War and conscientious objection Refs

The Bible says “Do not kill”, and yet God instructed the Israelites to kill many people. In this chapter, we look at a believer’s attitude to war. We shall also consider how we should view politics and jury service.

Deuteronomy 20 and Matthew 5:38–48

1. Why did God want Israel to destroy all the people who lived in the promised land? Was it fair for children to be killed?
2. Was it right for God to allow Israel to take women and children as “plunder” for themselves when they fought wars?
3. Why did God protect fruit trees in war?
4. God had specifically instructed Israel to destroy the nations in the promised land. Yet Jesus tells us to love our enemies and “do not resist an evil person”. How do you reconcile these two contradictory instructions?
5. Suppose your country was threatened by an invading army with a reputation for cruelty and oppression. What should your response be? Would your response change if your family was directly threatened?

Israel at war
God told Israel to fight and destroy the Canaanites—the people who occupied the promised land. These people worshipped idols, and they practised many pagan and sinful rituals which Israel had to avoid. God wanted his people to be holy and faithful, and he knew that the pagan practices of the Canaanites would lead them astray.

Israel fought many wars against the nations around them. God helped them to protect their lives and their boundaries against invading and threatening armies. It was God’s land and they were God’s people.

Killing is not always wrong in God’s sight. As we have seen, the Israelites were sometimes commanded to kill. Also, the law of Moses required the death penalty for some sins. The command “Do not murder” meant that the Israelites must never kill someone unless God had instructed them to do so.
Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17

We are citizens of God’s kingdom
Jesus opened the way for Gentiles (non-Jews) to come to God, and so today God’s people are scattered throughout the world. Our relationship with the country in which we live is quite different from that of an Israelite in Old Testament times. Unless we are a Jew living in Israel, we have not been given our land by God.

In fact, we are told not to think of ourselves as citizens of any country. Instead, we are to think of ourselves as citizens of God’s kingdom.
See also 1 Peter 2:11

. . . you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household. (Ephesians 2:19)

It was much the same for God’s people before Israel was a nation.

. . . they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. . . they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 11:13–16)

Consequently, we have no need to fight for our country. To do so would be wrong because it would involve killing people when God has not commanded us to do so. Furthermore, because there are believers in many different countries, if we went to war we would end up fighting against fellow believers!

Love your enemies
Jesus tells us to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us and not to resist evil people.
Is it acceptable to defend yourself if attacked?
Paul wrote to the Romans:

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse . . . Do not repay anyone evil for evil . . . Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay”, says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:14–21)

Do not kill
Exodus 20:13; Leviticus 24:21; Numbers 35:16–34; Deuteronomy 5:17; 19:11–13; Matthew 5:21–22; 26:52; 1 John 3:15.
Love your enemies
Exodus 23:4–5; Psalm 35:11–17; Proverbs 25:21–22; Matthew 5:43–44; Luke 6:27–35; 23:34; Acts 7:60; Romans 12:14; 1 Peter 3:9.
Do not resist evil people
1 Samuel 24:10–12; Proverbs 20:22; 24:29; Matthew 5:38–42; Luke 6:29; Romans 12:17–21; 1 Corinthians 6:7; 1 Thessalonians 5:15.
Governments are appointed by God
Jeremiah 27:4–6; Daniel 2:20–21; 4:17; Rom 13:1–2.
Submit to rulers
Romans 13:1–7; Titus 3:1–2; 1 Peter 2:13–14.
We are citizens of God’s kingdom
Psalm 39:12; Ephesians 2:19; Philippians 3:20; Hebrews 11:13–16; 1 Peter 1:17; 2:11.
Do not swear
Matthew 5:34–37; 23:16–22; James 5:12.

That makes it impossible for a believer to be in the armed forces.

In many countries it is compulsory for some people (usually young men) to enter the armed forces for a period of time, especially when the country is at war. In such cases, believers must choose whatever alternative they can. In the past, that has sometimes led believers to be imprisoned or even executed.

Involvement in politics
When Jesus was on earth, he lived under the power of the Roman Empire. The Romans dominated everything, taxing the people heavily and limiting the ability of the Jews to govern their own nation. There were Jewish terrorists who fought to overthrow the Roman rule. But Jesus did not comment on the politics of his land, and did not seek to make any changes to it. Instead, he encouraged the people to cooperate with the Romans (Mark 12:14–17).
The Zealots were one group of terrorists who were violently opposed to the Romans. Simon the Zealot became one of Jesus’ apostles.

There are no biblical instructions telling us how to put the world right, or even that we should be trying to do so. Instead, our duty is to live a godly life in whatever conditions we find ourselves.

Every government, no matter how evil, is appointed by God.

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. (Romans 13:1–2)

Therefore, a believer should not get involved in a protest movement, or a political campaign. Instead, we wait for God’s kingdom when all the world’s problems will be put right.

Swearing oaths
James wrote

Above all, my brothers, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your “Yes” be yes, and your “No”, no, or you will be condemned. (James 5:12)
See also Matthew 5:34–37

So if we are asked to swear an oath on the Bible, we should not do so. Both James and Jesus tell us that a simple agreement is sufficient. In circumstances where we might be requested to swear an oath, it is always possible to take an “affirmation” instead.
An “affirmation” is a legal declaration stating you will tell the truth.

Jury service
From time to time, a person might be selected for jury service. A jury is a group of people who determine whether someone is guilty in a criminal trial. This raises many difficulties for believers. For example, Paul wrote

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? (1 Corinthians 5:12)

1. Suppose you were called to fight for your country, and refused to do so. Would you agree to join the army medical corps instead? What difficulties might be involved in this type of work?
2. Many faithful people in the Old Testament swore oaths, including Abraham, Joseph and David. Even God himself swears oaths and required the Israelites to do so in some circumstances. Why, then, did Jesus command us not to swear oaths (Matthew 5:34–37)?
Genesis 21:23–24; 22:16; 47:31; Exodus 22:10–11; 1 Samuel 24:21–22; Jeremiah 44:26; 49:13.
3. Read Luke 22:35–38. Why did Jesus tell his disciples to obtain a sword? Was he being ironic?
4. Is it acceptable for a believer to take self-defence lessons? What would be the point of such lessons?
5. In some countries (such as Australia), voting is compulsory. Should we vote in such circumstances? If we choose not to vote, what reason should we give the electoral authorities?

1. Paul sometimes used his Roman citizenship to avoid punishment, but at other times he did not mention his citizenship and suffered punishment when he could have avoided it. Using a concordance, find the passages in Acts where Paul refers to his Roman citizenship. Why do you think he sometimes allowed himself to suffer?
2. We have seen that it would be wrong for a believer to join the armed forces. Would it also be wrong for a believer to join the police force? If he or she did, what difficulties would this involve? What about being a private detective, or a security guard?

• The Christadelphians: what they believe and preach by Harry Tennant (published by The Christadelphian, 1986). Chapter 23 “The disciple and the world”, 14 pages.
• The Christian and war by J.B. Norris (published by The Christadelphian, 1954). 30 pages.
• The Gospel and strife by A.D. Norris (published by The Christadelphian, 1981). 45 pages.
• Freedom in Christ by H.A. Twelves (published by the Christadelphian, 1968). Chapter 11: Politics. 8 pages.
• Christ and protest by Harry Tennant (published by The Christadelphian). 16 pages.
• The disciple and jury service by H.A. Twelves (published by The Christadelphian Military Service Committee, 1987). 21 pages.

29. Forgiving one another
34. The sermon on the mount
49. suffering
55. The law of love
62. Careers and employment