War (2)There is something that I think we should keep clear in discussing a Christian’s living in the world as a part of the body of Jesus Christ. It’s this: the Christian’s ethical judgements and actions are not based on some general moral standard but on life as it was and is lived out by Jesus Christ. The Christian’s ethical response is "gospeling" and not mere morality. When I say "mere" morality I don’t mean to cheapen moral convictions or costly moral decisions. I mean only to make it clear that the Christian is not someone who lives to a "higher moral standard" than the non-Christian but someone who lives out the life of Christ that is in them and to which they have committed themselves by faith. They do not so much live under "moral rules" as in the image of a Person—that is their identity and mission.
Christians are indeed a peculiar people. Simply viewed as "moral beings" they don’t profess to be superior to everyone else. But unlike all other people on earth they have heard the gospel of the redeeming and holy God as he has come to us in and as Jesus Christ and they have committed themselves to him in faith. They have been re-created in Christ’s image and it is his way of living that they commit to fleshing out. Indeed, it is his continuing incarnate life that they live out. They live by a different "rule" than the rest of humanity and they have a mission to the world that is peculiarly theirs.
This is not to say that the only people on earth that are morally upright are Christians! Paul knew of Gentiles who lived out the works of the Jewish Torah (Romans 2:6-16) apart from the hearing of the gospel of Christ. Paul is death on any form of Pelagianism—no one earns a right relationship with God by moral uprightness; but he certainly recognized that there were morally upright people that had not heard the Gospel and were not part of the Jewish nation. And the Old Testament prophets are filled with rebuke for the behavior of Gentile nations that did not live righteously (Daniel 4:27 illustrates). This implies that they knew of moral law and that in their lives they did not give it the homage due to it (or due to the God of it). Peter insisted that non-Christians were capable of recognizing good conduct in the lives of the Christians they were troubling (1 Peter 2:12) so non-Christians are not without a standard.
Nevertheless, Christians still operate on a different ethical basis than the one upright non-Christians operate on. A non-Christian would recognize a Christian husband’s love for his wife as indeed love for his wife but the non-Christian does not operate on the "even as" ground of the love Christ has for the church (see Ephesians 5:25). The non-Christian has not been gathered in by the gospel to faith in Jesus Christ so he does not operate on that basis. But love for wives did not begin with Jesus Christ and his gospel. In union with Christ marriage became something not less but more than it was.
The upshot of all this is that Christians should not discuss an issue like going to war on the basis of some general moral standard that is the same for everyone in the world. To do that is to miss their peculiar position, calling and the One whose body they are. There may be ten thousands reasons why a non-Christian would feel he should not commit adultery against his wife but one of them would not be 1 Corinthians 6:15-20.
Taking it as true that the Church of Christ is to further the redeeming work of Christ and rehearse the gospel about Christ we need to ask if they have any business going to war. The question is not, "Have non-Christians any business going to war?" I think that that is a further question and it might result in a different answer. The question at this point would be, "Is the kingdom of Christ furthered by Christians going to war?" We certainly don’t find it supported in Christ’s personal life and I know of no text which would yield encouragement for them to do so.
I don’t think it is helpful—and it certainly is not a good argument—to note that soldiers were not told to leave their military positions. Nowhere do we find slave owners told they must set all their slaves free. In fact, we could easily argue the reverse since the slave/master relationship was regulated rather than obliterated. I don’t suppose there would be many that would argue on that basis that having slaves is acceptable Christian behavior.
I would presently hold, then, that it isn’t enough for Christians to make "good moral arguments" in support of engaging in war. They must acknowledge who and whose they are and ask if faithfully living that out would lead them to engage in war. I think Christians should not engage in war.