NOTE: A PDF version written in outline form can be found here: On Christian Love, Order, Law, and Government.
This response mainly targets this comment, which was tweeted by a friend of mine. “Christians once used Scripture to support slavery. We now shake our heads in bewildered disgust. Someday so it will be with military service.” I tried to respond directly to the tweet but my points were deleted/censored. For this reason, and in response to some questions on the subject by my good friend Michael Z., I’ve provided this analysis.
In addition, it responds to several wrongly made assumptions and arguments found within the article that accompanied the tweet. It is not a total response to the listed article, but mainly addresses the insensitivity and inconsistency of the above quoted status, and an analysis of the following subjects.
It focuses mostly on the topic of Government, War, Order, and the Christian Virtue of Love. What does Scripture have to say on society using force, and a Christian’s role within this society? How does the primal motive of love relate to law and order? What does scripture provide on the subject?
- I. Intro
- a. Purpose of the Church
- b. Where we can Agree
- c. Introducing the Terms
- II. Body
- a. Biblical Principles
- i. Christian Love
- Romans 12:18-19, 14:19, Heb 12:14, Isa 2:4, Mat 5:9, 38-48, 26:52
- ii. Government
- Rom 13:1-7
- Mat 22:21
- iii. Self Defense
- Luk 22:36, 38
- iv. Restraint
- Heb 12:14
- v. Discipline
- Pro 12:1
- Psa 94:12, Prov 1:7, 6:23, 12:1, 13:1, 15:5, 29:15, Isa 38:16, Heb 12:9, 12:11.
- vi. Christian Responsibility
- Hating Evil: Prov 8;13, Amos 5:15
- Salt and Light of the World: Matt 5:13-16
- i. Christian Love
- b. Responses to Objections
- i. Individual versus Governmental
- ii. Case of the Amish
- c. Objections
- i. (1) Micro-Level
- ii. (2) Macro-Level
- a. Biblical Principles
- III. Summary
- How This approach makes best an explanation of (1) the Golden Rule and (2) The problems of Evil, Social Disorder, Government, War, Force and Christian responsibility.
One thing must first be established. The Church has the following purpose: (1) To Love God, (2), To Love our Neighbors, (3) To share the Gospel with the world, (Mark 12:28-34, 16:15). We can surely agree that these are principles that root our total understanding of the Christian Walk.
We will not discuss the third, as we can agree with it and the scenario of military unarmed chaplains. For background, my friend argued a Chaplain speaking in chapel was akin to telling Christians to go to war. After talking with others who listened to the message, this was an absolute lie. It is a great advantage that we have to minister to troops and the lost in this degree. The individual manipulated an event to wrongly support his presuppositions.
Now to the meat of the response. I believe we both must take the same starting point, and can have agreement here. This starting point is love. Our love must be the base of our response, not only for one another, but also mainly for God. Our love of God and His love of us make loving others possible. “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Cor 10:31). How then, can love be seen to coincide with something as dreadful and ugly as war? Without a doubt war is the most magnified expression of sinful humanity I can imagine. It contains unspeakable horror. How can such a dreadful thing contain anything like Christian virtue?
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” (Matt 5:9). As Christians, we are called to be peacemakers. Our ultimate purpose is to aid the peace of bringing believers to Jesus. Secondary is then peace on earth. We both must start here (and I believe we do). I would not deny this essential foundation, as it is vital to understanding the necessity for government, self-defense, and the other provided arguments. We are to be people of love, and ‘when possible’ “as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Rom 12:18). We are supposed to love not only our enemies, but also everyone. Love is our revolutionary ethic. Selfless love is the hallmark of the Spirit-empowered Christian. We are supposed to be forgiving, loving, peacemakers (Rom 12:18-19, 14:19, Heb 12:14, Isa 2:4, Mat 5:9, 38-48, 26:52).
Jesus never calls for a radical anarchy or government take-over. The realities of the time were that Christians were in the minority (and would be for some time). Scripture does not reject government, but acknowledges its necessity. “4For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” (Rom 13:1-7). Here we see Paul explaining government. It contains within it the ability to punish (it “bears the sword” for some function, and provides “wrath” to wrongdoers). Scripture affirms (1) the existence and necessity of government, given the sinful nature of wrongdoers in the world, (2) Its ability to provide order and control wrongdoers using force (“sword”), and (3) It does not restrict governing or government to the hands of sinners/non-believers. We do not find an exclusion of Christians from participating in government. If such a vacancy is clear, and God ordains authority and Scripture finds it necessary, how can we argue that it is wrong to participate, at this level (not talking about specifics), in the functions of Law and Order? This applies to the Christian as a Policeman or a Serviceman. If it is necessary to have a government, which can use force to punish wrongdoers and bring order to society, would it not make sense that those rooted in the Word, and with an understanding of God’s revealed wisdom, would then best be able to properly issue Justice? After all, they are in relations with the ultimate Judge himself (notice the ‘good’ portion in 13:4, followed by ‘punishing’ ‘wrongdoers’ with the ‘sword’). Otherwise, you’re saying a good (punishing wrongdoers via governmental law and order), should not be done by Good Christians. Also a note, incase someone accepts the idea of Christian police officers but not Christian servicemen: as a police officer protects innocents in society from the guilty and violent within, Armed servicemen protect innocents in the society from the guilty and the violent outside. Two faces of the same coin (thus equal application of Romans to civil police and military force).
In addition, we must understand that a Christian’s walk with God is not equivalent to the functions of Government (Rom 13:1-7, and Matt 22:21). We can personally love our enemies, shower them with the ‘burning coals’ of compassion, yet still maintain order and justice on a societal/governmental level (Rom 12:20). In reality, maintaining order allows us to love our enemies! They are separate but complimentary; personal issues of behavior, and overriding structural issues. Our Christian ethic can supplement governing, but there is a divide between the responsibilities of the church (charity, forgiveness, love), and the necessities of our government (law and order). It is still possible to Walk with God, care for the orphans, and provide for the widows, all within a setting of government that makes such opportunities and existence possible (Romans 13).
After examining government, we would then ask if scripture offers any insight on self-defense. Clearly Romans is teaching us that a Government uses Force to bring about the goodness of order by punishing wrongdoers. It also contains no direct observable restrictions in Christians being those who may be the vehicles of justice (soldiers or police officers). What then at a smaller scale, such as self defense? I would argue that defending oneself against the oppression of an evil-doer is loving and just. Perhaps Luke 22:36 can offer such insight.
“He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one,” (Luke 22:36). “All, therefore, that the passage justifies is: 1. That it is proper for people to provide beforehand for their wants, and for ministers and missionaries as well as any others. 2. That self-defense is lawful. Men encompassed with danger may lawfully “defend” their lives. It does not prove that it is lawful to make “offensive” war on a nation or an individual. [and thus how this verse can coincide with Mat 26:52],” (Albert Barnes). “However the matter may be understood, we may rest satisfied that these swords were neither to be considered as offensive weapons, nor instruments to propagate the truth. The genius and spirit of the Christian religion is equally against both.” (Adam Clarke). Clarke and Barnes hint towards a self-defense nature of the text (I provided them both as opposed to my own interpretation in the name of fairness, as both are distinguished protestant theologians). Judea was saturated with robbers. As they ventured out into the world, they would make easy prey to Judean robbers, and we can understand the text here as literal advice towards preparation as they go about missionary work. This is not offensive justification, but necessity. This is how we can coincide the understanding alongside Matt 26:52, scriptures’ teaching of peacemakers, and still not descend into extreme allegory.
“And they said, ‘Look, Lord, here are two swords.’ And he said to them, ‘It is enough’,” (Luke 22:38). “The Galileans, it is said, often went armed. The Essenes did so also. The reason was that the country was full of robbers and wild beasts, and it was necessary to carry, in their travels, some means of defense. It seems that the disciples followed the customs of the country, and has with them some means of defense, though they had but two swords among the twelve.” (Barnes). I think this simply clarifies the setting for interpretation of self-defense. Again, Jesus does not rebuke them, but does lay warning to offensive usage.
In other words, I do not wish this to turn into an exegesis of Luke 22:36 (un-needed tangent, given the total tone of this response), but I would warn against extreme allegory. Given the cultural practice, and the accompanying context of Luke 22:38, I do not see why this would violate the ability of individuals to protect themselves from wild beast or robber. God does rebuke them for offensive usage (Matt 26:52 [Gen 9:6]), and living by offensive violence, but in this scenario he does not reject defensive usage of force. Loving God is loving Justice, and loving people can still exist alongside opposing tyranny and oppression. From these verses, I think we find a practical statement to the disciples regarding the reality of venturing in the dangers outside the cities. Either way, I think this coincides with additional points I’ll make.
“14Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” (Heb 12:14). Without a doubt, we are peacemakers and lovers of people. It is for this reason why I believe genuine believers are best to make the decisions of the necessity of war and order. We are convicted by the spirit, and under the guidance of God’s Word. Within all of this, we also have another attribute necessary to make sense of how War and Force can be justified: restraint. Our love and forgiveness for one another bring about a restraint upon the abuses of power. As Clarke and Barnes argue, using force in a “defensive” manner is different from using force in an “offensive” manner. This is also different from the rebukes of vengeance taught by Jesus and Paul. We can restrain ourselves from jealously killing our friend with a rock (immoral, vengeful and offensive), but we can still be loving and prudent enough to defend innocents (such as this friend) from being killed. Our Christian prudence and restraint allow us to properly channel the necessity of Force within the reality of a sinful world.
“ 1 Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid.” (Pro 12:1) I also believe some words need to be said on the subject of discipline. Scripture is ripe with the necessity to disciplining children and wrongdoers (Psa 94:12, Prov 1:7, 6:23, 12:1, 13:1, 15:5, 29:15, Isa 38:16, Heb 12:9, 12:11). In a spiritual sense, it is necessary for the Christian walk. In short, a father must discipline an unruly child, or that child will grow to hate authority and order, and thus hate the Ultimate Authority and source of Order (see above verses). When families extend, they create societies, and societies create government (Social Contract and John Locke). Along the above-mentioned Romans verse, discipline makes sense. A father uses the Rod to place his child in line. This action is not immoral, but it does contain force. The same for society at large. It is moral to discipline the unruly. It is actually immoral not to! To allow society, or an enemy, to go unopposed when they promote evil is to propagate evil itself. Complete passivity is dangerous. In other words, discipline can be a Good, and it is no surprise we find it in government. Discipline extends from the Father to Child, the Society/Government to wrongdoer, and at times even Nation to Nation (The U.S. and the Axis), (Parental->Societal->Global). Perhaps you may object: “But Nation to Nation can be abusive.” To this I would absolutely agree, thus the necessity for Prudence and Restraint (point iv.). However, all those other areas may also be abused (father beating his child, society oppressing its people). It does not deny the scriptural and practical value of discipline, nor the ability of government to use force. Surely you can argue you can oppose evil passively (and in many cases that is correct), however to then deny force itself as wrong, is to deny scripture’s teaching on its amoral nature and potential moral usage.
Having laid out the presupposition of Christian love, and the scriptures relating to government, force, restraint, defense, etc., one additional point is necessary. We are called to be the salt and light of the world (Matt 5:13-16). We are to reflect God’s nature. God hates evil. We are to hate evil. “To fear the LORD is to hate evil;” (Pro 8:13). “15 Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts.” (Amos 5:15). We find in Amos a connection between hating evil, loving good, and justice. We have a responsibility to oppose evil, oppression, slavery, and injustice in the world. In the name of Love for one another, and reflecting God’s character, it makes sense that we would oppose evils such as the German Nazi machine. It is a testimony of God’s hatred of evil and love of justice that we would oppose the extermination of the Jews, the systematic murder of millions, and the attempt to impose tyranny upon all of Western Europe. We are in a position where we hold the reins and the capacity to oppose it justly with our government’s force. Sacrificing to oppose such blatant evil, given all peaceful negotiations have been exhausted, seems more akin to being healing and hope in the world. We are responsible, as people of a Just God, to seek justice (both at a personal level, societal, and governmental level).
Responses to Objections
As stated earlier, our loving of enemies can co-exist with our government’s punishment of them. I actually find the two complimentary. Take the Case of the Amish and recent murder. Their example is absolutely commendable! It is how we should personally engage with our enemy. However that does not conclude that the government’s ability to protect the Amish from such oppression, or to bring the oppressor to trial and punishment is wrong. Nor does it assume Christians participating in the process of the trial and punishment to be in the wrong (see the Government section). There exist a personal direct level, and a governmental level, that coexist and compliment. In addition, as bystanders, to watch the Amish be murdered and even extinguished is simply unloving, especially if we contain the means to stop such attempts. The maintaining of order even allows the Amish to respond the way they did.
Objections in Need of Answers
It is my conviction that this understanding of government, law, order, force, restraint, justice, and the like best explain the love of a Christian and the responsibility of the government. It also best answers some serious objections, which I offered my friend and he left unanswered.
Christians are called to be peacemakers. This is not only selfish passivity. A man snatches an old woman or a young girl into an alley and begins to rape her. You have the ability to stop the rape by force. In this situation there is (1) A guilty oppressor/enemy, (2) an innocent being oppressed, and (3) a bystander commanded to love his neighbor and who contains the ability to stop this. An injustice is occurring, and God is a God of justice. If force is the only means, than clearly it is justified. Can you talk or protest this rapist into stopping, or does it necessitate force on behalf of the woman or girl? Otherwise you are allowing evil to triumph over innocence. You are being unloving for the sake of a selfish ideology (and I would say idol), of complete passivity. To argue that you cannot use force against this person because it is not loving to enemies denies the very premise of love! It is loving to (1) rescue the innocent from being raped and (2) to restrain the guilty person with discipline and force. You love both the enemy by preventing them from doing harm, and the innocent by preventing them from being harmed. This is no different than a Christian doing the same as a police officer or an armed soldier, if (1) A nation or group of individuals are using violence and oppression against innocents, (2) An innocent nation or people are being violently oppressed, and (3) You have the means to end such an oppression. To leave the dirty work to unbelievers is selfish and hypocritical. This leads to the Macro-Level objection…
Allow us to surrender certain current political questions (Iraq, etc), and focus on these theoretic objections. WW2 is a good example. Clearly we have evil in the form of the Axis and their attempt to systematically murder millions of Christians (such as Bonheoffer), Jews, Ethnicities, etc. In addition, they are attempting to force tyranny, racism, oppression, and totalitarianism upon all of Western Europe. The (1) Oppressor (Axis) is wrongly oppressing (2) the innocent (W. Europe). The (3) U.S. had the capability to use force to restrain and punish such evil, although at great cost. Which then is more loving, watching all of Western Europe fall under the tyranny and murder of the Nazis, or sacrificing our men to rescue the innocent (even rescuing the guilty Nazis from themselves)? I believe the latter adheres to biblical principles. We are called to be servants (Mark 10:45). “13Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13). To simply watch men suffer, in either the Micro or Macro level, is un-loving.
In summary, this approach best understands scripture and theoretical scenarios. We are called to not only love the enemy, but to love everyone else. To not punish the enemy, even if force is necessary, loves neither the enemy (as government opposing wrongdoers and discipline are Good) as it subjects them to no restraint on their abuses, nor does it love in any capacity those being viciously violated! This approach provides the best explanation of (1) the Golden Rule and (2) The problems of Evil, Social disorder, and Christian responsibility. It best ties our conviction to Christian Love and forgiveness of our enemies on personal levels, and the realities and functioning of a sinful world. Without a doubt, we are to exhaust the diplomatic approach! We are to do ‘everything possible’ for peace. However, that does not presume an exclusion of Force. Force can be amoral, and used for the good. This is a premise I object strongly from absolute pacifism. To remain passive when clear violations are occurring, either at a social level (hungry children, naked poor, etc), or a societal/world level (woman being raped, Nazis’ attempting to take Europe), is sinful.
Scripture teaches us that government is a necessity (Romans 13, Matt 22). In addition, it offers some insight into the realm of defense (Luke 22). It also shows us how we are to utilize restraint and diplomacy in our approach (Heb 12:14). However, this does not deny the fundamental necessity of discipline at a parental, governmental, or national level. Rather, discipline is a good (Pro 12:1, Psa 94:12), and it is no surprise that we find that a God who hates evil (Pro 8:13), would reveal the responsibility of the government to oppose wrongdoers, even with the sword (Romans 13:4), in the name of justice (Amos 5:15). In a sinless world, and with the reign of Jesus, there will be the ability for the lion to lay with the lamb. Violence will be erased from our experience. However, given sin, it is a present reality. Grounded in our understanding of Love, it is quite loving to adhere to teachings of discipline and government, and use Force as a measure for the goodness of opposing clear oppressive evilness. Can this be abused? Surely! But that does not deny the principle, as an abusive father does not deny the principle of disciplining an unruly child. If anything, something such as sacrificing blood for the sake of saving Western Europe in WWII screams of self-sacrificial Christian love (John 15:13)! The same is said of the man who uses force to prevent the rape of an innocent woman, even at the extent of his own life. This all responds nicely to certain realities that show how unloving an absolute rejection of using force can be (see the Micro and Macro objections, and the inadequate response given by total pacifists and my friends’ argument). It brings about the best understanding of government and Christian love. If anything, I would argue not opposing evil with force is extremely unloving, as watching a woman or a nation raped, after exhausting diplomatic and peaceful means, is vacant of love. Oddly enough, using prudent and restrained force is actually necessary for peace, as well as necessary for loving BOTH our enemies by restraining their evil and disciplining them, and everyone else in the form of preventing their oppression. Christians must not only clothe the naked and feed the poor, but prevent their cloaks from being stolen and the poor from being starved. To deny man the latter, when the means are capable to accomplishing such a task (as in the micro and macro examples), is quite unloving.