What We Believe- Article XVI, Peace and War

After last weeks mammoth paragraph on Christians and the Social Order and before the coming weeks treatises on Religious Liberty and The Family, we have a short blurb on how Baptists should handle conflict among peoples:

XVI. Peace and War

It is the duty of Christians to seek peace with all men on principles of righteousness. In accordance with the spirit and teachings of Christ they should do all in their power to put an end to war.

The true remedy for the war spirit is the gospel of our Lord. The supreme need of the world is the acceptance of His teachings in all the affairs of men and nations, and the practical application of His law of love. Christian people throughout the world should pray for the reign of the Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 2:4; Matthew 5:9,38-48; 6:33; 26:52; Luke 22:36,38; Romans 12:18-19; 13:1-7; 14:19; Hebrews 12:14; James 4:1-2.

Because evangelical Christians, and Baptists in particular, tend to align ourselves heavily with conservative politics, at least in this present day, then we often inherit some of the charges laid against these parties in matters that should not actually be a criticism of the church.  The issue of peace and war is one possible example.

Should Christians be war-mongers?  There certainly is sufficient testimony of God’s people at war in the Scriptures as well as in the last 2000 years since the creation of the church.  There are even times when God explicitly called his people into conflict (cf. Joshua 6).  But, among Christ’s last words to the disciples prior to his trial and execution was the command to Peter to “put [his] sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26.52), which pictures for us a kingdom that is to be won without conflict because it is a kingdom “not of this world” (John 18.36).  

So then where do we fall?  The article says, “In accordance with the spirit and teachings of Christ they should do all in their power to put an end to war.”  I believe this to be right.  Christians should not desire war, but if the time comes when it is unavoidable then we have freedom to defend ourselves.  Of course, this takes great discernment.  

I read recently from John Piper that he does not own a gun, even to protect his house, citing the same reason given by Jim Elliot for not using guns to protect their missionary group in Ecuador: “The natives are not ready for heaven. We are.”  This is a convicting thought, but we must also view it in light of other types of conflict, namely conflict that occurs between countries and acts of terrorism.  At what point must we stand up to defend our person and our families from senseless violence?  Does “turn the other cheek” always apply?

Looking into the OT we see an account in Judges 20 where the tribe of Benjamin drew their swords against the rest of Israel and the remainder of the nation went to God to receive instruction on how to proceed in defending themselves in battle against this attack.  Innocent people had been hurt and more were in danger and so God commanded his people to take action, which meant entering into war.  Similarly 1 Samuel 23 pictures for us David being led by God into battle in order to protect the city of Keilah.  Now, I realize these are Old Testament stories, but is there any place in the NT where a new law prevails?  It is not quite fitting to transpose the words about personal conflict (i.e. “turn the other cheek”) into matters of familial and national security.  As much as God is a God of peace he is also a defender of the weak, and so, as I stated before, we need to be able to use discernment in fleshing this reality out when it comes to war and peace. 

To close our look into this article, let’s peak a little into its history, namely the inclusion, removal, and then readdition of the declaration that “Christian people throughout the world should pray for the reign of the Prince of Peace,” as we go from the 1925 to the 1963 to the 2000 versions of this text.  It surely is an interesting sentence, as my first reaction hears it as an implicit ode to premillenialist eschatology.  But if this is the case it would make no sense for it to disappear during the 60′s when men like W.A. Criswell who were well-known for their premillenial dispensationalism were in their stride.  On the same token, if this is not a wink towards premillenialism then why is it here.  If all that is being viewed is the second coming of Christ then this would be a better fit in Article X on Last Things.  Alas, the only sensible explanation then would seem to be that it is simply a call for Christians to pray for the second coming, but even that I question if it is a good teaching.  Oh well, “The secret things belong to the LORD.”

One Response to “What We Believe- Article XVI, Peace and War”

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