Quick Thoughts on Pacifism

Thinking-ManI got an e-mail from someone recently who wanted to discuss issues related to pacifism and I wrote him a quick response, which I figured that I’d post on my blog as well.  Perhaps this can stimulate some discussion here, so here’s my response:

Mr. Richard Dawkins (name changed to prevent exposure of identity),

Good question!

Well I was raised in Mennonite Brethren circles where absolute pacifism was the rule.  This included non-resistance and opposition to any and all uses of violent force for any reason on any scale, and even people who were policemen were looked down upon.  My study of scripture has led me away from my theological upbringing.  As I understand the scripture, there are some ethical distinctions between the rules for personal violence/force and governmental/national violence/force:

1. On a personal level, there is a biblical expectation that Christians be people who are not marked by violent lifestyles.  We see this passages like 1 Peter 2:18-25 where we’re told to endure unjust treatment by corrupt masters without rebellion or revilement, for such is following the example of Christ.  We see this in the requirements for a biblical elder in 1 Timothy 3:3 and TItus 1:7, where part of the list of moral requirements for an elder includes him not being violent (one who strikes with the fist).  We see this in Romans 12:14-21 where Paul admonishes the believers in Rome to live as peaceable lives as possible, repaying evil with good and leaving personal vengeance up to the Lord.  Christians are to be marked as persons of peace, characterized by grace and compassion (even to those who hate and persecute them).

2.  On a national/corporate level, there is a biblical understanding that God has established the law (and those who uphold the law) for both cultivating fear in the wicked and the dispensation of justice to them (1 Tim. 1:8-11; Rom. 13:1-4).  God honoring justice purges evil from a society by punishing criminals for their wickedness (Deut. 19:15-21), and it is the Christians’ duty to support the right dispensation of justice in the form of paying taxes (Rom. 13:5-7).  The courts are not to be places peace, characterized by grace and compassion but rather justice.  As far as military action goes, it’s pretty hard to look at the Old Testament in a broad scope and suggest that somehow God doesn’t utilize national conflict unto similar ends (punishing the wicked and defending the righteous).  One sees that even the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites was actually both God giving the land of Canaan to the Israelites and God punishing the Canaanites for their idolatry; he warned the Amorites and gave them 400+ years to repent (Gen. 15:12-16).

So, I have no problem with Christians being police officers or soldiers, simply because applying personal ethical rules to the government, or any arm of the government, is a naive flattening out of the ethical teaching of scripture; the ethical standard of the pastor isn’t the same as the ethical standard for the paratrooper.  Yet, the Bible holds both pastor and paratrooper to an ethical standard but the Bible also has nuance to it’s ethics; for example it’s sinful for people to lie and yet in a time of war, deception is permissible (i.e. deception in the form of an ambush – like Joshua 8:1-9).

I hope that’s a helpful start to the discussion, and maybe that gives you a helpful hook to hang your thoughts on.

Longing for the day,

Lyndon

So, there are some quick thoughts about the issue.  I’ve often heard that Jesus’ ethic in Matthew 5 is the universal Christian ethic for all times, people and places, but the Bible doesn’t paint such a simplistic picture of people, government and the sword.  Either way, feel free to chime in with comments and questions.

Until Next Time,

Lyndon “The Armchair Hulkamaniac” Unger

P.S. – (Old school, mid 80’s TV wrestling was fully pacifist, right?  It was all acting!)

Advertisements

13 thoughts on “Quick Thoughts on Pacifism

  1. I’m the first one to both like my own post and comment on it. Apparently I’m pretty tired from my newborn keeping us up, as I find both things somehow hilarious right now.

    • Well, blood, borscht and the Bible make me Mennonite still. From my reading of Menno Simons, I see him as an imperfect reformer which was open to Biblical correction (hence he was a reformer in the first place). I stand on his shoulders with my Protestantism, adult baptism, high view of personal piety, high view of Scripture, and even the foundations of pacifist thought. I AM still a pacifist, I just recognize that the government doesn’t run by my ethical standard (and should never do so). I would suggest that hermeneutics were still fighting to escape centuries of Catholic corruption in his day, and generations after him have helped me work through the issue of pacifism with more Biblical clarity than Menno had. Lets not forget that he had FAR bigger fish to fry.

      If being Mennonite is simply being a pacifist, then I’m apparently not a Mennonite. I’d challenge people who want to equate the two, and I’m ultimately a follower of Christ, not Menno. Anyone who blindly follows Menno and filters all Scripture through any Mennonite doctrinal statement has turned Mennonites from Christians to Cultists.

      Scripture alone is the guide to faith and practice, and if Menno were alive today, I’m guessing he would teach me a whole lot about piety and personal righteousness, and I’d correct him on his flat reading of Biblical ethics. I’m sure both sides would be edified and end up in agreement.

  2. Hi there Lyndon – I hope you continue to enjoy your new baby!

    A couple affirmations and then comments/questions.

    I agree with what you wrote about Menno being an imperfect part of the radical reformation dealing with the theological setting/issues of his day (your comment actually reminded me of what NT Wright writes about the Reformers and justification – but that is a bunny trail we don’t need to go down).

    I also appreciated this: “I’ve often heard that Jesus’ ethic in Matthew 5 is the universal Christian ethic for all times, people and places, but the Bible doesn’t paint such a simplistic picture of people, government and the sword.” I’ve heard that also, although, I wouldn’t say I have heard it said “often” that governments should somehow govern by the Sermon of the Mount.

    Rather, from an Anabaptist perspective I think the question hinges on does the Christian’s submission to whatever government he/she happens to live in as per the Romans 12 text carry more weight than Jesus’ command to love your enemy? Another way to put this might be does the government’s definition of who the enemy is and the government’s decision about how to treat the enemy carry more weight than the words of Jesus? Does Caesar get to tell the Christian who his/her enemies are? Does Caesar get to tell me how to treat the enemy? There are substrata of theology underpinning Anabaptist thought/practise just as there is under Luther’s 2 kingdom theology (your approach sounds quite similar to Luther’s). The Anabaptist has a Christocentric hermeneutic, belief in being part of the New Creation and so forth. Difficult to lay all this out in a brief blog post or entry. And on the Mennonite side of things our people have ended up as the quiet in the land often refusing to vote or participate in any way in the affairs of “the world.” I’m alluding to difficulties in both ‘systems.’

    I’m reminded of a poster I read some years ago that went something like: Christians should decide to quit killing other Christians. I thought of this scenario which I think would be consistent with the approach you outline. A Chinese Christian becomes part of the Chinese army and ends up killing a Christian soldier of another country. From your post, I’m assuming you would say he is acting within the mandate of his country, by an ethic consistent with him being a “Christian paratrooper”? From an Anabaptist perspective this strikes us as antithetical to being part of the New Creation.

    and as always, more could / should be written. but my day is pressing in on me.

    peaceful blessings 🙂 Larry S

    • Larry, three clarifying points:

      1. Matthew 5:44 reads “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”. The enemy of the Christian is the personal enemy, the person who is against you and persecuting you for your righteousness.

      The government doesn’t have personal enemies but the believer does.

      2. The “enemy” of the Christian, the one who is against them and persecuting them, is often their own government (i.e. the persecution that occurred after the martyrdom of Stephen in Acts 7 & 8 wasn’t executed by some foreign power). Still, the Christian is supposed to subject themselves to those above them who persecute them, even unjustly. This is discussed in 1 Peter 2:13-23, Romans 13:1-7. The Christians addressed in both groups had both resistance/opposition from their governments on both federal and local levels.

      3. Jesus never took any stance on Roman political machinations. He didn’t speak up about the unjust wars of the Romans, or anyone else. He sure talked about a lot of things, but he’s strangely silent on that.

      Therefore, let’s look at your example of Canada going to war with China and both sides having Christians in their military:

      I’d suggest that in practice, one could possibly choose the choice of conscientious objection to warfare, or one could utilize the political machine to attempt to avert a war (campaigning, spreading “awareness”, petitioning, etc.), but if a Christian rebelled against the government and said “You say the Chinese are our enemies, but I say you’re wrong”, that would be a blatant act of rebellion against the government (remember, appointed by God whether good or bad).

      Canada and China (or the US and China) wouldn’t simply just go to war “just because”. If and when it comes down to it, both sides always sin in warfare, but there’s always an aggressor and a defender. If China attempts to become an expansionist empire and declares war on their neighbors (like Canada), those neighbors have a just right to defend themselves. In that case, China is being a wicked aggressor and both the Chinese and Canadian Christians should use whatever righteous power is available to curb the Chinese war machine.

      The same would go for Canada invading China, or some sort of Chinese territory.

      For a take on what this would look like, I’d recommend reading the book “Saddam’s Secrets” by retired Iraqi Air Force General George Sada. He knew full well that his country was the evil aggressor and took various steps to work against Iraq without overtly rebelling against the military or government. The fact that he’s still alive shows that he was fairly successful, and I’d suggest that he prevented innumerable lives being lost in the process.

      As for the Christian soldier shooting the other Christian soldier, the shooter isn’t committing murder. He is most certainly working within the divinely-established authority structure of his government, whether Chinese or Canadian.

      I have absolutely no idea what you REALLY mean when you say “From an Anabaptist perspective this strikes us as antithetical to being part of the New Creation.”

      Feel free to unpack that for me…

  3. This is very interesting. God Says In His Word He Places Those In High Positions. Yet in another verse, we are told to respect official authority. In another verse, we are told also when the official authority is not aligned with God’s Authority, we should not agree. An example would be: abortion. I do not see where our God States Pacifism is required. Of course, one must be quite careful overall. Yet, for example, on a farm, the mere act of killing the poultry for human consumption is not ”pacifistic”. The Lord Again States His Wisdom, He was present at the Beginning of the Earth, His Father Alongside Him. If we avail ourselves in prayer and learn well Their Words, it becomes clear in some situations, pacifism is not possible to join with needed justice. Pacifism can actually be, in some situations, evil, as in WWII when many Countries would not involve themselves in the War, despite the knowledge of The Chosen being Persecuted Unto Death. +++

  4. Lyndon wrote: “I have absolutely no idea what you REALLY mean when you say “From an Anabaptist perspective this strikes us as antithetical to being part of the New Creation.”

    Here are some definitions I dug out of the NET. Sent with some whimsy, but I do acknowledge that because you/I are well entrenched in different silos we may miss each other’s meanings. Lets press on until we actually understand one another ….

    “Anabaptist” – Anabaptists (from Neo-Latin anabaptista,[1] from the Greek ἀναβαπτισμός: ἀνά- “over again” and βαπτισμός “baptism”[2]) are Christians of the Radical Reformation of 16th-century Europe, considered Protestant by some, although some consider Anabaptism to be a distinct movement from Protestantism.[3][page needed][4] The Amish, Hutterites, and Mennonites are direct descendants of the movement.

    “perspective” a. A view or vista. b. A mental view or outlook

    “antithetical” 2. Being in diametrical opposition

    “to being part of the New Creation”
    2 Corinthians 5:17-18 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:[a] The old has gone, the new is here!

    Lyndon: this is what I REALLY mean: Anabaptists believe that Christians shouldn’t kill other Christians – (because of all of Paul’s one anothers, because we are brothers/sisters; because we are in the Kingdom of God; because we are in the New Creation and have a new way of being, etc etc) – and we are amazed when other Christians think it is ok.

    I am at the end of a very long day.
    I hope to have some time to respond to you tomorrow (I’m hoping to take some time off before the long wknd)

    by the way, a few days ago I asked you a question on the King David’s death bed which as yet hasn’t been answered.

    blessings and take care.

    Larry S.

  5. Lyndon, thanks for your response and outlining your thoughts. You’re restricting the definition of the Christian’s enemy to a personal level due to the Christian being persecuted for righteousness (as an aside, I’m reading through Luke and don’t see the caveat of persecution in 6:27ff).

    It seems that that the rub between our approaches comes with the idea that this is all ‘personal’ ethics (ie: Governments don’t have personal enemies). It seems that prior to going to war those in power seem to spend a great deal of energy convincing their populace that there is indeed an enemy to which the citizenry need to respond.

    The Christian doesn’t ‘rebel’ against their government in the sense of saying “You (the government) say the Chinese are our enemies, but I say you’re wrong.” The Christian attempts to use the conscientious objection option if it is available or influence the government as you’ve outlined above. So in a manner similar to the complementarian’s wife informing her husband that she can’t follow her husband into sin, the Christian Anabaptist informs their government they simply can’t actively participate. It isn’t so much rebellion as it setting boundaries.

    The Anabaptist perspective reads the entire biblical narrative through the lens of Jesus and his new community. We simply can’t participate due to our submission to a higher authority and answer to an Kingdom ethic.

    – Because Christians are in the New Creation to posit that one Christian can kill another and see this as simple duty to an earthly power seems entirely counter to Kingdom principles.

    – on the Christian paratrooper has a wartime ethic due to Joshua 8 (lying), I’m wondering how a text where the good looking enemy women can be taken as wives would be applied?

    – yes Jesus did not confront political powers directly. However, Jesus is Lord (not Caesar) does have a subversive or boundary setting element doesn’t it? And yes, some modern theologians read way too much into this. (Scot McKnight has edited a book critiquing some of the over-exuberant statements of those who do: Jesus Is Lord, Caesar Is Not: Evaluating Empire in New Testament Studies)

    Larry S

    • Hello Mennoknight, I am pretty sure you know this one is over my head in terms of knowledge. I am writing for Prayer Request. I actually managed to slip out of bed onto floor early this morning and my knees are not good so the paramedics/firemen came and got me back up and we checked seems no major injuries but i’m already starting to hurt. I’m Blessed, yet hurting and because of fibromyalgia it will increase for awhile. So, please could you and the family toss me in with the Prayer Requests? I believe in Prayers ALOT. Blessings to you and ALL of yours. and I like my logo, too. 🙂 OUCH 🙂 ouch …….. +++

  6. Lyndon, thanks for your response and outlining your thoughts. You’re restricting the definition of the Christian’s enemy to a personal level due to the Christian being persecuted for righteousness (as an aside, I’m reading through Luke and don’t see the caveat of persecution in 6:27ff).

    It seems that that the rub between our approaches comes with the idea that this is all ‘personal’ ethics (ie: Governments don’t have personal enemies). It seems that prior to going to war those in power seem to spend a great deal of energy convincing their populace that there is indeed an enemy to which the citizenry need to respond.

    The Christian doesn’t ‘rebel’ against their government in the sense of saying “You (the government) say the Chinese are our enemies, but I say you’re wrong.” The Christian attempts to use the conscientious objection option if it is available, or influence the government as you’ve outlined above. So in a manner similar to the complementarian’s wife informing her husband that she can’t follow her husband into sin, the Christian Anabaptist informs their government they simply can’t actively participate. It isn’t so much rebellion as it setting boundaries.

    The Anabaptist perspective reads the entire biblical narrative through the lens of Jesus and his new community. We simply can’t participate due to our submission to a higher authority and answer to an Kingdom ethic (the old we must obey God rather than man text).

    Because Christians are in the New Creation to posit that one Christian can kill another and see this as simple duty to an earthly power seems entirely counter to Kingdom principles.

    – on the Christian paratrooper has a wartime ethic due to Joshua 8 (lying), I’m wondering how a text where the hot-enemy women can be taken as wives would be applied (Deut 21:10ff) . I’m wondering at how you decide which OT text to apply.

    – yes Jesus did not confront political powers directly. However, Jesus is Lord not Caesar does carry a subversive element doesn’t it? And yes, some modern theologians read way too much into this (Scot McKnight has edited a book critiquing some of the over-exuberant statements of those who do. Jesus Is Lord, Caesar Is Not: Evaluating Empire in New Testament Studies)

    Larry S.

Share your thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s