An oft heard refrain from the Jehovah’s Witnesses is that they are the only true Christians because they take no part in war. Do they have a point? Can you be a Christian and take up arms? What is the answer?
In seeking to respond to their claim, it must first be acknowledged that they see everything in terms of black and white. Foreign to them is the word ‘nuance’, things are either right or wrong. Though they wouldn’t admit it, the reason they lack shades of grey, is because of cultic uniformity. In other words, cult members do not and cannot think for themselves on this, or any other subject. Whatever their leaders say is the final word on the issue. The following quote from the Mormon Church demonstrates this very well:
‘We are most fortunate to have a living prophet at the head of the Church to guide us, and all who need his counsel will be partakers of the promised blessings which will not be enjoyed by those who fail to accept his messages… Whose side are we on? When the prophet speaks the debate is over’1
Now when a Jehovah’s Witness speaks to us about their neutrality in warfare, we need to be aware that they are sharing what their ‘prophet’ has told them.
Not everything they say on the topic of warfare is wrong, but they are unwilling, or incapable, of seeing that this issue is not as clear cut as they would like us to believe.
We can surely agree with them that war and the subsequent bloodshed and suffering is abhorrent and not what God wants for the world He created. But we know that this is a consequence of the fall, and the subsequent rebellion against God and His laws.
Where we differ with Jehovah’s Witnesses is in their insistence warfare is very black and white – so we are either for or against. War is far more complicated than that. Should despots be stopped, or allowed to take over the world? Should Hitler have been left alone, destroying millions more in his wake?
In an article found on JW.org, entitled: Why Don’t Jehovah’s Witnesses Go to War?2 reasons are given as to why they refuse to go to war, but are they biblically and rationally sound? Let’s look.
War and Obedience to God.
The Bible says that God’s servants would “beat their swords into plowshares” and not “learn war anymore.”—Isaiah 2:4.
When is this talking about? Surely this verse is to be seen as prophetic, revealing a future event when the Messiah will usher in His peaceful reign.
‘They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: During the reign of the Messiah, there will be no more war. There will still be conflicts between nations and individuals, but they will be justly and decisively resolved by the Messiah and those who reign with Him.’3
Scripture reveals the same in Joel 3:10 and Micah 4:3 and they all point to a future time, when God will make all things new. Revelation 21:1-4
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.”
War and Obedience to Jesus.
The apostle Peter was told by Jesus: “Return your sword to its place, for all those who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52) Jesus thus showed that his followers would not take up weapons of warfare.
Jesus’ disciples obey his command to be “no part of the world” by remaining strictly neutral in political matters. (John 17:16) They do not protest against military actions or interfere with those who choose to serve in the armed forces.
Jesus’ command to Peter to put his sword away does not speak to the issue of whether a believer should go to war, or indeed whether a believer should be involved in politics. This is reading into the text, something it doesn’t say.
Do Jehovah’s Witnesses agree that Jesus is always in perfect agreement with the Father? If so, Jesus must have agreed with the Father and what He commanded in the Old Testament.
There God ordered the Israelites to “Avenge the people of Israel on the Midianites”4.
Deuteronomy 20:16-17 declares, “ But in the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the LORD your God has commanded”
1 Samuel 15:18 says, “And the LORD sent you on a mission and said, “Go, devote to destruction the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.’”
Now, Jehovah’s Witnesses will no doubt say: ‘Well that was in the Old Testament’, but what are we to do with the following verses?
“For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” Malachi 3:6
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” James 1:17
God does not change.
A further point for the Jehovah’s Witnesses to consider is that Jesus’ second coming will be astoundingly brutal. Revelation 19:11-21 describes the ultimate war with Christ, the conquering commander who judges and makes war “in righteousness” (v. 11). It’s going to be bloody (v. 13) and violent. The birds will eat the flesh of all those who oppose Him (v. 17-18). He has no compassion upon His enemies, whom He will conquer completely and consign to a “fiery lake of burning sulphur” (v. 20).5
Yet this is something that Jehovah’s Witnesses look forward to:
“True Christians love peace. They stay completely neutral in the world’s military, political, and ethnic conflicts. But, strictly speaking, they are not pacifists. Why? Because they welcome God’s war that will finally enforce his will on earth-a war that will settle the great issue of universal sovereignty and rid the earth of all enemies of peace once and for all.” Awake! 1997 May 8 p.23
The article also says: ‘ Jesus’ disciples obey his command to be “no part of the world” by remaining strictly neutral in political matters’, but do Jehovah’s Witnesses really remain strictly neutral in all decisions made by politicians?
If being ‘no part of the world’ means to remain ‘strictly neutral in political matters’, why do Jehovah’s Witnesses benefit from decisions made by those same politicians? I assume the recent announcement of £400 towards our heating bills, announced by the politician Rishi Sunnak, will be received gratefully by Jehovah’s people? Is this a case of picking and choosing which political decisions to follow?
War and Love for Others
Jesus commanded his disciples to “love one another.” (John 13:34, 35) They would thus form an international brotherhood in which no one would ever wage war against his brother or sister.—1 John 3:10-12.
Of course, no one would want to pick up a weapon against a brother or sister in Christ but this, though true, is a smokescreen. What about protecting and loving those whose lives are being taken by tyrants? What about loving all people?
Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13:8-10)
Do Jehovah’s Witnesses ‘Love their neighbour’? Surely it is loving to protect all those who are being oppressed through war?
What would the Jehovah’s Witness response have been to the young guy who recently burst into a primary school and shot 19 children and 2 teachers? What if it was your children in the school? Would you have defended them? Would you have shot the gunman to protect the children?
I find it interesting that Jehovah’s Witnesses, though claiming to be neutral in war, are not pacifists.
“The situation may be such that the only thing a person can do is to use whatever is at hand to protect himself or others. As a result, the attacker may receive a fatal blow. From the Scriptural standpoint, the one acting in self-defense would not thereby incur bloodguilt.” Awake 1975 Sep 8 p.28 Should You Defend Yourself?
What if ‘whatever is at hand’ was a sword, which was used to protect you and/or others? Didn’t Jesus say: ‘all those who take the sword will perish by the sword’ (Matthew 26:52). What would the Jehovah’s Witnesses do, leave the sword and run off to find a different weapon to defend themselves?
War and The Example of Early Christians.
The Encyclopedia of Religion and War states: “The earliest followers of Jesus rejected war and military service,” recognizing those practices as “incompatible with the love ethic of Jesus and the injunction to love one’s enemies.” Likewise, German theologian Peter Meinhold said of those early disciples of Jesus: “Being a Christian and a soldier was considered irreconcilable.”
It always makes me smile when I find the Watchtower quoting something from Christendom to support their position. In fact the example of the early Christians mentioned in the article mitigates against the Jehovah’s Witness position.
Were Jehovah’s witnesses today to claim to be pacifists, it would mean for them to denounce all the pre-Christian witnesses of Jehovah who took up arms to uphold Jehovah’s universal sovereignty and his theocratic nation of Israel. But this denunciation we cannot make. Jesus Christ never did so, and he is Jehovah’s greatest witness, who has earned the title “The faithful and true witness”. (Rev. 3:14) Jehovah himself is no pacifist. Neither are his witnesses such, although they are conscientious objectors.” Watchtower 1951 Feb 1 p.70 Why Jehovah’s Witnesses Are Not Pacifists
The overwhelming consensus of the early church was toward pacifism, a position the Watchtower Society clearly does not hold.
“The early church (the first 300 years) was strongly pacifist. Origen said that Christians “do not go forth as soldiers”. Tertullian wrote “only without the sword can the Christian wage war: for the Lord has abolished the sword.” Clement of Alexandria wrote “…he who holds the sword must cast it away and that if one of the faithful becomes a soldier he must be rejected by the Church, for he has scorned God.”6
As always, Jehovah’s Witnesses are totally oblivious to the numerous Christian groups that hold to the pacifist position. Peace Churches have suffered greatly for their stance against war, experiencing persecution, imprisonment, and death.
Whilst the Watchtower claims to be the epitome of love and peace, they speak with relish about the murder of billions at Armageddon. Falsely boasting that Jehovah’s Witnesses are the only religion that does not go to war, totally disrespects the suffering of conscientious objectors from all faiths.
If the Jehovah’s Witness argument is that their neutrality in war makes them the ‘true’ Christians, then what of those who are truly neutral, and truly pacifist?
War and Changes in Watch Tower Policy
It is true that the Christian view on participation in warfare has changed over time, but then so has the position of Jehovah’s Witnesses. For example, Charles Russell believed Christians could be involved in the army in a non-combative way:
“Notice that there is no command in the Scriptures against military service…No, it would be quite right to shoot, not to kill. You forget, perhaps, our provisos, which were that we explain our conscientious scruples against war, and seek to be excused: if not excused, that we seek non-combatant positions, as nurses, etc.; but if compelled to go a mile or many miles as a soldier, we still need not kill anybody.” Zion’s Watch Tower 1898 Aug 1 p.231
I assume this is something the current Faithful and Discreet Slave would disagree with.
As I stated earlier, warfare is a terrible thing but, due to its complexity, it is not a black and white, fight or not fight position; unless of course you are a Jehovah’s Witness.
4 Numbers 31:2
5 Excerpts from: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/war-what-does-bible-say-randy-poole/
6 Quoted in https://www.patheos.com/blogs/spiritualitycrackingup/2020/01/the-empire-creed-lex-talionis/