The Importance Of Nonviolence (Part 2 of 2)
“For nothing can be more abhorrent to the Christian man than wholesale slaughter. Nothing can be more desired by us than the promised era when men shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.”
–Charles Spurgeon, from his sermon: “A Good Soldier Of Jesus Christ”, 1870
Take Action for Nonviolence
I started writing this book as a Christian College student, and I am currently a Youth Pastor in the suburbs. I have no military training, I don’t live in a violent area, and I am free to write what I do without the fear of physical harm. It’s easy to advocate for nonviolence in the suburbs of America.
But it’s not easy everywhere…
That is one of the reasons why I gave the examples of the Anabaptists, and others who have proven their commitment to this idea amidst conflict and were willing to put their lives on the line for it. Not because they were united in some humanitarian movement…but because they were devoted to follow Jesus Christ; even in the areas that get a little messy.
One inspiring example of this kind of devotion is the story of Dirk Willems. Dirk was an anabaptist in the radical reformation of the 16th century. As was common, he was imprisoned for his anabaptist beliefs inside of a palace converted into a prison, complete with a moat! On one icy night, Dirk escaped and was able to navigate the thinly iced moat, but a guard who saw him escape and followed him fell through the ice behind him. Faced with the choice between his own life, or saving another life, Dirk remained committed to his beliefs of radical love for his enemies and rescued his pursuer, only to be imprisoned again, and burned at the stake for his escape attempt on May 16, 1569. He remains an example to us to follow, even when it may not be able to do so.
So you may be asking….what Business do I have in writing this book?
Honestly, the book was originally started as a smaller work because a former youth student told me that he was considering entering the military after graduation. Since this youth was under my pastoral care, I at least wanted to present by viewpoint because he likely would not have heard the argument from anyone else at the church, as the church was not a historic peace church (Like the Mennonites, Brethren, Quakers) where such topics are an intricate part of their understanding of God and others.
But ultimately, I continued the smaller work that I gave him into this larger, more refined, work because I believe that God does not desire any man or woman to kill another human being created in the image of God. So while I have the opportunity to speak freely, I am going to do so by advocating for peace, and in attempting to provide more material in this area of study. But the process of studying, reading, and writing has not been easy.
In “Redeemed Natures”, I have laid out what I believe to be the Will of God over the Christian life in response to the question “Is a Christian ever permitted to kill?”. My position and defense is largely centered on the commands of Christ to love our enemies, pray for our persecutors, turn the other cheek, and upon his example of nonviolent response to violent scenarios. In my view, the argument should be able to rest there because Christ is the full revelation of God (Col. 2:9); however, if the argument could simply rest there for the majority of others, Christian Nonviolence would already be the predominant view held by Christians. Because this is not the case, this work was written with that in mind by attempting to tackle the apparent contradictions in the Old Testament to these nonviolent words and examples of Christ. And although this work is not meant to compete with the works of John Howard Yoder, Stanley Hauerwas, or other esteemed scholars in this field of study, I believe that I have laid out a foundation for your further study of Christian Nonviolence, should you chose to dig deeper.
Talking about nonviolence while talking about the Old Testament can be quite challenging. My view of those apparently contradicting passages may change with time, and I am open to that…but this is where I am at NOW, and I believe that what I have come up with is worth sharing. Through my classes at Bible College, and through reading and studying the Bible apart from my classes, I learned more about these complicated passages, and their surrounding contexts. While in college, I also took the opportunity to speak with fellow students and professors on the subject, who mostly did not agree with my view, which further strengthened my support of the Christian Nonviolent viewpoint that I hold today. I also have engaged people all the way from Unitarian/Universalists, to conservative reformed folks, in conversation about this topic. Still, I used this book as motivation to push me even further into study by forcing myself to engage these complicated texts, and reading from authors who both agreed and disagreed with my viewpoint, all in order to deepen my understanding , and to further grasp all of the complexities and the various perspectives that exist when dealing with this topic. And although I do not believe that I am done learning, I believe that what I have learned up to this point is worth sharing.
The Call For YOU
As I wrote about earlier, the majority of us will not face a dramatic situation in which we will have to make a decision – to kill our enemy, or to let them live – whatever the cost. Most of us will not go through that, or at least do not go through it on a daily basis.
That is why I would love for you to take a step with me, if you haven’t already, and see the call for nonviolence as what it is: A calling of God over the Christian life that calls us to rise above our natural responses to evil around us. Why NOT follow the option that, biblically, might be the safest (If nonviolence is true, all killing is murder) – when you likely will not face a violent scenario anyway?
Maybe you are not ready to say that you know another way to address a violent scenario other than violently retaliating…
Maybe you are not ready to say that, when the rubber meets the road, that you would remain committed to nonviolence…
But you don’t have to be there yet. In fact, as I will go into in the Appendix, very few us us could honestly say how we would respond when our lives, or the lives of those we love, are threatened.
Right now, all I am asking is that you consider whether or not you believe that nonviolence is the Will of God. And if you can’t come out with a good response on why it isn’t the will of God, I invite you to join me in praying to our God together, and to join me in the pursuit of nonviolence. During these times of peace, you have the opportunity of being a true voice for peace, as opposed to letting violence go unchecked.
For if we never let ourselves think about possible nonviolent solutions to violent scenarios, we likely will never be able to respond to a scenario without violence. And furthermore, if we never allow nonviolence to be a possibility, we are actually advocating for war, for violence…for death. My calling upon you is to honestly wrestle with this issue, like I have, and intend to continue doing.
For too long has the nonviolent message been muffled under the call for practicality; ignoring the very powerful nonviolent teachings and example of Christ.
And Fairly, for too long have those who advocate for peace based on the words of Christ completely dismissed or ignored the complicated war passages of the Old Testament, instead of actually addressing them, and helping others see nonviolence as the Perfect Will of God as revealed throughout Scripture.
So whether you believe Christians can kill in certain instances, or you believe that they cannot kill under any circumstance, my calling upon you is to wrestle with this topic honestly and thoroughly. This topic is WAY too important to do otherwise. And if proponents of peace continue to ignore the questions generated by Old Testament passages, they they can never formulate an argument for peace that will satisfy those with the questions.
For all, to use an argument inspired by Pascal’s Wager that I alluded to earlier, if the Will of God is to never kill, and we allow for killing under certain circumstances, we are still responsible for those deaths; if the will of God allows for killing, and we advocate against killing while still working towards peaceful resolution, we are not being unfaithful to the will of God by doing so. In short, advocating for peace in all circumstances is the safest road to take, spiritually; for if God desires justice on men, God will carry out that justice, regardless of our involvement.
If you have made it this far, and you did not hold to Christian Nonviolence at the start, I sincerely hope to have caused you to pause in thought, and to seriously consider if what I am advocating for is truly the Will of God over your life. I am not ignorant of the fact that there are many other positions to hold, and that these positions also have a biblical argument, and so, I sincerely thank you for giving this work, and this view, a shot.
If you need more of a substantial argument, please see my book recommendations after this chapter, and also try reading some of the additional material in the Appendix section that deals more so with the “What would you do if…” question, as well as a FAQ section that I felt would distract from the trust of my argument in the main body of this text.
May the love of Christ compel us to love others, regardless of difference.
May the mercy of God compel us to see that every person is deserving of His mercy, as well as our own.
May the justice of God compel us to be peaceful in our words, and actions; living sacrificially in service to Him.
May we trust the Lord to rule the earth, as we open our fists, drop our swords, and take up the cross.
Oyer, John S., and Robert Kreider. “Dirk Willems.” Compassion For The Enemy. Goshen.edu, 1995. Web. 19 May 2016. Website was referencing: John S. Oyer and Robert Kreider, Mirror of the Martyrs [Good Books, 1990], p. 36-37.
Snow, Michael (2011-10-01). Christian Pacifism: Fruit of the Narrow Way (Kindle Locations 612-613). mikesnow.org. Kindle Edition.
Spurgeon, Charles H. “Spurgeon’s Sermons Volume 16: 1870.” Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Ccel.org, 1 June 2005. Web. 18 May 2016.Sermon: “A Good Soldier Of Jesus Christ” JUNE 26, 1870
Yoder, John Howard (2009-12-01). The War of the Lamb: The Ethics of Nonviolence and Peacemaking (pp. 87-88, 95). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.