CONCERNING THE USE OF WAR
Barclay grounds his argument against war in the plain testimony of Scripture. In Matthew's Gospel (immediately following his prohibition on oaths), Jesus says, "You have heard it said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. You have heard it said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."
For Barclay, these words leave no room for argument. With these words, Christ has removed the foundation upon which wars are built. Barclay writes, "Whoever can reconcile this, Resist not evil, with Resist violence by force: again, Give also thy other cheek, with Strike again; also Love your enemies, with Spoil them, make a prey of them, pursue them with fire and sword; or, pray for those who persecute you, with Persecute them by fines, imprisonments and death itself;... whoever, I say, can find a means to reconcile these things, may also be supposed to have found a way to reconcile God with the devil, Christ with Antichrist, light with darkness, and good with evil."
In addition to the plain words of Jesus, we have the unwavering testimony of the early church. Not one leader from the early church condoned warfare. Not one. And many of the most important leaders (Tertullian, Clement, Justin Martyr) were very explicit in their rejection of violence. As followers of Christ, these writers saw themselves as the members of a new Kingdom -- and their King had forbidden them from taking up the sword.
We also have records from the Roman Empire, itself. We know, for example, that Christians were executed for their refusal to fight in the army. Barclay reports on the lament of an emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Hoping to shore up his army, the emperor looked for recruits among the Christians, but they refused, "for the cause and name of their God, which they bear in their consciences."
As Barclay points out, the words of Jesus are clear. And their clarity is evident in the life of the early church. The people who lived within two or three generations of Jesus knew very well what his teaching implied.
Not surprisingly, Christians who advocate the use of war usually point to some foundation other than the words of Jesus or the legacy of the early church. Most often, those who advocate war point to the example of the Old Testament. After all, in the Old Testament, God is very directly involved in the military campaigns of the Israelites.
Barclay deals specifically with the Old Testament model of divinely sanctioned war. If war was permissible in the days of David or Joshua, that does not mean it is permissible now. The Israelites also felt obliged to practice ritual sacrifice and to circumcise their males. Clearly, some standards of the past are no longer applicable to those who follow Christ.
Christ is very explicitly teaching a new way of living in the world. His teaching sets up a very clear distinction between the past and the present: "For you have heard..., but I tell you..."
Barclay also points out that the Israelites were NOT free to declare wars whenever they so chose. Whenever the Israelites try to manage a war on their own, the results are disastrous. Therefore, even if we were still living by the standards of Israel -- even then -- the state does not have a free hand to declare war according to its own interests.
Another objection concerns Christian loyalty to the civil authority. If we are to respect the authority of the state, then shouldn't we fight when our government commands it? To this, Barclay responds that a Christian magistrate would obey the command of Christ (who said, "Love your enemies, etc."). A Christian magistrate would not command us to kill our enemies. And if our leaders are not led by Christ, then we still must be.
Here are a few questions:
What do you think of the distinction Barclay makes between the witness of Jesus and the witness of the Old Testament? Are there degrees of Truth in Scripture itself?
Do you find it significant that the earliest church was so universal in its condemnation of war?
Writing early in the 5th Century, Augustine developed an enduring defense of war: the "Just War" theory. To what extend did the change of position reflect a change of status in the relationship between the church and the state? Do Christians today think of themselves as a people apart, or as the heart of the nation?