The problem of war is as old as man. War, with I its accompanying passions, destruction, and suffering, is one of the greatest evils in human society. In fact, wars have been so frequent throughout the history of mankind that, in spite of the general desire for peace, we may say that peace is only a temporary condition.
Never has the destructive potentiality of war been so apparent as today. Men today are not more cruel; death and destruction are not more final. But within the life span of many living today the world has known all but a decade of peace. In the future we are faced with the potentiality of nuclear conflict whose area, magnitude, and speed of destruction are beyond anything formerly thought possible.
The Church of Christ is part of the human community, and if it is to exercise a position of leadership, it must face this problem of war. Indeed, of all men, the Christian minister should recognize the responsibility of the Church to alleviate the sufferings of men.
The dilemma of Christian leadership is complicated by the fact that the teachings and activities of Church leaders through nineteen centuries have failed to make any appreciable impact in advancing the cause of international peace.
It would be unjust, however, to say that Christianity has been no more effective than pagan philosophers and moralists. For the blessings of peace have come, sometimes for generations, to lands blessed with godly rulers and a God-fearing people. Even on the occasion of sudden repentance, God has spared nations calamity, as with Nineveh of old. If the Christian moral code, including such precepts as the Golden Rule, were actually followed by all men, wars would undoubtedly cease. The conflicts, great and small, that trouble society would then be settled amicably and equitably.
THE NEED OF MORAL POWER
Yet the truth of the matter is that men, in practice, ignore these righteous injunctions. Many people outwardly profess them as proper standards of conduct but lack the moral power and courage to live by them.
Partly because of the Church’s failure to achieve visible results in decreasing war, human society has tended to try other methods. Declarations outlawing war, the reduction of armaments, treaties proclaiming peaceful intentions, and the establishment of international organizations—all these have been tried as the means to peace. Each has proved unsuccessful in eliminating war. A particular means, be it readily admitted, may have prevented a particular conflict from developing into full-scale war. And Christian or humanitarian rulers have on occasion avoided actions leading to war. But on the balance sheet of history, none of these efforts has been profitable, and nothing indicates that they ever can be.
WAR IS MAN’S FAULT
In seeking to understand the problem of war and its relation to Christianity, it seems useful to consider first the question, Why do wars occur? Too often consideration of the matter starts with another question, What is the cause of war? But the real question is, Who causes war? War is a human activity. No matter what the incentives or secondary causes, men do not have to fight. They choose to do so.
The decision to initiate aggression is made by the political ruler of the nation. The mass of the population do not seek war unless they have first been sufficiently motivated by the propaganda and the actions of their own and the enemy government. The very nature of the modern state prevents spontaneous mass aggression. Similarly, the military forces under their leaders begin military operations when they are launched by the head of the state.
Although the military advisers may influence the decision of the ruler, he actually makes that decision himself. Rarely does a military commander take action on his own initiative. In any case, the launching of aggression is the choice of the head of the state.
By understanding this responsibility of the head of the state we can see why it is impossible to prevent war. It is impossible to prevent some men from becoming criminals. It is also impossible to prevent some criminals from becoming the rulers of states. Then, when such a man is the head of a state, there is no way, from a human standpoint, of preventing him from launching an aggression.
The danger is increased by the truism that in every man, hidden deep, are those evil tendencies that in some men result in visible crimes. No proof should be needed to show any thinking man that he possesses such tendencies, though he may usually keep them well concealed. Even a ruler whose intentions are peaceful may be so stirred by a particular set of circumstances that his good intentions are overruled.
BASIC PROBLEM IS ETHICAL
At bottom, the problem of war is a moral problem—the very condition at which the Golden Rule is aimed. An international organization, with or without an authoritative executive head, cannot solve this moral problem. Any organizational structure is merely a framework of relationships and procedures within which men act. No organization can be more effective than the men in it. No rules, constitution, laws, customs, or the like have real significance unless they are enforced. Any organization, no matter how worthy its purpose or how stringent its rules, will succumb to ineffectiveness, corruption, disruption, and destruction unless prevented by the moral integrity of the men in it.
The problems of an international government are similar to those of any national government except that they are greatly magnified. A major and possibly fatal weakness of a world government might prove to be the absence of an external enemy to serve as a unifying force. The tendency to splinter into racial, national, or economic factions would, therefore, be greatly increased. Civil war would probably be inevitable because the armed forces would be subject to the same disintegration.
How a world government could be set up without a world conquest by military force is not clear. Only the fear of a common enemy can make rulers of states willing to voluntarily surrender their sovereignty to a common superior. In a world divided by antagonisms and conflicting interests so serious that fear of war is the prevailing climate, is it conceivable that opposing sides can agree on a common superior, or that either side would submit to the other? Only under pressure of fear of war would surrender of national freedom to a supranational government be seriously considered.
The reason for the perpetuation of war is that man will not eliminate it. He is enmeshed in the chains of his own evil will and desires. Nothing that peaceful men can do can overcome this evil, whether by the efforts of philosophy, the proclamation of the “Christian ethic,” redistribution of wealth, disarmament, international organization, or published laws. All men, peaceful or otherwise, must reckon with the fact of evil in their own natures. It is folly to assume that peace-loving men are sinless and that only the warmongers are sinful. The desire for peace is not an abiding characteristic of unregenerate man.
SUPERNATURAL AID NECESSARY
In this predicament it would appear that men who face the question realistically have no hope other than to cry, Who can save us? Those who call themselves Christian would probably reply that if men are helpless only God can save them. That seems reasonable. If we lack a natural solution, we are left only with the hope of a supernatural one. Yet if one accepts the idea that we must seek help from God in ending war, several corollaries follow.
First, experience confirms what the Scriptures teach, that God’s help is not automatic, it must be sought.
Second, although the proclamation and practice of Christianity may have hindered or mitigated war, war has not been eradicated.
Third, if God’s help is to be obtained, it must be done in a way approved by Him. Man cannot command God.
Fourth, as long as men are intellectual and moral creatures endowed with responsible choice, they must eagerly embrace that help which God wills to give. Man cannot bargain with God. Obviously, if help is available but men spurn it, they must continue in the old path of self-destruction. The crisis today is that with modern weapons this destruction could come soon and in degree unparalleled in the history of mankind up to now.
OPTIONS NOW CONFRONTING US
Christianity’s failure to advance the cause of world peace may arouse deep misgivings in many Christians, particularly in many Christian ministers.
Three courses seem open to such men.
One is to abandon adherence to the Christian faith and ethic. But if there is no hope in Christianity, what other hope is there? There is no reasonable alternative.
A second course is to continue to believe that the Christian ethic alone will slowly transform the human race and lead men to solve their disputes by means other than war. History shows little progress resulting from the contagion of Christian morality, as twentieth-century developments eloquently attest. Unless human nature has a sudden change of heart, modern means of destruction may not leave time for this program to succeed, even if it could.
The third course is to re-examine one’s own concept of Christianity in an effort to explain the apparent failure of the Christian faith to solve the problem of war, and to discover what genuine hope that faith does offer.
Suppose we adopt this third course. Earlier, we have said that God’s help in ending war is not automatic but must be sought and that man’s past efforts have not been effective. Now we must seek to understand why this is so. Subjective reasoning and speculation have not found the answer and clearly cannot do so. No known facts in nature or history point the way. The question really is a matter of learning God’s will and the way man can approach Him for help. Obviously, if these things can be learned at all, they can be learned only from God.
THE BIBLE AND ITS PROMISES
The original source of information about the Christian faith, still available today, is the Bible. If men will not believe the Word of God, they cannot find His truth by any other method.
Concerning the presence of evil and immorality in every man, the Bible is everywhere consistent. Its doctrine is well summarized in Romans 3:10–18 and Galatians 5:19–21. This teaching coincides with human experience and observation. The Bible also explains why these evils are so deep-seated in men (Rom. 1:18–32). Because men rebelled against God in self-will, He gave them up to those numerous immoralities, cruelties, dishonesties, meannesses and other evils which afflict the race and make wars and crime inevitable. These evils are the visible evidences of man’s primary sin and rebellion and of God’s wrath against it. Here we have a clear, adequate, and logical explanation of the presence of evil in man. Anyone who compares the plain statements of the Bible with the history and current state of mankind cannot fail to see that men live today exactly as the Bible describes them.
In sharp contrast to this dark picture of man’s natural sin and lawlessness are the glorious promises of peace on earth envisaged by the Old Testament prophets (e.g., Isa. 2:2–4). I am confident that these promises will be fulfilled in time and in history. Hence, I am not pessimistic about human history, provided we have in view ideal humanity and ideal history.
Confidence in these promises calls forth equal confidence in the Biblical declarations as to the methods and sequence of their fulfillment. I do not regard it as accidental, but rather as essential, that the prophets, and the angels of Bethlehem after them (Luke 2:10), connect the message of “peace on earth” with the Messianic idea. The full and final answer to the problem of war will come with the return of Jesus Christ. With that event, peace becomes historically inevitable.
SLIM PROSPECT OF WORLD CONVERSION
Many sincere Christians have cherished the expectation of uninterrupted world peace before the Second Advent of Christ, as a result of the propagation and the effect of the Christian Gospel. I admire the zeal of those who preach the Gospel in this expectation that a Christian culture can be created through the Church’s evangelistic efforts. They are at least more Biblical than those who hope for such a utopia simply on the basis of a “Christian ethic” detached from the Gospel of supernatural redemption and regeneration. Yet I cannot share their optimism.
I am confident that the Gospel has power to transform life and that it will yet make progress in the world. I do not imply that the message of repentance is ineffectual in our generation. Nor do I mean that we can never again have an era of peace, although if we do its roots will be spiritual. But I am certain in my own heart that, this side of Christ’s return, we had best prepare for the possibility of war on earth however fervently we pray and work for peace.
The lives of regenerate men, individually and collectively, have influenced Western society to a marked degree. Yet a regenerate world has not resulted from the proclamation of the Gospel and there is no indication that it ever will. Certainly two thousand years of Western history, as well as the witness of the New Testament, give us little basis for expecting world conversion. The truth is that men do not want Jesus Christ, and it is so declared in the Bible. Modern man, like the multitudes of unregenerate men in past generations, would rather endure his life of peril while experimenting with unpromising utopian schemes than put his life right with God.
THE GOSPEL REMAINS MAN’S HOPE
A brief summary of the New Testament teaching as to the nature, purpose, and consequences of the Gospel and its ministry will clearly reveal the true hope of mankind. The Gospel is addressed to individuals and is to be proclaimed to every creature (Matt. 11:28–30; John 3:16). The message of the Gospel is that through the gift of God individuals can be saved from sin and reconciled to God by faith in His Son, Jesus Christ, Who procured their redemption by His substitutionary sacrifice on the Cross (Rom. 3:21–24, 6:23). Such salvation can be received only as a gift through faith, since guilty sinners have nothing to offer in return. The New Testament further declares that saved persons are regenerate possessors of a new life (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 5:14–26). They do not lose the old nature in this world, but Christ gives them victory over it.
The truth and effectiveness of the Gospel is fully demonstrated by the experience of believers in Christ throughout the centuries. That experience is just as genuine and verifiable as is the presence of sin and war in the world. This fact should not be ignored by those who have not personally entered into this experience, or who refuse to enter. Lacking this personal experience, they cannot on that account deny its reality.
The reason they reject Him is because they will not admit that they are guilty sinners (Matt. 7:13, 14; John 3:17–21, 15:18–21). That the vast majority of men do reject Christ is undeniable. And without Christ men must remain under the curse of sin.
The Bible declares that God will take out of this world a people for His Name, the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 15:14), but that He will allow lost human society to pursue its rebellious course to its inevitable tragic end. Evil and war will continue to the end of the age. The last part of the age will be a period of such terrible tribulation, including devastating wars and their accompanying ills, famines, and pestilence, that were God not to intervene, no one could survive. It is difficult to see in what way this biblical fore view differs in any significant degree from the human view imposed by history and by present realities as distinct from wishful hopes.
But before man disappears from the earth God will intervene. The Lord Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, will come in all His glory at the Second Advent to establish that glorious and righteous Kingdom so often promised in the Old Testament.
PEACE A GIFT FROM ABOVE
The Bible does not say and no one knows when the Messiah will come to reign in glory and righteousness. But only then, and then surely, men will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, and nations shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore (Isa. 2:2–4). Now and until He comes society must face the death and destruction of wars.
Peace is not a natural achievement in human experience and history; it is a divine gift. Personal peace does not depend upon world peace nor on national peace, but its nature is spiritual rather than sociological. Such peace is not a mere negation of hostility and conflict, but a positive experience of divine reconciliation and redemption. Jesus contrasted the peace He brought His disciples with the peace of the world at its best: “My peace I give unto you, not as the world giveth give I unto you” (John 14:27). Peace with God provides the true climate for the hopeful pursuit of peace with men.
Social peace is a virtue and war is an evil. But in an unrighteous world, peace is not always the greatest good nor war the worst evil. Peace which promotes injustice is worse than war in the cause of justice. Christianity must always take the side of a just and durable peace and oppose an unjust war.
Only a regenerate mankind is enabled to tame the lusts and passions which make for war. That is why the preaching of the Gospel of redemption and regeneration is urgently and vitally relevant to each generation of fallen man. What Marx, Lenin, and Stalin needed was not simply an exposure to the “Christian ethic” but to be “born again.” Men who know that “Christ died for our sins” know something of God’s hatred of sin and of His love for the frailest human.
Apart from the Gospel the “Christian ethic” may still encourage an idealistic view of social responsibility and concern in a semi-Christian climate. But its inadequacy is apparent as soon as one deals with the naturalistic mind. This watered-down message, a social ethic without the Gospel, has robbed Christianity of main defenses against Communist assaults.
In fact, the force of sin in this life is so powerful that even a regenerate society would require the constant renewal of the Holy Spirit to prevent deterioration. Whatever deterrents to war men propose—world government, international police force, reduction of armament—may succeed for a season in delaying hostilities, but they will only compound those elements which the scheming minds of unregenerate men will sooner or later pervert for godless purposes.
Any message short of the Christian Gospel is false in varying degree and can only delude men as to their own unsaved state and consequent hopeless end. Peace will not become inevitable, nor war improbable, apart from the transformation of human nature. The apostolic Christian faith as it is declared in the Bible, including both the Gospel of individual redemption and the expectation of Christ’s Second Advent and Kingdom, is the only true hope for men and for society.
WILLIAM K. HARRISON