Warfare: Should believers be pacifists?
Exactly what do we mean by pacifism? The Oxford American English Dictionary says it’s “the belief that any violence, including war, is unjustifiable under any circumstances, and that all disputes should be settled by peaceful means.” Its sub-definition is “the refusal to participate in war or military service because of such a belief.” How are we as believers to function with this? In my lifetime there has certainly been a lot of controversy about it. But what does the Bible tell us about it? It is the point of view provided there that must always be ours.
The Bible clearly states that we are to work at living peaceably.
18 If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. [Emphasis added]
We are commanded to love our neighbor. We should treat people the way we want to be treated.
14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. [Emphasis added]
Our habit in dealing with others is to always be in the realm of good, especially in our relations with fellow believers.
10 As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith. [Emphasis added]
Disputes between us and others should be settled promptly by peaceful means. However, that is not always possible due to the problem of man’s sinfulness. Because of this, sometimes conflict is inevitable. Pacifism proves to be of no use when a party is determined to cause harm and even death. The Bible warns us about this.
1 From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? [Emphasis added]
This is telling us that sometimes conflict and even warfare is impossible to avoid. This passage is also telling us that people, not weaponry, create warfare. It is man’s sinfulness that causes these conflicts. In fact, on the national level the Bible tells us that there will be warfare all the way to the time of the Second Coming of Christ and later.
6 And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.
7 For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: [Emphasis added]
Even after a thousand-year period of peace after Christ’s return to the Earth, there is a big but short war that takes place when Satan is released for a time to lead it. It is only then that Jesus Christ will bring an end to warfare, not man.
7 And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison,
8 And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog, and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea.
9 And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them.
10 And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever. [Emphasis added]
We find in the Bible that God created government and authorized the establishment of a military with guarded borders to protect the life and property of innocent citizenry. It becomes obvious that this will continue to be necessary.
26 And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; [Emphasis added]
The apostle Paul speaks of the authority of government to use instruments of warfare to guard and insure peace. In this next passage, we see that good government serves to provide and maintain peace. It also tells us of its function to punish those who would violate the peace.
4 For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. [Emphasis added]
These “ministers” have been put in place to guarantee the maintenance of peace. The sword is mentioned because it represented capital punishment in the Roman world of that day. If freedom is to be upheld, there must be sound laws and their strict enforcement, even capital punishment, to insure life and liberty. A part of this freedom is to be what has been called, “freedom of religion.” If that freedom is removed, there’s nothing in the Bible that prohibits working with that government to do whatever is necessary to restore that freedom or, if necessary, to move to another nation that provides it. This has been one of the ongoing reasons so many foreign people have wanted to move to America.
The mention of the use of “the sword” in this passage [Romans 13:4] is clearly referring to the use of force to establish and to preserve freedom. This is also a term that speaks of military power. Without a strong and well-established military organization, a country is subject to the dictates of any adversary. It is God who has instituted this as a means of deterring the evil pursuits of other nations. The power of Satan in such endeavors is in this way limited. Evil only reigns when a nation allows it. Government has been God’s established means of limiting Satan’s policy of evil both domestically and nationally. Good governments work to protect the law-abiding inhabitants and punish those who break the law. This means there will be times when war is necessary.
8 A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace. [Emphasis added]
In the system of law God gave to Moses, He provided a means of protecting people and their personal property.
2 If a thief be found breaking up [breaking and entering], and be smitten that he die, there shall no blood be shed for him. [Emphasis added]
In other words, if a thief is killed by someone protecting their property from destruction or theft, the one doing the killing is not to be charged for it. Although we are not under the Mosaic Law today, it does provide an example of the kind of just laws every nation should establish to protect its citizenry. The same thing is true on the national level. A nation is well within its rights to protect its sovereignty and its property by whatever means are necessary. The establishment of a well-trained and equipped military organization is not only permissible, but necessary. We see an example of this in Israel’s history when Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem when he worked to restore the nation. As they worked to do that, they discovered that there were other nations that were planning to attack in order to stop them. Nehemiah then made preparation both spiritually and materially.
13 Therefore set I in the lower places behind the wall, and on the higher places, I even set the people after their families with their swords, their spears, and their bows.
14 And I looked, and rose up, and said unto the nobles, and to the rulers, and to the rest of the people, Be not ye afraid of them: remember the Lord, which is great and terrible, and fight for your brethren, your sons, and your daughters, your wives, and your houses.
We find that when they did these things their enemies backed down and decided not to attack. Such actions provide peace through strength, both spiritually and materially.
15 And it came to pass, when our enemies heard that it was known unto us, and God had brought their counsel to nought, that we returned all of us to the wall [the rebuilding work], every one unto his work.
They then established a national guard to always be in place for their security.
16 And it came to pass from that time forth, that the half of my servants wrought in the work, and the other half of them held both the spears, the shields, and the bows, and the habergeons [breastplates]; and the rulers were behind all the house of Judah.
We also find here the need and justification for an armed citizenry.
17 They which builded on the wall, and they that bare burdens, with those that laded, every one with one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other hand held a weapon.
18 For the builders, every one had his sword girded by his side, and so builded. And he that sounded the trumpet [a warning system] was by me. [Emphasis added]
Therefore, there’s nothing sinful committed by those who function as a part of that organization. As we’ve now seen in the history of Israel, we can learn a lot about God’s attitude about warfare and bearing arms. Notice what God told the people of Israel through Moses. Here we find that war is not only permissible but encouraged by God in certain instances.
1 Blessed be the Lord my strength which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight: [Emphasis added]
There were also times when the Lord fought for them. Even today it is ultimately God who provides the victory for His people.
13 And Moses said unto the people, Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will shew to you to day: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to day, ye shall see them again no more for ever.
14 The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace. [Emphasis added]
Killing in such instances is not murder, but a lawful responsibility that’s to be done to the best of one’s ability.
Then in the next chapter of Exodus there are more such statements.
3 The Lord is a man of war: the Lord is his name.
6 Thy right hand, O Lord, is become glorious in power: thy right hand, O Lord, hath dashed in pieces the enemy. [Emphasis added]
All these passages show that it is God who always ultimately provides a victory. One thing we must always realize is that the nature of God never changes. He can and has at times changed His policies, but He Himself never changes.
8 Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever. [Emphasis added]
Some may argue that His policies for us today on this have changed and that we’re no longer to engage in such things as warfare. People will even quote Scripture for you about it.
28 Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.
29 And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloak forbid not to take thy coat also.
30 Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again. [Emphasis added]
At that time all this was God’s policy for His people who were being offered a kingdom on Earth. In that kingdom there would have been perfect peace with no need for the arms of warfare. But Christ their King, their Messiah, was rejected by Israel. Things then changed and the long-promised kingdom has been put off to a future day. Meanwhile God has dispensed grace. We now live in a time that is often spoken of as the Dispensation of the Grace of God. How long it will last, we don’t know. It could end at any moment with what is called the Rapture of the Church. As believers, we will be suddenly taken up to Heaven and transformed to have resurrection bodies. Immediately after that there will be on Earth seven years called the Time of Tribulation. That period of suffering ends with the personal return of Jesus Christ to establish His promised Kingdom on Earth. Meanwhile there will continue to be warfare and the need for armaments for protection.
Even during our Lord’s earthly ministry He made an interesting appeal that should be honored by people today.
36 Then said he [Jesus Christ] unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one. [Emphasis added]
The command to buy some personal means of protection would be excellent advice for anyone today. On both the personal level and the national level, until Christ returns personally to this earth, there will be a need of arms for protection.
We find a very interesting passage in the writings of John that every pacifist should be shown.
13 And the Jews’ passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
14 And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting:
15 And when he had made a scourge [a whip] of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables;
16 And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise. [Emphasis added]
What a marvelous example He set as a member of the citizenry of Israel with no pacifism displayed here at all!
No one ever has justification for believing that Christ promotes pacifism. Such is NEVER the case! His goal is a true peace, one in which He will someday reign. That time WILL finally come when that will be established by Him, but not until then. Let us never think that a lasting peace will ever be established by sinful man, bringing about a time when there will no longer be a need for armaments both personally and nationally.