Fundamental Belief #14: On Military Service And War

I am a (very loyal) member in the United Church of God, but there is one fundamental belief I have trouble with (and I know I am not the only one). As it is one of my duties to teach doctrine at Legacy Institute, I have been adapting the fundamental beliefs of the United Church of God for my classes. My former pastor, Mr. David Treybig, now a minister with Cogwa, had a series of sermons on all 20 fundamental beliefs, and most of them are pretty good (though many of them spend more time on looking for validation from men rather than from God’s word, and so I typically ignore/cut out those sections). However, I basically had to start from scratch to form a coherent and biblical view of our position within the Church of God concerning war and military service, largely because I’m not a pacifist (and the Bible isn’t a book that supports pacifism either).

In 2004 I was a student at the Ambassador Bible Center in Milford, Ohio (which teaches the Bible and various courses dealing with subjects like hermeneutics, Christian living, public speaking, comparative religions, and doctrines), and this doctrine, that of military service, led to a huge and three-sided argument. There are essentially three camps within the Church of God community concerning military service, two of which agree with the basic position and one of which opposes it. The official position is that the Church of God is to be pacifistic and (apparently) that to engage in warfare at all is to break the sixth commandment (more on that later). This flies against all of the biblical evidence concerning the legitimacy of warfare under very specific criteria. The middle position, which I personally hold, is that military service is entirely acceptable on this earth if and only if the nations involved themselves are in a covenantal relationship with God (like ancient Israel and Judah). Otherwise, believers retain their right of self-defense but are not to join man’s armies as conversion is an enlistment in God’s army. In addition, there is a minority opinion that supports the active involvement of Christians within the military.

I thought it worthwhile, therefore, to compare my own view of military service with what purports to be the official view of my church. I should note at the outset, though, that there may be no official view, since the United Church of God has never published any papers on military service and war due to its controversial nature. Additionally, the doctrine as a whole is a fairly minor and tangential one, a fundamental belief only because it has to be for members (like myself) to be given the status of conscientious objectors. That said, this doctrine, although minor, is an important one in examining whether someone’s beliefs tend towards pietism and an avoidance of our responsibilities in this present world or a more activist involvement in the world’s affairs. I will admit at the outset as well my own bias being a lifelong student of military history and an M.A. in Military History from Norwich University. That said, let us begin the comparison.

First, we have the pacifist case presented by Mr. Treybig:

Fundamental Beliefs of the United Church of God, an International Association

14. Military Service and War

Fundamental #14: “We believe that Christians are forbidden by the commandments of God from taking human life directly or indirectly and that bearing arms is contrary to this fundamental belief. Therefore, we believe that Christians should not voluntarily become engaged in military service. If they are involuntarily engaged in military service, we believe they should refuse conscientiously to bear arms and, to the extent possible, refuse to come under military authority (Exodus 20:13; Matthew 5:21-22; 1 Corinthians 7:21-23; Acts 5:29).”

The sixth commandment: “You shall not murder [kill, KJV] is found in
______________________ and _______________________.

Two arguments used to justify nations fighting:

1. ________________________ fought (Exodus 17:8)

2. The “_________ _______ Theory” started by Augustine that says that war is permissible under certain strict conditions. Biblical support is supposedly found in Romans 13:1, 4.

Jesus on Killing and Enemies:
Isaiah 42:21 prophesied that Christ would _________________ the law and make it honorable.
Matthew 5:17 Christ said that He did not come to destroy the _______ or the _____________.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause will be in danger of the judgment (Matthew 5:21-22). In this same message, He also said that we are to _________ our enemies and do good to those who hate us (verse 44).
When one of Jesus’ disciples (Peter, John 18:10) cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant (Malchus) as Jesus was being arrested, Christ told him to put away his sword because all who take the sword will ________________ by the sword (Matthew 26:52).
When Jesus was brought before Pilate, He said that His servants would not fight at this time because His kingdom was not of this ______________ (John 18:36).

Paul on Citizenship, Revenge, and Servants:
In Philippians 3:20-21 we find that our ____________________ is in heaven. In many countries one must be a citizen to vote or serve in the military.
God says, “___________________ is Mine” (Romans 12:19-20). If we treat our enemies kindly, we heap coals of fire upon their heads.
Once baptized ___________ is to live in us (Galatians 2:20). This means we are to act like Christ.
1 Corinthians 7:21-23 tells us not to make ourselves _________________ of men. When we don’t control our own lives, it is difficult, if not impossible, to keep the Sabbath and Holy Days.

James and John on murder and wars:
John wrote that whoever hates his brother is a _______________ and that no such person has ____________ _________ abiding in him (1 John 3:15).
James explained that wars and fights come from ________ and ______________ (James 4:1-2).
James and John both identify hatred and participation in war as ______________.

The Horror of War
In World War I approximately 21 million people were wounded and 8.5 million were killed making the total casualties almost 30 million people.

In World War II approximately 13.5 million soldiers were wounded or missing.
Approximately 20 million soldiers were killed.
Approximately 6 million civilians were wounded.
Approximately 17.5 million civilians were killed
The total number of casualties was approximately 57 million people.

In the Korean War there were 53,000 U.S. military deaths
111,700 U.S. military were wounded or captured
There were 1.13 million deaths among all combatants

In the Vietnam War approximately 292,000 U.S. soldiers were wounded.
Approximately 58,000 U.S. soldiers were killed.
There were also between 1-2 million Vietnamese deaths.

Explanation of why Ancient Israel Fought
The first battle ancient Israel fought was at ______________ against Amelek (Exodus 17:8-13). The account shows that Moses told Joshua to select men to fight against Amalek. When Moses held up his hands, Israel prevailed. When he let down his hands, Amalek prevailed. This showed that God was overseeing the outcome of the battle.

When God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, they came out _____________ yet God took them on a path so they would not have to fight (Exodus 13:17-18, ESV).
At the Red Sea God drowned all of the Egyptian army. After this miracle, Moses explained that God would fight for Israel and all they had to do was remain ___________ (Exodus 14:14).
In Exodus 23:20, 23, 27-28 God offered to do the fighting for the Israelites by sending an _________________, causing _________________ among the people whose land Israel would possess and sending _______________ to gradually drive out the inhabitants of the land.
The men of Israel fought because they didn’t trust God to fight for them. God permitted Israel to make this decision.
Summary of the Church’s position:
1. War breaks the sixth commandment.
2. Our citizenship is in heaven. We are not citizens of this world.
3. We should not voluntarily place ourselves in the military under the control of governments of this world.

Then we have my case for the “middle” case of conversion as enlistment in God’s army:

Fundamental Beliefs
14. Military Service and War

Fundamental #14: “We believe that Christians are forbidden by the commandments of God from serving in the militaries of nations that are not in a covenantal relationship with God. Therefore, we believe that Christians should not voluntarily become engaged in military service because conversion to Christianity means joining the army of God. If they are involuntarily engaged in military service, we believe they should refuse conscientiously to bear arms and, to the extent possible, refuse to come under military authority. Nevertheless, those who have volunteered for military service before conversion should faithfully obey God while serving their enlistment (Matthew 5:21-22; 1 Corinthians 7:21-23; Acts 5:29).”

Is there something inherently wrong with military service? Not inherently. From Genesis to Revelation the people of God are shown as part of armies. Nonetheless, all godly volunteers to warfare are shown as belonging to armies under a covenantal relationship with God. Let us examine the history of godly military service while looking at its limitations.

A. War In The Old Testament

Abraham, the father of the faithful, raised an army with local allies to rescue his son-in-law from the forces of four mighty kings (Genesis 14:1-17).

Ancient Israel was organized by armies (Exodus 12:41, Numbers 2:1-34).

Many godly leaders of Israel are shown engaging in war against the enemies of Israel (Exodus 17:8-16, Deuteronomy 2:26-3:11, Judges 3:7-30, 1 Samuel 7:2-17, 2 Samuel 8:1-14, 1 Kings 22:1-5, 29-33).

The Bible contains numerous regulations about the conduct of war, including which soldiers are to be allowed to return home, how to engage in ‘holy war,’ and how to deal with female prisoners of war (Deuteronomy 20:1-20, 21:10-14), as well as the offerings that were given to God after successful holy wars (Numbers 31:25-54).

The Levites, the servants of God in the tabernacle and temple, participated righteously even in a civil war to overthrow ungodly and oppressive ruler (2 Chronicles 23:1-17) and also as a matter of course participated in Israel’s foreign wars (2 Chronicles 20:19).

Frequent warfare was considered a responsibility of a godly ruler in an ungodly world (2 Samuel 11:1), even though the goal of godly warfare was peace through victory (2 Samuel 10:19, Psalm 120:5-7).

B. War In The New Testament

Nowhere in the New Testament is Christian participation in militaries glorified or advocated. Nonetheless, the New Testament does not command believers to act against their terms of enlistment in the Roman army, where enlistment terms were frequently 20 years in length. Instead, we find the following advice given to soldiers: do not abuse your power and be content with your wages (Luke 3:14). In addition, the first Gentile convert to Christianity was a Centurion in the Italian Regiment of Rome’s army (Acts 10:1), and the New Testament everywhere views centurions in a positive light (Matthew 3:8-13, 27:54), even though they were leaders in an often oppressive army.

Paul called his fellow ministers fellow soldiers (Philippians 2:25, Philemon 1:2), and also compared Christians to soldiers (2 Timothy 2:3-6, 1 Thessalonians 5:8).

Becoming a Christian means enlisting in God’s army in the fight against Satan and the demonic realm (Ephesians 6:10-20), engaging in rhetorical warfare, casting down ungodly arguments (2 Corinthians 10:1-6) of those who follow Satan’s bidding, even those who consider themselves Christians (Revelation 2:6, 3:9). Involvement in this spiritual warfare and the need to obey God make enlisting in physical armies, since no nation or empire is under the same covenant with God that ancient Israel was, an act of disloyalty to God (2 Corinthians 10:3).

When Jesus Christ returns, we will join His army and fight to conquer the earth for His rule (Revelation 19:11-17). Christians are not pacifists, but our warfare is against the real enemies of God and mankind, not merely against ethnic or cultural enemies.

C. Side Issues.

What about self-defense? The law of God gives ordinary people the right of self-defense against thieves and robbers (Exodus 22:1-4). Even while under foreign domination, the Jews still had the right to defend themselves with deadly force against their enemies and were praised by God for doing so (Esther 9:1-17). Jesus Christ himself even told his disciples of the need to buy a sword in their future preaching so that they could defend themselves (Luke 22:35-38). Christians maintain their right of self-defense today. Being a Christian does not mean giving up one’s right to self-defense even as one depends ultimately upon the help and safety provided by God to believers according to His will.

Isn’t it murder to engage in military service? No. The sixth commandment (Exodus 20:13) reads, “You shall not murder.” Killing was commanded by God in certain circumstances. People guilty of certain crimes, including adultery (Deuteronomy 24:24), idolatry (Deuteronomy 17:7), rebellion (Deuteronomy 21:21), kidnapping (Deuteronomy 24:7), and rape were given the death penalty by God’s law and this penalty was enforced by ordinary believers. In addition, the Levites showed their loyalty to God at Mt. Sinai by killing believers engaged in idolatrous worship of the golden calf (Exodus 32:25-29), and Phineas was named High Priest because of his actions to kill an Israelite engaged in sexual immorality with a Midianite princess (Numbers 25:4-15). Such killing was not murder and was not a sin. Neither will it be sin for us to kill the enemies of God at the return of Jesus Christ. For though we were forbidden to set up God’s kingdom on this earth through our own efforts by force (John 18:36), when Jesus Christ returns His servants will fight (Revelation 19:11-16).


There are two heretical extremes that a Christian can fall into regarding military service and war. The first is to become a pacifist, seeking to avoid taking personal responsibility for the need to judge (including the death penalty) or defend one’s self, seeking to lay upon unbelievers or God these unpleasant responsibilities. The second is the belief that Christians can engage in this world’s wars to establish God’s kingdom by force here and now before the return of Christ. The truth is that military service is acceptable only when one’s nation is in a covenantal relationship with God, because a conversion to God’s ways and baptism is a commitment to serve in God’s army in warfare against Satan and his demons and their human supporters. At times the Church of God has been far too pacifistic in its beliefs, denying the continuing responsibility of self-defense for Christians and engaging in too large a withdrawal from the affairs of this world. We need to have a balanced view of the responsibilities of man and the ultimate authority of God. All Christians are warriors in God’s army after conversion, and as a result to join the armies of man’s regimes in rebellion against God is not acceptable for believers. During the times of ancient Israel, when God was the ruler of the nation, the Israelites fought. When Jesus Christ returns to establish His kingdom, we will fight again (Revelation 20:7-9, Ezekiel 38, 39). Let us be prepared.

Unfortunately, I do not have a biblically based position for involvement in the wars of mankind in this present world, though I encourage my readers to find one if they wish. I leave it to my readers to determine which of the cases presented (or which case omitted) is the correct biblical answer. However, in good conscience I could not teach the pacifist case because I do not believe it. I cannot preach what I do not believe, and the pacifist case does not pass biblical muster and is a horrible precedent for other related (minor) doctrines in how we deal with our responsibilities on earth in this present life. What do you all think?

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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17 Responses to Fundamental Belief #14: On Military Service And War

  1. Nathan, although this has been a touchy subject, and the civil attitudes toward our US military are only obvious. This aggressive behavior of screaming anti-war or anti-military come and go every now and then. I personally hear from time to time about them being spit on, even this passive, cold shoulders that leave one uncomfortable. Such tragic attitudes need to brought to light and confronted. These people that propagate or display such attitudes need to think for moment with hope to be awaken from sleep or zapped with a thought, “Oh, even if we are not fighting a war in Afghanistan, at least I can wake up everyday and come out of my house and find things in order because someone is patrolling the borders of my country-the waters and the airspace to keep the enemy out so that I could live my self-serving, hoity-toity life.” If someone is to ask what I think of the war, I would respond like Christ, ““Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Mark 12:17). While defense is necessary by having our military bases on alert in the event of any attack, so is military action. We do it when it is necessary…the problem is not the military per se, but the motivation or the driving force behind it.

    • I happen to agree. As someone who is a rather passionate student of military affairs, I have no hostility per se to military action, despite my own disinclination to fight and despite such medical conditions as I have that would prohibit me from serving in the active military. At any rate, I agree that hostility to the military is unacceptable, especially since in a government like the United States where the military is under civilian control it is civilians (especially the President) that direct the use of the military, and the soldiers merely obey order about where to go and whom to fight.

  2. Having medical conditions and the choice of not serving in the military are acceptable. The issue that overall problematic is the negative attitudes toward the military. Not to be tolerate, I agree! It is interesting that you might note that our miltiary “is under the civilian control.” How true that is, especially when a President has NO military background who in fact back in the 80s was a draft-dodger. Running off to a foreign country and after the war, return to his country to be elected as “Commander-in-Chief” years later. It happened again which.. I find this rather absurd where similarly, one is told to get advice from a non-business owner as to “how to” own a business. Or how about a college professor teaching business where he has never been either an entrepreneur or business owner for himself. A President as “Commander-in-Chief” of the armed forces where he is giving military orders not because he is a veteran and has experience thereby able to relate to his troops is dangerous. Supporting the military, I began to notice these based on experience where a naval hospital, for instance, is overrun by civilians. It was unfair that the military personnel “ON DUTY” had mandatory appointment which only took some 15 minutes for over 6-hour wait while the military wives, especially housewives were taken as priorities who are not pressured to return to a job since they none.Also, neither them or the kids were bleeding. Not to mention the consequence where the military personnel gets in trouble for being late on duty, but in this scene is only obvious that where he was prevented to report ion duty due to bad decision, a waste of taxpayers’ resources. Yeah, they only do what they are told what to do yet often the troops are being blamed for the war and its aftermath. It does not make sense although taking orders is a fact, not something that they can do freely or on their behalf.

    • Republics in general have a difficult task with armies. On the one hand, a well-regulated militia is necessary for the common defense, but on the other hand most republics have fallen because of their militaries (think of Chile in 1925 or 1973, Rome under Julius Caesar, France under Napoleon, the Spanish and Germans in the 1930s, for just a few examples that I can comment on without fear of being arrested). There has therefore been a high degree of mistrust for the military hard-wired in American culture, even as citizen soldiers are routinely praised for their defense of liberty both here (Civil War) and around the world (World War II, First Gulf War). I’m not sure, personally, how that dilemma can be overcome, and in light of the hypocrisy of those who dodged drafts being in charge of the military (and fairly open to using it rather heavily, it should be noted), I sometimes am concerned about the safety of my republic in light of a growing disconnect between civilian control and a military that seems dangerously overstretched and which is not likely to be able to maintain its standard of living and technology in light of our growing insolvency as a nation.

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