The Appropriate Scriptural Response!

In recent days, I have become more and more perplexed by the recommendations of some (thankfully a small and somewhat influential group, though there are some voices of import among them), who advocate that a just, firm, and definitive response to acts of evil is itself evil and contrary the “commands of Jesus.”

While never justifying war for war’s sake, there is a breadth of Scriptural teaching that supports what Augustine called “a just war.”  Basically, Augustine believed that war was a justifiable action as a last resort, after peaceful options have been exhausted. “Love does not preclude a benevolent severity,” he wrote.

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Adding to the belief that there are definitely times when direct, coordinated, and destructive action is right, are the statements of Francis Schaeffer and C.S. Lewis.  Note the following:

“I am not a pacifist because pacifism in this fallen world in which we live means that we desert the people who need our greatest help.”  (“A Christian Manifesto” by Francis Schaeffer)

“Does loving your enemy mean not punishing him? No, for loving myself does not mean that I ought not to subject myself to punishment — even to death. If one had committed a murder; the right Christian thing to do would be to give yourself up to the police and be hanged. It is, therefore, in my opinion, perfectly right for a Christian judge to sentence a man to death or a  Christian soldier to kill an enemy.”  (“Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis)

In Acts 10, the sympathetic reference to the “devout and God-fearing” centurion Cornelius implies an acceptance of the worthiness of a military career.  As well, the great “faith” chapter of the Bible, Hebrews 11, contains many references to military men, all of whom are recognized as heroes of the faith.   Ephesians 6:10-17 and 2 Timothy 2:3-4, and other military allusions of the apostle Paul are the exact opposite of a pacifist orientation. The very fact that Jesus and Paul used illustrations of war and battle to convey spiritual lessons, more than imply an endorsement of appropriate military action.  In other words, for a spiritual concept (spiritual WARFARE) to be true, the earthly illustration used (physical military WARFARE) must also be true.  A spiritual truth cannot be legitimate, if the physical illustration used to support that spiritual truth is illegitimate.

Then, there is the oft committed action of confusing the Scriptural obligation of the individual with that of government.  Yes, the individual is to “turn the other cheek” (Matt. 5:39).  Absolutely, the individual is to follow the admonition to “render to no man evil for evil” (Romans 12:17).  And, we, as followers of Christ, are to “love our enemies” (Matt. 5:44).

But, the responsibility of civil government is vastly different. According to Romans 13, government has the Divine and direct responsibility of (1) praising good, and (2) punishing evil.  In fact, Romans 13:4, says that government justifiably “bears a sword.”  In order to comply with Matthew 22:21, “render to Caesar the things which are Caesar’s,” there are times when men/woman, even Christian men/women must go to war at the behest of their government.  To do so, even “killing” to protect, defend, or liberate, is NOT a violation of the 6th commandment.  The use of the word “kill” in Exodus 20:13, actually means “to do no murder.”  The execution of criminals for serious crimes and the taking of human lives in war were never regarded as murder in Old Testament times. Nor was killing in self defense punishable as a crime under Old Testament law.  Throughout Christian history, killing in war time has NOT been viewed as synonymous with murder, either.

To illustrate the crossroads of conflict on this issue, as well as the correct, and Biblical, response, I refer to one of America’s greatest military heroes–Sergeant York.  In 1941, on the eve of the United States’ entry into the WWII, the motion picture “Sergeant York” was released to world-wide critical acclaim. The film struck a patriotic chord with Americans, reassuring them that it was both right and honorable to serve their country during wartime.

Gary Cooper won the Oscar for Best Actor for his poignant portrayal of backwoods Tennessee farmer Alvin C. York, the highest-decorated American soldier of World War I.

In the Battle of the Argonne Forest on October 18, 1918, Corporal (later Sergeant) York almost singlehandedly killed 25 German soldiers, knocked out 35 machine guns that were pouring deadly fire upon his platoon and captured 132 prisoners.  York’s extraordinary exploits were all the more remarkable considering the fact that he had applied for conscientious objector status when drafted.

A wild, reckless, and hard-drinking young man before the war, York had found God shortly before the war and had begun to live his life according to his understanding of the Bible. Foremost among York’s concerns was the sixth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.” As his denomination did not specifically prohibit service in war, York’s application for conscientious objector status was denied.

During basic training, York struggled with the moral issue of killing human beings, debating religion and patriotic duty with his superior officers — and even refusing to shoot at targets in the form of human silhouettes.  Praying for God’s guidance, York ultimately decided to go overseas and fight alongside his battalion. He attributed his decision to Matthew 22:21: “Therefore render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.”  He felt that God was telling him that his duty to his fellow soldiers and his country was not incompatible with his duty to his Creator.

Following his heroic exploit in the Argonne, York told his superiors that he was as much against killing as ever, but that he had to kill “to save lives.”

For those who advocate a pacifist response to terrorism, foreign attack, or even the sinister acceptance of nefarious entities into our country, I would recommend a more thorough study and understanding of the whole of Scripture, not the mere cursory statement of Jesus’ words-and taken out of context.  These are serious times, that demand the application of God’s truth with respect to this vital issue.

One last admonition is in order.  A president’s primary responsibility, that which he swears to uphold in a sacrosanct way, is to “protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America.”  And, as Commander In Chief, he is to defend the nation “against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”  ANY candidate who will, by their repeated actions, show violent disregard for these sacred obligations, is wholly unfit to serve as President of the United States!

Dave Kistler
President, HOPE Ministries International/HOPE To The Hill
President, North Carolina Pastors Network (NCPN)
Co-host, Stand In The Gap Radio

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