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Posts Tagged ‘pacifism’


With the possibility of military action against Syria (an act of war though we are not declaring war), it seems like a good time to talk about war, and just war theory in particular. To do this, I’ll be drawing from John Frame in The Doctrine of the Christian Life. He covers war under the 6th commandment. (Other books you may want to consider are: War, Peace and Christianity- Questions and Answers from a Just-War Perspective, and Between Pacifism and Jihad: Just War and Christian Tradition.)

First of all, we must recognize that war is a manifestation of the Fall brought about by Adam’s sin. People fight and war because they don’t have what they want (James 4). The roots of war are found in covetousness and bitterness. War itself is not just, but is brought about by sin directly or indirectly (seeking to redress the sin of another nation). For example, it was sin for Iraq to invade Kuwait. Their covetousness, our Saddam’s, drove them to do it. The coalition forces sought simply to end the unjust occupation of Kuwait.

As Christians, we need to remember that the kingdom of God is not advanced by the sword. This is one difference between Christianity and Islam. We seek conversions to spread the kingdom of God which is not of this world. It isn’t concerned with geo-political states. It transcends national boundaries. It is not advanced by “killing the heathens.” We recognize that holy war did take place in the time of the Old Testament. There it was an intrusion of God’s final judgment upon particular nations for their many grievous sins flowing out of their idolatry. Abraham couldn’t receive the Promised Land yet because their “sins were not yet full.” This anticipates the final “holy war” at the end of time which is initiated by Satan as he deceives and gathers the nations thru the 2 beasts he has invested with power as counterfeits to Christ and the Spirit.

This doesn’t mean there won’t be religious wars. The gospel can provoke a violent reaction from governments against their people (persecution) or other nations (war).

Scripture, as Frame notes, “respects the military vocation.” Citing John the Baptizer, repentant soldiers are not told to leave the military, but to serve well. Paul and the other Apostles never call for soldiers to leave their soldiering.

It is important for us to remember that no nation on earth is in a covenant relationship with God like Israel was in the Old Testament. No nation will therefore engage in a real holy war like they did. As a result, the rules for holy war in Deuteronomy 20 are not for us, being bound up in Israel’s unique covenant status with God.

Many believe the New Testament calls for pacifism. This is particularly true of the Anabaptist tradition. In their view, the state is necessarily evil, opposes God and as God’s people we are not to be allied to it, particularly in war.

“In the pacifist view, God permitted war during that time as a concession to Israel’s hardness of heart, as he then permitted divorce”

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I flirted with pacifism in the late 80’s. Maybe it had something to do with my disappointment with the Iran-Contra Affair at the end of Reagan’s presidency. But it was triggered by a conference in New England sponsored by an organization for which I’d later work.

Tony Campolo was there (and you thought it was Ligonier, didn’t you?). He was giving his argument for pacifism with a very emotional argument. “Can you see Jesus with his finger ready to drop bombs on people?” As a new, immature Christian I thought “no, I can’t”. Perhaps I hadn’t read to the end of Revelation yet. You know, that part where His robes are covered in blood as He’s been trampling His enemies? You know, Jesus is riding a warhorse? While Jesus now extends the offer of peace, don’t confuse Jesus with a pacifist.

There has been a resurgence of pacifism. Perhaps it is in response to the decade-long war on terror. I can understand, I’m weary of the whole thing. Perhaps it is all the shootings. I’ve seen plenty of people speak as if we should be pacifists in the midst of those gun control conversations. I was about 5-10 minutes away from Gabby when she was shot. Our community was rocked.

Gregory Boyd is another proponent of pacifism. And Shane Claiborne has popularized those views (I don’t give him a hard time for working with the poor, but for his horrible interpretations of the Bible). Recently someone was shocked that I, as a pastor, was defending gun ownership to protect people. Shouldn’t I be a pacifist? After all, didn’t Jesus say …

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“We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.”

The man responsible for those words is Sir Winston Churchill, a man for his times.  Notice he says “those who would do us harm,” not those who did us harm.  Many think we need a man like Sir Winston Churchill who understands our times and acts in light of that reality.

We have an interesting political battle going on as we have released our interrogation methods, yet refuse to put them into the context of the information received or circumstances in which they are used.  This unfairly politicizes the issue- trying to make things black and white when they are a little less so.

This quote from Sir Winston is at the beginning of Vince Flynn’s latest Mitch Rapp novel, Extreme Measures.   It is a novel for these times, trying to explain why it is important to have such rough men ready, for there are despicable men who hide behind religion to exploit others and protect themselves as they wage a war of terror on civilians.

Yes, Vince has found a formula that works (though he deviates from it at the very end of this novel), but I enjoy his books.  I do want that man out there protecting my family from those who would harm them simply because they live in America.

As Christians we can often confuse the issues, misapply Scripture and really be muddle headed about these issues.  Emotions can cloud the issue on both sides.

First, there is a difference in Scripture between the response of an individual to unjustice, and the response of a government.  We see that clearly in Romans 12 – 13.  The individual is not to seek revenge, but entrust such justice to God.  The government, on the other hand, bears the sword to punish evildoers.

Turning the other cheek is about insult, and again is the individual forsaking retribution.  This would not rule out self-defense should one want to physically hurt you.  Context is key.

We see something of a wartime ethic in Scripture.  Both the midwives and Rahab were blessed for deceiving those who sought to perpetrate evil.  Truth is not a black and white issue- sometimes we have to consider what will be done with the truth.  Will they use the truth to rob, steal or kill?  The context of “speaking the truth in love” is the covenant community moving toward maturity.  You can lovingly speak the truth to an evil person by calling their actions what they are, while refusing to divulge the information they want.

But we have some positive encouragements about the righteous man:

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Those who forsake the law praise the wicked, but those who keep the law resist them.  Proverbs 28(NIV)

The righteous man/person resists the wicked.  He does not stick his head in the sand and let them commit great sins against others.  This is because God is seen as the One who defends the defenseless.  As those being renewed in God’s image, we are to act like Him.  We are to defend the defenseless, protect the poor, care for the widows and orphans.

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