|1. How can you insist that Christians are supposed to be pacifists when the Bible provides examples of men and women of faith who have participated in wars and killed their enemies, even in service to God?
[A frequently heard objection to pacifist Christianity is that since the Old Testament contains examples of believers in God (Abraham, Deborah, David, etc.) who have fought in battles and waged wars and still received approval from God, then it seems reasonable that Christians also can participate in just wars and remain in Gods will.]
Before the time of Jesus, God allowed the taking of an enemys life, as indicated in both the Noahic and Mosaic Covenants. God told Noah that whoever sheds mans blood, by man his blood shall be shed (Gen. 9:1-17). In the Mosaic Covenant, the people of Israel were given rules for warfare (Deut. 20). Thus, in the Old Testament era the people of God who abided by these regulations were counted as faithful and blameless before God.
But these instructions found in earlier covenants were not Gods final word on the subject of killing in wars. Both the law and the prophets spoke of the day when God would send a person greater than Moses (Deut. 18: 15-19) who would establish a New Covenant (Jer. 31:31) that would replace the Old, or Mosaic, Covenant. Both these and many other prophecies were fulfilled by Jesus Christ.
Gods ultimate view on participation in warfare is found in the words and life of Jesus, who as God in the flesh, reveals the true expression of Gods nature (Heb. 1:3). Therefore, Jesus New Covenant position on this issue should determine the stance that all Christians must take. The words of Jesus are, 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, (Mt. 5:43-44).
Jesus clearly said that his followers are to love everyone, even their enemies. The love for an enemy was best demonstrated by Jesus, who refused to fight against his enemies (Matt. 26:51-53, John 18:36), patiently endured his undeserved sufferings, and totally forgave those responsible for his death. This is why Christians should not kill in war.
2. How can you contend that the New Testament teaches Christians to live as pacifists when it speaks positively about different military figures?
[Some Christians who contend that the military life is compatible with Christianity have cited those New Testament passages that focus on Roman military figures. One such passage is about the centurion who believed in Jesus (Mt. 8:5-13) and another concerns Cornelius the God-fearing centurion (Acts 10). Neither passage explicitly condemns the military profession. Neither do they claim that Jesus or his original disciples told these men that they had to first renounce the military life in order to become a Christian. Consequently, some have argued that the New Testament does not forbid Christians from participating in the military or warfare.]
Clearly the New Testament announces that the good news of Jesus is to be preached to all men and women, including those serving in the military. But the absence of a specific condemnation of the military profession in these passages does not necessarily mean that Christianity sanctions war or the military.
By using the same logic employed by those who make this type of argument, one could easily insist that these passages also sanction slavery. The centurion who impressed Jesus with his faith initially sought out Jesus so that his slave would be healed (Mt. 8:6). When Cornelius wanted to invite Peter to visit his house, he sent a soldier and two of his slaves to Joppa. In both of these passages, slavery is neither explicitly condemned nor is slave-owning prohibited. Yet, who today would dare teach that these passages illustrate that slave-owning is compatible with Christianity? Similarly, these scriptures should not be used to buttress the notion that Christians can participate in wars.
So then, what are the meanings of these two New Testament passages? Neither speaks directly to the issues of warfare or slavery. Instead, the Matthew 8 passage described the type of faith that Jesus desires to find among humans, regardless of their occupation. The second declares that the Kingdom of God, rather than restricted only to Jewish believers, is open to believers in God from every nation through the salvation work of Jesus the Messiah.
3. Doesnt the New Testaments praise of Old Testament warrior-believers in God and its usage of military metaphors refute the notion that God calls Christians to live as pacifists today?
[Opponents of pacifist Christianity sometimes claim that pacifists undermine their own position when they commend Old Testament believers who had engaged in war. These opponents also accuse pacifists of being inconsistent whenever they use military metaphors to talk about Christian spiritual life.]
Pacifist Christians have the same right as their just war sisters and brothers to celebrate the examples of faith found in Old Testament, including those who participated in military actions. Their exploits, carried out in obedience to Gods will as they then understood it, were recorded in the scriptures to encourage all Christians to similarly stand firm in their faith in God.
As the response to Question #1 explained, however, the earlier Noahic and Mosaic Covenants did allow the ancient Hebrews to engage in wars sanctioned by God. But when Jesus came, he established the New Covenant with its command to love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, (Mt. 5:43-44). Just as Jesus never put any of his enemies to death, though it was certainly within his right and power to do so, his disciples also are prohibited from taking the lives of their enemies.
Pacifist Christians also are free to use military metaphors to describe the dynamics of the spiritual life. Just like the Apostle Paul, they are acutely aware that they are involved in a war, not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual forces of wickedness (Eph. 6:12). Their use of military metaphors in no way condones worldly warfare. Rather, by using these metaphors, they emphasize the qualities that Christians must exhibit to achieve victory. So when pacifist Christians encourage one another to fight the good fight of faith and suffer hardships as a good soldier of Jesus Christ (I Tim. 6:12; II Tim. 2:3), they are exhorting their fellow believers to strive to please God in all they do, just as soldiers struggle to please their officers.
4. How can you claim that Jesus commanded his disciples to live as pacifists when for almost the last two thousand years leaders of the church have approved of Christians participating in just wars?
[Some people mistakenly think that Jesus and the early church sanctioned Christian participation in warfare. Some have even argued that pacifist Christianity was introduced later through heretical movements.]
Although it is true that, previous to the time of Jesus, people of faith were allowed take part in wars in accordance to certain provisions of the Mosaic Covenant (cf. Duet. 20), Jesus mission was to establish a New Covenant through which people could be saved and brought into a right relationship with God. In his Sermon of the Mount, which contains the core teachings of the New Covenant, Jesus clearly stated that his disciples must love every one, including ones enemies.
How the disciples were to fulfill this requirement was definitively demonstrated by Jesus himself. When arrested on false charges and sentenced to death by crucifixion by his enemies, he ordered his disciples to not fight for him (Matthew 26:50-54), and with his last breath he prayed that God forgive his enemies (Luke 23:34). Jesus earliest disciples understood their Lords teachings and did not resist violently against those who committed violence against the members of the church (cf. Acts 7:54- 8:4).
In fact, during the first three centuries of Christianity, most Christians were pacifists and maintained their policy of attempting to overcome evil with good. They believed that Jesus mission and teachings fulfilled the ancient prophecy that one day the Messiah would come and teach the world his new law, which would convince people to hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks and cause nations to never again learn war (Isaiah 2:2-4; Micah 4:1-3).
Unfortunately, in the course of time, the institutional church did not remain committed to its earlier practice of not returning evil for evil. By the end of the 4th century A.D., most church leaders permitted their members to join the military.
5. How would Pacifist Christians respond to the current problem of suicide bombers?
[Many people believe that the only way to deal with violence is to fight fire with fire and that a massive show of military force is the only way to react towards heinous acts such as suicide bombings.]
Those who hold this position often think that pacifist Christianity provides no practical response towards terrorist bombers. Since the events of 9/11, Americans are very aware of the dangers posed by radical political and religious extremists, especially the suicide bombers. Since these terrorists are prepared to die in their attempts to kill as many people as possible, it has been argued that the only realistic way to deal with them is to either capture and incarcerate them for life or kill them before they carry out their murders.
Can pacifist Christians do anything to curtail these suicide bombers? Is there a nonviolent response that they can carry out?
Many suicide bombers are guided by false religious beliefs that teach that they are pleasing God by killing the infidels and that they will be rewarded with eternity in paradise by forfeiting their own lives as they kill others.
Pacifist Christians can counteract these false teachings by boldly proclaiming the good news of Jesus: that though Gods righteousness has judged all humans as worthy of eternal punishment because of their sins and unbelief, forgiveness of sins and a new life have been made possible through the death and resurrection of the Messiah, Jesus. Through the Holy Spirit and the New Testament, Jesus now commands everyone to love all people, including their enemies.
If we truly recognize Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God, we must take his commandment very seriously and from this time forth cease to participate in the murder of our personal or national enemies. Jesus has called all believers in the one true God to show love towards one another and stop participating in all killings, even those sanctioned by governments. If necessary, we are commanded to lay down our own lives, but only in order to save others. This is this sort of love and faith that truly pleases God.