Answers to "Ask Mike" Questions
36. Does the Bible permit war?
No one in his or her right mind wants war. Nonetheless, God’s Word permits war under certain conditions.
The Bible teaches that the church and the state have different functions. The church exists to save the lost by applying the principle of grace with love. The state protects its citizens and restrains evildoers by law with force. The Bible says, "He [the civil ruler] is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer." (Romans 13:4b NIV) Overt government action is warranted to protect citizens from criminal behavior within and without. Such action includes war.
Since the time of Augustine (ca. AD 400), the church has supported the "just war theory." Our military academies teach various formulations of this theory to future officers. The Gulf War and the war in Afghanistan stand as applications of the just war concept. This approach to conflict has seven components:
1. The conflict grows out of a just cause. All aggression is condemned; war is justified only for self-defense or the defense of the defenseless.
2. The conflict is pursued with just intentions. The goal of armed conflict is the restoration of peace and justice.
3. The conflict begins as a last resort. War begins only after negotiations and other efforts fail or when there is an open attack on the nation requiring self-defense.
4. The conflict must begin with a formal declaration of war. Military force is the prerogative of governments. Thus, the highest authorities must declare a state of war. Individuals or nongovernmental organizations that engage in attacks are terrorists.
5. The conflict has limited objectives. War’s purpose is to restore a just peace not to destroy an enemy’s economy and institutions.
6. The conflict uses proportionate means. Weaponry and force are limited to what is necessary to repel aggression and deter future attacks. In a conventional war, this would eliminate the propriety of nuclear, bacteriological, or chemical weapons.
7. The conflict seeks to keep noncombatants immune from attack.
In my judgment, the current conflict grows out of a first strike. To ensure the protection of the citizenry, the governmental authorities acting as "God’s avengers" must act to eliminate future threats and restore peaceful security in the land. Paul wrote, "I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone– for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives…" (1 Tim. 2:1-2a NIV).
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Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. NIV. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.