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What do Christians and the Bible say?

 

The Bible has thousands of verses concerning war and peace. Here are some of the main themes as summarized with permission of author, Ben Richmond, from the Friends United Meeting pamphlet titled, A Guide for Friends on Conscientious Objection to War. A complete copy of the pamphlet may be downloaded at www.fum.org/about/resources/COGuide_2001.pdf

 

·        The prophets proclaimed that God’s goal in history was to bring peace. In the last days...They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nations will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. (Micah 4:1,3) See also Daniel 2:44-45; Zechariah 9:9-10; Revelation 21:1-4 and Isaiah 2:1-4; 9:2-7; 11:1-9; 65:17-25. Many of these prophecies are connected with the coming Messiah, whom Christians recognize as Jesus. “He will be called ... Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

 

·        The early church understood that beginning with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost they were living in “the last days” (Acts 2:16ff, 1 John 2:18) when the prophecies of peace were to be fulfilled. One early Christian, Justin, quoted Micah 4:2,3 and then wrote: We can show you that this has really happened. For a band of twelve men went forth from Jerusalem to teach to all the Word of God; and [now] we who once killed each other not only do not make war on each other, but…gladly die for the confession of Christ? It was, of course, central to Jesus’ teaching, that “the kingdom of God is within [or among] you” (Luke 17:21). The reconciling ways of Jesus’ followers was one of the signs of the Kingdom (Matthew 6:9-15).

 

·        Jesus acknowledged that “you will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but,” he said, “see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come...Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:6,12,13). Part of standing firm is following his instructions: You have heard that it was said, “love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be [children] of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous ... Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:43ff ).

 

·        This command to love enemies is simply to follow Jesus’ way of the cross, as he commanded we do (Luke 9:23ff). Just as God loved us, even when we were sinners (Romans 5:8f ), so we must love others (1 John 4:7-21). Love of enemies and the willingness to accept, rather than inflict suffering is an essential sign of the presence of the Spirit of Christ (Romans 8:9-17; 12; 2 Corinthians 5: 16-6: 10; Ephesians 2:11-18; Philippians 2:5-1 1; 3:17-21; 1 Peter 4:12-19). Again and again, Jesus warned that he would have to suffer. He refused the temptation to seize political power (Matthew 4:8- 10) and withdrew from his followers when they wanted to make him king by force (John 6:15). When Jesus was arrested, Peter started to defend him, but Jesus said, “Put your sword away!” (John 18:1 1).

 

·        The Exodus of the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt was the event which formed the original Biblical faith. When Pharaoh’s army had cornered the fleeing Hebrews at the Sea of Reeds, the people were terrified: Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today…The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” (Exodus 13,14). The essence of Old Testament teaching on war is that God fights on behalf of the oppressed. The people are not to fight (c.f., Zechariah 4:6; 2 Kings 8:6ff ). In fact, when the people were too strong, God would not deliver them (Judges 7:2ff ).

 

·        It is true that there are many texts in the Old Testament in which God is shown ordering the people into battle. God’s goal was the establishment of the Kingdom of God as a nation which God would rule directly, under the charismatic leadership of the Judges. When the people of Israel asked for a king, “such as all the other nations have,” the prophet told them that they were choosing against God, and that they would suffer under the king’s militarism (I Samuel 8). They were repeatedly warned not to trust in military strength (Psalm 146; 33:17ff). The books of 1st and 2nd Kings recount the failure of this attempt to establish the Kingdom of God as a political state. With the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel at the time of the captivity of Judah in the 5th century B.C., the hope of salvation shifted from an outward kingdom to a more inward and spiritual understanding of the Kingdom of God. They spoke of God’s promise to create a “new heart’ in individuals (Jeremiah 17:5, 7-10; 31:31-34; Ezekiel 11:19). Through the prophet Jeremiah (31:31), God promised the “new covenant” where the law of God would be known in people’s hearts. This is the “new covenant” which is fulfilled in Jesus (Mark 14:24; Hebrews 8:8ff). Therefore, the Apostle boasts, “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20).

 

·        In the new covenant, the battle against evil is no longer fought with outward weapons, but by the power of the spirit. The Old Testament battle texts should be seen as “types” or “shadows” of the spiritual warfare discussed in the New Testament (Romans 12:1721; 2 Corinthians 10:3,4). The early Quakers understood themselves as participants in the spiritual war of the Lamb in which God first destroyed the power of Satan in their own lives and, through their long-suffering witness, would eventually come to rule all the earth. (See Revelation 12:7-12; 17:14; 20:7-10.)

 

·        The Bible teaches that evil is not just “out there”; evil is inward (Mark 7:15) and is in all of us (1 John 1:8-10). According to the Book of Revelation, the victory of God is not accomplished with military might, but by “the Word of God” with a “sword that came out of the mouth” (Revelation 19:13,21). It is risky to claim to know when the final judgment of God will be something even Jesus said he did not know (Matthew 24:36). In fact, Jesus explicitly warned against engaging in this sort of speculation (Acts 1:7).

 

 

 

Go to Other Links in this sequence:

What is a conscientious objector?
What are alternatives in serving the United States
Who should consider being a conscientious objector?
What do others say about conscientious objection?
What do Christians and the Bible say?
What do I need to do to become a conscientious objector?
Conflict Resolution
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