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Biblical Guidelines for War

Biblical Guidelines for War

Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at

Dear Lots of Readers,

I’ve received many requests this week to share my thoughts on the current turmoil in the Middle East. So, I will share a small part of my own opinions of the current political and strategic analysis and then lay out the five biblical guidelines for a Just War. With these guidelines in hand, I think you can better draw your opinions about how the President and Congress can attempt to develop a workable and godly foreign policy—or not.

Wicked, arrogant, selfish, power-hungry, evil, mentally ill men are loose in the world, and in places of leadership in many nations.

  • Terrorists attacked the Trade Center on 9-11 and killed thousands.
  • Hitler’s Holocaust murdered over six million Jews, Homosexuals and Gypsies.
  • Saddam Hussein set out to destroy an entire race when he used poison gas against the Kurds in northern Iraq.
  • Joseph Stalin murdered, shot and tortured to death an estimated 40,000,000 Russians during and after World War Two. He was psychotic and paranoid, with a borderline personality disorder.
  • The Khmer Rouge utilized genocide in Cambodia to wipe out over one-half of a nation’s innocent citizens.

American is not exempt from inflicting mayhem.

  • American settlers decimated the Cherokee Indians in Kentucky in 1790.
  • What we did to the Sioux Indians at Wounded Knee was unquestionably immoral and wicked.
  • We slaughtered Philippine freedom fighters as we invaded the Philippines in the 1920s and 30s for political conquest.

Most recently, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria has killed over two million civilians and has now unleashed poisonous sarin nerve gas.

Last year President Obama drew a red line not to be crossed by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. If he unleashed chemical weapons against his own people, President Obama promised that massive American military involvement would destroy both his presidency and the Syrian regular army while bringing peace and prosperity to Syria.

Syria has crossed the line and the President is now eating his words. How embarrassing for America.

Unfortunately, in my opinion, President Obama has no idea how to handle this genocidal devastation. He is reaching out to Congress for help in finding a workable solution. My opinion is that he has excluded Congress for so long that many of them find it difficult to support him in anything.

The Monroe Doctrine is dead and gone. We need a new foreign policy doctrine.

Teddy Roosevelt's foreign policy was characterized by his slogan: "Speak softly and carry a big stick." He used it to complete the Panama Canal; send the Great White Fleet on a world tour to demonstrate American power; and negotiated an end to the Russo-Japanese War, for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize. Today we are doing the opposite. We are speaking loudly and carrying a little stick.

It is time for President Obama to chart a new foreign policy course to give us a strategic plan for handling problems and conflicts in the Middle East. None seems forthcoming.

President Bashar al-Assad is mocking President Obama by declaring that America has not won a war in over 65 years! We lost in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and essentially the Taliban. America has lost the respect of the world, says the Syrian president, and I believe that he is right.

While the President makes plans to retaliate, most of the world is saying, “NO. Stay out of the Syrian civil war!” We have lost the support of the world community. We are an empty threat, say many.

Once again, we find ourselves at odds with Russia. President Putin has made it quite clear that Russia wants the United States to leave Syria alone.

I have not even begun to scratch the surface of the problems facing the president at home and in the Middle East. Nor can I begin to offer a workable solution. I don’t think that we have a workable solution available to us.

Fortunately, the Bible gives us principles that should guide us as we consider our involvement in any war. St. Augustine codified these in the late fourth century and they have been useful guidelines for a just and warranted war ever since.

We will get to them in a moment.

But, first, here are some things that we can do during this crisis. I am praying for the President and for Congress as they work hard on finding a profitable and honorable solution this disaster.

I pray for the Syrian government to fall and the hostilities to cease and for Syria to become a safe place to live, work and raise children. I pray for a stabilized government.

I pray for wisdom for our President and leaders to not make stupid mistakes—like going into Afghanistan.

A little research would have alerted our President that no one goes into Afghanistan and wins anything. The mountainous terrain has protected Afghanistan from foreign invasion. Since recorded history, no one has entered Afghanistan—ever! Genghis Khan failed to conquer it. Alexander the Great failed. If the Russian armies, with all of their military might, exited in defeat, what makes us think that we can win?

The CIA and Congress gave millions of tons of munitions to the Taliban and Afghani freedom fighters to defeat Russia. The current Afghani rebels are now using the leftovers of the weapons we gave them to kill and defeat us.

Over the years, Christians have utilized one of three basic options to guide them in war.

First, kill, massacre and plunder the enemy and all non-Christians.

While there were many Crusades, the most famous were the religious conflicts in the High Middle Ages which were conducted by Catholic Europe against Muslims, pagans, and heretics. The specific intention was to retake Jerusalem from the Muslims. Seventy thousand civilians were butchered in the sack of Jerusalem.

Pacifism is the second option.

Leave the enemy alone and hope that love and a non-violent attitude will induce them to stop their wicked ways.

I was in San Francisco when the first Gulf War commenced. Peace demonstrations sprang up immediately. Bridges were blocked, fires were set.

Anti-American posters were everywhere. “We won’t send our children to die for no reason,” one proclaimed. I wondered if anyone cared about the thousands of Kuwait children who had been murdered? And what about the threatening growls of Saddam Hussein to murder and kill every Jew in Israel? Saddam had no intention of stopping no matter how much some wished and prayed that he would come to his senses and stop.

Finally, just war is designed to stop and/or neutralize those who cause trouble. 

I believe that just war is the only response that makes sense.

God’s ideal is a world at peace

Exodus 20:13: "Thou shall not kill."

God is fundamentally committed to peace, not war, as is reflected in his rejection of David as a builder of the temple because David was "a man of war" (1 Chronicles 28:2-3).

God Declared That Some Circumstances Warrant The Use Of Force.

Exodus 22:2 states that if a man finds a thief in his house at night, killing the thief on the spot is an acceptable means of protecting one's home and property.



Rescue those being led away to death;
hold back those staggering toward slaughter.
If you say, “But we knew nothing about this,”
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who guards your life know it?
Will he not repay everyone according to what they have done? (Proverbs 24:11-12)

I am walking down the street. I see a great big, burly man who is beating a helpless little girl to death. I come up and I plead with him to stop. If he won't stop, what does love mean? Love means I stop him in any way I can.

There are times when Christian love means using whatever means necessary to rescue and protect helpless people who are gripped in the power of those who oppress and destroy.

According to this principle, America must do all it can to rescue the tortured, oppressed and enslaved in Syria.


Romans 12:19: “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

Two key words have been used regarding the limitation of violence.

One is "proportionate." That is, the degree of injury inflicted must be less than that incurred. It is not just or right to nuke a country over an assassination.

The other word is "discriminate." Police action is essentially discriminate, namely the arresting, bringing to trial, and punishment of specific criminals—not innocent civilians and/or political opposition.

Similarly, a war could not be in any sense "just" unless directed only against enemy combatants, leaving civilians immune.

It is right for President Obama and Congress to struggle with what is an appropriate response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria. America was also right to help in the downfall of the Muammar Gaddafi regime in Libya.

It is also right to target only the perpetrators of carnage. Nevertheless, some collateral damage will often occur.

Iraq cut the CNN television lines when it became obvious to the world that despite Baghdad claims to the contrary, the allies were hitting only military targets with very little loss of civilian life.


Jesus said, “Suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace“ (Luke 14:31-32).

Can we win a war against Syria? It seems most unlikely.

Can we win against Iran? Not the way we are going about it now. We talk while they continue building a nuclear device to destroy Israel.

Can we defeat terrorists and the Taliban? Probably, but not ultimately. As long as Jihad exists and young male fanatics are available to die for their cause, we stand little chance of ultimate victory.

This doesn’t mean we withdraw from the battle; it just means we must be judicious in how we choose our battles and how we marshal our resources.

On April 19, 1952, General Douglas MacArthur stood before a joint session of Congress to deliver his famous farewell address. "...old soldiers never die, they just fade away." His speech, however, is much more than a farewell. It includes the following thoughts on war and peace.

". . . It has been said in effect that I was a warmonger. Nothing could be further from the truth. I know war as few other men now living know it, and nothing to me is more revolting.

“I have long advocated its complete abolition as its very destructiveness on both friend and foe has rendered it useless as a means of settling international disputes.

"But once war is forced upon us, there is no other alternative than to apply every available means to bring it to a swift end. War's very object is victory, not prolonged indecision. In war there is no substitute for victory."

If we are going to war then we must intend to win. We lost over 50,000 soldiers in Vietnam. God rest their souls. They died in a war we fought with one hand tied behind our backs. We never played to win.


What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on yourselves” (James 4:1-3).

One of America’s motives after World War Two was to take as much oil from the Middle East as we could before they “woke up” and stopped us. For years we pumped out their oil for pennies and got rich while no one in the oil-rich countries got anything. Like it or not our motives toward the Middle East were impure. We are reaping today the whirlwind of our past Middle East foreign policies.

There is no doubt that the first and second gulf wars were undertaken to keep Saddam from killing more of his people. We had humanitarian reasons for the wars we fought there. However, don’t forget, we ignored Saddam’s totalitarian massacres until the day he invaded Kuwait and took over all the rich oil deposits there. We raced to retake those valuable oil deposits while making the liberation of Kuwait and the destruction of Saddam our stated reason for being there.


“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7).

America really is a great country. It has been a refuge of freedom and security for millions. It gives hope to the world.

America’s finest hour may well be rebuilding Japan and Germany after World War Two.

Our intentions were good when we tried to rebuild the Iraqi infrastructure at the end of both gulf wars. This is a positive for America.

When earthquakes devastated Haiti the relief dollars came pouring in from concerned and compassionate citizens.

Unfortunately, it seems to me that the American national anthem has devolved into, "Give me, Give me, Give me." We want everything given to us. And we expect it. "It is my right . . ." we cry, “And if I don't get my rights I will sue you to get them.

Somewhere along the line we’ve forgotten that with rights come responsibilities.

Somewhere along the line we forgot that no one ever had anything unless it cost some one something.

Our United States is free today because it cost someone his life yesterday.

This week I remembered a quote that I had filed away years ago.

An American helicopter pilot was killed during the Vietnam War. On his tombstone in New Hampshire his parents had these nineteenth century words of John Stuart Mill inscribed:

"War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling, which thinks nothing is worth a war, is worse.

“A man who has nothing which he cares more about than his own personal safety is a miserable creature, and has no chance of being free unless he is made free and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself."

Yes, some things are still worth living and dying for.

Ask RogerDr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.

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