Christian and war

Keith Sharp,  first positive

Gert-Jan van Zanten is a dedicated Christian and preacher, and a friend of mine in Holland who believes it is sinful for Christians to use lethal force in military service. I have publicly defended the right of both Christians and alien sinners to do so. Brother van Zanten requested that we have a written debate on this issue, and I accepted. We have no animosity toward each other, but we differ strongly on this subject. In this article I will affirm Resolved: The Scriptures authorize Christians to use lawful and just lethal force in military service.

Explanation of Proposition

By “Scriptures” I mean the Bible, though the will of God for us today is found in the New Testament (Hebrews 1:1-2; 8:6-13). To “authorize” is “to give a right to act” (Webster). “Christians” are disciples of Christ (Acts 11:26), members of His church (cf. Acts 8:3; 9:1). “Lawful” is “what is allowed by the law” (Cambridge), i.e., civil law, “just” is “equitable, fair” (Mounce. 1125), “lethal” means “able to cause or causing death” (Cambridge), and “military” denotes “relating to or belonging to the armed forces” (Ibid). The Scriptures make no distinction between military and police service (cf. Luke 3:14).

I do not defend any military or law enforcement personnel using deadly force in an unlawful or unjust manner or to accomplish an unlawful or unjust purpose.

Brother van Zanten insisted that I limit the subject of my affirmative to Christians, and I agreed, though I much prefer not to do so. God has one law in force today, the law of Christ, which applies to all people everywhere. The phrase “law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2) denotes the body of teaching also called the “gospel” (cf. Romans 8:2; 1:16-17), “the faith” (cf. Galatians 1:6-12, 23), the doctrine (teaching) of Christ (cf. 1 Timothy 1:8-11) or the New Testament (Covenant; Hebrews 8:6-13). All mankind, both saints and sinners, are subject to the law of Christ (Isaiah 2:1-4; Luke 24:44-49; Matthew 28:18; Mark 16:15; John 12:48; Ephesians 1:15-23). What God permits alien sinners to do, He also permits Christians to do. It is not wrong for a Christian to do right.

Questions for Gert-Jan

(1) Are alien sinners subject to the law of Christ?

(2) Does God permit alien sinners to use lethal force in military service?

(3) May Christians serve in nonlethal capacities in the military?

(4) May Christians serve in any capacity in civil government?

(5) May Christians vote?


God in justice destroyed the ancient world because all mankind “had corrupted their way” (Genesis 6:11-13). The specific sin that led to their destruction was “violence” (verses 11,13). After the Flood, the Lord God pronounced a remedy to prevent the recurrence of this terrible situation. “Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed; For in the image of God He made man” (Genesis 9:6). This divine decree is the just remedy for unlawful violence.

In the course of time, the Lord organized Israel as a nation (Exodus 19:5-6), both civil (Exodus 18:25-26) and religious (Exodus 19:6). One of the fundamental laws He gave them was “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13, KJV). But the Lord commanded the nation of Israel to fight just wars (cf. Judges 6:11-14,34). Whatever the Lord commands is righteous (Deuteronomy 4:8; 6:25). Therefore, to use lawful, lethal force in just warfare does not violate the prohibition, “Thou shalt not kill,” and is righteous.

When the Lord Jesus Christ announced His law concerning killing, He extended the prohibition to anger, angry words, and hatred (Matthew 5:21-22,43-48), but He did not change the definition of the outward act of murder. The use of lawful, lethal force in just warfare is still not murder.

Christ forbids personal vengeance (Matthew 5:38-42; Romans 12:17-21). But He ordained civil government to carry out divine vengeance “on him who practices evil” (Romans 13:1-4). Civil authorities are appointed by God and act in His place to exact temporal, earthly vengeance on evil doers (Romans 13:1; cf. Psalm 82:1,6). They are authorized by Christ to use “the sword,” the instrument of death (Romans 13:4). When a civil authority, whether police or military, uses legal, deadly force to effect justice, “he is God’s minister to you for good” (Romans 13:3-4; cf. Psalm 82:1-4). The Scriptures authorize anyone, whether Christian or alien sinner, to be “God’s minister to you for good” (cf. Romans 2:10-11).

God commanded Moses to build Him a tabernacle (Exodus 25:8-9,40). When Moses built that tabernacle, he acted as God’s minister or servant (Hebrews 3:5). Thus, the ultimate Builder of the tabernacle was God (Hebrews 3:4). What God ordains He does. God ordained civil government with its use of lawful, just, lethal force (Romans 13:1-4). If the use of such force by government officers is evil and wicked, God is evil and wicked. Surely, we are not ready for such blasphemy.

Nor is the lawful use of lethal force by military personnel in effecting justice a violation of the law of love. Immediately after declaring that one who so acts is “God’s minister to you for good” (Romans 13:1-7), the apostle proclaims, “love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:8-10). God Himself is the perfect standard of love (Matthew 5:43-48), and “the Lord is a man of war” (Exodus 15:3).

The apostle Paul sought and accepted the armed might of the Roman army to defend him from the plots of the Jews (Acts 23:12-32). If it is right to seek armed protection, it is right to supply it (Ephesians 5:11). And Paul is our example (Philippians 3:17).

Christians have dual citizenship. We are citizens of a spiritual kingdom (Romans 14:17), the kingdom of Christ (Ephesians 2:19; Colossians 1:13), and its weaponry is spiritual  (Isaiah 2:4; 2 Corinthians 10:3-6; Ephesians 6:10-20). But we are also citizens of a civil nation (cf. Acts 22:23-29), which has the obligation to enforce justice with lawful, deadly force (John 18:36; Romans 13:4).

The apostle Paul sent greetings to the brethren in Rome from “Erastus, the treasurer of the city” of Corinth (Romans 16:23; cf. 15:25-26; 1 Corinthians 1:14). Those Christians recorded in the New Testament with approval are our examples (Philippians 3:17). Thus, the Scriptures authorize Christians to be government officials. But the authority of government officials should be upheld by legal, just, deadly force (Romans 13:3-4). Civil government can no more enforce its rule without the use of armed might than a father can enforce his rule without punishing the disobedience of his children (Romans 13:4; Hebrews 12:7-10). Worldly people, who comprise the overwhelming majority of society, pay their taxes and obey traffic laws through fear of punishment (Romans 13:3). And, of course, the purpose of all law is to restrain evil people (1 Timothy 1:8-11). If it is right to benefit from the use of lawful, just, lethal force, it is right to supply it (Ephesians 5:11).


The Lord destroyed the ancient world primarily because of unrestrained violence (Genesis 6:11,13). The divine remedy is, “Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed; For in the image of God He made man.” He appointed civil government as the institution to supply the remedy. “He does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.” Without the use of lawful, just, lethal force by military personnel and police officers our world would revert to antediluvian violence. America and Western Europe enjoy peace and security as the gift of divine love because military personnel and police officers employ legal, just, deadly force to protect us. Without this protection, the lawlessness and suffering of Somalia would be our lot also.

After the Flood:

Cush begot Nimrod; he began to be a mighty one on the earth.

He was a mighty hunter before the LORD; therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod the mighty hunter before the LORD.”

And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar (Genesis 10:8-10).

Apparently Nimrod was a “mighty hunter” of men and set up the first recorded empire by leading the violent conquest of the Tigris-Euphrates valley. In every generation there are ambitious, blood thirsty leaders who would be a modern Nimrod. Without the heroic use of legal, just, deadly power by American and European military personnel of “the greatest generation,” Holland would be ruled by Nazi Germany.

God our Savior desires that all people everywhere hear the gospel so they might be saved through Christ (1 Timothy 2:3-4). We should pray for government leaders, police officers, and military personnel, not slander them as murderers, that through their efforts we will have the order and peace in our world that will make it possible to take the gospel to the whole world in our time (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

Works Cited

Bible, King James Version
Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary.
Mounce, William, Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words.
Webster’s Dictionary. e-Sword.

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