What Do We Owe Caesar:
War and the Child of God
Bruce Edwards, Jr.
Many issues confront brethren in these last days. Divisions erupt spontaneously whenever and wherever opposing viewpoints clash. Perhaps the majority of the problems that have arisen may be traced to poor scholarship; others may simply involve personality conflicts. However, it seems that no "issue" has so "successfully" interwoven both of these infamous elements as that of carnal warfare and the Christians relation to civil government. Volume upon volume has been published concerning this topic and this author presumes no special ability to handle such volatile subject matter. Nevertheless, it appears that too often the main disputants involved in such an issue lose sight of their mutual perspectives; consequently there is digression into discussions which shed no light upon the matter and succeed only in surfacing personal prejudices and presumptions. This article is intended to provoke the reader to re-examine and reevaluate his own perspective and perhaps lead him to consider a viewpoint which heretofore he had not encountered.
We must preface by citing what the issue is not. The issue is not a matter of patriotism. Nationalistic feelings cannot supercede the sovereignty of God in our lives. One is not more patriotic because he fights and kills for his country any more than he is less patriotic because he does not. The issue is not a matter of cowardice. Those who would contend one is brave because he dons the garb of his country and carries a rifle and one who does not is a responsibility shirker and a coward, might just as well argue that our Lord and Savior, Stephen, James, or Paul were sniveling cowards. The issue is not a matter of ones duty to civil government. No one denies that God requires submission to the "powers that be." The issue involves the extent of that submission. The principle revealed in Acts 5:29 teaches us that we must "disobey" those "powers" where their edicts conflict with Gods law. If the state ruled that we must no longer meet to worship on the first day of the week, we would respectfully disobey and serve God as commanded. Thus the issue is clarified: Is participation in carnal warfare, either through personal choice or as an act of submission to the "powers that be," lawful for the Christian? What do we owe Caesar . . . ?
A Look at Gods Plan for Mans Redemption
The difficulty in comprehending what is involved in this question clearly is one of perspective. Every event of history, every activity of life, should be and must be viewed in light of Gods eternal purpose and scheme of redemption. Take a look at Gods magnificent plan to redeem man from sin. Each part in His plan is seen unraveling in mans history. The individual roles that men such as Abraham, Jacob, or David played in His glorious plan can clearly be seen. Gods hand is observed in each life, providentially paving the way for Christs entrance to earth. Considering this, observe Israel and her niche in the plan of redemption. Somehow when brethren begin to fit the nation of Israel into Gods plan their eyesight fails, becomes myopic (witness the numerous cults and theories formulated by well-meaning, but nevertheless erroneous religionists who misconstrue Israels role in Gods eternal purpose). It is essential to grasp the specific role Israel played in the redemption of man. We must keep the Old Testament in perspective!
Gods covenant with Israel was built upon physical promises (Gen. 12:1-3; 17:2, 8, 10), along with a spiritual promise (Gen. 12:3). This spiritual promise is observed fulfilled in Gal. 3:16. Thus, one further unravels the "mystery" of Gods purpose for physical Israel. The children of Israel received a physical covenant. They offered physical sacrifices, portraying every physical service to God. The physical emphasis in the nation of Israel as a contrast to the spiritual kingdom Christ established is so evident that one would need help to miss it. Quite simply, Israel was Gods means, His physical means, for providing Christs entrance into the world. The establishment of an eternal, earthly kingdom for Israel or anyone else has not been, is not, and never will be a part of Gods scheme of redemption. Some apparently have the idea that Gods original plan was to establish Israel as a permanent sovereign state, but something went awry and he "sent His Son to fix it up." Dear reader, the new covenant is not an afterthought of God! Thus, in Gods eternal purpose, Israel is understood a means to an end, a way, a tool, to get Christ on earth to redeem man. Gal. 3:24-27 succinctly illustrates Gods purpose in Israel.
Reasoning from The O.T. To Support Carnal Warfare
The major thrust of argumentation by those who favor the Christians participation in carnal warfare finds its origin in the Old Testament. We would contend that only faulty reasoning based upon an improper perspective could conclude that Israels wars justify a Christians participation in carnal warfare. The wars Israel fought must be viewed in the context of Gods eternal purpose. The church was wrought not as a "result of Israel," or "because of Israel" but through Israel. The wars were fought only to expedite Christs entrance onto the earth. The nation of Israel, with all her wars and laws, represents but one episode in Gods scheme of redemption. No one may conclude that mere mention of an activity in the Old Testament, whether by the nation of Israel as a whole or by an individual, automatically justifies its performance in the new kingdom (compare animal sacrifices or instrumental music; one must find sanction in the new law to maintain a practice authorized in the old).
The relation of the old law to the new is clearly illustrated in passages such as Rom. 8: 13 and Heb. 7:18-22. All things looked toward their realization and fulfillment in Christ. All history pointed to His coming and thus all conditions developed as expedients in Gods plan (Eph. 1: 10). Those who argue from the Old Testament to support their contentions must overlook passages such as Isa. 9:6, 7, and Isa. 2:4. In the latter passage, the prophet significantly and beautifully portrays the peaceful nature of the then coming kingdom. He seems to be saying, "Look for His coming; the new kingdom will be so much better. Well no longer have such a physical burden, no sacrifices, no more war! He comes, bringing peace, tranquility; hes coming to bring us rest from our wearisome load. . . ."
Reasoning from the N.T. to Support Carnal Warfare
As one turns to the New Testament, lo the advocate of carnal warfare finds "conclusive" proof that the Christian may participate in such passages as Rom. 13:1-7 and I Pet. 2:13-17. Regarding such Scripture, must one mention that Paul and Peter need not have added the qualifying phrase, "except where it conflicts with Gods will?" Indeed these passages prove that a Christian must submit; however, they reveal nothing that even remotely resembles authority for a child of God to relinquish his body, the temple of the Holy Spirit, as a weapon of war. Consequently, one must precariously rely upon the silence of the passages under consideration to advance his position, for he most certainly cannot find anything within them to do so! On the other hand, the peaceful, nonresistant Christianity that Christ brought is abundantly established throughout the New Testament in command, example, and inference!
Many proponents of a Christians participation in carnal warfare seek a citizenship equals military service justification. Such proponents assuredly do not realize the implications of such a view. To be consistent, such a proponent must admit several embarrassing consequences. For example, if called, the Roman Christian had an obligation to serve and fight in one of the most pagan, immoral, degenerate armies ever assembled and that to persecute innocent inhabitants, including their own brethren in the Lord for an aggressive, imperialistic dictatorship! Further, if called, the German and Japanese Christian during World War II had the obligation to fight in a war dedicated to fascist imperialism! Remember: when Paul and Peter were writing, Rome was a ruthless dictatorship . . . not a free-wheeling democracy.
Furthermore, Paul establishes a great contrast in Rom. 13 between those who are in power and those who are in subjection. The Christian is never discussed as one in power; he is always the one who is in subjection. Brethren, doesnt it seem absurd that Paul would cite principles for a Christians conduct under such a dictatorship in Rom. 12:17-21, only to state in the very next passage contradictory authority to engage in vengeful, hateful, carnal warfare? The plain fact is: vengeance whether personal or national as a part of an army is incompatible with the nature of Christs kingdom (Jno. 18:36).
The Christians of the first century were under no better and perhaps a much worse political structure than anyone we witness in the world today. Yet, these early brethren neither organized themselves into a revolt nor took up arms to defend themselves. Neither, we might add, did they call in outside help to rescue them. The point is this: the first century church under much worse conditions than perhaps anyone in this age lived and died, yet they did not fight for either religious or personal freedom! Thus, could we, for ourselves or others, fight for religious or personal freedom? We often offer the early churchs example in the realm of authority to discourage instrumental music. Is not the early churchs example concerning carnal warfare of the same valid force?
The Peaceful Nature of Christs Kingdom
In His new creation, God placed special emphasis upon a spiritual peace-loving, tranquil life of service to Him. As a complete contrast to physical Israel, it cannot be denied. The following passages illustrate the behavior that the child of God must render, whether to friend or enemy, personal or "national," to be pleasing to God: Mat. 5:38-48; Lk. 6:27-36; Rom. 12:17-21; 1 Cor. 13:4-7; Gal. 6:9-10. Is war a good thing for which the man, woman, or child, the Christian may kill? Nothing is more foreign to the nature of Christianity than the terrible plague of war. H. Leo Boles said, "To the Christian, war for passions sake is animal ferocity; war for ambitions sake is the sum of all crimes; war for national glory is wholesale murder; war for self-defense is to render evil for evil . . ."
Brethren, look at the nature of war and the training of a soldier in comparison with the Sermon on the Mount. Can you pray for the essential nature of war in His precious name? Can you see the folly of those who would contend the Scriptures justify participation in carnal warfare? Is there such a thing as a "Just war?" Even with the satanic menace of Communism overhead, we cannot, as children of God, relinquish the peaceful, tranquil life we vowed to live when we emerged from the watery grave. Our lives consist of more than the abundance of possessions we enjoy. No "powers that be" must ever prevent the true servants of the Father from worshipping Him in spirit and in truth (Jno. 4:23). To do otherwise is to succumb to the devil. We are only playing into the hands of the tempter when we engage in carnal warfare (2 Cor. 10:3-5).
We have too much work in the vineyard of the Lord to get involved with any earthly affairs, especially one as cruel, inhuman, and destructive as war (Rom. 12:1-20 Our warfare is with Satan. We hate sin, not sinners! Oh the glory of serving the true and living God, the Prince of Peace in spirit and in truth! We must obey God rather than men.
TRUTH MAGAZINE, XVI: 48, pp. 5-7