The Christian Position on War

I am a Sunday School teacher and I gave my class the following question to answer: Is the US justified in declaring war on Osama bin Laden, and what is the Christian response to a call for war? Are we to be pacifists? I would be interested in you take on this issue.


Hi Todd,

Thank you for writing and for giving of your time and talent to help educate others in a strong Christian worldview. As we come into these uncertain times, a solid foundation will go a long way in understanding how we as Christians should react to the various issues we're facing.

Our first reaction to war is usually one of repugnancy. It entails massive death and destruction from all parties and we can see how this type of "problem solving" is outside of God's perfect will for humanity. However, God's perfect will for humanity was for man to never sin. Since man has a sin nature, it may not be possible to live in a world where wars don't exist. Let's try and unravel what position the Bible takes in respect to Christianity and war.

Before going too far, we need to establish first that the Bible makes a distinction between individual moral responsibility and governmental responsibility. As free moral agents, Paul tells us "See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people." (1 Thess 5:15) Individual Christians should show Christ's love to those who personally wrong them. But this does not mean that if someone physically threatens us we should not fight back. Nor does it imply that we shouldn't use physical force to aid another person being threatened. In such situations it would be a greater sin to stand by and do nothing that to help a person who is in danger.

The same type of responsibility God requires of governments. They are specifically put in a position of power to protect their citizens. Paul shows us this in Romans 13: 3-5 where he writes,

"For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience' sake."

Note how the Scriptures say that the ruling body "does not bear the sword for nothing." In other words, governments are to function in a guardian role, both dealing with crime inside its own borders (such as the police) and also any enemy who would attack its citizens from outside.

This brings up another concept that in recent years people have forgotten; that there exists such a thing as a just war. The Romans passage above is very clear on this point. A government can function as an avenger of God to bring His judgment upon them. The Old Testament is replete with examples of this, but I'd like to look at a more modern situation.

In World War II Hitler was bent on conquest of Europe. He also sought to exterminate the Jewish race from the face of the planet. Those allied against Hitler and his plan were just in fighting him and his armies. To ignore him is morally the same as a police officer who does not try to stop a mugging attempt. There were good reasons, moral reasons to go to war in that instance and it would have been more immoral for the United States not to get involved.

The question that we must ask, then, is does our current situation fit the criteria for a just war? Is the United States justified in using its considerable military might against bin Laden and other terrorists? Let's look at what we know already.

  1. The terrorists have attacked United States property and people before in the bombings of our two embassies in Africa and the attack on the USS Cole.
  2. They have intentionally killed thousands of innocent civilians for no other purpose than to try and hurt us.
  3. There will be a continuing threat of danger to U.S. citizens as it is highly likely the terrorists will try other acts in the future.

Taken together, I believe that it is the God-given responsibility of the United States government to protect all its citizens by declaring war on those who would seek us intentional harm. I believe that Romans 13 commands the government to not shirk its role of protector and guardian of all those who fall within its care, just as a police officer should not shirk his role of protecting those who fall within his care. To ignore such a dangerous threat to our population would be a bigger sin.

I hope this has helped clarify how Christians should approach this very sensitive topic. Although this is a very emotional issue, I think that we can thoughtfully discern the will of God and how He would want us to proceed. Please let me know how your class goes. I'd be interested in their reactions to this question.

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