New Testament Teaches Against Fighting
Theologians have frequently used Romans 13 to justify their teaching of ‘‘Christian” participation in warfare.
The theological argument about this text concerns the command to be subject to the higher powers. If the higher governmental powers require us to fight, then we must fight. Such reasoning means that if these powers require us to kill, to extort, rob, or maim, then we must obey. If we take this false reasoning even further we could add that no matter what law or violation of scripture is required of the soldier by these “higher powers,” it must be done. This is obviously not what Paul meant by this chapter.
Just what does God teach in this chapter?
Through the Apostle Paul, God instructs that we are to be subject to these higher powers since they are ordained or ordered by God, verse 1. Obviously he is referring to the higher governmental powers over the citizens of a country. This point in the text is understood correctly by almost everyone.
Notice that this text does not say that a Christian must obey the higher powers when such obedience is contrary to God’s instruction in the scriptures. In Acts 5:29, we read: “But Peter and the Apostles answered, We must obey God rather than men.”
We should first of all obey God in all things as defined in scripture. Then we should be subject to the law and to these powers. To be subject does not mean the same as obeying! Where there is a conflict, we should obey God first, and then be subject to whatever penalty is imposed.
We should show proper deference and respect to these rulers who have been put over us. Here is how Revelation 13:7 is translated in the Revised Standard Version.
“Pay all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.”
Carrying the sword to maintain peace and order in the community is confined to the higher power, verse 4, and not to the Christian. No mention is made here of a Christian being obligated to take the sword or to go into military service!
Paul makes it clear that our subjection to such powers, does not include killing others. Instead of killing in war, we should love one another (verse 8).
Thou Shalt Not Kill
The next verse includes the commandment: “Thou shalt not kill.” This should make it obvious that if the state or the higher powers require the Christian to fight and kill, he cannot. To further emphasize how we should be in subjection to the higher powers, he continues:
“Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (verse 10 RSV).
From these comments it is plain that God nowhere in this scripture tells the Christian that he must take up the sword if required to do so by the higher powers. The truth is plain if you read the whole chapter, and do not put your own interpretation on one or two verses.
The Christian is further instructed on this same point to be subject to the powers that be, and to be ready for every good work, Titus 3:1. He should be gentle, meek; not fighting or brawling, verse 2. We should be subject to, or submit to the authority, yet obey only in those things not in conflict with the laws of God. We must be willing to submit to punishment when we cannot obey man’s God-defying laws, and we must take it patiently.
The Cause of War
History is a chronicle of wars. It has been said that every nation is either preparing for war, in war, or recovering from a war.
Man has not yet learned that wars have never solved his quarrels or problems! Wars only bring misery, pain, death, and destruction. They cause, and are caused by, hate and evil, wrath and envyings. These are works of the flesh, Galatians 5:17-21. Exactly opposite to these works of the flesh is the life of a Christian who has God’s Holy Spirit!
In spite of all the wars of mankind, NONE HAVE BROUGHT LASTING PEACE. If any war did bring peace, then there would never have been another war.
What is the real cause of war? Politicians and students of international relations have a multitude of ideas, but most are wrong. God knows, and His Word gives the root cause plainly and clearly. “From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your own lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not,” James 4:1-2.
Here is the reason why all mankind continually suffers the terrible scourge of war. Man is not satisfied with what he has. He craves for more! He lusts after what his neighbor has, is not content with what he has produced, and with what God has given him. This violates God’s command “Thou shalt not covet.”
We are not to take part in the lusts of wicked rulers and the wars they cause, even though the nation in which we live as pilgrims and ambassadors is the one attacked and on the defensive. “Dearly Beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul,” I Peter 2:11. Lust is an exact opposite of Christian love.
Christians are not of this world. They are sojourners. They are ambassadors of Christ. They are “called-out ones.”
If we as Christians participate in the wars of this world, we are participating in the politics of this worldly system! We are commanded TO COME OUT OF this system, Babylon the Great, Revelation 18:4. We are living contrary to God’s government when we take part in war. We are forbidden to become a part of the world, to engage in its conflicts, its goals — contrary to God’s realm, James 4:4; I John 2:15.
Ambassadors for Christ
Paul stated in II Corinthians 5:20 that we are ambassadors for Christ. We are God’s representatives here on the earth. As ambassadors of a heavenly kingdom, we cannot enter the wars of earthly kingdoms. Ambassadors dwelling in foreign countries are not permitted to enter the armies or politics of that country. In the same way, a Christian, as an ambassador of the Kingdom of Heaven, or the World Tomorrow, cannot take part in such activities!
As ambassadors and representatives of God, our spiritual citizenship is in heaven. We await a heavenly kingdom. The inheritance of this kingdom will be brought by Christ when He comes.
“For our conversation [better translated from the Greek as CITIZENSHIP] is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ,” Philippians 3:20.
A private citizen of the United States cannot take part in the wars between other nations or his citizenship may be revoked. Before an alien can become a naturalized citizen of the United States, he is required to sign a statement that he will never fight against this country, nor will he ever enter the Armed Forces of another government. If he violates this agreement, he automatically loses his citizenship!
A private citizen of the United States travels to another country by permission of the State Department, and carries with him a passport. He is strictly forbidden to take part in warring activities of other governments. In the same way, the Christian is forbidden by his Government, the Kingdom of God, to participate in the wars of the nations of this world.
A soldier of an earthly nation who enlists and fights for another country may be shot for treason by his own country. He would be violating his allegiance to his own nation. As Christians, we are soldiers for a heavenly kingdom, II Timothy 2:3-4, and therefore should not under any circumstances fight for a worldly kingdom!
You may be asked: “But ought not you to help defend this country when it is attacked — when it is the lust of an aggressor nation which caused it?” The answer is that a true Christian cannot. If a United States citizen, or a British subject, is residing temporarily in Russia, and China should attack Russia, he could lose his citizenship if he joined the Russian army. The Christian will lose his citizenship in God’s Kingdom if he enters the armed forces of any nation of this world, unless he repents of that action.
We need to decide here and now where we want our citizenship. Do we want to inherit an incorruptible kingdom which will not fade away, I Peter 1:4? Or, do we want to inherit one of the kingdoms of this world which will very soon pass away. If we want to be a citizen of this world, instead of the Kingdom of God, then we might as well fight for this world and its nations.
If we want to continue as citizens of the Kingdom of God, we should fight the “good fight of faith,” which is a spiritual, not a physical fight.
Since we are now ambassadors for the Kingdom of God, we relinquish the right to take part in the politics or the government of this world. If you have further questions on this subject, see “How Would Jesus Vote for President?” by Herbert W. Armstrong in The Plain Truth, November 1960.
The TRUE Christian Warfare
Christians are not to participate in the wars of this world, and yet a Christian must fight.
But what kind of a warfare is this? The Apostle Paul explains: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh,” II Corinthians 10:3. In other words we do not make war like the nations and people of this world. “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal [physical] but mighty through God . . . Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (verses 4 and 5). In the Christian warfare, even every wrong thought must be brought into captivity and subjection. We must control our thoughts in obedience to Christ. We must rule our thoughts, not let our thoughts or our desires and carnal nature rule us.
A Christian is a soldier of Jesus Christ, but He does not become entangled with the affairs of this life. “Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier,” II Timothy 2:3-4. A Christian cannot be a good soldier of Jesus Christ and still be a soldier in the wars of this world.
This spiritual warfare is explained in detail by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 6:11-18. We must put on the whole armor of God. That armor is not physical, consisting of the military weapons of man, but consists of spiritual weapons. Instead of guns, bullets, bombs, and machines, the Christian’s weapons are truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, the Spirit and Word of God, and in addition, praying always.
The warfare of a Christian is not against the people of this world (flesh and blood, verse 12), but it is against the wicked spirits who influence nations and people in positions of power.
Our war is also against the “self,” bringing it under subjection, in obedience to God’s ways. We cannot continue in lawlessness and disobedience to God, Romans 7:23.
Even the Apostle Paul was in this fight to bring his body, that is, his carnal physical desires, under subjection. He did not want to become a castaway, after having preached righteousness to others, I Corinthians 9:26-27.
A Christian cannot participate in this spiritual warfare as a citizen of a heavenly kingdom, and at the same time participate in a physical war with one of the nations of this earth. He cannot serve two masters, because he will love one and hate the other, Matthew 6:24.
Taught to Hate
A Christian must have real spiritual love. This is an exact opposite of what is needed for a good soldier of this world. As a matter of fact, military men know that hatred is necessary to make a good soldier. How can a man kill, cause violence, and fight under such extreme conditions as in warfare, unless he hates those he is fighting against?
Especially during the time of war, soldiers on both sides are taught to hate each other. There is always a great deal of propaganda given to the people, and especially to the servicemen in each country, which is calculated to produce hate. Officials of the military services educate their men toward this goal. This is exactly contrary to the teaching of Jesus Christ, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,” Mark 12:31. It is impossible to love your neighbor, whether national or international, and at the same time hate or kill them.
The Apostle Peter stated: “Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: not rendering evil for evil or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing you are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing,” I Peter 3:8-9. A person participating in warfare is not following these commands that God inspired through the Apostle Peter.
Christ said: “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you,” Matthew 5:43-44.
The spirit of military service is one of murder and not love.
From such scriptures as this and Matthew 10, it is apparent that some true Christians will not escape the violence and persecution of unrighteous men. We should take these trials patiently. We must realize that a Christian may be subjected to violence, but should not cause it.
A Christian should look forward to the JOY that is set before him in God’s soon-coming Kingdom. Violence or severe trials may then seem so insignificant by comparison, that they can be endured.
Vengeance Belongs to God
The Bible states that sin is the transgression of God’s law, I John 3:4, and a Christian should quit sinning. One point of God’s law states “Thou shalt not kill,” James 2:8-11. The correct meaning of this word “kill” is murder. In other words, the Christian is to do no murder. That includes murder in war!
Instead of harming others, it is better for us to be defrauded or harmed, I Corinthians 6:1-7.
Before learning that God condemns our committing violence, the Apostle Peter resorted to physical violence trying to protect Jesus. He cut off the ear of the High Priest’s servant. Afterward we read: “Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword,” Matthew 26:52. There should be no doubt from this text. Unless you want to perish by the sword (including war) do not take up the sword!
Christians are forbidden to take vengeance on others. God is our Avenger. He will avenge His own elect, Luke 18:7. That prohibits our participation in the vengeful wars of man. “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good,” Romans 12:19-21. It is not for us to take things in our own hands. God will take care of our problems for us. He will fight our battles for us. We should show kindness and good to those who hate us.
Why Did Peter Take a Sword?
Some ask, “Why did Christ instruct His disciples to buy swords if He did not believe in warfare?”
Just before His crucifixion, Christ instructed His disciples to take swords with them, Luke 22:36-38.
What was the reason Jesus Christ instructed His disciples to take a sword? Was He going to use force to protect Himself? Does this particular scripture contradict all of the other scriptures that we have already seen, which show that God forbids us to fight?
Christ answers the question for us in Luke 22:37. “For, I tell you, that which was written must be completed in Me: ‘That He was also ranked among the outlaws;’ for indeed, what has been written about Me will have fulfillment” (Fenton Translation).
The ONLY reason Christ instructed His disciples to take swords was that this SCRIPTURE might be fulfilled — that the Jews might have the excuse to reckon Jesus as an outlaw. Christ was not here sanctioning the use of such weapons to injure others. In fact, when Peter did use the sword, Christ immediately rebuked him for it and healed the man who had been injured, verse 51.
Christ did not want those swords to take life, “For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them,” Luke 9:56.
Did Christ Whip the Money-Changers?
Another question that is frequently asked is this: “Didn’t Christ whip the money-changers out of the temple?”
Nowhere in the scriptures does it say that Jesus whipped anyone! When He drove the money-changers out of the temple He did not so much as lay hands on anyone, or do any physical violence in any manner whatsoever. The common idea that He lashed and whipped them is completely false.
Read the account in your own Bible, Matthew 21:12-13. The scripture states that He “cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the money-changers.” It does not say He whipped or beat them! It does not say how He put them out. He simply overturned their tables, not laying a hand on them, and then commanded them to leave, and they left because of the authority with which He spoke. In the language of the Bible, that is CASTING them out. He cast them out by an authoritative command of His voice.
This same event is also recorded in Mark 11:15-17. In this place the Fenton Translation makes it more clear HOW He cast them out. It says, “Then Jesus . . . SENT OUT of the temple all the buyers and sellers.” And in Mark 11:15, “Jesus . . . began to EXPEL the buyers and sellers.”
When a child is expelled from school we do not assume he was beaten, whipped, and physically driven out of the building. Jesus explained the temple was God’s house, a house of prayer. The Bible teaches that the elders are to rule the house of God, so far as order, reverence, etc., are concerned. What He did was scriptural in putting out those who were profaning the temple.
It was to drive the sheep and the oxen out of the temple, John 2:15, that Jesus made a scourge of small cords.
Can a Christian Use Force?
This brings up a question that is very often asked of those who will not fight in war. That is, do you believe in the use of force?
Just what is the Bible answer to this question? For that matter, just what is meant by the question? It takes force to do almost anything. It takes force to arise from bed, to walk, to write a letter, or even to eat.
The question usually is meant to determine how far a person would go in the use of force to restrain another from doing harm.
In the previous scriptures we saw where Christ used force to drive the animals out of the temple. Probably the money-changers thought He was going to use the same force on them; however, He did not use force against them.
On one occasion, as noted in Chapter 2 of this article, Jesus did not use force and avoided being killed by escaping from those who were trying to harm Him. Revelation 12 shows that the Church of God had to flee during the Middle Ages to escape persecution and almost certain death. Some in the Church will again have to flee before Christ’s returns, to a place of refuge, or be killed.
From these examples it is plain that the best thing to do is to flee from such a situation if possible; however, there may be times when this will not be possible.
In order to save a loved one, it is sometimes necessary to give, or at least offer our own lives instead. Christ gave His life for the Church, who is His affianced bride. A true Christian should be willing to do the same for his wife or a spiritual brother, if that is necessary.
“Hereby perceive we the love of God, because He laid down His life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren,” I John 3:16.
This does not mean that we should meddle in the affairs of others or their fights. The Bible principle is to avoid such entanglements.
“He who meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears,” Proverbs 26:17.
This ought to warn us against being entangled in wars between the nations of this world, since the quarrels between nations are not our quarrels. If we enter into them, we will suffer the consequences
A physical attack against one of God’s true children is a rare thing, however it has happened, and will increasingly happen during the time of trouble ahead. It is the hypothetical case, or the situation that seldom happens that is presented to a Christian trying to take his stand against war. He is questioned about the extreme case so that it can be determined how far he will use force, and still be within the teachings of his religion.
Let us then use the extreme example of physical attack on a Christian. What should the Christian do? Should he do nothing? Should he take the punishment and possible death without doing anything?
The first thing a Christian should do is to pray! The Bible instructs us to pray for our persecutors, Matthew 5:44. In that prayer, which would be a very urgent one, we should ask God for His protection, help, and guidance, as well as to influence the attacker to leave. It is not necessary to kneel to pray in case of such an emergency. Our daily prayers should be before God while kneeling; however, we should be so close to God at all times, that we are in contact with him, even at a fraction of a second’s notice.
We should also try to reason with such a person to keep him from doing such a terrible wrong.
Let us assume that it is now impossible to flee, and that the Christian and his wife are being attacked in their own home. One of the two should try and flee to get help, or to notify the police, since that is the purpose of the higher powers as we already saw in Romans 13:4.
If the attacker is trying to harm the wife, the man should try and come between them to save her, so she can flee.
Christians must be willing literally to turn the other cheek in a time like this, and should not render evil for evil, I Thessalonians 5:15.
But out of love it is not wrong to use temporary restraining force to hold such a person (if you are able to do so) until help from the police comes. This force should in no way harm the individual. It should in no way be from a motive of hate or anger, but in love, doing unto him, as you would want done to you if you were so insane and about to commit murder or severe injury to someone. This use of force might be termed restraining force, and not malicious force that would harm, injure, or hurt the other person. If it would be impossible to restrain such a person a Christian can only submit himself to injury and hurt, and even possible death. Realize though, God is our Father and He is not willing for us to have to suffer such things unless necessary for His sake, for the sake of the Gospel of Christ, or for our own necessary lessons.
Essentially then, our use of restraining force would only be used in an unusual and extreme case, and then only out of love to restrain the person from injuring or taking life.
What About Servicemen?
So far most of our scriptures have referred to a person not in military service. Many people in military service have come to a knowledge of God’s truths and are perplexed by this question. They do not know what to do. They want to obey God in all things, and it is only a matter of learning what God commands them to do.
In the time of John the Baptist, soldiers came to him and asked him what to do. “And the soldiers likewise demanded of Him, saying, what shall we do? And He said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages,” Luke 3:14. A person who is in the military service, and then becomes a true Christian, is not to harm or do violence to anyone. The meaning of the original Greek word here translated “violence” means “to intimidate.” That would include violence or any action where advantage is taken over any other person. A Christian should not continue, under any circumstances, to have an active part in killing or harming others.
He should serve his superiors to the very best of his ability according to the instruction in Ephesians 6:5-8 and Titus 2:9-14. Neither should he disobey God’s commandments in any way. If his superiors demand that he disobey God, he must obey God and submit to whatever penalty is imposed.
Other examples of soldiers are those of Cornelius found in Acts 10, and the centurion who met Christ (recorded in Matthew 8). Did God expect these men to continue on in their military careers?
Since the Bible does not give us everything about one subject in one place, we must look elsewhere in the Bible to find out what a person should do in such circumstances. This is very plainly explained by the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians. “Were you a slave when called? Never mind. But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity,” I Corinthians 7:21, RSV.
A man in military service is in the same status as a slave. He is not free to decide his life entirely for himself. He has sold himself as a slave to the military for the term of his enlistment. A serviceman is governed by different laws than civilians, has few rights, and comes entirely under the jurisdiction of military authorities. He is the slave of the military. He cannot remove himself from under that authority, unless the military authorities release him. Until his enlistment expires, and he is discharged, he is not a free man.
Since we have this instruction by the Apostle Paul, a serviceman who comes to the knowledge of the truth should try to gain his freedom.
If a person is a free man, in the sense that he is not in military service, he is forbidden to become a slave of the military by entering service. “You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men,” verse 23. This one verse alone, coupled with the fact that a soldier is not a free man, prohibits a Christian from entering into military service in any capacity, combatant or noncombatant!
Is Noncombatant Service Wrong?
Some ask if it is right for a Christian to enter a war-making organization in a noncombatant capacity. A noncombatant status is that of a serviceman who will not engage in the actual shooting or killing. Such a person may be in the medical corps and may help the wounded, but he does not carry or use weapons. Or, he may work behind the lines in support work.
Men drafted to this particular capacity are selected from the group who are classified I-A-O by the United States Selective Service System.
Some people reason that such a position is not wrong since it does not require active participation in killing others.
The Bible states that if a person brings a different doctrine than the true doctrine of Christ we should not receive him into our house. Nor should we bid him “Godspeed.” Otherwise, we become a partaker of his evil deeds, II John 10-11. A person who participates in a military organization, or who produces weapons for the military, becomes a partaker of the evil deeds of men and machines that take life.
Paul told Timothy that he should not be a partaker of other men’s sins, but should keep himself pure, I Timothy 5:22. A person in service cannot keep himself pure, since he is a member of a killing organization. Participation either in a combatant or a noncombatant status is equally wrong in God’s sight. You make yourself the slave of the military, which you are forbidden to do, I Corinthians 7:23.
If a Christian is forced into military conscription, he cannot serve. He must obey God rather than man, and accept whatever penalty or imprisonment man might impose.
The Church Statement about Military Service
It has become necessary for the Church of God to have an official stand in the matter of military service. Article X, Section 2, of the Constitution and By-Laws of the Radio Church of God states: “It is the conviction and firm belief of this Church and its membership that Christian disciples of Christ are forbidden by Him and the commandments of God to kill, or in any manner directly or indirectly to take human life; by whatsoever means; we believe that bearing arms is directly contrary to this fundamental doctrine of our belief; we therefore conscientiously refuse to bear arms or to come under the military authority.” That is the true Bible teaching, and the teaching of God’s Church.
We as individuals are responsible to God for obeying what God commands. You should be totally sincere about your belief, know what you do believe, and be able to back up your belief with proof from your own life, and the scriptures.
What Can You Do?
If a person is already in military service, he may not know what to do in order to receive a discharge. Such an individual needs specialized help and instruction from counselors who are skilled in such advice. There are various organizations that give this kind of counsel, particularly the historic peace churches and various societies or organizations formed for the purpose of helping such men.
The Radio Church of God has counselors to help men who are sincere in their belief, and who are determined to obey God in this and all things. If you are in such a situation do not act hastily or unwisely without proper counsel.
It has been learned from practical experience that men who have taken a strong and persistent stand and who have purposed to obey God, have usually been able to receive discharges in due time from military service.
There are also provisions in Selective Service laws concerning men who are termed by the world conscientious objectors, or pacifists. The law recognizes such beliefs, but each registrant must prove satisfactorily to the Selective Service officials that he is sincere in his belief, and that he is in actuality a conscientious objector and not just a “draft dodger.”
For such men, who are “conscientious objectors,” the United States government has a special work program. A man who is eligible for service, and who is a conscientious objector, is assigned to special civilian work for a 24-month period. This work is for an approved agency or nonprofit organization. Such a firm is primarily engaged either in a charitable activity, conducted for the benefit of the general public, or in carrying out a program for the improvement of the public health or welfare.
Even though it is sometimes difficult to find suitable employment with such an organization, it is possible for a Christian to serve conscientiously under this program. A person in military service, a young man under selective service, or a young man approaching the age of registering for selective service should seek counsel. There are many important things that are not included in this work that such a person needs to know.
These things involve military and selective service law and procedure. They also involve other points of Bible doctrine not included in this work.
Prompt action is needed by such young men before they find themselves in very unfavorable situations from which they are unable to extricate themselves. Most of the problems are caused by men who have not had the proper knowledge soon enough, or they have not acted on that knowledge, or they were not sincere and steadfast in their belief.
We have now seen many of the teachings in the New Testament on the subject of fighting. The Old Testament also has a lot to say on this important subject. The next chapter will give the surprising answers to many questions you may have concerning the teachings and practices of the nation of Israel before Christ came to this earth to bring the true Gospel.