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Particulars of Christianity:
312 The Church Ethic

Christianity and War (Continued)

Christianity and War
Christianity and War (Continued)
God Bless America: Patriotic Christianity

Also, it we should also take into account another contrast that those familiar with the civil structure of the kingdom of Israel would have been aware of when they read these chapters of Romans. Numbers 35, Deuteronomy 19, and Joshua 20 all describe a portion of the Jewish theocratic civil code, which provided that a blood relative of a person who was slain could put to death the man responsible for his demise.

In both Numbers 35:12, Dueteronomy 19:6 and Joshua 20:3, 5, and 9, the scenario presented is one in which a person is killed by accident or without the intention of the other party. But Deuteronomy 19:12 also includes instructions for when the death is intended by the other party. In this case the man who committed the act is to be turned over to the avenger of blood.

All of this finds parallel in Deuteronomy 32:43 where God takes the role of the avenger of blood upon those who have slain his people. In an apocalyptic sense God fulfills this when he avenges the blood of His people upon those who have slain them (Luke 18:7-8, Revelation 6:10, 16:6, 18:20, 19:2).

The contrast we must draw then is that in Israel, God had established a civil code of justice in which His people were in charge of administering justice, avenging themselves, and repaying those who did evil. On the contrary, Paul's remarks in Romans 12:17-19 and 13:1-4 clearly indicate that this is no longer the case in the New Testament. Instead of God administering justice through His people in a government that they control, God instead has appointed the heathen governments to be responsible for this duty (at least until the Day of the Lord and the onset of the Jesus' millennial kingdom).

Therefore, for all of these reasons we must understand that Paul's view expressed in Romans 12 and 13 does not include a provision for a Christian-run nation since this idea would involve an intermingling of believers, who Paul says are not to avenge wrath, and the state, who Paul says is God's chosen minister to avenge wrath on those who do evil. The contrast between the theocratic civil code in Israel in which God's people were to administer justice and Romans 12 and 13, which withhold that right from believers, placing it instead with the heathen government adds further support to this conclusion.

All of this being the case, we must conclude that there is no precedent in the Bible for the notion of a pre-millennial Christian government. And that additionally, there is no provision for Christians to participate as the enforcer of the law through military action or otherwise. Having thoroughly familiarized ourselves with chapter 12 we can now move on to Romans 13.

Romans 13:1 Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. 2 Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: 4 For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. 5 Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. 6 For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. 7 Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.

Having just instructed the Roman Church to leave peacefully even foregoing justice, but instead leaving this to God. From there Paul proceeds to teach on the role of government in carrying out justice. Again, we must note that Paul continues to distinguish between the higher powers (government) and the believers, which he does not present as wielding political authority, but rather as among those under the dominion of the state.

Prior to the coming of the Day of the Lord and Jesus' millennial reign, God has ordained that there should be rulers of the world, both angelic and human. Part of the role of these rulers is to carry out justice and to thwart injustice. Part of the necessity of Jesus' coming kingdom and the condemnation of these rulers, both angelic and human, is that they have not complied with God's intentions. Nevertheless, the God-given role of human government is (at least in part) to provide justice and to prevent injustice and anarchy.

From this framework we must conclude that Paul's remarks in Romans 13 mean that the New Testament teaches that human government is responsible to maintain justice in society through the enforcing of the law even by use of force (i.e. war). And we as Christians are to submit to this authority with one notable exception, when that civil authority requires us to transgress the will of God. In such instances we are to obey God rather than man and our options as far as civil disobedience is concerned is limited to either martyrdom or flight.

This was the case in the early Church who in the face of Roman persecution to renounce Christ chose either to be executed when that was the punishment (at other times it was exile), or to flee. However, neither in Christian history nor in Paul's words in Romans can we find any license to resist with violence. Instead, Paul instructs us to comply with ruling political powers and places the implementation of justice with them and not with believers. He thus shows that believers are not part of the political authority and therefore, rules out the concept of a pre-millennial Christian state.

Yet some take this very series of verses from Romans 13 to be the Biblical mandate for Christians to wage just war and to participate in civil government. Though as we have shown no such scenario is compatible with Paul's remarks in this passage, they simply envision a scenario in which civil government is administered by Christians. Under such circumstances they conclude that since government can wage war for the purposes of justice, and since the government would be comprised of Christians, that therefore, Christians are able to and obligated to wage war for the purposes of justice as an exercise of civil government.

There are several things that must be said about such a conclusion. First, Romans 13 is a discussion of the relationship between the political power and those under its authority. It is not a discussion of how various competing or contemporary political states relate to one another. Romans 13 presents how a government administers justice, domestically, to the people under its jurisdiction. Therefore, Romans 13 can only be used to support a government's divine right to employ military force upon its own citizens in order to uphold justice. It CANNOT in any way be used to support international military action upon another sovereign nation not under its authority.

So, it must be concluded that international war is beyond the scope of Romans 13 and, therefore, Romans 13 cannot be used as Biblical supported that a Christian government (if one should exist) could wage war on another nation.

However, now that we have limited the scope of Romans 13 appropriately, we must also discuss its implications on the supposed Christian government.

The notion of a Christian nation or government is more than conceivable to the modern, and especially western mind. Many Americans even insist that the United States was founded as and perhaps still is or should be such a Christian nation. So, when we as westerners, or even as Americans, read Romans 13 it is easy to infuse the notion of Christian involvement in a just war as a function of a Christian state.

However, there is much to consider on this matter. First, even if the existence of a Christian state were conceded for argument's sake, Romans 13 would only provide a mandate for the enforcing of a justice code internally, or domestically, upon the citizens of that state. It would not provide any warrant for the external mobilization of military force internationally against a separate, independent nation.

Second, any suggestion that a Biblical authorization is provided to any proposed Christian nation to wage war upon another country inherently contains an appeal to the idea of manifest destiny. By placing other independent and sovereign nations under the political authority of the Christian state there is the presumption of a divine mandate for imperial conquest such as was conferred upon the nation of Israel regarding the Promised Land. Yet no Biblical decree exists for the transfer or sharing of the divine mandate given to Israel in this respect.

On this point we must first understand, as we have previously demonstrated, that notions of a Christian state are completely incompatible with New Testament teaching and the understanding of the early Church. This is especially the case where the supposed Christian nation is one, which exerts global influence and dominance. Therefore, it is grossly inappropriate to inscribe such a concept into Romans 13, when it would have been completely foreign to Paul's thinking and to the understanding of his audience.

As has been documented by others (see http://www.pfrs.org/pd/index.html), the first and second century church was universally Chiliast in its eschatology. This is a key factor in interpreting the implications of Romans 13 and can clearly been seen in Paul's remarks therein which we have already discussed. The New Testament era opened within the Jewish Messianic expectation of a political hero who would emancipate God's people from the oppression of the Gentile age. It was this very expectation that contributed heavily to the rejection of Jesus by so many of God's people at the time.

To be clear, the Old Testament hope was for a theocratic state to be established by the Jewish Messiah, which would bring the times of the Gentiles to a close and replace their dominion once and for all. There was no room to even conceive of an intervening period to be dominated or controlled by some other godly government. The Messianic kingdom was the sole political hope available to the ancient Jewish mind anything else would have been beyond foreign to them, it would have been both absurd and impossible.

It is with this background that we must understand the Chiliasm of the New Testament church. Firmly rooted in Judaism, the early Church held fast to the Jewish Messianic beliefs. In today's terminology, they were futurist, pre-millennial, and post-tribulational. Which means that they expected a Messianic Kingdom was yet to come, would arrive at the onset of a literal 1,000-year reign by Jesus Christ from Jerusalem (and that the Church would be raptured after the tribulation period).

To the early Christians, like those in Rome to whom Paul wrote his epistle, the suggestion that prior to this Messianic kingdom there would exist a Christian government with either limited or global influence would also have been either ludicrous or completely unimaginable. And since one of the primary rules for properly interpreting scripture is to understand a passage as the original audience did, we must reject the insertion of a Christian nation into the instructions of Romans 13.

The notion of a Christian nation with divine authority would simply not have been conceivable to a New Testament Church, which saw itself, like the nation of Israel, as separate from the world, not unrecognizably infused with it. And it would have been incompatible with Christians who, as we have seen, were defined as the subjects of world government, not the stewards of government. As Paul adequately puts it in Hebrews 11:8-9, they had the mindset of Abraham, who considered himself not a citizen of this world or of his home land, but of the kingdom of God, who was not looking for an earthly country to call his own, but a heavenly one. This heavenly country is the Millennial hope of Israel and the Church.

So, if the notion of a pre-millennial Christian government with divine authority to wage just war did not come from the Apostles or the early Church where did it come from? This question is answered quite easily.

At the turn of the fourth century A.D. there was a significant change in world affairs. After almost three centuries of animosity towards Christianity, Constantine, the emperor of Rome, is said to have converted to Christianity after proclaiming that he received a sign from God to conquer in the sign of the cross. Thereafter, the process of Christianizing the Roman state ensued. Christianity, persecuted relentlessly for almost 300 years, quickly became acceptable in Rome through the Edict of Milan in 313 AD.

In 325 A.D. the Councel of Nicaea took place cementing the once outlawed religion of the martyrs as the leading religion of the empire that had for so long fed them to the lions and burned them at the stake. From this point forward the Church took a dramatic and dangerous turn toward the heretical compromises, which ultimately culminated in the Roman Catholic Church.

For the next fifteen hundred years or so the Roman Catholic Emperors and Popes wielded tremendous religious and political power over the European and Mediterranean world. Their near-global power grabs sustained for well over a millennium. The Pope and the RCC became intertwined and inseparable from the political power of the West.

The eschatological views of ancient Judaism and the early Church quickly became out-of-vogue with the developing political prowess of psuedo-Christian Rome. The doctrines and methods of interpretation of these two predecessors had long since been discarded and replaced with the spiritualization borrowed of the Gnostic mystery schools who had infiltrated the Church hierarchy. It was this approach of spiritualizing the plain meaning of the text, which characterized and defined Roman Catholic eschatology, which saw itself as the heir to the messianic kingdom, with the Pope ruling the earth as the vicar of Christ over the earth from Rome.

In scholarly circles this doctrine became known as Amillennialism. It holds that there would be no literal millennial reign of Jesus over the earth as the Jews and ancient Christians had expected, but that instead God would Christianize the globe through the Roman Catholic Church, the successor of the Roman Empire.

Additional theories, which share some correspondence with Amillennialism in regards to these matters can be found in Preterist and Post-Millennial doctrine. (Preterism holds that Christ returned at the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. Post-Millennialism believes that Christ will return after the Millennium, which will be established by the efforts of the Church rather than by Jesus' return. All three school share some overlap on various eschatological issues.)

The Reformation, which birthed Protestantism, initiated a long overdue return to the bounds of literal hermeneutic (interpretive) methods. Yet despite this recommitment Reform Theologians did not abandon the Roman Catholic interpretive spiritualization entirely. The early Reformers were, in fact, quite content to keep with Catholic precedent concerning eschatological issues of theology. Their historicist approach viewed the Roman Church as the empire of the beast. Yet they themselves sought to establish Christian governance and usher in either the return of Christ or the millennium by instituting Christian government on earth. The most obvious evidence of the continued impact of Catholic political Christianity can be seen in Geneva where John Calvin, a major figure in Reform Theology, was one of the key players.

Various forms of Amillennialism, Post-millennialism, Historicism, and Preterism enjoyed continued popularity in the period prior to the World Wars of the twentieth century. But do, in part to the wars that characterized that century and the continued determination to return to a more consistently literal hermeneutic, these schools of doctrine have since waned in prevalence. The sole exception to this decline can be found in scholarly and ecclesiastic circles of Calvinist persuasion (for example, Presbyterians) where they have of late, experienced some level of resurgence. Outside of these camps, however, there has been a significant revival of the first and second century Chiliasm of the early, orthodox Church, though today it is simply known as premillennial futurism. (The sole area of exception is the popular acceptance of pretribulationalism rather than the post-tribulational view of the early Church's Chiliasm.)

The contrast between Premillennial Futurism (Chiliasm) and the Amillennial-Postmillennial-Preterist camp goes beyond the apostolic authenticity and antiquity of the former and the Roman Catholicity, heresy, and novelty of the later. However, the most significant difference, for the purposes of this article is that Premillennial Futurism, with its emphasis on a return to early, and therefore truly, orthodox Church doctrine, should also preclude the notion of some pre-millennial Church state or Christian nation to which we might apply Romans 13.

The continued consideration or insistence upon a supposed Christian government within even Protestant premillennial futurists can be seen as an inconsistent commitment to the literal hermeneutic (the Grammatical-Historical Method). It is a failure to fully discard the Roman Catholic influence, not fully abandoned by the Reformers, in favor of a purer and more ancient Christian faith.

Those of us who wish to remain grounded in the teaching that was given to the early Church by the apostles themselves must relinquish any idea of a pre-millennial Christian government and decline the infusion of such a notion (so foreign to authentic Christianity) into our interpretation of Romans 13.

With all of this in mind it seems that violent means on both an individual or corporately exercised level must be seen as outside the bounds of the Christian faith, even if the cause is just or great injury threatened. The testimony of the martyrs is harmonious with the available statements made in the New Testament on the matter and both lead to this same conclusion.

And while this article has sought to examine the Biblical and historical basis for the position that Christians can participate in and wage just war, we might also briefly mention the practical problems with this view.

First, attempts to define which wars are just and which are not would be an insurmountable and completely subjective task. This is especially true for Christians for whom such a discussion would be largely without direct Biblical guidance.

Second, even if a suitable definition of just war could be accomplished, it would be impossible for Christians ever to know for certain if the wars they waged were truly for just reasons. If a just cause was claimed, we would have to investigate to be certain that no unjust factors were really involved in motivating the government's decisions.

For a recent example we might consider that the suffering of the Iraqi people under an oppressive regime would seem to be a just cause for military action against Iraq, but the acquisition of Iraqi oil revenue would not be. And when both just and unjust causes were possible we would not be able to know with certainty, which was the true motivation for our nation's military action. Such uncertainty is unacceptable when the justness of the cause is essential to its permissibility within a Christian perspective.

(Of course, this example does not even take into account that the war on Iraq would constitute military action upon another sovereign nation and would therefore fall completely outside of Paul's comments in Romans 13, which speaks to a political power and the citizens under its own jurisdiction.)

In closing we readily acknowledge that the last 20 centuries contain no shortage of wars waged in the name of Christianity by those who claimed to be Christians. We may question whether those who engaged in such actions were truly Christians or whether their claims were truly representative of the Christian faith (for example Constantine). However, one thing we should not do is be quick to join them by pledging our support of various wars fought by the nations we as Christians just happen to reside in during this life. Further reason to remain pacifist comes from a need to distinguish the Christian Faith from others, like Islam for example, which demand and openly embraces violence and warfare as a means to accomplish God's will.

One final disclaimer should be mentioned. Christian pacifism should not be misunderstood as solely an aversion to violence on the grounds that it is morally inappropriate. Instead, it must also be seen as an objection that is also formed by an absence of purpose for violence within the confines of the pre-millennial Christian paradigm. War has its place within Christianity, but it is limited to the millennial reign of Christ, which will both be initiated by war and maintained through "an iron rod."

A more specific objection to our conclusions may be posed by many American readers in the form of the question: wasn't America founded by Christian men to be and, in fact historically hasn't it been, a Christian nation?

This is of course a matter of great debate and a perhaps a topic for another article. However, our view is that any claim that America is a Christian nation is at least not entirely accurate, but more likely, almost completely false since the founding fathers of the United States were predominantly Freemasons. For some insight into on our view on this matter please visit our articles entitled Global Conspiracy (and Freemasonry) at geocities.com/biblestudying/studies.html#conspiracy.

But even setting aside the controversial question of founding fathers and Freemasonry, the primary certainty is that America cannot be considered a "Christian nation" set up by God's will if the entire founding of the country was in violation of Paul's instructions in Romans 12-13, wherein the apostle most certainly does not allow for Christians to wage military revolt against the appointed secular governments. The American Revolution would also violate 1 Peter 2:13-17, wherein we are told to submit to the ordinances of man and to submit to and honor the king and those in government. Additionally, Matthew 22:17-21, Matthew 17:24-27, Mark 12:14-17, Luke 20:25, and Romans 13:7 all instruct us to pay taxes to the political powers that are over us, regardless of whether or not we have representation in those political systems (and most likely presuming that we will not).