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Friday, 11 April 2008

Book Review of "The Christian at War," Part Three



Peter Hammond ends page 8 of his book with the following maxim:

“If all the people with a conscience refuse to fight then it will leave the battle fields in the hands of men without a conscience.”

As he does throughout the book, Peter is pitting one extreme against another, without ever conceding the existence of a vast field in between. In so doing he violates logic by setting up a false dichotomy. When he writes, “Pacifism is an unBiblical [sic] position,” he also excludes from being biblical, without ever refuting it, what most Christians who refuse to fight actually believe. Beyond the paragraph already quoted in which he calls them CONSISTENT PACIFISTS, he never again addresses their beliefs, aiming all his ammunition instead at the inconsistent pacifists. Imagine a refutation of Creationism that only addressed the teachings of Old Earth Creationists! One does not refute a basic set of beliefs by pointing out that its compromisers are inconsistent in their adherence to it.

On page after page he shows how “pacifism” is unbiblical. There’s not a whole lot for a Christian to disagree with on these pages, except that the straw man he keeps knocking down doesn’t really exist among people who believe the Bible. The true pacifist, the only kind against which Dr. Hammond has much of a case, has already rejected the authority of the Bible. Why else would he try to eliminate the very thing Jesus himself said would increase in the latter days?

Peter displays his ignorance of the topic upon which he writes when he asks on page 9, “Are they aware that God is not a pacifist? Do they realise that God has specified certain circumstances in which men have been commanded to kill?” There are actually not one, but two entirely different groups of people who refuse to fight. On the one hand are those who reject God’s right to command anyone to kill; they could better be called anarchists, rather than pacifists. Since Peter so thoroughly refutes their position in his book, I need say no more about them. What I’d like to focus on instead is that group of people who do realise that God has specified certain circumstances in which men have been commanded to kill. Many of these characterise their position not as one of Pacifism, but of Non-resistance.

Non-resistors get their name from–guess where–the Bible, in Matthew 5:39, where Jesus says, “But I tell you not to resist an evil person.” (NKJV)

Just to give an example of the wide variety of non-resistors that exist, let me give you a bit of my own story. The last time I looked up the barrel of a machine gun, I was actually in a military uniform. The man sitting directly to my left had just dropped to the floor in a pool of crimson, and the terrorist a few feet from my face was yelling at me to put my head down. But I just sat there and smiled. It was only when my military superior, several seats down, poked his head out from between his knees and gave me a direct order to put my head down that I finally complied.

Now why would I do such a thing? Did I know, as my prostrate mate knew, and as my cowering superior knew, that this was just a drill to prepare us to face a real terrorist attack? No, the attack had been planned as a complete surprise to almost everyone present. My mate kept his part in the plot a secret, and I had no reason to believe that the red puddle in which he now lay had come from a wax-covered projectile and not his still-beating heart. I suspected that this was a drill, because it was timed perfectly to occur at the beginning of a military training session in the base theatre. But actually, my response to the man pointing a machine gun at my chest would have been the same regardless. As a Christian, I knew my life was in God’s hands and that no harm could come to me unless He willed it. It was only as a military man under authority that I obeyed the order to put my head between my knees–and I still peeked.

I found out that day at the theatre that most people are terrified of dying and will do anything in hopes of sparing their lives. Yes, they would even be willing to kill rather than being killed. But this philosophy has no place in the mind of a Christian. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints” say the scriptures, and Paul’s epistles are replete with his daily expectation that God could take him Home at any time, and would likely make use of a man in uniform to accomplish it. So why should a Christian fear death? Above all, why should a Christian send a man to Hell in order to delay his own trip to Heaven? It was with this mindset that I entered the military; ready to die, but reluctant to kill. I would like to say that I was refusing to kill, but since I was never actually faced with that opportunity, I can’t say for sure that I wouldn’t have. But it certainly never even entered my mind that day in the theatre--nor even later, in the theatre of war.

So what was a non-resistant Christian like me even doing in the military, you may ask? Well, serving my country–or trying to. Since I was in a non-combat specialty, I didn’t foresee any conflict between the demands of military service and those of being a Christian. But I soon found that the military was really no place for a Christian. Daily my ears were assaulted with profane and obscene language, all of which was technically illegal according to military regulations. But it was coming from my superiors, so what could I do? When I complained, I was typically either ridiculed or ignored. A couple of times I was even kicked out of class. And that was just getting through basic training!

As time went on, my Christian faith led me to do things, or not do things, that eventually resulted in the military losing confidence in me and offering me an administrative discharge. But I wasn’t really interested in leaving the military. I had a secure, good-paying job, and the difficulties and dangers inherent in it could be found in many other occupations. So I asked to be allowed to stay in--even though it would mean a serious demotion. But that was all before I found out that, like it or not, I was soon to experience the paradox of being A Christian at War.

The worst prospect I faced in going to war was the prolonged separation from my family that I knew it would entail. By this time I had a wife and two children, but I still felt a duty to fulfill my military obligation, so off I went. I entered the war zone fully expecting to die, but the thought really never entered my mind that I might have to kill someone. I was still in a non-combat specialty, though not classed as a non-combatant. While in the war zone, I faced the constant prospect of missile attack, and had to carry a kit containing a gas mask with me at all times. I kept a paperback book in mine. During one missile attack that killed 50 soldiers, I alone stood watching outside, calmly waiting for the order to don my mask. It never came; the missile landed 50 miles away. I was A Christian at War.

The war ended early, and I returned home without having been involved in any altercation with the enemy. But in my specialty, the only way I could avoid eventually being required to carry a loaded gun was to put off being advanced in rank, which I managed to do for the remaining years of my enlistment. A few weeks before being discharged, I was finally promoted and told to get my name on the list for weapons training. I conveniently put it off, and no one seemed to notice. So I left the military after four years and two months, honorably discharged and with a top performance rating. Despite my chest full of ribbons and two months in a combat zone, I had never needed to compromise my non-resistant convictions, which had continued to grow over the previous four years to the point that I was now unwilling to remain in uniform. I had successfully been A Christian at War.

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