When taxes point to God

Context:   Ever since January, I have attempted to use the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) as a basis for my youth lessons, and for any preaching that I was asked to do during that time.  The RCL is a set list of scripture passages that is used by churches throughout the world as a basis for their messages on Sunday mornings.  I liked the idea because I like the “bigger picture” that it paints; I have always liked the idea of learning, saying, and doing things with Christians throughout the world, and throughout time.  I record most of these messages, and I put them out as a Podcast, which you can listen to by subscribing to the “Uncommon Lectionary Podcast” on your favorite podcast application, or by clicking here.  The following is one of those lessons put into “blog” form. 

Let’s read the following passage together:

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Matthew 22:15-22 – Common English Bible (CEB)

15 Then the Pharisees met together to find a way to trap Jesus in his words. 16 They sent their disciples, along with the supporters of Herod, to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are genuine and that you teach God’s way as it really is. We know that you are not swayed by people’s opinions, because you don’t show favoritism. 17 So tell us what you think: Does the Law allow people to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

18 Knowing their evil motives, Jesus replied, “Why do you test me, you hypocrites? 19  Show me the coin used to pay the tax.” And they brought him a denarion. 20 “Whose image and inscription is this?” he asked.

21 “Caesar’s,” they replied.

Then he said, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” 22 When they heard this they were astonished, and they departed.

A couple things to point out:

  • The Pharisees were strict adherents to the law of Moses, and they weren’t too keen on being ruled by the Romans who did not worship their God and charged high taxes.
  • The Supporters of Herod, called Herodians, were Jewish people who thought that being ruled by Rome wasn’t as bad as others thought, and they actively supported their local ruler (like a Governor) named Herod.
  • They went together to Jesus as two opposing opinions seeking to trap Jesus.  If he responds that people should pay their taxes, the Pharisees write him off as a heretic and his ministry is affected drastically.  If he responds that people should not pay their taxes, Jesus may be reported by the Herodians and be killed before his time.

And how does Jesus respond?

The empty-pocket celebrity asks to see a Denarion (a coin that equals a day’s wage) because he has none of his own.

He examines the coin and asks: “Who’s face is on here?”. The people respond that is it Caesar, and so Christ responds, “Okay, so give what is Caesar’s what is his, and give to God what is his”.

The people, confused and frustrated, walk away.

I have a hunch that Jesus responded this way to point out at least two things:

1) God is bigger than money, and money shouldn’t be something that distracts you from God (Speaking to the Pharisees).

2) God is greater and more powerful than any government on earth, even ones that demand complete allegiance from its citizens (Speaking to the Herodians).

And both of these two points relate to trusting in God: His rule, His provision, His truth.

Let’s take it a bit closer to home.  Let’s look at our US Dollar – think of a few things that stick out:

One-dollar-bill

We have George Washington’s face, 1, ONE, an odd Pyramid, the eagle, and of course we have “In God We Trust” written on our currency.

What does it mean to trust God?

What does it mean to trust and honor God with our money?

This dollar could be used for so many things that are not what we are called to do as Christians.  It could be used to buy drugs, buy CDs that degrade other people, and at a government level, it could be used to buy bombs and missiles, with no guarantee that those bombs would only kill “Bad people”.

So, while a dollar bill can never truly say “In God we trust” on it without being slightly ironic, you can, as individual Christians.

We trust in God when we use our dollars to help others who are needy, to go towards a church’s or other organization’s good deeds, or even to buy Christmas gifts for loved ones.

We trust in God when we start to see God as being more important than Money.

We trust in God we don’t let the pressures of this world…taxes, tension, war, heartache…cripple, or get in the way of, our belief in God. Sometimes, it may not make sense…but in those times, we still have to trust God.  Even in paying taxes, we are reminded that we, though we are citizens of our nation, are ultimately citizens of God.

So, the next time you see a Dollar, ask yourself….am I trusting in God? Or something else…

“There’s life after death…and taxes…” – Relient K (Link)

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Sackcloth and Ashes

Within the last eight weeks, two of my friends, both in their 20s, have passed away.

One of them was named Zach.

Zach was not just a friend, he was my wife’s cousin who was just six months or so younger than her.  Zach welcomed me into the family with open arms, useless facts, and sarcasm. He always knew how to rile up the uncles at family gatherings to discuss politics, how to get along with the younger kids, and how to make a newcomer feel as though they were always a part of his life.

Zach was also a man who would be there for anyone in need.  He would drive an hour away after a full shift to help Courtney and I move our things into our house, and he even drove two or three hours to spend some time with the family as we fished off a pier in New Jersey.  Family was important to Zach.  Courtney was important to Zach.  I was important to Zach….

Unfortunately, Zach passed away in an accident while coming home from work.  The accident was not his fault as far as we know.  The whole family slowly found out through getting calls late in the night.  I held my wife as she shook, and it was the worst pain that I have ever felt for another human being.

His funeral was PACKED.

As the minister, who knew Zach personally, led us all in processing the loss of someone who made such large of an impact on our lives, something hit home: “Zach kept a journal by his bedside, and one of the last entries was him writing his goals in life: to ‘be a godly man, have a godly family'”.  Zach was FULLY committed to Jesus Christ, and his last message for us all was of his own commitment to Christ…and you knew that in that funeral room, Zach would have wanted for all who were present to join him someday in the presence of God.

I haven’t allowed myself to process his death in the fullest sense, I don’t think.  I always feel odd when there are others who need to grieve before I begin to let myself fully grieve. But that message of Zach’s hit home….


The second friend who passed away, I will leave out of this post out of respect for his family and his close friends who need time to mourn. His funeral was packed as well as a testament to how much of an impact he had on others.


And Here we are.

When you are in your teens, and your twenties, you feel invincible.  You expect your life to extend to your 80s, at least.  But I lost two friends in the last 8 weeks who were both under 30, and who both stayed away from drugs, and other harmful choices.

It makes you think….

Am I leading a life that is blessing others?

Am I leading a life that is remaining faithful to my God?

Will my funeral be a source of encouragement, oddly, to those gathered?

I hope so.

And I’ll see my two friends again.

Redeemed Natures: Appendix -Situational Ethics

(Click Here to Read my Redeemed Natures series from the start)

Situational Ethics: “What would you do if…”

“What would you do if someone broke into your house and threatened the lives of your spouse, children, parents, and what if they were going to rape them…what would you do??”

 

This question gets asked a lot.   It is an understandable, and important question.  Our natural tendency is to fight or flee a violent scenario, and when flight is not an option, we desire to defend ourselves and the ones we love, at whatever cost.

I am a married man, and I love my wife more than I love myself, and I would gladly lay down my life for her.  We do not have any kids yet, but I am sure that if we did, I would love them and desire to protect them from harm as well.  So when the question is asked, “What would you do if…”, it is a hard question to answer, but I will go over my general thought process when thinking about it:

  1. I love my wife, and I would love my kids when I have them
  2. I have no fear of dying if it meant saving their lives
  3. Jesus would desire for me to spare the life of the attacker (Link)
  4. On instinct, I cannot guarantee that I would be faithful to my religious beliefs
  5. If I take another life to protect my loved ones, that does not mean that I would be justified to do so under the Lord’s Will for my life, and even after being forgiven, I would still have to deal with the physiological effects of taking another life.
  6. I have a moral responsibility to advocate for nonviolence in all scenarios; hoping that that advocacy could translate into further commitment to nonviolence when a situation arises.

As you can see, I do not have a crystal clear answer to this question, and while I do not doubt that there are some pacifist-like folks who could answer clearly and honestly, I think that for those of us who know that we cannot guarantee our actions in the moment, it is better to be honest about our true struggles with this question.  We can avoid entering the military, we can avoid taking a job that may contradict our convictions, but we cannot avoid an intruder/attacker if they break into our house.  

That is why I put the sixth thinking point in there.  Even if I do not know what I would do in a real life scenario, I have a moral obligation to advocate for nonviolence so that hopefully I could remain committed to what I see as a commandment of Christ.  But advocating for nonviolence in this scenario not only could help my response in the moment, it could also help the way that myself and others think about those who we perceive to be a threat.

In other words, how much would I be thinking of a nonviolent way to address an intruder, when I keep a loaded pistol in my nightstand?  How could I possibly see their life as having value when I’ve already set up the booby traps before they would even break in?  I realise that many would respond to these questions with “I am only preparing for something in case it happens”, but in reality, by doing that, they have cut out the option for nonviolent solutions before giving them a chance.  And while some may have the strength to not pull the trigger, many will react in fear and instinct and kill an intruder, even if that intruder has not violently threatened them.

However, many people say that protecting your family is a biblical principle to follow.  I wanted to give this view justice because a fair amount of people believe it, but not many can provide a reference.  Based on what I could gather, the main passage that is used to support this idea is found in Exodus 22.   Let’s study it.

Exodus 22:2-3  – When an intruder breaks in

If a thief is found breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there shall be no bloodguilt for him, but if the sun has risen on him, there shall be bloodguilt for him. He shall surely pay. If he has nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft.” (ESV)

These verses are often used to justify lethal home defense, as well as the biblical right to keep a weapon ready to defend your family.  But I really don’t think it’s that simple.  These two verses describe two different scenarios.

The first scenario:

It’s dark, someone is found breaking into your house, and if you strike them fatally, you are not guilty of murder.  

Let’s imagine this scenario for a second:  You are laying in your bed, or on your mat, and you are startled awake by an unusual sound.  Someone is in your house, and your family is all asleep, and you did not invite anyone. Still drowsy, you stumble out of sleep, and as you meet the intruder, you have a confrontation, which ends up with you striking them in some way, or pushing them, or maybe they tripped, and that causes their death.

The second scenario:

It’s daylight, someone is found breaking into your house, and if you strike them fatally, you ARE guilty of murder.  If the thief is alive, they will surely have to give back what they stole, or if they don’t have it, they will be sold as a slave.

Now let’s imagine this scenario for a second:  It’s daylight, and you are up and about; possibly doing some household chores.  You hear someone break in, you rush toward them, and you strike them, and kill them.  You are now guilty of the blood you have shed.

So what’s the difference?

In both scenarios, the homeowner spilt the blood of the attacker, but they are only guilty of that if they did so when it is daylight.  That distinction is extremely important in talking about this passage.  Why is this?

I believe it comes down to a difference of consciousness.  In the daylight, you are alert, and aware of your surroundings.  You know exactly where your bat, bullet, sword point/edge, or other weapon, is going to land, and you have complete control over the force of that blow if you are not using a projectile weapon.  You are also thinking clearer than at night, and possibly could have found another means to make them leave.  In short, killing them in the daylight would be intentional.

Blogger and author, Benjamin Corey, writes the following on these verses:

“When people are scared in the dark and try to get away, bad things can happen even though the individual doesn’t intend it. For example, if you’re grabbed while walking on a dark path and shove the attacker to get away, but the attacker falls and dies, it would be disingenuous to say that lethality was an actual intent. This verse made room for those kinds of incidents when lethality was clearly not the intention.

However, the verse then switched to daylight– when you can actually see the intruder in your home. In this scenario, any kind of violent response that would lead to death is not only condemned, but considered murder. In these cases, the one who used lethal violence against a day-time intruder would themselves be put to death.

While often used by gun-slingers to justify shooting a home intruder, verse 3 actually backfires (see what I did there?) on the one making the argument.”

Therefore, being able to aim a gun and pull the trigger at night would not be justified.  Keeping a loaded gun near you, ready for a break in, and then using it, gives little to no room for a possible nonviolent solution to enter your mind.  A human life could be taken by your hands because a thief wanted your $200-1000 TV. I don’t think that that is worth it.

So…what am I to do?

It’s easy to say that you will stay committed to your nonviolent commitments, and it’s another thing to actually do it.  In the heat of the moment, no one knows for certain what they will do.  But one thing we can know is that if we don’t talk and think about nonviolence NOW in all circumstances, we likely won’t practice it later where it counts.   John Howard Yoder says the following in “What would you do?”:

I am less likely to look for another way out if I have told myself beforehand that there can be none or if I have made advance provision for an easy brutal defense. I am more likely to find a creative way out if I have already forbidden myself the easy violent answer. I am still more likely to find it if I have disciplined my impulsiveness and fostered my creativity by the study and practice of a nonviolent lifestyle”. (Kindle Locations 293-296)

Thinking about this stuff is a needed discipline for Christians.   Do you remember that story about the Amish forgiving the man and comforting the family of the man, who killed several amish school children?  Do you know how much that story has impacted the world?  If people see that our underserved grace is given to those at inconvenient times for us, the world would be absolutely Stunned by the Power and Love of Jesus in our lives.  Their images of hateful Christians would SHATTER at our feet as we are able to show them the God who loves, forgives, and serves, unconditionally.  It would show them that this love of God is so Extreme, so REAL, that it caused us to put the life of an enemy above our own.

Right now, the thing for us to do in times of peace is to pray, and to be active in our nonviolent commitment.  Pray for a change of your own heart towards those who are your “enemies”, pray for the hearts of your enemies, and pray that God shows them the transformative love that envelops you.  Pray for God to show you a nonviolent solution.  Advocate for nonviolence, defend it, and live it out in order to show this component of the Will of God for us to others.

My Biggest Frustration

In talking about this issue with my brothers and sisters in Christ, my biggest frustration is not that I get asked the question, “What would you do if…”; my biggest frustration is that when I explain to them my position, and that I hold my position because for my commitment to Jesus and His words…it’s not enough.

Direct quotes from Jesus, the one we claim as God, are not enough to make some of my brothers and sisters in Christ even consider this teaching of His.   When Jesus said, “Love your enemies”, there was no “But not if…” attached to that statement.  When Jesus said “Pray for your persecutors..”, there was no “that they may all die” attached to that statement.  When Jesus said “Turn the other cheek…”, there was no “as long as it matches what the Old Testament says” attached to it.  

I get it.  A Hippie God doesn’t seem to jive either, but please see my writings on the Old Testament in chapter two.  What God does is up to God.  He is the one who will carry out vengeance.  He is the one who will make the wrong right.  But WE are called to “not repay evil for evil”.  WE are called to be PeaceMakers.

My biggest frustration is that we let politics, anger, pride, and revenge, get in the way of following the way of the Cross, of BEING PeaceMakers.  A way that looks like a radical commitment to God, for the betterment of others, even if it costs us our life.

If an intruder intended harm, or was committing harm, upon my family, I cannot promise to you that I would remain faithful to my religious convictions.  But I pray that God would give me the ability to be able to if that time truly came, God forbid.

So…what would you do?


Works Referenced

Corey, Benjamin L. “Why Exodus 22:2 Doesn’t Work To Justify Armed Self-Defense.” The Official Blog of Benjamin L Corey. Patheos.com, 15 Jan. 2016. Web. 11 July 2016.
John Howard Yoder. What Would You Do? (John Howard Yoder Series) (Kindle Locations 293-296). Herald Press. Kindle Edition.

Redeemed Natures: Appendix – FAQ

(Click Here to Read my Redeemed Natures series from the start)

Frequently Asked Questions

What do you do with all of the War & Violence in the Old Testament?

This is one of the most common questions that is asked of me.  And for good reason. The Old Testament contains some pretty graphic scenes; some of which are said to have been approved and ordained by God.  A strict adherence to nonviolence seems to ignore these parts of the bible, especially when many who may hold to nonviolence fail to address these passages, or simply shoo them away as if they were a pest. I do not desire to do that, and though my answers will not be completely satisfying, what answers can be when there is so much violence in the Old Testament, and such peaceful teachings of Christ in the New?

In short, I believe that God has complete rights to kill those he wills to, for His purposes.  I believe that God worked through the Israelites, as well as the pagan nations that held them in captivity, to carry out His will.  However, there are specific instances in which the Israelites entered battle without the Lord’s blessing/command, and they were punished.   Even in their ancient tribal, and later civilized, society, violence against another was not permitted unless allowed by God.  Therefore, it is important to note that drawing a comparison between what was permitted for believers governed under the true Theocracy of Israel, and any modern government today, possibly using Romans 13 as a justifier, is a completely unfounded comparison.  

My question back to this question would be, “What do you do with the nonviolence as taught and exemplified by Christ?  When God himself teaches something directly, why not follow it?”

For more on the Old Testament, please refer to Chapter Two.  For more on the New Testament, please read chapters Three and Four.

What do you do with Romans 13, and Capital Punishment?

I’m not scared of Romans 13 because Romans 12 precedes it.  Romans 12 and 13 are meant to be read together with the overall theme of “How do we respond to those around us, on different levels”.  Romans 13 starts with what the Government is able to do, and how we are to view said government.  Romans 12 teaches Christians to love all, to never avenge yourselves, never repay evil for evil, to live peaceably with all men, and leave vengeance up to the Lord. I don’t think that those requirements to the believers are somehow made void when their government tells them to do something contrary to those requirements.  For more on this, please refer to Chapter Five.

How important is this issue, really?

Sometimes, this issue prompts some to ask me if this issue is really all that important to be unified on when there has been disagreements on this issue for hundreds, and thousands of years.

For those who believe that a Christian can kill if they are ordered by their government to do so, I understand this question.  Why should I make such a big deal about it – it’s just my opinion.

But it’s more than just an opinion to those on the nonviolent side of things.  To us, it’s literally a matter of life and death because we place equal value in all human life, and it’s also a matter of following the Lord’s will.  I don’t mean to say that I judge those who disagree with me – as they obviously do not believe nonviolence is a command of God, like I do…but I think that if people are unwilling to consider the argument of nonviolence, and jump to situational ethics questions as a first defense, I think something is wrong there.  We need to be seeking the Lord in ALL things…even when it is uncomfortable.  

If Christ taught nonviolence, or even if we can all agree that he preached that nonviolence is the IDEAL, why wouldn’t we strive for nonviolence and seek to avoid violence?  Why would be willfully enter a fight, or a position in government, that requires violence, when we can easily avoid these things?

If Church fathers before Constantine took such a bold stand against violence, and then after Constantine the Church was wrapped up with the State…why would we not look back to their understanding of this issue before the church and the state were One?

For more on this, please read Chapters Six and Seven.

How do you view those who serve in the military, or police? Do you judge them?

First, I respect all people, and second, no I do not judge them.  But I believe this is the hardest hurdle to get past in this discussion.  On a personal level, the Nonviolence advocating Christian is often placed in a box along with secular soldier-hating and police-hating hippies.  So sometimes, it’s even hard for us to know how to view soldiers and the police, especially when they are Christian, when our position would say that a Christian shouldn’t even become a soldier or join the police if they can help it because the role of the job may conflict with their faith. 

I do not judge non-christians in these positions because the morality of nonviolence is not a religious calling to them.  I do not judge Christians in these positions because the teaching of nonviolence was obviously not made known to them, or at least the argument was not made well; therefore, they are not willfully going against what I would see as the Will of God.  

But here’s the hard part…

Though I do not judge them for being in these positions, I would like for the teaching of nonviolence to lead them to either vowing to not kill in their positions, possibly requesting a change in role, or to not re-enlist when their time of service is complete. That is a LOT to ask, and I know that, but if I am being faithful to my convictions as if they mattered, this would be the desire of my heart for Christians in these positions.

I think it is always important for those on the Christian nonviolence side of things to always remember to respect ALL people.  I’ve always supported veterans by dropping a few dollars in the bucket at VFW drives outside of a walmart, and I’d never trash them, active duty soldiers, or the police.  Advocating for nonviolence necessitates a belief that all life is unconditionally valuable because it IS life. If men and women put their lives on hold, and/or put their lives at risk in a public service manner, no matter if we agree with the validity of the wars we are in, they deserve the people’s respect.  They deserve Our respect.

Therefore, the tension is holding a position that is potentially completely offensive to them, while at the same time making them aware that you still respect them.  And that respect is complicated – it’s a respect of the man or woman, your sibling in Christ, and not in what their position may require them to do.  Tension will be there, but love need to eclipse that tension.

What would you do if someone broke into your house and threatened your wife and/or family?

This question is asked so much that it deserves its own section.  Please follow this blog to see when the next section that will answer this question goes up.

Redeemed Natures: Appendix – Book Recommendations

(Click Here to Read my Redeemed Natures Series from the start)

Book Recommendations

There are a few books that I would recommend to you for different reasons and different purposes.  Some of these will be an easier read than others, but I think they will serve you well.  I have not read every book in the field, so please take that into consideration, but these are the books that I would recommend to you after reading them myself.  I don’t necessarily agree with these authors 100% in every area, but overall, I am thankful for their contribution to this field of study.


If my book was the first book that you have read on the subject, and you would like a second step in the direction of going through the Old Testament, I recommend:

Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence

-Preston Sprinkle, David C. Cook Publishing 2013.

Preston is an evangelical/reformed minister who came to Nonviolence later in life through his study of the Scriptures.  I really appreciate his contribution to the discussion because his approach to the bible is something that is needed.  He attacks the hard questions, and goes into more depth than I could in my own writing. Too many nonviolent writings and spokespeople stop at Jesus, but unfortunately, more people need more of a defense for a radical idea besides Christ’s words.

He might push you to think in new ways, and you may not agree with his approach in some things, but I truly appreciate his writings, transparency, and in standing for nonviolence in the evangelical area of the Church.

Preston also blogs at “Theology In The Raw” on Patheos, and has a podcast by the same name.


If my book was the first book you’ve read on the subject, and you’d like another book to read that hones in more on Christ’s teachings and example, and how that is in contrast with the world, I recommend:

A Farewell to Mars: An Evangelical Pastor’s Journey Toward the Biblical Gospel of Peace

-Brian Zahnd, David C. Cook Publishing 2014

Like Preston Sprinkle, Brian Zahnd is an evangelical pastor who also came to nonviolence later in life through his own study of the Scriptures.  Zahnd even writes about how he used to preach in favor of our nation’s wars, and told of how his nationalism/patriotism affected his theology.  I liked his contribution because it shows the contrast between this radical teaching of Christ, and the world’s ideas of justice.


For those who really want to dig deeper in this field of study on a more intellectual level, I would recommend the following books:

The War of the Lamb: The Ethics of Nonviolence and Peacemaking

John Howard Yoder, Brazos Press 2009

What Would You Do?

John Howard Yoder, Herald Press 2012

John Howard Yoder is a big name in the nonviolence field of study; particularly among Mennonites.  Yoder contributed well-thought out and well-backed up arguments to the discussion, and his legacy continues.  The first book is a good summary of his beliefs on nonviolence as it’s a collection of essays and other writings placed together in a coherent order.  The second book is the theologian’s response to the famous situational ethics question that so many raise.

A quick note for transparency’s sake:  John Howard Yoder was accused of sexually abusing, harassing, and assaulting women during his time as a professor.  He was never tried for his crimes, but was eventually placed under church discipline.  In short, I cannot recommend the Man to you, but I maintain that the writings which the flawed man produced are valuable.


For those who enjoyed the chapter on the early church and nonviolence, I completely recommend picking up a copy of the source book that I used:

The Early Church on Killing:

A Comprehensive Sourcebook on War, Abortion, and Capital Punishment

Ronald J. Sider, Baker Academic 2012

If you are looking for even more examples of how the early church viewed the issue of killing/military service, Sider’s book is truly a masterpiece that anyone studying the subject should pick up.  I also really appreciated the holistic scope of the book in also including early church father quotes on abortion and infanticide.


To learn more about religious Conscientious Objectors who refused to fight because of their faith, I would recommend:

Peace Was in Their Hearts: Conscientious Objectors in World War II

Richard C. Anderson, Correlan Publications 1994

As someone whose Grandfathers on both sides served in CPS out of a religious objection to war, I believe it is important to learn from these men who stood for nonviolence when everyone else told them that the needed to fight.


From a secular and historical perspective on the idea and movements of nonviolence, I would recommend:

Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea

Mark Kurlansky, Modern Library 2009

I appreciated that the author, a journalist who has written on a variety of subjects, took to writing about nonviolence; he showed how various faiths have accepted it, and his coverage on Christianity was good in that an outsider saw how a strict following of Jesus’ teachings would necessitate an abandon of violence.


There obviously other books to look at and read, but the ones I recommended here should be a good start to you if you would like to continue your own study.  I would also recommend steeping yourself in the Gospels, and studying how Christ interacted with others, what he taught, what he did, and how his followers followed him.  

Redeemed Natures: Chapter Eight – The Importance Of Nonviolence (Part 2 of 2)

(Click Here to read Part 1 first)

Chapter Eight

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.

Works Referenced

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.

Redeemed Natures: Chapter Eight – The Importance of Nonviolence (Part 1 of 2)

Chapter Eight

The Importance Of Nonviolence (Part 1 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

The ethic of nonviolence is a good thing to ponder, and something that many accept in times of peace, but when the rubber hits the road, and bad things happen, questions like these start to enter our minds:

-What good is nonviolence in our imperfect world?

-When there is terrorism, when there are dictators, when someone breaks into your house…what good is nonviolence?

-If I do nothing…Innocent people will die.  What is the greater sin?

-Won’t God forgive me anyway if I go against His will?

-Why is it important for me to believe in nonviolence?

It is only natural to assume that violence must be met with violence.  As discussed before, we desire to respond against injustice where it is seen and found, and often, violence is the quickest solution that we can think of.  But often, when we respond to an aggressor with violence, it causes more violence; either immediately, or at a later date.  Like when we were children, and the “I’m gonna get you back!” game never ended.  We need a better way to respond to violence than the methods we learned on the playground.

Nonviolence, or Just War?

How Christians think about our imagined responses to violence is extremely important due to the reality that injury and death of another human being is a part of the manifestations of the hypothetical situations we consider and debate.  On a personal level, we are more emotionally involved in thinking about an intruder breaking into our house, than we are about thinking about who our military is fighting in wars.  But it is still important for the Christian to consider what involvement they play in their nation’s roles of foreign policy, defense, and security.  

As addressed before, I sincerely believe that the government has their responsibilities, and the Christian is not to interfere if it violates their commitment to the Will of God, but I do believe that a Christian is called to be a light in the darkness through advocating for, and working towards peace.  Nonviolence and Just War Theory are two positions which seek to respond to violence in ways that go against what is commonly done.

Nonviolence is a fundamentally different way in which to address problems that face us because it does away with the dehumanization that is a natural result of war and violence in placing value upon people who do not deserve value according to our culture.  However, in a fallen world, nonviolence is not a realistic political strategy.

Just War Theory is the idea that a country should only enter war if other means to resolve the conflict have already been tried.  Once a war has been entered, Ju7st War Theory also advocates against civilian casualties, inhumane torture, and other good humanitarian things. This way of doing things cares enough about the enemy to at least attempt several peaceful resolutions before going to war.

But both of these ways in which to respond to violence are fairly foreign to the American People. For while we shake our heads and clench our fists at Hitler, at Stalin, at Sadamn, we gloss over our own bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in our historical recollections as if they were any less grotesque.  Michael S. Snow captures this irony in the following quote from his book “Christian Pacifism: Fruit of the Narrow Way”:

““Blessed are the merciful…” – look at World War II and at the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki which resulted in hundreds of thousands of innocent deaths and untold suffering for children and aged alike, and then tell the Living God how merciful our nation has been.” (Kindle Locations 612-613)

You cannot control an Atom Bomb…You cannot control the bombs dropped by planes and drones over areas where the enemy is suspected to be.  You cannot control the outcome of “carpet bombing”.  Flawed logic will respond “The ends justify the means”…But how can a follower of Jesus Christ be okay with that?  How can such actions be categorized as following “Just War Theory”?  Instead, Nationalism tells us that we are justified in our actions because we are American, and our enemy is inferior to us.

But what happens when something BIGGER than nationalism united people?  In World War 1 & 2; Christians were killing Christians because of the differences between where they were born, and the country they were fighting for.   One could argue that those in Germany’s Nazi Party were not rightly following Christianity, but at the end of the day, they still claim to worship the same God that you do, and also keep in mind that German nationalism was an even stronger force than American nationalism.   John Howard Yoder writes of this terrible reality of brothers killing brothers by stating:

Whenever a war happens, and members of the same communion, who find themselves defined by their governments as enemies, accept killing each other at the behest of their respective rulers, it is a mockery to speak of them as being united by their faith. – Yoder, “The War of The Lamb: The Ethics of Nonviolence and Peacemaking”, p.95.

Yoder points to the irony in Christians called to be united, aiming their rifles at their brothers in Christ because of the uniform that they wear, or the leader they follow.

War is an extremely serious thing that should never be taken lightly, and solutions that could lessen the amount of casualties, even if Christians are not involved, should always be considered thoughtfully by the governments in power.  Therefore, with all things said, at very minimum, Christians should be advocating for Just War Theory; the idea that wars are only justified after attempting to resolve the scenario peacefully in different ways, and even then, Just War Theory prescribes ways in which to go about war in a way to reduce the number of civilian casualties and injuries.  How do bombings in residential areas fit into that?

However, even accepting Just War Theory as an ideal has failed Christians and nations alike because the process of trying other things before warfare rarely ever happens. Instead, since Just War theory allows for the possibility of war and violence if all else fails, more often than not, other solutions for resolving the issues a country faces are not even thoughtfully considered before they enter a war.  Just War theory looks great on paper for a nation to follow, but it is rarely followed because of the existence of a seemingly easier solution that is provided as an option from the start of the conversation.  It would be like a Christian Bride and Groom entering a marriage while both partners leave the possibility of divorce open as an option if all else fails, instead of believing that divorce is not an option, and only arriving to it upon MUCH effort working for resolution.  The effort of making things work is less appealing when you start the conversation believing that you know of an option of that would seemingly end a problem once and for all.  I believe that we need to call for a stricter commitment to Just War Theory as citizens and as Christians.

In the 1980s, Catholic and Methodist leaders wrote documents  (Catholic: “The Challenge of Peace”, Methodist: “In Defense of Creation”) that advocated for either true Just War Theory, or nonviolence, and though each of them advocated against total war, those documents and the thoughts laid out in them rarely play out in how nations conduct foreign policy, or even in how people of faith view these wars.  John Howard Yoder affirms this unfortunate truth in “The War of the Lamb”:

The actual rhetoric and the actual practice of modern nations, including Methodists and Catholics in positions of responsibility as citizens, statesmen, and soldiers, have in the vast majority of cases been neither just war nor pacifist. Total war has in fact characterized our culture.  Sometimes what broke through all restraints was simple national selfishness, which some call realism.  Sometimes what led to total war has been a transcendent religious or ideological claim, which some call holy.  Sometimes the cause for which blood has been shed is morally even less worthy than that; namely, the need of some ruler to reassure himself and his people of his masculinity. In each of these ways war was totalized, so that there was no effective restraint in most of the Western world’s experience of war. Just war theory has not been operational in any significant way in the military reality of the last centuries. (p. 87-88)

Just War Theory, as it has been implemented, fails the Christian utterly because it is rarely followed.  However, it is an ideal worth intelligently advocating for and thinking through at the political level.

Nonviolence is virtually impossible for a nation to follow due to the fallen nature of humanity across the globe; pride, jealousy, greed, and anger will always get in the way of peace until the day our Lord returns to earth and sets things right.  Still, for the Christian, I believe that nonviolence is the only ethic that we can faithfully affirm, as followers of Christ, as our personal committed ethic.  Therefore, a Christian is not to kill in any circumstance, regardless of what the government, or any other authority that is over them, calls them to do.  The Christian is called instead to actively work for peace in nonviolent ways in order to serve God, and serve others.   In relation to their government, a Christian abiding by nonviolence is to resist any clearly unjust violence of government using Just War Theory as a guideline (unjust warfare, torture, police or military brutality), and to speak and live out their message of peace in the pursuit of following the words and teachings of Christ.

Imagine if your local community’s Christians were of one mind on this matter regarding violence and personal living; so much so that if you were a Christian, you were assumed to believe in Nonviolence.  Imagine what great work for the Gospel could be done if your community saw your Christians as a peaceful and loving people who hold their convictions out of a strong commitment to their God, and are not to be feared.  Imagine how many stereotypes you could break in the minds of people whose opinions of Christians and Christianity have been made from years of seeing Christians being just as violent, if not more so, in their speech and action, as everyone else, while claiming to follow Jesus who said to “love our enemies”, and “Pray for your persecutors”.   Imagine these advocates of peace as not reacting to your community’s military personnel, or your veterans, in a way of protest, but rather loving them as people out of their compulsion to love others as themselves.  That is the difference between secular peace advocacy and Christ-centered peace work; The individual soldier is not lumped into your protests of wars and violence.

However, as much tangible good can be said of following Nonviolence, the main reason to follow it would be to be in submission to Christ.  Though that submission is not always without sacrifice;  in fact, in many cases, to strictly adhere to nonviolence requires a lot of sacrifice, whether socially, politically, or physically.  Nonetheless, it is a pursuit worth living.

So why is it so hard for me, for you, for others, who are Christ followers, to accept Nonviolence?

The Setbacks to Nonviolence

It’s Not Logical

Nonviolence is not humanly logical.  To refuse to fight back goes against everything we have been taught as children, and as said before, it goes against our very own natural response to fight fire with fire.  The very purpose of this project is to show how in order to accept Nonviolence, you have to abandon what you know as reason, and accept that which you are called to.

To accept nonviolence is to be stripped of all weapons in a room full of armed enemies, and to be left with a determination of following God above your own safety and security.  It is not logical.  It is dangerous.  It puts yourself, and possibly others, at risk.  

As stated before, it is unclear what any of us would do in a violent situation, particularly one that would harm our loved ones, or the life of an innocent…  But coming to that argument out of a hope for following the Lord’s will, is a lot different than coming to it out of a primal urge to protect those we love “at all costs”.  I will touch on this “situational ethics” question more so in the Appendix.

It Divides Allegiances

The Christian calling over our personal lives has been hijacked by many other things that demand our allegiance: money, status, our country, a political party, and a myriad of other labels.  If left unchecked, these other things that demand our allegiance, and that seek to define who we are, and what we stand for, will corrupt our understanding of God’s calling over our lives.

The Lord Jesus Christ demands our complete, undivided, allegiance; He is not willing to share us with anyone, or anything else.   When Christ calls for us to follow His will, we simply must follow Him, being willing to surrender all that we have, including our lives, if for the purpose of following His Will.

Allegiance to our country, to our status, to our wealth, and other things, can all get in the way of following Christ.  When we marry anything foreign to our faith, that foreign element can impact our faith.  If our faith is doing well when we are financially doing well, our faith will likely suffer when we are suffering financially.  If our faith is tied to our political beliefs, our political beliefs have the chance to impact and warp our religious beliefs to make it congruent with our political preference.  But the Gospel cannot be contained, or placed in a box;  Christ demands our FULL and utter allegiance.  And though, some influence will be nearly unavoidable, or go unnoticed, the Christian should at least be aware of the possibility that perhaps their opinions on certain religious topics are more influenced by their own culture, status, political identity, or even their own church, rather than seeking out the Scriptures.

As mentioned before, in the case of some conservative republicans, their political views against welfare programs could negatively impact their view of the people who receive such welfare, and that could lead them to be disgusted by poverty, instead of seeking to serve and help the poor in other ways out of a religious conviction.  In the same light, some on the pro-choice side of the abortion debate may see the side of pro-choice as politically good, but they may do nothing to advocate against abortion within their churches out of a religious conviction; helping those who find themselves in crisis pregnancies.

In the reluctance to accept nonviolence, both major political party’s positions and philosophies can negatively impact a follower of Christ’s stance on the matter.  A “For God and Country” mantra simply will not do.  The two cannot be joined in a Christian’s mind.  Jesus has to be the ONLY ruler of your heart, and the only receiver of your true allegiance.

The Fruits of Nonviolence

If we are to believe the message of John 3:16, that God loved the world so much that He gave his own son to save us, then we cannot view anyone as outside of possibility of salvation; we must view all people as possible recipients of the same undeserved grace which we have received, and that we continually receive.  To advocate for nonviolence not only out of faithfulness to God, but out of concern for your friend, as well as your enemy, is showcasing the crazy grace that we believe has saved us.  

That’s the fruit of nonviolence.  A commitment to following what you believe to be the Will of God, at all costs, as well as possibly being able to show His crazy grace to others through your commitment to nonviolence.  Nonviolence does not guarantee earthly success.  But neither does war.  In both, a commitment to nonviolent action, and in war, lives are sometimes put at risk when the odds of success are poor.  War commands us to kill or be killed, nonviolence commands us to love until death takes our last breath.  Both choices are messy, both require sacrifice, but only one remains unquestionably committed to the commands of Jesus. Note that action and nonviolence need to go together if nonviolence is ever going to accomplish anything, and if our nonviolence is ever going to be Christ-centered nonviolence.  

But not too many of us will actually be faced with a life or death scenario in which we have to choose to take up the sword, or take up the way of the cross which could lead to our death.  The average person doesn’t have to make international security decisions, and the average person likely won’t have to defend their home.  I am not saying that those things won’t happen, but it seems silly to dismiss the call of nonviolence because it’s impractical when we likely will never face the situations that would demand some form of action – violent or otherwise.

 

(The Works Referenced in part 1 will be given at the end of Part 2)

Click Here to Read Part Two

Redeemed Natured: Chapter Seven – An Example of Nonviolence: Anabaptism (Part 2 of 2)

Chapter Seven

An Example of Nonviolence: Anabaptism (Part 2 of 2)

“The commandment ‘You shall not kill,’ has absolute value and applies to both the innocent and the guilty.” – Pope Francis, February 21, 2016

(Click Here to read Part 1 first)

My Family Legacy

I was blessed to have not only loving parents of faith, but two sets of loving and devoted grandparents of faith.  I was raised by a village of close relatives who loved me, loved God, and loved others deeply.  It was/is said of all of my grandparents how kind and loving they are/were, or how how faithful they were to God.  Below, I will go over the stories of each of my grandfathers, as well as one of my great-grandfathers as it pertains to the theme of nonviolence.

Clair S. Bauman

My Grandpop Bauman was a strong man, whose faith warmed you as he embraced you, or as he spoke of others.  I have clear memories of sleeping over as a child, and how Grandpop would read his bible by a single light as others slept.   I have clear memories of his warm smile, working hands, and blue overalls that were manifestations of the wonderfully humble loving soul that he was.  He was a man of deep convictions and compassion for his faith and for the well being of others.  

Although I have no record of his words on nonviolence, I do remember him having a “support all peacemakers” bumper sticker, and memories of him being against war, and even against voting.  As to physical evidence of his actions for nonviolence, I do have record of Him serving as a Conscientious Objector (CO) in WWII as part of Civilian Public Service(CPS) from 1945 – 1947.  Grandpop Bauman served on the CPS Camp 18, Unit 1 in Denison, Iowa, and on Camp 34, Unit 5 in a subunit located in Newton, Kansas.  In Iowa, He worked to build up dams, and in Kansas, he served by working on highways, canning foods, and something with forestry, as told to me by his eldest son, Duane Bauman.  

My Uncle Duane also served as a CO during the Vietnam war, objecting for religious reasons like his father before him, but also expressing the internal conflict felt when your friends, classmates, and teammates were sent off to war, and you stayed behind.  Being a CO was not an easy thing to do, but it felt like it was in comparison with those who entered the war.

J. Walter Hackman

Grandpop Hackman, my Mom’s dad, was also a CO during WWII.  Thankfully, due to an interview conducted by my cousin Andrew, the family has a written record of Grandpop’s experiences and thoughts on being a CO.  I am going to dictate some of my grandfather’s words and responses to some of my Cousin’s questions below:

On why he became a CO:

“I became a religious objector as soon as I knew anything about it.  I knew I couldn’t take a life of another person, created by God.”

On Payment:  

“At that time we weren’t paid by the Government.  We got no financial reimbursement in the regular CO camps.  They were in the old CC camps from [the] depression to keep people off [the] street and put them in jobs.”

On What COs did:  

“They [COs] were mostly making parks and maintaining state and federal parks.  Then they needed help in hospitals and in mental hospitals.  Business men that were COs were put in management”

On the perception of others, and of themselves:

“If someone died in the front [lines], it made no sense to a lot of people that we were here.  But all of the serious religious objectors would have given up our lives if it was needed so that others might live.”

“The important thing is that it is a sincere commitment and that those around us could see it.  Sincerity in our desire to follow Christ is very important.  That comes first, and also our fellow men, we are concerned about their lives, and their souls.  However, sincerity alone isn’t everything.  You can be sincerely wrong, you must base your sincerity on the Scripture”.

On the roles of the Christian and Government:

“I feel that the government has their job to do, and the church has theirs.  I feel that you, as a citizen, have the right to follow your own conviction, if you conviction for following the Lord is number one.  That right was honored if you were against taking a life [because the government allowed for religious objectors], and even if it wasn’t, we still would have had to take that path whatever the punishment would have been.”

On the thankfulness of the government:

“The government was very kind to us in allowing us to take our position.  In World War 1, this was not the case.  Many of them were punished in the regular army camps because they wouldn’t put on the uniforms.”

“I was very much concerned at what was going on.  I feel that being a citizen of a country is a privilege and that we were certainly given a privilege in being able to take our stand.  Many of our [anabaptist] forefathers were burned at the stake and some drowned and persecuted for taking stands on various issues.  I felt our country was giving us an opportunity.  Since it sometimes has been abused, I fear for our younger generation if we should have a draft like we had before”  

On the Mennonite church, and on others joining the service:

“Some of our men did go into the armed forces.  But if they went, they would be excommunicated from our denomination.  Looking back, I feel this wasn’t a fair practice, but it was done.  I have very good, Christian friends in the service and I would be in no way judgemental of their decisions.”

In response to the question: Would you make the same decision today [peace time]?

“ I still want to be a pacifist – war or no war.”

My Grandpop Hackman had some convicting words to say in what I just quoted – he not only defended why he chose the route of nonviolence, but he recognized the internal conflict he went through while staying in the states while his peers went to war.  Not only did he recognize this struggle, he stated that he made no judgements on Christians who did go to war.  He did not take the nonviolent route out of fear of dying, or as a draft dodger, but out of religious conviction which superseded any other authority.

After his time as a CO, Grandpop Hackman moved with his wife to Allentown to start city missions, and soon he started to sell bibles and books from a truck which eventually became a Christian bookstore.  This bookstore has been serving the Allentown area for over 65 years, and is called Hackman’s Bible Bookstore, located in Whitehall, Pa.  Grandpop saw his store as his mission.  But in addition to this mission, He also organized monthly programs at Lehigh County Jail for nearly 30 years.

Wilmer R. Yoder

My great-grandfather Wilmer Yoder, who I never met, was too young for the draft in WWI, and too old for it in WWII, but he still felt a responsibility to help people.  He, along with 55 other crew members from the historic peace churches, and other places traveled to Poland in 1946 on the USS Virginian, which was a retired Navy Troop ship.   These men were nicknamed the “Seagoing Cowboys”, and you can read a little more about them in your own time, if interested.

Wilmer’s journal is mainly what you would expect from a daily log – full of the day’s events, current emotions at the time, and memories of home.  However, my grandmother Ruth Hackman put together some of his other writings in that diary that were not part of the daily log, and here are two of them that pertain to our topic:

“If Hitler had the enthusiasm for religion as he had for war, I am sure there would have been no war in Europe. “

”Wars, I’m sure, make more hatred than love.”

For Wilmer, and those in my tradition of Christianity, to be religious meant to follow Christ and seek to live like him, and so, if Hitler was religious like he claimed to be, his love of Christ would force his prejudice to cease.

Conclusion – An Active Nonviolence

Whether it be through the example of the anabaptist movement, or through my more personal examples, we can see that these people of faith not only were committed in not taking a life, but they were just as committed to improving the lives of others.  They were not “arm-chair pacifists”, or draft-dodgers, and they did not resemble any sort of cowardice.  

As argued before, passive nonviolence does not do anyone good.  Its when people actually live out nonviolence, and its end results, that we can see something beautiful coming out of the hatred and anger of the world.

But something that has stuck with me ever since I read my Grandpop Hackman’s interview was how he didn’t judge his Christian, even his Mennonite, brothers who joined the service.  And how he disagreed with the way his denomination handled them when they came home.  Neither of my grandfathers would endorse, based on writings, and what I know of their character, any sort of disrespect for a serviceman or woman.  They cared about regular citizens, Christians, soldiers, criminals, and even enemies lives.

To those who are pacifist, or accept the nonviolent ethic:  Let me say to you to always be careful in how you talk about this issue.  Always respect the veterans.  Know also that for many, your nonviolent religious conviction is synonymous with the soldier hating hippie-led peace movement that veterans of Vietnam came home to.

The Active Nonviolent teachings of Jesus lead us to peace with all men and women – soldiers, criminals, enemies, and neighbors.  Live out that teaching, and be a light to the world.


 

Works Referenced

Arnold, Jack L., Dr. “THE ANABAPTISTS Reformation Men and Theology, Lesson 10 of 11.” Thirdmill.org. N.p., 16 May 1999. Web. 24 Mar. 2016.

Carlin, Dan. “Episode 48 – Prophets of Doom.” Dan Carlin. Hardcore History – Podcast, 22 Apr. 2013. Web. 24 Mar. 2016.

“CPS Unit Number 018-01.” The Civilian Public Service Story. Civilianpublicservice.org, n.d. Web. 21 Mar. 2016.

“CPS UNIT NUMBER 034-05.” The Civilian Public Service Story. Civilianpublicservice.org, n.d. Web. 21 Mar. 2016.

Horsch, John. “Persecution.” Anabaptists: Mennonites in Europe. Anabaptists.org, Jan. 1995. Web. 24 Mar. 2016. (Text taken from “Mennonites in Europe” by John Horsch, published 1995 by Herald Press.)

“Menno Simons.” Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Ccel.org, n.d. Web. 21 Mar. 2016.

“POPE CALLS FOR END TO DEATH PENALTY: ‘Thou Shall Not Kill Applies to the Guilty as Well as the Innocent'” Living Faith – Home & Family – News – Catholic Online. Catholic Online, 22 Feb. 2016. Web. 24 Mar. 2016. (Referenced for the quote by Pope Francis)

Ritchie, Mark S. “The Protestant Reformation.” Story of the Church. Ritchies.net, 1999. Web. 21 Mar. 2016.

“The Schleitheim Confession.” Anabaptists. Anabaptists.org, n.d. Web. 24 Mar. 2016. (Text taken from a printing by Rod and Staff Publishers, Inc., Crockett, KY. Sixth Printing, 1985)

Simons, Menno. “Why I Do Not Cease Writing and Teaching.” Complete Works of Menno Simon. Elkhart, IN: J.F. Funk and Brother, 1871. 246. Print.

Woods, Mark. “Burned at the Stake, Racked and Drowned: Why Did Everyone Hate the Anabaptists?” Church. Christianity Today, 10 Mar. 2016. Web. 24 Mar. 2016.

Redeemed Natures: Chapter Seven – An Example of Nonviolence: Anabaptism (Part 1 of 2)

Chapter Seven

An Example of Nonviolence: Anabaptism (Part 1 of 2)

“The commandment ‘You shall not kill,’ has absolute value and applies to both the innocent and the guilty.” – Pope Francis, February 21, 2016

I have debated going over in detail about the successes of Martin Luther King Jr., and Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent movements for this chapter, but then I realized…you all know about those movements.  Sometimes when we hear something over and over again, it loses its significance, and the effort for me in preparing such a chapter may not prove to be worth it to my readers.  Instead, I will go over a little of my own heritage’s history on this matter for the purpose of telling a few stories that are rarely told: The story of the anabaptists being killed for their beliefs, and refusing to fight back, the story of religious men in the days of war who refused to serve as a soldier out of their convictions, and the theme in how all of these things can be inspirational.

The Rise of Anabaptism

The Protestant Reformation is well known to many, and brought out several early branches of Protestantism including the followers of Martin Luther, John Calvin, and others.  However, some individuals felt that more stones were left to turn over in seeking to reform/reform the Church; particularly on the issues of baptism, the separation of the church from the governing authorities, the question of military service, and other areas.

The Early Beginnings – 1525

Ulrich Zwingli was an early supporter of this movement, but parted ways with them because he desired a slower and less radical movement.  Keep in mind that the State and Church were united at this time, and baptism was not merely a religious ceremony as Christianity Today explains here:

“The immediate issue creating the Anabaptist movement was not just baptism, however, but also civil government. (The two were related. To be baptized was a civil issue, and to refuse it tore a “seamless Christian society.)”

The Anabaptists rejected infant baptism because they believed that only believing adults, or believing children old enough to reason,  should be baptized, and because of this rejection of infant baptism, they re-baptized those who were baptized as infants, which would have been seen as both heretical to the Church, and rebellious to the State. This, combined with their views of not having any governments influence the Church, and other views, caused Zwingli to part ways with their movement.  On January 21, 1525, Zwingli, along with the city council of Zurich, Switzerland, forbade these Anabaptist radicals from seeking to spread their beliefs.  That evening, the Anabaptist radicals met in a neighboring village, and baptized one another.

From those cold clandestine adult baptisms arose a movement in which men and women joined out of a few united convictions.  

The Schleitheim Confession – 1527

On February 24, 1527, the Schleitheim Confession was penned.  The confession served as the first significant united statement of Anabaptist principles and beliefs which were all held by the Swiss Anabaptists. It is truly an interesting short document to read, and I encourage you to read it all, or at least the parts that interest you at your leisure, but for the purpose of this chapter, I will simply provide the points which were addressed, and a brief explanation of them.  (A full translation of this confession can be found on anabaptists.org)

-Baptism

A defense of what is now known as Believer’s Baptism, and a denouncing of Infant Baptism.

-The Ban (Excommunication)

Believers caught in sin should be addressed in private up to two times, and then the third time (if needed) , they should be openly disciplined, or banned/excommunicated, in the presence of others.  (This is where the modern Amish practice of shunning came from).

-Breaking of Bread

All believers of Christ are to take communion, and those who do not believe cannot do so.  The confession even takes it further and states that if a person is involved in worldly things, they should not take communion.  To the anabaptists, this would have included those baptized Catholics and Protestants who they saw as being worldly (See the next point), it would have included those in military service, and it would have likely included every government official.

-Separation from the Abomination

This was a broad point in which they desired to separate themselves from all evil, or from offices/organizations that commit evil.  This included separation from all Catholic and Protestant services, separation from their government, and the separation of the Christian from weapons of force.

-Pastors in the Church

A description of the responsibilities of the Pastor

-The Sword

A recognition that the sword can be wielded to punish the wrong, and protect the good, and is allowed by God to do so in the State’s hands.  Contrastly, a Christian ought to never use the sword/violence against anyone, and this point also addresses that these anabaptists were against serving in the government.

-The Oath

They were against taking an oath, or swearing by something/someone as a way to prove the reliability of their word.  Rather, they stuck to the teachings of Christ in Matthew 5:33-37 by teaching “Let your yes be yes, and your no be no”.

These seven points were the foundation of early anabaptism, and although we may gloss over these points as nothing new or noteworthy, we have to remember that in the time when these were written:

-Infant baptism was practiced in both Catholic and Protestant churches and to actively go against it is heresy

-Their stance on who could and could not take communion put them at odds with all other Christian groups at the time.

-Their stance against Christians in the government and military, as well as against Christians using violence would have been seen as controversial at best, if not heretical.

The Anabaptists were radical pious people, who were inspired by Martin Luther and the earlier reformers to read the bible for themselves, as well as to go against what they saw as false doctrine.  Not only were the Anabaptists at odds with the Catholics, but they were against these new Protestant movements that rose up before them.  The Schleitheim confession gave this budding movement a voice and a set of united principles and beliefs, though not everyone agreed fully with each point, and not everyone would have even known that this confession existed.  

Obviously, we will focus in on the Anabaptist commitments to nonviolence, as well as their general attitude on the Church’s relationship to the State in covering their history – however, understanding what came out of that movement begins with understanding how it started, and what it went through.

Anabaptist Persecution

Because of the Anabaptist’s radical views, they were violently persecuted by both Catholics and the Protestants, and because of their refusal to take up arms and fight back, their options were to flee or to die.  John Horsch in “Mennonites in Europe” writes the following on the severity of the persecution of the Anabaptists:

“Anabaptism was made a capital crime. Prices were set on the heads of Anabaptists. To give them food and shelter was a made a crime. In Roman Catholic states even those who recanted were often executed. Generally, however, those who abjured their faith were pardon except in Bavaria and, for a time, in Austria and also in the Netherlands. The duke of Bavaria, in 1527, gave orders that the imprisoned Anabaptists should be burned at the stake, unless they recanted, in which case they should be beheaded. King Ferdinand I of Austria issued a number of severe decrees against them, the first general mandate being dated August 28, 1527. In Catholic countries the Anabaptists, as a rule, were executed by burning at the stake, in Lutheran and Zwinglian states generally by beheading or drowning.” – as seen on anabaptists.org

Although burning at the stake and being beheaded is severe persecution, the most alarming thing to me was those who put anabaptists to death by drowning because they usually made a cruel joke of the event by making fun of the anabaptist conviction of believer’s baptism, in which they re-baptized those who were baptized infants.  Mark Woods, of Christianity Today, writes of these cruel ways of execution:

The Holy Roman Emperor, Ferdinand, was particularly vigorous; he unleashed a wave of burnings and drownings (drowning was the “third baptism” and “the best antidote to Anabaptism”, he thought)”  

Not only was this a cruel joke in which leaders, yes political and Religious leaders, carried out while claiming to follow God, this also should have been completely sacrilegious to any Christian in their right mind because it made a mockery out of the sacrament of Baptism.

The Münster Rebellion – 1534-1535

*Disclosure:  The Anabaptists of today would have a hard time labeling the Münster Rebellion anabaptists as Anabaptists at all, but they all still held to a few common beliefs, and were seen by other people of the day as belonging to the same sect. Since what we know of anabaptism today is a church tradition that traditionally advocates for nonviolence and peace, it would be unjust to align them with this perversion, especially considering the Schleitheim Confession that preceded the event, and the nonviolent teachings of Menno Simons which came shortly after.  Nevertheless, this point in history left a black mark on the anabaptists outside of the city.*

Imagine going through about 10 years of widespread persecution coming from the tops of governments, as well as from the various other Christian churches  who all claim to follow the same God as yourself.  Imagine losing family and friends because they refused to renounce the faith that they held, and they refused to fight back.  Add to that the German Peasant’s War(1524-1525) which just recently took place in which peasants revolted under the inspiration of the radical independent thinking propitiated by the Reformation, and a myriad of other reasons, and we can begin to understand the radical, though misguided, rise of the Münster Rebellion.  I write about this in the spirit of the goal of this book, which is to present an argument for Nonviolence, while acknowledging alleged philosophical or biblical roadblocks. The Münster Rebellion is the only major instance in which anabaptists (though they were outliers) were seen as violent.  It causes the anabaptists of today, who know of its existence, to hang their heads in disgust.  I did not even know too much about it until I recently finished listening to Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast on the subject – Episode 48 – “Prophets of Doom”.  It is from this podcast that most of my knowledge of the subject comes from, along with a few other articles that I will place in the Work’s Referenced section of this chapter.

The Münster Rebellion is such an odd and confusing story, and truthfully, the information on it is a little hard to find.  But in order to present this story to you in a clear way that gets the point across, I will summarize the account with broad strokes.  The Rebellion began when Anabaptist teachings of Believers Baptism, and the sharing of wealth among believers, overtook a good portion of people in the city of Münster(located in the German State of North Rhine-Westphalia), and the city hall was seized by these anabaptists who installed one of their leaders, Bernhard Knipperdolling, as mayor.   Bernhard Knipperdolling also printed the works of Bernhard Rothmann which called anabaptists in the surrounding areas to come to this new Anabaptist Haven in Münster.

A man named Jan Matthys rose up in recognition for claiming to be a prophet of God, and proclaiming the “End is Near”; calling the town of Münster was the “New Jerusalem”.  Matthys desired the town of Münster to be an anabaptist theocracy (sounds oxymoronic) because he truly felt that that is what God was telling him to do.   Soon the remaining Catholics were told to leave, and the Lutherans were given the option to either convert, or leave the city.

After Matthys died by riding out against local armies with just a few men, an even more extreme prophet-figure rose to power.  This man, Jan Van Leiden, eventually became “King”, established mandatory polygamy (wives who objected to their husbands taking more wives were put to death), and lived richly along with those in his court, while the citizens of Münster literally starved to death.  In June of 1535, the city was overtaken by outside forces, and the Rebellion was no more.

In short, the Münster Rebellion started as an Anabaptist Haven, and ended as a brutal and bloody tyrannical theocracy.  This event would unfortunately paint the other, less revolutionary-minded, anabaptist believers black as they would be seen as crazy, as rebellious, and as a threat.  As Mark Woods writes “They [anabaptists] suffered a crushing blow to their reputation with the terrible events of the Munster Rebellion of 1534-35”.

I wanted to touch on this black mark in anabaptist history to explain the only time in which some outliers who claimed to be a part of my own specific faith tradition fell guilty, in a major way, to the temptations of power through government, and killing in the name of God.  The Catholics, the Lutherans, the Reformed, these outlier anabaptists, and many other Christian groups have all been guilty of bloodshed, whether through an official position of their faith, or through the works of a radical offshoot.  I believe the key is what these various movements learned from these violent histories, and how they view these histories in hindsight.  Where I am going next tells of how many anabaptists rejected the horrid situation in Münster, and went on to form some of the most consistent “peace” churches today.

Peace in the Name of Christ

I was raised in a Mennonite Church, which is a remaining Anabaptist tradition, along with Brethern in Christ, Church of the Brethern, and others.  Growing up, there was a strong emphasis on the Bible, prayer, service, and all of which was based on a Christocentric view of scripture and theology, which essentially means that Christ is the Climax of the biblical narrative and his teachings and example should be seen as such – in other words, we believe that Christ is the center of our theology and mission.

Menno Simons is credited as being a unifier of the Dutch anabaptists, and as such, his followers were known as mennonites.  However, it is important to note that modern day mennonites do not view Menno Simons in the same way that Lutherans view Martin Luther – we don’t hold Menno’s teachings very high, but rather, we generally simply agree to some main tenants of his branch of anabaptism, and most mennonites would agree with several points in the Schleitheim confession if they were to read it – we are not generally a creedal or confessional church.  Regardless, the following quote of Menno Simons is quite relevant to our discussion in defining what Anabaptism means, apart from the perversion that was the rebelliousness in Münster:

“For true evangelical faith is of such a nature that it cannot lay dormant; but manifests itself in all righteousness and works of love; it dies unto flesh and blood; destroys all forbidden lusts and desires; cordially seeks, serves and fears God; clothes the naked; feeds the hungry; consoles the afflicted; shelters the miserable; aids and consoles all the oppressed; returns good for evil; serves those that injure it; prays for those that persecute it; teaches, admonishes and reproves with the Word of the Lord; seeks that which is lost; binds up that which is wounded; heals that which is diseased and saves that which is sound. The persecution, suffering and anxiety which befalls it for the sake of the truth of the Lord, is to it a glorious joy and consolation.” – Menno Simons in Why I Do Not Cease Writing and Teaching, 1539.

The Anabaptist/Mennonite faith is about striving to live like Jesus in piously worshiping God and serving/loving others – including our enemies.  These commitments are what make anabaptism so attractive to me because it pairs taking the scriptures and God’s Will seriously, with striving to live out the love of Christ.  There are some churches who are happy with members who read their bible every day while ridiculing, shaming, or hating others (Westboro baptist is the extreme of this), and there are other churches who don’t really have a lot of theology past “God is love”.  To me, the anabaptists are very good about marrying the good in both extremes, and getting rid of the distortions.  Not that I believe that the anabaptists have it all together, or that they are any better than others, but I have been in other denomination’s church services, I have been a part of other churches for longer periods of time, and I keep coming back to the consistent and radical way of the anabaptists.  It doesn’t matter whether your church, or you as an individual, claim to be anabaptist – I believe that anabaptism has influenced many branches of Christianity.
When it comes to the discussion killing “what would you do if…” questions raised in conversations about Nonviolence, the person asking always assumes that the person who claims nonviolence would falter in a real-life situation.  Although it’s nearly impossible to know what our personal responses would be, at the very least we have the example of the anabaptists who endured persecution without fighting back, and without renouncing their beliefs.

 

(Click Here to continue to Part 2)

*All references will be included in the Works Referenced section at the end of Part 2*

Redeemed Natures: Chapter Six – Nonviolence & The Early Church (Part 3 of 3)

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Chapter Six

Nonviolence & The Early Church (Part 3 of 3)

““If we are enjoined, then, to love our enemies … whom have we to hate?

– Tertullian, Apology. Chap. 37

(Be sure to read Part 1 and 2 of this chapter first)

Constantine & Shortly After – 306 – 380 A.D.

As written in my chapter on Romans 12 and 13, I believe that the Christian’s ultimate authority comes from God, and when that allegiance is divided, problems arise in the form of people accepting something as the truth, that is not with the Will of God.  The reason why Constantine is important in this discussion is because his relationship with Christianity started in the form of a vision, and his legacy led to Christianity being named the State Religion of the Roman Empire after his death.  

The Vision

The story of Constantine seeing a vision which instructed him to paint crosses on his army’s shields in order to win a battle took place in the year 311,   although I enjoy Mark Kurlansky’s thoughts on that story in his book Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea:

“Constantine had a dream in which Christ had appeared, commanding him to carry the sign of the cross into battle. By this time Constantine had numerous Christian soldiers in his ranks, and for the first time in history they went into battle with an emblem of Christianity, the cross, painted on their shields. Just a generation earlier, to have placed a symbol of Christianity on a weapon would have been an outrage for Romans and an unthinkable blasphemy for Christians. Before the battle, Constantine was said to have seen a flaming cross in the sky with the words “In this sign thou shalt conquer,” words that were in complete contradiction to Christianity and would have been unutterable for Jesus.” (Kindle Locations 407-412)

Kurlansky recognizes the conflict between the teachings of Jesus, as well as the early church, and the involvement of Christians and Christianity in warfare.  He correctly wrote that Christ himself would have been abhorred at the sight of crosses associated with him because used as a sort of “blessing” of war. The spread of this story within the Roman Empire would lead to Christians believing that Constantine possibly had some special connection with God, and because of that, their view of God might begin to become distorted by the belief that God was on the side of the Romans, and against its enemies.

The Edict of Milan

Because Christians were seen as cultish, and, in some cases, as rebels, persecution of them was a recurring issue in the Roman Empire. There were times, and areas, where this persecution was worse than others (Colosseum, anyone?), and there were times and areas where Christianity was just not as tolerated as other religious faiths were.

The Edict of Milan was issued in 313 by the Roman Emperor of the West – Constantine, and the Roman Emperor of the East – Licinius.  Its role was to put an end to less than tolerant behavior towards Christians, and those in other religions.  An excerpt from this edict, as seen in Christianity Today’s article on it, shows that the interest of stopping the persecution was not purely selfless, and it certainly was not because these two emperors were Christian themselves:

“Our purpose is to grant both to the Christians and to all others full authority to follow whatever worship each person has desired, whereby whatsoever Divinity dwells in heaven may be benevolent and propitious to us, and to all who are placed under our authority. Therefore we thought it salutary and most proper to establish our purpose that no person whatever should be refused complete toleration, who has given up his mind either to the cult of the Christians or to the religion which he personally feels best suited to himself.” – excerpt from The Edict of Milan as seen in Christanitytoday.com

The Edict came to be, at least partially, because these pagan Roman Emperors were basically trying to get all the blessings they could get over their territories and conquests. Nevertheless, it was a fundamentally good thing because it caused a spread of Christianity within the empire because Christians no longer had to fear persecution by the government.

The First Council of Nicaea

The first council of Nicaea happened in 325 A.D., and it was the first eccumenical council of the Christian Church in which they met together to discuss several things, particularly the rise and problem of Arianism – which was a heresy that denied the full deity of Christ and said that He was a created being, subordinate to the Father.  The council, desiring a document that established the basic truths of the faith that were agreed upon, created the first writing of what is known today as the Nicene Creed. Constantine called for this council to take place, presided over the opening of the council, and took place in the discussions, according to Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Though Constantine did not consider himself a church leader, he still desired to be a part of the Council because he was quoted in saying:

You are bishops whose jurisdiction is within the church,” he told them. “But I also am a bishop, ordained by God to oversee those outside the church.”  – Constantine, according to the article referenced before on Christianity Today.

Constantine was also very helpful in managing the event in arranging ceremonies, introductions, and in mediating the event. (Christianity Today)

This first eccumenical council improved relations within the Church, and was also a huge step in Christianity becoming more widespread.

Edict of Thessalonica

In 380 A.D., Roman Emperor Theodosius issued what is known as the Edict of Thessalonica amidst the widespread popularity of Arianism, and even Nicene Christians persecuting Arian christians.

“This edict commanded everyone to be a Christian–but not just any kind of Christian. A Catholic Christian, it said, was one who held that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one Godhead and equal in majesty. This, of course, was the position of the Nicene Creed.” – Dan Graves at Christianity.com

Theodosius considered himself to be a Christian in the Nicene Tradition, and was baptized as such.  However, this does not mean that his character and his works/fruit looked like a Christian’s should.

“In 387, When the city of Thessalonica rioted because a favored charioteer was imprisoned (for homosexuality), Theodosius ordered revenge: a chariot race was announced, citizens gathered in the arena, the gates were locked, and soldiers were set upon the crowd. By the end of the day, 7,000 had perished.” -Christianity Today

This is not to say that Theodosius was not a Christian, but to give perspective on how the Roman Christians must have felt in regards to Christianity and the military when they had a publicly declared Christian Emperor who made Christianity the State religion, while at the same time wielding a sword in a particularly violent manner.  

In the same way that celebrities have influence over people today, and their views on faith, if they are Christian, is idolized by their fans, the same could have happened with Theodosius who married the Church with the State, and Violence with Christ.

John Howard Yoder was a renowned Mennonite theologian, author, and professor who perhaps wrote some of the heartiest works on the subject of Christian Nonviolence, and he has this to say about the curious shift from the nonviolence of the early church fathers, to the acceptance of the use of violence post-Constantine.

“The progressive decay of the primitive Christian rejection of Caesar’s wars had many causes that built up gradually, although the Constantinian transition was the weightiest.  Instead of being a small band of believers, each of whom had counted the cost before making the commitment of discipleship, everyone who counted was now a Christian; it was now costly to be a pagan or a Jew. Since everyone was a Christian, Christian morality had to be tailored to the capacities and motivation level of “Everyman.” Instead of looking to their risen Lord to bring history to a triumphant conclusion in his own time and way, Christians now knew that the Roman emperor and their God were allies and that the forward movement of history was enforced by the legions.” – The War of the Lamb. Yoder, 45.

Yoder made the case here that instead of being a separated group from society, to be a Christian was now an important component of being a good Roman citizen, and so instead of theology being instructed from the church fathers, uninfluenced by the government, theology was taught by church leaders, and politicians alike.  To be a Roman was to be a Christian.  Thousands of pagan converts came into the faith out of following the Edict of Thessalonica, and would have outnumbered the Christians who were trying to follow the Will of God all along without the influence of the state.

The result is a Christianity that incorporates Nationalism, and Nationalism that incorporates Christianity.  In order for this to work, the components of the Church which conflicted with the State had to be diminished.  Nonviolence and Nationalism didn’t get along.

Chapter Conclusion

In the first section of this chapter, we went over several early church fathers who wrote against the Christian use of violence, and in the second section we saw how church and state began to mingle, and how that ultimately changed people’s perspectives on the issue of Christian Nonviolence.

My hope is that more and more people see the radical call of Christ for nonviolence in the Christian’s life, and if they accept it, for their allegiance to Christ to take precedence over all else.

Nonviolence is not a hippie idea implanted in theology by liberalism.  Nonviolence was something that was followed out of a literal interpretation of Christ’s words by the early church.  Nonviolence continues to arise in various movements within Christianity because of that same literal interpretation of the words of Christ; words that are worthy of our reflection.


 

Works Referenced

“Council of Nicaea”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2016. Web. 04 Mar. 2016

“Didache.” Early Christian Fathers. Christian Classics Ethereal Library. ccel.org, n.d. Web. 04 Mar. 2016.

“Didache”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.

Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2016. Web. 04 Mar. 2016

Galli, Mark, and Ted Olsen. “Constantine.” Christian History. Christianity Today, n.d. Web. 04 Mar. 2016. From the book: “131 Christians Everyone Should Know”

Galli, Mark and Ted Olsen. “Justin Martyr.” Christian History. Christianity Today, n.d. Web. 17 Feb. 2016. The text in the article was taken from “131 Christians Everyone Should Know”

Galli, Mark, and Ted Olsen. “Theodosius I.” Christian History. Christianity Today, n.d. Web. 04 Mar. 2016. From the book: “131 Christians Everyone Should Know”

Graves, Dan. “Theodosius Issued an Edict.” Christianity.com. N.p., May 2007. Web. 04 Mar. 2016.

“Irenaeus, The Proof of the Apostolic Preaching.” Trans. Roger Pearse. Tertullian.org, n.d. Web. 04 Mar. 2016. Text was transcribed by Roger Pearse, Ipswich, UK, 2003.

Kurlansky, Mark (2009-01-16). Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea (Modern Library Chronicles) (Kindle Locations 356-358, 407-412). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

McKnight, Scot. ““It’s Easy to Be Pacifist in Indiana. Try Gaza!”.” Jesus Creed. Patheos.com, 2 July 2013. Web. 29 Feb. 2016.

Sider, Ronald J. The Early Church on Killing: A Comprehensive Sourcebook on War, Abortion, and Capital Punishment. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012. Pages 24-25, 26, 28, 29-30, 45, 50-51, 70, 72, 110. Print.

Yoder, John Howard (2009-12-01). The War of the Lamb: The Ethics of Nonviolence and Peacemaking (p. 45). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.