A “Christian Position” on War … ? … and a Powerful Potential Witness.

I think that Greg Boyd is right: Christians are called to be personally pacifistic, but governments are sometimes instruments of God’s judgement here on Earth. [Admittedly, this position weakens my anti-death penalty stance. I will have to think on that some more.]

While the New Testament calls on followers of Jesus to love, bless and serve our enemies rather than use violence against them, it also acknowledges that God uses the sword-wielding capacity of governments to keep sin in check. For example, four verses after Paul tells disciples to love and serve enemies and to leave all vengeance to God (Rom. 12:17-21), he goes on to say that God orchestrates governments to exact vengeance on wrongdoers (Rom. 13:4). In other words, he’s saying that God will use governments to do things God explicitly forbids disciples of Jesus to do.

[Emphasis mine.]

I wished that I’d read this before Sunday morning, when I had to introduce a musical arrangement of Saint Francis of Assisi’s peace prayer. I struggled to make that point in my introduction, but I guess I got it across. And then, of course, my pastor would mention Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus during his sermon [he’s been preaching out of Acts for most of the last two months], but only in the second service. In my introduction in both services, I said, “We’re called to love our enemies. That means that we’re called to love Osama bin Laden, as difficult as that might be for us to do. It was difficult for me to do six years ago, and it’s just as difficult today.”

Of course, since I brought up Paul, you can probably see the parallel: Saul, the former persecutor of the splinter sect of Jews, suddenly repents. Brothers and sisters, what a joy it would be, and what a powerful witness for Christ that would be made, if Osama bin Laden, a man responsible for the deaths of thousands around the world, suddenly repented of his sins and confessed Christ. Would we have a hard time believing his faithfulness? Absolutely—but given that we don’t know the hearts of any around us, we have no real reason to doubt any other more or less. And if we Christians accepted him as one of our own? That, too, would be a powerful witness. Certainly, he would have to account for his crimes, as we all do, but we could, through Christ’s love through us, come to love him as a brother.

That would be a rather large wave in life’s ocean that resulted from the Cornerstone being laid into it.

Not that I expect any of this, nor that he deserves it, but that we all deserve death and that none of us deserve heaven nor the grace that gets us there.


  1. I am fully with you on this one. I think Boyd’s position is correct. Then you get into the fun questions like “what if a Christian truly committed to this principle ends up in public office?” Does that person act as their Christian pacifist individual self or do they take the steps to have the government wield the sword? I know some who would advocate the former, but I lean more to the latter. Definitely more thinking to do.

  2. Of course, using violence personally is not always an act of vengeance. So Paul’s forbidding personal vengeance is not necessarily forbidding any and all personal acts of violence.

  3. I’m thinking primarily of defensive actions. Would Paul be opposed to using violent force in defending a helpless victim?

    The Good Samaritan helped a guy that had been beaten and robbed and left on the street. What would he have done had he arrived during the act of beating and robbing?

    I believe he would have, if necessary, used physical force to stop the attackers. And it would be just as righteous as what he actually did in the story.

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