With regard to war, the New Testament does not order newly baptized soldiers to get out of the military. Instead, John the Baptist told them not to abuse their power and to be content with their pay (Luke 3:14). Soldiers are needed because, as Paul pointed out in Romans 13, governments have a God-given responsibility to use “the sword” to protect their people from harm. In fact, Paul himself accepted military protection when he was in danger (Acts 22:25f), and Jesus affirmed the right of governments to impose capital punishment, saying that such a right was given by God (Jn. 19:11).
Second, “love your enemies” cannot mean that all use of force is prohibited because such an interpretation would contradict the passages just cited and result in absurd conclusions. It would be absurd to say that “love your enemies” means “allow them to kill your family.” How would that be loving to your family?
It would be absurd to say that “love your enemies” prohibits all wars. What about the war against Hitler? Not justified? Please. How would that be loving to the Jews or the countries overrun? (Notice that even my driver friend isn’t against all wars. He thinks that the war in Afghanistan is justified. But if “love your enemies” meant you could never use force, then how can Afghanistan be justified?)
With such an absurd interpretation, we couldn’t even have police protection, a court system, or prisons. Why believe that police can use force but not Armies? There’s not much of a difference. Police use force to protect people from enemies inside a country. Armies use force to protect people from enemies outside a country.
Without the proper use of force, we’d have anarchy, and innocent people would be hurt or killed. That’s why complete pacifism is not only unbiblical, it is a dereliction of duty. Individuals have a responsibility to protect themselves and their families from harm, and governments have a similar responsibility to protect their citizens.
Christians can and should, of course, oppose specific wars that don’t meet what theologians call “just-war theory.” As I mentioned in my last column, I believe the Iraq war is just. But I didn’t get enough time with my driver friend to hear his complete case against the Iraq war. Maybe he knows something I don’t, but it didn’t seem so.
One thing is for certain: Christians contradict scripture and common sense when they say no war or use of force can ever be justified. As terrible as it is, War is sometimes the least bad choice available. In other words, it’s not that Christians are for war; it’s that we’re against the alternative—the oppression and death of the innocent. And in a fallen world like this, sometimes the use of force is necessary to protect the innocent. Without it, we wouldn’t even be able to love our friends.
Frank Turek is coauthor of I Don't Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist, and the author of Stealing from God: Why atheists need God to make their case. See more of his work at CrossExamined.org.