considering war and defense: what is the Christian perspective?
historical position: Pacifism
a pacifist is someone who believes that under no circumstances is war justified
Pacifism dominated the first 300 years of the Church
Christians were prohibited from joining the Roman military because of the requirement to swear allegiance to Caesar, which would be like putting Caesar before God.
Many Christians believed that using the sword was against the teachings of Christ.
Writings of the early Church Fathers:
“We refrain from making war on our enemies, and [we] cannot bear to see a man killed, even if killed justly.” (Justin, martyred for his faith)
“He who holds the sword must cast it away and that if one of the faithful becomes a soldier, he must be rejected by the Church, for he has scorned God.” (Clement of Alexandria, 217 A.D.)
“For even if soldiers came to John and received advice on how to act, and even if a centurion became a believer, the Lord, in subsequently disarming Peter, disarmed every soldier” (Tertullian, early Third Century, A.D.)
In the Canon of Discipline, a third century document, it was said that Christian soldiers should not be taught to kill, and if they were, they must refuse to kill, even upon command by their officers. To do otherwise would bring Church discipline.
teachings that support pacifism
“You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also” (Jesus Christ - Matthew 5:38-39).
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Jesus Christ - Matthew 5:43-44).
“How can we kill another human being for whom Jesus died? How can we adopt the attitude that ‘Jesus loves you, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to kill you?' " (Mennonite Pacifist Myron Augsburger).
"If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:17-21).
what about defending ourselves and others?
Jesus instructed His disciples to arm themselves when traveling. The context here was the potenital robbery of the disciples.
“And He said to them, ‘But now, whoever has a money belt is to take it along, likewise also a bag, and whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one. For I tell you that this which is written must be fulfilled in Me, ‘And he was numbered with transgressors;’ for that which refers to Me has its fulfillment.’ They said, ‘Lord, look, here are two swords.’ And He said to them, ‘It is enough’” (Jesus Christ - Luke 22:36-38).
"...use force out of love for thy neighbor" (John Calvin).
It is possible that God has given governing bodies the State the authority to bear the sword.
“Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil.
"Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it [government; the State] is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil” (Romans 13:1-4).
Jesus was not a pacifist, nor was He a hawk. It is interesting that Jesus makes everyone uncomfortable, because He can never be put in anybody’s box. He said blessed are the peacemakers. Jesus wasn’t a hawk. He wasn’t a pacifist. He wasn’t a Republican. He wasn’t a Democrat. He wasn’t an American. He wasn’t an Iraqi. He transcends all categories. - John Salvatore
what is a "just war"?
the just war theory
formulated by Augustine of Hippo, refined by Thomas Aquinas
War is never good, but is sometimes necessary (because sin is an ever present reality)
Necessary wars are to be conducted within the limits of justice
Only governments, not individuals, have the right under God to carry out retribution
seven -fold criteria of the just war theory
There must be a just cause. (No unprovoked aggression)
Just intention (securing a fair peace)
War is a last resort
There is a formal declaration
Limited Objective (securing peace)
what about the State?
considering Romans 13:1-4
In St. Paul's letter to the Romans, he discussed the authority given to the State by God. It is this Scripture that is used to support the idea that while individuals should not wage war, governments have the God-given right to do so.
However, this should not be take out of the context of Scripture. If the government (or anyone) is acting outside the will of God to bring harm to another, we must stand against it.
Examining the criteria listed above for a "just war" is a good place to start.
If the objective of a war is not ultimately to secure peace, we do not support it.
The violent consequences of not going to war (death, torture, violent persecution) must be greater than the potential destructive consequences of waging war.