SPECIAL TOPIC: PEACE AND WAR

I. Introduction

A. The Bible, our sole source for faith and practice, has no definitive passage on peace.  In fact, it is paradoxical in its presentation.  The OT may be alluded to as an approach to peace which is militaristic.  The NT, however, puts the conflict into spiritual terms of light and darkness.

B. Biblical faith, as well as world religions of the past and present, sought and still expect, a golden age of prosperity which is absent from conflict.

 1. Isaiah 2:2-4; 11:6-9; 32:15-18; 51:3; Hosea 2:18; Micah 4:3

 2. Biblical faith prophesies the personal agency of the Messiah, Isa. 9:6-7

C. However, how do we live in a world of conflict?  There have been three basic Christian responses which have developed chronologically between the death of the Apostles and the Middle Ages.

 1. Pacifism – although rare in antiquity, was the early church's response to the Roman military society.

 2. Just War – after the conversion of Constantine (a.d. 313) the church began to rationalize the military support of a "Christian state" in response to successive Barbarian invasions.  This was basically the classical Greek position.  This position was first articulated by Ambrose and expanded and developed by Augustine.

 3. Crusade – this is similar to the Holy War concept of the OT.  It developed in the Middle Ages in response to the Muslim advances in the "Holy Land" and ancient Christian territories such as North Africa, Asia Minor, and the Eastern Roman Empire.  It was not on behalf of the state, but on behalf of the Church and under its auspices.

 4. All three of these views developed in a Christian context with differing views on how Christians should relate to a fallen world system. Each emphasized certain Bible texts to the exclusion of others. Pacifism tended to separate itself from the world.  The "Just War" response has advocated the power of the state to control an evil world (Martin Luther). The Crusade position has advocated that the Church attack the fallen world system so as to control it.

 5. Roland H. Bainton, in his book, Christian Attitudes Toward War and Peace, published by Abingdon, page 15, says,"The Reformation precipitated wars of religion, in which the three historic positions reappeared: the just war among the Lutherans and the Anglicans, the crusade in the Reformed Churches, and pacifism among the Anabaptists and later the Quakers. The eighteenth century in theory and in practice resuscitated the humanist peace ideals of the Renaissance.  The nineteenth century was an age of comparative peace and great agitation for the elimination of war.  The twentieth century has seen two world wars.  In this period again, the three historic positions have recurred.  The churches in the United States particularly took a crusading attitude toward the First World War; pacifism was prevalent between the two wars; the mood of the Second World War approximated that of the just war."

D. The exact definition of "peace" has been disputed.

1. For the Greeks it seems to refer to a society of order and coherence.

2. For the Romans it was the absence of conflict brought about through the power of the state.

3. For the Hebrews peace was a gift of YHWH based on mankind's proper response to Him. It was usually put in agricultural terms (cf. Deuteronomy 27-28).  Not only prosperity, but divine security and protection are included.

II. Biblical Material

A. Old Testament

 1. Holy War is a basic concept of the OT.  The phrase "kill not" of Exod. 20:13 and Deut. 5:17 in Hebrew refers to premeditated murder (BDB 953), not death by accident or passion or war.  YHWH is even seen as a warrior on behalf of His people (cf. Joshua, Judges and Isa. 59:17, alluded to in Eph. 6:14).

 2. God uses war as a means of punishing His wayward people – Assyria exiles Israel (a.d. 722 ); Neo-Babylon exiles Judah (586 b.c.).

 3. It is shocking, in such a militaristic atmosphere, to read of the "suffering servant" of Isaiah 53, which can be classified as redemptive pacifism.

B. New Testament

 1. In the Gospels soldiers are mentioned without condemnation.  The Roman "centurions" are mentioned often and almost always in a noble sense.

 2. Even believing soldiers are not commanded to give up their vocation (early church).

 3. The New Testament does not advocate a detailed answer to social evils in terms of political theory or action, but in spiritual redemption.  The focus is not on physical battles, but on the spiritual battle between light and dark, goodness and evil, love and hate, God and Satan (Eph. 6:10-17).

 4. Peace is an attitude of the heart amidst the problems of the world.  It is related solely to our relationship with Christ (Rom. 5:1; John 14:27), not the state. The peacemakers of Matt. 5:9 are not political, but proclaimers of the gospel!  Fellowship, not strife, should characterize the Church life, both to itself and to a lost world.

 

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