As a light fog settles like a death shroud, Jonathan settles into position on the wooded hill above the shattered village. Already secreted in the rubble of a bombed-out school, David nestles his heavy weapon on a section of wall cushioned by his camouflage jacket. Both young men systematically scan the fog through the telescopic sights atop their sniper rifles seeking living, enemy soldiers as targets.
Snipers must be ultimately loyal, highly disciplined, keen of eye, quick of reflex and determinedly calculated. Jonathan and David work hard to be the best in their precision profession, as well they should, having attended the same school.
Suddenly, Jonathan senses slight movement in the ruins below. David detects a flicker of light in the trees above. Instantly their rifles move, and through sinister scopes they recognize each other…
They attended the same Bible school. They last ate together at a Christian fall festival only a few months before David was called back to his native land to join its army, just as Jonathan was inducted into the U.S. Marines. Both dedicated themselves to their nations’ causes and excelled in their military training.
Now, on opposite sides of the war, these two young friends wince with recognition a short rifle shot apart as simultaneously their trained fingers pull fateful triggers.
Cut! Cut! Stop the action! What’s wrong with this picture?
How can a true Christian shoot or kill a brother in the faith of Jesus Christ? How can the physical cause of one’s country be greater than the spiritual cause of the Kingdom of God? How could a Christian ever use violent, aggressive force against a fellow human? Should a follower of Christ even serve in the military? Should a Christian fight?
The introductory scenario of this article is far too potentially real and surreal. In nearly every war in past centuries, soldiers of the same religious faiths followed their different nations’ military orders to murder each other in battle.
Could this ever happen in the Church of God? Yes, unless you understand the example of Jesus and the teaching of God about military service, war and violence.
As Christians we live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4 Matthew 4:4But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.
American King James Version×). We strive to obey the Ten Commandments and all their ramifications for our lives (Exodus 20; Matthew 19:18-19 Matthew 19:18-19 18 He said to him, Which? Jesus said, You shall do no murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, 19 Honor your father and your mother: and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
American King James Version×), including the command not to murder. We also know from our earliest knowledge of God’s way of life that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, and that every human being is made in the image of God and is our neighbor (Luke 10:25-37 Luke 10:25-37 25 And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? 26 He said to him, What is written in the law? how read you? 27 And he answering said, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself. 28 And he said to him, You have answered right: this do, and you shall live. 29 But he, willing to justify himself, said to Jesus, And who is my neighbor? 30 And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. 33 But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, 34 And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said to him, Take care of him; and whatever you spend more, when I come again, I will repay you. 36 Which now of these three, think you, was neighbor to him that fell among the thieves? 37 And he said, He that showed mercy on him. Then said Jesus to him, Go, and do you likewise.
American King James Version×).
We know that God is love (1 John 4:8 1 John 4:8He that loves not knows not God; for God is love.
American King James Version×), that love is the greatest of all the qualities of God’s character (1 Corinthians 13:13 1 Corinthians 13:13And now stays faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
American King James Version×) and is to be therefore of ours. We know that “love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:8-10 Romans 13:8-10 8 Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For this, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, You shall not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 10 Love works no ill to his neighbor: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
American King James Version×). Since love does no harm to a neighbor, how can a Christian in good conscience be a part of a military organization whose avowed purpose and design is to kill people and break things?
Jesus and the apostles
Did Jesus Christ join the military or use violent, deadly force during His life on earth?
Jesus of Nazareth would have been strong and powerfully built. As a carpenter He worked with stone as well as wood and hiked all over the country during His ministry. Even in His teens He exuded a dynamic and magnetic personality to which all walks of people were drawn (Luke 2:46-52 Luke 2:46-52 46 And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the middle of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions.
47 And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers.
48 And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said to him, Son, why have you thus dealt with us? behold, your father and I have sought you sorrowing.
49 And he said to them, How is it that you sought me? knew you not that I must be about my Father’s business?
50 And they understood not the saying which he spoke to them.
51 And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart.
52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.
American King James Version×). His intellect and spiritual wisdom were rivaled by none.
Jesus was a robust and forceful man, yet our Messiah was also the greatest man of faith and righteousness that has ever walked this earth. With that in mind, realize that in regard to violence and war, Jesus never took a human life. He never acted violently toward another human being. When threatened with violence, He fled the scene avoiding confrontation (Luke 4:28-29 Luke 4:28-29 28 And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath,
29 And rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him to the brow of the hill where on their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong.
American King James Version×; John 8:59 John 8:59Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the middle of them, and so passed by.
American King James Version×; 10:39). Even when Jesus drove the illegal money changers, livestock dealers and their animals from the Temple, the whip He made of cords was not used as a weapon (John 2:14-17 John 2:14-17 14 And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting: 15 And when he had made a whip of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables; 16 And said to them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise. 17 And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of your house has eaten me up.
American King James Version×; Matthew 21:12-13 Matthew 21:12-13 12 And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, 13 And said to them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but you have made it a den of thieves.
American King James Version×).
Among Jesus’ 12 disciples there were only two violent incidents—both condemned by Him, and the first was only a threat. The brothers James and John wanted to call fire down from heaven to destroy a village of anti-Jewish Samaritans who refused to lodge Jesus and the disciples at their inns (Luke 9:51-56 Luke 9:51-56 51 And it came to pass, when the time was come that he should be received up, he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem,
52 And sent messengers before his face: and they went, and entered into a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him.
53 And they did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem.
54 And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, will you that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did?
55 But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, You know not what manner of spirit you are of.
56 For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. And they went to another village.
American King James Version×). Jesus scolded them, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.”
How can a Christian kill fellow humans Christ came to save? To do so denies Christianity.
The other case of violence occurred when Peter whacked off the ear of the servant of the high priest as Jesus was being arrested (John 18:10 John 18:10Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus.
American King James Version×; Matthew 26:47-54 Matthew 26:47-54 47 And while he yet spoke, see, Judas, one of the twelve, came, and with him a great multitude with swords and staves, from the chief priests and elders of the people. 48 Now he that betrayed him gave them a sign, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is he: hold him fast. 49 And immediately he came to Jesus, and said, Hail, master; and kissed him. 50 And Jesus said to him, Friend, why are you come? Then came they, and laid hands on Jesus and took him. 51 And, behold, one of them which were with Jesus stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and struck a servant of the high priest’s, and smote off his ear. 52 Then said Jesus to him, Put up again your sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword. 53 Think you that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?
American King James Version×). Peter probably wasn’t aiming for the ear! But Jesus replaced and healed it (Luke 22:51 Luke 22:51And Jesus answered and said, Suffer you thus far. And he touched his ear, and healed him.
American King James Version×), then rebuked the future apostle, “Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52 Matthew 26:52Then said Jesus to him, Put up again your sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.
American King James Version×). The place of a sword is in its sheath and better, as part of a plow of peace (Isaiah 2:2-4 Isaiah 2:2-4 2 And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it. 3 And many people shall go and say, Come you, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. 4 And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: 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 any more.
American King James Version×).
Jesus’ words for Peter are also aimed at us. Our violent impulses must be resisted and changed to attitudes and actions of peace. Isaiah proclaimed, “neither shall they learn war anymore,” and neither should we today.
Bottom line: Christ’s disciples learned to be nonviolent. Jesus Himself was not violent, never took human life and was not part of a military structure. We follow Christ, do what He says and do what He did (Matthew 7:21-27 Matthew 7:21-27 21 Not every one that said to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father which is in heaven.
22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name? and in your name have cast out devils? and in your name done many wonderful works?
23 And then will I profess to them, I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity.
24 Therefore whoever hears these sayings of mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man, which built his house on a rock:
25 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat on that house; and it fell not: for it was founded on a rock.
26 And every one that hears these sayings of mine, and does them not, shall be likened to a foolish man, which built his house on the sand:
27 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat on that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.
American King James Version×). Christians are not supposed to be violent.
Our allegiance to the Kingdom of God
What is the “manner of spirit” we are of then? Where is the faithful Christian’s loyalty? Why specifically do we not fight? The answer has to do with the ultimate goal, primary motivation and driving spiritual force of one called by God to follow Christ at this time in history. It is to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33 Matthew 6:33But seek you first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.
American King James Version×). As “ambassadors for Christ,” the Church of God represents the soon-coming Kingdom of God (2 Corinthians 5:20 2 Corinthians 5:20Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be you reconciled to God.
American King James Version×).
No ambassador or diplomat in the world today joins the military forces or fights for the host nation where he works, but is to be adamantly loyal to his own country. So too, we owe our supreme, spiritual allegiance to God and His Kingdom—not to any physical nation of this world, for we are not of this world (John 17:14 John 17:14I have given them your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.
American King James Version×, 16, 18). This precludes our serving in the militaries or other violence-dealing agencies of our “host” countries.
It’s a matter of citizenship. Although we love our respective physical nations of origin and strive to be law-abiding, productive citizens, we have an overarching citizenship in heaven, the headquarters of the Kingdom of God, from which our head of state, Jesus Christ, will soon come to bring true peace on earth (Philippians 3:20-21 Philippians 3:20-21 20 For our conversation is in heaven; from where also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ:
21 Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like to his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things to himself.
American King James Version×). If we immerse ourselves in the political and military actions of this world’s nations, we lose our spiritual citizenship. Therefore we must first be ultimately loyal to the Kingdom of God.
A key passage
Is it that as Christians we’re afraid to fight? Hardly. Ours is not a religion of saving-your-skin. We already have a battle to fight daily as we’ll see, and we will fight alongside our Savior as resurrected, spirit children of God when Christ returns to enforce peace on earth for 1,000 years.
Jesus explained this to Pontius Pilate saying, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here” (John 18:36 John 18:36Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.
American King James Version×). This is a key scripture showing that true Christians do not fight, are not violent and do not serve in the militaries of this world.
Inevitably, what-if and what-about questions rise regarding the Bible’s teaching that true Christians are conscientious objectors to military service, war and violence. Such questions are all answerable from God’s own Word.
What about Romans 13:1-7 Romans 13:1-7 1 Let every soul be subject to the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.
2 Whoever therefore resists the power, resists 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. Will you then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and you shall have praise of the same:
4 For he is the minister of God to you for good. But if you do that which is evil, be afraid; for he bears not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath on him that does evil.
5 Why you must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.
6 For for this cause pay you tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually on this very thing.
7 Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.
American King James Version×? Isn’t a Christian supposed to be subject to the governing powers of his nation? Yes, he or she is. But if the government orders you to do what is against the law of God, like murder in war, then what do you do?
You do what Peter and the other apostles said and did. When faced with such a choice, they said, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29 Acts 5:29Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.
American King James Version×). Obey God first, even if it means suffering for doing so.
What about ancient Israel? Why did they fight, especially David who was called a man after God’s own heart? The ancient nation of Israel was a kingdom owned by God and governed by His civil code. But all her people were not spiritually converted. They did not have a spiritual citizenship in heaven. Israel was a physical kingdom of this world, and thus fought.
Since she had chosen to fight from early on, God executed certain judgments upon sinful nations through the weapons of Israel, including under King David. (However, God was not pleased that David was a man of war and shed blood, and did not allow him to build the temple because of it, as 1 Chronicles 28:3 1 Chronicles 28:3But God said to me, You shall not build an house for my name, because you have been a man of war, and have shed blood.
American King James Version×shows.) Even then, Israel didn’t have to fight because God had promised to fight her battles for her, if the Israelites would only turn to Him and trust Him (Exodus 14:14 Exodus 14:14The LORD shall fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.
American King James Version×; Deuteronomy 1:29-32 Deuteronomy 1:29-32 29 Then I said to you, Dread not, neither be afraid of them. 30 The LORD your God which goes before you, he shall fight for you, according to all that he did for you in Egypt before your eyes; 31 And in the wilderness, where you have seen how that the LORD your God bore you, as a man does bear his son, in all the way that you went, until you came into this place. 32 Yet in this thing you did not believe the LORD your God,
American King James Version×). At key times certain good kings like Asa, Jehoshaphat and Hezekiah did trust God to fight their battles—much to the detriment of their enemies (2 Chronicles 14, 20, 32).
After Christ, God replaced physical Israel with spiritual Israel, the Church of God, as His people. As Christians, servants of Christ, we belong to a spiritual kingdom. As Christ said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here” (John 18:36 John 18:36Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.
American King James Version×).
This is not our world and these are not our wars.
What about Cornelius? Identified as a centurion or noncommissioned officer in the Roman army, he was the first gentile baptized in the New Testament (Acts 10:1-8 Acts 10:1-8 1 There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band,
2 A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always.
3 He saw in a vision evidently about the ninth hour of the day an angel of God coming in to him, and saying to him, Cornelius.
4 And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said, What is it, Lord? And he said to him, Your prayers and your alms are come up for a memorial before God.
5 And now send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter:
6 He lodges with one Simon a tanner, whose house is by the sea side: he shall tell you what you ought to do.
7 And when the angel which spoke to Cornelius was departed, he called two of his household servants, and a devout soldier of them that waited on him continually;
8 And when he had declared all these things to them, he sent them to Joppa.
American King James Version×, 44-48). His example is claimed to show that Christians can and should fight for their countries. Claimed without evidence, however. Already a God-fearer, believing in the God of the Old Testament, at Peter’s hand he was converted and received the indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit. Centurion Cornelius and his household were in the process of learning “what manner of spirit” they were to imitate.
And that manner was and is the manner of peace not war, of peace not violence, of peace not military service, of obedience to God not to men. Since he had his whole household with him in Caesarea, he may have already retired from the Roman army. Whatever the case, he had to learn the truth about all aspects of his life, including war and violence, just as you are doing now.
What about John the Baptist telling soldiers in Luke 3:14 Luke 3:14And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said to them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages.
American King James Version×, “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely”? Modern translations use “intimidate,” but the KJV reads “Do violence to no man.”
The Greek word means both, with the emphasis on violence. Therefore, John was telling soldiers to not be violent. Military service advocates eagerly point out that John did not specifically tell the soldiers to immediately leave the army. But think about it. Soldiers who wouldn’t be doing violence anymore would be needing to find new careers.
If you don’t hate him, is it OK to kill someone?
This common military recruiter argument is an old concept originating in religions commonly viewed as Christian. In a speech in April of 1961, a priest and dean of Catholic University in Washington, D.C., summarized this long-standing belief: “A soldier may kill in time of war, but for him to kill in a spirit of hatred is not the proper Christian attitude.”
Do you see where that idea is dead wrong? Do you see what is the right way of thinking?
The proper Christian attitude is not to kill at all! The proper Christian attitude is to not even hate! The proper Christian attitude is to “love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:43-48 Matthew 5:43-48 43 You have heard that it has been said, You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.
44 But I say to you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which spitefully use you, and persecute you;
45 That you may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
46 For if you love them which love you, what reward have you? do not even the publicans the same?
47 And if you salute your brothers only, what do you more than others? do not even the publicans so?
48 Be you therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
American King James Version×, 21-24)! God’s way is fundamentally different from man’s reasonings—and God’s way is right (Isaiah 55:8-9 Isaiah 55:8-9 8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, said the LORD. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
American King James Version×).
The real war
As Christians, should we disregard the great sacrifice of those who put their lives on the battle line to defend their people—including us?
By no means. Their dedication is heart-stirring and profound. But they act only on what they know. The real question is this: Are we as dedicated to the spiritual defense of our cause—the good news of the Kingdom of God?
We have a different kind of battle to fight. Our weapons are not made of steel, titanium and high explosives; our weapons are spiritual (2 Corinthians 10:3-5 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 3 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh:
4 (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)
5 Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;
American King James Version×). We don’t fight flesh and blood people; we fight wicked spirits in high places (Ephesians 6:12 Ephesians 6:12For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
American King James Version×). And we are already soldiers in this spiritual war that demands our ultimate loyalty.
“You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier” (2 Timothy 2:3-4 2 Timothy 2:3-4 3 You therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.
4 No man that wars entangles himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who has chosen him to be a soldier.
American King James Version×).
Be assured, the cause you were born to support is the ultimate cause. We will win this war of faith when Jesus Christ returns in the near future and we will then bring a peace to this earth that men have only dreamed about!
Postscript: There is no military draft in the United States at the moment, but future events may move the government in that direction. It is clearly possible that young women may come under the conscription law as well as men.
What should you do now? Study this subject in your Bible. Make the teachings of Jesus about military service, war and violence your own. This article is only a summary of that teaching.
The United Church of God has additional materials to assist you in your study. Please contact us to learn more.