War and the Child of God: A Reply
Robert H. West
Kansas City, Mo.
The issue, which we sometimes refer to as the "War Question," is certainly not a new one. Unfortunately, the occasion for discussing this issue has usually been brought about by some national emergency during which our young men are requested or ordered to enter service. During such times, it has become very difficult to view the question without overriding emotional considerations. This can be seen in the sometimes-vitriolic exchanges between brethren immediately before and during World War II. Now that we seem to be approaching a period of time in our history when national armed conflict is drawing to a close, perhaps a more dispassionate consideration of the issue can be made.
It is the feeling of this writer that Brother Bruce Edwards, Jr., in his article appearing in the October 12, 1972 issue of this paper, draws some erroneous conclusions regarding this issue. I hasten to add, however, that the article is nevertheless well written and does not betray weakness because of the youth of its author. Any weakness, in my opinion, results from the position itself.
Clarifying The Issue
We agree with Brother Edwards that it is necessary to clearly understand what is the basic issue. However, we believe that he errs by suggesting that the central issue is "the extent" of our required submission to the government. No one I know of contends that the Christian as a citizen must submit to any demand of civil government which would conflict with his duty to God. The principle of Acts 5:29 appears to be well-understood by both "non-combatant and "non-pacifist" brethren.
In my judgment, the basic issue is seen in these two questions: (1) Is the sword-bearing function of civil government ordained of God? And, (2) if so, may the Christian participate in this particular function of civil government?
An affirmative answer to the first question is generally admitted by brethren. For one can scarcely deny this without impeaching the plain statement from Romans 13: 1-4: ". . . the powers that be are, ordained of God . . . For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. "The sword-bearing function is necessary to the existence of civil government, as God has ordained it. This function expresses Gods vengeance against the burglar on the local level (police action and against the criminal aggressor on the international level (military action). The principle is the same in either case. In Gods concern for the welfare of man, He has made provisions for restraint and punishment to be administered against evildoers by civil government.
The second question is at the heart of the disagreement among brethren on this issue: Can the Christian be an agent of civil government in its sword-bearing function on a local or national scale? I would answer in the affirmative.
An affirmative answer is required for the following reasons: (1) God has never ordained anything for mans good, which cannot be participated in by the Christian.
A. God has ordained the family. Not all families function as God would have them do. But this does not mean that the Christian cannot participate in the proper function of the
family as God has ordained it.
B. God has ordained the local congregation as the organizational unit of His people. Not all local churches are what God wants them to be. But the Christian may participate in the proper function of the local church as God has ordered it.
C. God has ordained civil government (Rom. 1:1). Not all civil governments function as they should. But this does not mean that the Christian cannot participate in the proper function of civil government as God has ordained it. Since one of the proper functions of civil government is to bear the sword against the evildoer, the Christian may therefore participate in this function.
(2) Some First Century Examples:
A. Cornelius (Acts 10) Here is the example of a Roman soldier who is described as "devout" and "God-fearing." Upon his obedience to the gospel, the inspired historian is silent about any instructions to abandon his job as a Roman soldier.
B. The Philippian Jailer (Acts 16:23-36): Here is another example of a civil servant who "bore the sword" who obeyed the gospel. Again, no instruction is given him to renounce his job. On the contrary, the morning after his conversion he was still acting in the capacity of a jailor (see verse 36).
C. The Instructions of John (Luke 3:14): When John the Baptist was preparing the Jews for the Coming One, some soldiers came to him and asked, "And what about us, what shall we do? And he said to them, Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages" (NASV). Such inspired advice seems strange indeed from one who is preparing for the coming kingdom whose nature, according to Brother Edwards, precludes any military service.
D. The Example of Paul (Acts 23:12-31): When Pauls nephew told him of the plot to assassinate him, Paul sent the young man to tell the chief captain of this impending danger. The captain then ordered no less than 470-armed men to escort Paul safely to Caesarea! Observe that Paul both solicited and accepted armed protection from the soldiers. Now compare this fact with Brother Edwards statement about the early Christians: "Neither, we might add, did they call in outside help to rescue them." It appears to me that Paul called in quite a bit of outside help and refused to adopt the pacifist "come-what-may" attitude. Since Paul knew that his would-be assassins were "evil-doers," and that the divinely ordained function of civil government is to "bear the sword" against evildoers, he did not hesitate to call the matter to the attention of these civil servants. Now some pertinent questions arise just here: If it is right for a Christian to request the services of a soldier, why would it be wrong for the Christian to be a soldier? And, if it is wrong for a Christian to be a soldier, then how could it be right for him to request a soldiers services? Can you think of anything that is wrong for the Christian to do personally, which is right to ask another to do for him?
Brother Edwards Arguments
Brother Edwards emphasizes the "peaceful nature of Christs kingdom," as prophesied in Isaiah 2:4 and other passages. He concludes that the "peace" under consideration is meant to apply to a cessation of hostilities between man and man. This I must emphatically deny! The "peace" which was prophesied and fulfilled in Christ Jesus relates to peace between God and man as a result of the removal of sin by the blood of the Son (Ephesians 2:12-22). Jesus expressly denies Brother Edwards application when he said, "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace. but a sword" (Matt. 10:34). Jesus is indeed "The Prince of Peace" and His kingdom is indeed one, which is characterized by peace. But this peace applies to the reconciliation of man to God, and has no bearing at all on the question at hand. One might as consistently argue that since "the kingdom of God is not meat and drink . . ." (Rom. 14:17), therefore, the Christian cannot participate in banquets!
Now it is true that in achieving the goals of the kingdom of Christ, the Christian cannot use force; viz., converting men at gunpoint, etc. We arm ourselves according to the instructions of Paul in Ephesians 6:11-18. But the fact that we have become a part of a spiritual kingdom does not therefore remove us from the family and the pursuit of any of its proper functions. Neither are we removed from the civil government and the participation in any of its proper functions - one of which proper functions, as we have shown, is to bear the sword against evildoers.
Brother Edwards states: "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)." But remember that Gods vengeance is exercised, at least in part, through the agency of civil government (Romans 13:4). I believe we have shown that the Christian can have a part in anything which is ordained of God for mans welfare. Just because it is not in the nature of the spiritual kingdom of Christ to punish evildoers, does not therefore make that function incompatible with being a Christian. Recreation and entertainment are the proper function of the home and individuals. Punishing evildoers is the proper function of the civil government. The spiritual nature of Christs kingdom is not prohibitive to either of these functions. In the passage cited by Brother Edwards, Jesus said: ". . . if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight. . ..." Of course Christs kingdom is not "of this world." But dont you see that He here affirmed the right of earthly kingdoms to fight against evildoers to protect the innocent? Such is the proper function of civil government according to our Lord and the apostle Paul.
Let me emphasize that the Christian cannot take the law into his own hands and become a vigilante who bears the sword. But as an authorized agent of civil government, he can certainly participate in that divinely ordained function. Let me also emphasize that just because civil government issues an order, does not therefore make it moral and right. Christians in military service must recognize the principle of Acts 5:29 and make every effort to avoid becoming the instrument of some illegal government action. For instance, if the U.S. Government became the aggressor against an innocent people (not just fulfilling a treaty to protect an ally), the Christian would have to refuse participation at any cost. I believe that the scriptures teach the Christian to be a conscientious non-pacifist" in this respect.
It is my hope that brethren will continue to give diligent study to this important question and not adopt a position because of party or emotional considerations. We should also keep in mind that this is an issue that should affect only individuals-not congregations. We should all avoid accusations of unsoundness against brethren with whom we disagree on this subject. May God help us to properly apply His word and make conscientious decisions consistent with its teaching.
TRUTH MAGAZINE XVII: 8, pp. 10-12