In 1972, Harold (not his real name) received his draft card welcoming him to the Vietnam War. Our family had been dreading this day for several years, as Harold had issues with war and refused to participate in it.
Besides this, young Harold is the Forest Gump of our family, and as such, he is barely functional. Now at age 67, Harold still does not drive, cannot live alone, has never dated, and finally had his first dance two years ago — with his niece on her wedding day.
People who do not go to war are known as conscientious objectors. Harold’s situation was grave and perilous, as he was mentally and emotionally incapable of understanding life, let alone military service and war. If Harold had been drafted and gone to battle, he would simply have been a sacrificial lamb on the front-line altar of military death. Another death in another useless human war.
Not everyone is like Harold in their mental capabilities, but they still refuse to engage in war. They believe God’s goal should be our goal: “He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two; He burns the chariot in the fire” (Psalm 46:9). In the millennial kingdom of God, there will be no more war and young men won’t be sent to die for their country.
He shall judge between the nations,
And rebuke many people;
They shall beat their swords into plowshares,
And their spears into pruning hooks;
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
Neither shall they learn war anymore (Isaiah 2:4).
Our natural patriotism and love for our homeland are part of our heritage. However, God has something better for us: “He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love” (Colossians 1:13). God’s government is free of darkness, but we often do not think about our current role in it. Still, Paul reminds us, “we are ambassadors for Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:20).
Our natural patriotism and priority should be for God and His kingdom. Think of this analogy. Ambassadors from country A cannot become soldiers for country B without giving up their citizenship in country A. Doesn’t a Christian’s participation in the military of a secular country contradict their citizenship in heaven (Philippians 3:20)?
When one joins a national military, one must pledge allegiance to that country over all others. In the military, you lose your freedom. You must obey orders that do not honor our allegiance to God’s kingdom. Concerning war, This We Believe states “. . . believers should regard participation in physical warfare as contrary to a Christian’s humanitarian calling.” Christianity and war are like oil and vinegar: They do not mix well.
Killing and torturing the enemy is not an act of humanitarianism. On His last night on this earth, Jesus told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here” (John 18:36).
Paul takes this a step further: “Though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh” (2 Corinthians 10:3). Jesus tells us not to fight, and Paul warns us against it.
Over the centuries, the church has argued, even among her members, the validity of going to war. In the late 300’s ad, Augustine of Hippo developed the “just war” theory. According to the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, the theory “intended not to advocate war but rather to limit conditions under which Christians could participate, accepting war as an unfortunately necessary tool for preserving the civilization to which Christianity belonged.”
While this theory has been used to justify war, it is not in line with the current and coming government of God. It is intended to preserve the civilization of our present society, but this contrasts with Jesus Christ and His gospel message of the coming kingdom of God.
War and peace
R.G. Clouse writes in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology that war is “A struggle between rival groups, using arms, which can be recognized as a legal conflict. According to this definition, riots or individual acts of violence are not wars, but armed rebellion within particular sovereignties and violent struggles between nations would be included.”
Is peace simply the absence of war? C. L. Feinberg states in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, “Peace has reference to health, prosperity, well-being, security, as well as respite from war (Eccles. 3:8; Isa. 45:7).” Our society knows no true, lasting peace. We have simply been between wars since the fall from grace in the Garden of Eden. Note the prophet Jeremiah when he prophesied against Israel: “Saying, ‘peace, peace! ‘When there is no peace” (Jeremiah 8:11). Today we do not live in a world of peace. Our world is continually at war.
As Christians, we are called to a different warfare. As ambassadors for Christ, we have a duty to engage in spiritual warfare. We fight for God on the spiritual front. Paul said, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). Our warfare as citizens of heaven is not to be physical but spiritual.
Our enemy is more cunning and deceitful than any human army of mass destruction. He is capable of deceiving the entire world. The apostle John wrote, “So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him” (Revelation 12:9). Yes, Christians do go to war, but our warfare is spiritual. We fight the worldly deception of the devil daily.
Our calling is to preach the gospel of peace, the present kingdom, the coming millennial kingdom, and the eternal kingdom of God. Jesus described it as a humanitarian calling of love. On His last night of human life, He broke bread, drank from the cup, and humbly washed the disciple’s feet. One of Jesus’ last acts was to give a new law to His disciples: “Love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34, 35).
Our Christian calling is about loving our neighbor, not killing our enemies. Jesus gave us His two greatest commands: to love God with all of our heart and to love our neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39). One cannot fulfill these commands by joining the military and killing the enemy.
My personal view of war and peace differs from many believers. I am a pacifist and not willing to take up arms for my country. As a citizen, I vote and use the court systems as Paul did, but my personal governmental allegiance is to God and His eternal kingdom.
I am a Christian warrior willing to take up the spiritual battle for my God and His kingdom. I affirm what Calvin Burrell has written in This We Believe: “Christ came armed with a different worldview, a different approach to conflict resolution, and a different kingdom that does not depend upon physical power for its support or defense.”
The Church of God (Seventh Day) included an “exception clause” concerning the use of force in our statement of beliefs, and I wholeheartedly support it as a father:
Our views are not as fully pacifist, however, as the views of those who suggest that Christians should never resort to physical violence in resisting evil, even in defending their families or in performing the duties of civil police.
What of war and peace? What of Harold, who likely would have lost his life without fully understanding why? What of you and me and all humanity?
Is there not something better for us than carnal warfare? As ambassadors of Jesus and His kingdom, we say, Yes! And when His kingdom fully comes, “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
Finally, we will be able to say, “Peace, peace” when there is peace.
Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version.