The American Vision: A Biblical Worldview Ministry

Is It Ever Right to Fight?

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Today we remember those who have fought and died in wars to defend America. Most Christians would generally agree that fighting a defensive war is morally justified. Some Christians take issue with America’s war with Great Britain in what has been described as the “Revolutionary War.” America’s "revolutionary war" was neither anarchistic nor revolutionary in the modern sense. The thirteen colonies were operating civil governments, having a contractual relationship with the King of England. The king violated the terms of the agreement. The disputants were independent civil governments (colonial governments), not individuals or mobs. The war for independence "was not a lawless rebellion against authority, as some historians claim. Rather, it was a legal interposition of one lawfully elected level of government (the colonial legislatures) against a king who insisted in obdurately breaking his feudal contract with the colonies."[1] This understanding of our nation’s constitutional beginnings has been lost on the modern mind.

For years we have been taught that we are the product of a revolutionary generation who, because of religious, economic, and political disagreements, finally (through anarchistic and violent means) tore themselves from a loving and legally constituted government.[2]

Too often Americans are quick to support every revolutionary uprising around the world because of the good result of America’s "revolution." They fail to recognize that our "revolution" was different. America was a legitimate government. Each of the thirteen colonies had a governor, a written constitution, laws, and courts. The colonial militia was commanded by General George Washington under the authority and supervision of the then existing colonial governments. "Not one State, or one nation, but in the plural States; and again, in the next breath, so this multiple birth could not be misunderstood, ‘that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and things which Independent States may of right do.’"[3]

As Fisher and Chambers point out in The Revolution Myth, the modern view of America’s "revolution" is "at variance with the actions and beliefs of those who participated in the ‘Revolution.’. . . The American colonists did not revolt against constitutional authority; they did not seek independence from the King of England. The king, instead, severed all ties with his American colonies. The Declaration of Independence was not written to gain independence but to maintain and define what had been forced upon the colonies."[4]

The Declaration’s purpose was to inform a "candid world" that an action of the King and Parliament had cast the thirteen colonies out of the British Empire. The document did not proclaim legal, formal severance from England; that had already been accomplished by George III and Parliament on Friday, December 22, 1775.[5]

The colonies wanted a dissolution only of the "political bands." The colonists and their governments had kept their part of the contract with the Crown. Therefore, any discussion of the legitimacy or illegitimacy of the colonists’ actions is best handled under the topic of war. While revolutions are generated by "the people" against existing civil governments (e.g., the French Revolution), wars are fought by one constituted civil government against another constituted civil government. The people are conscripted to defend their national sovereignty. Some Christian writers fail to understand the dynamics behind the colonies’ war with England. The following is a representative example:

It is understandable that everyone would like to believe that the revolution in his country was just, even if those in other countries are not. But in all honesty, given the biblical criteria listed here, it is not possible to justify the American Revolution either.[6]

None of the "biblical criteria" that this author sets forth in his book fits the circumstances surrounding the American "revolution." In his chapter on "War," the author summarizes his position by stating that "God has ordained government and given it the sword."[7] The thirteen colonies were sovereign civil governments that also had the right to "bear the sword" (Rom. 13:4). They had their own state constitutions, governors, civil officers, courts, and judges. Since individuals and churches are not given the sword, they cannot legitimately revolt against the existing civil powers. But legitimate civil governments can, and the colonies were legitimate civil governments.

Endnotes:

[1] Tom Rose, "On Reconstruction and the American Republic," Christianity and Civilization, The Theology of Christian Resistance, ed. Gary North (Tyler, TX: Geneva Divinity School, (1983), 295–296.
[2] Gene Fisher and Glen Chambers, The Revolution Myth (Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 1981), ix.
[3] James Jackson Kilpatrick, The Sovereign States: Notes of a Citizen of Virginia (Chicago, IL: Henry Regnery Co., 1957), 5.
[4] Fisher and Chambers, The Revolution Myth, ix-x.
[5] Fisher and Chambers, The Revolution Myth, 62.
[6] Norman L. Geisler, Christian Ethics: Options and Issues (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1989), 254. In a later book, Geisler seems to have backed away from the view that the American "Revolution" was "unbiblical." See Legislating Morality (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1998), 18–20.
[7] Geisler, Christian Ethics, 237.

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