The Big Question 60: Can Christians Fight In War?
May 18, 2021 982
Can Christians fight in war?
I’ll be right up front here and tell you that there are different views within Christianity about this.
Many Christians believe that you shouldn’t bear arms in war under any circumstances. That view is called pacifism and it has a very long and illustrious tradition within Christianity. Pacifists will either refuse to join the army altogether even if they’re conscripted or they will join and serve in non-competent roles like medics.
However, other Christians believe that it’s okay to serve your country by bearing arms and killing your enemy in war.
Which view is right?
Well I’m not actually sure. I’ve got to be honest. In this and other difficult issues I think that we should allow people to follow their own conscience and their convictions.
Let’s look at pacifism first. Pacifism has a long and ancient tradition within Christianity. Jesus certainly appeared to teach pacifism in many of his sayings like when he said “love your enemies” and also “all who draw the sword will die by the sword” and “blessed are the peacemakers” and in many other sayings.
During the first 300 years of its existence the Christian Church was strongly pacifist officially refusing to serve in the army or use violence of any kind. As long as its focus was on the idea that the kingdom of Christ was essentially not of this world they held fast to pacifism.
Well-known modern Christian pacifists include Leo Tolstoy and Martin Luther King Jr. Of course you don’t have to be a Christian to be a pacifist. Just think of Mahatma Gandhi for example. All of these great people have brought about tremendous change for good in our world.
Let’s now look at the opposite view. The idea of Christians fighting the army also has a long history. In fact, by the third century after Christ there were significant members of Christians serving in the Roman army.
The pacifist position of the church changed in the time of Constantine because he united the interests of the government and the church. The church developed the concept of the just war, the idea that waging war is justified under certain conditions.
Those who argue for the Christian option to bear arms say that the aim of Christianity is to promote peace and justice and that war can be the tool that can help achieve this under certain circumstances. Waging war might be the lesser of two evils. It can achieve more good than doing nothing.
Personally I don’t have a definitive answer. What I will say is that if you come to a position on this issue you must always be consistent with the message of Jesus Christ. You have to weigh up all the ethical issues and be respectful of the viewpoints of others.