King, Lipscomb and the Spirit of War

On April 4, 1967 Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered a courageous speech against the Vietnam War at the Riverside Church in New York City. The speech is a principled statement against war itself.

David Lipscomb, on the eve of the Spanish-American War, offered a principled statement against the “spirit” of war. That “spirit” stands in radical contrast with the “Spirit” of Jesus Christ.

Like King, Lipscomb’s statement rings loudly in our contemporary ears as a call for Christian introspection about the “spirit of war.” Here is part of his editorial statement in the April 28, 1898 Gospel Advocate (p. 269):

War is disastrous to all prosperity and good of a people.  It may for a time create activity in business in preparing for and caring on a conflict, but it must result permanently in more taxes and less to pay with.  The people pay all the cost of war.  But the material injury produced by war is the least harmful of its effects.  The destruction of life and the sorrow of heart it brings to surviving friends and relations appeal more directly to our sympathies since we see the suffering and distress; but above these is the moral and spiritual effect.  War is hurtful to all true moral and spiritual good in people.  These are the highest and most lasting interests of the people.  We do not see the awful results with our natural senses, but they are widespread and lasting.  It is strange that a professed follower of the Son of God can approve of the war spirit for a moment.  It is distressing to see how professed Christians, in and out of Congress, preachers and privates, can be carried away with, and encourage and foment, this spirit of war.  It is contrary to the whole spirit of the religion of Jesus Christ.  When a man professes to be follower of Jesus he professes to try to do like Jesus.  That is what being a Christian means. Every Christian is pledged to what Jesus would do were he in his place.  Just what Jesus would do, were he in person, is what the follower of Jesus must do.  Does any one believe that if Jesus were here he would make war speeches and encourage the spirit of war?  Would Jesus join the army of the United States to fight Spain, or join the army of Spain to fight the United States?  Would he thus fight against himself?  Would he kill and destroy?

Wars and strifes will continue while human governments exist, and God will overrule them for his own purposes; but the Christian’s citizenship is in heaven, and his duty is to perform the offices of love and good will to all men of every color and kindred and nation, but to destroy none.  Jesus sent him into this world as sheep among wolves, to do good for evil, and to pray for them who despitefully use and persecute them.  Jesus did not lay this principle aside in any other troubles and persecutions that came upon him.  His true followers must not do it.  But when men vote to send others to war, they ought to go themselves.  The evil being in participating in the political strifes and conflicts of human governments, drinking in a spirit that is of man not of God.  Unless we have the spirit of Christ, we are none of his.

Both King’s speech and Lipscomb’s editorial are powerful articulations of a Christian perspective. Both, in their own times and circumstances–and neither was perfect or beyond criticism–sought to love their neighbors whatever their “color and kindred and nation.”

To love your neighbor entails loving your enemies. That is the “Spirit” of Christ. Are we his or do we belong to someone or something (like a nation) else?



11 Responses to “King, Lipscomb and the Spirit of War”

  1.   Jeff McVey Says:

    Lipscomb could write…

  2.   Jim Cryan Says:

    “Blessed are the peacemakers” Thanks for posting this

  3.   outreachdownenray Says:

    Our host writes: *To love your neighbor entails loving your enemies. That is the “Spirit” of Christ. Are we his or do we belong to someone or something (like a nation) else?* And I feel impelled to point out that while we are to love our enemies, we also must fight against any aggressive act by the enemy. Love for our family and nation does not allow us to fail to protect them from aggression. To be a conscientious objector when our loved ones are imperiled is not a required loving response. If we love freedom and are citizens of a free nation, I wonder how anyone can refuse to fight if the nation or a person we love is attacked.

  4. Avatar of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

    We love our enemies except when we love freedom and our nation more. Got it.

  5. Avatar of davidhimes  David Himes Says:

    For most of my life, I’ve lived in a quandary about this topic. My father was a conscientious objector during WWII (an unusual position during that war).

    I do find it difficult to contemplate how a disciple of Jesus would deliberately put themselves in a position where they would knowing be required to kill someone.

    At the same time, I cannot recall any NT passage where anyone told the Centurion he needed to resign his position in the Roman army following his conversion.

    And then there is the hopefully hypothetical situation of what I would do if someone was threatening to kill my wife, in my presence … what would I do then?

    Where is the best application of love one another as Jesus loved us?

    As is often the case, the path is not as clear as any of us might like. Thankfully, only God knows and can judge our hearts.

    •   Jr Says:

      If someone doesn’t defend his wife or children, he’s nothing but a fool and worse than an unbeliever. I think the lesson where Jesus talked about not taking care of one’s parents because Corban comes into play here. We can’t take the teaching of peace to mean stand by and watch those we love get brutalized as we say “hey, Jesus said blessed are the peacemakers!”

      And not all killing is murder. Not all killing is wrong.

      • Avatar of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

        Jr, I would ask that we be careful without language. The use the language of fool and unbeliever is inappropriate for this dialogue. One can defend and protect one’s family non-violently. We can do that and still love our enemies.

        •   Jr Says:

          I did not intend to offend. I was using Paul’s directive to Timothy in 1 Timothy 5:8 and transposing his words regarding not providing for your own family (“worse than an unbeliever”) and using them in this case.

          Yet still, if the case called for was violent response against an attacker on one’s family, I stand by my point that we would be turning the peacemaking directive into a doctrine of man if that was our reason for not defending our wife or children.

        • Avatar of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

          Jr, I caught the biblical allusions though others might not. But it seems to me problematic to impose that language on one who follows the explicit command of Jesus to love our enemies. I was not offended. If the command precludes a violence, then perhaps we should trust the sovereignty of God in such circumstances as you describe while we do our best to protect our families.

  6.   Jr Says:

    The message is one that I can agree with, at least as far as he points out that we are to be like Christ; as the Spirit in us continues to transform us into His likeness. We should never be eager for bloodshed; though our eagerness for justice should be paramount. We should most certainly not have an eager “spirit” for war, and we do live in another Kingdom. Amen.

    But there are some things to take note of that are not as cut and dry as one would think; and this shows how simplistic some arguments in favor of war or peace can be. For example, DL writes, “Would he (Christ) kill and destroy?” My question to that is, are we talking about the suffering servant or the sovereign Christ? After all, the Scriptures would answer that question both ways. For one, the Son of God, being with God and God, certainly killed and destroyed tens of thousands of times over for the sake of His people Israel and His Name; and Jesus is depicted as having his cloak splattered with the blood of His enemies in the last days. And we can’t forget who was ultimately behind the murder of Christ (in providential terms); namely, God. So are we really supposed to be like God in every way? Perhaps not.

    Therefore, I think a key verse in this discussion is Romans 12:19 (Duet 32:35, Heb 10:30). We don’t take revenge because it is up to the judge who judges justly to exact vengeance, and He will repay. We act for peace, knowing that Our God will avenge all evil in whatever way He sees fit; whether upon our nation, or any other nation; by war or by peaceful means, it will be done.

    God will continue to orchestrate war and peace through agency, and He will continue to raise up kings and take down kings. He has done so and He will continue to do so for His own purposes. THis involves killing at times. Now does this mean Jesus would have taken up arms to fight Spain? Probably not; and so DL’s point that we shouldn’t as well is the discussion to have. Thus I see two topics at hand here: What God does; and what we do.

    So by no means should we be eager for bloodshed, especially out of hatred for any man or blind devotion to an earthly kingdom. Each man will be judged according to their hearts and actions; and God’s guiding of events will certainly be taken into account for all people in all nations.

    Let us then stay focused on the gospel, allow the Spirit to blow where it will, and let the hearts of men fall where they may. Only through this message is true, worthwhile, and eternal peacemaking accomplished. Without changed hearts, there will be no peace.

    • Avatar of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

      What we do is follow the example of the ministry and life of Christ. God will use evil to punish evil and Christ will return victoriously. Justice belongs to God; we leave it in God’s hands rather than take it into our own. DL is talking about the suffering servant as our example in whom we trust as the sovereign Lord that will move history in the direction God desires (uprooting nations and rulers) and bringing ultimately the reign of God upon the earth. At that time the kingdoms of the earth will become the kingdom of our Lord and Christ.

      Your point about acting for peace and God will do justice is exactly DL’s point in his writings, particularly Civil Government.

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