Two Christian responses to war

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The news is full of wars and rumours of wars. Tensions escalate daily in the Midde East, Russia and China flex their muscles, and the head of Nato recently accused Donald Trump of undermining Western security by his latest inflammatory comments.

Alongside this we read a stream of panicky stories about funding and recruitment crises in our armed forces, and the possible reintroduction of conscription.

No wonder fears of World War Three are rising. To a generation raised on Second World War nostalgia, the prospect of actually having to be involved in a similar scale conflict – amplified by the development of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons – is pretty frightening.

How should we think about the concept of war? There are two main Christian approaches.

The first is pacifism – the idea that taking up arms is wrong in all circumstances. This view emphasises Jesus' command to love our enemies, and his yielding to the Jewish and Roman authorities. He could have called down armies of angels to rescue him, but he chose to submit.

The second approach builds on 'just war theory' in response to a threat. The cause must be righteous, the response must be proportionate and discriminate, and there must be an expectation of a successful outcome. This view holds that it is legitimate for Christians to join the armed forces as servants of the authorities instituted by God to keep order (see Romans 13).

What both these views have in common is that "vengeance is the Lord's". We should never act out of rage, or for revenge. God requires justice, but he tempers retribution with mercy.

These concepts give us a framework for thinking about how we might respond, should our country find itself going to war. But of course we hope and pray this situation will not arise.

It is so tempting to withdraw - to ignore the news – as a way to cope with our fears. Or we might become so anxious that we feel paralysed and helpless.

But I want to encourage us to take comfort in Jesus's words in Matthew 24:6: "You will hear of wars and rumours of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed." A constant refrain throughout the Bible to fearful people (often spoken by an angel), is "Do not be afraid."

Do not be afraid. Ask for God's peace, and do channel your concerns into positive action. Philippians 4:6-7 tells us:

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

First and foremost then, we should be praying. I don't just mean sending up occasional arrow prayers, but properly interceding for the desperate situations we see around the globe. We should be crying out to God for the world that he loves: for wisdom, restraint and mercy – for governments, rulers, freedoms, deliverance and peace.

Secondly, as Christians we are called to be active peacemakers: to engage in our communities and political life, to model reconciliation and not stoke division.

John Stott, in his classic work, Issues Facing Christians Today, tells us what this should look like: Christ "means his Church to be a sign of his kingdom, that is, a model of what human community looks like when it comes under his rule of righteousness and peace."

"An authentic Kingdom community," he says, "will then challenge the value system of the secular community and offer a viable alternative... The influence for peace of communities of peace is inestimable."

And as we engage, we need to continually be aware of how we perceive others. The more we are suspicious towards those who do not seem like us, the easier it is to fuel division and hatred, and the easier it then becomes to justify aggression against those who are different. This is why I speak out so often against any policy or line of argument that portrays any group of people as less than human. All are made in the image of God.

Finally, we need to remember the hope that we have. The world is fallen, full of anger and division. We cannot bring perfect peace to earth by our own efforts. So we must stand on God's promise to renew all things. Let's turn the words of Isaiah 2:3-4 into our prayer for today:

" The law will go out from Zion,

the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

He will judge between the nations

and will settle disputes for many peoples.

They will beat their swords into ploughshares

and their spears into pruning hooks.

Nation will not take up sword against nation,

nor will they train for war any more."


Tim Farron has been the Member of Parliament for Westmorland and Lonsdale since 2005, and served as the Leader of the Liberal Democrat Party from 2015 to 2017. Tim is also the host of Premier's A Mucky Business' podcast, which unpacks the murky world of politics and encourages believers around the UK to engage prayerfully. He is the author of A Mucky Business: Why Christians should get involved in politics.