The Lord Jesus Christ, known as the Prince of Peace, made some fairly disturbing statements to His first disciples concerning the violent prognosis of His followers during their lifetime, and for His future followers. He told them that they should not be troubled by “wars and rumors of wars. . . . For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” (Matthew 24:6, 7), as if it were simply a part of life.
If one understands “evil person” and “enemy” in the Sermon on the Mount as not merely a rude co-worker or hateful next-door neighbor, but as those with governing authority who compel service, then we must understand that Jesus insists on a loving, even prayerful, attitude toward them (5:38-44).
Is it possible for Christian leaders to have such a gracious response to warfare, and to those who wage war?
First, let’s understand what the Church of God (Seventh Day) teaches concerning military warfare. The doctrinal stand is clear, stated in This We Believe: “As a result — not a cause — of redemption, believers should regard participation in physical warfare as contrary to a Christian’s humanitarian calling.”
However, even with this teaching and doctrine, the practical application of how we endure is not always black and white. For example, are Church leaders prepared to teach the youth their duty to register for Selective Service and their rights on refusing to bear arms, or is this conversation completely ignored?
The United States of America no longer has a mandatory draft but still requires its 18-25-year-olds to register for Selective Service. A law-abiding Christian might sign up to be obedient to the authorities, but may remain a conscientious objector so not to take lives. This person can still be willing to be assigned in wartime, if needed, to serve their country in other ways.
Calvin Burrell, former pastor and leader in the General Conference, explained the dichotomy well during a lecture explaining the reason that the Church of God (Seventh Day) holds to this doctrinal point: “The whole system of international warfare that’s prevailed in our world for six thousand years is demonic, wouldn’t you agree!?”
Because Christians are citizens of their respective countries, we are to be non-resistant and non-violent. For those members who do choose to serve in law enforcement and national military, Minister Burrell hopes that “maybe they choose a non-combatant role where they don’t carry arms, but they serve in the medic forces in some other way, supporting their country, other than shooting enemy soldiers.”
However, Pastor/Minister Burrell made it clear that we are of a different kingdom than that of this world, and we fight with different weapons than the physical weapons of killing and destruction. As Jesus said to His persecutors, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight” (John 18:36, NIV).
We fight with spiritual weapons like faith, prayer, righteousness, and the Word of God. This is evident in the prophecy of Isaiah 59:17 about the Messiah, and Paul’s letter to the Ephesians describing the armor of God that we must put on (6:10-17). Further, in his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul encourages believers to be ready and sober, expecting destruction when others say “peace” and are unprepared. We should prepare by “putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet” (1 Thessalonians 5:8).
Perspectives on war
War is seen by most as a necessary part of the continued existence of a people. God delivered His people Israel from war sometimes through sheer miracle. But often He commanded them to fight and be courageous, even strengthening the hand of the army of Israel to fight and win.
Moses called the Lord, the God of his father, a “man of war” (Exodus 15:3). King David was such a fierce warrior that God disqualified him to build Him a temple: “You shall not build a house for My name, because you have been a man of war and have shed blood” (1 Chronicles 28:3). Even so, God still called him “a man after My own heart” (Acts 13:22; cf. 1 Samuel 13:14).
Jesus and a centurion
So how should Christian leaders treat those who are involved in military or law enforcement? We can learn from a number of biblical examples.
Jesus seemed to accept war as part of the world system. He did not express any hesitation to comply with the Jewish leaders’ request that He heal the beloved servant of a well-respected centurion, who loved the nation of Israel and had even helped finance the temple.
When the centurion sent word that he felt unworthy for Jesus to come into his home, but that Jesus could heal his servant by simply saying the word, Jesus lauded this centurion for his faith he had not even seen in Israel (Matthew 8:5-10; cf. Luke 7:1-10).
Peter and a centurion
Similarly, Cornelius, even though he served in the Italian regiment as a centurion, was known as a devout and generous man. God spoke to him and commanded that Simon Peter be received into his home. He also spoke to Peter to go.
After Peter heard the centurion’s testimony, he began speaking not by condemning the centurion’s profession, but by telling how he himself had learned from the Lord not to show favoritism (Acts 10).
Heroes of faith
Finally, soldiers and fighters were listed as some of the heroes of the faith, “who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies” (Hebrews 11:33, 34, NIV).
In Part 1 of a video series, Should Christians Go to War?, a quote from General Douglas MacArthur includes the following:
If we do not now devise some greater and more equitable system, Armageddon will be at our door. The problem basically is theological and involves a spiritual recrudescence and improvement of human character . . . It must be of the spirit if we will save the flesh.
MacArthur concludes correctly that the problem is theological, but he prefaces that with the wrong solutions. We will not devise a system that solves the problem of war. Jesus Christ will. He is the Prince of Peace.
Throughout history, Christians have shown varied beliefs about war, beginning with pacifism exemplified in the first century (by Jesus’ example, not the humanistic kind that hoped reason and rationale of humanity would prevail toward peace).
Then there was the conscientious objector attitude espoused by Hippolytus, the just war theory initiated by Augustine, the holy war crusades that supposedly fought God’s cause for Him, and non-resistance, uniquely embraced by the Anabaptists. All of these positions failed if they were aimed at achieving peace to end all wars.
One interesting phenomenon was that after World War I, the Peace of Versailles and the League of Nations did not usher in the expected peace — obvious, since World War II followed. As described in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology:
The United Nations has tried to keep peace, but the arms race has become a fact of life and the production of weapons has been woven into the texture of modern technological society. The situation is made even more difficult because of a decline in Christian influence in a more secular society.
If the Christian leader were to understand that the military terminology throughout the New Testament was no accident, but that the spiritual battle for the souls of the lost were just as crucial as the physical warfare for the lives of entire nations, the entire population of the globe would be more aware of the hope of salvation and eternal life through Jesus Christ. Words like the ones Paul wrote to his young protégé, Timothy, would be taken much more seriously: “Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer” (2 Timothy 2:3, 4, NIV).
Guidance for Christian leaders
What a tragedy if Christians must learn from secular warfare what it means to serve this dedicated way, instead of observing their church leaders doing this. Christian leaders should not be such extreme pacifists that they don’t even want to discuss the realities of war or avoid digging into the many scriptures that use words like fight, battle, and weapons, using kingdom only in an ethereal way.
Instead, the Christian leader should instruct God’s people on what these concepts mean and how to rightly apply them to the real spiritual battle. Many Church of God (Seventh Day) members may be largely ignorant of how kingdoms and wars and battles and fighting work.
The Prince of Peace has commanded His followers in words of warfare to prepare for battle, but in a different way than this carnal world. Christian leaders are to be a visible example of focusing on winning the world by preaching the gospel, loving their neighbor, and being armed with such things as righteousness, love, and faith.
Responding to war
We are to not be surprised at the reality of war, but should be prepared for it by obeying Jesus’s teachings on how to respond. We can do this by praying in private for enemy nations or serving near the battlefield in a way that preserves, protects, and saves lives instead of bearing physical, destructive arms.
Is this not only a possibility but an imperative left to believers by the Lord Jesus Christ? We are empowered by the Holy Spirit to respond in a loving, prayerful way to the reality of warfare, and to those who are involved in it.