Once again the young men of our country are being called into the armed forces, and the youth of the church are faced with the prospect of participation in war. Accordingly the problem arises of the Christian’s attitude toward war and participation in it.
The Korean situation has fluctuated continually. At times it has seemed that the Communist forces would definitely gain the victory; at other times the United Nations troops have made great advances. Although the prospect has completely reversed itself several times, one point has emerged with great clarity: Korea is but a part of a larger picture. Even though the United Nations win the battle of Korea there are still the hordes of Chinese Communists to contend with, and eventually the mustached figure in the Kremlin with his fingers on most of Europe and Asia. Universal military training is being seriously considered, and the conclusion seems fairly certain that all of our boys of military age will see service.
And thus we ask, can we as Christians participate in a war which is waged by ungodly men for ungodly purposes? Although it is possible that a war may be carried on for legitimate reasons such as self-protection, we have no guarantee that the present “war” is a righteous one. In view of this fact some maintain that the Christian youth should not enlist, but should wait until he is drafted, in this manner avoiding all responsibility for the war and placing it directly on the head of the government.
However, this viewpoint appears to be based on the false assumption that, whereas the enlistee serves his country voluntarily and is therefore responsible for his action, the draftee serves involuntarily and therefore is not responsible for his action. This is clearly not true, for the response to the command to serve as much an act of the will as the response to the invitation to serve. Neither may the draftee excuse his action on the plea that he must obey his government, for governments are to be obeyed only when they do not demand actions contrary to the expressed will of God. So we see that, when an enlistee chooses between serving in the armed forces and working in a camp for conscientious objectors, both must be assured in their consciences before God that their choice is the right one; and both must assume full responsibility for any actions they perform while serving in that capacity.
But the objection may be raised that, unless some form of Common Grace is operating in the hearts of the leaders of the war, it is thoroughly unrighteous, and the Christian soldier must become a part of this unholy enterprise. The only solution, then, would be to adopt the attitude of the conscientious objectors.
This objection, however, is the result of a too hasty generalization. A war is not a thing existing in itself, imparting its characteristics to all who participate therein; but it is simply the sum total of the actions of all the men, Congressmen and soldiers alike, who have anything to do with it. Thus it is evident that the motives of a war may be as numerous and varied as the people who take part in it. We should not ask whether its participants are acting from righteous or unrighteous motives.
Thus we find a more particular solution to our problem. It is incorrect to say that, since the men in the government who are responsible for the declaration of war were prompted by sinful motives, the war itself is accordingly corrupt and every G. I. Joe who takes part in the war participates in its corruption. Rather the question must be asked, what are the particular motives of G.I. Joe himself? It is only on this basis that judgment may be passed on his conduct. Congress may declare war for the selfish purpose of gaining new lands for the United States, but unless Joe agrees with those motives, he does not partake of that corruption. The Brigadier General may order the battle because of the selfish desire for personal glory or hatred of the enemy; but if Joe fights from the motive of self-preservation or the protection of his loved ones at home, his conscience is clear. This remarkable diversity of personal motives is possible simply because war itself is such a varied and complex activity.
Moreover, this viewpoint poses important problems for the Christian soldiers and sailors. If every man who takes part in the war effort, from the gold-braided brass in Washington to the mud-spattered inhabitant of a foxhole, is responsible for his own actions, the Christian serviceman must take special care to keep his motives pure. When, for example, he fires a machine gun into a shouting group of attackers, the temptation to think murderous thoughts is almost overwhelming. This is especially true because the whole indoctrination program of the armed forces aims at this central goal: to instill in the hearts of every boy on the firing line such an all-consuming zeal for his country and a burning hatred of the enemy that he will be driven to contribute his utmost to the cause. The danger is at once apparent.
Consequently, the Christian must constantly look to God for guidance, prayerfully beseeching strength from above in order to serve his country in the fear of the Lord, even though all his companions by their example tempt him to sin. And, don’t forget, this is more than a subject for the prayers of the soldier or sailor; this is something which must find a place in the petitions of all those who remain at home, so that they too will pray for strength for the Christian serviceman. In this manner, then, the Church at home and the Church on the battlefield will remain united . . . before the throne of grace.