by Al Maxey

Issue #232 ------- January 27, 2006
Aggression unchallenged
is aggression unleashed.

Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973)

Christians Bearing Arms
May Disciples of Jesus Christ
Serve in the Armed Forces?

On January 26, 1955, at an American Legion dinner in Los Angeles at which he was being honored, Gen. Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964) said, "The great question is, can war be outlawed from the world? If so, it would mark the greatest advance in civilization since the Sermon on the Mount." Four years earlier (April 19, 1951), in an address before Congress, he stated, "I know war as few other men now living know it, and nothing to me is more revolting. I have long advocated its complete abolition." In a speech delivered on January 10, 1946 in Ottawa, Canada, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969) declared, "I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, and its stupidity." George Washington (1732-1799), often hailed as the father of this great nation, wrote the following moving words regarding war in a letter to David Humphreys dated July 25, 1785, "My first wish is to see this plague to mankind banished from off the earth, and the sons and daughters of this world employed in more pleasing and innocent amusements than in preparing implements and exercising them for the destruction of mankind."

As a combat veteran of two tours of duty in Vietnam (1969-71), I share the feelings of the above great patriots of our nation. The picture above was taken of me in 1969. I was standing guard in a tower at the southern corner of our little base at Binh Thuy, South Vietnam (in the Mekong Delta about 125 miles SW of Saigon). I'm doing some reflecting as I lean on the M-60 machine gun overlooking the rice paddies that were just outside our base perimeter. I served as a door gunner in a Navy helicopter attack squadron; we were the HAL-3 "Seawolves," the Navy "black berets." I am pictured below in 1969 in the little village of Ben Xe Moi, which was also located in the lush Mekong Delta. As one might imagine, my experiences have had a tremendous bearing upon my views today. I have seen "up close and personal" the numerous horrors of a war, and, believe me, it is nothing a sane person would ever long for or find personally satisfying or thrilling. It is not glamorous! It is, to be blunt, a taste of hell on earth.

Okay, I might as well declare myself right up front and be personally honest with you. I am a proud American. I am a proud Vietnam veteran. I served my country in the armed forces for six years, and would gladly do so again if called upon (although, realistically, I'm too old to be of much use). I am a strong Republican, a supporter of our President (whom I have been privileged to see personally), and am very proud of our men and women serving our great nation in the armed forces. I support them 100%, and must admit that I have absolutely no respect whatsoever for those who viciously badmouth these fine young people who are putting their lives on the line so that others might know the freedoms we too often take for granted. Thus, I will freely acknowledge a clear bias with regard to the question before us. My own mind is made up! However, those of you who know me well know that I will make every effort to be "fair and balanced" in my examination of this challenging issue. Whether or not a Christian may serve in the armed forces, and even more specifically: whether or not they may serve in combat, has been a matter of great concern to disciples of Christ for many centuries. Although I have my own convictions, and will boldly state them, I nevertheless shall strive to fairly represent those who differ with me. There are godly men and women on both sides of this issue, a fact I pray we bear in mind throughout the course of this analysis.

Historical Perspective

As one examines the history of Christianity over the past two millennia, one will find the prevailing view on this matter to be rather cyclical in nature, often determined by the cultural, societal and historical conditions then current. The first three centuries of the church's existence witnessed a strong spirit of pacifism among the disciples of Jesus Christ (if the writings of the Church Fathers are a true indicator of the general consensus). During these early years they are almost unanimous in their opposition to Christian participation in warfare. Just by way of a singular example, consider the following statement by Justin Martyr (b. 100 A.D.; martyred in Rome in 165 A.D.), "We who were filled with war, and mutual slaughter, and every wickedness, have each through the whole earth changed our warlike weapons -- our swords into ploughshares, and our spears into implements of tillage -- and we cultivate piety, righteousness, philanthropy, faith, and hope, which we have from the Father Himself through Him who was crucified" (Dialogue With Trypho).

There were certainly many reasons for this widespread pacifism, of course, with a leading one most likely being the pagan nature of the empires under which these early Christians had to live, and the godless motivation that lay behind most of their many wars and military campaigns against neighboring nations and peoples. With the rise of Constantine, however, the first Christian emperor of Rome (306-337), the previous opposition to serving within the military of the empire began to rapidly decrease, and an increasing number of Christians began choosing to serve this Christian emperor in the ranks of his military forces. Indeed, there are several historians who number the Christians within Constantine's army in the tens of thousands.

The theology of the church fluctuated with the times, as did the conviction of individual disciples. If a nation, and its cause, was perceived to be just and godly, then the willingness of Christians to serve that nation in various capacities, including military service, increased. As the godliness of a nation and its leaders declined, however, so also did the willingness of God's people to serve within its ranks. This pattern is perceived throughout history, and in many different nations. As Christians perceived a cause to be just, however, the vast majority (after the time of Constantine) became willing participants. This has often been called the "Just War" doctrine. One of the early advocates of this theological stand was St. Augustine (354-430 A.D.), who wrote the following in a letter to Boniface, a Roman governor in Africa, "Peace should be the object of your desire; war should be waged only as a necessity, and waged only that God may by it deliver men from the necessity and preserve them in peace. ... War is waged in order that peace may be obtained. Therefore, even in waging war, cherish the spirit of a peacemaker." St. Augustine's point is well-taken, and truly embodies the spirit of most Christians who do choose to serve their nation in time of armed conflict. Peace should always be one's ultimate goal, and war always the very last resort to securing it. "If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men" (Rom. 12:18). God, in the Law delivered to His people through Moses, commanded -- "When you approach a city to fight against it, you shall offer it terms of peace. ... However, if it does not make peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it" (Deut. 20:10, 12).

Narrowing our focus somewhat within this historical section of our study, we should note that "pacifism has been a central issue in the Stone-Campbell Movement worldwide" (The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, p. 586). There has been quite a debate waged among the various leaders of this movement almost from the very beginning. "For Campbell, the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount made it wrong for Christians to participate in war because God's kingdom 'is not of this world'" (ibid). "David Lipscomb and the Gospel Advocate strongly advocated pacifism among the churches of the South. Lipscomb's mentor, Tolbert Fanning, had long believed that Christians should not vote or actively participate in government in any form" (ibid). Bro. J.D. Tant (1861-1941), a very strong proponent of pacifism, made the following remark, "I would as soon risk my chance of heaven to die drunk in a bawdy house as to die on the battlefield, with murder in my heart, trying to kill my fellowman" (ibid).

Pacifism in the Stone-Campbell Movement began to die down, however, during the Spanish American War, and "Pearl Harbor shattered confidence in pacifism" among the members of this movement, "as most saw U.S. involvement in war as a justifiable means to stop the evils of Nazism and Japanese aggression" (ibid, p. 587). As President Lyndon B. Johnson so aptly expressed: "Aggression unchallenged is aggression unleashed." This is a harsh reality of life that many Christians don't fully appreciate until it "hits home" in dramatic fashion, as happened at Pearl Harbor and on September 11, 2001 at the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania. "Many church members shed pacifism as an embarrassment. After World War I, those in the mainstream Churches of Christ moved toward a pro-war stance, while many in the various subgroups (premillennial, non-Sunday School, One-Cup, and African American Churches of Christ) dissented and maintained a pacifist position. The One-Cup Churches of Christ are still on record as a 'peace church'" (ibid). "After the war, pacifism was largely relegated to an individual matter in Churches of Christ, with churches less willing to discuss the issue pro or con. ... By the 1980's, many in Churches of Christ were pro-military, conservative Republicans" (ibid).

As for those many leaders within the Stone-Campbell Movement who were on the other side of the debate from the pacifists, note the following few examples: "If then it be right for any other man to go to war in certain cases, then it is also right for a Christian" (A.R. Benton, "Should Christians Go To War?" -- Christian Standard, 18 August 1866). Bro. John Shackleford commented, "The use of force by a government in the execution of just laws is sanctified by the Almighty" (Lard's Quarterly, October, 1866). Bro. Walter Scott stated just prior to the start of the American Civil War, "Any kind of government is better than anarchy. The government, therefore, that will not, with all its force, in defiance of all obstacles, put down anarchy and the doctrine that leads to it, ought itself to be put down" (as quoted by William Baxter in "Life of Elder Walter Scott"). Yes, as previously noted, there were, and still are, good, decent, godly Christians on both sides of this issue.

Readers' Perspectives

Before examining the biblical perspective, I would like to share several selected comments from you, the readers of these weekly Reflections. Several weeks ago I had asked for your input with respect to this question of Christians bearing arms, and, as in previous requests, your response was overwhelming! Many of you suggested passages of Scripture that you felt addressed the matter (and these will be examined in the next section of this study). Some of you shared your own personal struggle to deal with this issue in your own life (and this was especially touching coming from several readers who are currently serving in the military, but who have serious questions as to the rightness of their choice). All of your responses were read and printed out by me, and have been reviewed several times in my preparation of this study. I truly wish I could include each of the emails and letters I received, but this issue of Reflections would be hundreds of pages long if I did. Thus, I have chosen the following representative excerpts; comments which I hope will prove challenging to our thinking.

  1. A deacon in Oklahoma wrote, "I graduated from high school in 1967 at the height of the Vietnam war. I decided to sign up as a 'conscientious objector,' and was informed by the draft board that I had to get a letter from someone in the Church of Christ stating that this was a valid position taken by our church. Our preacher was of the point of view that a Christian could not serve in the military. So he wrote me the letter. However, as I watched the TV coverage of all the 'long-haired, dope-smoking war objectors,' I changed my mind. I did not want someone else to fight my wars for me. And I also did not want to be categorized with the type of people I saw objecting to the war."

  2. A minister in California wrote, "First, thank you in advance for the research you are going to do on this subject! You always do ground-work well. Second, thank you for allowing us to participate. This is a subject about which I feel very strongly, both as a patriotic citizen, and as a Christian. My brother served two tours of duty in Vietnam as an Army ranger. I'm very proud of his service, though he will not talk about it. I learned only after our Mom died this past July that he had volunteered for his second tour in 'Nam so that I would not have to go there. I was in college during the closing years of the war, and he would rather serve another tour (and even die there, if necessary) than to subject me to the horrors that he saw there. You were there, so you know the gratitude I feel toward him. However, I would never have dodged the draft. It just turned out that I was not called up. Later, when I looked into serving during the first gulf war, I was rejected due to my age."

  3. Another reader writes, "I believe that God says it is okay when the safety of a person or a nation is being threatened. Throughout history we have seen that there are evil people in this world, and I personally think that there are times when good people have to stand up against them. I respect these men and women who are willing to put their lives on the line so I can be safe and free. I realize that there are those, like the Amish, who feel it is wrong to fight, no matter what. I respect them for their beliefs. I have never been in the military, and hope that the United States will never be in such a position that they would feel the need to draft me. I do not have a gun, never have, and will probably never have one. I do not like violence, but I realize we live in a violent world, and I am grateful that there are people, both Christian and non-Christian, willing to protect those of us who need protection."

  4. A reader in Michigan wrote, "I have to confess a personal bias on this matter -- my son is a veteran of Iraq. That said, it is my strong belief that those who serve as soldiers and policemen are doing the Lord's work."

  5. A reader in Texas wrote, "We have to choose to whom we will pledge our allegiance -- to Christ or to the world. I do not believe in any kind of violence toward your fellow man if there is any way to avoid it. If it cannot be avoided, then I believe we should ask forgiveness. I believe any act of aggression to cause harm is a sin."

  6. Another reader writes, "I am pretty hawkish on this issue. I believe the military, and especially our law enforcement, are instruments of God set up by Him for protection and order. Thankfully, our government gives citizens the right to object to military service due to religious beliefs. If our government weren't so gracious, and since this is ordained of God, I believe it would be a sin NOT to serve. The fact that many Christians shun government service is a shame. The good influence of righteous people is needed in all facets of government."

  7. An author and minister in Missouri wrote, "It is my conviction that Christian citizens of the USA have the obligation as citizens of this nation to enter whole-heartedly into defense of our nation, or else to move to some other nation. We have the responsibility to act in self-defense, and also to help our neighbors whenever they are victimized by evil persons. It is not a question of whether we can in good conscience do our duty as Christians, but rather can we in good conscience shirk our duty as Christians and as citizens? We should not hold back from doing whatever is necessary whenever our land or home is attacked. This land and our way of life is today facing enemies eager to destroy us and our way of life."

  8. A reader serving in the military wrote, "As one who is active duty currently, and who has served in the military for the past eight years, I struggle with this issue all the time. I want to be true to my faith and I do not want to compromise it. So, as for me, I am a serviceman who has very strong feelings of pacifism. Although I could never call myself a pacifist, because in extreme cases I feel defending one's life is justifiable, I am still a Christian trying to change my own way of life by following the teachings and examples of love brought forth by our Savior."

  9. A reader with a university in Oklahoma writes, "I am not naive, and do understand that my pacifist position will not be accepted wholesale by all Christians overnight, but I believe that the church needs to hear voices from within that call believers to recognize the importance of being a community of peace ... one that does not merely give lip-service to that ideal, but lives it. I believe that if Christians do feel 'called' to serve in the military, then as a testimony to the Lord they should only serve as medics, chaplains, or other non-combatant roles."

  10. A reader from Oregon wrote, "Since they are appointed by GOD, being a responsible member of the armed forces or a police force is appropriate for a Christian. In fact, it seems that much of the nonsense going on in American politics these days is the result of Christians NOT being involved in the government, and instead leaving it in the hands of atheists and scoundrels."

  11. From a reader in the state of Virginia -- "I served in the U.S. Navy for over 28 years, with almost equal time in the Atlantic and Pacific, and have been retired for fifteen years. During that time I've studied and discussed this very question numerous times. I believe that men and women can serve in the military and still be Christians. I have seen God use the military man, woman or family to spread the Word throughout the world by taking it along with them wherever they are stationed. I've seen these same military people and their families provide support and encouragement to missionaries. I've been stationed overseas extensively, and also on ships, and in every one of these places Christians met to worship and spread the Word by action and example."

  12. A reader in Georgia writes, "Some Christians teach that a Christian cannot even vote or participate in any way in the government under which the Christian lives. That is ridiculous to me. I would ask: who should be able to govern better than a faithful Christian?!"

  13. A minister in Missouri wrote, "As a young preacher I used to be strong in my support of young people who chose to join the military. It seemed patriotic, and the ones who leaned the other way seemed to be weak and cowardly. The older I get the less I am inclined to encourage ANY young Christian to make the military his or her career. People of God should devote their lives to being 'peacemakers' (Matt. 5:9) and avoid trying to prove themselves by violence or force. We are already involved in a spiritual warfare, and thus do not need to waste time with physical conflict (often in other countries). Please do not misunderstand. I have the utmost respect for those who find themselves in the military when they become a Christian, as well as for those who have volunteered to serve during a time of war, and who have placed their lives on the line for our wonderful country. I pray for our leaders, both civil and military, on a daily basis, but I would never encourage a young person to forfeit their freedom during peace-time to become a 'fighting machine.' This just does not match the spirit of Christ that I see throughout the NT."

  14. The following reader flew F-4 "Phantoms" in the Vietnam war (flying out of DaNang). He wrote, "Al, I am a Christian and a retired USAF Lt/Col ... and in that order! I have an engraved plaque on my wall that reads in part: 'A man who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing he cares about more than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.'"

  15. A reader who is with the One-Cup Churches of Christ wrote, "I grew up in the turbulent 60's, during the Vietnam war. I know that you fought in that war, so I'm hesitant to tell you that I did not, and that I was a conscientious objector. I did not flee to Canada as a good many others did who did not want to fight. I simply filled out the paperwork, complete with the Scripture references, and a copy of my public statement that I was opposed to fighting (which was published in Old Paths Advocate -- a One-Cup publication), and filed for CO status, which I was granted. Ever since those days, I've pondered the question of whether I wanted my sons to follow in my footsteps or not. I am truly grateful for the blessings we have here in America, and I know that they were not won, nor can they be kept, without war. Sometimes I still feel uneasy about these and similar questions. I won't try and defend pacifism, as I'm sure you know the verses and arguments better than I do."

  16. A reader from the great state of California wrote, "Brother, I must hand it to you -- you never hesitate to open a 'can of worms.' This is a topic which I have wrestled with through the years, especially during the years when I was draft-eligible (I never had to serve in the military). I concluded that I could not conscientiously kill an enemy in time of war. I would either have been a conscientious objector or would have agreed to serve in some medical service. I do not condemn those who feel differently, as I do not believe the Scriptures are all that cut and dried on the issue. There are some very complicated issues involved in this. The argument is commonly made that anyone who declines to serve in the military is unpatriotic, cowardly, etc. Such charges can be pretty intimidating. But, sometimes one who has strong convictions must prepare himself for the scorn of those who disagree with him."

This is just a very small sampling of the numerous responses I received. By far, the vast majority of responses were from those who were non-pacifists and pro-military. Nevertheless, I attempted to strike a balance in the selection of representative quotes so that each side, and those somewhere in-between, could all be fairly heard. I think it is obvious that there is great diversity of conviction among disciples of Christ Jesus on this matter, with some very strong emotions on both sides of the debate. Overall, I was very pleased with the loving attitudes of those who wrote (on both sides of the issue). This is clearly an issue that has impacted the lives of some of our brethren very dramatically, and I truly respect the struggle each one has experienced in their effort simply to do what they perceived to be most pleasing to their God.

Biblical Perspective

Although the testimonies of history and personal experience are of great value in any exploration of matters impacting the daily sojourn of disciples of Christ, they pale before the testimony of the biblical record. Any study that fails to ask, "What sayeth the Lord in His inspired Word?," is a study woefully incomplete and inadequate. Thus, we turn to the Scriptures (those of both the old and new covenants) to seek a better understanding of the will of God with regard to whether or not one who is a citizen of the eternal realm may acceptably serve in the armed forces of a government of this temporal realm. Although nowhere in the sacred Scriptures of either covenant is this question specifically addressed, it is nevertheless true that God's Word is far from silent on the matter. Many of the readers pointed to the many examples, in the OT writings especially, where God time and again called His people to take up weapons of warfare against those about them and to engage these people in battle. Indeed, there were times when He punished those who refused to do so!

A reader in Michigan wrote, "We who have studied the Bible know that God at different times has used armies to accomplish His purposes. He used Joshua to rid the land His people were to take control of, and men, women and children were killed by God's army. Gideon and his army brutally killed a whole army. This is to name just a couple of men used by God to accomplish His purposes." Anyone who knows OT history, knows that God often called His people to form an army for the purpose of slaughtering men, women, children, even the animals, of those nations arrayed against Him or His holy will. This is so prevalent in the history of the old covenant that it has led a few biblical scholars to even speculate that there were two Gods ... one of the OT, and another, more peaceful, loving God of the NT. Some simply failed to understand the "Warrior God" of the OT and the eternal purpose of His call to battle. The goal of this current Reflections is not to analyze that eternal purpose, but merely to note it. Our God was certainly not opposed to His people bearing arms, and using them ... at least, not under the old covenant. The argument of the pacifists, of course, is that the focus and purpose of our God is no longer the same under the new covenant, and I think very few responsible scholars would differ with that.

A passage frequently appealed to by both sides in this ongoing debate is Exodus 20:13, in which we find the sixth commandment given to Moses to impart to the people of Israel -- "Thou shalt not kill" (King James Version). This is a seemingly strange command in light of the fact that time and again God called His people to do just that -- to kill men, women, children, and animals in cities and nations all about them. The land literally flowed with the blood of those God commanded His people to kill. Was such killing, therefore, not in direct opposition to the command "Thou shalt NOT kill"? Some have found this very puzzling. The answer, of course, as most scholars realize, is that the Hebrew language "possesses seven words for killing, and the word used here -- rasah -- appears only forty-seven times in the OT. If any one of the seven words could signify 'murder,' where the factors of premeditation and intentionality are present, this is the verb" (Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 2, p. 424-425). "It carries the idea of murder with intentional violence. Every one of these instances stresses the act or allegation of premeditation and deliberateness -- and that is at the heart of this verb" (ibid, p. 425). In the KJV of the "Ryrie Study Bible," one finds this footnote to Ex. 20:13 -- "kill. Lit., murder."

Many of the more modern translations, understanding this fact, have rendered the sixth commandment far more accurately. For example: "You shall not murder" (New American Standard Bible) ... "Do not murder" (Holman Christian Standard Bible) ... "You must not murder anyone" (Easy-to-Read Version) ... "You shall not murder" (New International Version) ... "You shall not commit murder" (New English Bible) ... "You must not murder" (Living Bible) ... "Do not murder" (Contemporary English Version) ... "You must not murder" (New World Translation) ... "You shall not murder" (English Standard Version) ... and on and on we could go! The vast majority of biblical scholars understand that the sixth commandment is NOT prohibiting the killing of another person; indeed, there are times such killing is necessary ... and even commanded by God. The sixth commandment prohibits premeditated murder. Indeed, "the Mosaic legislation took care to distinguish between actual murder, manslaughter, death by misadventure, and justifiable homicide" (Dr. Charles Ellicott, Ellicott's Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 1, p. 263). There is a very clear distinction made in Scripture between these different types of killing; some God condoned, some God condemned. It is murder being condemned in Exodus 20:13. Thus, to try and make this sixth commandment apply to any and all taking of human life is exegetically unjustified.

A reader in Michigan wrote, "I would hope that no one would try to use the poorly worded (in English) 'Thou shalt not kill' commandment to justify being anti-military or police." Well, unfortunately, some do make an appeal to this poor translation of the original for justification of their pacifist position. An evangelist with the "Church of Hope" wrote saying, "God says in His Word, 'Thou shalt not kill.' And that is what God means. NO one, but NO ONE, is to kill another person. That also goes for the police as well. We are to obey God rather than man." Most Christians are far more knowledgeable than this, however, so one will rarely encounter this argument these days; only the most unenlightened and ill-informed disciples will dare to appeal to Exodus 20:13 in their argument for pacifism. The passage in no way proves their point. David certainly was not in violation of the sixth commandment when he slew Goliath (1 Samuel 17), nor was Elijah on Mt. Carmel when he slaughtered hundreds of false prophets with a sword (1 Kings 18). Indeed, Elijah was one of only two men who was spared from the experience of physical death because he had lived such an upright and holy life before His God, and yet he had the blood of hundreds on his hands! I don't think anyone would confuse this prophet with a pacifist, yet he who had dispensed death to so many others was spared death himself!

Most pacifists, however, will acknowledge the above, but dismiss it all with, "Well, that's the Old Testament. It doesn't apply to us. We live under the dictates of the New Testament." Therefore, an entire body of inspired literature is cast off as irrelevant to disciples of Jesus Christ (although certain portions of those writings will be appealed to if they tend to prove their point). Admittedly, we live under a new covenant, one that is greatly superior to, and far more spiritually focused than, that covenant under which the people of Israel were required to relate to their God and the people about them. Many things have indeed changed. Jesus Himself compared and contrasted the focus of each in several sections of His beloved Sermon on the Mount. In the Beatitudes He pronounced a blessing upon the "peacemakers" (Matt. 5:9). Just a few verses later He brings up the sixth commandment, and then narrows the focus even more to anger and harsh, judgmental language against a brother (Matt. 5:21-22).

I think it is important to note that Jesus is speaking to our personal emotions and reactions here; what our response is to be when personally wronged in some way. The Christian is not to be going about seeking to render retribution for every perceived wrong done unto himself, and attacking all whom he perceives to be arrayed against him. "You hit me, I'll hit you back ... harder! You insult me, and I'll tear you down in front of others!" Souls will not be won when we are forever lowering ourselves to the level of those wallowing in darkness. It should be carefully noted, however, that these passages have absolutely nothing to do with the rule of law as it exists on local, national or international planes, nor is there any connection with what the role of Christian citizens is to be with respect to this rule of law and its enforcement so as to preserve a nation from anarchy or certain destruction from forces determined to overthrow it. God has set in place (Rom. 13:1-7) these governing authorities -- "those which exist are established by God" (vs. 1) -- and the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount should not be perceived as contrary to the role that God has established for these governing authorities to maintain the rule of law and preserve the peace. Are we to assume that God never intended Christians to participate in any way in these governing authorities established by Him? Are we to assume that ONLY godless pagans may govern? One would almost think so, based on the teachings of some of the more extreme pacifists. I reject this as completely illogical and irrational. God established governing authorities, and gave them the sword (vs. 4), that they might be a force for good against evil.

Yes, some of these governing authorities abuse that power. Some become more evil than that which they are established to counter. The horrendous excesses of Nazism is a prime example. I do not believe Christians should participate in a regime that has clearly devoted itself to the extermination of another race or to the domination of surrounding peoples. However, if a governing authority is seeking, however imperfectly, to establish and enforce the rule of law, to elevate the lives of others, to bring peace (even if that must be done by the use of force), then these, in my view, and in the view of most disciples, constitute sufficient "just cause" for God's people to involve themselves to whatever degree they may personally feel called so as to promote the greater good of others. When genocide is occurring right before our eyes, for example (as has happened time and again in history), and Christians turn away and ignore the slaughter of millions, then, in my view, they are just as culpable as those who are actually slaughtering these men, women and children.

In a discussion with a determined pacifist a few years ago, this young man told me that if a crazed killer broke into his house and began raping and murdering his wife and daughters right in front of his eyes, and he had a gun in his hands, he would not use it, but would instead kneel and pray for the attacker as he slaughtered his family. Frankly, I find that attitude appalling! The apostle Paul wrote, "If anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever" (1 Tim. 5:8). I think this involves more than just food, clothing, and shelter. Providing for one's family also involves protection from those who would seek their harm. Any man who would sit and do nothing as his wife and children were raped and murdered before his eyes, is, in my view, beneath contempt. It is one thing to turn the other cheek and allow one's own self to suffer abuse; it is much different, however, when one does absolutely nothing as the innocent and helpless are being abused right before one's eyes, and this is especially true when one has the power to bring that abuse to an end. To try and apply our Lord's guiding principles as to how to deal with personal abuse in the face of living one's faith to situations where the innocent are being victimized by crazed scoundrels is to completely miss the point of His teaching. Attack me for my faith, slander me for my convictions, and I can readily rationalize a pacifistic response to the personal injustice against me; try to rape and murder my wife or children, however, and I will not hesitate for a single second to rid the earth of you!! And, I would be "worse than an unbeliever" if I failed to do so!!

I honestly have to wonder what would have happened had the theology of pacifism been promoted when Satan and his evil forces sought to wage war in heaven (Rev. 12:7). "And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon. And the dragon and his angels waged war, and they were not strong enough, and there was no longer a place found for them in heaven." Was Michael a pacifist? Thank God he wasn't!! Had pacifism been the rule in heaven, Satan would now be on the throne!! Brethren, there are times when those who seek to inflict evil upon others MUST be met with the forceful resolve of those who are willing to fight, and, if need be, die, to turn them back. Martin L. Cook, who is a professor of ethics at the United States Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, wrote the following in an article titled "Soldiering -- Christian Ethics and Military Service" --- "The war criminal, the aggressor, the practitioner of genocide and the terrorist are not fading from the scene. In such a world, only the presence of effective military forces makes possible the maintenance of relative peace and security in international politics. Voluntary service in support of that relative peace is a self-sacrificial Christian calling" (The Christian Century Foundation, 2001).

One reader wrote, "What would Jesus do? I cannot imagine Him ever flying a plane and dropping bombs. Jesus with a warring spirit is beyond my comprehension." I would agree that Jesus had no desire for His spiritual kingdom to be promoted at the "pointy end of a spear." There are sufficient passages that make this very clear. The Crusades of the Middle Ages failed to perceive this point, and we all know the consequence of that failure. However, having said that, one should not underestimate the "warring spirit" of our Lord and Savior. "And I saw heaven opened; and behold, a white horse, and He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True; and in righteousness He judges and wages war. ... And He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood; and His name is called the Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. And from His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may smite the nations" (Rev. 19:11-15). "And the rest were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat upon the horse, and all the birds were filled with their flesh" (vs. 21). When the Lord Jesus rides forth from heaven with His armies to confront the evil forces that would inflict such misery upon the innocent, our King rides forth NOT as a pacifist, but with a warring spirit!! And thank God He does so!!

There is a suitable time and place for every activity under heaven! "A time to kill, and a time to heal" (Eccl. 3:3) ... "A time for war, and a time for peace" (Eccl. 3:8). Knowing the difference; knowing just when to turn the other cheek, and when to raise the sword God has given to those whose mission it is to defend the innocent, is the better part of wisdom! This wisdom is seen dramatically in the book of Nehemiah. When the captives returned to their homeland from Babylon, they found the city of Jerusalem largely in ruins. The temple needed to be rebuilt, so also did the city wall. As the latter was being constructed, evil men arrayed themselves against this effort. Chapter 4 shows that while the people of God worked, they did so armed to defend themselves and their fellow laborers. "As for the builders, each wore his sword girded at his side as he built" (vs. 18). The work of the Lord came first, but, if necessary, they were more than willing, ready and able to employ deadly force against those who would destroy them. No, the church will never be built up with the sword; it is foolish to try. However, when godless groups and nations seek to engage in genocide and the infliction of horrors upon others, godly men must we willing to draw the sword and engage these godless forces with the "sword of state" authorized by God Himself (Rom. 13:4). Is it wrong for Christians to be a part of this process? I personally don't see how!

The New Testament writings have several accounts of the Lord and His personal representatives interacting with those who were employed in the service of government, many of whom were bearing arms in service to these governments. Not once were any of these individuals either condemned for such service or urged to abandon it as unacceptable in the sight of God. Far from it! Most were praised for their faith and devotion to the Lord. The first Gentile convert to the church of our Lord Jesus Christ was Cornelius, a Roman "centurion of what was called the Italian cohort" (Acts 10:1). He was "a devout man, and one who feared God with all his household, and gave many alms to the Jewish people, and prayed to God continually" (vs. 2). Where in this account is this man ever urged to abandon his service as a soldier? Where is even a hint of godly displeasure at his employment perceived? If the disciples of Christ were to be pacifists, one would think this would have been a great opportunity for Peter to have insisted Cornelius leave the army and embrace pacifism. The Philippian jailer carried a sword (Acts 16:27) in the carrying out of his duties. Please point to the passage that declares he was ordered to change occupations after he and his household were immersed. In Matthew 8 Jesus commented on the faith of a centurion with these words, "I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel" (vs. 10). Not a single word was spoken by Jesus against the fact that this man was a soldier.

In Luke 3 we find several groups of people coming to talk with John the Baptist. Notice verse 14 -- "And some soldiers were questioning him, saying, 'And what about us, what shall we do?'" Wow! Great opportunity for John to lay into these warriors and make pacifists of them all. But, notice his answer: "Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages." Be content with your wages?!! Is John actually suggesting they keep earning their pay as soldiers?! How does this fit in with the theology of pacifism?! A reader in Oklahoma wrote, "This passage decides the issue for me. If there was sin involved in just 'being' a soldier, it would have been very easy for the Holy Spirit to state this fact plainly when the question was posed to John, 'What about us, what shall we do?' But for John to tell these soldiers how to keep doing their job without sinning implies that the job itself involved no sin whatsoever!" Like any other employment, there was opportunity for abuse of one's position, but it is the abuse, not the position itself, that is condemned. John had the perfect opportunity to tell these soldiers they had to cease being soldiers. He did just the opposite! He told them how to be godly soldiers!!

Yes, in John 18:11, after Peter had drawn his sword (one wonders why this apostle was carrying a sword, and why Jesus allowed it ... more about this later) and cut off the ear of Malchus, Jesus told him, "Put the sword into its sheath; the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?" What is the nature of this rebuke? Peter, even at this late date, still had not fully perceived the mission of Christ to this earth. Jesus came to suffer and die on the cross; that was a purpose that must be fulfilled. Peter wanted to fight to prevent the very thing our Lord had come to accomplish. Peter was rebuked not so much for drawing the sword, but for drawing the wrong conclusion as to the nature of our Lord's mission. He also had failed to perceive that the kingdom of the Lord was not of this earth, thus physical weapons were useless in spiritual warfare (John 18:36). Paul points this out in a well-known passage that speaks of our Christian armor and weapon (Eph. 6:10-17). One reader wrote, "We will never convert our enemies to Christ by killing them." That is absolutely correct. And we will also never stop terrorists from flying planes filled with innocent people into buildings by quoting the Bible to them. In this world there are many kinds of threats, which require many kinds of responses. Promoting Christianity, and pushing back the spiritual darkness, will never be accomplished by physical weapons of war. On the other hand, few will ever live in any kind of meaningful peace without such weapons of war being employed on occasion.

A passage often brought up in this debate is Luke 22:36-38. Jesus informs His close companions, just prior to His arrest, that some very troublesome times are approaching, and they should be prepared. "He who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one." Then Jesus says, "For I say to you that this which is written must still be accomplished in Me: 'And He was numbered with the transgressors.'" The disciples say, "Lord, look, here are two swords" (Peter apparently had one of them, as we later see), and Jesus replies, "It is enough." This passage has long been debated with regard to what it may or may not be saying with respect to whether it is right for Christians to bear arms. Some say it clearly shows our Lord's approval; others say just the opposite. A couple of readers, both of whom are pacifists, wrote and shared with me an interpretation that I had never heard before, and I will share it below. First, just a bit of background. Jesus quotes Isaiah 53:12 which is a prophecy that the Messiah would be "numbered with the transgressors." Traditionally, this is interpreted by most scholars as meaning He would be crucified among the two thieves. After all, Isaiah 53:12 speaks of Him being "poured out unto death" and "that He interceded for the transgressors," which He certainly did for the one thief, and also for those who crucified Him when He said, "Father, forgive them!"

There is an alternate view, however, that is embraced by some who seek to make this passage show the SIN of bearing weapons. One of these readers wrote, with respect to our Lord's quote of this passage, "Jesus was making sure that His disciples were armed, which made them transgressors. ... It seems clear to me from this verse that it was the apostles who were the transgressors, and the thing that made them that was the fact that they had swords." The apostles pointed out to Jesus that they had two swords on them, and He responded that it was enough. This reader comments, "Just two swords for twelve men was enough to call them transgressors." Frankly, I think this is one of the most bizarre interpretations I've ever come across. I don't accept it for a second! First, it would have Jesus ordering these men to sell their garments to buy swords for the sole purpose of making them SINNERS so that some prophecy could be fulfilled. That is ludicrous! The Lord tempts no man (much less commands them) to commit sin (James 1:13). And to command these apostles to do that which is sinful just so He can say some prophecy is now fulfilled is manipulation of the most heinous sort. This is appalling. Furthermore, the meaning of this quote by Jesus is already given by inspiration, and it is NOT the interpretation taken by these few pacifists. "And they crucified two robbers with Him, one on His right and one on His left. And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, 'And He was numbered with transgressors'" (Luke 15:27-28). That settles it, it would seem to me!

Nevertheless, one can understand why some pacifists would NEED to find some way to twist this passage, for having Jesus order His disciples to buy swords hardly fits with their theology. Thus, they twist the passage so as to make Jesus order His disciples to commit sin so He can be "numbered among transgressors." The apostle Paul informs us that "sin is not imputed when there is no law" (Rom. 5:13), and "where there is no law, neither is there violation" (Rom. 4:15). Thus, to these pacifists who hold to the above theory I would simply ask, "Since the disciples of Jesus were made 'transgressors' by the fact of possessing swords, then show me the LAW that specified the possession of swords constituted SIN." Where exactly is this "law of God" found that is being transgressed? And was Jesus Himself in violation of that law by commanding His disciples to transgress it? Brethren, when a theory must sink this low to try and justify itself, that theory obviously has some serious credibility problems, and should become immediately suspect!


President Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), in a speech delivered in Pittsburg on July 27, 1917, boldly declared, "A pacifist is as surely a traitor to his country and to humanity as is the most brutal wrongdoer." Brethren, I truly believe Roosevelt was wrong. Yes, every nation has its share of cowards, and I have no use for cowards. But, I don't regard the vast majority of pacifists as cowards, any more than I regard the vast majority of those in the military as godless warmongers. Where I believe pacifism can be very dangerous to a people and society is when it passively permits a flood of evil to sweep over innocent people to their harm and ruin. I don't believe God ever intended for those who serve Him to sit back and allow innocent men, women and children to be victimized by godless wretches while simply looking on as the atrocities occur before their very eyes. Suffer for my faith? YES! Willingly! Allow a child to suffer at the hands of a pervert, allow a woman to be raped by a crazed scoundrel, allow terrorists to kill thousands, while I sit back doing nothing except praying for their souls? NEVER! One might as well serve them cookies and punch afterward; their exertions may have made them hungry, and doesn't Paul say, "If your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink" (Rom. 12:20)? Maybe you could live with yourself after doing such, but not I.

George Herbert (1593-1633) rightly observed, "One sword keeps another in its sheath." Believe it or not, the purpose of a military is not so much to wage war, as it is, by its mere presence and preparedness, to prevent war. Any nation that bases its existence upon pacifism will not long endure. Gustave Le Bon (1841-1931) correctly observed, "A truly pacifist people would quickly disappear from history." God Himself established our governing authorities, and He gave them the sword (Rom. 13:4). He expects them to use it! May a Christian be a participant within this "minister of God for good" (Rom. 13:4)? After much careful and prayerful searching, I can find absolutely nothing in Scripture that would suggest a disciple of Christ may not. So, my answer is: Yes, he may!

Therefore, I fully support our men and women in the armed forces (military, police, and other enforcement agencies), and pray for them daily. We enjoy the freedoms we do today because of the sacrifice of these wonderful people. Nothing infuriates me more quickly than to hear someone badmouth these patriots who are risking their lives for a cause greater than themselves. When I returned from Vietnam, we were flown into Travis Air Force Base under the cover of darkness, and, as we were bused to the civilian airport for our flight home to our families, we were told to wear civilian clothes so that our fellow countrymen would not spit on us! To this day I am bothered by the fact that I had to "sneak" back into my own country after serving in combat. I have never gotten over that, and probably never will. Good men and women have spilled their blood on the field of battle that some in our nation today may have the freedom to refuse to bear arms in defense of the liberties we hold dear. I have nothing but respect for those of you who, because of genuine religious convictions, are unable to serve in combat. Others have given their lives that you might have that right in this great nation, and I will defend your right to your convictions with my life. My only plea is that you show respect and give honor to whom honor is due -- i.e., to those who have sacrificed greatly that you may freely live by your convictions without fear of persecution.

This is clearly a difficult, and at times even divisive, issue. I have certainly not settled the matter with this article. It has been debated for centuries, and will continue to be debated until our Lord returns with His heavenly armies. I abhor war, and I long for peace. However, I am also a realist. Peace will never be attained in this life by non-resistance to aggressors. You and I know the degree of peacefulness that we currently enjoy only because some were willing to serve others by sacrificing themselves. Few things bother me more than hearing of these brave souls, many of whom were Christians, being disparaged and defamed by those unwilling to provide that same loving, sacrificial service to their fellow man. Yes, I am thankful unto God that we live in a land where we are free to differ. And I am especially thankful for those who have served, and who are serving, and who have also made the ultimate sacrifice, to secure for us this blood-bought liberty we daily enjoy. May the Lord bless them for bearing arms in service to God and country!!

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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Australia:

Dear Brother Al, This is just a brief note to say thank you for all the effort and research you undertake in order to bring us all challenging messages each week. Would you please send me a copy of your three Reflections CD's. I have enclosed an international money order to cover the cost. I have also enclosed a book of Australian photos by Ken Duncan titled "Reflections." Ken is a well-known Christian who tries to bring a message through scenes of God's creation. Ken was also invited by Mel Gibson to shoot a series of stills on the set of the film "The Passion of Christ." I hope that you may find the book of interest, and as you look at it also remember that you are not only appreciated by us here, but that we are also praying God will continue to lead and guide you. Thank you again, brother, for sending your weekly Reflections, and also for responding to my emails so quickly and faithfully. I continue to pass on your web site details to others here.

From a Reader in Ohio:

Bro. Maxey, I would like to receive the three CD's of all your Reflections. I've been meaning to order them ever since you started making them. I appreciate your ministry of "challenging perspectives!"

From an Elder in Tennessee:

Dear Al, Please send ALL three of your Reflections CD's to the above address (enclosed is my check). I am a recent reader and would like to catch up on the whole series. I also have some other people with whom I wish to share your Reflections. Thanks! I enjoy your fresh approach and your heart that shows through. Keep up the good work. I'm sure God will bless it.

From a Reader in Texas:

Bro. Maxey, I would like to use your lessons on elders at --------- ---- Church of Christ as we review the members as we select new and additional Elders this spring. Thanks.

From a Reader in Texas:

Hello Bro. Al, I am a member of the -------- ---- Church of Christ in --------, Texas. You had made many fine points in your Reflections article on edification (Issue #177). I would like to borrow those points for my Sunday night sermon on the 12th of February. May I use a portion of the work you have done for this sermon? Thanks!

From a Reader in Indiana:

Al, I usually cheat anymore and look for your newest article on the web site the day before it actually shows up in my email. I just read the newest one on the genealogy of Jesus. What an encouragement to me! Thank you. Also, the readers always amaze me at the very diverse and interesting things they write about.

From a Reader in South Carolina:

Concerning your last article, genealogies are "dull and boring" only if you just read them, but not if you study them. You have once again made a "dull" topic very interesting. Let me introduce you to someone who makes the topic entertaining (hard to believe). Andrew Peterson is an extremely talented Christian musician. He has a Christmas program he has performed for the past few years, last year being at the old Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. He has also put the music on CD -- it's wonderful music. One of the numbers he performs on the album titled "Behold the Lamb of God" is a song called "Matthew's Begats." Hard to believe that the "begats" could be made into an entertaining, yet educational, song!

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Dear Brother Maxey, I am truly privileged to live in an age where contact with you and other Christian writers and preachers is only a finger tip away. Your article on the genealogy of Jesus was of particular interest to me. Every Christmas I try to prepare a lesson for our small group which focuses on who and what Jesus is. This last Christmas I used John McArthur's Internet site "Grace to You," and a series of messages on the birth of Christ. One of his lessons was titled "The Marvelous Birth of a King." John McArthur's lesson approached the genealogies of Jesus from the historical viewpoint of royal lineage, both heavenly and earthly. To make a long story short, the lineage through Mary was for the purpose of proving the physical connection of a genetic bloodline connected to David through his son Nathan. That was an earthly royal bloodline, but not the line from the throne which was through Solomon. The line through Joseph was tied to Solomon through an evil descendant of Solomon by the name of Jeconiah. As a king he was so evil that he had a curse placed on him and his future descendants. In Jeremiah's prophecy (22:30), the Word of the Lord says this about Jeconiah: "no man of his descendants will prosper sitting on the throne of David or ruling again in Judah." Joseph, as a descendant of Jeconiah, would have no claim to the throne. No blood-child of Joseph could have claimed the throne of David because of the curse. Jesus was the legal son of Joseph, but He was not the biological son, so the curse was not applicable to Him. I think all this ties in with your explanation of how important genealogy was to the Jewish culture. Your work has truly been a blessing for me. Thank you so much!

From a Minister/Elder in New Jersey:

Al, I have been reading with interest the discussions of instruments or no instruments, specifics or generalizations, silence or spoken, inferred or implied, permitted or denied. It seems to me that Eph. 5:19 and Col. 3:16 are clearly in the context of a new life in Jesus rather than a corporate assembly in church. Otherwise, we must apply the instruction to abstain from sexual immorality, lust, impurity and greed (Col. 3:5) only while we are assembled in corporate worship. We would only clothe ourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility and gentleness (Col. 3:12) when we assemble for corporate worship. Drunkenness and foolishness (Eph. 5:15-18) need only be avoided on Sunday Morning (perhaps evening service would be covered also). Wives would only have to be in subjection to their husbands in worship, and men would only be the head of the wife (Eph. 5:21) for a few hours a week. Perhaps there are those who have this understanding since the instruction to sing (without instruments) only applies during a "worship service." If I wanted to take a truly conservative view and application, it would seem we ought to be condemning anyone who uses or accepts or condones an instrument of music at any point in their new life in Christ. None of our children would be in high school bands, no Christians would be in community orchestras, and car radios would never be tuned to secular music. Christians would never listen to Country & Western, or Rock 'n Roll, or Bach, or Beethoven. A truly conservative view would have all who have been born again engage only and entirely in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. The Bible is truly silent on classical music, folk music, rap music, as well as Gregorian chants. If these two passages truly condemn instruments, then who is truly adhering to the "law of silence" in their entire life as a child of God?!

From a New Reader in Maine:

Hi! I would like to subscribe to Reflections. Someone forwarded me the link to your home page, and I liked it! I grew up in a VERY legalistic Church of Christ in Texas -- you can see that I moved as far away as possible! I think the Church of Christ has some wonderful features, but some of the legalistic ideas drove me batty. I particularly enjoyed reading your article about observing the Lord's Day (Issue #103). Thanks a lot!

From a New Reader in (Unknown):

Brother Maxey, I came across your web site through a friend, and have just read most of your article "The Silence Syndrome" (Issue #228). I found it very interesting and informative. A little background about myself is necessary for you to know where I'm coming from. I grew up in the Lutheran Church, until I obeyed the gospel and joined the Church of Christ. I am a 20-year-old university student, as well as a student of the Scriptures. For a few months now I have been growing increasingly skeptical about the Church of Christ's argument against instrumental music. Previously I had heard this "silence doctrine," and had accepted it, but after discovering that the whole argument against instruments really rests on just a couple of verses, and assumptions made about what isn't said there, I realized this was not a very well thought out hermeneutic.

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