In this past weekend’s message we read Jesus taught that we are not to resist an evildoer and to love our enemies (Matthew 5:38-44). A logical and timely question then becomes, “Is war wrong?”
This question has been debated throughout the history of Christianity. Until around the 4th Century—when Christianity became legalized in the Roman Empire—most Christians were pacifists, meaning they were generally against war. As Christianity became more aligned with Rome, then more Christian theologians began supporting war … in certain situations. In more modern times, evangelical Christians have tended to be highly patriotic and very supportive of the military. Some find support for war and military engagements in the Old Testament war stories of Israel and in the allusions to war found in Revelation.
We must never read Scripture in isolation or without reading it through the lens of Christ, understanding that He came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17); therefore, what is found in the Old Testament must ultimately be interpreted through Christ … and clearly, Jesus valued the peacemakers, called them “blessed” and “sons of God” (Matthew 5:9). Pacifists find support for their position in Jesus words and His own example of not resorting to violence (John 18:10-12). And I can honestly respect their position.
However, ultimately I find the pacifist position naïve and utopian. The world we live in is fallen, broken, and evil. This means there are times when war can save lives and limit the spread of injustice. Pacifists are right to call war tragic; I would add that war is a tragic necessity (tragic because war results in casualties and loss of life yet necessary IF it restrains evil). For example, Paul taught that government had a responsibility to use the “sword” to stop wrongdoing (Romans 13:4). Here we find reason to support the times when police and the military must use force. Here we also understand that there is a difference between killing someone under the authority of government in order to stop wrongdoing and what the Bible calls murder, which is a sin.
As Christians, we should long for peace, pray for peace, work for peace, and see war only as a last resort.
The most helpful thinking on this comes from Augustine of Hippo (354-430 A.D.) who developed the “Just War” Theory to help explain both when a nation should go to war and how to actually conduct warfare.
Augustine taught that war should be entered only when options for peace had been exhausted, for a just cause and that war could only be conducted by a legitimate authority (i.e.-a properly established and recognized government).
In conducting war, every effort should be taken to minimize casualties, force should be used proportionally and not in excess, and care should be taken in the methods of war and the conduct of soldiers (i.e.-soldiers should not engage in rape).
Finally, Augustine taught that the aim of a war would be the “restoration of peace and a more just social order.”What does the mean for us today?
Pray for our military and police.
Pray for leaders who must discern when to authorize military force.
Always see war as a tragic necessity (The tragedy of war can never be minimized and care should be given to avoid glamorizing warfare; for example, a political leader threatening to “carpet bomb” people is concerning.)
Loss of any life is always tragic.
Long for, pray for, and labor for the full realization of Jesus’ Kingdom when war will cease forever and the ailments of the human heart that cause wars and thus the need to tragically fight war will be gone forever.
 John Davis. Evangelical Ethics: Issues Facing the Church Today. (Phillipsburg: P & R Publishing, 2004), 242.
 Scripture never mentions or commands a soldier to leave the Roman legions when they converted to Christ. Additionally, history shows that when a Christian soldier did leave the military, the reason was to avoid the idolatrous traditions practiced by the Roman army.
 Davis. Evangelical Ethics, 247-248.