War and New Testament Ethics
Prof Paul Helm Teaching Fellow, Regent College, Canada
I have been invited to say something about how Scripture is to be interpreted in respect of war, and especially aspects of warfare that are not new, but have come to prominence in our current situation, particularly torture and the various terms, perhaps in some cases euphemistic terms, that are used for it. We shall come to that, but not before we say something about what I shall offer as a framework for interpretation, a variant of the Reformers’ doctrine of the two kingdoms. And then, secondly, to look at how the Apostolic writings view moral reasoning and some peculiarities of our present political situation. It is not my intention, nor is it my brief, to offer a set of first-order rules to guide conduct under the matters to be discussed, but rather to look at the methods and approaches that Christians who take the authority of the Bible seriously ought to adopt.
The Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms (Scripture)
The Two Kingdoms (Luther and Calvin)
The Two Kingdoms and Waging of War
The Two Kingdoms and the Lordship of Christ
Differences Between our Situation and that of the Reformers
Reasoning About Morality, According to the New Testament
A Case Study–Torture (Looking at Grudem, Mohler, etc)
I have attempted to argue that in important respects New Testament ethics for Christians is different from Old Testament ethics for Israelites. Its governing question is not‘What commands or rules should we obey or follow?’but‘What sort of people ought we to be?’The centre of gravity of New Testament ethics lies in virtue, gift, grace, just as regeneration issues in a new“man”,a new person, a new nature. The ethics is from the inside out. I also suggest that such an ethic is congruent with the internationalising of the people of God in the New Testament era. Congregations of Christians may well find themselves in a wide variety of circumstances which call for different applications or emphases of the virtues of the Spirit. Christians in a time of just war may be called to act differently from when their country is engaged in what is widely regarded as an unjust war, or during a time of peace. In a similar way a Christians congregation which is socially deprived and low in attainment will need to have certain emphases made in the character of their Christian graces, while another which is affluent and fairly insulated will need others. Or, to bring this Conclusion nearer to what we have just been discussing, congregations in garrison towns may be under different pressures from run of the mill‘civilian’local churches. Finally, recognising the legitimacy of such differences among churches is one way in which Christian liberty and diversity may legitimately be expressed.
1) Is an evangelical church that held to conscientious objection/pacifism consistent with the New Testament?
2) Given the absence of teaching about war and peace, bearing arms etc. in the NT, are views about such matters simply a matter of Christian freedom?
3) Could a Christian consistently have a career as a spy, in MI6 say?
4) Is the decision to torture prisoners for a possible greater good just one more of the many hard choices that Christians may face, or is it in some way ‘special’?
5) ‘It is difficult to exaggerate the difference between OT Israel and the NT church on the question of the connection between the commands of God and waging war’. How fair is this?
6) ‘Christian churches which disavow the establishment principle are often as captive to the culture as an established church’. How far would you agree?
7) ‘The NT endorses/connives at slavery but is silent about issues of war and peace’. Is this true? If so, what is the significance of this?
8) Should churches pray corporately for e.g. the solution of the ‘Middle East crisis’? Is there NT warrant for this?
9) ‘The armed forces, the police and the prison service – they’re all in the same boat together’. Is this fair? If not, why not?
10)What bearing, if any, does 1 Cor 5:10 (‘then you would need to go out of the world’) have on whether a Christian should take up a career in the armed force?