Thursday, March 15, 2007

Christians and war (part six)

Craver has been carrying on a good discussion on his blog with his view that Christians can serve in the military. I really think, oddly enough that those who hold to such a view as Craver does are really not far apart on this issue from those of us who hold a pacifist stance. Sure, there's a difference for each of us. But Craver and company are peace loving people who want to see peace and be peacemakers just as much as any ardent Christian pacifist does. I have had problems and have been grieved with Christians I've known who in my ears are all too war-friendly. In a "just war" position war should always be the very last resort. And something done only under compulsion (such as in defending our borders).

Today I would like to point you to two different posts from Scot McKnight on this issue. He too takes a Christian pacifist stance. The first post is from a handout he prepared to use in his church entitled, "Why I am a pacifist". It is worth a read, or at least a look. Here is an excerpt from it:
A Practical reality: How can a Christian “put to death” in the name of “Caesar” a non-Christian who needs to be evangelized and whose death would lead that person to hell? Or, how can a Christian “put to death” in the name of “Caesar” a believer when that believer’s allegiance ought to be more to “Christ and his Church” than to “Caesar”?
The second post, "Paul and war", may be especially fun to grapple with. Here it is in full:
Had the Apostle Paul lived to see the war of Rome with Israel in 66-73 AD, what would he have done? Here are some considerations:

I ask this consideration: Paul was not a soldier, but let’s put him either in that position or in the position, which is far more likely, to have been advising new Roman citizen Christians or Christians living in the Land of Israel.

1. Would he have fought on Rome’s side against Israel? (Citizenship duty.)
2. Would he have fought on Israel’s side against Rome? (Faith over citizenship.)
3. Would he have chosen not to fight because he was torn between two nations? (Pragmatics.)
4. Would he have chosen not to fight because he thought Christians should be concerned with the kingdom of God and the preaching and living out of the gospel? (Some kind of Christian pacifism.)

What do you think? And give a brief reason. This could be enlightening, and don’t be afraid to say what you think. We can’t be right or wrong about Paul in this specific question; we can only guess. But we guess with what we think Paul teaches.
As usual, Scot's posts are both enlightening at least to challenge us in our thinking from Scripture. And I think you would find the comments interesting, particularly on the "Paul and war" post.

Of course on this last post I would opt for #4.

In the discussion it has been questioned whether or not a Christian pacifist would defend their family under attack. For myself I would certainly try to get my family out of harm's way. And I would try to get the instigator out of the way of causing harm, not with a gun, nor with intent to injure, but with intent only to stop them. Others I've known take a stance that they would pray, but one only knows for sure what they would do if such a crisis would occur. If you know martial arts don't let someone rape you. Get them out of harm's way (they'll be glad you did after you're done with them). But I don't look at this in the same way as serving in the military where you take up weaponry to kill.

I'm not sure that this post ends this series, but it does for now. Thanks to all for the more than civil and good discussion.

Any thoughts here?

Christians and war (part one)
Christians and war (part two)
Christians and war (part three)
Christians and war (part four)
Christians and war (part five)
Christians and war (part six)
Christians and war (part seven)


Charity Singleton said...

Ted -- This is such a good discussion. I'm sorry I've been out of the loop for a lot of it. I think your posts show very clearly that this is a topic that needs close examination in the life of the believer. I tend toward a pacifist stance myself, though I have a brother in the Navy and many relatives who are veterans and respect their very brave decision to serve. Thanks for working through these issues. I want to think on them some more.

andre said...


Outstanding series of posts. I had myself been considering posting on war and just war theory but it's slipped down my priority list. You're making me think that I should perhaps do that sooner rather than later and tie in with what you've been doing here.

Let me consider your post and answer your question. First Scot M's article on Christian pacifism is very interesting as is the posing of the question about Paul. Like you, I think Paul would have opted for answer #4. I think he would have viewed the chief mission of his life as proclaiming the life giving message of Jesus Christ. I suspect that his disinclination to be involved in reforming society through political means (in extreme -war) is likely to lead him away from actively participating in any war.

Just my 2 cents.

Patrick Lowthian said...


I am a chaplain in the U.S. Army currently serving in Iraq.

I have a few comments.

First, the question is not "can Christians serve in the military?", but "should Christians serve in the military?" I know Christians in the military, so we obviously can serve.

Second, we need not talk about theoreticals (such as an intruder coming into my home) with regards to pacifism and just war/agression. I would like to hear how a pacifist would answer the question "what should we have done after 9/11?" Or, "were those Christians who joined the military after 9/11, knowing they would go to war, morally wrong to do so?"

I ask these questions not in any attack mode, but with genuine curiosity about what a pacifist would say.

Craver Vii said...

Practical reality: God puts the kings in place and holds them accountable. It is not the infantry’s job to question the general’s orders. God understands jurisdiction, because he instituted it.

Paul: None of the above. We know Paul according to what he was called to do. If we put him in a combat scenario, that would drastically change our understanding of him, and what he was called to do. What we need to do is, realizing that God spoke through Paul, we ask, “What, if anything, did the Holy Spirit inspire Paul to say on the subject?” The Bible is complete, and infallible. The WWJD principle is helpful in some things, but not universally applicable.

Chaplain: 9/11 evokes strong emotions, but a wise man of God will make his decision based on Scripture, not current events. So, regardless of 9/11, I believe the just war theory is biblically sound.

andre said...


I'm no pacifist and wouldn't venture to answer for Ted but I think with regard to the war with Iraq, (since we're not talking about theoretical scenarios), I think one possible problem with it as a post 9-11 response is that it was fundamentally pre-emptive and perhaps not consistent with just war theory. I posted on the just war theory on my blog today for anyone wishing to continue the discussion.

Ted Gossard said...

Charity, Thanks for your thoughts on this. Yes. We certainly respect those who serve. It is a brave decision, and I believe many over there want to do good, not just for our country, but for people over there, as well.

Ted Gossard said...

Andre, Of course I have to agree with you in your first paragraph of first comment. And I look forward to getting to your blog. (may not be able to do so this afternoon, since I'll be gone for awhile)

As to your second point on the Iraq war and the just war theory, I agree with you there, as well. I want to study the just war theory more, or review it. But I look forward to your thoughts on that. Thanks.

Ted Gossard said...

Patrick, First of all, I thank you for your service to your country and to us. And being an army chaplain is an excellent and important place for ministry, I believe.

Good point on should versus can.

As for the aftermath of 9/11, and our response as Christians, I believe we must have a different response than the world. The world says fight force with force. Christians need to influence governments towards an ethic with action that is consonant with the kingdom of God come in Jesus.

Jesus took all the evil of the world on himself. And vanquished it, not by retaliating in kind. But by dying. And resurrection. Though unique for the world, in bringing in the kingdom and the new creation, beginning now, it is also important for how we're to live this new life we have in him. We're to do so as those who follow the way of Christ.

And I believe this includes getting governments to look at ways that are more peaceable for solutions. This has worked well in places. Not taking the "sword" away from such. This is ordained by God for them/govts. N.T. Wright, whom I doubt is a pacifist, in his new book, "Simply Christian", makes this very point.

I do, at the same time, try to see things from a just war stance. I both respect that view. And though I don't believe it justifies Christians serving in the military, I am open to the possibility of being persuaded otherwise. As is stands now, I am persuaded that Christians should not participate in the killing of other human beings.

I really think it's hard on Christians to say they were morally wrong to join the military after 9/11. They joined in good faith and according to their convictions. And the Spirit guides us in the midst of the reality that we all have some things wrong. And really are at God's mercy all the time, to walk in the right.

So I believe Christians can be close to the Lord as they serve in combat. Though I believe it is a mistaken position.

Brother, God bless you in your work. God bless those you are serving. Peace to you, and we wish God's best, which he alone knows and works out for us all- as we pray and keep seeking to follow.

Ted Gossard said...

I should say I really got that point from N.T. Wright. Or at least clarified better.

Ted Gossard said...

Craver, Good point. So the Christians in Germany who served under the Nazi's should not question orders? Maybe in most cases for them, that was true. But we know not all that was done there was right. Bonhoeffer saw through Hitler at the very start of Hitler's rise.

As for Paul, I think to lay out those options is fair enough. At least what would Paul tell another Christian to do, who would ask him, in such a scenario? I see that as a valid question that, of course, we will try to answer on the grounds of Scripture. I think it's helpful to put Jesus and the gospels together with Paul's teaching (and Peter's) in considering this.

Just war theory is a theory. I'm not sure I hang my hat on it. I need to study it further. If I had to say so now, I'd say, the kingdom of God come in Jesus really puts new light on this whole question that I doubt that just war theory, and Augustine, considered....

Thanks Craver for challenging the thoughts here. Adn your point on 9/11, emotions and Scripture is an excellent one, indeed.

L.L. Barkat said...

nothing much to add... just listening in at this point... and remembering that this is why I long for "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth..." and the moment when He will "beat their swords into plowshares."

Ted Gossard said...

Thanks, L.L. Great verse. And we're to live as people of the age to come. When war will be no more. In doing so here, we must be people living cross-shaped lives in Christ. By nature that's what we are with both thoughts: resurrection people.

Ted Gossard said...

Maybe a couple of comments ago, I should say that just war theory does not take fully and adequately into account the kingdom of God come in Jesus. And the reality and vision that brings to earth.

Patrick Lowthian said...

Thanks for the responses to my comment.

Recently I listened to a series of sermons from Rob Bell called "Calling All Peacemakers." His third sermon was brilliant, showing how in the sermon on the mount Jesus says that we are to always look for a third way to resolve conflict--not being walked over as a doormat but not retaliating violently.

But it was also frustrating to listen to the series because while Rob castigated those who are behind the current war on terrorism, he offered no alternative.

That is what I asked in my previous comment, and I'm still not hearing ideas. If we were not to go to war after 9/11 (let's say against the Taliban and leave Iraq out of it for now), then what were we to do? For that matter, what were we to do in the face of Hitler's evil? If it was not to take up arms, then what? I am very curious regarding the pacifist position here.

In addition, in the last four days I've seen wounded Iraqi civilians brought into our aid station. One of them was a four year old girl. I received word last night that one of the men who came in with a chest wound had died after being evacuated. It is the Muslim jihadists who are targeting these civilians.

As Christians, are we to let this happen? If not, and if we are not to take up arms against these jihadists, then what is the third way?

Ted Gossard said...

Patrick, Thanks for the response.

As one who believes government continues on in accord with Romans 13, I have stated that I believe we as a country should go after the terrorists. Afghanistan was true to form that way. Iraq was not. But is now drawing them, along with the problems between the factions there.

But I believe we've got to look at the underlying policies of America. We're not to just do what these enemies want. But we need to see what we might be doing wrong to cause and foment problems. For example to take a pro-Israeli stance, totally oblivious to the suffering of the Palestinians, besides not being Christian, is bad American foreign policy. I'm afraid we have voices here, and some of our policies as well, have more or less done just that.

There is more, as well.

At the same time, enemies will exist regardless. And I bow to the reality that God has the powers in place (Romans 13) to restrain evildoers.

I also accept as good Christian friends, from whom I can learn much from, who believe Christians can serve in that "servant of God" work of bearing the sword.

I do believe as Christians we have a different calling than those of the state, as in Romans 13. And that we should be speaking for, and supporting policies that would help bring peace in other ways. While realizing that on this side, wars will continue to the end.

Hope others join in, to give some thoughts here. And that you are blessed today. Along with those you serve. Surrounded and protected by the Most High God. Blessings on you!

andre said...


Your question is a fair one - just an opinion (and I'm definitely no pacifist) - I think most everything we've done in going after the Taliban,short of Iraq, is appropriate and reasonable. Even, our pursuit to eliminate Taliban should take into account the principles of just war which include minimizing innocent casualties and proportionality.

I think much of our conflict has been justified by just war theory and yet most haven't even explored the basic principles guiding the theory. That's why I posted on it specifically yesterday...thought it might add to the discussion.

I echo LL's comment - all this only makes us long for the return of the Prince of Peace

Ted Gossard said...

Andre, A good post on just war, on your blog.

You're right. Few of us have it down. And many know little about it at all, I'm afraid. (many of us Christians, I mean)

Kim said...

Ted, Thanks for the stimulating forum on this important issue. Issues like this help us crystallize how our profession of faith affects our attitudes, actions and words. What I'm seeing here are mutally respectful posts from people who have differing viewpoints on the issue at hand.

I don't believe that anyone posting here believes that the issue of "Christians and war" is a foundational "core" belief for "salvation." That leaves room for differing opinions, God's sovereignty and the idea that the church is made up of very different body parts.

I keep coming back to the idea that, William Wilberforce aside, not many of us have the gravitas to influence national policy. But we do have responsibility for our own personal integrity. I can control my attitudes, actions and words at home, at work and in my own sphere. There I have no problem at all with pacifism. The difficulty, as always, comes in melding my intellect, my heart and my will to present consistent outward attitudes, actions and words.

Can I remain peaceful when confronted by my wife? Can I focus on discipling my children instead of disciplining them when they are disobedient? Can I remain non-defensive when treated unfairly? Etc, etc.

I know that others may enjoy or suffer the consequences of my decisions. This is always the difficulty in being a "leader." If I do not confront a violent invader into my home, I and my family may be killed. It takes a certain pre-established steely conviction that this life is not all that there is to resign myself and those close to me to fate by remaining passive.

So much to discuss and so little time! Thanks again for the venue to share. Kim

Ted Gossard said...

Kim, I so much appreciate your comment. It's easy, even, to be a Christian pacifist as to war, yet really fail where we live, at home and in fellowship with other believers, often breaking or damaging that fellowship.

Your points are well expressed, and a good contribution for us. Thanks!

Patrick Lowthian said...

Thanks for the responses to my comments. I admit that at times I struggle with these issues, even though I wear the uniform. I am encouraged that these things are being discussed in this format.

I do ask you to pray for those in uniform. Doing what these men do (and I'm specifically talking about combat arms, so it is all men) wears on the soul.

Pray for the chaplains as well, as we seek to be a light in the darkness and to be men of peace in the midst of war. Most of us see ourselves as missionaries with the military as our mission field.

God bless.

Ted Gossard said...

Patrick, Thanks so much for honoring us with your presence on this blog. We take our hats off to you and others, as well as to the men and women serving over there.

Thanks for expressing your heart and mind so well for us here. Our prayers and love are with you. Many blessings on you.

And may God's kingdom come and his will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Odysseus said...

Almighty God, we commend to your gracious care and
keeping all the men and women of our armed forces at home
and abroad. Defend them day by day with your heavenly
grace; strengthen them in their trials and temptations; give
them courage to face the perils which beset them; and grant
them a sense of your abiding presence wherever they may be;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

fqluy said...

Concerning 9.11: I get this question all the time. And my response is this: 'We should talk to those people. We should set up a common place and try and figure out why they are so angry with us. To try and find a way of living in peace with them. Find out how we have offended them and really listen to their position.' I told that to one group of people and one woman asked me, 'When are you running for president.' I said, 'You need to listen to the rest of my answer.'

The rest of it is this. As a leader, as the president, you are a servant of the people. And the people of the US wanted blood. If the president had tried to talk to the 'bad guys' he would have been tarred and feathered. Or worse. So, as a leader, you look at the whole situation, and with a grieving heart, you make decisions that the majority of the people want. And, again, the majority of the people wanted blood.

So, while I personally would want to find ways of peace, if I were president I would have to lead the people into what they wanted and that was vengeance. We did not want justice. We wanted revenge. And we didn't care who was caught in the tide.

Now, after many years of it, the majority has shifted. People are now thinking that this wasn't the best solution. And we are scrambling to find ways out of it. We have made a mess of things, not only withing our own borders, but in the eyes of the rest of the world. We need a fresh blast of God's grace at this time in our history. I pray that it comes soon.

Peace be with you.

+ OD

Odysseus said...

Concerning Romans 13: As I have stated before, Romans 13 is about bringing justice and, yes, punishment, to those who do evil. I am not niave. I know that there has to be some type of discipline in place or the bullies will always win. The dehumanized will continue to be degraded and abused. So, God in his mercy has given us governments to help prevent that. To help correct that when it gets out of balance.

My problem is that we have lost compassion in the midst of a difficult situation. If someone comes into our home and does unspeakable things to our families, we don't want 'justice'. We want vengeance. We don't see the abuser as a 'person' -- we see them as a 'beast' or something less than human. If we believe that, then doing violence to him (or her) is okay. 'They're not human anyway.'

But there can be a non-violent solution to the problems. Look at what Desmond Tutu did in South Africa? Who would have thought that that conflict would have ended without (a lot) of bloodshed? All of the news programs were telling us to get ready for a blood bath. But it didn't happen. We had on little black bishop saying to both side, there is a different way. There is a better way. There is the way of peace. And it didn't happen over night. It took a while. But peace came without bloodshed. We could (and should) learn a thing or two from that.

The other issue is that we want 'quick justice'. We want something that wont be an inconvinience to us. That won't impose us or upset our comfortable lives that much. We want the 'quick fix'. We want 'instant gratification'. And that usually means violence. If we can just kill the right 'bad guy' leader, then this will all be over with. The problem comes because that sometimes works. And as long as that happens, violence will always be an option.

Peace to you all.

+ OD

Ted Gossard said...

fqluy or OD,

I appreciate your thoughts here. I believe we need leaders who will make their vision known, then try to carry it through, after being elected. I'm not sure I would agree that the leader has to lead in the direction the people want. Though I know this is a democracy. But if they make their position known beforehand, as to their paradigm and principles they are directed by, then their work afterwards, as an elected official, should mirror that.

I'm afraid both the Democrats and Republicans in our country, are too militaristic in general, in their search for solutions. Though this war has cured some of that, even in the Bush administration.

Thanks for your own take here.

Ted Gossard said...

OD, Thanks so much for your comment on a quick fix wanted, vengeance versus justice, etc.

I couldn't agree with you more. And wonderfully expressed. Good stuff for us to ponder. As we seek to see everything in light of the kingdom of God come in Jesus.

Odysseus said...

Ted and all,

Yeah, I don't know what happened with that user ID. It was the word verification letter and I must have put it in the wrong spot (but then it wouldn't have taken the log in because I still would have had the verification

Anyway, thanks for the kind words and discernment.

After I thought about this for a while, I remembered something. The way things 'used' to be was that the leader of the nation actually led the troops into battle. I am not sure when that changed but it seems to me that since then, war has been on the increase. That is to say, I bet war would be a lot less of an option if our leaders actually got on the front lines with the troops. It is a lot easier to send someone else to fight for you than to go yourself. If that was still the way war was fought, I would bet there would be a lot of other options tried before hand.

Peace to you all.

+ OD

Ted Gossard said...


You may be right, there. Fair or not, I do tend to respect a politician's opinion on the war, more, who has either served in the military, and especially in war itself, or has a son (or daughter) in the military, in harm's way. Though, of course, I don't simply write the others off.