Christians and Pacifism

The church is the spiritual, social, and political body that gives its allegiance to God alone. As citizens of God’s kingdom, we trust in the power of God’s love for our defense. The church knows no geographical boundaries and needs no violence for its protection…As disciples of Christ, we do not prepare for war, or participate in war or military service. The same Spirit that empowered Jesus also empowers us to love enemies, to forgive rather than to seek revenge, to practice right relationships, to rely on the community of faith to settle disputes, and to resist evil without violence. “Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective”

The Anabaptist tradition within the larger Church is perhaps the most well-known body of pacifist believers, though the practice is not confined to these Christians. Pacifism, the refusal to engage in military action or violence in revenge or defense, is a radical practice. In the larger world of non-believers, Just War, and increasing violence, the refusal to visit violence on those labeled ‘enemies’ immediately sets one apart from the society norm and expectation. The radicalism extends to our physiological makeup; when we are about to become the victim of a violent act our body and mind naturally seek to act in self-preservation, even to point of exterminating the threat. The Christian who follows the path of pacifist action must strongly apply their allegiance to Christ alone at the expense of their citizenship in the state and more importantly, they must train their mind and body to submit to the suppression of its natural response to react to violence. Dr. Buschart records,

“Anabaptists were the most violently persecuted Christian movement of the sixteenth century, being pursued by both Roman Catholic and Protestant forces, in conjunction with civil authorities. Consequently, Anabaptists were were confronted by the demand to practice in the most radical ways this practice of nonresistance, and many practiced the principle to the point of suffering a martyr’s death.” Exploring Protestant Traditions

The source of the practice of Christian pacifism is deeply rooted in the Gospel. From the mountainside, Jesus said in contrasting the old and new ways  “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist and evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Mt 5:38-39) Later in the garden he  cautioned Peter “Put your sword back in its place, Jesus said to him, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” (Mt 26:52). The Old Testament, often derided as being blood-soaked and hyper-violent, is not neglected either. Micah speaks eschatologically, pointing us forward to the era of the Christ  when he says “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Naiton will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” (Micah 4:3)

Over and above the words of Jesus, the pacifist follower will point to the life of the Lord as being completely non-resistant and peace seeking in His lifestyle. With Christ as our center and our revelation, believers are to develop their ethics, morality, and behavior from His example and teaching. These will often run counter to the demands of the state but we are called to be theological thinkers, examining the decisions that we must make in the light of our higher priority membership in the kingdom of Christ. It is to this that our primary allegiance is required teach the pacifists.

The early Church is historically pacifist and there is scant, if any, evidence of early Christians engaging in warfare. There was a gradual acceptance of military service through the centuries with noted objectors – such as the Anabaptist movement – here and there through the records. In our modern era we see the pacifism practiced in Martin Luther King who confronted the violence he encountered with an equally vehement non-resistance. King worked from five principles which fit human bio-social understandings effectively into the notion of Christian pacifism:

  1. Nonviolent resistance is not for cowards as it requires more strength to stand without retaliation.
  2. The non-violent resistance is not intended to humiliate the attacker but to establish love and understanding.
  3. Non-violent resistance is focused on evil, not the people performing the evil act
  4. You must be willing to suffer without retaliation.
  5. The external lack of violence is to be matched with an internal peace.

John Howard Yoder has a prodigious body of work that is rooted in this ideal. He says that we cannot kill other people for whom Christ died. We are to live the first commandment of the Lord, to love Him with heart, mind, and soul and to love our neighbor in the same way. Violence toward them for any reason is seen as contrary to this command.

Despite its inherent attractiveness, pacifism is not without its critics. Some say it is unrealistic in today’s world or that Christ’s words were hyperbole and not meant to be directly applied in this case. Theologians examine the word of Jesus in the light of Paul’s later commands that we be good citizens of the state in Romans 13, going so far as to see this as allowing military service as a part of this obedience. Another argument against the pacifist system is that our own non-violent capitulation may expose us and our neighbors to a greater violence. In this position, our refusal to act does not demonstrate an effective love for neighbor by the absence of our protection. In other words, Justice cannot be restored without the Christian’s action and ethics.

“Again, Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”  John 20:21

Ravenhill Meditation: Complete Joy

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. (John 15:9-11)

The dream of the follower of Christ is to know the unspeakable joy that he promises to be complete. In response to our tendency to seek joy in the world, Leonard Ravenhill provides the road map to help us arrive at our desired objective:

The way to enjoy indestructible peace and joy is to determine:

  1. To do whatever God commands, however difficult.
  2. To endure whatever God appoints, however severe.
  3. To obtain whatever God promises, however seemingly unattainable.
  4. To die daily, however costly the crucifixion.
  5. To love my enemies however misunderstood in this.
  6. To pray without ceasing, and in everything give thanks.

Shattered Advent Peace To Be Restored

Here in the Denver area we are inundated wall to wall with news of the horrific shootings that took the lives of missionaries and church goers on a snowy Advent weekend. Why a young man, a former YWAM trainee would be gripped by such evil and carry this out has not been determined and may not ever be. As the radio and print pontificators point out all of the cultural effects that bore on the shooter, some voices have brought out the question that is on the minds of many, where was God in all this?

How do we explain God’s economy in which good and bad comes upon the regenerate and unregenerate alike? Can the Church continue in our anticipation of the Birth in a way that demonstrates the trust we have in a God whose long term vision for the world is beyond our understanding? Can we demonstrate to those who have yet to meet the savior that our trust is secure, regardless of actions such as this?

I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord. (Psalm 40:1-3)

He has lifted us out of the muck and the mire and given us a solid foundation in which we live our new lives. It is firm and fixed and cannot be moved or shaken by worldly forces and we can trust in it. Though it might tremor from time to time as evil passes by, sometimes near, sometimes far, the Rock upon which we stand will hold us until that moment we are called home. The new song that God has placed in our mouths and in our hearts must be sung at the top of our lungs in times such as this. Our praise will catch the attention of those near and far and they too will put their trust in the Lord.

Pray for our fallen brothers and sisters and their families, YWAM, and New Life Church.

Philip Crouse                      

Philip Crouse was shot and kllled early today at the Youth With A Mission campus in Arvada, police said.

Rachael (left) & Stephanie (far right) Works

The Works family, clockwise from back left, Rachael, 16; Laurie, 18; Marie; Stephanie, 18; David and Grace. Rachael and Stephanie died in the shootings.

Tiffany Johnson

Tiffany Johnson, 26, identified as one of two people shot and killed at the Youth With a Mission in Arvada, is pictured on her MySpace page.

Maranatha! Come O Lord and bring us your peace!

Advent Peace: Like a River

Shalom.

We often settle for a simple definition of that common Hebrew word taking its definition of peace. Peace for many would be the absence of conflict. For our persecuted brothers and sisters, peace would be not just the absence of conflict but also the cessation of hostility toward them, the restoration of their livelihood, their residence, their ability to worship without threat, or even, their lives. Peace takes many forms and numerous connotations and שָׁלוֹם encompasses them all. Shalom is not simply the absence of strife, it is an expression of being complete in your well being. There is peace in our physical and psychological security and then there is the shalom of God in which we are at peace spiritually.

Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other. (Ps 85:10)

This week of our joyful season of advent is a reminder of the peace that we through our binding faith in Jesus. He is our promised restoration of the shalom, the Prince of Peace. Though we may continue to sense the un-peace of the world, our faith lies not in this place but in the new Heavens and Earth over which our Lord will reign and once again, all will be righted.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27)

God promises peace like a river, a shalom like the crashing waves:

For this is what the Lord says: I will extend peace to her like a river, and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream; you will nurse and be carried on her arm and dandled on her knees. As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; (Isaiah 66:12-13)

river The anticipation of this Peace is the center of our prayers this week. We shall pray for it to wash over us, to crash mightily on top of us and to carry us toward the promise of the kingdom of God.

Maranatha!