Tuesday, March 13, 2007

battle ready

It has been pointed out that my topics have been rather shallow lately. (Okay, it was actually ME who said that, but the person I was talking to, confirmed it by stating in a shocked tone of voice that I resorted to talking about the weather…GASP.)
There are reasonably decent people who believe it is always wrong for a Christian to go to war or serve as a soldier/combatant, or support a war effort. I was reading a blog discussion between a couple of fine gentlemen and I wanted to say more than a normal comment would allow. I told them I would link back there only if we remain civil over here. I am not against them, per se; I simply wish to speak to a different position.
May I respectfully challenge the absolute anti-war position?
Here is my position. We must not love violence, but would zealously defend the Bible in that we do not add or take away from what God says. With those qualifiers, I would say that I do not find a clear, solid instruction from God on whether a good Christian can be a soldier. Ultimately, it is God who has appointed our earthly kings, and if they tell us to go to war, we should obey. We who live in a democracy, have a wonderful , but let’s not take that for granted. . In a comment, one gentleman cited his baptismal covenant.
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
It appears to me that there is balance in the Episcopalian Baptismal Covenant, in that one is not only making a commitment to peace, but also to justice. As I understand it, respecting the dignity of every human being is protecting the innocent, and punishing evildoers. But I would not anchor my position in a covenant of another denomination, or even my own. Let God be our authority, as we listen to His Word, which He revealed to us in the Bible.
That one about seeking Christ 'in all persons' reminds me of the passage from Paul that stated God 'revealed Christ in me' (Galatians 1.15-17). If we really believe that Christ has redeemed the world, then how can we support violence of any kind, including war? Again, history shows us that before Constantine Christians did not partake in the military. They believed that they were part of a different kingdom. - On that note, Jesus himself stated that if his kingdom was like the kingdoms the 'world' produces, his followers would fight for his release. The implication is that his kingdom and his followers are not like the kingdoms of the world. They should not be using violence to accomplish anything. That is not the way of our King. - If Jesus is the vine and we are the branches, then we get our instruction and very life from the vine. And the Vine is not violent. Therefore, neither should we be violent. On any level. We must come up with creative ways of discipline, sure. But violence should never be an option for us.
We must be careful when we speak of kingdom, because we will not and cannot have a theocracy on earth until Jesus returns. It has been accepted by some, that before Constantine, Christians did not partake in the military. Is there a biblical mandate for this? Where does God say (in the Bible) that if we want to follow Him, we can no longer be a soldier? I don’t see it. There is a much clearer biblical position on divorce or whether a woman can be called to serve as a shepherd. We tread carefully in those areas, shall we be any less careful about an area that the Bible does not address as directly? I cannot agree that violence is not the way of our King, or that the Vine (Jesus) is not violent. Or at least, I would say, maybe not “the” way of our King, but certainly “a” way. He is sometimes gentle, and sometimes violent, but always holy, and always righteous.
I realize this is a controversial subject, so I have made an effort to season my words with grace. Did it work? Do I need to improve?
Enough of my rambling. Any thoughts?
For another perspective on Christians & War, visit Ted Gossard's blog.


Ted M. Gossard said...

Craver, I think you represented your position well, and in a Christ-like way. I'll be interested to see Odysseus' response, if he picks up on this.

I would gently suggest that this issue, along with the ones you bring up, are not agreed on by Christians, and therefore we all have to be open to where we may be wrong. As well as simply accepting our differences, in the unity of the Spirit, and the love of Christ.

I also would like to add that no position is without problems. But that does not mean it is basically wrong. Whether on your side, on this issue, or the other side.

L.L. Barkat said...

I was in the conversation over on Jesus Community, where this started. Now, I'm thinking further... I do find it is complicated if we base our decision on violence versus non-violence.

It brings up the question of what is violence. Is it violence to allow someone to aggress against my spouse or my children? (while I stand by and keep my hands behind my back)

Is that the same kind of violence as if I decide to "defend" them by striking? If we are against being a soldier (which I may be, I'm not sure), is it okay for us to be verbally aggressive and "wound" another that way instead? Just thinking out loud and rather circuitously, but I'm trusting all the other brilliant commenters will begin to tease out the high points.

Anonymous said...

I have a neighbor who is a Christian man and he is also an army reserve recruiter.He has said that in his experience men who go into combat are "wired" that way. He does not see many that are going into the military wanting to be in combat and not having the "wiring" to do so. He himself as a young man couldn't wait to see combat, and he did. I also know a couple of young men that went into the military with eyes wide open and wanting to see combat. They were not crazed young men, they very nice (some Christian some not) young men.

So my question is - Do you think God "wires" some men in this way to protect our country? ...and ...Why wouldn't He do that?

Anonymous said...

Craver, I appreciate your comments and take no offense in them. I realize this is a touchy subject and while there is no (to some) direct command not to be violent, I feel that there are plenty. I have listed over at the Jesus Community that there are passages that teach that we are not to be violent people. There are allusions to the same. However, I understand that we are all at different places in our walk -- some are more mature than others (and I really can't say which is which). I don't think these are issues that should divide us but we can debate them.

However, I must again point out that while Scripture is very clear (at least to me), one of the other 'legs' of the Episcopal tradition if that of 'tradition' (or church history). In other words, while wrestling with such issues, it would be of good councel to look and see how the church has dealt with these issues (assuming that they have). It is to this that I now turn.

According to tradition, Peter was martyed for his faith. But, it wasn't only Peter. They also slaughtered his whole family -- in front of him. While his wife was being taken away, she (supposedly) told him to remain strong in his faith. Now, I state this to bring up the issue of 'defending our families'. Would we be so quick to say that Peter was wrong for not attacking the Romans -- for not striking at them for taking his wife and children? Or, perhaps, he is remembering the words of our Lord when he (Peter) cut of Malcus' ear, 'Put away your sword. Those who use the sword will die by the sword.' (Which, as I write this, is kind of silly. Peter was about to be killed anyway. So, why not? Unless there is something deeper here. Obviously I think there is.)

Again, I don't think this is a 'primary' issue. That is, I don't think someone's status in the Kingdom is in question one way or the other. I do believe that it is something that we should really struggle with. I know I sure do. One of those ways is to look at, not only what is written, but what is done. No where do we find that Jesus or the apostles (or any of the early church) using violence at any time. (I also realize that Jesus supposed 'cleansing of the Temple' will be brought up. I will wait and address that then.) The fact that St Paul states that no leader of the church should be a person of violence. The fact that Jesus' kingdom is not like earthly kingdoms (and the inferance is that it is not a violent kingdom). That we are not to repay our enemies with evil for evil but to love them (and the inferance there would be as Christ loved us). I could go on. My prayer is that we, that is, you and I, will continue to grow in God's leading and follow it whereever it leads us.

Concerning the coming of the Kingdom: I completely and totally agree that there will be a consummation of the Kingdom of God when Jesus returns. That it will be the 'cap stone' of the whole project. But, I also see that the vocation of the church is to find ways of implementing that ultimate future now. And in that future, there will be 'no more war' and 'no more death'. The implements of war will be transformed into instruments of gardening. Shouldn't we strive to come up with ways of bringing that future into our present? Again, I think we should.

Peace be with you my dear brother.


Jen2 said...

Wellp, an opinion or position is only as solid as the text that backs them up....
I guess I've always believed that God has put the military in place to carry out his wrath on evil doers. (including police, military, the president, etc)
The Lord of Hosts is his Name! (Hosts = Armies)

Romans 13:1-6
"Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. FOR THERE IS NO AUTHORITY EXCEPT FROM GOD, AND THOSE THAT EXIST HAVE BEEN INSTITUTED BY GOD.
Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. FOR RULERS ARE NOT A TERROR TO GOOD CONDUCT BUT TO BAD.
Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, FOR HE IS GOD'S SERVANT FOR YOUR GOOD. BUT IF YOU DO WRONG, BE AFRAID, FOR HE DOES NOT BEAR THE SWORD IN VAIN. FOR HE IS AN AVENGER WHO CARRIES OUT GOD'S WRATH ON THE WRONGDOER.
Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience."

I'm thinking that violence is not a mandate, but by all means it seems that the Lord put authorities in place to punish wrong doing in Romans 13.

Unless someone can help me understand if I'm misinterpreting this text??
I don't know...I'm willing to be contradicted.....

Craver Vii said...

Thank you, each of you who has taken the risk of rejection by posting a comment!

Dear friends, the issue I am most passionate about here, is that we do not make the Bible say what isn’t actually there. (It’s not such an easy feat, and I’m sure I have made this transgression before.)

Consider these three positions:
a) “War doesn’t bother me at all; I wish I could see some action. If you’re right and you’re strong enough, your toolbox doesn’t need to be stocked at all with alternatives to violence.”
b) “Deadly force is undesirable, but sometimes necessary. Violence should never be glorified, and although there are sometimes when it is proper, we must be careful to never take it lightly.”
c) “Violence is never, ever an option for the Christian, no matter what.”

Is there a good argument against position b, that isn’t actually an argument against position a? So far, the c position sounds to me like a is wrong, so c must be right. I cannot accept that.

When Jesus healed the centurion’s servant, why didn’t Jesus take that opportunity to tell the centurion that he couldn’t be a soldier any more? Why would God use soldier analogies, like the spiritual armor in Ephesians 6? Or what about the exchange between Cornelius (another centurion) and Peter? In that event, we’re treated to a sermon by Peter. Scripture is silent about soldiers there, too. Oh, here’s a biggie: John the Baptist was specifically asked by soldiers, “What should we do?” in Acts 3:14.

For Now… I have to admit that it bugs me to hear that a Christian can’t wait to see combat, unless he means, that he can’t wait to get past the training, so that he can be more useful for the sake of the men and women who need to be relieved, or in order to hasten the resolution of the conflict.

J2, if I understand you correctly, we’re on the same page. (Do you know how to make italics or bold in the comments?)

Anonymous said...

Craver, I need to clarify that. It is not the combat itself he wants to see but protecting the country. The country is at war I want to get in there and protect the country is the mindset. So my wording was wrong. That's the thing about "virtual" conversations and not "real" conversations. Thanks for asking about that. Hope I am a bit clearer on that now.

L.L. Barkat said...

I like the Peter example, though this seems to refer to violence against one's person and not the State.

I guess another question is, if I disagree with violence to protect the State, do I therefore refuse to live with the privilege of a free State (protected by those who are less averse to being a soldier than I am)?

L.L. Barkat said...

Oh, and I should add that I was the one who started the "violence to one's person" level of the conversation. (thus eliciting the Peter example)

spaghettipie said...

Wow, interesting topic.

It seems to me that the question of supporting war or not supporting war is really just the surface of a deeper question. Is it really that those who are opposed to war are asking, "Do you trust God enough to avenge and protect you (you, a person or you, a nation)?" Or for those who are not opposed, "Do you question God's sovereignty in ordaining those in authority over us?"

The Bible is full of examples that can support either side. So, I can't really say I have a strong opinion here. Certainly, I think physical force should be used as a last resort, but I am not sure that it cannot be an option.

I do, however, think God uses war in spite of whether or not it is "Christian". While I am obviously grateful to live in a peaceful country where I have freedoms and luxuries, in some ways I think the absence of physical conflict has been used by Satan to make us Christians complacent. We forget that we are indeed in a war (spiritual, that is). Our enemy is not attacking us physically, as it is in places like Sudan and Southeast Asia and so we become relaxed. So, I definitely think that is war we need to become more cognizant and engaged in.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Good conversation over here.

I did a post on a more than less (I hope) Anabaptist reading of the Romans 13 today:


Craver, You're bringing in some good arguments for the side of Christians serving in the military. It is interesting, that even among Christians and churches that take a Christian pacifist position, you'll find some that will serve in the military, in noncombative roles.

A big point for me on the pacifist side, is that we're of a different kingdom and nation (1 Pe 2). Yes, it's not a theocracy in the OT Israel sense. But Christ is the Head, and we're the Body here. We're to live out this kingdom, breaking into this present time, with the future age. As OD expresses it.

This, for me, makes the best sense when we read the New Testament.

One other thing that stands out as important for me: we're to live as Jesus did. And through his death and resurrection, by faith we already enter into this resurrection existence now (Rom 6, etc). And we're both a part of, and workers for the new creation in Jesus. This means our existence must be an alternative to govts. Even though God sets them in place.

As for military people not being told to quit their work. I take it, that the NT is subversive in leading us that direction. Just as in slavery being done away with. Though no master is told in the New Testament to end possessing slaves (though Philemon, arguably, comes close to saying that).

Ted M. Gossard said...

A clarification on my next to last paragraph:

We're to live "cruciform" or cross-shaped lives in Christ, and in our following of Christ here.

And our battle is spiritual.

There is more to come on my posts (or maybe one more post). There is an argument yet left, that I think is hard for those who accept Christians in the military, to answer. And some more. This from Scot McKnight.

Craver Vii said...

For Now…, thanks for the clarification. I’m almost glad I misinterpreted though, because it gave me an opportunity to draw a contrast, even if it was only a straw man. Plus, it gives me great joy to pick on you (heh, heh).

LL Barkat, our options, or at least my approach to violence to one’s person would certainly be different than violence to someone who is under my stewardship. The comment triggered a memory related to the topic of anger. In The Other Side of Love, Dr. Gary Chapman suggests that feelings of anger are there because God wants us to have a sense of justice and be motivated to correct injustice. Anger, as an emotion is not always a sin, though our response to anger often is. If we are angry because a bully pushes a little old lady, we might speak up. If we are angry because a bully hurts our feelings, we don’t necessarily need to defend ourselves, but instead, have the prerogative to turn the other cheek.

Spaghettipie, does your profile say anything about how you came up with such a pseudonym? I’ll check later. Anyway, you said, “I can’t really say I have a strong opinion.” That’s the thing that made me nervous about posting this blog, is that there are plenty of other people that have strong opinions, but I forged ahead, looking to see whether there were strong reasons.

Craver Vii said...

Ted, this is redundant now, but since people are behaving well, here’s the link I promised: Christians-and-war. I hope that people who are not Anabaptist will read the discussion and think about it. I’m afraid that some of us might have the tendency to see something that is from a different denomination or group and say, “Well, that doesn’t apply to me.” I’ve heard it said that “all truth is God’s truth,” so hopefully, we can each think about our position and have a better reason than, “This is how my people do it.” Thanks for initiating the discussion.

A couple things, Ted: “Our existence must be an alternative to govts?” Shall I take this to mean that you believe Christians should not hold government offices? Also: Comparing serving in the military to possessing slaves? That’s worth chewing on for a while; I hope we do not dismiss the comparison too quickly, even though our (contemporary Western) concept of slavery is quite different from they way they did it in “Bible times.”

Ted M. Gossard said...

Craver, On comments, I really don't think them through as well as posts. I do try to, but am ordinarily pressed for time.

On slaves. All I'm saying is that if the pacifist position is correct, than using violence would be just as wrong for followers of Jesus, as holding slaves. And I would add to that the question: If Jesus would not go into military for Rome or Israel- or Paul either--and this lets out something that will come up (though not really from me, though really none of this, or hardly any of it wasn't read or heard by me from someone, sometime), then should we? Would Christ have killed either those who know him, on the other side, or those who do not (and need the gospel)?

Some theologies would maybe be able to deal with that. An Anabaptist theology would not.

As to Christians holding govt offices, I'm for it. And I myself complain about how the Iraq war was run, and started in the first place. So in that, I may be inconsistent.

One important truth I believe in: Theologies that insist on having answers for everything, and able to answer every problem, are probably artificial. Since the Bible itself does not do that, I believe.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Not to say theology is ever to be equated with Scripture. I see it as our human effort, as church, with the help of the Spirit, to "handle accurately the word of truth" (1 Timothy 2:15, I believe).

Artificial, I meant, as in maybe drawing out conclusions that are not justified. I guess we've both been talking about that.

spaghettipie said...

I hope my first question does not go unnoticed, because I would be interested in hearing others' thoughts...is the question of war really about using physical force or not - or is it really about a deeper question, such as sovereignty or who's responsible for vengence or protection?

Craver - yes, the answer is there, but I won't spoil the suspense...and to answer your question on a previous posting, no one ever really refers to me as "Spaghettipie" in "real life" It would definitely be weird if they did...

spaghettipie said...

one more thought. throughout the old testament are stories of God leading the Israelites into war and even giving them battle plans. if war was against God's character, he wouldn't have done that, right?

Llama Momma said...

Great, thoughtful discussion.

"He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8)

Craver Vii said...

Spaghettipie, I hope your question does not go unnoticed as well, because I was hoping to hear what other peopel would say, but since no one has said anything yet, I'll give it a whirl. And since you pressed your question, I will not let you off the hook, either: I would still like to find out how you decided to call yourself by that name.

Now, about your question: In this conversation, I am focusing more on establishing a valid counterpoint in response to the position that is totally against Christians serving in combat, or the position that says it is wrong for a Christian to fight, under any circumstances. So (scrolling back up) your question to me then, would be, am I asking the opposition, “Does the extreme pacifist question God’s sovereignty in ordaining those in authority over us?”

My answer: not necessarily. To be honest, I am curious, and believe it could be a possibility that an individual might have that for his or her reason, but assigning motive is highly combustible, and I would rather be patient and hold off leading someone with that type of question until I feel satisfied that I have reason to believe that their foundational objection is a lack of faith in God’s appointments. In other words, I would probably only ask that for clarification if I was already expecting that they would answer, “Yes.”

I have read some of the statements by Ted and Odysseus, and have determined that it would be more appropriate to assign dignity and respect than motive. As for me, I just want to kick the questions around as we wrestle with what the Bible says, but at the end of the day, I hope to maintain a positive Christian relationship with these men. Assigning motive could complicate things.

Well… you asked.

jazzycat said...

You were very kind and gracious and also right.

spaghettipie said...

Craver - interesting. My questions was actually not necessarily aimed at uncovering individual motives, but more proposing that debates around these types of issues often seem to really be about some underlying issue we are wrestling with. I should have also mentioned that the specific questions I threw out there were more example than what I thought the underlying questions might be. While I felt pretty certain that the first question might be fairly accurate, I felt inadequate on the second. In some ways, I was curious as to feedback on whether or not those were even the issues people struggled with when thinking about this topic.

Certainly discussing the underlying issue gets more sticky - and perhaps too much for a blog where people get to spit out responses in a fairly one-way method and where words can be misinterpreted and body language is absent. But at the same time, it seems pertinent to me to at least broach those issues in order to get at the "compelling reasons" part.

For example, I lean toward saying that it is not unbiblical to serve in combat. However, when I look at the reasons I use to validate that opinon, they mainly fall into the categories of protection (proactive and reactive) and justice (revenge). So then, for me, I feel like I have to ask myself, do i not trust that God will protect me and avenge me? Or if it that's not it, then how do I hold those two ideas together at the same time. I guess that's the type of discussion I was curious about.

All very thought provoking...thanks for getting the brain juices flowing.

spaghettipie said...

oh, and since you have been so kind as to respond, I will save you the effort of reading my profile. It's actually quite unexciting...I named my blog after the dinner we had the night I created it: spaghetti pie. :)

Martin Stickland said...

No wonder the martians have not landed yet, they must think the human race is mad, we do not seem to evolved much since the ape (from the evolution point of view!).

I cannot believe that man is still killing one another.

It's a mad mad world!

Llama Momma said...

Spaghettipie -- You ask some tough questions. My answers are too personal for this forum, but I would say you are asking the right tough questions. And whatever side of this issue each of us falls on, they're good questions to ask ourselves.

Anonymous said...

I have started a response but it was too long. I will be posting it on my blog soon (http://odysseus.wordpress.com). I hope that we all see that this is an issue that should not divide us. I consider you my brothers and sisters. And just like biological families, there are differences here too. But those differences do not change the fact that we are still part of the same family.

Peace be with you all.


Craver Vii said...

Martin, I'm not saying war is good. Evolutionary debate aside, war happens because sin abounds.

If you believe all killing is wrong, let me give you a (an?) hypothetical situation: You are an Israelite, living in Joshua’s or Solomon’s day. Someone commits a sin for which the penalty is stoning, and according to the law (Scripture), you are supposed to throw the first stone. What do you do?

Every Square Inch said...


I guess you solved your post are too shallow problem! :-)

The Jesus/Peter/Malchus example, I think, simply validates that Christians are not to impulsively respond with violence at a personal level. It doesn't speak to the validity to using violence for self defense and other situations.
However, no one picked up on the comment by jen2 earlier where she quoted scriptures (always a good thing) on the use of force by state sanctioned authorities. I think there may be a principle on the legitimate use of force by the state.

Of course, in war between states or nations, you run into competing interests by states.

Craver, I think your a, b and c positions are a good way to think about it and the position I would take is b. However, the real problem is that of all the positions, b is the one with the most latitude and is most open to subjective interpretation and application. It could be applied in various ways including the conflicts we are now engaged in as a nation.