The Christian and War: A Matter of Personal Conscience -- By: David R. Plaster

Journal: Grace Theological Journal
Volume: GTJ 06:2 (Fall 1985)
Article: The Christian and War: A Matter of Personal Conscience
Author: David R. Plaster

The Christian and War:
A Matter of Personal Conscience

David R. Plaster

The issue of whether a Christian should participate in war and, if so, to what extent is very complex. The Christian must balance biblical revelation concerning the authority of the state with his individual responsibility to love his enemies and to do good to all men. A survey of three attempts to achieve this balance (the activist, the pacifist, and the selectivist) reveals inadequacies in each. A position that mediates between these positions appears to be a proper Christian response to the biblical norms. This position may be termed noncombatant participation.

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The issue of whether the individual Christian should participate in war has been discussed from the early days of the Church. Tertullian, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, and John Calvin are but a few of those who addressed the problem. The central issue has been and remains the ethical conflict between a Christian’s responsibility to serve his government and the command of Christ to love his enemies. Godly men seeking to apply biblical principles have arrived at different answers to that conflict. George Weigel points out the lesson to be learned from the diverse answers to this chronic problem:

The very complexity of the Christian tradition’s teaching reminds us that there are no easy or simple answers to the dilemma of security and peace. In a public climate where the glib slogan or the bumper-sticker phrase often defines the policy debate, the richly textured tradition of the Church quietly tells us that there is no simple solution to the moral problem of war, and that an indignant self-righteousness is a warning sign of errors. Moreover, the fact that the Christian Churches have sustained a pluralistic dialogue on the ethics of war and peace reminds

us to acknowledge the validity of another’s moral concerns—especially the concerns of those with whom we disagree. We should search in others’ perspectives for possible hints and traces of truth that might be brought into our own.1

The Brethren response to this concern has not always been unanimous. However, the doctrine of non-resistance has long been held in Brethren circles and is now held by many in the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches. The purpose of this study is to survey the issue and analyze non-resistance in the face of the potential of conflicting demands placed upon the believer.

Preliminary Matters

The Authority of the State

The subject of civil government pervades both the OT and the NT. It is an asp...

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