War and Christian Ethics

 

War and Christian Ethics



H. Leo Boles

Let it be remembered that the purpose of these studies (is) to obtain the will of God, or mind of Christ in regard to His children (under this Christian dispensation) engaging in war…Right now we are only concerned about what God teaches Christians to do in regard to war.

Those who favor Christians going to war and rely on the New Testament for instruction should make themselves clear on this question. Do the New Testament Scriptures teach that Christians may go to war? Do the New Testament Scriptures teach that the Christian ought to go to war? Is war in the class of the permissibles, or in the class of duties? When nations engage in war, does Christ teach that his followers must go to war? What is the Christian’s attitude toward war? Shall Christians be the heralds of peace or the myrmidons of war? These questions ought to be made clear by the one who espouses the cause of war. The New Testament Scripture ought to be found where the Holy Spirit commands the Christian to engage in war, if one claims divine authority for such a course. This is such an important question, fraught with such tremendous consequences with regard to the one who engages in war as well as the spirit and nature of Christianity, that no mere inference should be sufficient to determine this question with the Christian. No scriptural command has been found, and I am persuaded that no just and logical inference can be drawn, that will justify the Christian’s going to war. The burden of proof falls upon the one who affirms that Christians may or should engage in war.

War Ethics

Arguments are sometimes made on the ethics of war. The code of ethics for nations and armies has been compiled by statesmen of the world, who care but little about the ethics of Christianity. The national codes of the ethics of war change frequently. No classification of wars can place them in the duties of Christians. It matters not whether they be offensive or defensive wars; the practice of soldiery cannot be a duty of the Christian. To the Christian, a war between armies or nations is only a great big fight between two opposing forces. Two men disagree and come to blows, and it is called only a “fight”; but when nations come to blows, it is called a “war.” Of course, there are more complexities in the details and arrangements of the war, but this is due to the many individuals engaged in it. The principle seems to be the same whether between two persons or a hundred persons or between nations.

To the Christian, war for passion’s sake is only animal ferocity; war for ambition’s sake is the sum of all crimes; war for national glory is wholesale murder; war for self-defense is to render evil for evil. Whether war be offensive, or defensive, it is out of the class of Christian duties; it is contrary to the Christian’s profession, though it may come within the scope of national rights.

Another argument has been based on the “theory of resistance.” It is claimed that the Christian has a right to resist with carnal weapons an intruder on the rights of life, honor, or property. They claim that a Christian should resist the murderer of himself or family with physical arms; that he has the right—yea, it is his duty—to resist with deadly weapons the one who assails the honor of mother, wife, or daughter; that he may use deadly weapons in defending his right to property. Now, they say, if one can use weapons in resisting or defending himself and family, then he can take up arms for his country and fight her battles. 

The whole argument rests upon an assumption. It is merely assumed that the Christian may or should use weapons in defense of life, honor, and property. Neither Christ nor any Spirit-guided disciple set an example for using carnal weapons, even for self-defense; neither did they give any instruction to the Christian to do so.

Again, if it be allowed that Christians should use weapons as described above, still it does not follow that they can go to war. In the argument here mentioned there is a false assumption, and then fallacious reasoning based on false assumption. This makes a very invalid argument, groundless and void. Jesus said, “Resist not him that is evil…overcome evil with good…whosoever smiteth thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also…render not evil for evil…love your enemies.”

If it be granted that Christians could defend themselves with carnal weapons (though it is not granted), still wars do not come in the class of individuals defending personal rights. Some wars are aggressive; many are for maintaining the balance of power; some are based on assertion of technical rights; and a few are to repel invasions. The great majority of wars could in no sense be put in the class of personal rights. No law of ethics framed by man, no supposed law of nature, can contradict the law of God as expressed above.

The Christian’s Defense

The Scriptures nowhere state that Christians may fight in wars that are defensive, neither is there any principle of Christianity that gives any encouragement to such a course. The New Testament Scriptures are clear in declaring the course of conduct for the Christian, and the child of God should rely upon Jehovah for defense in a persistent and determined course that is guided by the spirit of Christianity.

It is absolutely safe for the Christian to pursue a course of non-resistance, so far as the use of deadly weapons is concerned. It is my deep, firm, and abiding conviction that war of every kind is incompatible with Christianity, and that if God’s people would live in harmony with this conviction all will be well with their souls. God will take care of all who trust Him with the loyalty of their hearts and commit their souls in well-doing to a faithful Creator.

It is sometimes urged that the Christian loses his identity, and therefore, shifts his responsibility in carrying out the command of the government. This cannot be true. No Christian can ever lose his identity before God, His responsibilities cannot be shifted to another, especially when he volunteers to be used by another. The Christian can never resign his conduct and conscience to the will of another and act wickedly. No Christian can do evil that good may come. No Christian can lose himself in a multitude of armed men and do evil and still not be responsible for it. No Christian can get into a crowd and do a thing which will be without merit for the good done, or not be responsible for the crimes committed. It is better to suffer in jail with a conscience void of offense than to lend one’s self to the instrumentality of war.

The Light, March, 2006

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