Moses Lard: “Should Christians Go To War?” (Part 1 of 11)

Editor’s Note: This article begins an 11 part series of posts authored by Moses E. Lard, an important leader in the American Restoration Movement. Learn more about Moses Lard’s background here.

This series is entitled “Should Christians Go To War?” and it was originally published as a single article in Lard’s Quarterly in April 1866 as the great war was finally reaching it’s conclusion. In the opening paragraph, Lard mourns that the subject had not received more serious attention, and wonders if it would have made a difference if the question had been addressed more thoroughly. In these days of sharp political division, it is not uncommon to hear people wonder if we are not destined for a similar conflict in our future. I feel confident that Brother Lard would be eager for an opportunity to share these arguments with the church of today.

In Parts 1-3, Brother Lard introduces his proposition, defines his terms, and carefully nuances the issue to be discussed. Parts 4 through 10 represent the heart of his article, as he lays out seven arguments for why Christians should not go to war. In Part 11 he addresses one of the most common objections to his position and concludes his paper.

The reader should find it noteworthy that Brother Lard never directly addresses the war which he had just experienced, and writes with a calm, respectful, and reasonable temperament which would have been offensive to neither side of the conflict. May the thoughtful reader carefully ponder these arguments in their bearing on the peace, unity, purity, and destiny of the church, and examine them with an open Bible and an open heart to determine if his position is true.

“Should Christians Go to War?” by Moses Lard

The question: “Should Christians go to war?” is not just now for the first time coming up in our ranks for consideration. Many a time in the pulpit it has been the subject of a few perhaps ill-digested and hasty remarks; seldom the subject of a well-prepared and pertinent speech. We now have reason to mourn its neglect. How it might have been decided, whether at all or not, had it been more thoroughly discussed, of course we have no means of knowing. Still we regret the comparative silence in which it has been allowed to pass. Had we been able to foresee the consequences to which our neglect has led, or to anticipate that indecisive views in regard to the question would at any time lead even to questionable conduct in our brethren, to say nothing of such is surely wrong, the question would certainly have received the serious attention to which it is entitled. But this power of foresight we did not have, neither the ability to anticipate.

But the question has received more attention from us than these remarks would seem to imply. It has occasionally been the subject of an article in our current literature, and now and then of a tract. Near twenty years ago it was carefully and somewhat fully discussed in an address by our venerable Bro. Campbell. Would that the views then set forth by that large just brain had taken complete sway of every heart among us, and had kept it with tyrannous power to the present instant. But such was not the case; and many a heart since then has felt the pang of unheeded advice.

That our brethren have generally in large part inclined to the view that a Christian can, in no case, go to war with the approbation of Christ, may, I believe, be truthfully said. Still they have not so inclined as to control, in all cases, their action. And then not a few have boldly taken the ground, not merely that the Christian may go to war, but that he is bound, even by Christ, in certain cases, to do so. From this, it at least appears that the question is not with us a settled one. Should it longer remain in doubt? I think not, provided the means is at our command to settle it. Let us have it decided, yes or no; and then let us life-long abide by this decision. Let us teach the decision to our children, train them to it, mold their hearts after it, and so infix it in their young natures that no contingency can ever arise which will lead them to set it aside. If he who says the Christian is permitted by Christ to go to war is right, he who stands in the negative is certainly wrong. Let the issue be fully joined, and the question forever set to rest.

The question I propose to discuss is this: Does Christ in any case permit his followers to go to war? This question I unhesitatingly answer, No. Let, now, the question be fully understood, and the issue it raises be fairly stated. Moreover, let the relative position of parties to it be well understood; that is to say, let their logical position to it be well understood. Then we shall have no false issues raised, nor any irrelevant disputes introduced.

The Question

I have aimed to so state the question as to involve the precise point in doubt; to involve all that is in doubt, and nothing that is not; in other words, to exclude from that proposition all that is foreign to the issue, and to include only that which is essential. The question, then, is not whether all wars are in themselves wrong, or whether some wars are right; not whether Christ sanctions war, or whether he never sanctions it; not what men not under Christ may or may not do; nor what governments may or may not do, – the question raises none of these points. But a state of war actually existing, no matter by whom or what induced; no matter from what cause arising; no matter for what end waged, – does Christ permit his followers to fight therein? This is the question.

The Issue

Is not what Nimrod did, nor what God sanctioned in his day; not what Israel did in or out of the wilderness; not what Moses commanded, or Joshua did; not what Saul did, nor David did, nor Samuel did. These are not the issue. Neither is it, whether some wars have not resulted well; whether nations have not been blessed by them; whether the wicked have not been justly scourged by them; whether all this may not justify them; and whether, if, on such grounds they are justified, Christians may not allowably take part in them. Neither are these the issue. But does Christ permit a Christian to fight in any war? Not whether he may permit it; but whether he does permit it. This is the issue.

The Logical Position

Let it be carefully observed that the relation we sustain to the question is strictly negative. We do not affirm that no Christian can with Christ’s approof fight in war; we deny that any can. We are, consequently, not to prove anything. Our business is to show that others prove nothing; that is, that they prove nothing whom affirm the proposition.  This we confidently expect to show. Those, then, who affirm that Christ permits his followers to fight in war, take on them the burden of proof. Our denial stands good against their affirmation till they adduce the evidence on which they rest their conclusion. If we show that that evidence is impertinent or inadequate, or that it is in any other respect so defective as not to necessitate the conclusion it is designed to establish, then the proposition must be held, as to this evidence, to be false, and a verdict is to be rendered for us. And if, on still further investigation, no evidence necessitating the conclusion is adduced, then the proposition must be held to absolutely false, and all Christians should eschew it.

Nor must be proof adduced to sustain the proposition in hand be such as to leave it in any sense doubtful. War is a shocking thing. It is abhorrent to the feelings of all humane and tender hearts. Its effects on the morals of people, its waste of human life, the misery and suffering it entails – these show it to be a horrid thing. Now surely, no doubtful proof can justify the Christian taking part in it. The case should be both clear and imperative. If even the vestige of a doubt hangs over the case, I hold that the Christian is bound to decide against the proposition. It is not enough that the Bible may merely say nothing against it. To make the step right, the Bible must enjoin it, and that in the clearest terms; or if it enjoin it not thus, at least must do it in some not less binding form. These principles seem to be so obviously correct that simply to state them is enough; and if correct, it will hardly be denied that they lie heavily against the proposition in hand.

But still further in regard to the form in which the proposition should be stated. I have phrased it thus: Does Christ in any case permit his followers to go to war? But I much doubt whether this is the true form for the proposition. Is not this rather it? Christ in some cases binds Christians to go to war. It so strikes me. For if they are not bound to go, then it seems to me intuitively clear that they are bound not to go. Such is the nature of war that it can not be a matter of indifference whether we go or not; and if it is not a matter of indifference, then it is a matter of duty one way or the other. It is either a duty to go, or a duty not to go. This I shall take for granted. The proposition, then, let us allow, is this: Christ in some cases binds Christians to go to war.

Continue reading here:
The Absolute Character of War (Moses Lard on War; Part 2 of 11)

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