By Ron Howes
The exercise of the authority of civil governments is ordained of God. So often in reading the statements of some of my brethren vehemently denouncing war and the Christian’s participation in it, the thought is left with me that these fellows somehow think that “sword-bearing” is evil. Far from being evil Paul told the Romans that this was “to thee for good!” (Rom. 13:4). Surpassing even his claim to its goodness, he declared in (Rom. 13:3) “that . . . rulers are not a terror to good works” and follows this fact with the admonition “do that which is good!” Face it friend, the sword bearing authority, legitimately exercised, is a good work.
The Roman legionnaire, engaged in what military historians label a police action in first century Palestine, is here singled out as being a “minister of God.” Some retort, “Yes, -he’s a minister of God, but what he’s doing is evil!” Notice their argument:
1. God commands civil government to bear the sword.
2. Killing with the sword is a sin.
3. Therefore God commands a sin.
The well-traveled apostle of the empire answers that sword bearing is not evil, but “good” (Rom. 13:4).
Paul’s comments on the goodness of sword-bearing by government, come close on the heels of his command to overcome evil with good. The rule of context allows us to ignore the chapter division and carry on with his definition of what God uses to “overcome evil with good.” The answer? The minister of God, he who “bears not the sword in vain!” From Paul’s argument we derive these four clear cut principles.
1. Civil government is God-ordained (Rom. 13:1).
2. Civil disobedience is God-condemned (Rom. 13:2).
3. Civil government’s rule is good, not evil (Rom. 13:3).
4. The sword-bearer is God’s righteous minister (Rom.13:4).
Against these time-weathered principles of the Christian’s civil responsibility come some of the scriptural pugilists of our day seeking to condemn the soldier as the sinner and exalt the pacifist as the true minister of God. Such, was not Paul’s intent. Paul viewed legitimate civil authority as good, bearing the sword for the government as good, and civil disobedience as evil.
With such tired rationale as “all war is evil,” and “all killing is evil,” and “overcome violence with nonresistance,” they would have us keep our sons out of the armed forces, burn the electric chair, and sell our rifles and pistols lest when attacked we should commit some act of violence to stop violent men. But brethren, where is the scripture that commands such?
1. A sword-bearing soldier is doing a good work (Rom. 13:3).
2. A Christian can do that which is a good work (Eph. 2:10).
3. Therefore, a Christian can be a sword bearing soldier.
My Country Right or Wrong?
Definitely not! Just as it is true that some killing done by soldiers and policeman is good, it is also true that not all killing done by soldiers and policemen is good. In Luke 3:14 John told some soldiers on service (see the margin of the A.S.V.) three solid principles of good civil service. The text states
(1) Extort from no man by violence, (2) accuse no man wrongfully, and (3) be content with your wages.
We see that the soldier also is governed by law. Our civil law mirrors these precepts of the baptizer, and it is in this context of the responsible, legal, implementation of the right to bear the sword that we can and must defend it. Whether it is a Christian wearing the sword or a non-Christian makes little difference. Whether it is the policeman on the street, the soldier on the foreign battlefield, or the warden pulling the switch on the electric chair, the law of God governs the responsible use of their authority to kill.
The Christian As A Policeman
The Jehovah’s Witnesses’ concept of civil government is that it is ordained of the devil. We sought to show in article one that the legitimate function of the civil government is not just tolerated by God, but originated with Him. According to Paul’s fourth principle, the sword-bearer is God’s righteous minister. According to the rule of the universal application of God’s law, Jew and Greek, rich and poor, wise and foolish are equally responsible to render obedience to those precepts. This rule, plainly stated to a soldier in Acts 17:30, says “all men, everywhere.” The pacifist view of Romans 13:4 must say one of two things:
1. Some men, somewhere have been ordained of God to commit unrighteous acts, or
2. What is a righteous act for the sinner is not a righteous act for the saved.
Either conclusion demands a double standard, makes God a respector of persons, and is something this writer must, therefore, reject.
From Romans 13:4 here is our argument in three points:
1. It is a righteous act for a policeman to kill in the line of duty.
2. A Christian may do that which is a righteous act (Eph. 2:10).
3. Therefore, a Christian may be a policeman and kill in the line of duty.
It is perhaps necessary at this juncture to state that what we are arguing for is the legitimate exercise of the prerogatives of civil government as ordained in Rom. 13:1. In our civilization, civil, military, and international law govern the legitimacy of the sword-bearing function. To defend that right is to defend it within the confines of the laws that govern it, and the law of God from which it came. This is by no means a defense of every policeman who ever fired a pistol. The policeman who takes bribes, breaks the law, or murders the innocent is just as guilty as a common criminal. This is the- only context in which it can and trust, be defended. Gads law demands responsible implementation.
Matt. 22:17 binds the responsibilities of good citizenship on the Chrisian, whether taxes, service on juries, or mandatory enlistment in the armed forces: The Christian is to be a model of respectful submission to duly constituted law, and this includes, the word-bearing function.
Truth Magazine XXII: 14, pp. 237-238
April 6, 1978