Pacifism vs. Christology 2 (by T)

Pacifism vs. Christology 2 (by T) November 15, 2011

This post is by T, and is the second post in the series that examines who pacifism is connected to how we understand Jesus Christ himself.

We’re continuing our discussion of some of the New Testament’s most central themes, attempting to lay a proper, Christological foundation for discussing issues surrounding how Christ’s followers are to deal with violent people. Today our focus is Resurrection, both Christ’s and ours.

In our discussion of the Cross in the last post, my basic contention was that Christianity has done a good job seeing and communicating the Cross as representative of Christ and central to his work, but not as well in making it representative of Christians and central to their vocation as Christ’s people. Despite Jesus’ clear connection of cross-bearing with his disciples’ vocation as well as his own, we’ve not tended to embrace, whether out of ignorance, confusion or convenience, that cross-bearing is central to our vocation as God’s people and our identity as Christ’s disciples. In a nutshell, we’ve tended to think of the cross as more of a central one-off event rather than a central viral event, creating a new kind of self-sacrificing human race and nation who, like their leader, can be accurately represented by a cross.

Part of the reason for this disconnect between leader and people is tied to today’s topic of Resurrection. In several conservative vs. liberal debates over the last several years, a perennial issue is whether Jesus physically rose from the dead. I share my conservative brethren’s concerns about calling any faith “Christian” that does not have Jesus’ physical resurrection as an absolutely critical piece, if not the centerpiece, of its foundation. Christianity is a resurrection faith. That said, I can’t help but notice that, as with the cross, we have isolated trust in Christ’s resurrection from trust in our own, and thereby diminished a good portion of its intended power in our lives.

What does it mean to really trust in the resurrection of the dead? Does the New Testament witness urge us to put our hope in trust merely in Christ’s resurrection, or also, through his, in our own? What ethical impact is the resurrection of the dead (specifically our own) intended to have? To ask the question Christologically, was Jesus’ own faith in his resurrection critical to his own cross-bearing ethic? If it was, will our trust in our resurrection be any less critical for us in order to follow that same ethic? How does Paul’s life and teachings on the resurrection illuminate and shape our thinking about resurrection as well? Do you personally feel, like Paul did, as though you should be pitied above all if there is no resurrection? Is that relevant in any way?

Once Jesus began predicting his own crucifixion, he not only made it clear that his followers must follow suit and pick up a cross, he rarely predicted his death without also predicting his resurrection. The scriptures are clear that Jesus thought of them and spoke of them together. The plan of God was not merely cross, but cross followed by resurrection. Further, the scriptures tell us, “For the joy set before him, [Jesus] endured the cross.” His many conversations with his disciples, especially in John’s gospel, make it clear that Jesus trusted himself to the plan of crucifixion to be followed by his resurrection and vindication by God as a seamless whole, and even then with great heartache at times. But for the joy set before him, he endured, he accepted the cross. When slapped, he did not strike back; when cursed, he blessed. When taken from; he gave more. In all this, resurrection of the dead was a key part of Christ’s own faith and hope, which gave him some of the amazing strength to live out his great passion.

And once again on this point, Jesus was echoed by Paul in word and deed: Paul wants to be like Christ in his death, not for its own sake, but so that he might participate in the resurrection of the dead. Paul endured what he did for Christ, not as a masochist, but as the cost of following a crucified, but resurrected Lord. Paul had entered Jesus’ own story of death and resurrection and made it his own, in the confidence that in doing so, he would experience not only the cross, but also the resurrection of the dead. “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.” And elsewhere he says to Timothy, “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. . . . Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. Here is a trustworthy saying: ‘If we died with him, we will also live with him[.]’” This is classic Paul. Indeed, Paul says that if there is no resurrection of the dead, he and his fellow workers are to be pitied above all people! Why? Because he was living the cross! His life, like Christ’s, was being poured out as a drink offering for others. He had his mind set on things above, not on things of the earth, having counted them as loss. The key is that resurrection becomes critical for those who live crucified to the things of this world but alive to God. Paul had not hedged his bets and diversified the investment of his life. He bet all his hopes and joys that Jesus’ story could be his own and others’ too, especially the resurrection of the dead. Philippians is nothing if not a statement of this constantly renewing intention by Paul, which he invites us all to see in Christ and in himself and to imitate. Hoping and trusting in the resurrection, for Jesus and for Paul, and for us, is critical to living like true aliens in this world. It is key to our detachment from the worries, cares and pleasures of this life, which can make the message unfruitful in our lives. Christianity is a life that is shaped like a cross, and powered by the hope that those who die with Christ, will rise with him as well. Cross and resurrection are central to Christ’s story, the gospel. As we trust this story and enter it, live it out, and it becomes our story as well—both cross and resurrection.

As we ruminate on these things, it is worthwhile to point this out. Many times in discussions of pacifism, the questions quickly come to use of violence to protect, to use the categories often given, “women and children.” Since this is only our second post, I don’t want to fully engage this issue until we’ve done more work, but I do want to ask this: does our hope in the resurrection (both the righteous and the unrighteous) have any impact on what we fear, even for others, and how we react to evil, even against loved ones? How so? Is there any sense in which you think that God will require his people to trust not only themselves, but others to the promise of resurrection of the dead? Both for rescue and for vengeance?

Regardless of your conclusions here, I am convinced that meditation on the resurrection of the dead is helpful for us all.

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  • Many good thoughts here related to resurrection, T. I must say that resurrection is life out of death, which is implicit here. We indeed end up as aliens on earth, the world crucified to us, and us to the world, in the words of Paul. But it is a death which shares even now in Christ’s resurrection, to be sure.

    Thanks for jogging our thoughts this direction as related to a Christian pacifist stance. Good food for thought.

  • Joe Canner

    I like your questions at the end. It’s one thing to trust in the resurrection for ourselves but trusting it for others gets more complicated.

    If those we are seeking to protect are Jesus-followers, then we should be able to trust in their resurrection. If we aren’t, it’s because we are being selfish with the gifts (i.e., loved ones) that God has given us. Granted, however, that entrusting their lives to God is easier said than done.

    If those we are seeking to protect are not Jesus-followers, we may be more inclined to protect them since we are not sure about their eternal destiny. My gut says that using force in this way is still wrong, and that God has extra mercy for unbelievers whose lives are ended prematurely, but I’m not sure how I would defend those positions.

  • Tim


    I think my comment #35 on your last pacifism thread, “War and Morality” is very relevant to the point you’re making here. You seem to think that whatever happens in this life, you can trust in the “resurrection of the dead.” So whatever the fallout of pacifistic policies (e.g., being taken over completely by a hostile power) is acceptable from a Christian point of view, as come the resurrection it’s all good. The scales are balanced and the good guys ride out on their horses into the sunset. Well, that may work fine for you. But if the hostile power that takes you over happens to be particularly antagonistic to free religious expression, you may have a hard time seeing your children raised Christian…and their children…and their children’s children…and so on. In the US we preserve freedom of our populous. This is why you had the luxury of being raised the way you were. This is why you have the opportunity to be so well read and theologically sophisticated. And this is in large part the reason why you get to be Christian. Your odds for all this would be pretty slim in, say, North Korea. Or a Fundamentalist Islamist Government. Which is what America could find itself subjugated under, if we took what you are saying to heart and acted on it.

  • T

    Ted & Joe, thanks.

    Joe, Yes; in our discussions of both cross and resurrection, I wanted to explore what it means to really “trust” or “hope” in these aspects of Jesus’ story and ours, well beyond mere affirmation of their historicity in Christ’s life. One gets the sense that Jesus kept confronting his (would-be) disciples with a real cost of following him, and those costs were beyond even one’s own life, reaching even to our loyalties and responsibilities to father, mother, spouse and children. I don’t think it’s possible to only trust one’s self to anything without also betting our closest relations on it as well in a significant way, be it alcohol, or money or Jesus.

    Also, I was struck how often the NT refers to “the resurrection of the dead” in a writ-large way, rather than just this or that individual going to heaven. I think we’ve lost something by changing the focus from “the resurrection of the dead” almost exclusively to “I know where I’m going if I die today.”

    In any event, I think it’s a different thing to talk about pacifism and its various forms and alternatives when the resurrection of the dead is the source of our greatest hope and expectation, for ourselves and everyone we love.

  • T


    I wrote this post, but not “War and Morality” just to be clear.

    You raise some important points, and I know many (most) share the same POV. Some of your points will be more squarely dealt with in future posts in this series. But I want to discuss a few of your points re: resurrection.

    You said, “You seem to think that whatever happens in this life, you can trust in the “resurrection of the dead.'” Perhaps I’m misunderstanding you, but isn’t that true of all of us?

    Also this: “But if the hostile power that takes you over happens to be particularly antagonistic to free religious expression, you may have a hard time seeing your children raised Christian…and their children…and their children’s children…and so on.” Don’t get me wrong. “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks [should] be made . . . for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.” Clearly Paul thinks that prayer for people with power should be made along these very lines. Being at peace with governments is a worthy pursuit. It’s worth pursuing with gusto . . . but with what means? Paul recommends prayer and does so under a hostile regime and in contrast to his former Pharisee way of life that encouraged violent rebellion from Rome. You say that such a course of action is fine “for me[/Scot].” Does it matter that it was also fine for Paul and the churches he counseled? I see no where in the NT that Christians should pick up the sword for religious freedom for themselves and their posterity; further, I only see the opposite taught and modeled at high cost.

    The thrust of your argument seems centered around the premise that the Christian faith needs governmental protection or at least freedom from persecution to survive. Again, Paul clearly advises praying for freedom from abuse by government authorities, and I wholeheartedly agree with him. But your premise is deeply flawed and historically unsupportable. I could more easily make the case, from the scriptures (OT or NT) or from church history, that an abundance of wealth and worldly power makes it far more difficult for the Christian faith to thrive and be passed as a living faith to the next generations. Jesus promised persecutions, he no where advocated physical violence for the faith’s sake.

  • T

    I want to add this (and, as I often said to my Biz Law students, I truly welcome disagreement, and even appreciate thoughtful and specific counterpoints and counter-evidence I may have overlooked): Part of the reasons I’m doing this series is that this is one of the few areas where I see not merely a line of thinking in Christian circles that has deviated from the NT in some respects, rather, I commonly see an almost inexplicable amount of advocacy of the opposite of what Jesus (and Paul) explicitly taught and modeled.

    I do appreciate that I, as an American, am raising these issues without a government over me that is violently opposed to Christ. If someone wants to dismiss me on that basis, I understand. But we ought not dismiss Paul or Jesus, which is why I ask for people to engage on their terms, using their example and teachings. No one should think for a moment that Jesus or Paul did what they did or said what they said without knowing exactly what a cross was, or what the sword of Rome had done and would do to Jews and Christians and others. Jesus knew injustice; he understood persecution. Jesus said what he said with eyes wide open to the powers of this world, and the powers of the age to come. We tend to discount the latter and fear the former. He counseled the opposite.

  • Tim


    My argument is targeting the idea that Governments of “Christian” nations accept the pacifist message you and Scot are proclaiming. If a bill or amendment came up for vote to declare America as a pacifist country, you’d support it right? I mean, you wouldn’t want others to sin for you to keep you safe.

    So, I would ask where we have historical precedent for what a country may endure if adopts a total pacifist stance at the governmental level. To my knowledge, there isn’t one. But we do have historical precedent for how ruthless people in power treat the vulnerable. And we would be very, very vulnerable.

    As far as comparing the potential for oppression of religion between the time of the Romans and now, just simply look to North Korea. About the same right? Hardly. The tools of a totalitarian government in this modern age to absolutely subjugate a people far exceed anything the Romans could (or even wanted to) achieve while ruling their expansive empire.

    Praying for one’s government won’t do a whole lot of good if you can’t teach your children how to pray, or to whom, or for what. Or maybe you’ll just teach them to pray to Allah.

  • T


    I will get to the issue of the role of governments in later posts. I know it’s hard, but I want to try to stay, for today, on the connection, if any, between our faith and hope in the resurrection of the dead, and the kind of ethic that that Jesus taught and modeled for his disciples. (Again, we will get to the role of governments and government agents in later posts.) I want to deal with, for now, the “general” circumstance of believers who are not part of human government.

    If I’m hearing you right, your argument is that, for the Christians in North Korea, for instance, Jesus wouldn’t advocate prayer, turning the other cheek, etc. as powerful enough to overcome evil there. Rather, because the power of North Korea (and every modern nation, for that matter) is so great, disciples of Jesus today should be prepared to use the (more powerful?) weapons of modern warfare to resist and/or overthrow such regimes. Reliance on the strategies that Jesus and Paul and Peter used and taught are simply insufficient to effectively deal with the power of the modern nation-state. Is that what you are arguing, or is your central thrust more focused on and contained within the role of governments which we will deal with later?

  • Tim


    I don’t think you’re hearing me right. I’m not arguing for Christians to fight for their own freedom within their country. I’m arguing that Christians should support their government fighting in defense of their country (and defending others).

  • T


    I apologize; I am having a hard time understanding.

    I’ve been trying to anchor this discussion in Christ’s own example and teachings. Rather than tell me “T, Jesus doesn’t say what you’re saying,” you are arguing that such teachings and example are irrelevant because the increased power of the modern nation-state dwarfs the power of Rome (Jesus’ and Paul’s context). You are seeking to distinguish the current context from the NT’s teachings and example (to use legal terms) rather than arguing for a different interpretation of the NT authority. I can’t see any other purpose for the North Korean example and your usage of it. If you have another purpose or if you want to reconsider that purpose, that’s fine.

    But let me give you my best answer to your question asking for a precedent for “what a country may endure if adopts a total pacifist stance at the governmental level. To my knowledge, there isn’t one. But we do have historical precedent for how ruthless people in power treat the vulnerable. And we would be very, very vulnerable.” I think you are on to something here. But I do think we have a precedent, at the governmental/leadership level, of a nation that has adopted the kind of “bless those who persecute you” ethic we’re talking about: Jesus and his people. Jesus is just such a king, descended from David and rightful king of the Jews. The leaders of his church after him were such a government who followed this policy as well. And you are right about what he and the others endured at the hands of ruthless people. He lived like a sheep among wolves, and he his people to live the same, as sheep among wolves. And if it wasn’t for the resurrection of the dead, no one would have followed.

    Indeed, how many leaders of nations could ever say this about themselves to the common citizens, except for leaders of Christ’s nation: “For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings. We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment. I am writing this not to shame you but to warn you as my dear children. Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I urge you to imitate me.” We are a peculiar people; a holy nation. A kingdom of priests.

  • Tim


    Jesus’ followers and members of the early church could raise their children as they liked. They also lived during a time of relative stability and (for that era) freedom under Roman rule. Christian persecution was sporadic and not sustained. It is hardly comparable to what I am discussing.

  • Taylor


    If we look at resurrection and redemption, it stands to reason that genocide is preventative of future repentance, thus redemption. As such, we ought to defend the lives of the many against the few evil who would take them before they become redeemed.

    Obviously the hypercalvinist and the universalist would disagree, as would any who believe in an opportunity to choose Christ after death. For the rest, (majority?) violent intervention may be necessary to preserve the opportunity of the masses to attain salvation. If violent defense of the unprotected is not forbidden, then I can’t see that resurrection furthers the case against it, except in the case of those who already believe.