Greg Bales

The Christian’s Relation to Civil Government

James D. Bales, faculty picture from the Brackett Library at Harding University, available on Flickr My grandfather James D. Bales was a prolific writer, and in his time, his books and many tracts circulated widely within the Churches of Christ and founding organizations of the modern conservative movement like the John Birch Society.

A couple of years ago, when I was visiting my family in Arkansas, my great aunt (on my mother’s side) told me she had been cleaning out her mother’s attic and had come across some papers I might be interested in, and then she pushed an envelope into my hand. Inside was a copy of the only book of my grandfather’s that he had disavowed, The Christian Conscientious Objector, in which he recommended that Christians not participate in war—a bold claim in 1943. Inside was also a mimeograph, on yellowing 8-inch-by-14-inch paper, of a lecture my grandfather had written, “The Christian’s Relation to Civil Government.” It was a rebuttal to The Christian Conscientious Objector.

The lecture manuscript lays out with some care how it was that my grandfather came to disavow his previous work. It is undated, but it was written sometime in the mid-1950s, not long after the Korean War. Whether my grandfather delivered the lecture while teaching at Harding University or preaching; whether he included copies of it when he sold The Christian Conscientious Objector; whether he published it separately in a magazine, I don’t know. But I suspect others may find it as historically interesting as I do.

The text of the lecture which follows has been formatted and made more easily browsable with the table of contents below. There are a handful of footnotes.

Note: Shortly after posting this essay, I was contacted by a representative of the Center for Restoration Studies at Abilene Christian University, who encouraged me to send the essay to Texas to be housed in the Center. I obliged. If you are a researcher looking to touch the paper itself, to Abilene with you! If you are content with hypertext or a scanned PDF, read on.

The Christian’s Relation to Civil Government1


  1. Introduction
  2. Romans 13:1–7
  3. Impossibility of Apostasy?
  4. Varied Functions
  5. Voting
  6. Matthew 5:38–48 and Romans 13:1–7
  7. To Love is to Will Good and to Do Good
  8. Is Love for the Enemy Unlimited, Transcending Love of Family, Brethren, and Friend?
  9. How Can One Love and Yet Kill?
  10. The Christian and the Vengeance Function of Government
  11. The Crucial Question
  12. Christ’s Love for His Enemies
  13. Against What Evil?
  14. Concluding Observations

For the Christian, it is axiomatic that his relationship to God is the decisive factor in all other relationships which he sustains. his loyalty to God is the supreme loyalty in the light of which other loyalties are both sustained and limited. When confronted with a situation where he cannot obey both God and man, he must obey God rather than man (Acts 5:29).

Christians are strangers and sojourners on this earth. In fact, all men are but passing through; none are staying. However, as the Patriarchs of old, Christians have confessed or acknowledged this fact and are endeavoring to live in harmony with its implications (Hebrews 11:13–16; I Peter 2:11). We look to the city whose builder is God. Our citizenship is in heaven.

This, however, does not mean that we have no earthly responsibilities. There is a duty to Caesar as well as to God (Romans 13:1–7). In fact, in the duty which we owe to God, He has bound on us various responsibilities, including obedience to civil government.

Romans 13:1–7

The main passage dealing expressly with civil government is Romans 13:1–7. From this passage draw some conclusions:

First, civil government is ordained of God. Anarchy is not the will of God.

Second, civil government is ordained for the work of vengeance.

Third, civil government is ordained to encourage the good.

Fourth, Christians must be in subjection to civil government, not only because of fear of the sword, but also for conscience’s sake. This includes the payment of taxes, painful as that may be at times!

Fifth, this obedience is not unqualified. Our obedience must be the divine mandate under which the government operates, i.e., the punishment of evil and the encouragement of good. It is, as Peter said, qualified by our duty to God (Acts 5:29). Of course, a part of our duty to God included obedience to civil government, for God has commanded that we be in submission to it. But if there is a conflict between duty to God and the demands of the state, we must obey God rather than man (Acts 5:29).

Impossibility of Apostasy?

At one time, it was my conviction that the mere existence of a government was in itself proof that it was ordained of God and must be obeyed (James D. Bales, The Christian Conscientious Objector). However, this position violated the principle that the entire context of a passage must be considered. When this is done it is seen that it is the existence of the government plus its proper function with which the context deals. To emphasize the mere fact of its existence without due consideration of the mission of the government of which Paul speaks, leads one to draw the conclusion that a government should be viewed as embraced in the teaching of Romans 13 even when its characteristics are constantly contrary to the full description given in Romans 13:1–7. The full description includes not merely verse one (“There is no power but of God; and the powers that be are ordained of God), but also: “For rulers are not a terror to the good work, but ot the evil. And wouldest thou have no fear of the power. Do that which is good and thou shalt have praise from the same: for he is a minister of God to thee for goodan avenger for wrath to him that doeth evil . they are ministers of God’s service, attending continually upon this very thing” (Romans 13:3–7). A lawless government is not contemplated in Romans 13.

To teach that a government by mere fact of its existence, and wholly without relationship to its character and function, is ordained of God is to overlook the fact that Paul speaks of governments which punish the evil and praise the good. Although doubtless no one would contend that it had to achieve perfection in this, any more than a Christian to be a Christian must achieve perfection in the Christian life, yet a government which was basically a terror to good works and a backer of evil works would not fit the description given by Paul of the government which is “a minister of God to thee for goodan avenger for wrath to him that doeth evil … ministers of God’s service, attending continually upon this very thing.”

It is my conviction that just as a Christian may apostatize from his standing as a Christian, just so a government may apostatize from its standing as a minister of God avenging evil and praising good. Thus I do not believe that a Christian’s relationship to a government which is the opposite of Romans 13:3–7 is described in Romans 13:1–7.

Varied Functions

Governments today have varied functions, other than that of encouraging the good and keeping order, which they perform. The post office, for example, is not directly related to the government’s power of the sword. These functions may be backed ultimately by the sword, but they are not specifically related to it. Thus, it seems to me, that there are many places where one could work for the government and participate in its added functions where questions would not be raised as to whether it is right or wrong for the Christian to act as an agent to enforce law and order.


There are those who refuse to cast the ballot because they feel that if they do so they are obligated to support the elected official with the bullet if necessary. That is, if they participate in civil government to the extent of voting they are duty bound to participate in the function of vengeance, through carrying the sword and not simply through paying tribute.

This, it seems to me, does not follow. First, the government does not so view it. They do not consider that one’s obligation, with reference to carrying the sword, is related to whether or not one voted. Second, the Scriptures do not so teach. One’s obligation to obey the government is not based, in the Scriptures, on voting or not voting (Romans 13:1–7). The government, and its elected officers, will carry the sword whether one voted them into office or not. And the limits of one’s duty to submit to the government are not affected one bit by whether or not one voted. Third, the government carries the sword whether one votes or not. One’s vote just helps decide who, out of possible candidates, will carry the sword or who will appoint sword carriers. Would these individuals think that it was wrong to vote if the government required it? If it is right to vote if the government requires it, it cannot be wrong to vote just because the government permits it instead of requires it.

If it is wrong for one to influence the selection of officers through voting, would it not also be wrong to try to influence their selection through teaching? In other words, if one expresses verbally his approval or disapproval of any rulers, does not this mean that in so far as one’s influence is concerned one would rather have such and such rulers instead of certain other rulers?

There is nothing wrong in the act of voting, and there is nothing wrong in preferring certain rulers and sword carriers to others. These two considerations, along with the following, led me to vote. I decided that either I had no right to express any opinion concerning any official, or that I also had the right to express my opinion at the ballot box where my vote as well as my voice would be for or against certain candidates.

It seems to me that there are cases where it is the duty of the Christian to vote. It hardly seems fitting to me that in a country where Christians could swing the balance of power at the voting booth, that they would let a country or state go wet. Furthermore, is it fitting that we should fail to use our influence to see that men are placed in office who will enforce the law, rather than fail to enforce it?

Since it is right for us to teach that the law be enforced (Romans 13:1–7), it ought to not be wrong for us to put our ballot where our voice is, i.e., on the side of law and order. This is one of the ways that we can make our influence count. Of course, each individual should be fully persuaded in his own mind (Romans 14).

There are many services that we can render to the civil government, and an individual ought not to refuse to render our service because he cannot in good conscience render some other service. If his conscience and his feelings direct him in certain areas, and keep him from other areas, then let him still serve where he can.

Regardless of the difficulties involved in certain questions, we all know that there are many ways in which we can contribute to good citizenship. We all know that righteousness exalts a nation, but that sin is a reproach to any people. Therefore, let each of us within the limits of his own knowledge, understanding, opportunity and ability contribute to the welfare of our country and of the world.

Matthew 5:38–48 and Romans 13:1–7

The assumption on which I proceeded when I wrote The Christian Conscientious Objector was that the love for one’s enemies, as commanded in Matthew 5:38–48, was unlimited. Finally I began to see that at least certain things in this section were not unlimited, but were limited by other passages. This limitation was stated expressly, or specifically, in some cases; and by principles which bound other obligations also, in other cases.

(a) Express or specifically stated limitations. (1) “Resist not him that is evil” (Matthew 5:39) is not unlimited. Paul made his legal defense (Acts 24:10). Paul resisted by an appeal to civil government in at least three places (Acts 22:25; 23:17; 25:1). One is offering resistance when he appeals to the civil powers to protect the good and to punish the evil, as taught in Romans 13:1–7. (2) “Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away” (Matthew 5:42). But we are expressly forbidden to support those who refuse to work (2 Thessalonians 2:10). We must not give to them, so Matthew 5:42 is not unlimited. In other words, the demands which others make on our property do not have to be voluntarily submitted to without limitations. We would not have the right to give to another property which some one has entrusted to us for safe-keeping.

(b) Limitations imposed by other obligations. As far as I know, no one makes an absolute, a command without limitations, of Matthew 5:40–42. If a man wants to sue us for our house, we do not believe that it is necessary to give him both the house and the farm, if we have a farm. If he seeks to take away our children’s jacket, we do not give him their jacket and their trousers. If he sues us for $1,000, we do not give him $2,000. If he asked us for our wife, we would not give him our children as well as our wife.

Why? Is our refusal a violation of the passage?

We think not. We have a relationship and obligation to our wife and children that would make it wrong for us to give them away. Our obligation to support our family is such that we do not have the right to give away our means of livelihood or our salary. Our stewardship before God is such that we cannot faithfully discharge it and at the same time give away all that we have to just anyone who wants it; or even anyone who wants to go to law with us and get all that we have.

We do not believe that it would be right to starve our wife and children to death in order to take that food to feed someone today who is actually starving some place in this world. We do not feel, under ordinary circumstances, that we have the obligation to starve ourselves to death in order to feed people today who are starving. There might well be situations where a Christina would refuse to feed himself in order that another might live, but even in that situation e would hardly consider it our Christian obligation to starve our family to death also. In other words, we do not consider it our duty to starve our families in order that strangers, not to speak of enemies, may have our food.

We would argue, and I believe rightly, that we have a special relationship and obligation to our family which transcends our obligation and relationship to others. “But if any provideth not for his own, and specially his own household, he hath denied the faith, and is worth than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8).

Furthermore, we have a closer relationship and responsibility to brethren than to the world. “So then, as we have opportunity, let us work that which is good toward all men, and especially toward them that are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10).

What about the demand of the enemy on our life and the lives of our family and brethren?

Is the demand that the enemy can make, to which we can scripturally give way, limited with reference to our property but unlimited with reference to our person? Shall we refuse willingly to give to the enemy material possessions which are absolutely essential to our physical life and that of our family, and yet willingly—without resistance—give him our life and that of our loved ones?

Acts 23:17; 25:1; and Romans 13:1–7 show that we do not have to voluntarily yield up our lives to the enemy. There may be occasions when we would do so, but that such is not unconditionally demanded by the Christian is shown in the above passages.

Furthermore, would it not be one thing to voluntarily surrender our own life and another thing to stand by, or fail to do what we can, while they took the life of another?

That love of our enemies is not unlimited no more empties of all meaning the passages on love of our enemies, than the fact that giving to another is not unlimited robs of meaning these passages on giving.

The fact that one obligation may transcend and limit another obligation does not make meaningless the lesser obligation.

To Love is to Will Good and to Do Good

Love, which is commanded in Scripture, is not a sentiment. It is not an emotion although emotional overtones may finally cluster around our love in certain instances. However, it is impossible to command a warm, personal attachment to people whom we have never seen, or people toward whom we have no such feeling. But love is commanded, therefore it must deal with the will and not with the emotions. To love is to will good toward, and this can be commanded regardless of what our feelings may be feeling! They may make our feelings feel bad, but we can still will good toward them.

But what about the situation where we cannot will good toward the man at the time he is fallen2 among thieves, and yet refrain from using force on the thieves?

Is Love for the Enemy Unlimited, Transcending Love of Family, Brethren, and Friend?

It is my present conviction that the fundamental error in The Christian Conscientious Objector was in making the love of the enemy the absolute, transcending love which too precedence over all other obligations and loves.

This position implied that love for the enemy was unlimited, but that love for one’s family, friends and brethren was limited. In other words, love for the enemy superseded love for family when it was impossible to will good toward both the enemy and the family. How can I will good toward the innocent, without doing what I can to stop the evildoer?

In fact, may it not be possible to be a passive contributor to evil by not doing what I can to prevent the evildoer from consummating his evil intentions?

What really sent me to a re-searching of the Scriptures on this question was when I asked myself the following question: Where does the Bible teach that the love of the enemy is the supreme love? In other words, where does the Bible teach that I am to love my enemy more than myself, more than my family, more than the brethren and more than the innocent? We are taught to love our neighbors as ourselves, but we are not taught to love even our neighbors more than ourselves. Certainly, I have been unable to find where the Bible teaches that we are to love our enemy more than ourselves. We are, I think, taught that the time may come where we lay down our lives for our brethren and thus love them more than we love our own self (1 John 3:16). Disciples are to love one anther as Christ has loved them (John 13:34–35). Where are we taught thus to love our enemies?

The apostle Peter did not love the life of certain soldiers more than he did his own life. God delivered Peter, and Peter accepted the deliverance, even though he must have known that it would result in hurt, and even death, to the guards (Acts 12:6–12, 19). It may be said that God delivered him. This is true although Peter had to walk through the opening, so to speak, which God provided. But God would not have led Peter to violate the Christian’s love for his enemies, and so the Christian’s love for enemies must be limited. Peter did not go back and surrender in order to spare the guards from execution.

Is it a violation of the teaching of the Bible, that one love his enemies, to escape from prison and to let at least two guards die in one’s stead (Acts 12:6, 10, 19)? It is unless love for enemies is limited. It is if under no circumstances one is to love his own life and the work which he is doing more than he loves the life of his enemy.

In more than one situation we must take into consideration the welfare of someone else other than the enemy or evildoer. For example, one may have to turn a bad apple out of school lest he spoil others. One can have good will toward him, and can hope that the expulsion will teach him a lesson, but one is giving up any effort to straighten him out, or even bear with him, in the school environment.

There are evildoers whom one would not take into his home because of one’s obligations to one’s own family.

Are we to love the enemy of our neighbor, who is hurting our neighbor, more than we love the neighbor in need?

For example, the good Samaritan saw the man in need. The man in need, to whom he could do good, was his neighbor. he helped him. What if he had come on them when the robbers were about to hurt this man? He was as surely a man in need of help when they were attacking him, as he was after they attacked him. Should the Samaritan have stood by and not tried to help this man?

If there was any good he could have done to the robbers, any way he could have helped them morally and spiritually, eh would have done so and they would not have continued to attack this man. But what if he had tried and they had refused such help? What should he have done? He could not actively help them, and if he stood by and did not try to help the man who was attacked would he have been acting neighborly?

So what should we do when we cannot love—and this means to help and do good to—the neighbor and the enemy?

It is my judgment that, for example, prisoners of war in North Korea should have done whatever was necessary to have kept a certain brutal solder from throwing out in the cold, to freeze to death, fellow prisoners of war because they were sick and did not smell good. They could not be neighborly toward the sick without resisting the heartless. And yet, other soldiers did nothing. It was none of their business, some said. Were they not passive participants in this evil?3

Is mercy only for the enemy? Is it only for those who are actively engaged in doing evil to others? Is there to be no mercy to be shown to when one cannot show mercy to the innocent without dispensing some justice to the evildoer?

There comes a time when we must take into consideration the good, the welfare of people other than our enemies.

How Can One Love and Yet Kill?

It may be asked: How can you love your enemy and yet under certain circumstances kill him? We can ask: How can one will good toward his own family and stand by and let the enemy kill them? We also shall ask: How do you harmonize the fact that it is scriptural for us to appeal to Caesar, in his capacity as dispenser of justice, and still love the enemy? How can we harmonize love with setting in operation, in an appeal to the police, forces which may involve the death of the enemy? Can we report the crime of any enemy even though we know that arrest and conviction may lead to life imprisonment or to the death sentence? If we can harmonize the fact that we are to love our enemies, with the calling of the police—which can result in the enemy being just as dead as if we ourselves shot him—then why cannot we also harmonize it with our own use of force if necessary? The government authorizes us to act in self-defense.

The way that I harmonize it is to take the position that the love of our enemy is not the supreme love.

Love to our enemy is not unlimited. We cannot do just anything for them that they may demand. We must not violate our obligation to Christ. Our obligation to the enemy does not supersede our obligation to Christ.

Shall we violate our obligation to our family and to the people of God in order to refrain from restraining or preventing the evildoer from doing evil? Does our obligation—embraced in the teaching that we must love our enemies—supersede, take precedence over, our obligation to our family, to our brethren and to those whom the enemy is hurting or endeavoring to destroy?

Our duty to Christ takes precedence over our duty to our enemy. And it is my conviction that our duty to our family, for example, takes precedence over our duty to our enemy. The enemy is not the only one whom we are to love, and love for our enemy is not the supreme love. Nowhere in Scripture are we taught to love our enemy more than anyone else. And yet, if we place his physical existence—no matter what he does—above all our obligations to our family, then we are showing greater love for the enemy than for our family.

Of course, I am more concerned about the spiritual slavery into which some enemies would bring our children or our children’s children than I am about physical bondage. There are conditions of slavery in which a Christian may still love, as a Christian, although he should not voluntarily go into slavery (1 Corinthians 7:21–24). But what about the bondage of the soul into which Communism has vowed ultimately to bring all mankind?

The Christian and the Vengeance Function of Government

What should be the relationship of the Christian to the function of vengeance? First, he acknowledges the right of the government to bear the sword (Romans 13:1–7). Paul acknowledged that rig then he said: “If then I am a wrong-doer, and have committed anything worthy of death, I refuse not to die …” (Acts 25:11). The Christian, therefore, endorses the use of the sword in the execution of vengeance. The carrying out of the vengeance may vary according to the crime, i.e., some things are worthy of death (Acts 25:11), though some things are not. There are those who think that the government should throw away the sword. CLearly this is not the scriptural position.

Is it wrong for Christians to submit to the government and help it do the very thing which we teach that it is ordained of God to do, i.e., carry the sword against evildoers?

Second, it is scriptural for us to support financially the government to enable it to carry on its work of law and order. “For this cause ye pay tribute also; for they are ministers of God’s service, attending continually upon this very thing” (Romans 13:6).

Thus, we back this function of government not merely with the endorsement of our teaching, but also with our money.

Third, the Christian may appeal to the government to do that which is its mission, i.e., oppose the evildoer and praise the doer of good.

The Christian has the right to ask the government to do that which is right, and to demand that he be treated justly. As Paul said: “If then I am a wrong-doer, and have committed anything worthy of death, I refuse not to die; but if none of those things is true whereof these accuse me, _no man can give me up unto them, I appeal unto Caesar” (Acts 25:11). There are situations in life where a Christian does not demand his rights. There are rights which one may forego if he is convinced that such is the best thing to do under a given set of circumstances. On the other hand, Paul here shows that it is our right to demand that we be dealt with lawfully.

Paul was not silent in the face of an unlawful scourging. “And when they had tied him up with the thongs, Paul said unto the centurion that stood by, Is it lawful for you to scourge a man that is a Roman, and uncondemned?” (Acts 22:25). It is right to appeal to the law. Paul at least gave verbal resistance to this situation.

Paul appealed to the civil government for the protection of the sword even though this could possibly have resulted in the death of his enemies. When certain Jews formed a conspiracy to kill him, Paul found out about it, and had the information conveyed to the chief captain (Acts 23:12–25). The apostle, it is true, was already in jail. It is also true that through conveying this information that is own death, as well s the possible death of some of those who were keeping him in custody, was prevented. And yet, Paul certainly knew that if necessary the sword would be used to protect him.

How can it be wrong for the Christian to call on the civil government to do the very thing that God says that it is to do, and which Christians teach that it is to do? There may be situations where we forego this right, but this right we do have.

Is it wrong for us to help the government to do what we may call on it to do? Can we ask it to do for us what we would not do for ourselves if authorized by it to carry the sword?

Since we are to do unto others as we would that other should do unto us (Matthew 7:12), can we call on the policeman for protection if we are unwilling, when necessary and possible, to help protect the policeman?

The Crucial Question

The crucial question for most of us is To what extent can we become involved as Christians in the wrath function of civil government? It will be noticed that I have worded the question so as to include “to what extent.” THis was done deliberately in order to underscore my conviction that, in the light of scripture, it is impossible to avoid being involved to some extent.

We are involved to some degree as shown by the following. First, we are to pay taxes with the awareness that we pay taxes, among other reasons at least, to support the government in its function of executing vengeance on evildoers.

He is a minister of God to thee for good … he beareth not the sword in vain; for he is a minister of God, an avenger for wrath to him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be in subjection, not only because of the wrath, but also for conscience sake. _For this cause ye pay tribute also: for they are ministers of God’s service, attending continually upon this very thing. (Romans 13:4–6)

Second, we participate in this function whenever we supply information to the government which can be used in apprehending and/or punishing the criminal. Paul had the chief captain informed of a plot on Paul’s life (Acts 23:17). The captain took the steps which were necessary, including adequate protection by the sword, to prevent this crime from taking place (Acts 23:22–24).

Who thinks that it would be right to withhold from the police information which would lead to the arrest of kidnappers, for example? Who believes that it would be right for a Christian to refuse to testify in court to truth which he knew would be used to convict a criminal?

Third, we participate in the function when we exercise our right to call on the civil government for protection against evildoers.4 (a) Paul did so when he had the captain informed of a plot. Paul’s nephew did so when he asked the captain not to yield to the request of the plotters (Acts 23:18–21). (b) Paul denied that any man had the right to take him to Jerusalem, to be judged even before Festus. He appealed to Caesar (Acts 25:9, 11, 12).

Fundamentally, this involves a request that the civil government act in harmony with its function as a protector of the good and an avenger, if needs be, on the evildoer. how can it be wrong to call on the civil government to do its God-ordained duty? We have this right, even though we may know that to call on the civil government may result in the death of the evildoer—of one’s enemy.

Christ’s Love for His Enemies

On earth Christ’s love for His enemies was unlimited in that he died for them. He will, however, finally punish the disobedient. In fact, He brought judgment on Jerusalem, in my opinion, in A.D. 70.

But on earth Christ did die for His enemies. He did not even use the legal processes, or endeavor to use the legal processes, to defend Himself. However, Paul did. Christ’s death, of course, for His enemies and for the entire world was that redemption might be possible. Paul’s death could not make redemption possible. Paul used the legal means which were open to him to preserve his life. May we not have to enforce or demand justice of enemies in order to reach some of them and in order also to save those whom they are destroying or enslaving?

There may be circumstances like Stephen when there is no recourse but to die and we can die with a prayer for our enemies (Acts 7:60). On the other hand there may be times when, without hate, we may appeal to Caesar. It certainly would not have been wrong for Stephen to have done so if he had had the opportunity.

Against What Evil?

What evil is the civil power to punish? This question arises regardless of the position taken concerning the Christian and the sword. All of us believe that Romans 13 teaches that the sword is authorized for the civil power, and that when it uses it, it obviously must use it through its agents. So each of us is faced with the question: What evil is the civil power to punish?

My judgment is that although ultimately all sin is sin against God, that the evil which the civil power is to deal with is the evil which man does to man. In other words, civil power was not appealed to in the Scriptures to punish those who disobeyed God and rejected the gospel, but civil power was appealed to when man sought to do violence to man. Of course, this is disobedience to God but it is disobedience which involves the life and temporal welfare of human beings.

Cornelius_—Cornelius was a sword-carrier for the civil power under which Paul lived and Romans 13 was written. He was a just and religious man who had gained the respect of the Jews (Acts 10:1–2, 22). He was converted to Christ and Peter stayed with him several days (Acts 10:48). In spite of the problems besetting one in military life int he Roman army, which I discussed in my book _The Christian Conscientious Objector, there is no evidence to suggest that Cornelius left the army. As far as the Scriptures are concerned he is left in the army.5 Certainly the teaching of Romans 13 would not have led him to think that it was impossible for him to carry the sword in the cause of justice.

Some have said that the case of Cornelius shows us how a soldier became a Christian but it does not show us how a Christian became a soldier. Naturally, since the passage is dealing with conversion to Christ and not with recruitment into the army. But the gospel found him while he was in the army, and there is no evidence that it took him out of the army.

Concluding Observations

It is true that if all men were really Christians there would be no need for the sword, but the fact is that there is evil in the world and that God has ordained that civil power exist in order to thwart or to punish evildoers.

I realize that it is possible for an individual to rationalize, and so I emphasize that each individual must evaluate what has been said in the light of the Scriptures. On the other hand, it is possible for some individuals who do not love some of the brethren to try to compensate for that lack of love by talking a lot about loving enemies. It is easier to talk about loving an enemy whom we have not seen than a brother whom we have seen. Loving the enemy in the abstract is easier than loving the brother in the concrete. The far-off enemy who has not hurt us may be easier to love than the nearby brother who has offended us.

In other words, it may be easier for some to talk about love for enemies than to will good toward a brother with whom they differ on this subject.

None of us, however, should impugn the motives of the other. Arguments we may deal with, but motives, unless we have overwhelming evidence, may safely be left to the Lord.

Furthermore, inconsistencies in an individual’s life do not invalidate principles.

It certainly would be unfair to conclude that because I do not believe that love for the enemy transcends all other loves on earth, that I am therefore bloodthirsty. Paul was not bloodthirsty when he spoke of the government executing vengeance on the evildoer, nor when he appealed to Caesar. I do not seek the place of vengeance, and yet it is quite another thing to conclude that it is wrong for one to appeal to and support the vengeance function of government.

Although we are to be merciful, yet there is also a place for justice. If mercy unlimited, without justice, were bound on the Christian he would not be authorized to call on the state for protection against the evildoer. And yet, he is so authorized.

An individual should be conscientious, although being conscientious does not in itself guarantee that an individual is right. If one does not believe that he should do certain things, he should stand by his convictions until and unless he becomes convinced that he has been wrong. One should not surrender his conscience to the government and blindly obey it. When we are convinced that we cannot obey God and man, but must obey God rather than man (Acts 5:29). One should do what one can conscientiously do about the evil which is in the world. If you cannot do a specific thing, do what you can. Personally, I would rather be in the medical corp than the rifle corp. I would rather be in missionary work than in military work in a country, although military men have been able to do mission work also. I would rather be a preacher in a town than a policeman; and yet, if necessary I could cooperate with the law even in its vengeance function.

1 This online version of Bales’s lecture represents the manuscript faithfully, but not exactly. Alterations to the original text are primarily typographical: italics instead of underscores are used for emphasis and Arabic numerals are used in place of Roman. In addition, clear errors in the manuscript have been corrected, silently. A PDF of the original typed manuscript can be downloaded here.

2 The word in the manuscript here is fallin, which could be a misspelling of either falling or fallen. The latter makes the most sense grammatically and contextually.

3 This paragraph about prisoners of war in the Korean War refers to the story of Sergeant James C. Gallagher, who was court-martialed for beating a fellow prisoner and leaving him and others to die of exposure. He was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. Gallagher’s court-martial was a infamous in 1955, making Life and Time magazines. For more on Sergeant Gallagher and other POWs in Korea, see Broken Soldiers by Raymond Lech.

4 In the manuscript, most underscores are continuous, to emphasize entire phrases; here, each word is underscored separately. If this was delivered as a lecture, I imagine Bales’s intent here may have been to punctuate each word separately, perhaps with a slight rise in the tone of his voice with every concluding syllable, allowing his voice to drop only when he reached the sentence’s final phrase, against evildoers. Such a reading of the typography, however, is completely speculative.

5 This sentence was typed in the margin. There is a faint line in the manuscript to indicate its intended placement here.


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History, Peace & War


October 09, 2012

I feel that war is imminent in the middle east. As a Christian, I feel taking a stand and being a Conscientious Objector is right. I don’t agree with our nations military or globalist agenda. I am not a member of any particular Church of Christ, but for the most part, I feel the doctrine is sound. What is your take on modern Christians taking this stand?

Welcome, JD!

I don’t know that Christians in any denomination have much reason to listen to what I say. But if they were so inclined, I’d encourage them to consider carefully the relationships in their lives and all the things that demand their loyalties—country and kin alike—and question how well those loyalties align with the wishes of the God who demands more loyalty than anything else, and I would invite them to learn to be skeptical of all things that perpetuate oppression of all kinds.

I think too few people, Christians included, take seriously the importance of objecting to something such as war on grounds of conscience.

Oh, and I’d recommend this book.

November 03, 2013

I always love Dr Bales writings when I was a kid .,
Do you have his Debate with Deaver on MDR issue ?

The last copy of that I had has been out on loan for at least 20 years.

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