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.

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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 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)

Click Here to see all posts in this series

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.

Redeemed Natures: Chapter Six – Nonviolence & The Early Church (Part 2 of 3)

Click Here to see all posts in this series

Chapter Six

Nonviolence & The Early Church (Part 2 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 of this chapter first)

Origen – 185 – 254 A.D.

Origen was “one of the most important, and certainly one of the most prolific, Christian authors before the time of Constantine” – Sider, pg. 67.  He was a student of both Greek philosophy and culture, as well as the Scriptures and Theology, and so his writings had a profound impact on the Early church.  When he was only 18, he became the master of the Catechetical school at Alexandria, and he moved on to write extensively on theological and cultural issues of the day, landing him an important figure in Church History.

Homilies on Joshua

Origen expressed, specifically in Homily 15 in this work, his questions regarding the purpose of reading and preaching the war passages in a church when Christ gave a message and example of nonviolence and peace, and the Apostle Paul told his audience to not avenge themselves in Romans 12:19.

“In short, knowing that now we do not have to wage physical wars, but that the struggles of the soul have to be exerted against spiritual adversaries, the Apostle, just as a military leader, gives an order to the soldiers of Christ, saying, “Put on the armor of God, so that you may be able to stand firm against the cunning devices of the Devil” [Eph. 6:11].  And in order for us to have examples of these spiritual wars from deeds of old, he wanted those narratives of exploits [from Joshua] to be recited to us in church.” – Origen in Homily 15 of Homilies on Joshua.  Sider, 70.

To Origen – warfare and Christianity are simply not compatible and so his answer as to why the conquests of Joshua should still be read in church was because they conveyed an example in which God was with the people of God, and was actively involved in their conquests over those whom would corrupt them, just as he is with us in our spiritual warfare against the evil forces of the devil, which manifest themselves in temptations that would draw us away from God, and following His will.

Commentary on Matthew

In Origen’s commentary on Matthew 26:52, which is when Jesus told Peter to put his sword back into its place, he argues that Disciples of Jesus Christ should put down the sword of war, and pick up the sword of the Spirit, which again ties in the Apostle Paul’s description of the armor of God from Ephesians 6.  Origen argues the following:

“For Jesus wishes his disciples to be “pacific”, that putting down this warlike sword they should take up another pacific sword, which Scriptures call “the sword of the spirit.”  In a similar way he says, “all who take the sword shall perish by the sword,” that is, all who are not pacific but inciters of wars, shall perish in that very war which they stir up….But taking simply what He says, “those who take the sword shall perish by the sword,” we should beware lest because of warfare or the vindication of our rights or for any occasion we should take out the sword, for no such occasion is allowed by this evangelical teaching, which commands us to fulfill what is written, “with those who hated me I was pacific.”  If therefore with those that hate peace we must be pacific, we must use the sword against no-one” – Origen in Commentary on Matthew on Matt. 26:52.  Sider, 70.

Origen echos Tertullian in making the point that by disarming Peter, he disarmed all believers, though Origen utilizes this passage to also state that instead of Christians being armed with swords of war, they are to be armed with swords of the spirit; thereby, they still have a means to combat evil, but violent combat/vengeance is not their prerogative.

The last two sentences in this excerpt make the point that if Jesus commands us to be peaceful and nonviolent to those who hate peace, we have no right to use the sword against anyone, on any occasion.

Against Celsus

In Against Celsus, Origen refutes the second century Greek Philosopher Celsus’ arguments against Christianity, and he also defends Christianity, and the Christian way of life. Origen writes the following on the topic of Christians and violence:

“He[Christ] nowhere teaches that it is right for His own disciples to offer violence to anyone, however wicked. For He did not deem it in keeping with such laws as His, which were derived from a divine source, to allow the killing of any individual whatsoever.  Nor would the Christians, had the owed their origin to a rebellion, have adopted laws of so exceedingly mild a character as not not allow them, when it was their fate to be slain as sheep, on any occasion to resist their persecutors.” – Origen in 3.7 of Against Celsus.  Sider, 72.

In this excerpt, Origen is arguing against any accusations that the early Christians were a violent and rebellious group.  Like the quotes from Origen before this one, Origen writes strongly against Christians using violence.

Lactantius – 250 – 325 A.D.

Lactantius was an appointed teacher of Latin Rhetoric at Nicomedia, which is where the Emperor  Diocletian lived ( Sider, pg. 103).  When the Emperor issued a widespread persecution of Christians, Lactantius responded by defending and explaining Christianity in his Divine Institutes.

The Divine Institutes  

“For when God forbids us to kill, He not only prohibits us from open violence, which is not even allowed by the public laws, but He warns us against the commission of those things which are esteemed lawful among people.  Thus it will be neither lawful for a just man to engage in military service, since his military service is justice itself, not to accuse anyone of a capital charge, because it makes no difference whether you put a person to death by word, or rather by the sword, since it is the act of putting to death itself which is prohibited.  Therefore, with regard to this precept of God, there ought to be no exception at all but that it is always unlawful to put to death a person, whom God willed to be a sacred creature.” – Lactantius in 6.20 of The Divine Institutes. Sider,110

What is lawful is not always what is right.  This quote not only forbids Christians serving in the military, but it also forbids Christians from calling for the death penalty for reasons that would contradict following the Will of God.  Lactantius goes so far as to say that there should be no exemption at all to the command not to kill for followers of Jesus.

Early Church Writings – Summary

All of the quotes that I have provided in this chapter, from various sources dating from the first to the fourth century, give clarity as to the opinions of the prominent church figures in the early church.  All of these writings have a very literal interpretation of Christ’s teachings on nonviolence, and enemy love.  I say this not to say anything that is from an early church father is right, but I will say that the agreement among various writers in different times, and locations, SHOULD speak to the legitimacy of the argument.  These early writings, not far removed from the actual human presence of Christ on earth, not yet influenced by the marriage of church and state…should mean a lot to us.

I realize that the majority of my readers are not catholic, and so I know that most of my readers reject the weight of tradition, saints, and early church fathers that the Catholics place upon them… but even still, I believe that these quotes from the early church are interesting if nothing else.

For some, this chapter is insightful so far, for others, this chapter is boring as it’s a bunch of quotes, and is not about bible passages.  But regardless on where you fall, I believe that this chapter is important in our discussion about this topic because it shows that Christian nonviolence is not a hippie view that was placed upon Jesus in recent times by liberal Christians and society…Instead, Christian nonviolence was birthed out of the words of Jesus according to first through fourth century Christian leaders.

Scot McKnight, New Testament Scholar and author has this to say about the early church and nonviolence on his blog “Jesus Creed”:

“Early-church writers, living in various parts of the empire, all agreed: Christians should not kill. These writers didn’t just condemn immoral killing (abortion, murder, etc.), but all types of killing. Most of these same writers didn’t think Christians should serve in the military. But even those who allowed converted soldiers to remain in the service instructed them not to kill. This is because early Christians believed that enemy-love is the hallmark of Christianity. You can mock us. You can torture us. You can even throw us to wild beasts. But we will still love our enemies and pray for our persecutors. And the church increased. Without the sword, the church spread. With no religious freedom, the church grew—like a mustard seed—shouldered by the stiff, persistent enemy-love of martyred saints.” – from the article “It’s Easy to Be Pacifist in Indiana.  Try Gaza!”

So what happened?  Why did this seemingly popular opinion fade out?

*All Sources Quoted in parts 1-3 of Chapter 6 will be in the Works Referenced section at the conclusion of part 3*

Redeemed Natures: Chapter Five – On Christians & Government: Romans 12 & 13 (Part 2 of 2)

Click Here to see all posts in this series

Chapter Five

On Christians & Government: Romans 12 & 13 (Part 2 of 2)

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”  – Romans 12:21 (ESV)

**Please Read Part 1 first! Click Here**

On Romans 13

Romans 13 is a chapter that is often quoted to provide “evidence” that a Christian going to war is justified, for they are serving their government, and governments are permitted to “bear the sword”(Romans 13:4).  The passage that is referenced does not encompass all of chapter 13, but just the first seven verses.  I will go through these verses exegetically, just as I did with Romans 12.

Romans 13:1-2

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.

Chapter 13 verses 1 & 2 state that we should be subject to our governing authorities, for God has appointed those in positions of authority.  We tend to ignore this truth when the elections come along, and when a president is in office that we do not like.  It is perfectly okay to not like who is the governing authority over you, but we are to be subject to them, which Paul explains later by stating that we should pay our taxes, respect them, and honor them to some extent; even if this simply means not blatantly slandering a ruler because you may not like their political policies, or them as a person.  

Romans 13:3-5

“3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.

These verses are essentially saying: do good and you will not fall under their (the government’s) wrath.  But if you do wrong, the government does not “bear the sword in vain”(v.4).  Many Christians use this passage to justify their support of the Death Penalty, however, though I agree that God could very well use the death penalty to carry out His wrath on some individuals, being a mere man, I cannot know what is the will of God, and what is the will of man, so I would never put myself in a position where I would have to decide which criminals are to be put to death.  I also cannot help but wonder what advancement for the Kingdom of God could be done if His children trusted the judgment of governments more than the judgement of God.

Romans 13:6-7

For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

Paul states that we are to pay taxes, repay what we owe, and respect and honor those who it is owed, and beings that governing authorities were appointed by God, I would take this to mean that we are to respect and honor our governing authorities.  The passage does not say that we have to be patriotic or nationalist, it merely says to respect and honor governing authorities; to respect their position, pay your taxes, and do good.  Things get messy when patriotism and nationalism penetrate into our faith.  And so the question is this: If the Word of God tells you to do something, and the Government tells you to do another, chose the Word of God.  If doing something for, with, or against the Government goes against the Word of God, chose the Word of God.  The Lord is Ruler of All, and we are to follow His Word.  The NLT Study Bible notes on Romans 13:1-2 (in reference to the Christians subjection to the government) state:

“Our submission to them [the government] will usually take the form of obedience.  However, because God stands over all governments, our submission to governing authorities must always be in terms of our ultimate submission to God (see Acts 4:19-20)”.

Therefore, if the government desires for you to enlist in the military, then, the Christian should refuse to do so based on the understanding of the Scriptures that I am convicted by. Thankfully if a draft ever happens again in the U.S., a person can chose to be a conscientious objector for religious reasons, and simply work in hospitals and the like in order to serve their country without violating their convictions.

As I pointed out earlier, many will use Romans 13 as justification for Christians to serve in the military because the military is permitted to “bear the sword”.   In the case of Romans 13, I believe it is mainly about, if not all about, domestic policy (governments, police, and judicial systems), and not so much about foreign policy (international conflicts/wars, military, etc.).  However, this doesn’t mean that God using a nation militarily is unbiblical, for other places in the Bible certainly indicate that God can use even a pagan nation to carry out His Will (Babylonians/Chaldeans, Assyrians, and Persians in the Old Testament, for example). In this fallen world, war is, at times, necessary for a nation to go into; not to make a statement whether or not certain ones are necessary, but to say that as a political body, a nation must defend itself and its people in order to survive. Therefore, I believe that God can use the United States (or any government, better or worse) in the form of war, if He so deems.  However, even if they do carry out God’s will in carrying out His wrath, they may still be held accountable for what they have done, as seen in the Old Testament with the Chaldeans in Habakkuk 2:2-20.  The NKJV MacArthur Study Bible notes on this passage state:

“In response to Habakkuk’s second complaint (1:12-2:1), the Lord announced that He would judge the Chaldeans as well for their wickedness. His reply included: 1) the instructions to write it down, as a reminder that it would surely occur (vv. 2,3); 2) a description of the character of the wicked in comparison to the righteous (vv. 4,5); and 3) the pronouncement of 5 woes describing the Chaldeans’ demise (vv. 6-20)”.

Therefore, it is seen that even in specific instances of God using a pagan nation and peoples to carry out His will, they are still to be punished for even those actions.  For Habakkuk was crying out to the Lord to administer justice on the Chaldeans (Babylon) for being an oppressive and violent people.  To carry this idea further, we see how God used Pharaoh in the Exodus of the hebrews to carry out His will, and then later punished Pharaoh and his people.  

Therefore, in light of the passage in Habakkuk, Romans 12, Christ’s words, and what I have found in the Old Testament, I believe that a Christian ought not to involve themselves in any office, organization, or position that could cause them to take a life.  For God will have His will accomplished, and we must leave vengeance/wrath to God and through the governments that he has appointed.

Romans 13:8-10:

“8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

Romans 13 starts by speaking of how the citizens are to respond to the government, specifying the roles of the government, and then the chapter closes with words that are reflective of the message in Romans 12:9-19 in regards to the Christian’s response to their enemies, and how they are to interact with one another; setting a moral code to follow.  The inclusion of the final passage that was quoted confirms to me that Paul, in speaking of how the Christian is to respond and interact with others in Romans 12 and 13, referenced the government as an extension of this theme, and then concluded this theme by restating how the Christian is to act, as a contrast to how the government acts.  

Conclusion

I will restate that my purpose was to communicate the stance that I take on the role of Christians, government, and Christians serving in a position that may cause them to take a life, through the context of Romans 12 and 13.  I have done so exegetically in order to write in direct relation to the text itself so as to give the reader a view of how I view these apparently contradictory chapters, and how I honestly wrestled with each chapter.  The topic is important to me because I intend to always serve the church that I attend in whatever capacity that I am able, and I would like to at least be able to present them with my view, if asked or required, because to me, if a Christian kills another person outside of the will of God, even if they are within, or serving the government, they are committing murder.  If we are all created in the image of God, then all life is sacred.  

As stated before, I hold the views that I have because I have found them to be the most biblical through my own study, and through many discussions, on the subject matter that has lasted for several years.   I have been presented with views from other sides of the argument by my peers, pastors, and professors, however, none has seemed to be as biblically based as Christian Nonviolence.  I understand this because most people have a hard time letting go of the natural inclination that humans have towards violence and vengeance, and some have too much of an allegiance to their country that they are not even willing to consider the argument which I present.  I certainly would not naturally choose to believe in this argument if I did not firmly believe it to be what God would have me do.    I view this topic as I do others: pray about it, seek the scriptures, examine multiple passages- even ones that may seem to initially contradict, and then seek out opinions written by other people of God throughout the centuries.  

We are to follow God and His Will, regardless of our own personal stances. Are we willing to change our stances if God calls us to do so?


Works Referenced (In Parts 1 & 2)

Barker, Kenneth L. “Notes On: Romans 12:17.” Zondervan NASB Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub. House, 1999. 1654. Print.

Cranfield, C. E. B. “VII. 3. A Series of Loosely Connected Items of Exhortation (12:9-21).” Romans, a Shorter Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 1985. 316. Print.

Grudem, Wayne A. “Chapter 1: Five Wrong Views About Christians and Government.” Politics According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010. 54. Print.

Henry, Matthew; Bible, King James Version; Bureau, Better Bible (2013-10-24). Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible (Linked to Bible Verses) (Kindle Locations 230574-230579).  . Kindle Edition.

MacArthur, John. “Notes on Habakkuk 2:2-20.” The MacArthur Study Bible: New King James Version. Nashville: Word Bibles, 1997. 1319. Print.

“Notes on Romans 13:1-2.” The NLT Study Bible. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2008. 1916. Print.

Redeemed Natures: Chapter Five – On Christians & Government: Romans 12 & 13 (Part 1 of 2)

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Chapter Five

On Christians & Government: Romans 12 & 13 (Part 1 of 2)

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”  – Romans 12:21 (ESV)

There exists an apparent contradiction in viewing Romans 12 and 13 as a Christian; for we see that the very things that Paul instructs the Christian to not do, he states that the government has the authority to do.  A good amount of Christians today look at these chapters as independent and uncorrelated with one another, at least in practice, and most would pick the chapter that seems more akin to their own personal position on the subject of government and war, and nearly ignore the other.  The political pacifists will harp on Romans 12, and the Christian Political Right will harp on Romans 13; we are naturally drawn to what fits most comfortably with our own views.  However, to view these passages as independent of one another is a hermeneutical(interpretive) error; those who seek to come to the scriptures honestly must look at and wrestle with them both; not as two separate ideas, but as one idea related to various peoples.  The purpose of this chapter of my writings is to communicate the stance that I take, which is best defined as Christian non-resistance, by going through Romans 12 and 13, and honestly wrestling with each chapter.

As mentioned before, most people side with the chapter that is most akin to their current position. This is not to say that there are no exceptions to people choosing one chapter or the other, for there are Christians who are pacifists in their personal lives who believe that Christians should never kill, regardless of whether they are a mere citizen or a government official, but they may also state that the secular government does have the authority to issue justice in the form of violence and even death.  There are also those who believe that Christians in the government are permitted to kill when the government is issuing justice, but who feel that the Christian civilian should act the same as the Christian pacifist civilians and not take violence into their own hands.  This group would push for Christian involvement in politics because they feel that they need to maintain the law of God through their nation’s politics.  Wayne Grudem in “Politics according to the Bible” states:

“Good government and good laws can prevent much evil behavior, and they can teach people what society approves, but they cannot by themselves produce good people”(pg.54).

Grudem states this in order to convey that although pushing for God’s law within politics can prove to be beneficial, people are still sinners who need a Holy God.  Both of the positions described are honestly seeking what they believe the Lord desires, and they each wrestle with the question of how Christians respond to government and injustice.

As stated many times in this book already, the position I hold is one that states that the Christian is not to commit violence under any circumstance unless directly commanded, blessed, or instructed by God to do so (Something that seems highly unlikely).  Therefore, in presenting my view, the reader has to understand that I believe that in order to understand Romans 13, it must be viewed in light of Romans 12.  Any good book written on biblical interpretation (hermeneutics) should inform you that the surrounding text of a verse, passage, or chapter is useful to understanding the meaning behind the portion of scripture you are studying.  

On Romans 12

The context of Romans 12 is that it was written after the Apostle Paul explained the mystery of the Gospel (Romans 9,10,11), which is that Gentiles were grafted into God’s plan and household, and this is why Paul writes the following transition:

Romans 12:1-2

“1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

The “therefore” is there as a bridge between Paul’s previous point about the mystery of the Gospel, and his point in chapters 12 and 13, which is broadly summarized as instructions to the Christian on how they ought to live.  Paul writes that we are to present ourselves as living sacrifices that are willing to lay down our lives metaphorically and physically for our devotion to Jesus Christ and His work.  He then goes on to verse two which states that we are to be transformed in our mind and lives because of our belief and adherence to God, which would then strengthen our ability to discern what is, and is not, the will of God with careful study, counsel, and prayer.

As English speakers, readers, and writers, we have the Bible in many different versions and translations to read from.  These Bibles are the God’s words to humankind, and are worthy of our study, and our application of its words to our lives.  Through the Bible, we can begin to discern what would be, and would not be, the Will of God. However, we must remember, in as much possible, to seek to put our political, religious, and personal opinions aside, and seek to understand what the text says; a troublesome concept for us all.  

Coming back to Romans 12, after writing about unity in the church in verses 3-8, Paul moves on by stating something that is quite reflective of Christ’s life and ministry on earth, and is quite challenging for most of us if we truly look at the passages that follow.  

Romans 12:9-13

“9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

This first passage is in reference to how Christians should treat one another, as well as how they should view faith; by being “fervent in spirit”, serving the Lord, rejoicing, patient through trials, constant prayer, and to not be “slothful in zeal”. Paul is telling his audience here that God desires more from His people than simply going to church, and having belief; God desires for us to act out our faith by adhering to His Son’s example, and following the other guiding words of Scriptures, and the Holy Spirit.  Paul states that we are to contribute to the needs of the saints, and to show hospitality; how often does the church ask of the needs of its congregation’s members, be it financial, housework, or other things?  We must love our brethren better.

Romans 12:14-21

“14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

In this passage, Paul is writing about how the Christian should act toward those who persecute them, as well as all people in general.  In verse 14, Paul writes that we are to bless those who persecute us, and not curse them.  He continues this thought in verse 17 by stating that we should not repay evil for evil; that we are supposed to do the honorable thing [to “overcome evil with good” – v.21].  It is important to note that the statement “repay no one evil for evil” is a quote from the Old Testament in Proverbs 20:22.  This is important because it shows that the message of the believer’s command regarding vengeance is the same in the Old Testament, as it is in the New Testament.  For as we discovered in the chapter on the Old Testament, Humankind is always subject to God, and violence was only permitted with God’s command and blessing.  The Zondervan NASB Study Bible in its notes on Romans 12:17 state the following about the high moral call to the Christian:

“Christian conduct should never betray the high moral standards of the gospel, or it will provoke the disdain of unbelievers and bring the gospel into disrepute (See 2 Cor 8:21; 1 Tim 3:7)”.

Many people that you come across who have negative views towards Christianity, usually have the same frustration:  Hypocracy.  They are tired of Christians saying one thing, and doing another.  They are tired of Christians who claim to follow Christ being the voice of hate in our culture.  It is in this observation that the relevance of the above quote comes into play; when Christians betray their high moral standards, unbelievers disdain them, and the message of the Gospel is injured.

To further this idea of a high moral standard, and repaying no one evil for evil, Romans 12:18 states that as much as it depends on us, we are to live peaceably with ALL.  Keep in mind, Paul was writing to Christians in Rome who were being persecuted when he wrote them this message.  But what is most alarming about this passage is found in verses 19-21, which state in verse 19 that we are never to avenge (which is a synonym for taking revenge for) ourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is his to pay, for He is Just.  In addition, C.E.B. Cranfield in his Romans: A Shorter Commentary writes on the topic of the Lord’s Vengeance in verse 19 by stating the following in why the Christian ought to allow for God to have vengeance, and not take matters into their own hands:

“If one is to continue to live by grace, then one cannot do other than make way for this wrath – to do otherwise would be to cease to live by grace.  To give place to the wrath is to leave vengeance to God in the knowledge that He is the God who smites in order to heal”(pg. 316).

Cranfield reminds us that God is perfect and just, and if we were to live as if we understood that, we would live by grace by not taking God’s place in avenging people that are just as vile as we are if we were without the salvation of Christ.  Cranfield also reminds us that God desires for all to be saved, and God’s wrath may be a way to reveal himself to them for God smites “in order to heal”.

Moving on to verse 20, Paul instructs us to even feed, and give water to our enemy (basically looking out for their best interest) to “heap burning coals on his head”.  The burning coals on his head part of this verse seems completely out of place here because many people’s first thought is: We should be nice to them so that they get angry at us, so that they are punished, etc..  However, Matthew Henry gives the following interpretations for this part of the verse:

Thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head; that is, “Thou shalt either,”

  1. “Melt him into repentance and friendship, and mollify his spirit towards thee” (alluding to those who melt metals; they not only put fire under them, but heap fire upon them; thus Saul was melted and conquered with the kindness of David, Sa1 24:16; Sa1 26:21) – “thou wilt win a friend by it, and if thy kindness have not that effect then,”

  2. “It will aggravate his condemnation, and make his malice against thee the more inexcusable. Thou wilt hereby hasten upon him the tokens of God’s wrath and vengeance.

The two reasons that Matthew Henry gives is that being kind will either conquer your enemy’s hatred to spur them to love you, or it will continue to show the corruption in their heart, and they will therefore have to answer to their maker one day.  The role of the Christian is not to take vengeance, but to love others, leaving vengeance up to God, and seeking His Will each day.

Verse 21 summarizes these points by stating, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”.  By instructing us to not be overcome by evil, Paul is meaning that we should not be passive in our dealing with evil against us (we are to pray, look out for our enemies best interest; showing them undeserved Grace), but we should not add to the evil being done by committing evil ourselves.  Again, Christians are called to rise above our natural instincts in the pursuit of following Jesus.

Based on this study of Romans 12, a Christian is not permitted to “play God” and carry out violence without His blessing.  I add “without His blessing” because that is the only way that violence was permitted in the Old Testament.  I will say, however, that there is no instance in the New Testament where followers of Christ were ever told to carry out violence.  Instead, God, and His heavenly armies, are the only ones who did, or were foretold to carry out judgement.

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*Works Referenced in this post will be within the Works Referenced section in Part 2*

Redeemed Natures: Chapter Four -Selected New Testament Writings and Letters

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Chapter Four

Selected New Testament Writings and Letters

“Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing” – 1 Peter 3:9 (ESV)

Jesus had a ministry in which nonviolence and redemption were intricately woven into his teachings, example, his salvific work on the Cross, and in the resurrection.  The Lord God, Holy and blameless, became one of us, and took all of our sorrow upon himself so that we can be set free from sins that afflict us, and walk with God in this life, and in the next. Jesus taught His followers to love their enemies, and he showed the good in their enemies through the story of the Good Samaritan, in which someone who was an enemy showed one of their own people more love than their religious leaders.  Additionally. Christ showed them how to respond to sinfulness in the story of the woman caught in adultery.  He showed them how to respond to persecution by not harming those who harmed him, and by willfully carrying his cross on his aching and torn back, and taking the nails on the cross, while praying to God, “Bless them Father, for the know not what they do”.  Christian Author Preston Sprinkle writes in his blog “Theology in the Raw” that:

“Christ defeats evil by submitting to violence—by dying rather then killing—and rises from the dead to tell the tale.” 

In the cross, Jesus showed us the full expression of Love and Mercy, and in the resurrection, he showed us that that Love was true and hopeful.

The argument for Christians to live nonviolently should be able to rest within the words and example of Christ alone.  However, many still are resistent, and for good reason.  Nonviolence calls us to accept the seemingly improbable, impossible, and unlikely way to address a problem.  Nonviolence takes away our first instinct and tells us to do that which doesn’t make sense.

It would be easier to dismiss Christ’s teachings if the rest of the New Testament did not advocate for nonviolence, or if it even endorsed a Christian’s use of deadly force against evil.  If this were the case, one could say of Christ’s teachings “Well, he is talking about his millennial reign”, “that’s really only for Christians who are normal civilians and are not in government”, or even a vague statement like “It is a good teaching, but that doesn’t apply to…[name scenario]”. As someone who takes Christ’s words so seriously…I don’t think that I could make these conclusions, even if no other writings of nonviolence existed in the Bible, but it would at least be understandable. However, the other New Testament writings DO address nonviolence.

This chapter is going to cover some selected writings, and the next chapter will be a more specific chapter on Romans 12 and 13, and dealing with the question of Christians and Governments.

1 John 4:19-21 – Love one another

Christian love is unique in that it demands love when love is not necessarily our first response.  It demands us to love those we don’t want to love.  It demands us to love those who have wronged us.  Why do we love?

“19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

Within the book of first John is a powerful call for Christians to radically love one another, and others. This Love was a defining attribute for these early believers.  

1 Peter 2:21-25  – When He was reviled, he did not revile in return

The Apostle Peter wrote pretty plainly in the following passage about the influence that Christ’s example should have over our own lives.

“21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

In context, this passage was written to slaves in first century Israel, within the broader context of Peter writing to all people to be subject to authority, and calling them to put away all sin – “all malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander”(1 Pet. 2:1).  Despite harsh and/or powerful authorities over them, followers of Christ were expected to follow His example, and to not retaliate evil for evil.  

1 Peter 3:8-12 – Seek Peace and Pursue it

Although that last passage, in my mind, refers to all Christians, some may think that it was originally written to Christian slaves, and therefore may be simply an instruction for slaves to not retaliate because that is not what slaves were expected to do in that time and culture.  I understand that, and so I want to provide this next passage from the same book and author.

“8 Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 9 Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.

10 For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; 11 let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it.12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.

Peter states nothing to the new testament reader that had not been alluded to/taught before.  He informs his audience to not repay evil for evil, to be unified, loving, tender-hearted, humble, as well telling them to bless the one doing evil against them.  He also adds that the Christian is to not only seek peace, but to pursue it; for the Lord is against “those who do evil”.

This passage contains a repeating theme that I have been noticing during my study of this topic, which is: Go above and beyond the normal.  Show the world that something about you is different.  Be your “brother’s keeper” to your friends, as well as to your enemies; instead of cursing them, bless them.  See the humanness in all.  Evangelical Pastor, Brian Zahnd, affirms this truth in his book “A Farewell to Mars” by stating:

Humanity’s worst sins and most heinous crimes occur when we follow the way of Cain as the founder of human civilization and refuse to recognize the shared humanity of our brothers and fail to acknowledge our responsibility to be our brother’s keeper. When vicious competition and blind commitment to tribalism become more valued than the brotherhood of shared humanity, we let Satan loose in our midst. When we denigrate those of differing nationalities, ethnicities, religions, politics, and classes to a dehumanized “them,” we open the door to deep hostility and the potential for unimaginable atrocities. If we believe the lie that they are “not like us,” we are capable of becoming murderers and monsters. And it’s been going on for a long, long time.”

Dehumanization leads to us being comfortable with that which Christ preaches against.  For if our enemies, or those who have done us wrong, are forever cursed in our minds, than how can we have the desire to even think about loving them? Instead, we should see that all of us, if prompted enough, if desperate enough, if lost enough, can be guilty of the same evil; we can become murderers, racists, terrorists if we do not consistently fight against dehumanizing others.

“How can I kill the ones I’m supposed to love…

My enemies are men like me…”

-Derek Webb. From “My Enemies are Men like me”  Album: Mockingbird

Acts 5:40-42 – Rejoicing in Persecution

“40 and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.

In context, this quote is in reference to a meeting composed of the senate of the people of Israel (5:21), and was in reference to the Apostles who were put in Prison for preaching about Christ (5:17-20).  The Apostles were then set free by an Angel, and were later seen preaching in the temple (5:25).  They were charged for going against their jewish laws, and Peter’s response to them was this:

Acts 5:29-32

We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.

The apostles were not afraid to follow God, even unto death, and saw evangelism as incredibly important.  Even when they were beaten and jailed, they REJOICED that they were worthy to suffer for their proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Please take note that they did not only refuse to revile, but they rejoiced in their suffering.  

This is in harmony with the writings of James, which could speak of literal persecution, or going through another tough spot in our faith walks.

James 1:2-4

“2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Acts 7:54-60 – The Martyrdom of Stephen

“54 Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. 55 But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. 58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

In carrying out the thrust of what Peter was doing in the previous section, Stephen went against the laws of man to preach the Gospel because His true authority was God.  Not only is Stephen a great example of having a faith that lasts through suffering, but he is also a great example of how to love our enemies.  While he was being stoned to death, Stephen echoed Christ’s own words and asked God to not hold the sin of stoning him to death against those casting the stones.   His love for Lord, his passion for the Gospel, and his love for others was so great that he did not desire even God to punish his persecutors.  It is a crazy enough thing to think about when Christ said this as he hung on a cross, but Christ was Divine.  Stephen’s devotion to Christ and His teachings is an example for us all to follow.

Nonviolent Action

The last two sections touched on not fighting violence with violence when you are being persecuted for your faith.  Within these sections, we found that Peter told the council that was accusing him of breaking their laws that “we must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29)”.  After being jailed for evangelizing, Peter evangelized once again after he was set free.  In this way, he was saying to the authorities – “I do not care about your laws, I have to do what God calls me to do.”  In the same fashion, Stephen was martyred in Acts 7 for preaching the truth of the Gospel, while knowing the consequences for doing so.  

Many people believe that nonviolence is a worldview that does not allow for resistance; that we would allow people to trample our loved ones, or that we would passively stand by as we watch the world burn. But to assume such is to make the statement that the only solution to violence, is violence.  To assume this goes against even the Just-War position, which is supposed to attempt many ways in resolving an issue before resorting to war/violent retaliation.

As I will cover more later on, the nonviolence ethic is not passive, but it quite active, and for this and other reasons, Pacifism does not accurately describe the nonviolence teachings and example of Jesus.  American journalist and author, Mark Kurlansky in his book about nonviolence had the following thing to say about the the comparison between pacifism and nonviolence in regards to Christianity:

Nonviolence is not the same thing as pacifism, for which there are many words. Pacifism is treated almost as a psychological condition. It is a state of mind. Pacifism is passive; but nonviolence is active. Pacifism is harmless and therefore easier to accept than non-violence, which is dangerous. When Jesus Christ said that a victim should turn the other cheek, he was preaching pacifism. But when he said that an enemy should be won over through the power of love, he was preaching nonviolence. Nonviolence, exactly like violence, is a means of persuasion, a technique for political activism, a recipe for prevailing. It requires a great deal more imagination to devise nonviolent means—boycotts, sitins, strikes, street theater, demonstrations—than to use force.

One of the reasons why I am writing this book is to hopefully share what I believe to be God’s will for Christians on the matter of responding to conflict and our enemies in order to hopefully spark a movement in individual’s hearts to embrace the way of nonviolence.  After this, I would hope that all of us can be motivated to show the Crazy Love of Jesus through nonviolent action to our hurting and broken world so torn apart by bombs and bullets.

Leaving Vengeance to the Lord

Just as we are to non-violently promote peace and seek resolution to conflict, we are also called to trust that the Lord is capable of carrying out justice – whether that be in this life, or the next.  Recognizing that God will Right the Wrong makes accepting the call of nonviolence to the believer a little easier.  In the New Testament, there are a couple examples of Divine Justice that I will go over briefly in this section.   

The Case of Ananias and Sapphira – Acts 5:1-11

Ananias and Saphira sell some of their land, and agree to keep some of the profit, and give the rest to the church.  However, they acted as if they were giving all of their profits to the church, but they only gave some of the proceeds to the apostles from the land which they had sold.  The early Church shared all of their possessions, as seen in Acts 4:32-37, in order to support one another, however, it is not said that they were required to do so.  And so, Ananias & Sapphira wanted to keep some of the money, but make it seem like they were giving up all of the money.  They lied when they didn’t have to, and did so for their own social good – more money, and being recognized as giving all of the money.

The sins of Ananias and Sapphira are not only lying, but also hypocrisy.  They were struck dead – not by a human hand, but they each fell down, and breathed their last upon being convicted of lying to God. We cannot fully grasp the extent of how offensive this incident was to God, for we still wonder in a quiet whisper, why did this have to happen, God?  And as much as we may toss and turn over this passage, we eventually have to accept that what was written happened, and that it happened by the hands of a completely righteous and just God.  

I know.  It doesn’t sit right.  It may not ever sit right with us.  But in this instance, we see God carrying out justice through his own hand, and his followers played no part in issuing this lethal justice.

The Final Judgement – Matthew 25:31-46, Revelation 19:11- 20:15

Perhaps the most descriptive passages about Divine Justice comes from these passages dealing with Christ Jesus judging all of the earth, alive and dead.  To separate the “sheep” from the “goats”.  

It is hard to discuss these passages without going into interpretations about the end times, which is not what this chapter, or book, is about.  Some believe these passages to be metaphorical, some literal. Many disagree on the order of events, and on a myriad of other things. But what we can gather, no matter what interpretation that you take, is that God will Right all Wrong, He will bring Justice to the Wickedness of the world, and in doing so, he will Redeem the world.

God will do this, and it is not said that he needs our help doing so; Christ and the heavenly armies are more than capable of handling whatever that they will handle.  In the meantime, we have to trust that He will Right all Wrongs as we seek to live our lives following the Lord, and loving others.


 

Works Referenced

Kurlansky, Mark (2009-01-16). Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea (Modern Library Chronicles) (Kindle Locations 163-168). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Sprinkle, Preston. “A Case for Christocentric Nonviolence.” Theology in the Raw. Patheos.com, 21 Nov. 2015. Web. 05 Feb. 2016.

Webb, Derek. My Enemies Are Men Like Me. Derek Webb. Fair Trade Services, 2005. MP3. Album: Mockingbird

Zahnd, Brian (2014-06-01). A Farewell to Mars: An Evangelical Pastor’s Journey Toward the Biblical Gospel of Peace (Kindle Locations 502-507). David C. Cook. Kindle Edition.

Redeemed Natures: Chapter Three – The Teachings of Jesus (Part 2 of 2)

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Chapter Three

The Teachings of Jesus (Part 2 of 2)

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” – Matt. 5:9 (ESV)

John 2:14-17 – Overturned Tables

I would be dishonest to not address the passages that seem to contradict the viewpoint which I am advocating for.  This passage about Jesus in the temple is one of two that are commonly brought up in a discussion about this topic because some claim that  Jesus was also whipping the moneychangers. Let’s take a look at this passage:

“14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”(ESV)

I would like to start off by saying that if Jesus made the whips, and whipped the flawed human beings behind the tables…that would contradict everything that he preached about which is referenced in this chapter up until this point.  It would also contradict his common responses to sin, which is to love and welcome the individual, not the sin; examples being woman caught in adultery, woman at the well, and the man hanging next to him when He was crucified. Whipping people would make Jesus seem like a hypocrite and a lunatic.  

With that being said, I believe that Jesus made the whips like it is written, and drove out the animals with them.  Whether he whipped the animals, or cracked the whip in the air to drive them out is not clear in the text itself.  When it comes to the money changers, I believe that they would have chased their animals which were valuable assets to their business and livelihood, and were thus driven out with them.  I do not believe that Jesus whipped the moneychangers in any way.

If Jesus whipped the moneychangers to drive them out – why did he not do the same to the ones selling the pigeons/doves?  Instead, he addressed them after seemingly driving everyone else out and told them to take their things and leave.  He did this because he obviously would not whip a bird, or throw their cages out of the temple while driving the other animals out, and if he were to whip all of the other animal merchants, he more than likely would have whipped the dove merchants, and released the doves afterward.

To believe that Jesus whipped the moneychangers would require the reader to abandon reason, and context.

Luke 22: 35-38 – Sell your Cloak, Buy a Sword

“35 And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” 36 He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. 37 For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” 38 And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.”

This is another passage that is often seen in conflict with Christ’s message of nonviolence.  The issue lies in Christ telling his disciples to buy swords.  At the surface, in that verse alone (v.36), it would be the equivalent of Martin Luther King Jr., who grounded his civil rights movement on faith and nonviolence, instructing his closest men.. “Look guys, I know I said this before, but now, I need you guys to sell whatever you can to buy some guns to protect us”.

It just doesn’t make sense why Jesus would tell them to do this, especially at the end of his ministry, when he was accepting what would be done to him.

So, how can we explain this?

At this point, I’d like for us to re-read verse 37, which says:

“For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.”(ESV)

This verse is in reference to a prophecy of the messiah that is found in Isaiah 53:12, and it explains to the reader why Christ would tell his disciples to buy swords; he needed to be counted among those that seemed to go against the law.  If this is not clear, the next verse will clear it up more.

Verse 38:

“And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.”(ESV)

If Jesus was telling his group of 11 disciples (because Judas had betrayed him) to buy swords to defend themselves, or Him, how would two swords be enough?  When the people that would oppress them would either be roman soldiers, or religious zealots…how could two swords be enough to protect 11 people?

Two swords was enough for the group to be seen as rebels.  Two swords was enough for Jesus to be “counted among the transgressors”.

To imply that this passage is supportive of Christian self-defense is to completely ignore verse 37, as well as not carry verse 38 to its logical end. When a message and example of peace is so consistently given by Christ, this passage would go against that message if interpreted to mean that Christ told his followers to buy swords to defend themselves.  Essentially, that argument would be making Christ a God who doesn’t stick to his own word when times get rough. Such a view makes Christ appear weak.

The Influence of Christ’s Example Of Nonviolence

There can be no doubt about the influence of Christ’s nonviolence teachings to the early church and beyond.  As I will get to in later chapters, the New Testament writers, the early church, and many early church fathers all seemed to understand Christ’s nonviolence teachings, and sought to follow after them.  Some leaders and theologians during our our time are teaching the same.

Martin Luther King, Jr. urged his followers to not use violence as a means of protest during his civil rights movement, and he based everything on his deeply held Christian faith.  He said the following in his “I have a Dream” speech in 1963:

“But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Followers of Christ were expected to go against their natural tendencies in order to serve and worship God. Followers of Christ are expected to do the same today.

If Christ is God, than His words are worth reading, and His example is worth following.


 

Works Referenced

Berman, Mark. “‘I Forgive You.’ Relatives of Charleston Church Shooting Victims Address Dylann Roof.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 19 June 2015. Web. 14 Dec. 2015.

Fletcher, Phillip. “The Good Muslim.” Gospel and Humanity. Phillipfletcher.org, 8 Dec. 2015. Web. 26 Jan. 2016.

King, Martin Luther, Jr. “Martin Luther King I Have a Dream Speech – American Rhetoric.” Martin Luther King I Have a Dream Speech. American Rhetoric, n.d. Web. 18 Jan. 2016.

Morris, Leon. “The Gospel According to Matthew.” Ed. D. A. Carson. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 1999. 100-01. Print.

“Opus Imperfectum in Matthaeum.” Ancient Christian Texts. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Academic, 2009. 107. Print.

Shapiro, Joseph. “Amish Forgive School Shooter, Struggle with Grief.” NPR. NPR, 07 Oct. 2007. Web. 14 Dec. 2015.

Sprinkle, Preston (2013-08-01). Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence (Kindle Locations 2103-2107). David C. Cook. Kindle Edition

Wink, Walter (2003-04-01). Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way (Facets) (pp. 10-11). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition.

*The Works Referenced list above includes all resources from part 1 and two of Chapter Three*