Pacifists believe that no war can ever be justified. They do not deny that violent aggression is evil but believe that evil cannot be overcome by more evil. Pacifists seek to return evil with good. They generally have refused to serve in the armed forces and will not bear weapons.
From a philosophical perspective, pacifists believe that war is foolish and horrible, that if only some people and nations would be bold enough to renounce war and dismantle their military forces, the rest of the world would surely follow. They believe that the money and resources used in war efforts could be used more beneficially.
Franciscans are pacifists who point to St. Francis of Assisi, whose 11th-century movement was responsible for the collapse of the feudal system in war-torn Italy. This occurred because they refused to bear weapons in support of their lords' conquest for land—a clear example of pacifism at work.
Pacifists find scriptural support for their views in New Testament commands to non-resistance: “ 'But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also' ” (Matthew 5:39); “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12: 21);“Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace” (Romans 14:19).
Just War Theory
The “just war” theory provides grounds for Christians to participate in armed conflicts. This theory, which originated with St. Augustine in the fourth century, outlines strict conditions under which it would be appropriate for Christians to engage in war:
• War can only be considered as a last resort when all peaceful options have been thoroughly explored and have failed.
• War may only be fought in self-defence or to redress a significant injustice to a nation.
• The only legitimate use of war is for the establishment or restoration of peace with justice.
• Those who go to war must be convinced they have a reasonable hope of success of correcting the injustice and restoring peace.
There is much scriptural support for Christians to be involved in military service and to engage in war. Scripture generally assumes, for example, the legitimacy of being a military soldier. This includes the praise of godly centurions (Matthew 8:5-13, Acts 10:1-48) and the use of military metaphors in a positive manner (Ephesians 6:10-17). In Luke, John the Baptist did not rebuke soldiers, but instead urged them to be honest: “Don't extort money … be content with your pay” (Luke 3:14). Likewise, Jesus did not instruct the Centurion to leave his profession as a soldier, but praised him for his faith (Luke 7:9).
Jesus prophesied that “wars and rumours of wars” would continue to be a part of human existence until the end of time (Matthew 24:6). The idea that the world would continue to evolve into a better place is contrary to the teaching of the Bible. Personally, I find little scriptural evidence to support the pacifist view that war will cease to exist through human efforts. Scripture nowhere promises a world without war on this side of Heaven.
The great British preacher, Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones, writes: “It is not that war as such is sin, but that war is a consequence of sin; or, if you prefer it, that war is one of the expressions of sin.” (1) In his book Christian Holiness, Dr Allen Turner of Asbury Theological Seminary writes: “The majority in the Methodist tradition have felt that wars of aggression are unjust but not wars in self-defence or assistance in the defence of other nations.” (2)
What is the position of The Salvation Army? It varies around the world. In some countries, Salvationists are pacifists and conscientious objectors. Elsewhere, many Salvationists serve in the military. In parts of the world Salvation Army officers serve as military chaplains.
Those who go to war must be convinced they have a reasonable hope of success of correcting the injustice and restoring peace
In the early days of our Movement, there was a strong element of pacifism in The Salvation Army, including at the highest levels of leadership. Nineteenth-century England was a time of great optimism; as a result, pacifism gained wide support.
Salvationists were not alone in embracing pacifism. Many lived with great hope for the future because of medical and technological breakthroughs. Charles Darwin, in The Origin of Species, suggested humankind is constantly evolving to a higher state of life. Philosophers theorized that humankind was basically good and, given the right circumstances, could grow to accept one an-other and live in peace.
It is not surprising, therefore, that General William Booth spoke strongly against war: “What is the duty of Salvationists at such a crisis? … One thing is plain―every true soldier of The Salvation Army would cry day and night to God to avert so dreadful a calamity. Let him shut his ears to all the worldly, unscriptural, unchristian talk about war being a necessity. It cannot be a necessity before God that tens of thousands of men should be launched into eternity with all manner of revengeful passionate feelings in their souls … Whatever may be the right method of settling human disputes and preventing earthly calamities, this cannot be the divine plan. This cannot be the will of God.” (3)
This air of optimism was shattered by two world wars. Rhetoric about pacifism died down. The depravity of humankind was evident in the horrors of Nazi concentration camps. A war of self-defence on the part of European nations was deemed justifiable. As one author wrote: “The Salvation Army does not advocate taking up arms against fellow human beings. Nevertheless, Salvationists recognize that the scourge of war can, under certain conditions, be preferable to the greater evil of continued persecution and oppression.” (4)
When Canada joined the British efforts and declared war against Germany in 1939, General Clarence Wiseman, then a young Salvation Army officer, reflected: “Though at heart a pacifist, I never … clarified to my complete satisfaction the implications of pacifism.” (5) He went on to serve as a military chaplain during the Second World War.
Far from objecting to the use of military forces, The Salvation Army's Canadian Red Shield Services were created to offer moral and spiritual support to the troops. Salvation Army officers and lay Salvationists traded their uniforms for Army, Navy or Air Force uniforms with the familiar red shield badges identifying them with the military men they were called to serve. At the peak of the Second World War, 239 Salvationists served with the military as welfare officers or chaplains.
The Salvation Army was so successful in supporting Canada's war efforts that veterans still talk about it over 50 years later. In 1946, senior military officials stated that our organization provided “an outstanding contribution to the maintenance of high morale.” (6)
Called to be Peacemakers
Is The Salvation Army pacifist as a Movement? The truth is that the Bible calls us all to be peacemakers (see Psalm 34:14; Matthew 5:9). Some see it as their duty to participate in military service to bring about that end. For others, it means refusing to serve in the military and to pursue pacifist means instead.
Mennonites, Franciscans and other pacifist comrades are a vital witness to the Church that war is a devastating tragedy. We must avoid the temptation to enter into war before thoroughly considering peaceful options. Those Christians who believe that war can be morally justified and who are willing to risk their lives to save their country must realize their great responsibilities to minimize military action and to end the war once the aim of the war is achieved.
But pacifism also has its limits. Peace cannot be brought about entirely by human will. In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis states: “I can respect an honest pacifist, though I believe he is entirely mistaken.” (8) Wars have been part of human existence throughout history and I believe this aspect of humankind's inhumanity will continue until the Lord returns. The ultimate answer to the world's problems cannot be found in armed conflict but in God himself―the source of true peace.
Salvation Army Position Statement
The Salvation Army believes that the plan for creation is that all people shall live in a harmonious relationship with God. It acknowledges that only within this relationship can perfect peace be fully known, and that this peace transcends the circumstances of this life. Greed, selfishness and injustice, however, have entered human lives and often result in conflict and, at times, armed aggression.
Therefore, in the light of the Gospel and in obedience to the one who declared, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” The Salvation Army through its ministry around the world confronts the poverty, injustice and the inequalities that so often give rise to disharmony and unrest, and seeks to foster mutual respect and understanding between peoples of all races, ethnic origins, socioeconomic backgrounds, religions and cultures.
Recognizing the appalling character of modern warfare, The Salvation Army urges nations to eliminate all weapons of mass or indiscriminate destruction and divert those expenditures into measures that will benefit society, and especially into providing services that promote the welfare of the poor, suffering or disadvantaged, and bring about a more just society.
The Salvation Army is ready to work, alone or in partnership with others of goodwill, to bring about an end to armed conflict and to promote reconciliation between opposing factions. It also undertakes to extend in Christian love its practical care to those who suffer because of war, civil unrest or other forms of violence, without discrimination except on the basis of the need being met and its capacity to meet it.
The Salvation Army calls upon all within its influence─members, friends and fellow Christians─to pray for peace, to love their enemies and to work for the betterment of society, witnessing to God as the source of lasting peace and to a right relationship with God as the only path to perfect peace.
The Salvation Army, Canada and Bermuda, 2005
- Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Why Does God Allow War?, Wales: Bryntirion Press, 1999, p. 82.
- Quoted in Clarence D. Wiseman, A Burning In My Bones, Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson Ltd, 1979, p. 42.
- Allen Satterlee, Notable Quotables—A Compendium of Gems from Salvation Army Literature, Atlanta: The Salvation Army Supplies, 1985.
- The Salvation Army: A Presentation by the Canadian War Museum, www.civilization.ca, October 31, 2002.
- Wiseman, A Burning¸ p. 41.
- Scott Young, Red Shield In Action, Toronto: F.F. Clarke & Co, 1949, p. 148.
- C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, London: Fount, 1997, p. 98.
A Salvation Army officer, Captain Patrick Lublink has been seconded to Canadian Military Chaplaincy as a Fleet Chaplain with Maritime Forces Atlantic.