True Christians and War
JESUS told his disciples: “I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 13:34) Can true Christians manifest such love for one another and at the same time go to war and kill one another?
Consider also the question asked by the apostle Paul: “Is Christ divided?” (1 Corinthians 1:13, Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition) Ask yourself: ‘Could there be any division greater than that which results in members of the same religion killing one another?’
Really, we should not be surprised to learn that early Christians did not go to war. Hastings’ renowned Encyclopædia of Religion and Ethics noted: “The view was widely prevalent in the early Church that war is an organized iniquity with which the Church and the followers of Christ can have nothing to do.”
Early Christians lived by Jesus’ command to love one another. The German theologian Peter Meinhold explained: “While the New Testament is silent on the question whether Christians may or may not be soldiers and whether they must resign from the army when they become Christians, the old church took a stand in the issue. Being a Christian and a soldier was considered irreconcilable.” Does anyone today take a stand like that of “the old church”?
Any True Christians Today?
Encyclopedia Canadiana says: “The work of Jehovah’s Witnesses is the revival and re-establishment of the primitive Christianity practised by Jesus and his disciples during the first and second centuries of our era. . . . All are brothers.”
What does that mean in practice? “Jehovah’s Witnesses maintain a strict neutrality in time of war,” notes the Australian Encyclopædia. While as individuals they may choose to take this position, they do not interfere with the affairs of the government under which they live. Thus they did not support Hitler’s war, and so none of them were tried during the Nuremberg trials as war criminals.
One German who was found guilty and executed was Alfred Rosenberg, head of the Nazi Party’s Foreign Affairs Department. Defending the Nazi policy of putting Jehovah’s Witnesses in concentration camps, Rosenberg testified during his trial: “An American chaplain has very kindly given me in my cell a church paper from Columbus [Ohio]. I gather from that that the United States, too, arrested Jehovah’s Witnesses during the war and that until December 1945, 11,000 of them were still detained in camps.” It is true that Jehovah’s Witnesses have been strictly neutral, not taking sides in political disputes. They have not shed any blood, in World War II or in any other war.
In Hungary, a writer in Ring magazine of November 4, 1992, said of Jehovah’s Witnesses: “They would choose to die rather than kill someone. Consequently, I am sure if only Jehovah’s Witnesses lived on the earth then wars would not break out anywhere.” Reo M. Christenson, a professor of political science, discussed in The Christian Century whether a genuine Christian could take part in war, and he concluded:
“Can anyone seriously conceive of Jesus hurling hand grenades at his enemies, using a machine gun, manipulating a flamethrower, dropping nuclear bombs or launching an ICBM which would kill or cripple thousands of mothers and children? The question is so absurd that it scarcely merits an answer. If Jesus could not do this and be true to his character, then how can we do it and be true to him?” A thought-provoking question.
Yet, the religions of the world continue to take sides in war. Catholics keep on killing Catholics, and those of other religions kill either people of their own faith or members of other churches. To follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, firm conviction and courage are required, as the following true story reveals.
[Picture on page 7]
Can anyone seriously conceive of Jesus using a machine gun in war?
U.S. National Archives photo