February 2011 Message

“You Will Know Them by Their Fruits.”

(This is the third in a series of three messages.)

One of the little known secrets of Christian history is the high rate of violence committed by Christians in the late Roman Empire period. Certain incidents of the late fourth-early fifth centuries come to mind.

The first had to do with the election of a new bishop of Rome. When Pope Liberius died in 366, a dispute between two rival deacons—Damasus and Ursinius—split the Christian community in Rome. To ensure that he would become the next pope, Damasus hired gladiators, charioteers, and gravediggers to attack the supporters of Ursinus. In the course of several days, over one hundred and sixty members of the Ursinian faction were slaughtered, allowing Damasus to claim the pontificate.

Next, in Alexandria and other areas of the eastern Roman Empire, gangs of fanatical monks behaved like modern Taliban cadres. Intent on enforcing their own code of morality, they terrorized Christians and non-Christians alike. Quite openly they “served as private militias, holy head-breakers whom charismatic bishops could turn out at will to sack pagan temples, rough up or kill opponents and overawe rival theologians” (Jenkins, Jesus Wars, 28).

Perhaps one of the most horrendous acts carried out by some fifth century Christians was the savage murder of Hypatia, the famous philosopher and mathematician of Alexandria. Taken captive in the streets by a Christian mob, she was marched into a church “where she was mutilated and dismembered and her remains burnt” (Jenkins, Jesus Wars, 96). [The 2009 film Agora focuses on the life and death of Hypatia and provides useful insight on the violent behavior of the Parabalani monks of that time.]

What do these acts of violence have to do with the topic of pacifist Christianity and the Just War Theory? Nothing directly. But this new phenomenon--the murderous conduct of Christians--did not arise until the Roman government and the leaders of the Christian Church reached a rapprochement during the early fourth century. This shift in attitude certainly was occurring during the reign of Emperor Constantine. In response to his A.D. 313 Edict of Milan, church leaders at the synod of Arles the next year passed a canon forbidding Christians from deserting the Roman army during this “time of peace.” This canon countered an earlier canon (XVI) found in the Apostolic Tradition that prohibited pre-Constantinian civilian Christians from joining the Roman military and instructed all Christian soldiers to disobey orders given by their superiors to kill any one.

Later in the fourth century, as it looked as if Christianity would eventually become the official religion of Rome, theologians such as Ambrose of Milan and Augustine of Hippo worked out a feasible set of propositions that would allow Christians to serve in the military and kill for the empire without contravening their religion. This was the origin of the Just War Theory.

Now, it would be foolish to claim that the Just War Theory was responsible for this new trait—murder—among Christians. In fact, it could be argued that the Just War Theory tried to control this homicidal aspect of Christians by stating that the killing of another human could only occur under the authority of proper governmental officials. And then, there are those who contest that killing in wars is not technically the crime of murder.

But think about it. Once one concedes that there are justifiable causes that would allow a Christian to kill another person without denying their faith, who is to say that only governmental officials are qualified to make this call? What is to stop holy men, monastic groups, or inspired individuals from thinking that they too understand the will of God and are called to be God’s instrument of righteous indignation?

Once you open the floodgates, it becomes very difficult to control the volume of water that passes through.

Using just the incidental evidence as supplied above, it is clear that the pacifist position of the early church brings one much closer to the original intent of what Jesus taught about loving others, including our enemies, than does the Just War Theory. The violence that accompanied the post-Constantinian era, in which the Church developed the Just War Theory and permitted Christians to participate in warfare, seems so distant from the sentiment that was declared by the Apostle Paul:

“Love is patient and kind…does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful…love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.”

“You will know them by their fruits.”

For more information on the incidence of violence within post-Constantinian Christianity, see Philip Jenkins, Jesus Wars (2010); Michael Gaddis, There Is No Crime for Those Who Have Christ: Religious Violence in the Christian Roman Empire (2005); and Thomas Sizgorich, Violence and Belief in Late Antiquity: Militant Devotion in Christianity and Islam (2009).


January 2011 Message

What would Jesus say about the Just War Theory?

(This is the second in a series of three messages.)

A current craze in Christian literature concerns the speculation of how Jesus would have lived had he been born in our modern society. Titles such as “What Would Jesus Drive?,” “What Would Jesus Eat?,” and “What Would Jesus Buy?” fill the bookstore shelves and indicate that people are genuinely interested in learning how the teachings of a first century preacher are to be lived out in our 21st century. This led me to ask a question that I was pondering in the following way: “What would Jesus say about the Just War Theory?”

A review of the literature (see below) makes it clear that the Just War Theory has it origins in the writings of ancient classical thinkers. Cicero, the first century B.C. Roman statesmen and philosopher, was the first person to state that in order for a war to be just, it must be conducted by the state, waged to repulse an enemy’s attack, or waged to recover lost goods. This line of thinking was later picked up in the 5th century A.D. Christian bishop and theologian, Augustine of Hippo. By combining Cicero’s just war definitions with examples of God-ordained wars from the Old Testament, Augustine provided the basis for the current Just War Theory. This theory tries to delineate the conditions when it is morally permissible for Christians to use military force and what forms of force they are ethically allowed to engage in.

The stance of Christian pacifism, however, traces its origins directly back to the teachings of Jesus (especially from the Sermon on the Mount) and to other New Testament writings. From the Beatitudes (“Blessed are the Peacemakers”), to the message in the Sermon on the Mount (“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbors and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”) to the writings of Paul (“For our struggle is not against enemies of flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”), it is obvious that the basis for Christian pacifism is grounded in the teachings of Jesus and the early church.

Although the gospels do not provide a lengthy discourse by Jesus on the subject of the Just War Theory (since it did not yet exist!), this does not mean that we cannot imagine what Jesus would have said about this topic. In chapter seven of the Gospel of Mark, Jesus makes it quite clear what he thinks about any practice of setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep a human tradition.

When some scribes and Pharisees found fault with Jesus’ disciples for not keeping the traditions of the elders (or the Oral Law) of thoroughly washing their hands before eating, Jesus responded by saying: “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’ You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.” (Mark 7:6-8)

Jesus was making reference to their practice of having any money or possession declared to be an offering set aside to God as being no longer available to help anyone else, not even one’s own parents who may happen to be in great financial need. He said that through their theological rationalization, they’ve ignored the well-known commandment of God to “honor your father and mother” so that they could keep their human traditions, “thus making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like this.” (Mark 7:13)

It is obvious that Jesus vehemently condemned the religious leaders’ practice of having their human traditions take priority over the clear word of God.

But isn’t this what the proponents of the Just War Theory are doing? Do they not advocate that the tradition of the Just War Theory, a human tradition, should override the Lord Jesus’ unambiguous command to love our enemies? Do not these proponents make the same mistake as had the scribes and the Pharisees when they declare that the rules of the Just War Theory should have any authority in the lives of a disciple of Christ? Are they not liable of also being chastised by Jesus or, even worse, in danger of hearing Jesus say to them:

“Not everyone who says to me. ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’ Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock…And everyone who does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand…and great was its fall.” (Matthew 7:21-27)

What would Jesus say about the Just War Theory? He would say, as he said in the Gospel of Mark, “You are making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed down.”

For more information on the origins of the Just War Theory, see Roland H. Bainton’s Christian Attitudes Towards War and Peace (1960), Frederick H. Russell’s The Just War in the Middle Ages (1975), and James Turner Johnson’s Just War Tradition and the Restraint of War: A Moral and Historical Inquiry (1984).


December 2010 Message

Do we really celebrate the Prince of Peace?

(This is the first in a series of three messages.)

As we participate in the traditions of the current Christmas season, one Old Testament scripture that we are sure to come across is Isaiah 9: 6, which is frequently repeated on Christmas cards, posters, and banners:

“For a Child has been born to us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Just like the early Christians, Christians today view the birth of Jesus as a fulfillment of this Messianic prophecy. And while we might celebrate Christmas differently, with decorated trees and miles of lights around our shrubs and homes, surely we share the same joy of the season and celebrate the same message that the early Christians did.

Or do we?

Christians today agree with the first disciples that Jesus’ teachings contain much wisdom and are competent to provide us with good counsel (I Cor 1: 24; 2 Tim 3:15-16). They also join with the Apostle Thomas in calling Jesus “my Lord and my God” (John 20:28). Similarly, they accept in faith Jesus’ proclamation that “The Father and I are one” (John 10:30; 14:8-11).

But where contemporary Christians differ from the earliest disciples is in their understanding of Jesus as “the Prince of Peace.” The first Christians saw Jesus not only bringing peace between them and God, but also calling for a peace between them and their human enemies (Rom 5:1, 10; Eph 6: 12). Today, most Christians would agree that Jesus brought us to peace with God, but they believe that Jesus will only bring peace on earth in his future second advent, not with the first advent.

For instance, all one has to look at is to compare how today’s theologians and the earliest Christian writers interpret the Messianic scripture from Isaiah 2: 1-4:

“In the last days…the law shall go forth from Zion and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem…and they shall hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, and neither shall they learn war any more.”

An examination of modern Bible commentaries will show that they all generally agree that they think this prophecy refers to a future age, one that will begin with Jesus’ second coming. So until that time comes, it is argued, Christians can serve in the military and kill those who are declared to be their enemies.

The Christians of the first three centuries, however, asserted that this age of peace began with the Messiah’s first advent and that they were under obligation to obey Jesus command to love one’s enemies now. For example, in Justin Martyr’s (of the second century) comments on these verses, he insisted that they referred to Jesus’ first coming:

“You can believe that this prophecy, too, was fulfilled. For twelve men, ignorant and unskilled in speaking as they were, went out from Jerusalem to the world, and with the help of God announced to every race of humans that they had been sent by Christ to teach the word of God to everyone, and we who formerly killed one another not only refuse to make war on our enemies, but in order to avoid lying to our interrogators or deceiving them, we freely go to our deaths confessing Christ.” (First Apology, 39)

Many other early Christian writers, including Irenaeus of Lyons, Tertullian of North Africa, Cyprian of Carthage, and Origen of Alexandria, stated that they also saw the Isaiah 2 prophecy being fulfilled in the pacifist position held by the early Christians. Even though the world continued to make war, they taught that Jesus’ disciples were obligated to obey their Lord’s command to love their enemies. To wait until Jesus’ second coming to comply with this teaching would be foolish and make them no different from those people who did not believe in the lordship of Jesus.

Christians today have to decide for themselves if they are going to obey Jesus’ teaching on loving their enemies or live as the rest of the world, “darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart” (Eph 4:18). If Christians living now chose to follow the way of Christ in this matter, refusing to participate in wars and rather be a peacemaker, they could once again see the Gospel message “turn the whole world upside down.”

The next time you receive a Christmas card picturing the angels at Bethlehem singing, “Glory to God on the highest, and peace on Earth, good will to all,” will you say, “oh those silly angels were premature, they should have waited until Jesus’ second coming,” or will you say, “Amen”?


August 2009 Message

Pacifist Voices from the 1930s

A book that I recently read and strongly suggest should be added to every pacifist Christian’s summer reading list is The End of Illusions, edited by Joseph Loconte (2004). This book examines how American religious leaders responded to the wars that were occurring in Europe and the Far East from 1939-1941. During this small window of time, from the moment World War II broke out in Europe until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, American clerics and theologians weighed in on one of the most important debates of the day: should the United States enter the Second World War.

As one would expect, these religious leaders broke into two camps—those who for various reasons wanted the United States to remain neutral and stay out of the “European war” and those who believed that it was imperative for America to immediately join the Allies cause to stop the fascists and Japan from conquering half of the world.

To represent each of these positions, Loconte chose seven spokespersons, many who are well known to students of modern Christian history. Included in the first part of the book—those who urged the U.S. to stay out of the war—are articles by Harry Emerson Fosdick, Charles Clayton Morrison, and John Haynes Holmes. Some of those writing for the interventionist side include Reinhold Neibuhr, Karl Barth, and Stephen S. Wise.

What is most compelling about these readings is that they are not just theoretical musings by theologians handed down from their ivory towers, but they were written in response to an actual situation that the American people faced—the decision to go to war or not. Each side forcefully presents their case and writes eloquently to persuade the rest of America to adopt their position.

Of particular interest to me are the essays written by other pacifist Christians, such as Ernest Fremont Tittle, Georgia Harkness, and Harry Emerson Fosdick. Their explanations of why Christians should be pacifists and what are the proper roles for pacifist Christians in periods of conflict were some of the best that I had read in a long time. For adeptly choosing these readings, the editor Loconte is to be congratulated.

The one caveat about this book is Loconte’s own introductory essay, in which he attempts to describe the context from which these writings derived and to draw some lessons from World War II. It is not that he so clearly sides with the interventionist (or just war) party that disturbs me. It’s that when he talks about those who opposed entering the war that he “paints with a broad brush” and fails to differentiate the various positions that made up that group. And this does a true disservice to all of them.

For instance, when Loconte writes about antiwar clerics who supported the U.S. Neutrality Acts, he calls them all isolationists, although he later (correctly) concedes that most of them “did not consider themselves isolationists: they were internationalists with a Christian conscience.” Again, when referring to the creation of the American First Committee, Loconte erroneously claims that its practical policy was pacifism. (I’m sure Charles Lindbergh, a spokesperson for this organization, and other members of this group would have been surprised to learn that they were pacifists.)

But Loconte does a greater disservice to the noninterventionists, especially towards the pacifist Christians, when he asserts that they painted “a softer portrait of life under Nazi rule than the known facts demanded” and did little to protest Nazi atrocities, such as the 1938 Kristallnacht. This is totally erroneous. Pacifist Christians were among the first to raise alarms about the evils of fascism. After Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany in 1933, John Haynes Holmes joined Rabbi Stephen H. Wise in leading the first mass anti-Hitler protest in the United States. Two months later, in May 1933, Harry Emerson Fosdick drafted a statement sponsored by the National Council of Jews and Christians to protest the Nazi atrocities against German Jews. Eventually 1,200 ministers, including John Haynes Holmes, Charles Clayton Morrison, and Ernest Fremont Tittle, signed this document that was forwarded to Hitler.

In response to Kristallnacht, pacifist Christians such as Methodist minister Henry Hitt Crane of Detroit, working through the National Conference of Christian and Jews, organized rallies to condemn Nazi brutalities. Henry Hitt Crane, Ernest Fremont Tittle, and other pacifists were often in the forefront of the movement to lobby for changes in the nation’s immigration laws so that German Jews could find a safe haven in the United States.

Apart from the introduction, however, I still recommend the book The End of Illusions for its outstanding collection of essays.

For an accurate portrayal of the peace movement of the 1930s, I recommend the following two books: Rebels Against War: The American Peace Movement, 1933-1983 by Lawrence A. Wittner (1984), and For Peace and Justice: Pacifism in America, 1914-1941 by Charles Chatfield (1971).


July 2009 Message

Pacifist Pentecostals?

One of the most bizarre news stories this month was about a pastor of a church in Louisville, Kentucky who decided to observe the Fourth of July by inviting members of his congregation to carry or wear their firearms to church for a special “open carry celebration” [see The New York Times, June 26, 2009].

Pastor Ken Pagano of the New Bethel Church (Assembly of God) is an avid gun rights enthusiast. He frequently visits a local firing range to sharpen his shooting skill. As a Christian minister, he sees nothing incompatible with Christians carrying firearms or using them for self-defense. “When someone from the within the church tells me that being a Christian and having firearms are contradictions, that they’re incompatible with the Gospel—baloney,” he said.

Pastor Pagano argues that all humans, including Christians, are entitled to the right of self-preservation. He teaches this despite the fact that Jesus allowed himself to be crucified and instructed his disciples to follow his example and carry their own crosses. “I don’t see any contradiction,” he said concerning his position. “Not every Christian denomination is pacifist.”

Obviously, pacifist Christians vehemently disagree with this minister’s understanding of the Gospel of Jesus. Jesus’ teaching on loving our enemies (Matthew 5:44) means that we love them not only in our hearts but also through our actions. And the best example to take for our actions comes from Jesus, who on the cross forgave his enemies and entrusted his soul to his heavenly Father. [For more information on Pacifist Christians’ positions on this subject, see this website’s FAQ section.]

The real irony of this story is the pastor’s statement, “Not every Christian denomination is pacifist.” I wonder if he knows that in its early years, the Assemblies of God officially advocated pacifism.

Shortly after the United States entered World War I in 1917, the Assemblies of God filed papers with the U.S. government to have itself included in a list of Christian denominations that were opposed to Christian participation in war. Its position, up to 1967, was as follows,

“We, as a body of Christians, while purposing to fulfill all the obligations of loyal citizenship, are nevertheless constrained to declare we cannot conscientiously participate in war and armed resistance which involves the actual destruction of human life, since this is contrary to our view of the clear teachings of the inspired Word of God, which is the sole basis of our faith.”

Apparently many early ministers within the Assemblies of God, as well as inside other Pentecostals denominations, preached pacifism as part of its “restorationist” theology, believing that the first Christians also refused to participate in wars. Over time, however, these denominations altered their views and official positions on this matter. Various explanations for this change have been suggested, from changing views on scripture interpretation to cultural accommodation.

For more information on the pacifist message within Pentecostal denominations and its later demise, see Jay Beaman’s Pentecostal Pacifism (1989) and part I of Proclaim Peace: Christian Pacifism from Unexpected Quarters, edited by Theron F. Schlabach and Richard T. Hughes (1997).


August 2008 Message

A Recent Discovery (continued)

Last month I wrote about discovering an English translation of Peter Chelcicky’s The Net of Faith. This month I want to provide a few more comments about Chelcicky.

First of all, it should be noted that the teachings of Peter Chelcicky (c. 1380-1460) provided the theological foundation of the Unitas Fratrum, or the Czech Unity of Brethren. This Protestant religious organization, formed some sixty years before Martin Luther started his own reform movement in Germany, was greatly influenced by Chelcicky’s writings on pacifism and the “law of Christ.” In fact, when the Unitas Fratrum first organized in 1457, they called themselves “The Brethren of the Law of Christ” and resolved to never defend themselves through the use of arms. Today, the Moravian Church traces its origins to the Unity of Brethren.

Secondly, Chelcicky’s view on pacifism is firmly rooted in the early Christians’ teaching on the “new law of Christ.” For instance, Chelcicky’s position that the gospel of Jesus prohibits Christians from participating in wars is very similar to that of Justin Martyr, who wrote 1300 years earlier. In his book, the Dialogue with Trypho (c. 150 A.D.), Justin attempts to convince a Jew named Trypho that Jesus is the Messiah. As they converse, Justin explains that Christians no longer view the Mosaic Law as having the final authority over them since Jesus inaugurated a new covenant that replaced the old covenant with its law. The coming of this new covenant, with its “new law” (as Justin phrased it), was prophesied in Isaiah 2:1-4. The new law commands Christians to renounce taking part in all warfare and to convert their weapons of war—swords and spears—into “tools of peace,” such as plowshares and pruning hooks (chapters 24 and 110). Other early pacifist Christians, such as Irenaeus, Cyprian of Carthage, Tertullian, and Origen, similarly wrote that the prophecy of Isaiah 2 and the gospel’s new law explain why Christians no longer take part in wars.

In conclusion, I will end with a quote of Chelcicky’s that shows that he held in deep disdain those church leaders who would preferably teach their congregants the traditions of the church, including the just war theory based on the “saints of old” (i.e., Ambrose of Milan, Augustine of Hippo), rather than clear teachings of the Sermon on the Mount. These church leaders, in his view, foolishly “strain out a gnat and yet swallow a camel” by insisting on adherence to church traditions while neglecting to teach the weightier matters of faith, peace, and mercy.

“After many people had been killed on both sides, [the theologian] Jakoubek excused those who had done the killing, saying that [he] could not tax their consciences with such things, since otherwise the whole knightly class would stand condemned…. How [Jakoubek] would have launched out against anyone who dared to eat pork on a Friday, and yet he cannot make the shedding of men’s blood a matter of conscience, this man whose own conscience has been filched from him by those saints of old!”

(For further information of the new law of Christ in the teachings of the ancient and medieval Church, see William Elster, “The New Law of Christ and Early Christian Pacifism,” Essays on War and Peace: The Bible and the Early Church, ed. Willard M. Swartley (Elkhart, Indiana: Institute of Mennonite Studies, 1986): 108-129; and “The Law of Christ” in Geoffrey Nuttall, Christian Pacifism in History (Berkeley, California: World Without War Publications, 1971): 15-31.)


July 2008 Message

A Recent Discovery

Recently, I was excited to discover an English translation of Peter Chelcicky’s The Net of Faith on the Internet.

Let me back up a bit--I first became aware of the writings of Chelcicky, a 15th century Czech theologian, years ago from the writings of Leo Tolstoy. Tolstoy wrote that after publishing his book, What I Believe (1884), in which he explained how the teachings of Jesus led him to become a pacifist, writings of earlier pacifist Christians were recommended to him. One of those was The Net of Faith by Peter Chelcicky. His summary of Chelcicky’s thought—that Christianity became corrupted when the church sanctioned the government’s use of violence and warfare—was intriguing enough to make me want to read the entire book.

But the book had never been translated into English. When a biography of Chelcicky by Murray Wagner came out in 1983, I thought for certain that someone would soon follow that up with an English version of The Net of Faith. But that was not the case.

However, unknown to most of the world, in 1947 Enrico C. S. Molnar translated the first part of The Net of Faith as his thesis in pursuit of a Bachelors of Divinity degree from the Pacific School of Religion. Ordinarily, this thesis would only have been available to visitors of that school’s library. But thanks to the Internet, it is available to people across the world. It can be viewed by going to the following website: www.nonresistance.org/docs_pdf/Net_of_Faith.pdf

The most exciting discovery for me from this document was to learn that even in the 15th century, pacifist Christians continued to speak about the pacifist teachings of Jesus as being a part of the New Law of Christ. Over fifty times in The Net of Faith, Chelcicky refers to the teachings of Jesus as “the law of Christ” or by other related phrases (Christ’s law, his law, the new law, the divine law).

Chelcicky wrote that the teachings of Christ [the new law] have greater authority and supersede the old [Mosaic] law (pp. 56, 98). In earlier times, the Mosaic law allowed those who had faith in God to participate in wars. But now--with the appearance of Jesus--followers of God are commanded to love their enemies and return good for evil (p. 134). Every Christian, therefore, who decides to take part in warfare ends up transgressing the “perfect law of Christ” (p. 136).

I’ll have more to say about Peter Chelcicky in the August 2008 message.


April 2008 Message

Is pacifism passive?

Several years ago, my sister’s philosophy course required that she bring in a public speaker to address the class, so she asked if I could help her out. Seeing this as a great opportunity to introduce the topic of pacifist Christianity to a large group of college students, I readily agreed.

After giving my presentation, I asked the students if they had any questions or comments. The sole comment came from a student who said that he personally was against “passivism” and instead thought that people should be more assertive in their inter-personal relationships. Many of the students shook their heads in agreement. I was taken aback. After listening to my half-an-hour talk, most of the students thought that I was advocating passivity, the condition of being passive or compliant, not pacifism.

Granted, the words “pacifism” and “passivism” do sound similar, and this may have added to the students’ confusion. But I was more flustered that once again pacifism was equated with, basically, doing nothing. For most people, pacifists are known for what they won’t do — they won’t join the military, they won’t participate in wars, and they won’t slaughter their enemies—rather than what they stand for.

For this very reason, many pacifists refuse to call their position “pacifism” in favor of using more dynamic language, such as “nonviolent resistance,” “nonviolent action,” or “peacemaking.” They also point out that the term “passivism” derives from the Latin word passivus, which means capable of suffering, while the term “pacifist” originates from the Latin word pax, meaning peace.

I am no longer bothered when people associate pacifism with passivism. Pacifists do refuse to take part in activities that they consider evil. Since there is enormous pressure from society to sanction warmaking, this is a heroic and often difficult public position to take.

But I have also come to see that there is a vital connection between passivism and pacifism. The act of not participating in evil events actually empowers the individual to carry out those actions that are regarded as virtuous and correct. For instance, after Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River, but before he initiated his public ministry, he spent 40 days and nights in the wilderness to be tempted. Jesus refused again and again to take part in behaviors that would cause him to sin. This was his example of holy passivity.

But Jesus’ objective was not just to model how to resist sin. He wanted to show his followers that they must combine holy passivity with holy activity. Jesus’ always combined his refusals to participate in evil with righteous actions. When tempted to obtain the power and riches of this world by agreeing to worship Satan, Jesus refused and insisted that he would only worship the true and living God. When speaking on how to deal with cruel people, he taught that people should resist the urge to return evil with evil and instead overcome evil with righteous actions: turn the other check to the one who strikes you, willingly go an extra mile with the person who coerces you to be a baggage carrier, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who persecute you.

Pacifist Christianity requires that the steadfast refusal to participate in evil be followed up with deeds that demonstrate that you will genuinely love every person, especially those who war against you. This type of pacifism will convince people that we are indeed disciples of Jesus and may turn their hearts from doing evil to seeking the forgiveness of sins and God’s salvation.


These questions came from a person who attended the “It is Not Lawful for Me to Fight” forum held in Detroit on September 16, 2007. Her name has been changed to provide her anonymity.

Bill,
Can you please respond to the following questions?

  1. What if we're in a situation where it comes down to our life or the other person's life? (We're cornered and can't run) (rape at knifepoint)
  2. What if we need to defend our loved ones against a violent attack?
  3. Should a nation allow itself to be attacked?

Joy,

Thanks for coming to the pacifist Christian Ministries forum last Sunday. I hope as a result of my presentation that you have a better understanding about the early Christian (and my own) position on war and the military. Let me begin my answer to your questions by saying that Christians are a forgiven people. That is, we are worthy of death as the penalty for our sins. But God has shown us mercy, and we are now expected to show the same mercy toward others (Matthew 18: 21-35). Jesus calls this "carrying your cross." We Christians are expected to be ready at all times and in all circumstances to die for our faith in order to keep intact our New Covenant relationship with Jesus. This is why the early Christians, when confronted with the choice of denying their faith in Jesus or being put to death, chose death.

1) But what if the choice is: a) to be attacked and possibly killed or b) to kill the other person? In such a case, we are still called to show mercy toward our enemy and to carry our cross. While we are allowed to try many ways to evade death, killing the other person is not one of those permissible (lawful) methods. Christians are called to follow Jesus' example, even if that means allowing ourselves to be unjustly put to death. As believers in the resurrection power of Christ, we know that we will rise again, for "if we have died with him, we shall also live with him..." (2 Tim. 2:11). If we kill our enemy, we have deviated from the example of Jesus. And if that person dies in a condition of unbelief, we may have sealed his or her fate to die in their sins without a chance to repent in the future.

2) This could have been the fate of Paul of Tarsus, who accompanied the people who stoned Stephen to death (Acts 8:1). Had the Christians arisen to fight and save Stephen (who according to the Biblical account was innocent of any wrongdoing) by killing his persecutors, perhaps Saul also would have died in his sins. His chance of experiencing his "road to Damascus repentance" and to be made an apostle of God would have permanently ended.

3) Paul of Tarsus wrote in his letter to the Roman church that God allows governing authorities (nations) to "use the sword" against their enemies (Romans 13: 1-6). But having said that, Christians need to recall that elsewhere Paul wrote that Christians are not primarily citizens of worldly nations, but that "our citizenship is in heaven" (Phil. 3:20). Christians are under no burden to fight for our temporal country. We are called to serve the King of the Universe, the King of Kings who by his words and example now commands his followers to also "turn the other cheek" and to "love their enemies" (Matthew 5: 39, 43).

The bottom line is that followers of Jesus are not allowed to fight against "flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual host of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Eph. 6:12).

God bless and we will see you soon.
Bill



The following is a portion of the presentation delivered on March 10, 2007

Pacifist Christian Ministries is dedicated to promoting the peace teachings of Jesus as found in the New Testament. It seems that no matter how clearly Jesus spoke about the necessity of showing love to all people, including one’s enemies, Christendom still attempts to hide this message under a bushel basket. The aim of our organization is to reconnect the Church to the gospel’s message of peace through public assemblies such as this, as well as by circulating the message over the internet and through various other media.

Pacifist Christian Ministries is an organization that was started by those of us who have come to the conclusion that the teachings and life of Jesus prohibit us from going to war and from killing our enemies. Jesus’ own life gave us an example on how we are to treat our enemies. When he was cruelly tortured and sentenced to death by his enemies, Jesus could have called on his followers to fight and attempt to kill the guards who were putting him to death. Instead, he forgave all who were involved in causing his death and showed his supreme, unconditional love by praying for them with his final breaths.

Jesus’ own teaching, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God,” gives us our organization’s name. The term “peacemaker” in Latin is “pacifici,” from which the word “pacifist” derives. We use the word “pacifist” in the sense that it was originally intended, meaning purely to be “antiwar.” So, Pacifist Christians are those who refuse to go to war and kill their enemies because they are followers of Jesus.

To show that there is a need for such a ministry today, all one has to do is look at the headlines in today’s newspapers. Wars are occurring all over the world, from Iraq and Afghanistan in central Asia to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda in Africa. Insurgencies are occurring in Colombia, Nepal, and India. In Darfur in the Sudan, the U.S. government states that genocide is occurring.

In a world that is plagued by war, one would hope that Christianity, which espouses the message of God’s love towards all people, which makes no distinction between Christian and non-Christian, Jew and Gentile, Greek or barbarian, that Christianity would offer an alternative to this insane cycle of violence that is found throughout the world. But that has not been the case. Today most churches still advance the Just War Theory instead of promoting Jesus’ message of reconciliation and peace.