Whether or not a Christian may enlist in military service and then fight in carnal combat for his nation has been an issue among Christians for many generations. There have been, and still are, conscientious people who have opposed such enlistment. There have been, and still are, equally conscientious people who have argued that such may be done – some even suggesting that such should be done!
While recognizing that there is an area of liberty of opinion in such matters, we seek to establish a basis for our beliefs on this issue. Certainly, if a man believes it to be sinful to enlist in any sort of military service, he cannot do so without violating his conscience. It is a terribly dangerous thing to sin against one’s conscience. There is, however, a big difference in one conscientiously objecting to military service by Christians and that same person saying that such would be sin for anyone else!
We begin our discussion by asking some fair questions. First, “May a Christian fight to protect his own person?” Is there an inherent right for a child of God to defend himself personally from bodily harm? We answer in the affirmative.
Second, “May a Christian fight to protect his wife and children?” What about a man who does not properly care for his own and especially those of his own household (I Tim. 5:8)? Again, we would surely agree that a man may engage in physical combat to protect his wife and family.
Third, “May a Christian fight for his community?” If a local community of fifty homes is being attacked by an enemy, is it wrong for the Christian men of that community to come to the aid of their community? This writer doubts that any would object to this.
In each of the above cases we are assuming that the cause of fighting, whether individually or collectively, is a just cause. The Christian is not one who can take personal vengeance as the motive for fighting – whether in regard to his own person, the persons of his family or his community! Vengeance does have its place in the overall scheme of things. Vengeance belongs to God (Rom. 12:19). There is a difference between personal and individual vengeance and an effort by the individual to protect himself from an enemy. It should be noted that the governments of nations are for the purpose of exacting God’s vengeance on evildoers. A study of Romans 13 well establishes this fact.
Now, “Can a Christian fight for his nation?” The answer is, “Yes, a Christian may fight for his nation in a just cause.” A just cause is a cause that seeks to punish evildoers and reward those who do good. The national government is empowered by God to bring evildoers to justice and to bless those who do good (Rom. 13:3-4). When a nation goes to war to protect its people, it acts according to God’s provisions.
A Christian who fights in such a war acts as a part of that government and is justified in his endeavor by the same principle that enables the government to exact justice from evildoers and make provision to encourage those who do good.
Some will object along this line: “But the Christian is ‘not of this world’ and is a citizen of a spiritual kingdom – and as such is not to fight in a physical kingdom!” Jesus Himself said that His kingdom was not of this world else would His servants fight (John 18:36). Some read this and assume that this says that a servant of Christ should not fight! Indeed a child of God does not fight with carnal weapons when in a spiritual conflict. The weapons used in the spiritual battle include the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:17). But a child of God is also a citizen of a material kingdom. As a citizen of that kingdom the child of God may enlist in the defence of that kingdom – even using the weapons which are the weapons of that kingdom!
-Glenn B. Ramsey