Should a Christian fight or not?
Pacifism literally means peacemaking. ‘Blessed are the peace makers, for they will be called Sons of God’. Pacifism refuses to sanction wars or any participation in warfare, it says with Origen (an early church Father), that ‘we no longer take sword against a nation, nor do we learn any more to make war, having become sons of peace for the sake of Jesus, who is our commander’ (Against Celsus 5.33). Other early church fathers echoed Origen’s perspective and adamantly claimed that Christians are forbidden to join the army and if you was already a soldier when converted then you are forbidden to engage in warfare. Another example used to promote the cause of pacifism for Christians in all spheres is that of when Christ disarmed Peter when he emotionally cut off the ear of the soldier when Christ was betrayed by Judas. Jesus clearly showed that his disciples were not to fight even though their master was being falsely arrested and if we are not to fight for our master then we ought not to use violence in any situation. But is it always wrong for the Christian to fight? Advocates of the Just war theory, particularly developed by Augustine which witnessed the demise of pacifism which dominated early Christianity propagated that Christians are to respect governmental authority and governments are given the authority by God himself to punish evil. So, although the Christian is to turn the other cheek, the government is to issue justice in the form of punishment which glorifies God as governments are fulfilling their role in which they were established for. ‘For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong…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’, Romans 13:3-4. Therefore, if a Christian is in a position of authority, should he turn the other cheek, relinquish his role or should he fulfil his responsibility as being an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer? As it was established in the first paragraph that pacifism and the just war theory addresses different questions, so we can say with John Lasserre in his book War and the Gospel, p.132 that ‘God has charged the church with the duty of preaching the gospel, and the state with the duty of ensuring the political order; the Christian is both member of the church and citizen of the nation; as the former he must obey God by conforming to the political ethic of which the state is judged….’. So, are both views reconcilable?
John Stott in the Cross of Christ comments that ‘Christians must struggle with the dilemma and not try to polarize over it. Just war theorists tend to concentrate on the need to resist and punish evil, and to overlook the other biblical injunction to overcome evil with good, and to forget that according to scripture evil deserves to be punished. Can these two biblical principles be reconciled? Christians will at least stress the need to look beyond the defeat and surrender of the national enemy to its repentance and rehabilitation. Then the so-called ‘politics of forgiveness’, developed by Haddon Willmer, is relevant here. David Atkinson sums up this emphasis well:
Forgiveness is a dynamic concept of change. It refuses to be trapped into a fatalistic determinism. It acknowledges the reality of evil, wrong and injustice, but it seeks to respond to wrong in a way that is creative of new possibilities. Forgiveness signals an approach to wrong in terms, not of peace at any price, nor of a destructive intention to destroy the wrongdoer, but of a willingness to seek to reshape the future in the light of the wrong, in the most creative way possible’. (The Cross of Christ, pg 357-358).
As our conversation drew to an end, I emphasised that the individual Christian must work according to one’s conscience although being rooted and grounded in scripture and also that situations differ and context is of major importance. The Church is given the role of pacifism e.g. if the church was to be attacked, bombed, targeted, etc.. we are not to retaliate ‘for we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered’, but if the state was to be attacked, then the bearers of justice are to lift their hands and if God as appointed Christians in such roles of authority then they must carry out their duties in love with no hint of retributive vengeance but of justice and seeking to establish peace and saving as many lives as possible for even our Lord Jesus is coming, yea, he his coming to Judge the world and to put away his enemies.
I have only touched briefly on some of the issues.