Wednesday, November 28, 2007


The TIME magazine article “What Makes us Moral” (see previous blog) spoke of “the notion of the ‘other,’” a “kind of brutal line between insiders and outsiders.” It cites Nazi Germany, Yugoslavia and Rwanda as examples. This us versus them mentality is seen as something that is manipulated in genocide and, as the article tells us, “has its most terrible expression in wars.”

Though I disagree with the biological reasoning of the article, I believe it is right on in this matter. We constantly categorize people and by doing so, justify hateful behavior.

I can think of dozens of terms used by nice law-abiding Christian Americans to somehow justify hatred for “the other.” Happily some of them have passed out of use. I’m tempted to write them out, but that might cause unnecessary pain to some. Most of us wouldn’t have to think too hard to come up with some: terms for those with whom our nation is at war; terms for those of other races – or national origins – or religions – or denominations. The latest is “illegal aliens.”

If we can only put people in a class group and tag them with a derogatory label we can justify mistreatment of them, even getting rid of them.

Yesterday I received an e-mail from a friend. It was a forwarded article entitled “What if 20 Million Illegal Aliens Vacated America?” by Frosty Woolridge. In the article we are told all the benefits, primarily economical, that we would have in America if we could somehow ship them all back where they came from. I was stunned when I received this, but not by the article itself. I’ve read and heard enough of this kind of thinking not to be shocked. But I was shocked by the fact that it was sent to me by a man who is in the ministry, who himself ministers across ethnic/racial lines.

I read the article over. I thought that perhaps this was a piece of satire, written with tongue in cheek to mock those whose views it expressed. It apparently wasn’t. I thought my friend would have a rebuttal at the end. He didn’t.

So I replied:

I agree!!!

And it would help even more if we would gas 6 million Jews!!!
And slaughter 2 million Tutsis!!!
And ethnically cleanse Bosnians!!!
And put all the Indians on reservations!!!
And make Black people work for free!!!

I'm ashamed of you ________ for spreading this kind of hateful crap!!!

He probably took offense at the word crap.

The story of the so-called “Good Samaritan” in Luke 10:25-37 is not just a story of a nice guy who stopped to help another who was in need. It’s the story of a man who crossed that invisible barrier to aid someone “other” – someone of a different ethnicity and religion – someone with whose people the Samaritan’s people shared a mutual hatred. And in doing so he (literally) “became a neighbor.” I think Jesus expects the same of us.

Bill Ball

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


This week’s TIME magazine had a fascinating article entitled “What Makes us Moral.” The second paragraph speaks of the fact that “we’re a species that is capable of almost dumbfounding kindness” and then lists ways in which we demonstrate that kindness toward one another. It goes on in the same paragraph to point out that “at the same time we slaughter one another.” It points out the “paradox” (and the “shame”) that while we are “the highest, wisest, most principled species the planet has produced,” we are also “the lowest, cruelest, most blood-drenched.”

We’ve heard laments like this before. They’re not original thoughts. (See WHAT HAPPENED?) But the TIME editors are not writing as theologians or philosophers (or are they?). They are trying to resolve the paradox by comparing us with other “species” and examining brain function.

The article deals with many of what would be called moral dilemmas and does point out many interesting ways our ethics compares with that of animals. It’s a great read!

The article seems to seek to explain our behavior solely on the basis of biology. It wants to know why we behave the way we do. There are some creative explanations, though they aren’t that certain or adequate. The real problem is that all that we can get from this thinking are observations of what is. Everything else is tentative and uncertain. There are no statements of how we ought to behave, just how we behave even though there is a moral longing.

Apparently it’s all a matter of evolution. The article ends on a hopeful note – the hope that the nastiness of our dual nature will someday be overcome by the niceness, and we will finally “fully civilize ourselves.”

Don’t hold your breath!

This article, I believe shows (sadly) how lost we really are when we look at life only through what can be observed by our senses, or “under the sun” as Qohelet said.

The brilliant minds of today can explain natural phenomena through scientific studies and methods. The universe, the human body. We’ve made tremendous advances in knowledge. Yet man cannot be explained solely in this way. He is more than the sum of his parts. He is more than just another “species.” He is a moral being and this morality (or lack of morality) cannot be explained in this way.

Yet, without God, that is all we are left with.

Bill Ball

Monday, November 26, 2007


Martin Luther King, Jr. loved to quote Amos 5:24. I found this verse at least five times in his published sermons and I suppose that he quoted it many more times than this.

“… let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

Amos, like King was concerned about oppression of the poor and social injustice. But Amos was also concerned about sham religion. And to Amos the two were inseparable.

Amos spoke (around 760 BC) to the northern kingdom of Israel, which had split from the southern kingdom about 165+ years earlier. It was during the reign of Jeroboam 2, a time of territorial expansion and prosperity (at least for some). It was the last period of the kingdom’s greatness before it fell into the steady decline that ended with its conquest and deportation by Assyria within another 40 years.

After tearing into the sins of the neighboring nations (see previous blog) and of their sister kingdom Judah in the first chapter and a half, Amos turns his attention to Israel and never stops for seven chapters.

He makes clear at the beginning what the LORD is angry about. It is the hypocritical mixing of religiosity with oppression of the poor, along with their sexual immorality. Look at 2:6-8: “… they sell the righteous for money and the needy for a pair of sandals. These who pant after the very dust of the earth on the head of the helpless also turn aside the way of the humble; and a man and his father resort to the same girl in order to profane My holy name. And on garments taken as pledges they stretch out beside every altar, and in the house of their God they drink the wine of those who have been fined.”

Sounds like 21st century America, doesn’t it? The rich were getting rich off the backs of the poor and using their ill-gotten wealth not only for their own pleasure and benefit, but also to make a show of religion.

Amos calls the Gentile nations to see this. He tells them in 3:9b, 10: “Assemble yourselves on the mountains of Samaria and see the great tumults within her and the oppressions in her midst. But they do not know how to do what is right, declares the LORD, these who hoard up violence and devastation in their citadels.” The very people the LORD had chosen and delivered, Amos was now holding up as a bad example.

He calls the wealthy women “cows … who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to your husbands, ‘Bring now, that we may drink’” (4:1).

He tears into their false worship and makes it clear that it was not getting through to Him (4:4, 5). In beautiful anthropomorphism and irony, the LORD says that their religion was an offense to His senses. “I will not SMELL your solemn assemblies … your offerings … I will not DELIGHT IN, and I will not LOOK AT the peace offerings … Take away the noise of your songs; I will not LISTEN to the sound of your harps!” (5:21-23).

Over and over God, through Amos, mocks the religion of Israel and fulminates against their social injustice.

How can we – American Christians – read Amos without feeling God’s grief and anger at what goes on in this country? How can we be like those “who drink wine from bowls and anoint themselves with the finest of oils, yet have not grieved over the ruin of Joseph?” (6;6).

And these things are going on. We see it on the evening news. We read about it in our newspapers.

Corporate CEOs robbing pension funds, bankrupting companies and employees and getting off with their golden parachutes.

Congressmen and politicians accepting lavish gifts from lobbyists to promote their pet projects at the public expense.

Federal regulatory agencies peopled with members or former members of the very businesses they’re supposed to regulate and passing on and receiving favors.

American and international corporations growing wealthy at the expense of underpaid and child laborers in other countries. See 8:6: “… as to buy the helpless for money and the needy for a pair of sandals….”

And yet church growth in America continues. Our super-churches are growing larger and wealthier while many of the leaders of these churches live lavish lifestyles.

Isn’t there some sort of anomaly here?

I know that many Christians, many in those same super-churches are aiding in attempting to relieve some of the effects of these evils, but we don’t seem to speak to the evils themselves.

We can write it off and deny that it is really going on. We can claim that somehow those who are at the bottom deserve to be there.

We can say that it is none of our business, that (as I have sometimes said) it’s not our job to speak to these issues, that our job is to preach the gospel.

But we are citizens of a representative democracy, and as Christian citizens, I believe we are responsible for speaking out in love. And we do speak out, though I am honestly puzzled by some of the issues we American Christians find important. Though some are extremely important, others are really trivial compared with what Amos speaks about: oppression and injustice, especially the mistreatment of the poor. Why don’t we speak out more on these? Aren’t these “sanctity of life” issues?

Bill Ball

Monday, November 19, 2007


I just finished reading the little book of Amos in my Bible. I really like this guy! I feel he has a lot to say to the people of America – both Christians and non-Christians.

Amos was a prophet to the nation of Israel living under the Old Covenant. It would be easy for us to simply write off what he says as being irrelevant to us Christians – after all we live under the New Covenant. However, we need to recognize a few things.

First, what the Old Testament has to say about moral/ethical issues is important, because it expresses the mind of God on these matters. This is especially important when the New Testament also deals with them. Often the New Testament material is very sparse, and the Old Testament fills in the details.

Secondly, Amos makes very clear that God is concerned about the behavior of the people of the nations, not only that of the Jews, His covenant people. All that he says in chapter 1 through 2:3 have to do with the nations: Damascus and Aram (Syria) (1:3-5), the Philistine cities (6-8), Tyre (9, 10), Edom (11, 12), Ammon (13-15), Moab (2:1-3). Though most of the acts of the nations that draw his anger have to do with their sins against Israel, not all of them do. It would appear that it is the evil of the acts themselves with which He is angry.
  • Terrorism (1:4): “… because they threshed Giliad with implements of sharp iron.”
  • Mass deportation of people (1:6): “… because they deported an entire population”; (1:9): “Because they delivered up an entire population”
  • Broken treaties (1:9): “And did not remember the covenant of brotherhood.”
  • Lack of compassion (1:11): “Because he pursued his brother with the sword, while he stifled his compassion;”
  • Mistreatment of the innocent for gain (1:13): “Because they ripped open the pregnant women of Gilead in order to enlarge their borders.”
  • Desecration of the dead (2:1): “Because he burned the bones of the king of Edom to lime.”
It would seem from the above that God holds the nations of the earth accountable for their behavior. Does He do so today? I find no indication that he has changed His mind. Look at Matthew 25:32: “All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.”

What is the standard by which God, through Amos judges the nations? I believe that it is what Paul calls “the work of the Law” (Romans 2:14, 15). “For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them.”

However, when it comes to God’s covenant people, the nations of Israel and Judah, there is a different standard. This would agree with what Paul says in Romans 2:12, 13: “For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law; for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified.”

So where does this leave us, God’s New Covenant people? Well, first of all, we can be thankful that our sinful actions have already been judged in the person of Christ (John 3:18). He has taken all our sin on Himself. But we still have to stand before Christ some day and give account (2 Corinthians 5:10).

While it is not our responsibility to pass judgment on non-believers, I do believe we have to recognize the evils that are going on in this world and do our best to alleviate them. I believe that as citizens we have a responsibility for speaking out to the sins around us – especially here in America – not to condemn but to remedy them. And we need to recognize that the only ultimate remedy for sin is the forgiveness found through the work of Christ.

So – what was Amos trying to communicate? That God is angry at sin – the sins of all mankind, but especially those of His own people. And also that there is the promise of restoration (9:11-15). God is a God of justice and grace.

More later.

Bill Ball

Saturday, November 17, 2007


Why are the distinctions I made in the previous post important?

I believe there are many Christians, especially young people, who are tremendously frustrated. They have been taught that somehow they are responsible for KNOWING God’s will, while the Bible stresses that we are to DO it.

Romans 12:2 says, “ … that you may prove what the will of God is,” and this is somehow understood to mean figuring out life choices when there is not enough data to make decisions.

The view I think many have is that we are like contestants on a TV game show.

The contestant stands before two large curtains and the host (God?) says, “Mrs. Jones, behind these curtains stand two possible choices. Behind one curtain is a check for 5 million dollars, the deed to a million dollar home, a brand new top of the line Mercedes and a cruise around the world. Behind the other curtain is a coupon for a Happy Meal at McDonalds. Mrs. Jones – you must choose which curtain to open!”

The clock is ticking! The music plays louder and louder! The camera homes in on Mrs. Jones’ face, where beads of perspiration are rolling down.

The two curtains look exactly alike. There are no criteria with which Mrs. Jones can make her decision. But the host again says, “Mrs. Jones, you must decide!”

Is that the way it is? Is God like some sadistic game show host who has set impossible decisions before us and yet holds us responsible for those decisions?

I’m afraid that’s the way He is perceived by many.

But that’s not the way it is!

I believe that much of the problem is due to confusion between different aspects of God’s will (see previous blog). While I believe that God has determined what the future is (His Decreed Will), He does not expect us to know it, unless He has revealed it in His Word. This is not required of us. As the song goes, “God only knows, God makes His plan; the information’s unavailable to the mortal man.”

While we are not obligated to know what the future is for us, we are obligated, not only to know, but to carry out His Will of Desire as expressed in Scripture.

I find that this is tremendously freeing. We don’t have to look for some flash of revelation or some “call.” We can make our decisions based on criteria already revealed to us in the Bible.

The first criterion for decision making is a life that is committed to God and is in the process of transformation through mental renewal (Romans 12:1, 2).

Another related criterion is that we seek wisdom from God, the ultimate source of wisdom, through:
-- prayer (James 1:5, 6)
-- His Word (Psalm 119:9-11)
-- other believers (Proverbs 12:15; 13:20; 15:7, 12; 19:20; 22:17)

There are also a number of questions we should ask:
-- Will God be glorified in this action? (1 Corinthians 10:31; Romans 14:6-8)
-- Does the Scripture speak directly to this? Would this act violate a clear commandment? Would it help to fulfill a clear commandment? Would it hinder me from carrying out a clear commandment?
-- Do I have freedom in this area? There are areas where God has, in a sense, left the decision to us (1 Corinthians 7:21, 28, 29).
-- Am I completely sure this is a right action? (Romans 14:14, 23)
-- Is it beneficial? (1 Corinthians 6:12; 10;23)
-- Do I have control over it or does it control me? (1 Corinthians 6:12)
-- Does it build up my brother (1 Corinthians 10:23; Romans 14:19), or does it hinder him? (Romans 14:13, 15, 20, 21)
-- Does it hinder or enhance my witness to unbelievers? (1 Corinthians 10:27-32)

The above criteria are not meant to be a set of legalistic rules, but guidelines for the Christian who is free. Often we don’t think through these questions but merely decide. I believe that if our life is truly committed to Christ, we will make correct decisions. One old saint (whose name I don’t recall) called them “sanctified preferences.” And if later it appears that we made a wrong decision, we need to remember that we can never step outside of the love of God in Christ and His purpose to conform us to His image.

Bill Ball

Monday, November 12, 2007


The other day I received this question via e-mail from a former theology student:

… Anyway, a main reason for writing is I left my class notes in storage and I remember Bill that you explained God's decreed will and His permissive will. Could you give me the explanation again. I am in a small Bible study and the ladies seem to think that our life is just about our choices and I was adamant that God's will would be done in our life, but at the time I couldn't recall the term His permissive will. Alice
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The distinction that I made in class was between God's DECREED WILL and God's PRECEPTIVE WILL. This is not a distinction made in the Bible, but one made by theologians, and which I believe is a necessary distinction.

GOD'S DECREED (or Decretive) WILL is defined as that which God causes necessarily to come to pass. If we believe that God is absolutely sovereign, then nothing happens outside of His Decreed Will. “He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will. … He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him. … having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:5, 9, 11); “So then it does not depend on the one who wills or the one who runs, but on God who has mercy. … You may say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?’” (Romans 9:16, 19).

GOD'S PRECEPTIVE WILL (or Will of Desire, or Revealed Will), however, is another matter. We may define this as what God expresses as His desire. We find passages that express God's desires for our behavior, but which may not necessarily be carried out. “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality” (1 Thessalonians, 4:3); “in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (5:18); “The Lord … is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). These are only a few.

So it is possible to step outside of God's Preceptive Will, though we can never step outside of His Decreed Will. An example of this is the crucifixion of Christ: “this Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, YOU nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death” (Acts 2:23). “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur” (4:27, 28). The crucifixion of Christ was a direct violation of God's Preceptive Will -- His command "You shall not murder" (Exodus 20:13). Yet it was at the same time an act willed by God.

Some have used the expression "God's Permissive Will" to explain phenomena like these. It is said that while we may violate God's commands (His Preceptive Will), it is only as God permits us to do so.

Others have used the expression "God's Perfect Will" to describe what happens when His Decreed and His Permissive Will coincide. When I obey God, I am doing His "Perfect Will." When Paul in Romans 12:2 says, "that you may prove what the will of God is," he is not talking about finding God's Decreed Will, what He has planned for our future, but of testing and demonstrating the truth of God's Preceptive Will as revealed in the Scripture.

As for what your lady friends are saying about choices, I believe they are correct as far as it goes. We are obligated to make choices -- to choose to obey the will of God as He has revealed it to us in His Word. Notice in the Acts passages, Peter was holding the Jewish leaders responsible for their actions (their "choices"), even though they were carrying out God's Decreed Will.

I know this is difficult for many of us. We want it to be an “either/or” but as I read these passages I see a “both/and.” We make our decisions/choices as we see fit, whether they are good or evil, yet we find in doing so we are carrying out God’s plan.

And we need to remember that God is carrying out His purpose in our lives, whether or not we make the correct choices. “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). Notice that His purpose for us is that we will be "conformed to the image of His Son” (8:29).

Bill Ball

Monday, November 5, 2007


James, in the 4th chapter of his letter, asks (literally), “where do wars and battles among you come from? Are they not from within, from your pleasures that wage war in your members?” (James 4:1). Though he seems to be using the language figuratively, the words he uses are usually used of literal warfare and military conflict. It would appear that while the question is aimed at interpersonal conflicts among believers, we could also ask it of nations, which literally wage war.

For the Christian the whole issue of war and warfare is, or should be an ethical issue that needs to be carefully considered.

The “ethics of war” may seem like an oxymoron to some. There are those who oppose war altogether and would say that war cannot ever be ethical (the “pacifist position”). There are those on the other hand who actually claim that (as someone recently told me) “war is not a moral issue,” period!, or that the Christian as a submissive citizen is duty-bound to submit to his government and thus to participate in, or at least to support that government in any and every war that government chooses to participate in. This is called by some, the “activist position.” The Bible appears to be ambiguous on the issue, and it would seem that proof texts can be found for both sides. But is either position really a biblical position?

I feel I’m taking a great risk in writing these thoughts. I have many friends who have chosen military service, some who have taken part in combat. I also know that even those who haven’t, hold views on this matter with great passion. So please bear with me. I am not here attempting to comment on any particular war, past or present.

The Old Testament. God is presented as a Warrior (Exodus 15:3). The Israelites are commanded not only to go to war, but to exterminate the inhabitants of Canaan and other peoples. War fills the entire Old Testament, starting with Abraham’s defeat of the kings in Genesis 14.

The Psalms are full of songs of war, many of them written by the warrior king, David. Although we (New Testament Christians) often apply the language metaphorically it is clear that David was speaking of literal, physical enemies, as he called on God to both protect him and to smite his enemies (Psalm 3:3, 6, 7; 7:6; 10:26, etc.).

It would not be difficult to build an extreme pro-war theology if the Old Testament were our only source of material, but we must build our theology on the New Testament and interpret the Old Testament in the light of the New .

Jesus’ teachings. Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount taught an ethic of peace, of forgiveness, of love for enemies, of non-violence and non-retaliation! Matthew 5:39: “But I say to you do not resist him who is evil, but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Matthew 5:44: “But I say to you love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Some have attempted to find justification for war in some of Jesus’ other sayings, as in Matthew 10:34, where He says “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” The context, however, makes it clear that He is not advocating warfare but is warning His followers that following Christ often leads to conflicts, even with one’s own family.

It is also claimed that in Luke 22:35-38, Jesus is advocating taking the sword in self-defense. However, a few verses later when Peter actually uses the sword, he is reprimanded (verses 49-51; John 18:11). Especially note Matthew 26:51-53, where He says “ … all those who take up the sword will die by it.”

It is also claimed that His “violent” actions in casting the money changers from the temple, contradict a non-violence ethic. But His actions in these incidents seem to be mostly symbolic and it is not stated that He caused anyone physical harm (John 2:14-16; Matthew 21:12, 13; Mark 11:15-17; Luke 19:45, 46). His non-resistance at His trials demonstrates that He practiced what He preached (1 Peter 2:20-23).

It should be noted, however, first that Jesus was speaking to His hearers as individuals, not as nations, and second that Jesus never speaks for or against violence in protection of others. It appears that while He expects us not to retaliate or defend ourselves. He does not forbid us from protecting others, whether family, home, country, etc.

The New Testament on government. It would seem that the right to wage war is allowed to the nations of the earth and would even be included in their responsibility to use force to protect the innocent and avenge evil. “For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil” (Romans 13:3, 4). The question for the Christian has to do with his own participation in war or a war, as well as his duty as a citizen to speak out in support of war or peace. And we should recognize also that as citizens of a representative democracy, we are part of the government “of the people, by the people and for the people.”

The argument about the Christian’s attitude toward participating in war is closely tied to our attitude toward human government. We are to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17). Is military service something owed to Caesar or not? Paul, recognizing that human governments are appointed by God, commands that we “render to all what is due them” (Romans 13:1-7). He does not include military service in his list of things due (verse 7). Nor is it found anywhere in the New Testament as the Christian’s responsibility.

Military men in the New Testament. An ethic of war must consider how the New Testament regards military men. Soldiers are not always presented favorably in the New Testament (Mark 15:16-20; Luke 23:11; John 19:1-3), although John the Baptist when addressing soldiers, warns them, not that their occupation is wrong, but that they are not to abuse it by extortion, false witness or discontentment. The Roman centurions (literally, leaders of 100, probably equivalent to a master sergeant) are usually presented favorably in the Gospels and Acts (Matthew 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10). Even the centurion who was in charge of Jesus’ crucifixion is seen as confessing Christ’s innocence and deity (Matthew 27:54; Mark 15:39; Luke 23:47). In Acts 10, Cornelius, a centurion. became the first Gentile (non-Jew) to come to faith in Christ. Cornelius was nowhere told that he must resign his position. Perhaps these examples would fall under Paul’s instructions to remain in the calling in which we were called (1 Corinthians 7:17-24).

These examples would lead us to believe that a military occupation was not considered wrong in itself; and if this is correct, it would seem that war cannot be perceived as intrinsically wrong. So while participation in war may or may not be the Christian’s responsibility, neither is he or she forbidden to participate.

The just war theory. How do we reconcile the various biblical strands of thought? How can we balance Jesus’ teaching on non-violence with obedience to human government and government’s responsibility to maintain justice, by force if necessary? Since the time of Augustine, Christians, in attempting to deal with what appears to be an ethical dilemma, have accepted a set of criteria by which war may be considered just. This position is neither a totally pacifist, nor a totally activist position. It assumes that some wars are just and some are not, and that wars are to be conducted in a just manner. These criteria are listed in various ways, but usually include the following:

-- A just cause, such as self-defense or the conquest of evil.
-- A competent authority, a legitimate government. This would, of course, rule out individuals, private militia, etc., waging their own personal wars.
-- A right intention, an appropriate end goal, which of course must be peace and justice.
-- Last resort, war should only be engaged in when all other methods fail.
-- Proportionality, the good to be achieved must outweigh the damage done.
-- Waged discriminately, avoiding harm to non-combatants wherever and whenever possible.

These principles were, I believe, first designed for the state. They seem to assume a “Christian nation” determining whether to go to war, and if so, how to wage it. But as I have argued elsewhere, there is no such thing as a “Christian nation.”

However, we as individual Christians can use these same criteria to determine whether or not we should support or participate in a particular war. We can also, as citizens of a representative democracy, use them to evaluate and speak out on our government’s actions in entering into and engaging in war.

The consequences of non-participation for those who oppose war or a particular war. As in other situations, the biblical example is that of submission to authority, even when resisting that authority. The Christian who chooses not to participate in war , or a particular war would have to object on biblical or related grounds, such as the just war theory, and must be willing to accept the consequences of his or her decision.

Further thoughts on war in the Old Testament. Having arrived (hopefully) at a biblical position on war based on the New Testament we must reexamine the Old Testament in light of this position, as well as in its own context.

-- The Christian is under the New Covenant and the Law of Christ, not the Mosaic Covenant and Law. The rules given in the Mosaic Covenant are not to be taken out of context and applied directly to the Christian.
-- Under the Mosaic Covenant, Israel, the nation, was the manifestation of the Theocratic Kingdom. As such Israel’s responsibility was to promote and extend that Kingdom on the earth. War was one of the means used for this promotion. Other means were also used, such as prophetic preaching. Under the New Covenant, however, the method used is to be the preaching of the gospel (Matthew 28:19, 20; Acts 1:8, etc.).
-- Wars often were (and perhaps still are) used by God as a means for bringing about His judgment on wicked peoples and nations. The extermination of the Canaanites falls into this area (Genesis 15:16). Even the later conquest of Israel by foreign powers is seen as a judgment on Israel’s sin (Habakkuk 1:2-11).
-- Often the wars of Israel are simply reported, without comments as to whether or not these wars are “just wars.” We should be careful not to make “prescription” out of “description.”
-- The fact that much material in the Old Testament is given to “rules of warfare” (such as Deuteronomy 20), does not in itself justify warfare any more than the rules for divorce justify divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1-4). It may be that God is simply making concession “because of the hardness of (our) heart” (Matthew 19:8).

War is at best a means to an end (the lesser evil?). God’s ultimate design for His Kingdom is peace (Isaiah 2:4; Mark 4:3; Romans 14:17).

Bill Ball