Fights about Pacifism

Fights about Pacifism October 25, 2013

Driscoll calls pacifists pansies, failing yet again to comprehend what pacifism is and how best to approach the question at hand: What about the Christian, the state and violence? What does it mean to live the gospel in a world of violence? Three recent posts about pacifism are worth your read and at the bottom I have a brief response myself:

Preston Sprinkle:

I actually really like Mark Driscoll. He’s a former ball player, and so am I. He loves red meat, craft beer, and has no time for diaper wearing pansies behind the pulpit. Mark is a manly man, and since I was recently labeled a “manly pacifist,” I think we have a lot in common. Mark says it like it is. So do I. So let me say it like it is: Mark’s assumption that pacifists are pansies is historically naïve, theologically horrendous, and shows that Mark’s been more influenced by the worldview of those who put Jesus on the cross rather than the One who hung on it. Everything Mark says about violence is eerily close to what Rome said about it 2,000 years ago. Contrary to Rome, Jesus taught that suffering leads to glory, cross-shaped weakness radiates divine power, and loving your enemies showcases the character of the Father (Matthew 5:44-48)….

But it’s Driscoll’s rhetoric that is more entertaining than his exegesis. He still, after all these years, considers Christian pacifists—including Martin Luther King, Charles Spurgeon, Leo Tolstoy, Dwight Moody, and most of the pre-Constantine leaders of the church—to be pansies. Those who pick up their crosses and follow Jesus nonviolent journey to the cross are pansies. Those who take Jesus’s counterintuitive, life-giving words seriously, to turn the other cheek and love their enemies, are pansies. But for Driscoll, not only are these Christian heroes pansies, but all who teach that Jesus was a pacifist will be slaughtered by Mark’s (De)Jesus when He returns—Uncrossed…

Look, I’m all for being manly (if you’re a man). But let’s not be pansies by letting our gun toting, rib eating, Harley riding culture tells us what it means to be a man. I own guns. I love ribs. I ride a Harley. But I don’t let these cultural artifacts dictate my theology. The New Testament is clear: Real men love their enemies, never return evil for evil, and never resist evil by using violence. Real men suffer. Real men pray for those who persecute them. Real men submit to the sword, but they don’t bear it. So go ahead and eat raw meat, vote Republican, shoot your guns (just not at people). But let’s invite the word of Christ to reconfigure and confront our cultural view of manhood.

Brian Zahnd:

In my long and winding journey I’ve come to understand that to live gently in a violent world is part of the counterculture of following Christ. This is not something I would ever have arrived at on my own. I am not by nature a gentle person. For most of my life I have viewed violence with a kind of affection. In my youth I got in plenty of fights. I enjoyed violent movies. Cowboy justice held a romantic appeal. As a pastor I supported nearly all (if not literally all) of America’s military adventures. If my views on violence have changed — and they have — the blame falls squarely on Jesus! It’s not like I just woke up one day and said, “Hey, I think I’ll adopt a position of Christian nonviolence just for the fun of it. I bet that will be popular!” No, that’s not what happened. What happened was once the red, white, and blue varnish was removed from Jesus and I learned to read the gospels free of a star-spangled interpretation, I discovered that my Lord and Savior had a lot of things to say about peace that I had been missing. I was as surprised as anyone! But once you’ve seen the truth you can’t un-know what you know and be true to yourself. So let’s talk about it.

Mike Skinner:

Is Jesus a pacifist?  Apparently not, according to Mark Driscoll.

In a recent post (“Is God a Pacifist?”), the mega-church pastor actually presents the person and work of Jesus as evidence against the idea that God is a pacifist.  My advice to anyone who is not immediately taken back by this statement?  Read the Gospels.  That Jesus (in the Gospels) embodies and commands a posture of nonviolence appears to me to be an axiomatic truth….

3. Driscoll is making the same mistake that Jesus’ contemporaries made: desiring a militaristic Messiah who will shed blood (like a UFC fighter).
Jesus rebuked many during his lifetime for wanting God to deliver Israel (and through them, the world) through violent means.  This is a consistent theme throughout the Gospels (particularly Mark).  At the end of his post Driscoll says, “Some of those whose blood will flow as high as the bit in a horse’s mouth for 184 miles will be those who did not repent of their sin but did wrongly teach that Jesus was a pacifist.”  What he fails to realize is that the sin of desiring to bring God’s Kingdom by violence is actually one of the primary sins that Jesus calls people to repent of throughout his lifetime. As N.T. Wright so often points out, repentance should be understood as Jesus’ call to “abandon our own ways of bringing about God’s will and adopt his.”  His way of bringing God’s Kingdom is nonviolent. Yet somehow along the way, we’ve forgotten that we can trust the revelation we have received in the person and work of Jesus as presented in the Gospels.  We’ve forgotten that Jesus’ life shows us exactly who God is and what he is like (John 1:14-18Hebrews 1:1-4).

My question to Driscoll, and to you, is this:

 Is Jesus’ (and thus God’s) character more fully revealed on a cross (dying as an act of forgiveness for his enemies) or in an octagon (killing his enemies in an act of vengeance)?

Mark it a fourth, Greg Boyd:

To sum it all up, in this passage [in Matthew 5:38-42] Jesus is doing nothing less than telling us that our willingness to set aside a violent OT law in order to obey his new command to love and refrain from violence toward even the worst kind of life-threatening enemies is a precondition for being considered a child of God. And this, folks, is why I don’t believe Driscoll’s argument about the sixth commandment allowing for some forms of killing is relevant to followers of Jesus.

Now SMcK: Driscoll has a flat Bible. What is in the OT is the same as the NT is the same as Jesus is the same as Paul is the same as Revelation. It’s a Bible that he believes in a text of propositions, not a Bible with a Story, and because there’s no flow to his reading of the Bible he can choose which texts best fit his moods. So he omits important elements:

1. Why not discuss Matt 5:38-42? [See my new commentary on The Sermon on the Mount.]

2. Why not discuss the “passive” Jesus in the crucifixion scenes?
3. Why not discuss 1 Peter 2 which evokes the image of Jesus as suffering as a model for others absorbing suffering?
4. Why not examine the blood of Revelation and see whose blood it is … it is Christ’s?
5. Why not learn the stories of martyrs who conquered by suffering?
6. Why not look to Dietrich Bonhoeffer — talk about manly faith?

In other words, Driscoll needs a Story and christocentrism shaped by cruciformity to read the Bible well.

Shock talk theology demeans the gospel.

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  • Susan_G1

    This isn’t a dichotomy you’re setting up here, is it, Scot?

    I’m not a pacifist. If someone was threatening me or my family with serious violence (I might not even wait to see how serious it was), I would defend myself and mine with every ounce of my being. I still believe in jus ad bellum, but also, far rarer, jus in bello and jus post bellum. Sadly, few of our wars are such, and so I have not supported them. I would have supported a strike against Syria, but, thank God, that has not been necessary.

    In my defense, I do not eat innocent animals. No red, white, or blue (guinea fowl; honest) meat here. They are God’s creatures, too, and they are farmed horrifically to meet out demands for meat. Not that animals are more precious than humans. They are obviously not. It’s just that they aren’t so ungodly towards us.

    I don’t ride Harleys, I don’t shoot guns, I don’t eat meat, I don’t have a smokin’ hot husband (just average), and I’m no longer a Republican. I admire the teachings of MLK and Ghandi, and I try to follow Jesus. I guess that makes me a diaper-wearing-pansy-potential-antagonist. And that’s ok with me. It’s just where I am in my journey.

  • Luke Breuer

    The ESV study notes have this to say about about turning the other cheek:

    If anyone slaps you on the right cheek pictures a backhanded slap given as an insult (a right-handed person would use the back of the hand to slap someone on the right cheek; cf. Mishnah, Baba Kamma 8.6). The word “slaps” translates Gk. rhapizō, “to slap, to strike with the open hand.” turn to him the other also. One should not return an insulting slap, which would lead to escalating violence.

    This has some appeal, because it seems awfully difficult to believe that Jesus would be telling us to e.g. just stand by while a girl is being raped. I think a different lesson than complete pacifism is being taught.

    It is my understanding that lex talionis (an eye for an eye) was originally meant as a lesser measure than what the ancient Israelites were otherwise prone to do. If we look at the Code of Hammurabi, we find that when a commoner harms a noble, the commoner is punished more than equivalently. Jesus does the same thing as the first time: now the standard is closer to lex talionis so he pushes the bar higher, to tell his followers to not demand full justice. This is part of grace (or mercy, I sometimes confuse them in this context).

    3. Why not discuss 1 Peter 2 which evokes the image of Jesus as suffering as a model for others absorbing suffering?

    There is a key in that passage: “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return”. To the extent that a Christian is unable to keep from reviling, ought he submit to any and all suffering? In life, I have found that there is a danger in asking someone to be completely and utterly like Christ in some particular dimension (usually aligned with the thing which which the person is struggling), completely out of proportion to his/her growth in other areas. It’s not clear that this is healthy, edifying, or glorifying to God.

    I must admit that vv18-25 set an extremely high standard. I had forgotten how stark these verses are; I can see why Nietzsche thought that Jesus and Paul were pansies. We ought to also remember that vv13-17 were likely written when Nero was emperor; Eusebius claimed that Paul and Peter were martyred under Nero’s reign.

    Now, what does Revelation mean by the term, “To the one who conquers”, found eight times? What does Matthew 11:12 mean by saying the following?

    From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.

    Is this violence a violence against not flesh and blood, but principalities and powers? I’m reminded of Eph 6:12 and 2 Cor 10:3-6. 1 John 3:8b says,

    The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.

    So some sort of fighting is going on. Mt 10:34 is arguably one of the first statements that the fighting is not in the realm of flesh and blood, but of spirit. Interesting stuff!

  • Amanda B.

    Re: the pictures of Jesus in Revelation – I have studied this book quite a bit, and I think it’s fairly evident that Jesus is being depicted as a warrior in many of its scenes. I think it is consistent with the overall message of the Bible for Him to dispense tangible, physical judgments upon real live human beings.

    HOWEVER, Jesus is not divided in Himself. There is not “meek and mild Jesus” and “Rambo Jesus”. Jesus is meek. God isn’t merciful one moment and vindictive the next. He always delights in mercy. That means that in any situation when we see Him executing His judgment, we need to be cognizant of his humility and his mercy still at work.

    I feel like far too often, the judgments of God seen in Revelation and elsewhere are preached about as if He has had it up to “here” with humanity, so he flips out and throws a cosmic tempter tantrum until He has broken enough things to feel better. It’s as if when He judges people, it’s because His patience has run out and He’s going to show all those little insulting pipsqueaks who’s boss. This is a grave error. (A similar problem shows up in atonement theology–the misguided idea that God just needed someone to die, and He couldn’t really care who.)

    When God judges, whether in the Old Testament or the New, it is a deliberate strike against injustice, ending wickedness in order to establish righteousness. It’s His mercy to the earth to not allow evil to prosper forever in our midst. All that to say, I do not have a theological problem with the idea of God, even in the Person of Christ, releasing physical judgments on real people, so long as we don’t paint him as a haughty action hero, but rather a humble, loving, merciful, compassionate God who is working to establish justice.

    But no matter whether you see Jesus as a true pacifist or not, the fact remains that He was unambiguously clear that we, His followers, are to be peaceful. From the Sermon on the Mount all through the epistles, believers are urged to be gentle and peaceable to people. “Our weapons are not carnal” is about as clear as it comes. No matter how violent you envision the Second Coming to be, there is no excuse for acting out as a violent person today.

    In other words, it is terribly irresponsible to use Jesus’ judgments as license to ignore His direct commands of non-violence. It is unwarranted to use them as justification for our own sinful desires for revenge. There is no good reason to see Revelation as overriding the Sermon on the Mount. And the fact that we struggle so much with that is all the more proof that we need to leave the judging to God, and get busy learning how to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.

    If that makes me a “pansy”, so be it, I guess.

  • scotmcknight

    Well, I discuss the lex talionis in my Sermon on the Mount commentary, and I don’t want to engage this completely, but however the lex was understood there was a stipulation to “Show no mercy,” and Jesus has clearly reversed that.
    You exhibit an example of realism: “awfully difficult to believe” and “pushes the bar higher” (just higher?) and “to the extent” … all species of realism. Sounds like Luther and Niebuhr and others.
    Do you treat capital punishment texts with the same realism? homosexuality texts with the same realism?

  • scotmcknight

    Not sure what dichotomy you mean? False? Jesus vs. realism? The issue for my take is how to read the Bible — and reading it toward the cross as how God deals with violence, and how Jesus dealt with violence, and Peter, and for at least some readings how to read Revelation. The early Christians did not participate in military violence….. but this is not the place for much more… I’ll post on this in the future.

  • Also, FWIW, I don’t read Jesus as saying to “just stand by while a girl is getting raped.” I see a love that is taught and modeled by Jesus that encourages sacrificing one’s self for others and not fearing those who can kill the body. Standing by isn’t cross bearing. Inter posing one’s self and taking violence for others and even praying for damned violent ones is cross bearing like Jesus.

  • Not only does the cross need to be central in our theology here, as everywhere, but also resurrection! Way too much fear of loss or talk of ‘rights’ driving much thinking here. How deeply have we divested ourselves of this life and invested in the resurrection? How much do we, can we, trust resurrection for ourselves or even our loved ones? When are the stakes too high?

  • Great post! What has actually surprised me in this whole reaction to Driscoll is the united voices that are advocating for peace theology. I’ve spent much of my Christian walk as the ‘lonely anabaptist’ who stood in amazement at mis-interpretations about Jesus. That’s not happening as much anymore…. Even from within Driscoll’s Calvinist camp there has emerged a correction to the ‘Prize Fighter Theology’ from Preston Sprinkle.

    I am encouraged that many more voices are beginning to take Jesus seriously…

    I will add a sixth voice in response to prize fighter theology… N.T. Wright:

    “To work for a healing, restorative justice- whether in individual relationships, in international relations, or anywhere between- is therefore a primary Christian calling. It determines one whole sphere of Christian behaviour. Violence and personal vengeance are ruled out, as the New Testament makes abundantly clear. Every Christian is called to work, at every level of life, for a world in which reconciliation and restoration are put into practice, and so to anticipate that day when God will indeed put everything to rights.” – Simply Christian, pg 226.

  • I’m still wrestling with the implications of this in thinking about situations where there is/was a dictator in charge who is/was committing mass genocide… doesn’t something have to be done in those cases in order to save lives? (I’m thinking of Hitler in WWII and similar situations). Aren’t there situations where some kind of military action must be taken in order to save more lives? I think this is my main hang-up at this point. Because I agree that Jesus’ teachings seem very clear on living at peace with one another/non-violence…

  • Allan Bevere

    It’s real interesting that we in the church have become so accustomed to a violent world that we cannot even imagine that it is possible to resist short of killing. We have come to believe that violence is very effective in restraining evil, but as Yoder noted, in war violence fails 50% of the time.

    Of you get the kinds of assumptions that pacifists would stand by while a woman gets raped, as if intervening and attempting to restrain someone is not something a pacifist would do.

    I agree with Preston Sprinkle– our willingness to resort to violence is a rejection of Jesus’ way of the cross. Jesus should not have rebuked Peter for drawing his sword in the garden. Instead, the should have led the resistance.

  • Phil Miller

    The Christian blogosphere seems to have this argument on an annual or semi-annual basis anymore. And it’s often instigated by Mark Driscoll… Personally, I get tired of fighting over the same thing, but I do agree pretty much with all that said in the pieces refuting his comments.

    The thing is, I don’t know how anyone can say with a straight face that some of the prominent Christian pacifists were “pansies”. Was MLK Jr. a pansy? He faced near constant threats to his life, and eventually was murdered for his beliefs. I just don’t understand how someone see a life lived like that and concludes that pacifism is for wimps…

    As far the other situations that people bring up, the fact is that most of us will not ever be in situation where violence is something we need to resort to. Yes, I suppose it is a question that Christians in police forces or military need to answer for themselves. I think overall just asking these questions thoughtfully is a big step ahead of where society is in general. On a personal level, I have felt more conviction about watching violence as entertainment for a while now. I can’t say I’ve gone cold turkey, though. We’re awash in violent imagery.

  • Like so many issues where there is disagreement, hermeneutics matter. How we read the Bible matters. However, it’s just surprising how any Christian could go from the OT to the NT without even dealing with the Jesus revealed in the four canonical gospels, coming away from the Bible with the word “pansies” to describe pacifism (especially someone with a theological education). Yet that happens a lot in conversations on the issue of Christian non-violence and love for enemies. So perhaps it’s not as much a matter of hermeneutics as it is a matter of just going to the Bible to prove what a person has already decided that they’re going to believe.

  • Lon Marshall

    I’m surprised no one took you to task on Bonhoeffer, though there are a couple of “What about Hitler?/exception questions. Here are a couple new books out: “A Faith Not Worth Fighting For: Addressing Commonly Asked Questions about Christian Nonviolence,” and “Bonhoeffer the Assassin?: Challenging the Myth, Recovering His Call to Peacemaking.”

  • Ray

    It’s not just the hermeneutics that matter, but the presuppositions/ideologies out of which our hermeneutical approaches and methods arise.

    I suspect that, at least in part, Driscoll’s article against Christian pacifism, and the hermeneutics he employs to arrive at his conclusions, are driven by this ideology of “real manhood” which he consistently promotes. He is reading the Bible in support of these (preconceived) notions of how “real men”, as he and others define it, are supposed to act. I believe this manhood ideology is why he seems to mischaracterize pacifists as passivists, or “pansies.” I’m surprised I haven’t seen this specifically pointed out more in the articles I’ve read critiquing Driscoll’s approach to violence/pacifism – how his ideology of manhood has supplanted a cruciform-shaped lens for reading scripture.

    To be fair, we, like Driscoll, all approach our hermeneutics with certain lenses on. Driscoll’s article is an (unfortunate) reminder for us to have the self discipline and humility to constantly ask ourselves if it is the world, more than the Spirit, which is shaping the lenses by which we read scripture.

  • Ray

    In Greg Boyd’s full article (which is cited above), he brings up the lex talionis: “The “eye for eye” command is given three times in the OT (Ex 21:24; Lev 24:19-20;Deut 19:21), and in both Leviticus and Deuteronomy, the instruction is not merely about violence that is permitted, as I’ve heard many argue, but about violence that is required.”

    Here Boyd is reminding us that this particular law, like other references to divine-sanctioned violence in the OT, raises some complexities in how we interpret violent imagery in the Bible as a whole. Jesus’ teachings, and his path to the cross, offer such an interpretive lens.

  • It seems great minds think alike. I came here straight after posting my own thoughts in the aftermath of Driscoll’s article and the furore it rightly created. I’m delighted to see that those thoughts are in accord with those of someone as eminent and respected as you, Scot. And, as I commented on Jonathan Merritt’s article which also featured a response from you, I’m delighted and relieved that so many respected and influential Christian leaders and scholars have spoken up to denounce the distorted view of Jesus held up by Driscoll.

    (If you’re interested, here’s the post I put up a few minutes ago:

  • Daniel Fiester

    When push came to shove, was Bonhoeffer truly a pacifist? How does this fit with his involvement with the plot to assassinate Hitler?

  • scotmcknight

    Come back next as if will address this question.

  • Luke Breuer

    Roger Olson pointed me to Neibuhr about a month ago. That begged my question, which he did not answer:

    Merely pointing out that something is an ideal is nigh meaningless; one can always ask why we aren’t closer to it, in a way similar to Jesus’ refrain, “O you of little faith.” Where are our expectations? People are quite good at living up to and living down to them.

    You provide an excellent case in point, with 1 Pe 2:13-25. How far can Christians expect to advance in these things, while here on earth? I would claim that our expectations are terrible, and that might have to do with us being largely inward-focused compared to spreading-the-Kingdom-focused.

    Do you treat capital punishment texts with the same realism? homosexuality texts with the same realism

    With regard to capital punishment, I would say that Jesus radically changed the rules, Aslan-style. :-p (I’m actually serious; whether this is Christus Victus I don’t know.) With regard to homosexuality, I don’t know. I would rely on the non-seared consciences of others on this one—maybe on those of practicing homosexual self-proclaimed Christians. But this is theoretical; until I have fruit to judge, my beliefs remain tentative.

  • Luke Breuer

    This leads to something I’ve never really had a chance to discuss. Consider: if person A sins against person B, what ought to happen? OT law seems to indicate: person A must suffer at least as much as person B did. That is, it is wrong to ask person B to sacrifice for person A’s benefit. These even holds for the cities of refuge to which those guilty of accidental manslaughter could flee: the victims lost someone close to them forever, while the perpetrator loses everyone close to him/her, at least for a long time.

    A search on the word ‘ransom’ leads to some interesting places:

    Job 33:24b ‘Deliver him from going down into the pit; / I have found a ransom;
    Job 36:18 Beware lest wrath entice you into scoffing, / and let not the greatness of the ransom turn you aside.
    Psalm 49:7-8,15 Truly no man can ransom another, / or give to God the price of his life,
        for the ransom of their life is costly / and can never suffice,
        But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, / for he will receive me.
    Proverbs 13:8 The ransom of a man’s life is his wealth, / but a poor man hears no threat.
    Proverbs 21:18 The wicked is a ransom for the righteous, / and the traitor for the upright.
    Isaiah 43:3 For I am the Lord your God, / the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
        I give Egypt as your ransom, / Cush and Seba in exchange for you.
    Mark 10:45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

    Under OT law, the wicked die to ransom the righteous.
    Under NT law, the righteous die to ransom the wicked.

    Is this an accurate analysis? We could say that the OT actually presages NT law (and yes, I mean ‘law’, as in ‘how things work’), but this spurs another question: how many Jews would have seen that foreshadowing? This idea seems weird on the one hand (I have never heard this issue discussed or hinted at), but compelling on another. I need minds other than my own to look into this, because I might just be high on something.

  • Luke Breuer

    Two examples of this:

    1. Antoinette Tuff hailed as ‘true hero’ for handling Georgia school gunman
    2. Gunman prays with bank clerk, hugs her, then robs her

    One idea I’ve been working on is whether God ultimately sets things up so that people who die, die by their own sword. In the meantime though, they often take a lot of other people with them, or so it seems before the heaven/hell rebalancing act. It’s a pretty raw idea though, and I’m not sure much can be done with it.

  • Park Smith

    Paul, Yes there are many more voices starting to come forth for what you call peace theology. However, I’ve begun to morph the other way for years now. A big part of helping my thinking was actually a conversation I had with Tom Wright about 3 years ago in Connecticut. I specifically asked him about pacifism and what the Christians response should be to unrestrained evil. Your quote from Simply Christian, I believe, is out of context. Wright does claim there and other place that our responses are to be working toward reconciliation and restoration but, he also acknowledges that God has placed an order society in the world to handle evil and to work for this reconciliation and restoration. That does not necessitate violence in response to evil in that context. He is very sympathetic to Karl Barth and the likes of Bonhoeffer who clearly stood up against the evils of Hitler – one in principal the other in both practice and principal. What he did note is that it is next to impossible for there to be a just war. However, he was emphatic that there is a place for armed resistance and responses. Having noted this though, my heart tells me to turn the cheek to all violence and rather die if necessary; to join you and others. It is much easier that way – although much harder as well in many ways. I truly doubt I will figure this out before I die. However, if someone was threatening my family with lethal force – or for that matter any innocent person, I would give that individual all opportunity to back off but, in the end, if they didn’t, I would shoot the person. Would I WANT them to die? Absolutely not. Rather i would hope they would be injured only to the point of restraint and I would love on them and tell them the good news of Jesus! But, to shoot someone, it is more likely than not that they will die when one has proper training (which is first to exhaust any other means of retreat or restraint). I really don’t think this vital issue is cut and dry. I continue to study, discuss, listen and pray. There are very good people on both sides and those like me who are still trying to figure it out. Mark Driscoll suffers from what one above noted as a “flat bible” – missing the point of the wonderful story woven throughout. My Uncle was one of the first Green Berets commissioned. He trained them. Lost his life in Nam. He was also though one of the most gentle men I’ve ever known (and actually a real father to me growing up). Thank God for grace.

  • Park, I don’t have any ‘inside information’ about Wright like you do… I am just trying to do my best to derive from his published works. I welcome your correction, but I am still not sure how I took Simply Christians out of context. That being said… I am still not seeing anything that Wright spoke to you that I myself would not speak. I think what might be confusing you is the common misinterpretation that christian pacifist believe that their convictions apply to the wider society. We actually believe that Jesus’ teaching only applies to followers of Christ…Christians.

    Christian Pacifists admit the right of rulers to restrain depravity through coercion (Romans 13), but we maintain that Christians are not to participate in the activities of our rulers which require force to be used (Romans 12). Believers are commanded to avoid war, law enforcement, and the infliction of capital punishment. But we will not deny to the state the right to wage war, enforce the laws, and to execute duly convicted murderers. We recognize that violence and war of all sorts will continue until Jesus returns. Pacifists will not outlaw war or capital punishment, for we cannot, by political action, change the evil hearts of human beings. It is beyond our realm as believers. Our greater purpose as the church should be addressing the root causes of crime rather than asking the State to clean up streets for us.

    We get this from Romans 12-13 where Paul contrasts the roles of the Church (Rom 12) and the State (Rom 13). Though the governing authority bears the sword to execute God’s wrath (13.4), but that is not the role of a believer. Those who are members of the one body in Christ (12.5) are never to take vengeance (12.9); they are to bless their persecutors and minister to their enemies, returning good for evil.

  • jason

    here’s some great insight to your question about Hitler:

  • Terrance Tiessen

    I rather like the New City Catechism’s answer to the question “What does the Lord require in the sixth commandment?”: “Sixth, that we do not hurt, or hate, or be
    hostile to our neighbor, but be patient and peaceful, pursuing even our enemies
    with love.”

    Working that out as citizens of the state is complex, but I think it gives an excellent framework from which to start.

  • Thanks Jason. He makes some good points here.

  • Preston Garrison

    If the pacifist views being expressed here are true, why are Jesus or the apostles never recorded as telling the soldiers they talked to that they would have to leave their profession to be saved or to pursue the Kingdom of God? Jesus was straightforward about the uncompromising demands of following him, and his conversations with soldiers are recorded. Seems like a strange omission.

  • Richie

    The biblical role of just government, its proper use of force, and the believer’s relationship to it is the same throughout the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. As most biblical scholars and commentators throughout the centuries have recognized the most important principle in understanding the proper use of force is recognizing the proper realm of personal responsibilities and corresponding ethics and that of governmental governmental responsibilities and corresponding ethics. This is true in both the OT which commands believers to love their enemies and to not take vengeance but instead to love their neighbor as themselves (e.g. Ex. 23:1-9; Lev. 17:17-18; Job 31; Prov. 25:21-22; 24:29; 20:22; ) while at the very same time commanding the punishment of evil including by capital punishment by proper governmental authorities (e.g. Ex. 20-23; Lev. 19, etc.). In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus confirms these same OT principles and corrects misunderstandings of the OT Mosaic Law. He specifically states that he does not come to destroy the Law and he quotes from it over and over in his ministry to confirm these same ethical ideas – i.e., the two great commands and summations of the heart of it “I desire mercy, not sacrifice”, etc. There is no evidence whatsoever that he intends to overthrow the proper role of just government based on just laws.

    As Paul – whose “ways were in Christ” – shows in Romans 12-13 the proper role of government continues in the new covenant era and the believer’s proper relationship to it also continues. In personal ethics believers are to “if possible live peaceably with all”, to not take vengence, and to love their enemies by overcoming evil with good (Rom. 12). However, just as in the OT government’s proper role in restraining, detering and punishing evil and evil doers continues including with the proper use of force. Those who carry out this function are given the highest praise as “servants of God” and believers are specifically told pay taxes to them, to respect them and to honor them since they are carrying out God-ordained functions on behalf of all of society (Rom. 13). This is the same relationship that individual believers in the OT held to their governmental authorities and just as OT believers could hold positions even in pagan governments so it was true in the NT including the proper use of force. That is precisely why no convert in the Roman government or army was ever commanded or asked to resign from their position once they became Christians in the NT. Such ideas only came about in post-NT times sometimes for good reasons when the Roman gov’t or military was acting unjustly but often simply under the influence of false ascetism, etc. that infiltrated the Christian church early on. Nevertheless, these issues were always controversial in the early centuries of the church and there was no unanimity on the subject – despite the attempt by pacifists to portray the situation as a unified position of pacifism.

    The best examples of how the teachings of Christ – including the Sermon on the Mount – were properly understood by his earliest followers is the Book of Acts and the NT Letters, especially the Apostle Paul himself. In other words “the Story” continues beyond the Gospels and it is in the rest of the NT that we see how the teachings of Christ were understood and applied by the new covenant believers. In fact, Paul, as a Roman citizen, insisted on his rights as a Roman citizen time and again, relied on the Roman government and military for protection based on its ability to use force to protect him, and even insisted that he was willing to die under capital punishment if he had committed any crime worthy of such punishment (Acts 13-28). Neither the NT nor the OT teaches “pacifism” – a word and concept not found anywhere in the Bible; instead, it teaches justice – the righteous conduct expected by individual believers and by governments, each in their own proper realm.

    An outstanding exposition of the proper role of government, just war, etc. in the light of biblical ethics as a whole is set forth in the ESV Study Bible pages 2535-2560. It deals comprehensively with all of the issues including “pacifism” brought up by both Scot and others in the comments above. In addition, the major commentaries and even most good study Bibles such as the NIV Study Bible and the ESV Study Bible give excellent expositions of the proper role of government and the believer’s relationship to it as set out in Rom. 12-13, summarizing the whole Bible view.

  • metanoia

    Sometimes I need an angry God. God is love, but love is not always gentle. There is a fury that can be unleashed out of love. It manifests itself in the face of injustice. It is directed toward that and those directly opposing the will, plan, and desires of God. I need a God who will unleash his power against his enemies, a God who, when his mercy and grace is exhausted, will make a clear statement of his sovereignty over creation. Yes, it is His kindness that leads us to repentance, and His gentleness that soothes the troubled soul, but I need a God who will punish those; who take advantage of children, who enslave young girls and steals their innocence. I need a God who is incensed at the inequity that exists where the powerful take advantage of the weak, forcing them to live in economic and spiritual poverty. I need a God whose heart agonizes over those who are riddled with cancers and other incurable diseases. I don’t want or need an impatient, irritated, or frustrated God. I need a God who is righteously indignant at the sin distorted disorder and it’s intended and unintended consequences. I need a God who is willing to completely wipe the slate and start all over if He has to. I get no joy in picturing this kind of God, and I suspect it is a side of Himself that he exercises extreme control in not manifesting until the appointed time. But one day His anger will be unleashed on his enemies and He will exercise and establish justice in all the earth. While we wait, we live in His mercy and grace, inviting others to flee from his judgment and run to His embrace because one day he will reveal the angry side of his love and set straight that which is broken.

  • Mark

    Very interesting posts. I know Jesus hates violence. However, I am struggling with a scenario where evil enters a worship service. This evil is in the form of a human that begins to shoot people in the pews. Would Jesus want that evil stopped even if it meant he must be killed?