The Kingdom, Just War Theory, and Ukraine

140304072348-04-ukraine-0304-horizontal-galleryHistory textbooks often read like surveys of how countries handled war with other nations. The stuff between the conflicts reads like precursors and aftermath to the history-making actions of war. Now we observe the rising tension between Russia and Ukraine along with other world leaders as they try to determine how to respond. Sadly, church history also reads like God’s people have been full participants in the ups and downs of war, as if it is the church’s duty to join forces with the “just” side. If we determine that a war is just, then Christians have the right and even the duty to support it. This is the common way we have been taught in the Christian church to think about war. However, we don’t often think about where this line of reasoning originates, and rarely do we ever question its validity. Here are some thoughts about this from Greg:

For the first three centuries of the church, Christians understood that it was their Kingdom duty to follow Jesus’ example of forgoing the use of violence and expressing God’s self-sacrificial love toward enemies. Unfortunately, this mindset was the first thing we lost when the Church acquired political power in the fourth century. Because many leaders viewed this political power as a blessing from God rather than a temptation from the enemy, Jesus’ refusal to use coercive power had to be radically rethought.

Augustine employed his formidable intellectual skills toward this end. He speculated that Jesus’ decision to suffer unjustly rather than use coercive force was not intended to be a permanent example for all Christians to follow. Rather, he reasoned, Jesus had to suffer and die unjustly because he was the Savior, and his suffering and death were necessary in order for us to be freed from the devil and reconciled to God. Now that this has been accomplished, however, and now that God (allegedly) had given Christians the power of the sword, it was not only permissible for Christians to use violence when the cause was “just”, they had a responsibility before God to do so.

This was the beginning of what’s called the ‘just war’ tradition within Christendom.

Now, we could at this point debate the relative merits of various versions of just war theory as applied to nations. Under what circumstances is a country justified in going to war? What warfare tactics are justified once a nation is involved in war? Some would even want to debate how various just war theories might be applied to a nation’s war on crime inside its own borders.

I have no problem with people applying just war theory in these ways. Since the New Testament assumes the kingdoms of the world will rely on the power of the sword, it may (or may not) be helpful to debate what constitutes a just use of the sword. There’s no inconsistency in a person holding that following Jesus entails that one should never engage in violence while also believing that there may be circumstances in which, as a last resort, nations may be justified in going to war.

My issues with just war theory arise when people follow Augustine’s lead and think it has something to say about how Kingdom people respond to enemies. For, contrary to Augustine, the New Testament is as clear as it can be that Kingdom people are called to follow Jesus’ example of sacrificing themselves for enemies rather than resorting to violence to resist or conquer them.

Jesus’ willingness to suffer out of love for his enemies rather than use coercive force against them is consistently identified in the New Testament as the ultimate expression of God’s love and the ultimate means by which the Powers are defeated. It’s what Calvary is all about. And so, the willingness of Kingdom people to suffer out of love for our enemies rather than use coercive force against them must still be considered the ultimate expression of God’s love.

Related Reading

How Reliable were the Early Church’s Oral Traditions?

How reliable were the early church’s oral traditions? In terms of assessing the reliability of the Gospels, this is an extremely important question. First century Jewish culture was what scholars today would call an “orally dominated culture.” While a certain percentage of people could read and write (see below), information was for the most part…

Will Violence against ISIS Root Out Evil?

Image by arbyreed via Flickr Fallen humans tend to identify their own group as righteous and any group that opposes them as evil. If they were not evil, we tend to believe, no conflict would exist. Hence, the only way to end the conflict is to rid the world of this evil. This is the age-old “myth…

Lighten Up: If Every Life is Sacred

Pearls Before Swine by Stephan Pastis

The Case for Women in Ministry

Kathy’s Struggle with Temptation Kathy was one of the brightest students I ever had when I taught Theology at Bethel University. She asked insightful questions and often contributed to lively class discussions. The time and energy she put into her theology classes was motivated by more than just a desire to get a good grade.…

Topics:

Must wives submit to husbands?

The apostle Paul writes: Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to…

Is Telling Christians to Avoid Politics Like Telling Them To Avoid Hospitals?

In this episode Greg clarifies how politics can be dangerous and why some people might want to avoid it. http://traffic.libsyn.com/askgregboyd/Episode_0045.mp3