Michael Bray

Author of A Time To Kill

War, What is it Good For?

“War, What is it Good For? War for Justice; War for Peace”

Expanded from a Sermon delivered to Reformation Lutheran Church in Bowie, Maryland on 2 March, 2003.

On Saint Patrick’s Day as I sat at the trial of James Kopp, the subject of the impending war on Iraq was brought up by a fellow courtroom observer. Rumors had it that bombing was about to begin. A surreal setting: our government was prosecuting a man who saved thousands of innocent American children by shooting their one mass murderer on the eve of sending thousands to shoot thousands in another land in order to get to one mass murderer. How could this be?

Islamic terrorists hailing from Islamic countries which lack the power to execute successful jihad against America – the perceived political incarnation of that blasphemy known as Christianity; the “Great Satan” – have resorted to the application of terror and nuisance guerilla tactics. They must be stopped. They murder innocent people.

Still, one is forced to ponder.

Are such pests, though weak in their own power, still a divine tool for bringing corrective chastisement to our waywardly Christian country? In fact, our country is only putatively Christian. Long ago, the several colonial states were explicitly Christian, acknowledging by statute and constitution their allegiance to the God of Christianity. Having their statutory allegiance to the triune God subsumed by an increasingly despotic federal government, the states are in need of a divine whipping. They have traded their allegiance to God’s Laws for the peace and protection promised by the federal government and its evolving, Godless laws. That central government is truly a secularist, pagan one, and it has brought us to the present state of degradation: state-sponsored child slaughter and sodomy.

But who can know the Divine Mind? And even if Providence is spanking the U.S.A., the civil authority would err to presume such and opt therefore for passive neglect of its fundamental duty to protect the nation from external aggression. National security can be pursued along with repentance. George Bush is performing excellently his duty to protect the nation from external and exogenous threats. He must continue to war against the pests, the hoodlums, the thugs, the terrorists, the Islamic jihadists. Pastors also have a job; they need to speak the truth about national idolatry and the sin of modern Moloch worship and child slaughter. They need to affirm that defensive action taken by private citizens for our own innocent womb children is as legitimate as the military action taken by the President for all citizens.

God’s plans are His own. He may well be pleased to use the United States to perform this task of punishing these God-haters in Iraq and other Islamic countries (or the God-haters of modern Israel for argument’s sake); he may subsequently be pleased to bring another power to punish us God-haters for our own apostasy, sodomy, fornication, and murder of our womb children. Our government does not have the job of figuring out God’s mind in such matters. It has the job of protecting the people and doing justice.

Consider the place of war in our world. Contrary to the doctrines of chic musicians and Hollywood sages, war is sometimes the answer. The fourth chapter of the epistle of James says that war originates in our hearts, not from the Pentagon, imperialism, or American capitalism. And as nations of sinners use force to wreak havoc upon other lands, they must be resisted with force. As long as sin abides in this world, wars – just and unjust – will erupt. And when the righteous refuse to battle the wicked, the latter will prevail.

Consider God’s involvement with war as it occurs among and surrounding His people as recorded in the Scriptures. God made a covenant with His people and He used war to protect them from their enemies. He also used war to chastise them.

The life of Saul is instructive because Saul, like many of our own presidents, was quite flawed. And yet God continued to uphold his government until the appointed time for Saul’s deposing arrived. God used Saul’s administration to defend His people even after He had rejected Saul and announced that He would replace him with David (1 Sam. 15:28). Even though David was anointed to take Saul’s place because of the King’s disqualifying malfeasance (Sam 16:13), David continued to respect Saul and honor him as king. He even executed the Amalekite who claimed to have killed Saul in the midst of a battle(2 Sam.1:15).

Saul’s government and its wars continued to be legitimate until the point of his deposition; he waged war with God’s blessing, defending his nation from the belligerent Philistines and other Canaanite nations.

Our American government and all other contemporary governments are without the same mandates for war possessed by ancient Israel, the covenanted people of the Lord of the Universe. We Americans can claim no divine command to “utterly destroy” nations as peoples under the judgment (“the ban” by which they were to suffer annihilation at the hand of God’s chosen people for their idolatries). While all nations subsist under God’s righteous disdain for them, He has commissioned no nation directly through his prophets as He formerly did. (His ordinances since Pentecost are functions of His Spirit’s guidance, not directives from Prophets and, as such, are matters of mystery and musing, as He continues to rule and judge in history; thus, His particular purposes in war and the affairs of nations are not fully revealed.) However, a fair doctrine of providence and sovereignty allows that He establishes and destroys nations according to His purposes as He places civil authorities in power as His own “ministers.” Civil authorities have the duty to exact the death penalty and to wage war in (Romans 13).

The Pope is one among many who have erred in condemning the current war with Iraq. Popes in the history have been wrong before; they shall be wrong again. Unlike the Word of God, they are not infallible. The present Pope is wrong on some other “life issues” of our time: 1) he errs when he condemns those who defend the innocent womb children (one of his flock, James Kopp, he condemns by his refusal to approve Kopp’s high profile termination of Abortionist Barnett Slepian); 2) he errs when he condemns capital punishment, the twin principle of the prohibition against murder rooted in the imago Dei (Gen. 9:6).

What is the purpose of Government if not to protect the citizens from harm? When we first contemplate the job of government, particularly when we are disgruntled about some encounter with bureaucratic blunder, we think of taxes; and we don’t think fondly of government or its servants who collect those taxes. But on other occasions, say, when there is some national threat afoot, we are grateful for government; we like to be safe. Perhaps another instance where appreciation for government lurches to the fore occurs whenever we are witness to the arrest of evildoers. We are grateful for the service of government in judging the people: approving those who do good and punishing the evil doers (Rom. 13; 1 Pet. 2:14). Indeed, our own foundational state documents affirm “self-evident Truths” attending certain rights that are to be secured by the government, viz., Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. But prior duty to the guarantee of these rights is that of the general protection of the citizenry from external or exogenous aggressors.

It is an elementary principle which lies at the foundation of the very concept of government. Even as he complained about faulty government, Emerson said, “The teaching of politics is that the Government [is] set for the protection and comfort of all good citizens” (Journal, 1860). When political theorists speak of such necessities as life, liberty, and happiness, it goes without saying that basic protection must precede. Jefferson said, “The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only legitimate object of good government.” A precursor to Bentham’s ideas, Plato said, “Our object in construction of the state is the greatest happiness of the whole, and not that of any one class” (The Republic, Bk. IV, sec. 1). And following the same utilitarian idea, Washington said, “The aggregate happiness of society . . . ought to be the end of all government” (Political Maxims). Very basically, a government must protect its people.


Let us return to Popes and war for a moment. World tensions of today are similar to those when Luther and Leo walked the earth. Leo X wanted to wage war against menacing Muslims. The great threat facing Luther’s Germany (and Christendom) in the late fifteenth century was the Turkish Empire. By the time the Reformation was in full progress the Turks controlled most of the Balkan Peninsula, the Black Sea, part of Hungary, Asia Minor, Armenia, Georgia, the Euphrates Valley, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, the north coast of Africa, and (temporarily) part of Italy. In response to this threat Luther wrote in his famous ode, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” In that hymn, Luther encourages the faith of Christians in the defeat of foes, particularly those Satanic forces which he knows are behind enemy armies: “The prince of darkness grim, We tremble not for him; His rage we can endure, For lo! His doom is sure, One little word shall fell him.”

Leo made efforts to raise money for the crusade against the Muslims, but was resisted by Germans who were already at odds with the papacy over financial management; viz., disproportionate spending of church money collected through indulgences. The Germans, along with other European states, did not like all money collected by the Church to go into Italy.

The collection of indulgences in Luther’s region was headed up by a Dominican Friar named Johann Tetzel, under the authority of Albrecht of Brandenburg. Albrecht had been confirmed as Archbishop of Mainz, but was in debt for the price of such confirmations (money was owed the Pope). Funds collected through sale of indulgences would serve to pay Albrecht’s debt along with the building of St. Peter’s Basilica.

Frederick (“the Wise”) of Saxony was Luther’s civil authority. He wasn’t bothered so much by the sale of indulgences as he was by misappropriation of funds and false advertising on the part of the papacy. Under Pope Alexander VI (1501) a sum had been raised in Saxony by indulgence sales to support a crusade against the Turks. When the crusade never came to pass, Frederick the Wise kept the funds and applied them to the University of Wittenberg.

Will Durant (History of Civilization) surmises that the Pope’s failure to deliver on the crusade along with Tetzel’s extraordinary advertising techniques for indulgences (captured in the German proverb: “As soon as the money in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory’s fire springs”) led Frederick to forbid the preaching of the 1517 indulgences in his territory. And here is where Luther enters the picture as Durant relates:

“Tetzel came so close to the frontiers that people in Wittenberg crossed the border to obtain the indulgence. Several purchasers brought these “papal letters” to Martin Luther, professor of theology in the university, and asked him to attest to their efficacy. He refused. The refusal came to Tetzel’s ears; he denounced Luther, and became immortal” (Vol. 6, 1957 p. 340).

Luther was summoned by the Pope to Rome to answer charges of heresy and contumacy in 1518 but was spared the trip by the political machinations of Frederick. The rest is history: the social, political, and religious earthquake known as The Reformation.

The point here is to illustrate the fickle posture of popes pertaining to war. In time past they supported wars regularly. Best for those who seek to come to a sound conclusion on the ethics of war in Iraq to consider biblical principles rather than papal opinions.


I want to take a closer look at Luther and war. Luther, like the Pope, has no objection to states making war or the participation of Christians in just wars. Luther affirms the necessity for war and the propriety of participation by Christians. But he avers a distinction between just and unjust wars.

“When men write about war, then, and say that it is a great plague, that is all true; but they should also see how great the plague is that it prevents. If people were good, and glad to keep peace, war would be he greatest plague on earth; but what are you going to do with the fact that people will not keep peace, but rob, steal, kill, outrage women and children, and take away property and honor? The small lack of peace, called war, or the sword, must set a check upon this universal, world-wide lack of peace, before which no one could stand. Therefore God honors the sword so highly that He calls it His own ordinance, and will not have men say or imagine that they have invented it or instituted it. For the hand that wields this sword and slays with it is then no more man’s hand, but God’s, and it is no man, but God, who hangs, tortures, beheads, slays, and fights. All these are his works and His judgments. In a word, in thinking of the soldier’s office, we must not have regard to the slaying, burning, smiting, seizing, etc. That is what the narrow, simple eyes of children do, when they see in the physician only a man who cuts off hands or saws off legs, but do not see that he does it to save the whole body. So, too, we must look at the office of the soldier, or the sword, with grown-up eyes, and see why it slays and acts so cruelly. Then it will prove itself to be an office that, in itself, is godly, as needful and useful to the world as eating and drinking or any other work . . . (Kerr, A Compend of Luther’s Theology, Westminster Press, 1966, p. 198).

“It is not right to begin war whenever any crazy lord takes into his head. For at the very outset, I want to say, above all else, that he who starts war is wrong, and it is just that he who first draws sword shall be defeated. . . .

“Worldly government has not been instituted by God to break peace and start war, but to maintain peace and repress the fighters. So Paul says in Rom. xiii, that the duty of the sword is to protect and punish, to protect the good in peace and punish the wicked with war; and God, who tolerates no wrong, so disposes things that the fighters must be fought down, and as the proverb says, ‘No one has ever been so bad, that someone is not worse.’ So, too, God has it sung of Him, in Psalm 67 “The Lord scattereth the peoples who have desire for war”. . . (p.199)

“A distinction must be made among wars; some are begun out of a desire and a will to fight and before one is attacked, others are forced by necessity and compulsion after the attack has been made by the other party. The first kind can be called wars of desire, the second wars of necessity. The first kind are of the devil; God give him no good fortune! The second kind are human misfortunes; God help in them!

“Suppose my lord were wrong in going to war. I reply: If you know for sure that he is wrong, then you should fear God rather than men (Acts 4), and not fight or serve, for you cannot have a good conscience before God. . . But if you do not know, or cannot find out whether your lord is wrong, you ought not to weaken an uncertain obedience with an uncertainty of right, but should think the best of your lord, as is the way of love, for ‘Love believeth all things; thinketh no evil.’ (p. 200)


“If I were emperor, king, or prince in a campaign against the Turk, I would exhort my bishops to stay at home and mind the duties of their office, praying, fasting, saying mass, preaching, and caring for the poor, as not only Holy Scripture, but their own canon law teaches and requires. If, however, they were to be disobedient to God and their own law and desire to go along to war, I would teach them by force to attend to their office and not, by their disobedience, put me and my army under God’s wrath and into danger. It would be less harmful to have three devils in the army than one disobedient, apostate bishop, who had forgotten his office and assumed that of another. . .

“In the first place, it is certain that the Turk has no right or command to begin war and to attack lands that are not his. Therefore, his war is nothing else than outrage and robbery, with which God is punishing the world, as He often does through wicked knaves, and sometimes through godly people. For he does not fight from necessity or to protect his land in peace, as the right kind of ruler does, but like a pirate or highwayman, he seeks to rob and damage other lands, who are doing and have done nothing to him. He is God’s rod and the devil’s servant; there is not doubt about that.” (p. 202)


A Christian citizen with the right attitude (not revenge), ready to die can properly wage war. Moreover, the Christian must dutifully pray for victory.

“Since the Turk is the rod of the wrath of the Lord our God and the servant of the raging devil, the first thing to be done is to smite the devil, his lord, and take the rod out of God’s hand, so that the Turk may be found in his own strength only, all by himself, without the devil’s help and without God’s hand. This should be done by Sir Christian, that is, the pious, holy, dear body of Christians. . .

Participants in war must fight under legitimate civil, not ecclesiastical, authorities. Luther said:

“The second man whose place it is to fight against the Turk is Emperor Charles, or whoever is emperor; for the Turk attacks his subjects and his empire, and it is his duty, as a regular ruler appointed by God, to defend his own.”

There are no Christian nations waging war under the direction of clerics in our times. On the other hand, warfare has been conducted under the direction of Islamic clerics in recent times as per the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s inspired and directed by Ayatollah Khomeni. So Luther’s criticism of papal leadership in war does not help us much. He allows that it be conducted by civil authorities only. Fine.


Neither does he wrestle with the issue of pre-emptive war. War for defense only is easy to hold in principle; it is difficult with the best intentions to find such pure wars in the real world. Harold O. J. Brown in War: Four Christian Views (ed., Robert Clouse, Intervarsity, 1981) recalls the frailty of alliances in World War II and the inscrutable actions of our ally, Russia:

“Hitler’s invasion of Poland was an unprovoked act of aggression which ignited World War 2. However, Hitler was joined in the aggression by the Soviet Union, which later became the ally of Poland’s defender, Great Britain, when Hitler invaded Russia. At the end of the war, Stalin insisted on keeping and even enlarging the conquests in Poland that he had originally made in his alliance with Hitler, and incidentally took effective control of most of Eastern Europe in the bargain. Thus a war that was begun as a war to defend Poland against aggression wound up in a sense as a war of aggression, at least on the part of the Soviet Union, which annexed territories not merely from its German opponent, but also from nations counted as Nazi-occupied or allied with the U.S.S.R.” (Clouse, pp. 153,154).

So, observation of Russia could well indicate unscrupulous intentions: feigning a defensive posture; all the while operating with the wiles of an aggressor country shrewdly devouring and enslaving other nations by whatever diplomatic or military means necessary. The intentions of nations cannot be discerned after they strike a lethal blow; at that point, they are already manifested in too-late, deadly form. One need not to have waited for bombs to drop on Pearl Harbor had Japanese intentions been verified. There is an aspect of defense which allows for preventive action. Francis Bacon attempted to enlighten medieval scholastics with this truth when he argued, “There is no question, but a just fear of an imminent danger, though no blow be given, is a lawful cause of war” (Ibid, p. 161). The rub is in making a sound judgment regarding the imminence of the threat and the reality of the danger. “If self-defense is legitimate at all, then it must be legitimate to anticipate a deadly crippling first blow. No one would expect to wait until a gun-brandishing pursuer had fired the first shot and perhaps scored a hit before shooting at him” (Clouse, p. 162).

Brown cites as “the most striking preventive war of recent times” the Six Days’ War of 1967 and recounts the situation as follows:

“Faced with mounting menaces from the surrounding Arab states, culminating in an Iraqi decision to place its army under Egyptian command, Israel suddenly struck out at Egypt. The fact that the combined Arab forcers were so much greater than those of Israel made any hesitation that might allow Egypt to attack at their convenience seem terribly dangerous” (Ibid.).


The war on Iraq merits the support of Christian citizens for three reasons: 1) Islamic jihadism is on the rise throughout the world and is well-connected with Iraq; 2) Jihadism is a threat to the United States which jihadist regard as a nation of blasphemers; the “Great Satan”; 3) Iraq, governed by a despotic, Stalin-like persecutor of his own people, broke its cease-fire agreement following the Gulf War. Truces must be enforced, as any other law, for the maintenance of national security.

Here, where there may be doubt about the actual threat and justification for a pre-emptive war, Luther’s counsel is worth repeating here: “But if you do not know, or cannot find out whether your lord is wrong, you ought not to weaken an uncertain obedience with an uncertainty of right, but should think the best of your lord, as is the way of love, for ‘Love believeth all things; thinketh no evil.’” Lord George Bush’s integrity, moreover, induces our trust. He is no dog-wagging dolt distracted from the employment of sound judgment by the pursuit of novel ways to smoke cigars.

There are many duties of a President; not the least of these is the protection of the citizens of the nation from foreign or exogenous aggression. The ongoing disappointment many of us have over the prolongation of child-slaughter within our own borders stymies our enthusiasm for nationalism and even our own defense. But such defense is still right. And it may well be that the Ruler of nations is employing the United States and Britain to punish Islamic Iraq for reasons beyond what we apprehend. But we must not forget that the Lord of Armies used the Pagan Babylonians and Assyrians to judge his very own Israel and Judah. We must repent from our national idolatries and attendant child-slaughter, lest He use a jihadist rod to chastise us beyond the hand slap of Nine Eleven.

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