One of the main arguments I encounter regularly when chatting with friends and colleagues is that religion is bad because it produces violence and war. Of course religion is bad because God didn’t create us to practice religion. He created us to have a relationship with Him through His Son Jesus Christ—that is the purpose of every man and woman on this earth.
Religion is not necessarily equated with the Word of God; religion is often the word of man about the Word of God. Men have distorted the Word of God to foster and justify their actions and this includes war.
When the Iraq War started, there was a survey given in one of the best and most biblically faithful churches in America to see how many adults were in favor of the war. The Sunday school teacher took this survey and the vote was approximately seventeen to three, with one abstention. One gentleman, his wife, and one other person were opposed to the war.
Though this is a small sample for a survey, it gives an estimation of how strongly Christians have been in support of war. Had the numbers been reversed, with Bible-believing Christians as a whole being strongly opposed to the Iraq intervention, there might never have been an attack on Iraq at all. What have been the consequences?
Innocent civilians killed and maimed especially the Arab children. Armed personal killed and wounded. Families destroyed. Billions of dollars wasted. Surveillance society predicted by George Orwell 1984 is now a reality.
Terrorism has multiplied. Christian brothers and sisters in many of these Middle Eastern countries have been persecuted, imprisoned, tortured, and killed by the puppet terrorists being put in power and supported by shadow governments.
We should not forget that it is now a verifiable fact that in many conflicts involving Muslims, the West’s intervention has led to the persecution of Christians, and in some cases, decimated the indigenous Christian population in an entire region.
Revivalist Leonard Ravenhill (1907–1994), best known for challenging the modern church through his books on revival, said:
Would we send our daughters off to have sex if it would benefit our country? Yet, we send our sons off to kill when we think it would benefit our country! I am not angered that the moral majority boys campaign against abortion. I am angry when the same men who say, “Save our children” bellow “Build more and bigger bombers.” That’s right! Blast the children in other nations into eternity, or limbless misery as they lay crippled from “our” bombers! This does not jell.
Author Laurence Vance, in his book Christianity and War and Other Essays Against the Warfare State, states, “Conservatives who decry the welfare state while supporting the warfare state are terribly inconsistent. The two are inseparable.
The ongoing undeclared war in Iraq (or Afghanistan, for that matter) is supported by apologists for what World War II general, and later president, Dwight Eisenhower, called the “military-industrial complex” is no surprise. What is surprising, however, is the degree of Christian enthusiasm for war.
Laurence quotes Veritatis Amans in his article “Can War, Under Any Circumstance, Be Justified on the Principles of the Christian Religion,” and another anonymous Baptist preacher’s article entitled “Wickedness of War.” He says that Veritatis Amans approached the subject from the standpoint of war being justified only in cases of self-defense. But both articles look to the New Testament as their final authority. Amans wrote:
War has ever been the scourge of the human race. The human of the past is little else than a chronicle of deadly feuds, irreconcilable hate, and exterminating warfare. The extension of empire, the love of glory, and thirst for fame, have been more fatal to men than famine or pestilence, or the fiercest elements of nature. And what is more sad and painful, many of the wars whose desolating surges have deluged the earth, have been carried on in the name and under the sanction of those who profess the name of Christ…….But under what circumstances is war truly defensive? We reply, when its object is to repel an invasion; when there is no alternative but to submit to bondage and death, or resist.
The Baptist preacher, writing in an 1838 issue of The Christian Review, continues:
War “contradicts the genius and intention of Christianity,” “sets at nought the example of Jesus” and “is inconsistent not only with the general structure and nature of Christianity and the example of Jesus, but it violates all the express precepts of the New Testament.” Christianity requires us to seek to amend the condition of man. But war cannot do this. The world is no better for all the wars of five thousand years. Christianity, if it prevailed, would make the earth a paradise. War, where it prevails, makes it a slaughter-house, a den of thieves, a brothel, a hell. Christianity cancels the laws of retaliation. War is based upon that very principle….
Christianity is the remedy for all human woes. War produces every woe known to man. The causes of war, as well as war itself, are contrary to the gospel. It originates in the worst passions and worst aims. We may always trace it to the thirst of revenge, the acquisition of territory, the monopoly of commerce, the quarrels of kings, the intrigues of ministers, the coercion of religious opinion, the acquisition of disputed crowns, or some other source, equally culpable; but never has any war, devised by man, been founded on holy tempers and Christian principles. It should be remembered, that in no case, even under the Old Testament, was war appointed to decide doubtful questions, or to settle quarrels, but to inflict national punishment. They were intended, as are pestilence and famine, to chastise nations guilty of provoking God. Such is never the pretext of modern war; and if it were, it would require divine authority, which, as has been said, would induce even members of the Peace Society to fight.
Biblical Perspective on War
Any Biblical discussion about wars without reference to those in the Old Testament would be incomplete. Christians have used accounts such as the invasion of Jericho described in the Book of Joshua to invade other nations but God prescribes war according to only strict rules and instructions. The wars of Israel were only “holy wars” in history, for they were the wars of God against the world of idols. (See Numbers 1:1-3; Exodus 22:2; Nehemiah 4:9–11).
For instance, Israel did not fight Edom, the offspring of Jacob’s brother Esau, because of the Lord’s warning that was later conveyed in definite instructions in Deuteronomy 23:7:“You shall not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother. You shall not abhor an Egyptian, because you were an alien in his land.”
The New Testament
In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught us to love our enemies. He said this not only of our enemies, but of our brethren too. Jesus who commanded to love our enemies lived under a very cruel political atmosphere. Herod tried to kill Him by massacring all new-born babies.
When John the Baptist challenged Herod to admit his sin of marrying his own sister-in-law, he was imprisoned. As John sat in prison, he began having some doubts about whether Jesus was the Messiah, and if He was the Messiah, then why was John in prison when he could have been making disciples.
When John the Baptist was beheaded in prison….the disciples came and took the body and buried it, and went and told Jesus. How did Jesus respond? The Bible tells us: “As soon as Jesus heard the news; he left in a boat to a remote area to be alone. He never dwelt on His grief or the magnitude of Herod’s crime. (See Matthew 14: 6-13)
Was Jesus tempted with the option of misusing His power to save His people? Yes He was tempted. (See Luke 4:6-7) The Bible says and when the devil had ended every (the complete cycle of] temptation, he temporarily left Him that is, stood off from Him until another more opportune and favourable time. (Luke 4:13)
Indeed the devil never gave up in tempting Jesus to fulfill the will of God in another way and thereby save Himself and others. Neither will he give up on us. On one occasion the people wanted to force Him to be crowned as their King.
The apostle John records that when the people saw the miracle that Jesus had performed of feeding 5000 of them, they began saying, surely and beyond a doubt this is the Prophet Who is to come into the world! Then Jesus, knowing that they meant to come and seize Him that they might make Him king, withdrew again to the hillside by Himself alone. (See John 6:1-15)
When Jesus sent messengers on ahead into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. And when His disciples James and John observed this, they said, Lord, do You wish us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, even as Elijah did?
But He turned and rebuked and severely censured them. He said, You do not know of what sort of spirit you are, For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them from the penalty of eternal death. And they journeyed on to another village. (Luke 9:53-56)
According to Luke’s gospel, there arrived some people who informed Jesus that Pilate had murdered some people from Galilee as they were offering sacrifices at the Temple. These men had been executed by the order of the Roman governor, and their blood had been mingled on the temple floor with that of their sacrifices.
However instead of trying stir up the people in rebellion against the Romans, He instead warned them that unless they repented….”you will all likewise perish. Later, He called Peter Satan for trying to prevent Him going to the cross to die for the sins of the world, destroying Peter’s vision of an earthly kingdom which would destroy the cruel Romans.
Paul’s Epistle to the Romans
For other instructions regarding war, we must to go Paul’s epistle the Romans in chapter 13 which discusses the purposes of government and its relationship with citizens. According to God’s Word, governments should protect and defend the lives and property of the people under their jurisdiction. Since the fall of humanity, the state is to be the judge “that does not bear the sword in vain” (Romans 13:4).
It is God’s minister that takes vengeance (punishment, justice) to those who do wrong and to encourage those who do good service (see 2 Peter 2:13–14). The institution of the state, as God’s minister must therefore enforce the divine law as it pertains to civil life alone. The state punishes murder because it is a crime against humanity, not because they thought it was a good idea.
God has established numerous authorities for the proper ordering of society. In verse 1 of Romans 13 we are instructed to be subject “to the government authorities,” each of which are “established by God.” There are many authorities and we owe no single earthly authority our total allegiance.
When we look at verses 4–6, we find that the Holy Spirit is declaring through Paul on three separate occasions that those who are in civil government are “ministers of God.” Authority to govern is delegated by God; therefore, those who govern are obligated to govern justly, righteously and according to God’s laws, for they are ministers of God. Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. The Westminster Confession of Faith states that:
It is lawful for Christians to accept and execute the office of a magistrate, when called thereunto: in the managing whereof, as they ought especially to maintain piety, justice, and peace, according to the wholesome laws of each commonwealth; so, for that end, they may lawfully, now under the new testament, wage war, upon just and necessary occasion.
Samuel Rutherford, Scottish commissioner to the Westminster Assembly of 1643-48 was part of the team that composed this document. He understood that the authority of government does not derive from a monarchy, nor does it derive from the will of the people, as is in most Western nations.
He wrote that the authority of government derives from God and from His Law. Rutherford’s views and insights were extreme and dangerous in his day, and he was charged for high treason and later imprisoned for fomenting rebellion against the English monarch.
Rutherford believed that humanity or “we the people” cannot make a law that will bind the conscience of the people. God alone can make that type of law. Public opinion must be brought up to God’s law; it must never be lowered to suit the unpredictable human nature of mankind. The institution of the state, as God’s minister must therefore enforce the divine law as it pertains to civil life alone-and this includes war. According to Laurence Vance, quoting historian and economist Murray Rothbard:
A just war exists when a people tries to ward off the threat of coercive domination by another people, or to overthrow an already-existing domination. A war is unjust, on the other hand, when a people try to impose domination on another people, or try to retain an already existing coercive rule over them.
Therefore the state punishes murder because it is a crime against humanity, not because they thought it was a good idea. Law is a rule of civil conduct prescribed by the supreme in a state, obedience to which is enforced, if necessary, by the infliction of physical penalty for disobedience or the lack of obedience.
Where civil government functions best, it functions in line with the being and character of God, as expressed in His revealed Law and Word. When Paul wrote about “governments ordained by God” in his letter to the Romans, he meant that government should be committed to establishing a society that reflects the purposes and will of God, something that did not exist in his own day.
What God desires for His people is love and justice. Governments are good when they govern according to God laws of justice and love which reflects the self-sacrificing and self-denying example of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Can we find leaders that are just, righteous, and God-fearing in our generation? Second, what do we do when a corporate web and big power elites control the government and write the laws to gain political favour?
These global financiers or corporations prove they have no allegiance to any country when great profits are at stake. It’s the reason we have so many wars today. Cain’s sin of killing Abel has now reached its logical conclusion. We are prepared to destroy the whole world for our own selfish purposes. And it was C. S. Lewis who wrote:
What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that that they could ‘be like gods’—could set up on their own as if they had created themselves—be their own masters—invent some sort of happiness for themselves apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history—money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.
How should a Christian respond to this ongoing Warfare state? The answer is given by Paul in his letter to one of his disciples Titus:
Remind people to submit to the government and its officials, to obey them, to be ready to do any honourable kind of work, to slander no one, to avoid quarrelling, to be friendly, and to behave gently towards everyone. For at one time, we too were foolish and disobedient, deceived and enslaved by a variety of passions and pleasures.
We spent our lives in evil and envy; people hated us, and we hated each other. But when the kindness and love for mankind of God our Deliverer was revealed, he delivered us. It was not on the ground of any righteous deeds we had done, but on the ground of His own mercy. He did it by means of the mikveh of rebirth and the renewal brought about by the Ruach HaKodesh, (the Holy Spirit) whom He poured out on us generously through Yeshua (Jesus) the Messiah, our Deliverer.
He did it so that by his grace we might come to be considered righteous by God and become heirs, with the certain hope of eternal life. You can trust what I have just said, and I want you to speak with confidence about these things, so that those who have put their trust in God may apply themselves to doing good deeds. These are both good in themselves and valuable to the community. (Titus 3:1-8 Complete Jewish Bible)