Christians and War

Should Adventists be involved in warfare? What is the church's position?

The Christian church has reflected on the question of war and the Christian attitude toward it for centuries. Unfortunately, I'm not sure I can give a specific answer to your questions, but let me place before you some things to consider.

1. War as a Constant Social Phenomenon: As long as the phenomenon of sin is part of the human experience, war will to some extent characterize social life and relations among nations (Matt. 24:6). Humans always exist under the threat or the actuality of war; absolute world peace is a utopia, as is clearly demonstrated by human history.

2. War Is Always Evil: We should also acknowledge that there is no such thing as a just war. Only God, who is all-powerful and all-loving, can define and actually bring about a war that results in permanent peace. Christian attempts to define the conditions under which it would be right for Christians to participate in warfare is called the just war tradition. It provides guidelines that could be useful for Christians, but its usefulness is weakened in that it could give the impression that under certain circumstances war may be morally or religiously justifiable. The church must insist at all times on the evilness of human wars.

3. Promote Peace and Reconciliation: The constancy of war forces the church to think about how to relate to this social evil. In that particular setting the main function of the church is to promote and supportpeace and reconciliation (cf. Matt. 5:9). This is how the church wars against war, a never-ending task in a world of rebellion and aggression. The church should be always willing to serve both parties involved in a potential or real conflict in an attempt to avoid or terminate it.

4. Provide Guidance to Church Members: We should also recognize that in some cases church 'members' participation in war is unavoidable, forcing them individually to reflect on how they should relate to the phenomenon. It is the responsibility of the church to provide guidance to them as they determine what to do as Christians. We should promote noncombatancy. If the function of the church in the context of war is to speak for peace and reconciliation, it must promote noncombatancy among its members, based on the biblical teaching of the value of human life. Members who are unwilling to participate in warfare in any way, no matter the cost, should find spiritual and emotional support in the church to remain loyal to their call.

It is the responsibility of the church to promote among church members who, for some reason, have to join the military the importance of obedience to God, that loyalty to God must supersede obedience to humans. When service in the military may result in an open conflict with religious convictions, Christ and His church expect loyalty to Him. We must be willing to enter into dialogue with government officials in an effort to obtain for our members the right to practice their religious convictions while in the military.

5. Members Determine Extent of Their Involvement: The extent of the involvement of the individual church member in war is a matter between him or her and God. Although the church should never give the impression that certain wars are justifiable and therefore right, it must acknowledge that in some situations church members may feel they have to choose the lesser of two evils and that both of them may require their involvement in defensive warfare. In such cases church members may benefit by examining the principles of the just war without concluding that war itself or their involvement in it is morally justifiable.

Among the principles of just war that could be useful to them the following are suggested: (1) the ultimate purpose is peace; (2) war is the last resort; (3) violence will be limited to those in arms; and (4) use of minimum force needed for victory. These elements set some parameters that will help make war less inhuman and will attempt to respect Jesus' call to love our enemies (Matt. 5:44.

For now, we look to a future where there will be war no more (Isa. 2:3, 4).

Date: 
4/13/03