Christianity & War by Laurence Vance (Part 3)

Back before the Civil War, when the Christians published theological journals worth reading, two Baptist ministers writing in The Christian Review demonstrated that Christian war fever was contrary to the New Testament.

Veritatis Amans, in his 1847 article “Can War, Under Any Circumstances, Be Justified on the Principles of the Christian Religion? “approached the subject from the standpoint of war being justified only in cases of self-defense. Another Baptist preacher, in an unsigned article from 1838 entitled “Wickedness of War,” approached the subject from the standpoint of the nature of war in general. Both articles look to the New Testament as their authority.

Amans begins: “War has ever been the scourge of the human race. The history of the past is little else than a chronicle of deadly feuds, irreconcilable hate, and exterminating warfare. The extension of empire, the love of glory, and thirst for fame, have been more fatal to men than famine or pestilence, or the fiercest elements of nature.”

“And what is more sad and painful, many of the wars whose desolating surges have deluged the earth, have been carried on in the name and under the sanction of those who profess the name of Christ.”

“It has not been till recently, that the disciples of Christ have been conscious of the enormous wickedness of war as it usually exists. And even now there are many who do not frown upon it with that disapprobation and abhorrence, which an evil of such magnitude as an unjust war deserves.”

“Wars of every kind may be included under two classes – offensive and defensive. Concerning the former we shall say nothing. We need not delay a moment to discuss a question so directly at variance with the dictates of conscience, and the principles of revealed religion.”

“But under what circumstances is war truly defensive? We reply, when its object is to repel an invasion; when there is no alternative but to submit to bondage and death, or to resist.”

The anonymous Baptist preacher writing in a 1838 issue of The Christian Review continues: “The war spirit is so wrought into the texture of governments, and the habits of national thinking, and even into our very festivals and pomps, that its occasional recurrence is deemed a matter of unavoidable necessity.”

War “contradicts the genius and intention of Christianity,” “sets at nought the example of Jesus,” and “is inconsistent not only with the general structure and nature of Christianity and the example of Jesus, but it violates all the express precepts of the New Testament.”

“Christianity requires us to seek to amend the condition of man. But war cannot do this. The world is no better for all the wars of five thousand years. Christianity, if it prevailed, would make the earth a paradise. War, where it prevails, makes it a slaughter-house, a den of thieves, a brothel, a hell. Christianity cancels the laws of retaliation. War is based upon that very principle. Christianity is the remedy for all human woes. War produces every woe known to man.”

“The causes of war, as well as war itself, are contrary to the gospel. It originates in the worst passions and the worst aims. We may always trace it to the thirst of revenge, the acquisition of territory, the monopoly of commerce, the quarrels of kings, the intrigues of ministers, the coercion of religious opinion, the acquisition of disputed crowns, or some other source, equally culpable; but never has any war, devised by man, been founded on holy tempers and Christian principles.”

“It should be remembered, that in no case, even under the Old Testament, was war appointed to decide doubtful questions, or to settle quarrels, but to inflict national punishment. They were intended, as are pestilence and famine, to chastise nations guilty of provoking God. Such is never the pretext of modern war; and if it were, it would require divine authority, which, as has just been said, would induce even members of the Peace Society to fight.”

The “criminality of war,” as Howard Malcom, president of Georgetown College, wrote in 1845, is not “that tyrants should lead men into wars of pride and conquest,” but that “the people, in governments comparatively free, should so readily lend themselves to a business in which they bear all the sufferings, can gain nothing, and may lose all.” That people would act this way, Malcom says, is an “astonishment indeed.” “But,” he continues, “the chief wonder is that Christians, followers of the Prince of Peace, should have concurred in this mad idolatry of strife, and thus been inconsistent not only with themselves, but with the very genius of their system.”

The founding fathers of this country, many of whom were deists, had more sense than many twenty-first-century Christians when it came to espousing a policy of peace through non-intervention; in other words, not being “a busybody in other men’s matters” (1 Pet. 4:15). George Washington: “The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is, in extending our commercial relations to have with them as little political connection as possible.” Thomas Jefferson: “Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations – entangling alliances with none.” John Quincy Adams: “America . . . goes not abroad seeking monsters to destroy.”

So the War on Terrorism, like the War on Poverty and the War on Drugs, is in so many ways just a tragic joke. But why Christians support any of these bogus “wars” is an even greater tragedy.

*I am indebted for these paragraphs on Grotius to Laurie Calhoun, “Just War? Moral Soldiers?” Independent Review, IV, 3 (Winter 2000), pp. 325–345, and for Joe Stromberg of the Mises Institute for bringing her article to my attention.

October 29, 2003

NOTE: All 3 parts of this article by Laurence Vance are reprinted from


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