Church Tradition and Rebellion: Background

Just War, Rebellion, and the American Revolution: John Keown and Modern Critiques on Whether the War of Independence was Just.

Part 9: Church Tradition and Rebellion, Background

By Leonard O. Goenaga

Thus far, a survey of Scripture suggests that certain values foundational to the American Revolution are directly taught or indirectly derived from various passages. In particular, Scripture seems to associate enslavement and oppression with a ruler rejecting the common good in favor of particular interests (1 Sm. 12:3-4; 8:11-17). Scripture also seems to prize liberty, checked power, and the rule of law. From these established principles, the consent of the governed is reasonably derived. However, this has yet to address the alleged paradox brought about by Paul’s call to submission in Romans 13, as well as the question of whether tyranny legitimises rebellion. To address this question, this paper will survey Christendom’s brightest minds as they react with scriptural principles and contemporary scenarios to contribute to Just War thinking. In addition, these contributions provide the necessary historical context to truly understand the grievances posed by the Colonists.
Before the principles of rebellion are met, it is also necessary to establish the link between Just War and Just Rebellion principles. Are we simply assuming that both may utilize the same principles, or have Christian thinkers rejected Rebellion as not belonging to the domain of the Just War ethic? Upon introducing the subject of rebellion, Davis Brown claims “The states of war, rebellion, and intervention are all ultimately part of a larger entity that comprises all uses of force to impose one community’s will upon another.” 1 In support of this conclusion, Brown provides the Christian thinkers Aquinas, Suarez, and Ramsey as proof. Regarding Aquinas, Brown notes that “Thomas set sedition apart from war, the placement of his discourse of the topic under the heading of vices contrary to the peace indicates some connection between warand rebellion.” 2 In treating rebellion, the famed Catholic theologian Francisco Suarez applied the three classical Thomist just war criteria. 3 More recently, the American Just War expert Paul Ramsey agreed to the usage of Just War criteria in determining a Just Rebellion. 4 With such thinkers considered representative of the Just War tradition, this paper will proceed by accepting the seven Just War principles ad bellum and in bello as criteria for also determining the justness of rebellion.


1 Davis Brown, The Sword, The Cross, and The Eagle, 145.

2 Brown, The Sword, The Cross, and The Eagle, 145.

3 Francisco Suarez, De Bello in Selections from Three Works of Francisco Suarez (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1944), viii, 2.

4 Paul Ramsey, War and the Christian Conscience (Durham: Duke University Press, 1961)

Self-Educated American Research Writer, Leonard O. Goenaga
, is a Baptist Associate Pastor (assigned to the Youth) at Glory of God Christian Fellowship, Raleigh, North Carolina; a Mentor (Computer Lab/Technology) at the Wake Forest Boys & Girls Club; a husband (to Katrina); and rugby coach. He holds a B.A. in Political Science (with a specific concentration in Political Theory, Social Contract, and Constitutionalism), a second B.A. in Religious Studies (with a concentration in World Religions and Early Christianity), a Master of Divinity in Christian Ethics, and an A.A. in Entrepreneurship. He has begun Ph.D with a concentration likely centered on an analysis of Locke’s Social Contract, H.L.A. Hart’s Legal System, American Constitutionalism, and Baptist Ecclesiology of Covenant. Visit his website at