Should Christians Go to War? (Part 3)
The World to Come. The Restored Church of
God presents David C. Pack. Answering life’s greatest questions straight from the Bible,
and announcing the wonderful good news of the World to Come. Do Christians fight and kill in military service
to their country? Are they obligated to go to war? What have you been taught regarding
war, killing and serving in the military? What have you come to believe?
This is Part 3 examining how God views war. We have seen the awfulness of war, including
how conflicts have existed since Cain killed Abel. We also saw some of what God’s Word
teaches about war and killing. You have already seen how plain are scriptures on this subject.
But there is more. Important questions on your mind will be answered. We pick up from last time examining more about
how Christians are citizens of another government. Notice: “Our conversation [the Greek word
here, politeuma, should be translated citizenship, and it continues] is in heaven; from [where]
also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
This is fascinating. A Christian’s citizenship is held in heaven, not on Earth. This is why
Christ said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” It is from another place—heaven. This verse
reinforces John 18:36. Human leaders come from a certain city, state or country that
they represent. So does Christ. He comes from heaven. A Christian’s citizenship is held
there and comes from there. Let’s tie in another passage: “We are ambassadors
for Christ, as though God did beseech you.” I attended Ambassador College in Pasadena,
CA, from 1967 to 1971, to train for the ministry. This was 1 of 3 colleges founded by Herbert
W. Armstrong and run by the Worldwide Church of God. This name was chosen because it best
reflected what students there were to become. Those who were accepted had to know why they
wanted to attend. And once they arrived, they were taught what it meant to be an “Ambassador.”
I learned I was in training to hold this office. High standards were set so high standards
could be attained. If anyone did not strive to reach them, he simply did not remain an
“Ambassador” at Ambassador College. The Greek for ambassador—presbeuo—is also
interesting. While it means ambassador, the word president comes from it, as does Presbyterian.
Its most literal meaning is “representative.” In the United States, we have the House of
Representatives. These elected officials answer to and are supposed to represent the will
of the people who elected them. All democratic governments, where the people select their
representatives, work this way. In one sense, it is the same with Christians,
who are ambassadors, or representatives, of Jesus Christ. So it could as easily be said
that I attended “Representative College,” because I was training to become Christ’s
representative. Any ambassador knows that if he represents
a country, such as America as an ambassador to Russia, China or any other country, he
cannot participate in the politics or affairs of the country to which he is appointed. This
is because he participates in the politics of the country he represents. He is a “presbeuo”
(representative), an ambassador, of another country. He also cannot fight or bear arms
for the country to which he is sent. Would the U.S. ambassador fight for Germany in WWII?
Would the Israeli ambassador fight for Syria or Egypt? Of course not!
Christians are ambassadors for a different government—and citizens of it—of the kingdom
of God. They no longer participate in man’s systems of government. Their citizenship is
derived and held by another authority—HEAVEN! The next verse summarizes this: “No man can
serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will
hold to the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon [or money].”
No one can give full allegiance, or complete loyalty, to two different masters. Eventually,
one takes precedence over the other and dominates the person’s thinking. Christians must be
totally loyal to the government they represent. They can actually lose their rights of citizenship
if they do not. Christians cannot serve two masters.
We saw God’s servants must always “obey God rather than men” in a previous part. If one
is a citizen of a government waiting in heaven to come to Earth and replace all of the governments
of Earth, he cannot stand with his feet in opposing governments—God’s and Satan’s.
Look closer at this principle. How can a Christian obey the Sixth Commandment, along with Christ’s
much additional instruction, and at the same time obey his national government’s instruction
to fight and kill other people? In the end, he must choose whether his allegiance is to
his spiritual Master in heaven or earthly “masters.”
At this point an inset is needed. A conscientious objector is a person who, on the grounds of
conscience (not simple preference), stands firm in regards to military service.
Conscientious Objector status has been granted to those who can prove their convictions—that
they will not kill for any reason and are willing to undergo great hardships to avoid
military service. Some have had to suffer ridicule, contempt, persecution, imprisonment,
torture and even death. Conscientious Objection can be traced back
many centuries. In AD 173, an official of the Roman Empire, referred to those refusing
to serve in the military: “If all [men] were to do the same as you, there would be nothing
to prevent [the emperor] from being left in utter solitude and desertion, and the affairs
of the earth would fall into the hands of the wildest and most lawless barbarians.”
Conscientious Objection has been a long tradition in the Church of God. Before the United States
was established, there were “historic peace churches” stemming from the Protestant Reformation.
The most dominant were the Brethren, Quakers, Mennonites and Anabaptists. Although the Church
of God can trace its roots to long before this time, most historians group it with these
other churches. For the most part, these historic “peace churches”
were small, unorthodox assemblies with an unwavering position against war. The Anabaptists
(some of whom were members of the true Church) separated themselves from the concerns of
the world, choosing to live away from the worldly activities of society. Because their
ways were considered unorthodox, Catholics and Protestants persecuted them.
Conflict arose between militias and pacifists shortly after the first Quakers landed in
North America. The early colonial militias were run independently from each other. Peace
groups ran into trouble almost immediately with the local officials. Punishment for not
joining the militia ranged from forced service, fines and/or imprisonment. For example, in
1666, the fine in Virginia was 100 pounds of tobacco.
When a group of Quakers was brought before George Washington for not complying with authorities,
he said, “They choose rather to be whipped to death than [to] bear arms.” Seeing their
conviction, he released them. Another early group was the Rogerenes. Let’s
read about them: “The divine commands regarding religion as set forth in the New Testament
they would strictly obey, but they would, ‘for conscience’s sake,’ obey no command of
men in this regard. The purely civil laws they held themselves bound to observe, according
to Christ’s command…At a period when no men were more in favor of war than those who
preached—in parts—the gospel of Him who bade His followers to forgive their enemies,
to love them and pray for them and to return good for evil, the Rogerenes stood for uniform
peace and good will on the part of Christians, according to the spirit and the letter of
the Master’s teachings…Driven by the intolerance of their times to protect their obnoxious
sect from extinction at the hands of powerful enemies, as best they could, the Rogerenes
employed, at critical periods, a peaceable yet effective mode of defense, in the line
of Gospel testimony, which engaged their opponents while it kept them fairly at bay. This was
the climax of their offences.” One of the earliest laws exempting men from
combat on religious grounds took effect in Rhode Island, 1673. Those exempted had to
serve in other ways, including taking care of “weak and aged impotent persons, women
and children, goods and cattle.” However, this law was revoked 4 years later under a
different government. In 1701, Quaker William Penn passed laws stating that no conscientious
objector “shall be in any case molested or prejudiced.”
The U.S. Civil War brought with it the first nationwide draft of its young men. With this
came the need to address the Conscientious Objector issue on a national scale. In Iowa,
a small Church of God congregation petitioned the state government to be exempted from military
service. Primarily due to this petition, a law was passed in their favor. This is one
of many small groups to which the Church of God today can trace its roots.
From the early days of the U.S. to the Civil War, the conscientious objector was required
to pay a fine or hire someone to serve in his stead. Imagine not wanting to kill, but
hiring someone to do it for you! Many knew this contributed to the act of killing and
refused to pay fines or hire substitutes. This meant prison. However, some Advent groups
did pay the fines to buy exemptions for their members.
On Feb. 24, 1864, an amendment providing for conscientious objector status was passed,
stating, “Members of religious denominations, who shall by oath or affirmation declare that
they are conscientiously opposed to the bearing of arms, and who are prohibited from doing
so by the rules and articles of faith and practice of said religious denominations,
shall, when drafted into the military service, be considered noncombatants, and shall be
assigned by the Secretary of War to duty in the hospitals, or to the care of freedmen,
or shall pay the sum of 300 dollars.” This only allowed members of historic peace
churches to claim Conscientious Objector status. Neither the North nor the South honored requests
from members of mainstream churches or for secular reasons. Churches that allowed members
to go to war and would not back up an individual’s request for exemption did not qualify.
President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in April 1865. As the nation mourned, God’s
Church thanked Him that Lincoln had signed laws granting its members exemption from war!
Early in the 20th Century, there was trouble in Europe, forcing reimplementation of the
draft. The Draft Law of 1917 allowed exemptions for anyone from any religion as long as its
“existing creed or principles forbid its members to participate in war in any form.” Again,
this only applied to members of the historic peace churches. President Woodrow Wilson opened
the door to others who claimed objection but who were not associated with one of these
groups. Between 1940 and 1945, approximately 5,000
persons claiming conscientious objection in the U.S. were imprisoned. The Selective Service
Act of 1948 stated that objection must be based on religious conviction and belief in
a Supreme Being. But in 1970, the Supreme Court removed that requirement. This allowed
objection based on an ethical system without reference to God. A 1971 ruling refused objection
to a specific war. An estimated 50,000 to 100,000 men left the United States to avoid
serving in Vietnam. The following situation occurred in Turkey
in June 1997: A Turkish citizen “is the first conscientious objector in Turkey openly to
declare his refusal to perform military service for reasons of conscience…charging him with
‘desertion’ and ‘insubordination.’ Unless there is a change…[he] will be condemned
to endlessly repeated convictions for the same ‘offence’—effectively life imprisonment.”
The U.S. may be again leaning toward drafting young men, and possibly women, into the military.
If this happens, and because of the scope of uncertainty throughout the world, the exemption
for objectors may be challenged. Governments may even do away with alternative service
and simply throw people into prison—or worse! God hates division and discord between people.
He wants them living in unity and harmony. Fighting and war would bring division directly
into His Church. But how? Let’s read, “How good and how pleasant
it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” the Psalmist wrote. It is wonderful when people
get along—when they agree. Read Romans 16:17 and Proverbs 6:19. God says He hates “[him]
that sows discord among brethren.” The apostle Paul asked, “Is Christ divided?”
The obvious answer is no! Christ is NOT divided and neither is His Church. We saw that Jesus
said, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or
house divided against itself shall not stand: and if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided
against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand?” Even the devil has figured this much
out! He leads a kingdom of fallen spirits and recognizes he cannot let it become divided.
War always divides those who engage in it. Division would be introduced into God’s Church
the moment fighting and war were practiced by its members. The prophet Amos asks, “Can
two walk together except they be agreed?” Whether division is between people or nations,
the painful answer is always no! And war always involves intense disagreement!
What if Christians from different countries, fighting for different purposes, participated
in the same war? Brothers in Christ would be fighting each other in a kind of civil
war. This is exactly what happened by the way to many actual brothers in the American
Civil War of the 1860s. War always breeds more division and hatred
between individuals or nations. It would do the same to the Church of God if its members
were involved. Jesus stated, “You shall know them by their
fruits” and, “By their fruits you shall know them”—as well as—“The tree is known by
[its] fruit.” These verses speak primarily about leaders, but they apply to almost any
person or organization. God’s servants are told to examine the “fruits”—the byproducts!—of
any given matter, system or person. What about war?
Part 1 of this series listed the fruits of war as terror, destruction, economic upheaval,
orphaned children, population displacement, widespread devastation of the land, atrocities,
hunger, disease, untold suffering, misery, despair, rape, injuries, death and even genocide—in
other words, CHAOS! This is because war is inspired and influenced by the god of this
world and other “wicked spirits in high places” as Paul spoke of. These fallen spirits sit
at the real throttle of power behind the visible governments of nations.
The conclusion: War, as a means of addressing problems, has never worked, and its fruits
are always disastrous. Study the entire New Testament. You will not
find a single instance where God’s people participated in men’s wars—NOT ONE! We have
seen that James 4:1-4 refers to and condemns those who were drifting into “wars and fighting.”
However, there are many verses that indicate Christians are called to spiritual battle—spiritual
war—in their Christian struggle. (Read I Tim. 6:12 and Eph. 6:12-17.) To overcome sin,
true Christians must battle the flesh, the pulls of the world and Satan.
Paul told Timothy to “war a good warfare,” and “Endure hardness, as a good soldier of
Jesus Christ. [And then] No man that wars [Get this!] entangles himself with the affairs
of this life; that he may please Him who has chosen him to be a soldier.”
Truly, Christians are soldiers, but in a spiritual war. Notice: “For though we walk in the flesh,
we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal [or physical]).”
So, all God’s servants are soldiers, but they fight at the spiritual level.
Many have sought to justify war by citing the Old Testament wars of ancient Israel.
Those who ignore the facts of Scripture suppose that their fighting and warring represent
God’s will—or at least His license—for modern nations today. This is simply not true.
It was never God’s intent that Israel defend itself from its enemies.
Here then are the Bible facts! Soon after Israel’s exodus from Egypt, God
gave them His law, the Ten Commandments. (Read Ex. 20:1-17 and Deut. 5:4-22.) Just as the
Sixth Commandment has always been “Thou shalt not kill,” the Ten Commandments have been
God’s Law from the very beginning. At Mt. Sinai, God made a covenant with Israel,
promising them blessings of good weather, good health and healing, sufficient food and
water, and protection from aggressors. Immediately after giving them His law and judgments, in
chapters 20 through 23 of Exodus, God promised this: “I send an Angel before you, to keep
you in the way, and to bring you into the place which I have prepared…if you shall
indeed obey His voice, and do all that I speak; then I will be an enemy unto your enemies,
and an adversary unto your adversaries. For My Angel shall go before you, and bring you
in unto the Amorites…the Hittites…the Perizzites…the Canaanites…the Hivites,
and the Jebusites: and [Get this!] I [God] will cut them off.”
God expected His nation to keep His Law, including “Thou shalt not kill,” as their end of the
agreement. He thus bound Himself to protect Israel as long as they obeyed Him.
Her acceptance of God’s terms is in Exodus: “[Moses] took the book of the covenant, and
read in the audience of the people: and they [that’s all Israel] said, All that the Lord
has said will we do, and be obedient.” Israel’s obedience never lasted long. All
thru the period of the judges, Israel was on again, off again in submission to God.
Each time they rebelled and forsook Him to serve the gods of the nations around them,
God sent them into captivity. After some time, Israel would cry out for
deliverance and promise to do better. God would send a judge to deliver them, and they
would remain on track for a short while. As soon as the judge died—Ehud, Deborah, Gideon,
Jephthah, Samson, and so forth—the pattern would repeat itself.
This continued for centuries, until Samuel’s time. Eventually, the country had become so
corrupt and immoral that the book of Judges ends with “In those days there was no king
in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.”
As Samuel’s life drew to a close, his sons having departed from God, Israel’s leaders
came with a demand: “All the elders of Israel gathered [it says]…came to Samuel…and
said…’You are old, and your sons walk not in your ways: now make us a king to judge
us like all the nations’…The Lord said to Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people
in all that they say unto you: for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me,
that I [God] should not reign over them.” Israel wanted to be like all other nations.
They refused God’s rule and form of government and, in so doing, rejected God. All mankind
had rejected God’s government long before Israel, and has continued rejecting it ever
since. Now, with their own king, Israel could better “fit in.” Peer pressure did not begin
in the modern age. Israel continually lacked the faith to believe
God would keep His promise. They wavered constantly and began to establish their own standing
army. Even as they left Egypt, with Pharaoh’s army in hot pursuit, God told them thru Moses,
“Fear you not, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will show to you today…the
Lord shall fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.”
Of course, the Red Sea parted and God swallowed Pharaoh’s army with no need for Israel’s help.
Even the Egyptians said, “Let us flee from the face of Israel; for the Lord fights for
them.” Verses 27 and 31 explain “the Lord overthrew the Egyptians.”
It was always God’s intention that Israel “stand still…holding their peace,” and watch
Him fight and win their battles! Deuteronomy 1 is a long account of Israel’s
continual faithlessness and rebellion in the face of God’s willingness to fight for them
(vs 30). God did not want Israel to be led by a physical
king (Saul and David were the first two). He did permit it because Israel made this
choice. Samuel warned them in great detail not to do this and why, but they rejected
his advice. Israel rejected virtually everything God told them to do, so they could follow
their own ideas and customs. Since Israel was determined to have their own king, God
gave them instructions for how to do this. The same thing happened regarding war. God
instructed Israel that He would protect them—that they did not need to fight and protect themselves.
However, they rejected this instruction—and protection—so they could participate in
the adventures and conquests of war waged by the nations around them. Again, God allowed
them to do this, but—get this!—gave them instructions—rules of war—they were to
follow if they did. These are in Deut. 20. None of these rules involve the teaching of
war skills, strategies and tactics—the art of war. They also allowed for certain men
to receive military exemptions (vs. 5-9). Study the chapter. God said (twice) that He
would now fight “with” them (vs. 1, 4) at the same time Israel actually went to war.
He would no longer exclusively defeat her enemies.
But this still did permit Israel to be able to drive out certain degenerate, idolatrous
peoples from the Promised Land. Acts 7:45 reveals who was really responsible for their
success. Stephen, before his stoning, referred to “the Gentiles, whom GOD drove out before
the face of our fathers.” God created life. He has the right to take
it. He can use any tool to do this—if it is what He wishes. It was not Israel that
defeated, and sometimes annihilated, the peoples God wished them to dispossess. It was God
who did this thru them. Capital punishment was practiced in the Old
Testament for certain offenses. Israel did not do this of her own choice—God’s Word
instructed Israel, indeed commanded them, to do this under certain circumstances. God
holds the prerogative, as the Giver of life, to decide that certain degenerate, rotten
nations should be put to death—wholesale. We ask: Did Israel execute capital offenders
when they were following God’s direct instructions, or did God execute them thru Israel? Similarly,
did Israel go to war against and execute specific whole nations that God instructed them to
remove, or did God execute them? Do not miss the point.
Only God has the right to give or take away life. He relinquishes this authority to no
one, and anyone—any leader or nation—who presumptuously takes this prerogative is in
direct rebellion against God! We are out of time. Do not miss Part 4 that
concludes the series. Until next time, this is David C. Pack saying,
“Goodbye, friends.” This program was made available by Restored
Church of God members and donors from around the globe. Explore our vast library of literature
and other World to Come programs which are all made available free of charge. To learn
more, or to find a local congregation, contact us to receive a personal response from a minister.