Q. God says, “Do not kill,” but soldiers aretrained to do that. Can Christians be apart of the armed forces or work in industriesthat manufacture weapon-guidance systems and aircraft? —Iowa
A. It’s helpful to distinguish between murder and killing. While murder is forbidden (see Ex. 20:13, NIV), Reformed
Christians believe that in some cases killing is permissible. The government bears the sword to “bring punishment on the wrongdoer” (Rom.13:4). Police may kill people threatening to murder others. A government may train an army to protect itself and to deter a potential aggressor (Luke 14:31-32). Naturally, governments depend on munitions companies to supply necessary equipment.
There’s a fine line between murder and killing. Some who have served in the armed forces have seen the enemy murdered as well as killed. Sometimes friendly fire is a convenient way to get rid of a despised commanding officer. Although war may be a necessary evil, our denomination believes there are some acts committed in war that are unjust. It is also possible that an entire war is unjust, unworthy of support by our members.
Synod adopted a Testimony Regarding the Christian’s Attitude Toward War and Peace (Acts of Synod 1939, pp. 240-249). The report of a current synodical committee to study war and peace will be sent to all churches this November and discussed by Synod 2006.
Q. The Bible declares, “God is Light” (1 John 1:5). Jesus says, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). Yet in stanza 3 of “Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty” (Psalter Hymnal, 249) we sing “Though the darkness hide thee. . . .” How can darkness hide light? —British Columbia
A. The next phrase in the stanza is probably the best answer to your question: “though the eye made blind by sin thy glory may not see.” Frequently Scripture talks about the “bushel of sin” that hides the light of God’s presence. In Romans 1:12 Paul tells us that God is hidden from people because “their foolish hearts are darkened.” In 2 Corinthians 4:4 he says, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.”
Q. In response to 1 Corinthians 11:5 some women in our former church wore small lace head coverings in worship.
The Bible gives us a number of specific instructions. How do we understand God’s desire without being too legalistic or too quick to disobey because an instruction is uncomfortable? —New York
A. In worship Paul wanted women to have head coverings and long hair (1 Cor. 11:16) but no braided hair, gold, pearls, or expensive clothes (1 Tim. 2:9). He wanted men to lift up holy hands in prayer (1 Tim. 2:8). The apostles wanted slaves to respect even harsh masters who beat them without cause (Eph. 6:5; 1 Peter 2:18).
Two important questions in biblical interpretation are, What did these words originally mean? and What do these words mean for us today?
Knowledge of the culture or the specific situation of the recipients often helps us understand a particular instruction. And sometimes we conclude that, though the principle is still valid, a specific application of it is not. We still encourage modest dress in worship but no longer define that as the absence of braided hair, gold, or pearls. We still encourage respect in all human relationships but no longer condone slavery.
Acts 15 is instructive. The early church answered questions about biblical instructions corporately, not individually. After much discussion, church leaders made a decision, saying (v. 28), “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us. . . .”
Prayerful discernment doesn’t mean that all Christians come to the same conclusion. When Christians differ, we need to refrain from judging fellow believers to be legalistic or disobedient. n
George Vander Weit is pastor of Fuller Avenue Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Got a question about Christian faith and life? Send it to Pastor Vander Weit, c/o The Banner, 2850 Kalamazoo Ave. SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49560. Or you can e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org with “Q&A” in the subject line. Please include your state or province.