“Is It Always Wrong to Kill? Even During War?”

I read your answer in your article “Is It Always Wrong to Lie? Even During War?” The last paragraph created another question in my own mind. The paragraph read, “Saving one’s own or someone else’s neck is not always the highest goal. Obedience and aligning ourselves with God’s heart and character is. Hebrews 11 has a list of people who chose martyrdom over doing what was expedient to save their lives, and they wear a crown of glory in heaven. There are better things than lying to stay out of trouble.”

My question is this — in light of your answer based upon the Ten Commandments — Is it always wrong to kill even during war?

No, because the word used in the 10 Commandments that we usually read “Thou shalt not kill” is actually the word for “murder.” There is a personal and deliberate aspect to murder that is not present in wartime killing. This difference is seen in the distinction between a cancer surgeon and a gang member who stabs someone in a fight. Both of them use knives to cut into people, but for completely different reasons with different motivations.

I hope this helps.

Sue Bohlin
Probe Ministries

“What About All the Violence and Conquering in the Name of the Christian God?”

Just read your answer to email on the Pope’s inflammatory remarks about Islam, and I had a question about this statement:

“Muslims certainly cannot deny that Mohammed admonished Muslims to pick up their swords for Allahs cause (see my essay Islam and the Sword at Probe.org). They also cannot ignore the fact that Islam conquered both the Persian and Byzantine Empires via warfare.”

While both statements are or may in fact be true, one we Christians cannot deny that as much violence and conquering has been done in the name of God. One should be careful about removing the speck from a brother’s eye before taking the log out of his own. Actually, I believe Christian war preceded Islamic war.

I am not discounting the evil done in the name of Christ, and of course there were Christians fighting before there were Muslims since Christianity preceded Islam by six centuries. My point is about their very nature as belief systems. When one compares the actions of Christ with the actions of Mohammed, the lives of the apostles with the lives of Mohammeds companions, and the teaching found in the New Testament with what is taught in the Quran, one finds a distinct difference in the role that violence plays. Even when we compare the early history of the two religions we find that Christianity went through a three hundred year period of persecution while Islam conquered a region stretching from Spain to India, experienced three civil wars, and had three of its first four caliphs assassinated by other Muslims.

There is also the distinction to be made between individuals committing violence and vengeful acts, and the responsibility of governments or kings to uphold justice and protect their people from harm. There has been a 1,400 year conflict going on between the civilization that has constituted Europe after the Roman Empire fell and the Islamic world. For most of that time Europe was on the defensive side of things. Not until the late 17th century did the Islamic threat diminish after their failure to take Vienna and the Ottoman Empire was forced to sign the treaty of Karlowitz in 1699.

One also has to remember that Islam is both a religion and a political system; it does not recognize a separation between church and state. When a western nation acts against a Muslim one it is not Christianity vs. Islam, it is a political entity, democratic or otherwise, deciding to act against a religious/political entity.

All of this to say that while we can point to atrocities done in the name of Christ, they have no support in the New Testament. However, atrocities done in the name of Islam have explicit models in the life of Mohammed and can find justification and support in the Quran.

None of this discussion discounts our obligation as ambassadors for Christ to love and reach out to individual Muslims in humility and with compassion.

Thank you for your thoughtful comments.

Don Closson

© 2007 Probe Ministries

Terrorism and Just War

America’s war on terrorism has once again raised important questions about the proper use of military action. President George W. Bush said on September 20, 2001, “Whether we bring our enemies to justice, or justice to our enemies, justice will be done.” This message and following statements by President Bush and Secretary of Defense Rumsfield articulated portions of what has come to be known as just war theory. This 1600-year-old Christian doctrine attempts to answer two questions: “When is it permissible to wage war?” and “What are the limitations on the ways we wage war?”

Historically, Christians have adopted one of three positions: (1) Activism — it is always right to participate in war, (2) Pacifism — it is never right to participate in war, or (3) Selectivism — it is right to participate in some wars. The just war theory represents the third position and was articulated initially by Augustine who developed it as a logical extension of Romans 13:1-7.

1 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.
2 Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.
3 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;
4 for it 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.
5 Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake.
6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing.
7 Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.

Augustine argued that not all wars are morally justified. He said, “It makes a great difference by which causes and under which authorities men undertake the wars that must be waged.”

This seven-point theory provides a framework for evaluating military action. A just war will include the following conditions: just cause, just intention, last resort, formal declaration, limited objectives, proportionate means, and noncombatant immunity. The first five principles apply as a nation is “on the way to war” (jus ad bellum) while the final two apply to military forces “in the midst of war” (jus in bello). Let’s look at each of these in more detail.

Seven Points of a Just War

Just cause — All aggression is condemned in just war theory. Participation must be prompted by a just cause or defensive cause. No war of unprovoked aggression can ever be justified.

Just intention — War must be to secure a just peace for all parties involved. Revenge or conquest are not legitimate motives.

Last resort — War must be engaged as a last resort only after diplomacy and economic pressure have been exhausted.

Formal declaration — War must be initiated with a formal declaration by properly constituted authorities.

Limited objectives — War must be characterized by limited objectives such a peace. Complete destruction is an improper objective. War must be waged in such a way that once peace is attainable, hostilities cease.

Proportionate means — Combatants may not be subjected to greater harm than is necessary to secure victory. The types of weapons and amount of force used should be limited to what is needed to repel aggression and secure a just peace.

Noncombatant immunity — Military forces must respect individuals and groups not participating in the conflict. Only governmental forces or agents are legitimate targets.

Objections to Just War

Two types of objections often surface against the idea of just war theory. First, there is the moral objection. Pacifists argue that it is never right to go to war and often cite biblical passages to bolster their argument. For example, Jesus said believers should “turn the other cheek” (Matt. 5:39). He also warned that “those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword” (Matt. 26:52).

However, the context of the statements is key. In the first instance, Jesus is speaking to individual believers in his Sermon on the Mount, admonishing believers not to engage in personal retaliation. In the second instance, He tells Peter to put down his sword because the gospel should not be advanced by the sword. But at the same time, Jesus actually encouraged his disciples to buy a sword (Luke 22:36) in order to protect themselves.

Two political objections have been cited in the last few months against the application of just war theory to our war on terrorism. Critics say that the idea of a just war applies to only to nations and not to terrorists. Even so, that would not invalidate American miliary actions in Afghanistan or Iraq.

But the criticism is incorrect. It turns out that Christian thought about just war predates the concept of modern nation-states. So the application of these principles can apply to governments or terrorist organizations. Moreover, the very first use of American military force in this country was against Barbary Pirates (who were essentially the terrorists of the 18th century).

Critics also argue that since terrorism is an international threat, the concept of just war would require an international declaration of war. This is not true. The U.S. or any other country does not need to get international approval to defend itself. Even so, both President George H. W. Bush and President George W. Bush have brought the issue of Iraq to the United Nations for a vote. But as the current president made clear, he sought UN approval, not permission. He would like multilateral approval and help, but the U.S. is prepared to go it alone if necessary.

©2003 Probe Ministries

“What is a Christian Perspective on War?”

Is there anywhere in the Bible where God or Jesus speaks or justifies the Christian needing to go to war? I know we are to obey those who are in control of the government, unless the demands go against biblical principles. I also have read the various passages concerning loving our enemies and blessing those who persecute us. But what of war? What about the issues of defending our homes for the cause of freedom, right to worship, or when others infringe on the rights of those living in other countries?

There are essentially three Christian views concerning war:
Activism — it is always right to participate in war.
Pacifism — it is never right to participate in war.
Selectivism — it is right to participate in some wars.

Most Christians generally hold to the third position. This led to the development of what has come to be known as the just war criteria.

A just war would include the following elements:

• Just cause (defensive war)

• Just intention (just peace)

• Last resort (negotiations)

• Formal declaration

• Limited objectives

• Proportionate means

• Noncombatant immunity

There are a number of books that have been written on this subject of war and the Christian. Here is a short list of books that you might find helpful.

• Clouse, Robert. War: Four Christian Views. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, revised 1991.
• Holmes, Arthur, ed. War: Christian Ethics. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, revised 1991.
• Payne, Keith and Payne, Karl. A Just Defense. Portland, OR: Multnomah Press, 1987.
• Schaeffer, Francis; Bukovsky, Vladimir; and Hitchcock, James. Who Is For Peace? Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1983.

Kerby Anderson

© 2002 Probe Ministries

“Is It a Sin For a Christian to be a Soldier in the Military?”

Is it a sin for a Christian to be a soldier (i.e. someone training to be on the frontlines to kill) in the military?

I have been reading some arguments on both sides of this coin, and both have some weight to them. The main argument from the peaceful side of this coin is that Jesus said “those who live by the sword, will die by the sword” and that first century christians did not serve in the military, except for a few, but they weren’t in war at that time. The other side of the coin seperates personal responsibility from state responsibility and says that if you are serving in the military and kill, God holds the head of the state responsible. It also uses the Old Testament wars in many of its arguments.

It seems to me that there is power in not fighting, and that the Bible teaches that we should love our enemies, and not kill others just because a government tells you too. However, it would seem in such an evil world that if we didn’t stand up and fight for the protection of others, all Christians would be oppressed. It just keeps flipping back and forth.

Thank you for your question about Christians serving in the military. Probably the three best known books dealing with this subject are:

• Robert Clouse, ed., War: Four Christian Views (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1981).
• Arthur Holmes, ed., War and Christian Ethics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1975).
• Keith Payne and Karl Payne, A Just Defense (Portland: Multnomah, 1987).

I could go into the details of the various positions, but I think these books (especially the InterVarsity book) provide a good overview of the arguments on each side.

I might also mention that Tommy Nelson (the pastor of Denton Bible Church in Denton, TX) has put together a 90-minute video on the subject of Christians in the military. It is simply called “God and the Military: Is It Right to Bear Arms?” You can contact him at www.dentonbible.org. Thanks for writing.

Kerby Anderson

© 2002 Probe Ministries