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There have been questions throughout history as to whether Christians should endorse capital punishment or work in occupations where killing may be required, such as in the military or in law enforcement. Since capital punishment was first instituted by God and is not a violation of the commandment not to commit murder (Genesis 9:4-6; Exodus 20:13), it seems like a foregone conclusion that Christians should support the death penalty. Also, if military combat violated God’s Word then how could Israel ever have fought their wars, including conquering and occupying the Promised Land? With criminal laws incorporated in the Mosaic Law and with corrupt human nature being what it is, obviously law enforcement is needed. Without a military no nation can long exist. But are we, as Christians, to do such jobs as these? While the conclusion may be yes, the path to that conclusion is not as simple and straightforward as you might think.


Anyone who has read the Bible knows of Israel’s long history of military readiness and might. However, when Jesus Christ introduced a high degree of pacifism into His teachings (Matthew 5:38-48), it raised a very real question about the participation of Christians in occupations where they would have to kill, even though the type of killing being done would be of a judicial or protective nature. Indeed, some the earliest Christians were staunchly pacifist. They not only disdained killing but even inflicting other forms of physical harm on people. However, even some of those among the early Church fathers did recognize the need for military forces, law enforcement, those who hold public office and can make legal decrees about capital punishment, and so on. Since some varied in opinion from others, the message we get from early Church writings sometimes seems mixed. The Bible must always be both our first and final guide. Please note such Scriptures as these:


Luke 3:14:  Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, “And what shall we do?” So he said to them, “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.”


Luke 22:35-38:  And He said to them “When I sent you without money bag, knapsack, and sandals, did you lack anything?” So they said, “Nothing.” Then He said to them, “But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a knapsack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one. For I say to you that this which is written must still be accomplished in Me: ‘And He was numbered with the transgressors.’ For the things concerning Me have an end.” So they said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” And He said to them, “It is enough.”


Romans 13:1-4:  Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.


Matthew 22:17-21:  “…Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, “Why do you test Me, you hypocrites? Show Me the tax money.” So they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?” They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”


John 18:33-36: Then Pilate entered the Praetorium again, called Jesus, and said to Him, “Are You the king of the Jews?” Jesus answered him, “Are you speaking for yourself about this, or did others tell you this concerning Me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered You to me. What have You done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.”


We have some interesting realities displayed in these Scriptures. In the Matthew and John passages there is the very real delineation between worldly kingdoms and a heavenly kingdom. Also, we who are born again are heirs of this same kingdom from above (Romans 8:14-17).Our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20-21). But then you have those verses from Romans 13 endorsing government authority even over life and death in the capacity of military, law enforcement, and justice. In Luke 3, John the Baptist advises the Roman soldiers on how they should conduct themselves. He never told them to quit being soldiers. In Luke 22 Jesus did not condemn the disciples for having two swords. The “It is enough” statement from the Lord was more to conclude that part of the conversation than any sort of comment on the quantity of the swords. In allowing them to have swords Jesus seemed to imply that self defense is sometimes necessary. There are other things to consider as well.


Again, there were those in the early Church who were staunch pacifists. These particular early men and women of the faith would not rationalize Christians killing or otherwise harming anyone else in any form. It is interesting to note that in the early decades of the state (Roman Catholic) Church that justifications by Church fathers of that time began to be made for the service of Christians as soldiers, and that a “just war” concept began to be worked out. By the late 1000’s the Roman Church was even engaging in crusades—and sadly, in brutality sometimes in conducting these crusades. But also, again, even among the earlier believers—those who lived in pre-Roman Catholic times—there were those who saw the need for the military, et cetera, to the point of recognizing the fact that some Christians were employed in professions like these. But can believers serve in the military, in law enforcement, hold the power of enacting lethal force legislation such as the death penalty, and so forth?


I do not wish to oversimplify the matter at hand, but included in our living on earth as believers there are some other things to be considered when dealing with whether Christians can hold the power of life and death over others whether through public office, military service, law enforcement employment, or even in defense of themselves or their families. God does not like to see people getting killed, even if they are evil and deserving of death (Ezekiel 33:11). He certainly does not enjoy seeing anybody go to hell (2 Peter 3:9). If Christians, who are bound for heaven, completely stayed out of harm’s way in matters of national defense, enforcement of the law, and so on, then that many more lost people would be in greater danger of dying and going to hell. Is that even morally defensible? Also recall that in the Old Testament there was a prohibition against murder but not against justifiable killings, such as capital punishment or defense of the nation, and the Law contained a great number of sinful transgressions which were to be punished by death. Because the people of Israel had this legal backing from God Himself, they were not condemned for justifiable killings of any sort.


To the present day there is a worldwide necessity for national defense and legal systems. Of course, God does not like corrupt governments or nations, so He would not condone such things which have happened in history as the expulsion of Jews from England and Spain (1290 and 1492, respectively), the evils wrought by Nazi Germany, and the totalitarian nature of the current Chinese government, so it is not possible for God to condone His people going along with the laws and defenses of such vicious nations and governments, either. In nations that operate under more directly Judeo-Christian principles, however, the story is very conceivably different. As far as capital punishment goes, God never seems to have decertified it, but He would want officials to take the utmost care in enforcing it. As the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ is just as concerned about the spiritual condition of accused and convicted criminals as He is about the spiritual condition of victims. Given the hit-or-miss track record of capital punishment even in such countries as the United States, perhaps a moratorium should be declared on the death penalty so that capital punishment-sentenced criminals’ cases can be thoroughly reviewed to make sure any and, if possible, all persons who are either totally innocent or at least not guilty of capital crimes can be removed from the state and federal death rows. Any believer who has a responsibility bearing upon the legislating or carrying out of capital punishment laws should have this mindset.


Consider, as well, self-defense and the home. Even if you are a devout Christian, what kind of family member are you if you do not protect your loved ones? If you have other people depending on you then how can you not defend yourself so that you can still be present and functioning? If, for example, a husband is to love his wife as Christ loved His Church and gave His life for it (Ephesians 5:25), such a mandate implies the possibility of death in defense of his wife, does it not?


Also consider this: The United States of America, contrary to today’s woke and radicalized history of it, actually was devoted to God in her early beginnings. Many of the founding fathers of America were Christians. Many of the American people were Christians. Despite her flaws, the USA has done a great deal of good in the world, including, until her becoming thoroughly secular, carrying out a considerable amount of evangelization. For most of the history of the United States, a large number of her soldiers were Christians. Had these brave men and women not defended America, there might not have been a USA in the world to do so much good. God does not change (Malachi 3:6a), so if He did not hold the ancient Israelites guilty for justifiable killings, then how can He hold us His people for the same sort of thing today? Whether you are an ardent pacifist Christian or not, how can you believe or make the claim that God would treat us differently than the Jews back then when neither He nor His position on such issues has changed?


In conclusion, yes, Christians can serve in the military or law enforcement, legislate such laws as those dealing with capital punishment, and can defend themselves and their families. However, I would suggest several things. Even though national defense, capital punishment, the holding of powerful government offices, law enforcement, and the defense of self and/or family are all justifiable—still, as a Christian, thoroughly consider how far you would be willing to go in any of these areas. No professing Christian should want to kill just for the sake of killing. No unrepentant murderer possesses eternal life (1 John 3:15), but justifiable killing is not murder. If you cannot bring yourself to kill even when it is justified, then don’t put yourself in that position. Even though such things listed above do not always entail the taking of lives, often they can involve physical violence, sometimes to a great degree. Consider also if you are up to the challenge of using such force if necessary.


You may be a very gentle Christian who cannot even do that on a regular basis, and if you are, don’t put yourself in that position, either. Even so, whether you are gentle or bold, at least have the wherewithal to stand up for yourself and your family. If Jesus never intended for His disciples to use the swords mentioned in Luke 22, it would follow that He would have forbidden them to have those weapons. Christians who are in the position to have the power of life, death, or other punishment over people must be courageous, compassionate, honest, and fair. While it is true that no human system is perfect, as a Christian you cannot in good conscience continue to work for any government or agency that becomes corrupt. If you cannot effect change back to the good, then step down. Resign. Get out of there. Pray for others always, even for national enemies, criminals, and other wrongdoers. You do not have to like what they do. You can do things to protect yourself and, when necessary, others. However, as Christians we must love them regardless (Matthew 5:43-48).




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