Did Jesus teach pacifism? If so, how far does this go?
What is pacifism?
Pacifism is a commitment to peace and holding to a direct opposition to war. It includes settling all disputes in a peaceful way, but pacifism is more of an attitude than anything else. It is a determination of the will to seek peace over conflict and to use all means necessary to do achieve peace. It could be said to be an attitude or policy of nonresistance. The Brethren Church, to which I belong to, are a people of peace, and as a result of it, they suffered greatly during the early wars in America. They stood their ground and would not fight in a war because they saw Jesus’ command to seek peace and pursue it. That is a non-negotiable for the Brethren, and since Jesus came as a Man of peace, we too should live a life of peace. That means we are to love our enemies and pray for them (Matt 5:44) and not try to kill them (Barnhart, Jason and Bill Ludwig, p. 167) or seek revenge (Rom 12:19).
Loving our Enemies
Jesus never took up arms or hurt anyone and this is the reason why the Brethren Church is unique in the sense that they are non-resistant, such as not sending men off to fight in a war, even if it’s meant to protect the nation. The Brethren trusted the sovereignty of God that much, but the Brethren were also non-swearing, meaning that they couldn’t take up any oaths or swear any allegiances to anyone but Christ. They couldn’t be sworn in to defend the United States, or swear, certainly not on a Bible, in a court of law. They simply affirmed that they were telling the truth. The Brethren also understood that vengeance is not theirs but is God’s. The Apostle Paul wrote; “Live in harmony with one another” (Rom 12:16a) and “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all” (Rom 12:17), but also “never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord” (Rom 12:19). Since the Brethren lived out the Word of God, they could not go against the Word of God, and Jesus’ being the Word of God (John 1:1, 14) has the authority to tell us how we ought to live. Jesus said “do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27-28), just as Paul taught (Rom 12:14), and that’s just what the Brethren have done over their 300 + year existence.
The Mennonite and Brethren
Many of the Mennonite and Brethren suffered greatly during the early American wars, often losing all they had, and some even being murdered for their uncompromising non-resistant stand. One of the greatest examples of suffering while yet remaining humble is Christopher Sauer II (Barnhart, Jason and Bill Ludwig, p. 147). He showed great faith through severe adversity and deep sorrow, having lost nearly everything at one point, but he must have believed that if Christ is all you have, Christ is all you need. The Brethren knew what they had to do and that was to turn the other cheek, and never resort to force. They are still non-resistant to this day, sometimes at great cost, because we are called to live in peace with all men. We cannot swear an oath to fight our enemies because we’re supposed to love them and pray for them, and we are called to live in peace with all people as we follow the Prince of Peace (Barnhart, Jason and Bill Ludwig, p. 167). The Brethren are also non-conformists as we do not follow the world’s system but a live a life of self-denial and sacrificial service. Non-violent alternatives are always available and the Brethren always pursued peace, even when being treated with violence. Under all circumstances, they would remain non-conforming, non-swearing, and non-resistant. That is the Brethren way, and to a large extent, it still is today.
Jesus on Retaliation
When they were nailing Jesus to the cross, He didn’t cry out to the Roman authorities or try to appeal His verdict. Rather, He willing gave His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45) and even prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 22:34). Jesus compares with what was taught and believed of old to that which is actually true by saying, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you” (Matt 5:38-42). Jesus added to this, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt 5:43-45). Jesus was a Man of peace…and so must we be.
I am not going to label Jesus as a pacifist. He is the almighty Lord and God and it isn’t that He conforms to our standard of pacifism, but we conform to His life of peace…and we pursue that peace with all men, as much as it is possible within us. When Jesus “was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1st Pet 2:23). That is our calling too. We must trust God’s sovereignty over all things. Besides, we are to leave vengeance to God and He is most worthy of our trust. He will right every wrong and judge every iniquity. That’s not for us to do in this life.
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren Church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Teaching Children the Gospel available on Amazon.
1. Barnhart, Jason and Bill Ludwig. A Brethren Witness for the 21st Century. 2nd Ed. Ashland: The Brethren Church, Inc. 2014.