious or spiritual implications a person is not to consider them because he cannot possibly be held accountable since he is acting merely as part of a collective group whose responsibility is to carry out the decisions of those in charge. The nation decides who is the enemy, how he is to be dealt with and when and where such treatment is to be inflicted. According to this argument the Christian has no other recourse than to comply with such decisions. He has no other Source of authority or allegiance to which he is obligated which might affect his conduct. He can do no personal wrong because he is not acting personally. When involved in such collective actions of his nation he is in a virtual state of immunity from responsibility to God. If, in the nation’s view, its best interests were served by killing, the Christian should kill, and there would be no wrong involved. If national security called for the cessation of all other activities of a spiritual nature, such as Bible study, prayer, partaking of the Lord’s supper, etc., the Christian may dispense with these religious duties indefinitely without it affecting his relationship with God. In essence, whatever is required or sanctioned by the government under which one lives becomes proper to engage in so long as it is done collectively under the direction of the government.
Before proceeding any farther let it be reemphasized that we are not advocating disregard for law. We are not suggesting disrespect for the duly constituted governmental authorities. As brought out in chapter six, the Christian has definite obligations to be an obedient citizen of his nation. He is to cheerfully comply with all laws and regulations imposed upon him by his government except where to do so would involve a breach of his obligation to God according to the teaching of the Bible. When such a conflict arises the Christian must submit to the will of God first and foremost. In so doing there are times that he might be required to decline participating in an activity required, sponsored or sanctioned by the government. Such a case would be that of war.
This may best be illustrated by referring to a few specific incidents encountered by the author during his period of service in the United States Navy during World War II. While aboard ship in the Inland Sea of Japan, on minesweeping and demolition duty there, beer was brought aboard ship and served to the crew. This was not done by an individual sailor but was provided by the Navy and was not sold but served, just as the regular meals, at no cost. Would a Christian, who held the conviction that drinking alcoholic beverages was wrong, have been justified in joining in with the other sailors in their beer-drinking just because it was under the auspices of the government? If we admit that his personal convictions could have and should have been exercised in refusing to partake of the beer, then this same principle holds true in a Christian refusing to partake in war when it stems from a sincere conviction based upon the Bible. Just because a government sanctions an action, this does not require God to sanction it. Participating in it as a member of a national unit or group does not release one from the personal responsibility for his action. Then, of course, all ex-servicemen can recall the distribution of cigarettes to the personnel of the armed forces. While these may have been donated by private organizations, they were distributed with the cooperation and sanction of the government. To accept and use tobacco does not become proper for the Christian just because it is given to him by his government.
A final incident will demonstrate that one is not justified in an action just because he engages in it collectively as part of the armed forces. Following World War II a number of Army units were transported to Japan to serve as occupation forces. In one city the author visited, the Army secured a large two-story frame building and furnished it to the troops as a house of prostitution. Japanese girls were procured and given small rooms in the building. Just outside of the building a soldier was stationed in a small booth where he sold tickets to the servicemen to be presented to the prostitutes of their choice inside the building for illicit purposes. To insure protection against the spread of disease the building was furnished, at government expense, with rooms where precautionary medical treatment could be self-administered by the military personnel who frequented the place. And even though all this went on in broad daylight, the Army added one more precaution to insure that orderliness was kept. Armed Military Police patrolled the halls inside the building.
We simply ask, could, a Christian participate in the activities of such a set-up, sponsored by the military, without committing the sin of fornication? While we recognize the difference between being offered something and being commanded something, the same principle holds true. Collective action, under governmental supervision and sanction, does not remove the sin from an illicit action nor the personal responsibility of the one committing it.
But what does the Bible say about the Christian’s responsibility for his actions? Regardless of whether an act is performed individually or collectively, the person committing the act will be judged for it personally, not as an agent of the government. The Bible says that God’s judgment "will render to every man according to his works" (Romans 2:6). Notice that each man will face God to be judged according to HIS own works, that is, the things he did as an individual. In referring to the return of Christ we are told "Then shall he render unto every man according to his deeds" (Matthew 16:27). This is again emphasized in Romans 14:12: "So then each one of us shall give account of himself to God." Notice that judgment will be on an individual basis. This truth is repeatedly taught in the Scriptures. Another clear passage says "For we must all be made manifest before the judgment-seat of Christ; that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he hath-done, whether it be good or bad" (II Corinthians 5:10). Other Scripture passages that bear out the same teaching are the following: Ephesians 6:8; Colossians 3:25; Revelation 20:12; 22:12.
Thus the objection that one may kill as an agent of the government and not be held accountable for his action is not upheld by the Bible. As close as the husband and wife relationship is, each one will be judged individually (Matthew 10:34–36). As close as members of the same congregation are, each one will face God for his own actions (Revelation 3:1,4). If this is true of the members of a home and the church, it would certainly be true of citizens of a nation.
Let no one conclude that killing as a representative of the government will be excused in judgment, for God shall judge each person’s life individually and not as part of any group.
May 17, 2008
William E. Paul [send him mail], a World War II veteran, is a retired minister and Bible college teacher who lives in Colorado.