National Magazine of the Lutheran Church of Australia

Last resort

April 2015

by David Grulke

On 25 April, Australians and New Zealanders commemorate the centenary of the Anzac landing on the Gallipoli peninsula. We’ve learnt about the extraordinary circumstances those Anzacs endured through the stories the survivors told, the letters they wrote and the military records and transcripts of the campaign.

Today, the myth of Anzac permeates our culture. It airs a form of naïve sentiment, akin to that which fuelled the initial passion of those young Australian and New Zealand men. But the reality of war leaves no room for sentiment. The horror it imposes upon the victims of its inhumanity is very different. There is nothing heroic or stoic about digging deep into the earth so that a stray bullet or an exploding fragment won’t penetrate deep into flesh, leaving one injured and maimed for life. In war, the lucky ones die; the wounded live on. It is easy for Christians to oppose war and condemn any form of military service or action.

It is easy to adopt a righteous form of pacifism, excluding ourselves from the world on the basis that we belong to the kingdom of God. Understanding what war actually is, appreciating that it is perhaps the pinnacle of our sinful inhumanity inflicted upon ourselves, we can easily turn away and have nothing to do with any government or human collective that engages in such barbarity.

However, Lutherans respect the existence of the state as part of God’s good order. We teach that there are two kingdoms. Christian citizenship exists in the heavenly or spiritual kingdom—God’s kingdom on the right—distinguished by the Spirit’s work of grace and gospel. The earthly kingdom—God’s kingdom on the left—has responsibility to govern and maintain order in a disordered sinful world. In this, it holds the enormous responsibility to wield the sword in protection of its people.

Lutheran theology accepts that we live in a sinful and fallen world, and that societal evil must be checked. This is the task of the left-hand kingdom (government) whose first response must always be to seek peaceful outcomes. Only when these have been fully exhausted may the state employ lethal force to establish a peaceful and orderly life for its people. Lutherans believe, therefore, that military service is a good and noble Christian vocation.