Pacifism 4 (by T)

For those who don’t know, “T” is a first name of a regular reader, commenter and writer for this blog. Here is the 4th in his series on pacifism.

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 of how Christ’s followers are to deal with violent people. You can see the prior posts and the posts that triggered them here. Today I want to consider the issue, from a Christologically rooted perspective, of how good triumphs over evil. This “lens” for the discussion could be called “story” or “plot” or even “strategy.” Every epic story is a story of good vs. evil, and the Story of God’s activity in and for the world is no exception. The question is how does God plan to defeat evil according to what he reveals and does in Christ.

Unlike our previous posts, today I want to discuss not only the typical civilian Christian, but the full range of God’s strategies for dealing with evil people. Paul tells us that the kings of this world are given the sword “to punish” the evil-doer. For today’s discussion, I want to take this at face value and assume that God has (and has always had) a standing calling upon human governments to punish or at least restrain and deter evil behavior by people. Given that, I want to ask these questions:

What is the strategy that God has revealed in Christ for good to win out over evil (and not merely restrain or deter it)? Is force a “winning” strategy according to the NT witness? Is the “do good to the aggressor” strategy one that is merely the best that can be offered to a powerless and minority movement such as early Christianity (or to an outgunned Christian today), or is it emphasized in the NT because of its superiority in some way, whether its morality, mercy, or effectiveness in overcoming evil? Similar to our “cross” discussion, is this a strategy that begins and ends with Christ himself, or does his body continue to play a role in this most important of struggles? If so, how do Christ’s disciples best deal with evil in the world today? Who are the players and how do they fight this battle? What are the “weapons” to overcome evil? Are some more powerful than others, even on the same team? Is there an “A-bomb” equivalent for the weapons of good? What would it be? How do the teachings and example of Christ, or even his whole story (i.e., the gospel) shape our answers to these questions?

I agree with the famous line from Burke, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” But that only begs the question: what, according to Jesus (as opposed to Mohammed or the Founding Fathers or Hollywood action movies, or even Moses), should the good man do? I am concerned that too many Christians have too much faith in the sword to accomplish God’s will, and too little appreciation of God’s intention to redeem the evil doer as well as the power of Christ’s means (even our cross, willingly carried) to achieve that intention.

As I alluded to in the title of these posts, I am not a pacifist. I see in Paul (and in Peter, etc.) a clear role for human use of force at the governmental level. That said, I find too many Christians miss the clear emphasis of Christ’s own teachings, example and call. We also fail to realize how critical kindness to evil people is to God’s epic plan for the defeat of evil, redemption of evil people, and the “coming” or expansion of Christ’s reign on the earth, which is at the heart of our prayer. I also believe such a mission is at the heart of the troublesome Sermon on the Mount that Scot mentioned just recently. If we want to join Jesus in the redeeming sinners business, in the business of getting evil people to hate their sin and cry out for help, then it’s “kindness that leads to repentance.”

Our calling is not, according to the NT, mere restraint of evil, but overcoming it with good. That we might lose blood or money in that effort is well understood by Jesus and discussed in blunt terms. But we are told not to fear, to count that cost, and follow. We follow the one that bleeds because of sinners and for sinners, but is not permanently harmed, but rather glorified. In sum, it is appropriate to see that Paul takes the “same-old, same-old” calling of kings as a given, and that John the Baptist does not tell the soldiers who are asking what to do to stop being soldiers, but how to do their job rightly, such as it is. But Christ is not sent to merely restrain evil, but to destroy it. His people are given the same path to follow and continue that work. The real battle has been revealed, and the real weapons and people of victory with it.

I would like to offer an analogy for additional consideration and discussion. Divorce is permitted and even ‘ordained’ in God’s law. But Christ makes it clear that divorce was ordained only as a concession to our hard-hearted wickedness. It is not God’s preference or ultimate intention by any stretch of the imagination, even though it can bring a measure of “peace” to a warring couple. God hates divorce, even though he has it as an option in is law, and even Jesus permits it, in limited cases.

How much is violence, even violence by a human government, the same as divorce in God’s eyes? Consider how much God was willing to take upon himself in order to have real reconciliation, not just between sinful man and himself, but also among “warring” men? Is this a helpful or appropriate analogy? Why or why not? How does this analogy change our view of “sanctioned” or “ordained” violence, whether it be war or the death penalty?

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  • Susan N.

    “What is the strategy that God has revealed in Christ for good to win out over evil (and not merely restrain or deter it)?” <– Reconciliation and restoration vs. 'peace keeping' by threat or execution of retributive justice.

    "Is force a “winning” strategy according to the NT witness?" <– I don't think so. I think every time we, individually, corporately, or nationally resort to force, coercion, violence, etc., to secure a perceived "win" in the spiritual battle between good and evil, it is a spiritual loss/defeat, a failure, a weakness — of which to be mourned and repented.

    I read something a while back (cannot tell you where, now, though) to the effect of, when Christ was crucified, evil attempted to "kill God." In the resurrection, God proved that His love is stronger, and may not be deterred or destroyed. There is immense sacrifice involved in God's way of loving and "winning"; and in the short term, it can appear as loss… Love never fails. It's the greatest.

    That said, we haven't yet "arrived." We're not what we were yesterday. Holding onto the hope that all will be made right in Christ in the end is hard sometimes, when evil seems to have the upper hand. I think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer as he squared off against the dark, formidable power that was unleashed through Hitler and his regime. I don't get the sense from what I've learned about Bonhoeffer that his decision to employ violence against violence (failed assassination plot) to stop Hitler was made lightly. Far from it. I respect that Bonhoeffer admitted in his letters from prison that he questioned himself, and affirmed his trust that God would fairly judge his sins.


  • Paul Walker

    Good thoughts here! I am still unconvinced however, by your assumption that a Christ follower is to submit to the State in the use of force. It would seem to me that the NToften contrasts the church and state as two distinct entities.The earliest patristic writing go so far as to prove that. If a Christ follower is a representative of another kingdom that uses love to conquer over evil then it would seem contradictory to suggest that one could give ultimate allegiance to another kingdom that does quite the opposite.

  • JoeyS

    Yoder offers a strong textual argument that explains why Paul and Peter are not giving the state a free pass to use violence. Paul is discouraging a violent uprising from an oppressed minority and Peter is employing a “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” tact.

    I don’t think your analogy works though, for two reasons. One, textually I think you would struggle to make the same case for homosexuality – the text gives no specific allowance and therefore many Christians stand against it whereas with divorce it is not God’s ideal but there is an allowance. With violence, Jesus simply refuses to give us a go ahead. He stays the sword of Peter and submits to his own unjust death. He tells us to love our enemies and even says that we will have abuse heaped upon us. Paul was beaten multiple times without ever lashing out in violence. Each of the early followers we have record of died at the hands of their oppressors, and every record we have of an early Christian who participates in military service is killed because of their faith.

    The cross stands opposed to violence as an answer.

  • JoeyS

    ….and by “each of the early followers” – to clarify – I mean that the majority of the first 12 were killed.

  • T


    I’m in agreement with you at some level; I’m just not entirely sure a hard line can be drawn a priori for any and all situations. A pure pacifist never would have made a whip and used even the threat of it to drive people from a physical space, overturning tables, etc. While that is an isolated example, and the overwhelming example and teaching of Jesus is that evil is overcome by self sacrifice of would-be victims of evil, the example is still there in our gospel. Of course, Peter is the only disciple on record who attempted to use force and was not only rebuked for it, but his violence was undone by Jesus himself. And the teachings of Jesus and Paul hint at no exceptions to using good toward evil people, at least for civilian Christians.

    I will add this: A good case can be made based on I Cor. 7:21-23 that the many “soldiers” that are encountered in the NT were in the position of people who were already “slaves” of men, and this passage explains why such soldiers were not told to quit those positions as a first tier matter. However, this passage would give strong reasons for the Christian who is not already a “slave” to the orders of human government to avoid becoming a slave of human government. Further still, if the soldier can free himself from the situation of “being under [human and potentially violent] authority” as the centurion described, then he should, since he was bought at a price. If Paul even prefers single life to avoid distraction from Christ’s concerns alone, we should certainly avoid (as a general rule) being under human orders if we can help it.

  • JoeyS


    “A pure pacifist never would have made a whip and used even the threat of it to drive people from a physical space, overturning tables, etc. While that is an isolated example, and the overwhelming example and teaching of Jesus is that evil is overcome by self sacrifice of would-be victims of evil, the example is still there in our gospel.”

    This is where I would differentiate between a pacifist and one who is committed to non-violence. Pacifism implies passivism which is not in line with Burke, or Jesus. Refusing to use violence against another person, however, is a far cry from being passive. The whip, by some definitions, could be seen as a violent act, but it was not used to harm others and looks more like a demonstrative act of a prophet than an act of violence used to manipulate and harm.

  • T

    I’m more interested in discussing the divorce analogy than defending it (I’m still thinking it through myself), but here are some similarities that come to mind:

    – God has sanctioned both (approved use in the scriptures) but also been highly critical of both.
    – Any sanctioned use seems to be concessionary to the enormity of the current level of evil at work in the world and even within God’s would-be agents.
    – Any sanctioned use is designed to bring a limited (human) measure of peace or at least a temporary stop to particularly harmful evil.
    – Jesus’ reasoning and appeal to the garden to show that divorce was “not what God initially intended” rworks equally well with violence.
    – This is more personal, but anyone who is familiar with family law or even routine police work knows that a startling amount of all intentional violence is intra-family. Similarly, no lawsuits are nastier than family disputes, whether in divorce or probate. (For example, the courthouses in my county never had metal detectors until a man in a divorce case attacked a judge.) Just as divorce, as bad as it is, is sometimes necessary to prevent even worse violence, Similarly, sometimes the force of police, as bad as it can be, is better than allowing unrestrained evil to continue. They are both the lesser of two evils.
    – Even if the OT seemed to give more (unrestricted) approval to both, the OT prophets and the NT make it clear that God hates both, that they accomplish little towards God’s telos, and that even those who are permitted to use such means are not given blank checks in God’s eyes.

    Finally, I don’t use the analogy to try to make government use of force more appealing or justifiable. Quite the opposite. But we’ll see.

  • phil_style

    @JoeyS – You’re right that pacifism is confused with passivity. Pacifism is not passive! it is a bold and principled stance against the use of violence. It requires great courage, even the courage to face one’s own death at the hands of an unjust enemy!

  • JoeyS

    I guess the question, for me, comes down to God’s hate of violence. Does “God Hates” = “sin”?

    Suppose for a minute that it does (I’m not convinced that it does, but for the sake of argument…). Is it reasonable to use sin to stop equal or greater sin?

  • Paul Walker

    Hey T,

    In any conversation that mentions the concept of nonviolence you can always be sure that Jesus’ cleansing of the temple is going to be brought up. The logic being that if Christ could use violence against people in the temple then surely a Christ follower can go to war, kill, etc… The problem with this view is two things.

    1. The assumption that Jesus in John’s account is using violence against people. There actually no indication of this in the text. The NIV translates that Jesus used the whip to drive “both sheep and cattle”. To imply that Jesus is whipping and punching people is to misread the account and miss the whole point of what Jesus was actually aggressing against: a temple system that made no place for the gentile.

    2. The assumption that Christ followers are to ever function in the judgement of God. All the gospel accounts make it clear that the cleansing of the temple is a messianic act upon the temple system.

    Secondly, I believe the distinction of civil vs civilian is something foreign to Jewish and NT thinking of spirituallity.

    Thirdly, I think it’s a bit of a stretch to think that Paul is giving allowance for violence in Romans 13. One only needs to read Romans 13 in context of Romans 12 to come to the conclusion that Paul is merely stating a fact of what The State does and his directive of how the church should function.

  • phil_style

    I recommend this book. The best work on voilence/war I have ever read:
    “We can all participate in the divinity of Christ so long as we renounce our own violence. However, we now know, in part thanks to Clausewitz, that humans will not renounce it. The paradox is thus that we are starting to grasp the Gospel message at the very moment when the escalation to extremes is becoming the unique law of history”

  • phil_style
  • T

    JoeyS (9),

    That question is another reason I raise the divorce analogy. God hates divorce, but does permit it in some circumstances. It is, IMO, a lesser of two evils concession.


    Great point about whom the whip was very likely for, based on the text. I tried in my post to show Paul is presenting the state’s calling and use of the sword in a “same-old, same-old” kind of way, not with any kind of praise or hope for the method, certainly not as a recruiter for the state. Which brings me to the “slave of men” idea in my 5th comment and the many soldiers who are encountered in the NT, but not told to change their line of work. What do you think about the argument in the second paragraph of comment 5 as an accurate way Paul would have addressed Christian soldiers and those considering that life?

  • JoeyS

    Lesser of two evils, I’ll give you. But I don’t think that should be what we settle for. Jesus’ actions in the face of violence give us a narrative with which we can shape our own.

    When faced with a woman who was to be stoned he began drawing in the sand.

    He encouraged us to “turn the other cheek.” Walter Wink ( points out that to turn the left cheek toward someone who has struck you was a challenge to their violence because in an orderly Jewish culture you were only permitted to strike people with your right hand. To strike somebody with your left could result in a 10 day banishment.

    When faced with his own violence he prayed for his enemies. I think rather than “lesser of two evils” Jesus offers us the third way of creative disarmament and if that doesn’t work he models submitting to the violence.

  • Karl

    What does a pure pacifist, someone with a strict belief that evil should never be resisted with force or violence, say society should do with violent criminals? If you believe in any type of police force, any type of arrest or incarceration, you are talking about government sponsored and applied use of force. Even if the prisoner goes along willingly, the whole idea of arrest and incarceration is backed by and dependent upon the willingness to use force against those who would not go willingly, or those who would try to escape, evade capture, commit violence against those apprehending them or guarding them.

    Rehabilitation and reconciliation are worthy goals for a criminal justice system. But keeping those you want to rehabilitate and reconcile behind walls requires force, express or implied. Does pacifism offer a workable alternative for dealing with criminals that doesn’t require the use of force?

  • has anyone else read about this mother and her house intruders?

    she shot him.

  • T


    Yes, I have. That’s a wonderful case-in-point. How are Christians to feel about this? Do we rejoice? Was it a wonderful thing? Or was it the lesser of two evils? I think a less-awful thing happened than what could have happened.

  • “For those who don’t know, “T” is a first name of…”
    I can understand why anonymity is desired by anyone even discussing Christian Pacifism in America.

    These non-sensical examples like Jesus cleansing the Temple are merely distractions.

    For anyone who would honestly seek to understand it from a biblical perspective, see books mentioned above by Yoder or my own Christian Pacifism: Fruit of the Narrow Way.
    also available for Nook at b and n.
    One review:
    “I highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to understand Christian pacifism.The author’s use of both the Old and New Testament, really helps clarify how God views war and the shedding of blood.The experience the author had in the military, and his God given insight, makes this book an easy and enjoyable read.If Christianity could grasp the truths in this book, the world would be a better place.”

  • ” Pacifism implies passivism…” Nonsense.

  • T


    I’m actually not seeking anonymity. My family and friends all call me “T.”

    I appreciate the book references. But that said, they don’t really add to discussion. What ideas jump out to you, for good or ill and why?

  • Andrew Holden

    Michael Snow
    3 mins ago
    ” Pacifism implies passivism…” Nonsense.

    Understood. Yet circumstances may require urgent application of the use of force, even lethal force. In such circumstances principled pacifism is practical passivism because it refuses to take effective action to restrain evil. BTW I don’t regard the justified use of appropriate force as violent, nor as a ‘lesser of evils’ it is right, honourable and good – any less a judgement insults our police and armed services.

  • T


    Who are “our” armed services?

  • T

    Andrew, sorry, that posted before I was done. What I mean is, part of the problem is that we allow our citizenship in human nation states to be dominant over our citizenship in heaven. “Our” identity is not mainly Australian, or American or Chinese anymore. Whose troops are “our” troops? Whose troops do we pray for? Or better, whose troops does Christ intercede for?

    If Jesus did not tell the Jews to be nationalistic and take up arms against Rome as they wanted, but rather pointed them in the opposite direction, why do we think he would be more willing to support war for some other nation’s agenda?

  • PaulE

    T, one more similarity I would add to your comparison to divorce in #7 is that both divorce and the sword are bound to pass away. Still thinking through the analogy and whether it is apt; but it’s definitely a good analogy to consider. Thanks.

  • JoeyS

    And to add to Paul’s point @#24, what does it mean to live in light of the Kingdom now in regards to divorce and violence. If we know that they both will pass away, and that we are to live in light of the Kingdom, how do we approach these two subjects in the present?

  • Andrew Holden

    Thinking of ‘our armed forces’ in the sense of the global human family where the military are used as a global police force under the highest authority – ideally something like the UN. So I’m not at all thinking of a merely nationalistic use of armed force but one that is for the widest common good.

  • Andrew Holden

    As for praying for those in the services I sincerely hope that you do – and I’m convinced Jesus would approve. They need a moral, ethical, and indeed spiritual understanding of their endeavours. They need wisdom to make the right choices about their use of force and to see that it is just and proportionate.

    I’d see it as just as important as praying for those in authority to make wise choices about the deployment of military force – and praying just as importantly for those, both in service and in authority, on any ‘opposing side’.

    Ultimately I’d be praying for the victory not merely of ‘our’ side but for the triumph of peace and justice for ALL.

  • Hey T,

    I would think it’s a bit of a stretch that the NT’s position is that soldiers are not told to change their careers. Nothing is said of the discipleship process that took place if it did. We do not know if Cornelius was later counciled to leave his position. To say so is make an arguement from silence. (not a good way to do theology). I find it astounding that we labour so hard to find any scripture or excuse not to listen to the clear and plain teaching of Christ on the matter of enemy love.

    I can understand Paul’s commandment to slaves to “remain as they are”. Yet if where are references to solider’s to remain as they are? Why didn’t Paul just come right out and say it?( Sidenote: Paul’s ‘remain as you are’ is not a licence to commit sin) But to give you the benifit of the doubt… surely another church father would have presented this idea? Infact, what you find is not an approval of this idea but rather a strong prohibition. Check it out:

    Church Fathers Quotes regarding service in the military.

    “We refrain from making war on our enemies, and [we] cannot bear to see a man killed, even if killed justly.” – Justin Martyr (103-165 A.D)

    “He who holds the sword must cast it away and that if one of the faithful becomes a soldier, he must be rejected by the Church, for he has scorned God.” – Clement of Alexandria (150-215 A.D)

    “For even if soldiers came to John and received advice on how to act, and even if a centurion became a believer, the Lord, in subsequently disarming Peter, disarmed every soldier” – Tertullian (160-220 A.D)

    “Shall it be held lawful to make an occupation of the sword when the Lord proclaims that he who uses the sword shall perish by the sword? And shall the son of peace take part in the battle when it does not become him even to sue at law?” – Tertullian (160-220 A.D)

    `A military commander or civic magistrate must resign or be rejected. If a believer seeks to become a soldier, he must be rejected, for he has despised God. – Hippolytus of Rome (170-236 A.D)

  • Andrew Holden

    Of course in the Constantinian age it’s quite possible to present a totally different tradition from a different context where the Church buys into support for a supportive, or at least semi-supportive, state paying some service to Christian and Kingdom values. At that point the Church can no longer abdicate a responsibility to discriminate in a world of greys rather than black and white absolutes and Just War theory is rediscovered from a pre-NT background.

    I suppose the question is whether withdrawal and retrenchment into the luxury of pre-Constantinian pacifism is appropriate for the Church in a largely secular and post-Christian age.

  • Jasen Lutz

    #29 Andrew Holden said “. . . Just War theory is rediscovered from a pre-NT background.”

    We need to be very clear about this Andrew There is NO Pre-NT Just War model in scripture at all. The example of war that we have in the OT is Holy War. I would hope that it is not your desire to use those principles and apply it to our current circumstances.

    “I suppose the question is whether withdrawal and retrenchment into the luxury of pre-Constantinian pacifism is appropriate for the Church in a largely secular and post-Christian age.”

    What part of the persecution of the Church in the first 300 years of it’s existence do you perceive as luxurious? There is nothing luxurious about surrendering to the violence of your enemy while you, your family and friends are slaughtered wholesale all the while trying to find a way to remain compassionate to you aggressors; it’s brutal and painful. The easy thing to do would be to return violence for violence. More to the point, it’s not as though Christians in the first century didn’t have a violent option presented to them within their own culture by way of the Zealots. If Jesus thought violence was an option for His followers then why don’t we see Him encouraging them to sign up? Yet if the Zealot movement of the first century existed today would not Just War Christians encourage them to fight to obtain their freedom? Of course they would (and before you doubt that please consider that I see very little difference between the American Revolution and the Zealot Movement.) The most important thing to say about this issue is that Jesus was very clear about his opposition to the Zealots claiming that he had a different way, a better way. His teaching ought have application for Christ followers today.

  • Good questions, good post, T. Well, it is not easy, but while one might argue using some texts for some sort of concession, I have wondered if something of the hermeneutic spoken of in “Blue Parakeet,” might help us here. Not sure, because I haven’t thought it through as to how I think on that. I do appreciate that you bring this up, even though you do hold to use of limited restraint. Interesting analogy with divorce. Maybe permit is a part of God’s vocabulary in this in his grace, but not sure that permit would be given to a follower of Christ. I think not, myself.

  • Steve Tyra

    T, are you “Tom” Wright?

  • scotmcknight

    T is not Tom Wright.

  • The problem here is that it would take articles at least the length of this one to untangle each of the confused points, beginning with the title “Pacifism” and the switch of the subject matter to the role of government.

  • andrew holden

    RE: Comment by Jasen Lutz

    I did say ‘rediscovered from’ the OT where indeed there is a Holy War theology. It is a development but its roots in an OT view of a God who endorses war for the sake of his Kingdom is one of the streams which flows into Just War.

    As for zealots, well their cause would hardly have had a ‘reasonable chance of success’ so doesn’t meet the Just War criteria. Anyway, it has always seemed to me that as a personal ethic ‘turning the Cheek’ is fine when its YOUR other cheek being offered but it’s not particularly compassionate as advice to OTHERS being directly oppressed and risking far more than a thump in the face. Sometimes forceful intervention is going to be required whatever the utility of ‘non-violent’ action in less extreme circumstances. Sometimes, even in the Bible, ploughshares need to be forged back into swords.

    I do think that it is simpler, and in that sense luxurious, when things are black or white rather than shades of grey in post Constantine times. I’m not saying that it is cost free, but Christians in the early Roman Empire really had no alternative to Pacifism – they were already being persecuted and killed by the irresistable force of the state. Neverthless, when Christians take up a military profession as Just Wariors they are not serving such an evil state (and indeed could be serving interests which are much wider than mere national ones) – they are opting to risk a very high price in the pursuit of Justice and Peace.

    Fact remains that pre-Constantine Rome was an anti-Christian state and its understandable that Christians would be told not to join up and fight for its anti-Christian cause. Augustine was facing a new situation when he had to decide what Christians should do when the state itself endorsed and protected, rather than persecuting, the faith.

  • Dan Jones

    @Michael Snow,

    The tone of your book and the tone of your comments here are much different. I would greatly like for you to weigh in here using the author’s actual reference points as opposed to your presumptions. Can you comment on T’s points on their level? Seriously, I’d like for you to review your own introduction to your own book and then attempt to comment here. I would be most grateful to hear what your thoughts are about specifics of what T writes.


  • @ #35 andrew holden
    You said “It is a development but its roots in an OT view of a God who endorses war for the sake of his Kingdom is one of the streams which flows into Just War.”

    I guess the problem is with this reading of scripture is three things.

    1. It fails to read scripture as a developing story. Ted M. Gossard was correct to say that the hermeneutic of “Blue Parakeet” might help us here. One only needs to contrast the statements of “show them no mercy” and Jesus’ “Father forgive them” to begin to see a development in the story.


2. It fails to view Christ as truest picture of what God looks like. (Heb 1:3) 

    3. It fails to see Christ’s teaching as the fulfillment and the end of the Law. (Heb 8:13, Rom 10:4) Jesus’ fulfillment is not merely an add on to the Law. Jesus is reinterpreting and redefining what following YHWH is. One must understand that Jesus’ teachings trump and override any contrasting differences. So even if there was allowance in the law for divorce, Jesus brings a new ethic in his Kingdom.

    You said “As for zealots, well their cause would hardly have had a ‘reasonable chance of success’ so doesn’t meet the Just War criteria.”


Are you suggesting that the reason Jesus taught nonviolence only in the context of Just War… a theory that has no scriptural basis but was later developed by Augustine/Luther/Calvin ? It would seem to me that you base your ethics/theology on success of outcome. This is to say that your reading of Jesus’ teaching is more pie in the sky when you die; idealism. In other words Plato’s teachings matter more to us than Jesus.


You said “When Christians take up a military profession as Just Warriors they are not serving such an evil state (and indeed could be serving interests which are much wider than mere national ones) – they are opting to risk a very high price in the pursuit of Justice and Peace.”

    How can one use the destruction of lives to pursuit of justice and peace? This seems to me a view foreign to Jesus’ conception of using peace as a means rather than an end result. If Christ had treated the enemies of God (Romans 5:10) like you suggest we treat our enemies… none of us would have a chance! (Sidenote: how is your view of restoring peace and justice any different than the average North American?)

    “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13): Jesus said that about himself. Many Western war monuments to the dead have that verse on them, as though what a dead soldier went out to do was to lay down his life for his friends. That is not what he went out to do. He went out to kill, and hoped to come home. He went out to lay down somebody else’s life. The use of Jesus’ cross language is a dramatic pointer to the persistence of the crusade mentality in our culture.”- John Howard Yoder Christian Attitudes to War, Peace, and Revolution

    You said “Fact remains that pre-Constantine Rome was an anti-Christian state and its understandable that Christians would be told not to join up and fight for its anti-Christian cause.”

    I could support this point if there was not a plethora of writings from early church father explaining the reason for not joining Rome was at the command of Christ to love your enemy. Check a few of the quotes I posted above on comment #28.

    Paul Walker

  • andrew holden

    Paul, I’d really like to know if you have anything positive to say to the many fine Christians who serve in both the Police and the Armed Forces and find their service entirely compatible with their faith? If, as I suspect, you would call on them to repent and resign then your advice is one of the withdrawal of Christian people from law enforcement and military service. Where then does such disengagement end? With a ghetto mentality that isolates and marginalises Christianity from almost anything the state does (and probably much the same would hold in the worlds of business and commerce too). Other Christian sects do that already – must the rest of the church go down the same sectarian route?

    Pacifism is but one of the traditions about war that we have in the Christian tradition. I have every respect for those who advocate and practice it whilst thinking it offers little that is effective in those situations when evil must be stopped rather than opposed. Non-violence should be advocated more often than it is and the use of lethal force should be of last resort – in accord with Just War theory.

    Augustine and Aquinas both taught that it was perfectly possible to fulfil Jesus Command to love one’s enemy whilst serving in the army. Our armed services (as opposed to those of Rome or Ghengis Khan) now have a much broader humanitarian ethic for their service even if you are going to scorn it. Personally I don’t see why love for one’s enemy should ultimately trump loving his victims. Loving my enemy can’t mean allowing him to kill his innocent victims.

  • @ Andrew Holden

    I have a lot of respect for those who serve as police and armed forces. I respect that they are willing to lay down their lives to protect others. I just cannot join them in the willingness of taking a life.

    Andrew, before I attempt to wrestle with any more questions from you, I would hope you could wrestle with some of mine. For starters… What did Jesus teach regarding the subject of enemy love? For all the rebuttals of what he couldn’t be teaching… what did he really mean? What does it mean for you to love your enemy? Does that look any different than the ‘pagans and tax collectors’? (Matt 5)