The Call of Christ to the Law of Love
Jesus Christ instituted a doctrine of love whereby God’s children bear injustice without retaliation and render good for evil. War and the shedding of blood practiced under the Old Testament dispensation are no longer acceptable for God’s people in the dispensation of grace.
A New Covenant
While warfare and the doctrine of an “eye for an eye” were foundational practices for historical Israel, a new covenant was prophesied. “Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel” (Jeremiah 31:31). The prophet Micah foretold of a time when God’s people would “beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Micah 4:2-3). These prophecies were fulfilled in the plan of salvation through Jesus Christ.
Law of Love
In the New Testament, God’s people are called to follow the teaching and example of Jesus Christ. The foundational principle of Christ was the doctrine of loving God supremely and loving “thy neighbor as thyself” (Matthew 22:36-40). God’s children are to have a deep love and care for all men and to seek for the welfare of all people, even evildoers. Where the Israelites, even under God’s direction, were militaristic, Jesus taught passivism and nonresistance. “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:38-39). This reference was not only giving instruction for interpersonal conflict but also for people of the Jewish nation living under the tyrannical rule of the Roman government. While many people were looking for a messiah who would give a call to battle against the Romans, instead, the Messiah preached “resist not evil.”
Did Jesus really mean for His people never to fight or go to war? His words were more than rhetoric and idealistic language. It was a pivotal moment when Jesus, facing death, instructed Peter to put up his sword (Matthew 26:52). Rather than meeting/ evil and injustice with force and violence, Jesus suffered without threatening or reviling. He prayed for the Father to forgive His enemies. Jesus proved by His own life, as did His followers, that suffering and bearing injustice with love was more noble than retaliating or fighting on a personal level or in the name of the state.
It is incumbent upon true children of the Father to lay down all sources of warfare and violence. “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:43-45).
Paul, in addressing spiritual warfare, declared plainly that “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)” (2 Corinthians 10:3-4). Not only are physical weapons of warfare carnal, but even the spirit of war is totally contrary to the spirit of love. Jesus said, “all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword” (Matthew 26:52). The life of a Christian is to be dedicated to the cause of Christ and to the gospel of peace. While saints are in conflict and battle, it is spiritual rather than physical. “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood” (Ephesians 6:11-12).
According to historic documents, the early Christians completely renounced war and the shedding of human blood in accordance with the teachings of Christ. Historians imply, if not directly state, that nonresistance had been the position of Christians from the beginning of the church. Early Christians refused military service because of their faith and obedience to Christ. In the middle of the second century, Justin Martyr writes: “we…have…changed our warlike weapons, our swords into plowshares, and our spears into implements of tillage.” Ancient church canons officially forbade military service.
“Christian” Governments Brought Compromise
There was evidence that as compromise spread, Christians began to join the military. In response, Tertullian wrote in A.D. 174, “Shall the son of peace take part in the battle when it does not become him even to sue at law?” Tertullian further wrote that if a soldier was converted, he should immediately abandon the military or take whatever punishment he must endure. After the Roman emperor Constantine (312 A.D.) was converted, he gave Christianity legal status. This began to have a greater influence on Christians to change their practice of nonresistance, as the government was no longer professedly pagan. Around 380 A.D., emperors Theodosius and Gratianus made Christianity the official religion of the state and eventually required all soldiers to be Christian. This was a reversal of the nonresistance stand taken by primitive Christianity and it was greatly influenced by military leaders who now fought as professing Christians.
Division Between Secular and Spiritual
Many Christians today have likewise compromised their stand on this issue. The position a child of God on nonresistance should not rest on history but on the simple teachings of Christ. It is foundational to recognize the two kingdoms—one temporal and one spiritual. The Kingdom of God “is not of this world” (John 18:36) and Christians, while in the world, are not to be of it (John 17:14-16). As strangers and pilgrims, saints in the Kingdom of God are to refrain from temporal warfare in the name of the state because it is in direct conflict with the requirements of a citizen of the spiritual kingdom. There is a clear division between the requirements of God’s children who live under grace and the God-ordained responsibility of the secular government that operates carnally. These two are often mutually exclusive of one another.
Government Ordained of God
The book of Daniel teaches that it is God that “removeth kings, and setteth up kings” (2:21). “The most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men” (4:17). While governments are incapable by laws to bring about complete harmony and peace because most of mankind rejects God’s grace, they are able to help control chaos by carnal methods. Hence, God made provision for kings and governors to punish evildoers (1 Peter 2:13-14). It is not the function of the saints living with love and grace to administer punishment to the violent and evil criminal or rogue nation. The civil authority of this world, referred to as “ministers of God”, were ordained of God to be a “revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil” (Romans 13:1-4).
The Christian’s Call
The mission of the church is to be an extension of Christ’s mission on earth. Christ’s role was not to punish the evildoer but to bring a message of salvation and love to a fallen world. While citizens of this world, the Christian mission is to live to a higher calling. The Bible defines the roles and responsibilities of the child of God. “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake” (1 Peter 2:13). Christians are to obey the laws of their given country as long as they do not conflict with the law of God. Christians should pray and make intercession “for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour”
(1 Timothy 2:1-3). The purpose is to lead a quiet and peaceable life; and as soldiers of the cross, Christians must not entangle themselves with the affairs of this life (2 Timothy 2:3-4).
While war wages and nations rise and fall, may the saints of God continue to follow in the footsteps of Christ (1 Peter 2:21-24)—not “rendering evil for evil” (1 Peter 3:9), being steadfast in love, doing good to personal and national enemies, blessing them which persecute, and overcoming evil with good (Romans 12:14-21).
The stand of the saints and their renunciation of military service stands firmly on the teaching and example of the Prince of Peace. The doctrine of nonresistance will be misunderstood by the world and will require suffering, sometimes even death; but it is part of the narrow way that leads to life everlasting. ■