I have to warn anyone reading this up front that this post may be a bit disjointed as there were a lot of thoughts that have been floating in my head about it. I do ask that you PLEASE read the entirety of it, as well I will try not to make this TOO long.
In the limited experiences I’ve had debating pacifism, it seems like a lot of the arguments used toward the just war philosophy are based primarily on Old Testament examples, misquoted or context-avoiding New Testament passages or by using statements made by other men (men being the generic word used when talking about men and women, created persons). My beliefs about pacifism have been with me for a long time, though admittedly they had taken a back seat to my pride as an American citizen for a while. Ultimately I was brought back around to realizing pacifism is where my heart really is thanks mostly to Shane Claiborne’s wonderful book “The Irresistible Revolution”. While his book was a catalyst to my renewed devotion to non-violence he was certainly not the reason for my steadfastness.
While the “W.W.J.D.” question has become something of a cliche about how ridiculously Americanized the church has become, if done without the bracelet and with sincerity and an open mind to be taught, it can cause you to be a huge change in your world.
For the sake of being as legitimately G-d inspired as I can be, I’m going to keep myself to using strictly Biblical sources for my side of this debate.
Now I know some (probably most) have a rather differing opinion of war. I know plenty of people, whose salvation I could not even pretend to doubt, that would consider my wife and I to have “gone off the deep end”. Many of the opinions opposed to ours relate specifically to the ownership of guns and the use of violence against forces of the government that would want to disarm them/impede on their freedoms as American citizens. My question to this is, “Do you really have the right, as a professing Christian, to defend yourself against someone else with violence?” I understand that the ideas of self defense and war in the sense of going over seas to attack another country are very different, but the use of violence in either circumstance is still violence.
In Matthew 5:39 Jesus says:
“But I tell you, don’t stand up against an evil person. If someone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other cheek also.”
That doesn’t sound to me like He’s giving us the right to defend ourselves. He says rather plainly “DO NOT stand up against an evil person”. He doesn’t say, “If someone slaps you on the right cheek, put your hand up to block your left cheek then break their hand so they can’t try again”. We are to turn the other cheek and allow the attacker to strike us again. What right do we have to defend ourselves against a human attacker when Jesus rebuked Peter for attacking the Roman in the garden of Gethsemane? The Savior of the world, the human embodiment of G-d himself would not allow His disciple to defend Him with violence, so how could we possibly claim to have the right to defend ourselves against anyone with violence?
As I said at the beginning of this post, I know there are plenty of Biblically based counter-arguments to my stance, but I’d like to suggest we look at some of the totality of what is usually used. One of the most commonly used verses is in Luke’s version of the night Jesus is arrested…
“He said to them, ‘But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one.” -Luke 22:36
Now the strange part about using this verse with the declaration that, “SEE! Jesus tells them to buy a sword!” is that Yeshua doesn’t tell them how or when to use the sword. In fact the only time we hear about the sword being used by the disciples is shortly after this conversation when Peter attacks a Roman soldier with it. Right after Peter attacks the Roman Yeshua stops him and says to him:
“No more of this!” -Luke 22:51
After yelling at Peter for using the sword Christ heals the soldier of the wound that was inflicted! It seems insane to me that the apostles would be told to purchase a sword and then when the first opportunity to use it comes up, they are told not to! Shouldn’t that in itself discredit the referencing of that verse as a reference FOR the use of violence as a means of defending a friend/family member? I know, “Christ had to suffer his death on the cross and that’s why He stopped Peter from defending Him!” While I agree, Christ had to die for us and any other course of history at this second in time would drastically change the story of salvation (there wouldn’t be one), I like to believe Yeshua told the apostles to buy the sword specifically for the purpose of illustrating the idea that He didn’t want them to use it!
The most common way people debate against pacifism in the Christian sense is the idea of “just war”. This philosophy says there are ways that you can justify war when considering what you are getting involved in by holding it up against a set of guidelines and as long as your planned war falls within those, it is a “just” or fair war, and therefore allowable. When I hear people arguing for just war, I hear a lot of Old Testament quotes and other famous people espousing the criteria that makes war just, but these lists aren’t directly based out of Biblical principle or instruction. Unfortunately, most of what I’ve seen discussed as the list of things to check off to judge whether your war truly is “just” are fabricated by men that believe they have come to a logical conclusion based on moral truths and not on something given in scripture.
So to backtrack a little, I believe that G-d’s call for violence in the Old Testament is only justified in the Old Testament because of man’s separation from Him. While G-d did call for Israel to go to war throughout it, the need for man fighting man has been negated by the death of the Son. Yeshua says He did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17). Therefore whatever rules were put in place in the OT have been dubbed fulfilled through the blood of Christ! We are no longer bound to serve the punishment as the old law required! Unfortunately plenty of people still refer to the G-d of violence as expressed in the OT as implying necessity for violence today, in effect telling Yeshua they don’t care about what He did. I dare to liken the people who keep this going to the Jews that brought Stephen up on blasphemy charges. As Stephen was preaching the gospel, those in attendance disliked his message that the Old Testament was fulfilled and finalized in the new covenant. His response to their hardened hearts against the gospel was:
“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.” -Acts 7:51-53
I know that sounds a little harsh, but is it really wrong? How often do we ALL decide not to listen to the Holy Spirit? The day that I confessed to my wife about my secret pornography addiction was spent arguing with the Spirit and trying to find a way out of telling her!
A man named Saul was in attendance at Stephen’s death for preaching these “blasphemies”. Saul actually brags about being there to witness the stoning of Stephen. Through the marvelous grace of G-d, Saul becomes converted through the power of Christ to become Paul who, ironically enough, writes a letter to the church in Corinth saying things very similar to what I can imagine Stephen was saying:
“Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which is being brought to an end, eill not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it…Yes, to this day when Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.” -2 Corinthians 3:7-10, 15
So the idea of following the words of the Christ over the historical obsession with the OT teachings is nothing new.
One of the most interesting arguments I’ve heard to discredit a pacifist is the idea that a pacifist thinks they are on par with Yeshua by expecting to behave the same way He did at His trial. The argument says something along the lines of, “You devalue what Christ did on the cross be expecting you will do what He did!” Personally this sounds absurd to me. If this were the case, what would be the value in doing anything Christ asked us to? Christ instructed us with how to pray. Just about every follower of Christ knows His prayer by heart. Does repeating that prayer word-for-word as He delivered it devalue what He prayed? Of course not! Not only does the Son tell us to do the things He does, He also tells us we will do GREATER things than Him!
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.” -John 14:12
If Yeshua tells us to do the things He did and even greater things, would that not show the argument of trying to be like Him and devaluing His sacrifice to be completely destroyed?
Now the complaint I’ve heard most often against pacifists is this idea that we have a holier-than-thou attitude and we think anyone who has/is/will serve in the armed forces is in the midst of some unforgivable sin and that we look down on these people. I’d just like to say that the idea of pacifism exists to express the complete opposite. For me, the claim to pacifism is a means for me to express how fallen my nature is. It keeps me mindful of the things I still do wrong. Not a single person alive is able to say they have no sin in them. Because of this, no one has any right to judge anyone else as less worthy to approach the throne. Every person that has existed since the death of Yeshua has had the same opportunity to be reconciled to the Father and no living person has the right to say anyone else has lost that.
And lastly, for the sake of wrapping up, I’d like to put out a couple more sections of scripture that can be included in the support of a Biblically pacifist lifestyle:
“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” -Romans 12:19-20 (While plenty of people know the “vengeance is mine” part of this I very rarely hear people use it in context to the rest of the section which talks about blessing those who persecute you and not repaying evil for evil.)
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And
‘If the righteous is scarcely saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?’
Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” -1 Peter 4:12-19 (I think this section is just loaded with goodness. We are told to avoid suffering as a murderer or meddler, and that we should willfully suffer as a follower of the Christ. While I’m sure plenty of people stretch it’s meaning to something other than what’s at face value, I like to apply the last verse to trusting G-d with our souls during any kind of suffering.)
While the main debate for or against pacifism is based on whether or not to go to war, there is much more involved. In a statement that will win me plenty of criticism, I’m sure, the modern American evangelical church has been lead dangerously astray from the heart of the gospel. We are to love our enemies, care for the poor, but instead we build our high castles of finances and self-worth. The world is so much bigger than the borders of our country and our decisions about war affect the very people we have been commissioned to spread the gospel to. I’d like to ask, how does war, regardless of how just we make it to be, help us fulfill the great commission? By pre-emptively striking someone with an air-raid, you are effectively sentencing someone to hell instead of reaching out to them with the love of Yeshua that can save them from damnation.
“Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” -Joshua 24:14-15
If there are any questions or points you would like me to clarify, please comment below or email me at RobRakis@optonline.net