September 24, 2008

Christians and Pacifism - Part III

Biblical Wars?

To return to the pacifist position, all Christians ahve to acknowledge that in the Old Testament God sanctioned the use of the sword in civil justice, and sometimes he even sanctioned war. The pacifist deals with this in one of two ways.

Either he declares that God revealed his perfect will only gradually, that wars were a condescension to Israel's limited understanding, God's perfect will being revealed in Christ; or he regards the "holy wars" of Israel as battles which demonstrated God's power by miracle—battles in which Israel's military efforts were either unnecessary or purely incidental to victory. On this latter view, the only lesson for us today is that we should abandon any confidence in modern weapons and put our trust in God for our defense.

A further argument sees the wars of the Old Testament as the result of a primitive understanding of God; they can therefore teach us nothing for today. Such a view sees the Old and New Testaments as conflicting. Later, we will examine whether there is in fact any contradiction between the Old and New Testaments' teaching on this issue.

"Mercy Only

Some argue that judgment is God's strange work, and mercy his most fundamental characteristic. Therefore, the child of God should never be involved in the application of justice. The taking of human life, in particular, could never be justified, for our desire should be only for the repentance and conversion of the criminal or the nation which practices aggression. Besides, they continue, every nation is evil; we have enough to be concerned about with injustices at home. We should simply trust God to vindicate our cause if it is right.

Others acknowledge that the Bible approves of the sword of justice both to punish evil at home and to defend a country against attack from abroad. However, they say, modern warfare in general, and nuclear weapons in particular, are so indiscriminate in their destruction and so appalling in their nature that we ought to abandon the prudence of nuclear deterrence. We should please God by laying down our nuclear weapons in a unilateral gesture, whatever the outcome. If we were fined by any persecution which followed. This view of nuclear weapons leads us in practical terms to a pacifist position, for conventional arms provide no deterrent to an anemy with nuclear weapons.

Basic Issues

These arguments of the pacifist are, I believe, mistaken from beginning to end.

The discussion raises some fundamental questions. These are: the place and importance of justice and judgment, both for God himself, and among us as humans; the question of whether justice involves death; the relationship of God's commandments to mankind in the Old Testament and New Testament, particularly the teaching of the two Testaments on personal vengeance and judicial punishment; the calling of the Church in the world; and the biblical understanding of peace.

Who Are the Peacemakers?, Jerram Barrs

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