While God commanded war in the Old Testament, He set forth a new covenant of grace and peace in the New Testament. God's Son Jesus said, "Ye have heard that it hath been said...But I say unto you..." to contrast the old sayings with the new teachings. Through Christ, God more fully revealed His perfect will. He taught of loving instead of hating, blessing instead of cursing, forgiving instead of taking vengeance, and accepting mistreatment rather than fighting back. These new teachings were the rule by which the apostles and early Christians lived. They are also for Christians today.
Let's look specifically at what the New Testament teaches about war.
1. Human life and personality are sacred to God, and it is sin for man to destroy or corrupt them.
In war the destruction of other people is always the immediate aim of those who take part. Christ refused to destroy men's lives, and He rebuked those who thought of doing such a thin.
"For the Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them" (Luke 9:56).
2. Love is the supreme law of Christ.
Warfare today is hardly possible unless entire populations can be aroused to hate and despise each other. To participate in mass hatred of this kind is a sin against.
"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these" (Mark 12:30, 31).
3. Love and benevolence are the only measures authorized by Christ for use in dealing with enemies.
Genuine love and goodwill may sometimes disarm the enemy entirely, and in any case will do more to create peace than will hatred and the use of force.
"Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law" (Romans 13:10).
"But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also" (Matthew 5:39).
"Love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil" (Luke 6:35).
4. The attitude of hatred toward another is equivalent to the sin of murder.
"Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him" (1 John 3:15).
5. Christ taught that the use of force or war creates a vicious cycle, giving rise to more war and more violence.
Satan never casts out Satan; only Jesus Christ can do that. War does not create peace, but instead sows seeds of hatred, strife, resentment, and moral degeneration.
"Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword" (Matthew 26:52).
6. Christ requires that strife between people be promptly resolved by peaceful means.
The absence of love and harmony leads to increased strife and hatred and to further evil consequences.
"If ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matthew 6:14,15).
7. The apostles taught that a believer's allegiance to God and His Word is his highest moral duty.
When human government and its officials demand that the Christian fight, he must choose rather to obey God's Word.
"Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29).
8. The kingdom of Christ, the moral and spiritual realm to which the Christian belongs, is not a worldly kingdom.
Its basic principles of truth, righteousness, holiness, and faith cannot be defended or promoted by worldly means, such as force, war, and the use of violence. Christ's followers do not fight in carnal warfare.
"Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence" (John 18:36).
"For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds" (2 Corinthians 10:4).
9. God's people constitute a worldwide fellowship, and all true Christians in all nations are brothers in Christ.
The sentiment of a narrow and selfish nationalism is contrary to God's law. In international warfare many who profess to be Christians destroy each other and thereby bring reproach upon the name of Christ.
"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28).
10. Absolute obedience to God's will as revealed in Christ will cost something.
It often leads to suffering. This is to be expected. To follow Jesus Christ requires that one take up the cross of opposition and suffering. To obey Him in regard to war will cost the same price.
"Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it" (Matthew 16:24,25).
The teachings of Christ are not impossible. In the earliest centuries after Christ the believers lived by these teachings. For over four centuries Mennonites have practiced love and nonresistance, not always perfectly, but always with a sincere desire to obey Christ and follow Him. Refusing to fight in the wars of the nations has cost them opposition and oppression. Many of their migrations from country to country have been to escape war and military service.
Even in the United States with its constitutional provisions for religious liberty, Mennonites have not escaped hardship because of their objection to war. During the War for Independence numbers of nonresistant Christians were imprisoned and fined for refusing to serve in the militia. During World War I hundreds of conscientious objectors in the military camps experienced life in the guardhouse, and were in some cases court-martialed. A few served sentences in federal prison for their conviction that they must be loyal to the Spirit and teaching of Christ.
As the spirit of ill will, hatred, and war intensifies all about us, Christians need a renewed loyalty to Christ, to express his love and goodwill. They need to own Him as their Lord and only Saviour. They must keep their thoughts and emotions free from disrespect and hatred for all humans everywhere.
Jesus and His followers in the past were willing to suffer and die rather than retaliate. Should not their faithful example challenge us today to refuse all military training and service, combatant or noncombatant? (While the New Testament forbids voluntary support of all military efforts, it does require us to pay our taxes.) Faithful Mennonites have historically practiced nonresistance to evil. Nonresistance is not for Mennonites only, however. Everyone who submits to Christ as Lord will be an ambassador of His love, His forgiveness, and His peace to all men. May Christians everywhere accept the challenge of faithfully representing Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.
-- Edward Yoder, adapted
Used by permission. Adapted from a Gospel tract published by Christian Light Publications.