The Christian Solider’s Conduct in War

In previous issues we have concerned ourselves with the question of the lawfulness of participation in war for the Christian, and the Scriptural doctrine concerning God and his purposes in sending wars.* We came to the conclusion that the Bible war rents such participation and that war does not mean that God is no longer the ruler of the world, but rather that he vindicates his sovereignty by punishing sin and calling his people to repentance by war. In this article I wish to reflect upon the practical problems facing a Christian soldier in battle and in occupation service. We turn once again to the Word of God for guidance, since it is our rule for faith and practice; since we believe that it is sufficient and clear also with respect to this problem.



We, Protestants, believe in progressive revelation. This is not to be identified with the evolutionary view of religion held by the modernists. According to their view Amos had a higher conception of God than Abraham simply because the human spirit had made great advances. That is the subjective and naturalistic view of revelation, as though truth proceeds from man. Our Reformed view is that God revealed more of Himself to the church in N.T. times than in O.T. times. It is true that Amos had more light than Abraham, but this light came from above. It was the activity of God’s self-revelation to his people by which the prophets understood more of the counsel of God than the patriarchs. The apostles in turn knew far more than the prophets, since the Word of God had become INCARNATE.

What the Bible Says

Hence we must especially look to the New Testament. Besides many things that took place in the Old Testament are not given to us as normative; they merely present without recommendation the historical picture of what took place. The general principle of the New Testament that we should love our enemies is valid for us today. We may not entertain hatred toward our fellowmen as creatures and image-bearers of God. Since war is not a matter of personal relations first of all but rather of executing the wrath of God through lawfully constituted government, we may not cherish hatred and seek vengeance in the conduct of war. Therefore all cruelty and inhumanity is detestable. Some Old Testament examples of cruelty by God’s saints may not be used as normative, for God clearly condemns man’s inhumanity to man through the prophets (cf. Amos 1, 2). On the other hand, we find some pointed direction in the New Testament concerning conduct by godly men in army service. We refer to John the Baptist’s prescription to the soldiers who came to him asking, “And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages” (Luke 3:14).

Repentence Required

For a proper understanding of these words of John we must get the setting. The Forerunner is introduced by Luke as “preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” But repentance must consist not only in word but in deed. “Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves. We have Abraham to our father.” That is to say, your associations with pious people and descent from patriarchs is not going to save you, but you must yourselves indicate the reality of repentance by works. This made a deep impression and the crowds began to ask: “What shall we do then?” The answer of John was simple. “He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise.” John is not introducing communism in economics and suggesting that private property be wiped out. Rather, of that which individuals possess they must freely give to those less favored than themselves. In short, the law of God which says: “Love your neighbor as yourself,” is here reiterated with force. That love ought to express itself in deeds. “God,” says John, “will judge your profession of repentance by your deeds of Christian charity and mercy.”

After having made a particular application to the Publicans who also sought baptism unto the remission of sins, John sets forth the practical application of godliness for the life of the soldier. Here the same general principle applies. The law of God has not been abrogated for those in military service. That law is still binding upon all, and soldiers are no exception to the rule. The idea that so easily takes possession of those who are trained in violence, those who are ordered to shoot to kill, that they are now above the law with respect to their fellowmen is erroneous. And we might add, this simple deduction which possesses the mind of men rests upon the false conception of war. If war be regarded as the execution of the righteousness of God, as the maintenance of justice in the world, its participants would not so easily fall into all kinds of lawlessness. But the misconception arises from the mistaken notion that killing, which is murder, is temporarily sanctioned by law. And from killing to rape, theft, false accusation and every other crime is only a short step.

Hence the Way-Preparer of the Messiah warns his audience of military men that the law of God is still inviolate. “Extort from no man by violence” (R.V.) Now a soldier is one trained in violence. It is his business to be strong physically and violent as the situation demands. He must not only learn to shoot straight but also to advance and overcome the enemy in personal, hand-to-hand combat. The enemy must be routed, put out of commission so that he quits the field and surrenders his arms, and gives up the struggle. Any soldier who refuses to fight, to shoot straight, to march and to advance is an unworthy citizen and a rebel against God-instituted authority. We ought to obey the government not only for wrath’s sake but also for conscience sake. The boys, who proved to be veritable Nimrods with a twelve gage shot-gun and always brought back their full tale of pheasant or duck, but refused to shoot straight in the army and were transferred to the quartermaster corps to do household duties were not only bad soldiers but poor Christians.

The Proper Use of Force

However, this violence must be directed and restrained. A soldier may not deal in violence as a private citizen. He may not use his superior physical equipment or his proficiency in arms to pillage the prisoners and lhe enemy population. That is extortion by violence! That is but plain thievery! Our boys used to refer to this practice laughingly as “liberation.” Many American soldiers excused themselves on the basis that the Germans had formerly pillaged the Netherlands and other nations. But if Hitler and his hordes broke the law of God that still does not give us Americans the right to break God’s holy law, whatever the government may take or require the vanquished foe to pay as indemnity for our loss or the loss of the Allies does not give the slightest justification for an individual soldier to steal in this brazen way. The soldier who took watches, paintings, dishes, rugs or any of the innumerable beautiful cultural objects owned by our enemies, is guilty before God. “Are you truly ready to enter the Kingdom of Heaven,” says John, “then bring forth fruits worthy of repentance. Then show by your deeds what you confess with your mouth.” “Extort from no man by violence!” Or, as the margin of the Authorized Version gives it, “Put no man in fear.” And this applies to the female population especially of conquered territory. The Christian soldier in a conquering army or stationed in garrison in a vanquished country must still keep the law of God inviolate with respect to the seventh commandment as well as the sixth. Also here all extortion by violence or intimidation stands condemned. (In regard to the broader aspects of sexual morality I shall deal more particularly in a following issue).

The following two phrases in Luke 3:14, “neither accuse anyone wrongfully; and be content with your wages,” are further specifications of this general principle that the law of God must be obeyed by soldiers as well as civilians. To accuse falsely or wrongfully was a rather common practice for those in the military service in John’s day. Thereby they stood a good chance of receiving bribes and thus augment their meager daily allowance. This type of blackmail, too, must be resisted by anyone who would live godly. Here is a simple reaffirmation of the ninth commandment for those in military service: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor!”

Christian Contentment

“And be content with your wages.” At first blush this injunction may cause some to smile since soldiers from time immemorial have been notorious for their discontent with wages. In the American army there was a vogue to say that the soldier who does not complain is not happy. One is simply expected to be discontented with the general situation o[ which wages constitutes a very real part. In the days that our Lord was here among men the soldiers received very little. It was a mere pittance, a meager existence of porridge and a few farthings to spend in an idle hour. Today, in our land of wealth all that has changed, yet soldiers grumble as of old. And the Word of God comes to Christian soldiers saying, “You are to distinguish yourselves from the common crowd by your contentment,” of course, that is the rule [or all Christians everywhere. Contentment with godliness is great gain. We are to be content and ready to accept the things we receive and the conditions of life in which by God’s providence we find ourselves. This general rule for Christian living also applies to soldiers without diminution. That constitutes the radical power of Christianity. If we would conduct ourselves as disciples of the Lord Jesus while in the service of our country, we must also show our fellow-soldier citizens that our confession is not in words only, but that we are in deed followers of the Christ. Discontent is a festering sore in the lives or many people and it will spoil our effectiveness as witnesses for our King. If Christian soldiers are discontent like the rest we miss one of the finest opportunities to show the men of this world that we are a peculiar people unto the Lord. I venture to say that a soldier who shows that he is content with his wages and does his duty without grumbling from day to’ day will be challenged by many concerning the cause of his strange behavior and thus wiII find an opening to witness for his faith. Such a witness will have the power to convict men and to touch their hearts because it is a testimony not only of the lips but for daily deeds. Even the unbelieving world is impressed by facts and acts. The devil keens a close eye on the Jobs of God who walk uprightly and flee from evil.

To conclude, then, in the conduct of war the Christian must obey the law of God. He is in no way exempt from the commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” That law of love comes to expression in many different ways. Just a few examples have been cited here in connection with John’s words to the soldiers of his day. One thing stands out clearly. There is no prohibition against soldiering. One does not have to flee from the world in Anabaptistic estrangement. God calls us to do our duty as citizens, to render to Caesar the things which are Caesar’s. However, God does not temporarily release those on military duty from the obligation of walking as children of the light. We must let our light so shine before men in the service that by our good works—contentment, honesty, chastity, kindliness, honor, etc.—they may glorify our Father which is in heaven. If we remember these things we shall also know that our labors are not in vain in the Lord, that this war has a purpose in our lives as individuals to witness as restored prophets, priests and kings. Let us as Christian fathers and mothers remind our boys in the service that they are children of the light, a holy priesthood unto God, to show forth the praises of Him who has called them from darkness into light. God forbid that any of the sons of the covenant should become conformed to this world while on military duty to such an extent that they accept the common sins of soldiers as the order o[ the day. May their covenant training and the Law of God which they have heard from babyhood help them to continue in those things which they have learned. May our gracious God give them the will to work out their salvation with fear and trembling, for our God is a consuming fire! Let us therefore bring forth works worthy or repentance!

*See Oct.–Nov. and Dec.–Jan. issues.