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War ...continued


Whatever the reasons for war, and however humanely it might be conducted, seeing that it involves the deaths of many people, the big question is "Can it ever be justified"? In view of the teachings of Jesus, Christians enter the debate very seriously, because there is a factor that the secular world does not take into account. Seeing that the Bible teaches that there is a life to follow this one(6) can a Christian hurry a fellow human being into eternity for which they may not be prepared?

Pacifists of course are not all Christians and may be anti-war for other reasons, but all pacifists could rightly state that if everyone took their view then there would be no wars! This could be regarded as too simplistic with such a complex problem, but they have a point.

For the first three centuries of Christianity, pacifism was the prevailing attitude. Origen, a Christian theologian, (186-253) wrote that "We no longer take the sword against any nation, nor do we learn anymore to make war, having become sons of peace for the sake of Jesus Christ Who is our Commander".

Tertullian, known as the Father of Latin theology, (160- ) commented on the incident in the New Testament(7) when the apostle Peter severed the ear of the High Priest's servant. Jesus graciously restored the ear and told Peter to put up his sword, and in disarming Peter said Tertullian, "Christ ungirt every soldier".

Hippolytus, a 2nd century theological writer, in his The Apostolic Tradition, instructed that "anyone who is a Christian is forbidden to join the army. Anyone who is in the army at the time of his conversion to Christ, should remain there, but not undertake any combatant duties. If a Christian is an officer he should resign from the army".

In today's Churches there are denominations who have included a statement concerning their attitude to war in their Constitution. The Quakers, or Society of Friends have always taken a pacifist stand since their beginnings under George Fox in the 17th century, but because of their constructive help in times of war with medical corps etc. they are well respected.

Also, the Assemblies of God Churches of Great Britain and Ireland (with which denomination the present writer holds ministerial credentials) have incorporated the following statement in their Constitution (section 22:1). It reads, "Inasmuch as the Lord Jesus Christ commanded us to love our enemies, we who are followers of the Prince of peace cannot participate in war and bloodshed, but desire to render unswerving loyalty to the Government as far as morally possible".

By the time Augustine came on to the scene in the 4th century, known as the Father of the western Church other attitudes to war emerged. Calvin of the Reformation in the 16th century took a similar view. They believed that if necessary force should be used to maintain law and order.

It seems that two streams of thought emerged. The pacifists were concentrating on the teaching of Jesus as in the Gospel of Matthew(8). while Augustine, Calvin and like-minded people were quoting from Romans(9) where the powers-that-be (the Government) have authority to execute wrath on the evil doer.

The two attitudes can be partly reconciled by heeding Martin Luther's idea about the two kingdoms. The Kingdom of heaven which comprises the Christian believers, and to whom Jesus was addressing, and the Kingdom of the world (secular society) which does not live by Christian principles to whom the Roman scripture refers. Jesus was practical enough to realise this if only by using a military example in His teaching of preparedness in the Gospel of Luke(10).

Index to the Topic
War: killing and murder - a clarification
Attitudes to War
The Pacifist position
Personal responses to War
An overview of conscientious objection. 

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