unselfish defense answers this question.Is it really wrong for
Christians to kill for any reasons whatsoever? I don’t feel equipped to properly answer this question.
The question of how Christians should regard the vocations of soldier and executioner has never been an easy one. If you read the early church fathers, you will find many who seem to say that one can never serve as a soldier. Some will argue that it is never permitted for a Christian to engage in violence. They will cite the Sermon on the Mount and other texts that seem to generally support pacifism.
However, not all of the arguments go in this direction. Many of them deal with the cultic nature of military service in the ancient world. Many Roman soldiers were initiated into the cult of Mithras, and even when they were not, soldiers often had certain civic religious duties that were incompatible with the Christian faith. Much of the early church’s discomfort with the office of soldier has to do with this theological issue.
Further, the witness of the Fathers is not unanimous by any means:
Athanasius writes, “Although one is not supposed to kill, the killing of the enemy in time of war is both a lawful and praiseworthy thing. This is why we consider individuals who have distinguished themselves in war as being worthy of great honors, and indeed public monuments are set up to celebrate their achievements. It is evident, therefore, that at one particular time, and under one set of circumstances, an act is not permissible, but when time and circumstances are right, it is both allowed and condoned” (Letter to Amun).
John Chrysostom writes in On the Priesthood, “Christians above all men are not permitted forcibly to correct the failings of those who sin. Secular judges indeed, when they have captured malefactors under the law, show their authority to be great, and prevent them even against their will from following their own devices: but in our case the wrong-doer must be made better, not by force, but by persuasion.”
Each of these fathers make important points. First, killing is not universally authorized. Second, it is not universally condemned. Chrysostom makes the very helpful distinction between Christians acting as Christians and Christians acting in a secular office. The judge can use coercion and force. The Christian (as Christian) cannot. This distinction is at the heart and center of the biblical doctrine of the two kingdoms. God rules in the state by force. He rules in the church by the forgiveness of sins. But in both places, it is God who is ruling.
Finally, we can look at the biblical evidence. The fifth commandment (sixth for the East) is usually translated “Thou shalt not kill,” but this translation is wrong. The word used is the technical term for murder–the unjust taking of human life. The fifth commandment has never been interpreted as prohibiting killing in defense of neighbor (as soldiers do) or the work of an executioner.
The New Testament text that illuminates this is Romans 13. Here Paul says that the government does not bear the “sword” in vain. The sword is the tool God gives to the state to punish evil.
Finally, if you would like to read more, there’s nothing better than Luther’s treatise, “Whether Soldiers, Too, May Be Saved,” which you can read here:
Rev. Charles R. Lehmann
Pastor, Saint John’s Lutheran Church, Accident, MD