When to go to war_______________________________________________________________


v         What is war?

v         What does the Bible teach about war?

v         What basic rules can be used to decide when to go to war?



War is an open armed conflict between countries or between factions within the same country.  Therefore:

(1) Individuals and small groups cannot declare war. War is an action of a country or some faction (a group of people inside a political party, club or government) within a country. So war is a group which claims to be a government.

(2) War is people taking up arms against one another. The ‘war on drugs’, the ‘war on poverty’ or the ‘war against disease’ are only metaphorical uses of the word ‘war’. In its basic sense, war only occurs when people are willing to take up arms and kill each other for the sake of their country or party’s cause.

(3) War is a conflict. A pack of thieves robbing a train or a bank is not war. They have no conflict with anyone. They just want money or gold or something. So the use of firearms as an aggressive act against people is not necessarily war. War requires conflict between two self-proclaimed governing groups.

(4) Although war is a decision of government, it is fought and supported by individuals. Each person is, therefore, individually responsible for the decision to take up arms, or support others to take up arms, with a willingness to kill people for the sake of his or her government’s cause.

NB: So, ultimately each of us must decide if our government’s cause for armed conflict is just and morally right.



(1) In the Bible we are to obey our government because every government was established by God for His own reasons, to bring about His own purpose.

King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon said …that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whom He wishes and sets over it the lowliest of men, Daniel 4:17.

To Pontius Pilate, Roman ruler over the Jews, Jesus said, You would have no authority over Me unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me up to you has the greatest sin, John 19:11.

Paul tells the Christian, Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God and those which exist are established by God. Therefore he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. 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 to you for good, Romans 13:1-3.

Paul tells Titus, Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, Titus 3:1.

Peter tells the Christian, Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil but use it as bond-slaves of God. Honor all men, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king, 1 Peter 2:13-17.


So, these verses move us in the direction of obeying our government as established by God; with governing authority over us; that we should submit to and not rebel against; who judges evil and praises those who obey.


(2) However, just because God set it up does not mean governments are godly. When we are commanded to disobey God, we must decline:

v         Paul said, …even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed, Galatians 1:8.

v         When the midwives commanded to kill Jewish boy babies, we read, But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt had commanded them, but let the boys live, Exodus 1:17. God rewarded those midwives for their decision.

v         Daniel disobeyed his government when they passed a decree saying no one was to pray to anyone but the king. We read, Now when Daniel knew that the document was signed, he entered his house and he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God, as he had done previously, Daniel 6:10.

v         When Peter and John were told by the governing authorities to stop proclaiming the Gospel, we read, But Peter and John answered and said to them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard, Acts 4:19-10.


So, it seems like civil disobedience against our government is required when, and only when, our government commands us very specifically to disobey God. Then, you must be willing to suffer the consequences when you do.  When it comes to war, then we must ask, ‘Do we know of some specific command from God which is violated by this war? Is it an immoral war?



The 6th command does not say ‘you shall not kill’. It does says, ‘you shall not murder’ (Exodus 20:13). This is a command for individuals not to take it upon themselves to intentionally take the life of another individual. This is not about a government decision to enter a conflict which may take the lives of others. God specifically commanded the Israelites to do this against those occupying their land (Judges 3:1-4; 1 Samuel 15:3).

NB: So, we should not just say that war is, in and of itself, immoral. We must examine the reason for the conflict, in each war, to determine if it is just.



(1) Religious war

This is where those going to war believe it to be commanded by God, given to the people of their religion. For example, God specifically commanded the Israelites to go to war against the Canaanites. Conservative Muslims might declare a holy war against the infidels who they consider to be a threat to the spread of Islam. Today, all religious wars are wrong. Christians are commanded to make disciples of all nations not to make war with them (Matthew 28:19-20; Hebrews 12:14). The crusades of the 1000-1200s were unbiblical religious wars. So were the religious wars of the 1600s between the Catholics and Protestants. So we can conclude, no Christian should join in a religious war.

(2) Pragmatic war

The wars which took Israel into captivity were pragmatic wars. The Assyrians, who captured the Northern Kingdom, and the Babylonians, who captured the Southern kingdom, were both motivated by physical gain, not religion or morals. Most of America’s wars seem to be pragmatic. America joined the European of theater WW2 for pragmatic reasons. America did not join because Hitler was immoral but because he was trying to conquer Europe and England and that would be bad for American interests. Even the gulf war to free Kuwait was done for practical reasons. But God tells us He establishes our well-being (James 1:17). He determines our wealth, our nationality, and whether we are slaves or free (Acts 17:26). Practical wars to better ourselves at expense of others are always wrong.

NB: It seems that the only good pragmatic war is a war to end a war, to stop the aggression of an aggressor.

(3) Moral war

George W. Bush in 2002 announced, that certain countries are an ‘axis of evil’. Then he fought a war with Iraq ‘to free the people of Iraq from an evil regime’. For the first time in years, America fought a moral war. The anti-war arguments were practical: (1) the weapons inspectors will keep Saddam in check, (2) he is of no immediate threat to America. Bush had only vague answers but the case for war was made morally. In the Bible, we do have moral wars. Abraham’s war to rescue Lot (Gen 14); Saul’s war to free the town of Jebesh-gilead (1 Sam 11); David’s war to rescue his family and those of his men (1 Sam 30) were moral wars.

NB: Basically, a moral war should be fought when evil is being done and you possess the ability to do something about it.


(1) One should obey their government unless there is some evident reason not to like disobeying a clear command of God.

(2) But each war must be investigated by each individual and must decide whether or not to support it. Should one be involved in a global nuclear war; the American revolutionary war; the American civil war; WW2; Viet Nam war; Afghanistan; Iraq?

(3) No Christian should join a religious war. God is not fighting religious wars today and we are to disciple people from all nations.

(4) The only good practical war is a war to end a war—possibly like ww1.

(5) We should go to war against moral evil and atrocities when, and only when, it is within our power to do so victoriously for things like protection of the innocent; only if peaceful negotiations fail; fought expecting success; fought justly.