Sunday, we talked about the Apostle Paul’s statement that God have given to human government the right to bear the sword and to avenge wrong doing as His agent. And we talked about whether it is ever valid for governmental authorities to assign capital punishment as the penalty for certain crimes.
There is another application of this verse that has provoked discussion and debate over the years. If human rulers are ruling in the fear of God, as King David charged his son Solomon, is it ever appropriate for those human rulers to call a nation to war against another nation? And if so, under what circumstances? What kind of biblical principles apply?
James, the half brother of Jesus explains that the reason we have war in our world is because of sin. “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?” he asks. “Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel” (James 4:1-2).
And in the same way that God has sanctioned human government to restrain the evil impulses of its citizens, government also exists so that human leaders can protect citizens from the evil impulses of other nations.
As emperors in ancient Rome began to embrace Christianity, questions were raised about how followers of Jesus should understand the role of government in waging war. And as a result, pastors and Bible teachers began to develop what has become known as the “Just War” theory. Over the years, certain principles have been articulated as necessary requirements for any war to be considered a “just war.”
- A just war can only be waged as a last resort. All non-violent options must be exhausted before the use of force can be justified.
- A war is just only if it is waged by a legitimate authority. Even just causes cannot be served by actions taken by individuals or groups who do not constitute an authority sanctioned by whatever the society and outsiders to the society deem legitimate.
- A just war can only be fought to redress a wrong suffered. For example, self-defense against an armed attack is always considered to be a just cause (although the justice of the cause is not sufficient–see point #4). Further, a just war can only be fought with “right” intentions: the only permissible objective of a just war is to redress the injury.
- A war can only be just if it is fought with a reasonable chance of success. Deaths and injury incurred in a hopeless cause are not morally justifiable.
- The ultimate goal of a just war is to re-establish peace. More specifically, the peace established after the war must be preferable to the peace that would have prevailed if the war had not been fought.
- The violence used in the war must be proportional to the injury suffered. States are prohibited from using force not necessary to attain the limited objective of addressing the injury suffered.
- The weapons used in war must discriminate between combatants and non-combatants. Civilians are never permissible targets of war, and every effort must be taken to avoid killing civilians. The deaths of civilians are justified only if they are unavoidable victims of a deliberate attack on a military target.
When St. Augustine first began to develop the Just War criteria in the fourth and fifth century AD, he could not have imagined a day when airplanes and submarines would be involved in human warfare. Or a day when RPGs and hand grenades would exist. Chemical warfare and nuclear devices were beyond his thinking.
Still, weapons and strategies aside, the principles Augustine began to articulate centuries ago continue to offer any human leader insight about how and when men who rule in the fear of God should go to war.
Of course, while there may be times when it is necessary for nations to go to war, God has called His children to be peacemakers and to “live at peace with all men.” Our hearts should long for the day described in Isaiah 2:4 when God will judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”
Tomorrow night (Thursday) is our final Kids Small Group for the spring. If you have a child under 12, your probably know the drill – drop the kids at 5:45 and pick them back up by 8:15. Kids have fun, learn about God and you get time to run errands or have a date night. Contact Matt Gurney if you have any questions about KSG. email@example.com.
This Sunday, we’ll have our summer activity schedule ready to hand out, with details about all kinds of summer fun activities.
And it all begins with our baptism on Sunday, June 10.
Here are the details.
What does it mean for us to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ?” That’s just part of what we’ll consider as we gather for worship on Sunday.
See you in church.
Soli Deo Gloria!