Sunday, August 30, 2009

Christians and fighting for the state

Just started reading "Between Pacifism and Jihad: Just War and Christian Tradition" by J. Charles. Certainly should be an interesting read to say the lease :)

I was asked the question on how 1 Pet. 2:13-14 relates to a Christian, and if there is a duty to fighting for the state. Here is my initial answer:

First we need to ask "what's the context?"
1 Peter is talking about our privileged place as God's people. Peter describes Christians as a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and a people for his possession (2:9), using Old Testament language for God's people of Israel to describe the church. God is building us up into a holy priesthood, (2:5), who are honored to serve the cornerstone (Jesus) of God's work (2:6-7). In v. 11 Peter uses the term "sojourners", which emphasizes our heavenly citizenship, It means that we are living in a world that we are aliens to (analogous with Jews who were forced to live outside of Israel). Our citizenship and identity are now in Christ and God's Kingdom instead of this world.

Peter continues by arguing that Christians should live according to this heavenly citizenship as a beacon of light to those around them, (2:11-12). Christians who act honorably among non-Christians glorify God, and offer an opportunity for non-Christians to do the same. Further, our Christ-like actions prove us blameless in the face of accusations of evil. This is a pretty important theme in the New Testament: our lives are to reflect our citizenship and identity, and when others see this they are presented with the opportunity to respond to Jesus' Gospel.

So what is 2:13-14 about?

2:13 By submitting to governing authorities we are glorifying God and revealing God's light to others. Government isn't an evil thing, in fact the whole reason for government is to restrain evil in the world, something that God ordained (see Romans 13 for example). It is proper and biblical to be in submission to the government as an institution God allows.

2:14 unpacks the reason for government: it's purpose is to restrain evil. Because humans are sinful and there is evil in the world, God uses governments to restrain this evil until the end of the world when his Kingdom arrives in fullness. Governments certainly cannot completely restrain evil (and are evil themselves often times), but by and large they succeed in allowing sin and evil to take their full course. I don't mean that governments do a good job at promoting goodness, but they restrain evil enough that humanity is still alive today (I do believe without this restraint we would have died off a long time ago).

So what 2:13-14 are saying is that as Christians, we should submit to government as an institution ordained by God to restrain evil in this world. Government has some degree of God sanctioned authority, even though governments often times abuse this. Our submission then to government is a part of our submission to God (again, Rom. 13 comes to mind). Even though our primary citizenship is God's Kingdom, we glorify and honor God to submit to government in this world and as a result testify to God's Kingdom.

So should Christians fight when their government goes to war?

  1. As a part of our submission to government, there is our patriotic duty to the state (which itself is in submission to our primary duty to God! God is always more important than state).
  2. If the state has a just cause for going to war, then as a part of this obligation we can fight for the government.
I really want to stress "just cause": soldiers are supposed to fight and kill who they are told to, this is the nature of orders. As a Christian, I think we must ask if it is "just". We are held to a higher standard than serving state: we serve the true, sovereign, and holy God, and our primary citizenship is not to the state but to God and his Kingdom.

Further, an "unjust" war is immoral, and certainly even as moral creatures we should not support these kind of actions. If there is just cause for going to war, I think there is nothing wrong with this, and in fact we are being unfaithful to our patriotic duty. I certainly do not see the morality or biblical case for pacifism. However, defining "just war" is another question, and certainly not one I am at a place right now to easily answer.


Anonymous said...

so just a straight answer do you think it's right to go to war because your country is

thec0keman said...

My post answers this clearly enough, I wasn't trying to dodge the question.

To reiterate: I think if our country has just cause for going to war, then it is right as a part of our duty to state to fight in this war.

But this must be qualified: our primary allegiance is to God's Kingdom, and at any point if the service of our country conflicts with this, then God's Kingdom should take priority every time.

This also can play out in our intentions... as a soldier, are you more concerned with killing the enemy, or proclaiming the Gospel?

Anonymous said...


steve said...

So what you're saying is...we should think about our actions before committing them...this sounds like hard work! Blast you and making us think before we pull the proverbial trigger!!

thec0keman said...

blast thinking, I want more TV, potato chips, and government telling me what to do :)