Q: Should Adventists go to war to defend their countries, including bearing arms? If not, what is the difference between these wars, and the wars of the people of Israel in the Old Testament?—Marlon, from Panama, currently living in the United States
A: Marlon, this is an interesting question, especially with the recent attention focusing on Seventh-day Adventist Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector, who served as a medic in the U.S. Army during World War II, refused to carry a gun and who received many awards for his service, including the Congressional Medal of Honor. We applaud Doss’ consistent witness of faithfulness in seeking to save life, rather than take it.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church takes a non-combatant position and encourages its members not to join the military. However, since this is a personal choice, if members find themselves in the military, the church through Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries and other avenues tries to spiritually minister to them.
In 2014, I wrote an article titled, “The Battle: Should Adventists Serve in the Military?” that was published in the August issue of Adventist World. In this article, I address the issue of conscripted and voluntary military service, serving as a non-combatant, and more.
Regarding the comparison between modern warfare and the wars of Israel in the Old Testament, let’s remember that at that time, Israel was a theocracy — God was their King.
In considering the warfare of Israel and conquest of Canaan, you may find the following helpful from an article, “I Don’t Want a God Who,” published in the Adventist Review on July 11, 2013:
“What about when God commanded the extermination of the Canaanites (see Deut. 20:16-18)? … When reading of this divine command, we need to remind ourselves of some important, closely connected biblical and historical facts:
“1. As the immediately preceding verses show (verses 10-15), the normal procedure was to avoid war if possible, and if not, to spare the women and children.
“2. Canaan was the land to be populated by God’s people, which could have included the six nations that inhabited it as, during the time of Abraham and his descendants, they were given four centuries to repent while their cup of iniquity was not yet full (see Gen. 15:16).
“3. Unfortunately, their stubborn worship based on gods of sex and violence (as the Ras Shamra tablets describe) meant that their remaining in the land would hinder His plan for Israel and be a continuing stumbling block for them.
“4. God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11); to the contrary, His will is that all would repent and be eternally saved (2 Peter 3:9) — including the Canaanites — but even as the Israelite armies demonstrated their overwhelming superiority with victories in what is now the country of Jordan, nearly all the inhabitants of the land chose to fight rather than accept the God of Israel.”