When I interact with Bible school students I enjoy fielding their questions. Recently, a young man stood before a group and asked, “We were told when Bush was elected that he was a Christian, and this encouraged us all; but now we hear him speaking of war. How can people say he is a Christian?”
I answered him with this question: “Can a Christian be a police officer, or a judge?”
He spread his hands in concession and said, “Yes,” but I could see by the look on his face that he did not understand how the two different questions related to one another.
If people discuss the morality of war, most people focus on the act of killing. Often they confuse killing with murder. The Bible never forbids killing, it forbids murder. There is a marked difference, and one that is essential for us to understand when we consider government and human authority. In fact, the same questions that surround the idea of Christians and war surround the ideas that pertain to law, the judicial systems, punishment, and in particular capital punishment. A criminal outside of a nation’s boundaries is a criminal still, and like robbery or murder in our own neighborhood, must not go unchecked. If a police officer or a judge has a right and responsibility to stop the lawless within a nation’s borders, then the government as a whole has the right and responsibility to stop lawlessness for the common well being, and to defend the community of the nation as a whole.
There is an attitude of pacifism in the Christian community that is not biblical. The Bible plainly declares that “The LORD is a warrior!” (Jeremiah 20:11). It does not say, “the Lord is a Pacifist!”
Turning the other cheek was never intended by Jesus to take away the authority of the State. He was teaching on personal restraint and on how we are to conduct ourselves as individuals. Personal vengeance, or personal retaliation, are everywhere spoken of in the Bible as being improper. We are told by Paul in Romans 12:19, “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.”
The common mindset can only see half of this truth: avenge not yourselves. They dismiss the reality of vengeance by the wrath of God to a date in the eternal future. Perhaps in heaven God will right all wrongs and make things straight.
If we read further, we can see more of Paul’s mind. Here was a man who lived in the present. What did he mean when he said to “give place unto wrath?” Let’s continue reading the following verses:
Romans Chapter 13:1-6
1 Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.
2 Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.
3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:
4 For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.
5 Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.
6 For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.
God has determined human governments to be “a revenger to execute wrath.” When Paul said “revenge not yourselves” he was speaking of our need to submit to government authority to carry out and enforce the law.
We are clearly commanded to submit to the decisions of government, a power “ordained of God” and one enforcing the “ordinances” of God. All of this is said in the context of “bearing the sword” and applies to both military and police actions. In fact, a distinction between the two has only recently existed in our modern society. In Paul’s day the military were the police.
Instead of being considered a position of evil influence, Christians should honor government as an authority given by God. We should be thankful that a Christian is the president of the United States, and the commander in chief of its armies. Christians should be involved in government, should be involved in the military, should be involved in the judicial systems, should be the lone policeman on the street. When soldiers stood before John the Baptist, (Luke 3:14) he did not demand that they leave soldiering. Instead, he directed them to conduct themselves in a godly manner.
If being a soldier is sin for a Christian, how could John the Baptist give such instructions? Would he direct a thief, a murderer, or a prostitute to continue their work in a godly manner? It is a sad truth that we have neglected to see the authority of God in such positions, and instead of honoring them we have spoken of them as if they were the enemy.
It is essential for us to recognize the authority of war if we are to take our part in the place of prayer. Paul instructs us that “first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men, for kings, and for all that are in authority,” (1 Timothy 2:1-4). This work of prayer is to be done so that “we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty,” with the end result being that God would “have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”
Our prayer life, as directed toward world leaders, is targeted with the end in mind of the great commission. It is God’s intention that all be saved, and the proper use of government and authority not only enables us to live in peace, but to live in an environment that allows the spread of the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
There are several issues here that bear examination. God is at work on the world scene. There is no power but what is of God, and we are seeing a rapid change before our eyes. Who would have dreamed of the fall of communism? I have stood preaching in buildings that not long ago were the principal headquarters of military power aimed against America. Now they are filled with pastors and Bible students. Who would have dreamed that Afghanistan, once a nearly impenetrable nation of Islamic faith, would be open to the gospel? Whether by Cold War or through military action, nations before closed are now open. Governments, authorities ordained by God, have been used to open up fields of harvest.
We cannot fail to see the crisis of the moment, and the great fields of opportunity soon to be thrust upon the Church. Is she equal to the task? While we pray for the safety of our soldiers, do we see the hand that rules over all? He sets up one, and takes down another, all in order to fulfill His plans.
This places prayer on a higher level than some have realized. We are praying for the fate of nations, and the salvation of the lost. We are praying that divine opportunities will not be missed.