The war on...
(Are wars ever right?)

Maybe I'm only one of a few that question everything (but I really don't think so... at least I hope not!). Over the years I've had to, because I grew up being taught traditions; some good, some bad. Since I believe that the Bible, alone, is the absolute standard, questioning traditional stands on everything is necessary. The real question has to be, regardless of traditions and historical practice, "what is right by the Bible?"

A while back a teen challenged me with the question of wars. "I mean, if Jesus said to 'love your enemy' and 'turn the other cheek', how can anyone be right in going to war?" Well, I could have responded to that by pointing out the honor rolls hanging in many churches detailing all those who have fought and died for their country. Or reciting the oft quoted, "don't you feel grateful that they died to give you freedom?" But as I thought about it for a moment, many questions came to my mind. For example, "just because a church has promoted it, or honored it, for years... does it make it right?" and "Does the end result, 'freedom,' justify the means?" I chose to answer the teen with something that should be said perhaps a bit more often... "I don't know, but I'm willing to search out a Biblical answer."

As an avid student of history, I was also aware that some branches of Christianity [for example the Anabaptists and their successors, the Mennonites] have always held that fighting wars was not Christian. Obviously, both those who are for and those who are against cannot be right. Both sides quote Scriptures, so either the Bible contradicts itself or there is higher Biblical unity that reconciles these seemingly contradictory teachings. As a firm believer that the Bible was given without error and contradictions – with only our understanding lacking – I set out to search for that higher unity. The resultant search took longer than I expected, yet worth every minute as I can now clearly state a Biblical position on this subject.

What is war?

One dictionary definition simply states that war is "any act or state of hostility; enmity; also, a contest or conflict." Another claims it to be "in any state of active opposition." These days we hear of wars between nations, civil wars within nations, a war on terrorism, wars of drugs, street wars [gangs], and even police forces "fighting the war on crime." By dictionary definition, all of these can be legitimately called wars. But are they all legitimate [or just] wars?

Is any war right?

The big picture for that question comes right out of the Bible...

Revelation 12:7-9 "And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down-that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. (NIV)

God was willing to fight a war — that alone proves that some war is right. Notice that the text says that God's forces fought against the Devil and his forces, and they fought back. If God was unwilling to send his forces to war it would have allowed the arrogant forces of darkness to stay put and evil to triumph. War was necessary to defend the Truth [the King] and to reestablish order. While this establishes the need and correctness of spiritual war, it still leaves the question of earthly wars.

Many earthly wars.

God warned us in the Bible that the end times [which began after Jesus ascended. See Acts 2:14-17] that there would be lots of earthly wars.

Mark 13:7-8 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains. (NIV)

The very reason we need to consider the question at hand is because of the abundant fulfillment of this prophecy.

What causes war?

There are two sides to every war [at least!]. The aggressor wants something that is not rightfully theirs (even though they may believe it to be so). The other side usually is defending itself. Occasionally both sides are aggressors, both wanting something that the other has (both wrongly believing they have claim to it).

The devil in wanting to be like God (Isaiah 14:14) claimed something that was not rightfully his own and God in fighting against him defended His just claim of authority.

Simply put, earthly or heavenly, the aggressor (or initiator) is covetous.

Are you fighting a covetous war?

Exodus 20:17 "You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor." (NIV)

Any war that is for covetous reasons is wrong. This is non-negotiable, even as God cannot change and his ten-commandments are a reflection of His holiness. If you are going to war to take something that is not rightfully yours, it is a war with covetous evil intent. The danger here is that it's easy to become self-deluded into believing [justifying] that something should be yours. The test has to remain Biblical, not subjective.

The results of all these covetous wars, on a large or a small scale, are reflected in both Old and New Testament passages...

James 4:1-2 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. (NIV)

Psalms 10:2-3 In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak, who are caught in the schemes he devises. He boasts of the cravings of his heart; he blesses the greedy and reviles the LORD. (NIV)

Isn't all killing wrong?

The question of whether all killing is wrong lies at the heart of much opposition to all war.

Exodus 20:13 "You shall not murder." (NIV)

The commandment concerning killing has to be seen in light of all Scriptures. Clearly God commanded many other times when someone was to be killed. God, himself, passed judgment on many nations requiring that they be exterminated for their sin [rebellion] against Him [the only true Authority]. Even as God fought against the devil's rebellion, He had every just reason to fight against earthly rebellion [and to use whatever means He desired to carry it out]. God has the right to kill any one of us for our rebellion (Romans 3:23). In Old Testament times, He used His [divinely directed] people to carry out much of His sentence of death. Without getting far into another related area, God also established [even before and apart from the law] that capital punishment was mandated for murder. The person(s) carrying out the capital punishment are free from guilt of murder because it is an authority established by God...

Genesis 9:6 Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man. (NIV)

Functionally, there is lawful killing and unlawful killing. If God has decreed the killing, it is lawful. If it is by the [fallen] will of man out of anger, greed, or malice, it is unlawful killing. Accidental killing has always fit under the category of lawful (not worthy of punishment) as God alone is in control "accidental" events.

The question of who gets to administer lawful killing becomes an important one. If every individual can claim authority to do so, anarchy would prevail. In the Old Testament, this authority was only granted through His servants (prophets) and administered by the leadership of His people. Simply put, the government of the people was the only authority authorized to carry out justice. When God allowed an earthly king to be over His people, He made that king responsible to Himself for carrying out justice.

Earthly Authority.

God still has instituted earthly authorities to carry out His will. Parents and church elders are two that come quickly to mind. Yet, in a more universal way, governments are one of them...

Romans 13:1-5 Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4 For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. (NIV)

1 Peter 2:13-17 Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. 16 Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. 17 Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king. (NIV)

We are commanded to obey governing authorities in everything except to sin [or rebellion] against God and disobey His commands (See Acts 4:19). Actually, to rebel against governing authorities in any lawful matter is to sin against God.

Notice that God has given authority to governments, as characterized by a "sword" (Romans 13:4), to enforce or carry out at peril of death their office [or administration of authority]. Yet, the only ones that should fear lawful government are evildoers.

Government's Authority

Governments are given authority by God [and are accountable to Him] for the following purposes...

  1. To provide justice, which is to punish evildoers. (See again, Romans 13:4 and 1 Peter 2:14)

  2. To establish order and keep the peace. [1 Timothy 2:1-2 I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone- 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. (NIV)]

  3. To rescue those who are incapable of defending or helping themselves. (Perhaps this could be part of #1, as this too is administering justice). [Proverbs 24:11-12a Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. If you say, "But we knew nothing about this," does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? (NIV). See Isaiah 58:6 and Psalms 82 as well]

A government's failure to uphold any area of this does not become automatic grounds to rebel against the complete authority of that government. Even wherein a government commands you to break one of God's commands, while you are justified in following God's higher command in that area, you are still required to obey the governing authority in all other lawful areas.

Good wars.

When an individual, group, or organization, attempts to administer areas of justice ordained for governments you have anarchy. Governments are right in fighting against [waging war against] any that would usurp their authority.

  • The war on crime is just [crime is against order and justice].

  • The war on drugs is just [drugs hurt people, destroy order, pervert justice].

If a law enforcement officer lawfully kills someone in carrying out the government's duties, they are within God-ordained authority.

  • Street wars between gangs, crime syndicates, etc., are unlawful [destroying order].

  • Self appointed people carrying out executions of wrong doers [i.e. war on abortion doctors] are unlawful.

  • A church, denomination, or religious group, fighting against another opposing body [usurping the authority of government].

All participants in these such "wars" are outside of governmental authority and are responsible to true governments for any murders they commit.

  • A governing authority defending itself from external or internal threat is lawful [working to maintain peace and order].

All persons working in national defense are justified in carrying out their God ordained administration of governmental justice – even to the point of killing. Bringing terrorists, nationally or internationally, to justice would fit within this. Yet with warning that a government is accountable to God for wrong doings that it commits while attempting to administer justice [many wrongs do not make a right and ends don't justify the means].

Personal wars.

We as believers are personally commanded to "love our enemies (Matthew 5:44)" and to "turn the other cheek." This in no way is opposed to us carrying out the administration of justice by God ordained authorities [both in and out of the church]. Even as we are commanded to personally not kill, there are times when God ordained authority is permitted [even commanded] to carry it out. God's Word is never in contradiction, it must be seen as a whole. To take any small piece out of the context of the whole can establish doctrine that is dangerous.

As for the church, and believers personally, the only war we are waging is to be spiritual. Our battle is against sin and the flesh. Our methods are not with physical means, as do governmental authorities, but with spiritual means. Our battle is far greater and of eternal consequences.

2 Corinthians 10:1-6 By the meekness and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you-I, Paul, who am "timid" when face to face with you, but "bold" when away! 2 I beg you that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expect to be toward some people who think that we live by the standards of this world. 3 For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 6 And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete. (NIV)

1 Peter 2:11 Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. (NIV)