Is there such a thing as a “Just War” for Christians?

War, it seems, is a just reason for killing people, but is it acceptable for Christians to kill people in war?

In 430 A.D. Augustine said “Yes.” In his book ‘The City of God’ he wrote that Christians can go to war and kill so long as the cause is just, the intent is right, and war is declared by a legitimate authority for the sake of restoring peace. It was the beginning of the “Just War” doctrine. In 1274 Thomas Aquinas stamped his own approval on it, giving Christians reasonable cause ever since to go to war and kill people.

It resulted, however, in Christians killing each other, because Christians often found themselves fighting on both sides of a conflict. In World Wars 1 and 2 and the Civil War in the United States, for instance, many thousands of Christians died at the hands of other Christians. It’s not surprising, therefore, that many Christians reject the Just War theory.

But, say Christians who support Just War, what about Romans 13:1-5? Governments are instituted by God, so if our government legitimately declares war we are all obliged to support it. And why shouldn’t Christians go to war, they ask, when it’s for a noble cause like protecting the innocent and defending the defenceless?

Well that may sound right from the world’s point of view, other Christians reply, but to his disciples Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives,” John 14:27. To his disciples Jesus promised a way to peace unlike any method the world uses to create peace. He was true to his word, too. Soon after the church began, when Jews and Gentiles became Christians, the enmity between them fell away, Ephesians 2:12-16. In a world that seethed with remembered atrocities and justice crying out for blood, the Cross, in contrast, was making even the worst of enemies into friends.

Ah but, comes the reply, that may work in the church but what about maintaining peace and order in society? God gave that job to the government of a country, Romans 13:4, and governments often have no choice but killing to stop evil in its tracks, and it’s the God-given duty of Christians, therefore, to support them, verses 1, 2 and 5.

So now we’ve got two sets of scriptures for Christians – one set for life in the church, and another set for life in society. So, can a Christian honour both sets of scriptures, and be a good citizen without hating his enemies and without killing his fellow Christians? Tricky indeed, eh?


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