Posted by: sean | May 11, 2007

Should Christians Defend Their Country?

the following is taken from David W. Bercot’s fine article, The Early Christian View on War, The Journal for the Radical Reformation, Vol 1 Iss 3, Spring 1992

“Does not a Christian have a responsibility to defend his country?” The early Christians would have answered, “Yes, but in a very different way from that employed by ‘men of the world.’ ” One of the underlying principles of early Christianity was that the end does not justify the means. The Church taught that how something is accomplished is just as important as what is accomplished. Overcoming evil by adopting evil methods was totally unacceptable to the early Church. Although the Romans considered it noble to defend the Empire by shedding other men’s blood, Christians viewed such an action as sinful. Lactantius explained:

It is not virtue, therefore, either to be the enemy of the bad or the defender of the good, because virtue cannot be subject to uncertain chances. . . . When the agreement of men is taken away, virtue has no existence at all; for what are the interests of our country, but the inconveniences of another state or nation? —that is, to extend the boundaries which are violently taken from others, to increase the power of the state, to improve the revenues,—all which things are not virtues: for, in the first place, the union of human society is taken away, innocence is taken away, the abstaining from the property of another is taken away; lastly, justice itself is taken away, which is unable to bear the tearing asunder of the human race, and wherever arms have glittered, must be banished and exterminated from thence. This saying of Cicero’s is true: “But they who say regard is to be had to citizens, but that it is not to be had to foreigners, these destroy the common society of the human race; and when this is removed, beneficence, liberality, kindness, and justice are entirely taken away.” For how can a man be just who injures, who hates, who despoils, who puts to death? And they who strive to be serviceable to their country do all these things. . . .

Nor . . . [can] a man who gives way to grief and anger, and who indulges these affections, against which he ought rather to struggle, and who rushes wherever injustice shall have called him, does not fulfil the duty of virtue. For he who endeavors to return an injury, desires to imitate that very person by whom he has been injured. Thus he who imitates a bad man can by no means be good.

The Roman critic Celsus had censured the Christians for failing to defend the Empire, to which Origen replied:

. . . Celsus urges us “to help the king [emperor] with all our might, and to labour with him in the maintenance of justice, to fight for him; and if he requires it, to fight under him, or lead an army along with him.” To this our answer is, that we do, when occasion requires, give help to kings, and that, so to say, a divine help, “putting on the whole armour of God.” And this we do in obedience to the injunction of the apostle, “I exhort, therefore, that first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority;” and the more anyone excels in piety, the more effective help does he render to kings, even more than is given by soldiers, who go forth to fight and slay as many of the enemy as they can. And to those enemies of our faith who require us to bear arms for the commonwealth, and to slay men, we can reply: “Do not those who are priests at certain shrines, and those who attend on certain gods, as you account them, keep their hands free from blood, that they may with hands unstained and free from human blood offer the appointed sacrifices to your gods; and even when war is upon you, you never enlist the priests in the army. If that, then, is a laudable custom, then how much more so, that while others are engaged in battle, these too should engage as the priests and ministers of God, keeping their hands pure, and wrestling in prayers to God on behalf of those who are fighting in a righteous cause, and for the king who reigns righteously, that whatever is opposed to those who act righteously may be destroyed!” And as we by our prayers vanquish all demons who stir up war, and lead to the violation of oaths, and disturb the peace, we in this way are much more helpful to the kings than those who go into the field to fight for them. And we do take our part in public affairs, when along with righteous prayers we join self-denying exercises and meditations, which teach us to despise pleasures, and not to be led away by them. And none fight better for the king than we do. We do not indeed fight under him, although he require it; but we fight on his behalf, forming a special army—an army of piety—by offering our prayers to God.



  1. There is actually a Scriptural mandate required of us regarding prayer for our country:

    1 Timothy 2:1-2
    1 First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, 2 for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.

    It is our Christian duty to pray for whatever country we find ourselves in to the extent that we are able to live in peace. However, what may be innapropriate is praying for the millitary to succeed in a given conflict. To illustrate the fallacy of praying for “our” soldiers consider for a moment the typical Christian little league baseball player who as a pitcher prays that he may strike out the batter while the batter, an equally virtuous Christian boy, prays that he may hit a homerun. To whom will God incline his ear? It is clear in this case that God is probably not going to grant either request. However, when the stakes are raised to the point of life or death suddenly this question has moved from “what if” to something that must be answered. I believe that the answer is in praying for God’s will to be done, that there would be the minimum loss of life and the maximum international justice done. Hoewever, what should we pray for regarding Christians (especially relatives) in the millitary? I pray that they would learn to love their enemies rather than kill them (i.e. that they would repent), and that God would see it fit in his infinite mercy to keep them alive long enough to learn this fundamental teaching of Jesus.

  2. I find it very interesting that Origen appeals to the temple/priest metaphor of Christians:

    Do not those who are priests at certain shrines, and those who attend on certain gods, as you account them, keep their hands free from blood, that they may with hands unstained and free from human blood offer the appointed sacrifices to your gods; and even when war is upon you, you never enlist the priests in the army

    Indeed we are the dwelling place of God now. We serve him as priests, a nation of priests (which is what God wants according to both the prophets and Revelation).

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