Warriors or Witnesses

“Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” Romans 14:19

It’s probably true to say that all of us are either warriors or witnesses. In a world plagued by wars and rumours of wars no one is truly neutral. We’re either supporting a war or watching it take place.

With this reality in mind it stands to reason that we should have an ethical framework from which we go into battle or watch others go.

Biblically speaking a good point of departure is Romans 14:19 which states, “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.” In essence, we must wage peace. The dilemma is interpreting just how to go about doing so.

The principle interpretation has been the “just war” tradition. This tradition has provided a moral compass to those who would try to wage a justifiable war. It was originally articulated by St. Augustine (354-430 AD) when the Roman Empire adopted Christianity, a pacifist faith, as its official religion. With the Roman legions as the cornerstone of the empire the just war tradition was proposed as a basis for Christians to participate in war with a good conscience and in accordance with their faith.

The just war tradition is defined as the right to use military ends and ideals (with certain limitations) in order to arrive at a settlement of a dispute between two or more nations if other methods have failed. It suggests that the proper reason for going to war is to preserve, or recapture, the peace; i.e. one wars for peace.

In general, the eight tenets of the just war tradition are:

  • Just cause. Action must be defensive and not for purposes of aggression. The offense prompting war must be of a very serious nature.
  • Just intent. The restoration of peace and protection of the innocent. Revenge is never a justification for war.
  • Last resort. When all attempts at peaceful negotiation fail and every other means at resolving the conflict has been exhausted.
  • Formal declaration. War must be declared by the legitimate authority, not by an irate general.
  • Limited objectives. The conflict must have a specific limited purpose.
  • Proportional force. Only force sufficient to accomplish the objective should be used, i.e. the ends should be in proportion to the means.
  • Non-combatant immunity.
  • A reasonable hope for success.

A stark contrast to the just war tradition is the pacifist tradition. Pacifism is defined as the position opposing military ideals and advocates the settlement of disputes by arbitration. Although both traditions elicit considerable support from the Scriptures, pacifism has not been as popularly accepted as the just war tradition. The pacifist emphasises that Jesus didn’t engage in war, that the Great Commandment majors on love, that the ideal should be to love one’s enemies, that the Ten Commandments state that one should not kill, that nonviolence isn’t cowardly, and that the early Christians were pacifists.

Which leaves the ball in your court. Here are some scriptures to consider:

Just war tradition – Romans 13:1-5; 14:19; Hebrews 11:33-34; Genesis 14:13-16; John 2:13-22; Revelation 19:11.

Pacifist tradition – Matthew 5:38-48; Luke 6:27; John 14:27; Ephesians 6:17; Romans 12:17,21, 13:10; 14:19; Hebrews 12:14-15; 1 Peter 2:21.

And some quotes to consider:

Constantine – “… (war) must be waged for the establishment of peace. Moreover, it has to be fought with inward love.”

Athanasius – “To kill one’s adversary in war is both lawful and praiseworthy.”

Cherokee chieftain after reading the Bible – “Plenty good book. Strange thing; Christian man have it so long and be so warlike.”

Mohandas Ghandi – “The only people on earth who do not see Christ and his teachings as nonviolent are Christians.”

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