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Is war ever just?

Our core value of pursuing peace states, “We value all human life and promote forgiveness, understanding, reconciliation, and non-violent resolution of conflict.” But are there exceptions to this position? Are there circumstances in which we, as Christians and specifically BIC, should justify war? In whose hand is the sword?

To be fair, this question must be qualified. If I am asked, “Is war ever just for a Christ-follower?” then my answer is an unequivocal “no.” Both the life and teachings of Jesus provide an alternate way to live, one in which enemies are loved and prayed for. Furthermore, the first several hundred years of Church history support such a lifestyle, as early Jesus-followers refused to take up arms to defend themselves or any kingdom of this world.

As clear as this evidence is, however, it is also clear the New Testament affirms the use of the sword to restrain evil. In Matthew 18:36, even Jesus refers to a function of the kingdoms of this world in fighting for its own. For me, it comes down to this: In whose hand is the sword? In the one whose primary kingdom is the kingdom of God and whose life aim is to conform to the likeness of Christ? Not if we take the life of Jesus and the Early Church’s testimony to its logical conclusion. If the sword is in the hand of the one whose primary kingdom is a kingdom of this world, then the answer is “yes,” as both the Scriptures and history affirm.

We can come up with all kinds of answers to validate pragmatically a just war, but since when does Jesus call us to elevate such pragmatics over following in his footsteps—footsteps that ended at a cross?

Timothy Fisher has served as pastor of the Walkersville (Md.) Community Church for almost 20 years and is the facilitator for the DSP course on biblical interpretation. Tim and his wife, Beth, have been married for over 28 years, and have four children who attend Liberty University.

Is peace always realistic?

“ . . . When the ‘chips are down,’ as in the American Revolution, the Civil War, and the two World Wars, non-resistance stands tend to be either modified or abandoned. Some would deplore this phenomenon as a serious reflection on the viability of a perfect love theology. Perhaps it may imply rather that some idealistic interpretations of perfect love, which seem plausible enough in peace time, are no longer convincing when tested by the real options of troubled times.

It has seemed to me that a basic weakness in unqualified pacifism has been a sanguine view of human nature, with a failure to take with sufficient seriousness the depths of human depravity. Sin makes some things necessary which are extremely painful. Lawless human selfishness is so profound that it will not always respond to the kindness which perfect love yearns to give, and can only be restrained by the compulsion which perfect love demands.

I too desire to merit the blessing pronounced by Jesus on the peacemakers. This fostering of peace should certainly be in the vanguard of all attitudes and policies held by those who advocate peace. But when peace cannot be achieved at all . . . what does perfect love do then? Back off and let non-love take over? Or is there in the very nature of perfect love a demand that at times necessary options to peace be accepted when a just peace is not possible?”

Richard S. Taylor—excerpted from an article in Perfect Love and War: A Dialogue on Christian Holiness and the Issues of War and Peace by Paul Hostetler (Nappanee, Ind.: Evangel Press, 1974).

This article originally appeared in the spring/summer 2016 issue of In Part magazine.

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